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Metamorphosis

Chapter Text

The moon sat high in the sky, large and brilliant in the cloudless night. The soft light bathed the ancient forest in a gentle glow, illuminating the grass and white moonflowers that only bloomed at night.

This was one of Harry's favourite spots on Peverell Island, always calm and tranquil. The island had quickly become a place he could call home.

At first it had been strange, claiming a place for himself, building it up from the ground and nurturing it. Hogwarts would forever be his first home, the first place he felt like he belonged. But this island, it was truly his, somewhere he had set down roots, a place where he felt safe and happy. This was his home now, together with his family that consisted of both living and dead.

Harry laid down on the grass and closed his eyes. It was a pleasantly warm night and he enjoyed the quiet sounds of nature surrounding him.

Tomorrow he would be leaving for Hogwarts again, meeting old friends and enemies. As he laid there he thought back on the past month.

The letter he'd sent off to professor McGonagall had held more than just his acceptance of his place at their school. He had also reassured her that there was no need to send someone to introduce him to the magical world as they had done for his mother, Lily.

The reason for this was that his aunt still remembered where to find Diagon Alley, and as such had promised to take him before school was due to start.

This was of course a complete lie. Petunia Dursley wouldn't be caught dead somewhere so freakish, nor had she ever deigned to inform Harry that magic was real. In fact the word was a bit of a taboo at the Dursley residence, or at least it had been in his first lifetime.

Professor McGonagall didn't have to know any of that, however. Let her live with the belief that the Dursleys weren't as awful as she'd first imagined. The truth would come out sooner rather than later.

There had of course been a chance that Dumbledore would send someone, no matter what his letter said, but luckily that hadn't been the case.

When Hedwig returned, the reply from professor McGonagall had included the key to his trust vault. She informed him of the importance of keeping it safe and not letting anyone but him handle it aside from the goblins.

Neither she nor the headmaster had any idea that said key was void, nothing more than a pretty little chunk of gold.

Harry met every now and then with Kartaak, the Potter account manager, and during one of those meetings he had collected the heir ring for his family and deactivated any existing keys, that way making sure that nobody could enter his vaults. Not that there was much to steal.

The Potter family vault mostly contained furniture, weapons and books, the gold having long been spent during the first war.

It was only his trust vault that held large quantities of actual gold. Not a veritable fortune as he'd first believed when he set eyes on it at eleven years of age, but still a decent amount if spent wisely.

Harry didn't have to worry about that though. With his Peverell inheritance, not to mention all the investments he'd made as Lord Peverell, he was quite frankly filthy rich.

Harry looked up at the stars and thought back to how excited Sirius had been over the prospect of school shopping, only for him to sulk when Harry informed him that he couldn't come, and no, not even as Padfoot.

People had to see him alone. Even if he had written in his letter that his aunt Petunia would take him, that was clearly a lie, an intentional one.

The chances of Dumbledore having someone in the alley to keep an eye on him was too great, he couldn't make a mistake this early.

Before Harry could get on the train to Hogwarts he had to acquire everything from the list that had been included in his letter. He already owned most of the more practical items, and the school books were still the same as those he'd purchased second hand before he sat his OWL and NEWTs a few years back.

Regulus had wanted him to purchase new books just for the sake of his image, he was no pauper after all, but Harry thought it a waste of money. The books were fine , besides, he already knew their contents by heart and wouldn't be using them much, if at all.

That only left clothes and a wand, since he couldn't very well use the Elder Wand, nor the ebony wand that was tied to his Peverell persona.

To avoid most of the back-to-school rush, he waited until July had passed and they were well into August.

The day after his birthday, the Daily Prophet's front page was adorned with the infamous break in at Gringotts. Harry groaned.

"What's wrong?" Sirius asked, making his godson sigh and put down the Prophet.

"I forgot all about this." Harry replied as he shoved the paper across the table to Sirius, tapping the front page.

"Dumbledore is housing the Philosopher's Stone at Hogwarts this year, hoping to lure out Voldemort. He's going to be at the back of Quirrell's head the entire year." Harry despondently sighed and rubbed his temples.

Sirius frowned. "Are you sure it's the real stone? It sounds a bit… suspicious."

Harry snorted. "Trust me, the thought has crossed me more than once, but I have no way of finding out unless I steal it to run some tests." Which was tempting… Very tempting. Not because he wanted immortality or gold, he already had plenty of that, but because he was curious.

What made the Philosopher's Stone so unique? And if it truly was the real deal, how could Dumbledore be so incredibly foolish as to hide it behind traps that even a first year could surpass?

"So, are you gonna steal it then?" Sirius asked unconcerned as he buttered his toast.

Harry hummed. He hadn't originally considered that a possibility but now he did. "Perhaps."

In all honesty it would be ridiculously easy. The only thing that could have deterred him would have been the mirror of Erised, but seeing as he had no desire to use the stone, even that was a moot point. Dumbledore really had fucked up with the protections hadn't he?

~

Ollivander's wand shop was just as Harry remembered it, cramped, dusty and filled with wands from top to bottom.

The man himself, Mr Garrick Ollivander, hid in the shadows ready to surprise his newest customer.

"Hello Mr Ollivander." Harry said before the wandmaker could start his weird 'Harry Potter' spiel. He stared right at him.

Ollivander startled, not used to being detected before he got to make his entrance, and when he stepped into the dim light he eyed the young boy with shrewd scrutiny.

"Mr Potter, I thought I would see you soon." The wandmaker mused out loud.

The conversation went much like it had the first time around, with Ollivander detailing the wands he had sold to Harry's parents.

Next came finding the one most suited to him. Harry felt like he tried every damn wand in the shop. Some of them were usable but none were right. He wondered if it had taken this long in his past life before Ollivander mentioned the holly wand, or if it was just his perception of things being different.

He was so tempted to ask about the holly and Phoenix feather wand just to make things go quicker, but he kept quiet, there was no way he could have known about it after all.

Eventually, Ollivander went to the back of his shop to fetch said wand. Harry felt excitement beginning to build, it had been his first wand and he still loved it dearly. His faithful holly wand had been with him through thick and thin.

"Go on, give it a try." Ollivander said and held it out towards the young boy, eyes shining with anticipation.

Harry wrapped his fingers around the hilt. Warmth spread up his hand and he was sure he could hear Fawkes' beautiful song lift his spirit.

At first the warmth in his hand had been comfortable, but it grew hotter and hotter, so much so that he instinctively opened his hand with a yelp.

The wand clattered against the wooden floor and a bright red and gold flame burned through the holly wand until there was nothing left but a pile of ash.

Harry stared at it with wide eyes. He thought he could see something red poking out of the grey ash, and when he crouched down to pull at it, an entire feather followed. Like a baby Phoenix it rose from the ashes after a burning day.

He stood there holding the wand core in shocked silence. "I-I'm sorry?" He hesitantly said. He honestly had no idea what had just happened.

He was hit with a feeling of sorrow for the destroyed wand that had been like a faithful friend over many years, but perhaps it was still possible to use Fawkes' feather, Harry really hoped so.

Ollivander looked gobsmacked as well, and he struggled to take his eyes off the feather in Harry's hand. With a sharp intake of air the wandmaker turned on his heel and disappeared into the back of the shop.

Harry was left standing in bewildered uncertainty. "Mr Ollivander?" He hesitantly called out.

Sure he didn't really need a wand to perform magic, but Harry Potter couldn't be without a wand… the media attention would be massive, and not in a good way.

"Sir?" He tried again, a little louder this time as he peered over the counter, trying to catch a glimpse of the man.

He could hear faint muttering but was unable to make out what was being said. He had a niggling suspicion it was about him and what had just happened though.

The seconds ticked by and Harry wondered if Mr Ollivander planned on returning at all. He was just getting ready to walk into the wandmaker's workshop when the man himself returned.

His pale, blue eyes studied him in an eerie way that made Harry want to squirm. Thankfully he'd gained much better control over his own body and expressions than he had in the past, so outwardly he remained confused and innocent.

"It is most unusual for a core to reject a wood so resolutely after its successful creation." Mr Ollivander murmured, scrutinizing Harry and the Phoenix feather with keen eyes.

"I didn't mean for it to happen." Harry said with a frown. "Will you be able to fix it, sir?"

"Hmm, no I'm sure you didn't. And yes, seeing as the core is still intact and seemingly bonded to you, it is indeed fixable." Ollivander replied and turned on his heel back into the workshop.

"Come along Mr Potter, and bring the feather!"

Harry scurried after the wandmaker, listening to him mutter under his breath that holly probably wouldn't work a second time.

Ollivander's process of selecting a wand wood was entirely different from the one Madam Lavoie, the Canadian wandmaker that crafted Sirius' wand, had used.

Instead of a metal rod covered in runes, Mr Ollivander drew an intricate magical circle in chalk onto his work-bench. It was fascinating, and Harry could recognise some of the runes and how they connected to each other.

Inside the circle that surrounded the pentagram, were two smaller circles. And after placing five different blocks of wood at each point of the star, Ollivander instructed Harry to put the Phoenix feather into one of the smaller circles and his hand, palm down, in the other.

Harry did as he was told and watched in interest as the old wandmaker withdrew his own wand and began to chant. The runes and pentagram lit up but didn't burn the wooden work-bench like his own experiences with rituals, possibly because there was no blood involved, Harry mused.

Like with Madam Lavoie's process, Harry had no clue what was actually happening. Garrick Ollivander on the other hand seemed to gain information from the different colours the chalk had taken on.

Once the chanting stopped, the glow died down and the chalk was once again just chalk. Ollivander removed four of the wooden blocks and replaced them with new ones. The process repeated several times, and in the end, there was only one block left.

Harry had no idea what type it was. The wood was a creamy brown colour, and he wondered if perhaps it could be hawthorn. He expected Ollivander to reveal the wood immediately, but when he looked up at the man his face was ashen.

"Are you alright sir?" Harry asked. Because as a matter of fact, Mr Ollivander did not look alright, he had the appearance of someone who'd just had a meeting with a Boggart.

The wandmaker's eyes were glued to the block of wood and swallowed hard. "Yes, yes, I'm perfectly fine Mr Potter." He replied, but his voice was hoarse and distant.

"Leave the phoenix feather and come back in a week." The man murmured, ushering Harry out of the door with a faraway look in his eyes.

That had… not gone as expected. Harry blinked slowly at the sign Mr Ollivander had hung up on the door. The shop was closed for the next four hours… what on earth had startled the man so?

"I swear that man gets odder the older he becomes." Regulus muttered, just as confused about what had happened.  

Harry hummed quietly in agreement and figured he might as well get the rest of his shopping done since he was already in the Alley.

~

The following week passed quickly and Harry was once again back in Diagon, making his way over to Ollivander's shop.

As soon as Mr Ollivander spotted him, the man's face blanched and he stared for a second before scurrying into the back of the workshop. When he returned he looked both nauseous and intrigued, holding a long wand box like the ones piled up in the shop's tall shelves.

Ollivander's gaze was heavy, as if he was scrutinizing Harry's character, but in the end, he probably came to the conclusion that it didn't matter. He was a wandmaker, a neutral party whose job was to provide magical foci to both good and bad.

Pale, callused fingers lifted out a beautifully carved wand. The main part of the wood was lighter than its original block, with the natural grain showing through in places and having taken on a creamy tan colour.

There was a carved tendril wrapping around the handle that had been stained a darker shade of brown, and where the handle ended and the shaft began, the wood widened into a rounded bulb before continuing to a tapered end.

Harry eyed the wand with curiosity. It looked so unlike any of his other wands. It was a gorgeous piece of art.

"I think it is time you tried your new wand now Mr Potter." Ollivander said, his attention not once having strayed from the blackhaired boy in front of him.

Normally, the wandmaker would have regaled the wand in as much detail as he could, prattling on about its characteristics and components, but not this time. Harry didn't pay any attention to that fact however, too enchanted by the wand itself.

He reached out and softly let his fingers grasp the hilt. The warmth was there, stronger than ever. It raced up his arm, filling his entire body from head to toe with love and encouragement.

An invisible wind ruffled Harry's black locks, and a golden glow illuminated the tiny shop, emanating from the tip of the wand.

His blood and magic sang in unison with the new wand.

"How curious." Ollivander murmured, still looking rattled yet intrigued.

"What is?" Harry absentmindedly asked.

"Your wand Mr Potter. Yew and Phoenix feather, 13 inches, unyielding…"

Harry grew completely still. Yew… that was the wood Voldemort's wand had been. He didn't let his surprise show however.

"Yew wands are rare and have a notorious reputation in certain circles. Some think it is a wood for wizards with an inclination for curses and the Dark Arts, but it can just as easily be used by Healers and those who are a fierce protector of others. What is certain, is that yew wands never choose a weak companion. After all… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named certainly couldn't be called weak. He did great things. Terrible, yes, but great." The old man mused, seemingly lost in memories of the past.

No, Voldemort didn't do great things, Harry thought, but Tom Riddle could have…

Mr Ollivander snapped out of his strange mood and continued to speak. He told Harry of Fawkes, the headmaster's Phoenix, and how he had only ever given two feathers. One now resided within his wand, and the other belonged to the Dark Lord.

Harry already knew this of course, but that was also where the known information stopped and the new shocks began.

"Not only is the core of your wand the same as the one who gave you that scar, so is the wood. Both wands were created with yew from the same tree and feathers from the same Phoenix. I think we can expect great things from you Mr Potter, great things indeed."

Chapter Text

It was September 1st, the day the train was due to leave for Hogwarts. For the longest time Harry had pondered whether going to Hogwarts was actually necessary, after all it wasn't as if he'd be learning much, if anything. But he wasn't really attending for the education now was he? No, Hogwarts was an important step for his many plans that had been years in the making. 

He didn't particularly wish to deal with children again after so many years, but it was a necessary discomfort. First there was the diadem that he wished to collect, second, he hoped to rehome the Basilisk onto his island if it was still sane enough, and third, the Philosopher's Stone. He didn't know if Dumbledore had actually gotten his hands on the real stone, but either way, Harry planned on stealing it. 

In addition, if he just didn't show up at all, then the wizarding world would have a fit of massive proportions. It would also leave the Potter seat at the Wizengamot unused. 

Harry considered himself lucky when he found an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Express. He had made sure to arrive slightly earlier than in his first life so he wouldn't have to bump into the Weasleys on the platform. He still held fond memories of them, but over the years he had been allowed to see the family from a different perspective. Oh he had nothing against them, in fact he still cared for them greatly, but he was no longer blinded by his desperate need for family and friends. 

As he sat down on the padded bench, Harry looked out the window of his compartment. Students and relatives milled about on the platform like a buzzy beehive. Mothers gave their children hugs and kisses, fathers patted their children's shoulders and siblings whined because they were too young to join. It was all very bittersweet. 

Harry could remember how, on his first train ride, he had been filled with longing and jealousy for the love everyone seemed to bask in except for him. Now though, now it was the complete opposite. He had a family who he loved fiercely, and they in return loved him just as much. He was no longer the neglected orphan but a cherished family member. 

Sirius had wanted to come and see him off but Harry had to deny the request. Even in a different body it would be suspicious of him to have someone follow him to the platform. Of course, he could have posed as Petunia, but that would have ruined part of his later plans. He did not want anyone to think he and the Dursleys were in any way, shape, or form on good terms. 

A soft smile played on his lips as he finally caught sight of a familiar shock of red hair that joined the sea of people. The Weasley family had arrived. 

Over the years, Harry had gotten the chance to watch them all grow, the twins more than the others. He was not ashamed to admit they were his favourite Weasleys this time around. He had kept visiting them as a crow, bringing gifts, and in return for their 'worship' he became their deepest confidante. 

They told him everything. How their father never had much time for them because he was always working, how their mother was disappointed with their mischief and poor grades, always comparing them to their older brothers. They confessed that the sorting hat had said they would do well in Slytherin, but that they had been too scared of what their family might think and so ended up in Gryffindor like the rest. 

The two of them had ambitions in life, they wanted to open up their own joke shop. That had been their dream for as long as Harry had known them, and he knew for a fact that one day they would accomplish that. For how could they not when Lord Peverell provided financial support? Of course they didn't know that detail yet, but soon they would.

It hasn't escaped his notice how Mrs Weasley kept looking around for something, or rather, someone, the entire time. The closer they got to eleven the more worried she seemed to become. 

Harry frowned. Dumbledore must have asked her to keep an eye out for him. It was the only logical conclusion. Just like in his first life. Because no intelligent witch, and Mrs Weasley was far from an idiot, would loudly speak about muggles and magic in a crowded non-magical area surrounded by those not in on the secret. He had come to the conclusion that she was trying to stand out and grab his attention, which had been a success since he knew nothing about the wizarding world nor how to get onto the platform. 

Still, if Mrs Weasley expected to see him this time she would be sorely disappointed. 

The Hogwarts express gave a loud whistle, signalling that it was about to leave the station. Harry looked away from the many family members waiting to see off their children and instead dug out the Gameboy he had purchased upon its release. 

For the first time in life he had the option of getting whatever he wanted, and if that was a silly, handheld gaming system then so be it. He remembered envying Dudley for owning one as soon as it was released in Britain, never once getting a chance to play on it himself. 

At first he had been hesitant about getting it due to how it might react with his magic, he clearly remembered how everyone had said magic and technology didn't mix. But that didn't make sense now did it? 

If magic made all electronics explode or go haywire, how come there were no such incidents in London? Diagon Alley was saturated with magic, down to every last cobblestone. If there was any truth to the theory, besides 'everyone knows it', then the magical district would have been found out by muggles a long time ago due to massive power outages.

Likewise, magic and muggle technology could be combined, Sirius' flying motorbike and Mr Weasley's Ford Anglia was solid proof of that. 

Harry wondered why the misconception had become so commonplace. He did by no means consider himself an expert on the subject, in fact he was rather poorly educated in that area, but he found it interesting. 

Unlike his first time on the Hogwarts Express, there was no Ron knocking on the door last minute saying everywhere else was full. Harry had cast a mild charm on the door that would keep away anyone who wasn't persistent in getting inside. This left him with hours of undisturbed peace where he played Tetris and nibbled on biscuits that Ditty had made for him. 

Speaking of the old elf… Harry worried about her. The magical boost he had given her when they bonded all those years ago had kept her alive and well until now, but her age was certainly showing. He knew she didn't have long left, it was sad, but such was the way of everything living, one day it had to end. 

He hoped he had been able to make her last years happy and comfortable though. Out of all the elves, she in particular was dear to him. Yes he cared about them all, but she had been the first to show him her undivided love and he tried his best to return it. 

Because of her age when she was introduced back to other elves, Ditty never had any elflings of her own. That was partially why she was so overjoyed when she got to be around the children of her kind that Harry had brought home to the island. All of the new elves had become part of her family. 

Harry's quiet playtime was interrupted by a knock on his compartment door. He blinked and looked down at his watch. Considering the time, it was probably the trolley witch. The elves had packed him both lunch and treats, but now the urge for a chocolate frog struck him. 

He slid the door open and was greeted by the trolley witch and her endless supply of Honeydukes confectionery. 

"Anything from the trolley, dear?" The elderly witch asked with a kind smile. 

"Ah, could I have five chocolate frogs, a box of Bertie Bott's and some treacle fudge please?" Harry politely answered. 

"Of course dearie. That will be 5 Sickles and 3 Knuts." The woman replied and placed all his sweets in a paper bag. 

"Thank you" Harry murmured as he fished out the correct amount of coins from his satchel and exchanged it for the bag. 

As the trolley witch moved on to the next compartment, Harry spotted a familiar little boy looking for a lost toad. He smiled softly to himself and quickly placed his sweets into his bag. 

"Excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I heard that you've lost your toad? Would you like any help finding it? I know a few spells that might do the trick." Harry kindly offered to the pudgy, blonde boy who looked like he might faint any minute from anxiety. 

"Y-you do?" Neville eyed him with hopeful nervousness, fidgeting with the hem of his robe sleeve. 

Harry nodded and kept smiling, trying to be as friendly and non-threatening as he could. "Can you tell me the toad's name?" 

"I-it's T-Trevor." The boy replied. 

Harry flicked out his yew wand, which he was still shocked about having, and proceeded to summon Trevor the toad. The two children, well one child and one adult posing as a child, waited in anxious silence for something to happen. 

"A-are you sure it worked?" Neville asked in almost a whisper, not wanting to offend Harry by saying he did something wrong. 

"Oh yes, I'm fairly certain, just give it a moment." Harry answered, and sure enough, a few seconds later a large toad zoomed through the air and smacked right into Harry's waiting hands. 

"Here you go!" The green-eyed wizard grinned widely and held out said toad towards Neville. 

The look he got was filled with admiration and awe. Had Harry been younger it would have made him uncomfortable, but now he was just glad he had been able to help out one of his friends from the past. 

"T-Thank you!" Neville stuttered out, tightly holding onto Trevor, afraid he would lose him again. 

"You're welcome." Harry smiled. "Do you want to sit with me in my compartment? It's just me so it would be nice to have some company. Obviously you don't have to, though." Harry quickly reassured, not wanting him to feel pressured or anything. 

But Neville's face lit up and he quickly nodded. "S-sure." 

The two boys entered Harry's compartment and he closed the door behind them to cut off the noise in the hallway, as well as keeping Trevor from escaping again. 

"How did you know how to do that?" Neville shyly asked once they'd sat down, his toad still firmly grasped. 

Harry shrugged. "I read a lot. Plus I practiced over the summer once I got my wand. It was a bit of a hit or a miss situation really. It might not have worked, but if it hadn't we could just have gone to an older student and have them perform the charm. Anyway, don't you have a terrarium or something to keep Trevor in? I'm sure he would feel more comfortable if he had the option to hide away. Toads are mostly nocturnal and like to hide and burrow under leaves." 

Neville looked a bit startled at the question, cheeks heating up. "I do have a terrarium, b-but it's in my trunk… uncle Algie wanted people to see Trevor. Said that people needed to see I was a proper wizard." He muttered embarrassedly and looked at the floor. 

Yes… uncle Algie. The man who'd thrown Neville out of the window just because he wanted to force the magic out of him. The urge to snap the man's wand and throw him out of the very same window was extremely strong, let's see if he bounced. 

"Your uncle Algie doesn't sound very nice." Harry replied with a frown, Neville on the other hand didn't have anything to say to that. Harry liked to think he was secretly agreeing though. 

"Well… I don't exactly have a terrarium you can use, but maybe there is something in my bag that can be a substitute for the train ride… just so Trevor doesn't escape again." 

"Y-you don't have to." Neville mumbled shyly, clearly not wanting to be a bother. 

Harry assured him that it was no problem and opened up his satchel. He dug through it, trying to find something that could be used. His hand bumped into the plastic box Ditty had placed his biscuits in, and an idea was born. 

"If we enlarge this and cut some holes in the lid for air, then it can work as a travel terrarium. I think Trevor would be much happier." Harry explained as he placed the remaining biscuits onto a handkerchief.

Neville looked curiously at the clear, plastic box with its blue handles on the sides that locked the lid in place. It was unlike anything they had at home, plastic wasn't a particularly wizarding thing. He knew of the material, but only vaguely. 

"Engorgio." Harry murmured, the spell making the plastic container and its lid grow bigger, until it was slightly larger than a shoebox. 

Next he made holes in the lid so Trevor could breathe. Obviously he could easily have transfigured a perfect terrarium for Trevor, but he couldn't show skills that were too far fetched, not yet anyway.

Still, the improvised habitat was looking decent enough. Now all it needed was some substrate and places to hide. Harry was reminded of the thick paper towels they had in the many bathrooms on the train so he told Neville he'd be right back. 

When he returned it was with slightly damp paper towels that had been ripped into leaf-sized pieces and covered about two inches of the box's bottom. 

"You can put Trevor inside now." Harry smiled and held the open container out towards the other boy. "It'll keep him safe until we get to the castle." 

Again Neville thanked him profusely and Harry just laughed it away. "You'd have done the same thing for me I'm sure." 

"I don't know… I-I'm practically a squib." The poor boy mumbled. 

"I don't believe that at all! You got a letter inviting you to Hogwarts, didn't you? If there is one thing I'm sure about, then it's the fact that all of us on this train are magical, you included." Harry replied firmly. 

Neville didn't look like he believed him, but that he would very much like to. Harry knew he'd just need time. Time and encouragement so he could grow into the kind and brave young man he'd known. 

"Anyway, I think we entirely forgot to introduce ourselves." Harry shot the other boy a sheepish look. Neville looked horrified by the social blunder they had made. 

"I'm Henry James Potter, heir to the Noble House of Potter as well as the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." Harry smiled and held out his hand, the two heir rings now gleaming proudly on his fingers. 

Poor Neville seemed starstruck. His mouth was ajar, forming a slight o, and his eyes had immediately honed in on Harry's forehead. His cheeks flushed a deep pink when he realised how terribly rude he was behaving. 

"I-I'm N-Neville Frank Longbottom, heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Longbottom." 

Hands were shaken and Harry grinned widely once the introduction was over. 

"Would you like a chocolate frog or some Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans? I bought some from the trolley witch before we met." Harry offered, pulling the sweets out of his bag. 

Unlike Ron, Neville didn't ask to see the scar, nor question if he could remember anything of the night he got it. 

As much as he had cared for Ron over the years, he almost wished he'd been able to sit with Neville on his first ride. The boy was kind and gentle, and much more empathetic than Ronald had ever been. 

They talked, laughed and ate sweets together, undisturbed by anyone else. It was nice, and Harry thought he'd managed to coax Neville slightly out of his shell. 

"Which house do you think you'll be in?" Harry curiously asked as they traded chocolate frog cards. He already had a feeling of what the answer would be and he hoped to encourage Neville. 

The blonde boy sighed. "Probably Hufflepuff, I'm useless when it comes to magic." 

"There is nothing wrong with Hufflepuff." Harry replied, smiling warmly. "Personally I would love to be one. Who doesn't want to be surrounded by friendly and loyal people? Besides, I read that their common room looks like a warm and cosy cottage with lots of plants around since their Head of House is the Herbology professor!"  

Neville looked at him with wide eyes, and Harry hoped maybe he wouldn't dismiss the house of loyalty and hard work just because of what his horrible nan said. 

"What about you?" Neville asked quietly, appearing thoughtful. 

"Me? Oh either Slytherin or Ravenclaw I expect." Harry happily replied, ignoring how the other's eyes went wide with shock at the proclamation of Slytherin being a possibility. 

"B-but…" poor Neville appeared lost for words. "Slytherin?" He almost whispered, as if it was some horrible taboo equal with the name Voldemort. 

"Yeah! The sorting hat is going to place us in the house that matches our personality traits the best, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm very ambitious." Harry grinned. "But I also love learning and attaining knowledge so I'm not dismissing Ravenclaw entirely." 

Neville bit his bottom lip. "But Slytherin was His house." He quietly said, and Harry was relatively sure his mind was going to Bellatrix Lestrange as well. 

"I know that Neville." Harry replied sombrely. "But saying that just because one person from Slytherin did horrible things does not mean that all Slytherins are like that. We're just children, Neville, with hopes and dreams like everyone else, surely you can't think a quarter of all of Hogwarts' students are evil just because they wear silver and green? Ambition and cunning are not bad traits to have, nor is loyalty, bravery or creativity." 

Harry thought it amusing how once upon a time it had been Ignotus who gave him the same speech. He hoped Neville would think a little more on the subject instead of immediately folding into the mindset of the general public. 

"Just because one dog bites does not mean all the others of its kind will, the same goes for Slytherins. Will there be some who are mean and cruel? Yes, but that applies for all the other houses as well." Harry said before he paused, looking out of the window. 

"Do you think I'm evil Neville?" Harry asked, lacing his voice with insecurity. Was he being manipulative? Yes, but it was for Neville's own good. 

"W-what? No of course not!" The boy replied with wide eyes. 

"But you know that I'm expecting to be sorted in Slytherin. I'm no different than the rest, I'm not a hero, nor am I a villain, I'm an eleven year old kid who wants to make something out of himself. If you think all Slytherins are bad just because the Dark Lord was once a part of their house, then that means you think I'm bad as well..." 

Neville chewed at his bottom lip again, brows furrowed in a deep frown. "I don't think you're bad… It's just… " 

"You've been conditioned to think that way, I don't blame you." Harry smiled softly. "But if I do get placed into Slytherin I hope we can still be friends." 

The declaration of friendship seemed to shock Neville more than the entire conversation combined. It was sad, but Harry could deeply relate. He hadn't had any friends before he went to Hogwarts either. 

"I… I'd like that." The boy finally replied, voice quiet and laden with emotion. 

Harry beamed at him and the heavy subjects were left behind for another time. They spent the rest of the journey discussing Herbology and playing non-magical card games that Harry taught the pureblood boy. 

When they neared Hogsmeade station, Neville excused himself so he could go back to his original compartment to change into their school robes. He returned not long after, and together they left the train and followed Hagrid up the slippery path that led to the boats. 

Hogwarts was even more beautiful than Harry remembered. With her many towers and turrets she looked like something out of a fairy tale. 

The lights from hundreds of windows reflected onto the surface of the calm lake, and Harry heard gasps coming from several boats. He remembered reacting the same way his first time. Now, his heart swelled with affection. 

Oh how he had missed her, his first ever home. It was nostalgic and bittersweet, because although he had many wonderful memories within her walls of magic and friendship, there was also fear, death and war. 

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath, knowing that it would never come to that this time around. Hogwarts and her students would be safe, he promised. 

~

After McGonagall left the first years alone to 'smarten up', the expected ghosts came crashing through the wall, startling many of the children into frightened screams. 

But unlike in his first life, the ghosts didn't chatter or show off, instead they went deathly still. They stared right in Harry's direction with blatant fear in their eyes. 

Thankfully there were so many children clumped together in that area that it was hard to tell exactly who they had been looking at, if there even was anyone in particular. 

The ghosts dispersed quickly after that, not a single word being said to the new students. 

Harry had a strong inkling they left due to his status as the Master of Death. He wondered if he had the power to send them to the afterlife and that was why they were so scared. It was definitely an interesting concept he would have to discuss with Death, not to mention keep them from talking to any of the living about it. Surely Death could threaten them a little to keep silent?

There was some talk going on about the odd behaviour of the ghosts, but it was quickly forgotten in favour of more important things, such as the sorting ceremony and what it entailed. 

"Calm down Neville, it's going to be alright. It's just a silly hat you have to try on, nothing more." Harry quietly reassured his young friend who looked like he might pass out any second. 

Ron had loudly regaled his brothers' story of having to fight a Troll for the sorting, and poor Neville had gotten so anxious that he quaked in his polished black shoes. The boy swallowed hard and nodded. 

"Besides, we'll be friends no matter which house we end up in, right?" Harry asked with a soft smile that Neville reciprocated. 

"Y-yeah." Was the nearly inaudible answer. But Harry knew the boy really meant it. There was a core of steel somewhere in there. 

McGonagall returned and brusquely told them to line up into neat rows and follow her into the great hall for their sorting. 

The ceremony itself went by without a hitch. Hermione was unsurprisingly sorted into Gryffindor as Harry expected. Just like he had convinced the hat not to place him in Slytherin the first time, he was sure she had argued fiercely in favour of Gryffindor. 

It wasn't that Harry didn't think she was brave or chivalrous, for she was both of those things, but Gryffindor wasn't the house that would make her happy. 

Hermione cared about books and marks, something that was not the case for the rest of her dorm mates. She would have fitted in much better with the Ravenclaws, at least they would have appreciated her talents instead of scorning her. Sadly she was in for some tough years ahead. 

"Longbottom, Neville!" McGonagall's crisp voice filtered through the masses and Harry gave the other boy a mild nudge and an encouraging smile. 

He was happy to see that Neville no longer seemed quite as frightened as he had been earlier. The hat sank down over the blonde boy's eyes and now all they could do was wait. 

It wasn't a quick declaration as it had been for some children, nor was it the long wait it had been for Hermione, but after a minute or so, the brim of the hat opened and shouted out "Hufflepuff!" 

The badger table clapped and cheered, happily bringing their new housemate into the fold. Harry smiled, relieved that Neville would be in a house where he might find some actual friends. 

He didn't know how hands-on Pomona Sprout was with her Head of House duties either, but he expected it to be better than McGonagall who had been next to non-existent. 

Hopefully they would pick up on him having his father's wand sooner than in Harry's first life. And if not, well, he'd just have to take matters into his own hands, wouldn't he. 

The rest of the sorting was uneventful, people went exactly where they had gone the first time.

"Potter, Harry!" McGonagall declared and the reaction was immediate. Students from every table stretched and murmured, trying to catch a glimpse of their new celebrity. Harry merely stood quietly and waited with a blank expression. 

"Potter, Harry!" She repeated, stern eyebrows knitted together in a frown as she tried to catch sight of him. But she was looking for a copy of James Potter, with wild, messy black curls and glasses, and he was not that. 

The students became even louder, meanwhile the remaining first years that had yet to be sorted, looked around themselves in obvious confusion. 

McGonagall said his name one last time before he decided to make an entrance. He raised a hand and looked at the woman with clear confusion, same as the other firsties. 

"Excuse me, ma'am. Do you mean me? My name is Henry Potter though… not Harry." He looked the picture of a perfectly polite young gentleman. 

The transfiguration professor's eyes widened when she looked at him, scanning his features and looking almost… disappointed. Clearly she had expected the familiarity of her favourite transfiguration student, not the strong resemblance to the Blacks.

"Very well. Step forward Mr Potter." She primly said and Harry did as he was told, calmly walking up to the stool and letting the hat be lowered onto his head. 

"Oh… Oh my! What an interesting life you've had Mr Potter." The sorting hat said inside his head, voice almost sounding breathless, no matter how impossible that might be when one didn't have lungs. 

"I suppose you are correct. Although interesting wouldn't have been my first choice of words." Harry replied.

"It is not often I get to sort someone twice Mr Potter, far less when they have become adults. I stand by what I said in your past however, Slytherin would have helped you on your way to greatness. But we are not here to discuss your past, or is it your future? No, I am here to sort you in the present. Hmm." 

Harry had lowered his Occlumency barriers just for this, letting the sorting hat have free access to all his memories. He wasn't worried about the hat spilling his secrets, for it was literally incapable of doing so. 

During the hat's creation there had been numerous privacy charms and runes in play. No family, noble or not, would allow their children's minds to be laid bare and possibly exposing their family secrets. 

"Although you have always shown courage in the face of what scares you most, I do not think Gryffindor would be right for you this time. And from their rambunctious nature I fear you would retreat back to your island before the year is over. No, not Gryffindor." 

Harry remained silent, letting the hat do its job. He agreed of course, no matter how much he loved the house of lions, it was not a good fit for him anymore, if it had ever been. He didn't want to be labelled a hero again.

"Hmm. I see that you are fiercely loyal to those who have earned your trust, and not one to shy away from dedicated, hard work, however your trust does not come easy, and is easily lost should you be betrayed. Still, Hufflepuff would greet you with open arms, and you would likely be happy there… if you were actually eleven." The sorting hat mused. 

Neville would probably have been overjoyed if Harry got sorted into Hufflepuff with him, but It wasn't the place for him. Sure, it would mean that people saw him as harmless, but that wouldn't be helpful for his plans, something the hat agreed with. 

"Ravenclaw and Slytherin are the most suitable candidates for your housing, as you are well aware. But which to pick! Oh you are a conundrum Mr Potter." The hat gleefully exclaimed.

"You thirst for knowledge, both for the sake of knowledge itself and also for how it might aid you with your ambitions. You are creative, a trait most sought after by Rowena's house. It's all in your head you see, your desire to create and learn. Yes, Ravenclaw would be a great fit." 

"Oh, of that I don't doubt." Harry replied. "But it is not the place I need to be to make connections. I think you already know which house I have planned and prepared for."

"Ah, yes. I do indeed. Very well, I look forward to seeing the chaos you are bound to create Mr Potter. Since you seem to have made up your mind, and I stand by my initial assessment of you, it better be…"

"SLYTHERIN!"

Chapter Text

Severus watched in horror as the Potter boy was sorted into the house of snakes. Once, the feeling might have been due to hatred, but now it was because it wasn't safe, the boy would be eaten alive! Slytherin was cutthroat at the best of times, he should know, but for someone like Potter it would be more than just tough, it would be dangerous.

A large part of the Slytherin population had parents or relatives that were on the Dark Lord's side during the war. They had felt the loss of their relatives, either to death or Azkaban, and were sure to hold a grudge against the one who vanquished their leader and in turn caused them to lose the war. 

Severus could feel a headache coming on. He had made an unbreakable vow to protect the boy, and now his job was just made ten times harder than it had to be. He wanted to close his eyes and sigh, but he had a role to play. 

A sneer found its way to his lips and he glowered at the newest addition to his house. The boy didn't seem to notice however, not once did he look up at the staff table, instead he calmly walked over to the Slytherins and sat down, right next to Draco Malfoy of all people. 

Severus found the boy's composure to be commendable. The Slytherin table had been deathly silent upon the hat's verdict, whereas several Gryffindors had shouted loudly that there had to be a mistake. And yet, despite all of that, the boy seemed unaffected, his expression one of polite disinterest rather than worry or discomfort.

Severus felt like the hat must have made a mistake as well, but the truth was right there in front of him. Harry, or was it Henry as the boy had said? Was a Slytherin, one of his little snakes. 

Through the corner of his eyes, he watched the brief, so brief that he doubted anyone else noticed, slip in the headmaster's composure and control of his magic. Like a stuttering heartbeat it flickered before once again settling down. Clearly he wasn't the only one who had expected the boy to go somewhere else. 

Dumbledore smiled magnanimously down at the gathered students, but the twinkle in his eyes was dulled with concern. 

Severus wondered what plans the headmaster had in store for the child, for he wasn't foolish enough to think otherwise. Albus was a cunning man no matter how he pretended otherwise, hiding behind his grandfatherly facade. He wasn't sadistic in the way of the Dark Lord, but he was no less of a dangerous foe.  

Albus cared about the individual, but he was a leader born to war, and in war sacrifices must be made… for the greater good. Severus just had to make sure that the greater good didn't come at the price of Lily's son. 

~

The Slytherin table was vastly different from what Harry remembered Gryffindor being like. Not to say that the table itself, or the food on top of it were any different, but the people were. The very atmosphere was tense and uncertain, perhaps even hostile from some places. 

Although he had no qualms about the house of snakes on principle, he almost felt like shuddering at how his life would have gone had he been sorted there as a child. 

He would not have been wanted. The older years especially would have made his life very, very difficult. At least… at least until his parselmouth ability was revealed. Then he suspected that they would have assumed that he was a Dark wizard and things might have gotten better. 

The feast laid out in front of them was as marvellous as ever. Harry, having been spoiled rotten by his own house-elves, didn't think it was nearly as good as the food he was used to, but it was still brilliant. It was a comfort that in this life he could eat whatever he wanted without getting sick. 

Starvation had not been a great thing. And as a young eleven year old, he had stuffed his face with all the delightful dishes he'd never gotten to try before, and ended up regurgitating it all once they got to the dorm. It was a lesson well learned. 

Dumbledore had given his warning about the third floor corridor and the 'most unpleasant death' that awaited those who tried to explore it. The fact that he was risking the lives of hundreds of children by practically inviting them into the maw of a Cerberus made Harry's blood boil. 

Outwards nothing showed. He ate his roast and treacle tart with perfect manners, never once looking up at the teachers table during the entire meal. 

A thing that had hit him one night while he planned and plotted for Hogwarts, was that his unique Occlumency barriers would be a dead giveaway for his second identity and prompt questions he'd rather not answer. 

As a result of that, Harry had taken the time to create a 'fake' mindscape so to speak. If anyone tried to enter his mind they would find moderate resistance from newly erected shields, but nothing strong enough to hold against the likes of Snape or Dumbledore. 

Once the intruder had broken through, they would find an entire childhood of fake memories. Or rather, the memories of his first childhood. His true mind and memories were hidden far beneath it all. 

And should someone actually be able to get past his fake mindscape, they would be caught up by his disturbing shield of nothingness. For if someone was as skilled and relentless as that, then the game was already up.

"First years follow me!" The voice of one of the prefects broke through his musings.

Harry could see the green and silver prefect badge gleaming on the girl's chest. He remembered having seen her a few times in his past life but never actually caught her name. 

All the first years, himself included, gathered around the girl and trailed after her like a flock of ducklings. 

She led them through the winding corridors, down into the dungeons. Eventually they reached a blank stretch of wall which Harry recognised from his second year. 

"The current password is Arnica." The prefect said, the patch of wall shifting and recreating itself to form an entrance to the Slytherin common room. 

"The password will change twice a month so remember to check the bulletin board in the common room every now and then." 

They walked through the stone passage, and into the mostly empty common room, apart from the small first years. Harry eyed the area with curiosity. 

He had been there once before with Ron, but seeing as they were Polyjuiced and trying to wrangle Draco for information about the Heir of Slytherin, he hadn't had the time to take in all the details. 

The room was beautiful in a posh, almost gothic kind of way. Black, green and silver were the most prominent colours, but instead of being gaudy it just looked luxurious. 

The wingbacks and black leather sofa in front of the fireplace looked especially comfortable and inviting. He had a feeling that the chair might end up being his spot one day. 

As he surreptitiously let his eyes roam, he noticed how there were snakes almost everywhere. Not real ones of course, but carvings, prints and paintings. Harry wondered if they could speak. It would be a marvellous tool for spying. It was something he'd have to explore later. 

"Settle down everyone!" The prefect loudly voiced once all the first years had made their way inside the common room. The children quickly fell silent, eyes glued to her. 

"Welcome to Slytherin!" She grinned widely. 

"My name is Gemma Farley and this is Daryl Morden. We are the sixth year prefects for our house." She gestured to a tall and lanky boy at her side who looked extremely bored. He gave a short nod but didn't bother to speak, instead letting Gemma be in charge.

Harry was surprised by how nice the introductory speech was. Gemma was clearly a good pick for the prefect position. She appeared warm and not at all threatening at first glance. 

She spoke of unity, of family, how Slytherin stood united in front of the other houses no matter who you were or what conflicts you had with each other. 

Regulus had given him a recounting of the so-called 'rules' of Slytherin before he arrived, and it didn't escape his notice how not much had changed on that front. 

"Before we show you to your dorms, professor Snape, who is our Head of House, would like to say a few words." 

Snape seemed to melt out of the shadows, startling several of the children who hadn't known he was there. Harry felt like rolling his eyes fondly. Snape always had to be such a dramatic prick. 

The room was entirely quiet as the tall and imposing professor stared them down. A few of the first years shifted uncomfortably where they stood, and one of the girls, he thought it might have been Tracey Davis, let out a tiny squeak of fright.

Harry didn't let it bother him. He stood calmly on his spot next to Draco Malfoy, his face a mask of polite interest. 

Snape would never be a warm person, but there was a sort of stern gentleness when he spoke to the new first years. It surprised Harry, even if it probably shouldn't. 

He wondered if the man had been like that in his past life as well, or if it was a change that had come with their deepening friendship over the years. 

"Being a Slytherin is not easy. You will be singled out, targeted, seen as cruel and evil for the green on your robes. And if there is ever an altercation between yourself and another student, chances are the odds will be severely skewed to your disadvantage once a professor or prefect of another house is involved." The professor's dark eyes studied them all with intense scrutiny, trying to get the severity across. 

"Once you leave the common room, stay together, do not wander off on your own. You must show a united front. For no matter what they might think, we are not easy prey. We are not weak. You are all Slytherins, resourcefulness, ambition and cunning is what brought you here. Use it for all that it is worth. For the next seven years, Slytherin will be your family. We take care of our own, you'll do well to remember that." He paused dramatically, letting the message sink in.

"If you face any problems or have any concerns, seek out the prefects. If they cannot help, or if it is something you do not wish to discuss with them, my office door is open after 5pm. Do not abuse that privilege." Snape's voice held a warning note and his eyes narrowed as he surveyed the gathered students. 

"Do I make myself clear?" His baritone voice was the only thing that could be heard in the large room. 

Harry watched the man closely and was pleased to see that the expected hatred geared towards him was more of a simmering disdain. He could deal with that. 

"Yes sir." He politely replied, seeing as the professor was waiting for a verbal confirmation. 

For the briefest moment, black eyes met green. Snape was assessing him, but there was no hint of Legilimency being used. 

A smattering of students copied Harry's approach, voicing their understanding out loud. Snape seemed satisfied with the response and continued on with his speech. 

"During your first week here, all of you will be subjected to a mandatory health check. Madam Pomfrey, our resident Healer, will be the one performing the check. The time for your appointment will be delivered along with your timetables during tomorrow's breakfast. If you fail to show up to your allotted time, you will regret it." The potion master's eyes were stern, and his demeanour imposing. There was no question as to whether he meant what he said or not.  

If it hadn't been for Snape telling his friend Peverell about the health checks, Harry would have been shocked by the declaration. Gryffindor had not had anything remotely like it in his first lifetime, and if they had, he most definitely would have been one of the students trying to weasel his way out of the appointment. 

During one of their meetings where they discussed potions theory and brewed in Harry's tent, Snape had confided that the health checks was something he'd introduced after he took on the job as Head of House. 

He had quickly realised just how many abused children ended up sorted in Slytherin. After all, ambition, cunning and resourcefulness were traits that often went hand in hand with those who came from less than ideal homes.

Snape had confided how once upon a time, he himself had been one of those students. Sadly, he might not be able to change what went on in their homes, especially not for those who came from rich and influential pureblood families, but with the health checks they would at least be given proper treatment during the school year. 

Harry may not like his childhood failings being exposed, not one bit, but it was something he planned to take great advantage of.

He might not be as malnourished and in poor condition as he was in his first life, but he still carried the scars from his early childhood. In addition, his amulet would make it easy to alter his body until it practically screamed 'abused child'.

He would be playing the sympathy card. And if the information about his poor health and ongoing years of abuse was leaked to the press? Well… no-one would suspect him to be responsible. After all, what neglected child would willingly spread their shame for all of magical Britain to see? 

As soon as the speech was finished, Snape turned sharply on his heel, his black robes flaring out dramatically behind him as he exited the common room with long strides. 

Gemma Farley and Daryl Morden, the two sixth year prefects, sorted the first years by gender and guided them to their dorms. 

"You'll be sharing this room until your fifth year. Only then will you get a private room with more space." Morden said, causing Draco to wrinkle his nose. The prefect quirked an unimpressed eyebrow. 

"And yes, Malfoy, not even you'll be able to buy your way to a private room until then. It's tradition." He said as he opened the door to a large, rectangular room. 

There were six, four poster beds placed with the headboards against the wall. The room was identical on the left and right, with three beds to each side. 

Harry marvelled at how large the room was compared to the cramped dorm room he'd shared with the other Gryffindor boys in his first life. 

Here, each student had his own wardrobe, bed, nightstand and a small desk. He wondered if the other houses were aware of how well furnished the Slytherin dorms were, or if it was just Gryffindor that was lacking. He'd have to ask Neville what the Hufflepuff dorms were like. 

The wooden furniture was stained black, a dark contrast to the soft green walls. Harry's eyes were drawn to the large and grandiose fireplace positioned at the end of the room. A slytherin banner hung proudly above the mantelpiece, the silver snake's tongue flickered out every now and then. It brought up the question, again, of whether all the snake motifs in the dungeon were sentient enough to speak. 

"If you don't think you'll be able to find your way to the great hall on your own tomorrow, wait for one of the prefects down in the common room. We leave at quarter past eight whether you're there or not, so don't be tardy." Morden gave them all a last, bored look before he wandered off to rejoin his own friends, prefect duties completed for the day. 

Harry stepped into the room and walked to the back where he could see his black dragonhide trunk resting at the foot of his new bed. He'd gotten lucky and secured himself one of the two beds that were closest to the fireplace, which meant that instead of being sandwiched between two of the other boys he had one side entirely to himself. 

The other boys followed suit, claiming the beds where their trunks had been allocated to. Harry made a mental note of who slept where. 

Theodore Nott was the one closest to him, having gotten the bed in between Harry and Blaise Zabini. On the left side of the room were Draco, between his two friends Crabbe and Goyle. 

Draco apparently thought he was being subtle when he glared at Nott for having been fortunate enough to get the bed next to the famous Boy-Who-Lived, nobody commented on it though. 

The room was mostly silent as they began to unpack, placing clothes in their wardrobes and books onto their desks. Harry had expected Draco to be the first one to open his mouth, but he ended up being surprised. 

"Why're you in Slytherin? You're a Potter." Goyle asked in honest confusion, having sat down on the bed across from Harry. 

Harry felt like laughing but that would be rude. Instead he quirked an eyebrow and smiled blandly. "The hat decided Slytherin was the place for me, just like the rest of you I presume."

"But the Potters have been Light for generations!" Goyle countered, still just as lost over how a child from a previous Light family could have ended up sharing a dorm with him. 

Harry did not look impressed. He had to remind himself that they were children, some more unintelligent than others. "I don't see how that has anything to do with my personality traits. After all, that is what the hat sorts you by, not your political leanings or family." 

The large boy frowned deeply, trying to correlate what Harry said with what he had been taught growing up, slowly opening his mouth to answer. 

"Well I for one think it's brilliant you're here!" Draco exclaimed with a big grin, cutting off his friend who closed his mouth as soon as the blonde boy spoke.

"Did you see the look on Weasley's face when you got sorted? It was glorious!" His young voice was filled with excitement and smug glee over having one-upped his new nemesis. It was ridiculous, and so childish Harry desperately wanted to roll his eyes and chuckle. 

"I'm afraid I didn't notice anyone in particular, although the Gryffindor table was rather loud in voicing their disappointment." He replied, putting the last of his socks into his wardrobe drawer. 

"Of course they were. Everyone was sure you'd be going to Gryffindor." Goyle said, still frowning and looking as if he was trying to solve a massive puzzle. 

"I find it rather odd that everyone, as you say, expected me to go into one house over the other, it isn't like anyone actually know me. I grew up in a non-magical area, I didn't even know of magic or my supposed fame until I got my Hogwarts letter." Harry mused out loud. 

The five boys looked at him with wide-eyed shock. Draco seemed horrified at him having grown up around muggles of all things. Nott on the other hand frowned and Zabini looked pensive. 

"What do you mean you didn't know about magic?!" Draco practically shrieked. "You had to! Dumbledore was training you in secret! That's what the books all said." 

Harry wrinkled his nose in disdain. "Well, if he did then that is certainly news to me. I have never met the man before the feast today. I had no idea he even existed before I got my letter. Besides, why would the headmaster of our school sequester me off to places unknown and train me? What gives him that right. As far as I'm aware he is not my guardian, nor related to me in the slightest. And even if he were, what kind of threat could he possibly want to prepare me for?" 

Nott and Draco traded loaded glances at that, both looking mildly uncomfortable. 

Draco cleared his throat. "Yes, well… that's…" he appeared at a loss for words. 

Harry took pity on him and smiled. "I don't think any of us has been properly introduced. I am Henry James Potter, heir to the Noble House of Potter as well as the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black." 

He held his hand out for Draco who looked flabbergasted.

"What do you mean Black? You're lying, you can't be!" Draco nearly shrieked. The Black Lordship was something his mother had told him would be his one day, they were just waiting for Sirius Black to die in Azkaban. Mother had promised. 

Harry cocked an eyebrow. He knew Narcissa had filled the boy's head with ideas of the Black inheritance, but he thought they'd given it up when the goblins wouldn't budge after Arcturus' death. It seemed that either Draco hadn't accepted that he wasn't due to inherit, or Narcissa had been remiss in telling him. Either way it caused an awkward tension between him and the Malfoy heir. 

"I do not take kindly to accusations of lying, Malfoy." Harry said, eyebrows furrowing in a displeased frown. 

He figured that there was only one way to settle the matter once and for all. Instead of holding his hand out to be shaken, he instead lifted it up with the back of his hand facing Draco, the Potter and Black heirship rings glittering in the light from the fireplace. 

Draco's grey eyes widened, even though he could see the ring on Harry's finger he still didn't want to face the truth. He had been promised that inheritance.

Instead of dealing with the obvious, the young Malfoy turned around without a word and stomped off to his own bed, roughly drawing the curtains shut without another word. 

It was rude, extremely so, a proper faux pas in the pureblood circles, especially since he had ignored Harry's greeting. 

Technically, with the Black heirship, Harry was of higher status than Draco, and if Harry hadn't been who he was, it might have ended up with severe social consequences for little Draco.

Luckily for Malfoy Jr, Harry was adult enough to understand that the boys in his dorm were just children, and they were allowed to make a mistake or two, for now…

"Well, that was rather rude." Harry softly murmured, letting his hand drop to his side. 

Poor Crabbe and Goyle looked severely confused at Draco's behaviour and were at a loss for what to do now. In the end they figured it was probably time to go to bed since their friend had seemingly called it a night. 

With them having gone to the bathroom to brush their teeth and change, that only left Harry and the two boys he knew the least about. 

"Do ignore Draco, he can be a bit tetchy at times. I'm Blaise Zabini, from the House of Zabini, pleasure to make your acquaintance." The dark skinned boy said with a charming smile full of perfect, white teeth. He was the first one to step up and offer his hand.

Harry shook it firmly, offering an amused smile in return. 

While the two boys formally introduced themselves, Nott eyed the heirship rings on Harry's hand with calculation. He had been ordered to stay away from the Potter heir by his father, but that was when they assumed he'd be in Gryffindor. That, combined with the Black heirship changed everything. After the two of them separated, Nott held out his hand as well. 

"Theodore Arsenius Nott, heir to the Ancient House of Nott, but please call me Theo, I don't like the name Theodore overly much." The young boy said, his thick chestnut hair nearly hiding his dark, intelligent eyes. 

"Well, if that is the case, please call me Henry." Harry replied in kind, shaking the proffered hand. 

Neither Theo nor Zabini questioned why he went by Henry and not Harry as they had been told all their lives, but he suspected that they would bring it up eventually. 

From what he could remember, Theo was a quiet boy who never seemed to pick sides. In his past life, the boy had never seemed to be particularly close with Draco despite both their fathers having been Death Eaters. In fact, Harry could hardly remember him at all. The boy was a non entity almost, so unassuming that he went ignored by those around him. That could be dangerous... but also beneficial. 

Harry decided that he would be keeping a close eye on the Nott heir, who was proving to be rather interesting. 

The boys all decided that with the introductions over and done with, it was time for bed. They had to get up early if they wanted to make it in time for breakfast. 

Harry closed the dark green curtains around his bed for privacy. Dealing with children was exhausting. It had only been a day and he already wanted to give up on all of his carefully-laid plans. 

With swiftness born from practiced ease, he threw up a silencing ward around his bed along with a proximity ward. If anyone tried to enter his area of the room he would be notified immediately. The curtains were also spelled to high heavens, making them impossible to open for anyone that wasn't him.

He waited patiently until he could hear the breaths of his roommates evening out, and once he got Regulus' confirmation that they were fast asleep, he stepped through the shadows and into the living room of his house on Peverell island.

Chapter Text

Harry let out a loud groan and ran a hand through his hair. He needed to talk to Death about the ghost situation at Hogwarts, it was paramount that they kept silent on the matter of his status as Death's Master and his abilities as a necromancer. He shuddered to think what Dumbledore would do should the information be brought to his attention. 

However, before he could get around to summon Death, he was bowled over by a large, black mutt, who wagged his tail furiously and slobbered all over his face. 

Regulus, the traitor, had not seen fit to warn him of the furry menace heading his way, and was instead snickering as Harry got covered in dog saliva. 

"Ew, get off!" Harry squawked and shoved at the massive canine who was easily twice his size. 

"You're back!" Sirius happily exclaimed once he had returned to human form. 

"You are absolutely disgusting." Harry grunted and used the hem of his pyjama sleeve to wipe the drool off his face. "And I told you several times that I'd return once the rest of my dorm mates fell asleep." 

At times Harry wondered if Sirius played up his doggy behaviour just to mess with people. Because currently he acted like a dog who thought its owner had left forever while in reality they'd just gone out for groceries. 

"Which house did you get sorted into?!" Sirius ignored his godson's grumbling and instead helped him back on his feet, before promptly pushing him down into his favourite wingback. 

"Guess." Harry replied with a small smirk, happily accepting the perfect cup of tea that appeared in front of him. Bless those elves. 

"Ravenclaw?" Sirius hopefully asked. 

Harry blew on his tea, smirk widening. "Guess again." 

"... Hufflepuff?" Was the more hesitant reply. 

Harry snorted. There was nothing wrong with Hufflepuff, it was a house just as good as the rest, but both he and Sirius knew that the badger house was not where he belonged. 

"Come now, you know me better than that, Sirius." Harry chided in clear amusement. 

Sirius sighed theatrically and plopped down in the second chair, one foot dangling over the armrest. "You became a snake didn't you?"

Harry flashed him a toothy grin. "I did indeed. Are you surprised?" 

"Not in the slightest." Sirius snorted and shook his head fondly, a smile spreading on his face. 

"So, what was it like? Being back I mean." His godfather asked. 

Harry pondered the question as he took a sip of his mint tea. "It was… strange… and utterly exhausting. I doubt I'll be able to complete all seven years." He sighed. 

"That bad?" 

"No, not bad I suppose, just tiresome. But I'll try to stick it out until I've taken my OWLs at least." 

A faint grimace marred his features at the thought. Puberty was rapidly approaching for the children in his year and he was not looking forward to it. Once had been bad enough. But, needs must. 

The two of them spoke for a little while longer until Sirius decided to go to bed. Harry might only need three hours of sleep after his sacrificial ritual, but Sirius was not as blessed. He needed at least seven hours to function properly, ideally more if he could.

With Sirius out of the room, Harry settled down for a chat with Death. Summoning had become almost second nature to him over the years, and the deity often appeared even before Harry had consciously made the move to call him. 

"Good evening, Master." Death's smooth voice said as the being materialised in the chair Sirius had recently occupied. 

"Hello Death." Harry replied with a smile. 

"I have a feeling you did not call for me merely to regale me of your sorting." The deity chuckled softly and took the second cup of tea that appeared, Ceylon with a cube of Ambrosia, the elves had learned how he liked it over the years. Of course, it helped that they were terrified of him, not that he had done anything to deserve that fear, but so was the existence of being Death. 

"No, you're quite right. It's about the ghosts at the castle. I hadn't given it much thought before, seeing as ghosts are quite rare outside of Hogwarts and other magically strong areas." Harry frowned. 

"They could see me, and I don't just mean physically. I fear it might be on a more abstract plane. I don't know if it is my soul, aura or what have you, but they could see something and it frightened them." Harry eyed the god closely to see if he understood. 

"Ah." Death hummed thoughtfully. 

"It is to be expected that they would feel your presence. Ghosts are souls who have not been collected, or 'moved on' as you like to say. They remain tethered to the living world through magic and strong emotions. Only in areas rich with ambient magic will you possibly be able to come across a ghost. For without the magic, the emotion aspect will not be enough to keep them here. As such, they are still a part of my domain, your domain. They can sense the power you hold over the dead, in fact… I wouldn't be surprised if they thought you were me." Death calmly explained before drinking his tea.

Harry's eyes widened. "What?" He almost sputtered. Being mistaken for Death was not exactly normal, even for Harry. 

He took a deep breath and rubbed his temples. "Well, no matter what they think of me, I need them to keep silent about my status. If anyone living finds out about it, it could ruin everything. Will you be able to keep them from talking?" Harry asked.

Death promised that he would have a word with them, which greatly eased Harry's worries. 

Before he returned to Hogwarts, Harry made sure to deal with any correspondence in his name as Lord Peverell. Thankfully there wasn't much, and he was glad that the Wizengamot didn't meet often unless there was a trial that demanded the entire court. 

At first he had been a bit concerned about how he was going to keep up his second life while at Hogwarts. He had a few plans for how he might sort that issue, a Time-Turner specifically, but getting his hands on one of those was not easy. 

In the meantime, Sirius had promised to cover for him should there be any emergencies. He trusted his godfather's ability to act, and he was in fact a rather good actor once he put his mind to it. 

With the help of the Resurrection Stone, Regulus would always be available to guide his older brother through the murky waters of politics should he need it. 

Harry's ebony wand had been left in Sirius' care just in case he needed to visit the ministry. The wand refused to work for him, but he only needed it as identification anyway. 

As a more permanent solution to his dilemma, Harry had hired someone to look for a Time-Turner on the black market. They were notoriously difficult to procure, understandably enough, and highly illegal to own without a permit. The amount of money it would cost to get his hands on one was quite frankly astronomical. But it would be well worth it.

Harry placed the last piece of correspondence in the outbound pile and stretched. The elves would collect all the letters come morning and have them sent out through the Owl Post Office. 

With one last look around his study, finding everything to be in order, Harry returned to his bed at Hogwarts so he could get his required three hours of sleep for optimum performance. 

At 7am the alarm function on his wristwatch woke him up, and he slowly took the time to disassemble the various wards he'd placed on his bed and surrounding area. 

The other boys were still asleep when he pulled aside his curtains, and for a brief moment he pondered whether he should wake them up. The idea was quickly culled in its infancy however, for no eleven-year-old child would be appreciative of being roused at 7am without good reason. 

Harry got dressed in his school uniform, spending a few seconds marvelling at the green and silver tie he was now wearing. It still felt strange seeing himself in anything but red and gold.

The amount of people in the common room surprised him once he made it up the stairs. Gryffindor had practically been empty at that time of day, most preferring to sleep the morning away. 

Slytherin was not the same in that regard it seemed. The students were mostly from older years, but he noticed a few younger faces, Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis among them. They were waiting along with Gemma Farley who yawned at odd intervals. They must be waiting for the rest of the first years to arrive before heading to the Great Hall as a group. 

Harry decided he might as well try to be social. He didn't think he'd ever spoken to either Greengrass or Davis in his past life. Come to think of it, he'd been rather secluded back then, strange as it might sound considering his fame. 

Gemma watched as the three children introduced themselves and began talking about idle things. Harry asked the girls which subject they were most looking forward to. For Daphne it was transfiguration and Tracey prattled excitedly about potions. 

The girls were decent enough, although Daphne seemed a bit aloof. He thought it might have to do with either his blood status or the fact that he was Harry Potter, but he didn't ask. 

Their little group was eventually joined by the other girls and boys in their year. Through the corner of his eyes, Harry watched as Draco, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, finally made their way over to the group of gathered first years with only a minute to spare. 

The blonde boy seemed to still be in a mood about Harry's claim to the Black heirship, and went out of his way to act as if Harry didn't exist at all. The urge to roll his eyes was strong. 

"It's quarter past eight so we'll be heading to the Great Hall now." Gemma said as she scanned the firsties, doing a mental count of how many there were. 

"Good, you're all here." She nodded in approval. "There will be a prefect to guide you to breakfast every day this week at quarter past eight. If you feel like you know the way already, you are welcome to go on your own before or after 8:15" 

The house tables had all begun to fill up nicely, Gryffindor however was the one with the least students. Harry grabbed the teapot and poured himself a cup, dead set on avoiding the jug of orange liquid sitting next to it.

He found pumpkin juice absolutely disgusting these days. It was too sweet. Luckily there were other options, and so tea it was. 

The first years were mostly silent as they ate breakfast, everyone focused on manners and etiquette. Draco's avoidance of him hadn't gone unnoticed however, especially the girls sent surreptitious looks now and then. 

The upper years seemed to have picked up on the tension as well, but Harry ignored them for now, it wasn't as if any of them were a threat. 

By the time Harry had taken the last bite of his scrambled eggs and toast, the plates vanished. Not long after, Snape swooped down from the teachers table to deliver their timetables. 

He looked to be in as foul a mood as ever. Scowling and glaring left and right at the students. Harry didn't take it to heart, instead he scanned his timetable to see which classes he had for the day. 

Monday morning had a nice start. Herbology with the Hufflepuffs would be a calm affair and he was glad to note that he would be able to spend some time with Neville in a subject they both enjoyed. 

Herbology was followed by Defence Against the Dark Arts, then Transfiguration, Charms and History, with a nice, long lunch break in the middle of course.

There was a scribbled note at the bottom of the parchment in Snape's distinct cursive, informing Harry that his appointment with Madam Pomfrey was at 3pm that evening, fifteen minutes after his last class for the day. It was abrupt but he didn't mind, might as well get it over with. 

"Neville! Good to see you again." Harry exclaimed as he caught sight of the plump boy about to exit the Great Hall. He quickly made it over to his new friend. 

"How has Hufflepuff been treating you so far?" Harry asked with an encouraging smile. 

"It's brilliant!" Neville replied in rushed excitement, a big, happy smile stretching on his face, making him light up in childish wonder. 

"You were right about the common room. It's so bright and cosy, and it's filled with plants! There was a flitterbloom and cloves a-and-" he continued naming all the flora currently stationed in the badgers' common room, of which there were many.

Harry listened to him speak with indulgent amusement. Yes, Hufflepuff would do him good. 

"And… uh… how is Slytherin?" Neville hesitantly asked, shyly looking at Harry through the corner of his eyes as they made their way to Greenhouse One. 

Harry chuckled. "It's not so bad. I think I managed to upset Malfoy due to my Black heirship though, but otherwise it's been rather peaceful so far." 

Neville looked as if he wanted to say something but didn't know if it would be received well. Harry gave him some time and eventually the young boy took a deep breath and spoke with quiet solemnity. "Y-you know that many of their families are D-Death Eaters, r-right?" 

Harry hummed softly, finding it rather sweet that Neville was trying to warn him in his own way.

"I am aware, yes. However I prefer to pass judgement myself. Besides, they are not their parents, same as I am not mine, nor are you yours." He replied. 

"Thank you for the warning, Neville, but there is no need to worry, I can take care of myself." Harry softly reassured. 

The grim topics of Death Eaters were laid to rest once they reached the greenhouse. Professor Sprout was a short and plump witch with an abundance of energy and cheer. She enthusiastically told them to pair up, for they would be pruning honking daffodils and planting dittany seeds.  

Harry was a deft hand at gardening, and Neville even more so. The two of them got plenty of praise from their professor whenever she passed by and Neville was soaking it up like a dry sponge. Harry had a feeling that there hadn't been much praise or even kind words for the boy growing up. 

After Herbology, Harry and Neville walked to their Defence Against the Dark Arts class. It was surprisingly not as bad as he could remember. Yes there was still an overpowering amount of garlic to hide the rotting smell coming from the back of Quirrell's head, but the man himself, or rather, Voldemort, didn't seem interested in trying to use Legilimency on him. 

Of course, it helped that Harry was no longer a Horcrux, nor did he meet the man's eyes, both the ones up front and the ones hidden behind the purple turban. 

The day continued in the same vein. Seeing as they were all children with minimal knowledge of magic, the first few lessons of each subject were theoretical. The teachers didn't want them diving head first into spellcasting without some semblance of a foundation first. 

After the dreadfully boring Defence class, Harry separated from Neville and went to Transfiguration that the Slytherins shared with Ravenclaw. He arrived early, with nearly eight minutes to spare before the lesson was due to begin. 

Instead of a teacher, there was a cat, a silver tabby with distinct spectacle markings around its eyes. The cat sat on top of the desk, eying each and every student that entered. 

Harry of course knew that the cat was in fact their Transfiguration professor Mrs McGonagall. He gave her a curious look and a polite nod of greeting before he sat down at one of the desks in the back. He didn't like having people sitting behind him, call it paranoia from the war. 

Unlike in his first life, there were no latecomers. Seeing as it was a class filled with eagles and snakes, that wasn't all that strange, they were all eager to make a good impression and earn points. 

To Harry's surprise, Theo had asked if he could sit next to him during class. He had fully expected to sit alone for the time being, due to his tenuous position in Slytherin, but graciously allowed the boy a seat.

The same happened during Charms after lunch, and Harry caught Ron glaring daggers at him from across the room. He didn't know if it was because he was sitting with the son of a Death Eater, or whether it was because he had been sorted into Slytherin and therefore been proclaimed 'traitorous and evil' in Ron's immature mind. 

Harry found it sad, for as much as he'd cared for the boy in his first life, this version of him would never be the same as the one that had gone through trial after trial with him. 

Ron had always been a jealous person, to the point that Harry himself had downplayed both his abilities and newfound wealth in his first life, feeling content with the companionship Ron gave in return, no matter how fickle it might be at times. Despite that, Ron had always returned when it mattered most, and he had grown and matured as the years went by.

This Ron, however, was still a child, one who hadn't bled and suffered, one who hadn't lived and fought through a war. He was an innocent boy whose world was still painfully black and white, where Gryffindors were the paragon of good and Slytherins the root of all evil. 

From where he sat he could hear the redhead's scathing comments to Dean and he mentally sighed. Harry didn't have it in him to live through the boy's jealousy once again. Perhaps in a few years, once he'd had the time to grow, they could be friends again. 

Throughout the day, Harry's hand rose whenever the teachers asked a question they wanted the students to answer. They had been keen to see what their hero could do, and so, Harry earned a decent amount of points for his house, more than any other Slytherin in his year. 

Flitwick especially was eager to question the students, and had a tendency to pick Harry over Hermione, much to the girl's continued ire. She was fiercely competitive and glared frostily at him whenever he answered a question she knew the answer to. 

He loved Hermione, he truly did, she had been with him through thick and thin, but she had a lot of growing up to do. She was a sheltered child with too much reverence for authority figures. She still believed that anyone with an official position had to be good and trustworthy. 

There were parts of her he missed sorely, she had been his sister in all but blood. But like with Ron, this child would never be the woman he'd known. 

He'd try to guide her where he could, but he doubted she would listen, she was too stubborn and sure of herself and her worldview. 

~

The Hospital wing was white, annoyingly so. Harry had never liked being there, not because of Madam Pomfrey, who he secretly thought was a dragon incarnate, but because he had always been afraid of people discovering what went on at the Dursleys. When he thought about it, it was actually rather strange that they hadn't, considering how much time he'd spent inside the pristine room. 

"Mr Potter is it? Right on time as well, good. Have a seat." Madam Pomfrey crisply said and shepherded him into the clean bed that was separated from the rest of the room with large drapes. 

"What will you be doing?" He asked, playing his role as a suspicious young boy. 

"Just a general diagnostics charm Mr Potter. You won't feel a thing. Now, please sit still while I perform the spell." 

Harry frowned but let the matron do her job. She said he wouldn't feel anything but that wasn't entirely true. He could sense the foreign magic wash over him, running through every inch of his body. Of course, Madam Pomfrey had no way of knowing that he was sensitive to magic, it was practically unheard of for children his supposed age. 

The matron did not look happy with what she found. Her face was drawn in a deep frown as she studied the designs above Harry's head. She muttered a few choice words under her breath and told Harry to not go anywhere as she quickly strode into her office. 

He wondered exactly what it was she'd found. He hadn't seen a Healer since he came back in time, he probably should have, but he simply didn't trust anyone enough. For the most part he had self medicated himself with various potions. Mainly to help him be able to eat properly again. 

Pomfrey returned in a matter of seconds, with parchment and quill in hand, much to Harry's bafflement. 

"Is something wrong ma'am?" He hesitantly asked. 

"Not as such. But I will have to do a more in depth scan. I'm afraid it will take longer, but it should be just as painless." She offered him one of her rare smiles. 

"Remove your outer robe and lay down for me please." 

Harry did as he was told and let his black robes hang over the simple chair that was stationed next to the bed, before he laid down. 

"Again, Mr Potter, it is of the utmost importance that you lay still while I do this, otherwise the results might be faulty and we will have to try once more until we get it right. Understood?" 

"Yes ma'am." Harry confirmed. 

Madam Pomfrey nodded in approval.

The reason for why she had brought a quill and parchment became evidently clear a few seconds later. Before she began the diagnostics charm, the tip of the quill was dipped in a rusty brown potion that the writing implement greedily soaked up. Madam Pomfrey then proceeded to tap the quill with her wand and the charm began. 

For an entire minute she chanted, drawing patterns above Harry's body that he failed to recognise from the few magical healing texts he'd read in the past. Oh he understood what was going on, in broad strokes at least, but this was not a charm that he was familiar with.  

He eyed the patterns above him with curiosity, committing them to memory. The minutes ticked by and Madame Pomfrey left him alone with another stern reminder not to move. 

The infirmary was empty aside from him, the only sounds being that of the quill scratching away on parchment and Madame Pomfrey speaking to someone in her office. He couldn't distinguish who the other person was though, the noise was too muffled through the half closed door.

As Harry laid there, he allowed his mind to wander. 

~

Despite how much he'd wished for the opposite, Cornelius Fudge had still become Minister for Magic a year ago. The reason was that there had been no other viable candidates willing to run for office, and Harry certainly wasn't going to run for Minister himself. 

Once he'd realised where things were headed, Harry had slithered his way into an advisory position for Fudge, earning the man's trust. It was easier than he'd assumed, and honestly? Fudge was laughably simple to control, steer and manipulate. 

Lucius Malfoy had the same idea of course, but Harry had gotten there first, and as such was the one 'closest' to the Minister, his most trusted advisor so to speak. 

Fudge was a puppet and Harry was the puppeteer, well, one of them anyway. It was remarkable how much more he managed to get done with the minister on his side. 

Harry was a spider weaving his web, and Fudge was the poor fly getting caught. That being said, Harry still detested it all. Politics was something he would avoid entirely if he could, but it was a necessary evil. 

Sadly, due to starting Hogwarts, he didn't have the time to visit the ministry as much as he used to. His relationship with Fudge would surely take a big hit because of it, allowing Lucius, that pompous arsehole, to gain a stronger footing in the Ministry. 

To explain his prolonged absence, Harry had told them that he would be travelling abroad for a while, but would return for any Wizengamot meetings. 

He thought back to the last conversation he'd had with Lucius' wife before term began. 

"How are you faring now that little Draco is almost due to leave for Hogwarts?" Harry had asked, taking a sip from the pristine bone china cup in his hand. 

"I am afraid I am going to miss him dearly." Narcissa Malfoy replied, sighing wistfully. 

"I can't believe my baby is growing up so fast. It seems like just last year he was running around the manor in the nude, trying to escape the elves who were giving him a bath." She laughed softly. 

Harry joined her laughter, filing away that piece of information for future teasing material of the Malfoy heir. 

They were seated together in one of the more casual drawing rooms at Malfoy manor, drinking tea and chatting amicably. Something Regulus would undoubtedly call gossiping, but Harry purposefully ignored the spirit's opinions.

The two of them had struck a surprising friendship over the years, beginning with Harry's connection to Snape and interactions with her husband. It had been unexpected, but Harry couldn't find it in himself to be bothered by it.

Narcissa was cold and ruthless, yes, but she was also a fierce protector. Just like Lily, she would watch the world burn if it meant saving her son. Harry admired her for that.

Although she might appear the perfect pureblood wife who was polite and quiet, she was intensely intelligent, more so than her poncy husband, that's for sure. 

With her blonde hair and pale eyes, people tended to forget that she hadn't always been a Malfoy. For Narcissa was a Black, born and raised, their blood running thickly through her veins. 

Her husband was intolerable as always. No matter how often Harry had to deal with Lucius Malfoy, both at the Ministry and social gatherings, he still disliked him greatly. 

Although he was beyond thinking of the man as evil, he did not like him much as a person, nor did he trust him even a fraction. Narcissa seemed to know this and found it greatly amusing. She wasn't blind to her husband's ways.

Snape on the other hand merely rolled his eyes whenever Harry began to rant about the blonde prat. 

"Mr Potter?" 

Harry blinked slowly, realising that Madam Pomfrey had returned and was now speaking to him. 

The quill had stopped writing and laid still on the bedside table. The parchment however, was clutched in a white knuckled grip by the matron. 

"Yes ma'am? Was the charm successful?" He asked, eying the piece of parchment with curiosity. He wondered what it said. 

Pomfrey nodded briskly but Harry could tell that she wasn't happy. Still, she stayed professional nonetheless.

"I've summoned your head of House to join us Mr Potter. He should be here soon." 

Harry frowned. "Why? Am I in trouble?" 

"Oh heavens, nothing like that! But it seems you have missed a lot of important inoculation potions that wizarding children get when they are young. Professor Snape is our resident potions master and will therefore be brewing them for you." Madam Pomfrey promptly replied. 

That wasn't all though, he could tell she was hiding the more 'upsetting' news, or perhaps she merely didn't want him to bolt before Snape got there. 

"What kind of diseases do they protect against ma'am?" Harry curiously asked. The innoculations potions were sort of the magical equivalent of a vaccine. 

Madam Pomfrey detailed the many magical illnesses that children got inoculations for during their childhood, and by the time she finished her explanation, Snape had entered the hospital wing through the Floo in Pomfrey's office. 

Harry made a calculated guess that he had been the one she spoke to earlier. 

The professor looked over at him with a stern frown, probably wondering why he was still there and hadn't been let go. 

"Severus, I think you should have a look at this." Madam Pomfrey said, but even though it was phrased as a suggestion, it was clearly an order.

Harry watched as the matron handed over the results of the diagnostic charm. Snape raised an eyebrow, but as his eyes trailed down the parchment, his face schooled into an impressive blankness. He must be actively using Occlumency to calm his mind, Harry thought. 

The only thing betraying his feigned calmness, was the whitening knuckles of his clenched, left hand, as if he itched to punch someone on Harry's behalf. It was almost refreshing. He'd love to pick the man's mind about the issue. 

"Is everything alright, professor?" Harry asked, voice laden with hesitation and concern. 

Is everything alright, the boy asked, as if Severus hadn't just been dealt a figurative punch to the gut. 

He hadn't expected there to be anything wrong with the Potter boy, why should he? He was the Boy-Who-Lived, Britain's beloved hero… 

When Severus had asked, and it had only been once mind you, Dumbledore had said that the boy was safe and protected. At the time he had taken it to mean he was being spoiled rotten by some wizarding family, but now, that belief had crumbled to dust. 

Multiple scars along the back, brittle bones, wrongly healed breaks, stunted growth, mild organ damage… It painted a severely grim picture of the boy's home life. His sorting into Slytherin made all the more sense now. 

Severus' mouth felt dry and he wanted to punch, or preferably curse, whomever was responsible for the boy's pain until they begged for mercy. But that would have to come later, right now he had a small, abused child to deal with. 

And speaking of small… Potter was tiny, much smaller than the other boys in his year. Not even Lily had been that short and scrawny when she started Hogwarts. 

"Poppy, would you give us a moment?" He quietly asked the matron. 

Someone else might have worried about leaving Potter alone with a Death Eater, supposed spy or not, but Poppy Pomfrey was not like other people. She had seen the scars on Severus' back during his childhood.

The Marauders and their vicious pranks had made it so that he often ended up in the Hospital Wing, and hiding his previous injuries had been impossible then. 

So that was the reason why the matron knew he would never actually harm a child. And although his tongue could be sharp and scathing, he had tried to tone it down over the years. 

Poppy sent him a stern look that said 'be nice or else', giving Severus the urge to roll his eyes. 

He waited until the matron had made her way to her office before he slowly sat down in the free chair. The boy looked wary, understandably enough. 

"May I see the results of the charm, sir?" Potter asked, head tilted slightly to the side as he eyed him. 

Severus raised one of his eyebrows and held the sheet out for the boy, he didn't see the need to keep it secret. Potter already knew what had happened to him, and the parchment only listed his current ailments, nothing detailed about what had caused them or when. 

The child's eyes scanned the document in an almost detached matter. 

"You cannot tell the headmaster." The boy said with such fervent conviction that it startled him. 

"And whyever not?" Severus replied, cocking an unamused eyebrow. Of all the things he had expected the boy to say, that was not it. What in Merlin's name did the headmaster have to do with anything?

The child looked him straight in the eyes without fear, and where those green eyes would once have made him think of Lily, now there was another person who first came to mind. 

Henry Potter, the son of James and Lily, looked like a miniature version of Lord Harrison Peverell, someone Severus actually cared to call a friend these days. 

If he hadn't known better, he almost would have expected the boy to be his son and not James'. But Peverell wouldn't have been older than 13 when Lily conceived, not at all an age where one sired children, not to mention the fact that he lived in Canada back then. Still, the similarities between Potter and Peverell were almost eerie. 

"Because he was the one who left me with them. Like an unwanted bottle of milk I was put on their doorstep on a cold November night." The boy replied, getting a faraway look. 

"And how, pray tell, would you know that? You were only a toddler back then." Severus kept his tongue in check, speaking as calmly as he could. 

"I was cleaning the attic once, and quite by accident I came across the letter he left in the basket with me. He threatened the Dursleys to take me in, sir. Never in a million years would they have accepted a freak like me into their home otherwise." The young voice was scathing and full of dark loathing. Whether it was for the headmaster, the Dursleys, or himself, Severus couldn't tell. 

"But that isn't all. For you see, there is a spy in the neighbourhood." 

"A spy?" Severus dubiously repeated.

"Oh yes." The boy's smile was reminiscent of a goblin, all teeth and anger. Whatever the Dursley family had done to him had not cowed the boy, instead it had hardened him into something sharp and full of dangerous edges. 

"Mrs Figg, a dotty old lady that used to be my babysitter. You know who I speak of, don't you sir?" The child said. 

Potter must have read the surprise on his face for how else could he have guessed?

Arabella Figg had been a part of the Order of the Phoenix during the first war, not that she was particularly useful, being a squib with no connections or money whatsoever. He hadn't had much contact with her, his role as first a Death Eater and then a spy kept them in completely different circles. 

"I always had my suspicions about her, but now I know. The cats she is so fond of aren't normal cats at all, they are Kneazles. Or at least part Kneazle. I find someone of the magical world living so close to me in a purely non-magical part of Surrey fairly suspicious, don't you sir?" Potter said but didn't seem to expect an answer as he continued speaking right away, voice eerily devoid of emotion.

"She always looked out of place, you see. Clothes too old and strange, appearance slightly unkempt, and a garden that was overgrown. The house could have used some maintenance as well. I always found it odd, seeing as the rest of the neighbourhood was firmly set in the higher middle-class, always concerned about their reputation." Potter's eyes honed in on Severus' face once more. 

"The headmaster knew exactly what went on in the Dursleys house and did nothing. So no, you cannot tell him." The boy's voice was solemn. 

Severus stared at the pale child with calculation. He could recognise a plot when he saw it. And the fact that Mrs Figg was stationed that close to the boy was indeed a plot. For the chances of that happening on its own were astronomical. 

Arabella had no income aside from the benefits she got from the muggle government and the Kneazle kittens she sold. There was no way a woman like her could afford a house, least of all in the posh area of Surrey where Harry Potter supposedly lived. 

"I will not inform the headmaster, if you answer some of my questions." Severus replied.

"Very well. What would you like to know, sir?" The boy agreed, surprisingly amicably. He had expected at least some hesitation or perhaps defensive aggression, but there was none.

"You mentioned that you live with the Dursleys, who are they?" He calmly asked. 

If he were to guess, the look he got in return for his question was a curious one, as if Potter thought he should already know for some reason. 

"According to Dumbledore they are my only living family." The boy said. 

Severus felt his stomach plummet, surely he couldn't mean…? No, Potter senior probably had some squib relative squirreled away in the muggle world. That had to be it. 

"Their names?" Severus queried with increasing trepidation.

"Petunia, Vernon and Dudley Dursley." The child replied honestly, probably having no idea how hard those words hit him. It was like a punch to the sternum, leaving him breathless. 

Petunia?! Dumbledore put a magical child with her? Severus couldn't help but sneer. "I assume she is still a spiteful cow?" 

"If by that you mean bitter, jealous and absolutely horrid, then yes, she very much is." The boy said with much amusement, a mean smirk curling on his lips. 

Severus snorted. That sounded like the Petunia he knew. She had been a cruel and jealous child, and by the sounds of it, that hadn't improved with age and maternity.

"You sound like you know her, sir." Potter stated with narrowed eyes, probably wondering whether he was in on the headmaster's conspiracy to keep him with his relatives. 

If he wanted to regain the boy's trust he would have to tell him the truth, or at least part of it. He hated speaking about Lily because it still hurt. He had never been able to let go of his grief and self-loathing for being the one that doomed her to her death. It clung to him like a second skin at that point. 

Severus couldn't handle looking in those intelligent, green orbs any longer. He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive manner, scowling as he began to speak.

"Unfortunately I do have the displeasure of knowing Petunia. She and your mother lived in the same town as me growing up." Severus explained in an almost monotone voice. He was Occluding heavily to be able to get through the conversation. 

"Your mother and I were… friends. I knew she was special from the moment I met her. She was in the local park with her sister, and when she jumped down from the swings at the highest point, instead of falling she floated softly down to the ground. She was a witch, and Petunia was jealous of her sister's gift. Your mother told me that Petunia wrote a letter to the headmaster once Lily got her acceptance letter, asking if she too could get a place at Hogwarts. The answer was of course no, since there is not even a fraction of magical ability within her. Her jealousy and cruelty began to fester even more after that. By the time your mother was in her fourth year she had completely lost touch with her sister, they were barely on speaking terms." Severus elaborated, letting the room fall silent.

"For many years they tried to stomp the magic out of me, because apparently to them, that was a reasonable thing to do to a magical child. They said it was to make me normal, but personally I just think they enjoyed the power of mistreating someone weaker than them." Potter murmured quietly, eyes fixed on the wall across the room. 

"I was forced to sleep in a cupboard for years…my cousin had two bedrooms." the boy revealed, taking a shuddering breath. 

Severus had to swallow away the spike of nausea and rage that emerged at those words. There was more to that story, of course there was, but now was not the time to go digging. He had already dragged this out for long enough and he needed privacy to deal with what he'd learned. 

"Mr Potter… I want you to listen to me." He slowly spoke, looking at the child with intensity. 

"Whatever they did to you, it was not your fault. You did not deserve it. Punishing a child for accidental magic is like punishing a human for breathing. You had no way to control your outbursts and it was cruel and unjust. Their fear of magic does not make their actions acceptable." 

"I know." Potter softly replied, a frail smile on his lips. 

Severus didn't think he did. No matter what the boy might think himself, mental scars like that ran deep. It would take years for him to come to terms with the fact that there would probably have been nothing he could have done to make Petunia and her husband treat him better. 

He had to get Potter out of that household somehow. The situation wasn't at all like it was for most of the pureblood families, where their pockets ran deep and their influence stretched far. The boy lived with Petunia and it sounded like she would be more than happy to get rid of him. 

The only problem was Dumbledore. It seemed that the headmaster wanted Potter to remain with his abusive relatives for some inane reason. Severus wanted to wring the man's neck with his long, silvery beard, but he had more self restraint than that, for now. 

He had an entire school year to figure out what to do about the boy's relatives. Threatening them was an option he supposed, hurting them would not laden his conscience one iota. 

"Good. Madam Pomfrey will see to a treatment plan designed to mend as many of your ailments as possible. You are to follow it without question, understood?" Severus gave the boy a stern look. 

Potter thankfully nodded his head in acquiescence. 

"Very well, I will leave you in the care of Madam Pomfrey." Severus rose from the chair, but before he left, he paused and looked at the boy one last time. 

"If you have any issues, Potter, come see me." 

"Thank you, sir. I will." The child's smile was soft and gentle, easing something within Severus' chest. 

The boy would be alright, he'd make sure of it.

Chapter Text

The student body as a whole was not happy about Harry being sorted into the house of snakes, and the Slytherins themselves were not an exception. 

Glares and whispers followed him wherever he went, some malicious and some curious. He had years of practice when it came to ignoring it all. The wizarding public was fickle, children even more so. 

They talked behind his back but stopped whenever he got too close. A few times he overheard the whispers, and the 'older' students blushed heavily at being caught gossiping about him. Harry merely smiled placidly at them and moved along. 

His classes were laughably easy and despite downplaying his abilities, which was much harder than he expected, the teachers still thought him a prodigy. Even Quirrell had taken an interest in him, much to his own surprise.

"S-st-stay b-behind f-for a m-m-moment please, Mr P-Potter." Quirrell said as Harry was packing up his notes for the day. 

The Slytherins gave Harry and the professor a curious look, but didn't make any move to stay behind on his behalf. Neville, on the other hand, quietly said he'd wait outside so they could walk to History together. 

"What can I do for you, professor?" Harry calmly queried once they were alone. He wondered what Quirrell, or perhaps Voldemort, wanted with him. This interest had not happened in his first life, in fact, Quirrell had made sure to avoid him at every opportunity. 

"H-how are you f-finding H-Hogwarts so f-far Mr P-Potter?" Quirrell asked, looking more nervous than usual. 

Was this one of Voldemort's demands? Harry wondered if the two of them could connect mentally or if they had to speak out loud to communicate, he'd never figured that one out in his first life. 

"It has its ups and downs sir." Harry replied with a charming smile. 

"O-oh? A-any p-p-problems w-with your h-housemates?" 

"No, no, not at all. I am merely finding the first year curriculum to be… a tad bit slow if I'm honest." 

Quirrell eyed him intently, and when he next spoke, the stutter was all but forgotten. Voldemort might think himself clever, but the fraction of soul he had left did not do subtlety very well. Even Quirrell's mannerisms changed as the Dark Lord took over. 

"I was the s-same in my youth." The professor mused, looking at Harry as if he was trying to figure out a great puzzle. 

Harry wondered if Voldemort saw himself in the charming Slytherin student in front of him, if he had enough capacity to empathise with his situation.

"Professor, seeing as you understand what it's like, would you be able to recommend any extra curricular reading perhaps? The library is vast and I'm not quite sure where to start." Harry said with an easy going smile that he remembered Tom Riddle using on Slughorn. 

He wondered what Voldemort would do, if he would actually recommend anything interesting. His choice of book would say a lot. 

Quirrell stared at him, the seconds ticking by. By now, Harry was already late for History, but neither of them cared. It was a rubbish class, and professor Binns had no idea who attended or not. For most of his first life, Binns had called him Richard Hardwick, apparently Harry resembled one of his old students from the time the ghost was still alive. That or he'd just sat in Hardwick's seat.

"I think I can recommend a few books to help you integrate better in the wizarding world." Quirrell, or rather, Voldemort, said with a calculating gleam in his eyes.

The professor scribbled down a few titles on a piece of parchment and held it out for Harry to take. 

"The b-books are sadly in the restricted section, but if you hand this note to Madam Pince, she will let you borrow them. Please keep this to yourself though, Mr Potter, we w-wouldn't want anyone to think you are getting special treatment." Quirrell said, his smile looking awkward, as if he had to force muscles into use that he didn't have entire control over.

"Of course sir." Harry honestly replied. 

He looked down at the note. There were three books, all pertaining to rituals, pagan festivals and pureblood genealogy. The last one was something he had skimmed through once, but quickly put aside seeing as it was pureblood bigotry written by a fascist. It talked about non-magicals as cattle, meant to serve the superior race of pureblood wizards. It was quite frankly nauseating. 

True, a lot of the meaning was hidden in the writing, but at least to Harry it had been clear as day. It belonged in the restricted section for a good reason. He held no familiarity with the other two books but they sounded promising. He would have to read them before he could judge. 

~

"I think Hermione has declared me her arch nemesis." Harry said one night with a heavy sigh as he slumped in his favourite chair at home.  

"What?" Sirius dumbly asked. "She's eleven , can you even have an arch nemesis at that age?" 

Harry shrugged. "She doesn't like being second best. She's used to always being the most intelligent student in her class and now that she's not… let's just say she isn't taking it particularly well."

He gestured with his hand as he spoke, exasperation leaking into his voice. "She desperately tries to show how she knows everything, even without the teachers asking for input. She speaks out of turn, blurting the words out almost verbatim from the textbooks and expects to be praised. She has no social grace and is digging herself deeper and deeper. The teachers are getting more annoyed with her, I can tell, and the students… well, she has no friends as far as I'm aware." 

Harry frowned. He loved Hermione and it hurt to see her like that. She had been a steadfast and loyal friend over the years. He remembered her abrasive personality from his first life as well, but it had been… okay he wouldn't say that it hadn't been as bad, it was just that he'd chosen to ignore it due to his desperate need for friends. Of course, she hadn't had him to challenge her marks back then. 

"Have you tried telling her that? Well… in kinder words." Sirius suggested. 

Harry sighed and closed his eyes, sprawling out in his chair. "She takes everything I say the wrong way, despite how I'm trying to be friendly and helpful. At this rate I will have to keep an extra eye on her. The bullying she's receiving from her fellow Gryffindors might get worse. The Slytherins aren't being very kind either… although… Theo Nott and Blaise Zabini seem to be staying out of the mocking, at least when I'm around." 

"And the littlest Malfoy, is he still ignoring you?" Sirius questioned with a dark, amused little smirk, changing the topic. He found the entire situation with Lucius' offspring exceedingly funny. 

Harry opened an eye and glared at his godfather. "He is still upset, yes. In a way it is understandable. He sees me as an usurper to the Black inheritance. His parents, Narcissa in particular, has been filling his head with tales of him being the rightful heir since he was in nappies. Narcissa really should have informed Draco of the changes being made after Arcturus' death." 

"How the two of you can be friends I'll never know." Sirius muttered petulantly. 

Harry rolled his eyes. "Narcissa is perfectly good company, Sirius, as you're well aware. You are just upset that she married that ponce Lucius. Don't deny it, Regulus has told me plenty of stories from your childhood." 

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. "She could have married Johan Clearwater but instead she chose Malfoy. At least Johan wasn't an arse." 

"Maybe not, but he was also a complete idiot who managed to drown himself in a glass of pumpkin juice." Regulus drily butted in. 

Sirius sputtered and Harry burst out into a hearty laugh. "Really?" 

"Yes, it was all over the Daily Prophet." His friend replied with a smirk. 

"And that is the type of person you wanted to marry your highly intelligent and ambitious cousin Narcissa?" Harry questioned Sirius who was pouting even more, looking like a petulant child. 

"Yes…No… MAYBE!" Sirius huffed, cheeks heating slightly due to Harry and Regulus’ mocking laughter. 

"And Snape, how's he treating you now that you're back to being a Potter?" Sirius asked, trying to guide the conversation away from his cousin Narcissa. 

"He's… actually, he's been surprisingly good. Of course, I don't think friendly is in his repertoire when it comes to children, but he's being decent enough. For the most part he lets me be, although I can tell he's keeping an eye on me." Harry replied. 

"Oh… well, I'm glad?" Sirius offered, sounding more confused than happy. 

Harry chuckled at his godfather's expression, even now, the thought of Snape being a decent person baffled the man.

~

Before Harry could enact his plans of stealing the Philosopher's Stone hidden on the third floor, or the Horcrux stowed away in the Room of Requirement, he needed to deal with an annoying little problem, namely the Weasley twins and their possession of the Marauders map. With the map, the two terrors would be able to see his every movement through the castle, something Harry simply couldn't risk. 

He didn't think they were keeping an eye on him specifically, but popping in and out of existence because he used his shadow travel would raise suspicion should they notice. 

He decided to do the heist during one of their detentions. He had no idea what the two boys had done to earn it so early in the year, but it made him smile and shake his head nonetheless. They were the very representation of chaos and mischief and he applauded them for it. 

Harry couldn't help but feel proud of their achievements. Unlike the Marauders, they didn't target specific groups or people, instead, they spread their mayhem and pranks equally. 

The pranks were constructed to be amusing for all, even the ones who fell victims of them, not horribly embarrassing or cruel as some of his father's pranks had been. 

The dorm room belonging to the Gryffindor third years was luckily empty once Harry got there. He had cloaked himself in invisibility and stepped through the shadows to reach their room. Lee, the twins' friend, was serving detention with them and the other boys apparently had somewhere else to spend their afternoon. 

The room was quite frankly a giant mess. Harry instinctively wrinkled his nose. He hated messes. It was something that had been knocked into him as a child, quite literally. Everything had to be pristine and spotless according to his aunt Petunia. He wanted to clean and tidy the chaos, but that was not his job anymore. 

Harry took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He had work to do, and that did not involve playing maid for a bunch of 13 year-olds. He made his way over to Fred's bed and located his trunk at the foot of it. He figured the map would be hidden in one of the pranksters' trunks. Bringing it with them to detention would be too much of a risk.

The many wards and prank spells layered on the trunk for protection were creative, but not particularly challenging for someone with his age and experience. He quickly disassembled them while Regulus stood guard by the dorm's entrance. 

Luck did not seem to be with him, and the map was not in Fred's trunk. He continued to George's bed and grimaced at the dirty underwear laying in a pile next to his bed. Teenagers… There was a perfectly fine laundry hamper in the dorm's shared bathroom, but did they use it? Of course not. 

He kept his distance to said underwear and repeated the process of breaking into the second twin's trunk. He had to rummage around clothes, old rubbish and plenty of prank prototypes before he finally hit gold.

The folded parchment appeared innocent next to the other loose sheets in George's trunk, but it wasn't enough to fool Harry. Still, it wouldn't do to leave with the wrong thing, so he said the pass-phrase and watched as ink spread over parchment, painting the interior of the entire castle within seconds. A grin split his face in obvious triumph. 

"Mischief Managed." He whispered, the ink vanishing just as quickly as it had appeared. He folded it back into a square and put it in his pocket. 

The map was replaced with a parchment of his own, an inconspicuous piece of parchment nestled among the others. Quick as he could, Harry re-erected the wards and spells onto the trunks, leaving them, and the room, in the same condition as he had found it, dirty underwear and all. 

"Harry, someone is on their way up the stairs." Regulus warned, having appeared from his guard post. 

Having gotten what he came for, Harry saw no need to linger, and as such, he shadow travelled back to the locked bathroom stall he had left from less than fifteen minutes earlier, no one the wiser of his intrusion into the Gryffindor dorms. 

~

"That was bloody gruelling." Fred groaned as he fell back onto his bed like a puppet with its strings cut.

Detention with professor McGonagall had consisted of hours writing lines. His hand ached from use, and he swore it would remain clawed for the next century. 

He heard his brother and Lee follow his example, matching groans reaching his ears. The three of them laid in silence for a few minutes, letting themselves recover from the tortuous detention.

"Do you wanna go have a look at what's in the third floor corridor?" George eventually asked, breaking the silence. 

Fred shot up in bed with a manic grin, his cramping hand all but forgotten in the face of more mischief. Calling something forbidden was a sure way to catch their interest. The fact that they had been caught trying to sneak into the forbidden forest was all but forgotten in the face of a new adventure. 

"Bring it on, brother mine!" Fred cackled and the three friends shared excited grins. 

"What d'you think they're keeping in there?" Lee asked as he made his way over to Fred's bed, sitting down next to the redhead. 

"Dunno, maybe some sort of powerful artefact?" George answered as he dug through his trunk to find the map they had stashed in there before their detention. 

"Could be Dumbledore's stash of muggle sweets." Fred countered, eliciting a laugh from the trio. 

"Aha!" George triumphantly exclaimed as he pulled the map out and joined Lee and his brother on Fred's bed. 

The three problem-makers stuck their heads together and discussed when the best time to strike would be. Lee suggested after curfew, which made sense as there would be fewer people around, even if the teachers and prefects patrolling would be more alert. 

"I solemnly swear I'm up to no good." George said as he tapped the map with the tip of his wand. 

Ink started to bleed onto the page, but it did not form the familiarity of the Marauders' map, instead there was a message. The three boys read it with wide, surprised eyes. 

"The hell?" Lee muttered. 

"The heir of Padfoot and Prongs most sincerely apologises for the underhanded trickery and subsequent retrieval of the most esteemed Marauders map." George read out loud. 

"May your trickster spirits not be diminished and keep spreading chaos to your heart's content in spite of this." Fred continued.

"Ps: A little bird told me of your desire to establish a business. As an apology for taking the map off your hands, I will give you some advice. Contact Lord Peverell, I guarantee it will be a fruitful correspondence." Lee finished. 

"Heir of Prongs and Padfoot…" Fred murmured, still in dumbfounded shock. 

"How did they manage to break in? Our protections are still in place." Lee muttered with a frown. 

The three terrors looked at each other with raised eyebrows and murmured "Impressive." In uniform assent. 

"What do you think about the advice of contacting Lord Peverell?" George asked, looking thoughtful. They were quiet for a short moment, thinking through what they had just read. 

"It can't hurt to try right?" Lee hesitantly voiced. 

The twins shared a look. Their family would not like it. Due to Dumbledore's dislike of the Peverell Lord, their mother was a staunch believer that the man was bad news. Fred and George couldn't say they agreed, however. From what they could tell, Lord Peverell hadn't done anything bad, the laws he opposed were usually horrible anyway. And the apothecary he'd opened was pretty much the only establishment they knew of that legally employed werewolves, hags and other Dark creatures. 

"I think we should do it." George said with determination, getting nods in agreement from his friends. They would write the letter and send it out come morning.

~

The castle was quiet, no children running through the halls or ghosts squabbling, even the paintings remained silent, sleeping the night away. 

Harry stood in the left-hand corridor on the seventh floor. Behind the seemingly innocent stretch of wall, laid the Room of Requirement. 

He swallowed hard, memories of raging Fiendfyre making his hands clammy and his heart beat faster. It had been years but this was the first time since the war that he'd returned.

He thought he could smell smoke, choking him, making it hard to breathe. He had to take several deep gulps of air to calm himself, Regulus speaking softly while Harry found his equilibrium. 

"I'm fine. It's fine." Harry said, breathing out slowly before he determinedly walked thrice in front of the wall. 

Harry opened the newly formed door and stepped inside. The room was massive, filled with all kinds of items that had been left or forgotten over the centuries the castle had been in use. It was an eclectic mix, everything from antique furniture missing legs or handles, books on every subject imaginable, broken quills, half-filled pots of ink and more.

Harry walked through the tall piles of junk, for although he was sure there were large treasures in the Room, a lot of it was also rubbish, like the cracked flower pot at the bottom of the pile that was shaped like a troll's head. He severely doubted anyone would find use in that.

Harry took his time looking at the items and doing some digging every now and then, being careful to use detection charms in case he came across something cursed. Which, unsurprisingly, he did, more than once. He would have found it more strange had he not found something cursed. 

He slowly made his way through the isles, stopping once in a while to pocket something or get a closer look. 

Was that a mummified head? Harry blinked slowly, watching the supposedly human head with morbid fascination. The entire thing was dry, the old skin stretched taut over the skull. It was very yellow, Harry thought. Yellow and dry. He wondered what had brought it there. Some child fascinated with ancient Egypt perhaps? 

"Well that's cheerful." Regulus muttered sarcastically. 

Harry couldn't help but snort. "I've seen the house-elf heads mounted on the wall in your mother's house, I hardly think this is worse." 

The spirit grimaced at the reminder. The house-elf heads were something he had hated as a child, he found them frightening back then, now, they were just ugly and macabre. He dearly hoped Harry planned on getting rid of them when he inherited the house officially. 

Sirius refused to even step foot on the property, which wasn't all that strange considering the childhood they'd had. The memories attached to the place were bad enough, but a talking portrait of their mother? No, Regulus could understand his brother's aversion and desire to wash his hands of the townhouse. 

"I find it fascinating to ponder what treasures might be hidden in here." Harry murmured. "So many years of history, forgotten and neglected. Imagine the stories these items could tell." 

He picked up what looked like a jewellery box made out of carved wood. It was a pretty little thing, with golden details and painted roses that had faded over the years. Harry pocketed it on a whim, not bothering to look inside. It felt empty but that was never a guarantee in the magical world. 

"Where did you say the diadem was hidden? This place is ridiculously large." Regulus huffed as another hour of Harry looking at random objects had passed. 

"We're almost there, no need to get huffy. It's not like I forced you to come." Harry replied, rolling his eyes. 

He hadn't rushed his trek to the Horcrux since everyone assumed him to be asleep in his bed. The nights were the only time he really got to be himself, where he didn't have to act like an 11 year old yet again. 

But Regulus was right, of course. The diadem was exceedingly important and Harry shouldn't dally much longer. He could scour the Room of Hidden Things later, when the Horcrux was safely stored on his island. 

Harry readjusted his direction and briskly walked towards the area he remembered first seeing the diadem. At the time he'd had no notion of what said headpiece might actually be. It was only later, after a year on the run, hunting Horcruxes, that he realised the diadem he had placed on top of the bust of an ugly warlock, to use as a marker while he hid Snape's potion book, was actually a Horcrux.

"I somehow expected it to be… well… grander." Regulus said in disappointment as Harry levitated Ravenclaw's diadem into the iron box he had prepared for the occasion. 

The diadem was old and tarnished, the shine of the silver having long since dulled over the years. There was a large sapphire in the middle, but even that lacked the proper sparkle one might expect from such a gem.

"I'm sure it looked regal once upon a time. But you have to remember that it's been over a thousand years since its creation. That, combined with the taint of the Horcrux within, is sure to have taken its toll." Harry replied. 

Regulus nodded and Harry checked the time, realising that the night was still young. He decided to drop the diadem off in his study before returning to the Room of Hidden Things with an enlarged trunk. He wanted to clear it out for anything useful and valuable. It would most likely take months of work seeing as he only had a few hours each night, but it was a fun project that would keep him from running up the walls with boredom and frustration.

Chapter Text

Albus clutched the letter in his trembling hands, face ashen as he read its contents. It had arrived earlier in the day and only now had he found the time to open it.

It was from Garrick Ollivander, and he expected it to be about Voldemort's brother wand, the one holding Fawkes' second feather. He hadn't been wrong.

The contents however, shook him to the very core. He'd mused that Voldemort's brother wand would most likely choose Harry Potter due to the prophecy surrounding the two, and he had been correct. Except...

The holly had rejected Harry, and instead been replaced by yew… just like Tom Riddle, like Voldemort. The boy's wand was frighteningly similar, both in components and rigidity. Unyielding is what Garrick had said. Albus drew a deep, unsettled breath and closed his eyes. 

Whenever he saw Harry in the Great Hall, he felt like he was seeing a ghost, or perhaps a memory of the past.

The child was well liked, charming, intelligent and powerful. The teachers sang his praises whenever he asked how the first years were faring.

Even Severus, a man he had expected to loathe the boy, didn't have anything particularly bad to say despite all his sneers. He called the child adequate, which was in fact high praise when James' son was concerned. 

The staff meeting being held at the end of the first school week had been enlightening as well as deeply unsettling for the old headmaster. He had feared for the boy when he was placed in Slytherin, assuming that he would be vastly unprepared for what would be expected of him in the house full of traditionalists. 

But Albus had been wrong. Harry fit in just fine, more than fine if truth be told. He appeared more stable and confident than the old headmaster had planned for. He had hoped for a child who was unsure of his place in their society, who would leap at the chance for some positive reinforcement and guidance by the right people, not a highly intelligent boy who charmed everyone around him. 

All was not lost, of course not, but his previous plans would have to be altered. Harry was not going to act the way he had planned, no matter how much he might wish it. Pushing him in the same way would only drive him further away, and it was imperative that he gained the boy's trust. 

He worried about the remnants of Dark magic still left in the boy's scar. Although he hadn't been in a position to check the scar since that fateful Halloween years back, he wondered if it might have influenced Harry more than he first thought. For who knew what kind of unspeakable magic Voldemort had performed in his final years of the war. 

Was the boy being possessed? There was a chance, however small. But if so… He hardly imagined Lord Voldemort would have accepted living with muggles for so many years, unkind ones at that. 

Because Albus wasn't blind to Petunia's dislike of magic, but the protection the blood wards provided was worth it in his mind. Harry might not have grown up particularly happy, but at least he was safe. 

He worried so much that the past was repeating itself. Was he looking upon the next Dark Lord? Or was this just his own paranoia? Albus sighed deeply and looked down at the letter. There were so many similarities that he struggled to see the differences. Tom Riddle had also been charming and beloved by his teachers, well, by all but Albus himself. 

There was a seemingly budding friendship between Harry and Neville Longbottom, and Albus didn't know if he should be happy or despair. Even though Neville's grandmother Augusta was a traditionalist, she was also a part of the Light faction politically. It would be good for Harry to have a friend like that.

His concerns on the matter didn't stem from that, but rather the fact that Neville had been the second child the prophecy could have spoken about. Was their friendship a farce orchestrated by Voldemort himself? No… no he shouldn't think like that. 

Harry was not Tom. He was not Voldemort.  Albus tried to convince himself of that but in the end, he didn't know if he succeeded. 

~

The weekend couldn't come fast enough for Harry. Although he wouldn't be able to slip away from Hogwarts during the day, he was at least spared the droll repetition of having to attend classes. For that very reason, Harry's mood was considerably lighter. 

He finished buttoning his grey waistcoat over a black silk shirt and tightened his green and silver tie. Seeing as it was Saturday he didn't have to wear the school uniform, that didn't mean he immediately dressed like a street urchin. He'd had enough years wearing Dudley's oversized cast-offs to last several lifetimes. 

When Draco approached him, he'd just slung his satchel around his shoulder and was about to leave the dorm and head for breakfast. 

"Potter… can we… start over?" The young boy gritted out, his face looking astoundingly pinched. 

Harry studied the Malfoy heir in silence. The other boys in their dorm were still asleep, curtains drawn shut around their beds since it was the weekend. Harry was an early riser and Draco must have gotten up just for this conversation, he wasn't even out of his pyjamas. 

"Certainly, heir Malfoy." Harry said, watching as the boy's shoulders lowered with relief. 

"As soon as I get an apology and a public acknowledgement as the Black heir." Harry finished, enjoying how the relief immediately transformed into tense anger. 

Draco was so prickly. He had been spoiled rotten by both his parents growing up and it clearly showed in the way he interacted with his peers. Narcissa and Lucius had done him no favours. 

"The apology does not have to be made in public but the acknowledgement will. The Slytherin common room sometime after dinner will suffice." Harry said, clarifying his conditions nonchalantly.

What Harry demanded of him right now was in fact rather mild for the snub he had received on their first night. 

The blonde boy clenched his fist and was severely struggling to get his emotions under control. Harry could tell that he was trying to emulate his father but failing badly. Draco still had a few years of personal growth ahead of him before he could successfully pull off anything remotely similar to Lucius Malfoy. 

Harry eventually had enough of the silence and turned around, continuing towards the door. The apology didn't have to come right now, Harry was patient, this was more of a social exercise for Draco than it was for Harry's own sake. It wasn't like Malfoy's snub had actually offended him. 

"I'm sorry!" Draco blurted out before Harry could lay his hand on the door handle. There was a deep intake of air before the boy continued.

"Heir Potter-Black, please accept my humble apology for my past transgressions, it won't happen again." Draco said, the words sounding rushed and slightly pained. 

It was abundantly clear that Draco didn't honestly mean what he said, but that was fine. Harry knew that the reason Draco reached out so soon, before having properly come to terms with the facts on his own, was due to his mother or father pushing him to make amends.

The Black family still held much power in certain circles, and Harry would end up with all of that one day. It was no wonder Draco's parents wanted to wiggle their way closer to him. He knew them both well enough to realise that Lucius wanted a close relationship between their families whereas Narcissa probably plotted ways to snatch the Black inheritance. 

Harry was of the firm belief that Draco would have managed to mend the gap between them on his own eventually, once he realised that making an enemy out of Harry was not something that was in his best interest. But now he had been robbed of that opportunity. 

"I accept your apology, heir Malfoy." Harry replied, giving the boy an encouraging smile. 

"I hope we can move forward without any enmity." Harry continued, holding out his hand for a shake.

There was a temporary truce formed between them and Harry felt rather pleased. Draco not actively ignoring him would make his life simpler. 

They settled their agreement with a firm handshake. Harry offered Draco to join him for breakfast but it was too early. Now that he'd gotten Harry's forgiveness, at least partially, the blonde boy crawled back into bed for a few more hours of sleep.

Breakfast was a rather solitary affair for Harry. Not many were awake that early on a Saturday morning, and those that were didn't deign to speak with him anyway. But that was fine. Harry wasn't a child starved for attention and approval this time around. 

He ate in comfortable silence, finishing the last of his tea before he left for the library. Madam Pince, the librarian, looked as pinched as ever, giving him a stern glare as he quietly walked up to her desk. 

"Professor Quirrell told me to give this to you ma'am." Harry said with a soft smile, handing over the teacher's note.

The librarian narrowed her eyes at the parchment but didn't comment on his new reading material, only caring whether the note was genuine or not. She tapped it once with her wand and seemed satisfied.

"Wait here Mr Potter." Her voice was just as stern, if not more than professor McGonagall's. The library was her domain and she seemed to know everything that went on in there. 

A minute or two later, Madam Pince returned, arms laden with three books of various thicknesses. The bigoted geneaology book was by far the largest one, and Harry did not plan on reading it again, once was definitely enough. 

"Return the books within two months in the same condition you got them in. Do not damage the books in any way, you will not like the consequences." Her dark eyes were as intense as Snape's, promising unpleasantness should he disregard her rules. 

"In addition you are not to share the books with any other student, the permission is for you, and you only." 

Harry nodded with a solemn expression, promising he would take good care of the books. The librarian didn't look like she fully believed him, but let him leave with her precious books nonetheless. 

He found a quiet and secluded area of the library, hidden deep in the runes section. He didn't plan on reading his new books out in the open, that would only be silly of him, no they were to be saved for later. Instead he walked along the aisles, pulling out a few books on Sumerian runes and Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

Hogwarts' vast library was one of the major pulls for staying as a student. There was so much knowledge stored in the seemingly endless expanse of books, scrolls and tomes.

Harry became engrossed with the fascinating theory, tuning out his surroundings for the time being. Regulus read over his shoulder, hovering behind him. They kept going like that until the book had been read cover to cover.

Five hours had passed and Harry nearly startled when he noticed the time. His stomach growled unhappily at being ignored. He wondered if he had enough time to reach lunch before the food was whisked away by the elves, but decided that he might as well just stay in the library. 

He had some edibles hidden away in his satchel that he could wolf down before Madam Pince noticed. She had eyes like a hawk and ears like a bat. Somehow she always seemed to know when someone was breaking the rules inside the library. 

A few handfuls of various nuts later, and Harry was ready to get his homework out of the way. It was ridiculously boring but he might as well do it now. 

He dug a notebook and fountain pen out of his satchel and began drafting an essay on the properties of porcupine quills for his Potions homework. Even though he didn't technically need his textbook to be able to write the essay, he'd brought it out just for show.  

"Your friend, Neville, is on his way over here." Regulus announced all of a sudden. 

Harry looked up from his notes, and sure enough, his Herbology-loving friend was quickly trudging over to his quiet little area. 

Neville was red in the face from exertion and he plopped ungracefully down into the nearest chair, breath coming in deep gasps. 

"Are you alright?" Harry asked, frowning. 

Neville needed a few seconds to catch his breath before he answered. 

"I've been l-looking all over the castle for you." He answered, making Harry's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. 

"I ch-checked the library first but couldn't find you, so I asked an older S-Slytherin if he knew where you were, but he just s-sneered at me and told me to get lost." 

"That was rather brave of you." Harry praised with a gentle smile. "I'm sorry you didn't find me sooner, I should have sat down in a different section of the library." 

Neville shook his head and returned the smile. "It's alright. It wasn't your fault." 

"Do you want to study with me?" Harry asked. 

The boy nodded and got his own books, quills and parchment out of his bag. Harry helped Neville understand the theory as best as he could, encouraging the boy whenever appropriate. 

"How did you find Ollivander's? I don't know if I told you, but a wand actually burned up in my hand!" Harry said with a chuckle. He wanted to get Neville thinking about his own wand and the fact that it didn't belong with him. 

Neville's eyes were wide with surprise. "It burned?" 

Harry nodded and unsheathed his wand, holding it out for Neville to have a look. 

"It burned because the wood did not resonate with my magic whereas the core did. Mr Ollivander said that it happens sometimes when the core bonds to their new owner but the wood simply isn't compatible." Harry explained. 

By then, Neville was frowning. "Your wand is supposed to bond to you?" He bit his bottom lip nervously, thinking about the wand in his pocket that he could hardly feel at all. 

Harry nodded with enthusiasm. "It's wonderful! It feels like… like warmth, like belonging. None of the other wands felt anything remotely like that, I could hardly do anything magical with them. It wasn't until I got to hold this wand that I knew what I had been missing. It feels like a part of you, like a friend who'll always stand by your side." He smiled softly as he ran his finger over the dark wood. 

"Mr Ollivander said that the wand chooses the wizard, and I think I understand what he meant. I doubt I would be able to perform my spells with your wand because it hasn't chosen me. It's loyalty lies with you and no one else. But enough about my experiences, how about you? How did it go when you got your wand?" Harry asked, looking at Neville with wide and curious eyes. 

Neville fiddled with the hem of his robe, muttering something under his breath.

"Pardon? I didn't quite catch that." Harry said, blinking slowly, not able to make sense of the boy's quiet mumbling.  

Neville took a deep breath. "I s-said that I d-didn't go to O-Ollivander's." He didn't look up. 

"Oh… did you go to one of Gregorovitch's shops overseas?" Harry queried. Neville shook his head.

"Well… where did you get your wand then?" He asked, lacing his voice with baffled curiosity. 

"My n-nan gave it to me. S-s-said that it used to belong to my...my d-dad." Neville's voice was but a whisper. 

"Really? That can't be right… isn't your dad… well, alive? It sounds like the wand is still bonded to him. No wonder you've been having trouble with your Defence spells." 

"H-how did you know?" The other boy asked, looking at Harry with wide eyes. 

Harry smiled gently at his nervous friend. "During my first trip to the library I looked up some old editions of the Daily Prophet. I wished to know more about what happened to my parents, and… well… I wanted to see some pictures of them if possible. I don't have any of my own…" Which wasn't entirely a lie. He didn't own any pictures of his parents, as adults that is, but that was because he could see and talk to them whenever he wished. 

"There was another article… about, well… your parents. I didn't mention it because I was afraid of upsetting you." Harry softly said. 

"Oh…" Neville drew a deep breath. "It's okay. I'm n-not ashamed of th-them or anything. I just…" he trailed off, looking forlorn. 

"Don't like talking about it?" Harry finished for him, gently patting his shoulder. "That's okay, you know." 

The two children lapsed into silence. Harry returned to his homework to give Neville some privacy. Eventually the Hufflepuff followed his lead and they both scribbled away on their parchment. 

They kept going until it was time for dinner, getting a large chunk of homework out of the way. While they were packing their things away, Harry touched upon the subject of Neville's wand again. 

"You should speak to your Head of House about your wand. I know your grandmother probably wants you to use your father's wand as a way to honour his memory, but it is destroying your education. As long as he is alive you will not be able to use it. And even if he were to pass away, that is no guarantee that it would be suitable for you. Please talk to professor Sprout about visiting Ollivander's. I hear they even have a branch here in Hogsmeade." 

"I-I'll think about it." Neville murmured with apprehension, but nonetheless smiled.

~

Dinner was definitely a louder affair than breakfast had been. That wasn't to say that the Slytherin table was rowdy, not at all, but there were hundreds of students within the Great Hall, the sounds combined added up. 

Theo asked him where he had been all day and Harry answered truthfully, saying he had been studying with Neville Longbottom in the library.

The look he got was one of incomprehension. He swore he could see the cogs turning in Theo's head, trying to figure out what he'd gain from spending time with Neville who was both shy and seemingly useless in classes. Harry knew the other boy wouldn't believe him if he told the truth, that he wanted to help Neville just because he could. After all, it wasn't considered a very Slytherin approach.

Harry and Theo were soon joined by Millicent Bullstrode for dinner, and the three of them chatted amicably about classes and their excitement for the next flying class. Well, Harry and Bullstrode did. Theo was not very fond of flying in general, however, he did enjoy watching Quidditch, surprising Harry entirely when he proclaimed his fervent support of the Falmouth Falcons. 

He watched with some shock as the usually well behaved children sniped at each other and their preferred Quidditch team. Bullstrode loved the Holyhead Harpies on a scale similar to Ron's obsession with the Chudley Cannons, and from the way she talked about Gwenog Jones, the Holyhead captain, Harry thought she might have quite the celebrity crush. 

After dinner, the two boys and Millicent, as she had asked to be called once the heated discussion had calmed down, left the Great Hall together, heading to the Slytherin common room for a round of wizarding card games. 

Harry had nearly forgotten about Draco and his promise of making amends, and so it almost took him by surprise when the blonde boy walked up to him with a determined expression as soon as they entered the common room. 

The entire atmosphere in the room changed, becoming charged with curiosity and anticipation. It hadn't escaped the older students' notice how the Malfoy heir had entirely ignored Harry for their first week. That he was stepping up to him now, probably with the intent of 'putting him in his rightful place', riled up the students whose families had followed Voldemort like a drop of blood amidst sharks. There were dark grins and satisfied smirks all around. 

"Potter." Draco greeted with a curt nod. 

"The Malfoy family formally recognises your claim as heir to the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. On behalf of my family I, as the Malfoy heir, would like to extend my condolences for the loss of your Head of House last spring." Draco proclaimed, voice loud enough to be heard by most without being shouted. 

"Thank you, heir Malfoy. Although I never met the departed Arcturus Black, I am deeply honoured that he allowed me to one day help the family of my grandmother Dorea flourish." Harry formally replied, shaking Draco's offered hand.

The room was so quiet one could hear a pin drop. That had definitely not been the interaction they had expected.  

"You filthy half-blood! How dare you pretend to claim the Black name?!" Ambry Dolohov snarled from within the crowd. 

He was a sixth year student with ties to the Black family through his grandfather, and took great offence to Draco's revelation. Although his grandfather wasn't from the main branch, and in fact fell rather far out in the minor branches, he still held much pride in his family ties.

Dolohov's father had been a devout Death Eater that ended up killed in the war, and his hatred for Harry, and everything he supposedly stood for, was therefore great. 

"I've had enough of your lies and dirty blood! You have no right to such a prestigious House!" Dolohov growled with livid rage, and before his friend could stop him, he brandished his wand and fired a spell that glowed a sickly yellow colour. 

As soon as Dolohov stepped forward with his wand raised, Harry forcefully Banished Draco out of the spell's trajectory and into the gathered crowd. 

Without missing a beat, he fluidly moved out of the way of the Bone Breaking curse that was heading straight for his head. If it had hit, his skull would have cracked open like a melon, not a particularly nice way to go. It said something that Dolohov's first spell was cast with the intention of lethality. 

"That was rather rude don't you think?" Harry calmly said, appearing largely unconcerned about the gruesome death he'd almost faced. 

"If you wanted to challenge me officially, all you had to do was ask." Harry's smile was flat but his eyes gleamed with dark amusement. 

"So, is this a challenge then? Because if so, I accept." He continued. 

As a general rule, he didn't harm children, but Dolohov had cast first, with deadly intent one might add, that demanded action. The boy was almost an adult in the eyes of wizarding society, for him to try and harm a supposedly eleven year old child was not acceptable. 

This wasn't the first time he had tried either. Harry had noticed how Dolohov on several occasions had attempted to hex him in the back over the past week, but none of the spells were as bad as what he'd just tried to pull off. 

He wasn't the only one displeased with Harry's sorting of course, nor the only one who'd attempted to bully him, but this took everything a step further than Harry was willing to allow. 

The students had pulled away from the two combatants, forming a wide circle around him and Dolohov, not willing to interfere or get in the way of any stray curses. 

Dolohov shouted expletives and incoherent bigotry in a fashion similar to Bellatrix Lestrange, and if not for his dark eyes and light brown hair, he could almost have passed as her son, or perhaps a first cousin. 

Harry gracefully sidestepped every curse flung at him, silently mocking Dolohov with his complete ease and disinterest. But eventually it had to end. He tired quickly of their little game. 

With quick strides he slipped past the boy's defences, casting a murmured spell at him with his yew wand. 

A whip-like rope shot out of Harry's wand, wrapping tightly around Dolohov's arms, binding them together. Harry yanked hard, bringing the teenager to his knees in a fraction of a second. 

Dolohov's grip on his wand loosened, and as he made contact with the floor, so did his wand. In just a few short seconds, Harry had successfully disarmed a sixth year student with minimal effort.

Of course, that wasn't as big a feat as it probably came across as. Harry was a war veteran, not a clueless eleven year-old. 

However, not once did he cast a spell above the third year curriculum. He was fine with being seen as a prodigy who studied hard, but anything more was too revealing at this point in time. He had to keep his cards close to the chest.

Harry pressed his wand firmly into Dolohov's throat.

"Do you yield?" He asked in a cold and detached manner, sending shivers up some of the assembled students' backs.

Dolohov swallowed hard, Adam's apple bobbing uncomfortably under the wand. He was utterly defenceless and intelligent enough to realise that. 

"Fuck off Potter!" He snarled, but it was with less fervor than earlier, clearly feeling unsettled about the unusual situation. 

"Do. You. Yield?" Harry continued, punctuating each word. 

The conjured rope from his Incarcerous tightened at his mental command, and like a constrictor they wound tighter and tighter around their victim. 

Harry wasn't above using physical punishment to get his point across, and the scream that pierced the air when Dolohov's wrists snapped, echoed through the quiet common room.

It was a warning, a promise. Henry Potter was not easy prey. 

For some, their hatred of Britain's saviour only grew in that moment, but the message was still clear in their minds. If they wanted revenge they would have to be cleverer than Dolohov's brutish ways. They didn't know his true potential, and that was something they would have to puzzle out before they tried anything again.

For others, there was now an air of wariness and respect for the tiny slip of a first year. The amount of hexes aimed at his back would most likely lessen significantly in the near future. 

"YIELD, I Y-YIELD!" Dolohov shouted through painful moans, his face red and splotchy with tears and snot. 

"Very well. Please refrain from bothering me again in the future." Harry softly replied, a mockingly kind smile gracing his lips. 

Green eyes quickly scanned the crowd until he found the person he had been looking for. She had stationed herself next to the first years for protection, making sure none of Dolohov's spells hit them, either by accident or intention. 

"Miss Farley, I think Dolohov might need to see Madam Pomfrey. Perhaps someone should help him to the hospital wing?" Harry asked, voice dripping with feigned concern. 

The prefect eyed Harry with intense calculation. The suggestion wasn't anything she wouldn't have arranged on her own and so, she gave him a curt nod in acquiesce.

"Rogers, Hartland! Take your friend to see the matron. You know the rules." Her tone was stern, leaving no room for arguments.

The two boys quickly ran over to their crying friend, helping him to his feet as they guided him through the common room entrance. 

Dolohov's hands were sticking out at odd angles after the conjured ropes vanished, and if one looked at his right wrist, one could see bone poking through the skin in a nauseating way. Blood seeped out of the open wound, leaving a trail of red drops following the three teenagers as they escaped.

Both of Dolohov's wrists had been broken in a mocking imitation of the Bone Breaking curse he had sent at Harry at the start of the duel. The curse meant for Harry wasn't so kind as to just snap bones in two, no, it shattered and splintered the bones it hit. In comparison, the clean breaks Harry had performed was a kindness. Madam Pomfrey would have him fixed up right as rain before curfew. 

The room still felt tense and awkward, so very few wanted to remain. Slowly, the students dispersed. Some escaped the common room entirely, leaving for the library or various courtyards outside, while others went to their dorms for an early night.

Only a small collection of older students, and strangely enough, first years, stayed behind. Draco was one of those.

"You saved me…" Draco shakily said, face entirely drained of colour, making him look reminiscent of the spirits Harry summoned.

"I did. Although the spell wasn't intended for you, I have no doubt Dolohov would have hit you by accident. I'd rather not have a murder on my conscience this early in life." He replied lightly, giving Draco a wry grin. 

Regulus snorted indignantly in the background. 

"I swear I had no idea he would react like that!" Draco blurted out looking both guilty and worried, clearly concerned about Harry's reaction.

"I know." Harry's smile was warm and comforting as he patted Draco gently on the shoulder. The boy nearly slumped with relief. 

"Millicent, Theo and I were going to play some card games, you're welcome to join us if you'd like." Harry graciously offered, knowing very well that Draco was as good as incorporated into his little group of ducklings that he'd taken under his wing.

They all had so much potential, who knew what they'd one day achieve with someone helping them along the way. 

Harry looked back to where Millicent and Theo had been at the start of everything. Both were pale-faced but out of the two of them, Theo looked the worse for wear. His eyes were sightlessly glued to the bloodied floor and he appeared to be trembling just slightly.

"Theo? Are you alright?" Harry asked, a feeling of concern pooling in his gut, that reaction wasn't normal.

Theo wore a pained expression and it took only fractions of a second for Harry to recognise what was going on. Theo was having either a flashback or a panic attack, possibly both. 

Exactly what had been the trigger, or what the boy had experienced in the past, Harry did not know. But he was all too familiar with reliving old trauma. Slowly he closed the distance between them, making no sudden movements or noises. 

Theo's breath came in sharp little gasps, bordering on hyperventilation. Harry stopped a small distance away from him and pulled a round, crystal phial out of the side pocket of his satchel. 

"Theo, drink this for me, it will make everything better." He promised in a soothing manner, holding the phial out for Theo to take. 

It took a few seconds, but he thankfully listened and gulped down the potion without hesitation, surprisingly enough. The Calming draught took immediate effect and Theo's breathing evened out and his face gained some of the colour it had lost. 

"Do you still want to play cards with me?" Harry asked, deciding to ignore the episode for now. He would do some digging to find out what it was all about, but not that very moment. 

"I… no. I think I'm just gonna go to bed." Theo replied weakly. 

"Okay. Well, we'll be here if you change your mind." Before the boy could leave, Harry shoved an entire bar of chocolate into Theo's unsuspecting hands. "Sleep well." 

"Uh, thanks." Theo mumbled, clutching the wrapped up chocolate like a lifeline as he made his way to their dorm. 

"Anyone else want to play cards?" Harry asked the remaining first years. 

Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis were just about the only ones not there. Crabbe and Goyle hung around Draco at all times so they merely shrugged at Harry's offer. Pansy Parkinson and Lily Moon on the other hand looked more sceptical, but with a gaze thrown in Draco's direction and seeing that he was all too happy to join, they too complied. 

With the common room being nearly empty, they easily found a place large enough for all of them to sit. Harry took one of the armchairs while the others spread out in the remaining chairs and sofas around the table. 

He dug a pack of cards out of his bag and let them magically shuffle themselves. They were enchanted that way, so it wasn't particularly impressive. When it was done, he handed out cards to all that wanted to play. 

Crabbe and Goyle had opted out and instead just wanted to watch. Moon likewise shook her head when offered cards, preferring just to stay for the company. 

They were in the middle of a round of Snaps and Dragons when the fifth year prefect approached them. 

"So, Potter, you fought Dolohov and won." Farley casually pointed out as she took a seat next to the group of first years. 

"I suppose I did." Harry replied with just the tiniest of smirks. 

"Do you have any idea what that actually means?" She continued without missing a beat, eying him with close scrutiny. 

Harry blinked slowly as he looked up from his rather abysmal hand of cards. 

"Pardon?" He questioned, a frown finding its way onto his face. He didn't think winning a duel with Dolohov meant anything but… well… winning, and perhaps getting a slightly better reputation within Slytherin. 

"You are infuriatingly thick for someone so clever." Regulus grumbled in the background, but Harry was well versed in ignoring him and his sarcastic quips by now and didn't pay it any mind. 

"I don't think I'm quite following." Harry said, looking directly at Farley now. 

She raised an eyebrow but didn't seem surprised. "Thought so." She muttered before letting out a tired sigh. 

"Well, Potter, it seems you've somehow found your way into the Court. Do you even know what that is?" Farley asked in exasperation. 

Harry blinked, opened his mouth, closed it and opened it again, like a fish out of water. "I'm sorry, I did what?" 

That couldn't be right… becoming part of the Court was supposed to be difficult, not something he did by bloody accident of all things! No wonder Regulus had been so happy after he won that duel. 

"When you brought up the formality of the challenge, you made it official. Your intention might not have been to take Dolohov's place in the Court, but the moment you won the duel, indisputably I might add, you replaced him." Farley patiently explained. 

The other first years stared at him with open shock. Harry could fully understand their surprise because he felt the same way. 

"Can a first year even be in the Court?" Harry asked weakly, wondering how this would change things.

"I can't say it happens often, but there are definitely no rules prohibiting it. Usually first years just aren't… magically powerful enough to outmatch the older students." And at that she gave him a sharp look, for clearly he had enough magical power to force his way into the Court. 

"Is there anything special I will have to do now?" Harry queried. He knew how the Court had operated in Tom's era thanks to Abraxas, and Regulus had informed him of his own school days, but that didn't necessarily mean that things were still the same. 

"There will be a meeting tomorrow to introduce you to the rest of the Court and explain your responsibilities. You can expect a note during breakfast for a time and place." Farley made to get up before she remembered her last piece of advice. 

"You will find that there are going to be no more attempts at hexing your back in the hallways or common room. Being in the Court provides some extra… protection, if you will. However you might find yourself with official challenges, so I'd recommend reading up on your spell repertoire and practice as much as you can." She gave him a pat on the shoulder and Harry had to force himself not to flinch, he still hated being touched without permission. 

"You have great potential, Potter. Keep this up and you'll go far." 

"Thank you for the advice, prefect Farley." Harry plastered on a fake smile that certainly fooled the girl. 

She left Harry and the rest of the first years to their little games. They played a few more rounds of cards, using the sweets Harry provided as gambling tokens. All in all it was great fun. He vaguely wondered where Blaise was since he hadn't seen him all day, but didn't give it much thought. He wasn't the boy's mother

Later, when he noticed Crabbe starting to yawn, he decided to call it a night. Harry was eager to go home to his island where he could tell Sirius and his grandfather all about the eventful evening he'd had. In addition, he had a certain snooping beetle to contact for a sensationally revealing interview.

Chapter Text

Returning to his island felt like taking a breath of fresh air for the first time in weeks. Harry travelled there every night and yet it never stopped to amaze him how much of a home it had actually become. 

He loved Hogwarts, he truly did, but it was more the memory of it than actually being there. Finally he had a home to return to, finally he could relate to the students who got homesick and missed their families. He had all of that now, him, Harry Potter, the lost little boy from the cupboard. 

"Harry!" Sirius was on his feet within seconds of seeing his godson, big, goofy grin plastered on his face. 

Harry smiled in return and accepted the hug he saw coming. "Is grandfather here tonight? I thought perhaps we could all have dinner together." 

"He should be around somewhere, yeah. I think he said something about the greenhouses but I'm not sure. You could ask one of the elves." Sirius replied with a shrug. 

Both men had adjusted their day rhythm so they would still be awake for the duration of Harry's nightly visits. It was rather touching actually, and Harry greatly appreciated it. 

"I'll go have a look. A little walk will do me good." Harry patted Sirius' shoulder and walked back outside. 

"Minky? Could you please arrange for dinner to be made for me and the others?" Harry asked. The little elf happily nodded her head as soon as he relayed his wishes. 

"Of course, master Peverell!" She said, and Harry barely managed to thank her before she was gone again. 

He took his time checking each and every greenhouse they owned until he found his grandfather. The old man was happily cutting stalks of flowering asphodel, gathering them in a large basket. 

"I hope you're planning on collecting the roots as well." Harry said, smiling warmly at the surprise and happiness that bloomed on Marius' face when he laid eyes on him. 

"Harry! How lovely to see you." His grandfather said, returning the smile in kind. 

Harry folded up the sleeves of his black shirt and without prompting began to dig up the roots. They were a fairly common potion ingredient that he liked to keep in stock. The white flowers themselves could also be used once dried, so Harry asked Marius to set some aside for that purpose. 

The two of them talked and worked for about an hour, until one of the elves told them dinner was ready. Harry found the time spent with Marius like a balm to his soul. He hadn't realised just how exhausted being at Hogwarts actually made him. 

Dinner itself was a light affair, and Harry cherished the easy way he could unload his worries onto the only living souls that knew of his background. They didn't judge and offered support and interest wherever it was needed. 

He told them of the predicament he'd managed to put himself in with the whole Court business. Sirius, the prat, laughed at his plight. 

"Only you could do that by accident Harry, only you." He guffawed. 

"Yes, yes, make fun of my troubles, Sirius." Harry rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically.

"Just make sure you're careful, I don't want you to get hurt. Even if you can't stay permanently dead, you're not invulnerable." Marius said with a worried frown, concerned about what other students like Dolohov might do. 

"I'm always careful. Or at least, I try to be as much as possible." Harry replied. 

The dinner eventually progressed to tea and biscuits by the fireplace. The three men chatted about this and that, telling each other about their day. 

Sirius was very pleased when he heard he might be getting his old map back fairly soon. Harry had plans for making a new and improved map for his own use. Sirius and his father had regaled him with the story of how they created the original down to every last detail. The map was a very impressive piece of magic, especially when you took into consideration their age when they made it. 

However, Sirius would have to live without the map for a little while longer. Harry needed it to keep an eye on the castle until he completed his own. It wasn't a high priority though, the business with the Court came first. 

After tea, Harry retreated to his study. The letters had piled up during his absence and he wanted to get them out of the way before he did anything else. 

He started at the top of the pile and worked his way through, stopping once he got to a familiar writing. A grin spread on his face and he opened the letter with much excitement. Inside he found what he had expected, although he'd thought they'd take longer to mull it through. 

The business proposition from the Weasley twins, for it was signed as being just from them and not Lee as well, lacked their usual silliness and was written as formally as they could probably manage. Harry laughed, feeling exceedingly happy that they had actually followed his advice and written Lord Peverell. 

Immediately he got out his best stationery and penned a reply. He conveyed his interest in their business but that he would need more information before he committed to anything. Of course, that was a lie, Harry would support them either way, but he had to sound professional about it. He asked to be sent a business plan with their goals and how much financial backing they were looking for, promising support if their plan proved solid. 

In the meantime he was willing to fund their research, mainly by providing potion ingredients since it came at practically no extra cost to him. There was a contract stating that every product, spell or potion they created after receiving funding, would be licensed with 25% ownership to Lord Peverell for the following seven years. Meaning if they sold any of said products, Harry would get 25% of the income. He didn't need the money, not at all, but it was a very decent agreement. 

By the time he pressed his signet ring into the hot wax, the letter had become quite long. He'd added more and more to it. There were some stipulations that he hadn't written yet since they were so early in the process, but he would add them eventually. 

Harry sorely wanted to help the twins achieve their dreams, but he also wanted them to actually complete their education this time around. One of the stipulations he hadn't mentioned yet was that they both had to complete their OWLs and at least three NEWTs each. It wasn't that he thought they would ever do anything else other than run their shop afterwards, but two more years of education would be valuable both for their social and educational growth. 

The last, and possibly most worrisome stipulation where the twins were concerned, was that Harry wanted 51% of their company, with a contract stating that if the business was still running five years later, they could buy back 31% of the shares, leaving Harry with only 20%. 

With the letter to the twins completed and ready to be sent off, he continued with his correspondence. The last thing he did for the day was write a letter to Rita Skeeter, confirming her meeting with Henry Potter and Sam White, Sunday evening at 11pm in the Shrieking Shack. Not the most ideal location for a long interview, but it provided security in the fact that it was rumoured to be haunted. The people of Hogsmeade did not dare go close to it.  

~

Harry returned to Hogwarts and showed up at the Slytherin table for breakfast during his usual early hours. Instead of sitting near the staff table, he sat down near the middle as was required of Court members according to Regulus.

He had thought some more about the supposed Court, and now, Harry wondered which of the older students was a part of it. He honestly hadn't paid it much attention since it was just his first week, although he probably should have. So many other things had demanded his attention however. 

Just as Gemma had promised, someone came to give him the time and location. A third year girl, whose name he couldn't remember, maybe Lisa? Eloise? Either way, it didn't matter. She dithered a few steps away from his seat before she drew enough courage to approach him. 

"This is for you, Mr Potter." She said, warily holding out a sealed envelope with his name on the front. It was all rather pretentious he thought in amusement. 

"Thank you." He replied softly as he accepted the letter. 

The girl escaped as soon as her job was done, quickly leaving the Great Hall entirely. It was almost as if she was afraid of him… please don't say there were rumours about him being the next Dark Lord again? Harry wanted to groan and bury his face in his hands, but instead he opened up the letter he had received and pulled out a thick card with a time and place written in beautiful cursive. 

He had until lunch before the Court demanded his presence in the dungeons. Harry placed the letter in his bag for safekeeping and finished up his breakfast. He kept an eye on the Great Hall, and as soon as he caught a glimpse of Neville, he confidently walked over to the Hufflepuff table and promptly stationed himself on the bench next to his friend. 

"Good morning Neville." Harry said in a calm voice, pouring himself a cup of tea as if nothing was out of the ordinary. 

The Hufflepuff students looked at him with confusion but didn't tell him to leave outright. Neville on the other hand appeared happy but worried, throwing concerned glances up at the staff table. 

"M-morning H-Henry. Uhm… are you sure it's okay for you to sit here?" He whispered in reply to Harry's greeting. 

"It isn't against the rules, I checked. Students are only required to sit at their designated table for celebrations, ceremonies and other official engagements." Harry answered with such unwavering certainty that it soothed Neville's frayed nerves. The boy's shoulders sank in relief and he smiled happily at his friend. 

"What do you want to do today? I thought maybe we could go for a walk around the Black Lake, see what kind of plants we might find." Harry continued. Neville looked excited and disappointed simultaneously, oddly enough. 

"I'd love to but I can't." The boy replied, much to Harry's surprise. 

"I uh, I talked to p-professor Sprout about uhm… my dad's wand yesterday. She was horrified that my gran hadn't taken me out to get my own. S-she's taking me to Hogsmeade today to see if we can find one that suits me better. If I can't find a match there she said we'll have to go to Diagon Alley." Neville's smile was pleased yet nervous. 

"That's wonderful news Neville! I'm really happy for you. Professor Sprout seems to be a good Head of House." 

"Yeah…" Neville answered, barely picking at his food. 

"You don't seem particularly excited about all of this." Harry pointed out as he took a sip of his tea. 

"It's just… w-what if no wand chooses me?" Neville fretted, pushing his scrambled eggs around on his plate with his fork.

"Neville… of course one will. You are a wizard, magic runs through your very veins. As I said the last time we spoke, you wouldn't have gotten a Hogwarts letter if that wasn't true. Just you wait and see, a wand will find you and it will be wonderful." Harry patted him comfortingly on the shoulder 

Neville offered a shaky smile at that, grateful for the confidence he so sorely lacked. 

"Good morning boys!" Professor Sprout cheerfully said as she reached the Hufflepuff table. She smiled warmly at Harry and Neville both. 

"Are you ready to leave now Mr Longbottom? There is a carriage waiting to take us to Hogsmeade." The professor kindly explained. 

Neville gulped down his building nausea due to nerves and nodded. He took a deep, steadying breath as he stood up, putting on the travelling cloak that had laid on the bench next to him.

"See you later Neville. Come find me in the library after dinner if you'd like. I assume you'll be done by then. You can tell me all about your new wand!" Harry waved the young boy off with an encouraging smile. 

Once Neville was out of sight, Harry withdrew to the library, the place one could usually find him when he had some time to spare. For hours he read in peaceful silence, hidden away between tall shelves and dusty tomes.

Lunch came and went without Harry's participation, having forgone it in favour of some tea sandwiches his elves had saddled him with the night before. As always, they were delicious. 

"You should get going. Best not to keep the Court waiting." Regulus said. 

Harry looked up from his book on Alchemy, eyes darting from his friend to his wristwatch. The alarm would have gone off in a few minutes so Regulus wasn't wrong exactly. He did need to move. 

Quickly, he packed up his stuff and calmly made his way down to the dungeons, Regulus acting as his guide.

"Take the next turn to the left and we should be there." The spirit said. 

Harry didn't answer even though they were most likely alone. Talking to empty space was never a good sign, not even for a wizard. He'd rather avoid people thinking him mad as a hatter.

The entrance to the Court's 'secret', or rather, not so secret hideout, was not much to brag about. It looked like a door that could belong just about any of the hundreds of abandoned classrooms in the castle. The only thing that made it stand out was the old, silver doorknob that was shaped like the head of a snake. Much to Harry's disappointment it didn't appear to be animated.

He knocked firmly on the wooden door, waiting for it to open. It took only a moment before the door ominously swung inwards on its own. Harry wanted to roll his eyes. 

"Will you walk into my parlour? said the spider to the fly." Regulus quietly muttered under his breath. 

If only the Court knew what they'd invited into their midst, they would run away screaming in fright. For Harry was the spider of spiders, not an easily lured fly. 

With calm steps and an unreadable face, Harry entered the entitled Slytherins' lair. The room proved to be much more luxurious on the inside compared to the drab and worn outside. It was slightly reminiscent of the Slytherin common room as well as a few pureblood manors he'd visited over the years due to his political career. 

The furniture was clearly old, but more along the line of priceless antiques rather than worn down rubbish. That was to be expected. The Court was usually comprised of the wealthiest students or those with connections. 

His eyes quickly scanned the room, taking in every little detail, from the throne-like chair at the end of the large conference table, to the comfortable sitting group stationed close to the fireplace. 

The students themselves were seated at the grand table, all eyes honed in on him with varying degrees of emotion. Some showed hatred, some curiosity, and some remained blank. 

At the head of the table, looking as if he owned the world, sat Damocles Rowle, named after his great-great-great and so on, grandfather, who had been minister for magic in the seventeen hundreds. 

This wasn't the first time Harry had met Damocles. The teenager was the heir to the Rowle estate, and although they weren't a noble family, they were still part of the 'sacred 28' and as such held in high regard in some circles. 

The main line of the Rowle family was well off, nowhere near the Malfoy or Black wealth of course, but definitely on par with houses such as the Bones and Macmillans. They lived well and mingled in high society with ease. Damocles had often been brought to formal gatherings by his parents during the holidays. 

It had quickly become apparent to Harry that he was a clever boy with ambitions of going far in the ministry. His marks were good, perhaps not O's in every subject, but they were nothing to scoff at either. 

What set Damocles Rowle apart was not his book smarts, but rather the easy way he convinced people to his point of view. Harry had seen the boy talk circles around grown men in those dreary balls and soirees they had both attended, and that was why it came as no surprise to him that the seventh year had earned himself the position as King. 

Being a part of the Court when you graduated apparently opened some gates that might otherwise have been closed. In a way it was all about connections, and being a part of the Court was a sure way to join a network of old Slytherin alumni. Those lucky enough to be integrated into the Court, and remain a part of it until they left Hogwarts, were practically guaranteed some sort of decent job, even if they were dumb as a loaf of bread. 

Rowle rose from his grand chair with practiced ease. He was not a particularly tall man, nor was he what one would call traditionally handsome, but he was charismatic and that more than made up for his short and stocky build. 

"Welcome, Henry James Potter, to the Slytherin Court! Please, have a seat." Rowle said with a sweeping gesture of his hand towards the free chair, a charming smile gracing his lips.

What followed next was an introduction to the other members, and it was clear as day how the hierarchy went. Rowle at the top and Harry somewhere near the bottom. Dolohov had not been particularly high ranked within their little group it seemed.

Harry was by far the youngest member. The only one even remotely near his age was Amar Shafiq, a boy just starting his fourth year who had aspirations of becoming a Mediwizard, just like his father. 

Listening to the Court talk was interesting, he got a completely different view of the political situation within Slytherin itself. In a way it was almost like the Slug Club, a collection of those with promising futures, those who held power and ambition.

The Court wasn't large, in fact, with himself included, Harry only counted eight. They truly were considered the elite of their house, no wonder they were held in such high regard. Or was it fear? He hadn't paid too close attention to the Court yet seeing as he was only a first year. 

"This-" Rowle said as he presented a silver ring held between his thumb and index finger, "-is a mark of your status as a Court member, wear it with pride." 

Harry accepted the ring and studied it closer. It was a small signet ring created from a single piece of silver, unassuming in its simplicity. The top was round and flat, with the Slytherin crest engraved into the metal. There were no gemstones or other intricate details that he would have expected from his new house, instead it was… simple. Solid. He slid it onto his little finger and immediately it shrunk to fit his small digit. 

"Normally the Court holds meetings twice a month on the first and third Sunday, but, if there is a case that demands our immediate attention, this ring will send a magical spark to warn you." And as Rowle had explained, the ring did indeed make itself known.

The surge of magic travelling up Harry's hand was akin to that of the alarm function on his wristwatch, not painful but definitely uncomfortable. Within a few seconds the pulsating stopped. 

"Whenever you feel that in the future, take a closer look at the crest, a time and date will appear on the body of the snake." He continued and pointed down at Harry's ring. 

"The location will always be this room unless something else has been mentioned, do not be late." Rowle finished, inspecting the small boy who was now a part of his Court.

Harry nodded his understanding. The ring was an ingenious little thing, so very similar to the Galleon Hermione had made for the DA back in the day. Harry had never asked, but now he wondered where she'd gotten the inspiration to make it from. She was exceedingly intelligent, but coming up with completely new things had never been her strongest suit. Adapting knowledge and ideas to suit her needs on the other hand… very much so.

With the details of his ring explained, Rowle handed him over to Gemma Farley for a thorough briefing of all his duties and expectations, most of which he already knew thanks to Regulus and Abraxas. It was nearly startling how little had changed over the years. 

The Court was seen as the governing body of Slytherin and dealt with any in-house disputes that were specifically brought to them. The only higher position than theirs was that of their Head of House. 

During their talk, Gemma gave him the privilege of using her given name while they were within the CourtRoom, as they liked to call it. Harry likewise allowed her to call him Henry. 

She told him how any formal challenge to a duel issued to him had to be accepted, however the request and fight itself would only be valid under the current King's supervision. So if someone had the gall to hex him in the back while he was on his own, or tried to gang up on him, the fight would not be valid in the eyes of the Court. Basically the aggressor would do themselves no favours by acting that way, and would suffer swift retaliation once it got brought to the Court's attention. 

Another perk of being with the Court was that the CourtRoom was available to him at all times of the day. It was a place where the members could retreat for some quiet studying or simply relaxing. The ring he had been given would act as his key, allowing him, and only him, entrance, even if no one else was inside. 

The remaining hours before dinner were spent drinking tea and socialising with the other Court members. They tried to subtly inquire about his past, but as they all left, no one was particularly wiser. All they had really confirmed was that Harry was indeed the Black heir. 

During dinner itself, Harry sat together with the Court near the middle of the table. He ate quietly, surreptitiously throwing a look up at the staff table, nearly cracking up with laughter due to the sight that met him. The headmaster looked on the verge of a heart attack as he noticed his placement. Poor Snape was not faring much better. His jaw was clenched tightly and his hand clutched his knife so desperately that Harry feared it might bend from the pressure. 

"Your Hufflepuff friend has returned it seems." Regulus said, shifting Harry's attention to the Badger table. 

And sure enough, there Neville was, looking happier than Harry could remember seeing him in this timeline. He must have gotten his wand, Harry concluded. 

He pulled a piece of parchment out of his bag and wrote a quick note, inviting Neville to the Black Lake with him after dinner since the sun was still up. Harry tapped the parchment with his wand while murmuring a quiet incantation. 

The sheet automatically folded itself into a beautiful origami owl that fluttered its wings. Harry picked it up into his palm, and as he blew on it, the small bird flew gracefully through the air, landing in front of Neville. 

He didn't stay long enough to see the boy's reaction. 

~

"Henry! Y-you were right!" Neville exclaimed as he ran up to him by the Black Lake. 

Harry looked up from the book he had been reading, a slight smirk spreading on his lips. 

"Yes, I usually am. What was I right about this time?" He already knew the answer but thought it prudent to ask. 

"My wand!" Neville beamed as he pulled out a light brown wand with a reddish hue, proudly showing it to Harry. 

"That's wonderful Neville! I told you so, didn't I?" Harry replied with a wide grin, patting his arm.

Learning spells would be much easier for his shy friend, hopefully he would be able to gain some much needed confidence sooner than anticipated. 

Neville gushed about his new wand. It was made out of cherry and unicorn hair, which Harry thought suited the boy well. Cherry was a rare and powerful wood, and paired with unicorn hair it would be a powerful and steady companion. Unlike Harry's own wands, the unicorn core would make it difficult, but not impossible, for Neville to learn the Dark Arts. That being said, he doubted Neville would ever take an interest in it, so it was no loss.  

Once Neville had calmed down, Harry offered to tutor Neville in the first year curriculum until he was caught up. He gratefully accepted and they spent the afternoon going over spells such as Wingardium Leviosa, amongst others. 

It was astonishing how much difference a properly bonded wand could make, and Neville seemed to grow more confident by the minute. 

Harry felt a spark of warmth bloom in his chest. Neville had always been a good friend to him, always been solid and supportive, even during the times when Harry had been less than pleasant in return. That he now had the opportunity to help, to make his life better, it made Harry feel good about himself. 

~

Harry checked the map to make sure the coast was clear. Curfew had already passed and he was on his way to the Shrieking Shack to meet Skeeter for his interview. He had sent a few of his elves in advance to prepare one of the rooms, making it at least clean and comfortable for the meeting that was due to take place. 

He gathered his satchel and used the powers he'd gotten from Death to step from one shadow to the next, appearing inside the tunnel that led to the shack. He allowed his invisibility to drop and trudged onward towards the shack itself. 

"This way master Potter. Tippy be's taking you to the meeting room." A squeaky voice greeted him as soon as he entered the dilapidated shack. 

"Thank you Tippy." Harry murmured and followed after the elf. 

He hadn't had the time to oversee the renovations himself, but he had made sure the elves knew to prepare a room for his interview with Skeeter. When he laid eyes on the room he felt impressed by the change.

What had previously been a messy and abandoned basement was now warm and outright cosy. The walls had been painted a rich brown colour, the fireplace burned away merrily, and the wrecked furniture had been replaced by soft and comfortable chairs. 

Harry sank down in the chair that faced the door, enjoying the warmth emanating from the fireplace to his left. 

"Would youse like some tea, sir?" Tippy asked with big, hopeful eyes. 

"Yes please, that would be lovely, Tippy." Harry replied with a fond smile. 

Now with tea in hand, he settled down with the latest issue of Potioneers Monthly as he waited for Rita Skeeter and Sirius, in the form of Sam White, to arrive. 

The pop of an elf appearing made Harry look up from his magazine. Minky had brought Sirius and Harry smiled warmly at the two of them. But before Harry could say hello, Sirius spoke in a solemn voice.

"You absolutely sure about this, kid?" He asked, a worried frown marring his features.  

"Yes." Harry calmly replied. He didn't like it, not at all, but personal sacrifices had to be made if he wanted to take down Dumbledore. 

Sirius sighed and nodded. He understood even though he didn't like it either. Together they waited for the third member of their meeting to arrive, a certain bug with a propensity for slander and poisonous words. 

She was punctual, and at 11pm sharp, Tippy led the reporter into their improvised parlour. 

"Miss Skeeter, I presume?" Sirius said and got to his feet, shaking her hand. 

"Correct, and you must be Mr White, but let's not forget the star of the day, Mr Potter." Her blue eyes quickly shifted from Sirius to Harry, hungrily taking in the boy in front of her, smile sharp as razors.

Skeeter looked just as Harry remembered her from his first life. Expensive acid green robes, blonde hair perfectly coiffed and red, cat eye glasses that matched her lipstick.  

"Good evening Miss Skeeter, thank you for taking the time to meet with me." Harry nodded his head politely and shook her hand, making sure to keep his face as blank as possible. 

"Oh I wouldn't miss it for anything." She purred. 

"Well, now that we've all introduced ourselves, how about some refreshments?" Sirius awkwardly interjected, gesturing for Skeeter to take a seat in the available chair opposite Harry. He didn't like the way she looked at his godson, as if she wanted to devour him. 

"I'm sure you're already aware that I am here as a chaperone in Lord Peverell's stead." Sirius continued as tea began to pour itself in front of them and various petit fours arrived on the table.

"He wanted me to remind you that any articles have to be approved by him before publication. If you want to publish it in the Prophet's morning edition tomorrow, you'll have to send him the draft through elf tonight. Tippy has agreed to forward any correspondence." Sirius calmly explained, taking a bite of a delicious macaron. 

Skeeter's lips were pinched but nonetheless she nodded in agreement. Clearly she wasn't fond of her articles being controlled and edited, but she had more to gain by sticking to her agreement with Lord Peverell. Years in Azkaban did not sound particularly pleasant to the illegal Animagus. The money she received was certainly a contributing factor as well. 

"I've brought you something that I think might be of interest to you." Harry said softly as he pulled a large scroll out of his satchel. 

He held it out towards Skeeter who curiously accepted it. Quickly she rolled it open and began to read, eyes growing larger and larger. If possible, she looked ecstatic and horrified at the same time. 

"Oh you poor, sweet thing." She crowed in delight, eyes alight with unholy excitement. 

Harry kept his face placid. "Yes, well, you may keep that. It is a copy of the medical scans Madam Pomfrey performed on me at the start of the semester. I'm willing to answer any question you might have, but I request that you do not include my involvement in all of this. It won't have the same impact if people thought I went to the media on my own volition." His smile was strained. 

Skeeter eyed him shrewdly and tapped her lips with the tip of her quill, a sharp smile full of teeth unfolding. "I'm sure that can be arranged." She agreed.

Question after question were fired at Harry in rapid succession after that, and he skilfully answered each and every one of them to his own advantage.

Skeeter was relentless now that she'd sunk her teeth in a devastating case. Like a dog with a bone, she wanted to gnaw her way to the marrow. When the story hit the press, chaos and outrage was going to sweep through the wizarding world and she would be the good and righteous reporter who had uncovered these heinous crimes. She couldn't wait. 

When she had gathered all the information she would need, the trio dispersed. Skeeter Apparated straight from the shack and to her home, immediately sequestering herself in her study so she could write a delightfully scathing article, meanwhile Harry and Sirius went to their home.

Chapter Text

Harry sat near the other Court members during breakfast, trying his best to stomp down the nausea brought on by what was soon to transpire. 

Draco was by his side, having stuck to him like a chatty limpet since Harry's 'rescue' during Dolohov's attack. Of course, the fact that Harry was now a Court member also greatly factored into his popularity, although most Slytherins were wary around him now.

Harry took a bite of his eggs and toast, eating even though he had absolutely no appetite. Draco babbled about something or other that he entirely tuned out as unimportant. 

Slowly, owls began to descend upon the Great Hall. One of them, a common barn owl, dropped a rolled up newspaper in front of Harry. He managed to snatch it out of the air before it hit his plate. His mouth felt dry as he saw his name and photo splayed across the front page of the Daily Prophet. 

“BOY WHO LIVED ABUSED BY GUARDIANS!” The headline of the paper spelled out in big, bold letters. The photo accompanying it was an old class photo, taken at his primary school when he first started. It showed exactly how thin and small he had been back then, eyes and cheeks sunken. He looked haunted and weary. 

Through heavy Occlumency shields, Harry managed to render his face void of emotions as he opened up the newspaper. 

He already knew what it said, Skeeter had made good on her promise and the two of them had ironed out a version of the article that both were satisfied with. Her sensationalist writing was sure to entice the masses and Harry could already feel the pity being aimed at him. 

His eyes glanced over the words, waiting an appropriate amount of time before he could make his retreat.

"Excuse me." Harry murmured softly and abruptly stood up. 

"Wh--" Draco sputtered, having been interrupted mid sentence. 

"Potter? Where are you going?" The young boy demanded, but got no answer. Harry was already halfway to the door, the newspaper having been left behind on the table in disgust. 

Rita had done a marvellous job. He hadn't expected anything less, now he had to play his role. Throughout his classes the teachers looked at him with pity and concern, except perhaps Quirrell, he was as skittish as always. Although, Harry thought he could feel the man's calculating eyes on him at times. 

There was no doubt in Harry's mind that Voldemort was considering recruiting him as one of his Death Eaters. It was either that or killing him. Voldemort wouldn't stand for someone being his 'equal'. Harry was an unknown threat, and what better way to deal with a threat than make him a devoted follower? Since blatant murder hadn't worked the first time.

Harry escaped to the library after classes to get away from the stares and whispers. Although it didn't bother him as much as it would have done if he had been his physical age, the mere thought of everyone knowing made his skin itch. 

The library was a quiet sanctuary, Madam Pince would have it no other way. He hid among the books, having abandoned his fellow Slytherins as soon as professor Flitwick let them leave the Charms classroom, skipping History entirely.

~

"H-hi." Neville's shy greeting brought Harry out of his mulish thoughts. The Hufflepuff sat down at the table without asking for permission. 

"Um… s-so, how are you doing?" He awkwardly asked. 

"Just brilliant , thanks." Harry replied in a dry tone and raised an eyebrow, sarcasm dripping from his words. 

"I suppose you've heard the latest gossip then?" Harry prompted, returning his attention to the book he had been reading. 

"Er... Yeah." Neville fiddled with the hem of his shirt, desperately wanting to say something to cheer up his friend. 

"Do you… uh… w-want to talk about it?" He hesitantly queried. 

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not." Harry wryly replied, lips twitching in a bland smile. 

"Somehow, the idea of sharing all of my darkest moments with the world is not particularly enticing." His soft chuckle was void of any actual humour. 

Neville was quiet and Harry realised that he was being a bit of a prat. This article had been his own idea after all. He sighed heavily and closed his book. 

"Sorry Neville, it's not your fault, I shouldn't take it out on you. Thank you for the support." His smile was a tad warmer at that, causing the other boy to relax. 

"Let's talk about something else. What about the Hufflepuff dorms, what are they like?" Harry asked. 

Neville latched on to the question like a lifeline and began to tell Harry all about his new dorm. He lost most of his nervous stutter as he gained confidence. He explained how their sleeping quarters were in a spacious room with a large, round table in the middle. Instead of individual desks, the table was there to inspire teamwork, something he and other boys in his dorm seemed to enjoy. 

"Are your dorm mates treating you well? I don't need to hex anyone do I?" Harry lightly joked, feeling successful when Neville cracked a smile. 

"They're nice. Well, most of them." Neville shrugged. "Ernest Macmillan is a bit of a git, but mostly in a pompous kind of way. He isn't a bully or anything." 

"Hmm, that's good I suppose. Tell me if it changes though." Harry said with a lopsided grin that had Neville snickering and feeling warm on the inside. 

It hadn't been intentional on Harry's side, but even so, if he kept it up, in a few years Neville would be blindingly loyal to him.

Even if the manipulation was done with the best of intentions in mind, it was a dangerous power to have over someone so young. He was essentially moulding Neville to his own preferences. That fact should have bothered Harry, but strangely enough it didn't. He only wanted to help, to make sure Neville grew up safe and happy. 

~

"Potter, come see me in my office after dinner." Snape quietly demanded as Harry was about to leave their Potions lesson and head to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. 

"Of course, sir." Harry replied with a bland smile, knowing exactly what would be discussed and not looking forward to it.

Snape nodded and retreated to his desk at the front of the classroom. 

"What was that about?" Draco curiously asked as they walked out of the dungeons. 

"I suspect it is related to yesterday's edition of the Daily Prophet." Harry answered.

He was surprised when nearly all the Slytherins in his year waited for him so they could walk together. That was definitely a new behaviour. He couldn't see Theo however, and he'd admit to being slightly worried about the boy. Ever since the fight with Dolohov, Theo had been withdrawn and quiet, more so than usual.

It was almost as if Harry was being intentionally avoided. The way Theo had positioned himself all the way to the front of Quirrell's class, when he normally sat in the back, added some credit to that theory. 

The lesson began, and throughout it all he could feel Voldemort's intense gaze through the purple turban on Quirrell's head. He was going to ask him to stay behind after class, Harry just knew it. 

When the rest of the students were dismissed, Quirrell quite predictably asked him to stay behind. 

"A w-word p-please, Mr P-Potter!" The man stuttered with a nervous smile. 

"Of course, professor." Harry nodded and then turned to Draco and Blaise who had been sitting next to him. 

"You go ahead, I'll see you at dinner." He said, urging them on. 

The children quickly left, all too happy to be done with the day and get away from the cloying scent of garlic that impermeated every inch of the classroom. Again, Harry was left alone with the possessed teacher. 

~

"H-have y-you had t-the time t-to read through t-the books I r-recommended?" Quirrell asked in his fake stutter that was equally as annoying to Lord Voldemort as it was to the students.

The boy smiled politely and nodded. "Yes sir, as a matter of fact I finished the last one on Sunday." 

"Oh? What did you think?" Voldemort eagerly asked, having taken over Quirrell's body for the time being. 

Lord Voldemort was weak, yes, but he had enough energy for this. Quirrell was pathetic and weak minded, uncomprehending of the subtleties of manipulation like Lord Voldemort himself. If he wanted success he would have to take matters into his own hands.

"Honestly sir?" The boy answered, black brows crinkled in a frown. 

"Yes? Feel free to speak your mind." Lord Voldemort graciously replied, moving Quirrell's facial muscles into what he perceived as an encouraging smile. 

"Well, although I found the book on wizarding festivals and old traditions interesting, Blood and Heritage had a rather… disturbing undertone, sir." Potter answered. 

"Oh?" Lord Voldemort was surprised that the boy had managed to pick up on the underlying description of how the muggles were filth lower than animals. He was intelligent, Lord Voldemort would concede that.  

Despite the child's concerns, Lord Voldemort calmly, and with extreme subtlety, explained how the book was an excellent staple in any respectable wizard's library. By the end of their discussion, the Dark Lord was convinced that the child had come to understand the importance of blood and its purity.

The thought of snatching the boy's loyalty from right under Dumbledore's nose sent a thrill of excitement up Lord Voldemort's borrowed spine. He would mould the Potter boy into a loyal follower, one of his Death Eaters, the perfect lapdog. He couldn't wait to watch the Light side fall apart as he corrupted their hero more and more. 

Lord Voldemort would have to make an example out of the boy first though, after all he had been the cause of his discorporation. It wouldn't be appropriate to let his followers think they could get away with such a slight.

Yes, a few rounds with the Crutiatus would do nicely. He looked forward to hearing his prophesied nemesis scream, to break him down and remake him as he wished. It was hard not to grin and cackle just thinking about it. 

However, Lord Voldemort was a composed and benevolent leader, he would take his sweet time manipulating the boy to see his side.

And if all else failed, he could easily kill the child once he got his strength back. That was almost as good an option as recruitment. He didn't really care for the boy, but the prospect of watching Dumbledore crumble when his little boy hero was turned against him? Oh that was entirely delicious. 

Lord Voldemort watched as the boy retreated from his classroom with a new note for the restricted section hidden away in his bag. He had spent a great deal of his energy during their conversation, and so, for now, the Dark Lord retreated into the back of Quirrell's mind, once again giving him control of his own body. 

~

Voldemort's attempts at manipulating Harry was quite frankly pathetic. Not only were they extremely obvious, they were also crude. There was no subtlety whatsoever. Harry felt like cringing on behalf of the insane soul fragment. 

What surely had been meant as a gentle nudge was in fact a blatant obvious push. He let out a sigh as soon as the door closed. At least Voldemort hadn't asked about his childhood, he wasn't sure how he'd deal with the man's concern on that front, fake or not. 

The only mention of his muggle guardians had been when he tried to convince Harry of their incompetence and lesser status. Honestly, Voldemort didn't even need to try to convince him of that. The Dursleys were indeed lesser humans, but not because they were muggles, just because they were themselves. 

"What took you so long?" Draco pompously asked as Harry joined them in the Great Hall. 

"Professor Quirrell wanted to discuss my last essay, so sorry if I kept you waiting." Harry replied in a dry tone and cocked an eyebrow. 

Draco had the sense to look slightly abashed at the polite reprimand. 

"Why are you sitting with us and not the Court?" Millicent piped in, saving Draco from having to apologise.

She wasn't the only one that appeared interested in his answer. The nearby Slytherins pretended not to pay attention but he could easily tell that they were straining to hear what he'd say. 

Harry flashed her a smile. "You are my friends, are you not? Surely that is a good enough reason." 

The unimpressed stare he got in return answered that nicely enough. They all knew he was pulling their leg and wanted to know the truth, or as close to it as they'd get. 

He couldn't help the amused smirk that spread on his lips. They were all rather cute, trying to act so grown up and posh all the time. He slowly served himself some food, waiting for one of them to break the silence. 

Unsurprisingly, Draco was the most impatient one of the bunch. "Come on, Potter! Tell us!" He whined. 

"Fine, since you asked so nicely." Harry drily replied, making Blaise snort as he attempted not to laugh. 

Draco shot the dark skinned boy a glare.

"Sitting at the middle of the table is not a requirement while being part of the Court, although it is what's commonly done. I thought eating amongst you would be much more comfortable, seeing as we've already established a rapport." Harry said with a smile that had Draco preening and Millicent looking pleased. 

The children seemed undoubtedly happy that Harry hadn't abandoned them in favour of the older students. By choosing to stay with them, he had made them feel special in a way. 

Dinner ended without fanfare and Harry slowly made his way down to the dungeons for his meeting with Snape. 

It was strange how unnatural it felt to meet the man as his student once more and not his equal. Harry liked to think they had become rather close friends over the years, at least as close as one could get when one was a double spy and the other his immortal student from a future that no longer existed. 

"Your mother brings good tidings, young Master." The voice of Ignotus Peverell said as Harry reached what the majority of the student population considered Slytherin territory.

"Oh? Did something happen to Dumbledore?" Regulus thankfully asked on his behalf, knowing that Harry couldn't afford to be caught speaking to himself. 

"Indeed!" Ignotus chuckled in merriment.

"Lily would like to inform you that the headmaster is currently swamped with angry letters, many of them Howlers at that. Apparently he didn't make a move to silence them and is instead listening rather despondently to their furious rants. Your mother said to thank you for letting her watch him while he is at Hogwarts, she is deriving great joy from it." 

Harry couldn't help the small smirk that tugged at his lips. That was indeed good news. He knew Dumbledore would receive backlash from the article, but knowing it for a fact? Oh that was utterly divine. 

Even though he didn't have a fancy network of spies in the shape of snake paintings and carvings, he had something much better, namely the spirits of the dead. Despite not being able to wander too far away from Harry, the entirety of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade was absolutely within range as long as he was there. 

As soon as Harry had proposed said spying, Lily had latched onto the idea with great fervour, outright demanding that she was to be the one watching Dumbledore, no one argued. She only swapped out with Ignotus whenever the headmaster went to bed so that she could inform Harry of any news. 

By now, Harry had spies all over the castle, telling him of anything particularly interesting going on. A lot of it was admittedly rather useless, like who had been seen in a broom closet with whom and so forth. Harry listened to it even if he didn't think it would be necessary, one never knew however. 

He took a deep breath, steadying himself before he knocked on the door to his professor's office.

"Enter." Was the calm, baritone reply coming from within.

The door was unlocked, and so, he stepped inside, ready for another hour of artful acting. 

~

"You wanted to see me sir?" Potter's voice said as soon as he'd stopped in front of the desk.

Severus looked up from the potions essay he had been marking and gestured towards the free chair. "Yes, have a seat, Potter." 

And oh how strange it felt to say that name without the usual hatred attached. He simply couldn't find it in him anymore. Oh make no mistake, he still hated James Potter with every fiber of his dark and bitter soul, but the boy was not his father. In fact, it was sad to say, but Henry's childhood probably resembled his own much more than it did his father's. 

Severus put down his quill and studied the boy with close scrutiny, dark eyes settling on the inconspicuous, but highly familiar, silver ring on his left hand. 

"It has come to my attention that you have had an altercation with one of the sixth years." Severus began, steepling his fingers together on top of the desk as he looked at the boy, one eyebrow sharply raised. 

"Ah. Yes, there was a… difference of opinion you might say. We came to a solution that benefited both of us however." Potter replied, somewhat managing to look politely innocent despite both of them knowing what he'd actually done. 

Severus might have been disturbed had it been anyone else, but the fact that the boy wasn't meek or cowed would serve him well. He actually felt relief that it was Dolohov that had been sent to the infirmary and not Potter. 

"I take it you were not injured in your… tussle." He asked, 

"No sir. I am perfectly whole and hale." Potter answered with a smile, almost appearing amused at Severus' attempts at caring, the little brat.

They devolved into awkward silence, both knowing which topic had brought them together but not wanting to touch upon it. Eventually, Severus decided enough was enough and cut to the issue.

"Mr Potter, I wanted to reassure you that the leak of your medical records did not happen through me." Severus said with utmost sincerity, trying to impart that onto his young student. 

"I know." The daft boy replied, still smiling softly, as if the thought of Severus betraying him was absolutely ludicrous. 

"If I may ask… how?" He didn't understand this reaction, not at all. Potter continued to puzzle him and he hated it. 

"Because I am the one who leaked it." Potter said, once more tilting Severus' entire worldview.

His brain came to an abrupt stop and he was left staring at the boy in obvious shock.

"You did what? " Severus hissed. He couldn't comprehend it, an abused child had willingly laundered all his dirty secrets to the entire world, and for what? 

" Why?" He choked out, still trying to collect his scrambled mind. 

Potter was quiet again. He tilted his head slightly, eying him in an assessing manner that was far too mature for his actual age.

"Because I wanted revenge." Was his simple answer, an answer that was far from sufficient if you asked Severus.  

"Revenge on whom? Your relatives? Their name was not even mentioned in the article you foolish boy!" Severus bit out, struggling to keep his agitation and desperation at bay. Why did children have to be so imbecilic and rash? 

"Oh no, not them, I have other plans for the Dursleys." The infuriating boy replied, still calm and composed, much to Severus' ire. 

He had to take a deep breath to avoid lashing out, Occluding heavily. 

"If not the Dursleys, then whom?" He asked, having a strong suspicion considering who the article laid the blame on, not to mention the following article in today's edition of the Prophet. 

"The headmaster, sir. But I think you already knew that didn't you?" The boy replied. 

Severus closed his eyes and sighed. Merlin save him from imbecilic children who thought they were ready to play political games with the most powerful wizard in Britain. 

"Go. Just go." The potions professor said, feeling like he had suddenly aged a decade just from the chaos this one boy brought. 

He was tired and wanted a drink, a recurring  feeling whenever James Potter's spawn was involved. At that moment he sorely wished that Potter had been placed in any house but his. He could be terrorising the badgers instead of giving him massive headaches. 

One thing was becoming crystal clear however, Severus would have to sort out his loyalties quickly. Dumbledore or Potter. For it was obvious to anyone who paid attention that aiding one meant alienating the other. From the sounds of it, Potter would never go along with the headmaster's schemes, and Severus strangely enough found himself relieved of that. 

~

The days passed and none of the students saw as much as a glimpse of their esteemed headmaster. Harry delighted in the thought of how much backlash Dumbledore must currently be facing. Every time it crossed his mind he felt a twisted sort of glee fill him with amusement. Finally the old man was getting his comeuppance. 

The boys' dorm was quiet, and for once, Harry was doing his homework by the little desk each of them had stationed by their beds. 

It was Friday evening and he was blessedly alone. Draco had become quite the follower and Harry wasn't sure how to feel about that. The spoiled child kept following him like a lost puppy, saying things and then looking to him for approval and praise. It was… somewhat disturbing. 

Harry realised how much power he held over the children in his year and he wasn't sure if he liked the implications. He could fuck them up really badly by mistake… He honestly didn't want to cause them any harm. 

"Henry?" A young voice softly said, sounding so insecure and full of hesitation that it reminded him of Neville.

"Yes?" Harry turned around to look at Theo with a kind smile. 

"I… I would like to apologise for avoiding you this past week, it was entirely rude and uncalled for." 

Harry raised an eyebrow but kept up his smile. "No need to apologise Theo, I'm just glad you chose to speak to me again. I missed you, you know? Draco can be rather intolerable at times." He chuckled and looked back upon his work. 

"Yes, well… all the same, sorry." Theo retorted. 

Through the corner of his eyes, Harry watched as the boy sat down on his own bed, eventually laying down on his back. The room was once more quiet except for the scratching of Harry's fountain pen against parchment.

"My mother is dead, you know?" Theo suddenly said, staring up at the canopy of his bed. 

"I'm sorry for your loss." Harry softly replied, throwing him a sidewards glance.

He was already aware of the woman's death of course, Narcissa was fond of gossip and had delighted in filling him in on everything that had happened in the last ten years or so. She was a fountain of information that one, much more so than her husband who only had a mind for politics and his own interests. Narcissa truly was the brains in that relationship, not to say that Lucius was stupid, sadly Harry couldn't peg the man with that moniker even if he sometimes did stupid things. 

"I was the one to find her." Theo continued, swallowing hard.

"There was so much blood." His face was drawn of colour, voice but a whisper as he clenched his fists against his duvet until his knuckles turned white. 

Harry closed his eyes and sighed softly. He thought that revelation explained a lot actually. Mrs Nott's death had been particularly macabre if one was to believe Narcissa's gossip. The poor woman had been torn to pieces by a werewolf during a full moon.

Harry wasn't sure how old Theo was when it happened, but either way, finding his mother's body like that would undoubtedly leave mental scars. His reaction in the common room towards seeing the blood and violence, even if it wasn't a lot, made sense. 

"It was all my fault… We were out in the forest collecting fairies for our Yule tree because I was childish and couldn't wait for a date closer to the holiday itself. I didn't… I didn't even think about the fact that it was the full moon. We were there because of me. She… she's dead because of me." Theo quietly confessed. 

Harry closed his eyes again and on the inside, he despaired. When did he become the therapist of all these children? He was hardly qualified for such a job.

Was it normal for so many of them to have suffered trauma and neglect before the age of 11? Or was it purely a wizarding thing? Surely children in the muggle world didn't all go through similar things? Some would of course, but he felt like there was a disturbingly high percentage of abused and traumatized magical children. Maybe he should pour some money into a mental health clinic… recruit people from overseas to start with… the younger generation could certainly need it. 

"Theo… I'm not sure how old you were when that happened, but either way, it was not your fault. You were a child, still are in fact, it was your parents' job to make sure your trip was safe. I am terribly sorry that you had to lose your mother in that way though." Harry firmly said, offering a gentle smile to soften the delivery. 

The other boy was quiet, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Clearly he still carried a lot of guilt with him over his mother's death. 

After their little heart to heart, Theo was once more integrated into his group of ducklings as if he never left. Whenever Draco got too full of himself, or was too obvious in his need for Harry's approval, Theo would roll his eyes. 

All in all, things went more or less back to normal for Harry, if one overlooked the blatant whispers and staring in the hallways. 

Although there had been a few official challenges to his position in the Court due to the article making them think he was weak, Harry swiftly and mercilessly put those notions out of their heads. Slytherin house as a whole was more wary of him than ever. 

~

Albus was not having a good day, no, a good week was more like it. Ever since that devastating article had been printed in the Daily Prophet, his life had been violently upheaved. 

The ministry was like an angry beehive, everyone seemed to have an opinion about Potter and Albus' responsibility for the boy's… abusive childhood, for clearly that was what it had been. 

He had tried to reason that surely it couldn't have been that bad, what aunt would expose her nephew to that kind of environment? They were family, that was supposed to matter. But the truth was now forcing itself upon him like a rogue bludger to the face. Petunia Dursley had not cared for her nephew like she was supposed to, and he... he had been the one to place the boy with her. 

Albus had always suspected that her bitterness would cause Harry's childhood to be… difficult, certainly, but definitely not to the extent the article had revealed. He had thought perhaps some mild neglect, spoiling her own son more, perhaps a few cruel words here and there, but not starvation and broken bones.

Just like everyone else, Albus had read the published medical scan, every heartbreaking line. He'd even gone as far as to confirm its validity with Poppy, for he didn't think anyone else would have had access to the boy. That particular conversation had not been pleasant. 

With an exhausted sigh, the old man sank down into his comfortable chair, finally allowing himself a moment of respite in his office. He took off his half moon glasses and rubbed his tired eyes, trying to stave off the pulsing headache he'd been suffering from all day. 

Albus didn't understand where things had gone so utterly wrong. He thought he had taken every precaution, every measure to make sure the boy was safe and protected, but not coddled and spoiled. He had even purchased a property on Wisteria Walk so that Arabella Figg could live nearby and keep an eye on him. Apparently his trust in her had been severely misplaced. 

Whenever he queried about how the boy was doing, she always reported that he seemed to be polite if scrawny. There had been no warning flags, no concerns, no nothing. 

Arabella had explained that when she'd asked Petunia about the boy's dishevelled appearance and thin frame, the woman had answered that he was a rambunctious child and a picky eater. Seeing as he was James' son, Albus had easily believed her claims.

In light of the recently revealed abuse, he couldn't help but fear even more for Harry's future. Would he turn his ruined childhood into a hatred of muggles? Would he embrace the Darkness or would he follow the Light? 

The situation was even more precarious than he had first imagined. He had yet to make a move on the boy out of fear he would be alienating him further, but now, with all of Britain knowing Albus was the one to place Harry with his muggle relatives, he feared all his bridges with the boy had already been burned. 

Harry still needed guidance in the right direction, but Albus doubted he was the best person to do that at the moment, at least not physically. Harry would need someone else to bond with, someone who could earn the child's trust and act as his mentor. 

The problem was just who. Minerva was out of the question, she was furious with him for his oversight with the Dursleys, rightfully so, and had given him a proper verbal thrashing as soon as she finished teaching the day the article was published. 

No, Minerva would not do. She was Light yes, with firm morals, but she was also headstrong. He would not be able to guide the boy through her, not anymore. 

His second thought was Remus Lupin, the werewolf had always felt greatly indebted to Albus for allowing him a place at Hogwarts, even with his condition. The problem with Lupin however, was similar to Minerva but not quite. 

Albus was uncertain of where the man's loyalties lay these days. His job at Peverell's apothecary complicated matters, for there was no doubt in his mind that his own self worth would have gotten a boost through his position as manager. The stable supply of wolfsbane for free was also a thing to take into consideration. No, Lupin's loyalties were uncertain, they might lean more towards Lord Peverell these days rather than Albus himself, and that was not a risk he was willing to take when it was concerning the boy. 

That only left Severus Snape. The only one whom he could trust with this intricate task. The man was in a perfect position to earn the boy’s trust as his Head of House, and Albus was sure he could convince the man to take it upon himself to guide Potter. He only had to remind him that he was Lily's child too.

With that decided, Albus reached over to the quite frankly atrociously large pile of angry letters, many a howler included, picking an envelope from the top of the stack.

He settled in for a long night of answering mail and completing long due paperwork that Minerva had been mercilessly hounding him to finish. 

As he sat deep in concentration, the trinket that monitored the blood wards on Privet Drive exploded violently and without warning. It happened so quickly that he didn't even have the time to put up a protective barrier. The tiny silver shrapnel pierced the left side of his body, and only luck made it so that none had reached his eyes. 

Blood dripped onto the wooden floor in copious amounts but Albus ignored it, instead he worried about what this meant. The blood wards had undeniably fallen, that much he knew, but there were three possible reasons for that. 

First, and probably the most horrific outcome of them all, was that Harry Potter was dead. The second option was that his aunt and cousin had been killed, and last, the boy no longer considered Privet Drive his home. 

Fearing the worst, it was therefore with absolute dread and urgency that the headmaster cast the Patronus charm, a beautiful silver Phoenix filling the office with a soft glow.

"Severus, the wards protecting Mr Potter have fallen. You must locate him immediately to ascertain his well-being. Message me once you have reached the boy." Albus gravely recited to the Patronus that waited for its message. As soon as he was done it took off, hastily flying to complete its mission.

He grunted at the pain speaking caused him, the tiny shrapnel cutting up more of his cheek from where it was buried inside. 

"Poppy, if you would be so kind as to pop by my office I would very much appreciate it. I seem to have had an, ah, a bit of an accident." Another Patronus was sent off, this time to the matron. 

Her reply was prompt and within minutes the stern healer stepped through the fireplace, green flames lapping harmlessly at her robes. 

She took one look at his disheveled appearance and the piles of letters, eyebrows climbing up her forehead. Immediately she brought out her wand to inspect the damage.

"Was this caused by an angry letter by chance?" She asked, not feeling the least bit sorry for her employer. 

Before Albus could answer, however, a beautiful, silver doe sprung forth from the wall, stopping in front of them.

"The brat is sitting surrounded by his friends in the common room." Severus' acerbic voice drawled, sounding annoyed at having been bothered for such a ridiculous reason. 

Albus slumped back in his chair with relief, all of his previous tension bleeding out. The boy was alive, that was all that mattered. The same might not be true for Petunia and her son, but they were not a priority now that the blood wards were useless. He had hoped he might be able to alter them to some extent, since the boy clearly wouldn't be going back to his relatives, but that was impossible now.

"Care to enlighten me what this is all about then, Albus?" Poppy questioned as she worked on summoning shrapnel out of him without doing more damage. It was a slow process, even with magic.  

Albus sighed. "The wards surrounding Mr Potter's home have fallen. I feared… I must admit I feared the worst. Thankfully, Severus has seen to it that the boy is safe." 

Poppy made a noise of acknowledgement but otherwise remained silent. She had already had a stern talking to with the headmaster about his irresponsible actions when it came to the Potter boy, at least now he seemed to want to make up for his past failings. 

After all of the silver was removed, the rest of the damage was easily mended.

"Apply this in a thin layer twice a day to avoid scarring." The matron said, holding out a jar for Albus to take. 

"Thank you Poppy, I will heed your professional advice." The old man replied with a soft smile. 

"You better." The woman huffed and packed up her healing supplies, promptly leaving the same way she had arrived. 

~

The following Saturday there was an emergency meeting called at the Wizengamot. 

Lucius Malfoy, and unsurprisingly enough Harrison Peverell, had quickly latched on to the scandalous news, taking advantage of the situation within the Ministry as soon as they could. 

Once Albus arrived, it came as no surprise that Lucius was proposing a vote of no confidence. The Dark faction had always had it out for him, and he would be more shocked had the man not forwarded the motion. Had the roles been reversed, Albus would have done exactly the same.

What did surprise him however, was how the meeting went. Most of the Dark faction voted in favour of his dismissal as Chief Warlock, which was entirely expected, but that many of his usual supporters within the Light faction also supported the motion, that had come as a huge shock. 

In the end he lost his position as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot by an astounding amount of votes. Only his most loyal friends and followers had voted against the proposition. 

With the loss of his position in the British Ministry also came the loss of his place in the International Council of Wizards. For years he had been the Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, essentially their leader, but now that reign was over. 

The ICW position was an elected one, and as such he no longer qualified for a place at the ICW after his dismissal from the Wizengamot.

Within a short week of the article being posted, Albus had lost most of his political power. He had just barely managed to hold on to his position as headmaster through the tip of his teeth. 

The public backlash was not the worst of his problems however, no, it was what would happen to the child now that the Dursleys were deemed unfit. Unlike at the end of the war, Albus no longer held the political clout to take responsibility for the boy's placement. No one would allow him that task now, not after the disaster of a home he had placed him in originally. 

Worst of all was the fear that Lucius would campaign to become Harry's guardian, under no circumstances could Albus let that happen. He would not allow the child to end up in the hands of Death Eaters. Although… At this point he didn't know who would have done more damage to the boy growing up, Lucius or Petunia. 

Chapter Text

Harry wrapped his thick coat tighter around himself, doing his best to ignore the icy wind that howled and bit at every inch of unclothed skin, and being infinitely glad that he decided to wear gloves. Even though it was only late October, the weather in Norway was still fucking cold, much colder than the weather currently in Scotland, at least. 

He took a deep breath, enjoying the crisp, unpolluted air as he set his gaze upon his destination. Rásttigáisá, a tall, majestic mountain with more magic than most would believe, stood proudly in front of him, its peak already white with snow. 

To most Norwegians, the mountain was nothing special, just a mountain out of many others, but to some, it held much greater significance. It was considered a sacred place by the indigenous Sami people of the North. 

Harry wondered if the magical district at the heart of the mountain had been what made the shamans consider it sacred and magical, or whether it was founded because of it. He would have to ask one day. 

"I wonder what it's like on the inside. I never visited this place when I was alive… I rarely went much of anywhere to be honest." Regulus mused by his side. 

"Only one way to find out." Harry murmured, feeling excited about what the outing might bring. 

The frozen heather and crowberries crunched underneath his heavy boots as he walked towards the hidden entrance. There was a large boulder not far from where he'd arrived, standing innocently amongst rocks and gravel, hiding in plain sight. 

Just like with Diagon Alley, there were several wards and charms in place to keep non-magicals from straying too close and to make them ignore anything mystical happening. Not that there seemed to be much of a need really, the area was in the wilderness of northern Norway, hours away from civilization. There weren't even any roads leading to the mountain so driving was out of the question. 

As Harry approached the boulder, he realised that it was not entirely grey as he had expected. Elder Futhark runes had been carved into the rock itself in the shape of an arch, each rune painted a rusty red on the inside. 

Curiously, Harry stepped closer, letting his gloved fingers brush over the carvings. There was no need for magic or a wand to open this gateway, anyone who managed to get past the repelling wards and charms would be able to enter. He assumed it worked similarly to the pillar hiding platform nine and three-quarters. 

Without any hesitation he walked through the boulder, and when he opened his eyes he was greeted with a beautiful and lively magical district. It was vastly different from Diagon Alley's whimsical buildings and bright colours, but neither did it hold the clean and modern lines of Canada. Instead it was more rustic, more in tune with nature.

The inside of Rásttigáisá consisted of a large, cavernous cave system. But despite the fact that they were inside a mountain, it wasn't dark or gloomy. Glowing crystals were embedded into the very walls themselves, bathing the tunnels in a warm light. The ceiling reminded him of the night sky, the crystals twinkling like stars. 

Unlike Britain's brick buildings, here they all seemed to be made out of wood, some even had roofs with grass growing on top. Similarly, most of the inhabitants did not wear robes either, preferring more practical clothes suited for the environment. Wool and leather seemed to be favoured materials. 

"Excuse me, I'm looking for Nidhogg Kro, could you tell me which direction I should take?" Harry asked a passerby who was wrapping a scarf around his neck, preparing for the cold outside. 

The man blinked a couple of times, taking a few seconds to digest and translate in his head what Harry had asked of him. Once it dawned, he replied in a heavily accented English that was interspersed with Norwegian words every now and then. 

Even though the description had been less than ideal, Harry got the gist of it and thanked the man for his time. 

The Nidhogg was an inn of sorts, fashioned after a viking longhouse, and much like the Leaky Cauldron it offered food, drinks and board. 

The smell was the first thing that hit him as he entered. It was a strong combination of alcohol, sweat and roasting meat. It wasn’t as unpleasant as it might sound, however. The atmosphere was cheerful and loud, not surprising seeing as it was a Saturday evening and the drinks flowed freely. 

Harry’s brown eyes scanned the crowd, looking for his contact. They had met once before in France to sign a magical contract that would ensure they both got what they wanted, but other than that he didn't know the woman very well. 

"She's over here!" Regulus shouted to be heard over the din of the crowd, pointing at a cloaked figure nursing a wooden mug at the back of the room, away from the busiest area. 

Harry stepped away from the large fire pit at the centre of the room where he had been warming his cold hands, confidently weaving through the inn's patrons and over to his contact. 

Ragnhild's big, blue eyes snapped up to him as soon as he sat down on the bench across from her, lips tugging up in a smile. She pulled down the large hood that had hidden her face until now, allowing her golden locks to cascade freely around her face. 

She was beautiful, no doubt about that, with a soft, if wild allure that was similar yet very different to that of the Veela. Harry felt certain that she could have seduced almost any man in the inn if she had wanted to, and probably some of the ladies as well. 

"Hello Roger, it is good to see you again." Her voice was soft and inviting, with a lilting accent that made her words sound almost like singing. 

Harry returned the smile, accepting the mug of mead she shoved over the table to him. 

"You too, Ragnhild. I hope the job hasn't been too difficult?" He replied, taking a sip of the sweet, alcoholic beverage. 

The woman's smile turned into a cocky smirk, she was confident in her abilities and with good reason, Harry wouldn't have hired her otherwise. She had a near perfect track record in finding objects of questionable origin, or extreme rarity.

"Nothing I couldn't handle." Ragnhild said with a gesture of her hand, waving away his concerns. "I think you will be very pleased, Roger." 

If she truly had found what he was looking for, then yes, Harry would be pleased beyond doubt. 

"Do you have the object with you?" He asked bluntly, feeling almost impatient to get his hands on the prize, so to speak. It would free up his life immensely. 

"I do…" Ragnhild's eyes roved over his body, taking in his thinning, grey hair, and pudgy stomach without comment, never once asking what he needed said object for. 

From within the depths of her coat she pulled out a small, wooden jewellery box, placing it on top of the worn table. Ragnhild's hand rested on top of it protectively, knowing just how valuable it actually was. 

"And do you have the payment?" She asked, eyes glued to her elderly employer. 

Harry nodded and mirrored her action, withdrawing a coin pouch from an inner pocket. The pouch itself had been expanded to hold more than what the eye could tell. No one but the two of them were aware of the thousands of gold coins that laid innocently between them. 

Greed was a powerful motivator, and Harry knew that more than one person would be willing to kill for such a sum. It was in both of their best interests to keep the actual amount quiet, let people assume what they wanted, not that he thought anyone was paying close attention. 

The items changed hands, jewellery box for money pouch. 

Ragnhild's grin widened into an almost manic grin as she opened the pouch and looked inside. 

"Oh Roger, you've made me a very happy woman." She purred, beaming at him like the cat that got the canary. 

Harry snorted at her antics and turned his attention to the unassuming, brown box in his hands. His heart began to beat faster as he slowly pried the lid open. Inside, on a pillow of soft, purple velvet, laid exactly what he'd been looking for, a Time-Turner, beautiful in its golden glory. 

Harry had finally managed to get his hands on one after months of searching. The price was exorbitant but well worth it in his opinion. He could finally split his time between his life as Lord Peverell and Henry Potter without difficulty. 

He snapped the box shut and placed the artefact within the safety of his pocket. 

"I assume the object to be in working order once I test it for myself." Harry stated, lifting a grey eyebrow on his wrinkled face. 

Ragnhild bristled at the insinuation that she would have done a less than stellar job. Although there was a magical contract between them guaranteeing that neither party got cheated, Harry still felt it prudent to ask. 

"Of course it is." She snapped back in a feral hiss, tail swishing in annoyance. 

Harry blinked in surprise. She had a tail… a cow's tail by the looks of it, why hadn't he noticed that before? 

"She's a Hulder!" Regulus exclaimed in excitement once he too saw the tail. 

Unlike Harry, who had initially assumed she had been in some kind of spell accident or suffered a curse, his dead friend was more knowledgeable about the different magical races living in Europe.

"My apologies, I didn't mean to offend you." Harry appeased with an apologetic smile, but he was unable to hide the glance to her tail. 

His stares had not gone unnoticed by Ragnhild, and the tail quickly retreated to hide underneath her long coat. 

"They are native to Scandinavia and you don't normally see them outside of their forests and homesteads. I'm surprised this one has taken up the career she has, it's rather unusual." Regulus stated, eyeing her with interest.

"Unless you have another job for me, Roger, I think I'm going to spend some of my newfound wealth." Ragnhild said, downing her mug of mead impressively quick. 

"Not right now, no. It has been a pleasure doing business with you however, and if I do think of something else that requires your set of skills, I will be in touch." Harry said in a final greeting and shook her hand. 

He watched as the young woman sauntered out of the inn, drawing more than one eye on her way out since she hadn't pulled up the hood of her coat. 

~

Samhain at the Slytherin table was a solemn affair, most of the students were from traditional families that thought the Halloween festivities made a mockery of their culture. 

Harry waited with bated breath for things to happen the same way as they did in his first life. Outwards he remained calm and stoic, but on the inside he was slightly nervous, he didn't know if he'd changed events too much so that Voldemort altered his tactics. 

It was with infinite relief that the doors to the Great Hall slammed open. Hundreds of eyes rose, their attention solely on the frantic Quirrell in the middle of the room. 

"Troll! In the dungeons!" Quirrell screamed hysterically, stutter forgotten in the moment, oddly enough. 

"Thought you ought to know." Were his last words before passing out on the cold, stone floor. 

It was a ruse of course, but it did its job spectacularly. The students erupted into full-blown panic, screams, shouts and crying, making it impossible to hear anything the teachers had to say. 

A loud bang broke up the chaos in the Great Hall, and all eyes turned to where it had come from. Dumbledore stood behind the staff table with his wand raised, a Sonorous charm came next, making his voice reach each and every student. 

"Prefects will lead their house back to the dormitories." The headmaster calmly said, making Harry frown. 

He hadn't thought much of it in his first life, too worried about Hermione missing the feast and possibly being in danger, but now it struck him that Dumbledore just sent half of the school towards possible danger. 

Yes the dungeons were large and consisted of many rooms and corridors, but they didn't exactly know where the troll was. It was a big risk to take. 

The Slytherin prefects had already begun rounding up their house. Most were too panicked to think straight about the situation, mass hysteria would do that.

Harry easily spotted Damocles Rowle and made his way over to him. 

"Excuse me, si-" 

"Not now, Potter!" The King barked back, cutting off Harry's words mid sentence. 

"But sir, our dormitories are in the dungeons." He pointedly said, not taking no for an answer.

Rowle's eyes widened as the implications struck him. Slytherin and Hufflepuff had their dormitories in the dungeons, sending a bunch of untrained children that way was like asking for a bloodbath. 

The teachers were all useless, having followed Dumbledore out in their search for the troll, leaving the unprepared students without any real defence.

Roughly, Rowle grabbed hold of the first Slytherin prefect he could find, barking orders for their change of plan. They were staying in the Great Hall, end of story. It was a much more defensible location with only two entrances, one of them too small for any troll to get through. 

The news spread throughout the Slytherin population and slowly their panic began to calm somewhat. They sat back down and instead decided to nervously wait for the whole ordeal to be over. 

Harry watched from a distance as the seventh year prefects rushed over to their Hufflepuff counterparts before the badgers left the Great Hall entirely. 

The horrified expression that bloomed on their faces when told was enough to answer what would happen. Hufflepuff and Slytherin stood united in this. 

The prefects quickly ushered their housemates back into the Great Hall. Hufflepuff proved great in their ability to soothe the scared younger years, and the Hogwarts elves kept the tables full of delicious food, sweets and hot chocolate. 

Harry thought they were all doing a great job, much better than the teachers, that was for sure. He noticed Gemma Farley speaking gently to a second year boy from Hufflepuff that had been crying, because in the face of danger they were just children doing the best out of a bad situation. There was no good and evil, us and them, at least not yet. 

"Do you think they'll catch it?" Draco's subdued voice piped up, eyes flickering worriedly to the door and back at Harry. 

"I'm sure it will be taken care of." Harry replied with utmost confidence, offering a calming smile. 

The first years he had taken under his wing had all crowded to him during the panic. Now that there were no lines between the houses, Neville and a few of his Hufflepuff friends sat intermingled with Harry and his Slytherins, finding comfort in Harry's confidence. 

Of course, the Hufflepuffs hadn't seen what Harry was capable of, just how ruthless he could truly be, but the Slytherins had witnessed his fight in their common room and it made them trust him. They instinctively knew that their chances of survival were better at his side rather than on their own. 

The Gryffindors and Ravenclaws had been the first ones out of the Great Hall, so by the time the other half of the school had come to a decision, they were long gone. 

Eventually though, the teachers returned, shocked at seeing half the school still there. Harry noticed McGonagall's temper rising, and her Scottish brogue rang loudly throughout the room as she berated the prefects for skirting their duties. 

She was well on her way to removing points from both Hufflepuff and Slytherin when the Head Girl had had enough. 

"Excuse me professor, but if you think the headmaster's order of sending Hufflepuff and Slytherin to the dungeons, where a supposed troll was roaming, were to be followed, then I'm afraid I've lost all respect for your priorities." The girl said in a waspish voice, clearly furious by the professor's lack of concern for their welfare.

Her angry glare and sharp words caused McGonagall to stop mid sentence. All eyes were now on the spectacle up front. 

"It almost sounds like you wanted some of us to be injured, ma'am." The prefect continued. 

"Of course not Miss Pemby!" The professor replied, looking duly chastised and tired.

"Fifty points to Hufflepuff for keeping a clear head in the face of danger." McGonagall said as a peace offering no doubt, the yellow gems trickling into Hufflepuff's hourglass.

"Slytherin should be getting those points, not us. They were the ones to warn us and make sure we stayed behind." Ms Pemby clarified, not one to take glory and rewards where it wasn't deserved. 

McGonagall's lips puckered sourly but she didn't object. The same amount of points was awarded to the house of snakes before she ushered them all to their dormitories, reassuring the prefects several times that the troll had been handled.

~

Having a Time-Turner honestly made Harry's life so much easier. As soon as his dorm mates had fallen asleep he went to his island. Instead of spending time with Sirius and Marius when he arrived, Harry took a nap. 

The whole time travelling business took place once he woke up. The long, golden chain rested comfortably around his neck as he pulled the rounded artefact out from underneath his shirt.

He turned the crown fourteen times, each turn signifying one hour he would be going back in time. Unlike the Ministry issued Time-Turners, this one did not have the five hour limit, instead, Harry had the option of repeating a whole twenty-four hour circle. 

His surroundings blurred for a few seconds until he was once more stationed firmly within his study. He checked his watch, and sure enough, it was now 10am on October 31st. His past self would be in classes with the rest of his yearmates. 

Harry still had plenty of time before he needed to deal with the bloody troll Quirrell was to release. He already knew how it had been found, seeing as it was all in his past, not to mention something he had planned properly in advance. 

"I still can't believe you had to face a troll during your first year." Sirius muttered glumly when Harry entered the kitchen, looking as if he wished he could drown in his cup of black coffee. He was definitely not a morning person. 

"Yes, you and me both." Harry sighed and put on the kettle.

"At least no child will have to fight one this time. I have it all under control." He continued, pouring the hot water into his teapot once it was ready. Sure, he could have asked one of the elves to do it for him, but he still liked being self-sufficient. 

"Are you gonna kill it?" Sirius asked, lazily quirking one eyebrow. He didn't really care either way it seemed. 

Harry shook his head. 

"Not if I can avoid it. Trolls might be violent in certain circumstances, yes, but it's not its own fault that it has been lured into a castle full of children. It doesn't deserve a death sentence for that." 

"If you say so." Sirius grunted, nursing his cup of coffee that steadily drained into the black hole he called a stomach. 

"Are you gonna do a ritual tonight? You usually do on Samhain." His godfather questioned, eyes half lidded as he tried his best to wake up. 

Harry chuckled and was kind enough to refill the man's cup as he answered. 

"Yeah, just a small one to honour the dead. Do you want to join me?" 

Sirius seemed to think about it before he let out a drawn out sigh. "I suppose I'll have to. Regulus is gonna be real whiny if he finds out I didn't." The Animagus practically pouted.

"What an honourable brother you are. Making such a sacrifice for your poor, dead brother." Harry sarcastically said, completing the patronising act by patting Sirius' head. 

"You're always so mean to me Harry!" Sirius whined like the dog he was, looking up at his godson with eyes big from feigned hurt. 

Harry snorted in amusement. The two of them kept up their friendly banter while they ate breakfast, and later retreated to the living room, both enjoying the fact that they now got to spend much more time together. Eventually Harry had to leave though, the troll wouldn't stop itself after all.

~

Returning to Hogwarts through the shadows, and staying hidden by virtue of his Invisibility Cloak, was laughably easy. That, in combination with the Silencing spells he'd put on himself, made him as unnoticeable as the spirits he summoned. No one would pay him any mind unless he accidentally bumped into them. 

With the help of the Marauders map, Harry quickly located Quirrell and his little parasite. He and Voldemort were on their way to the Forbidden Forest, probably planning on fetching the troll and luring it into the castle. 

Harry waited for Quirrell to return, and eventually he did, foul smelling troll in tow. The instant he left the troll alone to enact his distraction, Harry took matters into his own hands. 

Subduing the troll was easy, all he had to do was trick it into an abandoned classroom and Ward the door to high heavens. 

With obnoxiously bright green paint, Harry wrote "DANGER!!! TROLL INSIDE!!!" even going so far as to paint a childish depiction of an angry troll's head. That should get their attention, he thought. 

Despite the troll being detained and left for the professors to deal with, Harry still wasn't ready to leave. It hadn't avoided his notice how Hermione was not at the feast with the rest of the Gryffindors. Ron must have been his charming self as usual. 

Harry closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn't in good conscience leave his old friend crying in the bathroom by herself, likewise he knew she wouldn't accept his help if he were to give it as himself, her imagined rivalry with him was too great. Still, something had to be done. 

With his yew wand in hand, Harry transfigured his robes into that of a female uniform, complete with skirt, stockings, blue and bronze trims and an eagle emblem on the outer robes. Next came his appearance. 

His shapeshifting amulet had been perfected over the years, no longer was it the big, clunky thing that had been his first success. In addition to being smaller, it was also more intuitive to use once it had bonded properly. In reality it worked almost like being a Metamorphmagus, all it required was concentration and visualisation. 

Harry's facial features shifted entirely, his hair grew, as did his height, and in a matter of seconds, what appeared to be a seventh year Ravenclaw stood in the corridor. His hair consisted of long, chocolate brown locks that reached just past his shoulder blades. His eyes were equally brown and his skin pale. He looked like a very unremarkable girl, average in every way possible. 

With his appearance now in order, Harry hurried over to the girls' lavatory where he knew Hermione had been holed up for the entire afternoon. 

The soft crying and sniffling reached his ears as soon as he opened the door. He wanted to sigh again, feeling sorry for the younger version of his brilliant friend. 

"Hello?" Harry called out, his voice soft and feminine after he'd changed his vocal cords. 

He walked up to Hermione's stall and knocked gently on the door. "Are you alright in there?" 

Hermione had gone entirely quiet, probably hoping he would leave her alone if she pretended she didn't exist. 

"Do you need me to fetch Madam Pomfrey?" Harry continued, filling his voice with concern. 

"N-no!" Hermione immediately stuttered out, desperate not to involve any of the adults. 

"I-I'm fine." She sniffled. "You don't have to get anyone." 

"You don't sound fine to me… perhaps if you came out I could try to help." Harry gently pried. 

Ever so slowly, the lock on the stall clicked open and Hermione peeked out of the door. Her eyes were red and bloodshot from crying and her hair bushier than ever. 

"Oh sweetheart, what happened?" Harry softly sighed squatting down so they were roughly the same height. 

"Did someone hurt you?" He asked, wandlessly conjuring a handkerchief in his pocket and pretending to pull it out so he could wipe away the remnants of her tears. 

"N-no, nothing like that. You're going to think I'm being silly." Hermione sniffled, on the verge of breaking out into full-blown sobs again. Her large front teeth bit down on her bottom lip and she looked to the floor in embarrassment. 

"Oh I very much doubt that, dear. Whatever it was, the fact that it has brought you to tears makes it bad enough." Harry let Hermione take the handkerchief so she could dab her own eyes whenever she felt like it. 

"It… it's nothing really. Just this boy in my house being mean because he's jealous. I don't know why I let it get to me. I was the same at my old school but I just…" She looked away, not able to go on.

"Hoped it would be different here?" Harry quietly finished for her. 

Hermione nodded her head and sniffled. 

She looked so miserable and unhappy that Harry couldn't help but give her a hug. He scooped her up in his arms and held her tightly, feeling her body shake as she once again broke out into sobs. 

"Shhh, it's okay. You're going to be okay." Harry soothed, gently rubbing her back until the sobs petered off to tiny sniffles. 

"S-sorry for crying on you." Hermione said as she pulled away, cheeks flaming red with embarrassment. 

"Don't worry about it. I'm Sophie by the way." Harry gave her an encouraging smile. 

"H-Hermione." The girl replied. 

"That's from Shakespeare isn't it?" Harry asked, much to the others surprise. 

"You know Shakespeare?" Hermione asked, getting a hum in reply. 

"How say you? My prisoner? Or my guest? by your dread 'Verily', One of them you shall be." Harry recited from the Hermione act of Winter's Tale. 

Hermione was clearly shocked, for she could only gape up at him, mouth ajar. 

"Either way, I take it you don't want to go back to the feast with the others quite yet?" Harry asked and was rewarded by a soft shake of the Gryffindor's head. 

"Well, I think I have just the solution for us then. Come with me and I'll show you a secret that I'm sure none of your classmates know about yet." Harry said with a warm smile on his face as he held out his hand for Hermione to take. 

She hesitated for a little moment, worried that it might be a trick, but eventually giving in, too desperate for human connection. 

Harry took her smaller hand in his and guided her down through the castle, taking a few shortcuts that he was sure she'd make a mental note of. 

"Where are we going?" Hermione nervously asked.

"You'll see! We're almost there." Harry cheerfully replied. 

When they stopped, it was in front of a large painting of a bowl of fruit. Hermione frowned, looking at the painting and then to Harry in confusion. 

"You… wanted to show me a painting of fruit?" Hermione hesitantly voiced. 

"I did." Harry replied with a secretive smile. 

"Why don't you try tickling the pear?" 

Hermione gave him a look that said she questioned his sanity, which was rude, but probably sort of justified. Still, she did step closer to the painting and awkwardly tickled the canvas with her finger.

When the pear gave out a clear giggle, she stepped backwards in shock, wide eyes looking over to Harry. 

"Go on, open it." Harry urged with an amused grin, gesturing to the doorknob that had just appeared. 

Hermione's hand shook slightly as she reached for the knob. She was clearly feeling wrongfooted, but curiosity got the best of her. 

Her eyes were wide as saucers when she looked into the large kitchen, several house elves staring back at her. 

"Welcome to the kitchens!" Harry cheerfully exclaimed, sweeping his arm out in a grand gesture. 

Before Hermione could pepper him with the millions of questions that threatened to spill out of her, Harry steered her towards one of the small tables reserved for guests. 

He asked one of the elves for two cups of hot chocolate and something to eat. They were all too happy to comply. 

That was about as far as Hermione's patience went before her mouth opened and a waterfall of questions poured out of her. 

"Not so fast! I can't answer everything at once, one question at a time please." Harry laughed fondly. 

"What are they? What are they doing here? Why haven't I seen them before?"  The young girl sucked in a sharp breath, visibly trying to restrain herself. 

It was at that moment one of the elves returned, placing two mugs of hot chocolate with whipped cream in front of them, as well as the food they served in the Great Hall. 

"Here youse go Misses, is there anything else Bibby can bes getting youse?" One of the elves asked with hopeful eyes. 

"No thank you Bibby, this will be all for now. I'm sure the meal will be lovely. Thank you for your hard work." Harry said, making the small creature beam at him. 

Hermione softly thanked her as well, clearly of a mind to start barraging her with the questions Harry hadn't answered yet. He decided he might as well get it out of the way. 

"They are a race called house-elves. You probably haven't seen them before because they didn't want you to. Most of the time their masters prefer them to stay out of sight. They cook, clean, repair clothes and so forth, basically anything a wizard or witch asks of them." Harry explained, waiting for her reaction. 

"Masters?" Hermione said aghast, eyes big in horror. 

"You mean Hogwarts is keeping slaves?!" 

"Mm, yes and no." Harry hummed. "It is a bit more complicated than that." 

And so, while they ate, Harry explained the nature of elves and why they needed to bond to a place or person with magical reserves. He told her of how the bonds had been twisted, yes, but that freeing the elves entirely would do them no good. Without a bond they would be unable to perform magic and would end up dying quicker than normal. 

He hoped this was enough to dissuade her from wanting to forcefully free each and every elf at Hogwarts. Her S.P.E.W campaign had brought the poor elves more stress than they deserved. 

Hermione looked thoughtful, her eyebrows furrowed deep as she contemplated it all. 

"I don't like it." She murmured. 

"Me neither, but it is the way things are. All I ask is that you do some research before you start on a crusade. Just because something sounds horrible and outdated to you, does not mean it actually is. You need more information to make a decision either way. I recommend talking to the elves. Ask them questions about their culture without being demeaning. Listen to what they have to say and maybe look up some books in the library. " 

They ended up talking for hours, and when they finally split up to return to their own dormitories, Harry felt good about himself. Hopefully he had been able to help Hermione feel more at home. 

She had told him about the bullying from her housemates, and how the girls ignored her. With help from his grandmother Evelyn, he had tried to offer advice, hoping that she would actually take it to heart.  

Chapter Text

Weeks turned into months, each one worse for Dumbledore's reputation than the last. The amount of angry letters had lessened, but his reputation was in veritable shambles. Not only had the original article about Harry's childhood hit him hard, but Rita Skeeter had published the very same book she'd written about the headmaster in Harry's first life, only more factual thanks to Harry's funding for research.

Dragging up Dumbledore's early days with Grindelwald, and continued visits to Numengard since the man’s imprisonment, had almost been the final nail in the man's proverbial coffin, and yet he still stubbornly clung on to his position at Hogwarts. Harry wasn't happy about it, but he accepted it for now, he still had a few cards up his sleeves. 

His main focus was sorting out guardianship over his younger persona. Skeeter's articles were definitely helpful in that regard, always painting him in a good light whenever Peverell was mentioned in the Daily Prophet. 

Harry found himself in a lavish ballroom within Lord Greengrass’ manor. It was one of the Ministry’s yearly fundraisers, a ridiculous thing that was actually more of an excuse to gossip, drink and eat expensive food. Harry always attended even though he found them stifling and dreadfully boring. It was a great place to network, and the fact that he always left a large donation at the end helped boost his public image.

Green eyes scanned the crowd for his current prey, and Harry grinned internally as he finally caught sight of her. Slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion, he made his way across the room, chatting with people on his way. 

"Madam Bones, how lovely to see you again!" Harry cheerfully exclaimed with a boyish grin full of charm once he caught up with his target.

Meeting the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry fundraiser was a perfect opportunity to gain some sympathy for his case. 

"Lord Peverell, charming as always I see." The middle aged woman replied with an amused twitch to her lips. 

"I am merely telling the truth." Harry chuckled and shook her hand with a firm grip.

The conversation flowed freely between them, and eventually an opportunity arose as she talked about her niece Susan. It was the perfect segue onto what he truly wanted to discuss. 

"May I ask you something?" Harry quietly questioned, face a thoughtful frown. 

"Of course." Bones answered, having clearly picked up on his hesitation.

"If you knew that you had a struggling family member out there, a child in fact, would you take the risk of going to court to gain custody of them?" 

The witch's attention was fully on him now, her eyes and mind sharp as daggers as she unpacked his loaded question. 

"You aren't speaking just metaphorically, are you." It was a statement and not a question. 

Harry shook his head and sighed, looking out over the many witches and wizards who mingled in the grand ballroom, eating and drinking to their heart's desire.

"I thought I was the last of my family, and in a sense I still am… but when I went to Gringotts a while back, I found out that I had an heir." Harry slowly began, feeling amused at the shocked look Madam Bones gave him. 

"Before you make assumptions, no, he is not my child. The boy is a bit too old for that." Harry wryly added. 

"And this child, he has no one else to look after him? No parents or close relatives?" Madam Bones questioned before taking a sip of her non-alcoholic beverage. 

"His parents are both dead, I'm afraid, and the only relatives I'm aware of are far from suitable." Harry bit his bottom lip, playing up his insecurity in the matter. 

"I wouldn't have made an issue about all of this if he were living in a decent family, but from what I've come to learn these past few months, his home life has been negligent at the best of times, and abusive at the worst. Even if I'm young and haven't met the boy in person yet, at least I have the means to provide for him. I fear my youth will be to my detriment if it were to go to court however... as would the fact that I'm not married. But… the boy is family. We are both the last of our lines… fighting for him would be the right thing to do, wouldn't it?" His voice was soft and troubled. 

"From what you've told me, it would." Amelia Bones replied, her usually stern features softened by compassion. Family was something she valued highly, seeing as she had lost most of her own during the last war. 

Harry gratefully smiled back at her. He sipped his drink awkwardly, trying to play the role as best as he could. 

"You said he was too old to be your own, does he perhaps go to Hogwarts?" Madam Bones queried. 

"He does…" Harry hesitantly replied, making sure his face showed just how much he debated telling her the truth or not. 

"His identity is also what makes me wary of all of this. I worry that if I brought the case to the Ministry's attention, both he and I would be put in front of the entire Wizengamot." 

The woman's eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up to her forehead. Amelia was not a stupid woman, and Harry was sure she had already patched the pieces of the puzzle together. There weren't many children whose custody hearing would cause such a commotion. 

"I can take it, I'm in there all the time, but I worry about the pressure it would put on him." Harry stated, pretending to be too concerned to notice his companion's reaction. 

"Would it be too bold of me to ask for a name?" The woman pried. 

Harry sighed yet again, rubbing the left side of his face in an uncommon show of emotion. 

"It's Henry James Potter." He murmured, so quietly it might as well have been a whisper amongst the live music and chattering high society. 

Amelia Bones was shocked, that much was clear, but Harry thought she understood his worries now that the boy’s identity had been revealed. 

"Poor child, he's gone through enough already. I hate to admit it, but I am grateful for Skeeter uncovering his horrible homelife, I would never have guessed something was wrong otherwise. Although, I shudder to think what Mr Potter must be feeling right now, knowing that everyone is aware of how he was treated by those that should have loved and cherished him, it is surely difficult." 

For a woman of justice, who was in all aspects but blood, a mother, her heart truly went out to the young, abused Potter heir. Imagining her own niece, Susan, being put in the same situation brought chills down her spine. 

Harry could tell the moment his web of lies had managed to convince Madam Bones to help him get custody. His carefully crafted manipulations had tugged at the woman's heart strings, and he was not apologetic for taking full advantage of it. 

"You are absolutely right Lord Peverell-" Madam Bones began, only to be cut off mid sentence. 

"Call me Harrison, I think we've become acquainted enough for that by now." He said with a wry smile. 

To her credit, the witch did not seem phased by the sudden sequitur and in fact responded in kind. 

"Amelia then." She nodded her head.

"What I was about to say, Harrison, is that Mr Potter is indeed a high profile individual. His change of guardianship will draw a lot of attention, both from the public and those who wish to contest your claim. I'm not doubting your wish to look after him, nor your familial bonds as you claim, not yet at least, but they will have to be verified. I cannot make any promises, but for Mr Potter's own sake, I might be able to schedule a more private custody hearing, and if that is not possible then hopefully we will be able to keep him out of the chaos that is the full Wizengamot." 

~

True to her words, Amelia had managed to push forward a private hearing before the Department Heads and a select few within the Ministry. 

The summoning came one early morning with an official looking owl. The large, brown beast pompously landed on the garden fence of Harry's newly renovated house in a rural part of Maidstone, far away from prying muggle eyes. Not that they would have noticed anything either way, since the area was warded. 

He was currently there to inspect the work of his elves. To be able to raise, well, himself , Lord Peverell would need a more public address. Sure, most people wouldn't know about it, but he expected the Ministry would be rather adamant about vetting Henry Potter's new guardian, having a suitable home was definitely a part of that. 

Harry took the sealed letter from the owl's outstretched talon and flicked open the wax emblem. His eyes scanned over the parchment with its bureaucratic lingon, well versed in the dry formality of it all. 

The meeting was set for the tenth of December. A lot rode on this, someone else getting custody of his younger self would greatly diminish his freedom, even with a Time-Turner. It wasn't impossible to live with someone else, he could always Imperio whomever his new guardian turned out to be, but it was an imperfect solution that he preferred to avoid. 

Before the custody hearing, Harry spent a lot of his time in the Ministry, subtly buttering up those that would decide Henry Potter's future guardian. 

The day itself arrived without much fanfare. Harry had shown up hours before he actually needed to be at the Ministry, the situation with his court case for underage magic still clear in mind. Although he didn't have anyone out for his blood this time around, there were still plenty of people who would want custody over Britain's little child celebrity. Harry didn't want to take the risk of running late. 

~

"Lucius… I did not expect to see you here, there are no problems I hope?" Harry calmly asked, internally cursing his abysmal Potter luck. 

Of course Lucius fucking Malfoy would stick his snobby nose in Harry's business. He smiled tightly at the blonde prick, whose face was as smug as ever. 

"Not at all Harrison." The older man affably replied. "I suspect we are both here for the same reason today, are we not? Opening our hearts and homes to poor Mr Potter who's been through more than any child should." His tone was dripping with saccharine sincerity that was so clearly fake. 

Harry raised an eyebrow and smiled blandly, once again suppressing his urge to mess up Lucius' pretty face with his fist. Narcissa wouldn't take too kindly to that, however. 

"I suppose Narcissa put you up to this then?" Harry asked, knowing that the true answer would be both a yes and a no. 

The married couple both wanted Potter in their custody, but for different reasons. Narcissa would do it because Harry obviously made Draco happy, and she once confessed to Peverell that she wanted more children, but was unable to conceive after her son was born. 

Lucius on the other hand wanted control of the boy for political reasons. Being the man who 'saved' the boy who lived from his horrible muggle relatives and took him into his home out of the goodness of his heart would paint a beautiful picture of his kind and generous nature.  

In addition, if the Dark Lord ever returned, he would have a lifeline tucked away in the form of a child. In that way, Lucius was brutal. He would gladly submit a child to the tender mercies of Voldemort if it meant safety for his own family. Harry could understand it, even if he didn't condone it. 

"Ah! Lord Peverell, Lord Malfoy, just in time!" Cornelius Fudge, their current muppet of a Minister exuberantly exclaimed, his lime green bowler hat almost falling off his head as he rushed to his feet to greet them as they entered the meeting room.

"Minister! How wonderful to see you again. I didn't expect to meet you here today, surely you must have much more important things to attend." Harry charmingly replied as he shook the portly man's clammy hand, smiling warmly. 

Fudge preened under the attention of one of wizarding Britain's most powerful Lords and his chest puffed up in pride. He did so love to feel important, and stroking someone's ego? Well, that was something Harry had learned to do over the years. 

"Oh come now, Lord Peverell! It would hardly be appropriate of me to not personally see to it that the mistakes of the previous administration in regards to Mr Potter's placement didn't get rectified." The Minister for Magic laughed, making sure to highlight the fact that it was indeed his predecessor that had erred. 

"Of course, right you are." Harry chuckled and allowed the man to shift his attention to Lucius. 

Harry let his eyes roam over the gathered crowd, smiling and nodding politely to each of the attending members. Most of them he already knew, like Amelia Bones and the other Department Heads. He was not surprised to see Arthur Weasley with his balding ginger hair and excitable personality chatting along with one of his co-workers. 

Even if the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office was rather small and looked down upon, Arthur was still the Head of its department. Harry held fond memories of the man, even if he thought he was just as prejudiced against muggles as Lucius, just in a different way. His prejudice was rooted in ignorance rather than malice. 

The fact that he led a department that dealt with muggle artefacts, something he was passionate about, yes, but had no actual clue how they worked… well… It left a lot to be desired. Still, that didn't keep Harry from liking the man. 

"Good evening Arthur, how's the wife and children these days?" Harry kindly asked as he sat down next to the ginger at the large, oval conference table. 

They were far from close, but the distrust towards Peverell had waned over the years due to all the good he'd done for the community. Harry wondered if the Weasleys still supported Dumbledore, or if the recent media ruckus had made them open their eyes to the truth. 

"Can't complain! Molly still finds the house a bit empty with all but our daughter either at Hogwarts or moved out, but everyone is healthy and that's all I ask." Arthur chuckled jollily and cleaned his glasses with the hem of his threadbare robes before shoving them back on his nose. 

Before Harry could reply, someone loudly cleared their voice from across the table, making every head turn. 

"Settle down, please!" Madam Bones' stern voice cut through the room, drawing their attention. 

"Now that everyone has arrived, the hearing can begin!" Fudge continued once Madam Bones had silenced the occupants. 

"Custody hearing on the tenth of December, for guardianship over one Henry James Potter, born July 31st 1980, is now in session. Interrogators, Cornelius Oswald Fudge-" The Minister began, detailing each and every one present and their roles within the Ministry and the hearing itself. Miranda Brown, the current court scribe, took rigorous notes. 

"It has come to the Ministry's attention that there are four possible candidates to Mr Potter's guardianship, Lord Peverell, Lord Malfoy, Mr Weasley and Mr Doge. We are gathered here today to ascertain which one of you has the highest familial claim as well as the ability to provide properly for the boy's needs and welfare." Amelia continued, taking the word once Fudge finished speaking. 

Elphias Doge, who was clearly there on Dumbledore's behalf, went first. His so-called claim was ridiculously low, if it even existed. The familial connection was so muddied and far back that they might as well have brought in someone from a different country in his stead. He played on the fact that he was old and had all the time in the world to look after and dote on the boy, but that was also to his detriment. It was clear to everyone that his being there was a joke. 

Mr Weasley was next. Had this happened in his first life when Harry was a child, he would have done anything in the world to be able to live with the Weasleys forever and be considered family. He had always envied Ron for the warmth and care he received at home. 

During the summers, when he visited the Weasleys, Harry would get a taste of what it was like, and it always felt so bittersweet. He desired it more than anything, but knew he couldn't have it. 

Although Mrs Weasley cared for him and fed him, he was never really considered one of her own, he wouldn't have been left with the Dursleys again and again if that was the case. She always commented on how thin he was but never took the matter further, never showed him the same concern as the rest of her children. It was natural, even if it hurt at the time. 

"Me and Molly already have children so we know how to care for them. Our youngest, Ronald, is even in the same year as him at Hogwarts. We think it would be good for him to live with children his own age. Harry would have a loving home with us and want for nothing." Arthur said. 

"And how exactly do you expect to be able to financially support another child when you can barely keep your own brood fed?" Lucius sneered at his nemesis. 

Harry privately agreed with the blonde arsehole, no matter how much that hurt to admit, even to himself. Arthur, no matter how well his intentions were, did not have a great financial situation. 

Lucius' biting words caused Arthur's face to burn red in anger and embarrassment, the colour clashing horribly with his hair. He was just about to snap back a retort when Amelia cut in. Everyone knew about the rivalry between the two men and would avoid a fight if they could. 

"Mr Weasley, you mentioned that you also have a familial claim to Mr Potter, do you have any official proof of this?" Amelia questioned to stave off any explosive arguments. 

Arthur took a deep breath before he nodded. "My grandfather Septimus Weasley married Cedrella Black, Dorea Potter née Black's cousin. I ha-" 

"Wasn't she cast out of the Black family though?" One of the Department Heads asked before Arthur could continue.

There was a murmur of assent spreading through the room. 

"And besides, even if she wasn't, that's still not exactly a close relation." The same man finished sceptically. 

In the end, Arthur's claim was there, yes, but it was a weak one. He was in the running but nobody really expected him to come out of the hearing as Potter's guardian, his already strained financial situation took care of that. They didn't want a new guardian to rely on the Potter heir's trust vault to get by.

Lucius sent Arthur one last derisive glance of disgust before he procured a leather folder from within his pocket, unshrinking it with his wand. With one swift flick, the documents within multiplied and spread out to each participant of the hearing. 

Harry scanned the first parchment and was, despite himself, impressed. Lucius truly had gone all out in his attempt to gain custody. 

"As we all know by now, Dorea Potter née Black was Henry Potter's grandmother. As you can see from the family tree that has been verified by Gringotts, Dorea was also the younger sister of one Pollux Black, who so happens to be the grandfather of my beloved Narcissa, who I'm sure you've all met." He flashed the crowd a pretty smile and went on with his rehearsed pitch. 

Lucius played on the ties to the Black family, laid out his wealth and ease of both giving Potter everything he could wish for, as well as his ability to protect him. In addition, Narcissa and Draco featured heavily. How he and his wife had always wished for more children, but had been unable to conceive again after their son was born.  

It looked like Lucius had nearly everyone charmed to his side by the time he was finished. Harry kept his polite, public smile but on the inside he was seething. He had worked too hard, planned too long, for this to all go up in smoke due to Lucius' political aspirations for his younger self. 

"Thank you, Lord Malfoy." Madam Bones voiced, with a nod of her head to the blonde aristocrat. 

Arthur's face had been pinched and taut during Lucius' monologue and following questioning. He could see that he had no chance of 'saving' Harry, and so his only hope was that Peverell's claim would be stronger as he was the lesser of two evils. 

"Lord Peverell, if you would." Amelia gestured for him to speak. 

All eyes shifted expectantly to him as he procured a stack of documents for everyone, it was showtime! 

"Unlike Lord Malfoy and Mr Weasley, I am not able to claim family bonds to the Black family, at least not to any closeness that would matter." He said with a light chuckle that earned him some laughs and smiles. 

"However, throughout history the Potters and Peverells have always been close, ever since one of my ancestors, Iolanthe Peverell, married Hardwin Potter. Henry James Potter is a direct descendant of this match. Still, it is not by blood I wish to make my claim, but through magic." Hushed murmurs went through the crowd at that proclamation. 

"If you'll please have a look at the first document, I think you will come to be just as surprised as I was when it was brought to my attention by my account manager." Harry began. 

True to his expectations, as more read the parchment in front of them, exclamations of shock and confusion were uttered. 

Legally, Henry James Potter was Lord Peverell's heir, not just because of blood ties, but because of family magic. Ragnok had eagerly verified this for Harry when he asked for documentation, finding amusement in the entire situation. 

"Henry and I share the Peverell family magic. Even if I had children of my own there is no guarantee that they would be able to inherit my title. Henry, however, will. The Peverell gifts have been fickle over time, it is the reason why I am the first Peverell able to claim the Lordship since my ancestor Gerrard Peverell held the title over four hundred years ago. Please do not deprive me of the opportunity to teach and guide my kin." Harry pleaded.  

"I might be young, but I am fully resolved to do everything in my power to make sure Henry is loved and protected, he deserves it after everything he's been through, don't you agree?"

~

"Cheers! To the best manipulative mastermind of the century!" Sirius cheered loudly, lifting his cocktail glass high in the air.

"Hear hear!" Marius laughed and joined in, clinking his tumbler of scotch against the two youngsters' glasses. 

Harry's laugh bubbled out and he threw an arm over Sirius' shoulders. He'd allowed himself to indulge for once and he was already well and truly sloshed, the alcohol burning hotly in his veins. 

"Y-you should 'ave-- should 'ave seen L-Lucy's face wh-when he lost!" Harry slurrily got out through his drunken giggling. 

"You'll have to show me a Pensieve memory some day!" Sirius cackled, patting Harry's back. 

Their celebratory dinner lasted well into the night, Harry and Sirius getting more and more drunk as time passed. 

His self-proclaimed dogfather had taught the elves to make everything from margaritas to cosmopolitans after he found a book on mixology in muggle London, so now they were drinking glass after glass of sweet, alcoholic beverages, garnish and umbrellas included. 

Sirius loved them and Harry wasn't one to complain. He wasn't much of a drinker anyway, normally preferring to stay sober, but the drinks were tasty and he had plenty of fun.

At some point both he and Sirius had transformed into their Animagus forms. Corvus walked on unsteady legs that clacked against the wooden floor, both wings stretched out for balance. Not that it helped much, more often than not did he fall over, only for Padfoot to wheeze in laughter at the affronted bird. 

Padfoot honestly wasn't faring much better, bumping into everything in his path as he wobbled through the room, breaking a few vases and picture frames in the process.

Marius didn't drink as excessively as the two younger members of the household, and instead made sure they both made it back to bed before they properly passed out. 

The day after, Harry, much to his own horror, found out that he had been a rather emotional drunk, weeping and slurrily mumbling how much he loved his grandfather when he was put to bed. Marius thankfully found it more amusing and touching than Harry did.  

Harry swore to himself never to drink again, just as he had the last time he woke up with a hangover, and the time before that…

Chapter Text

When Remus had shown up at the Leaky Cauldron for a job interview, with desperation and hope clinging to his heart in equal measures, he had been vastly unprepared for how life-changing that one meeting would be. 

Despite his young age and handsome features, Lord Peverell cut an intimidating figure where he sat, startling green eyes drilling into him. 

He wasn't a particularly tall nor muscular man, but there was an air of danger about him that made the hairs on the back of Remus' neck stand up. He was forced to swallow down his nerves and instincts to flee, before he plastered a shaky smile onto his face. 

Throughout the long and gruelling interview, Lord Peverell remained calm and professional. Remus answered his questions as best as he could, but as soon as the young aristocrat asked about his stance on Dark creatures, he knew the job was as good as lost. 

Sure, he could lie, say he was neutral and keep his own creature status a secret, but that would only serve him in the short run. As soon as his employer caught wind of him being a werewolf, which was likely to be during the first full moon, he'd be fired, of that Remus had no doubt. And so, he told him. 

What he'd expected to be another failed interview ended up being the complete opposite. Remus had left the Leaky Cauldron on shaky feet, the signed work contract clutched tightly in one hand. 

It was almost too good to be true. Never in his entire life had Remus been this lucky. 

He made it back to his tiny flat that was positioned above a Chinese restaurant in muggle London, completely dazed. If anyone asked, he wouldn't be able to tell them how he got home, for he was that out of it. 

The flat that he called home was in a poor area, and not in particularly good condition. But it was the best he could afford with the odd jobs he'd been getting here and there. 

The kitchen faucet was leaky, water dripping constantly into the metal sink, the walls were drafty, the heater was temperamental, and he swore there was a mysteriously damp patch on the bathroom ceiling that had to be mould. 

He sat in his tiny kitchen on a transfigured chair, a cup of strong black tea clasped tightly in his hands. His brown eyes were staring at the contract laying innocently on the wooden table in front of him, once again reading over the many benefits he would get. 

Remus still couldn't quite comprehend it all. The pay in itself was staggering. According to the contract he would be paid 250 Galleons each month for a managing position, it was more than the average pay of an Auror! 

And as if that wasn't enough, he was guaranteed four weeks of paid vacation-time each year, paid sick-days, free Wolfsbane and a staff discount on anything sold in the shop. 

That evening, Remus cried with relief, tears of happiness trickling down his cheeks. No longer did he have to struggle to pay rent and worry about whether he could afford to eat. 

He could get a proper flat with a heater that worked and a bathroom free of mould, maybe even purchase a house eventually if he remained frugal. 

And even that was overshadowed by the pure elation of being provided Wolfsbane. For as long as he had this job, he didn't need to fear killing someone each full moon, nor would he bite and claw himself raw for lack of other prey. He could spend the night at home, sleeping as a wolf while keeping his human mind. It was a blessing. 

~

Two weeks later Remus showed up outside the newly renovated shop, curiously eying the men and women he assumed he would be working with in the foreseeable future. 

They were a motley mix of various ages and genders. It was always hard to tell with magical beings, but there was a man who looked to be somewhere in his sixties, black hair specked with streaks of grey. 

Remus knew he would be working with at least another werewolf, but he couldn't tell who just by appearance alone, it wasn't something one could really tell just by looking unless it was the full moon.

Lord Peverell greeted them all with a friendly smile and unlocked the wards that were active when the shop was left unattended. 

"Good morning everyone. Today we'll get you fitted for your work attire. It isn't anything fancy seeing as I prefer simplicity and practicality over anything flashy, but while you are on the clock you will be required to wear clothing that is within the dress code." The young man explained once they'd all entered the staff break room on the first floor. 

Lord Peverell snapped his fingers and several house-elves, all dressed in nice clothes of different colours and fashions, appeared. 

"The clothes will be provided by Hallow's Apothecary." Their new employer said as he pulled out a stack of parchment from his dark leather satchel. With a flick of his wrist, no wand required, the stack spread out and each staff member was given a pamphlet of sorts. 

Remus studied what appeared to be a list of different clothes. There were simple robes, t-shirts, jumpers, trousers, skirts and so forth. 

"Please make a tick next to the clothing items you prefer. You may select as many or as few as you want as long as you have enough for a full outfit."

Remus felt a little hesitant about ticking off more than just the basics of a button up shirt and trousers, but this wasn't charity. They weren't really his clothes, it was part of a uniform that he needed to present a professional front. That being settled he made a few more ticks. 

Lord Peverell introduced his elves with more warmth than he'd ever seen another pureblood aim towards the little critters.

Yes, perhaps Lord Peverell was powerful and dangerous, but the question remained, to whom? Clearly he cared for house-elves, not to mention werewolves and squibs. The man was the complete opposite of what Remus had become used to thinking of as a noble pureblood.

Peverell was Dark, that much he could tell, his magic had a certain taste to it, cold and crisp like a winter night. Not that he minded, Remus had no leg to stand on considering he was Dark as well due to his lycanthropy. 

The elves had quickly taken their measurements, and the next day they were presented with their uniforms. The clothing was all black, only the silvery shop logo being embroidered on the left side of their chests. 

It was simple but beautiful, Remus thought. A silver cauldron surrounded by a triangle made of blooming asphodel.

There was a changing room on the first floor where each staff member had their own locker. They left their used clothes there after each shift, and when they returned the next day the elves had dutifully cleaned and folded them. 

It was efficient and reminded him a bit of Hogwarts. Laundry had not been a concern there either.  

~

Remus loved his job, and it wasn't just for the benefits it gave. He got to meet people again and be part of a community of sorts. For the first time in years he had actually gained some new friends. The grief he felt over the loss of his old friends, his family, was still there, he doubted it would ever fully leave, but he was slowly healing. 

The job itself was also interesting. Although he had been an alright brewer while at Hogwarts, he did manage to get a NEWT in the subject after all, it was with the more theoretical aspects that he shone. He knew potion ingredients well, often just by smell or sight. 

And because of that he could tell that what they sold was of the highest quality. During their initial training, Lord Peverell had told them that most of the ingredients came from his own estate, it made Remus wonder just how big it actually was.

Managing an entire shop, restocking, staff and so forth, was challenging. It wasn't anything like the jobs he'd done in the past, but he thrived.

Lord Peverell was exceedingly invested in his new venue, so much so that for the first two months of the apothecary being open, he worked more than anyone else, helping everyone get settled in. 

Remus was baffled by the fact that a man such as himself took the time away from whatever it was he did, to work in a common shop among werewolves, squibs and muggleborns. 

In those two months his respect for the young Lord had skyrocketed to almost unimaginable heights. Not only was he inclusive and kind, but he was not one to shy away from hard work. 

As the years passed, the shop had to be expanded due to the increased popularity. They hired more people and were now one of the few shops in Diagon itself that were open both day and night. 

Remus had been shocked at first when Peverell had hired a hag of all things for one of the night shift positions, but Rosaria had proven to be a good employee that knew a startling amount of potions and their ingredients. 

He was ashamed to admit that he had been prejudiced at the start, fully having bought the rumours of hags eating children and so forth. Rosaria was nothing but kind and he had apologised for his wariness. 

Rosaria wasn't the only new employer to work nights, there was also Alec Burke, a part-vampire who was quiet but friendly. 

Remus was on good terms with most of his co-workers, but some he would even dare to call friends. 

Each year when Christmas rolled around, Lord Peverell gave his employees a Christmas bonus in the form of money but also small token gifts. The man was brilliant, almost too good to be true if you asked Remus. 

But as the years passed, he learned that Peverell was just like that. He was kind and generous, and not purely because it would boost his image, at least that wasn't the impression Remus got. He could easily have picked a different way of doing that instead of helping those the rest of society didn't want or preferred to ignore the existence of. 

He provided jobs, housing, daycare for those with children… It was extraordinary. He was a true philanthropist in their rotten world. Okay so perhaps Remus was a little in awe, who could blame him really?

~

The bell above the door chimed softly. Remus hardly bothered to look up, wide eyes too focused on the newspaper in his hands. 

Peverell had Harry… he felt shocked, guilty and perhaps… a bit relieved? The guilt after finding out what had happened to his best friend's son growing up, still clung to him like a second skin. It gnawed at his insides and made him feel sick about his own weaknesses. 

He shouldn't have trusted everything Dumbledore said, he shouldn't have believed all the lies… but what could he have done? He was a werewolf.  With the Ministry being so biased against anyone with creature status he would never have been able to get custody of him, even if he'd tried. 

Even now, years after Lord Peverell began improving things for all of them, Remus still wouldn't have been able to make a convincing case. There hadn't been a point in trying since he already knew he would fail. 

Remus truly was a spineless coward. He sighed and looked out the window facing towards Diagon. 

He wanted to ask his employer about Harry, about whether he could see him once the children went home for the holidays, or maybe just give him a letter, but he couldn't handle the accusating looks and contempt that would surely be aimed at him should his inactions come to light. So he stayed silent, greeting Peverell as if nothing was out of the ordinary when the man entered his shop to help the staff. 

"Excuse me, do you have scarab wings?" A woman asked, cutting through his miserable thoughts. 

"O-oh, yes, of course. Right this way." Remus responded, pulling himself together and offering a welcoming smile to the customer. 

He had a job to do and couldn't allow himself to sink down into his guilt and grief, not yet at least.

~  

Why hadn't he been told? They were supposed to be friends, what possible reason could Peverell have to want guardianship over Potter? 

And worst of all, Severus had to find out through the Daily Prophet of all things! As if he hadn't just seen the man a few days prior. He could at least have had the decency to bloody mention the fact that he was going to try getting custody over one of his students. 

He could understand Lucius wanting control over the Potter boy, but Peverell? It didn't make sense. What was he planning? What was his angle? 

Severus silently fumed for the rest of the day and unintentionally took his anger out on his students, lashing out at the tiniest infraction. 

The children could tell he was in a foul mood that day and avoided him to the best of their ability. Staying off his radar was in everyone's best interest. 

As soon as his teaching duties were done for the day, Severus briskly walked to the main gates, Apparating to Peverell's home in Maidstone with a sharp turn on the spot, a loud crack the only sign of his departure. 

"HARRISON!" The potions master shouted as soon as he tore open the front door of the house he had become rather familiar with in the past few weeks. 

There was no answer however, the house was deathly silent. Severus stalked from room to room, anger simmering deep underneath his skin. He felt… betrayed… worried… so many different feelings constricting in his gut that it made him grit his teeth and tighten the grip on his wand. 

When he reached Peverell's study, a house-elf popped in front of him, staring at him with those big, round eyes. 

"Master Snape, what can Pip do for you?" The creature asked, his speech having improved leagues since Severus first met him. 

"Where is Peverell?" Severus sneered. 

The elf however didn't cower, secure in its own safety around the dour man. Pip knew that master Snape never did anything to the elves, or their master for that matter. The man was normally polite but he did have a temper.

"Master Peverell is working in the apothecary today sir." Pip obediently replied. "Would you like me to take a message?" 

"No. I will go there myself." Severus growled and stormed out, black robes flaring dramatically behind him.  

The bell chimed quietly above Severus' head as he entered the large apothecary. Black eyes immediately searched for his aristocrat friend but only landed upon someone who soured his mood even further. 

Within seconds, Severus had reached one of his most hated childhood bullies and roughly grabbed onto the front of his uniform, wand pointed dangerously at the man. 

"Where is he, Lupin?!" Severus snarled, glaring at the werewolf with utter disdain. 

Lupin's eyes widened at the sudden altercation but he didn't retaliate, merely cleared his throat before he spoke. 

"I'm afraid I don't know who you're looking for, Severus." The beast, politely replied. 

"Lord Peverell." Severus spat, teeth bared. "Where is he?" 

"I'm afraid I don--" Remus began.

"I'm right here, Severus, now please unhand my employee." Peverell said with utmost calm, as if his earlier actions hadn't just shattered some of the fragile trust they had built over the years. 

Severus let the bunched up fabric in his fist go, more than happy to cut short his duration of having to touch the mangy werewolf. 

"Mr Lupin, we will be borrowing your office for a moment if that is alright with you?" Peverell politely asked. 

"Y-yes, of course, go ahead." Lupin submissively replied like the spineless coward he was. 

Severus followed after the man he thought was his friend, mind a whirling, angry mess.

"So, what is it that has made you upset enough to manhandle my employees while looking for me?" The man asked with a raised eyebrow, looking unimpressed. 

"I was not aware you had an interest in children." Severus couldn't help but sneer viciously. 

"Excuse me? What exactly are you insinuating?" Peverell replied with a deepening frown. 

Severus hadn't entirely meant it to come out the way it did, he didn't think Peverell was a paedophile, but it was all so highly suspicious. 

"Is this about me gaining guardianship over Henry Potter?" The other questioned. 

"Of course it is!" Severus snarled back, anger coming to an unfortunate boiling point.

~

Harry sighed, he should have expected Snape to react with suspicion, it honestly just hadn't crossed his mind to tell him. In his past life the man had hated his guts, things were different now though. Snape had witnessed the outcome of his abuse at the Dursleys, and, although it hadn't left him soft and cuddly, the man was still much… gentler than he had been in the past. 

"This isn't the right place to talk about this." Harry said and gestured to the door. 

"I know you probably want answers, but let's put this conversation on hold until we get to my home. Feel free to either use the Floo or Apparate, I will join you as soon as I have informed Mr Lupin of my intentions to leave." Harry said in a firm tone that wouldn't take no for an answer. 

He gestured towards the large fireplace that had an urn filled with Floo powder hanging from the wall next to it. Snape gave him a hard glare before whirling around to grab a handful of powder, throwing it in the fireplace with snappish movements. The entire exit was rather dramatic and it made Harry roll his eyes fondly. 

"Ugh." Harry groaned and rubbed his face once the man had left. 

"This is your own fault, you know. You should have told him sooner." Regulus shot at him. 

"Oh shut up." Harry threw him a light glare, well aware of the truth of his friend's statement. 

"I'm sorry about all of that, Mr Lupin." Harry said with an apologetic smile as he left the office and found Remus by the frog eyes. 

"Oh, no need to apologise, Lord Peverell. I think Severus' approach was rather restrained considering our pasts." Remus replied, smiling wryly. 

Harry cocked an eyebrow, knowing full well of said past, but didn't comment on it. 

"Well, either way, it is not acceptable behaviour in my shop. Rest assured that I will have a word with him about it." Harry promised.

Returning to Maidstone to speak with Snape was not something he was looking forward to, but he had promised, and also, he owed his friend that much. Sometimes he wished he could come clean about everything, tell Snape about his past and all his secrets, but Harry was afraid. 

Afraid of rejection, of being hurt… of being seen differently than the friend he had now become. So, like the coward he was, he prolonged it, ignoring the fact that it was likely to come back and bite him in the arse one day. 

Severus was once again back in Peverell's home. Only this time, instead of rampaging through the house looking for him, he was pacing angrily in the drawing room. 

Pip, the elf from earlier, had offered him tea the moment he set foot inside. Severus had curtly declined, he was in no mood for pleasantries. However, the stubborn thing had fetched a fancy tea set with accompanying biscuits despite this when Severus mentioned that he was only there to speak to the elf's master. 

He huffed as the unruly elf poured out two cups, just in time for Peverell to enter. 

"Oh, tea, marvellous! Thank you Pip." The man himself said, making the elf smile happily. 

The aristocrat shrugged off his outer robes, always preferring just to wear his suit in private, made out of expensive materials as always. He sat down in one of the armchairs, resting one leg over the other. He looked the part of effortless royalty, Severus would give him that. 

"So, you have questions I take it?" Peverell finally said, infuriatingly calm, he couldn't even remember the last time he had seen the man lose his temper. 

"Yes. Why did you not tell me about your desire to take in Potter? Surely you didn't do it on a whim?" Severus gritted out and folded his arms across his chest. 

Peverell reached for his cup and sighed. 

"I am sorry for not informing you about my decision, but honestly? I did not think you would care. You aren't exactly fond of children, nor have you expressed an interest in Mr Potter before." Peverell rationally said as he stirred some honey into his tea. 

Severus scowled at the man. The assessment wasn't… untrue. 

"As for the reason why… Well… he is family, of sorts. The Potters and Peverells go far back. In fact, the Potters have been just as eligible to inherit the Peverell Lordship as my side of the family has." He continued in between sips of tea. 

"The reason why Henry's father, or grandfather for that matter, didn't take up the Peverell Lordship is because it has one final requirement that neither of them met." Intense green eyes flashed up to meet with Severus' inky pools. 

"Before I continue, I will need you to promise me not to let this information spread. I don't require a vow, but I am putting a great deal of trust in you, Severus. If the public caught wind of this... it could be the end of me and Potter both." Peverell was gravely serious, and it sent a chill of foreboding down Severus' spine. What could it possibly be? 

The potions master frowned and finally sat down opposite Peverell. He was now worried and curious in equal measures. 

"Very well, you have my word." He promised, for whatever that was worth. If the confession was as bad as Peverell hinted at, then not demanding a vow sounded like a security risk. 

"What I'm about to tell you, must not leave this room. Now, where to begin." Peverell sighed and leaned back in his chair. 

"As I mentioned earlier, the Peverell Lordship demands more than just a bloodline to be claimed. You need to be related to the original bloodline, yes, but there is also the magical aspect. We like to call it a family gift, a rather rare one at that. It didn't use to be, but for some reason, the talent slowly became rarer and rarer within the bloodline. I was the first one born with this gift in over four hundred years, it is why most people thought the Peverell family a dead one." He sipped his tea absentmindedly. 

"This gift doesn't manifest until the person reaches their magical maturity, usually at the age of seventeen or so. This happened to me and was picked up by the goblins when I did an inheritance test. Anyway, you probably wish to know how Potter ties into all of this?" 

Severus nodded, wondering where this was heading. 

"Well, you see, one day in August I was suddenly informed by my account manager that an heir had appeared in the ledgers. The shock was massive I will admit, I didn't understand how it could be possible, I had no children after all. And before you say I might have had one accidentally, it would be impossible seeing as I haven't actually slept with anyone." The young Lord snorted and rolled his eyes.

"But I'm digressing. This gift is the key to everything you see. My accountant was able to tell me about this new heir because the boy had done an inheritance test on his first visit. The goblins can tell a lot from just one drop of blood and a small donation of magic, you know.”

"And this supposed heir was Henry Potter?" Severus drawled, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. It all sounded too far fetched. 

"Exactly. The magical gift he shares with me hasn't activated yet, and it likely won't until he is seventeen, but it is there. Unless he does something absolutely insane, like say, split his soul, then he is guaranteed to get his gift the day he reaches magical maturity." 

"And what exactly is this gift that the two of you share?" Severus drawled.

Peverell was quiet, seeming to hesitate for a moment before he lifted his head, eyes cold and penetrating. 

"Remember your promise, Severus." He said in a foreboding voice that promised untold pain and horror should he break his word. 

"I will." Severus spat out. He bristled at the insinuation, but something told him not to press the matter further. 

"Good." Peverell murmured and placed his teacup and saucer back on the table. 

"It is necromancy, the true kind." The man said with an air of finality. 

Severus stilled. His eyes widened and his pasty face grew even paler. The blood had run cold in his veins, and he had to swallow hard to keep his lizard brain from taking control and making him bolt. He was not a coward, damnit! 

He took a deep, rattling breath. He couldn't even remember the last time he heard mention of a true necromancer existing. If they really were out there, they did a wonderful job of hiding. 

"And you are sure of this?" Was all that would come out. 

"What, me being a necromancer or Potter?" Peverell asked with a snort. 

"I can give you a demonstration if you'd like?" Peverell innocently offered, knowing full well how this was affecting him. 

"No…" Severus felt sick. He had seen the Inferi the Dark Lord had created and he wanted nothing to do with that kind of magic again. 

If Peverell was to be believed, this at least explained why he was taking in Potter. It wasn't for nefarious reasons, but to help and protect him, a Lord and his heir… Severus could work with that.

"Severus… you don't have to be afraid of me or my gift. It's not… it's not like what I think you imagine when thinking of it. I was wary in the beginning as well, but this gift is so incredibly varied. It isn't all murder and gore. It can be used to communicate with those who have passed, to predict the future and so forth. It carries a terrible stigma due to how many of the rituals have been twisted into perverse mockeries of the original by those without the gift."

"Does Dumbledore know about Potter being a… a necromancer?" Severus asked, feeling so very rattled. 

Slowly, Peverell nodded his head. 

"I believe he has pieced the clues together by now, yes. He used to have an obsession with the Peverell family as a young man, and I'm fairly certain he knew which gift was required to pick up the Lordship. The fact that I claimed Henry Potter as my heir during the custody hearing, and cited that he carried the Peverell family magic, well… Elphias Doge was there, and we both know he is firmly attached to Dumbledore's hip." The other man, the necromancer, replied. 

That was not what Severus wanted to hear. He closed his eyes briefly, drawing in a deep breath. He would need to figure out a way to protect Potter from the headmaster, now more than ever. If there had been a choice previously, there no longer was. Severus was firmly planted on Potter's side.

Chapter Text

Travelling on the Hogwarts express during the winter was a strange thing for Harry. For the first time in his life there would actually be someone waiting for him at the station. The fact that technically it was Sirius disguised as himself didn't really matter. 

"Are you nervous about staying with Lord Peverell?" Neville asked him from across the compartment. 

"I suppose. I've read a lot about him but never actually met him in person." Harry replied with a shrug. 

"Lord Peverell is great! He is at the manor all the time. He and my father are very good friends, you see!" Draco excitedly piped in, like he did every time the man was mentioned. 

Harry's eye nearly twitched at that confession. He was far from often at the manor, and Lucius was certainly not his friend! Narcissa, yes, Lucius? Never. He'd rather gouge his own eye out with a rusty spoon than be actual friends with the man.

"Did you have to mention Lord Peverell? Draco gets all starry eyed whenever he's talked about and won't shut up for hours." The black-skinned Italian said with an annoyed groan. 

Neville's eyes were wide, having no idea of the horror he had unleashed upon the rest of the compartment.

"I do not!" Draco gasped, truly affronted. "You take that back!" 

"You do." Theo muttered from behind the book he was reading. 

"Do not!" Draco childishly countered.

Harry internally sighed. He couldn't wait for his two weeks of not having to deal with children to start. 

"Settle down will you?” He tried in a placating voice, thankfully they listened to him and instead only shot each other angry looks, well, mainly Draco. 

Time passed comfortably as the train neared the station. Most of the children were excited to be going home for Yule, Theo however seemed to be the opposite, growing more quiet and closed off by the minute. It was worrying, but not something Harry could fix right that instant. He made a mental note to summon Theo's mother at some point to have a chat about Mr Nott, the man was a recluse from society and he knew next to nothing about him.

The whistle of the train blew as they began to slow down. Even with a Time-Turner and having several separate personas, Harry could not knowingly be in the presence of himself out of fear of causing a paradox. It complicated matters slightly, but thankfully he had Sirius as his loyal accomplice. 

They had practiced beforehand so his godfather could get the hang of playing both Peverell and Henry in emergencies. Right now, Sirius would be taking the role as Peverell and pick Harry up from Kings Cross. 

The train came to a complete halt and the children in his compartment were ready to bolt, all so excited to be reunited with their families. 

"See you in January, Henry! I'll send you an owl before yule." Millicent quickly said before rushing out to meet her parents, her poor cat yowling at being jostled inside its crate. 

Blaise said his goodbyes as well before meeting up with his mother. They were taking a portkey back to Italy almost as soon as they arrived. 

Neville, Draco and Theo took their time, and the four of them made their way out onto the crowded platform as a group.

"Bye Theo. I'll write to you. Please tell me if there is anything I can do for you during the holiday, okay? I mean it, anything at all." Harry murmured so only the boy himself could hear. 

"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." Theo offered a weak smile.

Instead of seeing Mr Nott in person, Theo was collected by one of their house-elves, something Harry had come to gather was rather frowned upon unless it was an emergency. 

Neville was the next to go, after introducing Harry to his grandmother of course. Harry had never liked the woman much, especially not considering how she treated her grandson like he was supposed to be a copy of his father, and always a failing one at that. 

"Lord Peverell is sure to be with my parents. Come along Henry!" Draco preened with an excited grin. The boy threw all decorum out of the window and grabbed his hand, pulling Harry with him. 

The worst part of it was that Draco wasn't wrong. Harry would have remained close to the Malfoys on the platform if he were to pick himself up, and so that is what Sirius did. 

"Mother, father! I would like to introduce you to my friend, Henry Potter." Draco said with a beaming smile up at his parents. 

"Hello Mr Potter." Narcissa's smile was small, but to those who knew her it was also warm. She was ever so happy that her son had made a friend. 

She held out her hand for Harry to shake and he politely did so. Lucius did not look as inviting as his wife, however. To most he might seem his normal, aloof self, but Harry knew him well by now. There were small cracks in his mask that betrayed just how annoyed he was. Either it was because of something Sirius as Peverell had said, or it was simply because he had lost the custody battle. 

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Potter. I am Lord Harrison Peverell and will be your guardian for as long as you'll have me." Sirius said with a charming smile. 

Harry smiled weakly back, pretending to be nervous.

After a little more polite chatting, the Malfoys finally left. Sirius took Harry's hand in his and Apparated them away to the island. Home. 

~

Harry had planned it all with painstaking detail. He couldn't afford a single mistake. For years he had worked on laying the groundwork within the Ministry and public as a whole. Lord Peverell was seen as a decent, law abiding man that valued tradition and culture without being bigoted, just the way he wanted it. 

It was finally time for him to enact his plot to get Sirius exonerated. He and Sirius were both ready to take the next step to ensure the man's freedom.

"And you're absolutely sure this is going to work?" Sirius nervously said. 

"When have I ever let you down?" Harry replied, grinning like a madman. 

His godfather didn't bother with a response, instead he tugged uncomfortably on the black silk pyjamas with silver snakes that Harry had made him wear. 

For this to work, Sirius had to play the role of Henry Potter. With the Resurrection Stone stuck to his stomach with a bandage, Regulus would be able to coax him in what to say so that the act was as believable as possible. 

Harry himself needed to be in his Peverell persona. After all, he was supposed to be Potter's new guardian, it would be questionable if his young charge was nowhere to be seen during the entire ordeal. 

The house Harry had purchased as his more public residence had been decorated by the elves to look homely and lived in. Currently, it was decked full of Christmas decorations and a large tree stood as the centrepiece by the fireplace, a pile of presents underneath it. 

"You remember the plan right?" Harry asked out loud, gazing down at his godfather who looked like a copy of himself, it was a little disturbing truth be told. 

"Yeah, you've only mentioned it like a thousand times." Sirius sarcastically replied and rolled his eyes. 

"Hey, it's your freedom I'm trying to secure here!" Harry huffed. 

"Yeah, I know." The man retorted, lips quirking up in a wry grin. "Let's do it." 

Harry nodded. He kneeled by the fireplace and tossed in a handful of Floo powder. 

"Bones residence!" He said, loud and clear. 

The fire flashed green and lapped harmlessly against his face as he stuck his entire head in the fireplace. 

"Amelia! Amelia, are you there?" He called out with urgency. 

The face who met him wasn't Amelia but that of her young niece. 

"Oh Susan, I'm so glad you answered, is your aunt in? I need her right away! Tell her there has been an attempted break in." 

Susan's eyes were wide as she ran to get her aunt. Thankfully the woman herself had not been far away, and so, within two minutes, Amelia Bones stepped through the fireplace, with her wand raised, ready for battle. 

"What happened Harrison? Is Mr Potter alright?" Amelia snapped out as soon as she arrived, dressed in her pyjamas and deep blue dressing gown.

She visibly relaxed when she saw both of them in the living room, unharmed if a bit rattled. She lowered her wand but did not put it away.  

"As you can see, we are both uninjured." Harry soothed.

"I'm sorry to disturb you while you were spending time with your niece, but I'm afraid we have a bit of a situation on our hands." Harry continued.

"You said something about an intruder?" Amelia questioned authoritatively.

"Yes, there was an Animagus caught in my wards mere minutes ago. I have the culprit restrained outside but I thought it prudent to wait until law enforcement arrived before I attempted to reverse the transformation." Harry explained with a weary sigh. 

"If you'll follow me, I'll take you to him, or her I suppose… the gender of the rat was not my first priority." He said and gestured towards the door. 

Before they left, Harry turned around and faced Sirius. "Stay here Henry. If something happens you are to Floo straight to Amelia's place, understood?" 

Sirius nodded his head but gave the two adults a worried look. "Be careful please…" 

"Don't worry, Mr Potter, your guardian and I will return shortly." Amelia curtly promised with a brief smile.

Together, Harry and Madam Bones exited the house, both with their wands raised. Harry took the lead and guided her to the captured Animagus.

Within a small, magical cage that looked like crackling electricity, laid a single brown rat. 

"And you are sure this is an Animagus?" Amelia said as she peered down at the squeaking rodent with a frown. 

It paced within its confines, desperate to get out but not daring to come close to the net-like structure surrounding it, having already been shocked more than once. 

"Absolutely, my wards are never wrong." Harry firmly replied, keeping his wand aimed at the rat. 

"Very well. Please enlarge the detainment spell so I can undo the transformation." Amelia ordered.

Upon hearing those words, the rat within the cage became more frantic than ever, even going so far as to touch the barrier in its desperation. That was followed by a sizzle and a loud squeal. 

Harry gestured with his ebony wand and the cage enlarged, the size of the holes in the magical netting staying the same. He would take no chances of Peter slipping through the cracks. 

"On the count of three." Amelia said, and, as she reached the number three, a bright blue light left her wand, hitting the rat full on. 

Seeing someone forced back into their human shape was an odd experience. It wasn't as seamless as when an Animagus did it of their own will, instead it was slow and strained. Limbs grew longer, fur melded into skin, and in the end, a plump, slightly rodent-like human stood in front of them. 

Harry had never asked, but now he wondered if Peter looked like that because of his years spent as a rat, or if he'd been born with those physical traits. 

Amelia Bones drew in a sharp breath upon seeing the captured man, clearly recognising him.

"It cannot be…" She murmured in shock. 

Harry blinked, faking his confusion. "Do you know this man, Amelia?"

"Peter Pettigrew… a man we all believed dead." The Head of the DMLE answered with a frown, gears turning in her mind. Something was not right and she could clearly tell. 

Harry's eyes widened in feigned shock. "The one that was murdered by Sirius Black? But how can that be? Why not come forward after his incarceration? Why hide away as a rat?" He said, pointing out some very suspicious facts. 

"I don't know, but I will find out." Amelia replied with a displeased scowl that could match Snape's in ferocity. 

Within seconds she had conjured a Patronus and was calling for backup from a select few Aurors in her department. The silvery lioness nodded her regal head before she ran off with her message. 

It didn't take long for the replies to arrive. Two distinct Patroni stopped in front of Amelia. The first, a beautiful lynx, belonged to Kingsley Shacklebolt. The swan however was not someone Harry recognised by voice only. 

"They are free to Apparate to us, I've lowered the wards temporarily." Harry confirmed, getting a nod in response as she relayed the coordinates. 

Kingsley had been part of the team that inspected the house before Harry had his custody hearing, and therefore knew exactly where to go. The two Aurors arrived with a deafening crack, Kingsley having Side-Alonged his colleague. 

"Did you bring the magic dampening shackles?" Amelia asked as soon as they got near. 

"Yes ma'am." Kingsley confirmed. 

When he got a closer look at the caged man, however, his composure cracked and you could see the shock on his bald face. 

"Merlin's beard, is that…?" He began. 

"Peter Pettigrew?" The other Auror said, equally shocked. 

"It appears so." Amelia grimly replied. 

Stunning Peter and putting on the shackles that kept him from transforming was a rather quick and easy affair. Harry didn't have to do much but dissolve the cage once the man was thoroughly immobilised.

"Amelia… this is all highly suspicious, please tell me you will interrogate him? I won't stand for this man being released without a trial first. What if he is a danger to Henry? Why did he come here now? There are too many things that don't add up." Harry firmly pressed, acting like a worried guardian.

Amelia's expression was grim, pairing rather nicely with her short, grey hair. She looked like a woman to be reckoned with, someone with a back of steel. Harry trusted she would follow the proper procedures, and it always helped that Lord Peverell was such a high profile individual, the Ministry simply couldn't afford to get on his bad side at this point. Not that he thought they would, Fudge was pretty much tripping over his own legs in his attempts to please the young Lord. 

"Rest assured that I will do everything in my power to get to the bottom of this." The woman promised. 

~

"PETER PETTIGREW ALIVE! CAUGHT TRYING TO ENTER HOME OF BOY WHO LIVED!!!" Was the title that met Harry once he got up two days later and unfolded his newspaper. 

He smirked, satisfied with Skeeter's stellar job. She had even managed to include a picture of Peter from within the Ministry holding cells, looking absolutely deranged. 

The article itself was good, causing doubt and mistrust among the public, and last but not least, setting the stage for future performances. 

With the article out, the Ministry couldn't wait much longer and an emergency session for the full Wizengamot was set up mere days after Peter's capture. Harry showed up dressed in his official robes, looking intimidating and ready for retribution.  

The trial was being held in courtroom ten, and, as he found his seat up in the stands, Harry thought with amusement that it was a highly appropriate location.

The courtroom quickly filled up with both press and the Wizengamot itself. Peter, the star of the day, sat shackled to the chair at the bottom of the area for all to see. The gawking and whispering was almost perverse, but Harry relished in the discomfort it must be causing the rat. 

He was sweating nervously, eyes twitching from person to person, probably trying to find someone who would support him, but seeing none. 

No Death Eater would help him, both out of self preservation, but also because they held him partially responsible for their Lord's demise. The other side was wary of him as well since he had apparently gone for their precious boy saviour. No, Peter had no allies in the courtroom and he knew that. 

To avoid a massive fuckup, Peter's memories had been slightly adjusted. Instead of remembering being stunned at the Weasleys, Harry had planted just enough to make the man believe he had set out to search for Henry's location to finish the job his Lord had started. When the news of Henry being taken in by Lord Peverell had been made public, Peter had rushed to the general area immediately, trying to locate their home. 

Peter didn't make his move until Henry had returned from Hogwarts however, and that was also when he ended up caught in Lord Peverell’s wards. The rest is, as they say, history. Of course, none of this was really true, but that hardly mattered. Peter himself believed it was, and hence for all matters of purpose, that was the truth. 

The trial was like a stage play, one Harry was both an eager viewer and participant in. Three drops of veritaserum was enough to make Peter spill even his darkest secrets, and spill he did. The truth of what happened all those years ago was made blatantly obvious. It was a scandal that Harry heavily took advantage of. 

The courtroom had to be silenced several times for the trial to be able to commence, outrage and shock causing the participants to be vocal and unruly. 

It honestly came as no surprise that Peter Pettigrew was sentenced to a lifetime in Azkaban. The man was outright sobbing when the Wizengamot's decision was made, trembling like a leaf in the wind. 

The Aurors roughly led him out of the room, leaving the chair empty. Before the Wizengamot could be dismissed however, Harry stood proudly, amplifying his voice to be heard over the noisy crowd. 

"My fellow witches and wizards, although I am heartened to see that justice has prevailed, this trial has brought forth some… disturbing questions. If Peter Pettigrew was the one to murder those twelve muggles, then how could Sirius Black have been sentenced for the very same crime?" Harry calmly stated, having everyone's sole attention. 

"Since I became the guardian of Henry Potter I have done some research into his past so I could share it with him. What I found… well, it was highly distressing. In light of the evidence from this trial I might even go as far as to call it a gross miscarriage of justice. Because, as it stands, Sirius Orion Black had no trial. There isn't as much as a record detailing his interrogation after he was arrested. As a Lord and member of this institution, I demand that the proper procedure is followed and a real trial be given. Even the worst Death Eater had a trial, even Grindelwald himself did! Let us not be fooled by the words 'everyone knows'. For the truth is that we do not know, and whether the man is innocent or not, he still has the right to a fair trial." 

As Harry rounded off his speech, the room fell deathly silent. A few seconds ticked by, no one daring to say a word, until suddenly deafening madness broke out.

Chapter Text

Peter's trial and subsequent incarceration had been blown up massively in the media in the following week. The Order of Merlin he had been awarded posthumously had obviously been withdrawn as well, much to the grief of his poor mother. 

Although it was easy to forget, even traitors had families and people who cared about them. In Peter's case it was his elderly mother. She had been interviewed once after the trial and Harry felt sort of sorry for her. She was clearly grieving the loss of her son all over again. But then he remembered just what her son had done and he pushed it away. 

His little speech in court had been quoted nearly verbatim in the Daily Prophet, and now people were clambering for a trial. If the heir to an Ancient and Most Noble House could be sent to Azkaban without the chance to defend himself, what about them?! 

Although it wasn't his intention, the Ministry was receiving the brunt end of the mistrust. The good thing however, was that they couldn't ignore it or shove Sirius' case under the rug. People wanted answers, to know whether the man was actually guilty or not. If the Ministry made a mockery of his case there would be riots of outcry. 

"Worry not Minister, all you have to do is make sure Mr Black gets a fair trial and the voters will be happy to see how well you've handled everything. You will be applauded, seen as a hero of justice even!" Harry had said to Fudge one evening when the man was panicking in his office and needed advice. 

Harry was the little devil whispering in his ear, pulling the man's strings to make him dance. It was oh so laughably easy. 

~

Fake-Sirius, the resurrected body of Dolores Umbridge disguised with Polyjuice, looked dreadful where he sat chained to the chair in courtroom ten. Harry's magic had kept him from rotting, but the environment of Azkaban had taken its toll. 

His hair and beard was long and unkempt, eyes sunken and dead. His skin had an unhealthy greyish tint to it that only time and prolonged medical help would have cured had he actually been alive. He looked more like the Sirius Harry remembered from his third year than the one he was sharing a home with now. 

Again it dawned on him just how relieved he was that he'd been able to get the man out of Azkaban sooner, that his godfather hadn't needed to suffer that Dementor infested hell for seven extra years. 

Harry found it appalling that the Ministry hadn't bothered to let the prisoner clean up and change his clothes for the trial. His dirty appearance and striped prison garb made a fairly bad first impression, not that Fake-Sirius had any choice in the matter. 

Like with Peter, the court administered Veritaserum, however it was much harder to see the change in Fake-Sirius' expression since it had been so blank to begin with. 

"What is your full name?" Madam Bones asked to establish whether the potion was working or not. 

Fake-Sirius had not said a word since they got him out of Azkaban and they were clearly concerned about the state of his mind. 

"Sirius Orion Black." Fake-Sirius intoned monotonously, much to the interrogator's relief. 

It wasn't that Fake-Sirius had a mind of his own to reply with, not at all, but to everyone present that was what it would look like. Simply a traumatised prisoner falling under the effects of Veritaserum. 

Over the years, Harry had learned how to control his necromantic gifts and use them much more effectively than when he first created Fake-Sirius. 

The ritual of the body's reanimation had forged a bond between them, one that allowed Harry to control his every movement and word spoken. It took concentration to be able to make him speak, but it wasn't magically taxing in the least. Fake-Sirius truly was a puppet for Harry to play with. 

As more questions were answered, the more outraged the Wizengamot became. It was so blatantly obvious that foul play had been the cause of the tragic imprisonment of an innocent young man. The only question now was to figure out who was responsible for such a thing. 

People shouted in anger when Dumbledore's name was mentioned as the one to perform the Fidelius charm for the Potters, meaning he had known who the secret keeper was the entire time. The fact that he was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot at the time of Sirius' illegal incarceration didn't bode well either. 

However this wasn't Dumbledore's trial, in fact the man wasn't even there since he had lost his spot on the Wizengamot. The press however? Oh they were, and they would latch onto those tidbits like a vampire smelling blood. 

The trial kept going, and by the end there was barely a single person unconvinced of Black's innocence. It was a near unanimous vote for Sirius' freedom. Those who were against the notion didn't dare oppose it in public out of fear for what it would do to their reputation. 

The fact that Sirius was also an illegal Animagus had come to light, but the roughly nine years in Azkaban had more than taken care of any punishment he should have received. After his recovery he would have to register his animal form at the Ministry, but that was a small price to pay for his freedom. 

"On behalf of the Ministry, I deeply apologise for the gross miscarriage of justice you've had to endure, Mr Black. We will of course see to it that you are reimbursed monetary for the years you've been imprisoned." Fudge said, nervously sweating underneath his bowler hat. 

Said monetary reimbursement would eventually turn out to be his monthly paychecks as an Auror, from the day he was incarcerated to the day he was released. It wasn't a lot, and it surely didn't make up for any of the horrors he had experienced. But in a way it was a boon, the Ministry would now bend backwards trying to please Sirius so he didn't make a case against them at the ICW, or just kick up a fuss in general. 

The shackles on the chair retracted and Fake-Sirius was now free to move on his own. He absentmindedly rubbed his wrists as he stood. 

Harry reached him before the rest of the crowd could swarm him completely, all wishing to say their apologies and chatting about what dreadful business this all was. 

"Mr Black, my name is Harrison Peverell. I am aware that you don't know who I am, but I am currently the guardian of Henry James Potter and he has taken a great interest in your case. He will be very pleased to know of your innocence." Harry said, offering a smile. 

Fake-Sirius' eyes widened almost comically. "Y-you have H-Harry?" He wheezed desperately before letting out a rattling cough. 

"I do, yes. That is also the reason why I would like to offer my home as a place to stay while you heal and recover. You will receive the best medical attention possible, I assure you." 

"Harry…. Can I see him?" Fake-Sirius pleaded. 

"Of course." Harry nodded his head. 

And that was all it took to seal the deal, so to speak. It was a credible play made for the public, and Harry swept Fake-Sirius out of the Ministry before anyone had the time to ask them further questions or offer their sympathies. 

~

"So, how does it feel being a free man?" Harry asked, grinning widely as he walked up to the front of his house where the real Sirius was impatiently waiting. 

Upon seeing his doppelganger, realisation dawned upon Sirius and he jumped to his feet. 

"You did it! You truly did it! You brilliant, manipulative, little bastard!" Sirius' returning grin was almost manic. He laughed uproariously and threw himself at his godson for a bone-crushing hug. 

"O ye of little faith." Harry laughed and patted his godfather's back.

"Come on, let's celebrate! The elves have been cooking all day for this, the least we can do is eat." Harry shoved Sirius through the front door, Fake-Sirius following them like an emotionless puppy that desperately needed a bath. 

"You know, that thing is super creepy." Sirius muttered as he inspected his clone.

He poked the thing's nose but got no reaction, that was followed by a jab to the chest and cheek before he went to open its mouth to look inside. Before he got there though, Fake-Sirius lunged forward, teeth snapping shut inches away from Sirius' hand with a resounding 'clack'. 

"Eeek!" Sirius screeched and violently flinched back, eyes wide in horror. 

Harry couldn't help it, the laughter bubbled out of him and he ended up bent forward, wheezing for breath as tears rolled down his cheeks.

"You did that on purpose!" Sirius exclaimed indignantly, only making Harry laugh harder. 

"Sh-should have s-seen your f-face." He wheezed out, eyeing his godfather through blurry vision. 

"You little wanker!" Sirius' love for mischief won out and the two of them laughed together until they were gasping for breath. 

"Everything went well, I take it?" Marius' amused voice greeted them from within the house, eyes sparkling with fond merriment. 

"I'm not sure if your… second Sirius? Needs food to get by, but if he does, make sure to clean him up before bringing him to the table." His grandfather continued, gesturing to the reanimated corpse. 

Harry's snickering and laughing had died down and he wiped his eyes of the remaining tears. 

"I call him Fake-Sirius, and no, he doesn't need food, although a bath probably wouldn't go amiss, he reeks." 

"Minky will take care of it, sir!" The elf said as she appeared, beaming at all of them. 

She had wanted to clean him properly the night Harry murdered Umbridge, but back then he needed the body to be unkempt. Well, he didn't anymore. 

"Oh, thank you Minky. Make him as presentable as you can please." 

Minky nodded her head so fervently that her ears flopped up and down. She whisked Fake-Sirius away to the bathroom to get him sorted out. Harry's original orders of doing what Minky said were still active so Fake-Sirius would behave for her instead of being catatonic. 

"It feels a bit surreal, seeing myself like that, knowing it would have been my fate had you not gotten me out when you did… it reminds me of your memories of me… again, I'm so, so sorry. I was an absolutely awful godfather to you." Sirius solemnly said with a light frown. 

His godfather had worked through everything with his therapist as best as he could, but he still felt guilty at times, Harry could tell. 

"Yes, you were, but you were also pretty much insane from Dementor exposure. You know I don't blame you." Harry softly replied, patting the older man's arm. 

"Come on. Dinner is waiting." He added as a distraction from depressing thoughts. 

Said dinner was more of a grand feast really. Marius and the elves had set up large tables out on the patio, filled to the brim with food and drinks. All of their favourites were there, and Sirius happily piled a little bit of everything onto his plate. 

Harry followed suit, picking out some roasted potatoes, grilled fish and a fresh salad. The food was devoured in good company, and once they'd had enough, the three of them relaxed in the comfortable chairs as they let the dinner digest. 

Conversation flowed easily, as did the drinks. Harry tried to pace himself but Sirius had no such inhibitions, he was celebrating after all. 

Eventually, the elves floated out a huge chocolate cake with purple icing and the words "FREEDOM BITCH!" Spelled out in hot pink, all thanks to Harry's father pestering him about it. 

Sirius let out a barking laugh when he read the inscription, nearly toppling over himself in his rush to cut out a piece. 

James and Sirius shared great big grins that made Regulus roll his eyes. They were like children.

"For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good feeeeellow… And so say all of us!" Harry, Marius, and all of their deceased friends and family sang to congratulate Sirius with his official freedom. 

The moment their little song ended and the clapping stopped, magical fireworks shot up into the air and went off in a cascade of colours, painting beautiful tableaus across the night sky. 

It was a wonderful, joyous evening. Despite it being late December, none of them were cold. Stones carved with warming runes had been stationed around the patio and garden, making it a pleasant temperature no matter where you sat. 

Marius stayed out with them late into the night, but eventually exhaustion seeped into his old bones and he bid the youngsters a good night. 

Earlier, Harry had placed a large blanket out in the garden, and that was where he and Sirius were currently sitting. 

"What's the first thing you want to do as yourself?" Harry asked. 

Sirius seemed to think about the question for a while, mulling it over. 

"You know what? I actually don't know… I've grown so used to, well, not being me, that the thought of going back honestly scares me a bit. Being Lord Black comes with a lot of responsibilities that I once wanted nothing to do with." He said as he laid down on his back. 

"And now?" Harry curiously asked. 

"And now I'm prepared to take up the mantle properly because I know it will help you… but also because I want to make my family better. I could reinstate Andromeda and her daughter into the Black family, I'll even include Ted if he wants to. And, of course, Marius. I owe him so much that I don't even know where to begin." Sirius sighed.  

"I think it's a great start." Harry reassured him, giving his godfather a gentle pat on the shoulder.

"Are you gonna go see Remus soon now that you're free? I mean, as yourself, not Sam White." Harry asked as he sipped on what must be his third glass of mojitos. 

"Mm, I thought about it, but nah. I don't want him to see me as a skeleton, I'd probably give the mangy old wolf a heart attack." Sirius laughed, folding his hands behind his head as he stared up at the night sky. 

Harry hummed. He finished his drink before laying down on his back next to his godfather who had become a close friend in the years they had known each other. 

"He's actually been taking the news a lot better than I thought he would. I partly expected him to sink into depression again. However, he's been acting almost normal at work." Harry confessed.

"I think the job you gave him has done a lot for him to be honest. The friendship he had with me and James isn't the sole thing that's keeping him up anymore. He has work now, other friends, and I think he's even gone on a date or two, believe it or not. I don't doubt he's hurting, but I think he'll be alright in the end." Sirius softly revealed. 

"We'll all be alright." Harry said, eyeing the calm smile on Sirius' lips through the corner of his eyes. 

"Yeah." Sirius whispered. "We'll be alright." 

~

The scrutiny placed on Dumbledore after Sirius' trial made Harry inordinately happy but also anxious. He had a niggling feeling that the man would have to go through either a hearing or a trial fairly soon. Although that was exactly what Harry wanted, it was also concerning.

What worried him in particular was what Dumbledore might do in his desperation. There was no doubt in Harry's mind that he would take the Philosopher's Stone with him whenever he left, which meant that if Harry wanted to steal it, he'd have to do it soon, real soon.  

There were still a few days left of the winter holiday, and Harry decided this was the time he had to act. It shouldn't be too difficult, he knew both the protections and where the stone was placed after all. 

"Good luck." Sirius grunted, half asleep on the sofa in the living room.

It was the middle of the night and, for some reason, Sirius had decided to stay up so he could see Harry off. But, by the looks of it, he probably wouldn't be able to keep awake for much longer. 

"Thanks." Harry said with a fond smile. 

He gathered the shadows around himself and took a step into darkness. In a fraction of a second, Harry had reached his destination. Being able to bypass wards because of an unknown magical ability was such a nifty little trick. 

The final chamber of Dumbledore's set of traps was rather lacklustre. In Harry's memory it had been such an arduous journey to get to the final room, but now, as an adult looking back on it, it was ridiculously easy, considering who it was supposed to be keeping out. 

Harry eyed the room and felt rather disappointed that the mirror of Erised wasn't there yet, he had been curious to find out what his deepest desire was now that he was an adult. But it was probably for the best, he thought. 

In the middle of the chamber stood a pedestal with an innocuous little package wrapped in brown paper and twine resting on top of it. 

Seriously? That was it?! He couldn't even detect any wards or spells that had been cast around the stone itself. Always one for being careful however, Harry levitated the priceless artifact into a silk pouch so as not to touch it yet. He'd run some more tests on it when he got home. 

Just as a little act of pettiness, Harry left a near copy of the wrapped stone on top of the podium. Only, when Dumbledore would eventually open it, he'd find that the prize on the inside wasn't the same, because, instead of a priceless artefact, there was now a large lemon drop. It had been his father's idea originally, but Harry found it amusing enough to comply.

And just like that, Harry had stolen perhaps the most valuable creation in centuries in under five minutes, well, if it was the real deal. He still wasn't a hundred percent assured of that yet. 

When he returned home, Sirius' snores were the first thing that greeted him. Harry snorted in amusement and gently put a blanket over his exhausted godfather. 

~

The aftermath of Sirius' exoneration was blown up to massive proportions. The general populace was scandalised to find out that something like that could have happened in Britain of all places. It was something one would expect from less cultured places, certainly not Great Britain. 

Harry kept a watchful eye on the news and an open ear in the Ministry. He was waiting for Amelia Bones to announce Dumbledore's imminent trial. He couldn't imagine the man would get away with it all, not after everything that had been revealed in the past six months. 

He had hoped there would be a trial before the holidays let up, but no such luck. Harry was once again let down by the slowness of their government, he only hoped they were using the time well to make a good and compelling case. 

"Back to Hogwarts tomorrow, right? Can't say I envy you." Sirius said with a grin, having just returned from a visit to Remus' place as Sam White. 

"At least with the Time-Turner I only have to go to school every other day." Harry shrugged. 

"Anyway, how is the old wolf holding up?" He asked. 

"Meh." Sirius sighed and flopped down onto the nearest sofa. He lifted his hand and made a so, so gesture in the air. 

"Could be better, could be worse. He's wallowing I suppose? Acting very broody. I'm honestly surprised he didn't cancel our plans." Sirius said.

"I really should fund a mental health clinic." Harry muttered mostly to himself. 

Sirius propped himself up on his elbows and peered curiously over at his godson. 

"You've been planning something like that?" He asked in interest. 

"I have considered it, yes. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but British witches and wizards could really use it. Remus is a prime example. As is Neville, and Theo… and probably a whole lot more. You don't need to have big issues to want someone impartial to talk with." Harry wryly replied. 

It wasn't something he had put much focus into, but the more it was brought up, the more appealing it became. He had the money and the political clout to get licences and permissions set up quickly, so why shouldn't he do it?

The fact that he refused to see a psychiatrist himself, well, that was entirely besides the point. Objectively he could see how good it would be for those who needed it, Harry though, he didn't. That he was clearly lying to himself didn't bother him. He was perfectly fine. Peachy even. 

"Huh. That's not the worst idea to come out of your mouth. I bow down to your wisdom, Dark Lord Potter! Savior of house-elves and the falsely accused! The most clever, brilliant, powerful and modest wizard of our time!" Sirius dramatically proclaimed as he fell down to his knees, pretending to grovel at Harry's feet and kissing his robes. 

Harry's cheeks flushed with embarrassment and he gave his godfather a look of annoyance as he tried to gently dislodge him by nudging him with his foot.

"Oh get up, you big oaf! As if I'd become a Dark Lord." He said with a snort.

Sirius laughed and got up, but on the inside he thought Harry was getting much closer than he realised himself. Being a Dark Lord did not exclusively mean murder and mayhem after all.

Chapter Text

Lucius was talking and Harry was at the point where he wanted to strangle the blonde man. He kept picturing more and more disturbing ways to shut the ponce up, the violence growing by the minute.

This was not a particularly new feeling when in the company of Lucius Malfoy however, so Harry ignored it with a mask of polite interest. 

They were in Malfoy manor, 'enjoying' a glass of French wine while discussing politics in Lucius' study, not exactly how Harry preferred spending his Tuesday afternoon, but he had to keep up appearances.  

"How is Mr Black faring? Narcissa would very much like to renew old family ties once he's recovered." Lucius said from his lavish chair beside the fireplace. 

Harry hummed vaguely, thinking about his answer. 

"He is healing, certainly, but it might be a while before he feels ready to be out in public again. Azkaban is not exactly a holiday resort." He answered with a disdainful twist of his lips at the thought of the prison. 

"Ah, perfectly understandable of course." Lucius began, nodding his head. He kept talking, loving the sound of his own voice no doubt. 

Harry, however, wasn't listening, only humming and nodding where appropriate. His mind was on that blasted diary that Lucius kept close to his chest. It was the final piece of soul missing to complete Harry's collection and he needed it if he was to move forward with his plans. 

Eventually something would have to give, and that something turned out to be Harry's patience. With an unnoticeable twitch of his left index finger, an invisible spell leapt across the short distance between their chairs and hit Lucius square in the chest. 

The man stilled mid sentence, his eyes glossing over and his face smoothing out to look almost serene. Harry's smile was cold, finding the situation grimly amusing. 

Lucius had once claimed to be under the effects of the Imperius curse while Voldemort was at large, doing the Dark Lord's bidding due to said curse. Well, now he truly was under the Imperius, but instead of helping his Lord, he would be giving up the thing he had promised to protect. 

Harry emptied his wine glass into a potted plant and transfigured the glass into a replica of Tom Riddle's diary. It didn't hold the pure malevolence of the book, but then again, to most people it didn't feel like that anyway, it only had to look the part.

"Bring me the diary Voldemort asked you to protect and swap it out with this." Harry ordered as he handed over the replica. 

"Remove any curses and harmful spells that you know of on the diary. Behave normally while you do all of this." Harry said just to be safe. 

"Of course." Lucius agreed without hesitation, his mind so easily snared under the power of the Elder Wand and Harry's own will. 

The study was luckily void of any portraits that could spy on their little interaction. In addition, Draco was back at Hogwarts and Narcissa was having tea with some of her socialite friends, so there was no chance of being discovered. It truly was the perfect moment for it. 

Lucius left right away, hiding the replica inside his robes while he did so. It didn't take long before he returned, perhaps fifteen minutes or so. Meanwhile Harry amused himself with one of the many expensive books that decorated Lucius' study. 

The blonde aristocrat closed the door behind himself when he entered. In his outstretched hands was the diary, for there was no doubt that this was the real one. Although it leaked malevolence and wrongness, it was, surprisingly enough, not as bad as the pieces that had been created later on. 

He wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that the diary contained half of the man's soul and not just tiny fragments like the others. 

Harry took the diary and could feel it trying to convince him to write in it, a devious mechanism to ensnare new victims. It was easily ignored however, or at least Harry found it easy. He wondered what would happen if he tried to write in it though, would Death's mental protections help with that as well? He'd have to ask when he got the time.  

"Thank you, Lucius." Harry said, staying polite mostly out of habit. 

"Call Dobby to you." He continued sternly. 

Harry refused to let his old friend live with that cruel man as a master any longer. His view on house-elves had definitely been made clear to The Lord and Lady of the Malfoy family over the years they'd known each other, and he knew they had made some adjustments so as not to alienate him. 

Lord Peverell was an exceedingly important ally to have, it seemed. Still, even though the Malfoy elves had been treated better, he was absolutely sure that Dobby was still miserable. He didn't belong to servitude, not like this. He was a kind, free spirit. 

Harry felt somewhat ashamed that he hadn't been in a position to help him out sooner, but he'd been afraid of messing something up or making things worse for Dobby somehow. 

"Lord Malfoy sir called for Dobby." The elf said with his squeaky voice, still wearing that awful pillowcase. 

Dobby fearfully cowered at the man's feet, wondering if he had done something wrong again. 

"Lucius, I want you to transfer Dobby's bond to me." Harry demanded, keeping his face impassive.

Lucius did as told, much to the shock of the elf being involved in the trade. Dobby looked between the two humans with wide, astonished eyes. Harry could see the tiniest spark of hope burning in those bulging green eyes. 

The bond settled in Harry's core just like Kreacher's. He didn't plan on keeping the restrictive bond for long, but for now it was necessary.  

"Dobby, please wait in the kitchen here at Malfoy manor until I summon you. Do not speak to anyone about what has happened here. Understood?" Harry said, eying the nervous being firmly. 

"Yes master!" Dobby squeaked and nodded his head so vigorously that Harry was worried he might break his neck. 

The elf popped away immediately and Harry let out a soft sigh. He placed the diary within his trusty old satchel before eying the smiling blonde. He would have to deal with him before he could leave. 

Verbal orders weren't truly needed with the Imperius curse, but Harry liked to give them nonetheless, it felt more reassuring in a way. The feeling of having another person's will bend under your own… it was heady… he could understand how some might crave more of it. 

Lucius sat down in the chair he had abandoned. Harry crouched down in front of him and looked into those blue eyes as he murmured "Obliviate." 

The memories of what had transpired in the past half hour was erased, only to be replaced by a credible story of the two of them talking and drinking. 

To explain Dobby's absence, Harry made Lucius believe he sold the elf to Lord Peverell because he thought him useless. Harry had stated his need for an elf to do some menial labour and Lucius had been all too happy to be rid of the crazy elf.

With the alteration of Lucius' memories completed, Harry returned to his own chair and lifted the Imperio. 

The blonde man blinked rapidly as his mind cleared of the tranquil thoughts. 

"Sorry, what were you saying?" Lucius questioned, looking a bit befuddled. 

"I said that it is probably time for me to make my way back home. I don't like leaving Mr Black alone for too long." Harry explained as he stood. 

"Ah, yes of course." Lucius murmured.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Lucius. And I'll be sure to take good care of that elf of yours, I'm certain he can be useful." Harry gave a polite nod. 

They exchanged the last few pleasantries before Harry confidently strode through the manor. Once he'd passed the tall gates he Apparated to a large forest in Scotland that was far away from populated areas. 

Harry let out a small laugh. That had gone much better than intended, let's hope he didn't manage to fuck it up somewhat. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath before he continued with what he needed to do. 

"Dobby!" He called out, his breath misting in the cold afternoon air. 

The elf promptly popped into existence, looking both hopeful and apprehensive. 

"Hello Dobby, my name is Lord Harrison Peverell. Today you have a big choice to make, one that will affect the rest of your future. I hope you will consider it with as much thought as it deserves." Harry solemnly explained. 

"But before all of that I need a vow of secrecy from you." He continued, detailing exactly what he wanted the little being to vow on. It mainly consisted of keeping his secrets. 

Dobby dutifully did as he was told, even if it wasn't a direct order, and Harry smiled warmly at him once the vow had settled. 

"Thank you, Dobby. Now, before the seriousness begins, let's go somewhere more comfortable. Come, take my hand." Harry gently said, holding out his hand towards the elf, much to Dobby's surprise.

Harry pulled the unnaturally quiet elf through the shadows with him, letting go of his hand when they arrived at the safety of Harry's island. 

The tenseness he hadn't been aware he was holding released as he breathed in the comfort of his home, his shoulders lowering automatically. 

Harry led Dobby inside, guiding him to the warm kitchen. He figured the elf would be more comfortable there than in the lavish dining room.

"Please have a seat." Harry said, gesturing to one of the chairs by the homely kitchen table. 

That was all it took for Dobby to burst into tears, sobbing about what a good and kind master Lord Peverell was. Harry felt uncomfortable under all the gratitude but he knew this was only the start. He handed Dobby a handkerchief and the little elf blew his nose loudly into the cloth. 

"Now, Dobby. I know your life with the Malfoy's has not been easy, and I do not wish to make it more so. Therefore I have a few options for you to choose between." Harry said. 

He continued to explain how the island was a sanctuary of sorts, and that Dobby could live there even if he chose not to work for Harry, he could even go out into the world and seek out work elsewhere if that was what he wanted. 

"I can pay you a salary if you'd like, it is an offer I've made to all the other elves on this island as well. Still, take your time to think about it." Harry calmly said. 

He called for Minky and Kreacher, asking them to show Dobby around and introduce him to the other elves. 

"Dobby. Come find me when you are ready to decide, but as I said, take your time, there is no rush. If you need days or weeks to settle in and think of it, that is perfectly fine. And remember, whatever you decide, this island will always be a home open to you." 

Surprisingly enough, Dobby took him up on his suggestion to think and explore. It took an entire week before he finally returned, looking happy and healthier than Harry had ever seen him. Even if he was still dressed in that awful pillowcase, he was at least clean. 

"Master Peverell sir, Dobby has decided. Dobby would like to have a bond like the other elves sir, just in case he wishes to leave one day." He looked firm but nervous. 

"Yes, I expected as much." Harry said with a fond smile. 

"How about a salary and days off, would you like that as well?" He asked, gesturing for Dobby to join him for lunch. 

The little critter burst into tears once more. 

"Master Peverell sir truly is a g-great wizard! Treating Dobby like an equal." He sobbed between words, once more having to accept one of Harry's handkerchiefs. 

"I'm treating you like the sentient being you are, Dobby. Just because I am a wizard does not mean my life is better or more important than yours. We are both crucial for magic to thrive. Human, house-elf, centaur, goblin or werewolf, we are all important in our own ways." Harry mused out loud. 

He flicked his hand and made the pot of tea pour out a cup for himself and his once friend. 

"I am not a hero, Dobby, nor a saviour. At times I am not even a particularly good person. I can be cold and cruel when it suits me. I have darkness inside me just like every other human. The only thing I can promise you is that I will not hurt you, not intentionally at least." Harry said, stirring the milk and sugar into his tea. 

Dobby's eyes were wide as saucers and his mouth open. He seemed to think through what Harry had just said instead of falling back into his newfound hero-worship. 

They fell quiet as both sipped their teas, Dobby more hesitant than Harry. 

"Still sir, Dobby would very much like to stay here with you and the other elves. And… a salary would be nice, but not too much!" He quickly added at the end. 

Harry chuckled. "Very well. How does 200 Galleons a month sound like to you?" Harry asked, knowing what the answer would be. 

"Certainly not, Lord Peverell sir!" Dobby exclaimed aghast. 

"Hmm… 250 Galleons then? That is a fine salary." Harry hummed and put some butter on his scone. 

"No no no sir! Dobby could never accept such a large salary!" The poor house-elf stressed in horror at Harry's suggestion. 

"One Knut a day, no more!" Dobby tried to bargain but Harry shook his head. 

"Oh no, I couldn't do that Dobby, that is far too little. How about 150 Galleons?" 

And so it continued, both arguing back and forth until eventually they settled on a sum that both were unhappy with. One Galleon a day to be paid at the end of each month was what they shook on, Dobby finding it far too much and Harry just the opposite. 

"Wait here please, I'll be right back." Harry said as he quickly used the shadows to get to his room and back. 

"Dobby the house-elf, I hereby release you from your bond and services." Harry formally uttered as he held a pair of warm wool socks out for the elf to take. 

He remembered how Dobby had loved collecting all kinds of eclectic clothing, socks especially. 

Tears of happiness and gratitude ran down the little elf's face as he accepted the socks. The oppressive bond that had always felt like a vice around his throat finally dissipating.

"And now it is time to change your life for the better, Dobby. Come, let's create a new bond, a healthier and better one. One where you are still free to follow your heart's desires." Harry warmly said, hand held out. 

~

"It's okay Ditty, I'm here." Harry softly murmured. 

He gently held the tiny, frail hand in his own. He had known this was coming but it didn't make it any easier. 

Ditty was dying. It was a natural part of life and she had lived to a ripe old age. She had said herself that she felt ready to leave now that she knew the island once more had a new master that would look after it. 

Harry remained by the old elf's side until she took her final, shallow breath. He closed his eyes, ignoring the stinging from pressing tears. He could grieve later, right now he had funeral arrangements to make. 

The elves had their own rituals when it came to their dead, all Harry had to do was give them support and make sure they had everything they needed. 

He rubbed away the tears that threatened to spill and gently closed Ditty's eyelids. Her final words were still rattling in his mind, how she was happy her master finally had friends and family now, and that he had found such lovely elves to take care of him. It was enough to make him choke up. 

There was no holding back the tears even if he'd tried at first. They flowed freely down his cheeks as he sobbed for the gentle elf who had been so kind and sweet to him from the moment they met. 

Harry knew he could still speak to her if he summoned her, but it didn't feel right to do so. She deserved the rest and tranquillity that came to all those in Death's realm. 

"I'm very sorry, Harry." Regulus softly said. 

"It's okay, just give me a minute." Harry choked out with a watery smile. 

He took a few shaky breaths and wiped the tears off his face. He felt horrible but there were things that needed to be done. 

"Kreacher, could you tell the others that it's time?" He softly said to his house-elf friend. 

"Of course, master Henry." Kreacher solemnly said and nodded his head. 

"Where are you going to bury her?" Regulus asked when Kreacher left. 

Harry stood up and gave Ditty one last look before he walked out of the elven compound that Ditty had called home.

Wherever he went there were grieving elves crying and trying to comfort each other. Ditty had been a beloved member of their large family, wiggling her way into everyone's heart. 

"Out by the hawthorn trees I think. She always found them beautiful when they were in bloom." Harry murmured absentmindedly as he walked in that direction, Regulus silently following him.

In what felt like no time at all, Harry reached the clearing. The weather was chilly, but thankfully it didn't get cold enough on the island for the ground to freeze. 

Harry was dressed lightly and he could definitely feel the sting of the January air on his skin, even so, he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, knowing the cold would soon be forgotten. 

Harry let his mind drift with each push of the shovel into the damp soil, the repetitive movement meditative in a way. He could have used magic, yes, but it didn't feel right. 

Just like when Dobby had been killed in his past life, Harry chose to dig the grave with his own two hands. It felt more personal, more respectful. 

Ditty was worth the extra effort, she deserved better than to just be dumped quickly in a magically made hole and then forgotten. 

While Harry was busy with his task, the rest of the elves prepared their beloved friend and mentor for her next journey. Gentle hands stripped her of her clothes before carefully cleaning her thin and frail body. 

What proceeded next was an old tradition that many had forgotten before Ditty taught them the proper ways of their people. Two of the older elves took charge and began the meticulous job of covering her body in beautiful patterns and symbols that most wizards, or elves for that matter, wouldn't know the meanings of. 

The rich, red paint was made from a red clay mixed with oil. They used their fingers to paint, and when that was done, two different elves stepped in and gently floated her out to where the final ceremony would be held. 

The elves were singing, each and every one of them. A sombre, yet beautiful song with words that Harry couldn't understand. He looked up as he heard the gentle voices getting closer. His breath caught in his throat when he saw Ditty levitating in the middle of the crowd but he swallowed down his grief. 

The hole was finished and so he stepped aside, letting the elves do what their customs demanded. 

The procession slowly reached him, their singing growing louder in a hauntingly beautiful way that made his heart clench. 

"Master Peverell, do you have the seed?" One of the older elves that had painted her body asked. 

At first Harry was startled, but then he remembered. He dug through his pocket and fished out a small, stone-like seed, handing it over to the elf. 

Gently, the seed was placed into Ditty's hands, her fingers being wrapped protectively around the treasure. 

Harry thought it was a beautiful practice. Each elf was buried with a seed chosen by someone close to them. That seed would then grow, being nourished by the magic and nutrients released from the elf's body. Even in death they were a part of life, an endless circle of renewal. 

Ditty was lowered into the grave Harry had dug for her. The singing never stopped. They continued until the very last speck of dirt was back in the hole it had come from. 

There was no eulogy, no speeches, only song. Harry wished he could join in but he knew neither the lyrics nor tune. As a human, it probably wasn't right for him to participate in that part of their culture anyway. 

The seed Harry had chosen for Ditty was a cherry pit. When in bloom, it was one of the most beautiful trees Harry knew of. Their delicate pink flowers and soft fragrance had always spoken to him in a way, and now they made him think of her, of Ditty. 

Renewal, optimism, rebirth. The symbolism was perfect in Harry's eyes.

Tears were once more making themselves known, causing his eyes and chest burn. Death wasn't the end so why did it hurt so much? 

Perhaps it was the fear that everyone would one day leave him and he'd be unable to follow… 

"Come on Harry, let's get you inside. You're shivering." Marius softly said, placing his arm gently on his grandson's back. 

Harry hadn't noticed how cold he was. The digging had made him covered in sweat and dirt, and now that was rapidly cooling, making his whole body tremble. 

He numbly allowed himself to be led back to the house for a hot shower and a warm cup of tea. 

Chapter Text

The clang of a baton rapping against the bars on his cell reverberated through the small area. 

"Your friend is here. You have one hour, no more." The guard currently on shift firmly said before returning to his post to watch from afar. 

The prisoner hummed but didn't look up from the book he was reading, lounging back in his comfortable chair as he waited. 

"Good evening, Gellert." Said the voice of his only regular visitor. 

Gellert Grindelwald, former Dark Lord and revolutionist, looked up to meet the baby blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore, his once friend, lover and co-conspirator. That was of course before the redhead decided he was in over his head and jumped ship. 

Albus' hair was no longer the auburn it used to be, old age making it long and grey.  Along with that ridiculous beard of his, he was quite a sight.

Gellert himself hadn't fared much better to be honest. Time had taken its toll on both of them. His appearance was not what it once was. There were plenty of wrinkles and his skin was saggy in places he hadn't thought could sag. 

On top of that, his once golden locks were now white as snow. He didn't feel particularly bothered by it though, who was there to impress? Albus? Certainly not. 

He had lost their little game of chess all those years ago. Albus liked to paint it as if he was the stronger one out of the two, but, truth was… When Gellert had him cornered during their last duel and was about to finish him off… Well, he hesitated. 

Even though they were on opposite sides, Gellert didn't want Albus dead, and that was the clencher wasn't it? Because for him to win the duel he would either have to kill Albus or injure him so badly that Gellert himself could flee. He did neither. He hesitated, and in those precious few seconds, when the world seemed to stand still, Albus acted. 

Gellert was disarmed and lost ownership of the Elder Wand along with the war he had been leading. Even with age and years of solitude to look back upon his actions, he didn't regret them, he still believed the world would have been a better place with magicals in charge. 

The muggles were destroying the earth, destroying magic. Pollution was getting worse by the decade. They bred like rabbits and spread like an infection, tearing down forests and dumping toxic waste in rivers, lakes, and seas, making witches and wizards hide like rats. 

Magical creatures were forced out of their habitats, many going extinct, or they would have, were it not for the intervention of witches and wizards. It hadn't gotten any better since he was imprisoned either, at least not according to the newspapers he was allowed to read, and he'd specifically asked for muggle ones as well as those of magical origin. 

Gellert wasn't like the upstart Voldemort, he didn't want the muggles dead or in servitude, but he firmly believed that they had no right to continue like they were. 'For the greater good' had been one of his slogans, and it was one he still held on to. Sure he would have preferred a peaceful takeover, but that simply wasn't realistic. 

He realised that he was likely to die in Nurmengard and would never get to fulfil his true purpose, but that was alright he supposed, he'd made his peace with it. He just hoped someone would take initiative and continue what he had started before it was too late, before everything magical withered and burned in the toxic wasteland created by muggle 'progress'. 

"Hello Albus. Is it that time of the year again? I almost forgot." Gellert nonchalantly said. 

"Almost being the key word I think." Albus replied with a chuckle.  

"I would offer you refreshments, but sadly I'm lacking in the necessary amenities." Gellert closed his book and sarcastically gestured around his sparse yet comfortable cell.

Albus laughed at the poor joke, he usually did. 

"I think I'll manage. Mint humbug?" The old man, well, technically they were both old men now, offered. 

Albus held out a small paper bag of sweets, positioning it near the bars of his cell so he could reach out if he wanted to. 

Many, many years ago, when Gellert had first been imprisoned, he had constantly thought of ways to escape. After all, he had escaped imprisonment before, why not once more? Each and every plan failed, however. 

Visitors that had been allowed entrance were sparse, the world's magical governments were too worried about him successfully manipulating them.

When Albus had visited though, oh Gellert's blood had boiled. He wanted to fucking murder the bastard that had ruined everything. No matter how often he came, Gellert refused to speak with him. 

Eventually though, even he broke, years of isolation would do that to a person. So the next time Albus had visited, he finally replied to the man's chatter. 

"Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?" Albus had asked, sounding dejected and forlorn, not really expecting an answer. 

Gellert had been quiet for a while, and when Albus finally let out a miserable sigh, getting ready to leave, Gellert had spoken. 

"Well… I suppose I do miss sweets." Gellert had said, murmuring the first inane thing on his mind that wasn't manipulative with a hoarse voice. 

He felt so tired… And so lonely. 

Ever since that incident, Albus had taken to carrying sweets with him wherever he went, cultivating an image of someone inordinately fond of everything with sugar so he could bring them along to his visits and share them with his once friend without raising suspicion.

"Are you still carrying those around?" Gellert asked with amusement as he popped the mint humbug into his mouth, savouring the sweet, minty taste.

"Well you did say you missed them." Albus replied fondly, the twinkle in his eyes back, if only for a moment. 

"Albus, that was nearly fifty years ago." Gellert sighed with fond exasperation. 

They chatted amicably for a little while after that, until Gellert simply couldn't resist taking a stab at his old lover, metaphorically speaking of course, it wasn't as if they allowed anything sharp in prison, he least of all. 

Gellert had read the Daily Prophet almost religiously since they began to report about Albus' failings and delighted every time Rita Skeeter put her poison quill to work. He was quite a fan of hers. 

"So they finally noticed the flour on your paws then, old friend? How quaint." Gellert drawled with clear amusement, a cruel little smirk playing at the corner of his lips.

The hurt look on Albus' face was delicious and Gellert leaned closer so he could see his reaction better.

"Will you be joining my cell soon? I'm sure I can make room." The smugness radiated off the former Dark Lord as he gestured towards his living area. 

Albus sighed and slumped forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. He looked older and wearier than his last visit a year ago. His age was clearly showing. 

"Ah, I'm not sure if that would be very good for my health." He replied, with what would possibly be one of the weakest smiles Gellert had ever seen from the man. 

Albus chuckled softly, although he was hurt and tired, he was still inordinately fond of Gellert. That, and possibly guilt, was the reason he kept returning every year like clockwork, always on the same day. Some might think he was gloating, but Gellert knew better. 

"What, afraid I'm going to strangle you?" Gellert countered, sporting the biggest grin he could muster. His blue and brown mismatched eyes glimmering with amusement. 

He leaned forward towards the bars, inching closer and closer to his old nemesis. 

"As a matter of fact, yes." Albus wryly replied.

"You seemed to be rather into it the last time it happened" Gellert immediately threw back. 

The blush that spread on Albus' bearded face was astonishing, it truly had been a while since Gellert had managed to coax such a reaction out of him. A delighted, and slightly wicked laugh bubbled out of him, his grin so wide it hurt his cheeks. 

"Ahem, yes...well." Albus sputtered. 

"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, speechless, how extraordinary!" Gellert teased with a laugh.

They didn't get to speak much longer however, as the prison guard returned. 

"The hour is up, Mr Dumbledore." The man said. 

"Ah, yes of course. Thank you for reminding me, my boy." Albus hummed with a grandfatherly smile. 

"I will see you next year, Gellert." Albus said with what could only be described as a sad and wistful smile. 

Sometimes, Gellert wondered if Albus also pondered the what ifs. Wondering what might have happened had they never tried for a revolution, never broken up, never fought. He sighed. 

"Until next time, Albus." Gellert murmured, hating and loving the man in equal measure. 

~

Harry stood amidst destruction and chaos, the sole point of life within a sphere of decimated trees and foliage. 

Things had been going well for Harry, suspiciously well. It had all been too good to be true, he should have known something would go wrong. 

Harry had been far too cocky and confident in his own abilities to change the timeline and now he was suffering the consequences. 

The trial concerning who was to blame for Sirius' unlawful incarceration took place at the end of March. What followed could only be described as a circus. 

At first, Harry had been rather miffed about the fact that Dumbledore didn't get incarcerated himself. But once he let his temper cool, he was pleased anyway. The former headmaster of Hogwarts had not only lost his position at the esteemed school, but also been forced to pay restitution to Sirius for the years he had suffered. 

The financial side of things had been what broke the camel's back, so to speak. Dumbledore was by no means rich, and once his vaults at Gringotts were drained, he had to sell his family home in Godric's Hollow to be able to afford the steep fees demanded by the ministry. 

Seeing as this made Harry inordinately happy, it obviously wasn't the cause for his current despair. No, the reason for that was Bartemius Crouch Sr. 

Unlike Dumbledore, Crouch had been the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement during the last war. He was the one who had agreed to ship off Sirius, among others, without trial to boost his own conviction rates. Due to his involvement he had earned himself a two year stay in Azkaban. The Ministry was making an example out of him.

In general, this would not be much of an issue to Harry. He certainly didn't care one whit about Mr Crouch's fate. No, what bothered him was the man's son, and the fact that he had entirely forgotten about Barty Crouch junior up until that point. 

No, that was a lie. He had been so focused on Dumbledore that he didn't pay Crouch Sr being sentenced much attention. It was only a few days later, after the man had been incarcerated, that his memories suddenly caught up with him. 

Barty Crouch Jr, the Death Eater who had been Harry's teacher for a year in the disguise of Moody, was no longer being kept under his father's Imperio. 

As soon as Harry remembered, he had rushed to the Crouch residence, only to find it abandoned, no human or elf in sight. Barty and Winky were gone. No doubt having left to find his Dark Lord once more. 

Harry spent months trying to track the man but it all proved to be for naught. The trail had gone long cold and Barty was nowhere to be found. 

Likewise, Quirrell had also vanished. And while that was not a surprise, seeing as Dumbledore had been sacked and taken the Philosopher's Stone with him, or at least that was what Quirrell and Voldemort thought, it did cause some problems for Harry now that there was a rogue Death Eater out to resurrect his master. 

It was at the culmination of this dreadful situation, and the realisation that there was nothing much he could do about it, that had brought Harry into the forest to blow off some steam. 

From an outside perspective it must have been terrifying. The ground froze, the trees shook, and with a final, angry roar of anger, icy currents of magic exploded out of Harry's slender frame, tearing apart the forest around him. 

But it did make him feel better, somewhat. 

~

"What do you mean you hid the stone at Hogwarts?!" Perenelle gasped with indignant fury, glaring holes into Albus Dumbledore who cringed under her wrath. 

Nicholas Flamel sighed as he looked upon his old apprentice with disappointment. He had let Albus use his creation within his schemes, yes, but never in his wildest dreams had he thought the boy would set up the trap at Hogwarts. 

"Please tell me you at least succeeded?" Nicholas softly asked. 

The shame on Albus' face and the slumped shoulders was answer enough. The old alchemist closed his eyes and sighed deeply yet again. He felt tired, so very tired. Albus meant well, but his tendency to think of himself as the only one capable would turn out to be his downfall. 

Albus cared, he cared so very much, and that was the reason why each and every harsh decision weighed so heavily on his soul. He was working towards the good of all, but sometimes he lost sight of the smaller pieces.  

"Albus, where is the stone?" Nicholas' voice was but a whisper, sad, blue eyes gazing upon the old man his apprentice had become. 

"I fear it might have fallen into the clutches of Lord Voldemort." Albus shakily replied as his long, wrinkled fingers dug a package out of his robes. 

He held it out towards his once mentor and Nicholas accepted it with a frown. When he unwrapped what he expected to be a replica of his own creation, a startled laugh forced its way out. Instead of a red stone there was a large, yellow, lemon drop. It was absolutely ridiculous, and also, extremely out of character for someone like Voldemort. It was more along the lines of something Grindelwald might have done to tease Albus. 

Not that Nicholas suspected the old Dark Lord of being responsible, no, that man was still firmly secured in Nurmengard, but it fronted the question of who actually held the stone in their possession now. 

Perenelle stared at the sweet in shock before returning her attention to Albus and the thorough tongue lashing she was about to give him. 

Nicholas winced on the boy's behalf. Perenelle certainly had a temper when children were involved. Old age had taught him not to interfere whenever she was in that kind of mood, so instead he sat quietly, watching Albus be scolded like a naughty school boy. 

By the time Perenelle was finished and had left the room to calm down, Albus was nearly bent over himself in defeat, tears trickling down his wrinkled cheeks. Nicholas placed his hand gently on Albus' shoulder. 

"What will you do now?" He asked, voice soft and kind as always. 

"I do not know." Albus replied, feeling lost and broken. 

"I am so sorry Nicholas." He whispered through the tears. 

Nicholas hummed and shook his head. "We all make mistakes, Albus. You let your fears and insecurities cloud your vision for far too long. It is what has brought you to this point." 

"I have caused your death, both of you." Albus miserably choked out. 

"Oh! No, not at all." Nicholas chuckled as Albus' head snapped up to look at him. 

"The stone was a fake then?" He asked with thinly veiled hope. 

"No. It was the real thing." Nicholas replied, the wrinkles around his eyes growing more pronounced by his amused smile. 

"Then how?..." Albus questioned, confusion clear as day. 

"The stone might be real, but it won't be for long. You see, Perenelle and I are both tired. We have lived a long life, too long some might say, and we are now ready to move on. We have decided to let the stone return to being just a myth. Soon it will be nothing more than a pretty little rock. So no, you are not responsible for our upcoming deaths." Nicholas reassured him. 

He didn't explain how the stone needed recharging every so often, and exactly what that entailed, it was too gruesome. No one but the two of them knew of the stone's creation and true abilities, and Nicholas preferred it that way. 

He and Perenelle had gone through the sacrificial ritual twice in their lifetime and simply did not have the stomach for it again. A life for a life. 

The stone could not grant immortality on its own, the life force had to come from somewhere. In their youth it had seemed worth it, times were different then, but now? No, Nicholas could not bear to slaughter hundreds of innocent souls just so he might live for another century or more. He was old, tired and finally ready to join the dead. 

Perhaps he would face the consequences of the heinous actions from his youth, or perhaps not, either way he was ready. 

The glimmer of hope in Albus had been renewed as he spoke. Nicholas poured them both another glass of red wine, sipping his own as he listened to his apprentice talk. 

"Where will you go?" Nicholas eventually asked.

"I will have to ask Aberforth if I can stay with him for a while." Albus replied with a grimace.

The relationship between the two brothers was still frigid, it had been ever since the death of their sister Ariana.

"Ah." Nicholas hummed. " Well I wish you the best of luck." 

Albus chuckled weakly. "Yes, I will probably need it." 

He got up to his feet and drew a deep breath. 

"I suppose there is nothing to it. I will just have to face the music as it were. Thank you for everything, Nicholas." Albus said with a tremulous smile. 

Nicholas stepped forward and shook the man's hand. "Take care of yourself, Albus." 

He promised to do so, and within seconds, Fawkes appeared to whisk his companion away within red flames. It was a beautiful sight.

Nicholas dearly hoped that Albus would be able to make up for some of his mistakes before it was too late. He was already an old man, eventually he too would run out of time. 

Chapter Text

Lord Voldemort was weakened and Quirrell's body was failing. The unicorn blood had only been a quick fix and not a cure. Soon he would be forced to move to a different host if he wished to avoid drifting as a wraith again. 

Curse the old goat! Although Lord Voldemort was exceedingly pleased with the way Peverell had cut down Dumbledore's political power, his removal from Hogwarts before the summer was more than inconvenient. Of course the infuriating bastard had taken the Philosopher's Stone with him!  

Getting his hands on the stone had been an important part of Voldemort’s plans to get a new body, but Quirrell, the weak, pathetic fool, was entirely useless! 

Lord Voldemort seethed. Nothing was going according to plan. He wanted to blast a hole through the wall but he didn't even have the energy for it. 

Quirrell had lost the ability to speak and was fairly brain-dead at that point, all he could do was moan weakly every now and then. He didn't even have control of his own bowels. 

It was humiliating and degrading, but Lord Voldemort could not do anything about it. His host's body was failing him entirely. He had barely been able to guide Quirrell to one of his old hideouts, one that only his most faithful Death Eaters knew the location of, but it wouldn't do him much good. 

The small house had deteriorated over the decade he had been incorporeal. It was clear that none of his followers had tended to it since then.

Lord Voldemort sat in front of the fireplace, fuming while trying to keep Quirrell's body warm. Not that it did much good. Lord Voldemort was always cold, he couldn't even remember a time when he wasn't freezing. Perhaps those first few years at Hogwarts, but bringing up memories of those days were like trying to catch mist these days, always elusive, always slipping.

The creaking of the floorboards in the hallway caught his attention and he turned Quirrell's head to the left so he could look at the intruder through his own eyes, expecting it to be a rat or some other pest. 

What Lord Voldemort saw, however, made him burst out in mad, wheezing cackles. Fortune was on his side once more it would seem. 

~

Barty had found him. He and no one else had been the one to locate their Lord in his hour of need! He was the one privileged enough to help with his return. Barty couldn't fathom how lucky he had been. 

For weeks he had searched, dredging through britains seedy underbelly, listening to rumours and going to every known location they used during the war, until finally he found him! 

His Lord had plans for a resurrection ritual that would bring him back stronger than ever, but there were a few things they needed before then. Potter's blood being one of the key ingredients according to his Lord. 

Before they got that far, however, Barty eagerly helped with the creation of an homunculus. It was a grisly affair, taking an unborn child from the womb of a pregnant woman, but he was willing to do anything for his Lord, even if it made him more than a little nauseous. 

Barty had never been one for unnecessary gore and violence. He was honestly more of a scholar, interested in the very foundation of magic, every aspect of it, from Light to Dark. There was a reason he'd been sorted into Ravenclaw, his twelve OWLs would attest to that. 

The completed homunculus was not a pretty sight. It looked sickly, with pale skin stretched thinly over bones and flesh. Every vein that sluggishly transported blood throughout the body was starkly visible on the surface. Spidery blue and purple lines that webbed together on the tiny frame. Lord Voldemort's blood red eyes completed the sinister picture.

His Lord was still weakened, yes, but the homunculus was definitely a step up from Quirrell's body that had fallen apart at the seams. They only had to wait a few more months and then his Lord would once again be reborn. 

Once they had discarded Quirrell's body, Barty had been ordered to fetch a certain snake from a forest in Albania. The beast was massive, and truthfully gave him the creeps. There was intelligence in those eyes that no snake should be allowed to have. Her large, venomous fangs didn't help matters either as she frequently hissed and flashed them at him. 

Yes, Barty would gladly admit, at least to himself, that he was absolutely terrified of Nagini. But she made his Lord happy so he never voiced his displeasure.

The snake could often be found wrapped around their Lord's chair in front of the fireplace, hissing softly to him. Barty often wondered what the two were talking about, not that he ever dared ask. His Lord could be temperamental at times. 

"Barty. It is time." His Lord said, voice soft with a hissing undertone of parseltongue. 

"Yes, my Lord!" Barty fervently exclaimed as he kneeled in front of his Lord's chair, tongue flicking out to nervously lick his lips every now and then. 

He pulled up the sleeve of his left arm and offered it to his Lord, head submissively bowed. The Dark Mark burned as Lord Voldemort pressed the tip of the stolen wand Barty had acquired for him into his flesh, using the Mark as a conduit to summon one specific follower. 

Barty was not happy about it, he considered the man a traitor, but his Lord believed he would come through and support their goals, so he pushed down his own distaste. 

~

Severus was in the middle of brewing a delicate potion when the Dark Mark seared with pain. He hissed through clenched teeth and grasped tightly around his left arm. 

His heart drummed in his chest like a terrified bird. Shock and fear pooled in his stomach and he swallowed hard. He turned off the heat underneath his cauldron and slowly peeled away the layers of cloth so he could look upon the skin underneath. 

The Mark that had previously been red was now much deeper in colour, more akin to a dark maroon than bright red. It wasn't yet the inky black it had been when the Dark Lord was at the height of his power, but it was still unsettling. 

Severus' hands were shaking. He had been summoned. It was time to take up his old job of spying, all so that he could keep that blasted boy safe. He took a few calming breaths as he fortified his Occlumency shields. 

He had no choice. Unless he was willing to cut his own arm off, the Mark would keep burning, getting worse and worse until the Dark Lord got his will. And even if he was willing to sacrifice an arm, he doubted the Mark would vanish. It was a magical bond that connected him to the Dark Lord, not just an ugly brand made of ink. 

Severus went to the deepest part of his wardrobe and pulled out an outfit he hadn't touched in over ten years, one he had hoped never to see again. The black robe and bone white mask made him feel sick to the core. Death Eater regalia, that's what it was, a painful reminder of the folly of his youth.

He got dressed with trepidation and Apparated towards the pull, allowing the Dark Mark to guide him. 

When his feet touched solid ground, it was in front of a large and somewhat dilapidated house. The garden was overgrown with weeds, and ivy had made itself the master of one of the walls, climbing and spreading across the bricks, using anything it could to gain leverage. 

Severus' feet moved forward on autopilot, walking to what might very well be his own death. Only now did he realise that he hadn't made a will. It wasn't exactly something he had been concerned about before, he didn't have a lot, nor many people he actually cared about, but he'd rather what he did have, not end up in the hands of the Ministry. 

The wards on the property felt like a soothing balm for his raw Mark. He recognised it from the war. It was one of the Dark Lord's own creations, a ward that only allowed entry to his marked followers. 

The burning in his arm had dulled to a mild throb, something that was much easier to ignore. Before he reached the entrance, the door to the house opened, revealing someone who he, and the rest of the world, had assumed dead. 

Severus' hand was firmly clasping the handle of his wand underneath the sleeve of his robe, but he didn't raise it. Barty Crouch Jr gave him a venomous glare, tongue twitching out every now and then in that recognisable tic of his.

"Our Lord is waiting for you." The tall and lanky man sneered, his straw blond hair falling in his eyes due to the light breeze. 

Severus nodded his head and wordlessly followed Barty inside, his heart beating a mile a minute. The house was dimly lit but surprisingly clean. For some reason he hadn't expected Barty to know any household charms. 

Barty's steps were quick as he led him into what appeared, at first glance, to be an empty drawing room. The only furniture was a grand wingback chair positioned by the crackling fireplace, its back facing the door. 

The bony wizard bounced over to the chair and immediately kneeled in front of it, whispering words too quiet for him to hear. 

Severus stayed by the door but was forced further inside when the largest snake he had ever seen slithered inside and hissed at him. The beast bared its fangs in a threatening display that made his blood run cold with terror. His face was ghostly pale underneath his mask and he didn't dare move for fear of being bitten. 

There was a returning, raspy hiss from the chair. If there had been any doubt in Severus' mind about its occupant, now they were thoroughly crushed. 

He stood rigidly in the middle of the room, watching transfixed as Barty slowly turned the chair with his wand. His expression was blank underneath the mask, but on the inside, revulsion coursed through his veins. 

What sat in front of him could hardly be described as human. The Dark Lord had been more monster than human at the end of the war, but now it was worse, so much worse. It was an abomination. 

"My Lord." Severus murmured reverently and kneeled in front of the monstrosity. He had a role to play, he could not afford to let his true thoughts and feelings show. 

~

The loud crack signalled Severus' return to his rundown childhood home in Cokeworth hours after he had been summoned.

Immediately he bent over and heaved, spilling the contents of his stomach all over the grimy cobblestones. The bile felt bitter on his tongue and everything hurt, from his toes to his very eyelashes. 

The Dark Lord had not been pleased with him for his attempts at stopping Quirrell from getting the Philosopher's Stone the past school year, something he'd made abundantly clear.

The after-effects of the Cruciatus made him tremble uncontrollably and Severus barely managed to get inside the house before his knees gave out. He felt weak, achy, and every time he moved it was as if his limbs were being stabbed with a thousand, tiny needles.

His way to the bathroom was a bumpy one, adding more bruises to his already battered body. More than once did he lose his balance, ending up splayed on the floor while he convulsed from the damage done to his nervous system.

Severus' breathing was ragged as he fumbled through his supply of healing potions, accidentally breaking a few phials due to his hands refusing to cooperate. Finally he found what he was looking for, a nifty little potion he had created himself during the last war. It would help alleviate the pain and after-effects of prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus. 

He downed the bitter potion, swallowing it all in one go. The effects were immediate and he slid down against the wall with relief, the bathroom tiles feeling cold and soothing against his skin. 

The potion wasn't a cure. It didn't miraculously fix the damage that had been done, but it did numb everything, offering a temporary lull in the pain as it slowly helped heal the trauma to his nerves. 

Normally, this would have been the moment where he'd be forced to report back to Dumbledore, if he'd even been allowed to take his potion first, but now, everything was different. The headmaster… previous headmaster, he reminded himself, had no idea of the Dark Lord's return and so would have no reason to summon him for a detailed report.

Severus took the time to just lay on the floor, the thought of moving from his position being too much. He contemplated his own life and how miserable it truly was. And with the way things were going, it was going to become increasingly worse at a rapid pace. 

The Dark Lord had given him a task, a very important one according to the monster himself. It was an order he quite frankly didn't want to accomplish, but he had no choice. One way or the other, his will would be done, perhaps this way, Severus would be able to mitigate the damage. 

~

Harry was trying to enjoy his summer holiday as much as he could, he truly was, but Barty's escape kept bothering him. He still hadn't been able to catch hide nor hair of the cunning Death Eater since his escape in March. 

Not knowing where the man was, filled him with a sense of foreboding. Things were out of his control now and he had been roughly hit with the realisation that he was neither omnipotent or without fault. He had gotten too complacent and comfortable with his own skills, a lesson he'd now learned the hard way. 

Harry let out a sigh. He still had a life to live, he couldn't put everything on hold just for the sake of Barty Crouch Jr. 

He didn't use the Time-Turner as much during the summer compared to when he was at school, but Draco had been insistent that Harry pay him a visit during the holidays. Narcissa had also invited her cousin over now that Sirius was doing 'better'. 

His godfather didn't want to go, but Harry had essentially forced him. Like the man-child he was, Sirius spent almost the entire day leading up to the visit sulking as Padfoot, whining and sending betrayed looks in Harry's direction.

When they got back home after their visit, however, Sirius grudgingly admitted that it hadn't been too bad. 

Just as Narcissa had promised, Lucius had not been home, and so it was only the two of them awkwardly trying to mend bridges. In truth, the two cousins had not spoken to each other since the time they were both children, and they both realised that they hardly knew one another. 

It had been an eye opening experience for Sirius, and he had tentatively agreed to have tea with her again the following week.

Harry was happy that his godfather could finally meet people as himself again, instead of hiding behind his Sam White persona. 

While Sirius somewhat enjoyed Narcissa's company, Harry had spent his time being shown around the manor by an energetic Draco. All in all, the visit had worked as a wonderful distraction, even though Harry felt like four hours of an undiluted Draco Malfoy chatting his ear off was a bit excessive. 

"Are you seeing Snape again today?" Sirius asked as they settled down in the drawing room. 

Harry hummed and nodded, fingers absentmindedly playing with the golden chain underneath his shirt. 

"He's been a bit tired lately, hopefully he's not falling ill." He mused, thinking back to the professor's unusually pale skin and prominent dark bags underneath his eyes the last time he saw him. 

"Maybe he inhaled some fumes while brewing." Sirius replied with an unconcerned wave of his hand. 

"Guess I'll see you in, uh, a few minutes?" His godfather continued, always feeling confused whenever he had to think about which Harry was where and when now that he had a Time-Turner. 

"Sounds about right." Harry chuckled and left the house with a casual wave of goodbye.

The shadows brought him to a lovely lake deep within the territory of his island. It was where he had first met some of the naiads that lived in the freshwater rivers and lakes. 

By appearance, they were all beautiful young women of various shapes and sizes. Tall and thin to short and round. They were all unique, with hair and eyes ranging in shades of spun silver to the richest brown.

Their bright moods and benevolent nature made them a joy to be around. They were far more outgoing than the dryads, their woodland cousins, who tended to be more solitary and shy compared to the water nymphs. 

Unlike the naiads who often shared a lake or a river with each other, the dryads were tied to a singular tree and couldn't wander far from it. Harry had spoken to some of them, but they were not as easy to get to know as the naiads. 

"Harry!" A soft, tinkling voice, like trickling water, called out in excitement once he neared the waterfront. 

"Erboea, it is lovely to see you, as always." Harry replied with a soft smile. 

Once, when he first met the naiads, he hadn't been able to look at them without his face going scarlet. The reason for that was that they wore no clothes, there was no need, nudity was entirely natural to them after all. 

It had taken time for Harry to be able to control his physical reactions enough so as not to blush furiously every time. The nudeness didn't bother him anymore, and it wasn't as if it was sexual in nature, not at all. 

Erboea beamed up at him from her position by the lake bed, her long, mahogany hair spilling down her shoulders like a waterfall of soft waves. She was just as naked as the rest of her kin, all rounded features and almond eyes. 

In modern society she would probably be considered overweight due to her large thighs and ample belly, but the beauty standards were ever changing, and she looked no less radiant than her slimmer sisters. 

Whenever Erboea moved, the evening light hit the tiny scales on her skin, making them shimmer like a veritable rainbow, always changing colour. The scales were so small that they couldn't really be felt if you touched her, it was smooth and soft, just like a human would be.

The other naiads perked up when they heard Harry's voice and excitedly rushed over. Within seconds he was surrounded by water nymphs that all wanted to say hello and spend some time with him. They got ever so excited whenever they had visitors. 

"When is the dog-man coming next?" Erboea curiously asked while carding her fingers through Harry's black locks. 

"I'm not sure, but I'll remind him to drop by soon." Harry hummed, lips twitching at their nickname for him. 

The naiads had taken a shine to Sirius for some reason, possibly because he was a goofy child at heart and big on flattery. There was a language barrier between them however. 

For Harry, the fact that they spoke Greek was of no consequence, seeing as Ophelia, his instructor in tapestry weaving, had also taught him her language. There were a few differences but not much had changed.

Sirius was a different matter, he had to use the translation charm to be able to communicate. Unfortunately he couldn't keep it up for long before he got terrible migraines. 

Erboea began braiding Harry's hair, chatting happily away while he pulled off his boots and dipped his bare feet in the warm lake. His birthday was next week and the weather was blessedly nice, he hoped it would last. 

Harry stayed with the naiads for longer than he had intended, merely enjoying their carefree nature and good company. 

They were happy whenever he visited, but not because he was someone special. To them he was just Harry, that awkward human who sometimes brought them shiny trinkets and exciting new food to try. It was nice. 

The lakeside was like a moment cut out of time, a small pocket of tranquillity that surpassed the normal flow of the world. The naiads were all old, centuries old in fact, but they didn't appear that way, neither in appearance or spirit. They were ageless yet young, ever adapting, ever enduring, like the very water they called home. 

This was the place he had chosen as a sanctuary for whenever he needed to rewind time and not worry about bumping into himself. A place where he could relax and leave the worries of the outside world. Or at least he tried.

While Erboea and her friends played with his hair, Harry's thoughts drifted to the man he was soon to meet. 

Snape had been acting out of sorts for weeks and he worried it might be something other than just inhaling noxious fumes as Sirius had suggested. 

It wasn't just Snape that worried him however, things were spinning out of his control. The world was changing and all he could do was move with the flow until he figured out how to get back on track. 

Something was coming, Harry just didn't know what. 

When he'd pulled his boots back on and got ready to leave, Erboea gave him a peck on the lips for good luck, her long hair tickling his neck.

Even though this wasn't a particularly uncommon occurrence, from any of the naiads, it still made his cheeks heat up and his body freeze. They didn't mean anything by it, their customs were entirely different then that of humans, but Harry was still terribly inexperienced and uncomfortable with such closeness. 

He quickly said goodbye and escaped by twisting the rings on his Time-Turner. As soon as the spinning stopped, and he noticed the sun was once again high in the sky, Harry Apparated away from the island. 

The clearing where he was supposed to meet Snape was empty aside from himself. Harry frowned and looked around before checking his watch. It wasn't like Snape to be late. 

He began wondering if maybe he had gotten the time and date mixed up, that maybe they were supposed to be meeting up next week to forage for potion ingredients and not this one.

A rustle from behind caught his attention and Harry turned around, expecting to see Snape with a scathing comment about the current summer heat, but instead, what met him was a bright, red light, followed by nothingness.

Chapter Text

Like a light being turned on, the world immediately came back into focus. Harry's eyes flew open and darted around to assess where he was and what was happening, instantly feeling on edge. 

"It's Voldemort and Crouch!" Regulus hissed indignantly, and perhaps a tiny bit afraid, even if he was already dead. 

There were three people in the dimly lit room, not just Barty and Voldemort as he first had expected. The third person was covered in the traditional Death Eater uniform, their hood pulled up to hide the features that the mask didn't. 

Even with the uniform, Harry had a strong inkling who the third member might be, it wasn't exactly a big leap to make. 

Suddenly all the cryptic words and puzzling conversations he'd had with Snape over the past few weeks made sense. The man had subtly tried to warn him in his own way, probably preparing him for this moment. Harry had merely been too thick to realise. 

His green eyes flicked between the three, not letting anything show on his face. 

"Lord Peverell, we finally meet. I have heard so much about you." Voldemort began, voice soft and hissing. 

The homunculus looked more grotesque than Harry remembered, but then, the memory of his serpentine revival was much clearer in his mind than that of his current form. 

"I am afraid I can't say the same. Who are you and why have you brought me here?" Harry calmly replied as he stood up, being pleasantly surprised when he found he wasn't bound or physically harmed, yet.

"It was all an ambush! Crouch stunned you and took your wand." Regulus growled, glaring daggers at the unhinged wizard. 

Voldemort's beady, red eyes narrowed and spindly fingers gripped tightly around a pale brown wand that looked way too large for his small form. Clearly Harry's unimpressed tone was considered offensive and he was itching to curse him.

Voldemort was not the first one who snapped though, that honour went to Barty, who snarled at Harry's blatant disrespect. 

"You are in the presence of the Dark Lord himself, show some respect!" Barty all but spat at him. However, one firm look from the homunculus and he quieted down, like a dog brought to heel.

"I am Lord Voldemort, and I have a proposition for you." The small being said, radiating smugness and superiority from his position in the oversized chair, acting as if he couldn't possibly be denied what he wanted. 

Voldemort began his winded monologue, offering Harry everything he thought he might want. Power, fame, and, ultimately, a place at Voldemort's side when he took over Britain. The only thing he demanded in return was Henry Potter. 

"Give me the boy and I will make sure you are rewarded beyond your wildest imagination." Voldemort magnanimously promised with an inviting gesture. 

Harry had kept silent during all of it, expression one of complete indifference. When Voldemort was done talking, looking at him expectantly, as if he was waiting for Harry to drop down to his knees and thank him for the opportunity, Harry raised a single, unimpressed eyebrow. 

"Absolutely not." He firmly replied, back straight and eyes full of disdain. 

"I will not give you my charge as if he was a lamb ready for slaughter. You attempted to kill him once, I will not allow you to do so a second time. Pardon my language, but you can take your false promises and shove them up your arse." He finished, knowing it would infuriate the tiny fraction of a soul. 

"You insolent whelp!" Voldemort snarled in his soft voice, unable to raise it much higher due to his small, and rather underdeveloped lungs. 

'Do you want me to bite him?' Nagini hissed, glaring daggers at Harry while showing her fangs threateningly but making no signs of lunging. 

'Not yet, Nagini. But perhaps, there will be dinner for you soon.' Voldemort hissed back, barely restrained anger churning in his red eyes. 

'I'd rather eat a rabbit… Humans are too big, makes me sluggish for days while I digest them.' The large snake muttered as she coiled up in front of her master, keeping her unblinking eyes glued to Harry in case her orders were changed. 

Everything happened quickly after that. One second Harry was standing tall, calm and unbothered by the situation he found himself in, and the next, he laid on the floor, his world exploding into pain. 

~

"Crucio!" Voldemort hissed out, quicker than one would imagine that thing capable of. 

The unforgivable curse shot out of the homunculus' pale wand and hit Peverell straight in the chest before the man could dodge. But instead of crying out in pain like Severus expected him to, his friend laughed. A mad, raw sound that could rival even Bellatrix at her most insane, it sent a shiver down his back. 

He felt sick to the core as he was forced to stand still and watch his friend spasming on the ground under the torture curse.

"You think a bit of pain frightens me, Riddle?" Peverell wheezed out from his position on the damp floorboards of the Dark Lord's abode when the curse was lifted. 

The idiot grinned as he taunted the Dark Lord further, laughing right in his face. Severus had to swallow away the bile that threatened to rise as he watched his closest friend's most likely imminent death, not being able to prevent it unless he wanted to blow his cover as a spy. 

"HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT NAME?!" The Dark Lord wheezily shouted as loud as he could, surprising Severus with the fact that there was not just anger, but perhaps a hint of unease in his voice. 

Riddle, Peverell had called him. Was it the Dark Lord's true name? Or was it another form of mockery? Severus hated not knowing. 

"Now, now, Riddle. Patience is a virtue you know." Peverell laughed, voice raspy from earlier. The man licked his lips and grinned, looking almost feral in the low light. 

"You will tell me!" The Dark Lord demanded before cursing him again when he didn't get a clear answer, and this time, Peverell screamed. 

Peverell had accidentally split his lip during the spasming, and as the young Lord got up on shaky feet, he wiped the blood away with the back of his hand. 

"You have to do better than that, O Dark Lord. No amount of torture will get you what you seek." Peverell sneered haughtily. 

Voldemort was silently fuming, clearly not used to people talking back and staying defiant after several rounds of the Cruciatus. 

"Very well. I had hoped you would cooperate of your own free will, but now I see that it won't happen." The Dark Lord softly said, as if Peverell's refusal to cooperate was akin to an unruly child at bedtime.

What happened next, however... It was astonishing. Voldemort's Imperio was unsuccessful… Never in his life had Severus witnessed the Dark Lord's curse simply fail to take hold. There had been nothing wrong with Voldemort's aim, the spell hit dead centre, but it simply… had no effect. 

"Mind control? How gauche." Peverell tutted and shook his head.  

Severus watched the homunculus' reaction with wide eyes. Was that… fear? He couldn't begin to comprehend the display of emotion on the Dark Lord's face. 

"Avada Kedavra!" The words were hissed out before Severus had the time to react. 

The eerie green light lit up the room as it ripped away the life of his friend. Severus stood frozen in place, heart beating frantically in his chest. He should have done something! But… what could he have done that wouldn't have risked his own life in the process? 

It wasn't that he was afraid to die, quite the opposite in fact. But he had made a promise… He would make sure Potter made it out the other side of this upcoming war alive and hopefully intact, even if it meant sacrificing his own life and that of those he cared about, few as they might be. 

"Barty, make sure he's dead." Voldemort snapped, his devoted follower all too happy to oblige. 

Clearly the fact that the Imperio didn't work had greatly unnerved the monster. Severus ridiculously enough found himself hoping that the Avada had failed, that Peverell's claim of being a necromancer would save him… but the lack of breathing and his unseeing eyes quickly ripped away whatever kernel of hope he had been harbouring. 

"He's definitely dead, my Lord." Barty grinned cruelly, giving the corpse a good kick to the side after he'd checked for life. 

There was a snapping sound, indicating that Barty had broken one of Peverell's ribs. It shouldn't matter, the man was dead already, but it still infuriated him. Severus had to compress every bit of emotion as tightly as he could behind his Occlumency shields, burying them deep within. He couldn't break down now, not yet. 

"Severus, dispose of the body. Make it look like an accident. We don't need the public to be aware of us just yet." The Dark Lord ordered with a thin smile on his malformed face, gesturing to the cooling corpse with his wand. 

"Of course my Lord." Severus calmly replied, bowing his head in respect as he swallowed down his grief and nausea.

"You'll be needing this." Barty said and uncaringly tossed Peverell's black wand on top of the dead body.  

He wasn't exactly wrong. No wizard worth his salt went anywhere without their wand. The Aurors finding Peverell's corpse without his wand nearby would be considered highly suspicious instead of the accident he had been ordered to stage. 

No matter how useless it might be to Peverell now, Severus carefully pocketed the wand, not wanting to damage it.

"Leave us." The Dark Lord hissed with finality, having grown tired from the continuous casting of magic while inhabiting the homunculus. He was still weak and severely reduced compared to his glory days. 

Severus quickly grabbed Peverell's arm and Apparated them out of the Dark Lord's domain. He brought them home. 

Severus felt numb. It wasn't until he sank down on the creaky floorboards of his living room, cradling Peverell's limp body to his chest, that he finally allowed himself to break. 

The normally stoic man crumbled, crying for the first time in years. Great, ugly sobs tore through him as salty tears soaked into Peverell's dark hair. 

~

When Harry opened his eyes he was met with Death's disappointed frown. Once again he had returned to the deity's ethereal study in the afterlife upon his own demise.

"I do wish you would not put yourself in situations like that, little Master." The old man softly stated, thick, bushy brows furrowed in concern. 

"Why did you feel the need to let yourself suffer at the hands of that soul fragment when you could have easily gotten away? Why do you feel like you should allow pain and trauma upon your person when it is not necessary?" Death gently scolded.

Harry cringed, squirming under the god's gaze. He felt thoroughly chastised, like a naughty little boy who had been caught in the act of stealing biscuits from his grandmother's tin. He gazed away, unable to look him in the eyes. 

Death sighed and gently placed his hand on Harry's shoulder. 

"Come Master, let us have some tea while we wait for your body to be ready to accommodate your soul once more." The god smiled kindly and led Harry towards a chair, quickly supplying him with hot tea laden with Ambrosia. 

"Your stay here will not be as long as the first time you died, not unless you wish it to be. The damage done to your body is minimal compared to your last visit. But although the killing curse does not physically harm the body, it does cause extensive spiritual damage. Essentially the soul is forcibly ripped away from its host, causing a severing that for a normal human would be enough to permanently keep the soul from returning. That will of course not be a problem for you." Death explained. 

"Sorry for worrying you… I guess I… got a bit carried away." Harry grimaced, slumping down further in his chair. 

Death hummed but didn't reply. 

"I managed to put a tracking spell on both Barty and Voldemort though… that counts for something doesn't it?" He hopefully said.

"Perhaps." Death mused. 

Harry didn't have much to reply to that, he knew he'd probably screwed up. He really hoped Nagini followed through on her mutterings about not wanting to eat him. Growing another body was… not something he ever wanted to repeat unless he could avoid it. 

Death had said his stay would be short though, so that meant minimal damage had been done to his body. 

He put down his teacup and wandered over to the tall mirror that now stood in the back corner of the study. Death seemed to know what he wanted and with a snap of the deity's fingers, the mirror shimmered to life, showing Harry what was happening to his body while his soul was in the in-between. 

"Oh fuck." Harry grimaced, feeling the guilt start to pool in his stomach. He had a lot to make up for now, didn't he? 

He watched as Snape brought him to Spinner's End, his shabby childhood home in Cokeworth. The way the man clutched his dead body to his chest and cried, holding him tightly, reminded him of the eerily similar situation with his mother after her death. 

Harry knew he and Snape had gotten close over the years, but he'd never expected the man to cry over his death. Perhaps it was the fact that he felt guilty for luring him into the Dark Lord's clutches? 

"Is my body ready soon? I'd rather not have to prolong this more than necessary." Harry asked, shooting concerned glances to the mirror every now and then. 

Death hummed and checked his silver pocket watch. "A few minutes will do." He confirmed, easing Harry's worries. 

A relieved sigh burst out of Harry as he slid back down in his chair. He had so much explaining to do when he returned… He had fucked up big time, hadn't he? Well… there was no use crying over spilled potion, he'd just have to grit his teeth and get it over with. Hopefully Snape wouldn't curse him or something. 

Another minute or so passed, and Harry recognised the tugging sensation for what it was, his soul trying to reconnect with his body. 

He didn't fight it this time, allowing it to pull his consciousness back into its rightful place. There was a few seconds of dark nothingness, before his eyes fluttered open with a loud gasp of breath, filling his deprived lungs with sweet air once more. The breath also brought with it a sharp pain in his side, followed by a frankly splitting headache.

"Fucking hell that hurts." Harry groaned, letting out a string of muttered curses under his breath. 

Snape had gone rigidly still and quiet behind him. It took a few seconds of just breathing for Harry to be reminded of the man's existence and the fact that he had just watched him die and come to life again. There was a heavy silence. Harry didn't dare look up.

"Uh, so, yeah… ta-da, not dead?" Harry weakly tried for humor, finally sneaking a glance at the ashen potions master. 

He used the back of the brown, threadbare sofa to move himself in a sitting position, ignoring the cracked rib as much as he could. 

Snape didn't reply, in fact he seemed to have shut down entirely. His face was pale but void of emotion, only his bloodshot eyes and tear-streaked cheeks relayed his upheaval. Harry tried to smile but it was a weak thing, probably coming across as more of a grimace.

The punch to the face came entirely unexpected. He should have anticipated it, he truly should, but he didn't, and his poor nose suffered for it.

"OW! Bloody 'ell, wht'd you do 'at for?" Harry grunted through the blood gushing from his nose, and the pain in his face that now rivalled that of his ribs. 

"You died!" Snape hissed, a hysterical note to his voice that Harry had never heard in the man before. 

"Y' didn't 'ave to break my nose!" Harry indignantly shot back. 

Okay, so maybe the broken nose was sort of justified… sort of. He doubted Snape would ever admit to his death being traumatizing to experience, but it probably had been nonetheless. 

The potions master let loose his quite frankly impressive verbal ire, hysterically calling Harry all sorts of rude things in his anger. Harry just let him at it, knowing that he was lashing out, and honestly having a rather good reason for it.

When he finished, Snape was breathing heavily, looking like a man twice his age. There wasn't going to be a war this time, but Snape clearly thought one was coming, and he already looked worn and tired. 

Harry sighed and closed his eyes. He had to come clean now, there was no other way. He wished he hadn't waited this long, but hindsight was 20/20.

He gently placed the tip of his left index finger against his nose and let the magic of a wordless Episkey flow through, mending the broken bone and cartilage. It didn't remove all of the pain, but it was now a dull throbbing instead of sharp stabs. The process was repeated for his cracked ribs and he let out a relieved sigh. 

"I will tell you everything. I promise." Harry solemnly said as he leaned back against the sofa. 

"Just… not here." He rubbed his face and felt as tired as Snape looked. 

Snape stood up, face once more impassive and blank, his way of coping with everything, Harry supposed. 

"Is Potter safe?" The man asked. Harry's amused snort caused Snape to narrow his eyes dangerously. 

"Yes! He's perfectly safe. Believe me, everything will make sense soon." Harry promised and got up on shaky feet, using the sofa as support once more. 

"Come on, I'll show you." He held out a lightly trembling hand towards Snape. 

There was a few seconds of hesitation before Snape made a decision and took his hand. Harry dragged them through the shadows and into the drawing room of his island home. 

Snape, surprisingly, or perhaps not, fared much better than Harry did during their relocation. Whereas Harry toppled over and wheezed for breath, every muscle seemingly twitching as his body worked on healing itself, Severus stood frozen on the spot. 

A door opened to their left and Sirius' voice called out. 

"Harry? Where have you been? I thought you were supposed to be back bef-" Sirius stopped mid sentence as he caught sight of his godson. 

Admittedly, the scene painted a rather poor picture, with Harry covered in blood, trembling on his hands and knees, whereas Snape stood over him, imposing as always. 

Sirius' wand was in his hand instantly, curse ready on his lips. It was only Harry's growled order of "Stand down, Sirius!" That made him lower his wand. 

Still, Harry could see how tensely strung both men were. It was a testament to the success of Sirius' therapy that he didn't immediately spout derogatory names like he would have in the past. Harry was proud of him. 

"Help me up." Harry ordered more than asked, holding his hand out for Snape. With the extra support, Harry found himself back on his feet, being guided into one of the comfortable chairs. 

"Why is he here?" Sirius finally asked, eyes shifting between Harry and Snape, trying to gauge the situation. 

"It's about time he was told the truth." Harry merely replied. 

"Ah… I'll uh… make myself scarce then." Sirius said, looking both uncomfortable and distrustful of Snape's presence in their home. 

He did leave them however, which was more than Harry had thought he would do. Despite this, Snape remained silent and tense, not having said a single word since their arrival. 

"Minky, could you please fetch my satchel? It should be in my study." Harry asked, figuring that downing a few healing potions before he began telling Snape his life's story was probably in order. 

The little elf was quick, bringing both his satchel as well as tea and treacle tarts, much to Harry's delight. He summoned a healing potion of his own creation as well as a painkiller, downing them quickly. The sweetened tea helped wash away any remnants of the bitter concoctions. 

With the pain gone, there was only exhaustion and weariness left. 

"I suppose I owe you an explanation." Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

Snape was many things, patient was not one of them. He gave Harry a terse look that said just how much of an imbecile he thought he actually was. His tea was unsurprisingly untouched.

"I am Henry James Potter." And just like that, Harry dropped the very clever and oh so painfully blunt revelation of his deceit, not bothering to elaborate further. Obviously this was not received well by his audience. 

"What in Merlin's name are you talking about?" Snape hissed, but although he found it ludicrous, there was a tiny part of him that found it to be not all that improbable once you added the many hidden clues. 

"Okay so that was probably not the best way to start this." Harry muttered. 

He grimaced, before once more laying out his entire life in as much detail as he could. Snape thought he was absolutely barking mad, that was clear to tell. It did seem to be the most common reaction to his story.

"I know you think I'm off my rocker, but it is the honest truth." Harry said with an exhausted sigh.

"And you are now the Master of Death?" Severus drawled, cocking an unimpressed eyebrow.

"It certainly seems that way, yeah." Harry chuckled wryly. 

He didn't think just telling him would be enough though, and so, he summoned forth the Hallows, one at a time. 

"The Cloak of Invisibility." He said as he draped the shimmery cloak over his arm.

"The Elder Wand." He continued, twirling his left hand to dramatically materialise the wand.

"And lastly, the Stone of Resurrection." He concluded, opening his right hand to showcase the black stone that hovered and rotated gently above his palm. 

It was painfully clear which of the three held Snape's attention the most. It certainly wasn't the power of the Elder Wand, nor the invisibility of the Cloak. His eyes were glued to the Stone, probably hoping and dreading in equal measure that it might be real. 

"Would you like to hold it?" Harry softly asked.

"She would very much like to speak with you."

There was no need to clarify who she was. There had only ever been one person whose death had devastated Severus Snape enough for him to crave the Stone. 

"All you have to do is hold it." Harry continued, tempting him to just take it. 

In the end, there had never truly been a choice. Once the Stone was there, dangling like meat in front of a starved lion, Snape pounced. 

Well, figuratively. He didn't so much pounce as let the stone be placed in his trembling hands. His face was drained of colour and Harry could clearly see the hope and fear that was etched into his eyes as he stared at the Stone.

"Hello Sev." Lily wistfully said, voice soft gentle as she looked at her childhood friend. 

Chapter Text

"Hello Sev."

Severus' head snapped up to look at her, shocked, wide eyes soaking up every detail of her washed out appearance. It took his breath away, snatching it out of his chest like a kick to the sternum.

"Lily?" He asked, voice rough and shaky. 

He swallowed hard. This had to be a trick, an illusion surely… but… how would Peverell have known about her mannerisms? The way her lips quirked up wryly, making her dimples more pronounced? Or how her eyes held such warmth, even if she was looking at him. A traitor… the cause of her death. 

The tears that had stilled when Peverell breathed once more were now threatening to spill yet again. He blinked them away forcefully. 

His hand instinctively went out to touch her cheek, but like with a ghost, it went right through. 

"You can't be real, you are dead." He murmured, trying to convince himself of that fact. 

Lily snorted and rolled her eyes. "Of course I'm dead. That doesn't mean I'm not real though." 

Severus swallowed around the lump in his throat. "Tell me something. Something only you would know." He countered, ever suspicious, yet clinging on to that tiny hope. 

The redhead smiled, leaned closer and whispered into his ear. His heart stuttered at the secret being shared. A moment from their childhood, an ugly truth of blood, tears and desperation.

"I… I'm so sorry Lily." He choked, apologising for everything, the words spilling out of him like a waterfall of grief and regret.

"You… you died because of me. It was all my fault! I-I didn't know, I wouldn't have- I… I'm so sorry." The dam broke and tears rolled down his cheeks.  

The guilt he had been carrying for over ten years reared its ugly head. He felt like he was choking, drowning in his own miserable feelings. He sobbed out his apologies, again and again, knowing it would never be enough. He didn't deserve forgiveness. 

"Severus, look at me." Lily said, her own eyes glittering with unshed tears. 

His bloodshot eyes met hers and he felt nothing but anguish. 

"I forgive you." She murmured with a soft smile. Three simple words to utterly rip his already fragile heart to pieces. 

"Voldemort is the one who killed me, not you. So don't you dare think you are responsible." 

He opened his mouth to respond but she held up her finger to stop him. 

"Yes yes, I know about the prophecy, and that you told him what you overheard. Divination of all things, what a load of rubbish!" She scoffed in derision, rolling her eyes.

Lily then began to rant about manipulative old goats and self fulfilling prophecies. Severus could do nothing but sit still as her explosive temper flared. It was like being thrown back in time to when they were children. 

Everyone always assumed Lily was this sweet and proper girl with perfect manners, but Severus intimately knew different. She could be downright vicious when she wanted to and could swear with the best of them. She was not above getting revenge if she felt she had been scorned. 

Even as a ghost? A shade? Manifestation of her soul? He wasn't sure what to call her. But yes, even in that state, he knew better than to oppose the natural force that was Lily on a rampage. He was just glad her ire was not directed at him, even though he would have greatly deserved it.

~

Snape's attention was solely on Harry's mother, so much so that he hardly noticed when Harry slipped out of the room to give them some privacy. 

"You are an absolute imbecile, do you know that? Yes, lets allow ourselves to be abducted by a Dark Lord, tortured and killed, all for a measly tracking charm, it's not like it will have consequences or anything. Sometimes I wonder if there is anything at all in that pea you call a brain." Regulus scoffed. 

Harry rolled his eyes, letting his friend drone on about how much of an idiot Harry was. In all honesty, the lecture was well deserved, he had rather dropped the ball in that whole fiasco. Still, it wasn't as if the tracking spell was useless… He just hadn't figured out what he was going to do with it yet. There was a difference!

While Snape talked with Lily, Harry took a long and indulgent shower, relishing in the hot water as he scrubbed away the blood and grime that had caked on his skin. Dressing in clean clothes felt heavenly afterwards. 

He found Sirius sitting deep in thought out on the patio, a mild frown etched on his handsome face. 

"You look like you're constipated. Maybe you should stop thinking so hard, it's clearly hurting you." Harry snarked, lips twitching into a tiny smirk as he draped himself into the hammock he'd put up last summer. 

Sirius startled at Harry's approach. 

"What happened, Harry? Are you alright?" He quickly asked, grey eyes roving over Harry's body to check for any damage. 

Harry sighed and closed his eyes, enjoying the soft swinging of the hammock and the gentle wind rustling his hair. 

"I'm fine, just had a broken nose and rib, that's all." Harry answered, gesturing it away with a wave of his hand. 

" Just a broken nose and rib? Merlin, Harry, what the fuck happened?" Sirius exhaled shakily.

Harry hummed. "You know how Crouch Jr slipped through my fingers a few months ago?" 

Sirius made a noise of confirmation. 

"Yeah, well, I finally found him. Or rather, he found me." Harry let out a tired sigh before he continued. 

"Barty's been rather busy, everything has been pushed forward years in advance due to my meddling. I wasn't expecting this to happen until my fourth year, much less the summer after my first. I keep forgetting that my actions have consequences, that just because it happened one way in my first life does not mean it will unfold the same way now. Too much has been changed." Harry murmured absentmindedly. 

The choked whine coming from Sirius was enough to make Harry open his eyes and tilt his head to the side. His godfather looked nauseous at his proclamation. 

"Is he… is he back?" Sirius weakly asked, mind drifting to the war of his youth. 

Harry hummed softly before he answered the loaded question. 

"Partially, yes. He's currently weak and stuck as a homunculus, a very ugly one at that. So not too much of a threat just yet." He murmured. 

"I think he wants my blood to perform the resurrection ritual he used in my fourth year though." Harry grimaced at the thought. 

"So what's the plan?" Sirius swallowed hard, forcing down his own fear and trepidation.

Harry let out a drawn out sigh, closing his eyes once more. "I don't know." He simply said. 

" What? But… but you've got to have some sort of plan… right?" Sirius sounded insecure and deeply unhappy about Harry's apparent apathy. 

Truth was, Harry did have a plan, kinda... it just wasn't ready yet. 

He had often thought about resurrecting Tom Riddle fully, to glue his patchwork soul back together into one coherent piece, giving him a second chance at life. It was why he had collected the Horcruxes instead of destroying them right away. 

The only problem was that the ritual to resurrect him still needed some work. He felt like he was nearing close to a good solution, but the arithmancy was still a bit off. The foundation had to be just right the first time, because he only had one chance.

Not that he planned on telling Sirius any of that. He doubted his godfather would take too kindly to hearing his true plans. Although… he would have to come clean before he did the actual ritual. Springing a newly resurrected Dark Lord on him would be a bit cruel... 

He should tell him and the rest of his family, truly he should. He'd had years thinking about it, but Harry supposed he was… embarrassed? Ashamed perhaps? 

After all, he was willingly about to resurrect Tom Riddle on the off chance that he might be able to save him. He'd seen himself in Tom, two sides of one coin as it were. Even someone like him deserved a second chance, didn't they?

The silence between the two of them dragged on. It was awkward and Sirius was unsurprisingly the first to speak. 

"So… no plan. Okay… I guess we'll just… keep our eyes peeled?" Sirius said with a shaky breath. 

"Yeah, something like that." Harry hummed. 

~

When his mother returned from her heart to heart with Snape, Harry was fast asleep in the hammock. 

"Harry, sweetheart. You should go speak with Severus now." Lily softly said in an attempt to wake up her son, her fingers brushing through his hair. 

Harry shuddered, eyes fluttering open, instantly aware. His magic nearly lashed out, sharp and on edge. His awakening was more volatile than usual, and he had to forcefully still his heart back into a calm rhythm.   

His meeting with Voldemort had brought back memories of what felt like a lifetime of fighting for his right to live. It was as if all his years back in time had been a happy dream and now he was once again a terrified little boy fighting a foe way out of his league. 

Occlumency helped with repressing the uneasiness. He was not on the battlefield right now. His mother was not a threat. He sucked in a deep breath, shoving down all those emotions. He was no longer weak.

Sirius and his mother both looked at him with worry, which he ignored with practiced ease. He was fine. 

"Is he still in the drawing room?" Harry asked. 

His mother nodded, the frown still firmly in place. 

Harry thanked her and made his way back to the drawing room. When he checked his watch he was surprised to find that a few hours had passed. Dying must really have taken it out of him. 

He opened the door quietly, his eyes immediately going to the potions master. He sat slumped in one of the chairs, dark eyes staring unseeingly at the black stone in his hands.

If Harry had thought Snape looked wrecked after his death, now he looked far, far worse. He was like a cracked glass that someone had tried to glue back together. Only, several pieces were missing, and some barely hanging on. 

Harry felt immensely guilty. It was his fault after all. Well… for the most part. He imagined his mother's spirit might have had a rather big part to play. 

"Would you like some alcohol?" Harry hesitantly asked, not knowing where exactly they stood now. Were they still friends? He certainly hoped so...

~

Severus looked up, shifting his focus onto his friend, the man who had betrayed him, but also… saved him in a way, if what Lily had said was true. 

The silence between them was tense and uncomfortable, stretching on for what felt like hours even though it was probably just seconds. 

Eventually he relented and gave a sharp nod. The thought of something alcoholic to numb his mind and chase away all the doubt was much needed. If Lily hadn't warned him about the possible death that would occur if he attempted to Apparate away from the island without being keyed in to the wards, he would have long since been at home, drowning himself in a bottle of Ogden's finest. 

Peverell poured him a glass of firewhiskey and levitated it in front of him. Severus eagerly took it, gulping the contents down like a man dying of thirst. The beverage burned down his throat and filled him with a comfortable sort of warmth that was sorely needed.

"I know this is a lot to take in, and I'm honestly so sorry that you had to find out the way you did. I wanted to ease you into it slowly, but things didn't exactly go as planned." Peverell quietly said, having sat down in a chair opposite him. 

"I want to see what would have happened to me if you hadn't interfered." Severus retorted before Peverell could continue with his apologies. 

"Are you sure?" The necromancer frowned, probably wondering what Lily had said for him to make such a request. 

"Yes." He needed to know. He had to see it for himself. 

"Okay…" Peverell slowly uttered… or was it Harry now, like Lily had called him? 

He remembered having been given permission to call him Harry years ago, as a shortening for Harrison. Severus never did manage to do so in his own head, it had reminded him too much of Harry Potter. Now though… well, they were one and the same, weren't they? 

Peverell placed a finger at his temple and closed his eyes. It took mere seconds before he pulled strands of liquid silver out of his head, twirling them like a fluid thread around his finger. 

The liquid was placed in a pensieve that one of his elves had brought, filling the shallow basin with silvery memories of the man's past. What should have been Severus' future… 

"Do you want to watch them alone?" Peverell asked, sounding like he'd rather not delve back into what might be painful memories, but feeling like he should offer nonetheless. 

"Yes." Severus curtly replied. He wished to observe in solitude, without fear of his reactions being watched. 

Peverell nodded in understanding and gestured towards the basin. "Have at it." 

Severus let his fingers dip into the silvery liquid, the familiar sensation of falling overtaking him before he once more stood with his feet planted firmly on the ground. 

Watching Harry's life play out like that in front of his eyes, and yes it was Harry now, he felt like he knew him too intimately to call him anything else after having seen what amounted to his entire life in summation, well… it was disturbing. 

More than disturbing really. He had watched Petunia verbally ripping into the boy from before he could talk, forcing him to do chores no child his age should, stuffing him in a bloody cupboard like an old, discarded mop. 

Then there was her disgusting husband, taking out his temper on a defenceless child in manners that were so devastatingly similar to Severus' father that he found a deep, terrifying desire to use the cruciatus once more. Murder simply wasn't good enough for scum like that. 

Of course, things didn't stay as simple as life with the Dursleys, no matter how despicable they were. Severus had asked for his own part in things after all. And Harry… He delivered. 

The degrading tutor who had made Harry feel like he was useless at potions as a child… it had been him. Severus helplessly watched as another version of himself tore into the boy on every occasion, in class or not. How his hatred for who he saw as his childhood bully reincarnated blinded him to the signs of abuse. 

He deliberately ruined finished phials of potions, marking the child down for his own cruelty. Severus had been a bully. A godawful, pathetic excuse for a human being. 

He wanted to throw up, or scream, or maybe both. This wasn't him, it wasn't. 

But Severus knew that it was. If Harry as Peverell hadn't been there to befriend him a few years after Lily's death… this was the man he would have become. A hollow, cruel man who mercilessly bullied children. 

He knew his own expressions well enough to see the malicious glee whenever his sharp words penetrated the boy's armour, like a snake sinking its fangs into its prey. 

He didn't want to watch the rest, to see how far he would have gone, but the memories kept on playing without his consent. 

Watching himself murder Dumbledore after being begged for help... that was… difficult. Severus had to reevaluate everything he thought about himself and his limits. He had made the promise to protect Harry Potter, so there was no way he was suddenly supporting the Dark Lord. There had to be a reason. 

Eventually, he got his explanation. Along with watching his own, rather gruesome and drawn out death. He had begged Harry to look him in the eyes during his last moments, no doubt it was because he wanted to imagine it being Lily in his stead. He had her eyes. 

He didn't anymore, now they were almost eerily bright, but back then they had been close enough. 

When Severus emerged from the pensieve, his eyes were glassy and his skin pasty. Neither of them said anything as he filled his glass with shaky hands and drank the firewhiskey in one swift motion. 

It was true. Everything was true. No matter how insane it sounded. Severus wanted to laugh, to cry, to scream and curse, but instead he just sat there, feeling numb and defeated. 

He couldn't understand how Harry was even able to be in the same room as him after what he had done to him as a child. Saving his life from the shadows and acting as a spy did in no way make up for his actions. 

"So… that's my life I suppose." Harry said, awkwardly picking at a piece of invisible lint on his trousers. 

Was this when he was supposed to apologise? Would a mere 'I'm sorry' even cover all the mental abuse he had doled on the boy?

"Again, I'm so sorry for keeping everything secret this long. I honestly wasn't trying to deceive you or anything! I just… have some… trust issues I suppose…" Harry mumbled, looking as if he was the one who needed to apologise. Severus was quite frankly baffled. 

The other man fidgeted a bit more, before in a show of uncommon insecurity, he blurted out "Are we still friends? I mean, I know that it might be a bit presumptuous of me, considering the day you've had, but I do truly hope that we still are… or at least that we can be again in the future." 

Severus blinked slowly, his brain sluggishly processing the quick words. He let out a deep, weary breath and rubbed his face. "Surely you realise that things will not be the same from now on?" He quietly replied. 

Harry nodded his head in understanding, still sporting a tiny frown. 

Severus took another swig of firewhiskey before he spoke. "Perhaps we should reconvene in the morning? I think I need sleep before we discuss the repercussions of today's events as well as any future plans. Is that agreeable?" 

"Oh… yes of course! Feel free to stay in one of the guest bedrooms. The wards on this island are nigh impenetrable." Harry offered, looking rather hopeful. 

Normally Severus would have declined. But he was exhausted, mentally drained and well on his way to being drunk. In addition it probably would be safer for him to stay on the island until they had settled on some sort of plan regarding what to do about the Dark Lord and Peverell's supposed death. 

Merlin, what a mess. 

~

Harry found himself fretting about how Snape would react once he'd had time to digest the events of the day. Would he cut all contact? Be angry? Run to Dumbledore? 

He knew their relationship would change going forward, anything else was impossible, but he still hoped they could be amicable with each other. He had come to enjoy the man's sharp mind and acerbic tongue. It complimented his own sarcastic nature flawlessly.

To alleviate the stress, Harry baked. Spending hours of the night creating various flaky, Danish pastries filled with jam, custard and pecans. 

He was too fidgety for potions and his mind in too much turmoil for runes and arithmancy, so baking was the only productive thing he felt like doing.  

His family tried to reassure him during the night, his mother especially. But while Harry did appreciate it, he needed some time to himself.

Sirius dropped by to steal a Danish when it came out of the oven, but otherwise stayed quiet and left Harry to his own devices.

Eventually, in the early hours of the new day, Snape was guided into the kitchen by an elf. 

Harry had decided that, for once, he would be honest and put all cards out in the open. 

There was tea and food on the table between them, the only sound being that of the large clock on the wall ticking away in a steady rhythm. 

"What is your plan in regards to the Dark Lord?" Snape eventually asked, voice the very essence of calm and collected. Clearly a night's rest had done wonders for his composure, unlike Harry who still felt like a mess emotionally. 

He stirred some honey into his tea and sighed. No more secrets, right? Right…

With determination, he locked eyes with the dark haired wizard. "So far I have collected all of his Horcruxes."

Snape's face remained blank but Harry thought he could see some sort of confusion flash by. 

"Collected but not destroyed." Snape murmured, sharp, suspicious eyes drilling into him. 

Harry nodded and licked his lips nervously before he continued. "Yes… I haven't told anyone else yet, but… I wish to mend Tom Riddle's soul instead of destroying it." 

That definitely must not have been the answer Snape expected because his nostrils flared and his eyes widened. 

"Are you absolutely insane? What imbecilic, asinine thought made you believe that is in any way a good idea? You might not be able to die but the rest of us certainly can!" Snape exploded with a snarl, vitriol dripping off his tongue like acid. 

Harry grimaced but allowed the potions master to berate his imbecilic ways until he managed to get himself under control. 

"Why? Why would you do this?" He finally forced out through gritted teeth.

Snape was scared, terrified even. It might not be obvious but Harry felt like he knew him well enough to tell by now. 

In the end, all Harry could do to reassure the man was to tell the truth. He bared all his thoughts out in the open, and once he was done speaking, he had gained an ally, if a somewhat sceptical one. 

Convincing the rest of his family of his plans… Well, that would not be as easy. 

Severus let out a drawn out sigh and shot Harry with a pointed glare. "Once you have executed this foolish plan of yours, I will be resigning from Hogwarts. I expect the position as a potions researcher with your funding to still be available." 

Harry couldn't help but grin happily. He had tried to get Snape to resign for years, so this felt like a huge win. "Of course it is! Whenever you're ready." 

Snape huffed and took a sip of his tea, somehow managing to look both derisive and content at the same time. 

"Very well. With that sorted, we need to decide what to do about your supposed death. If news of Lord Peverell's tragic accident does not reach the ears of the public soon, the Dark Lord will summon me for an explanation." The last bit was said with a scowl. 

Harry grimaced. Said summoning would definitely not be painless on Snape's end. His eyes flickered to his left arm and the connection to Voldemort that was hidden underneath several layers of fabric. 

"I might have something of a temporary plan for that." He mused. "Will you show me your Mark?" Harry asked, gesturing to Snape's arm. 

The way he stiffened spoke of how uncomfortable it actually made him, but nonetheless, Snape rolled up the sleeve of his loose robes and unbuttoned the shirt underneath, exposing the ugly brand to the world. 

Harry leaned closer to inspect it, his face so close to the arm that his nose nearly touched it. 

Snape's teeth were clenched and his body rigid in discomfort, but he didn't say anything about Harry's closeness. 

The Mark was dark but not black, indicating that it wasn't fully active yet, reflecting Voldemort's current weakened state. The area around the brand looked red, inflamed and entirely unpleasant, much like how Harry's scar had been when Voldemort had one of his temper tantrums in Harry's first life.

Harry frowned, wondering if he could do something to help. He had studied the Mark in theory with Regulus and Abraxas. They had recounted their experiences with being marked, told him what it felt like, even showing their arms to him when prompted. 

Abraxas had known more about the Mark than Regulus, seeing as he had been around Voldemort when he was still Tom Riddle, but even his knowledge was based more on theories and speculation than anything else. 

When Harry had researched the Mark, it had been merely out of curiosity, but seeing how it affected Snape right now made it feel like more of a pressing issue. 

From what he could tell, the Dark Mark was an insidious creation made from a combination of soul magic, runes and parselmagic. It forged a connection that was similar to that of the house-elves and their master, and at the same time entirely different.

There was no equal sharing between the two parties, no benefits to be gained for those bearing the Mark, at least not in its current state. 

Harry had a fairly good guess at how it worked, and although he wasn't able to remove it completely without Voldemort's cooperation, he might be able to lessen its responsiveness and connection to the Dark Lord.

"Thank you." Harry said as he leaned back in his chair, creating some distance between them. 

"As we're both well aware of, Voldemort will summon you as soon as my continued survival fails to make the papers. I honestly don't think there is a way to avoid it. Pretending to be dead is not an option either, it will only create more chaos." Harry sighed wearily and ran a hand through his hair.

Snape looked grim, having seemingly already accepted his fate. Perhaps he saw it as some obscene way of repenting? Harry didn't know. The man was hard to read sometimes. 

"So you propose we do nothing?" The potions master deadpanned. 

Harry hummed "yes and no." The vague answer causing Snape to raise an unimpressed eyebrow. 

"Just hear me out before you disparage the idea. As of right now, Voldemort is weak. He has no followers aside from Barty and you. Most of his loyal followers are in Azkaban, and the rest he simply doesn't trust yet. I assume the only reason he took the chance of summoning you was because he knew of your connection to me and wanted to use that to get to his assumed nemesis." Harry took a sip of his tea before continuing. 

"Henry Potter is in his eyes the key to his revival. Voldemort is dramatic in the extreme. He loves grand gestures that make him seem powerful. To him, using the blood of the one who defeated him to resurrect himself would be some kind of poetic justice. He is obsessed with the prophecy to a fault, not realising that it is that obsession that will end up being his own downfall." 

Harry took a deep breath, watching Snape intently throughout his little speech. The man had barely moved a muscle where he sat, listening with intensity. 

"I don't think Voldemort will take the risk of summoning more of his followers yet. He is currently too weak to take such a gamble. What he will do however, is panic about me still being alive, and in turn believe you betrayed him. No doubt he will try to force you to return to his side by any means possible." 

"He will use the Mark." Severus confirmed. 

"He will indeed." Harry nodded. "But that is also where my plan kicks in. You see, I've taken the time to study the Mark, not so much physically but in theory. I believe I might be able to alter it. To mute it, if you will. I won't be able to remove it entirely, but I should be able to lessen its connection to the Dark Lord. I'm not sure how much of the pain I'll be able to take away, but it will be bearable afterwards, no matter how hard he might try to compel you to return through it." 

Snape's eyes widened in disbelief. Doing anything to the Dark Mark was seen as impossible, none who tried had ever been successful in the past. Harry knew this, but he had an advantage over all those who'd previously attempted. He was a parselmouth. 

"You… you can do that?" Snape asked in disbelief. 

Harry nodded firmly, having faith in his own abilities. 

Snape didn't need much time to think about it, in fact, he offered his already bared arm immediately and practically demanded Harry do as promised. 

With a slow twist of his left hand, the Elder Wand materialised, he would need its power and finesse to help him with his task. 

Harry held the wand in a light grip as he studied the Mark. The snake emerging from the skull was inanimate at the moment, laying flat and still like any non-magical tattoo should. 

He placed the tip of the wand at the base of the snake's skull and slowly, gently, almost like a caress, dragged it along the exposed body.  

'Reveal yourself.' 

Harry's soft and sibilant hiss almost made Snape flinch, but he kept his composure admirably well, merely twitching a little. 

The snake uncoiled from where it had been lodged in the inked skull. Tiny, purple runes were now visible on the part of the snake's body that had previously been hidden. They were hard to see as they blended so well with the snake's inked scales.

Exposing the runes had been the easy part, now came the actual work. He took a moment to inspect the runes and how they interacted with each other, mentally cataloguing them. Even the slightest miscalculation on his part could have grievous consequences for his friend.

Finally, he felt like he knew what he needed to make small changes without accidentally killing Snape from magical backlash. 

The changes he made were tiny, almost imperceptible to the naked eye, yet they held a dramatic influence. Harry was so focused on his task that he hardly noticed anything else.

As time went on, sweat pooled on Snape's pasty skin, trickling down into the high and stiff collar of his robe as Harry worked on the Mark. He'd kept still for the most part, probably due to heavy Occluding, but there was no mistaking the deep pain Harry's meddling caused him. 

The Mark was connected to Snape's soul, and as such, each alteration to the rune-sequences Harry made reverberated through the man. Making changes to the runes did not just involve editing the visual aspect, but also the spiritual. 

The process of being branded a young man would have been painful, immensely so, but Harry's tinkering was no walk in the park either. 

While Harry worked, he didn't have much awareness of his surroundings, which meant that Snape's silent suffering was not noticed until he had finished. 

A few hissed words in parseltongue wrapped it all up, forcing the snake to coil back up inside the skull and seize moving until the next time magic were to prompt it. 

Snape let out a shaky breath, barely able to keep upright in his chair. His shoulders sagged with relief now that the pain was not so prominent.

Harry likewise slumped back in his wooden kitchen chair, letting out an exhausted exhale as he rubbed his face tiredly. 

When he glanced down at his wrist-watch, he was shocked to find that three hours had passed. He had been so absorbed in his work that time just flew him by. 

Their breakfast was changed into lunch as soon as they separated. Freshly baked bread and a light soup appeared in front of them, the elves' way of silently chastising them for not taking care of themselves apparently. 

Harry cleared his throat. "So… Do you feel any different?"

Even while exhausted, Snape couldn't stop staring at his arm. Even though there was no visual change to the Mark, especially not now that the runes had been hidden again, Snape was transfixed. 

The magic of the Mark felt less malicious, as if Harry’s cold, yet soothing magic had melded with Voldemort’s acrid heaviness, cutting off some of its sharp bite.

"You… you've actually done it." He whispered in disbelief, voice thick with emotion. 

"Thank you." Snape choked out, eyes suspiciously shiny. 

"Don't thank me yet." Harry replied with a lopsided smile. "We still don't know how much pain you'll be in when Voldemort tries to summon you." 

"Still, this… this is more than I ever thought possible." Snape swallowed hard and closed his eyes, needing a second to compose himself. 

Harry gave him some time and eagerly dug into the lovely meal his elven friends had procured for them.

Once they finished eating, Harry finally said what had been on his mind. 

"I'd like for you to relocate here until we've restored Tom fully. I'm obviously not going to force you, that's not my goal, but I think you will be much safer behind the wards here rather than at Spinner's End. I fear that Voldemort will send Barty after you once summoning fails. And although you are more than capable of defending yourself, I'd rather you didn't risk it. The wards at Hogwarts will be good enough to keep Barty out once I've added a little something to them, so you'll be fairly safe there as well." 

"I will not spend my spare time hanging around Black." Snape replied with a deep scowl. 

Harry rolled his eyes. "Seriously? That's all you got out of that? I know you and Sirius hate each other's guts, don't worry. I'm not saying you have to have tea together and eat little cakes like best friends. Just ignore each other's presence. If you don't antagonize him, he will return the favour. Please, I just want you to be as safe as possible, I thought Slytherins were supposed to have a strong sense of self-preservation." 

Snape glared and his lip curled up in distaste. Still, he couldn't fault Harry's logic. 

"This place is huge, you don't even have to be in the same areas as him if you don't want to. You can set up my tent on the other side of the island if that would make you feel any better. Besides, you'll be at Hogwarts most of the year anyway." Harry continued, putting a nail in the coffin of Snape's final complaints. 

"And how long will it take for you to piece together the Dark Lord's soul?" Snape sneered, admitting defeat with derision. 

"I'm not sure… I think I might be able to have the ritual ready by Yule… but we might have to wait until Beltane to actually perform it. It's a long time to wait, I'm aware, but the natural magic of the day will greatly help with resurrecting him whole and mentally stable." Harry replied. 

"Beltane… you wish to let The Dark Lord and his equally insane attack dog roam around the country until May?" Snape deadpanned, giving Harry one of those unimpressed looks where he seemed to question his intelligence. 

"So, you prefer that I do it now and risk bringing Tom back just as insane?" Harry quirked an eyebrow, returning the unimpressed look with ease. 

"No, I'd rather you didn't go through with it at all! Just destroy his Horcruxes and be done with it!" Snape barked back. 

And sure, he did have a point, but Harry was a stubborn bastard and he refused to stop now. He would resurrect Tom and it was going to work. 

In the end, Harry managed to convince Snape to stay on the island until Hogwarts began its new term in September. 

The tent was indeed set up on the other end of the island to give him some privacy and create ample space between the two childhood enemies. 

Sirius whined about Snape's presence more than once, even though he hadn't seen the man since the night Harry first brought him over. It was amusing at first, but he quickly tired of it and told his godfather in simple terms to "shut up!" Which he wisely did. 

Telling his family and friends about his plans to resurrect the Dark Lord proved to be harder than he'd initially thought. He spent weeks procrastinating, promising himself he'd 'do it tomorrow.' Needless to say that 'tomorrow' didn't come until about a month later. 

Harry had used his powers to call forth all those important to him in the drawing room. They gathered around his chair, giving him curious looks. It wasn't often that he summoned them en masse on such short notice. 

Sirius and Marius were equally curious, but also somewhat wary. They knew something big was coming from how Harry had been behaving since Voldemort whisked him away for a bout of torture. 

Once they were all there, Harry sat down and, as calmly as he could, told them of his plans to restore Tom Riddle's soul back to humanity. 

"I don't know if this is a good idea, Harry." Regulus quietly murmured, the first to react. His face was more translucent than usual, a spirit's version of growing pale. 

"Of course it isn't a good idea!" James shouted. "The mad bastard started a bloody war! Two if we count the one in Harry's first life. He murdered us, Harry!"

Harry sighed, letting his father vent his distress and anger. He could understand him, of course he could. Voldemort was a monster, that much he could agree on. 

He did find it amusing that James' reaction was so similar to Snape's, not that he'd ever tell that to either of them.

"I know." Harry finally said, sounding oh so tired. The fact that he hadn't let his temper rise, that more than anything, was what made the marauder shut up. 

The room fell into silence, everyone looking at Harry's slumped form, taking note of how he leaned forwards in his chair, elbows resting on his knees. 

Harry took a deep breath to steady himself before he finally felt ready to meet their eyes. 

Their anger had now faded into confusion and hurt. 

"Why?" His mother simply asked, quiet and uneasy. 

"Because I see myself in him." Harry softly replied. 

"Because I wish to believe that there is more to Tom Riddle than just Voldemort the monster. Had things been a little different, our lives could very well have been reversed. For once he deserves a chance, for someone to say, hey, you're worthy of being helped. I care because that could have been me." He continued, rubbing his face. 

"Oh Harry… not everyone can be saved." Lily gently stated, sounding so sad on behalf of her son. She didn't dispute his claim though, for they both knew that fear and hatred could push a person to do things they didn't think themselves capable of. 

"I know. But… I would like to try. And if it doesn't work, if he picks up his old ways of murder and torture just for the fun of it, well, I'll take him down. Permanently this time. It would be my mess to clean up. I just don't feel right about not at least trying. The Voldemort who started a war, who murdered in gruesome ways, well, he had less than five percent of his soul left. That's…. I don't know if you can truly understand how bad that is? He chipped away at his humanity in a terrified attempt at saving himself during the second world war. He was a child. No one helped him." Harry's expression was deeply set in determination, jaws clenched as he looked down at his hands.

"You won't be able to talk me out of this. I will not be like Dumbledore…"

"Okay." Sirius said with a wry smile, as if he had known of Harry's plans all along. 

Harry blinked in shock, looking at Sirius as if he had suddenly grown a set of sparkly fairy wings.

"What? You don't think I can be reasonable?" His godfather snorted and rolled his eyes with good humour. 

"I know there's gonna be no talking you out of this, you're just as stubborn as your dad when you've made up your mind about something. I might as well help as best as I can to make sure you don't get hurt in the process." He finished with a shrug, shocking Harry even more. 

"Oh." Harry dumbly stated, feeling a bit choked up. 

"As for us… well, we are dead. We have no right to tell you what to do, or in this case, what not to do. If you feel like you have to help Voldemort… Tom Riddle… Then we will stand behind you." Lily said, even though she was still frowning and didn't sound all that enthusiastic.

She glanced over to her husband who was the most distressed one out of the group, giving him a light nudge with her elbow. James grimaced, looking rather pained, but he did speak. 

"We are not happy about it, trust me. I absolutely hate this idea by the way. But, what's most important to us is for you to do what you believe is right. And if that is to dabble with soul magic and set a Dark Lord on the world… well, I suppose that's your decision." James said, sounding deeply resigned to the fact that this was going to happen no matter how much he opposed it. 

Harry smiled gratefully, knowing how much it must have taken for his father to say something like that. 

"Please just be careful, Harry." Marius pleaded as he pulled him into a hug. 

He smelled of tea and bergamot. Harry held him tightly and soaked up the familial warmth he offered.

"I will do my best." Harry promised, mumbling into his grandfather's chest, meaning every word. He would do his best, for himself and for Tom.

And that was truly all it took. His family wasn't happy with his new course of action, of course they weren't, but they had not abandoned him yet. They still cared about him and supported him, even if his decision might wreak untold destruction upon the magical society of Britain.

Chapter Text

Ever since the Potter boy had gone away to that freakish school of his, life had been wonderful for the Dursley family. Everything was calm, peaceful, and most importantly, normal. At least in the beginning...

At first, Petunia had been overjoyed that they would finally be rid of his presence marring their lovely home. But then… odd things seemed to happen. 

It started small, a few unpaid bills coming back with a warning, car keys or the remote to the telly going missing, the roses in her garden not doing as well as previous years, that sort of thing. Nothing too out of the ordinary after all. 

Vernon worked longer hours to provide for their little family, or at least, that is what he said. Petunia suspected her husband was having an affair with that trollop of a secretary he had, but she firmly locked up any grievances she might have related to that. 

The neighbours could absolutely not find out. Just think what they might say about them! No, Petunia and her family were the proper sort, the right kind of people. They had a reputation to uphold. 

So she smiled whenever her husband came home, cooked him dinner and gave him a glass of his favourite whiskey once he settled in for the evening. Things were fine. 

Yes, Vernon was drinking more than usual, but he was working hard, he deserved it! That was what she told herself, over and over as her smile grew more and more forced as the days went by. 

On a completely ordinary Tuesday, around noon, the phone called, startling Petunia out of her gossip magazine about celebrities. She quickly put it down on the coffee table and scurried over to the kitchen to answer. 

"Hello?" She said, holding the landline to her ear.

"'Good evening, this is constable Barlow. Am I speaking with Mrs Petunia Dursley?" A deep and grave voice replied from the other end. 

Petunia's heart skipped a beat and she felt panic start to rise. Why would the police be calling her? 

"Y-yes? Has something happened to my Dudders?!" Petunia stuttered, heart in her throat. 

The police officer was not being very informative, but told her that it wasn't about her son. He asked her to come down to the station and Petunia complied, terrified about what might have happened.

As it turned out, the visit was not due to anyone in her family having been injured or killed, no, it was because Vernon had been caught embezzling money from Grunnings.

She couldn't believe it. When they interrogated her, she vehemently denied it. Vernon was a good and decent man! He would never do such a thing! 

Those horrible officers wouldn't even release her husband on bail. Claiming he was liable to not show up to his hearing and would therefore be detained in police custody until then. 

Things did not improve after that. She tried to keep it quiet, but her neighbours were nosy old biddies who couldn't keep their eyes to themselves.

At first she could explain away Vernon's absence, claiming he was on a business trip, but then that horrid woman in number nine had to open her big mouth and tell the neighbours that her husband, who also worked at Grunnings, told her of how Vernon had meticulously swindled the company for several hundred thousand pounds. 

On the inside Petunia seethed. Somehow this all had to be that Potter brat's fault, she just knew it. Her Vernon wouldn't steal money, and even if he had, they surely wouldn't be living in Privet Drive still. 

Things would be fine, she told herself. They would realise that this was all a mistake and that her Vernon was innocent. He'd go back to work, Dudders would be his usual, perfect self and everything would go back to normal. 

That did not happen. Vernon was taken to the Crown Court and lost his case spectacularly. They had to drag him kicking and screaming to the stand, well, mainly screaming, his face going purple with rage.

Five years… five years her husband would have to spend in prison. 

What was she going to do? Petunia had no education to fall back on, no job, no income… When she married Vernon, she gave up on getting a university degree in favour of becoming a housewife. She had nothing. How was she going to pay the bills? 

Petunia tried everything she could to make ends meet. She applied to every available job in the nearby area, but was only able to get a part-time job as a cleaning lady. 

Needless to say, the job was not enough. Even if she'd gotten more hours, the pay was still lousy.

In the end, the solution turned out to be selling the house. She had no other options. They were in debt and she had a child to take care of. 

And her poor Diddykins, he had to be pulled out of school due to their money troubles once his first year ended. Smeltings was an expensive, private boarding school, they simply couldn't afford it now that Vernon wasn't providing anymore. 

The house sold quickly and she got a decent amount of money for it, but most of that went towards paying down various debts. 

Petunia and Dudley ended up having to move in with her sister in law, Marge. She despised the woman almost as much as she despised her nephew, but she had no other options. 

Marge bred English bulldogs. Ugly little beasts that were everywhere in the house, farting, slobbering and biting. They had no discipline, no matter how much Marge talked about it. 

Dudley was not happy about the situation either. He cried and screamed, throwing tantrums of massive proportions, but it only served to make Petunia snap at him. 

Her nerves were already frayed thin after the terrible year she'd had, and Dudley's screaming was the last drop that made the glass run over. 

She didn't hurt him, of course not, she would never lay a hand on her precious baby boy, but she did scold him, probably for the first time in his life. 

The crocodile tears stopped and he looked at her with wide, shocked eyes, mouth slightly ajar as she ranted. He was then sent to his room, a small little thing that used to belong to Marge's bulldogs, of which she had twelve.  

Petunia sank down on the sofa when she heard the door slam, being infinitely glad that Vernon's sister wasn't home to witness her outburst. 

She buried her face in her hands, feeling the tears sting in her eyes. Her reputation was ruined, she had no money, and she was forced to sleep on the sofa of a woman she greatly disliked. 

Not even after her parents' death had she cried as much as she had since Vernon's imprisonment. 

Life was indeed miserable for one Petunia Dursley.

~

Sirius couldn't say he was happy about Harry's choice of resurrecting a mad Dark Lord, not really. But he was, and had always been, a follower. 

Perhaps it was something within the Black blood that made them susceptible to fanatically latching on to wizards who were magically more powerful than them?

Bellatrix had thrown herself at the Dark Lord Voldemort first chance she got, and Sirius? Well, he had chosen James. And now, now it was Harry. 

He would lay down his life for him in a heartbeat. He would murder and torture. Sirius would do unspeakable things, all Harry had to do was ask. 

Perhaps he was as mad as cousin Bella, certainly just as devoted. In a way they both had their own Dark Lord, for Sirius didn't doubt for a second that was where Harry was headed. 

Harry didn't hate muggles, but he saw them as a possible threat. He had explained it to Sirius before, how the problem didn't lie with an individual knowing about magic, but the masses. 

As it currently stood, those high up within the muggle government already knew about their world, and that was fine, it was a necessity to coexist. Once they retired they'd just be Obliviated, easy as that. 

In Britain, it was the current prime minister and Queen Elizabeth that knew of the magical community. Sirius didn't particularly know how much they knew, but he doubted the Ministry of Magic bothered with keeping them updated on what went on, not in much detail anyway. 

Sirius eyed the front of the muggle newspaper Marius was reading. The pictures didn't move, something he had gotten used to with time but still found weird. 

It wasn't hard to imagine how fear of the unknown could lead to war. Harry's words still tossed about in his brain, how people feared what they didn't understand. If the general muggle population found out about them, there would be mass hysteria. 

Witches and Wizards were beings with powers they didn't understand, powers that could be used for both good and bad. The fact that they looked just like any other muggle on the outside, if they knew how to dress that is, just made it a breeding ground for paranoia. 

Harry was right, stronger security around the Statute of Secrecy instead of opening up their society, like Dumbledore wanted, was the way to go. 

In a political sense, Harry was pretty much a Dark Lord already, or at least a budding one. His ideas were revolutionary, even if Harry didn't think so himself.

He was a protector of the oppressed and the less fortunate. Saviour of house-elves and werewolves. He treasured muggleborns, squibs and Dark creatures alike, not giving one whit about status or blood. 

Harry wished for inclusion within their community, for progress and innovation instead of stagnating. He cherished old traditions and wished to abolish the blanket ban on everything the British Ministry considered Dark magic. 

If that didn't sound like a Dark Lord, Sirius didn't know what did. All Harry lacked was a group of followers. Although… he did have a veritable army of house-elves. Did that count?

Anyway, Harry was so incredibly passionate, with a bigger heart than most realised. 

Sirius loved that boy with such ferocity that he would do anything for him. Harry was family, the son he would never have, and there was nothing he wouldn't do to make sure he was happy. 

"Do you think he will be sane when he comes back?" Sirius asked, chewing on his bottom lip in concern.  

Marius sighed and folded the newspaper in half, crossword puzzle abandoned in favour of their conversation. It wasn't the first time Sirius had brought it up. 

"I have no idea, Sirius. Please keep in mind that my magical education stopped just before Hogwarts. The implications of this ritual, that Henry still hasn't finished making, mind you, it is beyond anything I would have been taught. You have a much better foundation to judge whether it will be a success or not than what I do." The old man said, refilling his and Sirius' cups with steaming black tea. 

"I am worried, yes. But mostly I am concerned about Harry's mental wellbeing. Unlike you, he still hasn't seen a therapist about his past. He forces everything down with sheer, stubborn will, ignoring each and every aspect of his own trauma. It is not healthy. Eventually things will have bottled up to a degree where the metaphorical bottle breaks." Marius stirred some milk and honey into his tea and gently blew on it to cool it down. 

"What does this have to do with bringing back Voldemort though?" Sirius asked with a frown, struggling to see the connection. 

"Ah, have some patience with an old man, please, I am getting there." Marius said with a gentle smile. 

"From what I can tell, Henry has thought about, and planned this, for years. It isn't just a quick whim. As Henry told us, he sees himself in the boy the Dark Lord used to be before he became Voldemort. I think he is projecting himself onto this man so much that failure, in the form of bringing him back insane... I fear it would break him. I have no doubt that Henry will be able to pull himself back together should this happen, but I would spare him the grief if I could." Marius looked troubled as he spoke, long fingers absentmindedly curling around the warm cup of tea.

"He wishes so desperately for confirmation that there is still hope for them, that they can both still be saved." Marius finished with a murmur. 

Sirius had never thought about it like that, he just assumed Harry felt pity and preferred patching Voldemort up instead of killing him. He didn't think he'd forged such a deep connection with the man already.

"What can we do to help?" He asked, frowning deeply. 

Marius sighed "Not much. This is a journey he must make on his own. All we can do is be here to pick up the pieces should he indeed shatter one day." 

They sat together in silence after that, thinking about what the future might bring. Sirius desperately hoped the plans would go the way Harry wanted them to. Unfortunately Potter luck was a thing though, and sometimes things had to get a lot worse before they got better. 

~

The summer holiday was over, and Harry found himself surrounded by children once more.

Snape had left the island a week in advance, claiming there were preparations that needed to be done in the castle before the coming school year began. 

Harry didn't know if that was actually true or if he just felt like he had been cooped up too long. Either way, it didn't really matter seeing as the result was still the same. 

Because of this, though, Harry had been forced to make a trip to the castle before Snape left. He had promised himself that he wouldn't let Voldemort get to Snape during the school year and he was intent on keeping that promise. 

The solution to his problem had been a minor but clever alteration to Hogwarts' ward-scheme. If Voldemort was able to leave a curse on the Defence position in his youth, then Harry could surely tweak the wards a little. 

Professor McGonagall would probably have been horrified and furious if she knew he was tampering with Hogwarts' ancient wards, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. 

Besides, it wasn't as if the new change was dangerous, all it did was bar entry to those carrying the Dark Mark. It was rather ingenious, Harry admitted to no one in particular, giving himself a mental pat on the back for a job well done. 

The only reason Snape hadn't found himself walking straight into a solid barrier when he reached Hogwarts grounds was because of the alterations Harry had made to his Mark during the summer.

It was now so intrinsically different that it would slip past without notice. Visually, it still appeared the same to the naked eye, but the magic, that was no longer recognisable. 

It was still connected to the Dark Lord, no amount of Harry's attempts could likely change that since Snape had taken the Mark willingly at some point, but it was more or less benign now. Compared to the malevolent brand it had been before, it was a great improvement.

When news of Lord Peverell's death remained out of the newspapers, Voldemort inevitably attempted to summon Snape. Initially the pull had been so weak that the man hardly noticed it. 

Harry had anxiously waited for the pain to set in the angrier the homunculus got, remembering the torture that had been doled upon him accidentally through his scar when he was still a Horcrux. 

Voldemort likely feared that Snape had defected, rightfully so, and in his anger tried to force the man to return through the Mark. 

But, as it turned out, his alterations held, and Snape reported that even at the most intense bursts of pain, it was not remotely similar to the past. At most, he likened it to having been in close contact with stinging nettles and getting an allergic reaction. It hurt, yes, but it was more like a constant, throbbing pain rather than every nerve in his arm being on fire. 

Snape proclaimed that the pain was entirely manageable, annoying, yes, but not debilitating. At times, Harry wondered if Snape felt like the pain was deserved, no matter how ridiculous that was. 

~

On the train back to Hogwarts, one of the first things Harry noticed was how withdrawn Theo seemed to be. 

The letters he'd owled Harry during the summer months had not hinted about anything being wrong at home, but Harry knew all too well how abuse victims tended to hide what went on behind closed doors. Harry had certainly done so in his first life. 

He had put all his faith in Dumbledore, begging the headmaster to let him stay during the summer, only to be sent back to the Dursleys. After that, he hid any sign of his abuse as best as he could, feeling ashamed that he let it happen, even if it was never his fault. 

It seemed that spending the summer with his father had not done Theo any favours in the social department. He'd always been a quiet child, but now it was even more pronounced. Harry barely heard a word from him for the entire first week. 

He was worried, understandably so. He tried to include the boy and drag him into conversation, but it was like talking to a turtle that had withdrawn into its shell to protect itself.

And that was what caused him to corner Theo in their dorm one day, after the boy returned from a shower. Their dorm-mates were 'suspiciously' missing. Or, it was more like Harry ordered them to give him and Theo some space. 

"Theo… did something happen over the summer break?" Harry gently tried to ask, watching as the boy's brown eyes widened in alarm. 

His head swivelled around, catching up on the fact that they were alone.

"No, why do you ask?" He replied, but it sounded nervous and defensive in Harry's ears.  

Harry frowned. "I'm worried about you, that's why. You've hardly spoken to anyone since we got back. You are my friend, Theo, I just want to help…"

Theo squirmed slightly, avoiding Harry's eyes. 

"I'm fine, just not used to being around people again I suppose. It's just been me, father and the house-elves since Hogwarts let up." Theo said with a shrug, his smile strained. 

Harry wanted answers but knew that pushing would only create a wedge between them. He had to be patient, and perhaps do some digging once he got back to his island. A task for his second run of the day, he decided.

"You know you can come talk to me if something is bothering you, right?" Harry asked just to make sure. 

He got a nod in return and that was that. Case closed. Well, from Theo's point of view at least. 

Harry himself was not ready to let the matter fester any longer. For the more he got to know Theo, the more concerned he was about his father possibly hurting him.

When Harry returned to his island that night, the first thing he did was locate Sirius and ask what he knew about Theo's father. The answer turned out to be 'not much', aside from the man being a fervent bigot and bloodpurist. In other words, a Death Eater. That much Harry already knew.

His next step, and one he had been contemplating before but never gone through with, was summoning the spirit of Theo's mother. 

Harry had seen pictures of the woman from before her death. She had been quite young in comparison to Thaddeus Nott, the man she had married. He didn't know their exact age gap, but it looked to be close to fifty years, if not more. Most likely their match had been arranged by her parents in a sorry attempt to up their own status. 

Adrastia Nott née Travers was not an ugly woman, not at all, but she was not what one might call stunningly beautiful either. In the pictures Harry had seen, she had appeared almost timid next to her much older spouse.

Adrastia's hair had been artfully curled into large, dark blonde ringlets that reached just past her shoulder blades, and although she was tall, she seemed to hunch in on herself to hide that fact.

In the pictures, Mr Nott's arm tended to be draped possessively around her waist as he looked smugly at the camera. 

Oddly enough, she reminded Harry of Merope Gaunt. Not so much in appearance, but the look in their eyes, both miserable and desperate for something better. 

Harry pictured Adrastia in his mind while summoning her, tying her appearance to her name. Only… nothing happened. 

He frowned, wondering if he had done something wrong. Never before had he failed to summon someone when knowing both their face and name. 

He tried again...and again, each attempt as unsuccessful as the last. It was baffling. Surely she couldn't be…? No… No, that was ridiculous. 

But no matter how many times he tried to summon her, the results were still the same, all pointing towards a haunting truth.

Adrastia Nott was still alive...

Chapter Text

"Death, could I have a word please?" Harry asked out loud after hours of silent contemplation. 

"How may I be of assistance, little Master?" Death asked with a soft and amused smile playing on his elderly face as he appeared before him.

Harry offered him a cup of tea, which the old gentleman delightedly accepted. He mused that he had to be the only one who ever gave the deity anything besides work. 

Did Death have a birthday? Harry felt himself beginning to fret as his thoughts spun. Was he supposed to give the being gifts? He had known Death for years but never even considered it… 

Yule… he'd definitely give him something for Yule. He felt a bit guilty for not thinking of it sooner. The deity always gave him presents, it should be returned.

"Something seems to be wrong with my powers…" Harry hesitantly admitted once they had both been supplied with tea and biscuits. 

"Oh? How so?" Death's bushy eyebrows raised curiously. 

"I tried to summon someone and it didn't work." Harry confessed, searching for confirmation to his troubled realisation. Either Andrastia Nott was still alive or his powers were malfunctioning, he didn’t know which was the most preferable option.

"Well, there is usually a quite simple explanation for that." Death hummed and blew on his tea, seeming amused by the question.

Harry rolled his eyes.

"Adrastia Nott should be dead. Theo saw her being mauled by a werewolf, you don't really come back from that. I highly doubt she was one to dabble with Horcruxes. Not everyone is willing to go as far as Riddle."  

"Mm, either way, that particular human is not an inhabitant of my realm. The only other option is that she remains amongst the living. The whys and hows, I'm not aware of." The deity serenely explained while drinking his tea.

Harry sighed. If Adrastia was still alive... Well, that changed everything for Theo . Merlin, why did things have to be so complicated?

"Do you know where she is? Please don't tell me she's being held captive in some dungeon by Mr Nott." Harry desperately asked, rubbing his face in exhaustion. 

"I am afraid I won't be of much further help in this matter." Death said with an apologetic smile. 

"Seeing as she is still alive, I have no way of locating her. But from what you have told me, she would have become a werewolf after her attack. Perhaps you could ask your werewolf friends of any newcomers that appeared around that time?" Death suggested. 

The more Harry thought about it, the more he realised it wasn't a bad idea. Maybe he could arrange a chat with some of his apothecary employees. Andrea seemed like a woman who might have contacts within the rougher parts of the werewolf community. 

That was when a realisation hit him, Theo didn't know. He still thought he was responsible for his mother's death, carrying years of guilt and gory memories on his tiny shoulders.

How could a mother just abandon her child? Even if she was a werewolf, that was no excuse!

Harry decided he was going to track her down. Theo deserved to know she was alive, and he couldn't exactly tell him without actual proof. 

Damn it! He thought he'd shaken that pesky saviour complex years ago. It was a rough awakening to realise that he hadn't changed as much as he'd hoped. 

Harry let out a drawn out, weary sigh as he sunk deeper into his armchair. It was going to be a long year.

~

The next day Harry sought out Snape after classes, telling his Slytherin friends that he'd meet with them in the Great Hall for dinner. 

He used the excuse that he wanted to discuss whether he could be given more challenging coursework, which was plausible enough seeing as he held the top spot in all of their classes. 

Meeting Snape in his Potter persona again was… awkward, at least in the beginning. He could see how the man kept thinking back to the memories he had viewed during the summer and feeling guilty about them. 

Although Harry was glad Snape could repent, he didn't feel like he needed to. It wasn't this Snape that had done all of that. But, ignoring the memories was probably easier said than done. 

"I need your advice." Harry said once the door was closed and a privacy barrier erected. 

Snape sighed almost imperceptibly and gestured for him to sit down. "How may I be of service?" He drawled, cocking a dark eyebrow. 

"I discovered something last night and I'm not quite sure what is the best road to take." Harry replied. 

The potions master gestured impatiently with his hand for Harry to get to the point. He was clearly tired of social interaction and just wanted to retreat to his own chambers, Harry could relate.

"Adrastia Nott is still alive." Harry stated, shocking his companion. 

"I'm sorry, what?" Snape asked in a deadpan, looking like it was the furthest thing from what he'd expected. 

He blinked slowly, taking a moment to compose his answer. "I think you are mistaken. Mrs Nott has been dead for over six years."

Harry smiled wanly. "Yes, that is what I thought as well. But you see, last night I tried to summon her, only, it didn't work. I thought it peculiar, perhaps I did something wrong? But no, Death confirmed that Adrastia Nott's soul has not been collected." He sighed, letting the news sink in before he continued.

"I wanted to talk to her, see if perhaps she could shine some light on Mr Nott and his treatment of his son. I worry for Theo. I don't know if you've noticed, but whenever he returns from the holidays, he's quieter than when he left. He's withdrawn, tired, constantly looking over his shoulder… The signs are too many to ignore." He finished, brows furrowed in a deep frown. 

Snape was quiet, seemingly weighing his answer. "Thaddeus Nott is… not the softest of men. He was one of the Dark Lord's most ardent followers during the war. However, I do not think he would physically hurt his heir." 

Harry found the answer lacking and gave him the drollest look he could muster. "Oh don't give me that shite, Severus, we both know abuse does not have to be physical." 

The man sighed wearily, rubbing his face. "What exactly do you want me to do, Harry? Nott is from an affluent, pureblood family. Even if they took a great hit after the war, they still have more power than I do outside these walls. At most, I am able to offer guidance to Theodore while he remains on Hogwarts grounds. Interfering during the holidays however… that's not something I'm capable of." 

Harry pursed his lips. He knew it wasn't Snape's fault, he just felt so… useless. He decided to change the subject.

"Do you… You don't think Mrs Nott is being kept locked up by her husband, do you?" Harry hesitantly asked, bringing up one of his first thoughts on the matter, feeling a bit queasy at the possibility.

"No, I very much doubt it. If it is as you say, that she survived her attack, she would be a werewolf now. Nott would rather kill her himself than keep her like that. Chances are she is living with a pack in the muggle world. People would recognise her otherwise. I'm actually surprised Nott didn't kill her." Snape answered thoughtfully. 

"Do you wish to seek her out? With her status as a werewolf, she will not be able to take custody of Theodore, even though she is his mother." He added. 

Harry thought about it. Although it wouldn't solve his problem with Theo's homelife, he felt like the boy deserved to know about his mother. 

If Harry had found out that Lily was still alive in his first life, he would have jumped at the opportunity to meet her. He couldn't make the choice for Theo, of course, but he could at least give him the option. 

"I think I would like to find out why she allowed Theo to think she died in that manner. He still feels guilty about her death." Harry sighed and leaned back against one of the work stations, crossing his arms over his chest. 

"I see… And how do you plan on locating her?" Snape asked.

"Quite frankly? It might take some time. I have a few… less than legal rituals I could perform to scry her location. Necromancy is rather wide in its uses. It was quite a surprise to me when I first began learning, I always assumed it was just reanimating corpses, creating inferi and the like. But, before I do any of that, I think I'll talk to my werewolf employees, see if they know anyone matching Adrastia's description." 

"Not a bad plan. However, for this… ritual, would you need anything in particular?" Snape queried, both curious and wary. Not much was known about true necromancy. 

"Yeah… I'd have to get my hands on a bone from one of her close relatives. Ideally from one of her parents, but grandparents could work in a pinch. Theo would be the best option of course, but it's not like I'm about to pilfer one of his." Harry answered with wry amusement. 

Snape blanched. "Yes, I'd rather you didn't." 

The bland tone of voice was enough to make Harry snort. The awkwardness between them was less prominent, and it felt almost like it had in the past, just two friends having a discussion, albeit a slightly disturbing one. 

~

Throughout September, Harry relentlessly searched for Adrastia Nott in between his other projects. Unfortunately, following the leads given to him by his werewolf contacts led him nowhere. It felt like he'd travelled to every corner of Britain in his search without a single trace to show for it. 

Although his investigation wasn't going too well, Theo was thankfully getting better with time, easing back into his role at Hogwarts. 

Harry felt relief and fondness flood through him whenever the boy felt comfortable enough to mutter sarcastic retorts, usually due to something Draco said or did.

"Hello, Harry Peverell." An airy, dreamlike voice said, startling Harry out of his thoughts. 

He felt himself tense at the name. His head swivelled to the left but when he caught sight of who had spoken in the hallway, the concern drained out of him.

"Hello, Luna Lovegood." Harry kindly replied, his heart aching as he looked at her. She always knew more than she should.

Luna. Sweet, kind, loyal Luna. She was so tiny. Had she always been like that? With her large, blue eyes and wispy blonde hair, she looked achingly small and innocent, like a mere gust of wind could knock her over. 

"Where are your shoes?" Harry asked, voice laden with concern. 

The girl wiggled her sock-clad toes on the castle's cold, stone floor. It was late September and not particularly warm. She blinked slowly, looking down at her feet and then up to Harry, as if she'd hardly noticed her own lack of appropriate footwear until he pointed it out. 

"It must have been the nargles. They like hiding things." Luna hummed airily.

Harry felt a stab of guilt lodge deep into his stomach. He was a horrible friend. Luna, his unique and gentle Luna, was being bullied, and he had forgotten all about it. 

"You'll catch a cold if you walk around like this." Harry said, and, without a single concern towards the fact that he was showing skills too advanced for his age, this was Luna after all, she always knew things anyway, he transfigured a pair of warm boots for her.

"Please put these on." He held the boots out towards her with a smile. 

Her already large eyes widened to an almost impossible degree, making her look like a startled baby doe. Harry wanted so badly to coo at her, but refrained with effort.

"Oh Salazar…" Regulus muttered under his breath, knowing exactly what that expression on Harry's face meant. 

They had just acquired another baby duckling. 

And sure enough, the little blonde waddled after Harry without question as he ushered her to the Slytherin dorms for the night, intent on keeping her firmly within his sight until he could deal with her bullies.   

If pestering his Slytherins to look after her was what it took, then that was what he'd do. No one was going to bully Luna again, not on his watch. 

Draco sputtered when he brought a girl into their room, a Ravenclaw girl at that. Harry merely glared at him and said that Luna would be staying for the night. 

The spoiled boy's jaws cracked shut and he wisely dropped his complaints, swallowing thickly. 

Unbeknownst to Harry, his expression had been rather terrifying, and his glare and hissed words were enough to remind them of the incident with Dolohov last year, how he'd ruthlessly dealt with the problem. None of the young boys wanted to put themselves in Dolohov's shoes by questioning what was so special about that particular girl. 

~

Luna slept in Harry Peverell's bed that night, wrapped up tight in soft, green blankets, feeling like everything was lovely and right. As if a piece of a puzzle had just slotted into the correct position. 

She had said that she didn't mind sharing the bed but he had refused, shaking his head with a gentle smile that made her feel like she was someone important. 

He sat in the chair by his desk and pulled out a book, intent on reading the night away, keeping watch over her like a sentinel, or perhaps a mother dragon. Yes, Luna thought, a mother dragon protecting her hatchlings fit him very well.

Just like she knew for a fact that Harry went by many names and titles, she also knew that he would make everything better. Harry took care of his own, just like they would take care of him. 

~

Feeling frustrated and impatient with his lack of results in his search for Adrastia Nott was eventually what led Harry to a silent graveyard on a cold November night. 

He had come to the decision that if he wanted to get some results before the Yule break, he would have to scry using his gift of necromancy. The only problem was his need for bones of someone related to the person he was trying to scry. 

He didn't fancy stealing a bone from someone living, so Theo was safe in that aspect. The deceased Mrs Travers, on the other hand, not so much. It wasn't as if she needed her bones anyway, seeing as she had been dead and buried for over eight years.

It didn't take long before he found the correct gravestone. With a lazy swish of his hand, dirt siphoned up from the ground, looking like liquid soil where it collected into a large bubble in the air. 

A dark, intricate casket followed not long after, being gently lowered onto the ground before Harry broke it open in search of the important goods within. 

It was surprising just how little grave-robbing actually bothered him. Then again, he was doing it for a good cause. He was sure Mrs Travers wouldn't mind that he used a few phalanges for the cause of bringing her daughter and grandson together once more. 

Harry returned home, the graveyard looking just as untouched as when he arrived. 

"You know the process, young Master. Hopefully you will have more success in your endeavours this time." Ignotus said as he watched Harry prepare for the scrying ritual. 

"Mm, so do I." Harry murmured as he sat down on the floor of his study.

When Barty had gone missing, he had attempted to locate him with the same method as he used now, unfortunately the results had been next to useless. 

When using this method of scrying, one needed bone from as close a relative as you could get. The further away genetically the material used to scry with was, the more vague and inaccurate the results became. 

Harry had no idea where Barty's mother was buried after she passed away in Azkaban, so getting his hands on her remains had been an impossible feat. 

Barty's father was the second best option, but he had just been carted off to the prison himself, and Harry hadn't particularly fancied making a trip to that Dementor infested hellhole, spending days if not weeks trying to scour the place for the man's location. 

His grandparents on both sides had either been cremated or lost in the war with Grindelwald, which meant that the bones Harry ended up using had belonged to Barty's great-grandparents. 

Not ideal in the slightest, and also the reason why the impressions he got were so hazy that it had been a complete waste of time.

He hoped it would work better with Adrastia Nott since he had a direct link through her mother.

Harry ground Mrs Travers' bones into a fine dust with a specialised mortar and pestle that had been enhanced with magic to ease the process. 

Once satisfied with the flour-like substance, he poured it into a large bowl filled with water and stirred gently with his hand until it turned milky in colour. 

Swiftly, he lit the candles he had laid out around his study, before sitting down with his legs crossed.

A scorching hot stone engraved with blazing, red runes was dropped into the bowl. The liquid hissed and sizzled as the heat was transferred.

Harry placed the bowl in his lap, leaned forward, closed his eyes and inhaled, dragging the misty fumes deep into his lungs. He held it there, exhaling the very moment his mind started to feel woozy. 

He allowed the magic of the scrying to take over. Colours danced before his closed eyelids, and when he finally opened them, his study had seemingly vanished. 

He blinked slowly, waiting for the visual and magical impressions to stabilise.

He sat amidst what he assumed to be a forest. Tall and ancient pine trees stretched towards the sky. There was a woman in front of him, or at least that was what he presumed the orange and gold humanoid shape was. He squinted his eyes but couldn't make out any distinct features. 

Scrying with necromancy wasn't like looking at a picture, there would be no clear-cut answers and visual sharpness, instead it left impressions, magic giving you a certain gut feeling if you will. 

The bright shape in front of him was Adrastia Nott, of that, Harry was now certain. There was a particular warmth and strength to her soul that he found surprising when compared to the photographs he'd seen of her.

After what might have been hours, or perhaps mere minutes, Harry wasn't quite certain, the scrying ended with a cold breath of magic that blew out the flickering candles.

For minutes, Harry remained on the floor, allowing his mind to clear of the magically induced trance it had been a part of. 

He took a deep breath, his mouth tasting like ash in the aftermath. 

"What did you see?" Someone gently asked. 

It took a moment for his brain to catch up with the inquiry. Harry blinked, turning his head to look at his grandfather, pupils still blown so wide that his irises appeared nearly black. 

"A forest. She's in a forest." Harry murmured.

"Pine or spruce most likely. I want to say… Finland?… the border between Finland and Russia maybe." 

He didn't have a clear location in mind, it didn't exactly work like that, but he was much closer to finding her now than he'd been for weeks.

Marius helped him to his feet and into the nearest chair, promptly shoving a mug of tea onto his hands. He clutched the warm beverage, allowing it to ground him in reality.

"What will you do now?" His grandfather asked while fuzzing about Harry in a way that made his heart bloom with warmth and affection. 

Harry smiled, a soft and genuine thing that was reciprocated in a heartbeat. 

"I'll send out some scouts I think. I've been meaning to test the distance they can operate in for a while now." Harry said, sipping his drink. 

Marius' eyes lit with understanding. "Ah, the birds, yes?" 

Harry nodded. When he had started to experiment with his necromantic gifts in earnest, Ignotus had gladly guided him in the process of resurrecting dead animals. 

Surprisingly, they looked quite lifelike as long as the original body had not been too broken.

One of his first attempts had been a run over cat, and watching it drag itself forward on broken hind legs… bloodied and with the lower part of its jaw crushed… well it had been quite horrifying actually. 

Needless to say, that creation had not lasted long. He learned his lesson and healed the critters before reviving them, mostly to keep his own sanity intact and to feel less like… well, a necromancer, he supposed. Yes, he still had some internal struggles with the issue, sue him. 

Back to the birds. They were a rather recent project. He wanted spies that would be able to keep an eye on people that were further away from him than where his spirits could go. The spirits were bound to him and the Resurrection Stone, only capable of wandering within a certain radius from those anchors. The reanimated birds did not seem to be held to the same limitations. 

The following day, five birds; a hooded crow, two sparrows, a barn owl and a seagull, left the island, flying north east towards Finland. 

There was no need for breaks nor food. They were driven by pure magic, attached to Harry's very core. In a way, they were an extension of himself. 

With concentration, he could even look through their eyes and manipulate their bodies, wearing their skin as his own. But submerging himself fully like that came at a price, it left his own body vulnerable, for his consciousness could not be in more than one place at a time. 

Controlling the birds without possessing them was infinitely easier. It worked similar to the connection he had with Fake-Sirius, or perhaps that of the Imperius curse, he could give them orders and will them to do his bidding without batting an eye, allowing his magic to sustain them. 

The five birds had their orders. They flew towards the border between Finland and Russia, spreading out to cover more ground, all determined to search for any hint of Adrastia's existence. 

Finding someone in the northern wilderness did not prove to be particularly easy, but Harry felt confident he was getting closer. 

He was also delighted to find out that the distance between Britain and Finland was of no consequence to his creations. Whenever they found something that might be of interest, they alerted Harry with a small pulse of magic sent through their bond. 

Most of the time, the observations lead to nothing of note. The birds came across campers, settlements and border patrols. But finally, in the beginning of December, Harry saw something that roused his interest. 

He looked through the sparrow's eyes, taking in the reason he had been alerted. 

It was a group of weary travelers. That on its own was not particularly interesting, but among this group, there were individuals that carried wands. The chance of one of them being Adrastia just surged. 

Harry needed a closer look, to be able to taste their magic and interact. He returned to his own body, grinning from ear to ear. This might be it! 

Chapter Text

Iridescent, green feathers, like that of an oil slick shimmered in the moonlight. The sleek, black crow, whom the feathers belonged to, flew with ease amongst magnificent, old pine trees dusted in snow.

Growls and howls reverberated through the white clad forest and snow crunched underneath heavy paws as a pack of werewolves ran.

Beady, black eyes trailed after the wolves, honing in on one in particular. 

She wasn't the largest of them, but from the way the others deferred to her, it was clear she was the leader of the pack. She was positioned at the back, amber eyes vigilantly watching for threats. The unassuming crow trailing them went entirely unnoticed. 

The rich, tan fur around her muzzle was painted red with drying blood from an earlier kill, highlighting the fierce scars that marred her features. The large elk had filled the pack's ravenous hunger to a certain degree, but it would never be enough.

Their cursed instincts screamed for human flesh, but luckily there were none around. A deliberate decision made before they transformed. The elk would merely have to do.

The night passed by uneventfully, just another full moon for the pack. Running, hunting, playing, and eventually, when the moon's rays finally receded, only to be replaced by tender sunlight, they stopped. 

Howls turned to screams as bones snapped and rearranged, their entire structure changing painfully as they reverted back to their human forms. 

The crow landed on one of the low-hanging branches, watching them with something akin to morbid fascination. 

The werewolf transformation was nothing like becoming an Animagus. It was a slow and torturous process of broken bones and torn flesh. Transforming took time, and perhaps five or ten minutes had passed before the burly wolves were replaced with naked humans. 

The leader groaned and stretched out her sore and aching limbs. She stood, unashamed of her own lack of clothing, running a hand through her shortly cropped blonde hair as she surveyed the rest of her pack. A pleased grimace tugged at her lips when she noticed that they were all accounted for and more or less undamaged.

Her body was riddled with thick scar tissue, the most prominent of all being the long and jagged claw marks that seemed to split her in half. It was a miracle that her left eye was still intact. Although, whether she could actually see from it properly was a different matter.  

"Everyone alright?" She asked.

A murmur of assent spread through the group as the other five began to pick themselves off the cold ground. 

The crow followed at a safe distance as the bedraggled company made their way back to camp. A young man had to be supported by the leader due to a bitten leg caused by one of the others during their transformation, but other than that, the trip was uneventful. 

Safely ensconced at the campsite and dressed in warm clothes, the werewolves set to tending each other's wounds as best as they could. 

"You think that's her?" Regulus asked, looking at the tall and confident woman that handed out a jar of salve to be spread around. 

The crow bobbed its head in confirmation. 

Regulus squinted his eyes and tried to study her closer. "I suppose there is some sort of resemblance to your Theodore." He eventually conceded, albeit a bit reluctantly. 

Harry could understand the other's hesitation. Diana, as this woman preferred to call herself, looked nothing like Adrastia Nott. 

The hair colour might be the same, and perhaps the general facial structure, but it was hard to tell with her many scars. 

The most significant change, if you asked Harry at least, was not her appearance, but her countenance. The woman in front of them was confident and strong, definitely not a wallflower. 

And yet, despite all of that, Harry was certain that this was who he was looking for, it simply felt right. 

He had gotten what he needed for now. 

The shadows of the trees stretched, swallowing up the inconspicuous little bird without anyone the wiser.

He would return, but not tonight. The wolves were tired and on edge after their transformation. Harry would give them a few days to rest and calm down before he approached. After all, he was not there to make enemies but allies. 

~

Roughly a week later, mid December, Harry found himself back in the forest. The pack had not moved since the full moon, and even if they had, his sparrow would have silently followed in their wake. 

He'd donned his Peverell persona in preparations for the meeting. He wanted transparency for the most part. Harry's intention wasn't to scare the pack but to integrate himself to some degree.  

Snow blanketed the ground and his breath misted on every exhale. He wore a black, wool trench coat above his usual attire, feeling nice and warm due to the warming runes he had embroidered on the inside of the collar.

He walked slowly towards the clearing where a fire burned merrily in the centre, the smell of woodsmoke being carried by the wind. 

Three heads snapped up at the sound of him approaching, faces wary and distrustful. 

One of the younger members, the same boy that had been limping after their transformation a few days prior, rushed to his feet with a snarl on his lips. The woman sitting next to him had to physically hold him back, hissing words in his ear to calm him down. 

The last member of the trio had hurried to the tent immediately after spotting a stranger approaching the camp, most likely to get Diana's attention. 

The woman of the hour stormed out of the tent, stern eyes honing in on the unknown variable.

Harry smiled disarmingly and calmly spoke. "Good evening, my name is Harrison Peverell, I come bearing no ill will towards you and yours." 

His gloved palms were held out in a gesture of peace, showing that he was unarmed. 

That wasn't technically true since he didn't need his wand anymore, but, it wasn't as if Diana knew that. 

"Bullshit!" The young man being restrained growled at Harry, struggling in the others grip. He really had quite the temper. 

Diana's head snapped to the boy and she barked at him to "sit your arse back down!" 

The reaction was immediate. The young man slumped down onto the transfigured bench in front of the fire, scowling and sending Harry suspicious looks the entire time. He managed to keep his mouth shut, however, which Harry was happy about. 

Diana was equally suspicious however, but she seemed inclined to let him speak. 

"What do you want, wizard?" She asked, eyes narrowing. 

"I wish to speak with you in private, if possible. I also come bearing gifts. My elven friends heard of my search for you and decided that a gift basket was appropriate." Harry proclaimed with a soft laugh, thinking fondly of the small beings that inhabited his island. 

"We don't need your charity!" The young man from before snarled hotly, not able to keep his mouth shut any longer at the assumed insult. 

"Jakub! Take a walk. Tanya, go with him." Diana said, shooting the kid a firm glare. 

The woman, Tanya, unimpressed by her younger companion's antics, grabbed hold of Jakub's shoulder and practically dragged him away into the forest. 

With a silent look exchanged, the third member inclined his head and returned to the tent.

"We're alone now, so I'll ask again. What do you want?" 

"My name is Harrison Peverell, and I am here because of Theodore." Harry calmly admitted, and by the way Diana froze and her nostrils flared at the name, he concluded that he had indeed found the person he was looking for. 

"Who sent you?!" She hissed, tense and immediately ready for a fight, wand in hand. 

Again, Harry raised both his palms. "My ward, Henry Potter." 

The name clearly threw her off balance and the anger gave way to confusion. "What?"

Harry sighed. "Just to confirm before I continue, you are Mrs Adrastia Nott, correct?" 

Her face twisted in an ugly grimace, thick scars pulling at her features. "Diana… I go by Diana now. But yes, that used to be my name." The words were nearly spat out, clearly she held no fondness towards her past. 

Harry nodded. 

"I don't know how aware you are of the goings on in Britain, but Henry Potter was sorted into Slytherin alongside your Theodore. Over the past year they have become rather good friends. That friendship is why I've sought you out." Harry began, taking a weary breath before he continued.

"Henry spoke to me over the summer about his concerns for Theodore's wellbeing, and they've only grown more worrisome after their return to Hogwarts. There are signs of abuse that quite frankly disturbs me. I cannot in good conscience allow it to continue without doing something." 

"Abuse?" Diana murmured, eyes wide and distraught. 

"Yes. Whenever he spends prolonged time at home he becomes skittish and withdrawn. I believe this abuse to be psychological in nature but I cannot be one hundred percent certain that it isn't physical as well." Harry admitted. 

Diana walked to the stone bench and sat down, burying her pale face in her slightly trembling hands. 

Harry allowed her a moment to collect her thoughts before he followed, sitting down next to her. The fire burned merrily in front of them, warmth seeping through his clothes and into his very bones. 

"Why are you here, Peverell? What exactly do you expect me to do?" Diana's voice was thick with anguish. "I'm a werewolf." She stated bluntly, burrowing her eyes deep into Harry. 

"Unless I infect him -  which I refuse to do! - I won't be able to take him in. Besides, look around you." Diana made a sweeping gesture to the campsite. "This isn't a place for a young child." 

Harry sighed. "I know things are not easy for werewolves right now, believe me, I do. I'm working towards changing that, but the Ministry is… quite set in its ways. I promise it won't always be like this though, living like second rate citizens with hardly any rights. You aren't beasts, you are people." 

Diana studied him, judging his sincerity. Harry wondered whether she found what she was looking for. 

"I've heard of you, Lord Peverell." Diana said, and oh god, please don't let that be a Dark Lord reference, Harry desperately thought. 

"All good I hope?" He replied with a smile that felt strained.

The werewolf hummed but didn't confirm nor deny. "You wish to change the status quo, why?" She inquired with narrowed eyes. 

Harry got the feeling that his answer would make or break their future interactions. For Theo's sake he hoped he got it right. 

"Because we, as a society, have stagnated. We hold on to ancient prejudices that have no basis in reality. Prejudice, slavery, and ignorance colour our daily lives without anyone caring, and instead of standing up for what is right, people will happily stick their heads in the sand and ignore what goes on around them. Dark is equalled to evil with no distinction now. Our very culture and traditions, prohibited with nary a thought. House-elves are forced into slavery, groveling before their masters who do unspeakable things to them, working the poor beings until their hands bleed. Werewolves and squibs are shunned, muggleborns ignored and degraded. Magical Britain is a veritable cesspit of corruption and hypocrisy. There is so much wrong in our society, how can I not do something?" He passionately finished. 

Silence stretched between them and Diana's calculative gaze began to make him uncomfortable.

Harry wanted to squirm in his seat but remained firm, expression schooled into a calm front. Showing weakness was not acceptable. 

Eventually she nodded tersely. Whether she actually believed what he'd said or not, was unclear. Still, he took it as a good sign that she wasn't sneering or telling him to fuck off. 

"How did you find me?" Diana asked. 

"Oh I have my ways. You are not an easy woman to track though, I'll give you that. It took me almost half a year to get even the smallest clue of your whereabouts." Harry replied with a snort. "I hope it will be worth the trouble." He finished, eyeing her intently. 

Diana stiffened and threw him a withering glare. "What do you want from me?" She asked again, wanting a better reply. 

"Answers. I want to know everything there is to know about your former husband. And if you have any insight that might help your son live a better life, then I'm all ears. Because from what I've seen today, it appears we both care about Theodore's wellbeing." 

Diana sighed as she added another log to the fire, the burnt wood cracking underneath the new weight. 

It was silent between them as she seemed to think about her options, her face pinching in a grim frown.

"Thaddeus is a despicable man." She admitted. "So full of pride and false superiority despite the fact that he is the scum of the earth. He shared the beliefs of You-Know-Who fully. He embraced the Death Eater philosophy with glee." She eventually replied, scoffing derisively. 

"I never wanted to marry him, but I did what was expected of me. I'd come to terms with how my life would be. I was barely out of Hogwarts when the engagement was announced. The only good thing to come out of our union, was Theo. Circe, how I wish I could have kept him with me." Diana sighed. 

"Why didn't you?" Harry gently asked, feeling like he already knew the answer. 

"Because I was just turned into a fucking werewolf!" Diana snapped back. 

"I was weak and injured, with no money or connections. I was hardly in any condition to take care of myself, much less a toddler. Theo deserved a proper life with food on the table and a warm bed waiting for him every night, not fending for himself in the woods like some mangy mutt! Leaving him is the hardest thing I've ever done." 

Harry felt sympathy for Diana, he truly did. The more he talked to her, the clearer the picture became. She had been so young and vulnerable, cut off from the world around her.

After her attack, Mr Nott had summoned a healer, who also happened to be one of his Death Eater acquaintances. The man had patched her up as best as he could, but once it was clear what had happened, what she had become, Mr Nott wanted nothing to do with her. 

Possessiveness had been replaced with revulsion, and he could hardly look at her where she laid. 

It was only through some sort of twisted affection that Mr Nott allowed her to live instead of culling her in her sleep. It would have been easy… But Nott was in a merciful mood, if one could call it that. 

She was forced to leave the manor under the cover of night. Chased away sick and injured, with only her wand and the clothes off her back. 

There had been no way for her to bring Theo with her. For one, her husband would not allow his heir out of his grasp, and second, she had been on the brink of death, barely hanging on to life by a thread. 

She had no home, no money, no future. She couldn't bring a toddler with her into the unknown when she wasn't sure if she would survive the next week or not. 

Magic was brilliant, it could knit wounds together in seconds and mend broken bones in minutes, but there were things even magic couldn't fix, injuries caused by werewolves were a prime example. 

There was something within the lycanthropy curse that made healing magic inefficient. 

The only way to 'seal' a werewolf bite without using non-magical means, was to apply a mixture of dittany and powdered silver. It wasn't a cure, but it would stop the bleeding. 

Unfortunately, injuries caused by werewolves would leave prominent scars even with the best treatment available. It was unavoidable at that point in time. 

As their conversation petered off, Harry pulled the shrunken gift basket, which was more of a wooden chest really, out of his inner pocket and placed it onto the ground. 

"I said I came bearing gifts, and I am a man of my word. Will you allow me to unshrink it?" He asked with a gentle smile.  

At Diana's nod, Harry tapped the lid with his ebony wand. The chest grew and expanded until it was about the same size as his Hogwarts trunk. 

"I'll admit that I don't know the specifics about everything that's in there. The elves pretty much took over once I mentioned my intention to meet with you. They adore Henry and wouldn't take no for an answer when they found out it was for the mother of one of his friends." Harry chuckled and gestured for Diana to have a look. 

"I thought you said you didn't condone slavery?" She asked with a raised eyebrow, however she didn't seem all that concerned, most purebloods sadly wouldn't when it came to house-elves. 

"They are all employed, I assure you! We have an arrangement where they are free to leave if that's what they desire. So far I've only gotten one of them to accept actual payment, but I'm working on it. Rome wasn't built in a day." He laughed.

Diana gave a snort of acknowledgement and opened the chest.

She wore an incredulous expression as she ran her hand over the thick, knitted sweater that lay on top. Harry knew how soft it must be just from looking at it, not to mention warm. 

All of the items inside the chest were there to provide comfort and better living. The elves had knitted everything from hats, socks, sweaters and quilts upon Harry's request, more than happy to help the poor werewolf pack. 

There were also other items that might come in handy. Luxurious soaps, tampons, enchanted cooking equipment, toothpaste and so forth.

Diana was silent as she rummaged through the chest that was bigger on the inside.

Harry hoped she wouldn't look at it as a bribe or charity, but... wasn't that what it was? He liked to think it veered more towards philanthropy but he was unsure. 

"I'm not giving you this with any expectations attached, nor is it out of pity. It is merely because I have recently found myself with more money than I can ever spend and I wish to put it to good use. I know what it's like to not have much, to go to bed cold and hungry… I wouldn't wish it on anyone." Harry quietly revealed.

Diana's expression was hard to read, but the way her eyes widened slightly betrayed her surprise at hearing his explanation.

"Thank you…" 

By the time Harry was ready to leave the werewolf pack, he wouldn't exactly say that Diana loved him, she was still suspicious, but she definitely wasn't as frosty as when he'd first arrived. 

She had even agreed, if a bit hesitantly, to meet with Theo over Yule, but only if he wished to see her. 

It was up to Lord Peverell and professor Snape to break the news to the poor lad. Harry found himself being both nervous and excited on Theo's behalf. 

Dealing with Luna's tormentors was easier said than done. Talking was of no use. Despite Harry's fame, the chance of a gaggle of teenage girls listening to him was next to nil. 

Likewise he couldn't use the same method he had when asserting his dominance in the Slytherin common room. The girls were cruel, yes, but they hadn't escalated to the point of attempted murder, and likely never would.  

Seeing as this was a problem with its roots in an entirely different House, Harry had to employ different measures than he would if the bullying was happening in Slytherin. 

Therefore, he spoke to several of his housemates, cashing in owed favours. 

Tempest Gresham was a fifth-year Slytherin who so happened to have a brother in Ravenclaw. A brother she'd convinced to look after poor little Luna Lovegood, just like the many Slytherins Harry had within his sphere of influence 

He also took Daphne and Tracey aside one morning, asking if he could have a word. The two girls agreed, looking at him with curiosity. 

"I would like to ask a favour of you." Harry solemnly said. 

Daphne stiffened, blue eyes taking on a sharp quality. "What kind of favour?" She primly retorted. 

"Oh nothing much." Harry hummed, eyeing the two of them with such scrutiny that made them want to squirm. 

"Luna Lovegood." He murmured. "She is being bullied and I plan on putting a stop to it. Meanwhile, I would very much appreciate it if you could integrate her into your circle of acquaintances, perhaps spend some time with her and so forth. I'm sure she'd appreciate it." 

"Lovegood?" Daphne frowned and shared a look with Tracey. It wasn't that they had anything against her or her family… but she was an odd one. 

Harry knew the girls were likely worrying about what associating with Luna could do to their image and standing, but he hoped his own influence would be enough to counteract that.

"Yes. Luna is my friend." Harry pointedly said. 

"What's in it for us?" Tracey piped up. 

The corner of Harry's lips twitched and he had to force himself not to grin.

"I will complete three essays of your choosing. Each." Harry replied. 

Their eyes grew wide, both knowing that Harry was the top student in their year. Of course, it wasn't all that hard considering he was a grown man, not that they knew that. 

The important part was that Harry doing their homework would mean an automatic Outstanding.  

"You've got yourself a deal, Potter." Daphne answered for the two of them, and like the miniature adults they were pretending to be, the trio shook hands to seal the agreement. 

~

Like thunder from a clear sky, everything had changed for Luna. One day she was friendless, and the next there were so many of them! 

She wasn't stupid, she knew it was all because of Harry, but it didn't really matter if the Slytherin girls actually liked her, it was just nice to be included. 

She sat with Harry whenever they didn't have classes. He always smiled at her and listened to her many thoughts and ideas. He even asked questions, encouraging her to speak about what she loved. 

Luna ate every meal with the Slytherins at their table, ignoring the many scowls and curious looks from her own House. 

Like the mother dragon he was, Harry had swooped in and picked her up, nudging her towards his other children. Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

Harry was so nice. Luna thought he and his magic glowed like a star at times. A bright light guiding you in the darkness. 

He made sure she was safe, helped her with her homework, and, most importantly, he embraced her oddities and didn't call her names. 

Luna didn't know what Harry had done, but whatever it was, the older girls in her House had stopped bothering her. They didn't take her things anymore or say mean things, at most they just glared.

Luna was used to being ostracised, to be called Loony by the other children for the way she spoke and acted. But just because she never said anything back didn't mean it wasn't hurtful.

Before she'd died, her mummy had told her that she'd one day find someone important, someone special. Someone she should stay close to and never let go because they would do anything for her. 

Luna didn't know if it was just one of those things mothers said to their daughters, or if it had been part of her mother’s special gift, but either way, the words stuck, and for years Luna had looked for that person.

It wasn't until he spoke to her in the hallway that she realised who that person was. 

Harry. Harry was special. For he was her first real friend...

~

Harry watched as the seventh-year prefect approached their part of the Slytherin table, stopping behind Theo who froze in his seat.

Luna and the other first years looked curiously up at the older student. 

"Nott, professor Snape wants to see you in his office after dinner." The prefect said.

Theo's face blanched. "Why?" He asked warily. 

The prefect snorted and rolled his eyes. "I don't know and I don't care. Just get your bloody arse there on time." 

He didn't wait for a reply, leaving just as quickly as he had arrived. 

"What do you think Snape wants to talk to you about?" Draco asked, his platinum blonde eyebrows perched high on his forehead. 

"Dunno." Theo mumbled quietly. 

"Ah… back to one word sentences are we? Pity, I quite liked the new and improved Theo." Blaise added as he poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice. 

To this very day, Harry didn't understand how wizards deemed the syrupy concoction appropriate for children to ingest at near all hours of the day. Didn't they know about blood sugar and diabetes? 

He wrinkled his nose in disapproval while Theo hissed back a retort. The taunt had done what Blaise intended it to, though, forcing the boy to interact with his peers. 

"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about. The professor wouldn't have waited until after dinner if it was truly urgent." Harry said, trying to soothe his friend's frayed nerves. 

He and Snape had decided to tell Theo about his mother on a Friday afternoon, giving him more time to come to terms with the news, seeing as it was most likely going to come as a bit of a shock.

Classes passed without anything noteworthy happening. Theo seemed nervous but kept his face schooled as best as he could. 

"It's going to be fine, Theo. I'll wait for you in our dorm room, okay?" Harry said, awkwardly patting the other boy's shoulder. 

Theo swallowed thickly and gave a jerky nod. He knocked on the door leading to Snape's office, looking as if he was walking to his doom. 

Harry left him to it and returned to their dorm. 

Having already lived the day, he knew what would happen in that office. He had been there, after all. Or rather, Peverell had. 

It took less than an hour for Theo to return, looking shaken and dazed. Harry internally sighed. 

"Theo? You alright? What did professor Snape want?" He asked curiously, sitting up in bed and placing a bookmark between the pages of his advanced rune book.    

"She…" Theo whispered, looking far away. 

"She?" Harry repeated with a confused frown. 

"My mother." The boy said. He licked his lips nervously, clenched hands trembling. 

Harry stood and walked over to his friend. The realisation of exactly how young, how vulnerable Theo was, hit him like a bludger to the sternum. 

He looked so lost, and all it took for him to break was a gentle hand on his shoulder. 

Theo cried. Great, heaving sobs and anguished whimpers as he clung to Harry's shorter frame, all thoughts of decorum and pureblood masks forgotten. 

He was only twelve, it was perfectly understandable. 

The story of what he'd been told came out, and Harry acted appropriately shocked. He said he had no idea about any of it, but that he had sent a letter to his guardian about his concerns for Theo. He didn't expect that to come out of it, though. 

"Are you going to meet with her?" Harry quietly asked. 

At some point they had moved to Theo's bed, drawing the curtains for privacy in case the other boys decided to drop by. 

The tears had stopped, but Theo sniffled every now and then, eyes red and puffy. 

"Yes? No? I dunno..." He mumbled quietly. 

They sat together in silence while Theo mulled through his options. Eventually he seemed to come to a decision, and with a shaky breath and a quiet voice, the young Slytherin answered.

"I want to see her again. I just…" Theo trailed off, surreptitiously wiping his tears away with the sleeve of his robes.

It was clear that he was conflicted, Harry would have been as well if he were in his shoes. To lighten the mood, he handed over a chocolate frog, startling a surprised laugh out of his companion.

"It'll be fine, you'll see. My guardian is great and he'll be with you the entire time if you want him to. And I'm sure professor Snape wouldn't mind supervising if you asked him to." 

Theo snorted loudly and rolled his red-rimmed eyes. "Snape? He'd rather gut flobberworms than spend extra time with a student." 

Harry laughed and gave a shrug. "He's not so bad. He cares about his Slytherins in his own way. I think…"

They shared a grin and a laugh, making Theo feel better, which was all that really mattered. 

Whatever tomorrow might bring, at least Theo knew that he wasn't alone.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up drenched in sweat, a dying scream still on the tip of his tongue. He sucked in gasping gulps of air, heart hammering like a terrified bird in his chest.

The nightmares had become more common since his encounter with Voldemort during the summer. Memories of war and atrocities made themselves known as soon as he closed his eyes, blurring the lines between past, present and future. 

Was any of it real?

Harry didn't notice the fact that he was trembling in Death's gentle embrace until she spoke soft, lilting words of comfort and love.

She had taken on what Harry liked to call her motherly form, that of a beautiful young woman with blonde hair that flowed down her back in a waterfall of molten gold.

"Shh, little Master, nothing can harm you here." She said as she held him tight, rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades. 

Harry felt something wet run down his cheeks and realised he was crying. When had that happened? He desperately tried to calm himself, focusing on Death's soft words and her gentle pomegranate perfume. 

"I have observed that humans enjoy physical affection when they are in distress." She stated, bringing attention to her inhumanness as she was wont to do, it really shouldn't surprise him by now.

"Yeah we're odd like that." Harry croaked, masquerading his sobs, rather ineffectively with a wet laugh. 

Death hummed what might be a lullaby of forgone times, a beautiful yet sombre tune that settled Harry's frayed mental state. 

They stayed like that until Harry's heart had slowed and he no longer felt like screaming into the void.  

He closed his eyes and leaned back against the headboard, allowing Death to fondly card her long fingers through his black locks.

"Thank you." Harry murmured, having long since given up the need to feel ashamed in Death's presence.

"You are most welcome, Master." The deity hummed. 

"Would you like me to stay with you today?" She asked. 

Harry thought about it and realised that yes, he actually would like that. He didn't get to see her much these days, both of them always seemed to be busy. 

That being said, the deity never failed to make time for him, no matter when he called she always showed up. 

When Harry nodded his head, Death changed into a large, black snake. He, for Harry always associated the snake with male pronouns, even though technically Death was a genderless entity, slithered his way up Harry's side to coil comfortably around his shoulders. 

Harry appreciated the gesture. The weight was grounding and it almost felt like a constant hug. 

His mind kept returning to Voldemort as he went through his morning routine. Paranoia was a driving factor in what he did next. Although he knew the man's location he still felt uneasy. 

They were in uncharted waters now. His knowledge of the future was useless, he had changed too much. 

Harry needed to know what Barty and Voldemort were planning, they had been silent for far too long and it put him on edge. 

After their failed murder of Lord Peverell, the Dark Lord and his crony had fled to the anonymity of Riddle Manor, unaware that his connection to the Riddle family was not as secret as he might think. 

Harry assumed Frank the gardener had either been killed or spelled to leave the property, the former being the likeliest outcome in Voldemort's case. 

It probably said something about Harry that he hadn't thought to save the man's life, but honestly, he couldn't save them all. 

He told himself the excuse that he had been too busy protecting Snape from Voldemort's wrath, and repairing their broken friendship, to pay much attention to the gardener. 

The truth, however, was that it honestly hadn't crossed his mind until much later. And even then, it hadn't bothered him all that much. He couldn't save the entire world. 

"You are worried." Death, in the form of Noodle the snake, hissed and gently bumped Harry's cheek with his head. 

Harry hummed and ran his fingers over the deity's smooth scales. 

"I wish we could perform the ritual right now instead of waiting for Imbolc." He sighed. "But we'll need the magical strength that comes with the celebration. I just don't like being in the dark about Voldemort's plans. There have been rumours in the Ministry about wishes to reinstate the Tri-Wizard tournament, but I've managed to firmly lay those to rest. I think Barty might have someone within the Ministry Imperioed, but they don't seem to have the same type of clout that his father did in my first life." 

With regular intervals, Harry had sent one of the elves to Little Hangleton, carrying the Resurrection Stone. His mother and Ignotus kept an eye on Barty and the Dark Lord on those days, bringing any news back to Harry. 

It was something, yes, but it wasn't enough. 

"You could spy on him. Send one of your reanimated creatures to do the task." Death suggested. 

It wasn't a bad idea. In fact, Harry felt like it was a pretty good one. He grinned at the snake and went to one of the greenhouses. 

Finding a dead housefly among the greenery was not much of a challenge, neither was making it move again. 

With the fly safely ensconced in one hand, Harry wrapped himself in shadows and stepped into Little Hangleton. He looked around the small, sleepy town with curiosity. Not much had changed over the years. 

The cloak kept him and the snake around his shoulders hidden from view. He could walk right up to Riddle Manor now, he mused, take a peek personally. But no, he shot the idea down just as quickly as it arrived.

He didn't know if Voldemort had any wards placed there to notify him of anyone entering. It was best not to risk being noticed. 

The graveyard looked just as gloomy as Harry remembered. There wasn't any snow, but the weather was chilly. He placed a warming charm on himself and his companion to keep the cold at bay. 

Tom Riddle Sr's marble tombstone was just as ostentatious as when he had seen it last. The traumatic memories surrounding the incident in his fourth year surfaced, but he shoved them deep down again with shaky hands and a thick swallow. 

Even if Voldemort were to attempt the ritual once more, he would not be able to. The bones of his father, and any other close relative for that matter, were all gone, Harry had made sure of that. Not that Voldemort was aware of that fact just yet, Harry thought smugly. 

He gave the tombstone one final pat before setting his eyes on Riddle Manor up on the distant hill. 

Harry knew it to be in severe disrepair after decades of sitting empty, but it was not to the dilapidated degree of the Gaunt Shack. 

For just a moment, Harry pondered how different the world would have been had not Merope Gaunt set her eyes on the handsome Riddle scion. Voldemort would never have been born, and the manor upon the hill would be filled with Riddles, probably just as stuck up and hated by the village as their predecessors.  

Harry shook himself of those rather useless thoughts and raised his hand, slowly opening it. With a gentle breath of air, a small, black fly launched itself into the morning air. 

Unbeknownst to anyone, a silent spy made its way to the Riddle residence, flying unnoticed under the rising sun on silenced wings. 

~

Harry used the reanimated fly to check in on Voldemort from time to time, and just as he'd suspected, Barty was working towards getting the Tri-Wizard tournament going. 

It eased most of his anxieties to know that Voldemort's plans were still within the same quidditch field as in his past life, even if they were pushed forward by a few years. 

Knowing that his old nemesis was not a conceivable threat at the moment allowed him the freedom to work on his other projects, one of which was his ritual to actually revive Tom Riddle with his sanity intact. 

For a while now, Harry had wondered about the philosopher's stone's properties, curious about the prospects of using it in Tom's ritual.

Unfortunately, his information was solely based on legends and not anything solid, and as such was rather unreliable. 

The stone itself was sitting rather pretty as a paperweight on top of his desk, red and beautiful with its shimmering internal glow, as if it held the fire of a soul within. 

It was curious. All his research and experiments concluded that it was a powerful magical artefact, but was it truly the stone capable of creating the elixir of life?

After several discussions with Ignotus on the matter, Harry decided to bring it to Death's attention, hoping he could shine some light on it. 

When he was summoned, Death peered curiously down at the innocent, red stone, his black eyes seemingly drawn to it.

They traded polite pleasantries before Harry jumped right into it. 

"Is it truly capable of extending life?" He asked. 

Whether it did or not didn't truly matter. Harry had no use for its effects himself, but he wondered how it would work, how the Flamels had achieved something that was considered impossible, and whether it could benefit the ritual he was planning. 

"It is." Death replied without pause. "At least for a while." 

Harry frowned. "What do you mean? Does the elixir created from it slowly lose effect?" 

Death hummed thoughtfully, leaning back in the wingback across from Harry. "Yes and no. Although the stone will prolong the user's life, it does not stop the body from ageing, although it does slow the process considerably. But what I meant is that the stone itself does not last indefinitely, eventually it will stop working." 

Harry's eyes widened. He had guessed the first part, it made more sense than eternal life, but the second reveal? That came as a surprise. 

"Is this the original stone then? Or did Flamel create another one whenever his current one lost potency?" He asked, trying to wrap his head around the finer details. 

"This is the original, yes." 

Harry hummed thoughtfully, turning the blood red gem in his hands. "How much longer until it is useless then?" 

Death held his hand out for the stone and Harry placed it in his open palm. Spindly fingers closed around the object and the deity closed his eyes, searching for some magical clue Harry couldn't feel. 

"Hm. My best guess is that you can use it only once." Death replied, putting the stone back on the desk. 

How amusing. Harry smirked wryly as he eyed the artefact, finding it immensely funny that the fabled Philosopher's Stone that Voldemort had been after would only extend his life once, and not be the well of youth and power he had expected.

"Doesn't it bother you that they found a way to cheat you though?" Harry asked, green eyes finding black ones. 

"No, why should it?" Death honestly replied, looking a bit puzzled at the question. 

"Everything dies eventually. Whether it takes twenty years or five thousand, nothing is eternal. Even you and I will cease to be one day, I suspect, when there is nothing left in the universe. Life is an aspect of death, because you cannot have one without the other. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end." The deity mused.

"The Philosopher's stone was an equal exchange. For it to be able to give life, a life would also have to be taken." He continued to explain, pausing only to take a sip of his tea. 

Harry felt a little sick now that he realised just how soaked in blood the fabled stone was. He eyed it warily, wondering how many people had been sacrificed so that Nicholas Flamel and his wife could continue living well past their prime.

He didn't want to ask, knowing the exact amount wouldn't make it any better. Besides, the deed was already done. People were dead and they wouldn't get their lives back just because Harry felt sorry for them. 

He decided that a change in topic would probably be for the best. Working on Tom's ritual proved to be a good distraction.

~

Today, Theo was going to meet his mother. His mother who just a few weeks before had been dead, so very, very dead, but apparently not really. 

Theo didn't know how to feel. Betrayed maybe? Hurt most definitely, but also angry, so angry that he wanted to scream, to hit and bite anyone that got close. 

His mother was alive. Why hadn't she told him? He could understand his mother distancing herself from father, he was a horrible man and probably a worse husband, but why had she abandoned Theo? 

Was he not good enough? Did she blame him for her lycanthropy, like he now understood his father did? Or… did she simply regret having him? 

Theo's mind was a whirlwind of thoughts and anxieties. His hands were clammy and right about now he regretted saying yes to Lord Peverell's kind offer.

He swallowed hard, clenching his jaw and balling his hands into tight fists. He could do this. He needed answers, he deserved answers.

~

Harry laid on his back and sighed, looking up at the canopy as he dreamed of the blessed day he could fuck off into obscurity and live as a bloody hermit. Researching obscure magic and drinking his own weight in tea sounded more and more appealing. 

Why was he getting involved again? Oh, yes… his saving people thing. He'd forgotten. Ugh. 

Well, at least this was going to be good for Theo, he hoped. It would feel like a bit of a waste otherwise. 

With another heavy sigh, Harry hauled himself out of bed and quickly got dressed. When he reached the kitchen, Kreacher already had breakfast ready for him, and Harry practically inhaled it in three seconds flat, washing it all down with a lovely cup of tea. 

The old elf grumbled about masters who needed to eat more, but thankfully didn't try to force feed him. 

Harry grabbed his coat and Disapparated. 

Diana was waiting for him when he arrived. Unlike Theo, who was still young and less experienced at hiding his feelings, Diana was firm and composed, making it hard to read her.

Harry wondered if she was as nervous as her son probably was, but didn't dare to ask. 

They traded pleasantries before Harry offered his arm, Apparating them to Lord Peverell's official property. 

The house was warm and inviting, decorated with bright and cheerful Christmas decorations of muggle and wizarding origin. 

"Where is your ward?" Diana asked, eyeing the drawing room with aloof curiosity. 

She stopped in front of the fireplace, studying the many pictures that were showcased on the mantel. A young Henry Potter, grinning widely as he was hugged by Sirius Black, waved back at the two of them. 

"Henry's godfather, Lord Black, took him on a trip to Diagon for the afternoon. Henry wished to buy Yule presents for his friends, I believe." Harry replied, smiling fondly at the picture. 

Diana hummed absentmindedly, shifting her gaze to the rest of the room. 

"Professor Snape should be arriving with Theodore through the Floo any minute now. Would you like some tea while we wait? Something to eat perhaps?" 

Harry gestured to the comfortable sitting group to their right. Three, plush wingbacks were placed by a round table. 

Before Diana could answer, Minky, dressed in a vibrant, blue dress with sunflowers on, appeared with a full tea set, biscuits and little sandwiches included. 

Diana tried not to show her surprise, but her bafflement at Minky's attire was clear as day. 

Harry grinned and thanked the exuberant elf. 

"Minky, this is Diana, an acquaintance of mine. She is Theodore's mother." Harry said, gesturing to the woman standing next to him. He was not smarting over the fact that she was taller than him, he was not. 

"Diana, this is my friend, Minky. She is truly a most wondrous employee." Harry proclaimed, making the little elf puff up with pride and happiness. 

"It is nice to meet you, miss Diana!" Minky exclaimed in her high pitched voice. 

The vocabulary and elocution of the elves residing on the island had drastically improved over the years. It was a direct product of giving them access to a proper education. Harry rejoiced over that accomplishment. 

Diana appeared entirely wrongfooted however. It was one thing to hear him speak about house-elves as free beings equal to wizards, seeing them treated as such however, that was an entirely different matter. 

She glanced over to Harry, trying to gauge how she should respond, but Harry's amused smile did not give much of a hint. 

"You as well, Minky." Diana eventually said, reigning in her surprise. 

The elf beamed at her, and with a snap of her thin fingers, the teapot rose into the air, pouring out two cups of steaming earl grey for the humans. 

Harry made himself comfortable and picked up the fine china, inhaling the wonderful scent with a quiet sigh of contentment. Oh how he loved tea. 

Soon, the wards on the property alerted him to the Floo being activated in the entrance hall. Mere seconds later, Snape appeared with his usual brusqueness, a blank-faced Theo following in his wake. 

Harry stood up, greeting them with a warm smile. "Severus, thank you for taking the time to escort young Mr Nott. Will you be staying for tea?" He asked, gesturing to the table. 

Snape politely declined, well, as politely as could be expected for the dour professor. 

"I will be back to collect you in two hours, Mr Nott." Snape said, earning a nod of understanding from the nervous boy by his side.

Snape left just as quickly as he had arrived, with a dramatic flair of his dark robes. Harry still didn't know if there was a charm in play or if he'd just practised until he got the movement right, he never dared to ask. 

"Theo…." Diana breathlessly exclaimed, eyes wide and desperate as she took in the sight of her boy. 

From what Harry could tell from their conversations, he had been the only thing from her past life that made her happy. Theo was everything to her, and he didn't doubt that Diana would murder in a heartbeat if it meant protecting her son. 

Theo stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, eyes just as wide as his mother's as he catalogued the many scars. 

"Why don't you come have a seat, Theodore?" Harry gently offered, guiding the twelve year-old to the remaining chair. 

"You look so grown up." Diana said, sounding a bit choked up. 

The meeting was uncomfortable and stilted. Mother and child felt like strangers to each other. The heavier questions were ignored for now, and the two of them focused mainly on getting to know one another again. 

The two hours felt like they dragged on forever, until finally Snape returned to bring Theo back to Hogwarts. 

Diana and Theo agreed to begin corresponding through letters, realising that building trust was sorely needed. 

"Well, that went better than I expected." Harry admitted to Diana when it was just the two of them. 

She sighed and rubbed her suspiciously shiny eyes. "I suppose you're right." 

"If you want, I can arrange another meeting before the holiday is over, just give Theodore some time to calm down first. This must have been hard for both of you." Harry smiled sympathetically. 

Diana grunted in acknowledgement. 

They stayed in companionable silence for several minutes, giving Diana’s mind a chance to calm down.

"Have you thought more about my other offer?" Harry eventually inquired, refilling his cup with fresh tea. 

"I'm certain you'd do brilliantly in that kind of position. Your mind is sharp and you already have experience with politics and leadership. You are a perfect candidate, Diana. Besides, Belgium has much more lenient laws when it comes to werewolves. You might even be able to get custody of Theodore if we play our cards right." Harry calmly uttered. 

The last part was news to Diana and her eyes snapped open to look at Harry. "What?!" 

"Oh, yes, didn't I mention that?" Harry murmured. "I have a few contacts within their Ministry you see, nothing major just yet, but it should be enough. All you need to do is make a name for yourself and we might just be able to win custody. What do you have to lose?" 

"And what of my people? I can't leave them behind." Diana replied with a fierce scowl.

"I never said you had to. I'm more than willing to employ them as well, although in a much different capacity than you. Housing and wolfsbane will be given to all of you if you sign the contract. You'll have a home, decent pay and a chance to get your son back. Really, what more could you want?" Harry succinctly asked. 

He had long thought about expanding his Apothecary and making it into a chain all over the world. Remus and Andrea had both agreed to be transferred to Belgium for a short period to help get the new branch running smoothly. 

Harry wanted Diana to be in charge of the Apothecary and research facility he was going to open up in Brussels. She was an intelligent witch with excellent leadership abilities, he had full faith that she would be able to run it smoothly. 

He placed the contract on the table along with a fountain pen, gently pushing it towards the conflicted werewolf. 

After stalling for a few more minutes, Diana sighed and signed the contract. The offer was too good to pass up and they both knew it. 

"Fantastic! I'll be in touch about the practicalities of it all. The house is ready for you to move in as soon as you wish. However, your friends will all have to sign their contracts as well before relocating." Harry said, handing over a leather folder with information as well as employee contracts for the other werewolves. 

"You have everything planned and prepared don't you?" Diana quietly voiced. "You play with our lives as if we're dolls, dressing us up and placing us where you see fit. I doubt you are doing this out of the goodness of your heart, but I just can't get a grasp on your true agenda." 

Harry felt his heart plummet. He thought they had been doing well, had he been too pushy? He only wanted to improve Theo's life, and Diana's through association. 

"I'm sorry if you feel that way... I do want to help, honestly. I'm not trying to trick you into servitude or anything of the sort. I'm in a position to help so that's what I'm attempting to do." Harry frowned while he tried to explain.  

"Fine. It's not like it matters. We both knew I was going to agree from the start." Diana said with a sigh, brushing the wary thoughts aside before standing up.

Harry led Diana out past the wards, their breaths misting in the evening air. 

"I'll send you an owl when we're ready to leave." She announced before turning on her heel with a loud crack, returning to her pack. 

"Why are you so maudlin? You got her to sign the contract didn't you?" Regulus snarked once Diana was gone, rolling his eyes at Harry's forlorn mood.

Harry sighed. "I guess I just haven't realised how much I'm truly playing with people's lives… Even if I am only trying to help. Do you think I'm starting to become like Dumbledore?" He asked quietly. 

Regulus didn't immediately answer, pouring fuel on Harry's insecurities. 

"I think that you are doing what you can with what you've been given." The spirit diplomatically said. 

"Are there similarities? Yes… But as of yet you haven't manipulated someone in a position where they are worse off than they were before, except for perhaps those you sought revenge on. Which, let's be honest, they deserved it." Regulus finished with a shrug. 

It was a rude awakening for Harry, realising that he might be turning into what he despised on his quest to do good. 

Harry returned to the island, holing himself up in his study and demanding not to be disturbed by living or dead. 

He needed time to think, to come to terms with his plans for the future and their ramifications.

Chapter Text

Severus had for a long time felt like he needed answers. He knew he couldn't betray Harry's trust even if he'd wanted to, but he had a desperate need to speak to Dumbledore again. 

He held mixed feelings for the man. Fondness warring with anger and disgust for everything the man had done in the past, and everything that would have happened in the future if he'd been allowed free reigns. 

Perhaps it was the firewhiskey that gave him the courage to seek the wizard out, or foolishness, he didn't know. Either way, he found himself standing in front of the Hog's Head Inn. 

Aberforth Dumbledore was not a hard man to recognise. He bore a stark resemblance to his older brother if one cared to look past the grimy spectacles and otherwise dishevelled exterior. 

"I would like to speak with Albus, if possible." Severus said once he'd caught the barman's attention. 

Brilliantly blue eyes pierced his own over the rim of the glasses, judging him. Severus had to control himself not to sneer. 

Aberforth gave a grunt of acknowledgement. 

"He's in the back." He gruffly replied, gesturing towards the door behind himself, all the while eyeing him with distrust. 

Severus curtly nodded his head and walked on through.

The closer to Aberforth's living quarters he got, the more noise was let through. There was music, most likely stemming from a Wireless, and an almost rhythmic clacking of metal that left him puzzled as to its origins. 

He stopped in front of the door, taking a deep breath to settle the swirling emotions in his gut, then knocked. 

The clacking stopped but the music kept playing. There was a subtle creaking before the lock clicked and the door opened, revealing a curious Albus Dumbledore peering down at him over his half-moon glasses. 

"Severus!" He exclaimed, sounding thrilled to see him. The sentiment was not returned. 

"What a wonderful surprise! Do come in, my boy." Dumbledore smiled fondly and gestured for Severus to enter his current living arrangements. 

"Shall I put the kettle on then?" Dumbledore asked with his infuriatingly kind smile and twinkling eyes.

It wasn't as much of a question as it was a statement. Severus kept his face blank meanwhile Dumbledore puttered about in the kitchen. 

The Wireless kept playing, if at a more muted volume. He recognized the singer as Celestina Warbeck. He hadn't taken Dumbledore for a fan, but then again, the man did have eccentric tastes, as was evident with his chosen fashion. 

Severus took the time to look around, making note of the knitting needles and garishly bright purple skein of wool that seemed to glitter on its own. 

He came to the conclusion that he'd found what made the clacking sounds at least. He hadn't known that Dumbledore knitted, but it didn't really come as a surprise. The man probably had a lot of spare time on his hands now that he was persona non grata pretty much everywhere in Britain. 

Dumbledore returned quickly, two mugs of tea and accompaniments floating in the air in front of him. 

Severus frowned, trying to pinpoint what it was that seemed wrong with that picture. His eyes honed in on the wizard's right hand and the realisation shot through him like lightning. 

"Your wand…" He quietly murmured.

"Ah, yes. I should have known your sharp mind would notice the difference, you always were quite observant." Dumbledore's smile was strained and almost wistful as he looked down at the sleek, black wand in his hand. 

He sat down on the sofa opposite Severus, guiding the refreshments onto the table.

"The wand you were probably expecting to see once belonged to Gellert Grindelwald. I won it in our famous duel, but for a few years now it hasn't felt quite like it should . I do not know what changed, if the problem lies with me or the wand itself, but I felt the wisest course of action was to bring forth my original wand. Just like you, I got this from Ollivander's when I was ready to start my Hogwarts education." Dumbledore mused with nostalgia, adding a ridiculous amount of honey to his tea. 

"I see..."

Severus thought he knew the reason why the wand had defected. Harry was the Master of Death and, as far as he understood, there could only be one. 

The true Elder Wand belonged to Harry, and not just because he had won it in battle, but because Death had willed it so. 

Dumbledore's version must be a copy of sorts, either losing its connection to the man or just stopping to work all on its own. The details weren't important. 

"But you are not here to hear an old man's musings on wands, are you, Severus?" Dumbledore continued. 

"Indeed not." 

Truth was, he didn't know why he'd come. Seeing Dumbledore and hearing his reasoning for everything was not going to make him feel better. 

Any answer he could give was not about to absolve the gaping hole left behind by the betrayal of someone that he'd once trusted, even if it had been some time now. 

He couldn't blame the man in front of him for forcing Severus to murder him, because it hadn't happened yet. He couldn't yell at him for sending Harry to his death either, because that was also part of a future that would never exist. 

He didn't even know if Dumbledore was aware of the Horcruxes at this point, nor could he risk asking. 

What he could blame him for, which he had already done with explosive loudness once it came to light, was Harry's placement with the Dursleys and the exact nature of the abuse he'd suffered. 

Severus didn't answer further and Dumbledore meanwhile decided to fill the air with good humour and meaningless chatter. 

"Knitting is such a marvellous hobby! I've always been in awe of those who could whip up a lovely wool article in no time. Just look at Molly and her wonderful Weasley sweaters!" Dumbledore chuckled as he picked up his knitting needles and continued with his masterpiece, which apparently was supposed to become a pair of sparkly, misshapen socks.

There was once more silence, only the Wireless and Dumbledore's knitting needles providing background noise. The old wizard waited patiently for Severus to respond.

"Why did you do it?" Severus eventually asked, earning him a soft smile from Dumbledore.

"Hm, you'll have to be a bit more specific, Severus, I have done a lot in my long life after all."

"The games and lies. Trying to lure power-hungry wizards who seek immortality to the school by hiding the Philosopher's stone behind traps that even a first-year could surpass. Throwing Black-" he sneered at the name, "-into Azkaban without a trial just so you could thrust Potter at Petunia. Need I go into further detail or does it finally ring a bell, headmaster?" 

Severus still hated Black, true, but even he didn't think that many years in Azkaban was deserved merely for making a puppet out of the boy. 

Dumbledore sighed and slowly told his story, of how he had been blinded by his own fears and mistrust of others. How he did what he thought was necessary for the betterment of their society, but that in hindsight, he saw how wrong he had been. 

"I think my time has come and passed, Severus. Britain doesn't need my help managing it anymore, and perhaps I should not have tried to begin with." The old man hummed, stroking his long, silvery beard. 

Just as expected, the explanation didn't make Severus feel better at all. It only proved that Dumbledore was as fallible as the rest of the human race. An old man with ideas of grandeur and a possible god-complex. 

"I cannot say that I have fully laid to rest my concerns for Voldemort returning, but, I think it is about time I let the younger generation make their own choices. I will of course be here shall the need ever arise, but for now the world at large seems quiet, and I am quite enjoying my retirement!" Dumbledore continued, shifting from sombre to cheerful once more. 

There wasn't much to say after that, and Severus had no desire to spend more time in his former employer's company, so he curtly bid his farewell and made for the door. 

"Severus." The old headmaster's voice softly called out. 

Severus paused, one hand resting on the doorknob, but didn't turn around. 

"Will you please keep an eye on Harry? Make sure that he is safe?" Dumbledore gravely pleaded. 

Severus couldn't help the fierce scowl that broke out on his face as he looked over his shoulder. 

"I will, but not because of you." He sneered, hating the soft expression of understanding on Dumbledore's face, as if he truly understood anything at all. 

Severus left in a flurry of black robes, regretting his decision to speak with the old fool, just like he regretted most of his decisions throughout his pathetic life. 

It took nearly a week before Harry heard back from Diana and her pack. The letter he received, which included the signed employee contracts, stated that they had gotten their affairs in order and were ready to leave whenever it was most convenient for Harry. 

Moving them to Belgium was a surprisingly simple affair. Getting hold of a legal Portkey was honestly ridiculously easy when you had money. 

Harry and the five werewolves arrived at their assigned location within the Belgian Ministry of Magic. Jakub and Chloe, the two youngest of the lot, both looked sick from the journey, trying their best not to vomit on the shiny tiles. 

Unlike the British Ministry, the Belgian one did not flaunt their self-imposed superiority. Instead, neutrality seemed to be the key word.

"Not the most pleasant way of travel, I know, but at least it is next to instantaneous." Harry apologetically said, guiding his new employees towards the line where they were to get their wands registered as a proof of entry into the country. 

All in all, they didn't stay long in the Ministry, only doing what was required of them to legally stay. Harry then Apparated them to their new property. 

From the outside, the brick house looked small and quaint, with only a tiny garden in the back. It was situated in an urban area, with neighbours on either side. 

It reminded Harry a bit of Grimmauld Place, just much warmer and more inviting. 

The group could be seen trading both excited and worried glances, concerned about the five of them living in such a small house, but excited about it being a house in an upstanding neighbourhood. 

Harry smiled enigmatically, for as soon as they opened the door, their new home seemed to transform before their eyes. 

Wizarding Space was a wonderful invention, making it possible to manipulate the interior of a place so that it was much bigger than the outside would suggest. 

Inside, the house was spacious and delicately decorated in warm, earthy colours. Harry had hired someone to get everything ready for his new employees and they had done a marvellous job making the place feel welcoming. 

The excited pack spread out to explore their new home, leaving Harry and Diana alone in the entrance. 

"Thank you. This truly is a lovely house. Morgana knows the others could use some rest and relaxation." Diana murmured, shifting her gaze from Chloe's back out in the garden, to Harry.

"I hope you will be happy here." He honestly replied, guiding Theo's mother to the fully stocked kitchen. 

"The workplace is within walking distance, but you are of course free to Apparate there and back if you wish to, or get a car if you are so inclined." He doubted Diana knew how to drive as a pureblood, but perhaps she'd learned.

Diana gave a thoughtful nod, eyes gazing out the window to the quiet neighbourhood. 

"I suggest spending this week familiarising yourself with the area before you begin working. Two of my employees from the British branch will be here to help ease you into your responsibilities once you start. Remus Lupin is the manager of Hallow’s Apothecary back in Diagon and Andrea is his right hand, so to speak. I trust them to get you all up to speed quickly." Harry explained. It wasn't the first time he’d mentioned this, but it didn't hurt to go over it again.  

“I’m sure we will be fine, Lord Peverell. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?” Diana murmured, turning her head to give him a wry smile. 

Harry laughed and handed over the keys to the house. “If you have any problems, anything at all, please send me an owl.” 

As he expected, there were no quirks in the road after that, no big ones at least. Diana and her found family seemed to be thriving in their new environment, relishing in the fact that they could live just like everyone else. 

The branch for Hallows Apothecary in Brussels was slightly smaller than its counterpart in Britain. The main focus was not selling potions and ingredients but rather research. The ground floor of the building was the shopfront, whereas the remaining three floors above were reserved for potions labs and offices. 

Harry had hired potioneers from all over the world to work at the research facility. For the average potions master it was hard getting the funds needed to dedicate their time to research and experimentation, Harry wanted to change that. 

He wanted to give talented people, both young and old, the opportunity to reach their full potential. It wasn't completely altruistic, he did expect to earn quite a bit of money once new potions were on the market, but it also made him feel like he was doing something good, contributing to society with his ridiculous amount of wealth.

Muggleborn, half-blood, pureblood, squib, veela or werewolf, Harry hired them all with zero hesitation. As long as they were good in their chosen field, he would give them a chance to grow and flourish.

Diana was the Managing Director of the newly dubbed Peverell Inc. The company was legal and done by the books in every way. It was a bit of a tall order expecting her to go from unemployed to such a demanding position, but Harry felt confident that she would be able to stay on top of it all. 

Making the company successful was not just a matter of pride for Diana, it was also a chance to get her son back, a chance for Theo to be happy and secure. Life had moulded her to the person she was today, a woman with a back of steel. She would succeed, there was no other option.

~

It never ceased to amaze Harry just how quiet life at Hogwarts was without Dumbledore pulling the strings and leaving breadcrumbs for him to follow. Without the old headmaster there, and no Voldemort actively trying to murder him, well… Hogwarts was just another school. 

There were no surreal adventures, no death-defying stunts or plots, just normal things you'd expect when filling a castle with children and teenagers that possessed magic. 

The basilisk that terrorised the students in his original timeline had been moved to Resurrection Island after some careful convincing. She'd been overjoyed at the prospect of fresh food and company. Spending almost a thousand years in isolation was hard on the psyche, even for a basilisk. 

But even if Harry hadn't rehomed her, there still wouldn't have been any attacks on students. Not because the basilisk was too morally sane for that, but because the Horcrux diary was no longer in play. 

Lucius Malfoy did not suddenly need to get rid of his Dark artefacts for fear of an unannounced raid on his manor, because the laws leading up to said raid had not been passed, Harry made sure of it. 

With Hogwarts being remarkably, well, boring, Harry spent most of his classes focused on preparing for Tom's resurrection instead, often getting lost in his own thoughts and hypotheses. It wasn't as if he needed to pay attention to the theory behind the Tickling charm, or the umpteenth goblin war. 

Sirius had become a good helper in his endeavours, surprisingly enough. Harry had to mentally scold himself for forgetting that his godfather was intelligent behind his carefree nature and love for pranks. He had created the Marauders map with his friends at a young age after all. 

"Where do you want me to put these?" Sirius asked, carrying two large boxes in his arms, one stacked precariously on top of the other, looking like it might fall at any minute. 

"Sometimes I think he's more muggle than wizard." Regulus muttered, looking far from impressed with his brother's brain capacity. 

The older brother stumbled and barely managed to find his footing, the top box wobbling dangerously close to the edge.

"Or he's just an imbecile. In fact, I'm pretty sure that is your answer." Regulus continued, eyeing his unsteady sibling. 

"Sirius! Why didn't you just levitate them?" Harry sighed in exasperation, lifting the heavy boxes out of the man's arms with a flick of his wrist, floating them gently onto the ground. 

"You said they were sensitive!" Sirius defended himself. 

"I said they were fragile. Which implies not to handle them roughly, not that they are sensitive towards magic." Harry rolled his eyes  

"Same difference." The child of a man huffed petulantly, an exaggerated pout on his lips. 

Sirius’s eyes trailed after him as Harry began to unpack, placing the delicate alchemy equipment onto a transfigured table. 

They were almost ready for the ritual to take place, just one more day and Imbolc would be upon them. It was daunting and exciting in equal measures. 

Harry would not be repeating the day with his Time-Turner. He simply didn't know if it would mess up the magic of the ritual and he wasn't willing to risk anything going wrong due to ignorance. 

Thankfully, having a perfect record as a student meant that people believed him if he said he was sick. And even if they hadn't, they certainly would believe Snape as his Head of House. 

"Harry… not that I'm doubting you or anything, but… are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do?" Sirius quietly asked, startling the younger man to look at him. 

Harry's hand stilled on top of a large, glass vat, running his fingers along the smooth surface. He turned his head to face his godfather, offering a soothing smile.

"I am. I need to do this, Sirius. The point isn't whether I succeed or not, but the fact that I at least tried, you know?" 

"Yeah, I get it." Sirius sighed softly and returned the smile, fondness glimmering in his grey eyes. 

Harry didn't think Sirius did, not really, but that was okay. For better or for worse, come morning, the ritual would be put in motion.

Chapter Text

It was time. 

Harry took in the large runic circle he'd scorched into the earth. It was probably the most complex runic piece he'd ever done. 

The runes were linked and interwoven with painstaking accuracy, arithmetic calculations making sure they were exactly where they needed to be, down to the very millimetre.

Harry sucked in a deep breath, eyeing the area critically. The ritual itself would be fairly quick unless something went wrong. Most of the work had gone into the preparations. 

The Horcruxes rested innocently in their padded containers on top of a transfigured table. Harry wondered if they could truly feel, if they were conscious within their vessels. 

The diary had seemed more than sentient when he thought back on it. He internally shuddered at the very idea of such a haunted existence. 

Destroying them would almost be considered merciful, but he hoped that by reuniting them he would be spared the task of executioner once more.

He remembered the grotesque, crying baby in Kings Cross, hiding underneath a bench. The pity Harry felt towards the shard of soul having been lodged in his scar had been the beginning of his journey into the past.  

Harry was nervous and excited. What he was about to do was incredibly foolish. Reckless even, but he couldn't turn his back on him. He'd promised the baby Horcrux that everything would be alright, and things certainly weren't so right now.

"Will you make him whole again?" A feminine voice hissed from behind him. 

Nagini, large, deathly and fiercely gorgeous, slithered closer to him. Her tongue darted out, tasting the air around her. 

"Yes, I will do everything in my power to see him restored. I doubt he will thank me, but it needs to be done, he's lost all semblance of sanity in his foolish quest for immortality." Harry replied. 

"Good. Messing with soul magic is never a wise idea, even for a well trained wizard. Voldemort truly was foolish to do so as an uneducated teenager." Nagini hissed in a tone of exasperation as she looked to their left, where the homunculus laid incapacitated.

Capturing Voldemort and his lackey had been surprisingly easy. They had felt safe behind their wards in Riddle Manor, so sure that nothing could catch them unaware there. Harry had ambushed them, and although Barty fought back, the duel was quickly won. 

Harry had subdued him in a matter of seconds, binding him so tightly the ropes might as well have been a second skin by the way they wrapped around the thin man. 

Voldemort, weak as he was, had not been much of a challenge after that. He couldn't move well on his own and his reflexes were sluggish and imprecise, he didn't even have the time to grab his wand. Stunning the frail creature was done in the blink of an eye. 

That was the moment Nagini had entered the room, hissing furiously at Harry and lunging towards him with murderous intent, venom dripping from her fangs.

Nagini had attacked in defence of what she'd seen as the only person capable of understanding her, the only one in the world whom she could speak to that wasn't another snake. 

Harry had luckily heard her hissing in time to dodge. 

Just as she had gotten ready to strike for a second time, Harry raised his hands and quickly tried to calm her down in parseltongue, reassuring her that he was only there to help. 

The shock of hearing him speak her language caused the great snake to hesitate. 

Harry kept talking, and talking, and eventually, they came to an agreement. 

Finding an ally in Nagini had been a surprise, learning that she'd once been human even more so. 

It explained her intelligence and ability to converse, seeing as snakes normally didn't have much of interest to say.

The truth of her past had slowly been revealed, and it made all the pieces of Harry's original timeline slot into place. It was no wonder that the Nagini of his first life had gone insane by the time Harry first met her. 

Voldemort had forced an active piece of his soul into her, corrupting her own sense of self in the process. The madness had spread like a virus, infecting every corner of her mind until there was nothing left but anger and bloodlust. The frequent possessions had not helped matters either. 

It was all speculation of course, but it made an overwhelming amount of sense. Harry had been a Horcrux himself and he could vividly remember the pain and anger seeping through from their connection, and that was before Voldemort was fully aware of it. 

Harry felt sorry for Nagini, he truly did. She'd only sought companionship out of desperation, and Voldemort was who she'd been stuck with. 

Harry wondered how different his life might have been if he had been the one Nagini found first. He would have had a mentor and friend in her, someone who cared about him just for himself. But that was a moot point, it did not do to dwell on the past and the what ifs.  

Harry had a ritual to perform, a soul to be reforged.

He led Nagini to a large, warmed rock by the impromptu prison that held a silenced Barty not far away from the ritual circle. Both he and Nagini were allowed to watch the proceedings, one more enthusiastically than the other.

Barty obviously didn't believe Peverell's claims of wishing to resurrect the Dark Lord, and as such, had been rather hostile upon his awakening. 

He had been thoroughly ransacked and stripped before his imprisonment though, so the only attack he could really do was verbal.

Even if Barty had been able to do wandless magic, there were wards surrounding the large cage, inhibiting any magic being performed inside it. 

"Remember to stay out of the circle no matter what happens, for all our sakes. I don't know how it might affect the ritual and I'd rather not risk it." Harry explained to Nagini once they arrived.

She bobbed her head in acceptance and got comfortable on her warm rock. 

That was the first time Barty had been close enough to hear Harry speak the noble tongue of snakes, and the young man stilled completely, eyes blown wide as he looked at the two of them, shock written all over his face.

Harry quirked an eyebrow at his prisoner's behaviour and decided to let him ask the question that was clearly burning on his tongue. With a lazy flick of his hand, the silencing barrier fell. 

"Are you the Dark Lord's son?!" Barty immediately blurted out, hands grasping the bars of his cage so tightly that the knuckles turned white. 

His eyes were wild, lit by an inner obsession as he pressed his pale face against the metal.

Harry nearly choked on his tongue. 

"What? No! Of course I'm not!" He vehemently denied, that was just so wrong! 

Harry swore that Nagini was laughing at his distress. Having once been human, she had no problem understanding English.

"Perhaps the servant is right." She said in amusement. 

"Of course he isn't right!" Harry huffed in response, rolling his eyes. 

Barty didn't believe him and Nagini didn't overly care as long as she wasn't alone. 

"Ickle Barty thinks you're the spawn of Voldemort?" Sirius suddenly asked, adding to the building chaos. 

"O-oh that's rich!" His traitor of a godfather was bent over laughing, practically wheezing for breath. 

"Wait, you're not, are you?" Sirius finally said once he could breathe again, looking all wide eyed and innocent, the bastard. 

Harry glared at him until he finally took a hint and sauntered over to Barty's cell. 

"Mighty upgrade from Azkaban eh, Barty?" He tapped the metal bars lightly with his knuckles. 

"Could be worse, yes…" Barty replied, honestly looking a bit like a lost puppy. A mad one, but still...

"I thought you died in there you know." Sirius softly said. "I cried when you stopped breathing. You were so young, we both were. It took three days before they came to take your body away, three days. Nobody deserves to die in Azkaban, hell, nobody deserves to even be there. I'm glad you made it out alive somehow, truly, but I'll kill you myself if you try to harm my friend again." 

Barty swallowed hard, his nervous tick acting up as the tip of his tongue twitched in and out of his mouth.  

Harry felt pity for the boy who was two years younger than Sirius. Even though he might have done horrible things, none of which Harry had confirmed for certain, he'd been so young, still a bloody teenager. 

Barty disguised as Moody had also been one of the best defence professors he had during his stint at Hogwarts. It was funny really, how he'd learned more about protecting himself from a Death Eater than from Dumbledore. 

Of course, it wasn't so funny in hindsight when he realised Dumbledore had meant for him to die anyway. 

"My mum swapped places with me." Barty replied, voice rough with emotion. 

Sirius conjured himself a chair next to the cage, determined to speak to the person who'd once been his lifeline in Azkaban. In there with the dementors, your past hardly mattered. 

Sirius had told Harry of how he'd often cried himself to sleep or screamed until his throat was raw. Barty had been someone to talk to when he felt like was about to lose his mind, someone to help him shift his thoughts away from the dementors and horrors he was forced to relive.

Harry was glad they'd had that comfort, small as it might have been. 

One of the elves arrived on Sirius' request, bringing food for himself and his friend-not-really-friend. 

Barty was surprised, and slightly wary, by the hospitable way he was being treated, but didn't question it out loud. The loose sleeve of his dark robes pooled around his elbow as he reached through the bars for the sandwich being offered.

"What did you do to Winky?" He asked with a frown after devouring the meal like a starved animal, the elf reminding him of his caretaker.

One of the first things Barty had done upon waking was try to summon her. Harry was not about to let a security risk like that through his fingers though. 

Winky was safely ensconced with her kin, sleeping comfortably in a bed until it was safe for her to wake up. 

"She's fine." Sirius reassured him. "She's getting some rest with the help of a potion. Harry didn't trust her to be awake and let you out. He promised he'd give her the antidote as soon as this whole resurrection business is over with though. Well… when you're not a flight risk I suppose." Sirius smiled wryly. 

Harry left the two of them to talk with the instruction to silence Barty should he get loud once the ritual began. 

He needn't have worried however, with Barty thinking he was the Dark Lord's son- and wasn't that absolutely horrifying?- he was more than eager to watch him perform the ritual. 

It was foolish of him really, Harry could have had the exact opposite intention, but the gift of parseltongue and Nagini's placid behaviour was enough to lure Barty into a distorted view of reality.

Harry had about an hour left before the magic of the day was at its most potent and the sun stood at its zenith.

He ignored the cold ground underneath his bare feet as he walked to the core of the ritual circle, clad only in an undyed linen robe that did nothing to keep the February chill at bay. 

He placed the five Horcruxes and the homunculus on the ground at an even distance from each other. 

The Horcruxes were out of their protective casings for the first time since they came into his possession, the cloying taint of wrongness that clung to them making him feel nauseous.

Harry reached for the elixir of life he had created earlier using the last of the philosopher's stone's power. 

The artefact itself was now nothing more than a pretty trinket adorning his desk, and it would remain that way unless someone recharged it with an obscene amount of human sacrifices. 

One of the simpler things with the whole revival business, surprisingly enough, had been creating the body which Tom Riddle's mended soul would reside in.

It had taken plenty of time, certainly, but with the right equipment and Harry's necromantic gifts, it was not as difficult as he'd expected.  

It had been growing steadily for months, using Tom Riddle Sr's bones as a base. He couldn't grow something without a genetic component, and the dead muggle would be as close to Voldemort as Harry could get. 

Tom had been described as looking like a near copy of his father, now that would be true, unless the magic of the ritual decided to influence his appearance of course.

The new body had looked disgusting for a very long time, nothing more than a blob of undefined, fleshy mass inside of a glass vat. 

Now that it was finished, it looked more or less human, if a bit unrefined. Harry had faith that magic would sort out the rest. 

He kneeled next to the body and poured the elixir of life into a silver bowl, mixing the liquid with crushed charcoal until he had a black ink that shimmered with the spark of life. 

Harry used a thestral-hair brush to paint sigils onto the naked vessel, focusing on the chest and head. 

The forest had gone silent while he worked. Sirius and Barty had either stopped talking or erected a privacy barrier. 

Harry took a deep breath and looked up. The sun was at its highest point and the magic was as potent as it would get, he couldn't wait any longer if he wanted to take advantage of it. 

He picked up his ritual dagger and made a deep and steady cut into the fleshy part of his left palm, the arm closest to his heart. 

Crimson blood welled up in his hand and dripped down his fingers and onto one of the runes on the ground below, activating the array in a flash of gold.

The magic around him sharpened into a rich thrum of power as he began his chant, filling his veins with a buzzing warmth. 

The Horcruxes seemed to know something was wrong, sensing the uncomfortable weight of magic pressing down on them. 

They shook and trembled, desperate to get away, to save themselves before it was too late, but there was no use, the runes kept them trapped and unable to escape. 

Thick, black smoke seeped out of each and every one of them as the ritualistic magic forcefully ripped the soul-pieces out of their containers. 

They shrieked in fear and anger, slamming their incorporeal forms against the invisible walls around them in a last, desperate attempt to flee. 

Harry watched with detachment, continuing on despite their unwillingness to cooperate. 

The five Horcruxes, along with the tattered soul that was left in the homunculus, were forced into the middle of the circle, coalescing above Harry's outstretched palm and the small, glowing gem he held.

The representation of Voldemort's soul was riddled with inky cracks, appearing more fractured than whole. The only thing keeping it from shattering completely was the tiny little soul piece that had once resided in Harry's scar. 

Death had been willing to let him have it without much fuss. Seeing as Tom Riddle couldn't pass to the other side until the entire soul was in his realm, it hardly mattered to the deity if the miniscule piece was in his possession or Harry's. Eventually it would return to him, as all souls would.

The magic in the air was so thick it almost felt tangible, making it hard to breathe properly. The charge caused every hair on Harry's body to stand up.  

Little by little, the dark mist was siphoned into the soul gem. It grew brighter and brighter, the cracks seemingly mending themselves. 

Eventually the screaming stopped. The Horcruxes had all been absorbed, repairing the black fissures that had covered the soul. 

It now looked healthy, glowing brightly under the sun's warm gaze. Thick bands of gold was all that was left of the damage. They were a mark of how it had been patched together with care. 

Tom's soul would never be pristine. Dabbling with soul magic had consequences, and even reabsorbing a Horcrux was guaranteed to leave metaphysical scars.

Harry, strangely enough, found the intricate gold lines beautiful against the pulsing glow of the soul. It dimmed and brightened in tact with his own heartbeat. 

He had to take a moment to admire what was in front of him. He held an actual human soul in the palm of his hand. Literally. 

What would happen if he squeezed, would it shatter? Would he snuff out the life that was Tom Marvolo Riddle in the blink of an eye? 

It was terrifying and exhilarating all the same. 

Harry sucked in a deep breath. He needed to focus and not get too caught up in the heady sense of power. The blood loss might also be a factor, but he hardly thought about that. 

He sank to his knees in front of the empty vessel, breathing shallowly. His injured palm rested on the grassy ground for support, still bleeding sluggishly.

Harry gently pressed the soul in his right hand against a large sigil he'd painted on the centre of Tom's chest, watching as the glowing soul descended into the new vessel.

Soft, golden light suffused the body from within, spreading from where Harry's palm still rested against the bare flesh. 

He had no way of telling how long he waited with bated breath for the results to show. It was probably mere seconds, yet it felt like an eternity. 

Then, something moved underneath his fingers. The beat of a heart, the slow rising of lungs expanding, a sign of life. 

Harry wanted to shout loudly in accomplishment, to let out a primal roar of "I fucking did it!", but he kept silent, waiting for the soul to fully assimilate. 

As the glow died down, the ritual seemingly coming to an end, Harry withdrew his hand and healed the cut from earlier. He needed a Blood Replenisher but that could wait.  

The seconds ticked by, agonisingly slow. Tom Riddle was alive, but not conscious. Harry waited, but it didn't seem like the man was going to wake up any time soon. 

Had he made a mistake? 

He took a deep breath, feeling dizzy now that the adrenaline and ritualistic magic was leaving his system. 

Harry stared at the naked body, Tom's chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. He didn't know why he had expected him to look his age, he certainly didn't look like he was supposed to be over sixty. 

When the mended soul was put in place, his features had changed. If Harry was to guess, he'd say this version of Riddle had to be somewhere in his late twenties. 

Thankfully there wasn't a scale in sight. Tom looked like an older version of the diary Horcrux and not the snake-faced bastard he'd become in Harry's first life.

The ritual had been a success, so why wasn't he waking up? 

Harry heaved a sigh and summoned an elf with a Blood Replenisher. He gulped it down in one single swig while he thought about what he should do next. 

There was no reason to stay out in the cold now that the deed was done. 

"Come on, we're going inside, I need some bloody tea." Harry grunted to the unconscious body in front of him. 

With one hand on Tom's shoulder, he whisked them away into the bedroom which had been prepared for Tom. 

Minky was delighted with the job of cleaning and dressing the hopefully former Dark Lord, meanwhile Harry himself had a nice long shower. 

When he returned, Tom was clean and dressed in soft, black pyjamas trimmed with silver. The little elf had tucked him into bed, and the only thing differentiating him from a corpse was the rosy flush to his cheeks and steady rise of his chest. 

Harry slumped into one of his armchairs, staring at the newly resurrected Dark Lord. He gnawed on the inside of his cheek, mentally going over each and every calculation he'd made and rune he'd drawn, searching for the answer to Tom's unconsciousness. 

But no matter how much he searched, he couldn't find any faults in his ritual. There was nothing he could do to fix it now either way. 

Harry supposed he'd just have to be patient, to give Tom the chance of waking up in his own due time…

Chapter Text

Everything was dark, so very dark. 

He could scream for eternity but no sound would ever escape.

The only thing to pierce through the cloud of despair and fear was the pain. A constant, agonising sensation that felt like his very essence was being ripped to shreds, broken and put together like a glass mosaic, only to shatter once more. 

He had been so terrified of dying, for his life to end before he'd had a chance to make a name for himself, before he could prove that he was more than just the poor, discarded orphan, the mudblood of Slytherin. 

Making Horcruxes had been a rash decision, done out of fear and a heightened belief in his own abilities.

It had seemed like the perfect solution at the time. Break off a tiny piece of your soul and live forever. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought that the Hourcruxes would be sentient.

That he would be sentient. If only he'd known… would he still have done it? 

Probably. 

Even after an eternity with nothing but pain and his own mind for company, he knew that he would indeed have made that decision, despite the torture it inflicted on the poor fragment pushed aside and forgotten. 

Maybe it was odd, maybe not, but Tom hated himself for that. After all, he was one of those Horcruxes that had been forced into what could only be described as eternal hell, crammed into a tacky locket and forgotten. 

It was probably inevitable that he began to long for death. He longed for it as much as he longed for the sweet breath of life. 

But even then, the need to live, the will to survive, it was so instinctual that he couldn't help but fight once he felt threatened. 

Tom Riddle had always been a survivor, desperate and terrified. As a child he'd refused to bow down, to allow the world to break him. He was better than that, surely he was. 

Only… was he? 

Tom certainly felt broken, in more ways than one. 

He wanted to live… he wanted to die. And yet, when push came to shove, Tom Marvolo Riddle was too much of a coward to succumb to death without a fight. 

Once the external magic prodded at the vessel he was in, like a thousand greedy hands digging and tearing their way to his core, Tom screamed. 

He thrashed and struggled, but no matter how hard he tried, his essence was forcefully ripped away from the locket that had been in his family since the time of Salazar Slytherin. 

He didn't know what was going on but he feared the worst. The only conclusion he could make was that he had been found by someone who wanted to destroy him. 

He had left the hell that was his vessel but still he could not see. Thick and heavy magic pressed down upon his soul from every angle, leading him to what he assumed was his doom. 

'Please, please, please, I just want to live!' Tom desperately thought, never hearing his own screams. 

Suddenly, the darkness around him changed. There was a light in the distance, faint yes, but still a light. 

Like a moth to a flame, Tom was drawn towards it. 

"Tom Marvolo Riddle." A rattling, whisper of a voice reverberated throughout the ether he was in, shaking him to his very core. If he hadn't been frightened already, he certainly was now. 

"Who are you?! Show yourself!" He commanded with more confidence than he actually had. 

Whatever that thing was, it made his metaphorical heart beat faster as fear filled his veins with ice. 

Laughter. It… was laughing. A cruel sound that made him feel like a child again, reminding him of how his body trembled when he stood in front of the pastor, ready to be exorcised for the demon he carried within.

He wanted to curl up and hide underneath the bed, to scurry away like a rat leaving a sinking ship. 

"Scared, foolish, little Tom Riddle." The being mocked. 

Its voice was the most frightening thing Tom had ever heard. Like a hive of people all speaking at the same time. Millions of human voices overlapping and blending together, young, old, deep, high, male, female. 

It was impossible to distinguish them from each other, and instead they left a distinct feeling of Other. 

"Wh-what do you want with me?" Tom asked almost in a whisper, voice cracking ever so slightly.

He felt like he was being watched, read, and found lacking. 

Something seemed to take form in the dim light ahead of him. The shadows of his surroundings stretched and coalesced until it stood in front of him. 

If Tom had a heart he was certain it would have stopped, for in front of him stood the thing he feared the most, the Grim Reaper. 

"You thought you could trick me, didn't you." The Grim Reaper stated.

"N-no." He whispered, horrified at the skeletal being cloaked in black that had appeared, the realisation of just what he was up against finally dawning. 

Its large scythe glimmered threateningly and a glowing pair of red eyes seemed to burn from within the black void where its face should have been. 

Tom tried to run, or rather, force his essence as far away from the being as he could get, but there was something stopping him. 

Invisible walls had him trapped. The space seemed to shrink in on itself, dragging him closer and closer to his eternal damnation. 

"Nononono!" He screamed, shapeless arms clawing uselessly at the walls as he was pushed in the wrong direction.

The being laughed again and Tom whimpered as a bony hand reached out, only to drag his soul into its grasp, holding him tightly.

"Tom Marvolo Riddle, you are here only because my Master wills it so. Tread lightly, little mortal, for should you betray my Master's faith in you, death will not be merciful. Your time spent as a Horcrux will seem like a pleasant vacation in comparison to what your afterlife will have in store. So take heed, young soul, lest you ruin this newfound chance at life you have been given. Use it wisely."

Tom was nothing more than a quaking ball of smoke, trembling inside Death's skeletal fingers as a thousand questions ran through his head. He felt so confused. 

Who was this so-called Master? What did Death mean when it said to use his chance? Was he going to live again, was he being spared? 

All Tom knew was that he wasn't dead just yet, no matter how tight the eldritch god's grip on him was.

"Your soul belongs to my Master now, you will do well to remember that." 

And as Death finished its sentence, the buzz of uncoordinated voices finally fading, so did Tom's consciousness.  

~

When he came to, the first thing he noticed was the white. Everything was white.

That wasn't to say that there were things there, oh no, his nightmare of an existence had only replaced the dark nothingness for white nothingness. 

Marvellous. 

Tom squinted, trying to blink away the spots in his eyes from the sudden influx of light. He raised his hand to shield his sensitive eyes, only to freeze mid motion. 

Hands… He had hands! 

Tom stared incredulously at the limbs in front of him. He hadn't had a body in… in… well, a really long time. 

However, the joy of being corporal once more faded quickly when he noticed that he still couldn't feel anything. 

That, more than anything, if the white void of nothing wasn't already a clue, filled him in on the fact that he was still just a Horcrux, and no more living than he'd been last time he checked. 

Tom walked for hours, maybe days, just like within the locket itself, it was hard to tell the passage of time. 

The wailing of a crying child pierced through the numb fog of his mind and his head snapped in that direction. 

The sound was faint, barely audible, but it was there. Tom latched on to it like a lifeline, desperately running towards it.

He didn't like children, not at all, but he would take anything to alleviate his distress and loneliness, even a crying child, no matter how disgusting it might be. 

There! 

He could vaguely see something taking shape in the distance, but it was larger than merely a child. 

Tom slowed down and cautiously approached the stranger. What he saw made him stop mid step, because there, right in front of him, was himself. 

But not just any version of himself, oh no, it was him from his teenage years, Slytherin robes and all. 

He watched the boy with wide eyes. God, had he always looked so young at sixteen? 

Tom studied him closer, taking in every detail of his appearance, from the perfectly coiffed, brown hair, to the black diary tightly clutched in one hand. 

What were you supposed to say to your younger self? Don't do it? It would hardly help seeing as they were both Horcruxes. 

And where was that infernal crying coming from? 

"Are you here to take it away?" His younger self sneered. 

"And what in particular would this it, be?" He calmly replied, quirking an eyebrow and looking rather unimpressed with the teenager's temper.

"This thing!" The diary Horcrux shouted, stepping aside to reveal the ugliest baby Tom had ever seen. 

"It won't bloody shut up!" 

The loud angry noise only caused the child to whimper pathetically and wail even harder. 

Was that what he had become? It didn't take much to put the pieces together. Him, the locket Horcrux, said locket conveniently hanging around his neck. 

The diary Horcrux in all its angsty teenage glory, and then there was the infant. Red, flayed and oh so burnt. 

It was another of his Horcruxes, he was sure of it, and that in itself was a terrifying revelation.

Revulsion churned in his stomach as he watched the pitiful thing, so weak and helpless.

He had done this to himself. He had intended to make six. Looking at the abomination, he wondered just how bad the rest of them must be. 

What was left of his soul after he had hacked it into tiny little pieces?

If Tom could throw up, he would have. But his body was only a construct of his imagination, or something equally as intangible. 

He didn't want to touch the child, it was revolting, but it was a part of himself, surely he should offer it some sort of comfort? 

He stood hesitantly in front of the little bundle, ignoring the teenager's rant behind him. 

Slowly he bent down, awkwardly picking up the crying child. He had never carried a baby before, never had a desire to do so either. 

While most of his classmates had eyed each other lustfully, Tom had been more interested in studying magic. He never quite understood the so-called attraction his acquaintances held towards other people. 

When they began procreating, he made sure he didn't have anything to do with their spawn. So yes, Tom Riddle did not like children. 

Yet here he was, cradling one to his chest, while speaking what he hoped might be reassuring words. He rocked the thing uncomfortably, wishing it would stop crying. 

It didn't. 

"You're not very good at that, are you?" The diary snootily proclaimed. 

Tom internally scoffed, as if he could have done a better job. 

"Clearly not." He retorted in a deadpan voice.

The boy just huffed before he began pacing back and forth, exuding nervous energy. Tom wondered if he was waiting for something. 

There wasn't really anything to do but talk, although that proved to be rather difficult for several reasons. 

One, the diary version of him was an infuriatingly annoying little wanker, and two, the baby just wouldn't stop its damn caterwauling!

Eventually, their poor attempt at conversation died a slow and horrible death, petering off into awkward silence. What did you say to yourself after all? 

"Shh, please don't cry." Tom whispered quietly to the child in his arms, trying to comfort himself as much as the baby if he was being honest. 

"We'll make it out of here somehow, we always survive. Death said we'd get another chance. Hopefully its Master will be lenient." He murmured. 

He didn't know if it was the words being spoken, or if the baby had just grown tired, but the wailing had faded into soft sniffles and quiet whimpering. It was a relief. 

Time moved strangely within the White Place. It was impossible to tell hours from days and weeks from years. For all they knew an eternity could have passed and yet their surroundings remained the same. 

They quickly found out that the only way to keep the baby mostly quiet, was for someone to hold it. The teenager refused to, and so, the task was up to Tom. 

One day, the strangest thing happened. 

The child had been quiet, so quiet in fact that the prolonged silence had been remarked upon by the two Horcruxes. 

When Tom seemed to absorb the infant into himself, well, he thought it was fair to say that he and the diary both panicked. 

It had happened so suddenly, so without preamble that Tom found himself stumped by the whole thing. 

The diary Horcrux was obviously frantic, near hysterical, but Tom didn't pay him any mind, too concerned with figuring out what the bloody hell was going on. 

He placed a hand on his chest where the baby rested calmly just a few seconds ago. It felt warm and tingly, and it was almost as if a piece had slotted into place. 

The only reasoning he could make was that he had somehow, unintentionally absorbed the baby Horcrux. It was a strange experience, but not entirely unpleasant.

It made him think. Could he perhaps… absorb the others too? Maybe that was what Death meant when it said he would get a second chance. 

He had always assumed that he would be used to resurrect the main soul, but what if… what if he became the main soul?

Could he even do that? Was it possible? 

He threw a calculative gaze towards the teenager that was still panicking, mind churning as plans began to form. 

He wanted to live, they all did, but Death had spoken to him, hadn't it? Surely there was a reason for that. 

~

Days passed. Weeks, maybe years, went by. It was impossible to tell. There was nothing to indicate the passage of time, no watch, no night and day, nothing. Everything was as starkly white and empty as ever. 

Tom had taken to calling the diary Horcrux, Tommy in his head purely out of spite. He knew that he hated the nickname, and thus, that was what he called him. 

Not out loud of course, he wanted to get the boy on his side, to merge willingly. Tom didn't think he had the power to force it anyway. 

Sometimes they walked, purely for the sake of doing something. 

That's when they came upon him. Another one of them. 

Tom would recognise that drab, grey uniform anywhere. With its worn knees and threadbare shirt, it screamed of the poverty of war. 

He wanted to grimace but refrained. The boy laid on the ground, staring blankly up at the sky that was no more defined than the rest of the place. 

Tom's eyes were drawn to a familiar ring of gold and black being worn on the boy's left hand. He remembered wearing that very ring for years after he acquired it. 

This had to be the Horcrux within it, his very first one. 

He remembered it vividly. He had gone there hoping to be taken in by family, to be able to escape the bombings at worst and live comfortably at best. 

He hadn't expected love, certainly not, but he'd hoped- well, it hardly mattered. One thing led to another, and in a rash moment of disappointment, anger and grief, he'd sealed his fate. 

"Hello." He calmly said, gazing down upon the listless boy. 

"Hello." Himself at fifteen parroted back, tilting his head sluggishly to meet his eyes. 

Tom felt unnerved by the dead look in his eyes, one who had almost given up. It was frightening to see it mirrored on his younger self like that. 

Tommy sneered at the younger kid, even though there was technically only a few months separating them. 

"Do you mind if I sit?" Tom asked, ignoring Tommy for now. The ring’s soul merely shrugged, so Tom joined him on the ground. 

They stayed silent. Tom didn't really know what to say. He could remember the panic he'd felt right after he'd murdered his father and grandparents, the absolute shock that he had intentionally taken a life. 

He hadn't meant to, that wasn't why he'd gone there. But he'd been… angry, distraught. Desperate…

It seemed that all his guilt, fear and insecurities had been poured into the ring if his depressed state was an indicator to go by. 

“This is Hell, innit?” The boy morosely said, having given up on the posh accent he’d so keenly tried to emulate once he started his education. 

He had wanted to cast off his poor, uncultured background, to seem like someone worthy of respect. It wasn't often Tom found himself slipping, but it happened every now and then. The ring wasn't just slipping though, he had given up.  

“Mm, no. I think it’s more along the lines of Limbo.” Tom truthfully answered. 

If his calculations were correct, and they usually were, then this was merely a temporary stop.

“Oh… I’m so tired.” The ring confessed quietly, closing his eyes. “I jus’ wanna rest.” It whispered, sounding more wretched than a boy his age had any right to.

Tom sighed and laid down next to the boy, feeling his own exhaustion seep into his limbs. He too wished he could make everything end, but he wasn't ready to give up just yet. 

“There might be a way.” He gently offered. It was manipulation in his own favour, yes, but the other would technically get what he wanted as well.

The ring’s eyelids fluttered open and his head snapped to the side, the tiniest spark of hope lit within his brown eyes. 

“How!? Tell me!" He exclaimed, fingers digging into Tom's arm with surprising strength. 

"Join me." Tom said softly, as if he was talking to a skittish animal, not that he had much experience with that. He did however know how to charm and coax people into doing as he wished. 

"Allow your soul to merge with mine. It will be peaceful and quiet, no more living in limbo. Give yourself to me and you will finally be able to rest. Please, let me help you." Tom's smile was as gentle and kind as he could make it, words dripping with honey. 

The ring swallowed hard, his hand still grasped tightly around Tom's arm, as if he was afraid he'd vanish into thin air if he let go.

It was clear that not much persuasion was needed, the young teenager had been ready for a long time for an opportunity like this. 

Existing as a Horcrux was not pleasant, and each and every one of them seemed to deal with the horrors in a different way. 

Tom didn't fault the ring for wanting to surrender, given a few more years and perhaps he would have been equally desperate for everything to end in such a matter.

"How do we do this?" The ring questioned, looking more animated in his urgency.

Tom slowly sat up, placing his hand against the ring's heart.

"Close your eyes." He instructed. 

He had given plenty of thought to the phenomenon, coming up with the bare bones of a theory on how it would work. 

"This process is all about willpower, you need to want it more than anything. Think back to when you were a child, how you managed to change objects through sheer force of your will. This is the same, feel the spark within you and give in to it, allow yourself to let go." Tom coaxed. 

The teenager's eyes had shut and his brows were furrowed in concentration. The spot where Tom's hand rested began to light up, a gentle glow that grew and grew until the boy was bathed in golden light from within. He appeared more light than corporeal. 

As the energy rushed into him, flooding his core with a sense of rightness, Tom thought he could hear the faintest whisper of a relieved "Thank you." 

It felt incredible! Whereas the infant had been warm and tingly, like a piece of a puzzle slotting into place, the ring was a waterfall of energy.

Tom felt it joining with his own essence, mending his frayed soul in ways he couldn't have imagined. 

He sucked in a breath of air, as if he was breathing for the first time in years. He felt calmer, more rational, more like himself. 

Tommy was understandably wary of him, worried that he'd suddenly absorb him as well. He always kept a distance between them, but never seemed to want to brave the monotony of their existence on his own.

Tom didn't think the process worked quite like Tommy thought it did. The merge had to be done willingly, or at least partially. 

He had formed a theory after meeting the different Horcruxes. The piece of soul in the ring was much, much bigger than that of the infant, bigger than his own even. He suspected that each Horcrux split the main soul in half, or at least roughly so. 

It was quite terrifying to think of, really. If he had kept up his plans of creating six Horcruxes, then Voldemort would be left with less than two percent of his soul.

It was laughable. 

It made him want to cry. 

~

The next iteration of themselves they came across was older than Tom himself. His appearance was one that made Tom’s insides churn. 

How had he allowed himself to become like that? He had once prided himself on his physical appearance, using it as the great tool it was to get people to do what he wanted. 

The man in front of them was gaunt, with unnaturally pale skin, sunken, red eyes, and a nose that looked flatter than it should be. On top of his thinning, brown hair sat a crown, or perhaps a diadem, with deep, blue gems.

So, he had gotten hold of Ravenclaw’s diadem after all. It was… less impressive than he’d expected.

“Ah, so the rest of us are here as well then.” The diadem calmly exclaimed. 

"You've met others?" Tom asked, lifting an eyebrow. 

"Unfortunately." He answered with a sneer. "The main soul-" and at that he scoffed derisively, "-is here somewhere." He gestured to the white nothingness. 

"I take it he wasn't up to par then?" Tom asked.

"Hardly! He is nothing but a pathetic wraith. Couldn't even hold a conversation without screaming and trying to curse me into submission. He still hasn't realised that magic doesn't seem to work in this place." 

The diadem studied both of them, his red eyes intense and intelligent, but there was also a hint of madness lingering in there, lurking just underneath the surface. 

Tom's immediate thought was that the diadem looked mercurial, and he would soon be proven right in his assumptions.

Tommy liked the new addition to their circle even less than he did Tom himself. The two Horcruxes had even gotten into a rage-filled screaming match that resulted in the diadem throttling their younger counterpart with vicious delight. 

Tom had been forced to break them apart after that, bearing the brunt of the diadem's anger.

Some days he felt like he was the only adult present, the only one that wasn't either filled with teenage angst or manic rage. 

The diadem had stormed off in an unreasonable temper tantrum, Tom likened it to that of a three-year-old that didn't get the sweet they wanted.

"You need to kill him!" Tommy hissed as soon as the diadem was too far away to hear him speak. 

Tom startled, blinking slowly. "Pardon?" He asked in befuddlement. 

"I don't care how you do it, but I can't stand another second in his presence!" Tommy vehemently exclaimed.

"Even if I wished to murder a part of our soul, which for the record I do not, I wouldn't be able to. In case you haven't noticed, we are unable to permanently injure one another in this place." Tom calmly explained. 

"Oh you know what I mean! Do the same to him that you did to the other two!" 

"I thought you found it… distressing?" He cautiously replied.

The younger boy grimaced. "Yes, well… as long as you don't use your thing on me, then I suppose it is perfectly acceptable." 

Tom hummed. "I see… However I do not think I'll be able to absorb his piece of soul, not unless he is willing." 

"Are you sure? Because from the way I see it, you are now in possession of a much larger part of our soul, overpowering him should hardly be difficult." Tommy snootily replied.  

This caused Tom to frown. Was brute force truly an option? 

Tommy was right in regards to his soul being the largest piece, though. With the ring and baby, he now held roughly sixty percent of the whole soul, if his theories were correct of course, which they usually were.  

Tommy, being the second Horcrux, held about a quarter. The remaining percentages were shared between the main soul, and however many Horcruxes he'd made after creating the locket Tom resided in. 

Could he overpower the remaining Horcruxes? Take without asking? It was an idea that posed plenty of possibilities. 

If he tried and failed, however, he might have blown any sort of trust he'd slowly been building. The last thing he wanted to do was to become stuck in this nothingness forever… 

Eventually the diadem returned, having calmed down enough to be somewhat civil. 

Tommy kept sending him looks behind their older self's back, urging him to just do it. 

Tom would admit to feeling hesitant. However one day he'd simply had enough. 

Tommy and the diadem were having another fight, and in a rash, split second decision, Tom rammed his hand into the shocked diadem's chest, and pulled. 

The diadem was paralysed, staring at him with wide, uncomprehending eyes. 

Tom ignored the fact that his fucking hand was deep inside his own chest, or at least that of his older counterpart. There was no gore, no blood or screaming, and although their bodies were not made of flesh and bone, it was still disturbing to some degree. 

He could feel the soul piece. It didn't want to come, but it was just a speck in comparison to his own. Tom's hand glowed as he tugged on the soul, forcing it to merge with him. 

Three.

~

The next Horcrux they found was Helga Hufflepuff's cup. He looked worse than the diadem somehow, having taken on more of a snake-like appearance. Instead of the powerful being he probably thought he was, he just looked sick.

Now that he knew what to do, Tom wasted no time trying to get on the other's good side. Just looking at its deformed visage made him feel nauseous. 

In less than a minute, another piece of soul joined his own, just as unwillingly as the diadem.

Two.

~

"What is that?" Tommy pointed out with disgust, looking more and more disturbed the closer they got.

"That, I believe, is our main soul." Tom said, having put the pieces together from the diadem's many rants. The deformed homunculus was sort of hard to mistake. 

"So this is what you have reduced us to. A mere wraith, clinging to the body of a dead infant." Tom sneered at the pathetic creature in front of them. 

"How dare you speak to Lord Voldemort like that?!" The thing hissed, anger distorting its pale features. 

Lord Voldemort, what a sick joke.

"I speak only the truth. For you are weak and pathetic, a parasite with barely a speck of magic and sanity left. You disgust me." Tom coldly replied, wrinkling his nose with distaste. 

Just as the diadem had described, the main soul made no sense, instead it cursed and raged like a manic madman, detailing the many ways it would torture and kill Tom, never mind the fact that it was practically impotent in this realm. Tom doubted it would be much better in the living world either. 

"Oh shut up!" Tom snarled, grabbing the wretched thing by its skinny neck. "I've had it with your shitty leadership. It is time for a change, and you will conform whether you want to or not." 

"Insolence!" The homunculus screeched, squirming in Tom's solid grasp, tiny hands clawing for release.

He ignored Voldemort's hatred and focused on assimilating the tiny soul fragment, allowing it to settle into his own core. 

Tom didn't realise that his eyes had closed. It was so quiet. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, meeting Tommy's conflicted gaze. 

One.

Voldemort was no more. It was only Tom and Tommy left. One more piece for him to absorb to become whole again. 

They were both aware that he could take the diary piece by force, but the mutual kinship that had grown between them prevented that. 

"What now?" The teenager asked, looking more insecure and vulnerable than he'd allowed himself to be in quite some time. 

Tom sighed and sat down on the ground, feeling drained all of a sudden. "I'm not sure." He murmured. 

"... Maybe not. But you have some sort of idea, don't you?" Tommy stated, sitting down as well but keeping a bit of distance between them. 

Tom hummed, laying down on his back. "I think we both know how this has to end." He quietly replied. 

The silence dragged between them, and when Tom tilted his head to look at the teenager he felt… guilty. 

Tommy had his knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them for a semblance of comfort. 

He looked so small, so terrified. 

"I don't want to die." He whispered, voice trembling. 

"Would you rather stay here forever? Spending eternity doing nothing?" Tom softly asked. 

He was so close to getting his life back, he could feel it, but at the same time, he didn't have the heart to absorb the diary without his consent. They had become… maybe not close, but he still held some sort of fondness for the boy he'd once been. Or perhaps it was just his own regrets manifesting.

There was a quiet sniffle coming from the teenager that he politely ignored. He'd always hated showing weakness as a boy, still did in fact. 

Time stretched as they sat in each other's company. They were the last two remaining, the only Horcruxes left in limbo. 

Tom had allowed his mind to wander, wondering if this truly was the opportunity he thought it was. It could be an insanity-fueled hallucination, a figment of his deteriorating mind, but he doubted it. 

"Will you promise me something?" Tommy eventually said, voice thick with emotion, bringing Tom out of his maudlin thoughts. 

"I would like to say yes, but that depends on what you ask of me." Tom cautiously replied. 

"I know this request is probably foolishly sentimental, but... no matter what happens, please do not harm Hogwarts…" He looked down at his feet, eyes red and cheeks blotchy.  "It's my home."

Tom could honestly admit to being surprised. That had not been what he expected. He could understand the sentiment however, Hogwarts truly was the first place that had felt like a home, even if his housemates had been awful at the start. 

"That is a promise I can definitely make. You have my word that no harm will befall Hogwarts due to my actions after our soul is whole again." Tom said, wistfully thinking back to the thrill of learning magic for the first time, of getting regular, hearty meals, of excitement and joy, emotions he so rarely had felt before that. 

"Okay." Tommy said with a shaky breath. "I can't believe I'm doing this." He muttered quietly to himself as he got up. 

"You better not fuck this up for us." The teenager glared viciously, masking his fear with anger. Tom knew that tactic intimately well. 

"I promise to do my best." He truthfully answered, standing up and holding out his hand for a shake. 

Tommy took it, closing his eyes as their skin touched. 

Bright, warm energy shot up Tom's arm from the point of contact, rushing towards his core like an overflowing river, filling his body with a sense of rightness.  

He could feel his soul mending, the final piece of the puzzle slotting into place.

Tom stood there breathing deeply for a few seconds, his mind calmer and clearer than it had been in what felt like decades. 

But before he could thoroughly enjoy this new development, a vortex of sickening colours opened up underneath him and pulled him under, swallowing him whole like a hungry dragon. 

Tom screamed as he fell into the unknown, the whirlpool of colours around him making his head dizzy and eyes hurt. 

Further and further he fell, towards a black hole that got larger by the second, and once he reached it, everything stopped. 

For the first time since the creation of his locket Horcrux, Tom lost true consciousness, the nothingness cradling him in its gentle arms

Chapter Text

Severus had felt it the moment the ritual was completed, and he doubted he was the only one. 

The Dark Mark had burned as it renewed itself, black ink filling out the snake and skull until it looked fresh as the day it was first created, bringing forth unwanted memories of a sickening past.

All over Britain, followers of the Dark Lord were made cruelly aware of their master's awakening. Men and women feared for what was to come, while only his staunchest supporters rejoiced.

Severus wanted to throw up, nausea and regret churning his stomach. 

Why had he agreed to this foolish plan? What did Harry hope to achieve by resurrecting a madman? He should have stopped him. He should have destroyed the Horcruxes while he still had the chance. 

He gripped his desk, short, potion-stained nails digging into the wood as he held on for support. 

The worst part was the lack of information, not knowing what would happen next. Severus trusted Harry, as much as he could trust anyone really, but the same could not be said for the Dark Lord. 

Harry was blinded by his desire to redeem the mass murderer, a folly that was surely destined for failure. 

Voldemort was cunning and ruthless. Severus would admit to being afraid of how he might lure his friend astray now that he possibly had his sanity restored. 

He wanted to scream, breath stuck in his throat and heart beating wildly. 

However, he still had several classes to teach and could not afford to be distracted, lest the little imbeciles kill themselves with a wrongly used ingredient. 

Severus breathed in deeply, using his Occlumency to its full extent. The Dark Lord was reborn and he would be ready. 

He was nothing more than a man now. Powerful, yes, but still human, still mortal. If things went to shit he would gladly murder him given the chance. 

The rest of the day went by in a haze. There had been no word from Harry until he was back in his quarters, nursing a glass of the strongest firewhiskey he could find. 

The letter had appeared innocently on his coffee table, no trace of the elf that had delivered it. 

There was no name on the front of the envelope, nor inside, just a simple missive.

It is done. Subject remains unresponsive. Drop by at your earliest convenience.

Harry's letter contained no incriminating evidence, but he burned it in the fireplace none the less. One could never be too careful. 

He closed his eyes and sighed. 

A rather big part of him felt relieved that the Dark Lord had not regained consciousness yet, he hoped it would stay that way. Unfortunately, knowing his own luck, that was not a likely outcome. 

The fireplace flared green with an incoming floo-call. Severus was of half a mind to reject it, but not many held the address to his private quarters at Hogwarts. 

Harry was already ruled out due to the letter he'd sent, that left the Hogwarts staff and Lucius Malfoy. Due to the recent developments with the Dark Mark, his money would be on the latter. 

"Severus? Are you busy?" The voice of his oldest and most pompous acquaintance rang out. 

He wished he could just bury his head in the sand and ignore him.

"Lucius, what do you want?" He grunted, already knowing where this would go.

"Do you mind if I come through?" 

"Of course not, I live to serve you." Severus retorted, voice heavily laced with sarcasm. 

Lucius did not seem to take the hint, not that he had expected him to, and mere seconds later the man himself was in his living area, spelling soot off his ostentatious robes. 

"Pray tell, what do I owe the pleasure of your visit tonight?" Severus asked, raising a single eyebrow and in no way bothering to get up or offer him a drink. If Lucius wanted something he could get it himself. 

The blonde dithered, back and shoulders rigid with tension no matter how much he tried to hide it. 

"Your mark… is it?" Lucius hesitantly prodded, pretending to be aloof as ever. 

"Black once more? Yes." Severus replied with zero emotion.

"So he's back then." Lucius whispered, face drained of all colour. His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed hard. 

"It would appear so." Severus murmured, sipping his drink calmly while studying his so-called friend. 

"Has he summoned anyone yet? Do you know?" Lucius slumped into one of the chairs in a manner Severus was sure the man himself would have called graceful. 

"Not as far as I'm aware. All we can do is wait and be ready. When the Dark Lord has use for us, he will call." He answered with an unconcerned wave of his hand. 

Severus had hoped Lucius would take that as the end of the conversation it was meant to be, but oh no, he had more on his greedy little heart apparently. 

He kept talking, fishing for information and speaking of their glory days, as if they weren't both aware what a hell it had been. 

"Why are you here, Lucius?" Severus cut him off sharply. "Is Narcissa not being understanding enough? Do you need me to hold your hand in her stead?" He sneered. 

He was tired and cranky, even more so than usual. He wanted nothing more than for Lucius to piss off back home to his rich, spoiled lifestyle and leave him the hell alone with his firewhiskey and misery. 

Lucius bristled at the harsh words, blue eyes glaring coldly in his direction, yet he made no move towards leaving.

If only he could have been that lucky. However, Lucius was clearly not done for the day. 

Severus sighed, glaring at the glass in his hand that dared to be nearly empty. He chugged it in one practised swig and topped it up to the brim. He would need it if he was to listen to Lucius whining for the next foreseeable hour, if not more. 

~

After the ritual, Sirius had been exhausted, not so much physically as mentally. 

He still feared what the consequences of Harry's actions might be, but he was determined to stay by his side no matter what.

If the kid fucked up then they'd just have to fix it later. Sirius was good at hiding bodies, he could definitely bury the stupidly handsome Dark Lord in the forest if push came to shove. 

Said Dark Lord now had the face of a Greek god, which was not fair in the slightest if you asked Sirius, not that anyone seemed interested in his opinion on the matter.

He'd been spending a lot of time with Barty lately, finding that he actually enjoyed his company whenever he didn't break out into manic ramblings about his master. 

Which unfortunately, he was being exposed to right now. 

Sirius groaned loudly from the sofa he was artfully draped across in the library. 

"Ugh. If I wanted to hear about the greatness of Lord snakeface I would have broken Bella out." He grumbled pettily. 

The scowl levelled at him went entirely unnoticed, the fluffy slipper hitting his head however, did not. 

"Oi! What was that for?!" Sirius squawked indignantly. 

"You were being rude!" Barty growled.

"Yeah, yeah." Sirius waved it away. "When aren't I? But seriously, you can't tell me he used to be easy on the eye. He looked like he'd had one potion accident too many." 

Barty charged at him with an incensed roar, toppling him off the couch and onto the floor, knocking Sirius' breath out of his lungs. 

"You take that back!" He yelled, hitting Sirius with his other slipper. 

"Never!" Sirius wheezed under the onslaught, grappling with the annoying brat for dominance.

They rolled about on the floor like a pair of uncivilised hooligans, oh his dear mother would be appalled. 

Sirius grunted as Barty's pointy elbow jabbed painfully into his side. For someone so scrawny he sure was strong. 

Barty's fingers were tangled in Sirius' hair, tugging roughly, probably pulling out a few strands in his zeal. 

He put his hand on Barty's face to shove him away, only to feel something wet and slimy against his palm. 

"Ewww, that's disgusting!" Sirius whined, grimacing at the sensation of Barty's wet tongue on his skin. 

The fight, which was more of a childish scuffle really, kept going, and Sirius let out a triumphant "Hah!" as he pinned Barty down by sitting on him, ignoring the many bruises he was going to have come morning.

He held the struggling wizard in place, sticking one of his disgusting, wet fingers into Barty's ear. He squealed like a little piggy.

" What is going on here?" Harry's curt and exasperated voice cut through their bickering and made both of them freeze. 

Barty especially, looked horrified that Harry had caught them in such an undignified way, his tongue twitching nervously out of his mouth.

Sirius was tempted to catch it with his fingers and watch him struggle. One look at Harry's annoyed face was enough to stop that thought before it had time to bloom though. 

"Uuuh… hi Harry?" Sirius meekly tried. 

The glare directed at him sent shivers down his spine. 

"I leave the two of you alone for five minutes and this is what you get up to? If so much as a single page has been damaged, so help me Merlin, there will be consequences. Understood?" His godson threatened in a low and menacing voice. 

"Y-yes sir." Barty meekly replied, his tongue twitching in and out at a rapid pace, like a snake trying to scent the air. 

Sirius wondered if that was what started his weird tic. Maybe he watched a snake one day and was like 'yeah, I wanna do that too', and it just became a thing? Who knows. 

He could feel Barty's elevated heartbeat through the fabric of his shirt, thrumming fast like a terrified bird. 

"Come on Harry, we're just playing. See? Barty here is fiiiine, and none of your precious books ended up as collateral." Sirius said, patting Barty's cheek. 

Harry did not look impressed with the two of them, Sirius especially. They stared at each other and eventually, his godson sighed, rubbing his temples. 

"Barty has therapy in fifteen minutes, make sure he gets the stone on time. I'm trusting you to handle this, Sirius." Said stone materialised in Harry's hand and he wandlessly levitated it over to Sirius with a flick of his fingers. 

He didn't think Harry was aware just how awe-inspiring his everyday actions were. Wandless magic was hard, incredibly so. To most witches and wizards it was something that seemed impossible, and yet Harry did it without a thought. 

Sirius looked to the side, sucking up Barty's wide-eyed expression with a certain amount of glee. That was his godson, of course he was impressive. 

"As you wish, my Lord." Sirius gravely said, bowing deeply in a mockery of the Dark Lord's minions.

Harry sighed again in exasperation and left. 

"Wow…" Barty murmured, voice filled with awe, staring after Sirius' retreating godson before the conversation dawned upon him.

"Wait… what kind of therapy?" Barty's eyes flitted dubiously between Sirius and the innocent stone in his hand.

Sirius' face split into a grin. "Oh it's awful, you'll hate it!" He chirped cheerfully, loving the way Barty paled at the insinuation. 

"But don't worry, it is very effective." He patted his shoulder consolingly, intentionally pouring oil on the fire. 

Barty swallowed hard. 

~

The resurrection had not been as successful as Harry had hoped. Yes, Tom Riddle had a body, and yes it was living and breathing, but… it simply wasn't responsive. 

He would open his eyes and blink whenever he wasn't sleeping, but he didn't move, his eyes seeing nothing of his surroundings. 

Harry had sat with him on several occasions, talking to him about this and that, but there was never a response. 

He despaired that he had fucked it up, that instead of bringing him back fully, he had made a mistake with the man's brain and turned him into a vegetable. 

He had summoned Death only days after the ritual was complete, desperate for some sort of reassurances. 

The answer he got had not been what he wanted however. 

"Whether Tom Riddle wakes once more is entirely up to himself. Perhaps it will take hours, days, or maybe, he will take so long that his body has withered and expired. It is entirely possible that he does not manage to reconcile his soul at all. Have patience young Master, but do not forget to live in the process." Death gently explained.

Days turned into weeks, and Harry had just about given up hope when there was a tingle of magic being sent from one of his reanimated pets. 

The one he'd stationed in Tom's room.

His heart had beaten faster and he'd hastily locked himself in his study, slumping into a chair. He allowed his consciousness to drift from his body and connect with one of his spies, gazing through its eyes.

~

Light, different from what Tom had gotten used to over the past, well, god knew how long, filtered through his eyelids as he slowly opened them. 

His vision took a moment to adjust, but what he saw made his heart thrum a rapid beat against his ribs.

Colour. He was in a room filled with colour.

He swallowed hard, marvelling at the odd feeling of fabric against skin and sunshine on his face. 

The gentle rays sunk into his muscles, warming him in a way that he could scarcely remember. 

Tom laughed, incredulously.

He had done it, truly done it! He was alive again, with all the implications that held. 

He was too joyful of having a physical body to worry about his newfound mortality. 

When his eyes opened once more to inspect his surroundings properly, cheeks feeling damp with shed tears of utter relief, he met the gaze of a creature that made him freeze. 

On top of a beautiful mahogany dresser sat a cat. A cat with fur as dark as night and pale, milky eyes. 

It stared at him, hardly moving or blinking. 

It made him think of death, of the warning the Grim Reaper had given him. 

Do not betray its Master. 

Tom's face had gone blank but his heart was still racing in his chest. He wondered if the creature could hear it, just like he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. 

The cat was incredibly unsettling, its dead eyes holding a sense of intelligence that no animal should have. 

Tom was wary of it, understandably so. He began to wonder if this was some sort of trick, or perhaps a test? How the hell should he know? 

Death being a sentient entity and having a Master, had never been something he could foresee in even his wildest dreams, so excuse him for feeling a little out of his depth. 

Nothing seemed to happen however. The cat merely stared at him, watching his every move with those unnerving eyes. 

"Hello." Tom tried, feigning polite confidence. 

He felt more than a little silly for trying to converse with a cat, doubly so when the feline didn't respond beyond blinking.

Why he had thought it would actually reply was beyond him. It was probably just a regular cat, if a very disturbing one. Tom couldn't exactly claim to be an expert on magical creatures.  

Seconds ticked by into minutes, and still nothing happened. He tried to ignore the cat while he took stock of his surroundings.

Comfortable furniture, lavish in their simplicity instead of ostentatious like those of a pureblood manor, yet still well made and obviously expensive.

Movement from the corner of his eye drew his attention. A colourful bird flew by a large window to his left, its vibrant, blue and orange plumage shimmering in the morning sun.

Tom had never been particularly interested in nature, but in that moment there was something so profound about it, so alive. He could do nothing but stare. 

It made him feel small, yet comforted all the same. He had no idea why, which normally he would have found disturbing, but in that moment he was made anew. 

Tom stood in front of the window, resting his hand against the tempered glass. He had all but forgotten the cat, barely even aware of the fact that he'd gotten out of bed. 

He felt disoriented and elated in equal measures. Part of him feared it might be a delusion, his own mind playing tricks on him while he was trapped inside the locket, but it was too real, and more importantly, he no longer felt the excruciating ache of having a shredded soul. 

Whatever sense of time he might have had, was now gone. Tom had no idea how long he'd been staring blankly out of the window when a knock on the door jostled him out of his existential crisis. 

He turned his head, feeling wariness crawl up his spine. 

"Come in." Tom answered, voice steadier than his inner turmoil would suggest. His heart raced a mile a minute. 

On the other side of that deceivingly innocent door stood Death's Master.

Chapter Text

Harry opened the bedroom door, nerves playing havoc with his fluttering stomach. He was excited and apprehensive in equal measure. 

He plastered a smile on his face that hopefully didn’t look too strained. 

"I see you've finally deigned to wake up. I was beginning to worry you never would." Harry said, trying to play it cool. Tom had no need to know just how anxious he'd been. 

The hopefully former Dark Lord stared at him, blinking slowly as he tried to process everything. His eyes flickered behind Harry's shoulder and he went white as a sheet. 

"You look as if you've seen a ghost." Harry joked, trying to ease the tension. Ultimately, it fell flat.

Tom wet his lips and swallowed, face now impossible to read. 

"Lord Peverell… I must thank you ever so graciously for this opportunity." He smoothly began, brown eyes drawn intermittently to a spot behind Harry. "But if I may be so bold as to ask, what is it you desire from me?"  

Harry turned his head to look, but couldn't see anything that would be exciting enough to catch Tom's attention. He frowned, then softened his expression. 

"Desire? Oh no, I do not desire anything from you Mr Riddle." Harry honestly replied. 

"Although… I do have a few conditions should you wish to venture back into society. But, I think that shall be a topic for another day."

"This is to be my prison then?" Tom warily asked. 

"Prison? Heavens no. Think of it more as a… a rehabilitation facility! A nice vacation away from everything." Harry smiled brightly. 

"A… vacation…" 

"That's it! Now, would you like something to eat? Drink? Perhaps some tea? I always enjoy a cuppa when I'm feeling out of sorts." Harry rambled and clapped his hands together, deciding that tea was definitely a good idea. 

Tom appeared a bit lost if Harry was being honest. His face was guarded but there was a look in his eyes that Harry recognised. 

"Alright, tea it is! Come along, Mr Riddle, I'll give you a tour of my home while we're at it. You've been unconscious for weeks now, stretching your legs will surely do you good." 

One of the best clues that Tom was a changed man, was the fact that he did not seem to react adversely to his real name. Voldemort would have shouted and cursed at the same perceived slight, yet Tom remained silent. 

Of course, he might just be completely out of it, but Harry hoped it was a sign that he'd healed somewhat. 

"This is the library, feel free to read as much as you'd like. All I ask is that you treat the books with care. Some of them are very old." He gestured to the large collection he had amassed over the years. It was his pride and joy. 

The more personal tomes and scrolls, particularly those from his family vaults, were kept safe in his private study, but other than that, the library contained everything from Light to Dark, even a hint of Black if you were to look closely. 

Barty had certainly put it to good use since he was forced to move in. Sirius, not so much. 

Harry had a feeling he'd be finding Tom in there quite often, if the interest glimmering behind his eyes was anything to go by. 

As their tour continued, he couldn't help but soak up Tom's features. He was quite a handsome man, devilishly so, some might say. With a face like that, it was no wonder people had flocked to his cause back in the day. 

He looked like the memory Harry had met in the Chamber of Secrets, except older and more mature. He’d estimate his physical age to be somewhere in his late twenties, but it was always hard to tell with magical humans. 

"And here we have the kitchen. If you need anything you may stop by any time. If you don't wish to cook for yourself, there are some house elves around. As long as you treat them fairly, they will be happy to assist you." Harry said as he put on the kettle. 

"Sit. We still have much to discuss." He gestured for Tom to take a seat by the kitchen table. 

Harry busied his hands with tea leaves and China. It felt as if he'd been talking for hours.

Tom had remained quiet for most of the tour, only asking simple questions here and there. It was… alarming. He'd never taken Tom for a meek person, yet he seemed… on edge and uncomfortable. 

Harry didn't think he'd done anything to deserve that, really. He had been a rather good host hadn't he? 

"You say you have no reason for my resurrection, no ulterior motive, yet I find that hard to believe. You do not seem like a man who does things without a goal in mind." Tom eventually stated, holding on to the cup of tea presented to him with a blank expression. 

Harry pondered how to phrase his reply. On one side he didn't trust him in the slightest, and would definitely not be revealing his status as Voldemort's so-called 'prophesied enemy', but on the other, he couldn't keep him completely in the dark about everything either.

"You are right. I didn't do this purely out of good-will." Harry said as he stirred some honey into his tea. 

"You could have destroyed me, yet you did not." Tom added.

Harry hummed in acknowledgement. "I could have." 

"Never think that I am not grateful, I very much am. Yet I keep asking myself, why?" Tom quietly declared.

Harry contemplated the question while he brought out some biscuits. 

"You used to have so much potential, so many bright ideas. I will admit to feeling the loss of it all a waste. Perhaps they weren't born out of selfless desire to see the world prosper, but that is less important than the outcome of those plans had they come to fruition." Harry mused, taking a sip of his tea. 

"If a million pounds is donated to starving children, it matters little whether the deed was done out of empathy or as a publicity stunt to further one's own goals. To those children, it is the difference between going hungry, or living a normal life. So, who am I to judge your motives?" 

"Your means however, that is an entirely different matter. I have no desire to see your reign of terror begin anew, hence why I have a few conditions before you integrate into society once more. Most importantly, there will be no war." Harry's green eyes bore into Tom's brown ones with cold determination. 

Unbeknownst to Harry, the shadow that had lingered behind his back, stretched and spread, a pair of bright, red eyes glowering menacingly at Tom.

What Harry did notice however, was the way Tom's face drained of all colour and his body seemed to almost flinch. 

Harry frowned. He found it to be an excessive reaction, he was hardly that scary, was he? 

Tom licked his lips and cleared his throat. "Yes… perfectly understandable." He said, the tiny wobble in his voice being ignored for the sake of common decency. 

"Wonderful! I'm glad we seem to be on the same page concerning this." Harry nodded and held out the tin of lemon shortbread. "Biscuit?" 

Sirius knew that the Dark Wanker had awoken the day before. James had been keeping an eye on him without Harry being aware of it. Or if he did, he obviously didn't mind since they didn't get scolded for it. 

Sirius was being introduced to Voldemort officially in about an hour or so, and didn't know how to feel about the entire thing. 

He was tense, that was for sure. No matter how much Harry claimed the monster had the capacity for change, Sirius didn’t agree.

If Voldemort stepped so much as a toe out of line, or threatened to harm Harry, he would eviscerate him with savage delight. 

“You remember the rules, right?” Harry asked for the umpteenth time, fussing over Sirius’ behaviour like a good pureblood parent, minus the threats of painful retaliation should he misbehave. 

“Yes mother.” Sirius rolled his eyes heavenward and crossed his arms with fond amusement.

“Just… Please try not to antagonise him.” Harry nearly begged, frown securely in place. 

“I do have some self-restraint, you know.” Sirius huffed. His impertinent godson gave him a dubious look. So rude! 

“I totally do!” He defended himself. 

“Okay, I believe you.” Harry threw up his hands in defeat, laughter evident in his eyes.

Before he left, Harry put his hand on Sirius’ shoulder and squeezed gently. “I probably don't say this enough, but thank you, Sirius. For everything you do for me.” 

If Sirius felt a little choked up, nobody would ever know. He smiled brightly and gave his godson a surprise hug, laughing at the baffled squawk coming from the powerful boy. 

“Alright! Enough sappy, sappy. Go fetch your little redemption project before my teeth start rotting.” Sirius gave the man a final nudge out the door. 

He had to get dressed himself before he was ready to meet Mr tall, dark, handsome, and batshit insane. Somehow he doubted showing up in his dressing gown was appropriate. 

Unsurprisingly, he was not the first to make it to the large solar in the south wing of Harry’s home.

Ever since the parselmouth reveal, Barty had seemed to worship the very grounds Harry walked on, so of course he’d show up as soon as his godson asked it of him. Probably sooner if he could. 

Sirius wondered if Barty had been told what was about to happen, he looked a bit too calm for that to be the case.

He had his nose buried deep in one of Harry's history books, detailing something or other that was entirely boring if you were to ask Sirius. 

“Do you ever do something besides reading or torturing cute little puppies?” Sirius complained with exaggerated horror, followed by sticking his tongue out childishly at Barty’s returning glare. 

“For your information, some of us actually value information, and refuse to go stumbling about like a blind ignoramus.” Barty sniped back.  

Before their petty arguments could escalate into an even pettier fight, Harry made himself known with a quiet cough. 

“Gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to settle down, there is someone I’d like for you to meet.” Harry said. 

Sirius and Barty both snapped their heads to the side, attention fixed on Harry and his guest.

Sirius eyed Voldemort with heavy suspicion. The man might have a pretty face now, expressionless as it was, but that didn't make his soul any less rotten. 

“My Lord!” Barty exclaimed with a reverent gasp. 

He ran towards the Dark Lord and fell to his knees in front of him, all the while gushing about the wizard's apparent greatness. 

Sirius watched it all with extreme disgust and prejudice. From what he'd been told, Voldemort had always delighted in degrading his followers, watching them prostrate on their knees like worms before their god. 

This was something different however. Voldemort grimaced as Barty kissed his feet, the revulsion clear in every part of his body. It was… strange. 

The expression faded just as quickly as it had arrived, but Sirius knew what he'd seen, no matter how hard he struggled to believe it.

Voldemort cleared his throat. "That is enough… Barty." He hesitated on the name for just a tiny bit longer than what was to be expected, as if he wasn't familiar with it. As if he hadn't spent years with Barty as his obsessed little acolyte. 

Sirius frowned. 

Had he… forgotten about being Voldemort? 

It didn't make any sense, but neither did Voldemort’s reactions. 

There was an uncomfortable feeling settling in Sirius’ stomach that he’d rather not confront, however countless therapy sessions had taught him that it was best not to let things fester.  

Sirius eyed the Dark Lord more closely, watching how he interacted with Harry and Barty, wondering if the cordial behaviour was all some sort of ploy to gain their trust, or if he’d truly forgotten about his past.

Sirius found both options disturbing for different reasons.  

~

Nagini knew she shouldn't stir the cauldron, so to speak, but she was dreadfully bored.

Harry had withdrawn her access to the barns so she couldn't even amuse herself with hunting easy prey. He claimed she'd been eating too much, that they were an endangered species or something equally as silly. 

If those stupid birds didn't want to get eaten they should have flown away! They'd been so plump and tasty… It wasn't her fault that they didn't know to run away when she slithered into their habitat. 

Harry had been angry though, very angry… So much so that his magic had made her feel uncomfortable. She decided to give the wizard time to calm down before she gave in to her desire for entertainment. 

A few weeks later she found the perfect opportunity, it was simply too tempting to resist. 

Tom sat in his room, hidden away from the other occupants of the house for some much needed solace.

~

Meeting Lord Peverell for the first time since his resurrection had been a rather terrifying experience for Tom. 

Not only was the man impossible to kill, the fact that the main soul had tried, and subsequently failed to kill him, filled him with a sense of primal dread that crawled down his spine and prickled his skin. 

But also… Death itself had made it inherently clear that Lord Peverell held all the power in this equation. He was Death's Master , and Tom was a mere plaything, revived purely for its master’s amusement. 

His very soul was nestled in a gilded cage of Lord Peverell’s making and it was causing his skin to itch and buzz, invisible little bugs skittering just underneath the surface. 

He should be grateful, he was grateful. He had a second chance, he was alive again, but he also felt trapped.

Peverell had said he didn't want anything in particular from him, but Tom knew that to be a lie. There was always a reason, always a hidden motive lurking in the shadows. Humans didn't do something like this for free, especially not after attempted homicide on their person. 

Tom just hoped that whatever the price would be, it wouldn't be too stark. Because he knew that to stay alive, he would do anything.

His mind, the one thing he had always prided himself on, was now in shambles. He felt adrift, a captainless ship tossed between the crashing waves of a stormy sea. 

He had thought being alive once more would solve all his troubles, that he would be faced with a brand new start, but his past still held a tight grip, dragging him under the surface whenever he dared to breathe. 

“You are distressed. Stop thinking so much.” Nagini hissed as she hefted her heavy body up onto his bed, draping herself across his feet where she could soak up the afternoon sun like a lazy cat.

Her company was familiar, an anchor amidst the overwhelming future of uncertainties and unknowns.

Tom’s laugh was short and self-deprecating. 

Thinking, when had that ever been a bad thing? Yet now, he found himself lost in his own mind, in the actions of his past that felt like it should have been his future. 

“I can remember what he did… what I did, but it is hazy, like looking through a pane of foggy glass.” Tom murmured, sounding far away as his right hand absentmindedly ran down Nagini’s head, stroking her smooth scales, seeking some sort of comfort in the touch. 

She had been his steady friend and companion since his youth. He'd come across her on his travels after Hogwarts, before he made the locket into a Horcrux. 

As soon as they met, and his parselmouth abilities became clear, she simply never left, determined to be his companion. It was a type of companionship he'd never experienced before. Unlike the classmates he'd spent the majority of his time with in school, he actually enjoyed her presence, he might even go so far as to say he cared for her. 

Trust was something Tom didn't give easily, but Nagini, she'd earned it. 

When Tom next spoke, his voice was quieter, lost. 

“It feels as if I am a mere passenger in my own life, watching the action being taken but unable to affect it, to decide for myself, to change the outcome. Every memory from after my locket was created are tainted, diffuse in their imperfection.”

"What brought this on, Voldemort? Did that idiot servant of yours say anything?" She asked, tilting her head curiously to look up at him.

“Don’t call me that.” Tom said with a grimace, the moniker bringing forth uncomfortable memories of the past, of his fears and hunger for power, of the many mistakes he’d made in the years following his youth.

Nagini looked as perplexed as a snake could get, her tongue darting out to taste the air. 

“What do you wish to be called then?” She asked, knowing how sensitive he’d been about his name in the past. 

“Tom… just Tom.” And wasn't that quite the eye-opener for him.

As a young boy he’d hated how common his name was. It was a name of no distinction. There were thousands of Toms out there. One of his fears had been to be forgotten, to remain nothing, just another unremarkable Tom amongst the many others. 

Things were different now. Although he could still not claim to love the name and the ties it held to his father, it was still his, the name he had been given at birth, for good or for ill. It was certainly miles better than Voldemort. 

And if Death’s Master could willingly go by such a plebeian name as Harry, then Tom suddenly didn't sound so bad. 

He didn’t desire to speak further on the matter. With a sigh he grabbed hold of the previously posed question that had derailed into the whole name debacle.

"My thoughts are not the fault of Bartemius' words, rather the blurry memories that followed his appearance. It is all there, my memories from after my locket's creation, but they are hard to grasp, almost hidden in a way." Tom sighed. "Seeing Bartemius triggered some of them, that is all." 

"Maybe they just take time to settle? Don't worry so much about it. And if it gets worse, go see Harry, I'm sure he'd love to help. He was quite worried about you while you were recovering from the resurrection, you know. It took weeks before you woke up. Sometimes, he would sit in here talking to you for hours." Nagini tattled on their host, remaining largely unconcerned with Tom's melodrama. 

Tom choked on his words, opening his mouth and closing it with a snap. 

"You are quite lucky that he likes you so much, Tom. Your servant would have ruined your resurrection if he were to go through with it, I'm sure. I have no idea why Harry is so fond of you though, you are both foolish and reckless. Although… I suppose you have a pretty face again. I'm told Harry spent months making it."  

"What?" He whispered in horror once the implication dawned upon him, his face draining of all colour. 

He had looked upon himself in the mirror, of course he had, but it hadn’t been due to vanity. He'd marvelled at the fact that he had an actual, physical body again, that he could touch, feel and taste. They were all things he had taken for granted in the past.

Now though, he was reminded of the aesthetical aspects. He was attractive again, no longer possessing the gaunt and disfigured form of Voldemort. At his birth he’d been blessed with the good looks of his muggle father, which slowly deteriorated with each Horcrux he made. 

Loathe as he was to admit it, his appearance had always been a great gift, human beings trusted a pretty face far more easily than they would someone ugly, no matter how foolish it might be. He had used it for all it was worth in the past, relying on charm instead of fear, well… for the most part. 

The thought that Peverell might have created his body with physical intimacy in mind, made Tom’s stomach churn with nausea. 

To say that Tom disliked physical contact would probably be an understatement. He hated to be touched without his consent, it didn't even have to be anything outrageous, just a hand on the shoulder or a friendly pat on the back was enough to make his hackles rise and his skin itch. 

“You think he’s… interested in me?” Tom cautiously asked, hoping that maybe he’d misunderstood Nagini’s insinuations. 

“Of course. Why else would he go through so much trouble for you?” Was her less than satisfying reply. She tilted her head to look at him as if he was an idiot. 

Tom glared at her. He certainly didn't appreciate the slight to his intelligence, so in retaliation he shoved her off his feet and onto the floor. 

Nagini’s body hit the carpet with a dull thud and she hissed loudly with indignation, spitting venomous words aimed at him and his idiocy. Tom ignored her theatrics, he had far more serious things to be concerned with at the moment, namely one Lord Peverell and his possible interest in Tom’s body.

~

Harry and the rest of the human inhabitants of his island, sans Tom, were enjoying lunch in the dining room. 

He was fully aware that the former Dark Lord had been avoiding them for days now. Regulus kept a firm eye on him wherever he went, which surprisingly enough had been his friend's own suggestion. 

He begrudgingly reported that Tom wasn't doing anything nefarious, in fact, he spent most of his time holed up in his bedroom with Nagini, or walking outside in the vast forest. 

It was surprising, but pleasantly so. Harry hoped this meant the man was slowly settling in and coming to terms with his new life. 

Nagini made her entrance known once everyone had served themselves some of the soup and bread on the table. She wound her way up the back of a chair, coiling her body into the seat. 

"Good morning Nagini." Harry greeted her, blowing on the piping hot spoonful of delicious soup. It was so good.

"Morning Harry." She replied.

"Will Tom be joining us?" He asked, figuring she'd probably know of the man's plans. 

"No. I doubt it." Was the answer. 

Harry thought that would be the end of it, but apparently, Nagini had more on her mind. 

"So Harry, did you make Tom because you wanted to fuck him? He's been quite worried about it lately." She dropped on him, with all the unconcerned carelessness that a snake could muster. 

Harry choked on the bread in his mouth, feeling it get stuck in his throat as his face burned a bright red, drawing the concerned looks of his family. 

"W-what?!" He sputtered, his brain having frozen mid-thought. "I wouldn't- he's not- I'm not- NO!" 

"Why would he think that?! Of course I didn't make him to- to… that's absurd!" Harry continued, switching over to parseltongue because the topic at hand was simply too embarrassing to be discussed in front of the others. His face still felt like it was on fire. 

"Oh god… Is that why he's been avoiding me?" Harry voiced, utterly mortified. 

Harry spent the rest of the day filled with an inner turmoil that stemmed from Nagini’s words. 

Later in the evening, when Marius gently tried to enquire about what had happened during lunch, Harry could feel his cheeks warming up again. He’d told him not to worry about it, that it was a misunderstanding and nothing else. His grandfather had thankfully left it at that, allowing Harry space and a promise to lend an ear if he needed someone to talk to. It was comforting, but Harry was too embarrassed to take him up on the offer.  

After wallowing in his own mortification for hours, Harry finally set out to clear the air. 

Finding Tom was not as hard as the man himself might have thought. Having Regulus keeping an eye on him might be considered an invasion of privacy, but in situations like this it did come in handy.

Harry took a deep breath and walked out into the dark forest, following the old path winding between the trees until he neared one of the many ponds. This one in particular was favoured by a species of Glow Bugs that only came out at night. 

The strange creatures were shaped like light-bulbs and glowed from within, like their name would suggest, bathing the pond in a beautiful, warm light as they hovered above the water’s surface. 

Tom had not heard him approaching, or if he had, he didn't show that he was aware. He sat on the damp grass with his back resting against a large tree, facing the pond. His eyes were closed, and for a second, Harry considered he might be asleep. 

“Mr Riddle…” Harry awkwardly began, hoping he wouldn't startle him too much. 

He had opted to use his surname to create some sort of distance between them, not wanting there to be any forced intimacy. It had been presumptuous of him to call him Tom, really, he should have earned the right to call him that. Come to think of it, he didn't even know if he wanted to be called Tom… and now Harry was fretting about yet another mistake he might have made.

~

Tom’s previously relaxed state, tensed at the other wizard’s words. His eyes flew open and he looked at Peverell with thinly veiled apprehension.

“I think we should probably have a talk. It appears there’s been some kind of… miscommunication..” Peverell continued, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other. 

“Very well.” Tom replied, slowly nodding his head in agreement.

“Do you mind if I call you Tom? I’m so sorry I didn't ask before, I really should have. If you want me to call you something else I can…. Just not Voldemort, sorry but that’s out of the question for me.” Peverell apologised, shaking his head. 

He might be many things, but Voldemort was no longer one of them, he didn't want to be.

“Tom is fine.” He answered. 

Peverell licked his lips and swallowed hard, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

“I had a conversation with Nagini earlier today, and, well… She seemed to be of the impression that you thought I made your new body with the intent of… w-well… less than savoury purposes.” Peverell’s cheeks flushed at the admittance and he coughed to clear his throat. 

“I just wanted to say that that's not true. I don't want anything like that from you. Your body is yours to do with as you please and I hold no sway over what you decide. I’m sorry if I’ve ever done something that made you feel uncomfortable, that was never my intention.” He continued, sounding earnest in his confession. 

Tom found himself inclined to believe the man who was both his captor and saviour. There was just one part of his words that bothered him. 

“Nagini told you, did she?” He asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion as the clues were coming together. 

Peverell blinked, having most likely not expected that kind of reaction from him. 

“She did, yes.” He confirmed with a faint frown. “Was she not being truthful?” 

Tom hummed noncommittally as he got to his feet and brushed the grass off his trousers. That darn snake had been truthful, yes, but only because she had been the one spreading the news in the first place. 

“It is curious,” Tom mused, “that she would first inform me of your frequent visits while I was… unavailable, only to bring my reaction to your attention later, don't you think?” 

Nagini was no ordinary snake, something Tom was more than aware of. This had all been an elaborate setup on her part, he was sure of it.

He could see the moment Peverell realised what he was hinting at. 

“Oh that conniving little-” Peverell hissed, stopping himself mid-sentence and taking a deep, calming breath. 

“This is revenge because I locked her out of the barns, isn't it?” He huffed. 

“Quite likely.” Tom agreed. “I imagine she is none too happy with me either, thus the two-way deception.” 

“No, I imagine she wouldn’t be. It must have been pretty lonely for her after you got yourself discorporated. It’s not like she can strike up a conversation with just anyone.” Peverell mused, making that tiny bit of guilt lodged in Tom’s chest grow.

They walked back through the forest in companionable silence after that. It was hardly comfortable, but at least the underlying fear of forced sexual relations was no longer as present. 

Eventually, as they began to see the house in the distance, Peverell stopped and turned to face him. 

“What do you want, Tom?” Peverell asked quietly, setting those eerily green eyes on him. “You have your whole life ahead of you, what is it you want to do with it?” 

Tom didn't have an answer to give.

~

The unsettled feeling within Tom did not dissipate as soon as he’d hoped. Even with his soul being whole once more, he felt hollow, a shell of a man. 

Peverell’s words kept making themselves apparent even days after the fact. “What do you want?” He’d asked, and now, Tom couldn't stop thinking about it. 

What did he want?  

World domination? Hardly. It had never been one of his goals, at least not originally. When his soul was shredded to pieces however? That was a different matter entirely.  

Then what about fame, money and power, did he want those? 

The answer was probably yes to all the above. Maybe he was a bit messed up for it, but it felt like an ingrained part of his being now… The need to be something more, something better. 

What were his goals then? Did he even have goals? 

These were questions Tom thought long and hard on, spending countless nights pondering his own existence and his role in the world. 

On one such evening, Tom found himself wandering the house at random, peeking into unlocked rooms just to take his mind off his own darkening mood. 

He had been told that most of the house had been rebuilt recently, but it certainly didn't look like what he’d expect a new house to be like. In fact, it reminded him of the pureblood manors he’d sometimes stay in, just less obvious about the wealth and more inviting. The furniture was not on display to impress others, but rather to be used, to be comfortable.

Inside what appeared to be a drawing room meant for relaxation, stood a beautiful, grand piano. Tom felt drawn to it, and instead of turning away to continue his exploring, he closed the distance, allowing the long fingers on his right hand to brush gently over the wood. 

With only the slightest moment of hesitation, Tom sat down on the bench, slowly, tentatively, pressing the keys. The sound seemed to ground him in a way, and he allowed his muscle memory to take over. 

It was clunky at first, his fingers kept hitting the wrong keys, not managing to keep up with his mind. It was to be expected, really. He hadn't played in decades, and certainly not in his new body. However, within minutes the sounds started to smooth out as he found his rhythm, becoming more akin to a melody rather than the uncoordinated ramblings of a child. 

Tom lost himself in the music, allowing the notes to flow from the tips of his slender digits, filling the room he was in with a hauntingly beautiful melody that cried its distress to the world at large.   

So entranced in the music was he, that he didn't notice the man stopping in the doorway, listening to the way he bared his soul. 

The old man watched Tom in silence, waiting for a lull in the melody, a pause where he could reach out. 

“You play beautifully.” He said, startling Tom out of his trance, the music coming to an abrupt halt as he froze in his seat. 

His head snapped to the left, eyes falling on the one who had spoken. It was Marius Black. He remembered hearing about the shameful squib of the Black family when he was at Hogwarts. It was supposed to be hushed up, but word travelled fast within the Slytherin dorms. 

Tom had never cared much for squibs. That wasn't to say he disliked them, he was just indifferent. 

“Thank you, Mr Black.” He curtly replied, feeling his defensive walls slam back up in place now that he was no longer alone. 

Marius Black smiled kindly at him, as if he didn't know his past, as if Voldemort had been nothing more than a misguided schoolboy instead of an insane mass-murderer. 

It threw him off balance.

“Please just call me Marius, Mr Black was my father.” He chuckled. 

Tom wanted to be left alone, but Marius Black did not seem inclined to leave any time soon. He'd entered the room fully now, and positioned himself in the plush sofa to the far right.

"Would you like some tea?" The old squib offered as a tea set materialised on the table in front of him, undoubtedly thanks to one of the many house elves. 

Tom's immediate thought was to refuse and then hastily make his retreat, but he was but a guest in this house, and he had no idea if snubbing one of Peverell's companions would bring the man's wrath down upon him. 

It was best to remain cautious. Peverell had been gracious so far, but that was undoubtedly privy to change should Tom overstep his welcome. 

"Please." Tom agreed with a gesture of his hand and a fake smile as he sat opposite the good-natured squib. 

Two cups were poured, one placed in front of Tom. He added some milk and sugar to his tea, a luxury he’d never experienced before Hogwarts, but found that he quite enjoyed. 

“It’s good to see you are settling in. It can't have been easy.”

The conversation was uncomfortable from Tom’s side of things. Marius kept engaging him in smalltalk until Tom finally lost his patience. 

“Why are you doing this? I’m not a good person. Even with my soul intact, I will never be a good person.” Tom pointed out, feeling defensive at all the genuine kindness. 

He didn't understand… Marius knew what he was, who he was. He should be calling him a monster like everyone else, not offer him tea and compassion. 

Marius hummed gently, his soft smile never dimming. 

“I believe everyone has the capacity for change, if only they wish to do so. You cannot alter the past, but what you do in the future, that is entirely up to you. No one is truly irredeemable, Mr Riddle, not even you.”  

The words were spoken with so much warmth, so much genuine belief that Tom could separate himself from Voldemort, that it left him entirely wrongfooted yet again.

“It’s getting late,” Marius said, standing up gracefully for someone his age. “It has been a pleasure to finally speak with you, Mr Riddle, perhaps we could do it again sometime.” 

And with that, Marius vacated the room, leaving Tom reeling. 

Could he truly change?

~

Harry had to admit that the talk between him and Tom had been good for both of them. The general atmosphere seemed to be calmer, and Tom was mingling more often than previously. Sometimes he even showed up for dinner! It was great progress.

Days had turned into weeks and there was a sense of normalcy to be found in the Peverell household. Tom wasn't the most vocal or social of them, but he was pleasant enough to be around, whenever he showed his face that was.

Tom could often be found in the library, reading newspapers, books, or simply staring at nothing while seemingly deep in thought. 

It was clear that he still needed time and space to get his mind straight, and Harry was more than willing to give him that. 

Harry had retreated for the evening into his study, nose buried in some boring legislation that he’d rather burn than have to deal with. God how he hated politics. 

He sighed for the umpteenth time, trying to stave off his oncoming headache by rubbing his temples. It was about cauldron thicknesses again- why was it always about that? It was so inane, so ridiculously unimportant that he wished to hex the submitter to kingdom come. 

There was a knock on the door, breaking the frail interest he held for his Wizengamot work. 

“Please enter.” Harry said loud enough to be heard on the other side, looking up from the legislation. 

He was more than surprised to see Tom standing in the doorway. He blinked in bafflement before remembering his manners.

“Tom, how may I help you today?” Harry politely asked, gesturing for him to have a seat. 

Tom positioned himself in the chair across from Harry, folding his hands neatly in his lap. 

“Lord Peverell, a few weeks back, you asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Since then I have been thinking, and I feel like I have come up with a satisfying answer.” Tom revealed.

Harry's eyebrows climbed further up his forehead. This certainly was a step in the right direction.

“Oh? Well I’m pleased to hear you’ve given it some thought,” Harry replied. “I take it you are here because of what you’ve concluded then?” 

“You assume correctly.” Tom nodded. 

He didn't look unnerved or uncomfortable, but there was a sort of tightness in him that Harry recognised, it was that of someone afraid of rejection. 

“There are several things in life I desire, one of which has always been power, there is no getting around that.” Tom admitted with ease, spine rigid. 

“I had gathered as much,” Harry blandly stated with a raised eyebrow, wondering where Tom was going with this, it was hardly news. 

“Another used to be immortality, but I now see what a folly that would be.” Tom continued. 

Harry would admit that hearing that definitely counted as character growth. At least there would be no more Horcruxes.

"I will be quite frank, Lord Peverell, I wish to go back into politics." Tom said, dropping a bomb that was entirely expected if Harry was being honest.

"Our society remains stagnant, and with high infertility rates causing fewer children, we cannot afford to alienate the muggleborns, nor can we pretend that the muggle world is not changing around us. Because if we do, then the magical population will either go extinct by our own device, or we will be discovered, neither of which I have any desire to see happen." 

And what could Harry say in the face of that? Tom was right after all.

Harry didn't know the state of the magical populations elsewhere, but magical Britain certainly was falling to pieces, so stagnant that it was utterly unsustainable long term. 

Tom’s desire for power and revolution, well, Harry could work with that. It didn't have to turn into something bloody, not this time.   

~

Tom had finally revealed his thoughts and desires to Peverell. He felt nervousness and anticipation churn in his stomach, not knowing if he'd be allowed to put his plans into motion. 

It was no secret in Tom's mind that Peverell was keeping him as some sort of prisoner on this island, no matter how much the man himself might deny it. 

If Peverell didn't like what he heard, then it wouldn't happen, simple as that. There was a severe power imbalance between them, and it was not tilted in Tom's favour.

Despite the fact that Tom was ambitious and cunning, he was also far from stupid, he knew when he was outclassed, and so he had no desire of going against Peverell, the man whom Death called its master… There were no outcomes where he'd come out on top, not yet.

An uncomfortable silence filled the study while the young man in charge of Tom's fate assessed him, his face entirely unreadable. 

"You're aiming for the Minister position then?" Peverell eventually asked, calm as could be, raising a single eyebrow.

"If you will permit me to, then yes." Tom replied politely.

Peverell hummed thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair, never once taking his unnervingly green eyes away from Tom. 

“And you realise that you can’t begin a civil war again to reach your goals, correct?” He asked.

Tom nodded firmly. He did not like war, detested it in fact. He had grown up during the Blitz, stuck in muggle London while the bombs rained down upon them, needless to say those were not fond memories.

He might be cruel and somewhat sadistic, but he did not condone war unless it was an absolute last resort, there was too much at stake, too many casualties. Their society would not be able to survive another one so soon after the last two. 

“Hm, alright. In that case, you will be needing this.” Peverell said, sliding a folder of documents across the desk with a somewhat amused quirk of his lips. 

Tom picked it up smoothly and began to read. The more he saw the higher his eyebrows rose, until eventually he couldn't contain the short, incredulous laugh that burst out of him. 

The documents were all official, all legal as far as Tom could tell. They were stamped and dated, some going as far back as January 1962, if the birth certificate was to be believed. 

Lord Peverell had crafted him an entirely new, legal identity to use, and for some reason, Tom was now his own son in the eyes of the public. 

Thomas Erion Gaunt. 

That was his new name apparently, born to Tom Marvolo Riddle and Irina Delvina, an Albanian woman he’d supposedly met on his travels.  

“When did you do this?” He asked, looking up to see the full-blown smirk on Peverell’s face. The powerful wizard merely shrugged. 

“So, do you like it?” He asked with a mischievous grin.

“It is…. A bit obvious, don't you think?” Tom hesitantly voiced. Anyone from his Hogwarts days that saw his face would not be fooled. 

Sure he was young and handsome again instead of skeletal and deathly pale, but his features were still the same. He looked like Tom Riddle. 

“I wouldn't worry too much about it. The legal side of things is air tight. Even if someone were to go looking, they would find no fault in your background. And If you’re concerned about your face, I have a way to combat that for when you are ready to make your first public appearance.”  

Peverell opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out an unassuming piece of jewellery. The gold ring shone underneath the magical lighting in the room. It was shaped like a snake biting its own tail, with a small, glittering emerald for an eye.

“This is something of my own creation,” Peverell mused, holding the ring between his thumb and index finger, shifting his eyes from the ring to Tom.

“It doesn't look like much, does it? Well, looks can be deceiving. Why don't you try it on?” He continued with a challenging glint to his eyes, holding the ring out towards Tom. 

Tom took it, wondering what exactly it did. He didn't fear for his life, there would have been no point in bringing him back and letting him stay for weeks, only to kill him with a ring of all things, but he was concerned about putting on an unknown magical artefact.

Still, he was no coward. 

He put it on his left little finger and stiffened as a wave of foreign magic washed over him, only to disappear the next second. It was a strange sensation, but he didn't feel any magic coming from it anymore, nor did he feel different. 

“Have a look.” Peverell said, conjuring a hand mirror for Tom to use. 

With a frown, Tom looked into his reflection, eyes widening at the small, but noticeable changes. His hair was a shade lighter than normal and his eyes were a dark blue rather than brown. There were minuscule differences in his nose and chin area as well, but not enough to be disconcerting.

“As you can see, the ring will modify your appearance whenever you wear it. The change is permanent as long as you keep it on and it can't be undone by spells nor potions. I recommend not tinkering with it, because if you break it, I won't make you another one.” Peverell explained. 

And with that, the final piece of the puzzle slotted into place. 

Tom was an intelligent man, a veritable genius according to his many accomplishments, and from the very beginning there had been something bothering him, niggling at the back of his mind, unable to become a coherent theory. It wasn't until he saw the effects of the shape changing ring that it all made sense. 

“You are Harry Potter.” Tom stated, feeling shocked at the wild and absolutely absurd realisation.

There was a moment of deafening silence filling the room, until Peverell spoke.

“I am.” He replied, confirming Tom’s accusation and subsequently changing everything.

Chapter Text

"Well, I'll admit that I didn't think we'd need to have this conversation quite so soon." Harry murmured, lips drawn tight in a displeased frown. 

He always knew Tom was ridiculously smart, but he didn't see how he could have reached such a conclusion from just seeing the ring. Maybe he hadn’t been as careful as he thought.

"How is this possible? How can you be both Harry Potter and Lord Peverell simultaneously?" Tom asked incredulously. "You would have to either be a twelve year old posing as an adult, or an adult playing a child, neither make sense." 

"It's… complicated." Harry sighed, leaning back in his chair. He had hoped to have more time to prepare for this, to break it to him slowly.  

"Clearly..." Tom retorted.

"You're not entitled to know any of this you know? Actually, I'm not going to tell you anything else until you've signed this contract." Harry answered, levitating a secrecy contract from one of his shelves. 

"I prefer this to an unbreakable vow, don't you? No risk of accidentally killing yourself." Harry's smile was stiff as he placed his special, gold fountain pen on top of the contract, the one that would draw blood and make it binding. 

The minutes ticked by as Tom read the document with careful scrutiny, making sure that he understood even the fine print, not that there was much of it. 

Harry had made the contracts he used as straightforward as he could make them while covering up any possible loopholes. They weren't free of faults, he didn't think a contract ever could be, but they were as good as they'd get. And if he was about to spill his guts to his former nemesis, well, he felt like some safety measures were well within his right.

~

Tom’s head was spinning. He wasn't entirely sure how he’d come to his conclusion, nor how on earth it had proved to be correct. 

The ring had been the final clue in a string of puzzling facts. The first of which was the presence of Sirius Black and his familiarity with Lord Peverell. 

Why bother getting a presumed Death Eater out of Azkaban? He would have no way of knowing whether the man was innocent or not. Why take the risk of bringing one of Voldemort’s followers near his ward, Harry Potter? Peverell was much too careful a man for that. Which meant he already knew the answer. But how had he known?

Pettigrew? 

Possibly… but now that Tom had looked at the news articles of Pettigrew’s capture without the insanity clouding his mind, they looked fabricated. He knew Peter Pettigrew. Despite having been sorted in Gryffindor, the man was a coward, never in a million years would he have approached Peverell’s home on his own, and certainly not for revenge on Harry Potter, not when he had remained comfortably hidden for so long. 

Tom realised that if he wanted to find out the truth, he would have to sign the contract. 

Tom Marvolo Riddle was written out in crimson blood, solidifying his promise to keep Peverell’s secrets. 

The story Peverell told him afterwards was wild, fantastical even. He spoke of war, time travel and souls, of dying and being reborn. 

Had it been someone else, Tom would not have believed him, but this was the man who had conquered Death, the man who had placed Tom’s patchwork soul into a newly created body. Someone so immensely powerful that it sent chills down Tom’s spine just thinking about what he could do if he so desired. 

It didn't make sense, yet at the same time it did. 

Lord Peverell was Harry Potter. 

The flashes of a gold chain around Peverell’s neck that Tom had seen at odd times during his stay was due to a Time-Turner. His strikingly familiar features to Potter were caused by the artefact that allowed him to change his shape, just like the ring Tom had been given. His familiarity with the Blacks due to them being family. It was an eye opener. 

Tom realised that Voldemort never stood a chance this time around, and he was immensely grateful that instead of destroying him- which would have been the option Tom himself would have chosen if their positions were reversed- Peverell had saved him.

Once more, Tom was left with a feeling of uncertainty, and so many truths to unpack that it was hard to wrap his head around them.

~

“You need to talk about your past with a professional before you start on your chosen path.” Peverell demanded during dinner one evening. 

Tom blinked slowly, lowering the fork that had been half-way to his open mouth already. 

“I beg your pardon?” He queried, not quite understanding what the man was hinting at.

What kind of professional? He agreed that a trip to the goblins was well in order, and perhaps seeking out a wandmaker that wasn't Ollivander, but somehow he got a feeling that was not what the other meant.   

“You know, like a therapist.” Peverell continued unconcernedly, ignoring how Tom’s body tensed at the very suggestion. 

The conversation around the dinner table came to a halt when faced with the hot anger radiating out of every pore of Tom’s rigid body. If looks could kill, Peverell would have dropped dead immediately. 

Barty’s eyes were wide as saucers, flickering skittishly between Tom and their host, not knowing who’s side to support. Sirius on the other hand appeared wary, and Marius, the oldest and wisest of them all, let out a resigned sigh for his grandson’s lack of tact. 

Peverell noticed none of this, in fact, it seemed like he thought the conversation was a done deal. Tom begged to differ.  

“How bold of you to assume I’ll go willingly.” Tom spat the words at him, lips drawn in an ugly sneer. 

He would rather die than be locked up in an insane asylum. There was nothing wrong with his mind! He was fine!

Peverell’s head rose to look at Tom from across the table, appearing startled by his vehement outburst. 

"What?" He mumbled in confusion.

"Should we… do something?" Barty whispered quietly to the young Black lord, so quiet in fact that Tom did not pick up on it.

The answering "hell no," was also not heard by Tom, whose sole focus was sharpened at Peverell.

"I think there has been a bit of a misunderstanding." Marius interrupted in his usual calm demeanour, trying to break the growing tension. 

"I'm not sure if you are aware, but I used to be a surgeon before I retired. A doctor. The medical field has advanced in ways you cannot imagine since the time of our youths. It is quite remarkable actually. I remember a time when lobotomies were regularly performed on those with mood disorders, now however they are illegal. Good riddance if you ask me. They, along with many of the medical practices when it comes to the mind, have been abolished in favour of new, less invasive methods." Marius took a break to wet his throat with a sip of wine. 

Tom remained quiet. He would admit that he knew next to nothing about the advances in muggle medicine over the decades, but it sounded too good to be true.

"The cognitive therapy Henry is talking about consists purely of talking. And in your case, I'm assuming it would not be with a living person, but rather a spirit summoned by the resurrection stone. No one is taking you anywhere Tom, you are staying here with us until you are ready to spread your wings again. Therapy is a common tool that even the healthiest people might benefit from when they are going through something out of the ordinary. I myself have seen a therapist on numerous occasions and found it to be greatly helpful in untangling the root of my problems." Marius finished with a gentle smile. 

If what he said was true, then perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. However, Tom did not relish in the idea of having another person, dead or alive, poking at his inner turmoil. 

Sharing was not something that came naturally to him, and he figured it might not be for Peverell either. 

And so, through a burst of childish pettiness, he said, "And what about you, Lord Peverell? Have you seen it appropriate to talk about your past?" 

The wide, startled, green eyes and prolonged silence was answer enough.

"I will agree to see this therapist when you do, not a moment sooner." Tom declared with an air of finality, thinking that would be the end of it.

"Wh- no! This isn't about me. I'm not the one who needs therapy, I'm perfectly fine!" Peverell exclaimed. 

Tom could hear an echo of his own thoughts. 

I'm fine.

Well, clearly they were not…

"I think dying more than once constitutes as a reason to not be fine." Tom countered.

“As much as it pains me to say this, Harry, Frankenstein’s monster over there is right.” Sirius remarked while jabbing his thumb in Tom's general direction. 

Tom raised an unimpressed eyebrow but did not disagree with the description. He might not be as ugly as Frankenstein’s monster on the outside, but he certainly was a patchwork creation these days. 

Peverell looked shocked that Sirius had taken Tom’s side in anything, much less something concerning Peverell himself. 

“Perhaps this is for the best.” Marius began, making Tom think that the case was closed, but no. 

“You can embark on this journey of recovery together. Won’t that be nice?” His smile was as gentle as ever, and in that moment, Tom desired nothing more than to rip the treacherous tongue out of his mouth. 

In the end, the Blacks got what they wanted. 

Peverell had caved under their assault, but not because he wanted to participate himself, heavens no, but because he wanted to torture Tom with this new nightmare. Tom was certain that was the point of it all. 

Needless to say, therapy was absolutely awful and Tom fucking hated it. 

~

Therapy sucked. 

Harry didn't know why he’d let himself be guilted into it, but he had, and now he was stuck talking about his past and feelings because he had to set a good example for Tom. 

Rationally he knew that therapy would help, but he was so used to hiding his weaknesses from the world that being forced to expose himself was difficult. Sure, it would probably be worth it, but right then and there, Harry hated nothing more than therapy. 

At least if he was to be miserable, Tom deserved to be miserable with him.

~

Harry dreaded each morning when he had to return to Hogwarts. Once, the castle had been his home, his escape from the Dursleys and their abuse. Now she felt stifling. 

Paying attention in class was getting harder and harder. What was the point in keeping up the ruse? He wasn’t learning anything nor working towards an end goal that called for his presence in the school. He had done what he set out to do. 

In the end, what settled the matter was when Luna cornered him in his dorm room one evening.

Alone, strangely enough. 

Harry hadn't noticed how the other boys had seemingly vacated the premises. 

“Your head has been filled with wrackspurts lately, Harry Peverell.” Luna said in her airy voice, shifting those startlingly observant, blue eyes to meet his gaze. 

“Oh?” He queried, not dismissing her for what others might believe to be nonsense. There was always a deeper meaning with Luna. 

She hummed, swinging her dangling legs back and forth underneath the chair she’d occupied next to Harry's bed. 

“I think it’s time to leave the nest and let your hatchlings fend for themselves,” she mused, “every dragon needs to spread their wings and fly eventually.” 

Harry frowned, wondering exactly what had brought this up. It wasn't that it came as a surprise, he had been seriously considering it, but…

“You snapped your jaws at Draco earlier.” She mused. “He was quite upset.” 

Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily. He hadn't even noticed how short his fuse had become. 

“Staying is making you restless. You should go to your snake at home, he needs you more than we do.” Luna smiled softly. 

Harry wondered if she truly knew of Tom, or if she just got vague feelings about important events. It was hard to tell sometimes. 

Luna was right of course, there wasn't really a need for him to stay at Hogwarts. The basilisk was relocated, Dumbledore was out of power and the Horcruxes had been dealt with. There were no more dark plots waiting to unfold around the next corner, which just left his young group of friends.

Neville was happier and more confident than Harry had ever seen him at such an age. Hufflepuff was doing wonders for him, as were his new friends. 

Luna was... Luna. Odd and unique, never one to conform, but Harry noticed that her blossoming friendship with the Slytherin and Hufflepuff girls had made her smile more. The bullying had also stopped. Harry was not ashamed to admit that he had called in quite a few favours with the older years. The quirky little firstie now had a vast array of protectors looking out for her from the shadows. 

Theo was safe as long as he was in school, and Harry knew that Diana was getting closer and closer to having a foolproof custody case. And if push came to shove, Harry could just ‘kidnap’ him for the summer. Either way, it was nothing that required his presence at Hogwarts. 

The rest of the kids would be fine, they didn't really need Harry as much as those three. Hermione still needed time to grow and lose her more abrasive traits, but he thought she was well on her way. Dumbledore’s trial and subsequent fall of grace had truly shaken her. 

Harry decided that he couldn't be there to coddle them any longer, they needed to grow on their own away from his manipulations, no matter if they were done with their well being at heart.

With the decision made, Harry sent a letter to headmistress McGonagall detailing his withdrawal the following day. 

Unsurprisingly, he was called to her office for a chat. 

“Why is it that you wish to leave our fine establishment, Mr Potter? Are you facing any difficulties with your classes? Friends perhaps?” McGonagall asked, lips pursed tight in a worried frown.  

For just a tiny moment, Harry wondered where this concern had been in his first life when he truly needed it, but he brushed the thought aside just as quickly as it arrived. 

“Not difficulties, per se…” Harry hedged. “But it is related to my classes, yes. I have tried to conform to the curriculum but… I’m not learning anything new. I’ve talked it over with my guardian and he and I both believe I will benefit more from one-on-one tutoring with tailored material.” 

He continued to detail his reasonings for withdrawing. There was nothing she could do to stop him of course, but she was still trying her best to keep him at Hogwarts. She suggested moving up a class or two but Harry just shook his head. 

“It will only breed resentment and make me a target. I’m sorry but this isn't a discussion, headmistress, it’s a formal, written withdrawal. I’ve enjoyed my stay here for the most part, but it is time to move on.” 

“We will be sad to see you go, Mr Potter, you have been a credit to your House.” McGonagall sighed, reluctantly agreeing with his reasoning. 

~

Harry’s friends didn't take the news nearly as well as the professors. Draco threw a fit of epic proportions, storming off to the dorms. Harry realised that he had hurt his feelings yet again, and it hit home just how young they all were, mere children. It solidified his resolve to leave them to associate with people their own age. He’d done enough meddling.

Luna was already aware of this outcome so she simply hugged him and proclaimed she’d go talk to Draco. She skipped away from the rest of them, humming a cheerful tune that made Harry smile softly. 

Blaise proclaimed that he should probably go help her, and quickly left as well.

“You’re really leaving?” Neville quietly asked, looking seconds away from crying. 

“Yeah, I really am.” Harry answered apologetically. 

“Lets face it, we always knew this day would come.” Theo muttered sullenly, not meeting any of their eyes.

“W-what do you mean?” Neville questioned, eyes widening. 

“He’s always been too big for this school, hasn't he.” Theo replied, finally shifting his gaze to Harry.

Theo had always been observant, more so than the others, picking up on the smallest clues. Right now it was as if Harry saw him for the first time, saw that silent intelligence that he hid away by bored indifference. 

Had he become a Death Eater, he had no doubt he would have risen to the top quickly, making himself indispensable to Voldemort. Thankfully that was a future that would never take place. Theo would never have to crumble under the weight of someone else’s will, not even his father’s. 

Harry was working on it. He would be successful, even if killing Nott Sr ended up being the only solution, Harry was not afraid of bloodying his hands for those he cared about. 

“You’ll still keep in touch r-right?” Neville hesitantly probed. 

“Of course!” Harry reassured him. “I’ll send you letters and we can meet up during the hols. Don’t worry Neville, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.” He joked, nudging the boy gently. 

Neville’s smile was shaky, but nonetheless relieved.

~

"Have you thought about what you're going to do about your followers? Their Marks have turned black again, they'll know something's changed." Harry casually asked Tom one evening during one of their many meetings in the solar. 

Tom looked up from the notes he'd been making, giving the question some thought before he answered. 

"Some of them are a liability, others, like those with positions within the Ministry, might be useful. Our wisest move, however, would be to eliminate those who are a threat before they can make a move against us." Tom callously replied, as if he wasn't talking about murdering people who used to be his loyal followers, well, mostly loyal anyway. 

Harry hummed absentmindedly. He wasn't disagreeing, not really. From a tactical point of view it definitely was the smartest course of action to avoid massive fuckups in the future, but it seemed so… cold. 

The view of Nagini slithering through the green grass outside reminded him of something he’d thought about for a while and wished to bring up.

Harry closed his eyes, willing away the scene of the past that threatened to spill forward. He hated that memory, even more so now that he’d become friends with the man that starred in it.

Gaping gashes on blood-smeared, pale skin. Harry swallowed hard and turned his attention back on Tom.  

“Speaking of Death Eaters, Severus Snape. He's not one of yours anymore, but rather mine, so if you'd be so kind as to remove his Mark, I'd very much appreciate it." Harry calmly added. His smile was gentle, but something dangerous lurked just underneath the surface of his eyes. It wasn't a request and they both knew it. 

"You can have Lucius though, he whines too much." He offhandedly continued, gesturing the blonde peacock away with his hand as an unimportant afterthought. 

Tom frowned, it was clear he held some resentment towards the potions master, but Harry’s demand should not have come as a surprise, and in fact it didn't. 

“You have to bring him here for that. And in addition, to perform that kind of magic I will need a wand.” Tom added. 

Harry had wondered when he’d be asing for his wand, he was impressed that it’d taken that long actually.

“That’s fine. I’ll have a talk with Snape about when it suits him best. Thank you Tom.” Harry nodded, his smile finally reaching his eyes. 

Tom gave a curt nod and buried his nose back in his books and notes, reacquainting himself with the current political climate. Not much had changed in the past decade or so, but it was always good to have done your due diligence before diving head first into something. 

~

"You wished to see me?" Tom said as he entered Peverell's study. 

He still found it easier to call the man Peverell. Using Potter made him feel uncomfortable, reminding him of his memories clouded by insanity, of the months raging with a single burning obsession, killing the prophesised child. 

"Tom! There you are. I've brought you something." Peverell grinned, looking for all intents and purposes like a child at Christmas. 

He gestured excitedly for Tom to enter the well lit study, bringing his arm out in a sweeping motion above the many wooden boxes piled on his desk. 

Tom's heart sped up in his chest, all of a sudden being clued in on what lay in front of him and desperately hoping he was right. 

Wands. 

"Go on, try them, see if you can find one that speaks to you." Peverell offered. 

Tom missed the eager look on the other man's face, too reverent of the large selection of magical foci in front of him. He could perform wandless magic, of course he could, but there was nothing like having a proper wand in your hand.

He briefly wondered what had happened to his first wand, the yew and Phoenix feather one he bought from Ollivander’s at the start of his magical journey. The thought of its most likely destruction by the Ministry left a surprisingly bitter aftertaste in his mouth.

Its loss was a pity, but Tom was nothing if not pragmatic. Yes the yew wand had felt like an extension of himself, but that didn't mean he wouldn't be able to find another wand that spoke to him. They were tools to be used, no point in getting sentimental. 

Tom methodically picked up each wand, judging them based on how they felt in his hand before he attempted to cast a simple spell to transfigure one of the wooden boxes into a decorated cufflink. The results varied greatly. 

Some wands felt downright awful whereas others were easy enough to work with. In the end he settled on a refined wand with a comfortable hilt. It was made from a darker type of wood which lightened the further towards the tip it got. 

"Walnut wood with a core of dragon heartstring." Peverell said, bringing Tom out of his own musings. 

"It belonged to one of my ancestors actually, that's why I know what it's made of. Most of these wands come from the Peverell vault, the rest I found in the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts." 

Tom frowned. “Room of Requirement?” 

“Oh! You probably know it by a different name. I’ve heard it be called the ‘Come and Go room’ and ‘Room of Hidden Things’ as well. It’s where you left the diadem.” Peverell explained, making the boxes stack up neatly with a gesture of his hand. 

“Ah.” Tom nodded his head. He knew fully well that the Room of Hidden things had been a little treasure trove of items. The problem however was that there was more rubbish than gold. 

He’d dug out some of the good items and sold them for a few extra coins after he found out about the possibility. Though, it looked like he wasn't the only one that’d had ideas of pilfering the room.  

"Aren't you worried I will attempt to restrain you now that I have this within my grasp?" Tom calmly asked, lifting a quizzical eyebrow as he twirled the new wand in his hand. It was a good match, very good in fact. 

Peverell snorted and rolled his eyes. "You're not that stupid Tom. Besides, admit it, this is kind of exciting isn't it? Working towards something bigger.” The Master of Death grinned widely, showing an outright feral smile of delight. 

Tom couldn't help it, his own lips twitched and a smirk bloomed. “I suppose you are correct.” 

“Oh. One more thing before you leave.” Peverell announced as he summoned something from an unassuming corner of the room. 

He held the cream coloured wand box out for Tom to take. 

“You are aware that I have every intention of using my wand, not keeping it in storage?” He asked drily. 

Peverell laughed. “Just open it.” 

Tom sighed imperceptibly. He didn't like surprises, but when living with Peverell, that was just something he’d have to make peace with. The man was eccentric and often cryptic to an annoying degree, relishing in throwing Tom off kilter. 

He slid the lid off, eyes growing wide as he uncovered what was inside. 

“I thought you might want it back…” Peverell softly confessed, waiting with bated breath for a reaction. 

“How did you find it?” Tom asked, voice quiet.  “I was so certain it was lost.” He murmured.  

“Pettigrew took it after you were discorporated. He kept it safe while in hiding, probably hoping it might put him in your good graces if you ever returned. I decided to relieve him of it before I sent him to Azkaban.” 

Tom breathed in deeply as he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his faithful yew wand. It felt just as compatible as when he was eleven, if not more so, making his magic sing with joy. It was like being reunited with a long lost family member, or at least that is what he likened it to. 

“Thank you.” He declared with utmost sincerity. 

“Glad to be of service.” Peverell laughed. “Obviously you can't use that in public though, it’s far too recognisable, hence why I had you pick out a new one.” 

“A wise decision.” Tom murmured. Even if he didn't like the thought of having to use anything other than his yew wand, it was another layer of protection. He’d make do. Plus, it wasn't as if he’d have to do a lot of powerful magic in a Ministry job, otherwise people like Fudge would never have been elected for the position. 

~

The time had come for Thomas Gaunt to be introduced to the public. Harry found himself being both excited and nervous. He didn't think there would be any hiccups, they had planned everything fairly well, but one could never know, there was always some level of chaos and uncertainty when you added living beings into the equation. 

For the occasion, Tom was wearing the ring that altered his appearance and had been dressed in the finest wizarding apparel money could purchase. 

Harry was not going to lie, the man looked rather dashing in his tailored, midnight blue robes. It almost made him feel underdressed, even if he was no slouch in the clothing department himself these days. 

Tom just had this aura of confidence about him. Combined with his aesthetically pleasing exterior, he could probably wear a burlap sack and still have people flocking to him. Harry was a little jealous actually. 

Gringotts was their first stop of the day. They had a meeting with the Slytherin account manager that simply couldn't be postponed. Tom deserved to take back his heritage, this time owning it without making it into something grotesque. 

Harry had high hopes that Tom might be able to restore Slytherin’s reputation both in and out of Hogwarts. It was a bit of a gamble though. Everyone knew Voldemort had been a descendant of Slytherin, and for those that looked closely enough, Tom’s apparent shady past would come to light, revealing him as the son of the once feared Dark Lord. 

It could backfire on them, leaving the public distrustful, or it could work, creating the image of a bright young man who wanted to rise out of the ashes of his father’s cruelty. 

Most likely they would get both. The Dark faction would be swayed by the Slytherin and Gaunt name, thinking he was only doing it all to fool the light into a false sense of security while secretly supporting them. The Light faction would be split, just like they were when it came to Lord Peverell himself. 

They had planned for all the different outcomes, now the only thing left to do was wait and see what the outcome would be. 

Master Karrnok was a punctual goblin, and Harry and Tom were guided to his office immediately upon their entrance. They were both met with cunning, black eyes and a vicious little grin that grew as he got a good look at Tom. 

“Well met, Lord Peverell, Mr Gaunt.” He greeted them with a short nod. 

Harry smiled and returned the greeting, as did Tom. 

“On to business, yes?” Karrnok said, focusing his attention onto Tom. “And may I say that I am pleased to see you in good health once more.” His grin was full of sharp teeth.

Harry knew he didn't give a shit about Tom’s health but rather the gold in his vault.

“I have no idea what you are insinuating Master Karrnok, but your well-wishes are appreciated.” Tom replied politely, his eyes betraying his amusement. It was clear that both goblin and wizard knew what was going on. 

“I will be frank, Mr Gaunt. Your vaults have been stagnant for far too long, not lucrative in the least. Unfortunately for both of us, your heir has been unable to take on the responsibilities in your absence.” Karrnok announced, leafing through his ledger.

“Pardon?” 

Tom seemed to freeze for a fraction of a second. Harry did his best to keep a straight face, sneaking glances through the corner of his eyes. Oh this was going to be good. 

“You heard me.” The goblin replied.

“I don't have an heir.” Tom drily announced.

“Oh but you do!” Karrnok laughed with apparent glee, making Tom scowl. 

“You see, a few years ago, a young little wizardling did the inheritance test, and wouldn't you know! The bugger turned out to be the heir to the Slytherin estate.”

“And who might this young wizard be, perchance?” Tom asked, body rigid and expression taut.

“Why none other than the great Harry Potter himself!” Karrnok cackled until he was wheezing for breath. 

Tom looked like he’d just been slapped in the face with a flobberworm. 

“Excuse me, I’m not sure I heard that correctly. Did you say Potter?”

“Oh yes. Quite an amusing twist of fate, don't you think?” Karrnok grinned. 

Tom’s head snapped to the side to glare at Harry, picking up on the fact that he had known the entire time and chosen not to inform him. 

Meanwhile, Harry was trying desperately not to break out into laughter.

All in all it had been a rather informative meeting for Tom, who quickly got ahold of himself and began talking business with his account manager. 

Unfortunately, there was no lordship ring to collect. Harry wasn’t entirely surprised. He figured Voldemort would have made it into one of his Horcruxes if a priceless family treasure like that had been available. 

If the Slytherin family ever possessed a lordship ring, it had been lost over the ages or squandered away like the rest of their many heirlooms. For being such staunch supporters of family lines and pure blood, the Gaunts had done the Slytherin family no favours.

Harry and Tom continued out into Diagon Alley after their meeting had concluded, walking casually around the bustling street. They did some minor shopping purely so that they would be seen and acknowledged. 

The final stop of the day took place in one of Diagon’s high-end restaurants. Harry had booked a table for three in a private corner of The Golden Pegasus. 

The establishment was geared towards the upper echelon of wizarding society, those with enough money to pay the outrageous price tag on their menu. It was a sought after spot for lords and politicians wishing to rub elbows.  

“Good afternoon Madam Skeeter, it is lovely to see you once more.” Harry announced with a pleasant smile as he held his arm out towards his companion. “May I introduce you to my good friend, Thomas Erion Gaunt.” 

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Madam Skeeter.” Tom declared in a velvety timbre. 

He kissed her hand with practised ease, putting forth his most charming smile. This was what he did, what he was made for. With a face like that, Tom Riddle could have charmed the knickers off any woman if he so wished to, of course, he didn't, but that was an entirely different matter. 

Truth was that Tom had an innate gift of making people like him, one Harry was rather amazed by. 

“Such flatterers, the both of you!” Skeeter tittered, a pink blush staining the upper part of her cheeks. 

They sat down at the table, Tom pulling the chair out for the blonde reporter to sit. She basked in the attention like a Kneazle in the sun. 

For the next hour, the three of them talked over wine and exquisite food, setting up the perfect article for the day to come. Skeeter was well and truly paid for, and their professional relationship was a gift that kept on giving. 

She was a brilliant author, and Harry had a feeling the article would stir up the public like a fox amongst the chickens. Most would think it innocent, a story of a young man making something of the Gaunt family name that has been disgraced for generations, despite its position within the sacred twenty-eight. 

He was sure some would also recognise Tom for who he truly was, or at least heavily suspect his origins, but there would be no evidence to confirm their suspicions. They would be grasping at a mirage. 

~

“Uuh, should I be concerned?” Sirius warily asked, stopping dead in his tracks as he took in the identical, smug looks etched on Harry and Riddle’s faces. 

Knowing from experience, those looks did not bode well. It reminded him entirely too much of himself and James when they had an extra good prank planned, one that more often than not ended up being extremely humiliating for the target, possibly even a little dangerous. 

“No need to worry, Sirius! It’s all going according to plan.” His godson cheerily announced, turning the page of his copy of the Daily Prophet with an air of satisfaction. 

“That's exactly what I’m worried about.” Sirius muttered as he joined them for breakfast, hands going straight for the coffee. 

His eyes flickered to the newspaper, whatever was in there had to be the cause of their good mood. He considered nicking Harry’s copy, but in a fit of common decency- that Sirius was extremely suspicious of- Riddle threw his own to Sirius when he noticed him ogling.

“Have a look for yourself, it’s hardly something to call the aurors about.” Riddle, the conceited arse said, the smirk on his face almost unbearable. 

Sirius glared at him but opened it none-the-less. At first he didn't see what there was to be so happy about, it was just a fluff piece written by Skeeter, but the longer in he got, the clearer it all became. 

He gulped down his coffee and mentally cursed it for not being alcohol. This was an alcohol kind of situation. 

After all, Voldemort was going into politics, with Harry's backing… 

Hecate have mercy on them all. 

~

In a distant corner of Britain, Albus Dumbledore was getting ready for the day. He’d settled himself in with a nice cup of tea at his brother’s kitchen table, humming along to the wireless when the post owl arrived with the morning edition of the Daily Prophet. 

He smoothed the paper out on the table, scanning the front page absentmindedly as he sipped his tropical tea, and subsequently choked, spilling hot liquid all over himself in horror when his eyes landed on the moving picture of Tom Riddle and Harrison Peverell. 

He coughed violently, his heart hammering hard against his ribs.

“ABERFORTH!” Albus yelled, running out into the pub without a care about the sleeping robes he was wearing or his dishevelled, tea-stained appearance that drew the eyes of the patrons.

Albus had more on his mind than his own dignity, because ultimately, one of his worst fears had come to life once more. 

Voldemort was back.

Chapter Text

Aberforth heaved a weary sigh as he pushed Albus into the snug, away from prying eyes and ears.

“He’s back, Aberforth, surely you can see it as well.” Albus urged, forcing the Daily Prophet into his brother’s hands. 

He waited with bated breath as the younger of the two read the news article, undoubtedly Aberforth would come to the same conclusion as Albus himself had. However, the distasteful look sent in his direction after he was done suggested otherwise. 

"You're seeing what you want to see, Albus." Aberforth grunted. "Says here he's Riddle's kid, why would he lie about that? It would be a pretty shitty disguise, and Riddle ain't stupid. Just leave the lad alone. Haven't you fucked things up enough?"

Albus was on his way to reply, but closed his mouth with a deep frown. 

The guilt of Voldemort's rise to power still rested heavily on his shoulders. He had often thought of young Tom Riddle in the past, and how he could have changed the boy's course if only he had taken a different approach. 

When he first met Tom, he had reminded Albus uncannily of Gellert. Not in looks or attitude, but there was a certain intense hunger that clung to both of them. A need to prove themselves, a desire for power.

Back then the war was still raging heavily outside of Britain's borders, and Albus had wanted nothing more than for it to end. But he'd been a coward, hiding away as a teacher, postponing the inevitable meeting between himself and his former partner in crime until the world was screaming at him to take action. 

Perhaps had he not been so harsh with Riddle, perhaps if he'd nurtured him instead of rejecting him, Tom would never have become Voldemort. It was a question that had plagued many of his waking hours. 

Albus sighed. There would be no convincing Aberforth that Voldemort had resurrected himself, he was being too stubborn to see it. 

He returned to their shared flat and pondered the consequences of the article. He didn't particularly want to engage, but he couldn't let Voldemort release his horror upon their society again. 

It was time for the Order of the Phoenix to rise from its ashes in defence of the Wizarding world once more. 

~

In a matter of weeks, Tom had wormed his way into a Ministry position. Harry didn't even know why he was surprised by this outcome, he certainly shouldn't be. 

He had done a lot of the groundwork himself, rubbing elbows with Fudge and his ilk to pave the way for Tom. Their joke of a Minister had been delighted by Harry's request, and nearly bent over backwards to accommodate his friend. 

And when he actually met Tom, well, he'd inevitably been taken in by his charm and eager to please attitude.  

The job wasn't much, just that of an assistant, but he had his foot in the door now, ascending through the ranks should be a walk in the park for Tom. 

Only three more years and it was time for a re-election. The cards were unfortunately stacked up against Fudge, something any intelligent being would be able to see within the coming months. 

Harry had no doubt that Tom would win by a landslide, anything else was just preposterous. 

~

Regulus didn't know what to think about the Dark Lord's return. So far he seemed sane enough, and definitely deferential to Harry, as things should be. He had an inkling suspicion that Death had been the cause of that though. 

Regulus watched the man constantly, looking for any sign of betrayal, of scheming and nefarious plots. If there were any, he didn't see them. 

Riddle appeared… well… adjusted was probably not the right term, but he certainly came across as relatively normal, if that was something one could ever say about a Dark Lord. 

He ate, slept, read books, went for walks outside and talked to his terrifying snake. All in all, pretty standard stuff. 

Eventually, Regulus had to admit that perhaps he wasn't the same cruel overlord he remembered. Yes he had designs on the Ministry again, but Harry was fully aware of those. His friend was even helping him achieve those goals. 

For all intents and purposes, Riddle had changed. He wasn't Voldemort anymore, or at least, he wasn't the same Voldemort as he had been in the past.

Realising that was what made Regulus give up on his stalking. Oh, he didn't trust Riddle in the slightest, but he felt confident enough that someone else could take over his job as a spy, he didn't have to do it personally. 

There was another project he was itching to take on, namely the destruction of the underground elf-trade ring they’d discovered years ago. Neither him nor Harry had forgotten about it. In fact, Harry had been working relentlessly to bring it down ever since, carefully manoeuvring within the Ministry. 

He had finally amassed enough influence and political clout to make a difference. 

One of Harry’s proposed laws for house-elf welfare had passed just the week before, causing a minor celebration among the island’s elven residents. Harry and Regulus had been right there with them, sharing brilliant food, drinks and music. 

The law wasn't as good as they’d have liked of course, it didn't abolish the elf trade completely, but at least now it had become illegal to breed and sell house-elves without a ministry approved licence. Depending on the scale of operations, and the condition of the ‘stock’, the sentences could become quite hefty.  

“I don't understand why you care so much for those filthy little creatures.” Caractacus Burke grouched as they watched the ongoing events in Knockturn Alley.

It was only through practised ease that Regulus managed to bite down his acerbic reply. There was no point engaging Burke in his prejudice, there was no changing his opinion, especially not post-mortem.

His beliefs were often shared in the pureblood community, and the only reason Regulus probably didn't harbour the same mindset was because of Kreacher. The elf was family, no matter what anyone else said. 

Regulus hummed noncommittally. He didn't even know why Burke was there, he certainly hadn’t invited him to come. 

Harry was working in the Ministry that evening, giving the spirits plenty of reach to explore the Alley on their own. 

Regulus had heard whispers in the Auror department that today was the day they were going to come knocking down on the black-market elf trade operations, hard. Making sure that he was present for it had been his top priority. He would be Harry’s eyes and ears on the scene. 

"Those would be the Aurors. I bet they're all filthy half-bloods." Burke muttered with a sneer towards the group making their way down Knockturn Alley. 

Technically Burke wasn't wrong, they were half-bloods, not that it made any difference to Regulus, he had abandoned his blood purist ways a long time ago, if he’d ever believed in it at all. 

The three Aurors were out of uniform, disguised as a father, daughter and their hired protection. The girl was none other than Regulus’ baby cousin, Nymphadora, concealed with her own metamorphmagus abilities rather than the polyjuice potion Moody and Williamson had used. Moody in particular was far too recognisable with his missing limbs and plethora of scars to go undercover without it.

Regulus followed the trio as they approached Haitty’s jewellery store. The beads hanging in front of the entrance clacked softly against each other as they pulled the curtain aside and entered. 

They were greeted by the same elderly woman Regulus remembered from Harry's visit. She was the innocent looking front of the operation, the gatekeeper. 

Williamson's eyes surveyed the room quickly before he uttered the pass phrase they'd found during their preliminary investigations.

Miss Haitty smiled at them, opening the secret gate into the heart of their illegal operation. 

"Welcome, welcome!" The sleazy seller greeted them immediately, gesturing for the clients to have a seat. 

Regulus was surprised to see how well Moody played his role as a gruff but doting father. He weaved a story about wanting only the best for his daughter Athena, hence why he was willing to pay any price to get her the house elf she deserved as a wedding gift. 

Moody talked back and forth with the seller, and it was abundantly clear that the man had no idea what was truly going on. 

When Moody and Nymphadora were taken to see the 'wares', which mostly consisted of a small selection of young, cowering house-elves, that was when the aurors jumped into action. There was no doubt of the illegality of the operation anymore. 

Regulus grinned with malicious delight as Moody hit the bodyguard with an overpowered stunner that would undoubtedly leave the man smarting once he was awakened. 

Nymphadora, not one to be outdone by her mentor, wrapped the seller up in chains that were so heavy he buckled underneath the weight. 

"Hah! Take that you piece of scum!" Regulus laughed and pointed, all sense of decorum abandoned in the heat of the moment. 

The only one that could hear him, however, was Burke, who rolled his eyes at Regulus’ dramatics. 

It had been a short-lived battle, mainly due to the element of surprise. Everything was easy sailing from there. The two suspects, along with the elderly woman manning the front, were apprehended and brought in for questioning. 

The elves themselves were instructed to go to a cleared facility within the Ministry and await further orders. Regulus did not like the sound of that, so he deeply hoped whatever Harry had planned would work. 

Burke had taken off to deliver the news, leaving Regulus to trail after the Aurors as they made their way back to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement with their suspects.

By the time they'd dumped the three criminals in separate holding cells, the polyjuice had finally worn off. Moody was once again his grisly old self, creepy magical eyeball and all. 

Regulus could hear Harry's voice among the hubbub as they entered the Auror offices. His friend was talking to none other than Amelia Bones, the Department Head herself. 

Bones quickly caught sight of the returning Aurors and waved them over.

"How did it go?" She asked, giving them a quick once over for any injuries, which aside from a few minor scrapes, there were none. 

"Like a charm!" Nymphadora exclaimed with a beaming smile. "Our informant was right about everyth-" She began, her sentence being cut short as the young woman accidentally tripped over a rubbish bin in her excitement, falling right into Harry's arms. 

Regulus sighed deeply. She'd done so well until now, behaving both professionally and competent, he should have known it wouldn't last.  

"Sorry!" Nymphadora squeaked, hair turning a bright red to match her embarrassed, flushed face. 

"No need to apologise, Trainee Tonks, accidents happen to the best of us." Harry smiled softly and gently helped Nymphadora to her feet, her blush deepening. 

“How many house-elves did you confiscate?” Madam Bones questioned, looking to Williamson for an answer, ignoring Nymphadora’s clumsiness out of habit. 

“Eight, ma’am. One breeding pair and six young. They were in fairly poor condition.” Williamson dutifully replied. 

Bones sighed. “What are we going to do with all those elves? The Office for House-Elf Relocation doesn't have the funds to deal with that many at once, especially not ones who need special treatment before they can be relocated.”

That was the moment Harry had been waiting for. He pounced on the opportunity like a hunting lioness. 

"Perhaps it is a bit forward of me, but I have a rather large and comfortable home where the elves could recuperate. I hate to think of those poor beings being forced to work so soon after what they've been through. They deserve rest and to get their bearings before they find new families." Harry frowned, then shook his head with a wry laugh.

"Sorry, that decision probably isn't up to you anyway... My mother used to say I was a bit of a bleeding heart, guess I haven't grown out of that." He gave them a lopsided smile that made Nymphadora swoon.

Harry might not have noticed the hearts in her eyes whenever she looked at Lord Peverell, but Regulus certainly did. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that, if he was being honest.  

Madam Bones' eyebrows lifted in surprise at the suggestion. "You would do that, free of charge?" 

"Of course! After all, the bill that led to this was one of mine. If I didn't care about the well-being of house-elves I wouldn't have proposed it at all. There will be no safer place for those elves than with me." Harry promised. 

Regulus waited with his heart in his throat for Bones' decision. He let out a relieved breath when she nodded in agreement. 

They'd done it. They'd bloody done it. 

"Well, I'm not going to say no to help when it's offered." Bones sighed. "We're underfunded as it is… Thank you, Harry. Williamson will show you to the elves when you are ready." 

"Now is as good a time as any." Harry jovially replied. "Can I expect to see you and Susan at Henry's birthday party this summer? He admitted to me that it'll be his first proper one and I may have gone a bit overboard." He sheepishly declared, lying through his teeth. 

Regulus rolled his eyes at how Madam Bones softened around the eyes at the mention of Henry Potter and what a good, caring guardian Lord Peverell was. It was a great way to garner sympathy, that was for sure. Harry was playing his role to perfection. 

"Of course. Susan would kill me if I turned it down." Bones replied with an amused smile. 

Harry laughed and patted her shoulder in a friendly manner. "It will be on the 31st of July, so keep your schedule clear, Amelia. I'll send you an owl with the details within the week." 

"Now then, Auror Williamson, I'd be grateful if you could take me to the elves you rescued." Harry gestured towards the door.

The Auror was quick to jump into action, leading Harry to the holding facility the house-elves were in. 

Moody had remained suspiciously quiet during the entire ordeal, but Regulus didn't pay it too much attention. 

There was an immense sense of relief filling him now that everything was done. The elf-traders would never be able to commit such atrocities again, at least not these ones. There were bound to be others around, of course, but with a law finally in place, he hoped more would be exposed.

The perpetrators of this particular operation were in for a long stay in Azkaban. The Aurors would need to make an example of them. Just thinking about it filled Regulus' heart with dark glee.

It wouldn't be long enough in his personal opinion, but it would have to be enough. Azkaban was hell on earth, even a year or two could be enough to break a man. 

Regulus hoped they bucked under the Dementors' cloud of misery and despair, just like so many elves had done underneath the traders' tender care over the years.

~

It would seem that Severus Snape had finally decided to take the plunge and have his Mark removed. 

Tom honestly didn't care as much about him as Peverell seemed to think. He couldn't say he was surprised about the man's defection, not considering how he'd been behaving in the past. Did he like Snape? No, not particularly. Then again, he didn't like most people so that wasn't saying much.

For the occasion, the three of them were gathered in Tom's favourite solar, one that was filled with greenery and comfortable furniture. The sun filtered gently through the large windows, providing ample light for the task at hand. 

"I'm sure there is no need for introductions, so let's proceed." Tom declared, gesturing with his hand for Snape to come closer, wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible so he could return to more important matters. 

Snape's face was blank and unreadable, if a bit pale, as he rolled up his sleeve and bared his forearm. 

When Tom ran his fingers down the Mark, Snape stiffened, standing rigidly in front of him. Tom however cared little for the potion master's discomfort. 

He was surprised to find how different the Mark felt. Visually it remained mostly the same, but he could almost taste Peverell's magic at play. 

"Did you do this?" Tom asked Peverell with curiosity, allowing the snake to unfurl from the skull so he could study the changes in more detail. 

"Yeah, just after you tried to kill me last time." Peverell replied with an unconcerned shrug, as if the sentence itself wasn't wildly concerning. 

Tom still feared dying. Briefly he wondered what it might be like to live in the certainty that you were immortal, unable to be snuffed out before your time, just like Peverell, but he threw that thought away.

Perhaps he wasn't destined for something like that, just look at where his quest for immortality had left him, broken and insane, dying far too early for his own liking. No, things were better now and he did not plan on messing with his present fortune.

"You kept torturing him through the Mark, so I had to help somehow. I wanted to remove it completely, but it's bound too tightly to your magic." Peverell continued.

"It's impressive work." Tom murmured, taking his eyes off Peverell and shifting them onto the snake. 

He wasn't lying either. The amount of skill that went into altering something like the Dark Mark to that extent was nothing to scoff at. Peverell had done a good job, all things considered. 

Tom had never removed a Mark from one of his followers before, it had simply not been up for discussion. 

If one wanted to be nitpicky about it, this probably counted as an experimental procedure, but he didn't think it would be too difficult. 

He was 90% sure Snape would survive, and if he didn't, well, this had been Peverell's idea in the first place so he could hardly blame Tom for the outcome. 

Creating the Mark had not been a painless process, it went without saying that removing it would not be either. 

Snape did not make a single sound the entire time Tom worked. He stood frozen like a statue, his clenched jaws the only thing betraying his discomfort. 

In a fit of uncharacteristic playfulness, Tom decided to alter the Mark instead of removing it completely. Technically, it was no longer attached to him, it was no more magical than a muggle tattoo. 

The black ink changed into something new, forming a circle bisected by a line within a crisp triangle. The Deathly Hallows, Peverell's brand, was now clear as day on Snape's pale forearm. 

"There you are, you said he was one of yours, did you not?" Tom uttered, breaking the silence with a cocky smirk as he twisted Snape's arm to show Peverell his handiwork. 

Roughly three seconds later, Tom realised that he had probably miscalculated.

~

Severus could not believe this was his life. He was stuck watching Harry and the Dark Lord doing some rather uncomfortable flirting over the academics surrounding his Mark. 

Had he known it would be like this he would not have agreed to come. The way they traded compliments and genuine interest made him want to retch. 

The pain of the actual removal was a blessed distraction. The complexity of the spells also quieted any banter going on, thank Merlin. Severus wished it was all over so he could leave. 

He let out a quiet breath of relief through his nose when the pain abated, his shoulders lowering just a fraction as the tension bled out of him. 

The Mark was gone, he could feel it, like a constricting vice around his chest that had finally been removed. All of a sudden it was easier to breathe and Severus felt lighter than he had in years, it almost made him a little giddy. 

That was until Voldemort spoke, subsequently breaking his small moment of peace. 

"There you are, you said he was one of yours, did you not?" The Dark Lord said, looking all too smug for Severus' tastes. 

His eyes flickered down to his arm in unison with Harry, taking in the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. It didn't feel like the Dark Mark, and Severus wondered if he had truly transferred 'ownership'.

He didn't have time to ponder the question any deeper, however, for the room that had been rather warm and comfortable until that moment, suddenly felt chilly and oppressive. 

"Remove it!" Harry hissed, practically seething with unrestrained anger, the Death Stick clutched tightly in his fist. Severus didn't think the man was even aware of its presence. 

The shadows of the room seemed to stretch, growing longer and darker, blocking out the natural light in ways that should not be possible.

Voldemort’s throat bobbed as he stared intensely at the imposing form the normally pleasant young man was cutting.

"Settle down will you? It was merely a jest." He murmured, absently removing the ink with a flick of his wand, not once taking his eyes off Lily's child. 

For in that moment Severus could truly see it, Lily's famous temper burning brightly in those vibrant, green orbs. 

As soon as the ink was gone, Severus wisely took three steps backwards, moving away from the line of fire in case things escalated further. He had no desire to get in between the two of them should a fight break out. He would undoubtedly end up as collateral damage. 

"Sorry. That was," Harry began, breathing heavily through his nose as he reigned in his anger. The oppressive magic receded and slowly the room returned to its previous state. "That wasn't funny, Tom." Harry sighed, running a hand through his black locks. 

"No, it was not. You have my deepest apologies, it was in poor taste." Voldemort solemnly acquiesced, having only eyes for Harry. 

Severus was all but forgotten during their intense moment, and loathe as he was to bring their attention upon himself, his desire to leave was stronger. 

He rolled down his sleeve and cleared his throat loudly. 

“As amusing as this has been, I have a potion brewing that is in need of attention.” He calmly declared, giving them both a curt nod before he took off. 

Severus could feel their eyes on his retreating back, but if there was one thing he had gotten out of today, it was that Harry had Voldemort, or should he say Tom Riddle, well in hand. Suddenly the future didn’t seem quite as dire.

Chapter Text

"Post's here!" Sirius brightly exclaimed, his arms laden with letters. He dumped them unceremoniously onto the living room table and plopped down on the sofa. 

"Anything interesting?" Harry absentmindedly asked while he filled a small vial with Nagini’s blood, much to Sirius’ disgust. 

"Meh, boring stuff mostly." His godfather shrugged, sorting the letters into piles, grimacing slightly when he looked over to see Harry’s fascination with the blood. 

Lately, Harry had been interested in finding out more about Nagini’s curse. How did it work? What triggered it? And ultimately, was it truly permanent? 

He hadn’t mentioned to anyone that he was seeking a cure, he didn't want to get their hopes up in case he failed. Besides, Harry didn't even know if Nagini wanted to become human again… it had been more than forty years since she last walked upright. He just figured she deserved to have a choice in the matter. 

To get her to comply with his scientific experiments, Harry had bribed her with plump birds. They weren’t Dodos, but apparently Nagini found them tasty enough to agree anyway. 

“Oi! Keep your hands to yourself, I’m not done yet.” Sirius scowled at Tom who had snapped up some of the letters from the table.

“They were addressed to me, Fido.” He smoothly countered, earning an annoyed growl from the dog animagus.

"Sneaky, thieving dark wizards." Sirius muttered pettily. 

Harry snorted at their antics, a fond little smile creeping onto his lips. They didn't particularly seem to like each other, but they tolerated the other’s presence for the most part. Or maybe that was just when Harry was around… He’d have to ask his mother about that at some point.  

Harry sat down next to Sirius and looked through the letters addressed to him. Most of it was boring. Work, enquiries for political favours, bill for the renewal of his subscription to the Quibbler, et cetera. Nothing that couldn't be dealt with later. 

"Well that's interesting." Tom murmured from across the room. 

Harry's head snapped to the side, honing in on the former Dark Lord with keen intrigue. 

"What is?" 

"It appears Thaddeus Nott has invited Thomas Gaunt to his manor this weekend." Tom replied with an amused quirk to his lips. "Perhaps to ascertain whether my heritage is true or not."

His eyes met Harry's, and the two of them broke out into cruel little smirks that sent shivers down Sirius' back. 

"Well, we shouldn't be rude." Tom airily declared.

"Oh no, wouldn't dream of it. I'm a Lord you know? Gotta follow protocol and all." Harry continued with a firm nod. 

"Yes, as is proper." Tom agreed.

"This weekend was it? You better owl him back immediately, we don't want him to think we're avoiding him, now do we? Use my good stationery, it has the Peverell crest and everything."

"Stop it!" Sirius whined. "You're both being creepy and I don't like it!"

Harry laughed and patted Sirius on the back. This was just too perfect for words. Bringing Tom to Nott Sr would kill two birds with one stone. 

They would be able to find out exactly how the old fogey was harming Theo, something Harry had been itching to know since the moment he noticed the signs of abuse. And secondly, they'd get the boy away from his father's clutches during the summer holiday. 

Tom may not be Voldemort anymore, but his followers didn't know that. Harry couldn't wait to witness the reunion.

~

When Saturday came, Harry and Tom were ready to pay Thaddeus Nott a visit. There were only a few weeks left of the school term, so if they wanted to get things sorted before the Hogwarts express headed towards London, then now was the time to do so. 

Tom was the only one that had been to the Nott estate before, having spent many days plotting world domination there in the past. Harry interlocked their arms and allowed Tom to apparate them to Nott's mansion.

The tall, wrought iron gates loomed ahead of them as soon as they arrived.

Harry couldn't help but note the neglected state the garden was in. The hedges were in dire need of trimming, and grass and weeds seemed to have overtaken what might have been a beautiful area once upon a time. 

When they reached the gate, they were greeted by an old house-elf that was dressed similarly to Dobby back when he still belonged to the Malfoys. Harry wanted nothing more than to allow them the chance to retire, but to an elf that age, retirement would be considered more shameful than anything else. 

The house was eerily silent, the only sounds being their own footsteps on the polished floorboards. 

“Master be waiting for you inside the drawing room.” The elf declared with another bow, their nose nearly touching the floor. 

“Thank you for your assistance, we appreciate it.” Harry replied with a kind smile and nod of his head. 

The elf seemed startled but thankfully did not burst into tears. Instead they gave Harry an odd look, as if they found him to be a curious creature. Technically they weren't wrong.

Thaddeus Nott rose to his feet when the doors opened, looking thin and drawn for his age. His hair, whatever he had left of it, hung in limp, greasy strands around his ears. His facial hair did not appear in any better condition, wild and ungroomed as it was. In conclusion, Nott looked far from the regal pureblood he liked to think himself as. 

There was a dark glint in the Death Eater's eyes as he let his gaze rake over Tom’s frame, ignoring Harry entirely in favour of his taller companion.

“Riddle… So you managed to come back, eh? Knew you wouldn't be killed off so easily.” Nott laughed, his breath wheezing as his laughter turned into a rattling cough. 

“I have no idea what you mean, Thaddeus.” Tom replied, his smile cold and sharp. Despite the blue eyes and minor changes to his facial structure, he looked very much the spitting image of Tom Riddle in his younger years. To those that knew him, the resemblance was uncanny.  

“Those alterations to your face might be able to fool the rest of the sheep, but we’re old friends, I saw through it immediately.” Thaddeus gloated, looking proud for his quite frankly lacklustre mental gymnastics. 

“Friends?” Tom murmured softly, a dangerous edge to his voice.

“Then where were you in the past ten years, hmm? Friend.” Tom asked. 

He took a step forward and roughly grabbed Nott's forearm, pressing his thumb hard into the Mark that was as vividly black as the day it had been created. 

The frail old man fell to his knees with a scream as Tom's magic coursed mercilessly through their connection.

"You will do well to remember your place, Thaddeus." Tom said silkily, words dripping with menace.

Nott's breaths came in heaving gasps. His cheeks were flush with colour as he licked his chapped lips. 

"Y-yes, my Lord." He croaked out, eyes filled with obsession as he stared up at Tom, like a subject before their god. 

Harry watched the entire scene unfold with dispassionate interest. Perhaps he should have been sickened by the display, but he couldn't find it within himself to have pity for the man. Nott was a cruel wizard that deserved whatever he got.

It wasn't just for Theo or Diana's sake. Harry was forced to think back on the many atrocities committed by Nott during the war, both of them. Murder, rape, torture, the list of offences was long. And most importantly, Nott had enjoyed each and every moment of it, relished in his cruelty in fact. 

So no, there would be no pity from Harry, only disgust. 

Tom let go of Nott's arm, instead using his pale, yew wand to tilt up his follower’s chin. 

"You have been a poor friend, Thaddeus, but I am a merciful Lord. I will forgive your transgressions as long as you prove your dedication." 

"Anything my Lord! I'll do whatever you wish of me. I am but your humble servant."

Tom hummed, a gentle smile laced with venom stretching on his handsome face. 

"Bare your mind to me, Thaddeus. Show me what has transpired in my absence." 

Their eyes locked, and before Nott had the chance to utter his acceptance or denial, Tom used Legilimency. 

Tom entered Thaddeus’ mind with little care to how very painful it must be. Per Peverell’s wishes, his search was far from gentle as he scoured Thaddeus’ memories for information. 

The depravity of Thaddeus’ innermost self was disgusting, always had been. Even as a teenager, there had been something very twisted about his thoughts that made Tom keep his distance whenever he could. 

It wasn't the violence that made him wrinkle his nose, that he could stomach just fine, rather it was the sexual savagery.

Despite the war being over, and his body frail, Thaddeus certainly hadn’t eased up on his illegal activities. Young muggle girls seemed to be his preferred victim of choice. The dark lust and satisfaction that clung to the memories of his crimes, made Tom want to shudder. It coated the back of his throat like a thick sludge with every breath.

Tom was disgusted by the memories he uprooted, but not surprised.

The main reason for this rather uncomfortable excursion was all thanks to Peverell’s concerns about the welfare of Thaddeus’ child, and Tom certainly could see what might have made the boy behave out of sorts. 

Mostly the abuse remained verbal. Thaddeus was greatly fond of belittling his child, telling him how weak and worthless he was. Not a particularly uncommon practice in pureblood households, but usually it was reserved for the spare and not the heir themselves.

Theodore could count himself lucky that his father restrained himself to that degree, never making it physical. At the worst there had been a slap here and there, hardly anything to cry about.

What changed however, was what Thaddeus had prepared for Theodore’s summer break between his first and second year at Hogwarts. 

Thaddeus had heard all about his son’s apparent closeness with The-Boy-Who-Lived, and decided it was high time he taught his boy how that simply wasn’t acceptable. 

The memory of what transpired was practically thrown at Tom, Thaddeus was obscenely eager to show it off. 

His old classmate had kidnapped a muggle child roughly Theodore’s age. With dark curls and fair skin, he held a passing resemblance to Henry Potter. Thaddeus had even gone so far as to carve a lightning bolt on the child’s forehead in preparation.

Tom witnessed Theodore being forced to watch his father torture the Potter replacement, making it very clear that he wished the true Light Saviour would be there in the muggle’s place.

Theodore stood frozen in the dungeons, hands trembling and face drained of colour as the other boy screamed and begged.

Eventually, Thaddeus seemed to have had enough of his own fun, deciding that his son should join him.

"Don't just stand there, get your wand boy!" Thaddeus barked, pushing his pale-faced son in front of the bleeding muggle, whose breathing came in ragged gasps and whimpers. 

Theodore lifted his wand, shakily pointing it at the other boy. His eyes were so swollen that one could scarcely see the brown irises that should have been green to complete the picture. 

Tom let the memory run its course. No matter how little the child might have wished it, in the end he cursed the young muggle on his father’s command, most likely too afraid of the repercussions should he fail. 

Tom had seen enough. He pulled out of Thaddeus’ depraved mind, breathing in deeply as he returned to himself again. 

Thaddeus’ nose was bleeding, and he would most likely be suffering a severe migraine from the intrusion. Tom couldn't find it within himself to care. 

"You certainly have been busy, Thaddeus. Training your boy in our ways already, hmm? I am impressed." 

Thaddeus cackled. “He’s grown a taste for it, my Lord. Soon he will be ready to join your ranks.”

“Perhaps.” Tom smiled blandly.

Peverell had remained silent during the entire confrontation, eyes glued onto them with a mask of indifference on his face.

Thaddeus had barely acknowledged his presence. Most likely he'd deemed him unimportant compared to Tom, coining him as just another follower. Oh how wrong he was.   

"What are your plans, my Lord? Are we going to cleanse Britain of the muggle pests once more?" Thaddeus eagerly queried, licking his dry lips. 

"Patience, Thaddeus. All will be revealed in time. For now we have to keep a low profile and not draw unwanted attention. You can do that, can't you?" 

Their host readily agreed to Tom’s request, but he doubted he’d actually follow his promise. He knew Thaddeus, and he’d be all too eager to share Lord Voldemort’s return with his compatriots. 

“I will require use of your manor this summer for one of my projects, do make sure your son won't interfere. Perhaps send him to stay with Lucius, he has a boy around Theo’s age, does he not?” Tom demanded. 

“Of course! The Ancient House of Nott would be honoured to have you.” Thaddeus quickly replied.

With that sorted, they did not stay for long. Tom found that he desperately longed for a scorching bath after having spent so much time within Thaddeus’ foul mind. 

As they were about to leave, Tom made a rather impulsive, executive decision. 

Peverell was already in the hallway, speaking with one of the house-elves about something or other, and not within hearing or seeing distance. 

Tom turned to face Thaddeus, pointing his wand at him with a devilish smile on his lips. 

“M-my Lord?” 

"Imperio." Tom murmured quietly, closing the gap between them as the spell took hold.

"Now, listen closely Thaddeus, old chum, this is what you're going to do-"

~

Harry's life felt so much calmer now that he didn't need to split his day in two, playing a child in one and an adult in the other. It was a relief of massive proportions. 

As promised, he kept in touch with his young friends through letters. They wrote to him often, telling him about their achievements, their interests, joys and upsets. 

Harry wondered if this was what it felt like for parents who had children at Hogwarts. Each day eagerly waiting for another letter to get the barest glimpse into their child's well-being. 

Theo wrote more than the rest of them, and often it was a detailed description of what had transpired. Which secrets he had heard in the common room, which rumours went rampant, who fell out with whom and so forth.

It was as if he'd taken it upon himself to act as Harry's spy within Hogwarts. What he expected Harry to do with that information was a mystery. 

Still, Harry looked forward to reading them, and always replied as soon as he could. 

After their visit to Nott Sr, Theo had written Harry with baffled surprise, saying that his father had told him he'd be spending his summer with the Malfoys. Harry was delighted. It meant their plan had worked. 

The weeks had passed rather uneventfully since then, with only minor bumps of the political sort. Nothing he and Tom couldn't handle. 

Just a few days before the school was about to let up, Harry got another letter from Theo. He smiled, settling himself in his favourite chair with a nice cup of tea in preparation for the newest gossip. 

The letter seemed hastily written, with unusual ink splotches and smudges that were normally absent in Theo's penmanship. Harry felt concern, then surprise as he kept reading. 

The pure wave of relief and gratitude aimed at young Henry Potter in the letter was astounding. Harry struggled to wrap his head around it. 

He had to speak with Tom. This reeked of his interference. 

Harry found him outside in the garden, laying down on a wooden bench with his back propped up by pillows. Nagini was draped over Tom and the bench, her head resting comfortably on Tom's stomach. She looked to be greedily lapping up the hot, June sun while Tom enjoyed a book.

Had Harry bothered to look closer, he would have been surprised to see that the book was fiction of muggle origin. 

"Thaddeus Nott is dead. That's your work I take it?" Harry asked, eyes narrowed at the former Dark Lord.

"Is he? What a pity." Tom lazily replied without looking up from his book. 

"Perhaps his conscience finally caught up with his perversions, it must have been so heavy carrying that weight on his soul for all those years." He innocently suggested. 

Harry raised a dubious eyebrow. "I didn't say he killed himself." 

"Didn't you? Well, what a peculiar coincidence." Tom replied.

"Mhm." Morally, Harry felt like he should put up a token protest, death wasn’t always the answer, but he had seen Tom’s memories of what he’d encountered in the man’s mind and he did not feel particularly charitable. 

"I hope you made it painful."

"As much as I could, given what I had to work with. I'm sure we'll get the details in the Daily Prophet soon." Tom answered with a nonchalant wave of his hand. 

“You are welcome, by the way.” He added, finally lowering his book to meet Harry's eyes.

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. What kind of person just went about murdering others as a gift? Tom fucking Riddle, apparently. 

"Do I want to know the details?" 

"Probably not, but rest assured that everything has been sorted on the legal front. Young Theodore is the sole inheritor of the Nott estate. Thaddeus tied up all loose ends before his untimely demise." 

"Lovely. Sounds like it's all under control then. Tea?" Harry asked, deciding not to make a big deal out of it. It worked in his and Theo's favour after all. 

"Yes please." 

One of the many elves on the island brought a tray of refreshments onto the table. The two wizards enjoyed the treats in companionable silence. 

Tom eventually went back to his book and Harry replied to Theo's letter as best as he could. 

Just like Tom had predicted, the news of Thaddeus Nott's tragic death was in the Daily Prophet the following day. 

All over Britain, Death Eaters were quivering in their boots, taking Nott's undoing as a sign that their Lord was displeased.

They had seen the Dark Mark blacken on their arms months ago, and been waiting in terror and suspense ever since. 

Lucius in particular, was one of the Dark Lord's former followers that had been dreading what might happen to him and his family. The uncertainty had plagued his every waking moment, and Snape had been the poor unfortunate sod he'd decided to unload his worries onto. Repeatedly. 

Snape in turn would seek out Harry's company, complaining fervently about what he had to endure due to Harry's plots. 

Needless to say, Harry had long since realised that something needed to be done about Lucius. Luckily for the man himself, he could be a useful ally, despite the fact that he was a whiny peacock and an all-around wanker.

To bring about an end to Snape's complaints, as well as solidify Theo's summer plans, Harry had decided to invite Lucius to his home. The Malfoy patriarch had never set foot on the island before, nor did he know of its existence, but that would soon change.   

Harry met with Lucius in the Ministry, stopping for a chat. The hallway was mostly void of people, just a few stragglers quickly passing to get where they needed to be. 

"Oh, before you leave, Lucius. I have an acquaintance of yours staying in my home that would very much like to meet with you." Harry calmly stated, a polite smile firmly in place as he pointedly looked at Lucius' arm, the one that was marked. 

Lucius' face turned a shade paler as he caught Harry's meaning, but didn't otherwise react adversely to the statement. Harry wouldn't have expected anything less of him. 

"This invitation is for you only. Should you bring any other guests, I cannot guarantee their welcome will be pleasant. I am offering the hospitality of my home, Lucius, please do not offend me." Harry finished with a placid smile, holding out a sealed envelope.

"You will find the time within, do not be tardy." 

~

He took the letter, and for once, Lucius was left both unsettled and speechless. 

He tucked the letter within his robes and said the words that were expected of him after the prolonged pause. He didn't dare to open it until he was safely within his own home. 

Once he did, he found a piece of parchment charmed with a countdown in crimson ink, coming to the conclusion that it must be a timed portkey. 

He feared that he may not return from the meeting should he go, but declining was no option either. The Dark Lord was waiting for him.  

The red numbers ticked down, second by second towards his imminent doom.  

~

Perhaps it was a bit pointless considering he could speak with them whenever he wished, but Harry felt the need to visit his parents' graves, to pay his respects. 

It had been a decision made on a whim on his way back from the Ministry. The weather was warm and sunny, bringing with it a nice breeze that ruffled his black curls. 

He hadn't been to Godric's Hollow in this life, always putting it off for some reason. The quaint little village held no positive memories for Harry. 

Sure, the first year and a half of his life had probably been happy, but he could not remember any of it. All he had were bad memories. First of his mother's death, then of Nagini's attack during their Horcrux hunt. 

Harry had gone to the village on his own without informing anyone of his decision. 

Walking through the quiet streets was almost bitter-sweet. It made him think of the possible future had things not gone the way they did, if there had been no war, no prophecy, no deities with designs on his mortality. 

He could have grown up with his parents, been a normal kid for a change. Perhaps there would have been siblings, he thinks he would have enjoyed being an older brother. He'd always dreamed of having a loving family. 

Harry crouched down by the gravestone his parents shared, running his fingers along the inscriptions. 

'The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death'

It was a poor choice of words in Harry's opinion. Death was no enemy. Death was something that came for everyone, good or bad, rich or poor. Feeling themselves above such a concept was the kind of hubris that led to one's downfall. Voldemort was a prime example of that.

To add salt to injury, the line came from the bible. As far as he was aware, his parents weren’t even remotely religious. It made Harry wonder who it was that had actually chosen their gravestone in the first place, they could hardly have known them on a personal level. 

Harry couldn't stand to look at the quote any longer. He brought out his wand, nearly touching the tip to the stone. The letters melted away into the stone, and in their place emerged a new sentence.

'The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living'

It was a quote Harry remembered having read in a book somewhere. He thought it much more appropriate. 

With that done, he set to his task of cleaning the gravestone and planting flowers in front of it. A beautiful mixture of white lilies, pink carnations and purple hyacinths brightened up the otherwise grey grave. 

The plants were created by magic, so Harry had a feeling they would stay beautiful for far longer than they naturally should.

As he was putting the finishing touches on his creations, he heard footsteps approaching from behind. 

Harry turned his head and was met with the small, wrinkly visage of Bathilda Bagshot.

“Not many people come here these days,” she said once she stood next to him, voice weak and breathy. “Most just want to gawk at the house and statue, a shame really.”

Bagshot must be exceptionally old, Harry thought, but she didn't look quite so bad as she had in his first life. Nagini possessing her rotting corpse had certainly not done her any favours back then.

“I’ve followed your adventures in the Daily Prophet, and I have to say that you remind me a great deal of my great-nephew. He too had a head filled with idealistic ambitions.” Her smile was soft and wistful as she no doubt thought back to the boy Gellert Grindelwald had been in his youth.

Harry didn't know what to say. How did you reply to someone comparing you to Grindelwald, the most infamous Dark Lord in living memory? 

For some reason the blow hit harder seeing as it came from someone that actually knew the man. 

Harry got up from his crouching position, looking more closely at the elderly lady. 

“Tell me, lad, have you heard the story of the Deathly Hallows?” She asked out of the blue, looking up at Harry with her pale eyes that seemed kind, yet sharp for her age. 

Harry wondered if perhaps she wasn’t as senile as Skeeter had made her out to be in her book about Dumbledore. 

“Yes ma’am. The legend has been passed down in my family for centuries.” Harry replied woodenly, hearing his own heartbeat in his ears. “One might even say that it has shaped my life to what it is today." 

Bagshot hummed thoughtfully. "Do be careful. The Hallows hold a dangerous pull, and none who wield them end up happy. Don't lose your way chasing after fool's gold. If not for your own sake, then little Harry's." 

It was surprisingly good advice, even if it was entirely useless to Harry seeing as he already owned the entire set.

"I can assure you that I have no plans of seeking out the Hallows." Harry said with a smile that felt so fake it nearly hurt. 

"Good. They only bring death and misery." She nodded. 

"How's the boy faring? I haven't seen him since he was a babe. Lily and James used to bring him over for tea sometimes, we were neighbours you see. He used to babble a mile a minute while running around, Lily could hardly get him to sit still.” Bagshot chuckled at the fond memory. 

“Good people the Potters were. So young though, much too young." She sighed and shook her head. 

“I don't think age matters in war.” Harry quietly replied. “Once it’s there, it will engulf both young and old without discrimination, without mercy. What happened to the Potters, and all those like them, was terrible. It was a loss that our society will take decades to heal from, if we ever fully can. So many people lost, gone, and for what?” Harry sombrely replied. 

He was puzzled at how his day had derailed from its original course in a matter of minutes. Here he was, preaching about the atrocities of war, when Lord Peverell was supposed to never have seen true battle, never having fought for his life and witnessed friends and enemies die.  

Bagshot looked at him with a soft smile. “Oh yes, so alike the two of you.” She murmured to herself. 

“He would have liked you I think. Had you been born earlier, I wonder how history would have unfolded.” She seemed lost in her own memories for a while before her eyes cleared and she shook her head. 

“Oh don't mind me. I'm just a silly old woman. You probably have somewhere else to be. Do bring Harry around the next time you drop by though, I would love to see him again. My house is that one over there," Bagshot pointed, "you can't miss it." 

She patted his arm kindly before puttering back to her home, leaving Harry standing on his own, disorientated and conflicted. 

He realised that he didn't know much about Grindelwald, his war had happened long before Harry himself was born. What he remembered from his history books was vague, most of it had just revolved around the famous last duel between him and Dumbledore.  

Harry apparated home. He was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn't see Tom sitting by himself in the dining room. He walked right past him and into the kitchen, unaware that his expression must have alarmed his guest.

"Did something happen?" Tom asked suddenly, his voice startling Harry out of his introspective thoughts. 

In his surprise, Harry nearly dropped the kettle of water he'd been about to put on the stove. 

"Bloody hell!" Harry exclaimed, barely managing to save the kettle last minute, but not without some water sloshing out. "Warn a man will you?" 

Tom leaned against the door-frame, humming noncommittally. "What's wrong?" 

Harry sighed. Tom was like a dog with a particularly bloody bone sometimes. He rubbed his face and sat down by the kitchen table while he waited for his water to boil. 

"I spoke with Bathilda Bagshot today." 

"The historian?" Tom asked, looking baffled by where this was going. 

"That's the one." Harry replied. 

The seconds ticked by in silence, until Harry finally looked up at Tom with a tilted head. 

"What was Grindelwald like?" 

The question appeared to have startled the other wizard with how random it seemingly was. Still, Tom decided to humour him.

"The Dark Lord Grindelwald? Can't say that I ever met him. Most of his war was focused on the rest of Europe. People believed Britain was spared due to Dumbledore's presence here." Tom folded his arms across his chest and penetrated Harry with his intense stare. 

"But that's not what you wish to know, is it?" 

Harry shook his head. 

"Hm. Grindelwald was a politician, a revolutionist that believed magicals were better equipped to be in charge of the world than the muggles. He was charming and charismatic, an expert at getting what he wanted. Over the years he amassed an incredible follower base from all over the world. Sure, some were cruel and extreme, but most were ordinary people. Mothers, fathers, shopkeepers, students and so forth, perfectly average members of society who wished muggles no more ill than they did their magical neighbours." Tom explained, face set in a frown as he thought back to his youth.  

"It was a difficult time. The muggle world wars bled into our own society and provided an efficient stepping stone for Grindelwald's campaign. People felt like it would be better if they didn't need to hide, if magic could be freely used without having to be afraid of muggle interference. Essentially, people wanted to be comfortable and safe." 

Tom moved to sit down across from Harry, eyes trained on Harry’s hands as he poured them both some herbal tea that came from one of Marius’ little projects out in the greenhouses. 

“Grindelwald was a good leader, both loved and feared. He was not afraid to take action others might cower at. Bloodying his hands never seemed to be an issue. He had nearly all of Magical Europe at his feet when he was defeated.” Tom blew gently on his tea before taking a sip. 

“Without his leadership, the movement crumbled. However, opinions didn't change in general society. The rules and regulations became much stricter after Grindelwald's war, pushing those leaning towards traditionalism and the Dark Arts even further into the shadows. As you well know, I was able to take advantage of that dissonance.”  

Tom tapped his finger against his cup, staring intensely at Harry. “Not that I don't enjoy talking politics with you, but why the sudden interest in Grindelwald?”

Harry sighed again, sinking a little further into his chair. “Remember how I met Bagshot today?” 

Tom nodded. 

“Well… she's Grindelwald's great-aunt. He used to live with her when he was younger. Bagshot obviously wasn't aware that I knew who her great-nephew was, but she told me I reminded her a great deal of him…” Harry nervously admitted. 

There was no laughter like Harry had hoped, or even shocked surprise, instead Tom looked contemplative. 

“Well? Aren't you going to say something?” Harry fretted. “It’s ridiculous, right?” 

Tom silently watched Harry, looking like he was doing his best to formulate his answer to be as polite as possible, not a very promising turn of events. 

“I suppose… It is not the most outlandish comparison I have come across. You are both charismatic individuals that inspire a certain amount of trust in people. And similarly to Grindelwald, you do seem to wish for societal change. Your methods might not be as brutal, but you still believe in your cause and seem willing to go far to see your goals achieved.”

Harry felt queasy. It was not the answer he’d wanted. 

“Do you think I'm a bad person?” He asked.

Tom frowned. “Are you sure I am the one you should be asking this?”

“Probably not, but you’re the one that’s here.” 

"Very well, if you are certain. I'm afraid the answer might not be what you wish to hear." Tom put down his cup and took a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued.

"I think you are human in the ways that matter. Whether you are good or bad however, is highly dependent on whom you ask and what their views might be. To those you've helped get a better life, you are good, a saviour and benefactor, but to those whom you've slighted, or whose opinions differ from yours, you are bad. You can't please everyone, nor should you. There will always be people who are jealous or frightened of your power, if you bow to those people, none of your goals will ever be achieved. It is up to you to decide whether your own need to be liked outweighs your desire for change." 

Tom was right, Harry did indeed not like what he was told. But he couldn't help but feel that the cold bastard might be right. 

Why was he so obsessed with the need to be good? He wasn't needlessly cruel… he didn't go about killing and torturing people. He would literally do everything in his powers to stop a war from breaking out again.

Just because he wanted to change things, that didn't necessarily make him bad, did it? 

Tom finished his tea and stood up, having had enough emotions for one day. "I'll be in the library if you need me." 

Harry nodded absentmindedly, murmuring a thanks. Tom had not pulled his punches when it came to honesty, then again, he wouldn't have asked if he didn't want to hear the answer.

The day had been overwhelming. So much had happened in the span of only a few hours. 

Harry rubbed his eyes. He'd have to summon his therapist, wouldn't he? This was exactly the type of situation he had been instructed to seek him out for. 

He was tempted to drag it out, or simply not tell him at all, but somehow, he always found out. 

Harry sighed and refilled his cup. Might as well get it over with, rip it off like a plaster. 

With a fortifying swig of his tea, Harry summoned the dreadfully kind Dr Matthews. 

Further north in England, five men of varying ages, ranging from middle aged to exceedingly old, had gathered in a cluttered and disorganised country home.

The Order of the Phoenix had become active once more in defence of the common people. 

Albus had wanted to hold their meetings at the Hog's Head, but Aberforth wouldn't hear of it. He was determined to keep himself separated from Albus' actions. Because of that, they'd had to resolve to Elphias Doge's home.

"Thank you all for assembling at such short notice." Albus Dumbledore said with a genial smile as he looked at the small group.

They were so few, dishearteningly so. Not many of the Order's former members that were still alive had been willing to meet Albus. Only Alastor Moody, Elphias Doge, Sturgis Podmore and Dedalus Diggle had come when called upon. The very few people Albus could still call friends, ever since the rest of the wizarding world had lost faith in his sanity and ability to lead.

It wasn't surprising, not with how he had been torn to shreds by the media, but it still saddened him nonetheless. 

“Get this over with, Albus, some of us have work to do.” Moody grunted irritably, his blue, magical eye whizzing around in its socket, always looking for a threat. 

Elphias, Albus’ faithful old friend, glared at Moody’s gruff and impolite behaviour. The two of them had never liked each other, and it certainly hadn't improved with age. 

Albus took it all with good humour, eyes twinkling with mirth. “Of course, I won't keep you occupied for long, Alastor. Perhaps you can tell us what you have found out about Thomas Gaunt?” 

“Not much. If you’re looking for a hole in his backstory, you probably won't find one. Legally speaking, he’s squeaky clean. If Thomas Gaunt is a fabricated individual, he’s certainly covered his tracks well.” Moody muttered.

“I see. Does anyone else have news of Thomas Gaunt or Harrison Peverell?” Albus hummed thoughtfully. 

They went around the small table, the remaining Order members sharing what they had learned since their last meeting. Sadly, they didn't have much to show for their efforts.

For all intents and purposes, both Gaunt and Peverell were law abiding and kind individuals. Not unexpected, but certainly infuriating. 

Thaddeus Nott's death had been brought up. Although it was claimed as a suicide, Albus had his doubts. It didn't necessarily have to have been Riddle, his former classmate that had murdered him, the man had accrued several enemies over the years after all, but for some reason, that was what his gut was yelling him.  

Like with everything else, there was no proof, no actual evidence for them to grasp on to. 

Albus had tried to recruit Mundungus Fletcher once more, hoping to learn something new through his contacts in the underworld, but for some reason the mere mention of Peverell had made him squirrely and uncooperative. 

Mundungus hadn't seemed afraid, but there was something going on behind the curtains that Albus would very much like to find out about. He hadn’t given up, but perhaps he needed to adjust his methods. 

“Harry Potter’s birthday party is coming up soon, have any of you found someone that might be willing to keep an eye open for us? How about young Nymphadora?” Albus asked, looking at Moody who snorted loudly.  

“Sure, Black’s invited her and her parents, but I doubt you’ll get her to tell you much. She’s got a proper crush on Peverell, goes all weak in the knees whenever he’s around.” Moody groused disapprovingly.

“Even so, I would appreciate it if you could talk to her after the event. She might tell you something of importance without knowing so.” 

Moody nodded, however he didn't look happy about it. Then again, he hardly ever looked happy about anything. 

"Very well, that is it for today, I think. Do not hesitate to contact me should you discover something that could be relevant to our cause." Albus declared and stood up. 

He thanked them all for coming, and when everyone but himself and Elphias had left, Albus allowed himself to sigh, feeling the responsibilities of the world settle on his shoulders like a heavy weight.  

"I'm sure we'll be able to fight back before it's too late, Albus." Elphias tried to comfort him with a pat on the shoulder. 

Albus smiled at his steadfast friend, glad that he had someone like him at his back. Even if he wasn't the cleverest of men, he was kind and reliable. 

"I do hope you are right, old friend. Because if we do not, I fear for what might happen to our world." Albus gravely stated. 

And just how much of it would be his fault for not being able to stop it?

Chapter Text

"Lucius will be here any minute now, are you sure this is the approach you want to take?" Harry asked Tom for probably the tenth time that day.

"As I have reminded you repeatedly, yes," Tom answered emphatically, rolling his freshly charmed, red eyes in exasperation. 

Harry hated that colour, it made him think of Voldemort, which of course was the entire point, but still…

"Now, if you could please get into position, it would be much appreciated," he continued, gesturing towards the grand chair conveniently placed at the centre of the room. 

Harry sighed and did as he was told. He didn't like it, but he could see the benefits of it. The power balance would be shifted in his favour, giving him the upper hand and garnering more respect from Lucius. Not that he particularly wanted it. 

He sat down in the chair, relaxing as best as he could with Tom standing by his side and Nagini dramatically posed above him, ominously hanging off the back of the chair.  

They were ready, now all they had to do was wait.

~

Lucius paced anxiously back and forth in front of his wife's watchful eyes. They had sequestered themselves in the bedroom while they waited for the portkey to activate and take him to Lord Peverell's home. 

Theodore and Draco were both unaware of Lucius' plight, and had taken to the sky on their new brooms with much delight. One of the elves were watching them in case they got into trouble.

"You have to compose yourself, Lucius. If it is as you say and the Dark Lord has returned, you must give him every reason to keep you around," Narcissa told him calmly, seemingly unbothered by the entire situation. 

Lucius swallowed hard as his eyes flickered down to the parchment in his hand. The red counter had almost reached zero, only five more minutes and it would activate. He was white as a sheet and felt like he might throw up at the very thought of what awaited him.

“If I don't come home-" Lucius softly began, only to be sharply cut off by his wife.

"Don't talk like that!" Narcissa scolded him. "You will go there, make yourself an invaluable asset, and return home at your first opportunity," she declared with finality, running her hands over his shoulders to straighten his already immaculate robes.

"Of course, you're right," Lucius murmured quietly.

"I usually am," Narcissa agreed. 

They shared a last kiss goodbye, filled with unspoken words and desperation. Things would be fine, they just had to be. 

Lucius rested his forehead against his wife's, his eyes closed as he basked in her calming presence. He had to pull himself together but it was proving to be much harder than anticipated. 

With a deep breath, he stepped away, not daring to touch her for much longer. The warning given to him by Lord Peverell still rang clear in his mind, no guests. He feared what might happen to Narcissa should she accidentally be brought along.  

"I lo-" he began, only for his words to be cut short as the magic of the portkey hooked on to his midsection, whisking him away from the safety of his manor and into the unknown. 

Mere seconds later, his feet touched solid ground again. It was pure luck that kept him from stumbling forward and making a fool of himself.

"Good evening, Lucius. How kind of you to accept our invitation." Peverell's smooth and slightly amused voice came from behind and Lucius quickly turned to face him, heart beating wildly in his chest. 

The smile on Peverell's face was polite, yet without any true emotion. The warm and friendly guise of the man that had visited his home many times was gone, replaced with a certain predatory edge that made Lucius' stomach churn in distress. 

The man himself was seated in a grand wingback chair, one foot resting casually on top of his other knee. He cut a powerful figure, dressed sharply in a black three-piece suit with a silvery tie that made his green eyes glow like the killing curse in the dim light. 

“Welcome to my humble abode, I hope your stay will be enlightening.” Peverell’s smile widened into a shark-like grin. 

Lucius’ mouth felt dry. He could hear his own heart drumming like the wings of a terrified, caged bird. 

The Dark Lord’s snake was draped across the back of the chair, hissing into Peverell’s ear, he would have recognised that beast anywhere. 

Thomas Gaunt standing vigilant next to the chair was entirely ignored in favour of the wizard that chuckled at what the snake had just said, before hissing a reply.

Lucius felt all blood drain from his already pale face. Had he been socialising with the Dark Lord all this time, completely unaware of the monster he’d brought into his own home?

“My Lor-” Lucius began, only to be cut short by Peverell’s amused scoff and dismissive wave of his hand.

“I am not your Lord, Lucius,” he said, tilting his head mockingly. “I would have thought you’d be able to recognise him on sight, but perhaps you are not as loyal as we believed.” 

Shit. What in Salazar’s name was going on? If the Dark Lord wasn’t Peverell, then who-

His head snapped to look at Gaunt, finally taking in everything, from the familiar bone white wand in his right hand, to the blood red gaze that had haunted many a nightmare over the years. 

Lucius’ eyes widened and he quickly fell to his knees in front of them, prostrating himself in a poor attempt to avoid painful repercussions. 

"My Lord, you have returned!" He exclaimed, finding nothing but fear and trepidation within his heart. 

~

“Lucius, I am pleased to see you haven't forgotten me entirely after all this time.” Tom spoke softly, allowing a bit of a hissing quality to slip into his words every now and then, as a nod to the Voldemort Lucius remembered from the war. 

Harry watched the blonde wizard's reaction intently, and the slight flinch at Tom's voice did not go unnoticed.  

"I would never, My Lord! I have been faithfully waiting for your return, integrating myself with the Minister so I might be of more use to you and our cause," Lucius answered quickly, desperate for a way to garner goodwill and avoid torture.

Tom tutted.

"I do not like it when people lie to me, Lucius." 

Nagini slid down from her perch, hissing and baring her large fangs at the already terrified man, hissing words that were mostly mocking nonsense.

The flinch this time was much more severe, and Harry was vaguely amused despite himself. He knew he shouldn't be, but the theatrical dramatics almost made him laugh. 

What followed was a series of stuttered apologies from a deeply frightened man, whose face looked clammy with cold sweat. His pureblood composure entirely broken when faced with the man he had sworn servitude to. 

"Look at me, Lucius," Tom ordered softly, dangerously. "Let me see just how faithful you have been."

Lucius froze, before hesitantly looking up from his kneeling position on the hard, wooden floor. 

Blue eyes met red, and Harry was sure that the headache would be far from pleasant as Tom gathered what intel he could from the man's mind. It wasn't that they needed the information, not really, but Tom had insisted. 

When the legilimency probe stopped, Lucius winced, doing his best to regain a semblance of dignity. He did fairly well, all things considered. 

Tom continued with his spiel, scaring Lucius more by the minute. Nagini was gleefully in on it too, hissing and performing false strikes. 

As amusing as it was, Harry quickly found himself losing interest, growing tired of the posturing and dramatics. Eventually, Harry decided to interfere simply because he had better things to do with his time than watch Lucius squirm for hours. 

"That is enough, I would like to get this over with, today preferably." Harry declared as he stood up from his chair. 

With a snap of his fingers, the previously dim room lightened into its normal, cosy appearance, and the fireplace lit up without a spell or wand. 

"We have a lot to discuss, let's do it as civilised beings, yes?" Harry said with a raised eyebrow, all previous humour wiped away. 

Nagini withdrew with a muttered "spoilsport," slithering away to curl up in front of the fireplace like a lazy cat. 

Tom eased up on his heckling and his face smoothed into calm neutrality. "Of course," he nodded, moving to join Harry at the table where an elf was serving refreshments. 

Tea seemed to be Harry's answer to almost any situation, at least, it couldn't make anything worse. 

"Well, Lucius, I don't have all day," Harry curtly announced, looking pointedly at the still kneeling Malfoy patriarch.  

The blonde ponce's mask had cracked a long time ago, but now he looked even more scared and confused than before, Harry had no clue why. 

He was being hospitable, wasn't he?

"Sit down, Lucius, you are making a fool out of yourself," Tom hissed, more annoyed than Harry at his follower's tardiness and lack of tact. 

Malfoy did as he was told, quickly, yet hesitantly scrambling over to the table. He did his best to hide the tremble in his hands, but it wasn't good enough. 

"Please, have some tea," Harry continued with a bland smile. 

With a simple wave of his hand, the teapot levitated from its silver tray, pouring out a piping hot blend of darjeeling into one of the dainty cups placed in front of Lucius on top of a white saucer. 

~

Lucius couldn't help but watch the casual display of wandless magic with wide eyes. He swallowed hard, trying to get his rapidly beating heart to slow down.

He felt like a mouse before a snake, desperate to make himself as unassuming as possible so the predator did not devour him. He was ridiculously outclassed and he knew it. 

Lucius was by no means a weak or unskilled wizard, but in comparison to the Dark Lord, and the man who even He seemed to defer to, Lucius was little more than a fresh Hogwarts graduate in comparison.  

He felt small. His whole sense of security and his place in the world had just shifted, tossing him into a whirling lake of the unknown. 

Peverell didn't speak immediately, he doctored his own tea, blowing the steam away with a soft breath before taking a sip. 

"You are probably curious as to why you have been summoned here, Lucius," Peverell began, piercing him with his eyes. 

Had they always been that green? For some reason he'd never noticed their uncanny resemblance to the Avada Kedavra, never seen how calculating they were, hiding a tempest of power underneath. 

Peverell had been masking his magical presence the entire time Lucius had known him, he was sure of it, because now he could feel it, tingling at his senses like the beginning of a thunderstorm.

He wasn't flexing it, no, he was merely relaxing his grip on it. That in itself was more terrifying. Just how much magical power did this man have waiting at his fingertips? 

Lucius had nearly forgotten to answer Peverell's question. He quickly nodded his head, not daring to open his mouth just yet. 

"Though it was not for my sake that you slithered your way into the Ministry, you nonetheless hold a valuable position that might be of use to us," The deceivingly young Dark Lord explained. 

"You see, Thomas here wishes to become the next Minister for Magic, and with your help and my own, I do believe we can easily achieve that," Peverell added. 

Lucius swallowed and licked his dry lips. 

"If I may ask," he hesitantly began, "I take it that you mean to use a different approach than last time, My Lord?"  

Merlin, he hoped so. The thought of another war as bloody as the last… No, he dreaded the mere suggestion. He had a wife and child now, he couldn't expose them to that. 

"You would be correct." Voldemort smiled, but it was not a kind smile. Nothing like the friendly Thomas Gaunt he had been introduced to in the Ministry not long ago, the young and aspiring politician who seemed to get along with anyone.

This was a different beast entirely, and Lucius had no doubt that he would be able to climb his way to the top, positioning himself upon his throne of blood and bones. 

"I will of course do anything in my power to help you achieve your goal," Lucius declared, lips stretching into a strained smile. 

"Wonderful! Don't worry Lucius, this will all work out perfectly. I have a feeling we will get along splendidly," Peverell said, his wide grin sending shivers down Lucius' spine.

In an attempt to act normal, he picked up his cup, mentally willing his hand not to shake as he brought it to his lips. 

He had been through worse. So far, Voldemort had not thrown the cruciatus curse around like it was a tickling charm, in fact he hadn't done anything painful except rummage through his mind, and even that had been somewhat gentler than he remembered.

The Dark Lord and Peverell explained their plans for Gaunt's political campaign, and he had to admit, it was a good one. 

Lucius made a few suggestions here and there, and it never stopped to amaze him when he wasn't reproached for it. The Dark Lord seemed rational, and dare he say it, sane.  

He was still wary, terrified even, but there was a growing sense of hope blossoming in his chest, tentative and small as it was. Perhaps things would be different this time… 

"It has come to my attention that young Theodore Nott is residing within your home for the summer," Peverell said, leaning back in his chair. 

Lucius blinked slowly, stumped by the sudden change of topic. Sure, they had mostly finished their conversation on the Dark Lord's campaign, but what in Morgana's name could Peverell want with Theodore? 

"Yes, he and my son are good friends. My wife and I thought it prudent to offer our home for the summer holiday due to a lack of other family…" 

Peverell hummed and nodded his head. "That was very kind of you. Do you plan on applying for custody then?" His tone was light.

Lucius didn't know which answer would please Lord Peverell the most, it was almost impossible to guess. He still didn't fathom what was so special about Theodore to make him ask about the boy specifically. 

"We… have been considering it, yes," he replied, deciding to go for honesty since it was a gamble either way. 

"I see," Peverell mused. "I would strongly prefer it if you did not. You see, his mother is an employee of mine, a brilliant and headstrong woman. She'd very much like Theo back now that her former husband has passed away. I'm sure you can understand how it is."  

Both of Lucius' eyebrows climbed high on his forehead, confusion and disbelief warring within.

"Lord Peverell, do excuse me for saying so, but Adrastia Nott is dead… she has been for more than a decade." 

Hadn't she?

Peverell laughed, but it lacked any true mirth, "oh I can assure you, she is far from dead." 

"You would know, it is your domain after all," the Dark Lord revealed with an amused quirk of his lips, red eyes fastened on the handsome young Lord at the head of the table. 

Lucius didn't know what he meant by it, but he could take a guess. If death was his domain, that would mean… 

He swallowed down the rising bile clawing its way up his throat.

Necromancer. 

Lord Peverell was a necromancer… 

There hadn't been recordings of a true one for decades, and yet Lucius was all but certain that it was the truth hiding in the Dark Lord's words.

There was no missing the way Lord Voldemort looked at Peverell, with a sort of hunger that made Lucius want to vacate the premises immediately. 

He couldn't remember ever having seen the Dark Lord show that much genuine interest and respect for someone. It was… unnerving. 

However, if Peverell was a necromancer, it would explain quite a few things. 

"Adrastia goes by the name of Diana now. She runs Peverell Inc. in my stead, and is doing quite a fabulous job of it, I must say. Sales and distribution is going swimmingly," Peverell bragged, looking quite smug as he refilled his cup.

Lucius was flummoxed. He had indeed heard of Diana Russell, the fierce businesswoman from Belgium, but he could not connect her to the once drab and shy Adrastia Nott. Even having been told of it, he struggled to believe it.  

"Diana is applying for custody and I want you to help smooth things over in the Ministry. There shouldn't be many hurdles considering she has a blood claim, and Theodore has no other immediate family, but she is a werewolf. You know how it is, England is still dreadfully prejudiced against any sort of dark beings. Quite ridiculous if you ask me, but that's what we are here to change," Peverell announced, looking over to the Dark Lord who unsurprisingly gave a nod of acquiesce. 

"I… will do what I can," Lucius answered, feeling somewhat twitchy in their presence. 

He held no love for beasts, halfbreeds and muggles, but if the two Dark Lords in front of him managed to bring back the old rites and traditions amongst other things, he supposed he'd just have to adapt. 

"Perfect," Peverell clapped his hands together and smiled thinly. "Theodore will stay with your family until this has all been sorted. I'm so glad we can all agree. Now, let's get this over with and send you home, this has dragged on long enough." 

"But before you go, we will have to do something to ensure that you won't betray us. I'm afraid your options are rather limited, Lucius," Voldemort proclaimed in a soft voice, his red eyes feeling like they scorched themselves into Lucius' soul. 

He swallowed heavily, feeling the trickle of cold sweat run down his neck. "What kind of options, my Lord?" He asked meekly, fearing the answer he might get.

"I can alter your Mark, make it move, and in the process bind you tighter to me. We can't have you spilling our secrets now can we?" The Dark Lord's smile was filled with sugary venom. 

Moving the Mark sounded like a dream, but he had a feeling it wouldn't be that easy. And being bound even tighter… Lucius shuddered at what that might mean for his autonomy.  

"A-and the other other options?" 

"You make an unbreakable vow," Peverell shrugged, placing his elbow on the table and resting his head in his hand. 

Lucius swallowed hard. Breaking the terms of such a vow meant instant death, even if one didn't intend to break it in the first place. He wet his lips and cleared his throat. 

"I see…" 

"Whether you leave here the same as when you arrived is entirely up to yourself, Lucius. But I will advise you to tread lightly and weigh your options carefully, otherwise the crimes of your past might become too much for you to carry one day. Just look at poor Thaddeus Nott, an old man with a guilt-ridden mind," Peverell tutted and shook his head, the implications clear as day. "Such a pity." 

There wasn't really a true choice, not to Lucius. The unbreakable vow was too flimsy, too uncertain, the smallest slip of the tongue spelled his impending demise, it was a risk he wasn't willing to take. 

"Well? What will it be?" The Dark Lord impatiently asked, but from the looks of it he already knew. 

If there was something Lucius had in spades, then it was self-preservation, a rather common trait amongst Slytherins. 

"The Mark, my Lord," Lucius weakly answered, feeling faint. 

Just what was he giving up merely to avoid death? How much of a slave would he become? 

He'd once taken the Mark willingly, proudly even. He's sworn himself to Lord Voldemort and it wasn't until the war broke out in full, when death and torture suddenly got too close, when he'd felt the wrath of the Dark Lord on his body, that he started to regret it.

"I thought you might say that," Voldemort smirked, red eyes glistening like freshly spilled blood. "Take off your robe."

"W-what?" Lucius stuttered, eyes wide and wary. 

"Either you take it off yourself, or I will have to slice it off, the choice is yours." 

Lucius' breathing was uneven as he uncomfortably began to unbutton his expensive, silk garment. His hands trembled under the Dark Lord's cold and indifferent gaze, fumbling more than usual.

The robes eventually parted, and he hung it over the back of his chair. 

Standing there, in front of the two most fearsome men he had met, he felt incredibly exposed and self-conscious. He'd worn nothing but undergarments underneath his robes, as was the custom. 

The Dark Lord rose, closing the distance between them until he stood right in front of his sworn servant, looking down on him with a face that lacked any sort of emotion. But if Lucius had dared to look in the man's eyes, he would have found the faintest glimmer of dark amusement at his discomfort.

Voldemort grabbed his left arm and roughly twisted it until the Dark Mark was visible, standing out starkly against his pale skin.  

Lucius didn't even have the time to blink before the pain started. It was blinding, mind numbing, excruciating. He couldn't think, he couldn't move, he didn't even think he breathed during the entire ordeal but he must have. 

The Dark Lord was not kind, nor was he gentle. With his wand and serpent tongue, he bound Lucius' soul even tighter to his own, laying claim to it beyond what anyone had ever attempted in recent history. 

The black snake writhed on his skin, shifting, slithering. Wherever it moved, a fiery pain followed, burning through his flesh, his magic and his soul. 

Lucius could feel it in his bones, in his very core. Surely he must have screamed, but he had no recollections of it. 

When the agony finally stopped, he laid on the floor, shivering and trembling. His long, blonde hair was in disarray, sticking to his clammy forehead 

"There, that wasn't so hard now was it?" The Dark Lord said in a parody of kindness, patting Lucius' cheek with the mockery of a smile.

Lucius was panting heavily, sucking in deep gulps of air as the aftershocks of the soul magic wracked through him. He could faintly hear Peverell scoff in the background at the Dark Lord's words. 

"Get dressed Lucius, I doubt your wife would wish you to return home in only your briefs," the green-eyed necromancer said, his voice softer than Voldemort's had been, lacking the taunting quality. 

Lucius nearly flinched when he felt a pair of warm hands help him up to his feet. It wasn't the Dark Lord, he had returned to his own chair, sitting in it as if it was a throne, instead it was Lord Peverell. 

"Wh-where-?" He croaked out, not able to complete the question. 

"Where did the mark go?" Peverell finished for him and Lucius nodded.

"I would suggest looking at your left thigh." 

His eyes went downwards at Peverell's hint, moving past his grey, silk briefs and over to his thigh. 

He had expected the Mark to look the same as before, a snake unwinding from the mouth of a skull, but that was not the case. 

The new Mark still contained the same snake as before, sure, but it coiled around his thigh and bit its own tail, reminding Lucius of a prison shackle. 

The skull itself was entirely gone, having possibly been used to enlarge the black snake that was constructed in Nagini's image.

Lucius' mind was in a daze, and he must have stared for too long because suddenly he was startled by a hand on his shoulder, guiding him towards his clothes. 

He buttoned up his robes in a mechanical fashion, fingers trembling more out of the residual pain rather than the fear he'd harboured earlier. 

Lucius didn't have a good pain tolerance, he was aware of that. It was something that had been made abundantly clear during Voldemort's last campaign. 

Somehow he managed to get fully dressed. It wasn't perfect, there were missed buttons and in all honestly he probably looked a right mess, but at least he was no longer exposed. 

"Now it is time for you to leave, Lucius. We will be in touch," the Dark Lord said with finality. 

Lord Peverell held out a piece of parchment towards him and he took it with shaky hands.

Before he could say anything, Lucius was whisked away from Peverell's home and returned to where he came from. 

The tugging sensation vanished and Lucius crumpled to the ground with a soft groan. He was in his bedroom again, home, safe. At least for the moment. 

The parchment he'd been given combusted on its own as soon as it had served its function, scorching the inside of Lucius' hand. He dropped it with a pained yelp, watching as it turned into ash on the marble floor.

Lucius finally allowed the panic to overtake him now that he'd left the oppressive presence of the Dark Lord and his equally terrifying counterpart. 

He sat on the floor like a child, breath coming in ragged gasps as he clutched his burnt hand to his chest. 

The Dark Lord was truly back, and now he belonged to the man fully. His every word, his every breath, Lord Voldemort owned him. 

"Lucius!" Narcissa exclaimed with a gasp when she saw his dishevelled appearance, having no doubt been alerted by one of the elves. 

She ran to his side, kneeling on the cold floor without hesitation. This was a song and dance they had gone through before, but thought was in the past. 

She got him to bed and healed his wounds, eyes widening with surprise when she noticed the lack of ink staining his forearm.

Lucius explained what he could, hissing in pain when the snake around his thigh burned and constricted as a warning for him to mind his tongue. 

He was well and truly screwed. 

~

In the Peverell household, things were not as dramatic as they were for Lucius and his wife.

“That went surprisingly well, don't you agree?” Tom calmly stated once his sworn follower had departed. 

Harry let out an exhausted groan and finally slumped down on the sofa like a limp ragdoll, closing his eyes as he dropped all pretence of being a posh and scary schemer. 

Merlin, he hated politics. The idea of a life as a scholarly hermit sounded more and more appealing by the minute.

"You could have just made him write a binding contract, you didn't have to go that far," Harry mused, it was what the others had to do after all.

"Not secure enough. Besides, the Mark needed to disappear from his arm and I refuse to remove it entirely," Tom replied unconcerned. 

"You didn't even tell him how it works." 

"He'll figure it out soon enough," Tom answered with a tiny smirk, waving away Harry's concerns. 

“I’m surprised you didn't torture him more than you did though…" Harry admitted, opening his eyes to look at Tom with a raised eyebrow. 

“Why? Because my past self would have?” 

Harry shrugged noncommittally. “You did worse to Nott.” 

“Thaddeus was a problem that had to be dealt with, Lucius on the other hand, now he is someone quite useful, at least for now. Torturing him just for the sake of it would not have increased the likelihood of obedience, fear can only take one so far.” 

The answer was not what Harry had come to expect from Tom. He blinked slowly, digesting the shift from the man he had once been. 

“You’ve changed,” Harry said.

“Well I would certainly hope so. Staying like I was would have been self-destructive and tantamount to my own demise, not particularly a route I wish to delve down." Tom replied, as if it was obvious. 

Harry merely hummed, staring at the way the light from the fireplace danced in the ceiling. It was strange thinking of how vastly different the world and its inhabitants were compared to his first life. 

It wasn't just Tom that had changed but also himself. His teenage self would probably have been appalled by his actions and decisions, and yet he couldn't say that he regretted any of them. He was building something good, something better.

"Your birthday is coming up soon, you should probably finish sending out the invites to your party," Tom suggested, having moved over to grab a book from the coffee table. 

"Yeah… I'll do it tomorrow," Harry promised unenthusiastically, knowingly having put it off for as long as he could. 

He was not looking forward to the party, it would prove to be more of a political event than an actual celebration, but it was a necessity to propel Tom's career forward, so he would smile and shake hands with all the prats in the upper echelon of their society.

"The party was completely your idea, you know? No need to look like someone just murdered your favourite puppy," Tom snarked, sounding amused at Harry's misery. 

Harry groaned loudly, sinking deeper into the plush sofa. If he didn't acknowledge it then it wasn't true, easy as that. 

He thought he could hear Tom laughing softly, but when he opened his eyes to look, he appeared to be completely engrossed in his book, not a trace of laughter in sight. Harry blinked slowly, wondering if he had imagined it. 

Did former Dark Lords even laugh? Were they capable of anything but mad cackling? 

All reasonable questions in Harry's tired mind. Not that he planned on asking, that would just be rude. Instead he decided to call it a night and get a few hours of sleep. He needed it if he was to spend the morning writing an unholy amount of birthday invites.

Chapter Text

"They're totally fucking each other aren't they?" Sirius said miserably to Barty one evening after having spent the past thirty minutes watching Harry and Tom standing painfully close to each other. 

They were huddled over the table, shoulders nearly touching as they poured over written plans and legal documents together. 

Every now and then one would say something that made the other laugh and vice versa. They were so absorbed in each other that the rest of the world just faded away, they hadn't even noticed Sirius and Barty's arrival, nor their continued stay.

"Yeah...." Barty replied, sounding faint and a little green around the gills.

Sirius couldn't believe it had come to this. His precious godson was shagging the Dark Lord. He felt like screaming. 

He wanted to jump the smarmy bastard and bite his pretty face off for leading his innocent godson astray. 

Okay, so Harry wasn't really innocent, nor being led on, but it was the principle of the matter! 

Couldn't he have found a nice girl or boy his own age? Literally anyone would have been better. 

Hell, he'd even put up with Snape over that annoyingly handsome prick, and that was saying something. 

Sirius huffed and crossed his arms across his chest, pouting as he flopped down into the nearest sofa. Barty followed suit, albeit in a much more restrained manner. 

"They're disgusting," Sirius muttered like a sulking child. 

Barty made a noise in the back of his throat that Sirius decided to take as agreement. Anything else was unacceptable.

~

Everyone who was someone had shown up to young Henry Potter's birthday party. Getting an invitation had been a sought after honour, and according to the press it was rumoured to be the event of the year. 

There were politicians, aurors, potioneers and businesspeople all alike. Parents with children close in age to Henry had also been invited of course, seeing as it was the party of a child. At least in theory. 

Truth was that it had been a carefully constructed step in Tom's political campaign, one Harry had put a great deal of effort into. 

He had invited people from all walks of life, there were even a few carefully selected muggles, the Granger family in particular. 

As was the formal way of things, the beautifully crafted letter of invitation had been sent to Mr and Mrs Granger and not their daughter.

They had of course been surprised and wildly intrigued by the invite. The chance at a look into their daughter's world was beyond tempting. It was an opportunity they simply couldn't miss.

The fact that their daughter had complained non stop about the Potter boy for the past two years, like little girls did with the boys they fancied, made it an added point of interest. 

Mr Granger in particular wanted to see the boy for himself and size him up. Hermione was nearly fourteen now, the age when she'd start to show true interest in boys, and as such he had to make sure the Potter kid wouldn't lure her astray. 

Hermione had unsurprisingly enough been shocked when her parents told her of the party, even more so when they said the invitation was for all of them and not just her. 

The surprise quickly bled into worry however, because she had heard more than one tale in the Gryffindor common room about purebloods and their treatment of muggles. None of which were pretty. 

For all that Henry Potter didn't seem like that kind of Slytherin, she didn't know him well enough to be sure, and certainly not his guardian. 

There was no convincing her parents however, so on the 31st of July, the Granger family dressed up in their most formal clothes and activated the portkey Lord Peverell had owled them. 

“Good afternoon, you must be the Granger family, it is a pleasure to finally be able to speak to you in person,” Lord Peverell charmingly greeted the trio when they arrived at the designated spot. 

He offered them a kind smile and held out his hand so he could welcome both Mr and Mrs Granger properly. 

“Lord Peverell, I take it?” Mr Granger asked with a firm handshake. 

“That would be me, yes,” Harry chuckled. “I’m afraid Henry is not here to thank you for coming. Some of the other children arrived a while ago and the excitement to speak with his friends became too much, you know what it's like.” 

He turned his attention to Hermione with a gentle smile that made the young girl’s cheeks darken with a hint of red. “You should find them by the fountain, miss Granger. I’m sure they will be delighted by your company.” 

Hermione’s mother stifled a laugh behind her hand due to her daughter’s obviously flustered behaviour in the presence of the infinitely charming Lord Peverell, not wanting to embarrass her further.  

“R-right. Th-thank you,” Hermione squeaked out before hurrying away in the direction Harry had pointed, eager to get away from the man that made her stomach flutter. 

Once she was out of reach, Mrs Granger finally allowed herself to laugh. Mr Granger looked equally amused at the interaction. 

“So, would you like something to drink? There are refreshments and hors d'oeuvres being served by my staff of house-elves.” 

“House-elves?” Mrs Granger asked with curiosity as Harry led them further into the opulent garden that had been transformed into a flowery wonderland for the evening. 

Colourful butterflies flitted between the floral decorations, sipping nectar before they continued on their journey. 

“Ah, I take it you aren't familiar with them?" Harry asked conversationally. "House-elves are small beings roughly the size of a child, with an incredible work ethic. They form a sort of symbiotic relationship with those that hire them, gaining magic in return for their services. It is a bit more complicated than that, but rest assured that they are getting paid in real money as well and not just magic,” Harry quickly explained. 

The couple’s eyes were wide when they caught sight of the elf levitating a tray of champagne flutes. 

“Evening, Nypty. How have things been going so far?” Harry kindly questioned the smartly dressed elf. 

All of them wore custom, streamlined outfits in black and silver for the event, with the Peverell crest displayed proudly on the left side of their chests. 

“Very well sir! The guests have not been mean to me yet!” The young elf happily replied with a delighted grin, as if this was the height of what one should expect.

Harry’s expression softened into a sorrowful smile. He hated that the general public was still absolute arseholes when it came to house-elves and their rights and welfare.

“That’s good. Do fetch me if that changes though, okay?” Harry made sure to remind her. He had told this to all the elves before the day, but he worried that they would simply ignore it out of habit.   

“Of course, Lord Peverell!” Nypty nodded so vigorously that her ears flapped up and down like the bells on a jester’s hat. It would have been comedic if not for the tragic topic. 

“Wonderful. Make sure to remind the others of that as well,” he added, grabbing two flutes of champagne for his guests before Nypty continued on with her duties for the evening, moving silently between the gathered groups of guests.  

Mr and Mrs Granger had watched the interaction with wide eyes. 

“What did it mean?” Mr Granger asked, his surprise having merged into a frown. 

“She,” Harry corrected with a sigh. “Sadly, house-elves are not treated so well by most witches and wizards. They are seen as inferior beings, born to serve their betters,” Harry sneered, feeling his temper flaring just by talking about it. 

He took a deep breath to calm himself. “I think both of you will have no trouble understanding what I’m implying,” Harry continued with a meaningful look, hinting to their darker skin and the blatant racism that had ruled western society for quite some time, and still did. 

“Slavery,” Mr Granger grimaced in disgust. 

“Exactly. The elves do need the magical bonds they forge with other magical beings or places, but it was always meant to be a symbiotic relationship. If one part was not happy with the deal, then the dissatisfied part could always leave. Due to greed, or perhaps racism, wizards changed that. They altered the bonds, making them stronger and stronger until it was nothing more than an unbreakable shackle keeping the elves locked in unending servitude. It is despicable. For years I have been working to change the laws, unfortunately it isn't going as fast as I would have liked.” 

“And yet you own slaves of your own,” Mr Granger pointed out with narrowed eyes. “A slave is still a slave, even if you treat them nicely.” 

“You're right, but also not quite. However, I get why you might have gotten that impression,” Harry replied with a wry smile. 

“I’d appreciate it if you did not share this, as it would be seen as quite concerning by other wizards and witches, but I have been buying every house-elf I can get my hands on. This is not because I wish to own them, quite the opposite, most were rescued from lives spent with the most despicable of our society. I have freed them of their previous bonds, allowing them to follow the old ways instead. They are in no way obligated to work for me in return for the magic I give. And if they do wish to work, like Nypty over there,” Harry gestured towards the happy little elf, “then they are paid handsomely.” 

The Grangers shared a look between each other, still not quite convinced about Lord Peverell’s animated speech. 

“Why would others find this concerning?” Mrs Granger finally queried.  

“Why?” Harry repeated, raising his eyebrows. “Because house-elves are incredibly powerful. With the amount I have offered sanctuary, at an undisclosed location, other wizards might see it as me having a veritable army of my own.” 

“Listen, I get it. It does sound… unbecoming of me to purchase sentient lifeforms. But with things as they are at the moment, I cannot simply stand idly by and watch as they are being abused. Even in the non magical world, changing laws, not to mention people’s opinions, takes time. The elves can't wait that long.” 

Harry sighed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up such heavy subjects at my ward’s birthday party, it's just that this is a subject I care deeply about.” 

“No… We understand, you’re doing the right thing. It’s just hard to hear that the magical world isn't as wonderful as we were led to believe.” Mr Granger said. “I think our daughter might have glossed over quite a few things.” 

Harry let out a humourless laugh. 

“It wouldn’t surprise me. The magical society here in Britain is extremely behind the times. In several areas they have not developed past the Middle Ages. Magic tends to make things stagnant. Why bother researching and striving for something better when you have a solution that works just fine? It is another thing I have been trying to address,” Harry admitted with a wry smile. 

“But enough of that. This is a day for celebration and enjoyment. Come, let me introduce you to a lovely couple who I think you’ll find you have quite a bit in common with.”

Harry led them through the garden until he caught sight of his partner in crime. Well, not actual crime, but that was how the saying went. 

“Thomas, there you are!” Harry smiled widely, patting Tom’s shoulder in a friendly manner before he turned to the couple he had been entertaining, just as planned. 

“And Mr and Mrs Finch-Fletchley too! How wonderful, you were just the pair I was looking for.” 

The Finch-Fletchleys were an affluent family in the non-magical world. Rich, educated and well connected, just the type of people Harry and Tom needed for their plans.

Tom had gotten to know them while they waited for the Grangers to arrive, charming them entirely with his silver tongue. He was a born politician and even those well versed in those types of circles easily fell prey to his tactics. 

Harry introduced them all, waiting until the two couples got chatting. And just as expected, they had more than a few things in common to talk about, their magical children in particular. 

Tom and Harry left them by the shimmering rose bushes to go continue their political machinations. 

There were so many people to talk to. Harry felt exhausted already and the party had barely begun. 

~  

Draco couldn't believe how boring adults could be. He was supposed to be celebrating with Henry and their other friends, but instead his father had a tight grip on his shoulder as he conversed with Lord Peverell about politics of all things, forcing him to stand up straight and pretend to be interested.

He kept throwing glances to where Theo and Daphne had gathered by the fountain nearby. It was nice enough, not as splendent as the ones in their manor though. 

If it wasn't so uncouth, Draco would have sighed. Henry was so damn lucky he wasn't forced to stay by Lord Peverell’s side listening to the adults’ polite chatter. It was so dry.  

At least his cousin, who’d repeatedly asked, or more like begged him to call him Sirius and not Lord Black, looked just as bored as he did. It was a small comfort. 

Draco must have zoned out for a moment, because suddenly Luna had appeared, dressed in an odd sunflower yellow dress with purple dragons dancing along the hem, her radish earrings replaced by what looked like big strawberries.  

Was one of the dragons wearing a red party hat? Draco blinked in bafflement, wondering if he had imagined it. With Luna one could never know, she had absolutely no sense of style… 

Luna walked right up to Lord Peverell, and in her usual, loony fashion, startled them all by hugging the powerful man. Draco’s eyes widened in horror at the social faux pas.

Black was practically gaping at the young girl. His father had fared better at hiding his shock, but the hand on Draco’s shoulder had slipped in the commotion, releasing him from his forced position. 

“Happy birthday!” Luna cheerfully congratulated Draco’s idol, handing him an oddly shaped package wrapped in a luridly bright paper that bordered on psychedelic. 

Draco should be used to her strange behaviour by now, and yet he kept being surprised. The resigned sigh slipped through his defences and he rolled his eyes. Thankfully his father did not seem to notice. 

“You’ve got the wrong person, Luna. It’s not Lord Peverell’s birthday, it’s Henry’s, remember?” Draco said in exasperation. 

Luna merely hummed airily, giving him a distant smile. Which, great, now he’d lost her. Salazar help him. 

“If you will excuse us, I think Miss Lovegood might need something to eat, I shall escort her to the canapés,” Draco hastily bluffed with a deep nod of respect to the three men. 

He placed a hand on Luna’s back as politely as he could, avoiding touching her bare skin which would be terribly rude. 

He took the opportunity to get away from his father by hastily dragging Luna away before she could embarrass herself further. 

Luna seemed to be completely unaware of her own lack of social awareness. This was made even more apparent when she grabbed Draco's hand out of the blue and practically skipped down the grass with him.  

Draco felt his cheeks burn. 

“Hello Daphne, hello Theodore!” Luna brightly greeted their friends who replied in kind, albeit with less enthusiasm. Luna could truly learn something from Daphne’s perfect pureblood poise, Draco thought.  

Speaking of the Greengrass heiress, Daphne raised a blonde eyebrow, intelligent eyes flickering between their clasped hands that had not been released when they arrived, before settling questioningly on Draco. 

Merlin, Draco wished he could just vanish. If anything, his face got even hotter, sporting a shade that would match nicely with Weasley’s ugly, maroon Yule sweater. 

“I see the two of you have gotten… close,” she sniped with cool amusement at Draco’s misery. 

He tore his hand away from Lovegood and returned Daphne’s smugness with a sneer. He opened his mouth to show her what’s what with a scathing reply, but was cut short by Theo’s constantly serious voice. 

“What took you so long?” He asked, looking at them from underneath his brown curls. 

He truly had let his hair grow far too long. Draco should insist that he book an appointment with a hairdresser soon, it was unbecoming for a ward of the Malfoy family to let himself go like that.

The reminder of what had kept Draco away from more interesting company for so long was enough to make him huff dramatically. He gave them a detailed recounting of the events leading up to their arrival at the fountain, explaining Luna’s ridiculousness with what was absolutely not whining, no matter what Daphne insisted on calling it. 

Draco was so occupied with his own story that he didn't notice the way Theo’s brows furrowed at the information, and how his eyes flickered pensively over to Lord Peverell. 

Theo hummed in all the right places, gaze never straying from Henry’s guardian as the accomplished wizard made the rounds, chatting amicably with the important people that had been invited. 

“Luna,” Theo said, breaking off Draco mid sentence, which was incredibly rude, only to focus on the peculiar girl they had promised Henry to look after in his absence. 

“Why did you congratulate Lord Peverell?” Theo asked, as if it wasn't obvious that Luna was touched in the head, they all knew that! 

For all Draco had grown sort of fond of Luna, he could readily admit that there was something wrong with her. She never made a lick of sense. How Henry seemed to get anything out of her nonsense would forever remain a mystery to Draco. 

“Oh. Well, King Hades deserved a present, don't you think? He works very hard to reform his Cerberus. I think he's done a wonderful job so far!” Luna replied, swishing her hand in the glittering fountain water. 

"I have a gift for Lord Thanatos too! Although I don't think there really is a birthday for him to celebrate, but everyone likes a present," she finished, with conviction.

See? Absolute balderdash! Draco rolled his eyes. 

However Theo’s intense scrutiny didn't waver and he looked as if he was carefully mulling over her words. 

“You don't actually believe her?” Draco exclaimed in disbelief, gaping at his friend. "What in Merlin's saggy underpants would Lord Peverell need to reform a cerberus for?!"

"Draco! You're making a scene," Daphne hissed at him, and he realised that he might have been just a tad too loud. 

They had drawn some attention from the nearby guests, but were quickly dismissed in favour of more important things, such as free food and alcohol.

"Well, you agree with me, don't you?" Draco sniffed haughtily.

"That's neither here nor there," Daphne replied with a cold glare that reminded Draco eerily of his mother when she was upset with his father. "We support Luna's creative way of speaking, don't we Draco?" 

He swallowed hard and would have inched away from Daphne if it wasn't for the firm grip she had on his elbow. 

"Of course!" He quickly agreed, lest she decided to hex him with something nasty behind everyone's backs. 

"Oh look, Lord Thanatos is coming!" Luna exclaimed with delight and a touch of reverence. 

Everyone's heads turned in the direction Luna was facing, curious to see who she was talking about. 

Puzzlingly, it was Henry, with Neville and Pansy in tow. 

"My Lord," Luna greeted, dropping to a deep bow in front of Henry. 

Draco’s eyes were wide, it was one thing to joke about something like that in private, but this was a public area! What if someone had overheard?

He threw nervous looks in every direction.

Dark Lords still carried a grim reputation, if someone found out what Henry was set to become before he'd actually reached that position it might spell trouble. 

Henry did not look offended however, instead he chuckled and gave her a fond look. "Hello to you as well, Luna." 

"Come now, no need for that," he said, gently guiding her back up, her dirty-blonde waves cascading over her shoulders in an unrestrained mess with the movement.

With that sorted, and Draco’s heart no longer threatening to burst out of his chest due to nervousness, everything seemed to settle down into a sense of familiar ease. 

It was good to have Henry back, although he'd visited the Manor a few times over the summer, it was not the same as sharing a dorm room together. 

Draco hadn't said so out loud, not even to himself, but he missed him at school. It felt strange going through the days without their leader present.

He was sure Theo felt the same however, because for the rest of the evening, Theo paid close attention to Henry's every move, never straying far from his side. It wasn't unusual in the slightest though, so Draco ignored it. 

More children joined them as the time went by. Some merely stopped to congratulate Henry, while others stayed for a time before mingling with more familiar faces. 

What surprised Draco the most, was when Granger of all people approached them. Never in a million years had he thought she would be invited to Henry's party. 

As far as he was aware, she wasn't wealthy, didn't have a good pedigree, nor even a decent relationship with Draco’s friend. In fact, he would go so far as to say that she seemed to despise Henry during their interactions at school.

And yet… Henry greeted her with a smile and thanked her for coming, allowing the know-it-all to worm her way inside their tightly knit group. 

Draco didn't like it, not at all, but it wasn't as if he could disparage her in public, Daphne would neuter him for ruining Henry's party… 

So Draco kept his mouth shut, which was much harder than expected. They really should appreciate the effort he put in for the sake of being cordial. 

They had finally decided to get some actual food, and Draco felt relieved that he'd have something to occupy himself with since he couldn't say what he wanted to. 

His mother talked about restraint and self discipline all the time, but Draco didn't really pay attention. More than once had she sighed fondly and said that there was so much of his father in him. He'd usually puffed up in pride when it was brought up. 

"Who is that with Lord Peverell?" Granger hesitantly asked. 

Draco’s head turned to the left and his eyebrows climbed high up on his forehead in surprise. 

"What in Merlin's name…" he breathed out, not believing his own eyes. 

Was cousin Sirius flirting with their host? 

~

Sirius had a plan, a brilliant, foolproof plan. It would have to be, because Sirius could be a right fool at times. 

But not today! 

When his lovely brother Regulus had finally shared the gossip about their precious Nymphadora's little crush on Harry, Sirius knew exactly what he had to do. 

He would separate Harry from that cradle-snatching Dark Lord, even if it was the last thing he ever did.

Harry's party was the perfect opportunity. Sirius had asked if it was alright to invite Andy and her family, to which his godson had easily agreed. 

Sirius had prepared for this day, he was ready. It was absolutely, one hundred percent going to work. 

For hours he'd been following along with Harry's exceedingly long list of things he could and couldn't do. If he didn't know any better, it was as if he thought Sirius was not fit to be in proper company! 

Well, okay… he might be right about that… 

Maybe. 

Just a little bit. 

So he'd been cordial and polite, chatting with stuffy politicians and simpering old ladies, smiling until his cheeks started to hurt. Harry better appreciate the torture he went through for him! 

"Andy, Cissy! Over here!" Sirius exclaimed with an exuberant wave and big smile as he caught sight of the two sisters.

Visually their colours were as different as night and day. Andromeda had inherited their fathers dark hair, whereas Narcissa leaned more towards her mother's side, gracing her with blond locks a few shades darker than her husband's. 

Ever since Andy decided to elope with Ted Tonks, a muggleborn, she had been cut off from the Black family due to the dishonour, and therefore also her sister. 

They'd been mending things ever since Sirius became the Head of the Black family, both wishing to rekindle their relationship with him, which later included each other as well. 

He wouldn't say they were close, at least not like they had been when they were all kids, but they were healing. Bit by bit, day by day. 

"Where is Dora?" Sirius asked when they'd joined him by one of the many floating trays of food. This one contained small, golden puff pastries filled with feta and other delicious things. 

Sirius had been stuffing his face for the past five minutes while he kept an eye out for his prey. 

"Good evening to you as well, Sirius. Why yes I am doing fine, thank you for asking," Andromeda drawled with an unimpressed tilt of her eyebrows. 

Narcissa's lips quirked upwards in an amused smirk whereas Sirius choked slightly on the last canapé he'd shoved into his mouth.

Andy took mercy on him and patted him hard on the back before handing him her drink. He gratefully swallowed down the champagne in one big gulp. 

"Better?" 

"Y-yeah," he rasped out. 

"So, now that we've gotten the pleasantries out of the way, where is my favourite niece?" He tried again, clapping his hands together, grey eyes peering behind both of them.

"She is your only niece," Andromeda drily retorted. 

"Psssh, semantics!" Sirius waved it off. 

They all knew that technically Nymphadora was his cousin, but ever since she was a little girl, she'd called him 'uncle Sirius', and he still clung fiercely to that title. 

Narcissa could keep her snooty son all to herself, but he would fight anyone on behalf of his wonderfully amusing niece.

"She had to go to the bathroom but I suspect she will be back fairly soon." 

And just as Narcissa had said that, Sirius spotted a flash of bubblegum pink hair making its way through the masses. His face split open in a wide grin. 

"I'll be right back," he blurted out to the two women before he dashed away. 

They were both confused by his behaviour but had long since learned to accept that he was far from normal. 

No matter what he himself might say, the Black Madness had always been a bit too prevalent in him. It had luckily not gone as far as with Bellatrix, but even as a child he had been wild, impulsive and even cruel at times. Azkaban had done him no favours on top of that. 

A few minutes later, Sirius returned with his godson in tow. Convincing him to tag along had not been hard considering he was talking with Fudge of all people.

Harry smiled and politely greeted the three ladies.

Dora, as expected, was looking at him with pure adoration, not that Harry seemed to notice that. 

Stage one of Sirius' plan was complete. Now onto the next one. 

He wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders to keep him from escaping if he caught on to his true intentions.

First, Sirius began by telling funny stories from when he'd babysat Nymphadora as a kid, hardly noticing how her hair kept flashing between colours in embarrassment and her cheeks flushed. 

Narcissa and Andromeda had trouble hiding their smiles, and the latter even pitched in, adding small anecdotes every now and then that just made things worse for poor Dora. 

Harry remained polite, chuckling and smiling in the right places. Sirius thought things were going great so far! 

Next he boisterously pointed out some of Dora's finer features while nudging Harry's side, much to the young woman's horror and Harry's confusion. 

Sirius was an awful wingman, not that he realised that himself. To him, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. 

He chatted away enthusiastically, only succeeding in progressively lowering Nymphadora's chances. 

"Shut UP, Sirius!" Dora hissed, both her hair and cheeks a vibrant red. 

Sirius' jaws clacked shut mid sentence and he turned his head to look at her with wide eyes. Did he say something wrong? 

Apparently yes, because his wonderful, perfect, angelic little Nymphadora was attempting to hex him. 

Sirius yelped and ran away, the furious metamorphmagus staying hot on his tail.

Okay. So things hadn't gone quite according to plan, but it was still salvageable, right? 

Right? 

~

By being forced to run, and eventually take cover in some fancy shrubs, Sirius did not overhear the conversation that took place after his departure. 

The two sisters had laughed, meanwhile Harry looked startled. 

"What was that about?" He asked.

"I think that was our cousin's poor attempt to set you up with my daughter," Andromeda replied, laughter still evident in her tone and eyes. 

Harry inhaled in surprise, almost choking on his drink as it went down the wrong pipe. 

He coughed, cheeks red both from embarrassment and the exertion of not dying.

"T-that's not, I mean I'm not, we're not-,"he sputtered pointlessly. 

"It's alright dear, we know you're not interested," Narcissa said as she patted his arm. "After all, you've got your eyes set on someone else, haven't you?" Narcissa finished with a pointed look that left Harry floundering.

Harry's surprise never waned, but now there was an added layer of confusion, because he certainly didn't have a crush on anyone as far as he was aware. When would he even get the time for that? 

However, before he had the chance to reply, Tom, the saving grace that he was, arrived with Lucius in tow and neatly inserted himself into the conversation. 

Harry felt so relieved he could have cried. Instead he just gave Tom a grateful smile, internally vowing to get him a nice and rare book for Christmas. 

He had no idea that his sudden relaxation and easy smile merely fueled the ladies' suspicions instead of laying them to rest. 

~

“So, now will you tell me who you got to pose as your younger self? Was it one of the elves? Barty perhaps?” Tom asked Harry once the last guest had finally left and the hosts could put their feet up. 

They had retired to the island for a well deserved glass of wine as they decompressed from the day’s event at their residence in Maidstone. 

“Well, whoever it was, they did a stellar job,” he praised, and rightfully so, the individual had played their part to perfection. 

Whenever Tom had asked in the weeks leading up to the party, Harry had always been vague, brushing it aside. 

Tom had heard the infinitely annoying phrase ‘don't worry about it, I’ve got it covered,’ more times than he could count. 

“Oh, that,” Harry said with a laugh and shrug of his shoulder. “It was Death. He offered so I thought why not, you know? He was the best candidate by far.” 

The words were uttered in a concerningly casual way, as if they were not monumentous. 

Tom blanched, his face going slack before Harry’s sentence actually registered in his mind. 

"WHAT?!” He screeched, voice several octaves higher than usual, his eyes wide in horror.

“You mean to tell me that you had DEATH itself simply waltzing about? Hanging out with the children?” Not that Tom particularly cared about the children, but they were innocent and he’d rather not have the death of more of them on his conscience, small as that conscience might be. 

Breathing became harder and harder. Why was the air suddenly getting thinner? 

"Tom?… Do you need something? A glass of water maybe?" Harry, his absolutely deranged companion hesitantly asked while looking at him with concern, the bastard. 

"You," Tom gasped for air, "are,” another gasp, “insane!" he managed to utter between shallow breaths that carried dangerously little oxygen into his lungs.  

Fuck, he had to sit down. 

Tom collapsed into the nearest chair, grasping the armrests with desperation, as if it would ground him into reality. 

It didn't.

Harry hovered next to him, hesitant to touch him in his state.

“Hey, it's alright, nothing happened,” he softly said as he crouched down in front of him, trying to ease Tom’s burgeoning panic attack with little effect. 

He placed his hand on Tom’s shoulder, holding it firmly but not painfully so, just enough to add pressure. 

“You’re okay, you’re alive. I’m not going to let Death take you yet. Do you really trust me so little?” 

Harry’s voice felt like it was far away, his gentle words dulled by the rush of blood thundering in Tom’s ears. His heart was beating so fast he feared it might burst. 

Slowly, embarrassingly so, Tom managed to ride out the panic attack with Harry’s help, his breathing becoming deeper and levelling into a somewhat steady rhythm.

At some point he had grabbed onto Harry’s arm, squeezing it so tightly that it would probably bruise come morning. Tom felt no pity, but he let go as soon as he was aware of the point of contact.  

“You absolute bellend,” he hissed, letting out a few well earned strings of good, old, cockney swearing. Harry deserved each and every insult for putting him through what he just had.

“I probably earned that,” Harry said with a quiet chuckle. The humour quickly faded away to seriousness however. 

“You alright, Tom? Truly?” He was still crouched in front of Tom’s chair, green eyes meeting his own briefly before the searching gaze became too much for the former Dark Lord and he averted his eyes. 

Tom sighed. “Yes… You may return to your own seat now,” he reassured the younger man, shooing him away with one hand.

Harry slowly got to his feet and resumed his position, wine all but forgotten due to the commotion. 

“I touched it,” Tom blankly admitted, thinking back to the many times he had made physical contact with Henry Potter during the party. There would be pictures of them all in the morning edition of the Daily Prophet…

“You did,” Harry agreed, “and nothing happened. Everything was fine…” 

“You should have told me!” Tom hissed in return, sending his companion an icy glare, lashing out due to his own fear and embarrassment.

“Yeah… I probably should have.” Harry once again agreed.

“Then why didn't you?!”

“I just… I didn't think you’d be able to handle it. And I knew how important that party was for your plans. Well… for both of our plans really,” Harry admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

Silence fell between them, and for minutes the only sound in the room was their own breathing. 

The tension was thick and uncomfortable, neither party willing to break it. 

Eventually, Harry must have had enough, because he got up from his seat.

“I’ll just… uhh,“ Harry awkwardly gestured to the door, “leave.”

He hurried towards the exit, but stopped briefly once he’d reached it. He seemed to contemplate for a few seconds before he turned his head and spoke.  

“Good night, Tom…” he said, then scurried away like a kicked puppy when no reply was forthcoming.

Tom rested his elbows on his knees and ran his slender fingers through tousled, dark locks. He locked his hands behind his neck, head heavily weighing down. 

God, what a fucking embarrassing overreaction. 

He put his face in his hands, sighing deeply. He felt exhausted to the point of his bones aching and his skin tingling. 

That had been a surprise he could have forgone. 

But in hindsight, he was glad Harry had not told him before the party, because he was man enough to admit, at least to himself, that Harry was right. 

He would not have been able to play his own part well enough while being keenly aware of the Grim Reaper's presence amongst them. 

Every second he'd spend near 'Henry' would have caused him to constantly remember the sheer terror he had experienced at Death's hands when he was still a mere Horcrux. 

So yes, it had probably been for the best.

~

Just as planned, the very next day, Henry Potter's birthday party had been front page news. 

Rita Skeeter had obviously been invited along with her photographer, and as usual they'd done a splendid job of putting both Thomas Gaunt and Lord Peverell in a good light. 

Harry felt satisfaction and relief settle in his chest. He was honestly just glad to have it over with. He hated both big crowds and the attention they brought, but it was a necessary evil he supposed. 

It took several days before Harry was willing to be out among people again, his family not included. 

Diana had finally managed to wrestle the legal guardianship of Theo away from the Ministry, and in turn the Malfoys, not that the latter had put up a fight per Harry's request.

That was the reason why Harry was headed over to the manor in Wiltshire along with his werewolf employee. They were going to break the news to Theo gently and allow him the opportunity to choose what he wanted to do going forward. 

Both the Malfoys and Theo himself were aware of this meeting, and although they had not informed the boy of what it was about, Harry was fairly certain he'd already figured it out on his own. He was clever like that. 

Harry and Diana flooed straight into Lucius' study. Seeing as he knew the way, he quickly led them down to the drawing room. 

Lucius, Narcissa and Theo stood up to greet them when the doors opened. Draco was nowhere in sight, surprisingly enough, so Harry figured they must have sent him out flying or to one of his friends for the evening.

A house-elf appeared to serve them tea and scones, pouring drinks into each waiting cup as the humans talked. Harry thanked the old elf, startling him in the process. 

He was grateful to see that he looked much better than Dobby had back in the day. Gone were the ragged pillowcases, and instead the elf wore a sort of grey uniform with the Malfoy crest. 

Clearly Lucius had taken Harry’s many rants about house-elves and their treatment to heart. It was certainly encouraging and brightened his mood considerably. 

“So, Theodore, do you know why we’ve all gathered here today?” Harry gently asked with a soft smile, entirely missing the calculating gleam behind the teenager’s brown eyes as he absorbed all of Harry’s words and mannerisms. 

“I have a fairly solid guess,” was Theo’s mumbled response.

“As you are aware of, I've been working towards getting legal custody over you,” Diana began, fidgeting slightly with her cup.

“The paperwork went through last week so now I've finally gotten my parental responsibilities back."

Theo froze in his seat, the tea he’d been stirring honey into all but forgotten. 

“This doesn't mean you have to move in with me right away!” She quickly tried to reassure him, “or at all, really. That’s what I’m here to talk to you about amongst other things.” 

“Of course I’d love it if you want to live with me during your holidays, but I’ve discussed this with Mr and Mrs Malfoy and they are more than willing to let you stay here if that’s what you'd prefer…” 

Theo looked over to the Malfoys, and it was Narcissa that answered his unspoken question with a small, but kind smile. 

"We would be delighted to have you here with us, Theodore. And I also know for a fact that Draco would be exceedingly happy for your company. He has enjoyed your presence greatly these past weeks." 

"Can I… think about it?" Theo hesitantly asked with a deep frown.

"Of course! You don't have to make a decision right away," Diana quickly agreed. 

It was painfully clear that she wanted nothing more than for Theo to come home, but it was not so easy as that. There was still quite a bit of distance between them, even if they'd worked on getting to know each other through letters for some time now. 

"May I make a suggestion?" Harry said once the conversation had dulled down into awkward silence. 

He continued when he got affirming nods. 

"Why don't you take a week out of your summer holiday to stay with your mother. It won't be permanent, and you can always return to Lucius and Narcissa whenever you'd wish should you not find it to your liking. Think of it as a trial run if you will," Harry calmly suggested, green eyes interlocking with brown for just a moment. 

Theo mulled it over, and eventually agreed. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was a win/win situation no matter how you looked at it. 

Either he would enjoy his time there and end up getting a sorely missed parent back, or he wouldn't and he could return to the status quo. 

Thankfully, it turned out to be the first scenario, which Harry would later find out through an optimistic letter addressed to Henry Potter. 

Theo wrote that although he'd enjoyed his time with his mother, things were still slightly awkward. However both of them were willing to try their best to make it work. 

Besides, his third year at Hogwarts would begin soon, and that would mean months away in a familiar environment. It'd be a nice break in between the holidays while they worked on their new-found relationship. 

Harry couldn't be more happy for Theo. Finally he had what he deserved. It might not be perfect, but it was genuine. Diana truly loved her son and would do anything for him now that she had him back. 

~

"He is the absolute worst! He's ruined any chance I might have ever had with him. Now whenever he sees me he's gonna be thinking about those stories of me running around with my arse out on display when I was five. My life is ruined!" Tonks sobbed for the millionth time that day. 

Moody grunted in response, like he'd done intermittently throughout her long and arduous whining, not able to reply verbally lest he started to yell at her to fucking get her shit together. She was a damn auror trainee, not a heartbroken teenager!

He regretted asking how the party had gone. He regretted it so bloody much. 

As soon as he'd finished his question the floodgates had burst wide open. It had been impossible to get any work done since then and the stack of reports that needed to be filled out still stood fairly untouched on his desk.

He knew he'd promised Albus to subtly gather intel on the party through the girl, but he was seconds away from snapping.

If he was forced to endure one more complaint about how much Sirius Black had destroyed her non-existent love life by being an embarrassing prick of an uncle, he'd hex her mouth shut and leave her tied up in their cubicle until the night shift came and got her.

One thing was for certain, Albus was going to pay dearly for this. Not even Voldemort returning was worth that kind of torture.