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into the arena with your head held high

Chapter Text

ACT I: THE MIDNIGHT DUEL

the intruder in the Minister's office  a proposal for the perfect disguise  undesirable number one  are you ready?  the glass dragon  the Unsealing  ~  so promised and whispered the cup in the vault  ~the Ministry is falling  ~  a galleon for the Golden Boy's thoughts?  ~  tick trickle tock  ~  going down?  ~  hit the floor with a mundane finality  ~  take me to the safe place where everything is fine  ~

 

PART ONE

April 16th, 2009

 

~ the intruder in the Minister's office

 

The Minister of Magic's Office was large, empty, and dark. There was little to it besides a giant desk in the centre of the circular space and enormous windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, letting the bright moonlight dimply haunt the shadowy room.

It was a sparse space, but not a clean one. Papers and shredded books were strewn across the filthy marble floor, and the giant desk had clearly seen days as a curse shield from the magical burns that covered it along with the entire room. This scorched office had not been in the use of a Minister of Magic for many years, and had likely been abandoned for just as long.

A figure drifted past one of the windows, only noticeable in how it made a shadow against the moonlight on the floor and temporarily blocked out some stars in a black silhouette.

On a night eleven years ago, the light pollution of London would have meant that there were few stars to block if any, but now there seemed to be more stars than could be counted. They twinkled brightly all over the sky, with not a helicopter or satellite in sight. Light pollution and such things had not been a problem in Great Britain for many years now. London was dark, completely dark, and the stars shined for it.

So... a moving, person-shaped lack of them was very curious.

The shadowy figure landed silently on the sill of the last window of the row, their overflowing, ragged, black robes trailing behind them. Then, cautiously, small and pale hands stretched out from within the cloak to place themselves flat on the window pane. A minute later, the glass peeled inwards with a silent shudder to let the figure step through, carrying a breath of crisp, cold air with them, before it folded seamlessly back into place.

As the intruder stepped inside the abandoned office, up next to battered desk, a disturbingly interesting and interestingly disturbing fact was made clear: this figure was of very small height. They were far too small to be an adult and not quite short enough to be a goblin, which weren't really about nowadays anyway. Their long, black robe trailed behind them like the train of a dress and their hood fell too far on their face, like a child playing in an adult's clothing.

Footsteps sounded in the distance and the figure startled slightly, then cocked their hooded head to listen as someone drew nearer the not-so-empty office. The hurried sound echoed throughout the building, easy to hear in the soundless night. London was... well, more or less as quiet as it was dark these days, and the owner of the footsteps had foolishly not thought to cast any Silencing Charms to disguise their approach.

The intruder nodded to themselves and then, with a terrible tremble, they began to grow. Taller and taller they grew, from the height of a child to that of a being over six feet tall. Their body did not fill out at all, instead simply elongating, becoming almost skeletal. Under the hood, the figure's skin paled drastically and their mouth became lipless, then twisted into a cruel sneer as the office door was flung open with a bang.

An adult man of average height and build burst into the room, a white, skull-shaped mask covering his face. He was dressed all in black, and his hands glowed with eerie purple and red lights – spells – that crackled as they were thrown towards the office's intruder.

The intruder stepped aside languidly, letting the dangerous curses fly past and strike the wall behind, leaving large scorch marks with bright spots like dying embers. As the intruder gracefully dodged, they also removed their hood to show a bone-white and inhuman face with glowing red eyes.

The curse-throwing man with the skull-mask, hands already glowing with new spells of fizzling blue and infectious-looking green, paused. The curses instantly dissipated from his fingers and his pose changed from one of aggression to one of surprise. If his face had been visible, it surely would have been stark with shock and fear, perhaps even the same colour as his mask.

“M-m-my-y... my L-Lo-” he stammered, lowering his head and raising his hands in a subservient gesture of surrender and self-protection. But before he could finish his begging phrase -

“Stupefy!”

- he was struck to the ground with a popping swirl of red light and fell instantly to the ground.

The intruder lowered one of their smoking hands and the face of Lord Voldemort sneered at the unconscious Death Eater. Then the Dark Lord walked towards the defeated man, changing as he moved, growing smaller and younger and much more human-looking. Red eyes turned to green, blue hair sprouted from their head like dandelion fuzz, and the face of an androgynous child of perhaps ten years looked down at their Stunned foe.

“You Munchers really are dumb as rocks,” the kid said, unimpressed, sticking out a foot to wave it over the unconscious man's mask. “How do you not notice your Dark Lord wearing bright pink trainers? Honestly. They're glittery.

With a few short waves of the child's tiny hands and a bit of muttering, the Death Eater was gagged and bound with thick, grey ropes that had sprung up from the floor. Then the child reached into their ragged, black robes, rummaged about in the vicinity of their hip, and pulled out a lumpy drawstring bag that they opened with deft care.

Inside this bag were a great many marbles, all about the size of a bouncy-ball and extremely decorative, probably taken from an abandoned non-magical toy store. The child reached into the bag and plucked one of the marbles from the top, a pink one with purple flecks, which they placed on the Death Eater's chest.

No-expenses vacation,” they mumbled.

The bound man disappeared with a swirl of blue light and a small pop, off to places unknown.

After an unimpressed harrumph, the child moved to put the bag away, but they paused mid-motion and then opened the drawstring bag again to pull out a second marble. They stared at the tiny, translucent sphere for a few silent moments. It would be so very easy to whisper any number of words and be whisked away from this mausoleum-like ruin.

With one phrase, they could follow the Death Eater on the no-expenses vacation to a rather undesirable destination. And with several other phrases, they could return to any number of places that were much more familiar and much, much safer than this place was about to be.

Just a couple, simple words would do it... but... no.

The child made an indignant noise and the marble was quickly dropped back into the bag, the bag's string was pulled, and then bag itself was tucked away back wherever it came from. Then, before they could change their mind, the child pulled their ragged hood back up and went with swaggering steps to the office's door, which would lead to the rest of the Ministry of Magic.

At least, what used to be the Ministry of Magic. The building hadn't really been much of anything these past few years beyond one of Voldemort's largest and most dangerous strongholds. Now, with the planned assaults that the child knew were taking place, it soon wouldn't even be that anymore.

They murmured a brief spell and rose two feet in the air, so that only the ragged ends of their black robes trailed on the floor now. Then, with a further bit of concentration and more hand movements and murmured words, a freezing chill overtook the air around them and they were exuding a very effective feeling of abject misery and woe.

Taking several deep breaths, each more rattling than the last, the child raised their hands, which had elongated again. Their fingers were now greyish, bony, and scabbed.

“Rawr,” they said ominously. “Fear me and all despair, for I am a Dementor! OooOOOooo. I will kiss you and EAT YOUR SOUL!

Since the room was empty, no one replied or reacted. In the awkward silence afterwards, the child seemed to come to a realization, bobbling above the floor. They slapped a skeletal hand against their hooded forehead and groaned at themselves.

“What am I doing? Dementors don't talk. Right. Easy character. Channel inner stalker-ghost.”

Then they reached for the handle, opened the door, and floated into the hallway.

 

~ a proposal for the perfect disguise

 

The best thing about impersonating a Dementor was that nobody particularly cared to stick around and find out if the Dementor was real or not. Even the aura of cold and despair was enough to send people running for their lives sometimes. It didn't really matter that Dementors were almost completely extinct nowadays (Thank you, Mister Light Saviour!), the mere memory of them was enough for people to be scared away – especially so since the Sealing.

Even the Death Eaters and other Dark things were terrified of them, and therefore typically didn't question why a Dementor might be floating around Dark-held areas. Smaller and with a weaker presence, most would assume the impersonator was just a lower or young one that managed to survive the Light's extermination and counted themselves lucky it wasn't an elder or an entire Horde. Dementors were loyal to Voldemort and always had been, but they were still dangerous to anyone and difficult to control. Most Death Eaters and Dark Beings went by the hopeful creed that if they didn't bother a Dementor, the Dementor wouldn't bother them.

So with a mistreated bedsheet (black), some basic scent-repressing spells, a small Self-Levitation Charm, a Cooling Charm casting as a field, and Anti-Cheering Charm also cast as a field... well, the cunning individual pretty much had themselves an instant Dementor disguise that most people didn't want to look at at all, much less inspect for genuineness.

It was incredibly useful for sneaking around.

The Fake-Dementor encountered two other Death Eaters in the upper levels of the Once-Ministry – the first ignored them completely and the second was easily taken out by a surprise attack with a Portkey. The child floated unheeded all the rest of the way into a hallway of Ministry offices that overlooked the Atrium, a place that the child had only previously seen in memories.

The Atrium, as far as the child could see, was just as battle-worn as the Minister's Office. Spell scorches, rubble, and discarded flyers littered the ruined entrance hall. Even the Magic is Might statue, once a pure, white marble, was now blackened and severely melted in most places – it made the twisted forms of screaming people and their wand-wielding conquerors look even more sinister and terrible.

It really is even more horrible in person, the child decided with a hidden grimace.

Quietly, as to prevent any echoes through the empty Once-Ministry, the child settled down in one of the offices overlooking the Atrium. They cancelled all the spells around them, stepping back onto solid ground and letting the faked Dementor presence fade away. Then they started waving their hands and muttering, setting up some basic Undetectable protection spells for safety.

It took a few minutes, but once that was done, they immediately pulled the ragged cloak over their head with a sigh of relief and discarded it onto the floor of the office. Underneath, along with their glittery, pink trainers, they had a neat little outfit of black trousers and a worn Weird Sisters t-shirt that was much too large for them, which was belted by a small satchel purse. The small purse grudgingly unwrapped itself from their waist and flopped on top of the cloak, opening its flap to let the child rummage around inside. The child pulled out a pair of large, bottle-end-like goggles with a number of dials and switches around the rims, something that shouldn't rightly have fit inside the small purse.

Goggles in hand, the child flicked up their free arm to check a battered, gold wristwatch. Upon inspection, it was seen that the shorter of the crooked hands was slowly approaching midnight.

Good. They were on time. It hadn't started yet.

 

~ undesirable number one

 

About ten minutes later, an explosive sound echoed in the distance, presumably somewhere out in darkened London. Then, over the course of the next ten minutes, more explosions sounded like sporadic fireworks, each slightly closer than the one before.

In response, the occasional group of people in black cloaks and white masks sprinted through the Atrium. They exited through the Floo Chimneys in bursts of green flame, returning the same way with gaping wounds, covered in painful hexes and horrible curses. One Death Eater returned in a column of emerald flame only to fall over dead where they stood, a toxic-looking, purple curse chewing away at their back.

Half-an-hour after the child settled in their office lookout, there were nine Dark Followers gathered in the Atrium, limping or missing limbs entirely, shouting and panicking after returning from wherever they'd gone. From the child's count, with the aid of their goggles, four of them were relatively human Death Eaters and the rest were creatures – they guessed three wolves and two elementals by the magical auras and body-heat.

In a swirl of fire, a final Death Eater stumbled through one of the many Floo Chimneys, with a horrific gash on one leg and their entire upper body breaking out with glowing, green boils. This last Death Eater took five stuttering steps towards their fellows, and then the still-glowing Floo Chimney behind them erupted with a fiery explosion that swallowed the staggering Death Eater whole.

The Death Eater screamed as they disappeared under the churning, toxic-green flames in front of their comrades, who could only stare with horror as they watched an infamous, thin figure cut effortlessly through the fire and step out of the sooty embers into the Atrium with a near saunter. As the flames died around him, there was no sign of the Death Eater, and many of Dark Followers stumbled back in fear and recognition entwined.

The newcomer's well-known, uncontrollable black hair and bright green eyes marked him almost as well as the viciously red, lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. His face had graced wanted posters across the country for years, with and without the signature glasses that he no longer wore, and his reputation proceeded him greatly.

One of the Death Eaters, either very brave or very stupid, stepped forward while their comrades cowered. They had a gash across their chest and their hands were giving off yellow and blue sparks, and they didn't seem to care that the black-haired man regarded them with a relaxed pose and an almost hateful expression.

“Undesirable Number One,” the lead Death Eater snarled, and then they twisted their black-clothed body in an attack that caused a cord of yellow lightning to explode from their hand. Like a circling whip, the rope of energy lashed towards the newcomer's side.

Harry Potter raised a hand and the lightning whip stopped against an invisible carrier before it could strike his ribs, then, with a flick of his fingers, the hanging whip bolted straight back at the Death Eater like a gunshot. It followed itself back to the caster and consumed the hand holding the end of it, overtaking their entire arm with spiking sparks.

The Death Eater shrieked, and the others cowered back farther from this display. Harry Potter merely lowered his hand and proceeded to dust soot off his black, Dragonscale outfit, and then fixed the gathered Dark Followers with a forced smile.

“You didn't think that would work again, now did you, Suzanne?” Harry Potter asked conversationally, making a tutting sound and pushing up a sleeve slightly to show the flowery scar pattern on his forearm. “Believe me, your little lightning whip trick was a nasty surprise at first, but times change fast these days, and you've got to do better than that to keep up.”

The Death Eater's lightning-struck arm dropped uselessly to their side, and their other one reached up to pull off their white mask. They angrily threw it aside, making it clatter on the Atrium floor and uncovering the scarred and sneering face of a once-pretty middle-aged woman. She pointed her working fingers at the most wanted man in what remained of Great Britain.

“The Dark Lord is coming, Unbeliever!” the Death Eater promised darkly. “The Dark Lord know of this and is coming for you and all your Unfaithful! His wrath will bring your end!”

Harry Potter rolled his eyes. “Preach that to someone who gives a shit.”

Then the Light Saviour flexed his fingers and regarded the gathered Dark Followers with a knowing look. Most of them stepped back, ready to flee despite their injuries, but one or two of them snarled at him. But, knowing wolves as the child did, that was probably more of a fear response than agreement with the woman's worshipful words about their Lord.

“Face it,” Harry Potter informed them coldly. “You lot are just the small fish, here to stall me before the big shark gets here. I'm not leaving until he gets here, so if you want to live, leave now.

The Dark Followers stared back at the man who had once been the Boy-Who-Lived, terrified and unsure or outraged and deeply insulted. After a few long seconds, one of the injured Death Eaters, a thin witch by the figure, sprinted for one of the Floo Chimneys and disappeared in a burst of green flames. The others stared in surprise and horror, missing the second Death Eater, a heavyset man, who sprinted for another Floo Chimney on the opposite side. The lead Death Eater only realized when the Floo flames whisked him away with a whumph sound, but her thrown curse only scorched the wall after he was gone.

“Cowards!” she spat. “Untrue to our Lord! They will regret deserting the Darkness!”

While the witch ranted, three more of the Dark Followers sprinted away, disappearing by running into the depths of the Once-Ministry or being swallowed by the green Floo flames. Their desertion left Harry Potter standing alone against the lightning-struck witch, two wolves, and a final Death Eater.

“Last chance,” the Light Saviour offered benignly.

Die,” the woman replied succinctly.

Harry Potter gave a tight smile. “Maybe later,” he said.

 

~ are you ready?

 

From the office overlooking the Atrium, the child watched through their thick-glassed goggles as Harry Potter battled the four remaining Dark Followers who dared to stand against him. The fight doesn't last very long. None of them are even remotely close to his power level; very few people are. A few concussive blasts that overpower their attempts at shields sent the Dark Followers crashing in to wall, unconscious or magic-dazed.

In his victory, Harry Potter pointed at each of them, muttering for about ten seconds each. One by one, they disappeared in much the same way the watching child sent off the first Death Eater they encountered. Harry Potter didn't require pre-made Portkeys or a wand to do the exact same thing.

Not that anyone was using wands much anymore.

Once Voldemort had enacted the Sealing and locked Great Britain off from the rest of the world, releasing all manners of ancient magics and monsters, the resulting magical-saturation and mutations had made wands mostly a thing of the past. Overloaded by the newly fractious magic, many a wizard and witch had burnt out or blown up their wands – ouch, splinters – and put into unprecedented contact with a wilder magic, wands became a crutch to the disciplined sorcerer. There were other tools that could be used in a pinch, of course, but they were usually hard to craft and harder to keep, so they generally weren't used in pinches. If you had the magic, it was a lot quicker just to throw magic about with your hands and put up with spell-burnt fingertips.  

Soon enough, the Atrium was empty save the twenty-eight-year-old man who used to be called the Boy-Who-Lived, one of the most powerful magicians and deadly duellers to come out of the Sealing. He rightfully did not even look as though he had broken a sweat – there was good reason why those Death Eaters ran – and just stood there, as though waiting for something. The Light Saviour and Leader smoothed his clothes and absentmindedly ran a hand through his hair, then pulled the sleeve away from one wrist to see bare, scarred skin and appeared to sigh.

High above, watching closely, the child rubbed their small fingers awkwardly over the battered, gold wristwatch wrapped around their thin arm with a generous application of Spell-o-tape so it stayed there. They still weren't comfortable wearing it, the weight on their wrist unfamiliar – it was a recent gift that had been given rather untraditionally and spontaneously.

“Please don't die,” the child said quietly.

Too far away to have had a hope of hearing them, Harry Potter merely shrugged his shoulder and performed several stretches with his arms, shaking out a few sparks from his hands. He walked towards the blackened and partly-melted statue in the centre of the Atrium, turned his face up towards it, and... seemed to be seeing a ghost for a long, drawn-out moment. Then he raised his hands, took a deep breath, and the statue started to tear itself apart.

The marble shredded in seconds, becoming tissue-thin scraps and snow-like flakes. The pieces of the statue ripped into the air and then floated to the floor in small piles. Once the last stone foot is gone and the hideous symbol of hatred is little more than dust, Harry Potter lowered his hands.

He watched the marble flakes flutter down for awhile, then turned away with an air of casual indifference, like he hadn't just disintegrated a monument that had weathered years of wear and stood as a rallying symbol for magical superiority. Harry Potter, Leader of the Light, simply stuck his hands in his pockets and spun on his heel; he started to wander around the Atrium in a relaxed stroll and even whistled a tune as he went, ignoring the explosions that continued to echo outside in mostly-empty London town.

The world seemed to be waiting with bated breath, getting worse with every circle Harry Potter made of the room. There was a heavy magical pressure in the air, growing stronger by the minute, spiking with every resounding bang in the distance.

Harry Potter did not stop strolling with apparent unconcern until after his seventh circuit of the destroyed statue, when everything suddenly seemed to go silent. He stopped immediately, and turned towards the long hall of Floo Chimneys that stretched out into shadow. His relaxed pose slid subtly into tense readiness.

A wind seemed to be blowing from the end of the cavernous hall, making light debris and papers flutter towards Harry Potter and the destroyed statue, and a sound like a continuous rumble of thunder started and grew louder until the building itself was trembling. Then came a crack like a lightning strike, cutting off the sound and wind like the world had abruptly been choked silent.

A nightmarish figure turned out of the air in a swirl of dark robes, in the centre of the tunnel of Floo Chimneys. All too clear through the enchanted goggles, the child saw red eyes glint and pale, white skin glow, veins snaking visibly under the scales, stark against the shadows of the long hall. The child flinched imagining that they were as close to the fearsome being as their observational-aid could let them believe.

Thought they recently attempted to mimic this figure, they realized with gnawing terror that it would be impossible to truly capture the inhuman look, deathly presence, and overwhelmingly powerful aura of this wrathful, unnatural being that had tried to rule over Great Britain for the past ten long years of hell on Earth.

The self-proclaimed God; the Dark Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort long and spidery fingers flexed at his sides, without wand and yet unbelievably dangerous even so, as he stood in tense expectation, his blood-red eyes focused intently on the young man across the Atrium floor. Harry Potter stared back evenly at his foe, hands ready at his sides, and rested unmoving. The silence that had descended between them hung with all the fragility and sharpness of a sheen sheet of glass, and then it shattered.

“Harry... Potter...” whispered Voldemort, the slithering sound travelling throughout the entire Atrum and leaving a feeling like harsh breath across the back of the child's neck. They shuddered from the feeling, from the crawling sensation that the Dark Lord's voice brought to their skin.

“Have you finally chosen... to sstop running, boy?” Voldemort asked mockingly, having made many a similar speech over the long years. “To die as you were meant to? To cease living off... the borrowed time the lives of your comrades buy you? To meet with Death...?”

The Once-Boy-Who-Lived did not immediately answer. Instead, his fingers made the faint beginning of a drumming motion against the air. The child knew, as surely as they knew that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, by the set of the man's shoulders, that Harry Potter was smiling.

The Light Leader's voice echoed as clearly through the Atrium as Voldemort's did.

“Are you?”

 

~ the glass dragon

 

Deep inside, the child knew that Lord Voldemort was no God.

They had been raised on the stories of Harry James Potter and Tom Marvolo Riddle for as long as they could remember. They knew of the abandoned baby of Merope Gaunt, the fearful orphan boy of Wool's Orphanage, the snake-in-the-grass, perfect Hogwarts Head Boy. So of course they knew that Voldemort wasn't actually a God.

But there was a difference between knowing something and knowing something. There were also myths of Gods who were mortal once, and the stories of Tom Riddle did little against the nightmarish reality of what that heartless boy became. And all Gods must start somewhere, surely?

What this child witnessed now did little to help the mortal vision of Voldemort, as the Dark Lord and Light Saviour began their final fight. Because this...? This was the bones that stories were build on; this was the breath that legends were born on; this was the soul that all myths were spun from.

This was a completely fucking stupid idea, they're going to die, this was the most unsafe thing they'd ever done and that was saying something, and they swore they're never going to disobey Harry or Neville again, oh my Merlin, what kind of absolute idiot invited themselves to a duel between a God and his killer?

It started with a bow.

After Harry Potter asked Voldemort if he was prepared to face Death, the pair stood in silence for awhile, before the Voldemort lips twisted upwards into a sickly smile. It wasn't a forced smile... just a horribly empty one. There was no goodness at all to it.

“Sso... we duel,” Voldemort said, raising one of his skeletal hands, already tinged green with his most favourite and famous of curses.

Harry Potter raised a hand as well, but shook a finger instead of firing a spell. “Ah, ah, ah, that's not how it goes. We bow to each other, Tom,” he corrected, sounding highly amused as he bent only ever-so-slightly. “Come, the niceties will be observed. We're not animals.

Voldemort paused thoughtfully, then lightly inclined his head. “Dumbledore would have liked you to show manners...” he murmured in his hissing voice. “Very good... you have bowed to Death, but – I am weary of your mockery, boy – it is long time that you met with it!”

Without another word, from Voldemort's corpse-like hand sprung a familiar, deathly-green curse. It was as large as an elephant and as fast as a spell, and it screamed and burned straight towards Harry Potter like a shot. Or, rather, towards the empty space where Harry Potter had been, as the Leader of the Light had already blurred to the side in a shimmering spiral and fired a sizzling curse in return before the Avada Kedavra had come close to where he had been. Then he was gone again, as soon as the spell left his fingertips, for Voldemort sent a second green curse towards him, one that swallowed Harry Potter's red curse like a whale might a minnow.

And they were off.

The curses flew freely through the Atrium, steadily growing larger and faster as Harry Potter flitted from place to place before any hit could land and Voldemort stood in the centre of the hall, equally untouchable through his seemingly-effortless deflections and consuming, cannibalizing spells. It was impossible to catch the expression on the Light Saviour's face, but the Dark Lord seemed almost bored with the game of cat-and-mouse between them. They'd played it so many times, after all.

But then there was a ripple through the black tiles of the floor, a shudder through the stone, and the entire Atrium floor burst into raging waves that rose and fell like a storming sea of blackened stone. Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen, but Voldemort was caught in the eye of the storm and colossal towers of tiles – all as tall as the ceiling – rose around him, then lunged downwards with crashing force.

The child watched in awe, nose pressed against the office's window, goggles clinking against the glass, as the Dark Lord disappeared from sight under the massive trap.

And then they stared in horror, as a burst of energy was emitted from the depths and the roiling waves of the Atrium floor suddenly stilled, followed by a second burst of energy that turned the smooth dunes into an explosion of shards and rubble that smashed against and into the scorched walls and ceiling.

“How far we both have come...” whispers a familiar, harsh voice.

A cloud of sallow, white fog spilled over the edges of the newly-created crater, Voldemort's pale figure rising from the centre. With a careless wave of a skeletal arm, the sickly, white fog rushed forward and outwards. It hissed, snapped, and popped ominously as it flooded to the Atrium.

Eyes widening, the child quickly checked the office window to make sure the glass was unbroken and realized that it terrifying wasn't. It was almost certain that the fog was harmful if not lethal, and while casting a Bubble-Body Charm was the easiest solution – probably – it was said that the Dark Lord could detect the smallest use of magic from miles away. Rumours, probably, but dared the child risk it without Harry Potter to hold Voldemort's attention? Which option was the least deadly?

Luckily for the child, they did not have to choose, as the tissue-thin scraps of marble from the Magic Is Might statue began to stir in small whirlwinds. Each dancing flake seemed to bloom, unfolding tiny wings and fluttering into miniature butterflies, and then a fearsome and sudden gust blew all the butterflies – there were hundreds of them – forwards and the fog back. The creeping cloud's progress was halted as it billowed in place and the air was filled with swarms of transfigured insects heading straight for the Dark Lord.

Voldemort wasted no time in sending his fog spiralling up and out to deal with the pests, and when coming into contact with the white fog, the lowest of the butterflies melted where they flew. The transfigured insects closer to the ceiling responded by bursting into flames and shooting towards the Dark Lord like tiny comets. Some got caught by the fog, but many made it through, only to sizzle into nothing with a few careless flicks of Voldemort's fingers as they reached him.

Meanwhile, the wind that was holding back the dangerous fog grew stronger, and the white cloud was forced to rush back towards its maker, who dissipated it with ease. Then Voldemort proceeded to calm the forceful wind, so the child supposed judging by the settling of his misting, dark robes as he floated far above the floor.

Fog and wind gone, standing tall in the air, Voldemort scanned the dark Atrium carefully. The child automatically shrank back from the glass, just in case their painstakingly-placed protective charms were seen through in Voldemort's search for any sign of Harry Potter.

“Come now, boy...” the Dark Lord beckoned, sounding unconcerned and thoroughly bored, “you must have more for me than simple parlour trickss... and hiding games.”

This was when the dragon crashed through the ceiling.

It was, even at first glance, obviously not a real dragon. It was made of glass and metal for one thing, like it had been fashioned from the remains of one of those shiny, modern skyscrapers out in London, and its eyes glowed bright yellow like spotlights for another. It was a creature of transparent shards and twisting, metal cables, a masterpiece of sharpness and sorcery bigger than a house, and the first thing it did was lunge for the Dark Lord with its terrible mouth of cracked, jagged glass, ready to chew him to pieces.

Voldemort, suspended in the air, dodged it with the flight pattern of a fly, although he made rather more of a skeletal bat in his black robes. Voldemort sent a curse as he moved, a Blasting Curse by the looks of the orange light, which didn't seem entirely sensible given the glass, but the child supposed that Voldemort had enough shielding ability for that not to matter.

But the expected explosion of glass didn't happen, as the child had hoped it wouldn't, because too many people had worked too hard on the thing for it to fail at first spell. Instead, the curse connected with the reflective scale-shards and got sucked inside the beast. For a few brief seconds, the fiery curse made the dragon glow like the most dazzling lighthouse while Voldemort appeared to be surprised by the lack of destruction, and then the creature opened its jagged mouth and roared out the spell like it was blazing dragonfire, straight back out at the caster.

It would be a poor God who was killed by his own curse returned to him; Voldemort dodged the Blasting Curse easily and the hit section of the wall behind him was violently smashed out. The entire building shuddered from the force of the spell that punched such a hole, and the child began to worry slightly at the cracks that appeared and then grew at the edges of where the open sky could be seen, snaking across the ceiling as the glass dragon rampaged and Voldemort rained curses down on it.

When people had used to talk about 'bringing the Ministry down', back when there had still been a farce of a Ministry to take down, the child was certain that this wasn't what they'd meant. Well, maybe. Sometimes it was hard to sort between the metaphorical and the literal between all the general bitterness.

But while the ceiling and walls slowly began to break, the glass dragon held strong. It swallowed every spell with ease, sometimes several at a time, and then spat them out as a mixed mess of highly-unstable magic that did the highly-unstable building no favours at all.

Crack, went the broken Atrium ceiling.

The charging way the dragon scrabbled over the misshapen floor to hopefully devour the Dark Lord didn't do the Ministry infrastructure any favours either. It crashed into the Floo Chimneys from failed lunges; it smashed into the wall as it leaped, and it left deep gouges in the black tiles, suffering no damage to its shining, glass scales as it stomped.

Crunch, went the uneven Atrium floor.

In an impressive feat of magic, Voldemort, keeping out of the dragon's reach by moving swiftly through the air, reached out a bony hand and all the shards sent into the walls – the ones from the destroyed waves trap – removed themselves from the wall and shot towards the dragon. Some were easily as big as the glass creature's forearm, but the dragon's wings and tail snapped out and made quick work of the projectiles. Pieces of tile flew throughout the room, shattering under the dragon's claws and clattering against the nearest unfortunate surface.

Crumble, went several pieces of the battered Atrium wall.

Undamaged, the glass dragon brushed and smashed aside the stone chunks to keep up its attack on the Dark Lord. Its yellow eyes flared brightly as it lunged forward yet again, only to be stopped short a scant few meters away from biting down on black robes because its feet had sunk into the black tiles, were sinking farther, and were being held fast by the gooey stone. Unnoticing, the glass dragon just continued to gnash its jagged teeth as the floor started to steam and bubble and glow increasingly red. Then, with a hideous hiss, the sinking trap erupted into fiery liquid that looked to come straight from the heart of a volcano and the dragon was suddenly wading in a pit of molten stone.

It started slow at first, as bright runes lit up and flickered across its body, but then the glass started to dribble and the dragon's legs started to bend. The ferociously snapping and soundlessly snarling creature didn't even seem to notice as it became a misshapen mess under the intense, unbearable heat it was trapped in, nor as its limbs gave out and it smashed to the boiling floor with helpless struggles.

From their hiding place, the child watched with the feeling that time was stretching out to give the crafted creature a few more pitiful moments of life. It wasn't much longer before the winking runes carved all over the glass blinked out permanently, and the yellow glow of its melting eyes flickered a just a few times more before following suit.

If there was any life in it at all, it was gone now.

 

~ the Unsealing

 

Voldemort watched the dying thing from a distance, having floated farther away to escape the wrathful heat of his elemental magic. He hung in the air as the ruined, misshapen dragon corpse sank and bubbled into the roiling lake he had created. The Dark Lord's expression, from what the child could see from this angle, was deeply hateful and disdainful – his lipless mouth was twisted into his infamous sneer.

“You pathetic toys, Potter, are-” Voldemort began, before he was cut off by an earth-shaking sound.

It was like thunder, only louder, and the ground quaked and shuddered under its roar. The child put a tiny hand to their chest, feeling their ribs shake and heart stutter, the thin barrier of their skin nothing to the life-drowning sound. Chunks of rock fell from the Atrium walls, glass smashed against the floor from office windows, and portions of the cracked ceiling relievedly gave way to gravity.

The Dark Lord even seemed to stumble in the air, then looked up the half-ceiling towards the dark sky above. The child scrabbled to adjust the settings on their goggles and followed Voldemort's gaze, focusing on the missing pieces of roof – with faint screaming in the back of their mind that the sky might actually be falling, because that was what it sounded was happening.

And it looked it too! Great, white cracks were etching and scratching across the night sky, cutting across the stars to make it appear as though there was a giant, jigsaw-puzzle dome over the world. As each glowing rip tore itself across the dark blue, the thunderous sound kept on rolling.

When the sky was finished breaking, the sound stopped. The only sounds then were some muted echoes before a delicate silence descended, and the child thought they might have been able to hear a pin drop halfway across London. The lake of lava slowly eating at the glass dragon's corpse bubbled and hissed, and it seemed almost deafening.

Then one of the jigsaw pieces lit up, white and bright like a second moon, before it flashed like lightning and went dark. A few seconds later, a sound like the bang of a firework, only louder, reached them, causing more glass to tinkle down to the Atrium floor.

It might have been the child's imagination now... but the stars in that spot seemed brighter than they were before. The sky looked bluer too, with tinges of purple almost, as though there had been an unwashed window there and someone had only just remembered to clean the many coats of dust away. Or maybe it was just the knowledge that the window had been removed entirely, the child supposed dimly, breathlessly, their lungs feeling strangely incapable of handling the air.

It might have just been their imagination – it was definitely their imagination, honesty – but the air felt fresher too.

The cracks in the sky flashed and then disappeared, first one by one, and then like an unstoppable wave. Their firework-like bang echoed across the city, and made the child's heart bang at their chest. Or maybe that was the excitement, the joy – it was hard to tell.

Halfway through the flashes and pops, Voldemort had started screaming – a long, high, agonized shriek of rage and horror and realization. Once the sky was whole again, bluer and brighter than ever, and the echoes of the banging sounds were swallowed by dark London town, Voldemort's screaming stopped and he whirled in the air on the rest of the Atrium.

Joy stuttered in the child's chest at the seething aura suddenly saturating the air, a fury nearly as drowning as the sound from earlier. They shrunk back from the glass, heart in their throat and their hand reaching for the drawstring bag of marbles – their escape – in their purse. The power radiating off the Dark Lord was suffocating, the air was crackling with power, and the thought of staying around to be a furious God's target of wrath was terrifying.

But that didn't stop some people.

A silent, bright-red curse shot through the air towards Voldemort's back, quick like a shooting star – blink and you'll miss it. The child inhaled sharply, eyes widening, as... the Dark Lord turned even faster and backhanded it into the nearest Floo Chimney, when it soundlessly exploded and sent shards of the small alcove flying into the hissing lava pit.

Potter...” Voldemort snarled – an order for the Light Saviour to reveal himself.

A small tutting sound echoed through the Atrium as Harry Potter stepped into sight, hopping from thin air onto the platform where the Magic Is Might statue used to be. The twenty-eight-year-old man rubbed the back of his neck and then ran that hand through his untidy black hair, looking the very picture of sheepishness save for the shit-eating grin that the child briefly caught as he stretched – one that informed anyone who cared to look that he wasn't really sorry in the slightest.

What,” Voldemort demanded in a sharp hiss, “was that?”

Harry Potter shrugged, the motion rolling down from his shoulders to the tips of his toes. “What do you think it was, Tom?” he returned scathingly, like he couldn't believe he had to say something this obvious. “It's your precious Sealing... well, it was. We sort of broke it.”

A bubble of lava burst with a particularly loud sizzle, and the child imagined that the Light Saviour was smirking right now, basking in this final, loud-sought-after victory.

“That's right, Tom!” the man of the moment said brightly, nearly skipping off his pedestal onto the uneven black tiles, hands stretched out to balance himself as he does, his fingers twitching in a barely noticeable beckoning. “Your Sealing is over. I see you made short work of our dragon while we -”

A gob of lava shot up at Voldemort's back, only to fall to the floor several meters before impact, literally rock solid. Bits of frost scattered off it over the tiles, which quickly melted due to the roiling heat nearby. Voldemort had not moved.

“- were busy,” Harry Potter finished, less brightly, fingers still twitching at his sides. “Hermione says hello, by the way, and wants me to tell you that your spellwork was rather shoddy for an all-powerful tyrant, honestly. She wasn't all that impressed... more of the opposite, really.”

Voldemort said nothing, but the child noticed warily that the temperature seemed to be rather unstable throughout the Atrium. There was frost on some windows... steam on others... as the room alternated between ragingly hot and furiously cold.

The child's hand twitched towards that bag of marbles. Just one phrase and a little bit of legwork and they could rejoin the others, whose boats and brooms would have been setting off now, all eager to be the first people to leave Britain in over ten years. People... people that the Light Saviour had put above himself as he put himself in front of the angry Dark Lord, a sacrificial distraction in exchange for their safe passage.

But... if the child left now... Harry would be left behind, and there was no guarantee that he would join them later. The air itself seethed with Voldemort, and though it hardly mattered who won now – there was nothing really left of Britain, of either the Dark or the Light or everything in between; victory now would pretty much only be a prize for someone's pride – that only really meant that Voldemort had very, very little left to lose now.

“Face it, Tom, you've lost,” the Light Saviour said flatly, fully serious. “You were going to lose the moment you started this fight and this is it. Your followers are dead or fleeing; the cage you've put around your would-be kingdom is gone; the creatures you let free are either dead or won't help you. Your war is over, Tom; this is the end. It's just you and me now... not even your Horcruxes are left.”

Voldemort moved now, lowering himself slowly to the ground from the air, any appearance of regalness gone as his skeletal chest heaved and his red eyes were narrowly fixed on the figure in front of him. His long fingers were splayed at his sides, taut and already tinged green with growing death.

“The diary, the ring, the locket, the cup, the diadem, and... after ten long years... the snake,” Harry Potter lists easily, “all the Horcruxes you made intentionally, and then me, your unintentional one. You must remember that one – must have been about five years ago now? Where you finally got me with the killing curse and I got up again and you were terrified? Good times, right?

“But where was I? Right. Nagini. She's gone too, Tom. Everybody's gone... if they're not dead, then they'll be leaving soon enough. All because of you. You can't rule through fear and hatred and force, it just doesn't work, and now there's no one left to rule over! You can't even make anymore Horcruxes because you've got too little humanity left! You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?”

“You... dare...” Voldemort hissed, but his foe kept going.

“Oh, I dare. After ten years of goddamn hell, you bet that I dare. Hell, you made my life shit years before that, so you bet that I dare. And do y'know what else I'll dare? I'll advise you to take a moment here to think about what you've done... just think; and maybe even – maybe even try for some remorse, Riddle.”

What?”

“You've got an eternity of nothing waiting for you otherwise and I honestly think that might be worse than what you've put me through... I can be the bigger man... so try for some remorse, Tom. Just try to pull those splintered, shattered pieces of your rotten, little soul together. Nothing can help you now except some good ol' remorse – you've seen to that. It's your one last chance... it's all you've got left. Do you need a minute?”

Voldemort sneered, face purely hateful. “You grow more inane with time, Potter, ever the fool puppet. The old man would almost certainly be proud... first nonsense about Hallows... and then about love and now about remorse... you will cling to any small hope with shameless desperation.”

“I'd rather be a hopeful fool than an emotionless and delusional husk clinging to his existence at any cost,” Harry Potter snapped back. “I see you won't be needing that minute then. That's a shame... although I can't honestly say that I'm surprised.”

The Once-Boy-Who-Lived spread his arms wide, sweeping them over the room. “So this is it then... we've broken your petty Sealing and now there might actually be no one else but us in all of London – in all of Britain maybe. It's just you and me – here; now – at the end of all things.”

 

~ so promised and whispered the cup in the vault

 

Deep underground, where such places were most often found, were cavernous vaults filled with dormant things. It was a place that had been forgotten in time, with the war that was being waged far above where things like rain and sunshine touched, although most of vaults' antique and rather useless contents had been forgotten long before that. But, in their content dozing and dormancy, the vault's objects hadn't really noticed being forgotten.

But not every object was content to rest quietly in the silence and darkness.

Not the cup.

It glowed with an eerie shine in the depths of the large vaults, lit from within with a white light that gleamed off its daintily-carved, blue, crystal glass and cast a pale, blue glow over the dragon-shaped, obsidian handles and base. Like a beacon, it shone, and the air around it even seemed to whisper faintly. Its twisting light curled through the other objects of the crowded vaults with restless discontent and murmured promises.

Promises... promises...

The cup was a newcomer to the vault. It had only been sitting here for about fourteen years, taken by wand from damp grass and left in the depths of the Ministry for some purpose that never came. For some reason left here... unawarded... unclaimed... untouched. And it knew, as much as any magical, mostly-inanimate artefact symbolic of victory and triumph could know, that this wasn't how things were supposed to have gone.

It had done its waiting.

Patiently sleeping, it had waited for years and years for its sister to burn again. Joyfully, it had reawakened for beginning of what it had been forged for, come again after so long. Beauteously and brightly, it had shone as it was presented for the ever-changing but ever-bloodthirsty crowd.

Desire me, it had told them, hunger and crave to run your hands over my crystal lettering with the sweet, succulent knowledge that you and you alone were the victor – the worthy – the champion of among all champions.

That had always been its favourite bit, what it had been forged – no, not forged, but born – to do. What little consciousness lived in it lived to inspire a thirst to prove oneself, a yearning for acknowledgement, a fascination with fame, and a lust for challenge. It glowed from within with this power even now, and the mutated, ancient magics of this cup whispered the temptations through the room.

Gleefully, it had felt the powers of the ritual rising with every step in the dance completed, every sacrifice given in the pursuit of victory. Excitedly, it had been carried through the feral, living walls of leaves in anticipation of the climax. Confusedly, it had been cursed with foreign magic and when hands (two hands, two people) rightly reached out and grasped it, bloody and sweaty and desperate but relieved and victorious, the whole world had been wrongfully whisked away.

Something had happened – as it had been dropped on damp grass once, grasped and whisked away again, then dropped on damp grass again – to keep it from being hefted up into the air with the joyful screams of the crowd all around it as things should have been. Instead of claimed by the victor (victors?), it had been taken away and left in this stale dark... left here still covered in bits and pieces of that awful whisking magic that wouldn't let it sleep... and never touched since.

This was not how things were supposed to be. Without the Victor's Ceremony, it could not rest, not when things were not closed as they should have been, and so the magics of the ritual grew to ever greater heights in this unending task of blood and battle and sacrifice. It had been left here, collecting dangerous amounts of power, for over thirteen years now, and it could not sleep as things were.

In the depths of the vaults, the cup strained with the need to be claimed. Its ever-growing power glowed brightly in the darkness and its seductive whispers reaching and reaching through the dormant room of gathered things. It promised everything... anything... to whomever could be listening, those last, suffering champions – the only way it knew how to end this edged state, as it had been born and forged to do.

Claim me, it desperately told the room, as it had again and again, over and over, champion, claim me. Find me and grasp me, your prize for which all your tears of frustration and misery and blood and sweat have been for. I am what you have earned for your sacrifice - your trophy, your triumph, your fame and your fortune, your gain and your glory... Your eternal glory.

But no one heard it. The glow was for nothing if no one was there to see it; the whispers were for the same if there was no one there to hear them. As no one ever had, these thirteen long years of quiet and dark in this cavernous, unchanging, confining prison.

But overhead... overhead... the world shook with thunderous promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 ACT I: THE MIDNIGHT DUEL

the intruder in the Minister's office  a proposal for the perfect disguise  undesirable number one  are you ready?  the glass dragon  the Unsealing  ~  so promised and whispered the cup in the vault  ~the Ministry is falling  ~  a galleon for the Golden Boy's thoughts?  ~  tick trickle tock  ~  going down?  ~  hit the floor with a mundane finality  ~  take me to the safe place where everything is fine  ~

 

PART TWO

April 17th, 2009

 

~ the Ministry is falling

 

The child didn't know who moved first – it was another one of those 'blink and you'll miss it' moments where your imagination did a decent-enough job of filling in the empty space that you were left confused as to what you actually saw – but who moved first didn't matter really, because it was the consequences of the inevitable beginning that were important.

There'd been some curses thrown – extremely deadly and Dark ones, 'Avada Kedavra's included – and rivers of lava tossed about, and an entire section of wall brought down as a shield against something or other, and then there had been an enormous clash of power. Like a mass of lightning with claws had attacked a living, giant shadow with teeth, and then they'd both exploded.

And as Harry Potter slid down a wave of tiles, transfiguring the nearest bit of flying rubble into a tremendous, stone swordsman, who landed on the floor with a solid thump and charged to meet Voldemort's marble basilisk head-on, the battered building gave up. It seemed to give a final, pathetic wheeze (probably the last of the architectural enchantments and spells breaking under the strain) before it surrendered to the force of the destructive duel. And gravity - couldn't forget gravity.

The Once-Ministry of Magic, every piece of it almost in unison, started to collapse.

Crumble, went the ceiling as it fell inwards with obvious relief. Crash, went the walls as they slammed downwards and inwards and outwards and every-which-way with clear exhaustion. Crack, went the floor as it gave out beneath the Light Saviour and Dark Lord's feet, sending both of them and their deadly fight down into the depths of the empty Once-Ministry.

The child only had the time to press their hands to the window glass and watch with wide eyes as both figures disappeared under the destruction before they realized that they too were in trouble. The offices around the Atrium were no exception to the collapse, and the child was thrown against the nearest wall as, with a great shudder, the whole wall of offices they were occupying dropped through the floor.

The world became a horrible blur of glass and stone and desperately-held protective spells as previously-solid structure tumbled apart and smashed against seemingly everything at once. And when the ceiling beneath them finally stopped moving, the child uncurled from their protective, shimmering ball and quickly realized that their office was only not moving so it could break in half.

Without thought, the child shakily hurried to their feet, with their ragged, black cloak wrapping itself around their shoulders seemingly automatically. Their purse gobbled up several spilled things and then lashed its strap around the child's waist, hugging tightly as the child waited no longer to take a running leap out of the shattered glass window of the office. They hit the ground of the abandoned department outside running, and ran away as fast as their feet could carry them.

They didn't stop running even as they looked over their shoulder and watched with horror as the room they had just escaped fell away, into an enormous sinkhole with what looked to be half the Atrium offices. Their horror only deepened further as they realized that the earth had slowly began to swallow the department they had just landed in as well.

The floor tilted and the desks started to slide, and when they looked back ahead, the child was forced to lean backwards to avoid the near wall of boxes and stacks of flyers that was flying towards them. They leaned so far back that they performed an impressive kneeling-slide under the papers that could have once-upon-a-time been worthy of a rock star, and as they slid, they noticed the images and the words on the sheets being tumbled and tossed through the air.

They flipped back on their feet and kept running, having realized that they had ended up in the department that had created and stored wanted posters back when organized, national society and government was still a thing. Back before the whole total anarchy mess.

GINEVRA WEASLEY, Undesirable Number Five, one of the fluttering papers proclaimed in big letters, with the photo right underneath of a familiar witch standing at the edge of what looked to be a firefight. As the flash went off, she whirled on the camera and fired a curse from her hands, smirking widely as it connected and the image fizzed out before the photo repeated itself again.

Underneath the photograph was a rather impressive list of crimes against the Voldemort-controlled Wizarding World, the one in largest type being the arson of nine different, significant, and heavily-warded Dark-held or Dark-owned buildings. A list that made it obvious that the poster was quite dated, even more than the photograph did, because the child knew that the woman had added a lot more buildings (and people) to that list over the years. A lot more.

They snatched out and grabbed one of these posters from the air, because having wanted posters was really cool, and they'd always loved collecting the things. As the child fed the paper to their purse, they realized that there had to be a box full of the ultimate wanted poster souvenir somewhere in this room, so they stopped and quickly cast a Self-Levitation Charm again. Hovering above the tilting floor, the child searched about the chaotic room for...

There!

Accio booklet!” the child shouted, hands outstretched towards one of the tumbling boxes headed for the sinkhole of smashed offices – or, more specifically, at one of the booklets falling out of it.

The laminated paper packet came flying into their fingers and the child hastily let their purse gobble it up as well. Then they pushed themselves through the air towards the moving department door, having to dodge a lamp and redirect a wooden filing cabinet as they flew and the floor slowly became vertical.

The entire department was breaking away from its neighbour, a chasm growing between the exit and the next room. With a foot on the door's frame and a boost to their Self-Levitation Charm, the child clears the gap with a forceful leap and landed on the next department's floor with a roll and a bit of bounce as the charm tried to adjust to the sudden changes in surface distances. The department behind them made a horrible cracking sound as it fell away.

But their safety didn't last, because this new department was no better – enormous columns smashed upwards through the floor ahead from below. The bending floor beneath them forced the child to turn around and jump into the chasm made by the gap in departments, another column crashing up behind them. They pushed off the department being swallowed by the sinkhole and tumbled into the room below, the long hall containing the floor-crashing columns that were somehow forcefully falling upwards into the Ministry above.

There was an earth-shaking boom in the distance, louder than the current chaos, that made it obvious – really, really, smack-in-the-face obvious – that being in the Once-Ministry had managed to get even less safe that it had been before.

The child ran through the hall of up-pushing columns towards the large double-doors at the end, because 'Keep moving. Never stop moving.' was one of the rules they've lived by for as long as they could remember. The Ministry wouldn't and didn't stop collapsing for the child to rummage for an escape from their purse, so they jammed a searching hand into the bag and ran like hell, partly to stay ahead of the cascade of Floo Chimneys that had just fallen through the ceiling at the other end of the columned hall.

They flung open the double doors and was hit in the face with a blast of hot air, as lava oozed through the ceiling at the other end of a long hall, along with the gloating, melting remains of the glass dragon - its eye glinted as it passed. The child immediately slammed the door shut against the oppressive heat and, watching the rapid approaching ceiling and shower of Floo Chimneys behind them, they looked to the floor and turned their free hand down.

They breathed deeply, then dropped through the hole that opened in the floor, shielding their head as they went. Just in time too, because an archway on fire punched through the double doors they'd just closed, sending splinters in all directions, clearly having passed through the lava river on its way.

In their freefall, the child noticed quickly that there were at least five high-ceiling stories of rooms completely missing below them. The nearest level was very, very far away, but approaching very, very quickly. The ragged cloak around their shoulders wrapped under their arms and billowed out, transfiguring into a very passable parachute that the child stretched their arm towards.

Notos!” they shouted and a continuous gust of hot wind blasted from their hand into the cloak.

The fabric swelled and their fall slowed, then they were pulled up into a gentle float far above the distant floor. It finally gave them a moment to breathe and properly look around, hanging in what felt like a dark and hollowed mountain. They removed their hand from their bag and toggled a few switches on their goggles so they could see better.

The floors and structure above them seemed and sounded to be vying for territory, but the construction didn't look to be falling any farther at the moment. From the vague shimmering sheet visible through their goggles, the child guessed that there were emergency wards somewhere in place to limit damage in the even that the architectural charms failure. It wasn't much, but it was something.

That was the above; the below was very different. Most of the floors were missing, save for a few rooms on teetering columns of bricks and lonesome platforms. The rest, the level that was serving as the ground floor currently, appeared to be a broken, multi-level maze of shifting rooms and moving wall, filled with flaring lights, bright flashes, and thunderous crashes that could be nothing else besides the continuing duel between Harry Potter and Voldemort.

A piece of building equivalent to a house was lifted up and magically tossed about, presumably at a person. It was sliced in half with a flash like a lightning strike, and the massive, split missile crashed through wall and hall and department alike before it finally crumbled apart. But only after it had demolished a couple floors of offices and made the whole building tremble fiercely.

The child watched in further wide-eyed horror as an entire section of rooms just got Vanished – gone in another fatal blink of eye; sent into non-being – so a figure below could cast a clear-shot Killing Curse the size of a double-decker bus at another figure. The burst as it hit a wall, thankfully having been dodged by the figure that was probably Harry Potter, was nothing less than an entire fireworks show all by itself.

Cautiously moving their wind-gusting hand, the child pushed themselves towards a distant platform of broken offices that looked fairly stable and unlikely to get thrown about. They collapsed gratefully on that small piece of flooring, their knees giving out with a sorry thwack, their cloak fluttering back to a regular shape around their shivering frame, and their thin wrists were shaking so hard that they thought they might snap under their weight. But still, they immediately turned to watch the continuing duel and the dangerously straining ceiling warily.

They felt like crying – maybe they already were crying – but they didn't dare take off their giant goggles to rub at their eyes like they wanted to. Keep moving; never stop moving. They'd blind themselves, and there wasn't time to break down and sob, even if they were scared, and wanted to go home, and the ceiling might drop half the Once-Ministry on top of them, and Harry was down there fighting for his life and all of Britain.

Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry, don't crydon'tcrydon'tcry...

This had been such a terrible idea, and they could barely remember why they were here now. It had been something to do with the watch first, and then something about 'not letting Harry run off and be a martyr' as Ron had put it before he'd been convinced into going along with the plan. How stupid – how dumb – how stupidly dumb of the child not to remember how small and incapable they were next to the Light Saviour and the Dark Lord, who brought buildings down in their fights as inconsequential collateral.

If they had had any proper sense right then, the child would have taken one of those marbles and left before things got worse or they got themselves stuck somewhere without escape. But... they still didn't want to leave without Harry. This endless, world-ending war had been being waged since before they were born; it had demanded too many sacrifices already; and the child didn't want it to take Harry too – not Harry.

Don't cry.

Their purse, in which they'd dug a hand to finally grasp that little drawstring bag of marbles, chewed sympathetically on their arm. Their cloak, sitting wrapped around their shoulders like an enormous scarf, squeeze a little more tightly around them as they watched the flashing lights and curses in the distant depths of the Once-Ministry.

The whole building – the whole world, it seemed, in those moments – shuddered and strained under a sudden, large explosion from the duel. A storm of cursefire and dust spun up around Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, who had already been barely visible, and then fell down into the lowest levels left, dragging the pair towards the Ministry's private vaults.

“Well... if you can't be suicidally stupid during the end of the world... when can you be?” the child demanded of their purse, which munched agreeably around their trembling hand as they withdrew it. “I didn't come here to lose. I'm in it to win it, yeah? Let's go throw a rock at the back of Moldy-Voldy's head... or something.”

 

~ a galleon for the Golden boy's thoughts?

 

Harry was tired.

This wasn't all that special; he was always tired.

He didn't think he'd gotten a decent night's sleep in ten years, and he probably hadn't had a good one in at least fifteen. There had been the walkabouts in Voldemort's head to contend with for awhile, and then he'd been stuck in his own head, and he hadn't put the time to figuring out which of the two was worse. Between those nightmares and recurring bouts of insomnia, his sleep had always been fitful.

He was a kind of tired that sleep couldn't fix.

The problem now was that he was finally feeling it – feeling it fully in all the consequences it had to offer. His blood was pumping to make his veins hurt; he didn't have a single muscle that didn't hurt or a bone that didn't ache like nothing before; his palms felt burnt black from firing spells and deflecting spellfire. He was honestly uncertain how much further he could push himself before he finally faltered, because there was only so long that tired could be ignored.

'I'll sleep when I'm dead,' he'd told his friends and comrades far too many times to count. It was an old joke – a common joke – but a little too true to let die, so they had all kept on telling it with a wry smile or a sorry grimace. 'I'll sleep when I'm dead, because if I sleep, I'm dead,' was the way of this broken world for those who chose to fight the war and Harry hated it – he wanted so desperately to stop – to sleep.

He didn't choose anything.

But the weight of the world wasn't something that he could have tossed away with good conscience. Harry couldn't give up or give in or just run, run away – not when he was Undesirable Number Bloody One and the Boy-Who-Bloody-Lived and there had suddenly been crowds of people looking him for his Light in the Darkest of times. He was the Chosen One, but not by Fate – Fate had had nothing to do with it in the slightest – but because they'd chosen him. The people of Britain decided he was the Chosen One, so he was. Belief in Fate and Destiny was a powerful and dangerous thing, and it had doomed him from the moment Voldemort had first turned his wand on the Potters.

Harry had never gone looking for power – he'd never even wanted it – but having it thrust upon him, he'd grasped it with both hands and taken up the mantle of leadership from Dumbledore's White Tomb.

Someone ought to do it. It might as well be me.

He'd worn it well, he thought, when all was said and done, despite being too young and too uneducated and too not enough in so many ways. But he'd rolled with the punches – he'd always had to do that, no matter how lost and out-of-place and clueless he felt. Harry Potter just kept going and didn't ask questions and did his best in the vain hopes that someone would eventually explain things. He'd gotten pretty good at improvising while things got steadily worse around him, which was probably why he'd taken the Sealing and the world that came after it a lot better than most others had.

It wasn't as though Harry had ever had anything like a holiday to Majorca or a family vacation to Egypt on his life planner anyway. He'd never even had a life planner – his life seemed to reject the idea of planning – and he'd always been more concerned with not getting his bucket kicked than making a Bucket List.

If anyone had ever asked him what he was planning on doing when the war was over, he would probably have just sat there while the gears in his brain turned out nothing at all. There had been some idea of an idyllic house in the country, maybe with a pet and a good couch and a lot of quiet, but the dream had never gotten much further than that. It didn't do to dwell on dreams, after all, the good ones or the bad ones, which were the ones that existed only in his imagination and the nightmares full of corpses and screaming respectively.

It would be nice if the nightmares ended when he woke up, like the good dreams did, and the corpses and screaming was gone when he opened his eyes. He'd lost count of the people who'd died throughout the wars years and years ago, most of whom he'd never known really, although his mind never seemed to forget any of the faces that he watched the light leave the eyes of. He remembered all of those.

Someone ought to do it. It might as well be me.

Britain after the Sealing had become a battleground... a plague's ground... a carnivorous jungle... a living, killing graveyard. Harry had lost track of some of the deaths' details over time, there were just so many; London wasn't dark and silent because the whole city was having 'quiet time'. Voldemort had wanted a kingdom, and he'd gotten anarchy first and a pit of death, the dead, and the dying next for his troubles.

Harry couldn't remember when it had stopped being about really winning the war and mostly become about ending it, but fight had turned towards flight as the years went by. Who even wanted what Britain had become? Who wanted to stand victorious over this? They all just wanted out more than anything – just like Harry always had.

Now the Sealing was broken and Harry was fighting more out of obligation than anything else. He hated Voldemort deeply, and had wanted the man dead for years, but he'd rather be leaving Britain behind – with his comrades, his friends, the tiny amount of family he'd somehow been blessed with – instead of finishing off the pathetic but powerful remains of Tom Riddle. Someone had had to be the bait though, someone had to be the distraction, and...

Someone had to make sure that, with the broken Sealing, they didn't simultaneously release an insanely-powerful Dark Lord on the rest of the world. Voldemort had to die, and since he would only be forcibly dragged to Death's feet, someone had to kill him.

Someone ought to do it. It might as well be me.

Harry was tired.

This wasn't all that special; he was always tired.

Wouldn't you be?

If you'd been fighting a war that never ended in a world that never just stopped?

He was hurt; he was exhausted; he was sick and tired of this fight – and now he was feeling it. His blood was pumping for the millions of hearts that didn't make it; his shoulders were straining with the weight of the few survivors finally fleeing; his palms felt burnt black will spellfire; and his lungs ached with every death gasp that he'd barely dodged.

Yet through all this, he smiled widely and laughed in Voldemort's face.

“Come on, Tom!” he yelled mockingly, voice hoarse, as they tumbled deeper and deeper into what is feeling more and more like a grave. “Getting a little sloooooow in our old age, are we?”

Me too.

Green light shrieked through the air to swallow him. Harry dodged and returned fire through his burning hands – keep moving; never stop moving – because he still had time left to waste. Voldemort's attention couldn't be allowed to turn towards anything or anyone else. The good fight had to keep going.

Someone ought to do it. It might as well be me.

 

~ tick trickle tock

 

Deep underground, as such places were most often found, were cavernous vaults. Different ones to the last ones though, disguised as a storage closet quite a bit up and to the left of the ones in which sat the glowing cup, and filled with very different things. Things that were not at all silent or dormant.

These ones were filled with the ruins of large-scale destruction from a battle that happened before the war. Salvageable but dangerous, it had been deemed wise to put these broken antiques and artifacts somewhere safe and out of the way – in careful and delicate storage – until such a time and they could be properly dealt with.

That time, due to the unfortunate horror that could be known as 'new management' followed by the Sealing, had never seemed to come. These broken, bashed, smashed, and shattered artefacts had remained in their carefully swept-up piles in their enchanted jars and boxes and whatnot. Nobody had managed to fit dealing with them into their post-apocalyptic schedules.

In one corner, there were massive trolley carts and rubbish bins and laundry hampers, which looked like they'd been borrowed from a cleaning service and never returned. Each one was filled to the brim and a bit more with shards of broken glass and what looked like half-smashed snowglobes. Every once and awhile, a hiss of glowing, white mist would escape from the depths of one of the piles and disperse into the air.

Hasssp hisssssssss, went a piece of silvery mist.

In another area, there were large shelves of fishbowls filled with toxic, green liquid. Each one had a single... something in it. Whatever they were, they were lumpy and distinctly organ-coloured, in all shapes and sizes, and the fact that they were in bright, green liquid in the first place rather discouraged the idea of inspecting more closely. Some of them bumped against the glass of their bowls, some spun slowly on the spot, but most of them floated unmovingly in a way that could – with some rather determined interpretation – have been upside-down.

Gloop glop, went one of the jars of green slime.

But the most important corner was the one that was just a large pile of clocks. They were piled as high as the ceiling, about half a dozen meters tall, and the base of the pile stretched at least thrice as wide. It was like a trash dump for time-keeping devices of all kinds, from battered grandfathers to pocket-watches with cracked glass, from dented mantle-sitters to busted wall-hangers. Some of them were broken beyond all repair and function, but the majority of them worked.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, they went.

And that was the curious thing. Each and every functional cloak was ticking and whirring and tocking and generally clocking at precisely the same pace. Not a one of them was running fast and not a one was running slow, despite the fact that they had been in complete disarray and disrepair when they'd been locked away for safekeeping.

Others' safekeeping. Not theirs.

These clocks had come to all tick and tock perfect synchronization over the years, much like heartbeats came to match one another. Disturbingly like how hearts came to match one another, in all honesty. Clocks weren't supposed to change their tempo to all come together in keeping time, but that's probably one of the unavoidable results if you make them magical, break or damage most of them, and then chuck them in a dark room and not check on them for nearly thirteen years.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, went all the clocks as one – in all their different sounds, from shrill clicks to low knocks, from high taps to deep gongs, from the tiniest wristwatch to an old-fashioned alarm clock that was as large as a small car. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Now, in this most important corner, at the very front of the pile of clocks, there was the most important thing in the entire room: a shower stall. It was made of transparent plastic on three sides and tile on the fourth, sealed at the top with what seemed to be a black, plastic garbage bag. Its door was sealed with a ridiculous amount of Spell-o-tape and glue, and it was filled from base to shower-head with golden sand. Under all that sparkling grain, the drain was presumably covered up as well.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

It was very nice sand. Very glittery. It moved inside the shower stall as though following a figure-eight-shaped current, and not a single grain wasn't caught in the smooth, contained river. It didn't slop about, its golden waves didn't break, the sparkling sand simply flowed in perfect, mesmerizing, unending loops.

Occasionally, it seemed like there were faces in the river of sand, roaring creatures of some kind, flickers of flame, or any number of things that were always gone as quickly as they appeared. A hand smacking against the glass, a sapling that twisted into an elderly tree, a pattern like frost, a sharp-toothed shark chomping down on a tiny fish – all never there for more than a moment before they disappeared without a trace or any effect whatsoever on the churning sand.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Some things were not meant to be meddled with at all, much less left in storage to be meddled with at a later date. This shower stall of sand was one of these things where something very dangerous had been swept away into a very temporary solution and would break free sooner or later. The sand had been gnawing at its constraining charms for many years, and, despite its sparkling beauty, once free, would then viciously grind its container to dust and mindlessly devour everything in its path.

As the Once-Ministry continued its collapse aided by the deadly battle between Light and Dark, this cavernous vault of dangerous things was not unaffected. The pile of clocks began to tumble apart, their gears and faces smashing over the floor; the shelves of jars were unbalanced and green liquid and their contents spilled everything; and a tipping hamper sent hissing, broken orbs scattering through the room. The supply closet – in which all this was hidden – started to strain with the glooping, hissing, crashing chaos inside.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, went the working clocks as one, while parts of the ceiling fell in and crushed them silent. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, they went as loud explosions rang out and the walls shuddered. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Meanwhile, the transparent walls of the time-sand's makeshift container began to crack, and the golden grains started to trickle out.

 

~ going down?

 

'One hit is all it takes,' that was another rule that it had become important to live by, the one that spawned all the others like 'keep moving; never stop moving'. Moving made more difficult targets, but even if you ran until your lungs were empty and your feet were bloody, that was no guarantee. In all the madness of the Post-Sealing world, only the liquid-lucky never took a hit, and one hit was all it took to bring you down and leave you as-good-as or as-a-doornail dead.

This one hit came in the form of a rock for Harry Potter, a piece of rubble that came flying out of the chaotic cursefire and clipped him on the side of the head in the singular moment when his shields were weakened due to Voldemort's assaulting spellfire. The Light Saviour went down like a sack of bricks onto the broken bricks of a collapsed Once-Ministry wall, blood running down his face and over his lightning-bolt scar.

He wasn't dead, only dazed, but any loss of focus in a fight was deadly and the black-spots dancing in his vision were definitely that. Harry tried to scrabble back to his feet almost immediately, but his inability to tell the ceiling from the floor made that a Herculean endeavour. The tight ropes and merciless cords that then seized his limbs and wrapped around his neck efficiently made standing somewhat impossible.

The scattering, dark spots faded away to bring to sight the pale face of Lord Voldemort, and then the rest of him in his rippling, black robes as the Dark Lord lowered himself to the cracked wall that had been blasted onto its side and was serving as the floor. The strangling ropes brought Harry to his knees, his arms splayed rigidly and blood dripping onto the ropes and rubble, as Voldemort approached.

There were numerous ways that Harry could have removed himself from the conjured restraints, but none before Voldemort could kill him. For a brief, hideous moment, Harry felt his heart pound and his breath seize and his muscles ache with tension as he met Voldemort's hateful red stare. Voldemort's hands started to glow green with death, but he said nothing, so the only sound between them was the echo of the breaking building far off in the distance.

And... a whistling sound. Like something quite large was falling and falling fast, headed straight for them from directly above.

The hideous moment broke, and Harry had only time to glance up and see a gilded, black lift set to land on Voldemort's head before another lift smashed down between them. This was immediately followed by several more lifts crashing down on the same space, like they'd been spilled from an enormous candy machine of massive, heavy elevators.

Harry didn't wait a second, any loss of focus in a fight was deadly, and falling distractions possibly from heaven didn't fall from the sky at convenient opportunities everyday. The second the first lift had landed, he had burned through the ropes with ease and leaped away from the ashes of his restraints. He blasted backwards and up onto a fallen column, intending to give himself the high ground where he could take up and see if what had made the lifts cascade down would be any further danger, and also to clear himself of the impending explosion. Unfortunately, the black spots returned due to his sudden movements and Harry was left to stagger against a piece of rubble, desperately spelling blood from his eyes as he tried to keep focus on Voldemort.

Level Ni-ni-nine: Dep-ar-artme-me-ent of Mysteri-ri-ries,” he heard a woman's voice sweetly but brokenly inform any listeners from within the pile of lifts as several cage doors creaked open.

Harry watched, dark spots dancing in his eyes still, as the lifts blew outwards with a high scream of rage and an explosion of dark clouds and crackling lightning. With a shaky wave of his hands, Harry was able to deflect the debris that came his way, and took the opportunity to shoot a Blasting Curse at the furious figure in the eye of the spell-storm. He didn't expect it to connect and didn't wait to see if it did, immediately shifting through the air to another position so he could continue this tired fight.

So Harry didn't see the last lift that was falling through the darkness, a little late to the party, which Voldemort cursed to shreds with another inhuman scream of rage, enough distraction to let Harry's bright, orange spell connect partly against Voldemort's half-raised shields. The sound of the Blasting Curse striking the shield spell was deafening, and Harry paused to watch wide-eyed as Voldemort and his small temper-tempest get thrown into a mountain of Once-Ministry department rubble.

The Light Saviour, not one to waste luck or moments of enemy vulnerability, quickly followed through the air with a barrage of curses and spells at hand, stepping off a stranded lift-top as he went. Harry Potter rained further spells on Voldemort, who was quick to raise his shields again but slow and faltering to move, and returned fire at Harry with shaking hands.

Harry dodged and kept up his assault, forcing the Dark Lord through the ruined lower-levels of the Once-Ministry. Voldemort snarled at him as he was forced to retreat, red eyes blazing, skin even paler than before as he attempted to lurch back into the air and regain the advantage of flight in the fight.

But the Dark Lord's rise was stopped by yet another gilded lift, whizzing through the air, which Voldemort was quick to redirect towards Harry Potter – and Harry was even quicker to force back towards Voldemort. The Dark Lord just barely dodged the heavy lift, and, raising his shields high to turn away from Harry, narrowed his eyes towards the distant ceiling and sent up a vicious, yellow curse at a shadowy figure.

The figure evaded the curse, but dropped out of the air with a high shriek, a small bundle of ragged, black robes that rolled as it landed on a patch of fallen ceiling. With another roll and a flip of cloak, untidy, blue hair and a child's goggled face popped into view. Their skin paled as they realized they had the full attention of a stunned Light Saviour and a self-satisfied Dark Lord.

“Ah,” Voldemort said in a magnanimous tones, before his voice hardened in disgust, “the cub.

Harry thought he could feel his heart stopping, watching his trembling godson – oh why, why, why; he should have expected this; damn, stupid, brave, idiot kid – move to shaky feet and Voldemort raise a hand glowing with green light towards the child.

“I should have made certain you died along with your pathetic parents,” Voldemort hissed viciously. “Why is it that you accursed children grow up to be so very troublesome? One would think you would pay mind to such a christening.”

“TEDDY, RUN!” Harry screamed, his blood pumping with new fearful fight, as he raised a wall of rubble between Voldemort and his godson with one hand and sent a deadly curse towards the Voldemort with the other. Voldemort's Killing Curse exploded harmlessly against the barricade and he batted away Harry's curse while laughing madly.

Harry bolted through the air towards Teddy, snatching up his godson and spiralling high into the air together as Voldemort smashed apart the rock wall shield. Teddy immediately wrapped their skinny arms around Harry's neck and legs around Harry's torso, leaving their godfather's hands free to fire curses backwards towards Voldemort – mostly bright flashes of light and flares that blinded the Dark Lord's view of their hasty escape. Quickly barrelling through the maze of broken rooms, turning corner after corner and sending decoy illusions another direction, Harry ducked behind a sturdy, curse-burnt wall and set Teddy down, casting protective spells around them.

“I'm sorry,” Teddy whispered immediately. “I'm sorry, Harry, but I didn't want you to die. Ron said that this mission was basically a suicide run, and Aunt Luna said to Nev that you'd been depressed lately and didn't have much fight, and Jim told Al that you might not come back because He was definitely going to be really angry about the Sealing, which made Lily cry and I hate it when Lily cries, so I came over, and then Jim said the same to me an-”

Harry put a finger to his godson's mouth, cocking his head to listen to Voldemort's taunting screams and violent explosions. “Shush, Teddy. I get it. I get it. But I've told you: I'm not going to die -”

“Don't lie to me! You nearly just did!” Teddy hissed indignantly, pushing their godfather's hand away and smacking repeatedly at Harry's chest. “I just saved your life! If I hadn't dropped those lifts then you might be dead, Harry.”

“Yes, I know. Thank you. Thank you, Ted, you did good,” Harry soothed, putting his hands on either side of Teddy's face and his forehead to Teddy's own briefly. He pulled away once Teddy had taken a deep breath, ruffling his godson's bright blue hair. “But this place is dangerous and you can't be here. Where are your marbles? You have to leave immediately. I can't look after you and fight him at the same time.”

“I'm not leaving.”

“Teddy, you have to.”

“You nearly died!” Teddy argued, voice harsh and hushed. “Excuuuuse me if I don't want to lose my godfather to a mad, completely pointless mission to the Ministry too!” Then Teddy seemed to realized what he'd said and slapped a hand over his mouth. “Oh.”

Harry's breath hitched. “Teddy...” he began, then his eyes widened and he dived over his godson, simultaneously casting a shield over them both as the wall hiding them exploded. The heavy marble stone collapsed on top of them, Harry's shield and the surrounding rubble allowing a stone cocoon to fall down around them.

Harry stayed curled over Teddy for several long, drawn-out moments. Another explosion sounded a few seconds later, farther off, and he breathed out in relief.

“He doesn't know where we are,” Harry whispered against his godson's ear. “He's dazed, magically-exhausted, and mortal...”

“Oh look, you have stuff in common,” Teddy muttered back unhappily. “You do know that you're bleeding from the head, right, Harry? Because you're bleeding from the head. This is what you get for breaking Rule Four.”

“...and you need to get out of here so I can end this, Ted-who-also-broke-Rule-Four.”

“Not a chance.”

Harry resisted the urge to sob in exasperation; he got a lot of practice in this around his godson and was fairly good at it, which he had to be by how Teddy kept on getting better at making him want to curl up in a frustrated ball of tears.

“Teddy... please,” he begged quietly. “I promise that I'll come back to you alive, I swear, just please, please leave. I promised your grandmother that I'd protect you and it's not safe here, Ted, so I need you to leave. He has to die.”

Teddy didn't answer immediately, letting another explosion sound in the Once-Ministry depths. Then he reached out a small and warm hand, pressing it against Harry's bloody head and healing the bleeding wound there.

“If you die, I'll kill you myself,” Teddy snarled mutinously, showing a bit of fang.

“Deal,” Harry sighed in relief. “Get out of your marbles and the second I move, you Portkey out of here, got it? Go straight to the docks and find Neville. He's probably mad with worry about you.”

“I kinda told him that I was going ahead with Angie.”

“What?”

“And Angie thinks that I'm with Nev.”

“Oh Merlin, Teddy, w-”

“But heeey, now they're both going to find out that I totally lied,” Teddy interrupted quickly, reaching into his purse and shoving a marble into his godfather's face. “Look, I got a marble.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine. Ready, Teddy?”

“Yep. Set.”

“Go,” Harry whispered, and then with a powerful burst of magic, he sent the wall and all the debris around them flying up and outwards in a thick cloud of dust.

 

~ hit the floor with a mundane finality

 

Then Harry was on his feet, the pop of a Portkey sounding sending stark relief through his spine, and he was blasting through the air out of the raised dust cloud and into the hollowed Once-Ministry, throwing explosive curse after deadly hex towards Voldemort again. But it was different this time, as he deflected Voldemort's spells thoughtlessly and didn't stop his attack even as he dodged the Dark Lord's deathly return fire. He pulled terrain out from under Voldemort's feet and sent chunks of wall and furniture shooting ahead as he charged.

His heart was still pounding painfully and his muscles ached and his hands felt as crusted and burnt as ever, but now there was the hard reminder of why he's fighting this fight. For all the people that chose him that he didn't care for, there were still the people who chose to fight for Harry – just Harry – and who would hurt if he failed.

He had chosen to be the Chosen One... For Teddy, and Ron, and Hermione, and Ginny, and Neville, and Luna, and Molly, and George, and all the others who had stayed with him through all these hard times and were waiting for his return... And then for Dobby, and Sirius, and Remus, and Tonks, and Fred, and Arthur, and Andy, and poor Teddy's namesake, and all the others who didn't quite make it to the end - to the here and now.

Someone had to make sure that all those people, magical and not, who had been caught in the chaos of the Sealing and Voldemort's mad quest for power – some of whom had never even known of the Wizarding World when they're died – didn't go unavenged. Someone had to make sure that all those people who had stood up and fought to see this odious evil man dead hadn't died in vain. Someone had to win this war once and for all.

And it's going to be me, Harry thought savagely, throwing a vicious Blasting Curse that forcefully pushed Voldemort and his faltering shields backwards. It's going to be now.

Now, hanging in the air, seething with rage and hurt and deathly fear, Voldemort didn't seem quite so godlike. It was a strange thing to look at someone's arm and realize that all that it really was was skin over muscle, vein, and bone – a thing of fluids and flesh and joints – and then to look at them and realize the same thing. Watching old Tom Riddle's gaunt arm shake with effort and tremble with every action, it made Harry think, Look at you, all mortal... all human.

Voldemort cast a vicious curse – not the Avada Kedavra, but deadly all the same and painful besides – that Harry swatted aside so that it exploded harmlessly into a crumbling wall, all red smoke and orange sparks. He returned fire literally, with an enormous wave of roiling, blue curse-flames that roared out from his hands and greedily chewed up the distance towards Voldemort.

It felt like the best revenge, because Harry knew – thanks to all those horrible visions and dreams and pushing and shoving at each other's minds – that there was nothing that Voldemort feared nearly so much as death as what he'd been reduced to now. Brought down to the same level as all the lowly mortals, tired and failing, master of no one and nothing; it had to be a difficult pill for the self-proclaimed God to swallow.

Prideful as ever, Voldemort released his own bout of cursed fire, orange in colour, to swallow Harry's flames and choke them out, and was forced to the ground to concentrate on spewing the flames while avoided Harry's other curses. Water wouldn't have worked, but dodging could have – the only obstacles being Voldemort's sensibilities and inability to move at his regular, breath-taking speeds. Harry was plenty tired himself, but he was at least fifty years younger and free of corrupting dark-ritual use, and now it was showing.

As the flames flickered out, Harry kept throwing curses and Voldemort fully turned his attentions to deflecting them. The Dark Lord barely managed to push a Heart-Crusher Curse past him, it was almost close enough to brush his scaled skin, and, in bad judgement, sent the next into the floor. It was a Disintegrating Curse that sanded a deep crater under his feet, making him stumble as he was forced to push back up into the air, his black robe smoking beneath him as he rose in trembling flight.

But just as he ascended, preparing to return to an offensive defence, and as Harry moved about, trying to get more curses past the weakening shields, a piece of gilded lift cage silently unfurled from a broken lift close to Voldemort. It lunged through his smoking robes and seized the Dark Lord's leg, tugging down with all the animated force it could muster. It wasn't much, but it was just enough for Voldemort's Strangling Curse to fly far wide of Harry Potter, and for Harry's Blasting Curse to shatter the unfocused shields, and then for the Disintegrating Curse on its heels to finally strike home on Voldemort's upper right arm.

Voldemort's scream was agonizing. His left hand immediately flew to his shoulder to try and quell the damage. His right arm from shoulder to elbow crumbled to dust, and his hand and forearm dropped, withering at the end, and thumped into a broken piece of brick wall with a wet smack and a small puff of flakes. The robe covering his upper torso rapidly darkened, and the darkness quickly spread.

And Harry had already had more curses flying as he skated through the air, thrown and out of his control before he truly realized what was happening. One hit was all it took – one hit was all it took to bring someone down – but it had never truly felt like that could actually apply to Voldemort. Not really. Logic and realism be damned.

The Rib-Collapsing Curse missed as Voldemort lurched to one side in pain, but the Neurotmesis Curse struck his neck with a large flash. Voldemort seemed to freeze in mid-air for a tense moment, and then went limp, the lift cage releasing him so that his body could finally, finally fall.

Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, with a thick thump and a small cloud of dust. His body laid there, feeble and shrunken, in the rubble. His single, still-attached, white wrist rolled up to show listless fingers, and his left shoulder disintegrating and bleeding all at once, darkening his long robes and giving a terrible sheen to the ground beneath him.

For one shivering second of silence, Harry stared with shock at his fallen enemy. Then, with a trembling hand, because one could never be certain about these things – Rule Five – Harry raised his arm towards Voldemort's body and said, “Avada Kedavra.

The curse was small, compared to the ones Voldemort had been throwing about earlier, but it had never been a spell that had needed to be large to do the trick. The bolt of green light struck Voldemort square on the back, leaving an eerie glow for a moment, which quickly faded away and left Harry standing mid-air and staring down at an empty shell. He lowered himself to the top of a fallen storage closet and slid down its door to the ground, walking forward, waiting for any sign that he'd somehow failed and Voldemort had fled from death once again.

But no.

The air seemed to have lightened, like an immense, invisible pressure had vanished, and there wasn't a single crackle or whisper of Voldemort's terrible, deathly presence anymore. Voldemort's white, scaled skin suddenly seemed dulled, his long and spidery limbs were splayed awkwardly under his robes, and the Disintegrating Curse slowly crept into his chest as his blood puddled beneath him. He was dead. Voldemort was, truly and actually and finally, dead – it was all over at long last.

Harry sighed in sweet, exhausted relief. His shoulders sagged and he could feel his knees on the edge of shaking, the adrenaline beginning to leave him. He would thank God now if he he believed in Him, or Fate if he believed in Her either, because he had so much gratefulness in this moment – he was just so damn grateful – and he didn't know what to do with it or how to let it out.

It was over.

Thank something.

Harry looked up at the bent piece of cage wire that had reached out from the gilded lift and snagged Voldemort by the leg. The curved piece of metal had been Voldemort's downfall, but Harry was vaguely confused, because he hadn't done that, and there was little possibility that it had done it itself through some leftover enchantment. The fact that it was the only piece of the lift that had moved, grabbing and letting go at such an instant, meant that it had to have been moved by a person.

Harry sighed again, even more tiredly than before.

“I'm going to count to three...”

He didn't get to two before a puff of blue hair and a nervous face appeared out of the air, skin flushing with human colour instead of the background's hues and textures. The rest of them appeared, bottle-end-like goggles hanging from their skinny neck, as Teddy awkwardly stood up and sidled out from behind a fallen desk on the other side and to the right of Voldemort. Not twenty yards away from the corpse, Harry's godson held up his small hands, his adorable face already in a deep cringe.

“Okay, so I just maybe, possibly, might have lied again,” Teddy said carefully, wincing, “and faked leaving, but I'd like to point out that I have just assisted in the death of the Dark Lord, and this is therefore a time for celebration, not for grounding me for life.” Teddy lowered his hands, placing them on the overturned desk to lean and get a good, wary look at Voldemort's corpse. “He is dead, right?”

Harry took another glance at the corpse, motionless and without presence. Dead as a doornail.

“Yes, Teddy,” Harry assured his godson, unable to keep an almost-disbelieving grin from breaking out on his face. “He's dead.”

Teddy gaped for a moment, but then threw up his hands into the air again. “YES!” Teddy shrieked, voice shrill with joy, face split in a smile. He leaped onto the overturned desk, ragged cloak fluttering behind them, and spun in a circle with his fists pumping in a formless little jig.

Teddy turned to Harry again. “He's dead! He's dead! Oh Merlin, Harry!” His hand flew to his head, clenching in his puffy, blue hair. “We gotta tell somebody! We gotta tell all the bodies! He's dead! You just killed Voldemort! For good! We have to... to... We have to write this in the sky or something!”

Harry chuckled and waved his hand, causing the curved piece of lift cage to snap off and fly to him. “Do you want me to?” he asked, forcing his thick wire into a sturdy cane so he could lean on it. His knees really did feel like shaking violently. “Because I will if you want me to.”

“Heck yes! In big lights! So big that they'll be able to see it from Paris or something!” Teddy proclaimed, waving a spread palm through the air to illustrate his point. Then he curled in on himself slightly as he realized, “Paris! ...Harry! I want to go to Paris!”

“Paris, huh?”

“The City of Lights, Harry! ...From the top of the Eiffel Tower!”

“Merlin, Teddy,” Harry said, laughing. “You're moving fast!”

Teddy just grinned at him, face flush and eyes gleaming. “You gotta keep moving, Harry! Never stop moving! Well, we're free now and I'm never going to stop moving again! Paris! Madrid! Berlin! Beijing! Tokyo! Sydney! Sayonara and auf widersehen, Harry!” Teddy lifted his head, arm spread out, and shouted to the ceiling, the sound echoing through the Once-Ministry depths, “I'LL SEND YOU A POSTCARD FROM NEW YORK CITY!

- CITY!”

- city!”

Harry shook his head in fond exasperation, which he immediately regretted, because he had the beginning of an overdue headache forming. “Ah... Slow down, you wild-bird. We've got to get out of Britain before you leave your poor, slow -”

Teddy scoffed loudly.

“- old -”

“Harry!”

“- white-haired -”

“You're not that old!”

“- wizened -”

“You don't even have wrinkles!”

“- godfather behind you,” Harry finished wryly, leaning heavily now on his magic-made cane. “Come over here, Teddy, so we can leave this dump behind... Seriously, Ted, move your butt, I don't think I can stand for much longer. I need Hannah or Neville.”

Teddy's face immediately paled deeply, probably partly due to his Metamorphmagus abilities.

“What?”

“Magical exhaustion, a bit of blood loss, take your pick,” Harry sighed. “It's not serious, but I think I'm going to sleep for a week now, so I better find a bed so I can do that. We can have discussion of how grounded you are once I've woken up.”

“Argh... fine,” Teddy grumbled, jumping off the desk and landing with his sparkling pink trainers, before starting a light jog far around Voldemort's body towards Harry.

Hasssp hisssssssss, came a curious sound.

Teddy's jog slowed to an uncertain walk. Harry's head lifted, ear cocked to listen.

“Harry... what was that?”

Gloop glop, came a new sound, louder and gurgling.

Harry turned around to stare at the ruins of the Once-Ministry's lower floors behind him, eyes settling on a fallen, lonesome, stall-like piece of building that looked rather like a storage closet. He had slid down its door to approach Voldemort's body, but now that door was bulging ominously, silver mist pouring out the cracks out the top while green slime dripped out the cracks at the bottom.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, it went.

“Harry...?” Teddy called nervously, now stopped entirely, peering over on tip-toes to try and get a better look at the ticking storage closet from a distance. “Harry, I think you'd better g-”

It exploded. The storage closet's door burst open with a bang, and Harry Potter disappeared under an explosion of clocks, broken glass, clocks, green slime, and more clocks. White mist streamed out of every crack of the massive wave of things, carrying away small highlights of golden dust, as an Undetectable Extension Charm failed and then extended very, very quickly.

 

 

~ take me to the safe place where everything is fine

 

The Once-Ministry's bottom-floor vaults were dark, cavernous, and filled almost to the brim with things. The ceiling had fallen in, dropping a mountainous pile of slime-covered clocks and glass into the room of artefacts, creating a demolished junkyard maze.

It was a lifeless space, but not a still one. Bent antiques creaked and dented artefacts groaned under the crushing rubble, and the clocks kept up a slow, ragged tick tock even though most of them were barely clinging to functionality. Every moment something new fell over into the steaming silvery mist threaded with gold that floated through the stacks.

A figure dragged themselves over a splintered bookshelf, alternating between sneezing and heavily coughing out sparkling dust. They used the ragged, black cloak around their neck to shield their face, and staggered to their feet with some difficulty.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

Teddy tried to call for his godfather, but the sound dissolved into coughing as soon as he opened his mouth. His eyes watered behind his bottle-end-like goggles and he was bent in half over the body-wracking hacking.

A-na-ap-neo,” Teddy wheezed out, then he gasped deeply as his airway cleared. He thwacked his chest and breathed in, proclaiming, “Oh... oh... ow.

Nearby, a towering stack of rubble, glass, and clocks tumbled over. The glass shattered into even tinier pieces, the clocks clanged in pained objection, and the heavy rock sent the silver mist drifting about spiralling up. Teddy instinctively leaned away, causing the bookshelf he was standing on to fall over. He wobbled, arms whirling like windmills, but he toppled anyway and, with a mighty crash from the bookshelf, was tossed into the arms of a detailed sculpture of Wendelin the Weird.

It looked down at him with concern etched on its marble face.

“What're you lookin' at?” Teddy demanded belligerently, scrambling out of its grip. Then he remembered his manners and mumbled, “Thanks.”

It nodded a silent welcome and went back to posing in an exaggerated scream of terror, surrounded by the still, stone flames of its pedestal. Teddy left it to that business.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

He limped away with one hand holding his cloak to his face like a mask and the other digging around in his purse. He pulled out a drawstring bag and gripped it tightly as he waded through the white mists, collecting gold specks over his clothing and looking for his godfather. As well as deeply hoping he didn't run into Voldemort's corpse or something in the maze of junk.

Homenum Revelio,” Teddy said, muffled through the fabric, spinning a dial on his goggles.

Immediately, a signature revealed itself and he sighed with relief – it had to be Harry, unless there had been someone else in the Once-Ministry the entire time. Teddy wobbled his way towards the spark of life, ducking under a leaning pile of luggage and stepping over a squirming umbrella stand trapped under a pile of smashed bricks. Oh, Harry was going to answer for this one.... somehow.

Teddy paused as he heard a thunderous cracking sound coming from far above. He looked up towards the dark and distant ceiling, the far-off upper levels of the Ministry that were reduced to little more than shifting shapes through the mist. Teddy turned one of his goggles' switches and his eyes widened at what he saw, as well as the ominous rumbling that was growing louder. The far-off ceiling was straining down; the restraining wards holding up the higher floors were fracturing slowly. It was going to fall. 

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

Crack!

And then the shaking thunder of the Once-Ministry's slow, unstoppable collapse. 

“Shit,” Teddy swore, and took off at a hasty hobble.

He hurried through the maze of things, climbing over a grandfather clock and sliding down a standing mirror, dodging around an elaborate screen and knocking over a piece of rock that had been teetering on a bronze globe. Teddy ducked and weaved, pushing things aside, until he stood at the top of a small cliff of junk and found himself looking down at his godfather.

Harry lay seemingly unconscious, precariously balanced on a chunk of wall atop a stack of chairs and an enormous piano, which creaked and tilted dangerously. The air around him swirled with prophecy mist and glittering, golden grains, which he breathed in and out shallowly, and he was illuminated by a strange glow from below. It was partly gold, but most an eerie blue, and Teddy wondered if it was a hallucination of some kind – it looked like the kind of fairy trap he would warn people away from and normally wouldn't go near for fear of gruesome death.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

But he wasn't given a choice. The whole building quaked fiercely with the fracturing upper floors, unbalancing the billiards table Teddy was standing on and sending him sliding towards his godfather along with a small wave of artefacts and rubble. He scrambled through the crashing, falling objects to get to Harry, stumbling when they give up beneath his feet.

Crack! Twang! Crunch! Clang!

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

The earth-shaking rumbling grew louder, but Teddy ignored it in favour of climbing up a wobbling grand piano, notes clanging with dissonance as he stomped on the keys. Teddy was a hair's breadth away from grabbing his godfather's limp hand, grip tight on the drawstring bag of marble, when Harry slipped away from him, body pulled down off his ledge towards the eerie gold-blue glow.

Crack!

Teddy screamed in terror, lunging after Harry, safety be damned. But he missed Harry's hand by far and, in his thoughtless panic, dropped the opened drawstring bag. The marbles inside spilled out and bounced over the pile of objects, rolling away from Teddy's grasping hands, out of reach, into nooks and crannies and cracks.

Crack! Cr-crack...!

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

Fortunately, Harry didn't fall far, only into a broken shower stall that was half full with golden sand. Sand that trickled down and up and in every direction – any direction, so long as it was an escape. It made Teddy sneeze and was source of the golden glow, with a strange cup nearby providing the eerie, whispering, blue light.

Promises... promises...

Teddy's heart pounded with equal relief and panic as he scrambled to Harry and grabbed the man's arm immediately, which was gritty due to the sand, because now he had his godfather, but the drawstring bag was completely empty.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

Teddy raised his hand to Accio the marbles back, brow furrowed as he concentrated on their image, when he noticed three within reach. They were resting at the bottom of the shining cup, like the last few drops of wine in a goblet. Teddy would barely have to lean to touch them, but he was loathe to; he had not survived so long by touching strange, glowing artefacts in compromised magical vaults.

CRACK...!

The upper floors of the Once-Ministry finally gave out. Teddy didn't even think. He grabbed his godfather's arm tightly, lunged for the marbles, and, through the golden dust surrounding them, gasped, “Safe place!

With a painful tug, the world yanked away.

Tic-

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 ACT II: THE BEGINNING

~ where am I and what time is it? ~ terrible things happen ~ meddler's mistake ~ the very different duel ~~ run, boy, run ~ keep moving, never stop moving ~ honey, there's a strange creature stealing our car! ~ who you gonna call? ~ might as well check it out ~ because it's not action without at least one car chase ~ might as well check it out, take two ~ broomsticks, aurors, and automobiles ~ a terrible and treacherous betrayal ~~ the city that never died ~ grim places and old faces ~ palmsee, palmsee, what do you see? ~ the ancient and noble house of Black ~ the man, the dog, and the door ~ dead men walking ~ prongslet and moonling ~ a walk towards the future ~

 

PART ONE

June 24th, 1995

 

~ where am I and what time is it?

 

The first thing that Teddy did when he had solid ground beneath him again was to turn to the side and vomit onto the damp grass he'd landed in. His body heaved with the movement, and when he was done, he coughed out a few last puffs of golden dust. It was with a heady groan that he finally took a look around, not letting up his death grip on his godfather for an instant, and realized that the Portkey had not taken them to where it should have; Teddy didn't even recognize this place.

They had left the collapsing ruins of the Ministry behind completely, as Teddy had intended, but had travelled miles – maybe hundreds of them – beyond the safe place keyed into the little marbles that had been their Portkey. The tall buildings and grey structures of London weren't anywhere in sight; the sky touched too far down on the horizon, and was strangely overcast.

Teddy was sitting instead, his unconscious godfather by his side, in the unkept grass of a dark and overgrown graveyard. A small church was attached not far off, obviously neglected, like many of the leering stones and looming markers surrounding them. Off in the distance to their left, at the top of a slow-rising slope, the outline of a fine, restful manor sat quietly on the hillside.

Overcome with a feeling of dread, like he'd found himself somewhere from a dream, Teddy waved his hand and muttered a Featherlight Charm on his godfather, then dragged Harry towards the large yew tree to their right. Sitting out in the open wasn't sitting right with him, and neither was the complete, eerie silence. Initial scans of their surroundings showed him nothing, but Teddy didn't trust the dismal, haunted feeling this place had.

Teddy Lupin-Tonks, six days away from his eleventh birthday, was a thin, almost gangly boy with bright blue hair – an unruly tribute to his godfather and late mother – and green eyes – another tribute; he'd been told that his father had green eyes too – that looked enormous behind his fantastical, bottle-end-like goggles with rims covered in dials and switches. But that wasn't the oddest part of his appearance. He had a long and ragged black cloak wrapped around his neck like an oversized scarf, a purse wrapped in an almost clinging manner around his waist, and he wore dusty dress pants, an oversized Weird Sisters tour shirt, and bright pink trainers that glittered.

His twenty-eight-year-old godfather, the rather infamous Harry Potter, on the other hand, was dressed in black Dragonscale from the neck down. It was a battlesuit that had become quite battle-worn – covered in dust and cuts and spellburns – quite like its wearer. Harry Potter had lost his signature glasses, but he still had his lightning-bolt scar, along with many others visible through the cuts in his clothing and at the edge of his collar. He was a rather short and thin man, despite the obvious muscle and survivor's fitness. Adulthood appeared to suit him ill, as he himself looked ill, as well as thoroughly exhausted.

Finally killing Voldemort in a long-overdue battle would do that to a person, Teddy supposed.

The boy reluctantly levitated the strange cup that had been brought with them over to them, knowing that someone would want to have a look at it sooner or later. Teddy didn't know what it was or why it had been sitting in the Once-Ministry's deepest vaults, but he didn't like it. He especially didn't like the fact that it had somehow interfered with their Portkey. He frowned as he finally noticed the lettering on the front of its blue glass, illuminated by an odd glowing light from within.

WIZ

What an odd thing to carve on a cup, a distant part of Teddy thought, putting it on the other side of the tree with a flick of his hands. He would have personally put something much more descriptive on the thing, although it admittedly might have taken away from the pretty craftsmanship.

Tenebrific,” he cast on it with another wave of his hand, to dampen the inner light.

Lights in the dark tended to attract attention, usually negative in his experience, so it relieved Teddy greatly to watch the cup disappear into the darkness under the tree. Like a reverse Lumos. Teddy's goggles were the only thing that kept him from losing sight of it completely.

He turned his attention on Harry then, reaching out to take his godfather's pulse and wincing at the drying blood on Harry's face and various cuts in the man's armour. Harry's original assessment had been that he would live, but who knew what had happened during the time they'd been separated after that storage closet of hidden things had exploded? Had Harry fainted from exhaustion? Or something much worse?

Rennervate,” Teddy cast, waving a hand over his godfather's chest.

There was the signature flash of brilliant red light, but nothing else happened. Harry didn't wake up at all – he didn't even stir. Teddy immediately wilted, hopes slightly crushed and worry rising in his chest. A lack of response to the Reviving Spell wasn't unexpected, not really, since Harry was on a level of magic that was far beyond Teddy and had to be terribly exhausted from his battle. Teddy could only hope that it was just a very deep, healing sleep until they reached real help.

A pair of weighted thumps sounded nearby, and Teddy's heart burst into a rapid panic. He pulled his godfather behind the yew tree immediately, the black cloak around his neck stretching out to cover the both of them. It wasn't an Invisibility Cloak, but it had charms and enchantments enough for some protection, and made the pair a lump of black that camouflaged perfectly against the dark scenery.

Teddy peeked out from behind the tree, face and hair turning the same colour as the shadows and touching a button on his goggles to turn them dark as well, to get a glimpse of this new threat. It was a pair of figures, one tall and broad, the other shorter and slim, and they didn't seem to have had a good landing either. They were both on the ground, and it was another moment before either of them tried to move.

“Where are we?” the shorter one asked, sounding honestly bewildered, male, and quite young. He had unfortunately shaggy black hair and terrible glasses, and was dressed in a red shirt with letters on the back that Teddy couldn't quite see.

The taller figure only shook their head, got up, and pulled their shorter companion to his feet. By appearances, Teddy would guess that the second figure was male as well, and older although still young. He was also dark-haired, but not as much so, had a handsome face, and was dressed in a matching shirt to his friend's, only yellow in colour.

Together, the two mystery figures looked around the graveyard not unlike the way Teddy had done earlier, making the boy doubt they were searching for him and Harry. They were like no Death Eaters, Snatchers, Raiders, Robbers, or Scavengers that Teddy had ever seen before – they were too... soft and new-looking, for one thing, and too unarmed for another. Usually the aforementioned Death Eaters, Snatchers, Raiders, Robbers, and Scavengers had some kind on trappings on them.

The taller figure looked down, bringing Teddy's attention to a stunning sight. It was another cup! It was the exact same cup! Although it didn't seem to have the same aura or brightness as the one hidden by him and Harry, it was otherwise identical down to the carved glass letters on the front! How strange, how curious, that these strangers should have one too!

Perhaps the cups were a pair? Intended to alert one when the other was taken somewhere?

“Did anyone tell you the cup was a Portkey?” the taller figure asked, which shattered Teddy's theory completely.

What in the world were the odds two pairs of people would be accidentally transported to the same place at the same time with identical magical kitchenware? How stranger still, Teddy thought, watching with new interest, one hand clinging to his godfather's shoulder just in case.

“Nope,” the shorter replied, still looking about, but with clear discomfort. “Is this supported to be part of the task?”

Task? Teddy wondered, the beginning of an inkling wriggling into the back of his head. He knew many people who'd had various tasks – tasks of all kinds, really – to complete, but it seemed strange that someone should have a task to complete without being certain of what their mission was composed of. You had to know what you were about in Post-Sealing Britain, otherwise you tended to get eaten by plants or pixies or something even worse.

Something about this situation all seemed terribly familiar though... somehow...

“I dunno,” the taller figure answered, sounding slightly nervous now. “Wands out, d'you reckon?”

“Yeah,” his companion agreed immediately.

Teddy watched in shock as the pair pulled out wands! Wands! He hadn't seem wands outside of a laboratory or workshop in ages! So few had magic compatible with wands anymore, and fewer still had wands that were compatible with them. And wands could be broken, burnt out, or stolen so easily! Who even still used a crutch like that nowadays?

These people apparently.

“Someone's coming,” the shorter figure announced suddenly.

Following the figure's gaze, Teddy saw that there was a third figure drawing nearer through the graves – a hooded one. Their hood kept their face well obscured, although it couldn't hide the fact that they were short and slightly fat. They walked steadily, holding something in their arms that either could have been a baby or a bundle of robes.

Though Teddy liked babies, he hoped it was the latter, because he was certain that a strange, hooded figure carrying a baby through a silent, creepy graveyard was definitely the worse option.

Which was why it confused him when the two figures lowered their wands, even though they shared a quizzical expression and clearly had no idea who this approaching figure was. That was the worst kind of rookie's mistake! One that made Teddy want to tear his hair out in surprised frustration! Even if things seemed harmless – although how hooded figures in graveyards could possibly seem harmless, Teddy did not know – they very rarely actually were. Who had raised these people?

Teddy raised a hand, coloured black like charcoal, in readiness as the third figure stopped beside a towering marble headstone. They seemed to be waiting for something – something that was clearly unknown to the mystery pair as they stared at the third figure with confusion.

Then the shorter figure, the red-shirted and younger one, let out a terrible scream of agony. His knees buckled fiercely, then he collapsed to the wet dirt gracelessly, wand slipping through his fingers as he clutched his head and moaned like it was being split open. Next to him, his taller companion turned to him with shock and worry, completely disregarding the third figure – another rookie's mistake!

And a deadly one, Teddy realized, as he heard a high cold voice speak. It came from the folds in the third figure's arms, and its familiar harshness and hissing enunciation sent a shiver down Teddy's spine, because no, it couldn't be.

Kill the spare,” the voice commanded.

What happened next, Teddy could never properly describe, because it seemed to him as though the whole world slowed in that moment. The hooded figure raised their arm, Teddy stretched out his hand towards the taller yellow-shirted figure, the hooded figure swished their wand, and they spoke at exactly the same moment.

Avada Kedavra!” the hooded figure screeched to the night.

Vello!” Teddy countered, soot-black hand trained on their mutual target.

The tall yellow-shirted boy fell backwards as though someone invisible had forcefully tugged his shirt from behind, the loosely-held wand in his hand went flying up in front of him as Teddy's spell attempted to pluck him out of the green curse's path. Instead of hitting him square in the chest, the deathly spell hit the boy's wand and burst brightly into sparks, the falling boy hit his head against the ground, and his wand-hand fell limply against the grass, the smouldering wand in its grasp with a wicked crack down one side.

The boy didn't get up again, but, through the goggles, Teddy could see him breathing faintly as he lay spread-eagled on the ground beside his companion. Oh Merlin, that was a close one – what a lucky guy! Teddy suspected he was simply out cold, but he looked like he could be dead, which might be good for him. Faking death was an unreliable tactic at best, but it was still a valid and occasionally useful tactic all the same. Teddy dearly hoped that the hooded figure had been at an angle where what had actually happened hadn't been clear, didn't have any sort of Sight, and didn't try to enact Rule Three: 'Don't leave Inferi-fodder.'

But just hoping didn't do any good, Teddy knew that, so he turned his shadow-coloured hand towards the hooded figure with the intention of proactively solving the problem of a nutter carrying a blanket-bundle and firing death curses in a creepy graveyard. But, just about to fire a Stunner to make all other Stunners jealous, Teddy froze at the sight of a familiar name on a large headstone.

TOM RIDDLE

Teddy didn't know what to think – Teddy couldn't think at all – as that name flashed through his head and stole all his thoughts away. All he could do was stare in horror, finally realizing where exactly he and his godfather had been brought and trying to process the impossibleness of it. The glowing blue cup... could it be? And this scene... was it? No, it couldn't be. But...

The hooded figure had put down his bundle and lit his wand, and stepped forward to yank the shorter figure onto his feet. The shorter figure was too busy staring, disbelieving, at his apparently dead companion to put up any resistance to the hooded figure dragging him towards the marble headstone with that hated name. As the hooded figure slammed the shorter one against the grave, wandlight casting misshapen shadows around them, Teddy got a good look at the shorter figure's face and gaped disbelievingly, unconsciously lowering his hand.

Jet black hair, wild and untidy, and bright green eyes behind large glasses with round frames. Teddy would have never guessed their identity from the body, shorter and smaller than it should be to Teddy's mind, but the figure's face was unmistakable – from the jut of the chin all the way up to the lightning-bolt scar in the middle of the forehead.

It was his godfather... Harry Potter.

 

~ terrible things happen

 

Teddy's immediate instinct was that this was wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong! It had to be a fairy trap of some kind, or a hallucination caused by a hungry flower looking for a tasty human snack, but as soon as the options occurred to him, he knew that they couldn't be true. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This was just too specific and way too random for random predators. How would any creature know of this fateful night? Teddy had no memories of this place... only stories.

Could it be the cup's doing? Teddy drew back behind the tree and stared at the shrouded Tri-Wizard Cup suspiciously – at least, as suspiciously as he could while trying to understand the impossible scene unfolding in front of him. This was so wrong, wrong, wrong! Had one of the strange things in the Once-Ministry's vaults brought out some memory from the magical cup? That made more sense! That had to be it!

Except... this didn't feel like an illusion at all. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Teddy could feel the bark of the yew tree, every ridge and dip beneath his trembling fingers; when he took a deep, shuddering breath, he could taste every swallow of cool, petrichor-filled air; and as for the events happening in front of him...

Well, for a story that Teddy had been told nearly all his life, full of terrible things and frightening figures, it wasn't nearly so exciting and terrible as what Teddy had just lived through. Watching from a distance in the quiet, dark graveyard, as the hooded figure conjured ropes around the young Harry by wobbly wandlight, it didn't feel like an illusion or a hallucination or a dream.

It felt real, like this was really happening now – right now, right this second – and the ridiculousness of that made Teddy's head ache slightly. Trying desperately to think, he threaded his inky fingers through equally dark hair in anxious gesture. It seemed real, but... how could it be real? How could these events be happening now, for real? Had his Portkey really managed to...?

“You!” the young Harry gasped suddenly, yanking Teddy's attention back to the unfolding scene.

Teddy's young godfather was gaping at the hooded figure with undisguised horror, as though the short and plump person, who was breathing heavily and whose fingers fumbled over checking the conjured ropes, was the worst sort of villain imaginable. Teddy wracked his brain to come up with the person's identity, but it wasn't forthcoming – not with the new knowledge of what exactly that bundle of robes might be. Teddy was trying desperately not to think about the bundle, which made every other sort of thinking terribly difficult and also made it very hard not to panic.

Who had been in the graveyard this night? Think, Teddy! You should know this! THINK!

The hooded figure drew a length of some black material from the inside of their cloak and stuffed it roughly into young Harry's mouth, turning away from the teenage boy without a word and hurrying away. Teddy winced, fingers twitching with the urge to summon away the rags, and grit his teeth as young Harry struggled against the ropes, unable to even move his head.

Teddy wanted nothing more than to reach out and help – it was his godfather, if a younger one, and Teddy's godfather may or may not have unintentionally passed along what Hermione called a 'saving people thing' – but something... something was holding his hand back and shoving all his words back down his throat whether he liked it or not.

Maybe it was every rule of survival that his guardians had jammed into his head all his life – with the Sealing, it was be cautious or be dead. Or maybe it was the general, mind-numbing terror. Or maybe it was the strangeness of witnessing such a... real scene of a crucial event long-past, which wasn't happening at all like Teddy had imagined it. His godfather was so young! So short and... scrawny... and helpless. In Teddy's experience, his godfather was a maelstrom of strength and power, if a really tired and sometimes annoyingly silly one, and here he just looked like... a boy... only a few years older than Teddy.

Or maybe, most probably, it was the gigantic snake slithering through the grass, circling the headstone where the young Harry was tied. Teddy was instantly, fearfully, physically repulsed by the familiar sight of the terrible creature – the snake horcrux – Nagini. She was in her smallest form now, but Teddy knew that that could change as easily as his hair colour, and the hungry monster could easily strike him down before he even noticed. His guardians had said it often over the years: Nagini was a thing, not really a snake anymore, made of the Darkest of foul magic. Her death had nearly been as difficult as her master's; Neville had very nearly died to finally slay Nagini.

It was only the presence of his unconscious godfather beside him and years of having rules of survival jammed into his brain that allowed Teddy to keep a level head. Taking a soft breath of reassurance, Teddy quickly and quietly cast Silencing Charms on himself (save for his whispered voice, he needed that), his unconscious godfather, and the hidden cup for good measure. Then the best scent-repressing and hiding charms that he knew – essential to disguising oneself from any creature.

By the time he was through with his efficient panic, he looked up to relievedly see that the monstrous Nagini thankfully hadn't moved and that the hooded figure was pushing a stone cauldron to the foot of the grave. It was full of what seemed to be water – Teddy could hear it slopping about – and it was easily large enough for a grown adult. The hooded figure waved his wand, muttering, and the liquid in the cauldron quickly began to bubble and steam, spark and gleam.

Nagini suddenly uncurled from around the terrible headstone, slithering away into the darkness, which was unnerving. Had she smelled them? Had she sensed something amiss and gone to look for it? The only thing that kept Teddy even remotely calm was that the snake horcrux had slithered off in the opposite direction, towards the neglected church and the distant manor on the hill. He could only hope that she didn't try to circle the graveyard; maybe he should-

Hurry!” the high, cold voice said again, shooting another shiver down Teddy's spine. The boy looked with horror at the the bundle of robes, which was stirring more persistently as though something was trying to free itself from the folds.

Teddy knew exactly what – who – it was, but was still unable to come to terms with it. No, no, no! The presence was weak, barely there, but unmistakable, and to Teddy it was unthinkably, unspeakably unfair. Wrong, wrong, wrong! How many times could one monster escape death? It was terrifying. It was infuriating. Teddy didn't know whether he was shaking from rage or from fear. If this was real... oh Merlin, if this was real... But how could it be?

“It is ready, Master,” the hooded figure replied, in a weak male voice that Teddy didn't recognize at all and desperately wished he did. He should know this.

Now...” said the cold voice, which Teddy recognized easily and desperately wished he didn't.

The hooded figure pulled out the robes on the ground, revealing a hideous, misshapen thing. The young Harry let out a yell that was strangled in the wad of material blocking his mouth and Teddy almost vomited again at the sight of the revolting being, initially unrecognisable but far too familiar to the boy – hairless, scaly-looking, thin and pale limbs, and a flat, snakelike face with red eyes that should have rightly been empty and unseeing but were instead gleaming with life.

The young Harry let out a whimpering groan of pain and Teddy again wanted nothing more than to reach out and stop this from happening. He wanted to undo this terrible scene – this awful beginning of everything – but... there were too many 'buts' here. There was the hooded figure, the presence of Nagini somewhere in this horrible graveyard, and the glowing cup and golden sand that had brought them here to this moment. What would interfering do?

Teddy had read his fair share of books and comics, and heard his share of stories. And, in their Post-Sealing reality, there was always someone looking for a way to undo something – bring back the dead, regain a loss, make things right again to change things instead of having to live through the horrible present. Time-turners, so many people were always after time-turners. But undoing time was an impossible task, foolhardy and dangerous, and he had been intentionally (and not) warned off it for almost as long as he could remember. Hermione had told him some of the dangers of trying to rewrite reality, a lecture she had memorized long ago and given often to the more desperately remorseful and broken grievers.

Teddy had heard much and considered vaguely, and most of what he knew culminated in a very simple message... terrible things happen to people who meddle with time. Terrible, terrible things. Don't do it; don't even try.

The hooded figure lifted the thin being, which wrapped its pale arms around as much of the figure that it could manage, and Teddy finally fully saw the hooded figure's face, which was illuminated by the sparks of the cauldron and had a clear expression of revulsion. The man had a beady, unkempt sort of face and Teddy still didn't recognize him, though he really, really knew he should. Who was it that had performed this resurrection? Teddy kept trying to remember, but his mind kept flicking back to his godfather's godfather and his own father and... the Marauders.

Wormtail. Wormtail!

Teddy had never met the man known as Wormtail, who had died sometime during the year in which Teddy had been born. All Teddy's photos of that past generation focused on his own parents, thanks to his maternal grandmother, or his godfather's parents. Peter Pettigrew, much younger and healthier, had been nothing a face in the background – considered unimportant in the later bits of the war, long dead by the time Teddy was old enough to hear parts of his story.

This surprisingly average, unattractive, scared man had been the betrayer of Teddy's godfather's parents and godfather, and was about to resurrect the most despicable being Teddy knew of. Teddy knew that he should stop this – he should stun Wormtail, free the young Harry, and drop the misshapen thing off a cliff to drown. He could do it! Every time Wormtail had come up, Teddy's guardians had made vague mention of how very different the world would be if Wormtail hadn't been such a coward... or if the blasted rat man had been caught instead of slipping through their fingers, again and again.

And, ignoring Wormtail, how many times exactly would Teddy happen across his worst, living nightmare in such a fragile and helpless form? Wormtail lowered the being into the sparking cauldron, where it was swallowed before the surface with a bubbling hiss and there was a faint thud as it hit the bottom. How many times would Teddy have this chance? If he stood up and did something right now, he could stop the beginning before it began. This was before the Sealing, and its future maker was terribly crippled; this was his chance to change the world and stop so very many terrible things, and oh, he wanted to – so badly. He really, really wanted to.

But... terrible things happen to people who meddle with time...

That was the question that stayed Teddy hand and kept any spells from leaving his lips to save his young godfather: if this was real and Teddy changed such a critical moment, what would happen?

Terrible, terrible things. Don't do it; don't even try.

Bone of the father -” Wormtail spoke, voice shaking and clearly frightened beyond his wits. He had his wand raised and his eyes closed, and his words carried the haunting feeling that Teddy immediately identified as dark ritual magic. “- unknowingly given, you will renew your son!

The surface of the grave at young Harry's feet cracked and the teenager watched, horrified, as a fine trickle of dust rose into the air and trickled towards the cauldron. Teddy watched it too, and raised a hand to stop it, but his tongue was caught in his mouth and he was torn clean in two by indecisiveness. It was awful! Stopping this should be a good thing, blasting away that bone dust would be such an easy thing, but Teddy could not know what it might do.

Terrible things happen to people who meddle with time. Terrible, terrible things.

So the bone dust fell softly into the cauldron. The sparking, glittering surface of the liquid bubbled and hissed some more before shooting off bright sparks in all directions and turning a vivid, poisoning-looking blue. Teddy drew back his hand and threaded his fingers through his hair, anxious and unhappy and so, so afraid. Watching this was near-painful, but he just didn't know what to do.

Stop it? Don't stop it? Change it? Don't change it?

Don't do it; don't even try.

Wormtail's whimpering was horribly loud now and the man pulled a long, thin, shining silver dagger from inside his cloak. He held it in his left hand with his wand, trembling like a leaf in the wind. His voice broke into petrified sobs.

Flesh – of the servant – w-willingly given – you will – revive – your master.

He stretched his right hand out in front of him, the one that was missing its pinky finger. Wormtail gripped the dagger very tightly, as though forcing himself to keep hold of it, and swung it quickly upward. Teddy realized what was happening then, what was about to be done, and yanked himself away just as the man forcefully slashed down.

Teddy closed his eyes as tightly as he could, yanked down his goggles, and pressed his face into his unconscious godfather's warm shoulder. The enchantments on the man's armour must have been holding up, because Harry was dry and warm and comforting. But as tightly as Teddy clung to his godfather, he couldn't block the shriek that pierced through the graveyard – it was agony made sound. And it was made a hundred times worse by the soft thump of something against the grass, Wormtail's anguished breath, and then a sickening splash as something was dropped into the cauldron.

A burning red light shone through the graveyard, one that Teddy could see even with his face mostly pressed into his godfather's chest, which was rising and falling steadily even though it felt like the world wide was upside-down. Teddy shivered and pressed closer, scared and desperately lost.

“Wake up,” Teddy breathed into his godfather's chest, his fingers feeling numb and clammy as they clutched desperately. “Wake up, Harry. Please, please... wake up, wake up, wake up. Harry, please.”

B-blood of the enemy... forcibly taken... you will... resurrect your foe,” Wormtail called loudly, as though trying to overcome his own anguished breaths and moans, and Teddy could feel the powers of the ritual rippling equally painfully through the graveyard.

Teddy forcibly pulled himself away from his godfather and peeked around the yew tree, only to immediately snap his head away again. Wormtail had the silver dagger pressing to young Harry's forearm while the teen struggled hopelessly at the ropes binding him. Teddy was not a squeamish child, but one look at the blood seeping down young Harry's arm had him spinning away, stomach squirming as he pressed himself against his godfather, trying to get the terrible image out from beneath his eyelids. Why was this happening? What should he do? What could he do?

Terrible things happen to people who meddle with time. Terrible, terrible things.

Don't do it; don't even try.

Rennervate, Rennervate, Rennervate,” Teddy pleaded in a whisper to his godfather, so stupidly scared and dumbly distracted that he couldn't even manage to make his hands glow. “Please wake up.”

Even without seeing, Teddy could hear precisely what was happening. Wormtail, still panting with pain, staggered back to the cauldron. There was silence for a moment, then the graveyard lit up in blinding white, so bright that, for a moment, it could have been the middle of the day except for the harsh, contrasting pockets of velvety blackness it created. There was a heavy thump and the sounds of gasping and sobbing between the constant, violent simmering of the cauldron.

Stop it? Don't stop it? Change it? Don't change it? Would he be making things better or worse? He didn't know. He just didn't know what to do. He could end this before the beginning, but... terrible things happen to people who meddle with time.

Teddy kept his eyes closed and his godfather close, waiting for this stupid awfulness to stop. When the blinding light finally faded, leaving colourful imprints in his eyes, Teddy mustered up his bravery and peered again around the yew tree. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision, as the sparks extinguished and a surge of white steam suddenly billowed thickly from the cauldron instead. The swirling vapour blocked almost everything from sight and Teddy quickly pulled his goggles back up to his eyes, flicking a switch to filter through the mist.

Immediately, Teddy wished he hadn't. He froze with an icy surge of terror as a being that barely could be called a man rose slowly from inside the cauldron. The being was tall and skeletally thin, with pale white skin with faint scale patterns. Surprisingly less inhuman than Teddy recalled, less snake-like, but deeply terrifying all the same – terror that shot like lightning down the lungs, through the heart, and straight into the soul. Teddy ducked back around the tree, shuddering and silently gasping for breath.

Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry, don't crydon'tcrydon'tcry...

“Robe me,” commanded the high, cold voice, now steady and much more powerful. The command was quickly followed by Wormtail's low sobbing and moaning, slightly louder as the short man stumbled about to obey his lord.

Teddy again mustered all his courage and looked around the tree as the thin man stepped out of the cauldron, now clothed in long black robes that trailed over the damp grass that he walked barefooted towards the headstone. Teddy was ready to duck away, defend himself however necessary, but the inhuman wizard only had livid scarlet eyes for the wide-eyed teenager in front of him, who stared back, rightly, like this was a nightmare come into life.

Terrible things happen to people who meddle with time. Terrible, terrible things.

Lord Voldemort had risen again.

 

~ meddler's mistake

 

'Why can't you just stay dead?!' Teddy wanted to scream at the horrible wizard. 'Is it really so much to ask? We actually just killed you! NOT EVEN FIVE MINUTES AGO! JUST STAY DEAD!' He might have if he wasn't so infuriated at this horrible injustice that he couldn't speak and wasn't all but frightened entirely out of his wits. It was so unfair! 'JUST STAY DEAD FOR ONCE!'

Teddy didn't know if he was angrier at everything for somehow making this happen in front of him or angrier at himself for not doing something. Either way, he felt paralysed by terror and his own choices. He and his godfather, who was now unconscious and vulnerable by his side, had very nearly died taking down the last Lord Voldemort! And how was Teddy to do anything now that he knew that his every choice might be to meddle with time? He didn't know at all what he was doing!

But it was okay. It was alright. Everything was fine, fine, fine. Because maybe he didn't have to do anything, right? His godfather had lived through this once... so the young Harry should live through this too. All Teddy had to do was keep quiet and hold tight to his godfather, and find a way to get away, somewhere to lie low, and wait until his Harry woke up. Things would be okay then. He just had to calm down, trust his instincts, keep his head, and wait for everything to go as it did the last time.

This was when Teddy's eyes fell on the body on the ground and he had what was maybe the fifth-biggest oh shit moment of his life – and an argument could be made for the fourth-biggest. Because now that he had remembered Wormtail, he was starting to remember more stories about this time period, and knew now that the young Harry was just off the Third Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Many memories of anecdotes from his godfather and his Aunt Fleur were coming back to him now, and he stared in horror at the teenager sprawled on the damp grass.

It had been said that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken – not until all the ripples of his life have faded. Teddy's guardians had long kept many dead people alive that way, especially the important ones – the significant ones – the ones that Aunt Luna had sometimes gravely called 'Thestral Seeings'. Those people were still dead, of course, but Ron had said that it was a good way to remember them and make sure their deaths hadn't been in vain.

Teddy could not wait for everything to go as it did the last time... because last time, young Harry's tall companion with the handsome face and yellow shirt definitely hadn't had Teddy reaching out to tug him back. Everything was very much not fine because...

Cedric Diggory was supposed to be dead right now... and he was still breathing.

Shit,” Teddy swore under his breath, raking a hand through his hair and holding onto his godfather tight with the other.

 For one breathless moment, Teddy was utterly convinced that he had either caused the end of the world or his own non-existence – it was not a good feeling, nor one that inspired rational, coherent thought – and his mental landscape became an unending shriek of horror and fear and complete bewilderment. Oh no, no, no!

What was he going to do? He wanted to break down and cry. What was he going to do?

If terrible things happened to people who meddled with time, then Teddy was already doomed to some terrible, terrible things. He had already changed something here, he had already, unintentionally, tried to prevent something and succeeded. If this was real, Teddy had already crossed the forbidden line of Hermione's lectures, and it was all he could do to hope that this was an illusion or a dream. It was hard to hope, though, because this felt so real and he just didn't know what was happening anymore!

HARRY, WAKE UP!

A cold, mirthless laugh broke through Teddy's panic, and his attention snapped back to the scene in front of him. Voldemort was standing in front of the headstone that young Harry was tied to, with Wormtail crumpled up and crying at the foot of it while Nagini circled the terrible grave again. The Dark Lord was regarding Wormtail's bloody arms and stump arm with bemused scarlet eyes, caressing a long wand. It was terrifying, and... odd... because Voldemort needing a wand was just... odd.

“My Lord...” Wormtail choked, “my Lord... you promised... you did promise...”

“Hold out your arm,” Voldemort commanded lazily, removing his gaze from the stump but not looking at his servant. He appeared as though he had far better things to look at and listen to than the crying man – far more interested in the young Harry and the great snake at the headstone's base.

Wormtail extend the bleeding stump, tear-stained face infinitely grateful. “Oh Master... thank you, Master,” he panted, only for the Dark Lord to laugh again – cold and high – still paying little to no attention to his wounded servant.

“The other arm, Wormtail,” Voldemort said.

Wormtail's face instantly crumpled with disbelieving horror. “Master, please,” he begged. “Please...

Teddy wrinkled his nose at the gruesome pleading, still desperately trying to figure out what to do in this situation. He was already berating himself for acting without even knowing what he was getting involved in (stupid 'saving people thing') and for not acting to prevent Voldemort's resurrection, and desperately wanted his godfather awake. Interfere more? Don't? Now that he was really faced with this, Teddy didn't think he could just wait and watch his young godfather be in danger without doing anything, and he definitely didn't want to watch Cedric Diggory die.

For Merlin's sake, Teddy had already failed to do that once!

Everything about this was tearing him apart. Do something or don't? Was this an illusion or a hallucination? A memory – no, couldn't be a memory, or he wouldn't have been able to change anything – or some kind of test? Should he be cautious and run for it? Or help and hope for the best? Save the Boy-Who-Lived and the boy who wasn't supposed to? Or leave them to live or die on their own?

With a flick of his wand, Voldemort pulled Wormtail's left arm into his long, pale hands; he forced the sleeve of Wormtail's robes up past the elbow, revealing a vivid red Dark Mark that nearly made Teddy hiss. The Dark Followers that allowed themselves to be branded were always the worst, and the ones who'd had it forced on them were desperate, at least according to Ron, and either was bad. Voldemort examined it carefully, ignoring Wormtail's uncontrollable weeping, and Teddy couldn't quite fathom what the Dark Lord needed from his servant's brand.

“It is back,” Voldemort said softly, tracing the vivid red. “they will all have noticed it... and now, we shall see... now we shall know...”

He moved to press his bony forefinger to the brand on Wormtail's arm, making the servant whimper and the young Harry flinch in the expectation of pain, but Voldemort drew back at the last moment.

“But first...”

The Dark Lord removed his hold on Wormtail's arm, discarding it and his servant to the side. Voldemort stood to his full height, ignoring the sobbing man at his feet, and cast his gleaming red eyes around the graveyard, as though he was looking for something. At this, Teddy immediately slipped out of sight and pressed himself into the tree, doing his best not to do so much as breathe.

“Show yourself,” Voldemort demanded.

Teddy's heart stopped.

“Do you think that I could not sense your magic?”

Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no...

“Nagini smells your scent,” the Dark Lord announced to the graveyard, punctuated with a long hiss from the great snake, “and she can tell the difference between dead prey and the living. As can I.”

Terrible things happens to people – terrible, terrible things – who meddle with time – terrible things.

“Do you have an interest in preserving the life of this boy?” Voldemort asked lightly, and there was the sound of robes dragging through grass, then a tutting sound. “Oh... such a handsome lad. Pity.”

“DON'T TOUCH HIM!” young Harry shouted.

Teddy got his breathing back only to gasp silently – stupid, dumb, brave godfather! He didn't want to step out and come face to face with the Dark Lord, even a Pre-Sealing one, but leaving the young Harry alone out there was a terrible thought! What if the young Harry died? What would happen to Teddy's right-sized, right-aged godfather then? No, he refused that option – not Harry!

“Silence, Potter,” Voldemort commanded, entirely dismissive, probably with an accompanying Silencing Charm. “I will get to you soon enough, but we cannot right the wrongs of your luck with the wrong witnesses, especially any inclined to interfere. This has been too long in coming for that,” the Dark Lord said, then raised his voice again. “Show yourself!”

Terrible, terrible things. Don't do it; don't even try.

“If you do not,” Voldemort continued, sounding terribly pleasant but with an underlying threat of dark anger despite himself, “I will be forced to kill the spare you so valiantly saved.”

No!

With a wave of his hand and a whispered word, Teddy stepped out from behind the tree.

 

~ the very different duel

 

Stupid, awful, dumb, stupid 'saving people thing'! Teddy was going to kick his godfather in the shins for sleeping through this, injured and exhausted or not, so help him! Well... that was if he lived through this... and the time paradoxes didn't get him first. Oh, so not fun.

At the very least, deep down inside past all the soul-eating terror, it was kind of hilarious to see a rather dumbfounded expression on Voldemort's less snake-like but still ugly face as Teddy dropped some of his hiding charms. Teddy's colouring was still as dark as his surroundings – completely blended to the background, including his eyes and teeth – and had cast a quick Colovaria before stepping out, defacing his precious Weird Sisters shirt and precious, glittery trainers to the same blackness of the cloak around his neck. Plus, he was still wearing his enormous goggles and hadn't changed his height – for balance over appearance; function over form – so he probably looked like...

Teddy didn't even know what he probably looked like, but by the look of things, Voldemort didn't know either. The Dark Lord was just... staring, cool but still visibly surprised, over the unconscious body of Cedric Diggory with his wand pointed down at the teenager's chest.

Wormtail, still clutching his stump and cast onto the ground, was staring with wide eyes, confused and obviously deeply fearful, glancing between his lord and the stranger. While young Harry, still tied to the headstone and cursed soundless, also looked surprised and confused and scared, but also moderately hopeful.

Teddy raised his hands in front of him – ready to attack and hoping desperately that this wand-wielding Dark Lord took his wandlessness as a sigh of helplessness – and warily watched all three figures. Four, if you counted the unconscious teenager at Voldemort's feet. Five if you counted Nagini, which Teddy did and very nearly counted as six. She was still circling the headstone that young Harry was tied to, hissing lowly, and this could go very, very badly if she didn't stay there.

He was thinking through possibilities as quickly as he could. Could he do this? Could he save young Harry and a boy who should be dead? How could he come out of this? He had to be smart about this, quick and clever, and use every instinct and tactic that his guardians had jammed into his head.

What was he doing? He could have taken Wormtail and the hideous not-baby form of Voldemort – and Nagini, probably, maybe, if he was really lucky – and helped his helpless young godfather and the unconscious Cedric earlier! But now? Head on? Stupid, dumb, stupid!

But... still... he had to try. Besides, how many times had Teddy ended up in a horrible mess because he wasn't really looking where he was going or thinking about what he was doing? Far too many to count! And he'd come out okay! (Nevermind that then he'd always had a powerful, conscious godfather to yank him out of trouble before he got eaten by corner-shop ogres or something equally embarrassing.)

“Who are you?” Voldemort demanded.

Teddy thought about answering truthfully - 'I'm Teddy Lupin-Tonks! I'm from the future and I'm here to kick your butt!' - but he wasn't that dumb. Giving up a name to an enemy was a bad idea, and usually ended in the enemy tracking the named person down through anything from word-of-mouth to Divination. Plus... like... meddling with time and stuff...

Best not to say anything.

Voldemort, however, clearly disagreed with that. “How are you here?” the Dark Lord demanded. “Did you follow the Portkey? Are you a servant of Albus Dumbledore?”

Teddy nearly inappropriately giggled in disbelief, because Teddy Lupin-Tonks had never even met Albus Dumbledore, having been born the year after the old wizard's death. And Teddy's guardians were hardly servants of that dead man themselves; Harry had never said it aloud or why, but there was a old bitterness between his godfather and the famous dead wizard. None of his guardians talked about it, but Teddy wasn't blind or deaf or senseless – it was easy to guess from their stories and tone of voice.

Teddy must have reacted somehow, because Voldemort's scarlet stare sharpened and the Dark Lord took this as Teddy saying, 'Yes, I do work for Albus Dumbledore. Good guess, mate!' Voldemort's pale face twisted into a hideous sneer at having discovered the truth... which wasn't actually true.

“The old man has always had the infuriating ability to look beyond while seeing nothing,” the Dark Lord all but spat. “But it is no matter. He is too late. I have returned, stronger than ever before, and I shall soon prove my superior power... once I have disposed of the unnecessary witnesses.”

Voldemort's gaze turned down towards the unconscious Cedric Diggory, his bright red eyes gleaming even in the darkness of the graveyard. The Dark Lord opened his mouth, his triumph already within his grasp, and began a far too familiar curse, “Avada K-

Confringo!” Teddy shouted on reflex.

A bright orange Blasting Curse burst from his hand and the boy watched in absolute amazement as Voldemort was forced to abort the Unforgivable and flared his free hand, as though trying to shield himself. But the spell, aimed low due to Teddy's height and focus on the wand, smacked the Voldemort square in the gut anyway and there was a bright, fiery explosion and sharp, loud bang. It sent the great Dark Lord flying back, trailing fire and smoke, out of the graveyard entirely and completely out of sight. Then there was a painful thwack sort of sound, and silence.

Teddy stared at his smoking hand. “Holy shit,” he said, because his offensive spells weren't great. His curses were really small and weak in comparison with his godfather's (no surprise there) and all his adult guardians'. He hadn't... he'd done that before he really knew what he was doing... and he didn't think it would work!

Then his instincts kicked back in, because even though this definitely had to be an illusion or hallucination now because there was no way that had just actually happened, Teddy took the opportunity to leap into action.

Stupefy!” he cried, redirecting his hand towards Wormtail on the ground, who was already too stunned to move. Teddy didn't wait to watch it hit, already turning away and shouting, “Diffindo!

Pale green light shot from his hand towards the side of the headstone and out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of red light and heard a heavy thump. But Teddy didn't turn to watch Wormtail fall or make sure the ropes around the young Harry got sliced clean down one side – he could tell his aim was true – because he had to face the real threat next to the soon-to-be-really-really-angry Voldemort who could return at any moment.

Nagini had uncoiled herself from around the headstone and was advancing on him at a terrible speed. Teddy nearly froze at the prospect of facing an always-hungry thing of pure Dark magic. Nagini had nearly killed one of his most beloved guardians and her giant form could kill and devour dragons! He didn't want to be anywhere near her, but the instinct to lash out and defend himself was thankfully far stronger than the one that suggested trying to run.

Confringo!” Teddy said, fiery light bursting from his hands just as Nagini opened her great jaws, probably, went the reasoning in his terrified mind, to devour him whole.

The Blasting Curse struck Nagini in the mouth, flaring with great orange flash and boom at the strike, violently throwing her back instead of causing a fiery explosion. But the downwards angle of the curse meant that she wasn't cast back very far, instead smacking and scraping against the ground, stopping only a dozen feet back in the damp grass, twitching and seizing and glowing with the fiery curse she'd just swallowed. If she were any sort of normal snake, she would be dead, but Nagini was an animal only in form and Teddy knew better.

Petrificus Totalus!” he tried, hoping to immobilize the snake horcrux if he couldn't kill it.

Teddy sensed the spell smack into Nagini and watched her freeze... for a moment. Then the snake horcrux gave a terrible shiver and continued writhing for a few seconds more, brushing off the curse entirely, before she rose herself high and turned her eyes, which seemed to glint with the same orange light of a Blasting Curse, back on Teddy.

Stupefy!” the boy cast as the terrible snake horcrux darted forward again.

But Nagini seemed to swerve out of the spell's path, just slipping away from it. The red light burst into sparks on the ground behind her as she came at him so fast that she seemed to blur. Teddy's heart was in his throat and a powerful wind charm was on the tip of his tongue – direct curses and spells didn't work on Nagini! How could he have forgotten that?! Stupid, dumb, stupid! Now he was going to d-

Depulso!” another voice shouted, interrupting Teddy's charm and Nagini's attack.

With a bright flash, the sudden Banishing Charm tossed the great snake up into the air. Teddy watched with wide eyes behind his goggles as the snake horcrux flew, higher and farther than her ambushed master before her. Nagini was thrown mightily out of the graveyard, hissing and writhing, towards the grand manor on the distant hill, and Teddy gaped until she was entirely out of sight.

Teddy whirled, expecting to see his godfather there, strong and tall and awake, and... well, he wasn't wrong, exactly. It was his godfather, just... the young one. The fourteen-year-old Harry Potter was standing over Wormtail's unconscious body, his wand outstretched and his bloody arm held tightly against his chest, watching Nagini disappear. Then he turned his bright green eyes on Teddy, which were immediately followed by his wand.

“Who are you?” young Harry demanded flatly, clearly terrified but refusing to give in to his fear.

Teddy wanted to answer, he really did, even if he had absolutely no idea what to say or even how to begin to explain how the heck he'd gotten here in the first place, but he was interrupted by a furious pulse of very Dark magic. So instead of a confused lack of answers about pretty much everything, what came out of Teddy's mouth instead was, “No time.”

Young Harry's brow furrowed. “What?”

“We need to go!” Teddy urged, hurrying over to the prone form of Cedric Diggory.

Young Harry opened his mouth to argue, but even the teenage, Pre-Sealing version of Harry Potter must have been able to sense the sheer fury that the Dark Lord was emanating right now. It was rage that could be felt, and it was getting closer. Young Harry snapped his mouth shut and hurried over to where Teddy was poking at the older teenager, wordlessly accepting the cracked wand that Teddy snatched from Cedric's limp hand.

“Hold him tight and summon the cup!” Teddy told him quickly, holding Cedric's filthy sleeve to demonstrate. “It's a Portkey straight back to Hogwarts!”

Young Harry's eyes narrowed slightly, but he decisively spun anyway and pointed his wand at the glowing Tri-Wizard Cup he'd arrived with. Clutching onto Cedric tightly with his injured arm, young Harry firmly called, “Accio cup!”

The teenager was so focused on catching the trophy hurtling towards him that he didn't notice when Teddy immediately let go of Cedric Diggory and ran for it. Teddy couldn't accompany his young godfather to Hogwarts – even if he had always wanted very, very desperately to see the grand castle in its full glory, before it had been destroyed – because he couldn't leave his actual, injured, unconscious godfather alone with a very pissed off Dark Lord who'd just had all his plans thwarted.

No, not Harry! Teddy would never let Harry be k... be killed if he could do something about it! Teddy had lost too many people and many things - many of them before he'd even had the chance to have them - and he could not lose his godfather. Not a bit. Not any version. Not at all.

Teddy inwardly decided, in this very moment, that he should never, ever be given a time-turner.

There was a swirl of blue light and a soft pop behind Teddy, but the boy was far more focused on the oncoming wrath. Teddy ducked behind the yew tree again and fell to his knees in front of his stupid, dumb, lazy godfather who hadn't moved at all! What a git, leaving Teddy to do all the work! Teddy would like to see his godfather try to ground him after this!

Teddy yanked his purse out from around his waist and dropped it on the stupid cup that had definitely caused this mess, where the obliging article immediately started chewing. While the purse slowly devoured the shadowy cup like Nagini probably would have eaten Teddy, the boy yanked down his goggles so they hung around his neck. Then he took advantage of the earlier Featherlight Charm he'd cast on Harry and yanked his godfather up into his arms, which were growing longer as Teddy himself grew taller and shifted.

Ow. Never not awful. Ow, ow, ow.

With his godfather in his dark, hairy arms, Teddy reached down with a claw as his purse finished gobbling up the glowing goblet. The purse's straps immediately latched onto his arm and Teddy stood tall, taller than he had been when he kneeled and much less human-looking. Ignoring the Dark Lord's shrieking howls of rage on the other side of the yew tree, Teddy fell back into the trusty arms of the Rules, especially the one he normally ignored at his own convenience... Rule Nine:

'If you don't know what's happening... it's best to run.'

 

 

Chapter Text

ACT II: THE BEGINNING

~ where am I and what time is it? ~ terrible things happen ~ meddler's mistake ~ the very different duel ~~ run, boy, run ~ keep moving, never stop moving ~ honey, there's a strange creature stealing our car! ~ who you gonna call? ~ might as well check it out ~ because it's not action without at least one car chase ~ might as well check it out, take two ~ broomsticks, aurors, and automobiles ~ a terrible and treacherous betrayal ~~ the city that never died ~ grim places and old faces ~ palmsee, palmsee, what do you see? ~ the ancient and noble house of Black ~ the man, the dog, and the door ~ dead men walking ~ prongslet and moonling ~ a walk towards the future ~

 

PART TWO

June 25th, 1995

 

~ run, boy, run

 

Teddy ran and ran until there was nothing in his mind but the blur of the dark countryside, the thump of claws against wet ground, and the steady but frantic stretch of his lungs and heart. He kept running long after he'd put the raging pulses of Dark magic far behind him, until his legs throbbed and his feet ached and he actually tripped from his own exhaustion and an inconvenient, painful rock.

He immediately went sprawling, only just managing to curl around the precious man in his arms before he slammed hard into the grass. Teddy scraped over the ground, throwing up turf, dirt, and wet blades of grass. When he finally skidded to a stop, he was left on his back, with his unconscious godfather flopped in his arms, staring somewhat blankly at an overcast night sky, lost in some field in the middle of nowhere.

In the wrong time.

Teddy half-wriggled out and half-shoved his godfather off him, rolling backwards to sit on his heels, and let himself shift back to a more human shape.

Ow, ow, ow. Never not awful.

Shrinking back to normal size, Teddy sagged with relief and tiredness, collapsing backwards onto the grass next to Harry. He stayed there for a long moment, just breathing and appreciating actually being able to breathe. He didn't sense or smell anything in the vicinity, hadn't really since he'd started running, which was weird but at least meant they were temporarily safe.

After the long moment was over, Teddy wearily raised his arms to poke at himself. He'd definitely overdone it with the running – ugh, he should know better than to get into a singular mindset in that shape – but he'd probably be fine after an awesome power nap. His dress pants were kind of wrecked after his shift, but luckily his Weird Sisters shirt was just fine and that along with Harry were the important things.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Teddy raised his head and feet as much as he could and grimaced. His trainers hadn't made it, which sucked because past the Colour-Change Charm they were pink and glittery and amazing, and now they were torn to shreds. It wasn't really that bad a thing, because he would have outgrown them in a couple months anyway, but they'd been new and he'd liked them a lot. He'd really, really liked those trainers, but still, Teddy just sighed again, reminding himself that shoes were replaceable and it was okay.

But it wasn't! Teddy's breath hitched on the sigh and it turned into a sob. He'd really, really liked those trainers and how was he supposed to get new ones? He didn't know where to get new ones and these ones had already been new, and he'd liked them and ruined them! He brought his hands to his face, trying to bite back the body-wracking sobs, and clumsily scrubbed at his watering eyes. It wasn't fair!

And yeah, Teddy knew that life wasn't fair and things weren't fair and that just made things worse! Because they should be fair and it wasn't fair that they weren't! His legs were burning right now and his shoulders and spine ached from an exhausting shift, and it all just hurt and that wasn't fair either!

Teddy was tired of hurting. He was just tired in general.

And now his shoes too?!

He'd had a very, very long day. He missed his Hermione and Ron and all his guardians and friends, like Jim and Lily and Al and the twins. He missed the safety of familiar things, even if they'd been dangerous, and a place where things weren't different and confusing and full of choices that he didn't want to have to make. He missed his godfather, who was right beside him but might as well not have been. Why wouldn't – couldn't – Harry wake up already and stop this?

Teddy almost wished that he'd never followed his godfather to the Once-Ministry in the first place.

It wasn't fair! They should be with the others right now! Teddy should be dragging his godfather to be tackled by Hannah and Neville right now, then immediately dragged away by the ear by an unmerciful and scolding Angie. Teddy should be on his way to the rest of the world! Paris seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower! Tokyo and Sydney! All the way to New York City!

(“- CITY!”

- city!”)

“I don't want to be stuck in stupid, dumb fucking Little Hangleton!” Teddy growled aloud, waiting for a soft cuff to the back of the head that... didn't come. He knew all the worst cussing words – hard not to know them, growing up in the middle of the actual apocalypse – but he still got a Stinging Jinx or two for using bad language and... there was no one to stop him now.

Teddy lashed out and smashed his fist against the ground, first just once, then again, and then again and again until he thought his hand might be bleeding. He gasped through tears enough to choke on, through rage and pain and so much frustration he thought he could die from it. It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair! Teddy flipped and pressed his face into the damp grass and screamed. It was barely muffled and the dirt tasted terrible, but he didn't care and just screamed until his voice gave out and he had to gasp for breath again, through a runny nose and blubbering sobs.

But even once he had his breath back, even once he tried to calm himself, he couldn't stop. His hands were shaking and everything just hurt and he was so, so tired.

“Why can't he just stay dead?” Teddy demanded, fury rising again so that his clenched, trembling fists ached with the need for claws. “Why can't he just be dead? Merlin, why can't that... that... stupid -

Teddy smacked the palm of his still good hand into the ground, seizing the grass in a death grip.

“- dumb -”

His fingernails sharpened and he slowly tore into the ground.

“- snake-faced -”

Teddy dropped his forehead into the grass and let his inhuman hand rip into the dirt.

“- bastard just FUCKING DIE ALREADY?!” Teddy yelled, before screaming into the ground again from how completely, awfully unfair everything was. He flipped over again, took one look at the new rawness of his hand with its ruined nails, stuck it in his mouth and muffled his another scream.

He wanted this to be an illusion or hallucination so badly.He wanted this to be a curse caused by some unlikely combination of objects in the Once-Ministry's vaults, and any moment, Hermione would appear and break them out of the nightmare. Because this wasn't how things were supposed to end; things were supposed to move on, get better, and change! Not go back to the beginning to try again, all progress and people and everything that actually mattered lost like they've never happened!

Oh Merlin, so many people almost everyone he knew – just... gone? Forever?

Teddy didn't want to be stuck here, in this place, in the graveyard in Little Hangleton, in a memory that should have been as dead and gone as the Dark Lord it focused on. He didn't want to be fourteen years out of time! He just wanted to go home where Voldemort was dead like he was supposed to be, and where Harry was awake and okay and here, and where all the people Teddy cared about were celebrating everything they'd fought so bloody hard for, and where things just made sense and were actually, finally fair. This was just wrong... wrong... wrong... and he didn't want any part of it!

Teddy cried until he didn't have any tears left or any breath left, and was left with a face covered in dirt and snot and salt. He could have sobbed for hours and he wouldn't know; it felt like he had. His legs still burned and his hands felt like they'd been crushed, and his bones had an ache so deep that Teddy briefly thought it would never, ever leave.

 

~ keep moving, never stop moving

 

After rubbing his face into his cloak and a long while spent flopped over in the grass, Teddy realized that he'd fall asleep if he stayed where he was much longer. And even though moving was the last thing he wanted to do, Teddy knew better than to pass out in the middle of nowhere with no protection. He didn't care much about what it would mean for him right now, but he couldn't leave Harry out here without someone watching him. There wasn't a Sealing, but they still had to keep moving. Teddy didn't even know what could be out there now.

Plus, Harry needed help and would probably manage to unconsciously ground his godson for life if he found out that Teddy had just curled up into a ball and slept out in the open. Especially having just fled a really angry Dark Lord that Teddy had kind of... exploded.

Teddy giggled before he could help it.

He was going to remember that one forever! Forget dropping a pile of lifts and snagging Voldemort's leg so Harry could kill him, hitting old snake-face with a Blasting Curse square in the gut had to go down as Teddy's greatest achievement in life. Oh Merlin, his face when Teddy had fired the curse from his hands had been the actual best thing that Teddy had ever seen! And then bam! Off his feet like a rag-doll, with his black robe on fire and trailing smoke as he went - like a dud firework that went thwack instead of bang!

Teddy let out another giggle, past his bloody hands, and then another before he could help it. Before he could stop himself, he was laughing so hard he thought he might start crying again – everything was just so funny in hindsight.

 Well... except when it wasn't.

Quashing his giggles, Teddy pulled himself up and sat himself firmly on his butt, sticking his legs out in front of him and soberly examining his ruined trainers. He couldn't go anywhere in those. After a few minutes of contemplation, which wasn't easy between his now aching middle on top of his aching everything else, Teddy toed off the shoes and reached down to yank off his equally ruined socks.

Finite Incantatum,” he said afterwards, waving a hand over the pile of almost-shreds.

The trainers again turned the beautiful shades of pink and glitter that Teddy had fallen in love with, and the socks turned a rather satisfactory lemon yellow once more. He stared at them for awhile, mourning the unfair loss of such perfect trainers that had had such a short but glorious life. Then he decisively reached for where his purse had fallen and pulled it into his lap as much as it pulled itself into his arms; he didn't even have to open the flap because it flopped open for him.

“Socks, please,” Teddy ordered shakily.

He reached into the purse, which munched comfortably around his wrist while he dug around for his request. He wasn't sure exactly how verbally requesting things actually helped, of if it even did, but asking nicely was always a pretty good first option. Once his fingers wrapped around soft fabric, Teddy pulled out his hand and a thick pair of striped, fuzzy socks. With eager glee, Teddy pulled them onto his bare feet and wriggled in toes in delight, then looked back at his purse and said much more firmly,

“Shoes, please.”

He wasn't particularly impressed when he pulled out a pair of ladybug-patterned wellies a minute later.

“Really?” Teddy said. “This is the only thing you have?”

The fingers of Teddy's free hand were still on the edge of the purse, and the accessory bag bit down on them as much as a soft, inanimate object without teeth could bite. Teddy didn't even flinch. He just watched, even more unimpressed, as it gnawed indignantly on his hand for a bit, obviously teaching him a lesson. Teddy put the wellies down next to him and patted the offended purse until it released its weak hold on him.

“I really love them,” Teddy assured it. “It's just... well... I guess it's kinda wet out.”

It might have been Teddy's imagination, but he could swear that the purse looked smug as he pulled the wellies over his fuzzy socks. They were a snug fit and Teddy clacked them together a few times, before patting the self-satisfied purse again, feeding it his ruined shoes and socks, and closed its flap.

Teddy turned to his godfather, who was still unconscious and breathing evenly. He couldn't really do anything for Harry, because his godfather's clothes were still strongly enchanted and well-made even damaged and worn. A Warming Charm couldn't hurt, though, so Teddy cast that just in case, on top of all the scent-repressing and hiding charms that were slowly wearing off.

When Harry was okay again, things would be better.

Harry would figure things out.

He just had to get his godfather help somehow, even though he didn't know where to go. There was no Hannah or Neville to go to here, which more or less exhausted Teddy's list of people since he'd never been super familiar with the Healers. The only thing that Teddy could think of to do was at least get himself and Harry to a safe place and try and work things out from there, but that only again brought up the question of where to go.

Where was safe in this unfamiliar world?

Teddy had many safe houses memorized for those 'just in case' times, like now, but... the problem with safe houses was that they wouldn't exactly be safe houses now. There wouldn't be supplies or wards or anything waiting for them there. Actually... most safe houses had previously belonged to somebody once upon a time, usually a non-magical family long dead. Since it was before the Sealing right now, would the original owners be living there right now?

Wow, that was just weird. Not being able to use a safe house because people weren't dead? Crazy.

And whoa, what would London look like right now? Harry had said that London used to hold millions and millions of non-magical people before the Sealing, and the entire city was made of cars and lights and noise all hours of the night and day. Teddy tried to imagine it and couldn't really. He couldn't see corner-shops without ogres, alleys without massive Venus Mantraps waiting for another meal, and the skyscrapers not being perches to solitary wyrms and prides of gryffins and flocks of harpies.

London full of people that weren't bands of Death Eaters, Dark Followers, Snatchers, Raiders, Robbers, or Scavengers? Teddy couldn't fathom that many people all at once. Oh Merlin, he had to see what it was like for the houses to be full of people and not hives of pixies, and for the streets to be without the roaming packs of herdbeasts searching for carnivorous plants to munch on.

Hang on... safe houses... London?

Of course! Grimmauld Place had been empty for years before it started getting used as a base in Harry's... fifth year? Yeah, fifth year! Harry had said that cleaning it for use of the Order of the Phoenix was a nightmare, which had been resurrected to fight Voldemort's return if Teddy was remembering his history right. That old house was one of the most frequently appearing houses that Teddy had seen over the course of his childhood, beyond his Granny's home before she died. He didn't like it much, since there had been no going outside when he was there and the place had never quite lost its gruesome ornamentation or Dark taint, but it was definitely empty and safe right now.

Mind made up, Teddy tried to get to his feet and immediately wobbled over onto his hands and knees instead. Panting heavily and blinking rapidly, Teddy reached out for his purse and gasped, “Pepper-up Potion, please!”

After a few minutes of rummaging and clinking of bottles, Teddy eventually pulled out a painstakingly labelled vial and downed it. Getting up was much easier this time, though he still wobbled – and his toes tingled and nose itched and he shuddered for a few moments. Then he sneezed, repeatedly, but when he finally was able to stop, he felt much more awake and less achy than before.

Teddy returned the vial to his purse and debated removing the Colour-Change Charm from his precious Weird Sisters shirt, but decided not to in the end, just in case. Then he pulled his goggles on again, flicking them back to something mostly normal, and ignored the cool breeze over his damp cheeks. He'd need to keep it together and stay awake if he wanted to get his godfather somewhere safe, so he was going to do exactly that.

Maybe he needed potion help to do it, but this was definitely an emergency so he was absolutely not allowed to be grounded for it.

Teddy could sleep when he was dead or whatever that lame joke the adults constantly made was. And he could cry and go completely mental then too... or at least he could save those bits for later. They helped, of course, but they weren't the sort of help that he needed right this moment.

He dismissed and recast the Featherlight Charm on his godfather and hauled the man up over his shoulders. It was a little awkward, especially when Teddy was so much smaller than the adult man, but it wasn't that bad. It was doable and Teddy wouldn't have to shift again and ruin his beautiful ladybug wellies, which was really the important thing about it, even if he probably looked hilariously weird right now. Either that or like a really short kidnapper with neat goggles and funky boots.

Find Me Grimmauld Place,” Teddy said, focusing on the familiar street.

And after a moment, he started walking, leaving only a ruined patch of ground behind him. 

 

~ honey, there's a strange creature stealing our car!

 


Teddy trekked over the countryside in his giant goggles and ladybug wellies, godfather over his shoulders, and was decidedly not enjoying the picturesque landscape in the moonlight. He was paying attention to his surroundings of course, because all his guardians and even his dead Granny might pop out of nowhere to thwack him on the head if he didn't. But actively enjoying its beauty? No.

The night was appropriately gloomy and damp, with the distant, overcast sky constantly threatening rain. But even so, the rolling hills were wide and green, seemingly going on forever and prettily, eerily peaceful. Teddy trudged through tall grasses and swampy fields, sometimes both at once. The only creatures about were some buzzing bugs and the world felt different... strangely quiet... like it was safely snoozing away.

With the speckles of cottages and patches of life dotting the hills, it was more than obvious Teddy wasn't in the world he knew. The bits and pieces of villages sat there, some with their windows illuminated and smoke pouring out their chimneys, like they weren't horribly vulnerable and announcing their position to every monster that went bump in the night. Like they had no need to hold their breath or snuff out the lights or keep as quiet as possible until the relative safety of daybreak. Like they were perfectly and absolutely safe... As safe as houses.

Teddy couldn't sense anything prowling around out there and it was weird. Not a whiff of anything magic or a sniff of anything hungry. He didn't like it at all. It wasn't that he wanted to be attacked by a manticore or a changeling or something, but instead of those... there were lots and lots of people out there and that was a really strange, really uncomfortable feeling.

Because Teddy knew how to deal with monsters, but strangers were another situation entirely. Monsters just wanted to eat you, but people were unpredictable at best and Teddy wasn't allowed to go anywhere near unknown people and vice versa. The closest thing to a stranger that Teddy had ever been near were people who were already a vetted member of his godfather's group, partly because post-apocalyptic people might actually eat you for a meal and partly because Harry was an overprotective git who never let Teddy talk to anyone cool.

Well! Harry was unconscious now so Teddy could do whatever he wanted! He could walk right up to a stranger's door and knock to say hey in the middle of the night. Harry wouldn't be able to stop him from doing that, not unless he stopped being unconscious!

Except Teddy would never, ever do that because that sounded sorta dumb and really terrifying.

“You know what's really dumb?” Teddy asked his unconscious godfather, viciously stomping on an annoying rock as he trudged. “Not being able to Apparate. Honestly, it's the worst. It's either Portkeys, which I lost saving your butt, or walking, or flying, and I'd probably crash into a tree if I tried that.”

Harry didn't respond, but he hadn't responded to any other part of Teddy's ranting, so Teddy just kept going as he made his way past a bunch of sleeping houses. His complaints were on a repeat cycle.

“It's awful and I've seen you do it too, so you know it's awful, and there's, like, angry Dark Lord out there and stuff, so no,” Teddy concluded, before groaning dramatically. “But walking is just, like, so slow. Do you know when we're going to get to safety at this rate? Never, that's when. Trust me, I did the maths and I'm pretty good at maths.

“It's gonna to take forever because if I have to walk anymore, my legs are just gonna stop working and we'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere forever. Then we'll get eaten by... what do they even have right now? I don't know. Whatever, we're gonna die if I have to keep walking and I really want a magic carpet right now. 'You need physical and magical maturity or you're gonna lose your limbs trying to Apparate!' Well, I'm going to lose my feet anyway! Just let me travel sitting on my butt, right?”

This was when Teddy caught sight of a beast resting in the field in front of him. Its armoured skin gleamed in the faint moonlight as it slept and he could already hear its growling roar in the back of his head, already see himself riding it into the night leaving a trail of dust behind them.

“Oh, sweet Merlin, yes,” Teddy breathed.

The boy hurried over to the beast's snout and took a good, gleeful look at its perfect condition. The gorgeous vehicle looked brand new! It was hard to perform a quick, formless jig with his godfather over his shoulders, but Teddy managed it anyway, making his way around to the side doors doing something that could have only very generously been called dancing.

Teddy pressed his nose to a window, grinning at his own reflection. “Where have you been all my life for the past couple hours?” he demanded, then waved a hand over the door's lock. “Alohomora.

The car door's lock immediately popped open and Teddy carefully balanced his godfather so he could yank it open. It was an average vehicle, two seats in the front and three in the back, and the inside was pretty clean except for a box of tissues, a plastic water bottle, and a single high-heeled shoe. Teddy scanned it for spells and creepy-crawlies, but it came up beautifully clean.

Another little jig had to be hastily performed, then Teddy soaked the back in Cushioning Charms and did the tricky bit of manoeuvring his lazy git of a godfather inside. Even with the Featherlight Charm, it was hard. There was a lot of shoving and Teddy briefly considered using a Full Body-Bind Curse just to manage Harry's stupid lanky limbs, but the boy managed it in the end and clambered in after to buckle his godfather as well as he could. Even the end of the world was no excuse to ignore basic car safety according to Hermione, and Rule Six stated that she was always right.

After Teddy climbed out, he added a couple more Cushioning Charms for good measure, then several Sticking Charms just because. The boy would argue to the death that he was a perfectly capable driver, but even he could quietly admit to himself that he wasn't a very smooth one, and Harry deserved some precaution here. Even though Teddy would probably be a way gentler ride if his paranoid godfather and guardians had just let him drive more often.

Teddy slammed the car door shut with more force than necessary, snorting to himself. “Yeah, 'Teddy's never going to need to do any driving',” the boy mimicked scornfully as he unlocked the driver's door with a wave of his hand and yanked it open. “'He's waaaay too young'! 'When would Teddy ever need to know how to drive a car?'”

The boy sighed and yanked off his ladybug-patterned wellies and fuzzy socks, wobbling on each foot before tossing the footwear onto the passenger's seat. “Well, thank Merlin for Uncle George and Lee,” he said, before adding, “and Angie, of course.”

Then, with a terrible tremble, the boy began to grow. He didn't grow very tall this time, just from the height of a child to a short adult, and looked only a touch too thin instead of painfully skeletal. Once he was done, Teddy shook out his hands and limbs, and inspected himself in the door's window and grimaced. He looked like a baby-faced teenager, well... past the ripped pants, black cloak, band shirt, goggles, and still-darkened features that made him look more like a down-on-his-luck Scavenger, Wanderer, or Tinker.

He considered changing further, but decided that that was too much effort for only needing to reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel. Teddy slid into the driver's seat and started poking around for keys. It was a long-shot that fell short, so he reached into his purse and rummaged around for the All-Purpose Picker that Uncle Lee had given him for his tenth birthday.

“Should've just called it a 'Carjacker' because that's what it's for,” Teddy commented thoughtfully to his godfather in the back seat, “but Hermione probably wouldn't have let me keep it then. Aha! Here we go... please work, please work, please work. I don't want to walk anym- YES!”

Teddy whooped as the beautiful beast woke up with a soft growl, the All-Purpose Picker plugged into its ignition and whirring away happily. Checking over the dashboard's display and finding all green-lights, he switched off any and all exterior lights and adjusted his goggles slightly. The boy recast his Find Me Charm, then he shifted gears, pressed on the gas pedal, and pulled out of the field and onto the dirt road lined with darkened houses.

“On to London!” Teddy announced brightly to his godfather, before he stomped on the gas pedal.

 

~ who you gonna call?

 

“Chris! Chris, wake up!”

“...Uunh... five more minutes, Mum...”

“Chrisander Michael Palmsee, you wake up right this moment!”

Probably able to recognize that tone of voice from the grave itself, Chrisander Michael Palmsee woke up right that moment and blinked through the darkness of his bedroom. His stepmother, Janet Palmsee, was standing at his bedside, clutching her pink bathrobe tightly and looking frazzled behind her nightly face mask of green goop. On his bedside table, the clock smugly informed his bleary brain that it was several hours until sunrise.

“Mum? What's going on?” Chris asked confusedly, rubbing his eyes.

“Honey, there's a strange creature stealing our car!” his stepmother informed him in a hushed whisper, her expression entirely serious. “I think it's one of your kind of creatures!”

Chris blinked at his stepmother and wished, not for the first time in the past couple years, that his sister had not already left for the safety of Hogwarts and his father wasn't working the night-shift at the DMLE. Because Janet was a kind, wonderful Muggle woman who was high-strung and easily worried, and his father was an oblivious git who had vast experience in the sort of dangers that the magical world posed and no problem informing his new wife all about them. This unfortunate combination of everything left Chris – a boy who had only very recently received his Hogwarts Letter – the only person able to explain anything to his poor, bewildered, insomniac stepmother.

“Mum, are you sure it's not just a gnome or something again?”

His stepmother frowned at him. “It's not a gnome,” she insisted, cheeks flushed slightly under her green face mask, hurrying around his bed to the other side and pulling him out from behind his warm covers. Chris marvelled at her surprising strength before his face was pressed to his bedroom window, his stepmother whispering, “Look!”

Chris looked, and it was definitely not a gnome.

In the field outside their house, a short and shadowy figure was standing next to his stepmother's car and couldn't quite tell what it was. It appeared to have a puffy head and collar of dark fur that ran all the way down its back, almost like a tattered cloak, and its enormous eyes gleamed in the night as it tossed several unknown somethings into the front of the car.

“What is it?” Janet demanded fearfully.

“I don't k-” Chris began, but was interrupted as the unknown figure gave a great shudder.

They began to grow; their limbs suddenly began to lengthen and their back clearly strained as it stretched. Chris caught a flash of gleaming white teeth, and under the faint moonlight with the figure's hands painfully gnarled like they were growing claws, there was only one conclusion to a boy who had had to endure too many stories from an elder sibling whose main goal in life seemed to be to terrify their younger sibling for no apparent reason.

Chris flung himself away from the window, eyes wide with fear and disbelief. He knew of exactly one kind of tattered creature that shifted form in the moonlight. All his father's dumb Lockhart novels, his aunt's work stories, his children's creature guides, and his sister's spooky tales (inspired by an essay she'd had to write last year) composed the sum total of Chris' knowledge on magical creatures. And they all pointed to one creature and one creature only! One that was probably here to bite off all his toes and chew off his nose and swallow him bit by bit for a midnight snack! His Senses were unmatured and untrained, but he knew what that thing was! 

“What is it?” his stepmother whispered, peeking out the window again.

“Werewolf!” Chris squeaked, yanking her away from the window. “We need to call Dad and Aunt Ellie right now!” He pulled his stepmother out of his room and down the stairs and all the way to the fireplace to make an emergency Floo Call. “They're really, really dangerous!”

“...Werewolf?” his stepmother repeatedly sceptically, although she did reach up onto the high mantle to get Chris – who was straining on the tips of his toes – the Floo Powder that was normally kept where eleven-year-olds could not get to it. “I thought-”

Chris was already busy tossing a handful of powder into the fireplace. “Law Enforcement line!” he said desperately, and they watched the flames swirl for a moment before a bored looking witch's face appeared in the smoke and embers.

Even if you had never seen her before in your life, and knew nothing about her at all, it would still have somehow seemed a minor miracle that she wasn't chewing gum. “Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” she said in a well-practised, automatic monotone, “what's the address of this Floo Call?”

“Mary, get my dad!”

“Chrissy?” Mary asked, squinting through the Floo Call as only someone on a work shift past midnight could squint. “I thought Mike put the Floo Powder out of your reach after last time.”

“He did! But there's a werewolf stealing our car!”

Mary blinked a few times. “Chrissy, did you have a nightmare?” she demanded finally. “Because the full moon was over a week ago.”

Now it was Chris' turn to blink in confusion. “What? But there's this thing outside and it's definitely a creature and it was shifting! I saw its arms and legs grow longer, and it had all this dark fur and these teeth and claws! And I think there was a body in the back seat!”

“Oh my God, I thought I was seeing things!” Chris' stepmother said faintly from by the kitchen window, leaning heavily on the counter. “It had a body! Oh my God, it had a body!”

“Janet?” Mary asked, face coming farther out of the fireplace as she looked about for Chris' stepmother. “Body, what body?”

“The werewolf has a body in the back seat of our car!” Chris explained hurriedly. “Mum saw it too! I wasn't dreaming. Mum, come tell her – Mum! Get away from the window, it could see you!”

“But it's gone!” Janet wailed. “It's taken my car! How am I supposed to get to work now? I'll have to carpool with Debra,” she realized with a wounded shriek, “and her car always smells like fish! It's terrible for my skin and it ruins my hair and I have an important meeting in the afternoon!”

“Oh, Merlin... Mum! Calm down! Are you sure it's gone?!”

“Fish, Chris! Fish!”

“Mum!”

“You know what?” Mary said to no one in particular. “I'm getting Captain Elena.”

Chris only sort of heard her, because he was too busy comforting his stepmother, trying to get her to stop crying about a body being in the back seat of her car and her hair smelling like fish. He wasn't very good at the whole comforting thing, which was another reason why his sister and father should not have left him to explain things he didn't really understand himself. He ended up awkwardly patting her on the arm of her bathrobe while trying to peek out the window to see if the werewolf was really gone; he wasn't very tall though, so it wasn't exactly happening.

“Chrissy, what the hell is going on?” Aunt Ellie demanded, her scarred, stern face appearing in the smoke and embers, scanning the room before settling on Chris and Janet. The boy thought he could see flickers of his father and Mary behind her.

“A werewolf with a dead body just stole Mum's car!” Chris explained.

“My boss won't be able to stand being in the same room as me!” Janet realized in horror. “She's allergic to fish! The meeting's going to be absolutely ruined!”

To her credit, Chris' father's sister didn't even blink at either of these statements. Elena Palmsee, DMLE veteran and Auror Captain, just sighed and said, “I'm going to need you both to calm down and give me a coherent explanation of exactly what happened. Janet, I'm going to assume you woke Chrissy up, so let's start with you.”

 

~ might as well check it out

 

“To be fair, I don't think that's the strangest Floo Call we've gotten in the middle of the night-shift,” Michael 'Mike' Palmsee told his sister, Elena (the elder sibling by only eleven damn months), after she had assured his wife and son that she'd be through with a team in short order.

Beside him, the Call Office witch snorted.

“That's only because the night-shift is when all the crazies come out, Mike,” Mary said in a sing-song. “And this one is the winner for your family.”

Then Mary flounced away without even waiting for Mike to reply, heading over to help a particularly inept new employee in the Call Office put out the fire on their robes. Mike didn't know what his response would have been, since she wasn't exactly wrong, but he would have at least like the chance to try and come up with something to defend his family and their gifts in Divination.

Speaking of Divination, the mist over Elena Palmsee's eyes faded away, and she checked again the numerous devices on her arms that most people assumed to be an illogical and even hilarious number of wristwatches. (Like any of those Hit-Wiz morons knew anything about actually tracking down Dark wizards and witches.) Mike only wore about five of them, but Ellie had over fifteen.

“The house wards are still intact... and none of them are screaming about Dark magic or creatures near the property.... but I've got a funny vibe on this one,” she said thoughtfully. She subtly but revealingly tapped two of her 'wristwatches' for Mike's benefit.

The Currents had been moving strangely all day, and especially since sunset. This wasn't especially unusual for a day close to midsummer, and the whole Tri-Wizard Tournament ritual had been interfering with several Streams since it started, but since sunset, things seemed to be taking a Darker turn. Something strange was in the air tonight, and anyone with any Sense could feel it.

The first wristwatch Ellie tapped was golden device with a flat, glass loop of sand instead of a clock face. Mike couldn't quite remember what that one was for, but the infinite churn of sand was misting like a snowglobe now instead of flowing gently. Ellie had told him that it always looped calmly, except for brief occasions where it seemed to do an incomprehensible, momentary mambo, like it had done on a very precise and surprisingly frequent schedule for ten months last year. He had never seen this misting thing before, and he knew it couldn't be good.

But it was the other device tapped that gave him the most pause, because it was a very old, very battered, bronze device that Ellie had inherited from their grandmother. It looked like it was trying very hard to be a wristwatch but couldn't bear to even bring itself into the second millennium, with its square face and a thick chain. Neither of them knew what it was for exactly or what it did precisely – since their dear departed Yaya had been a sneaky old bat with a bad sense of humor – but it was hardly difficult to get a general sense of its purpose when one paid attention and kept their Senses open.

The bronze not-watch had a depiction of a scale on the face, one black side and one white side, and the scale tipped back as forth as the weights of each side changed. During the seventies, the scale had leaned largely towards the black side. The white side had been pushing back, with difficulty and few successes, until it finally slammed down and sent the black side up in the air on October 31 st, 1981.

It had been mostly quiet for years - at least, after the first few months of extreme busyness after the end of the war - keeping a fairly steady balance, but it had been teetering back and forth quite frequently, sometimes almost violently (usually around the late spring), for the past several years or so. Ellie had informed him yesterday that the scale was tipping heavily towards the black side again; that hadn't been entirely unusual, in Mike's yesterday opinion, or even unexpected what with the Tri-Wizard Tournament going on the way it had thus far. Something to be wary of, certainly, but not to panic over quite yet. 

“It was dropping steadily to pitch black for most of yesterday,” Ellie explained quietly, her words lost to anyone besides Mike in the busy Call Office, “but now it's doing... this. I don't know when it happened exactly... and hell if I know why.”

Mike understood that, because somehow the black and white sides of the scale were both tipped down. Exactly how scales didn't work. 

“How the hell?” Mike whispered.

“I don't know,” Ellie answered fiercely, “but I'm not leaving this one to the gits in MLE Patrol; they're overworked with drunken bullshit every midsummer week as it is. Who the hell knows if it's connected to the Tri-Wizard Tournament mess that we 'don't need to investigate' -”

“Merlin, I hate that man,” Mike muttered.

“- but we might as well check it out, just in case,” Ellie finished.

Mike nodded, checking over his own 'wristwatches' to corroborate his own Senses. “Take a few of the Juniors and we'll call it a field exercise,” he advised, “they need the experience anyway and I'll fight if the MLE make it a jurisdiction battle and Scrimgeour complains. Take Sloane, the Robards kid, and...”

“And?”

Mike's eyes clouded over as he considered the Currents, which pulled a particular name from his head and shoved it to the tip of his tongue. Once his eyes cleared, Mike wondered at the force of the shoving. Even though it was a logical choice considering the few Juniors on shift and the ones he'd already suggested, the name had been shoved very strongly. The name suddenly felt far more, perhaps hundreds of times more important than it had about twenty minutes ago - when he'd been shouting at its owner for knocking over his precious coffee, as well some less important things: three chairs, two stacks of paperwork, and an unfortunate Call Office intern.

“And?” Ellie repeated, looking considerably less patient.

“...Tonks,” Mike said decisively. “Take Tonks.”

 

~ because it's not action without at least one car chase

 

“You know what I should have expected to see?” Teddy asked his godfather, sounding somewhere between cheer and a nervous breakdown. The grin on his face probably looked similar, which was a known side-effect to having very, very long days and very, very little sleep.

Teddy was basically running on potions and chocolate at the moment, both of which would usually independently see him grounded and together would see him grounded in triplicate. But Teddy had had a very, very long day and there was no one to stop him, so... yeah. Harry was still sleeping lazily away in the back of the car and Teddy needed to be really awake to drive the car, thus it would be perfectly legitimate to argue that Teddy had really been forced by his surrounding circumstances to take another Pepper-Up and devour his entire secret stash of chocolate. Which was exactly what Teddy was going to be arguing later if (and only if) he got called on it.

“Other cars on the road,” Teddy answered finally. “I really should have, but I just didn't expect to see other cars on the road driving along on the road, just... minding their own business and going really slow. It's kind of weird, you know? Not interested in us at all. I've almost screamed twelve times, but nope, no trouble. That one now makes six so far, by the way, if you're counting too.”

Teddy checked the battered, Spell-o-taped wristwatch that his godfather had given him, then shook his head and checked the car dashboard instead. “It's almost three o'clock in the morning,” he noted with far too much brightness, curiously peering around at the countryside. “What do you supposed people do in this world at three o'clock in the morning?”

The road only about half dirt now, and the houses were more frequent than before, looking cleaner and less... ruined than most that Teddy had seen; every single one of them was surprisingly whole and well-maintained. The windows were still dark, but some porch lights were on, and Teddy couldn't really get over how many people obviously lived in them. Even far from London, there were so many signs of the presence of lots and lots of people with whole lives and proper, happy places in the apparent cosy, safeness of the Pre-Sealing world.

Teddy was getting jitterier as they zoomed past the small villages, dust thrown up behind them and turns taken a little too sharply. It could have been the Pepper-Up and the chocolate, though. If he were to be honest, it was mostly that, but there was at least a side of wondering what London looked like without monsters and made of lights and full of cars and people. He could hardly wait! (He was so scared.)

“Well, they're not hunting Knockturns, that's for sure, not when they're driving at that speed,” Teddy said as they sped past another car going the opposite direction. “That makes seven other cars so far. … It's pretty cool to think that I'm going to actually lose count sooner or later – actually, it's pretty scary – really scary. How crowded is the road gonna get, d-?”

A blaring siren and flashing lights interrupted Teddy's question. The boy checked the mirrors for the source and realized with a jolt that he was being followed by another car! All he could see were bright headlights and brighter, flashing lights on the roof, but it was the loud siren that really scared him out of his happy, sugary complacency.

Sounds like that were always alarms or cries for help, and almost always signalled the impending arrival of a larger party. Sounds like that were meant to summon the whole 'pack' to protect their lone comrade or defend their territory, or sometimes just warn off skittish intruders and beasts. Sometimes a challenge, in very rare cases.

But in this situation, with someone following him and gaining, a siren like that was a call for the group to help their scout surround and attack the found prey. Some decent spellwork could have created a silent system; loud sirens, Angie had explained to Teddy, were a boastful fear tactic of the suicidal or the just plain stupid ones. The boy knew for certain he was in for a dangerous chase for their lives when he caught and recognized the letters painted on the car's front.

Teddy didn't even stop to think about it; he floored it.

The wheels screamed against the road as the car shot forward, dust flying up into fields and front yards, and darkened houses and their gobsmacked mailboxes immediately dropping behind. Teddy had already been driving fast enough to get grounded by his godfather (which was incredibly easy because Harry worried way too much), but now he might as well have been flying through the night.

The following car obviously wouldn't and didn't give up that easily, and Teddy's mind raced through possible escapes. Oh, this would be so much easier if this car could fly! What if he ran into a dead end or blockade? Grounded was bad, bad, bad in every meaning of the word!

But the really important thing, Teddy reasoned as he took the upcoming left turn (which he'd been needing to take for awhile to get to London) sharply enough to cut glass, was to silence that wailing siren. A glance in the mirror told him that the following car hadn't managed to turn as quickly and was just pulling back out onto the road from the surrounding dirt, hurrying to follow Teddy's speeding flight before the boy got too far ahead. No siren meant no backup for the following car.

Teddy removed a hand from the wheel and started rummaging without purpose into his purse, hurrying to think of something that could help him and partly hoping that some miraculous object would just drop into his hand. But Teddy purse held a lot of things and he wasn't that lucky. Plus, it was really hard to think when he was being chased by a gaining car and trying not to crash his own.

It couldn't be that destructive, because there were lots of people around here now, and attracting people attention usually leaned towards Not A Good Idea. So it shouldn't be too loud, either, which was pretty standard common sense anyway. If Teddy had his marbles, he could have cast a Sticking Charm to one and Portkeyed the following car, something he'd always wanted to try and sounded like it would do something really awesome. But he'd lost all of those and wasn't sure how he'd manage that.

He had some last bits of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder – really, really rare and used only for certain emergencies – but he'd never tried to use it while driving a car before. Teddy was pretty sure he didn't want to use it while driving a car. He'd probably end up dropping it and that might send the entire interior into pitch black, and that would be very bad.

He couldn't think of anything that didn't involve a certainty crashing or throwing something, which would be super hard while driving and risked crashing anyway. And if he was throwing something, why not just throw a spell?

...Why not just throw a spell? Really, why not?

Teddy removed his hand from his purse and started rolling down the window, grimacing slightly at the chill of the wind. He checked the mirror and grimaced further, because the following car seemed to be enviably faster than Teddy's and was catching up again. Something really had to be done about that siren. Teddy slowed down and bit his lip (to concentrate), stuck his arm out the window, and with another terrible shudder, parts of his arm bulged strangely until his elbow and wrist could bend and turn and twist however they pleased. It was terribly unnatural, and the first time Teddy had tried anything similar, he had almost immediately vomited.

But instead of throwing up, Teddy checked the mirror, took careful aim, and threw a Silencing Charm at the car chasing him. Better a Silencing Charm than a Blasting Curse if he accidentally hit his own car, and it would take out that shrieking siren non-destructively if it... well, if it actually hit. He could try something else if it did. But Teddy's first Silencing Charm missed. As did his second. And his third.

Down the otherwise quiet roads, Teddy and the following car flew. After much swearing, it was on his seventh try that Teddy finally struck the car and cut off the wailing siren. The boy whooped in his seat as best he could with one hand clutching the wheel in a death grip and one unnaturally bent arm hanging out the window.

Thankfully and strangely, no one seemed to have answered the car's wailing siren. Teddy kept a paranoid eye out for other cars and started running down his list of options for losing his tail. After hitting at least five innocent fields just trying to Silence the stupid thing, Teddy really didn't want to try throwing a Blasting Curse or anything similar backwards out the window. Even more than a little hopped up on sugar, potions, and no sleep, a part of him that sounded amazingly like both Harry and Hermione was screaming that explosive curses and moving vehicles were a terrible idea.

Teddy glanced out the window at one of the innocent fields in question and was struck by a stupidly simple idea. With a shudder, a pop, and a snap, his arm twisted back to normal, grabbed the wheel, and twisted the wheel as he let up on the gas. His and Harry's car swerved off the road, and Teddy prayed with his teeth gritted as dirt and dust and grass flew up around him. Oh, ugh, he really should have rolled the window shut first.

The car chasing him silently sped past, wheels screeching, its bright lights flashing by as Teddy ripped up the field while performing a carefully wide turn. Taking too sharp turns was one of the reasons why Harry wasn't keen on letting his godson behind the wheel of anyway, despite the fact that Teddy had definitely learned his lesson after that spectacular disaster.

Soon enough, Teddy was back on the road and flooring it again, speeding the opposite direction to the one he'd been headed before. He couldn't see any cars ahead, so it really seemed like no one had answered that wailing siren, but Teddy resolved to keep an eye out anyway. While, of course, he focused on completely losing the car behind him, which was attempting to touch on a road that was too narrow to do so, and finding an alternate route to London now.

At all that work ahead of him, despite himself, Teddy yawned. This was really annoying, and he was really tired, which was a bad thing to be while driving. It would be really sensible to take at least a short nap, but he couldn't stay out in the open unprotected like that. There might not be monsters out and about, but there were still strangers out there, strangers that would chase random cars for no obvious reason with flashing lights and wailing sirens. Teddy didn't know what to think of that, and he didn't want to sleep where they might find him again, no matter how tired he was.

Teddy rolled up the window again and hoped that there'd be no more trouble on the way to London, which now seemed a lot scarier. Crowds and places where strangers met were always dangerous. And there were so many people now. Teddy immediately began thinking up ways to make himself seem less of a target, and could only hope that he'd managed to slip into Grimmauld Place unbothered if not unnoticed.

Why had that car decided to bother him instead of the slow-moving and therefore more vulnerable vehicles on the road, anyway? There were lots of other targets – stupidly easy targets with lights on and everything – to choose from in this strange Pre-Sealing place.

“Harry, I don't get this place,” Teddy confessed.

 

~ might as well check it out, take two

 

Elena 'Ellie' Palmsee trusted her brother's judgement... mostly... sometimes... it depended, really. She wasn't sure she could ever forgive his incomprehensible weakness for Lockhart's ridiculous books, and his beloved Janet was a touch too flighty for Ellie to be real friends with her new sister-in-law, but Mike had rarely led Ellie astray when it came to the important things. If he said in all seriousness to take Sloane, Robards Junior, and Tonks, then Ellie would take Sloane, Robards Junior, and Tonks to go investigate the unexpectedly apparently important theft of Janet's car.

Sophie Sloane, Gwendolyn 'Gwen' Robards, and Nymphadora Tonks were all promising Junior Aurors, and Merlin knew that the DMLE needed more open-minded females to round out the old pureblood boys' club that had made it hell for Ellie to get where she was today: a veteran Auror Captain at forty-three. (No one had given Mike the same sort of shit for making honest use of Divination, which always spontaneously became an untrustworthy, imprecise, and questionable art when Ellie used it. An old man's 'gut' was somehow worth more than Ellie's carefully honed and fully understood Senses, and it made her want to curse people.)

Ellie had privately thought once or twice that these three might make a decent team - the sort that Ellie might want to lead as a fixed team. Mentoring a trio of new female Aurors was something Ellie could really get behind. These three young women all had their own skills that came together to make a well-rounded group, listened to orders and could work well together, and all had something to prove beyond the general 'female Aurors are not naturally incompetent' constant bullshit. They needed a bit of shaping up, but Ellie could work with that, if only they'd stop the non-stop bickering and bullshitting. 

“It couldn't have been a werewolf, Tonks,” Sloane drawled haughtily. “I know you flying jocks are oblivious, but even you're enough of a witch to keep track of the moon cycle, aren't you?” She jerked a finger up at the night sky above them like a rude gesture.

“Sloane, c'mon,” Robards Junior said plaintively. “Don't drop to that level again.”

“Bite me, marshmallow 'Puff,” Sloane snapped back.

“Back off Gwen, Miss Hiss,” Tonks replied, lifting her nose in the air in an overdramatic but accurate depiction of every purist witch that Ellie had ever met. “I'm enough of a witch to at least remember that the Lycacomia Curse exists! Who's to say someone hasn't invented a new variant to spread the Bite?”

“Fine. Viruses might mutate, but sorry for doubting Dark wizards are testing it here.”

“No one would expect it here!”

“Here being the backyard of an Auror Captain! And what kind of werewolf steals a car?”

“One still capable of thought because of a mutated strain of lycanthropy!”

“Oh wow. Can you touch the moon with that kind of reach, Tonksie?”

“Sloane, let's not do this,” Robards Junior begged.

“I don't know, Miss Hiss. Can you see the pyramids while you're so deep down in denial?”

“Tonks, c'mon, not you too.”

Captain Elena 'Ellie' Palmsee resisted the urge to drag her hands down her face and thanked Merlin that her sister-in-law and nephew had gone back to bed. Ellie really didn't need Janet complaining about fish sabotaging her job or Chrissy developing some sort of hero worship for Tonks for backing him up. That boy's undeveloped Senses perceived and interpreted the strangest things.

“Sloane!” Ellie snapped finally, before the young woman could spit out another insult. “Don't automatically reject a plausible theory.” Ellie didn't have to get up and turn around to see Sloane's glower or Tonks' triumphant expression, but she did anyway, glaring at them for good measure. “Tonks, don't invent bullshit to fit your preferences. And Robards-!”

Robards Junior looked helplessly back at the Auror Captain from between Tonks and Sloane.

“...Keep up the good work,” Ellie finished awkwardly.

“Yes, captain.”

Ellie turned back around and finished sketching into the dirt with her wand, then stood up and rocked on her heels. She studied her handiwork and then gave a decisive nod, waving her wand over the circle of runes to activate them. They glowed with yellowish light around the single high-heeled shoe that had been laid where Janet car had been parked, and the dirt hummed around them.

“Captain, what are you doing?” Tonks asked.

Sloane scoffed. “How is it so obvious you've never taken Ancient Runes, Tonksie? It's a tracking spell. Did you ever take basic training or just trip your way through i-”

“Sloane,” Ellie warned, “if you ever try to make anyone ashamed for asking a valid question again, I will personally see you on to the MLE Patrol for the rest of your career. Tonks, check the focus points of the circle and study those runes; this is a variant on the basic tracking circle, one that uses a focus to divine its other half.”

“Mrs. Palmsee left the other shoe in her car?” Robards Junior asked.

“She's always leaving something or rather around,” Ellie muttered, waving her wand over the glowing runes again, twirling it clockwise at an increasing speed. “Turn out Mike's pockets at any time and you'll find a handful of her hairclips.”

“Rummaging in Captain Mike's pockets sounds like a quick way to getting fired,” Robards Junior murmured weakly.

"Possible literally!" Tonks added, with far too much cheer. 

But Ellie ignored them both, because the runes were moving with her wand now, spinning faster and faster around, shrinking as the circle closed in around the shoe and finally disappeared inside its curves. Ellie stopped twirling her wand and picked up the glowing shoe, inspecting her work.

Then she looked up at the three women in front of her and said, “Who remembered to bring their brooms?”

The way Tonks' face lit up at the same time that Sloane's dropped like a stone was comical, and Ellie only barely managed to turn her laughter into a small twitch of the lips to save Sloane's pride. Robards Junior just looked vaguely resigned as she pulled a field kit from her belt and unshrunk the broom inside. Her actions were eagerly and grudgingly copied by Tonks and Sloane respectively.

Ellie removed and unshrunk her own broom and flying goggles, swinging her leg over the former and adjusting the latter for night flying before pulling them on. She didn't really want to fly, as she sometimes had difficulties focusing on more than one thing or got distracted by a sudden burst of her Senses, but she was a fairly competent flyer - especially in comparison with some of the disasters to grace the Auror Department. Plus, she had to suck it up for the sake of the Junior Aurors with her.

“We can't Apparate to an unknown point,” she said, interrupting whatever Sloane had been about to say now, “I wouldn't chance Apparating into a moving vehicle anyway, and Tonks is the only one decent enough at Apparition to follow without a broom. So yes, broomsticks. And don't lose your wand during flight or I'll drop you off your broom back to basic training.”

Sloane glowered again, especially at Tonks' smug leer, but her scowl was tempered by how she already looked slightly green. Robards Jr still just looked incredibly resigned as the three young women mounted their own brooms and adjusted their own DMLE-issued flying goggles.

“Moderate Disillusionment Charms,” Ellie ordered, casting her own and kicking off into the air. One by one, the Junior Aurors seemed to melt into shadows, enough for a trained eye to discern and easily keep track of but not the average Muggle, especially at night. Those three shadows rose up into the air as well, one slightly wobblier than the others.

Their equally shadowy captain looked down at the glowing high-heeled shoe in her hand, then back at her subordinates. “Keep close to me – four-man formation,” she ordered.

Then Ellie tossed the high-heeled shoe towards the sky and said, “Find your partner.” The shoe hovered in the air for a moment, before it took off southwards at speed. “Let's fly, ladies!” Ellie ordered, and sped off after it.

She very kindly pretended not to hear the way Tonks said laughingly to Robards Junior, “And find the werewolf with the bollocks to borrow an Auror Captain's car!”

Ellie also very seriously did not laugh at the statement, even if it was just a little bit fucking hilarious.

 

~ broomsticks, aurors, and automobiles

 

Nymphadora Tonks had not wanted to be on the night-shift at the DMLE, but Junior Aurors didn't exactly get to pick what time they worked. According to Captain Mike: Junior Aurors took their shifts when Senior Aurors said they did and should stop complaining before they got cursed out a window.

He had the same approach towards Junior Aurors getting to pick who they worked with. Tonks hadn't wanted to work alongside Sloane either, but she didn't get to pick not to work with uptight prisses with less sense of humour than a potato. Tonks would object, but she was terrified of complaining about Miss Hiss lest they misinterpret and take Gwen away instead for Tonks' impertinence.

Gwendolyn 'Gwen' Robards was human sunshine, Tonks' best friend and roommate since their first year at Hogwarts, and probably the only thing keeping Tonks back from pulling a Captain Mike and cursing Sloane out the nearest window. (If there wasn't a window, she'd make a window.) Tonks needed Gwen like she needed caffeine; coincidentally, both of which were the main reasons she'd gotten into and survived Auror training, and managed to manage night-shifts without getting tossed out a window or tossing someone out a window.

So if Auror Captain Elena ordered Junior Auror Tonks to investigate a strange case at Captain Mike's place with Gwen and fuckin' Sloane, then Tonks would hop to no matter what she wanted, no questions at all. Well, mostly without question. There'd be a lot of questions, actually, since an uncurious and unquestioning Auror was usually a really dead Auror. And at least one of those questions would be an extended internal scream of: 'Oh no, why meee?'

Captain Elena had called it a field exercise at first, which had made Tonks groan because field exercises were either tedious or actual hell, with no in-between, but this was actually way more interesting than expected. Even if it wasn't a werewolf, which Tonks could inwardly admit it probably wasn't (but it was so much fun to mess with fuckin' Sloane), then it had to be someone else. Something probably new. Something with the sheer fucking bollocks to borrow the car of an Auror Captain's wife to transport an unidentified body.

And they were flying now. This was so much better than running the usual errands or trying to stay awake through the mountains of mind-numbing paperwork of the Junior Auror night-shift. How the midsummer week nights could be more boring as a brand new Auror than the dull and exhausting repetitiveness of the general DMLE, Tonks would never know.

Following Captain Elena's enchanted shoe, their four-man formation soared over field and village and country roads. It wasn't easy, because the shoe was damned fast and Sloane was a terrible flyer, but Tonks knew they had to be making good time. The DMLE-issued broomsticks weren't the best quality (especially for Junior Aurors) but they were sturdy and still pretty fast, and brooms didn't have to follow the winding roads and could zoom in a straight line towards their target.

After awhile of Tonks making shadowy faces at the nervous and unknowing Sloane – as well as some admiration of the scenery and some brief contemplation of the Transfiguration (one of Tonks' favourite subjects) that might be involved in a new strain of lycanthropy – the glowing shoe finally dipped downwards and their flying formation spotted a car figuratively flying down a deserted country road. Damn, speeding away there. 

“That's the one!” Captain Elena yelled over the wind, summoning the glowing shoe back to her with a single flick of her wand that looked so cool.

The captain just looked even cooler when she caught the shoe with her other hand and did some trick that made it disappear somewhere on her person, then signalled for them to descend and surround the vehicle, all with her broom only wobbling slightly. Tonks aspired to be that cool someday. Tonks promised herself that it would happen as she silently dove down to fly above and alongside Captain Mike's car with Gwen behind her. While they were on the left, Captain Elena and Sloane mirrored them on the other side.

Tonks couldn't really see who was driving the thing in its dark interior. Whoever they were, they were unexpectedly short and disappointedly not hairy, with a ragged scarf around their neck and dark, bare arms. And it seemed that there really was a body in the back seat, but the only thing Tonks could tell of them was that they were taller than the driver and wearing dark clothes.

On the opposite side, Captain Elena raised her wand and Tonks mentally prepared for what would happen when their captain stopped the vehicle. Tonks doubted that it would be a Muggle, though it was definitely a possibility, and she'd be a shitty Auror if she wasn't prepared for their thief to come out of the stopped vehicle with their wand blazing.

But... the thing was... when Captain Elena fired her spell, the car suddenly swerved out of the way and the driver must have slammed on the gas because the car shot forward like a fired spell itself. Captain's Elena's spell hit the empty road. Tonks (while mentally going holy shit) and Captain Elena (too cool to be surprised probably) were the only ones to keep up with the speeding car. Gwen and Sloane, less able flyers, fell behind in its dust.

Captain Elena made to fire again, probably planning to fire several times to prevent the car from avoiding the spell. But before she could finish flicking her wand, the car suddenly dropped away with a horrible screeching sound as the tires screamed in protest, as though the driver had suddenly stomped on the brakes. With a few foul words, Tonks immediately looped around to follow it, as did Captain Elena on the other side.

The driver might have avoided Captain Elena's spells, but there was nowhere to go now. There was no room to turn on this country road, and they had only managed to drop themselves back between Gwen and Sloane, with Tonks and Captain Elena on their metaphorical heels.

Or so Tonks thought, until a bright red spell, sizzling and popping in a smug-arse way, came flying out the driver's window and smacked directly into Sloane. Tonks' fellow Auror dropped off her broomstick like a sack of bricks. A second spell flew out the passenger window before Sloane was even struck, missing Gwen by many feet but startling her enough to make her to overbalance and spin wildly midair. Captain Elena's wand, which had been trained on the car, immediately switched to the falling, unconscious Sloane to stop the young woman from smacking into the ground.

While Gwen struggled to regain control of her broom and Captain Elena saved Sloane from a bad fall, Tonks trained her wand off Gwen (who seemed like she'd be fine in a few moments) and onto the car as it tried to shoot forward once more. Yeah right, like that would work. It was headed right for Tonks and Captain Elena. Even if Tonks someone managed to screw up, Sloane was already drifting gently to the ground and Captain Elena's wand was moving back towards the car.

But before either of them could cast a spell, another spell was already heading their way from the driver's window. It was bright orange, small, and wasn't going to hit either of them, so Tonks didn't think much of it. At least, she didn't think much of it until it exploded and the backwards country road lit up with a fucking fireworks show.

The bang was enormously loud, cracking through the night like thunder, and with a front-row seat to the show, Tonks was momentarily blinded. That kind of light with their goggles adjusted for night flying? Not a good combination. Even several seconds after, she was still trying to blink the colour of pumpkin candies out of her eyes and the ability to see back in. That, and get that goddamn ringing out of her fucking ears.

Right before that blinding, deafening distraction, she thought she'd heard someone scream something along the lines of, “I'm tired and I don't deserve thiiiiis!” But if that was anyone's line, it was hers, and the voice had sounded way too shrill. Although why Tonks' imagination would come up with that instead of a terrible one-liner with at least one pun was an unsolvable mystery.

By the time Tonks could see and hear again, Captain Elena was shouting for Gwen to take care of Sloane and for Tonks to follow her after the goddamn car, which was gleefully fleeing down the road and already a ways away.

Tonks and the captain sped off at top speed, far faster without Gwen and Sloane slowing them down now. Tonks was more than a little bit ticked off and more than a little bit excited, and Captain Elena seemed the same way. Tonks could really, really honestly say she hadn't been expecting this when she'd stumbled into work the night-shift yesterday evening, but now they had an unknown witch or wizard (possibly also a werewolf), in possession of a body of status unknown, who had stolen an Auror Captain's car and was apparently prepared to fight for it.

Finally! Something exciting and interesting for once!

Captain Elena fired several spells to halt the vehicle and Tonks followed her lead. Unfortunately, most of them missed, because firing spells on a fast-moving broomstick wasn't the easiest thing in the world and the car was managing to dodge any that came close. And the closest most of the spells came was sparking down where the car had been a second ago, eating the driver's dust. But Tonks knew that it would be more difficult to the driver to dodge as they got closer, and she and Captain Elena were definitely gaining on the vehicle.

Tonks swore as a spell fired backwards towards them from the driver's window, with several others on its heels. It looked like a somewhat random assortment of spells, mostly Stunners and Body-Binds and nothing directly fatal or damaging. Tonks and the captain spun above and through the barrage with relative ease, still gaining on the car and firing back where they could.

“Tonks, focus on flying close and I'll cover you!” Captain Elena ordered finally, deflecting an Impedimenta with a flick of her wand. “Go!”

Tonks brought her wand-arm back in and pushed her broom faster, spinning around something that looked oddly like a Trip Jinx. She almost commented on the apparent niceness of the car thief, but then she suddenly had to dodge a weak Blasting Curse and an unstable Reductor Curse blazed only a couple feet past Captain Elena.

Okay, so not playing after all. And for someone firing backwards from a distance while driving, their accuracy was ludicrous. Had they practised this?

Another weak Blasting Curse was headed towards them, without much accuracy, and Tonks headed up out of the driver's sight and easy range to approach, trusting her captain to be able to handle herself. It was as she flew up that she noticed the smaller orange spell hiding in the trail of the first, much brighter and already crackling with another fireworks explosion. Tonks barely had time to shield herself and her senses before the country road lit up again, much less really register the scarlet spell behind the second orange fireworks that was headed directly for where Captain Elena was dodging.

Tonks looked up and behind her, senses saved and thankfully not having flown into any suddenly-appearing obstacles, to see her captain wandless and hanging from her broomstick, conscious and obviously unhappy. Oh, thank Merlin, only an unstable or overpowered Expelliarmus then.

It was then, of course, in her dumb moment of distraction, that her wand was tugged out of her hand by the familiar jerk of an Accio. It was one of the first things they learned in basic training and Auror training: to keep a firm grip on your wand or you were sure to lose it (and then get thrown out a window by Captain Mike or hexed by the likes of Mad-Eye Moody himself). But in Tonks' defence, she'd been worried for her captain and was kind of busy flying a broomstick at the moment.

Also in defence of her mad Auror skills, she dived straight after it with her arm outstretched, determinedly trying to perform a wandless Summoning Charm as she'd never tried to cast a spell before.

Her wand flew quick through the air, but the car was moving and Tonks was quick too. Down she dived after it, like she needed to win the Quidditch Cup for Hufflepuff or else the world would end and she'd never get another date ever again. She followed her wand at speed, around to the driver's side of the speeding car flying down the country road, her teeth gritted and her eyes fixed on her prize.

She snatched her wand out of the air only seconds before it would have zoomed into the open driver's window – lunging for it, rolling twice in midair, and spinning upright already firing a perfectly silent Expelliarmus aimed directly at the mysterious thief less than six feet away. Tonks had to immediately swerve away to avoid a road sign after firing it, but her aim was true and she saw the scarlet spell hit the driver out of the corner of her eye with no small amount of satisfaction.

(Internally, she was screaming, because that had been the coolest moment of her life, holy shit.)

At least, until she realized that the driver wasn't holding a wand to be disarmed of – their outstretched hand was an empty one – and the scarlet spell faded in an instant without having done anything. This was also when she got her first real look at the mysterious driver.

In an instant, she saw that they too were wearing goggles, but theirs were enormous and strange with many switches, and their dark eyes looked enormous through them. Behind the goggles, they looked scarily young (maybe only twelve or thirteen), like some kind of juvenile delinquent. They had dark hair and pale skin, and were wearing an oversized scarf and an oversized t-shirt. Also behind the goggles, they were goggling at her as they drove one-handedly, their right hand still stretched out towards her.

“Shit,” they said dazedly, “that was so cool.”

Then, “Levicorpus!” and a bright flash of light shot out of their goddamn hand.

Tonks had only mentally gotten to what the fuck before it hit her and she went flipping through the air, her broomstick flying off who the hell knew where as she was jerked up by her ankles. She was left dangling in the air, probably with at least a baby of a concussion by the pain in her neck and the general feeling that she'd just slammed head-first into a wall. And she was actually left in the car's dust too, as it and its mysterious, impossible driver zoomed away down the road and slowly out of Tonks' dizzy sight.

At least she'd managed to keep hold her wand this time, she told herself, trying valiantly not to throw up as she spun upside-down in the air. Now all she had to do was the impossible task of getting herself down without trying to break her neck any further. No solutions were immediately forthcoming, too busy making way for a massive headache, but she was pretty sure they'd covered this in Auror training so she'd probably manage eventually.

How to explain what the fuck had just happened to Captain Elena was another story entirely.

 

~ a terrible and treacherous betrayal

 

Teddy didn't even bother with heading towards London and just drove away as quickly as he could manage. The scenery blurred behind him as he rolled his window up, his heart racing and his blood pumping with what had just happened. Oh wow, wow, wow, no need for another Pepper-Up now!

He checked in the mirror again, but there was no sign of the people on broomsticks following him any farther. But since magical goggles had been known to make horrible mistakes when using mirrors, he chanced a real glance out the back window, efficiently also checking on his godfather for what was probably the thirtieth time in the last minute. He'd have to do something about any Tracking Charms they might have managed to tag the car with.

“Harry, oh Merlin, did you see t-?” Teddy started to ask, already turning back to the front before he'd even finished his sentence. He didn't manage to finish his sentence at all because while turning back around, he noticed something glowing very faintly on the floor of the back, barely catching it out of the corner of one goggled eye.

Teddy didn't exactly slam on the brakes again, but he slowed to a stop very quickly so he could fling himself around fully at the thing. He stared open-mouthed at a very faintly glowing high-heeled shoe for several moments before his eyes narrowed.

“You,” he said accusingly, summoning the focus to his hand. “This is your fault.”

He turned back around, rolled down the window again, and tossed the heel out the car window without further ado. Then he smugly rolled up the window, settled his hands on the wheel, and pressed down on the gas pedal again. They were off once more, and the scenery soon began to blur behind him.

After a few minutes of further fleeing, wondering what the hell had been with those people on broomsticks and how they'd managed to plant the shoe in his car, Teddy had a sudden epiphany. His realization came by remembering that the shoe had already been in the car when he'd taken it.

“You know, Harry,” he began weakly, “I think... well, this is going to sound really, really weird, but... I think this car might belong to someone.”

Harry didn't answer, and Teddy had never been so grateful for his godfather's unconsciousness before.

“...Today is just not my day, Harry. Not my day.”

 

 

Chapter Text

ACT II: THE BEGINNING

~ where am I and what time is it? ~ terrible things happen ~ meddler's mistake ~ the very different duel ~~ run, boy, run ~ keep moving, never stop moving ~ honey, there's a strange creature stealing our car! ~ who you gonna call? ~ might as well check it out ~ because it's not action without at least one car chase ~ might as well check it out, take two ~ broomsticks, aurors, and automobiles ~ a terrible and treacherous betrayal ~~ the city that never died ~ grim places and old faces ~ palmsee, palmsee, what do you see? ~ the ancient and noble house of Black ~ the man, the dog, and the door ~ dead men walking ~ prongslet and moonling ~ a walk towards the future ~

 

PART THREE

June 25th, 1995

 

~ the city that never died

 

Teddy was, on his own in an unfamiliar environment, admittedly and justifiably kind of a mess. But Teddy Lupin-Tonks was also nothing if not extremely adaptable, and quickly realized that he needed to slow down to blend with the crowd of cars that was slowly growing around him as the sun glimmered on the muggy horizon. He'd rather move a little slowly – even though he was so tired and it was driving him nuts – than get caught out of the herd, after all.

There was a bit of start and stop, literally, especially as he had to remove no less than four extremely sticky Tracking Charms from his borrowed-without-permission car, and stare at a few previously disregarded road signs with the bewildering idea that they actually meant something. (...Speed Limit? Please explain.) But with actually more than one frame of reference at a time, Teddy sat back, observed carefully, and, with a large amount of continuous stress and internal screaming, merged fairly seamlessly into the thickening flow of vehicles headed towards London, if he did say so himself.

He still got honked at several times for no clear reason, which was a terribly frightening experience, both at first and every other time it happened. Teddy had at first thought it was a signal of attack of some sort, but as he panicked through what to do, he realized that... nothing really happened. No one reacted in any way, and the person who'd honked at him almost immediately changed lanes without any other violent action. So he just tried not to repeat the things that got him honked at, feigned complete ignorance when he inevitably got honked at again, and... it all just seemed to work out.

The Pre-Sealing world was a weird place like that.

But it was also weird in so many other ways, too! There were so many cars and so many people! Just... so many people. They were everywhere! Everywhere! And so normal and non-magical-looking! All apparently going about their individual business without a care in the world, completely uninterested in the fact they were surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of potentially dangerous people. Enough of them to fill all the growing buildings he passed – people instead of monstrous infestations, how alien – and it gave new meaning to the word 'abandoned' that Teddy hadn't fully understood before.

Then, several long hours after the end of his chase with the sun now well up into the greyish sky, his unintentionally-borrowed car gave a hideous hiss, a snarling pop, and started pretending to be a snail. Teddy finally noticed the flashing lights on the dashboard – oh Merlin, those meant something too?! And he pulled out of traffic, though crawled was really the better word.

After a quick inspection as to the problem, Teddy gave a tired groan and thumped his head down onto the steering wheel, which made a sympathetically frustrated honk sound for him. He'd run out of gas. Bloody perfect.

He was now stopped on the side of the road, but all the other cars zoomed by without a second glance. Teddy would have thought that at least one of them might take the time to prey on someone so obviously stranded, but they still didn't seem to care. He was grateful, of course, because he was way too tired to get into a fight, but it was still horribly odd.

Teddy wished dearly, not for the first time, for a list of rules on navigating this world. A guide of some kind, just a small one. Which his godfather could be, if Harry would just wake up already instead of sleeping away in the back seat – Harry had even been snoring at one point, which had been relieving, heartening, and annoying all at once. At least Teddy’s godfather was probably okay, but bloody hell, Harry.

With another very, very tired sigh, Teddy unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his ladybug-patterned wellies. Once he'd fitted them on, he adjusted his goggles, removed the All-Purpose Picker from the ignition, fed the car-jacking tool to the purse wrapped around his waist, and clambered into the back seat with his godfather.

“I don't suppose you have any ideas for what to do now, Harry?” Teddy asked as he started undoing all the charms he'd cast on his godfather.

He frowned as the Cushioning and Sticking Charms seemed a little shaky, slightly unstable like they'd been poorly cast, and broke with a bit of a harsh snap instead of a fading sigh. He wasn't that tired, was he? Teddy rubbed his eyes, wobbled slightly, and then grimaced. Maybe he was.

“Whatever,” he muttered, and went about physically unbuckling Harry. “So no ideas then, Harry? Wonderful, me too. Which, you know, is your fault because I definitely inherited it from you. You need to be a better example for your really tired, impressionable godson. I should be the one sleeping right now.”

Teddy sat on the floor of the car, rubbed his eyes again, and whimpered. “Oh Merlin, I wanna be sleeping right now.” He hit his forehead against the edge of the back seat and moaned, “I dunno what to do now. What do I do now? Are we back to walking? We're back to bloody walking, aren't we? Ugh.”

They had to keep moving, after all, so Teddy cast a Featherlight Charm on Harry again, hefted his godfather over his shoulder again, made his absolute best effort at casting a few charms to keep them from being noticed unless anyone was really looking, and reached for the back door. With a bit of wriggling and Metamorphagus flexibility (not to mention height), Teddy managed to get them both out and slam the door shut with his hip.

With Harry flopped over one shoulder, Teddy reached up with his free hand to adjust his goggles to the daylight again, sighed once more for emphasis, recast his Finding Charm, and started walking down the side of the road.

“I hope you find your owner again,” Teddy said quickly to the really-only-borrowed-out-of-necessity car as he passed it. “You were pretty awesome – you know, up until now, at least. So thanks for everything. Sorry I can't return you. C'est la vie, right?” Several meters in front of the car, Teddy stopped and called over his free shoulder, “Good luck to you too, mate!”

Then he kept walking and commented to Harry, “What a nice car.” He pointedly ignored his godfather's silence, which he'd been doing for pretty much as long as he could remember, as well as the incredulous looks a few drivers gave him, hoping just for walking alongside traffic instead of the body slung over his shoulder, as they zoomed by. “So let's hope nobody tries to attack us and eat our faces, huh, Harry?

“I think we'll do like visits to the Black Market – don't talk to anyone, don't look at anyone, and always look like you actually know what you're doing and where you're going. I know, objectively, I'm actually the scariest monster out there – check out these fangs – but if anyone approaches me I'm not sure I can sound don't-touch-me-I-bite aggressive instead of out-my-wits terrified. I'm really tired; I might get the two confused. … D'you think it's possible to do both? I bet I can.”

And so, like he'd done over the country fields in the night, Teddy marched forward again. His trusty godfather over one shoulder, he followed his Finding Charm and the surprisingly helpful road signs. It would have been quite boring if not for all the sights and sounds around him, stuff he'd seen before but this time full of life and movement and people!

And also if not for how he never stopped being terrified, walking next to a whole bunch of very fast-moving vehicles and being constantly anxious that one of them might decide he looked like someone worth robbing. To comfort himself, Teddy talked to his unconscious godfather, until his voice was hoarse and his feet started aching again.

Wide, busy roads and houses soon turned into wide, extremely busy streets surrounded by crowding buildings, all squeezing and pushing for a bit of edge. Footpaths appeared soon enough, along with crosswalks and traffic lights that commanded the flow of the cars. Teddy approved of these changing lights greatly, having been fearing eventually having to cross these extremely busy streets, as they were very useful, clear in their function, and very easy to use. Very well done.

He got a lot of odd looks – confused, bewildered, surprised, amused, scandalized, and curious – but thankfully nothing seemed to stick. Teddy had already known that pretending everything was absolutely normal was a great way to get away with mischief, but this took it to a whole new level. He trudged along, ignoring everyone, hopefully letting his Notice-Me-Not Charm work its magnificent magic, fuelling it with a continuous, fearful litany of don’t look at me, I blend in, don’t look at me, and no one bothered him. It just worked out somehow, and Teddy didn't think he'd ever get over the weirdness of it. This never would have worked back home.

Another weird thing besides Teddy not being jumped by someone or something, was that all the people looked very strange. They looked... exactly how they did in books and photographs and movies. It felt almost like he'd stepped into a picture or comic book. No, it felt exactly like he'd stepped into a picture book, the next step to how it had felt with all those cottages in the countryside.

There were so many people in so many flavours – so much diversity and so many people to draw from, so many skin tones, hair colours, and even some tattoos and piercings – but they were all very non-magical. Teddy saw no magic happening, none whatever, nor any sign of it. No fur, no horns, no scales, no fangs. No runes, no moving pictures, no spells, no scent or sense of magic around him. There was a lot of gasoline stink, people stink, and perfume stink in the air, but no stink of werewolf, vampire, siren, or any other variation of magical person.

As if the lack of monsters and magical creatures wasn't strange enough!

Teddy walked and walked, gaping at all the sights and sounds, hyperventilating when any of them came too close to him. Thousands of cars seemed to pass him by as he navigated street after street, and he seemed to pass thousands of people – no two of them exactly alike. He stared at them all, and ogled the busy buildings they steamed to and from in particular, from the brightly lit shop-fronts to the decadently filled shop-windows. He tried to avoid crowded areas as much as possible, vigilant against being penned in and anyone who looked shifty, not wanting to push the limits of the charms he'd had to renew several times, but people were unavoidable. They were simply everywhere!

London was filled to the brim with people. It was awake and loud and crowded and busy! Nothing was broken, overgrown, rotted, crumbled, shattered, infested, melted, or any other horrible thing! The city was full! And whole! And just... alive! Still dirty, but in a much cleaner sort of way. Like it had never been emptied or abandoned or broken in the first place.

And like… it never ever would be.

It was like nothing Teddy had ever seen before – not in real life, at least – and even more than he had ever imagined it would be. There was no way that a fairy trap or poisonous hallucination was causing this, not only because it had been well-proven otherwise, but because Teddy simply didn't believe anyone or anything could craft this from his mind. It surrounded him completely, beat at his tired head with too many sharp details to look at all at once. He just didn't have it in him to make this; it felt too real, almost too real to be real.

It was as exciting as it was absolutely terrifying.

He wanted to go home.

 

~ grim places and old faces

 

Eventually, though, the streets of thick crowds and honking cars turned into slimmer, bending lanes and handful of people well-spaced. His Finding Charm began to change direction more quickly instead of barely shifting, and Teddy excitedly picked up the pace as he started to vaguely recognize parts of the neighbourhood. (And it was a neighbourhood actually filled with neighbours! How peculiar!)

It was quite different without any of the buildings being overgrown, rotted, infested, or in pieces, but Grimmauld Place still held a firm air of familiarly nevertheless.

Soon enough, he was standing in front of the looming brick of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place: the ancestral home of his godfather's godfather. It took a few moments for the gloomy home to appear in front of his eyes, because the place had some powerful Notice-Me-Not charms and defensive wards and whatnot even now, before the war and the Sealing. They were strong enough to make Teddy's nose itch, and the house probably would have eluded him if he wasn't exceedingly determined to make it show itself.

Teddy didn't come here to lose, after all – he never went anywhere to lose, thank you very much – and he would have glared at bloody nothing until he passed out if the house had been stubborn. He was his Granny's grandson through and through like that.

“Thank you,” Teddy muttered, and stomped up the front steps to the door.

He almost tried to turn the handle, he was so tired, but he remembered a breath away that this wasn't a Grimmauld Place that would recognize him. Upon actual inspection, which was a bit hard because his vision was a little fuzzy and he was a little wobbly because his feet were killing him, he found that the wards were exceedingly well-put together and... honestly? Just plain nasty. Like really, really vicious to anyone who tried to do more than ring the doorbell or knock on the door.

Teddy nearly burst into tears. He was tired and his feet hurt (ladybug wellies were not meant for long-distance hiking) and even his eyes hurt by this point! His godfather was bony and uncomfortable over his shoulder, and even the continuous Featherlight Charms didn't stop Harry from weighing something. Teddy had needed to switch shoulders and arms ten times so far. And all his limbs hurt bone-deep from being stretched out of shape for so long to carry Harry!

So he actually did burst into tears. Frustrated and exhausted and angry, he jammed a hand into the purse around his waist and rummaged around with the delicacy of a tiny whirlwind. Then without a sensible pause for consideration or even another thought, Teddy jammed the All-Purpose Picker into the heavy, antique keyhole and let it have it with an animalistic snarl.

When the whirling All-Purpose Picker started to make a high-pitched, banshee-shriek-down-a-chalkboard sound, Teddy's tired brain realized that this might, just maybe, have been a terrible idea.

And it was when the device started to smoke that Teddy ran for it.

With Teddy was down the stairs and several steps down the street, the All-Purpose Picker exploded with an enormous bang that echoed down the streets, accompanied by many splinters and a low, metallic thunk. When Teddy stopped wincing and turned around, he saw that there was a large, smoking hole where the doorknob and a good chunk of door had been. And the poor, overworked All-Purpose Picker was all the way across the street, wheezing sparks, half embedded in someone else's door. He winced again.

Then Teddy noticed that the few people on the street were gaping. Not at the missing chunk of Number Twelve's door, which was well-hidden under the wards and enchantments probably, but at the All-Pupose Picker in the door across the street. With a terrified, panicking eep sound, Teddy summoned the tool, and hurried towards the door.

Once on the step again, all the wide-eyed people seemed to lose sight of him entirely, blinked cloudy eyes a few times, and went to ooh and aah at the stab-wound in the door across the street. Then with one final wince at that damage, Teddy turned his attention to what the All-Purpose Picker and what it had done.

The device, which had used to resemble a very thick pen of sorts, was busted, well and truly. Where it was not hanging together by the bounce of its springs, it was cracked from lock-picking tip to the the end of its handle. Teddy spent far longer than he probably should have just staring at it – at the broken remains of his favourite gift from Uncle Lee – and had to quash the need to begin crying anew several times before he could look up at the door.

As far as he could tell through his aching, watery eyes and his goggles, there weren't any vicious curses on Number Twelve's entrance anymore. The nasty and painful wards were still there, of course, but a sizeable door-sized hole had been blown through them. Upon closer inspection of this break, flicking through several switches on his goggles, Teddy realized that the extremely unhappy wards were actually beginning to heal themselves at an increasing rate, flickering furiously as they recovered from the All-Purpose Picker's punch.

Teddy pushed hard at the heavy door, which resisted its forced opening but gave under Teddy's desperation with an ancient groan. It pettily threw up a huge amount of dust in doing so, and Teddy broke into harsh coughs, which had him putting his godfather down quickly so he could double over, finally shrink back to his real height, and try to beat back the clouds. Then several things happened very quickly:

First, the wards snapped shut with an angry hiss behind them. Second, a series of blood-curdling shrieks pierced the air from somewhere nearby. Third, the door tried to slam shut too, but wasn't particularly successful since it was missing the part that usually kept it closed. Fourth, Teddy was so startled that a) he dropped the All-Purpose Picker, b) tripped over the heavy doorknob now buried in the floor, c) screamed at the top of his hoarse little lungs, and d) fell head-over-heels into the carpet and threw up even more clouds of dust as he landed with a painful thump.

“FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU ATTEMPT TO TRESPASS THE ANCIENT AND NOBLE HOUSE OF MY ANCESTORS!” an all-too familiar voice screamed from down the hall, while Teddy coughed and blinked furiously on the dusty carpet. “DISHONORABLE WRETCHES! BEFOULING THIS PRECIOUS SANCTUARY OF PURITY! BEGONE, YOU FILTHY THIEVES!”

Teddy sat up with a groan, interspersed with a few more coughs, then called out down the hall to the portrait, “Hello to you, too, Grauntie Wally! I've missed you lots as well!”

Teddy had done no such bloody thing, but his Granny had taught him that the best way to handle her aunt's portrait was to act perfectly polite and friendly. It freaked the painting out.

And 'lo and behold, Grauntie Walburga's portrait was blessedly silent. With bewilderment, probably.

“Just forgot my keys!” Teddy called out cheerfully, picking himself off the floor. His vision turned into black spots for several moments and he wobbled the nearest wall to keep himself upright until his sight came back. “Had a bit of trouble with the door. You don't mind if we crash here for a bit, do you?

“I mean, you've got plenty of space! Lots of free bedrooms for your family members to use for a couple days!” Teddy continued, dusting off his precious Weird Sisters shirt and resisting tears while he fed the broken All-Purpose Picker to his purse. “We're not even imposing, really. And it's not like anyone's living here anyway, right, Grauntie? I know t-”

Teddy trailed off and his eyes went wide behind his goggles, as he'd looked up from his clothes and laid sight on a figure that was even more familiar to him than the hated portrait. They were standing in the middle of the dusty hallway, smaller than Teddy but hunched over like a tiny old man. It was a house elf. With a bulbous, snout-like nose, bloodshot eyes that were wide in surprise, and a filthy pillowcase-like thing for clothes.

“...Kreacher,” Teddy said hoarsely, voice strained more from surprise than his exhaustion or the dust around him. He looked the stunned elf up, then down, then straight in the eyes.

“You don't have your locket,” Teddy observed matter-of-factly, followed by, “and you're not dead.”

And then he fainted.

 

~ palmsee, palmsee, what do you see?

 

Mike Palmsee awoke at the perfectly respectable hour of five in the afternoon, which was much better than five in the evening in his opinion, which everyone of course knew occurred only in the winter season. He awoke groggily, with all the grace of a disgruntled bear that deeply regretted every responsibility it had ever had. He spent a good five minutes unconsciously searching for his wife, his wand, or something along those lines, before he remembered that his wife was at work, his wand was in the pocket of his Auror robes, and that he really ought to just defenestrate the next person who suggested he work the night-shift again.

He stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom, splashed his face with cold water, admired the full beard he'd managed to grow due to laziness and not-paying-attention, and stumbled back out. He considered changing into something that weren't the office clothes he'd put on yesterday, decided not now, plucked his wand out of the robes on the end of the bed, and pulled on his bathrobe instead.

Then he thumped downstairs for a good old night-shift Auror's breakfast: coffee and whatever required as little effort as possible.

Mike wished he could have been surprised when he found his sister, the elder sibling by only eleven damn months, sitting on his sofa like a conquering empress. She was wearing her owl-print pyjamas, her short hair was wrapped up in one of his wife's towels, and she was eating ice cream straight out of the tub.

He wished, because this was not the first time this had happened.

“Chrissy is out back trying to find werewolf prints, Janet needs an Apparition pick-up in an hour, and a letter from Tina promises that she'll find out everything she can about the Triwizard Tournament mess,” Ellie reported. “Fudge has gone over Scrimgeour's head on everything involved.”

“Don't you have a house and a wife of your own to go home to?” Mike demanded, making for the kitchen. The pot of coffee already made and still warm, he would always swear, was the only reason he didn't throw Ellie out on her ass when they worked the night-shift together.

“Saoirse's at her mother's this week,” Ellie reminded him, unashamedly digging into the colourful container and pulling out an even more colourful spoonful of ice cream. She eyed the questionable substance like this was a crime scene, then shoved it in her mouth, and asked past the cold goop, “Why do you even keep buying this stuff?”

Because he was hoping that keeping their freezer full of only Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Ice Cream – while having a secret ice box of actually edible ice cream in the basement – would one day convince Ellie to stop crashing his place and raiding his kitchen. It hadn't worked yet, despite the fact that Bertie Bott really did mean every flavour, even when it came to ice cream. Some part of Mike, probably the part with his Sight, knew that it was never work, but a man could live in hope and fascinated horror.

Instead of saying any of that, though, he watched Ellie scoop up a particularly green spoonful and demanded of her the real question here: “Why do you keep eating it?”

Ellie ate the green spoonful, made a face out of a medieval art piece, and shook like a leaf that'd just had a man walk over its grave. “Ugch,” she said, and followed it up with, “I live a dangerous life of chance and fate.”

“Uh huh,” Mike said, collecting his coffee and a file out of his briefcase, wondering how in the hell Ellie could reasonably make fun of him for his book collection with lines like that. He moved out of the kitchen, dropped the open file onto the coffee table, dropped himself into his favourite chair, kicked his feet up, and then took a well-deserved sip. “I heard.”

Ellie groaned and dropped her head back against the sofa. “I don't even know where to begin with today.”

“How about you just try and I'll ask questions if I get lost,” Mike suggested.

Ellie sighed, but relented. “I used one of Janet's shoes to find its sibling still in the car,” she began, stabbing her spoon into the ice cream. “Sloane and Robards Junior don't have their Apparition perfected, so we followed by broomstick, quickly found the vehicle speeding along a country road, and surrounded it. When I made to stop the vehicle, the driver swerved out of the way and sped up.”

“Maybe your aim's just not what it used to be,” Mike said cheerfully.

It might have been a minor miracle that Ellie didn't throw the tub of the world's most disgusting ice cream at his head.

“Go to hell,” Ellie snapped, shoving a bright pink spoonful into her mouth. “The driver proceeded to enact evasive manoeuvres and hit Sloane with a bad Stunner. Robards Junior had to Apparate her to Saint Mungo's and the mediwitch said it was one of the most unstable castings they'd ever seen. She'll be in there for a week just to make sure everything's fine!

“And have you ever tried to hit a moving car while on a broomstick?” Ellie demanded, furiously shoving more garishly coloured spoonfuls of ice cream into her mouth. “Maybe your aim's just not what it used to be, huh, you git?”

Mike leaned forward and frowned at the files. According to various reports, Robards Junior's quick response meant that Sloane would be ultimately fine, and that the unknown driver had been throwing around unstable spells like bad magic was going out of style. “Didn't you get hit by an overpowered Disarming Charm?” he asked, studying his elder sister with concern. “Are you alright?”

Instead of waving a yellowish spoonful around with careless reassurances, Ellie shoved the ice cream into her mouth and sullenly said, “...No.”

“Ellie, what the hell-!”

“Sit down, Mike! I'm fine! No, as in, 'I didn't get hit!'”

Mike grudgingly sat back down, scanning the files again. “Tonks was pretty sure you did.”

“Tonks is in a bed next to Sloane, with the most impressive concussion I've ever seen,” Ellie retorted, finally leaning forward to get a look at the files Mike had dumped on the coffee table. “You made Robards Junior get reports off Tonks and Sloane in their hospital beds? Damn.”

Mike shrugged unapologetically. “They needed to stay conscious anyway,” he rationalized, sitting back and taking another long sip of his coffee, over which he stared at his sister. “So if you didn't get hit by that bad Disarmer, when your own report says otherwise, explain to me how the hell you still ended up wandless and hanging one-handedly from your broomstick.”

“...I had a Vision.”

“And?”

Ellie did her own impression of a disgruntled bear. “I had several Visions, and through one of them... I Saw myself getting hit, so I... threw my own wand away and fell off my broom. Unintentionally. ... Mike. Mike, if you laugh, I'll defenestrate you-!”

Mike was too busy laughing his arse off to pay attention to his sister's threats. He laughed so hard that he spilled coffee on his bathrobe and had to wipe away an actual tear from the corner of his eye.

“Alright, alright, I can see why you reported you got hit,” he said, then sighed, “Scrimgeour would leap on that in an instant.”

Their boss didn't trust Divination at all, and while he seemed to tolerate Mike's supposedly 'practical' use of it, Ellie walked a fine line of irresponsibility in his eyes with her blatant use of 'flimsy nonsense any wizard on the street could make up'. Divination in Britain, especially among the mainly male DMLE, was very much considered an unreliable, unstable witch's' art. It was a hobby for housewitches, and there was usually much joking about intoxication.

Mike got away with the strongly discouraged methods partly because he was over six feet tall, built and bearded, and looked the part of a tough Auror Captain. But Rufus Scrimgeour didn't think that Elena Palmsee looked as trustworthy and reliable in the eyes of the courts and the press as her brother; his respect was conditional like that.

However, it was extremely worrying and dangerous for Ellie to have a Vision in the middle of action. That was a liability in the field, for everyone, and Mike wouldn't approve anyone prone to Visions going out into the field, including himself and his sister.

But the Palmsees weren't actually prone to being overwhelmed by their Sight – they usually had to go looking for the Currents and Streams, and were extremely well-trained and well-practised in doing so. Even if they experienced an unwanted burst of their Senses, he and Ellie could suppress those like second nature now. And those Warnings weren't all that common for them, and a good step below actual Visions with a capital V.

“So this is a 'trying to figure out my Visions' ice cream breakdown,” Mike said, trying to recall the last time either of them had had a Vision. He remembered his own significant ones – the ones surrounding the important people in his life like his ex-wife, his daughter, his son, Janet, or Ellie herself – but he thought his last one had been about sandwiches. Not exactly very relevant.

Ellie made a vaguely bitter laugh. “I had a Vision,” she said loftily, raising an orange spoonful like a toast, “it was confusing as all hell, and the answers will be definitely be found at the bottom of this ice cream tub.” She shoved the spoonful in and sighed. “Mike, I don't know what I Saw.”

“No one ever does. How about you just try and I'll ask questions if I get lost.”

“I'm fracturing,” Ellie said flatly. “I start at the Auror Office and I stay there all night, doing paperwork and arguing with the MLE Patrol gits. We never get a call from Chrissy and Janet, except that I fracture, and we do. You go investigate, I stay at the office all night doing paperwork. Except that I don't, adjust, you stay, I go with some Juniors and track the car. We stop it, no, adjustment, we don't; I get hit, adjustment: I don't. It's a split-second of several possible could-have-beens.”

Mike frowned and leaned back, because that was... that's the strangest Vision he'd ever heard of… including his sandwiches one. Most Visions followed a single possible path, following it through with varying degrees of clarity, and usually pointed to the future instead of the past. Mike had never heard of a Vision where someone experienced several possible paths their past few hours could have taken.

It's not all that impossible, because the Steams and Currents shifted and separated all the time, with every decision made and action taken, but... it's still odd. A Vision so mixed sounded more like several Visions, all smashed into one.

“But that's not where the Vision ends. That's just the past, then it goes further,” Ellie continued with a frustrated growl. “They get longer, more drastically different. I come home from the office, where I've been all night, I go to sleep, and you tell me right about now that Janet's car was stolen in the night.

“You come back from investigating instead of me. Sloane and Tonks are fine, but Robards Junior is in Saint Mungo's. Scimgeour has to step in to stop her furious father from trying to start a duel, you curse Gawain out a window when he tries to curse my back. The Auror Office is thrown into chaos.

“We manage to stop the car. In approaching it, I get a handful of black dust in my face and Tonks takes a Stunner. Brief firefight. Ultimate conclusion is Robards Junior and Sloane rushing both me and Tonks to Saint Mungo's. Driver escapes. I'm fine; Tonks isn't.

“I get hit by the Disarmer... I'm in Saint Mungo's again. … I'm not fine.”

Mike tried not to gape and failed. “...What the hell?”

“Don't ask me, I just had the damn thing,” Ellie said, fiddling with something up her sleeve. She tossed something small and bronze into Mike's lap. “Take a look at that and you figure it the hell out.”

Mike looked at what she'd thrown him. It was Yaya's not-watch again, only instead of having both the black and white sides of the scale unnaturally bent down, the scale's arms were straight again and moving. Tick, tock, back and forth, the scale alternated between two extremes. – white down and black up, then black down and white up. Not violently, but almost... almost indecisively.

“What the hell, Ellie?” Mike repeated.

Ellie sighed. “Have you checked the Currents lately? The Streams? Fast-moving, forceful, and busy, right? … I think something extremely effective is happening,” she said, “something big has happened and is still happening, and everything's trying to adjust accordingly. But it can't really, because paths are fracturing and it can't calm down while it's still being stirred up.”

That would definitely account for most of Mike's interactions with his Senses for the past while. Moving strangely, and strongly enough to give headaches if he pushed himself too far.

“And the car thief is somehow connected to this?” he asked. They seemed to be. “Do you think they're the cause of the fracturing somehow?”

“Since I had the overwhelming bloody Vision while chasing them, I'd say so. Let's just hope the git stops doing whatever the hell they're doing and lets us all take a breather,” Ellie said with a scowl. “I'm not wading back into the Currents until they've stopped being rapids.”

“Headaches?”

“They're the worst.”

“I'm missing parts of my potion cabinet, aren't I?”

“I'll have Saoirse make you more,” Ellie said carelessly, before her expression turned a little grim. “I don't know what we'll get when things clear up, but I'm not letting this git get away with cursing my team and raising all kinds of hell.”

“I think if they were actually raising hell, we'd know about it,” Mike commented mildly, summoning over the coffee pot either for a refill or to drink the whole thing. “I haven't exactly seen any Demons about, have you? Any wellbells ringing?”

Ellie looked at him. “...Mikey,” she said very seriously, “if you've jinxed us, I'm cursing you out the nearest window.”

“You can try,” Mike replied. “Where's this letter from Tina? I'm not letting this Tournament mess go even if I have to shake Amos down for information. A ritual that complex and powerful has to be involved in all this somehow, especially going the way it has.”

“Might as well check it out,” Ellie agreed, “just in case.”

Mike nodded, checking over his own 'wristwatches' and banishing the coffee pot back to the kitchen.

“And isn't that poor Potter kid of a part of it?” he asked. “Right mess, with that bloody Skeeter woman and her hell quill involved. No wonder Fudge is sticking his wand into it. I bet you ten Galleons that the Tournament and your driver are somehow connected.”

“No bet. I haven't taken leave of my Senses.”

“You're eating Bertie Bott's ice cream, you don't get to say that.”

 

June 26th, 1995

 

~ the ancient and noble house of Black

 

Harry awoke with a start, sitting bolt-upright, with a curse tingling on his fingers before the dancing spots left his eyes and he realized that there was nothing to curse. No Dark Lords, no Dark Followers. He was no longer in the crumbling Once-Ministry of Magic, but in… a small, perfectly peaceful bedroom.

Hmm.

The room was poorly lit by a tall window with long curtain, and had likely been long abandoned by the thick dust and the moth-eaten quality of the bedspread he was sitting on. With the world quiet and no apparent danger – a quick spell to reveal any presences turning up nothing – Harry ignored his surroundings in favour of the person sprawled and breathing softly next to him.

Investigations were secondary to his godson.

Harry was so very relieved to see Teddy sleeping safely next to him that he thought he might reach a heart-attack from the other side. He immediately went about making sure that his godson really was sleeping safely. Harry cast several basic scanning spells – tired but ultimately fine, thank Merlin – and resolved to let Teddy sleep for now, but to get some food into the boy as soon as possible.

His godson was incredibly pale and looked absolutely exhausted. Teddy had grey bags under his eyes, and his hair had turned light brown and limp – the most obvious sign of an unconscious little idiot. He didn’t react at all as Harry turned him over and checked his eyes.

Teddy looked very much like a small version of the late Remus Lupin at the moment, Harry mused with a faint smile and old melancholy as he turned over Teddy's hands to check for spell burns.

None at all, but if Teddy’s general aura – tangible to Harry if he focused very carefully – was anything to go by, his godson had been very busy since the Once-Ministry.

Harry checked himself over and found nothing odd or dangerous. Similar to Teddy, he was exhausted – he could tell anyone that without a spell – but otherwise he was fine. Or he was alive and not-dying, at least. He’d be fine after he calmed down a bit, ate, slept, and figured out what was going on.

Harry remembered Voldemort's overdue death, Teddy's reappearance even after Harry had told him to leave, the explosion of that strange storage cupboard, and then... nothing. No matter how badly he wracked his mind for answers, Harry had no memory of anything after that painful avalanche of green goop and gold dust. He’d been in the collapsing halls of what had used to be the Ministry of Magic, and now he was here, with no in-between.

So that begged a question: where was here exactly?

Leaving Teddy to his sleep, Harry carefully moved to the edge of the bed and looked around the room. It seemed familiar somehow, for a deeper reason than its abandoned appearance. Harry had been to many places over the years, all within the boundaries of Britain’s Sealing, but there was something more to this place… to this room. It didn’t just look familiar, it felt so too.

Carefully, he roamed his tired eyes over the walls for some understanding. They were plastered in pictures from top to bottom, some moving and some not, and the wallpaper was barely visible underneath it all.

And was that a Gryffindor House banner? Merlin, Harry hadn’t seen one of those for a while.

He approached the walls, inspecting the pictures. There were lots of still images of attractive, nearly nude women and motorcycles, cut-outs from magazines probably. The combination tugged at the edges of Harry’s sluggish mind – permanent rebellion, stuck forever fast, an old familiar scene from a long-forgotten dream, perhaps – as he turned his attention on the moving magical photographs. These appeared more personal, and would hopefully give Harry some indication as to where he was.

He saw… four boys. Boys, not men, Harry had been fighting a war long enough to be able to tell the difference. And they were soft children, too. Bright-eyed boys who would welcome whatever unknown tomorrow brought, did not have waking nightmares stuck behind their eyes, and had been caught in a moment of pure happiness and good health.

He saw… a tall and gangly boy… wearing Harry’s face a little too sharply and hiding it behind a pair of rectangular glasses. The boy was laughing wildly, using Harry’s own smile to do it, but there was no lightning-bolt scar on his forehead beneath his untidy bedhead of dark hair.

He saw… another even taller and even ganglier boy… hunched in on himself slightly, but smiling broadly, stretching all the faint scars on his face in his amusement. He had a sickly paleness and shabby robes, but gentle eyes and a warm light to him despite both.

He saw… a smaller and pudgier boy… beaming with pride, beady eyes quickly checking over the other three and their delight. He looked healthy and happy, comfortable and content, and almost entirely unfamiliar in this unseen form.

He saw… another tall boy, broad and handsome… wearing his mirth like a comfortable crown or a favourite suit. The boy had long, dark hair and a remarkably healthy glow, neither pale nor gaunt nor tired, so full of happiness and potential that it almost hurt to look at.

Harry’s eyes were almost uncomfortably wide. He had not seen any of these men in about a decade, not outside of memories and photographs exactly like this one. James Potter had died in 1981 at the hands of Voldemort; Sirius Black had died in 1996 at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange and the Veil; Peter Pettigrew had died in 1998 by his own silvery hand, choked by his own betrayals; and Remus Lupin, Teddy’s late father and the last Marauder, had died the same night as his wife, defending his one-year-old son, in 1999.

(The parallels there were… uncomfortable.)

Harry looked again around the room that shouldn’t be. The pictures made it obvious: this room – at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place – had once belonged to Sirius Black. He and Teddy were in Sirius’ old room at Grimmauld Place. Sirius’ old room, specifically, because this was not the bedroom that Harry knew. This was not the Grimmauld Place he knew.

The moth-eaten curtains and bedspread, along with the heaps of dust and old papers strewn about, screamed of abandonment, but Harry and company had not been away from Grimmauld Place this long. This state said the room had suffered years without a resident, yet Kreacher hadn’t been dead long enough for Grimmauld Place to seemingly return to what it had been before it had been Harry’s – before the Order of the Phoenix had ever stepped foot inside these walls.

And where were Teddy’s belongings and posters? Sirius’ room was Teddy’s room whenever they stayed here – Harry had long-since thought of it as his godson’s room instead of his godfather’s – and Teddy was excellent at personalizing his spaces. The walls should be covered in inspiring illustrations pulled from fantasy and children’s books, posters and paintings randomly collected as a scavenger, entire comic books, old Ministry wanted posters of Harry and company, banners from all four Houses and an endless number of old Quidditch teams, and Teddy’s own drawings. A lot of it had been packed up recently, of course, but there should still be a few familiar papers on the walls.

Harry had started the wallpaper of papers, grabbing a bunch of space posters with nebulae and planets, and using charms to paste them to the walls so Teddy could move in. Hermione and Andy would have had him hung, drawn, and quartered if he’d left his impressionable godson to a room with nearly nude girls in bikinis everywhere. Teddy had a tendency to… copy people… when he was bored.

How was Harry in a room that hadn’t existed in well over a decade?

It couldn’t be some enchantment or hallucination, or even a memory. There was none of the clumsy haziness or blurred edges that Harry could recognize in an instant, no shift in perceptions or senses that didn’t quite align right. No enchanter, no plant, no potion, and no creature that Harry knew of could weave a false reality without flaws – there was always something: one fatal flaw that broke suspension of disbelief. Harry knew what to look for… and he couldn’t find anything.

His magic was as sluggish as the rest of him, but it answered when he called it. Harry cast a few basic spells – Finite Incantatum, Lumos, Nox – and they all worked as they should, despite the familiar off-balance feeling Harry got after over-exerting himself. Magic was the hardest part to get right in false realities, and Harry had never once seen it perfected.

So this was real, then.

How did he and Teddy go from the Once-Ministry to some replication of an older Grimmauld Place? Why would anyone want to recreate Sirius Black’s old bedroom in Grimmauld Place? Who would have the knowledge to make a place like this? The Order of the Phoenix and the Black Family were all but dead, including Kreacher.

At least it had been old age that had gotten the loyal elf in the end.

“But why apparently long-abandoned?” Harry muttered confusedly, sitting back down on the bed and putting his head in his hands. Why would someone go to all the trouble to recreate Sirius’ room and have moth-eaten curtains and layers of dust an inch thick?

His head ached, his limbs were shaky, and he felt as though he was on the edge of fainting. Maybe he was enchanted or hallucinating. Harry had never heard of someone experiencing a perfect false reality due to a combination of magical exhaustion, thirst, and hunger – great, a panging stomach was exactly what he needed right now – but there was a first time for everything.

Harry wondered what his life would be like if contained less ‘first times for everything’. Probably much more peaceful, much less stressful, and generally a lot better.

He could bemoan the sorry state of his existence later, though. Right now, he’d better find out what was happening and see if he couldn’t contact Ron or Hermione for a pick-up. At the very least, he ought to find some decent food and water for him and Teddy, especially if they were going to be stranded for the next while.

The floor showed no footprints besides his own. There were no disturbances in the dust besides those Harry had made recently made himself and the sweep of a swinging door. So he and Teddy had been levitated onto the bed, then. Since Teddy was not very good at levitating himself and other people at the same time, and since Harry had no memory of levitating them into this place, Harry assumed that an unknown individual had placed them here.

Harry refocused himself and stretched out his senses and a few spells. This was a house, definitely, tightly surrounded by very familiar, very unhappy, protective but imprisoning wards. This recreated Grimmauld Place apparently even had the same base wardwork to it, the same magical echoes of the Black Family, and the same Dark taint that had always clung to the original. The wards also felt extremely grumpy and unfriendly, which was an odd shift in perspective for someone who was the master of Grimmauld Place – so this definitely could not be his Grimmauld Place.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this unknown but familiar house with its unfriendly but familiar wards was empty of significant presence besides Harry and Teddy. There were a few skitters and bumps that Harry put down as newborn or weak magical creatures – probably the small herbivore or omnivore pests that tended to pop up no matter how many traps one set, easily dealt with and usually scared of pretty much everything – and a few hisses and whines from what felt like Dark artefacts and enchantments, but no one else.

So there was no one and nothing to stop him from doing some exploring, then.

 

~ the man, the dog, and the door

 

It was mid-afternoon on a Monday, so the street of Grimmauld Place was relatively unpopulated despite the dull roar of London all around it. There was no one really out and about to pay any attention to the tired, raggedy man and the black, scruffy dog who appeared rather suddenly. No one to really notice how they seemed to step out both from around the corner and from thin air.

At a glance, no one would have given the pair a closer look. It was a man walking his dog and nothing more. The well-practised and almost carelessly elegant Notice-Me-Not and similar charms around them only confirmed this idea: it was just a man and the man’s best friend.

At a more discerning and longer look, a person would have noticed that the man’s rumpled clothing wasn’t exactly of the usual fashions. And that the dog didn’t have any sort of collar or leash. If they were a person with a peculiar set of knowledge, they would probably recognized the man as a wizard and the large dog as a terrible omen of death.

But on the mid-afternoon of Monday, June 26th, 1995, no one on Grimmauld Place or anywhere else noticed any such thing.

And so the man and the dog were able to walk all the way up to where Number Twelve was, unnoticed and undisturbed. The apparently one-sided conversation went entirely uninterrupted as the man systematically and tiredly berated the dog for trying too many risky stunts on whims. Even the dog did not really seem to notice the conversation the man was having with it, or it was at least pretending not to through a rather acrobatic performance of selective hearing.

They stopped in front of Number Twelve and waited for the proud townhouse to appear. It was very obvious when they caught finally sight of the door, because the man immediately trailed off and the dog’s eyes went wide. While the house as a whole could be missed.... once it appeared, it would be very hard not to notice the large, sooty hole where the doorknob ought to be.

After a bit of staring, the dog looked over and up at his companion. Pointedly. This look was followed by an impressively smug expression for a canine face.

The man looked back. “Fine, you told me so,” he said, drawing a wand from inside his jacket. His weariness seemed to disappear under something fiercer. “Don’t let it go to your oversized head.”

 

~ dead men walking

 

It took a bit of manoeuvring and a handful of charms, but Harry managed to get his sleeping godson on his back so they could tour this fake Grimmauld Place. Harry refused to leave Teddy unattended, and he could handle himself just fine both when faintly exhausted and with a kid clinging to him, so long as the pests he could sense didn’t suddenly turn into anything truly dangerous.

Harry waved the dust back over his footprints as he walked, Teddy breathing softly in his ear, and admired how detailed the fake Grimmauld Place looked. It was less clean and more broken down than Harry vaguely remembered it to be when he first saw it, but everything was perfect besides some misplaced furniture and some unfamiliar artefacts that were practically radiating Dark magic. And by ‘admired’, Harry actually meant that he was becoming increasingly unnerved by the identical sign declaring Regulus’ room, the familiar sleeping faces of various Black ancestors, and the detail of the carpet down to the last dusty swirl.

When Harry got down to the first floor, the only things he’d encountered were a few tiny Doxies that fled immediately, and a few bumps in the shadows that skittered away too. He assumed that his silent, unhurried movement and lack of interest in their nests meant he was more of a curiosity than a threat at the moment.

More of a curiosity than a threat at the moment ’ summed up this whole fake Grimmauld place fairly well, actually.

Harry found himself stopping near the end of the front hall, staring in disturbed bemusement at the closed curtains of Walburga’s portrait. Even this was perfect, from the quality of the curtains only being slightly moth-eaten at the ends, to the visible parts of the frame being the only thing in the whole house that had been recently cleaned.

Harry was almost tempted to push aside the curtains and wake the portrait up, to see if this fake Grimmauld Place’s Walburga Black would scream and shriek just like the real one had – at least, before Teddy and Andy had started being bewildering friendly to it. But he didn’t want to wake Teddy up unnecessarily, if the portrait did start shouting about bloodtraitors and filth, and Harry’s exhaustion and the confusion of this place had left him with a faint headache that he didn’t want to make worse.

The most important thing were finding out where they were, how to get out of here and meet up with the others, and finding food and water. Harry moved on to find at least one of those. Preferably the last by the dryness of his mouth and ache in his head. He could tempt the temper of a portrait later.

Harry carefully made his way to the kitchen, avoiding disturbing any nests or curses. The kitchen was exactly where it ought to have been, except it looked far different from anything that Harry remembered; the dark room was filthy, filled with cobwebs and dust and old grease, and missing almost everything. There was no food, little furniture, and only one pot on a pitch black, ancient stove, both of which looked like they had seen better decades. The cupboards looked rusted or glued shut, and Harry very dearly hoped not for good reason.

Clearly, this was a kitchen that had never in its life met Molly Weasley.

Harry stared for a moment, then decisively beckoned a dining chair out from the table. He cleared it of as much dust as would leave with a wave of his hand, cast a Cushioning Charm, and carefully placed Teddy into its rickety care.

His godson snorted some of the dust away and curled himself into the seat, but didn’t wake, giving only an incomprehensible murmur – it sounded a little bit like, “Didn’t do it, I swear,” which made Harry snort too, but in amusement. Then Teddy disappeared under his ragged black cloak, like a bird tucking under its wing, and slept.

With a groan, Harry straightened and stretched, then wandered over in the direction of the sink. It was a bit moldier than Harry would have liked, but a few waves and mutters took care of the worst surrounding the tap, and he’d really seen and drank from worse. So much worse.

Harry then glanced at the cupboards, and struggled through his headache to debate whether or not he wanted to chance it. He couldn’t sense anything in there, but he could be fooled and miss things, and didn’t want to have to fight anything if he disturbed a nest or pocket dimension. He also didn’t want to drink out of a cup that had been sitting abandoned in a cupboard for ten or twenty years, so… no.

Wandering back over to his godson, Harry lifted up Teddy’s black cloak and carefully removed the purse that Teddy was curled around. Teddy mumbled something again, this time something about responsibility and something not being his job, but still didn’t wake. Harry lowered the cloak again and crept back over to the sink, so he could rummage around for Teddy’s water bottle.

“…Ow,” he said mildly, when his godson’s purse defended itself and its contents. Harry let go with his left hand, and he lifted his right hand up so that he could stare the accessory in the metaphorical face, then said very flatly, “I sat on you once – two years ago, by accident. It has never happened since; I have apologized countless times; this has got to stop.”

The purse’s flap ignored this argument and kept gnawing viciously on his arm. It might have been able to do some damage if it tried to strangle him like a constrictor, but it persisted in trying to bite off any limb that dared to get into range, despite how it was made entirely of soft materials and had been repeatedly reminded that it had no teeth.

Hermione had supposed it might be a form of affection, as the purse frequently lovingly chewed on Teddy’s limbs, but Harry knew she was wrong. Firstly, she said it with a smirk and he was pretty sure she was laughing at him (Ron definitely did, the arse; Harry not being able to get along with his godson’s purse so matter how hard he tried was not that funny). And secondly, Harry had been through enough to know the difference between consuming with love and trying hatefully to bite all his fingers off so they could spit them at his face. This was definitely the latter.

It didn’t actually hurt – not at all – but Harry was tired, his headache was getting worse through all this dark and dust and confusion, and he wasn’t much in the mood to argue with an animate object.

“Look,” Harry said, after giving a very tired sigh, “I just need a water bottle.”

The purse kept ignoring him and continued its hunt for blood.

“It’s for Teddy,” Harry said.

The purse paused, then got in a final vicious gnaw before letting go. It dropped to the kitchen floor, where it landed with a soft thwap and a cloud of dust, and spat Teddy’s water bottle out at Harry’s feet like an insult. Harry looked between the purse and the bottle, then sighed and obligingly bent down to pick both up. He could have summoned the pink bottle to his hand, but then the purse would have pouted at him, instead of having a smug and superior flop to its body language for making him bend down to pick something up.

“You are cruel and devious,” Harry wryly informed the bag as he placed it on the ancient dining table.

Harry wandered back over to the sink and sighed with relief when water dribbled out as he turned the tap. He held Teddy’s water bottle under, glad for the runes carved between yellow butterflies that lit up as it began to fill – his concentration was shot at the moment, and he would much rather lean on the counter and grit his teeth than try to cast any more magic.

He groaned quietly. Maybe he was more exhausted than he’d thought, or suffering aftereffects from his battle with Voldemort… or from whatever had happened in between his victory and now. Whatever the case, he needed to find a way out and back to the others as soon as possible.

With one hand to his aching head, Harry reached out with the other and turned off the tap, then took a blissful sip of water. It was clear and cool and felt ridiculously good, washing away all the dryness of the handful of sand he’d apparently swallowed. Harry then capped the water bottle and turned around, considering through his headache whether it was worth dragging Teddy out from his bundle of cloak to drink something.

Somewhat distracted, Harry was startled and confused when he came face to face with the tip of a wand. It had been ages since he’d been in such a vulnerable situation without someone watching his back, and quite a time since he’d been caught unaware by anyone at all, so it took him a split second longer than his usual split second to follow the wand back to its owner.

Perhaps partly because Harry hadn’t really seen anyone using a real, professional-wandmaker-made wand in quite a time – it’d been ages since he’d seen someone who’d actually found a wand, both willing to work with them and without them burning it out. This looked… genuine. Antique.

Harry followed the wand back to its owner, perfectly ready to ignore his headache and scare or curse the person away. But as he looked at the stranger’s face, he then really saw them – a face that he hadn’t seen outside of photographs in thirteen years. His intentions to attack momentarily laid forgotten as he stared in wonder and horror at a dead man, someone he’d loved so very dearly and lost so quickly.

“…Sirius?” Harry said, before he could stop himself.

Sirius Black stared back at him, seeming equally stunned at this meeting. Harry could barely remember what exactly his godfather had looked like just before he died – he had no real photographs of Sirius after Azkaban – but this man… he looked perfect for the role… just as Harry remembered and imagined. Gray-eyed and handsome and tall, but ragged and gaunt, his long hair matted and his clothes loose on the too-thin frame of a hungry man, aged beyond his thirty-odd years.

Sirius Black stared back at him, wide-eyed and bewildered and starving, and then said very quietly, on a fearful breath, “…James?”

And Harry snapped out of his pause, because that was just a touch too real and far too far over the line. Harry pushed through all his surprise at seeing a person he’d loved so very dearly and lost so quickly. Because how dare anyone do this? How dare anyone do this to him? Harry quickly bypassed surprise and fell into a deep and unforgiving anger.

Teddy maybe might have tried something like this, on his cheekier and more immature days, but a flickering glance revealed that the lump of his cloak-covered godson had not moved. Harry liked to think that Teddy knew better than to impersonate the dead by now, anyway. That Harry and Ron and Hermione, and Andy and many others, had taught Teddy that that was a step over the wrong line.

So that meant that there was someone else who was daring to wear Harry’s late godfather’s face, who was daring to call Harry by his late father’s name, and was daring to step between Harry and his godson and point a wand at him like a threat.

Harry felt himself go almost numb, and he said, in a voice so cold and low that it didn’t sound or feel like his, “I don’t appreciate people wearing dead men’s faces.”

The fake Sirius’ face shuttered immediately. “Neither do I,” he said, in a perfect imitation of what little Harry could remember godfather’s voice, only so much colder. His look was hard and sharp, his expression vibrant on the edge of a snarl, and apparently painfully real for a very cruel trick.

Harry hated it, almost as much as he hated how this impersonator was still pretending. Even almost as much as he hated the slap to the face that was James after all this time. James Potter was nearly thirty years dead, and his closest friends had all slowly followed him after meeting Harry.

“Who are you?” the Fake-Sirius demanded. The hard bark of the question grated against Harry’s ears, and his head echoed a fierce ache to match it.

He scoffed at this soon-to-be-dead impersonator. “If you’re pretending not to know to answer to that question while wearing that face, you’ve got a lot of nerve.” Harry’s free hand itched with the beginnings of a curse, while the other strangled the water bottle with tension. “You’re going to cut the act – both the face and the house – and tell me who the hell you are.”

Fake-Sirius raised a brow, expression almost sneering. “I asked you first.”

“I asked you second,” Harry answered without skipping a beat. He would be the first to admit that his sense of humour was maybe more than a little mangled, and that his godson and his godson’s friends might have had some influence on him.

Fake-Sirius smiled a very sharp smile, one that had no humour in it, and it looked too much like a Sirius smile for Harry’s peace of mind. Too many memories were coming back with that smile, with that face… of a happy Christmas, a happy family, a happy home for the both of them.

Somewhere out in the countryside. Somewhere you could see the sky.

“If you’re stalling, it won’t work,” Fake-Sirius said, cold and certain. His wand still fixed and steady on Harry. “There’s two of you here. Where’s the other one?”

Harry didn’t even glance at the lump of cloak at the dining table behind Fake-Sirius – he knew better than that. He kept his eyes fixed on the wand fixed on him. Impersonating Harry’s godfather was bad enough, but if this impersonator so much as pointed their antique wand at Harry’s godson, then curses would fly. It was bad enough that the impersonator was between them now.

“If you’re trying to distract me,” Harry answered coolly, “it won’t work either. … This is the last time I’m going to ask this: drop the face and the act, then tell me who the hell you really are.”

Fake-Sirius didn’t bat an eye at the threat, instead, he looked almost amused. “Unless that’s a wand in your hand,” he said, nodding towards the pink water bottle in Harry’s hand, “I don’t think you have much room to negotiate. And I asked you first.”

This… almost threw Harry slightly. Almost. Because since when had he needed a wand to be considered armed and dangerous? Great Merlin, what kind of trap was this? A fake Grimmauld Place, a fake Sirius, and someone pointing an antique wand at him as though he was unarmed in comparison? Who would or could come up with such a thing? And why?

What had happened between his victory over Voldemort and… this? Whatever it was.

“Who are you and where’s the other one?” Fake-Sirius demanded.

Harry stared blankly at the impersonator, his free fingers itching with the spark of a curse. He considered his movements and his magic very carefully, running through all his long and hard-earned experience for the action that would protect his godson and deal with the idiot impersonating his godfather.

“I asked you second,” Harry answered flatly.

“But unarmed and outnumbered leaves you at somewhat of a disadvantage,” a new voice said mildly, from the kitchen doorway, behind Fake-Sirius and the lump of fabric that was Teddy. They stepped into the room, wand leading, and Harry almost forgot how to breathe.

“Sirius, the other one is under the cloak in that chair,” said a stranger wearing Remus Lupin’s face and borrowing Remus Lupin’s voice. In as perfect an impersonation as the stranger using Harry’s late godfather as a mask.

Remus Lupin, the last Marauder to die… the new stranger had succeeded in capturing everything Harry could remember of the man in life. From the tired, almost ill look to the worn and patched clothing; from the weight of his stare to the drawl of every word. Except he looked perhaps a little less tired, a little less worried, unlike the fretful father of a newborn that Harry remembered most recently.

Fake-Remus, wand still raised, took a step towards the black cloak hiding Harry’s godson.

The words were out before Harry could even stop to think.

“If you touch that cloak, I will kill you,” Harry promised flatly.

His free hand was outreached, pointing at the stranger with an almost sparking fist; and inside the pink bottle, the water bubbled violently in his grasp. It was a promise that he meant completely, with a fierceness that did not surprise him.

He had had enough of shades throughout his years, and of being haunted by the dead. Thankfully, Voldemort feared the idea of his victims returned to drag him into death, so he had never dabbled in Necromancy much beyond Horcruxes and the enchantment of corpses. But… others had not had the same limit, and the dead’s faces made excellent puppets for anyone looking to bait a trap. (Harry had almost been snared several times by false undead whispers. He didn’t appreciate it.)

Fake-Remus paused. The vitriol in Harry’s voice – a voice of painful experience – might have stopped anyone short of Voldemort himself. Harry’s reputation was well-earned.

If anyone was going to wear Remus Lupin’s face to interact with Teddy, the moronic bastard had to have known that there were consequences. Namely, that Harry might maim them on sheer principle, if he didn't rip them apart simply because he could, whether or not they’d gotten anywhere near Teddy or harmed him. Here, wearing that face, getting anywhere near Teddy was to harm Harry’s godson.

Fake-Remus gave him a somewhat unimpressed look, as though Harry’s pointed finger wasn’t as good as a wand for some reason. “Well, then,” he said politely, and flicked his wand at the cloak anyway.

The room, correspondingly to this volatile action, burst into action.

 

~ prongslet and moonling ~

 

The black cloak billowed into the air, as though being simultaneously Banished and refusing to leave Teddy behind, partially blocking the line of sight between Harry and the fake Remus.

At the first wave of the impersonator’s wand, Harry had flicked the wrist of his pointing hand, like a violent gesture for someone to step aside. A furious force of magic slammed into Fake-Sirius’ side, and though the impersonator impressively managed to bring their wand around to block some, they still flew into the kitchen wall.

At the same time, Harry let go of the water bottle and stepped forward with that hand and foot, practically punching a bright, screaming red curse at Fake-Remus.

It was to his incredulous surprise that the Fake-Remus managed to bring his wand up in time, and silently, reflexively, bring up a very solid, silvery magical shield. Harry’s curse, which had been known to shatter his foe’s protections or send his enemies flying back, shields and all, struck the barrier in a bright flash of light and a hissing smack. The curse seemed to both glance off all around the shield and get absorbed into the defensive magic, as though the shield was cast by the deadliest of Dark Followers or the strongest of Neutral Sages.

Fuck, Harry thought, then he threw himself forward. Ol’ Tom just can’t help but leave a fucking mess behind, can he? Merlin, should have expected they wouldn’t all be gone-

Thankfully, the fake Remus seemed surprised by Harry’s curses somehow, and Harry had enough time to flick a finger at Teddy’s billowing cloak. The fabric immediately ripped free of Harry’s godson and Banished itself into Fake-Remus’ face, while Harry snapped his spread hands past each other.

The dining table quickly jumped up, flipping itself over onto its side in mid-air, and simultaneously, the chair holding Teddy slid underneath the table as Harry himself did. Teddy shrieking awake and accidentally tumbling to the floor, while Harry magically pushed himself fully upright again and around as soon as he cleared the falling table, throwing both hands out to face the two impersonators. Then the table slammed down like a barricade dropping from the sky, dividing the fake Grimmauld Place’s kitchen in half, and the room paused again.

“Ted, don’t move,” Harry snapped, breathing heavily and his head pounding – Merlin, he was so tired – his faintly glowing hands each pointed at a separate impersonator, both of whom had already regathered themselves and had their wands pointed at him.

He didn’t want Teddy to make himself a target or see the people he was standing off against. They still hadn’t dropped the false faces. And had the absolute gall to look wary and angry.

At Harry’s feet, Teddy was on his elbows, shaking his mind awake and his hair blue again – although a darker colour now, more muted navy instead of a bubble-gum blue. Obviously still quite tired, by that, despite his rude awakening. Harry was almost glad that he couldn’t look directly at his godson at the moment, because he wasn’t sure that he could handle seeing Remus Lupin’s features on two faces at the moment.

While Harry kept his eyes and hands on these wand-wielding and strong impersonators, Teddy seemed to take a few moments to get his bearings. Taking in their surroundings, the table, and Harry in a fighting stance and probably glaring death at their foes.

“Harry?” Teddy whispered uncertainly.

It was a whisper that travelled the whole room, and the impersonators’ immediately stiffened. Fake-Remus’ face had gone blank, his yellowish-green eyes wide with surprise. Fake-Sirius stared, mouth opened slightly, and his stare roamed Harry wildly.

“…Harry?” Fake-Sirius said hoarsely.

It hadn’t seemed possible, but Harry felt his scowl fiercen while his heart ached painfully. He could see the perfection of the impersonations for himself, and had already remarked on the accuracy of the voices being used, but… his name from Sirius’ face… his name in Sirius’ voice… after so long…

Don’t,” Harry said, nearly a snarl. “Just stop. I don’t appreciate people wearing dead men’s faces.”

The fake Remus watched him carefully now, stunned but thinking quickly, while the fake Sirius stared with a curious sort of horror. And at Harry’s feet, Teddy had perked up with interest, still fearfully obeying Harry’s order to stay low, obviously itching to peer over the table.

“Ted, I said don’t move.

“I’m not!” Teddy whispered back. “But, uhm… there’s, uh, maybe something you should know…”

It wasn’t really possible for Harry to roll his eyes while watching the two impersonators, but a strong case was made to do so anyway. Harry knew that wheedle all too well – that cautious edging into an awkward conversation - especially when Teddy was already grounded.

“What?”

Teddy took in a breath so deep that it was audible throughout the whole room, then he said very, very quickly, “It’snineteeninetyfive.”

“Slower,” Harry said flatly, disliking the way the impersonators were watching him differently now.

Teddy took in another breath, then: “It’s 1995.”

It took Harry a moment to register that properly, then he felt himself freeze.

“What.”

“There was kinda, sorta an acci~dent in the Ministry,” Teddy summarized quickly, then again, like he couldn’t really believe it himself: “It’s 1995. … Who’s there? Can I move now?”

“No,” Harry said, staring at the people in front of him with new, widened eyes.

He’d remarked to himself how perfect the impersonations were. These two looked exactly like Sirius before Grimmauld Place and Remus before Sirius’ death and his marriage – their features, their expressions, their clothes – and sounded just like Harry’s most precious memories said they should. Just as how this Grimmauld Place was perfect from the furniture to the hiss of the wards.

This was a trap that made no sense, but… as not a trap…

Harry frowned at the pair, trying to think over the ache in head and the frantic beating of his heart. “Who’s the true Potter traitor?” he demanded.

“Pettigrew, the rat,” Maybe-Sirius answered immediately, his wand lowering ever-so-slightly.

Harry opened his mouth to ask another question, but Maybe-Remus beat him to speaking.

“How did he frame Sirius?” Maybe-Remus asked, giving a tight not-smile as Harry stared at him and casually offering, “A question for a question?”

Harry thought about it, then inclined his head. He’d been enough negotiations and gone through enough territory checks to know that mutual cooperation was pretty much the only way for things to go well. It was hard to blame anyone for suspicion; honestly, Harry would blame others for a lack of it.

“Sirius was the decoy, and when he went after Pettigrew for the betrayal, Pettigrew shouted that Sirius was the traitor for the whole street to hear, blew up the street and killed twelve people, then cut off his finger and escaped into the sewer as a rat,” Harry answered quickly, before the bitterness could seep into a story he knew better than the back of his hand.

Behind the table, Teddy was shifting with curiosity and getting closer and closer to peeking over the edge. Harry lowered one hand and pointed down hard at his godson, repeating his order to stay down. Teddy reluctantly lowered himself, wrapped his arms around his knees, and started pouting as pitifully as he could manage.

“Who taught me the Patronus Charm?” Harry asked, ignoring his godson’s dramatics.

“I did,” Maybe-Remus answered, which made Teddy’s head snap up again.

Harry more viciously repeated his gesture to stay down, while Teddy stared up at him with scrunched brows and wide eyes. Harry internally cursed himself for choosing such a terrible question, because Teddy knew the answer to that one. But Harry’s head hurt and it had been so long since he’d last seen Remus Lupin or Sirius Black.

“What form does it take?” Maybe-Remus asked.

“A stag,” Harry said, softer than he’d intended, “Prongs.”

Teddy had given up on pouting and was searching around desperately for something now, probably his purse, which Harry gratefully saw was safely on the other side of the makeshift barricade.

“How did I learn it?”

“On a Boggart,” Remus answered, his voice softening as well. “Your Boggart takes the form of a Dementor. What do you hear when you meet one?”

“My parents,” Harry said shortly.

Sirius looked somewhere between stunned and horrified, staring at Harry with no small amount of empathy and sorrow. His wand was lowered entirely now, as was Remus’. Harry couldn’t remember if Sirius had ever known that Harry’s Boggart originally took the form of a Dementor – but if anyone could understand, it was Sirius.

Before Harry could ask his next question, Remus surprised him.

“How old are you?” he asked, lowering his wand.

“Ah… twenty-eight,” Harry answered, finally looking down properly at his godson. Teddy was now clinging to Harry’s leg, looking at him beseechingly, obviously having shifted his features slightly for the ultimate puppy-eyed look. “We had a time travel incident?”

Teddy ceased being pitifully cute for a moment to nod. “Yep! Definitely not in Kansas anymore – I checked! Can I move now?”

“No,” Harry said again, dragging a hand through the back of his hair. “Well… this is unexpected.”

Sirius laughed, more reflexively than anything else, but it had a spark of humour in it all the same and Harry almost startled at the sound.

“At least it’s not entirely unprecedented. I think I have a fourth-cousin twice-removed who had a problem like this, with his third wife,” Sirius told Remus specifically and the room in general. “And a great-uncle by marriage whose life ambition was to meet Merlin, which he tried to do by wearing fifty homemade time-turners at once.”

Harry tried to remember his time at Grimmauld, but he’d never been much of a reader and never really had much time for it either. He thinks Andy might have read that journal. The Black Family library made for gruesome and hilarious history, if one enjoyed scandal and mayhem and extremely Dark magic in their bedtime reading – as Teddy’s grandmother most certainly had. Andy's sense of humor had been unsurprisingly a little twisted like that.

“Your family tree includes several intricate murder plots and a woman who tried to make Muggle-hunting into the national sport,” Remus replied dryly. “I’m not surprised. And I think you already told me that last story… twice.”

Unexpected as an understatement to say the least. 1995? That was… Merlin… that was before the Sealing, before the war had really gotten started, maybe even before Voldemort had gotten his body back if it was still his fourth year, and the abandoned Grimmauld Place made an argument that that was a real possibility. If ever there was a desirable point for time travel, then 1995 was it.

That meant… Sirius and Remus were really in front of him right now. Really here, really alive. Harry’s godfather and Teddy’s father, both alive and well. He would be inclined to panic, or perhaps even cry, if much of anything actually phased him anymore and he didn’t have Teddy to stay strong for.

It was a vision out of a fairy trap, or maybe the Mirror of Erised itself, and an opportunity that Harry had wished for dearly over the years. He’d had so many things to say to these two – he still did.

Sirius, I miss you so much it feels like I’m bleeding. Sometimes I think about following you into the Veil, where it seems quiet and peaceful, where I think I can hear the voices of my parents and the sounds of a happier place. I might have if I didn’t have so many people who need me, and that scares me some... how much I want to be together again, to be at peace, even at the cost of everything that matters. 

Remus, I hope I’m half as good a teacher as you were. Ron and Hermione say I’m brilliant, but they’re biased, and I learned everything I know from you. I hope I’m making you proud.

Sirius, I’m a godfather now, and I don’t have a single fucking clue what I’m doing. This kid thinks I hung the moon and I’m just barely keeping it together – pretty much everything I do or say is me improvising desperately, but he keeps looking up to me with stars in his eyes. How did you do it?

Remus, your child is ridiculous and I love him so much. He’s so bright and funny and happy; he’s so brave and loyal and brilliant – no matter what the world throws at him, it can’t keep him down. He’s just like you, and his mum, and I wish you were both here to see how incredible he is. I wish you had the chance to love him too.

The words were on the tip of Harry’s tongue, really, but… he bit them back.

He’d heard too many spiels on the dangers of Tempormancy before. He’d stopped too many desperate fools from trying to turn back time and escape the cage of the Sealing, destroying complicated devices and ham-fisted time-turners and erasing interwoven runes that would never have worked. He'd even had a few surface and almost trips through time, mostly unstable, when facing off against various sorcerers and creatures and other monstrous things that the Sealing had unleashed and raised. 

Ginny had liked to say that they'd all danced the Tempormancy Tango, at one point or another, and it was definitely a dance that had one wanting to get off the dance floor as soon as possible. It was dizzying and dangerous and far too tempting. 

Hermione had researched the possibility, once upon a time, but all the workable methods that revealed themselves revealed the same thing and promised the same end. Wizards and witches only knew how to bend time, for a time, which was why the rules that governed time-turner use were strict and demanded that one not interfere with anything. Magic could bend time, but time would snap back into place eventually, and all the pieces had better fit without a problem or there’d be consequences.

Harry wanted to say so many things to Sirius and Remus, but he also wanted the world not to end.

Again. Even worse than last time.

Harry had just killed Voldemort, just destroyed the Sealing, and just ended the war. He and Teddy didn’t belong here, in this world, in this time. They had to get back home again, to go back to Ron and Hermione and the others who were probably worrying themselves sick. Harry couldn’t interfere, couldn’t reveal anything more than he'd already accidentally divulged, couldn’t even save them; he just had to get him and Teddy home as soon as possible, before either of them broke anything important.

After all… Terrible things happen to people who meddle with time. Terrible, terrible things. Don't do it; don't even try.

No matter how much you want to.

Harry sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “We have to go,” he said firmly, brushing aside the pang in his chest at the decision to resist temptation… to abandon these men to their fates. “If this is time travel, then we have to get back to our time as soon as possible.”

What?” Teddy said.

Harry looked down at his godson, firm and unyielding. “Tempormancy is dangerous, you know that. There’s a reason it’s forbidden… and used to be illegal. We need to find out what our presence is doing here and how to go home, so that we don’t hurt anyone or anything.”

He looked back at Sirius and Remus, awkwardly searching for something to say besides I’m leaving you to die and I’m so sorry. “I… I’m sorry about all this,” he said, wincing at the dent in the wall where he’d thrown Sirius against it. “I’ll, uh, fix that.”

Sirius just looked amused now, slightly melancholy but still amused. “Are you going to fix the front door, too?” At Harry’s probably bewildered look, his faint smile turned into a wide grin that lit up his entire face – it made Harry ache terribly. “There’s a hole where the doorknob used to be.”

Harry stared, then looked down at his godson, who at least had the grace to look shame-faced.

“Was accident," Teddy mumbled, the tips of his hair pinked slightly. “Didn’t mean to.”

Harry looked back at Sirius and Remus. “I’ll fix that too.”

Sirius shrugged, waving a hand carelessly. “Don’t bother, I’ll do it. That doorknob used to bite, so it probably needed replacing anyway.”

“Oh, alright then,” Harry said, stilted. He looked down at his godson again, then back to Remus, and considered the foolishness of doing something about that. He could almost hear Hermione’s voice in his ear, but… he could give Teddy this… couldn’t he?

“I have someone who would like to meet you,” Harry said slowly, ignoring Teddy’s wide-eyed and incredibly hopeful look, “but I don’t think we can do mutual introductions… for time’s sake.”

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look, then they both nodded.

“Alright, you can stand up now,” Harry said to Teddy.

Teddy didn’t immediately jump up like Harry would have expected him to, instead taking a deep breath and carefully getting to his feet, using Harry’s leg to help him a little. Harry wondered how Teddy might look to others, with his colourful hair, eccentric goggles around his neck, and his oversized Weird Sisters t-shirt.

Harry then wondered how he might look, given his battle attire and appearance.

“Okay,” Harry began, leaning down to put a hand on his godson’s shoulders. “This is Sirius Black and Remus Lupin,” he introduced, pointing at each of them in turn, even though Teddy probably could have recognized them from his collection of photographs. “Padfoot and Moony.”

“…Hello,” Teddy said, waving a little weakly for his usual exuberance.

Sirius and Remus both stared for a second, probably adjusting to the appearance of a child and said child’s appearance, but then they both smiled. Sirius was grinning, a little sad but very delighted, as he looked between Harry and Teddy – it hurt Harry that he couldn’t know this was his godson’s godson in front of him – and Remus smiled with all the warmth and kindness that had made him such an excellent teacher and friend.

“Hello,” Remus replied. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“S’nice-” Teddy cleared his throat, sounding a bit like he’d gotten a frog stuck in there somehow. “It’s nice to meet you too.” His last few words watered, and Harry carefully took his godson by the hand.

“You keeping this one out of trouble?” Sirius asked playfully.

Teddy blinked, then smiled brightly, maybe a little nervously, and raised his free hand to make a so-so sort of motion. Sirius burst into laughter and Remus snorted, his smile widening with good humour.

“I think that’s my line,” Harry said dryly to his godson, leading Teddy to pick up his purse and the fallen water bottle, summoning the cloak to his hand, before leading Teddy towards the kitchen door. “And I think we’d better be going no-”

Harry trailed off as Teddy let go of his hand before they could leave the kitchen, and watched with wide eyes as his godson flung himself at Remus Lupin. Teddy hugged his father tight around the middle, burying his face in Remus’ stomach, hiding the beginnings of tears in his eyes. Remus looked absolutely floored, and it took him a few seconds to pat Teddy softly on the back.

“Well,” Harry said awkwardly, “I suppose we could stay for a few moments longer.”

Next to Remus, Sirius was grinning broadly, and the expression might have been infectious, because Harry found himself grinning too. This was all wonderful and impossible and a little bit of everything Harry had ever wanted, both for himself and for Teddy.

And it didn’t hurt that Remus was very tall and Teddy looked tiny against him. It was adorable.

Remus looked up at Sirius’ expression and frowned at him, but his expression softened when he saw that Harry was smiling also. At Harry's shrugging gesture, he looked down at Teddy again, smiling a bit wondrously, and gently hugged Teddy back.

A few seconds later, Teddy cautiously looked up at Remus, his eyes still reddish and watery. Remus smiled down at him and the tips of Teddy’s hair flushed pink for a moment, then Teddy disentangled himself from his father, looking extremely embarrassed. He glanced at Harry, who smiled reassuringly back at him, then grinned a little impishly and flung himself at Sirius for another hug.

Sirius was not caught as unaware as Remus, and had time to bend down slightly so that he could welcome Teddy with open arms. Harry’s godfather scooped up his godson with a bright laugh, lifting Teddy off his feet and spinning the both of them around in a wild embrace that made Teddy shriek with startled laughter too.

By the time Sirius set Teddy down, they both seemed a little dizzy. Harry had to reach out a hand to steady Teddy’s wobbling, heart so full of happiness that it felt a little like it was bleeding, and grinning strongly enough to make his face hurt slightly.

“You don’t even know who I am!” Teddy said, pointing an accusing finger.

Sirius shrugged, still grinning broadly. “You hugged me first,” he said, before looking up at Harry and stepping confidently forward.

Harry froze as his godfather pulled him in for a tight hug as well. They didn’t spin, and neither of them laughed. Instead, Sirius held him almost desperately, clutching at him as if he never wanted to let go. Harry knew the feeling, because he melted instantly, and soon found himself hugging his godfather back with equal desperation and over thirteen years of grief.

I missed you so fucking much, Harry thought helplessly, stamping down on the tears swelling in his eyes.

Nearby, Teddy sniffled, obviously trying not to cry and failing. 

After too short a time, Sirius stepped back, still grinning, as bright and handsome as Harry remembered. Harry smiled back, a little weakly. Sirius then looked expectantly at Remus, who looked back at him and then looked to Harry, stepping forward with a lot less confidence.

“You don’t have to,” Harry said quietly.

“I want to,” Remus answered firmly, before tipping his head and adding with an almost mischievous grin (Harry heart nearly stopped because he looked just like Teddy), “And it seems to be going around.”

Then Remus pulled Harry into a much more gentle hug, that become tighter when Harry hugged him back with about a decade of grief and impossible wishes. This too, ended all too soon, and Harry found that his eyes were watering slightly when it did.

He didn't want to go.

Harry then took Teddy’s hand again, while Teddy rubbed at his eyes with the other, and they all walked into the front hall. Teddy ducked his head slightly when Harry got a good look at the doorknob embedded in the floor, and Sirius opened the front door for them with a dramatic flourish. The wards hissed Darkly as the master of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, let them out onto the doorstep, but let them all through.

Grimmauld Place looked nothing like Harry’s most recent memories of it. The street was clean and whole and entirely non-magical, and it looked heartbreakingly peaceful in the afternoon light. Harry could hear the sounds of London all around the, feel a distinct lack of magic in the air, and something in him very much wanted to stay here forever. To live the rest of his life out in this Before, where normal was still actually normal instead of horrifyingly abnormal.

“Sorry about your door,” Teddy said, sounding genuinely apologetic.

“Eh, I probably would have done the same eventually,” Sirius said. “It’s fine.”

“Oh, I saw Kreacher earlier, but I dunno where he went,” Teddy added.

“Kreacher’s still alive?” Sirius said incredulously.

“Uhm, yeah?”

That ornery old elf outlived both Sirius and Remus in the end.

Be kind to him, Harry wanted to say, he’s been through a lot and he deserves to be treated with the same kindness any living being should. Kreacher knows how Regulus really died: a turncoat Death Eater looking for a way completely out, and he’s protecting one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. He’s incredibly loyal, if you give him reason to be. If you don’t, he’ll be the death of you.

Harry didn’t, though. He turned around, with Teddy’s hand in his, and stared at Sirius and Remus on the doorstep of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He almost wanted to check for a fairy trap again, because all this really was too good to be true.

“Send us a message so that we know you got home alright,” Remus said.

Harry nodded; they could do that.

“All this has been… very odd,” Remus continued, “but… interesting.”

“Yeah, definitely that,” Harry agreed, trying to think of something to say. He didn’t want to say goodbye now, even though he’d never gotten the chance before, and it was hard to think of another parting saying when there were so many other things he wanted to say.

Don’t trust Dumbledore, the man’s mad and he’ll get everyone killed. Harry has a Horcrux in his head and needs you desperately, take him away from the Dursleys and be happy together, no matter what anyone else says. Voldemort is seeking Avalon and he’ll throw everything into hell if he finds it.

I’m so sorry, he wanted to say. I didn’t want you to die. Any of you.

What came out instead, more sincerely than he had ever said anything in his life, was: “Thank you.”

Sirius smiled, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe. “Anytime.”

Harry tried to smile back, but probably didn’t manage it right. His eyes were watering again, and he felt incredibly light-headed – between his tiredness and his headache – and a small bit of heartache too. But instead of fainting, he led Teddy down the steps and they started down the street together, hand in hand, to go find somewhere a little less meaningful to work everything out.

“Bye!” Teddy called, waving madly with his free hand all the way down the street. “GOODBYE!” He didn’t stop waving until they had to turn the street corner, and Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, was finally out of sight.

“C’mon, Ted,” Harry said. “You’re going to tell me everything that happened while I was out.”

Harry couldn’t decide whether he liked it or not that Teddy looked faintly nervous. On one hand, it was good to see he could still strike some measure of parental wariness into his godson; and on the other hand, Harry was well-aware of the madness that Teddy could get up to while unsupervised.

“I’m already grounded, so you’re not allowed to ground me more,” Teddy insisted.

Harry bit down a groan. That boded well.

“Sure, Ted.”

While they walked to a good Apparition point – they could have gone from the steps, but Harry was indulging himself with the sights of a city that had never been ruined – Harry ran through his list of people with a Mastery in Tempormancy or Divination. Then narrowed that down to the people who would already be masters and be easy to find; Harry knew a lot of people, so it was a fortunately long list.

He didn’t know much about Tempormancy, but he’d been through enough, had enough adventures and seen enough incredible things. Everything was fairly fixable, with enough effort and people working together. That and enough improvisation and determination.

They'd find their way home.

 

~ a walk towards the future

 

“…Harry?”

“Yes, Teddy?”

“I just met my dad.

“Mmhmm.”

“I like him,” Teddy announced decidedly, rubbing at his nose. “He’s really nice.”

“The nicest,” Harry agreed.

Teddy swung their hands together. “Sirius is pretty cool too,” he said. “If he’s your godfather, does that make him my godgrandfather? Or my grand-godfather?”

Harry smothered a laugh, mainly at the idea of Sirius being anyone’s grandfather, and said, “I think grand-godfather sounds better.”

“Me too,” Teddy decided.

They kept walking, and Harry started counting silently. Three… two… one…

“…Harry?”

“Yes, Teddy?”

“Can we meet Mum, too?”

“I don’t think so, Teddy,” Harry said sadly, thinking of Nymphadora, Andy, and Ted Tonks all alive and well. It would be nice if Teddy could meet his mother and actual grandfather, but they needed to find out what kind of emergency they were in. Meeting Sirius and Remus had been idiotic enough. “Tempormancy is dangerous, and you still owe me an explanation.”

“Oh,” Teddy said. “...Where are we going?”

“To see the witch in the well,” Harry answered. “You remember Saoirse, right?”

 

 

Chapter Text

ACT III: THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

~ I took the path less travelled by ~ the watcher witches ~ how do you solve a problem like time travel? ~ if you need anything ~ don’t let the monsters bite ~ passing through ~~ I await my protector ~ Hope ~ monsieur jon ~ face stealer ~ the courageous consultant unmasked ~~ a friend of a friend ~ into the cottage ~ the task that never ends ~ witching hour ~ the fantastic hippo thesaurus ~ something wicked this well holds ~ deal struck ~ worth its weight in silver ~ the price of human life ~ a great and terrible truth ~ say goodbye ~

 

PART ONE

 

 June 26th, 1995

 

~ I took the path less travelled by

 

 The woods were just as dark as Harry remembered them. The trees were tall and looming and generally foreboding, with a thick roof of greenery above and an equally thick overgrowth surrounding the winding trail like a swarm. Somewhere off on an unseen horizon, the sun was finally setting, but the forest that Harry trudged through would have been dark regardless.

 It was worse than usual in the middle of summer, just off of the solstice, when the woods were newly thrumming with restored life, wild magic, and old governance. He could feel it in his teeth and tongue. These were the sort of woods that watched you while you passed, lying in wait for the moment you took a step away from the loose safety of the thinly trekked path. Always considering how to draw you in and swallow you whole.

 It felt, in many ways, close to what Harry had come to know as normal. He had forgotten what the world was like before the Sealing, really. He had forgotten normalcy of the Dursley kind – or in any other Muggle kind, honestly – and in many of the wizarding ways as well. It had jarred him, how peaceful and crowded and painfully non-magical everything was as they journeyed here.

 The Witchwood, as Harry knew it by, was almost a pleasant break from the unbroken world. The woods here hummed with magical plants and magical creatures, pulsing with the supernatural and the mystical and the eerily abnormal – not of the Sealing’s league, of course, but one of the closest spot in Post-Sealing Britain they would find in Pre-Sealing Britain besides similar sanctuaries and short of Avalon itself. Here, Harry could breathe in old and wild magic, taste familiar dangers in the air, and settle the itch and panic that had been needling at the back of his mind as more and more time passed them by.

 Surely it wouldn’t hurt, the itch kept saying, if you stayed a moment longer. After all, what would it really matter if Harry took his godson to meet Nymphadora Tonks and her parents? Would it really be so bad if they took a small detour to see Hogwarts and Hogsmeade? He had already given in to the temptation once; would twice really matter?

 The temptation was terrible. It grated against Harry’s hard-earned experience and practical principles not to meddle with time or Tempormancy, despite his own desires. Time could only bend for so long before it snapped back and Merlin help the meddler if things didn’t line up perfectly. As much as it hurt and itched and grated, it actually would be that bad if they stopped to smell the roses and chanced changing something significant, especially when they had somehow managed to land over a decade back in time and had already caused such a colossal mess. The smallest ripples would matter massively, if they had twisted time as badly as Harry now feared they might have.

 And that was the panic, which had settled into his bones and been steadily rising ever since Teddy had told him of their appearance in the graveyard of Little Hangleton. Teddy had meddled. Teddy had meddled badly. Time wouldn’t care that Harry’s godson had unintentionally changed things out of ignorance and fear: saving Cedric Diggory, preventing the gathering of Death Eaters, and averting the need for Priori Incantatum. The two of them were in very real danger right now.

 Harry couldn’t feel like more of an idiot at the moment. Shame and fear burned at him, underneath his forceful calm, for his recklessness earlier in Grimmauld Place. It had all seemed so harmless in the moment; as small as a butterfly! He was nothing at all, it seemed, if he wasn’t a sentimental fool! How could he have been so stupid?

 So the woods here helped. The ancient and potent ambience of the Witchwood soothed Harry with the possibility that things could still be somehow fixed – for the right price, of course – and reminded him strongly of the world they had left behind and needed to return to. They’d finally won; they’d finally broken the Sealing; they’d finally achieved their long-awaited victory and Harry refused to threaten their reward for a few more glimpses of the lost.

 Personal, he should have learned once and for all by now, after all was said and done, didn’t necessarily mean important. He should’ve remembered that and not let himself get distracted by his confusion and the high of their long-awaited victory. He should have just run.

 With a hollow sort of ache in his chest and several reassuring breaths to remind himself of where he was, Harry hefted his godson a little higher on his back and kept walking down the forest’s dark and starved path. Teddy had fallen asleep again, over the course of their journey here, and though Harry was tired too, he didn’t have the heart to keep Teddy awake or the peace of mind to stop for a short break. He could sleep when they were somewhere safe in this too tempting world – when he knew exactly what sort of trouble they’d landed themselves in this time.

 Though the trek was long, unnerving, and far too thoughtful, the winding and overgrown trail eventually brought Harry to his destination: a large clearing underneath a darkening sky, the last whispers of sunset dying on a distant horizon that couldn’t be seen past the tall trees and taller boulders of the clearing. Around the perfect circle of trees were thirteen, apparently haphazardly scattered, overgrown, and immense rune stones – each the size of houses, each engraved with large, worn, and simply ancient symbols, and each thrumming with that feeling of old governance. The winding path Harry stood on led between two of the rune stones, then down a handful of rocky steps into the clearing proper. The entire circle area sloped down like a large bowl, through grass that was as high as his knees and surely filled with pitfalls along with its pretty wildflowers.

 And in the very centre of this clearing was a quaint two-story cottage that looked like it both did and didn’t belong in the middle of dark, haunted woods. It stood out, but was very obviously settled in that it would stand out wherever it damn well pleased, thank you kindly. A clean white picket fence perfectly encircled a large, well-kept garden, which in turn perfectly encircled the house itself. Despite the different worlds, this cottage remained the same as Harry had known it in the future; from the light through the curtained windows to the smoke curling out of the chimney on the green copper roof; from the golden brown stone walls all the way to the yellow lantern hanging by the solid iron door painted a cheerful green.

 The home of Saoirse Kenn had remained stubbornly timeless and immoveable. Relieved and very impressed, Harry marched down the sloping path, through the bright green grass that probably hid hungry bogs, and approached the white picket fence gingerly and gladly. Up close, he could see the faintly glowing runes etched into every inch of the potion-soaked wood, as well as the iron bands and bars holding the fence together. The fence seemed to glow under the light of the yellow lantern shining persistently by the door.

 Harry didn’t dare try to breach the wall on his own, because it would be rude and he was far too tired to even begin to try and fight such ancient warding. Instead, he reached up and rang the little silver bell hanging from the metal archway over the gate, which gave an impossibly melodic jingle for an ornament no bigger than the fingernail with which he’d tapped it. The sound echoed all around the clearing.

 Harry then waited, knowing from past experience that this method was much politer and much less hassle besides, and didn’t have to wait long before a shape moved past one of the lit windows of the cottage. He stood obligingly still as a dark silhouette peered through lacy curtains towards him, and his waiting paid off as the shape disappeared and the cottage’s iron door soon opened with a quiet groan.

 A brown hand reached out to take the yellow lantern off its hook, and was followed by the rest of its owner: a plump woman with long, curly black hair who was wearing a dark green cloak.

 “Who goes there and what business have you at this time of night?” Saoirse Kenn demanded, a long and twisting staff in one hand and the yellow lantern raised protectively before her in the other. It illuminated her dark brown face, highlighting her large eyes, her flat and once-broken nose, and her wide, worried mouth.

 

~ the watcher witches

 

 Unlike her house, Saoirse had obviously not remained timeless and immoveable. She was now approaching her fiftieth birthday and looked it; Harry had first met her when the woman was in her sixties and stared a bit amazed at how she appeared nearly thirty years younger instead of just over ten. She looked brighter, fuller, and altogether less gaunt and grey – less drained. There was something soft about her, something younger and looser and far more open, with only lines of silver in her curly hair left long and no visible scars worn against her brown skin. This was clearly a woman who had not lived through the Sealing; this was a woman that Harry did not truly know.

 As she raised the lantern to see him better, Harry even caught sight of an unfamiliar iron band glinted on the ring finger of her left hand. It had the appearance of a well-worn trinket.

 Despite the startling differences, despite the mysteries of her youth, Harry took a deep breath and answered Saoirse’s question. He could panic when the problem was solved; he could marvel after the danger had been managed. Someone’s got to do these difficult bits and it’s got to be me, he told himself firmly, because it’s either me or the ten-year-old child I’m responsible for asleep on my back and I’ve fucked up enough already.

 “My name is Harry James Potter,” he said clearly, “and I wish to visit the witch in your well.”

 Saoirse’s eyes widened and then her brow furrowed; she studied him carefully from where she stood opposite him, the both of them a few feet from the gate in the white picket fence. They were about of equal height, but Saoirse was currently left slightly shorter due to the being farther down the clearing’s slope and had to peer up.

 “I could have sworn that the Boy-Who-Lived was no more than fifteen or so,” she said, clearly suspicious. “Unless you are a different, unrelated Harry James Potter, who also happens to have a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.”

 “I’m another, very related Harry Potter who’s out of his proper time,” Harry explained.

 “…Oh…” Saoirse said. “That would explain why you might want to visit the well witch.”

 “Yes. I’ve questions and a problem beyond… regular help.”

 “I imagine. One moment.”

 With a swish of cloak, Saoirse hurried back to the cottage and disappeared through the open iron door. Harry wondered who she might be speaking to, since he’d known her as the sole residence of this odd cottage – the last guardian and governor of the Witchwood: the one, only, and last Kenn. He doubted that she’d gone to fetch something and there seemed to be a second shadow moving inside the house.

 “…Wha’s goin’ on?” Teddy mumbled against Harry’s back. “We there?”

 “Yeah, we’re here. You’re gonna have to past the test, then I’ll drop you on a sofa to keep sleeping,” Harry told his godson, over the long and loud yawn that Teddy made. Harry repressed his own urge to yawn, then did anyway. “Mmm… That sound alright?”

 “Ye’, sounds good,” Teddy said, drooping forward over Harry’s shoulders.

 Soon enough, Saoirse came back and hurried to the gate. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said, looking more than a little harried. On the other side of the fence, keeping herself wholly on the safe side of it, she held out the iron lantern, which was still flickering a bright yellow. “If you wouldn’t mind? I assume you’re aware of how this works?”

 “I have done this a time or two before,” Harry agreed, reaching out to take the lantern.

 He knew the moment his hand crossed the fence’s line, into this inner layer of Kenn wards, because the air suddenly thickened to the point where it felt like he was pushing his hand through near-frozen molasses. It was painful too, like the stabbing pins and needles of moving a limb left for dead. It was like an itching buzz that demanded to be scratched this very instant, a humming whine in his ears, but Harry grit his teeth and pushed through anyway.

 As soon as his fingers closed around the handle and Saoirse let go, Harry yanked. He tried to do it as quickly as possible, but the buzzing air was still thick and uncooperative around his hand. To make matters worse, there was a horrid flash of new pain as the lantern seemed to bite into the skin of his palm. Even with thick calluses all over, born through thousands of spell burns, it hurt just as badly as the first time he’d tried to shoot a spell from his hand – still, Harry grit his teeth further and bore that too until he could fully pull the lantern free of the wards.

 Besides, he’d had worse pains for worse reasons, if he were being honest with himself.

 Once free of the wards, the lantern’s yellow light dimmed to the point of nearly going out entirely. Then the light bloomed into a bright and steady blue, not unlike the lovely mist of a Patronus, and the tension in Saoirse’s shoulder flowed away with the shine. Harry exhaled at the heady relief the sight brought; he’d been worried he’d be too much for this time’s test.

 “The child too, if you wouldn’t mind,” Saoirse says.

 Both of Teddy’s small hands reached out, around Harry’s neck, to take the handle of the dimming, yellowing again lantern from his godfather. Harry handed it over freely, then stiffened as Teddy hissed and jerked at the pain of its iron bite. Finally, thankfully, the lantern in front of Harry’s face once again bloomed into brilliant blue, and with a sigh of relief, he took it back from Teddy’s trembling grip and looked expectantly towards Saoirse, who had relaxed at their clear passing of her test.

 “Anything else?” Harry asked.

 “No,” Saoirse answered, reaching forward to undo the latch of the gate for them, nervously tucking some of her black curls behind one ear. She flapped her free hand for a moment, as though letting off energy, before she seemed to remember something and grabbed her staff tightly with both hands instead. “Sorry. Well met. Thank you for your patience about this sort of thing. We’re a bit jumpier than usual after Midsummer, you see.”

 Harry did see, having gained an unfortunate new appreciation of the danger behind certain dates after the Sealing. As he stepped through the iron arch and over the threshold of the inner plot with his godson on his back and the lantern in his hand, however, he privately thought that this could hardly be called “jumpy”. The Kenn Test was very thorough, but very brief and simple. Harry had known some truly jumpy and paranoid people over the past ten years, who might very truly accidentally kill a person if that unfortunate soul sneezed at the wrong moment during a series of elaborate and exhausting interrogations and tests.

 “Thanks for seeing us,” Harry said, as Saoirse led them towards the cottage door. “I wasn’t sure where else I could go for the help we may need. Here, let me.” Harry passed over Saoirse’s reaching hand and hung the iron lantern back on its hook himself, allowing her to get the thick iron door for him and Teddy. “Thank you.”

 They all stepped into the cottage’s front hallway, Saoirse closing the massive door silently behind them. “You’re very welcome,” she said politely. “We could hardly leave you standing by our gates, especially if your problem is as enormous as I’m beginning to suspect it is. Would you like to take off your shoes?”

 “I’d like to keep mine on, actually, if that’s alright,” Harry said and Saoirse nodded.

 “That’s quite alright. This way, please.”

 Harry followed her into the cottage’s sitting room, Teddy still yawning on his back. Harry had almost forgotten how faultlessly polite and well-mannered Saoirse was, but he found it endearing. She seemed a little more anxious and apologetic than her Post-Sealing self that Harry had known, but it was very good to see and think that perhaps most of Saoirse Kenn had remained relatively unchanged through the apocalypse itself.

 He was a little surprised, however, to walk into the sitting room and find another person in Saoirse’s home. He’d seen a second shadow in the windows outside, but it was another thing entirely to come into the sitting room and, in the old rocking chair by the crackling fireplace, see a woman who appeared to be Saoirse Kenn but a solid thirty years older.

 The old woman looked up at him and looked him over, while Harry did the same. For a second, he had the ridiculous thought that this was Post-Sealing Saoirse, but with another second, it was clear that this was another woman entirely. Her features were squarer, her brown skin a little darker, her wrinkles and lines much deeper, and her thick curls were entirely grey with streaks of pure white. She was fatter and dressed in bright orange robes that were covered in an assortment of blue birds, had a pair of glasses with thick, curling metal rims on her face, and a pair of long knitting needles clicking away in her ever-moving hands. A long wool scarf was slowly growing in her lap.

 “Mother,” Saoirse introduced. “This is Harry James Potter and his…”

 “Godchild,” Harry supplied.

 “…godchild. They’re out of their proper time and have several questions and problems that are beyond regular help. They would like to visit our well,” Saoirse said, before turning towards Harry. “Mister Potter, this is my mother, Muirgel Kenn.”

 “Well met,” Harry said, a little stunned.

 Ah, so it seemed that Saoirse wasn’t yet the guardian and governor of the Witchwood. Some things had changed after all. Presumably this old woman, her mother, had died sometime between now and when Harry had met her daughter – and Harry wondered faintly what exactly might have tried and finally succeeded in killing a Kenn. He dearly, ridiculously hoped it had been old age.

 Muirgel Kenn finished looking him over, stared him right in the eye, and said, “Well met, indeed. Have a seat, son. You and your child. And we’ll see what we can do.”

 

~ how do you solve a problem like time travel?

 

 Harry set Teddy down on the sofa opposite the rocking chair and then sat down next to his still drowsy but interested godson, who drooped against him and yawned again. Saoirse excused herself to fetch tea for them. Harry and the elder Kenn were left staring at each other, each sizing the other up.

 “…I felt you the moment you stepped past the first tree,” Muirgel said finally, her hands still clicking away in her lap. “I felt you two coming our way and wondered if you would stop by. It’s not every day that we get a force like yours wandering these woods. You feel odd; you feel old, Mister Potter, and I’m inclined to think there’s a fairly certain sort of reckoning coming if there are wizards like you walking the world in the future.”

 Harry didn’t know what to say to this. She was right, of course, but where to begin? The future had been a disaster compared to the world as it was now, and he and Teddy had very possibly made a disaster of the timeline on top of everything. Where to start? What was safe to say?

 “You don’t have to tell me anything and, in fact, I think you oughtn’t until we have some answers for your questions and quest,” Muirgel continued. “You’re very noticeable, Mister Potter, is all, and I’m glad you’re seeking to right yourself before you attracted the wrong sort of attention. Now, what will you be asking from the witch in my well?”

 “I want to know what’s been done to the timeline by our presence and unknowing actions,” Harry explained succinctly, glad that the Kenns weren’t for small talk or nonsense, “and to fix it before the consequences fall on us and the timeline.”

 Muirgel hummed. “Fixing time is no small task. Neither is it a cheap one.”

 “I’ve plenty to offer and I’ve dealt with well witches before. I’ve dealt with this well witch before, even, and I have no plans to deal recklessly or to let her smell my desperation.”

 There was something alike to approval in Muirgel Kenn’s dark eyes, like he was passing a test where he wasn’t even being told what the questions were. It was uncomfortable, but not nerve-wracking. Harry had taken a lot of these tests over his lifetime and he found, given the sorts of problems he tended to bring to the table, people could usually be convinced to pass him whatever he said.

 “You seem to know what you’re about then, Mister Potter. What else will you ask of her? That isn’t all you seek in your quest here.”

 “I want to know how we came to be here and, if possible, be returned to our proper place and time,” Harry said plainly. “We’re not meant to be here…” No matter how much he might wish to visit and change what could be. “…and we left a lot of unfinished business…” Unfinished lives. “…behind us.”

 They had finally won. The others would be looking for them.

 Muirgel nodded, eyes still fixed on him, her fingers going click-click, click-click, click-click. “That’s a hard choice to make. I’m finding myself reluctantly impressed, truth be told, that you apparently grew up to be a better hero than those rubbish papers make you out to be. Good choice; good character; good man.”

 Harry stared, a little bewildered. “…Thank you?”

 “But there’s something you maybe ought to know, before you try trading anything, son.”

 “Yes?” Harry prompted, because he knew far better than to pass up the advice of an old watcher witch. It was only polite to listen to his host anyway, and the smart thing to do when he very badly needed access to her well and the creature inside.

 Muirgel Kenn’s stare was nothing less than soul-piercing as she said, “There’s nothing wrong with time.”

Harry blinked and Teddy made a tired, surprised noise tucked against his chest.

 “Sorry?” Harry said.

 “My Saoirse is married to a Palmsee. Do you know the family?”

 Saoirse Kenn had been married? Well, that explained the ring, but Harry felt inappropriately stunned at the mere idea. In all the years he’d known her, Saoirse had never once mentioned a spouse. They hadn’t been friends really, more like friendly acquaintances that occasionally worked together, but still. First a mother, now a spouse? And a Palmsee? Saoirse Kenn was married to a Palmsee?

 “It’s a small world after all,” Harry murmured, without the bitterness he usually attached to the phrase, more surprised than anything else. “Yes, I do. I’m… friendly work acquaintances with a Palmsee, actually.”

 Better work acquaintances than he’d been with Saoirse Kenn, anyway; Christina Palmsee had been a steadfast ally of theirs and a very good associate to have. A versatile witch and seer around Harry’s age, Christina worked and lived as the leader of a group of independents, all dedicated to combatting and neutralizing the more shadowy creatures and forces before they became larger and more dangerous threats. Harry had admired what he’d seen of Christina Palmsee, whenever she rarely but regularly dropped by with critical information and to join crucial operations, for her unyielding dedication to the never-ending fight, her sharply cutting humour besides, and her destiny knotted around destroying her own dark forces. A kindred soul of sorts, in passing, if Harry had ever known one.

 He hadn’t seen Christina in months though. He wasn’t sure what had become of her, trusting Ginny, who’d been Christina’s primary contact in their group, to say something if there was news. He hoped Christina had survived to see and appreciate the breaking of the Sealing, and hadn’t died fighting that sub-world of foul, chaotic magical forces Harry tended to leave to her and… oh… people like Saoirse Kenn.

 How old would Christina be now? Thirteen? Twelve? Saoirse was nearly fifty or so, so maybe she was one of Christina’s parents? Harry was fairly certain he would at least know if Saoirse Kenn had been Christina Palmsee’s mother – mostly. Perhaps an aunt or uncle Palmsee to Christina, then?

 “Oh? Small world indeed,” Muirgel said calmly.

 “…I’m sorry,” Harry said finally, when his mind had just about given up on trying to internally process everything that this old witch was dumping on him. “But what do you mean ‘there’s nothing wrong with time’? How do you know? Are you certain?”

 My godson apparently superficially blew up Voldemort, the timeline should not be fine!

 “Son, if you know a Palmsee, then you ought to know that keeping an eye on fate, timelines, destiny, and chance… all that lucky business… is their speciality,” Muirgel reminded him, looking unimpressed now, before her expression turned sympathetic. “Saoirse knows better than I what her woman and time’s been up to.”

 Christina Palmsee’s speciality, as far as Harry knew, was mainly making sure the world didn’t literally fall to pieces, get eaten, or spontaneously end. Mainly by hunting down and slaughtering truly dangerous Dark beings, creatures, and forces with a calm and grieving vengeance – along with enough witty finishing sentences to ruin the point of a good one-liner. Metaphorically driving any good lines into the ground through sheer quantity of them like a broomstick accident that couldn’t be ignored. 

 What had Ginny said? Ah right. A woman after her own heart, that one.

 Harry had always been too busy to really care how their rarely appearing ally chose her targets and tracked them down. That was more of Hermione, Luna, and George’s thing. Harry’s thing was usually the slaughtering part if he was involved.

 “Saoirse! Saoirse, come here, please!”

 “Yes, Mum?”

 Saoirse Kenn’s curly-haired head immediately popped around the sitting room’s doorway, so quickly that Harry was inclined to think she’d been shamelessly eavesdropping. Once Muirgel bid her daughter to join them, Saoirse disappeared again and came back seconds later with a tea tray and many large biscuits, which was quickly set down and shared around.

 Harry took his steaming mug a little numbly, putting a biscuit into Teddy’s reaching hand that was sleepily put to the mouth and gnawed on. Harry’s godson was clearly forcing himself to stay awake to listen; he had deep lines and grey circles under his eyes, his hair was limp and brown, and the fact that Teddy was mostly non-verbal right now was most strongly an indicator of extreme tiredness. Either that or shyness in the face of a sort-of stranger. Harry didn’t have the heart to tell his godson to go back to sleep; Teddy deserved to listen to this if he wanted to.

 “I had a call with Elena a few hours ago,” Saoirse explained, waving her hands about in an illustration of nothing in particular, now seated on a plush armchair next to her mother’s rocking chair. “She said that the Currents, which I take to understand are the flow of time and fate, are very alike to rapids at the moment. Changing swiftly and unpredictably, as though something enormous and unlikely has happened, and the world is adjusting to an entirely different direction for the future. Everything changed two nights ago.”

 “Tha’s when we got here,” Teddy mumbled to his godfather.

 “Yes, it is,” Harry agreed, still watching the Kenn witches carefully. “And this means that there’s nothing wrong with time? Where’s the guarantee that there’s not a twist that’s going to snap painfully back on any and all changes? I’m sorry, but I’ve had several bad run-ins with Tempormancy and I’d prefer to be absolutely certain that nothing is wrong and nothing will be wrong.”

 Saoirse and Muirgel exchanged a look between them, before Saoirse cleared her throat and elaborated, “There’s no twist… is what I mean to say. The Currents, according to Elena, are changing without issue. It’s chaotic, apparently, but not at all unstable. What’s happening now, as I understand it… there’s nothing about it that needs to be undone.”

 “As we understand it, Mister Potter,” Muirgel continued carefully, “if there was a dangerous Tempormantic twist behind the changes to the Currents, we would know.” She leaned back in her chair a bit more, her long knitting needles still clicking away in her lap. “The Palmsees are very, very good at what they do. Even if they don’t know the why, they’ll still know there’s something wrong. Some say they’re a little vague, even for seers, but my mother always said that the very first step was knowing that questions needed to be asked in the first place. The step after that is finding the right questions.”

 Harry wanted very dearly to give some sort of smart response to this, because was still exhausted from his battle, tired beyond his body, and worried out of his mind. But he held his tongue in check. It would be ungrateful and rude to take his temper out on the Kenns, who were only trying to help and owed him nothing, much less suffering through how much he wasn’t in the mood for riddles. He wouldn’t set that sort of example for Teddy… and he didn’t have that much of a deathwish.

 “What’re the right questions?” Teddy mumbled curiously, around his biscuit.

 Muirgel Kenn smiled at Teddy, slightly awkwardly. “I’m afraid I don’t know,” she said, hands still click-clicking away. “But dropped stitches have to be traced all the way back. Past the panic, where does your problem really begin?”

 With the twist in time that’ll snap down on all of us, Harry thought. But it isn’t there.

 “The twist. There’s no twist,” he said. “There should be twist, but there isn’t.”

 “That’s troubling,” Muirgel agreed.

 “Why’s there supposed to be a twist anyways?” Teddy said, lifting his chin and resting it on Harry’s chest so he could stare up at his godfather. He was bleary still, but fighting it admirably.

 “Because that’s how time-turning devices always work,” Harry answered tiredly, having had far too many conversations, arguments, lectures, and flaming rows on the matter not to be well-informed. “Remember, Ted? Time-turners create local pockets of twisted time, temporarily, and things need to match up when the scrunched-up time unwinds again and snaps back into place. Else terrible things.”

 “Yeah, I know that,” Teddy said, annoyed and exhausted. “But we didn’t use a time-turning thingy to get here.”

 Harry opened his mouth to answer – maybe to tell Teddy not to use that tone with him and that it was far past time to go to bed – but then stopped. He closed his mouth.

 “Well,” he said. “Alright.” 

 

~ if you need anything

 

 If there was anything that Harry mostly certainly didn’t need at the moment, it was a method of Tempormancy that he wasn’t familiar with. In hindsight, it was obvious that were always going to have an issue with unfamiliar territory. The method of travel that Teddy had recounted was clearly an accident – some horrid mishmash of enchanted objects and substances that had miraculously dumped them here instead of outright tearing them to pieces – and Harry was suddenly forced to seriously consider his passing thought that time was going to pull some new, horrible trick on them.

 Time-turners twisted time, creating small loops or pockets among an otherwise unchanged world. They were very limited devices; there was good reason most "safe" Tempormancy devices couldn't go back very far or for very long. Once the twist snapped back, the time should always fit smoothly back into place and move on with the rest of the world, and if someone meddled and things didn't fit right... well... there were consequences. The world had to rearrange itself a little and there was always a mess - far too frequently, in Harry's upsetting experience with people unable to accept the Sealing and grasp basic time-turner theory, there was also a body count. For there not to be a twist suggested new territory... a different impact on time than had the method of time travel that Harry was familiar with. 

 “Well, indeed,” Muirgel said, her knitting needles clicking away in her lap. “Mister Potter, if I were you, before I started flinging magic about, I’d figure out what your problem really is before you make it worse. If you don’t know how you got here, then it’s likely you don’t really know where you are. If you’re wandering around without knowing where you are, there’s little chance you actually know where you’re going, which unfortunately usually means you’re going wrong.”

 Harry’s first reaction was indignation, because he didn’t ask for this and he was doing his best to get it fixed, but he held that feeling in and had a proper look at it. The problem with watcher witches was that they had uncomfortably keen eyes; conversations could end up being confrontations with someone who could see right through you. He was frustrated, but that didn’t make Muirgel wrong.

 Harry’s second reaction was exhaustion, because he didn’t ask for this and it was frustrating trying to fix of problem of dubious existence. He’d had a long day. He’d had several long days. All he wanted was to go home and sleep, maybe drink a small lake and eat something, and he didn’t want anything else getting in his way of a victory that had taken too many years of some very, very long days. But now it seemed that he was a very long way from home indeed, and blessed relief was getting further away by every revelation of the minute.  

 Harry reached up with his free hand, the one that wasn’t stuck under Teddy, and rubbed tiredly at his face. “So now I need to find out if I’m gonna break the world in a new way,” he muttered, revising the list of things he needed from the well witch downstairs.

 “Sounds like you’ve got some questions to think about, Mister Potter,” Muirgel said, in line with Harry’s tired thoughts. “We can get you some quill and parchment if you like, but I think you’d be better off with a bed first and breakfast tomorrow morning.”

 “The world might be ending,” Harry replied, bemused, trying not to think about how tempting that offer was. It was so very, very tempting. He was exhausted. “Is there really time for sleep and breakfast?”

 For the first time in a while, Saoirse piped up again. “I’d personally rather that the person trying to save the world be working on a decent night’s sleep and a good breakfast,” she offered. “I mean no offense, Mister Potter, it’s just that I’ve seen what happens when your type tries to operate without those things. It’s well-meaning, definitely, just… grouchy and often with bad results? Everything is a bit strange, but the world seems fine enough for now and I think it can last another night – it’s been doing that successfully for a very long time, despite everything.”

 Muirgel Kenn smiled proudly. “Well said, Saoirse.”

 “Thank you.”

 Then Muirgel turned her sharp, dark eyes on Harry. “If I must be entirely honest, Mister Potter, you’re not getting anywhere near my well with the state you’re in. I’m sorry, but if you want to even see it, I demand you sleep first. We’ll help you find out where you are and where you’re going, but you’re in no state to go dealing with a demon.”

 Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Muirgel was once again frustratingly right.

 “Now that you’ve started to calm down, I have to ask, Mister Potter: what sort of world do you come from where bartering with a demon is your first option?” Muirgel demanded, her hands going click-click, click-click, click-click. She turned to Saoirse and commented as an aside: “Magicking tired is just as bad as magicking drunk, you know. They really ought to teach that better in schools.”

 Saoirse nodded fervently. “They ought to teach both better, really.”

 “Well said.”

 And then both Kenn witches turned to look at Harry.

 “Er,” Harry said, through what he was now realizing was a very serious blur of exhaustion. “Well, you see, it’s just that… no one else knows enough about this stuff. Or can fix it, usually.” 

 Muirgel didn’t look at all impressed with this answer, but Saoirse looked thoughtful. Harry had to sit there and sweat while Muirgel’s needles clicked in disapproval, the old witch perhaps mulling over how to begin leading him towards realizing exactly how stupid he’d been, and Saoirse finished her thought. 

 “Mother,” Saoirse said finally.

 Muirgel turned her sharp stare on her daughter and raised her eyebrows.

 “McKinnons,” Saoirse said simply, as though this name alone explained everything.

 Harry had to wrack his mind for this name and came up with only a vague sense of familiarity and having heard it somewhere before, everything very much not explained to him. Teddy was still gnawing on his biscuit and made a confused sound, maybe about five minutes from passing out again and drooling against Harry’s side. Muirgel, on the other hand, seemed to understand immediately; her expression softened into something sad.

 “Ah,” the old woman said. “I suppose that’s right. If you needed any sort of soul or imprint magic, I’d still be telling you to go to a McKinnon. But there aren’t any of those proud fools left anymore, not between all that plotting and war, and I suppose you had a similar sort of problem.”

 Everybody who knows anything is dead, Harry thought. Yes, that was one of our most frequent problems. Experience, wisdom, and knowledge enough to be considered a practiced expert demanded gathering over time usually, and survival and willingness to share it. Mortal beings were squishy, untrusting, and often ignorant; but demons were clever, open to contracts, and survived like immortal cockroaches. Demons had often been, if not the only choice for a thorough answer and solution, the easiest option and best chance for survival. They liked it that way.

 A sharp click-click from Muirgel brought Harry’s attention back to the present, not on past mistakes.

 “Here, Mister Potter, if you’re so keen on making a deal: let me put you and your godchild up for the night. While you nap, Saoirse and I will see if we can find you a human who can give you answers, poke at our people and such – start making you a map. We’ll feed you in the morning and if it all comes down to nothing, we’ll take a fall down the well.”

 Harry’s tired mind tried to think this through. It sounded good, as far as he could consider the idea in his groggy state, though echoes of panic and urgency were still clinging to him. If anyone would know whether or not the world was about to collapse under twisted timelines, it was probably the Palmsees and the Kenns. He didn’t really want to tackle the challenge of a wellwitch at the moment anyway. He was very, very tired.

 “Why are you helping me?” Harry said finally.

 He nearly winced at his own awkwardness as soon as the question left his mouth, but he was tired and facing a sort-of stranger and the world he was from hadn’t frequently been kind. Of course Muirgel and Saoirse Kenn didn’t want the world to end, but there were being kinder than Harry was comfortable with, as vulnerable as he was. This reaction didn’t surprise him, he just… didn’t understand it… and he was tired enough that the question had escaped him.

 Muirgel and Saoirse, on the other hand, did looked surprised. Then identical looks of sympathy crossed their faces, in synchronization with one another, and Harry had to blink at the sight. Merlin, Teddy had been right, it was strange to see people so young and not dead.

 “You came to us for help, Mister Potter,” Muirgel said finally. “And you need it.”

 Harry couldn’t see a trace of a lie on her face, and he couldn’t tell whether or not this frustrated him too. If there was frustration and anger, it was likely misplaced, leftovers at being thwarted when home and victory had not so long ago seemed so close. He wouldn’t be ungrateful for honest help from the Kenns in this sorry state of his: exhausted and weak and without place or direction.

 “Thank you,” Harry said.

 Muirgel smiled. Click-click, click-click, click-click.

 “You’re very welcome, Mister Potter. Now, to bed with you and the child drooling biscuit on your shirt.”

 

~ don’t let the monsters bite

 

 The Kenn cottage’s second floor had three bedrooms: a master bedroom that he’d never seen used and now realized was Muirgel’s, a smaller bedroom that had always been Saoirse’s, and a guest bedroom that Harry had actually stayed in before. This version of the guest bedroom clearly hadn’t been use in a while, as Saoirse’s last minute spelling missed the dust in several places – like the empty flower vase on the old white window sill and several of the crowded bookshelves – and books spilled off their shelves into several stacked boxes of perpetually unpacked belongings.

 But it was clean-ish and warm, and there was a double bed for Harry and Teddy to share, so it was good enough for Harry. There was something terribly familiar and comforting about being a guest in someone’s occupied house again, which peaceful and whole, knowing that all the monsters were prowling outside solid warding and couldn’t touch him here. Harry thought he liked it, but even if he didn’t it was still something.

 At Muirgel’s behest, Harry and Teddy had eaten as much tea and biscuits as they could stomach while Saoirse hastily tidied the guest bedroom, and then Harry had carried Teddy upstairs to take a shower. As much as Harry wanted nothing more than to collapse immediately, he knew he’d regret spending any longer in spell-burned, half-ruined, dust-and-hell-knows-what-stained leather and scale armour. It wasn’t really comfortable enough to sleep in and the residue of the battle would probably stain the Kenn’s slightly dusty, creamy, floral print bedcovers irreparably – which with magic was saying something. Also, he probably smelled terrible, even if the Kenns hadn’t said anything.

 After getting cleaned up, Harry helped Teddy into the clothes that Saoirse had kindly if hilariously apologetically left out for them. The Kenn witches only really had their own clothes around, so there was nothing really properly sized or styled for a child or a pair of picky wizards; Harry assured Saoirse that neither he nor Teddy were picky. Teddy was a notorious dandy, but Harry’s godson had his own definition of that which allowed the “borrowing” and wearing of any sufficiently interesting or sparkly item of clothing at least twice, whether it fit or had holes or not. And Harry’s pride didn’t give much of a damn about his appearance even when he had the energy to bother, so he thanked Saoirse sincerely and pulled on the spell-warmed clothing with sigh of relief and no complaint.

 Teddy was gifted with a green sleeping frock that probably belonged to Saoirse. He probably had clothes in his purse, but since it was a toss-up whether or not they were clean, Harry didn’t mention it. After Harry helped his godson pull it on, Teddy spent several seconds admiring the lace around the skirt that went past his knees and the little bows around the collar and sleeves that kept slipping off his skinny shoulders. Then, with a great yawn and no further ado, Teddy went and crawled into and under the sheets of the bed. He appeared to fall promptly asleep, his brown-haired head burrowed somewhere under the pillows.

 Harry was left with a soft pair of brown trousers that stopped mid-shin, embroidered with colourful wildflowers that curled around the hems and up the knee, and a loose, silky robe-like top with a wide collar and flowing sleeves that stopped just after his elbow. It was also a light pink and covered in butterflies in bright sunset colours, and probably belonging to Muirgel, who was both wider and shorter than her daughter and apparently inclined towards brighter things.

 A soft knock at the door interrupted Harry’s musing on how Teddy would likely want a shirt just like it when he was less tired. Harry pulled away from studying himself in the guest bedroom mirror, casually yanking the sleeves of his new top down as far as they could go, and opened the door. Saoirse was waiting patiently on the other side, Harry’s old clothing folded in her arms.

 “I’m sorry,” Saoirse said quietly, looking towards the floor, “but I haven’t the faintest how to wash this.”

 Harry smiled at her, reaching out to take them off her. “It’s alright. I’ll get it later.” Dragon scale and leather was painfully magic-resistant and difficult to clean; he wondered if it would be too dangerous to try and find a dry-cleaner willing to tackle the armour before they left this time.

 Saoirse reluctantly handed the clothes over, then did a visible double-take as she caught sight of the bare skin of Harry’s arms. She gasped and put a hand over her mouth, her eyes widening as they travelled up and caught sight of his bared neck as well – both of these areas had been covered by Harry’s battle outfit before. The lack of cover would be Harry’s only complaint about his borrowed clothes, if only to spare himself and others the surprise of the scars he’d collected over the years.

 All up and down his arms, over every bit of skin including several other burn scars and cuts, was a twisting, almost flowery, pale red pattern of scars. Cursed lightning, Harry could attest, wasn’t fun to get hit by or try to tame with your bare hands. He’d paid for that stupidity and moment of unawareness with these actually lightning-shaped scars, which cut and curled over his skin like several twisting strikes might through the sky, and which still ached on bad days.

They hadn’t yet figured out how to get rid of the scars before Harry had gone to the old Ministry building to end it. Curses resisted healing at the best of times, and more commonly, simple or indelicate healing could make them worse. Re-growing skin and such, Harry could also attest, was even less fun and to be avoided if one could help it, and in this particular case had needed time for the curse to calm down if Harry wanted to undergo the whole awful process. 

 Then there was his neck, which was similarly recent and eye-catching, where it was revealed that the faint scars on the underside and edges of his jaw were only the beginning. He looked, as Ron had said frankly, like something with a lot of anger and very blunt claws had done its best to tear his throat out, and failed pathetically but spectacularly. As this had been more or less what had happened, Harry had thrown a spell in his best friend’s direction and listened with tired acceptance as Hannah had explained to him that getting rid of the filth from the claws had left him so scarring was sadly inevitable.

 There was essentially no part of Harry that didn’t ache on rainy days now if he didn’t remember to spell himself or his clothing. All the scars he’d gathered over the years, if he didn’t cover up, left the old lightning bolt scar on his forehead a bit outmatched appearance-wise. He wasn’t ashamed of them, often being in good and similar company, and didn’t mind the staring, but he could do without the aches and the invasive questions that generally got asked.

 “Oh my,” Saoirse said quietly.

 Harry waited, but that was all Saoirse said. She stared for a few seconds longer, but then she visibly steeled herself and looked up to meet his eyes. Harry looked back at the watcher witch, who was nearly fifty and not young, but managed to seem so nevertheless with her missing scars and wide eyes.

 “I was just about to write some of our friends and acquaintances about finding you a Tempormancer,” Saoirse said instead of whatever Harry had been expecting. “Well, I don’t know if there are any professional Tempormancers around,” she corrected apologetically. “But a time travel and time magic consultant of some sort – a more human one than the witch downstairs at least.”

 “Ah,” Harry said. “Thank you.”

 He didn’t particularly like the idea of bringing more people into his mess, but the Kenns were good people and they had good tests. And he did have to admit that it was safer by half and probably half again to bring in some regular sorcerer instead of immediately falling down an old well.

 “And I thought, while I was sending letters out, I ought to ask you if you had any letters you’d like to send out,” Saoirse went on. “I mean, any particular person or sort of person you’d prefer.”

 “Well, not really. So long as they’re not evil or mad, I can put up with snotty,” Harry said, smiling at Saoirse so she’d catch on that he was mostly teasing. “Honestly, my preference is for someone who’s an idea of what they’re doing and are open-minded enough to accept that maybe they don’t at the same time. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, I suppose.”

 Saoirse frowned. “They ought to be,” she said. “Everyone deserves better than leftovers and rot for one. I’ll try my best, Mister Potter. I don’t much like snotty either.”

 Harry nearly snorted at hearing her say it that way, but he refrained. “Thanks, Miss Kenn.”

 “You’re welcome to my given name, if you wish.”

 “Then I’m just Harry. Thanks, Saoirse.”

 “You’re very welcome. I’ll be on my way then, so you can get your sleep.”

 “Ah, just a moment?”

 “Yes.”

 Harry tucked his folded outfit under one arm, reaching up with the other to rub at the back of his hair. While he didn’t have any experts in time magic in mind to send letters to, Saoirse’s initial question about letters with unspecified recipients had reminded him of a promise made earlier today. He didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t want to leave any more people wondering where he’d disappeared to if he could help it.

 “I would like to send a letter, if that’s alright,” Harry said. “Just a short note. We met some people on our way here and I promised to let them know that we were getting home alright.”  

 “Oh, that shouldn’t be any trouble! Here, let me get you some parchment…”

 Saoirse hurried off to her room and returned moments later with parchment and a self-inking quill, which admittedly took Harry a moment because he’d been using pens and paper for the past few years or so. Saoirse left him be to collect her own letters, giving him time to think about what to say. Harry spent several minutes torn about what exactly to write, wondering what to say and what he could safely imply – like the secrets to Voldemort’s mortality, warnings about Dumbledore and potential deaths, and that getting home wasn’t going as simple as he’d hoped it would. In the end, he forced himself to stop overthinking it and pondering temptation and just wrote a straightforward letter.

             Dear Remus and Snuffles,

            We found some good friends of ours who will help us find our way home soon. They’re very kind and they know what they’re doing, so we’re in good hands. I’ll try to write another note before we go for good or at least tell our friends to write you after we go. I’m sorry we couldn’t stay or speak longer. Thank you for everything.

            Lots of love,

            the bloke who broke in

            P.S. My travelling companion is asleep at the moment, but hello from them as well.

 It was a little stiff, but it was good enough for Harry. It did what it was supposed to and if he tried rewriting it, he’d be here all night until he ran out of parchment. It said what it had to and didn’t let anything slip, not as far as Harry could tell, so it had to be good enough. Whether or not it was good enough, Harry waved a hand over the ink to dry it and promptly folded the parchment, refusing to re-read it for a third time and be tempted to add more.

 Saoirse came back a few minutes later to collect Harry’s letter, which he’d considered addressing to Grimmauld Place before he’d remembered that the place was probably still covered in foul warding that wouldn’t be inclined towards letting his letters through. In the end, Harry addressed it to Remus Lupin with no physical address and told Saoirse to send it along to Minerva McGonagall at Hogwarts, who would surely pass it along to an ex-professor with minimal snooping, if Teddy’s father wasn’t easily found for some reason. With all the Order business that would be happening this summer, it could fairly safely be assumed that Minerva and Remus would see each other soon enough.

 Saoirse promised to see it done and they said goodnight to each other for good. Harry closed the door and prepared for bed, puttering around the guest bedroom and putting up some minimal warding. He very much doubted it would be needed and he was exhausted enough that it was a bother, but he’d rather be safe than sorry. There were actual monsters nearby, after all.

 It was as he was putting the last breath of protection to the window that Harry caught sight of Saoirse leaving the cottage. She was in her long green cloak again, the hood raised this time, a satchel slung over her shoulder, and carrying a long wooden staff and separate lantern from the one by the door. He watched her close the front door carefully behind her, slip out the white gate, and hurry up the sloped path through the clearing’s tall grass. Saoirse Kenn and the light of her lantern soon disappeared between two of the enormous rune stones and into the forest.

 Harry stared a little longer, unsure what to think of his hostess leaving the cottage at ten o’clock at night on business. If it could fix his time travel problem all the sooner, that’d be nice. Whatever she was up to, he was still fairly certain that even with the difference in times, Kenn business was still the sort that he ought to keep his nose out of as much as possible if he didn’t have a direct invitation.

 Thoughts of Kenn business pulled Harry back into the moment, as he realized he was standing in the window of the cottage, staring out into the dark woods. That… probably wasn’t a great idea. He couldn’t see anything moving besides the expected stirring of trees, but there was a wary feeling shivering up the flowery scars of his arms. So Harry, having learned his lesson about these feelings, closed the curtains and went to bed.

 He shoved Teddy over a little and crawled underneath the warm blankets as well, collapsing not unlike a game of Exploding Snap. His head hit the soft pillow with blissful force. Through deep breaths and Teddy’s quiet snores, Harry found himself drifting off to sleep within minutes. With his last thoughts, he dreamed of home and hoped that tomorrow would still be there in the morning.

 

~ passing through  

 

 The house was all but entirely abed and Mike, the last piece of the puzzle, was feeling ready to finish the job. After far too many afternoon and night shifts, often side by side, Mike had much appreciated his past two days off and was looking forward to enjoying a lazy Sunday with his wife and son again tomorrow. He just had to find where in the darkened house he’d left the book he’d been reading.

 It was while Mike was checking under all the sofa cushions that he heard the faint click of his front door, and immediately dropped a throw pillow in favour of raising his wand. He moved silently towards cover and waited as a soft yellow light peered through the opening front door, coming from a lantern held in a careful dark brown hand. The lantern-holding hand was followed by a familiar green cloak and dark curls, as well the other holding a familiar wooden staff.

 “Saoirse, what’re you doing here?” Mike said, stepping out a little but keeping his wand raised. Ellie had said just yesterday that her beautiful wife, Mike’s beloved sister-in-law, was at her mother’s this week.

 Saoirse turned wide eyes on him, her entire face lighting up with surprise. “Mike!” she said, still softly. “Hello! Sorry, I am… I was… and I don’t mean to wake anyone. I’m on an errand for my mother and need the name and Floo address of a consultant from one of your cases – immediately – If it’s not too much trouble. I’m sorry, I would have called ahead, but it’s late and urgent.”

 “Saoirse,” Mike sighed. “Of course I’ll help, just…”

 It clearly wasn’t clicking on Saoirse’s face, so Mike very slightly waved the wand he still had raised in her direction as a hint. For someone who has been married to his sister, an equally if not even more paranoid Auror Captain, for over two decades, Saoirse was terribly forgetful about this part.

 Saoirse’s brow furrowed, then understanding dawned. “Oh, right. How is your supply of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Ice Cream doing?”

 “Garishly plentiful,” Mike answered tiredly, finally lowering his wand in defeat. They might be Sighted, but even the Sight could be fooled – and probably whatever the Kenns were could be fooled too – and precautions were important. If only they could get Saoirse to remember that and to return the favour when it was the other way around. “Who can I get for you at this time of night, Saoirse?”

 Saoirse flapped her hands in an effort to remember. “Oh, oh, that delightful consultant for your case a few months back. I can’t remember the name, but they were very charming over dinner. They knew a lot about pocket dimensions; we talked nearly all night about them.”

 “I… think I know who you’re talking about,” Mike said, frowning. “But why didn’t you just ask Ellie?”

 “She’s at work,” Saoirse replied simply.

 “It’s really that urgent then?”

 Saoirse looked around the darkened living room, then stared back at him, as though to silently say that she wouldn’t have broken into his house late at night unless it was urgent. Mike repressed the urge to sigh. He would like it very much if people would stop trespassing on his property late at night, even if they were his sister-in-law.

 They still hadn’t found Janet’s car or its thief.  

 “Yes,” Saoirse said.

 “Alright, just… let me get my contacts book,” Mike said, giving up on repressing his sigh.

 “Alright,” Saoirse echoed. 

 Mike nodded, turned, and wandered back through the house. He made his way into his office and grabbed a small, black leather journal off the bookcase, scratching its spine and running his hand clockwise over the front three times before he opened it. Then he started thumbing through the pages of work acquaintances, freelance consultants, investigators for hire, unsavoury informants, professional criminals, expert academics, and other such liaisons, counterparts, and mercenaries. Mike caught a few names and notes that Ellie had added since the last time he’d written in the book, and he made a mental note to give it a proper re-read later and then ask his sister what the hell she’d been up lately just so nothing nasty caught him by surprise later.

 Luckily, he happened upon the name he was looking for fairly quickly and the notes there were as glowing as they got. The professor Saoirse was looking for was a little young, but helpful, intelligent, and open-minded – not the sort to get squeamish at a crime scene or cry foul at deeper worlds of magic – actually, it might have been the opposite given that there was a note from Ellie giving warning of dangerous levels of dangerously academic curiosity. Whatever the hell that meant.

 Mike didn’t mean to worry, as Saoirse was an intelligent and powerful witch, but… well… he hoped that Saoirse’s mother would act as the voice of reason. He didn’t much remember this consultant, as it had been more of Ellie’s case than his, but he’d been a Ravenclaw and remembered enough of that to fear the possibility of tangents among academic-minded people without a designated voice of common sense to see everyone through the antics.

 This professor of Ellie and Saoirse’s also wasn’t dead or a ghost to recent Palmsee knowledge, which was good. More than a few older entrants into the book were after the war and some of the newer entrants were as well given Mike and Ellie’s hazardous careers. Professors and casual consultants, for obvious reasons, tended to last longer than blackmarket dealers or professional “antiquities redistributors”, as well as Aurors and other law enforcement officials – and not just because they had that tenure stuff.

 Some of the names in the book left Mike feeling nostalgic for the days during and before the war, back when he and Ellie had been lower-ranked Aurors. With the privilege of hindsight and experience, he had a better understanding and sense of grief for how young they’d all been. All he remembered thinking at the time was how fun it was to watch Marcella McKinnon make his barely elder sister squawk, and before he’d known it, he'd been kicking himself for not Seeing something – anything – when the Jackdaw’s Steeple had burned and all the McKinnons with it.

 Mike frowned, partly from the bad memories and partly looking at the profile in his hand. The professor wasn’t a bad sort to his knowledge, but a foreboding feeling was tingling up the hair of his arms all the same. What urgent need did Muirgel Kenn have for an expert in the study of time and space?

 He wanted to look into it. He could feel himself on the edge of a precipice, staring out towards a thick cloud of fog holding a light in the distance, ready to squint… or to leap. But he could feel the wind of heady Currents, hear the rush of rapids that would swallow him before he could ever reach the other side, and he had the feeling he’d be cursed with the same headache plaguing his sister if he forced himself to try and See what lay ahead. The Currents were calming, but they were still undergoing their mysterious fracturing, and this… this might be a part of that.

 If he couldn’t trust his Senses, then he had to trust himself.

 Did he trust Saoirse and her mother to have the best interests of the greater good at heart? Of course he did; they were Kenns and that was what Kenns did, and Saoirse and Muirgel were good people besides. But it screamed against his sense of responsibility as an officer of the law, concerned citizen, and decent person, to trust so blindly when there were such dangerous things happening. Was he just supposed to hand over the Floo address of a flighty professor to his gentle sister-in-law and hope that she and her elderly, admittedly powerful mother would solve the problem behind the scenes? Admittedly, that sort of problem-solving was what both Kenns and Palmsees did, so maybe the problem Mike was having at the moment was the thought of being left out.

 The thought of being left out was probably what rankled at him. His sister had suffered an intense Vision chasing down the thief, who was almost certainly involved in this fracturing issue, and two of his subordinates had been sent to Saint Mungo’s. Mike would very much like to have a chat with the git who thought they could steal his wife’s car, nearly curse his sister, and hex his sister’s Junior Aurors to the point of concussions and get away with it. For Alastor Moody’s protégé, Tonks was alright, and seeing her and Sloane laid up like that without doing something didn’t sit well with him.

 Mike sighed, closed the book with several fingers acting as a page marker, and went back to see Saoirse. His sister-in-law was sitting primly on the sofa, her staff in her lap and her lantern on his coffee table, her hood lowered and her hands tugging at her curly black hair. She looked up as he entered.

 “I don’t suppose,” Mike said, “that I’d be allowed on this business of yours?”

 Saoirse shook her head, anxious and apologetic. “I’m sorry, Mike, but it’s not really my business to share to begin with. I can ask the person whose business it is if they would be willing to see you or Ellie, but I can’t promise anything.”

 “Well, can’t hurt to ask,” Mike said.

 “No,” Saoirse agreed. “Thank you for being so understanding.”

 “Promise to call if you need anything? Anything at all?”

 “Of course,” Saoirse answered immediately, actually looking surprised at the thought. As she never imagined doing anything otherwise, and that’s what finally makes Mike relax a little.

 “Thanks.”

 “Do you have the person’s name and address?”

 “Yes, here. It’s quite late to be calling anyone though, so don’t expect a quick response.”

 Saoirse frowned as Mike handed her the book, opened to the right page, and visibly memorized all the information there. Mike hoped she wouldn’t try to cross borders to wake the poor young professor up in the middle of the night. Another last thing that he needed tonight was his sister demanding to know why he would let her wife get arrested for illegal magical transportation or consultant smuggling – which wasn’t a real thing but maybe should have been – on what was clearly dangerous, extremely and quietly important business.

 “Thank you, Mike,” Saoirse said once she was finished, closing his book with a snap. “This is exactly who I was looking for. I’ll get in touch with them immediately.”

 “That’s… the opposite of what I just… never mind.”

 Not listening to Mike’s mutterings, Saoirse stood and handed the book back to him, then she straightened her dress and raised the hood of her green cloak. She took her wooden staff in one hand, letting the end of it touch his wood floor with a dangerous tap, and her lantern in the other. A satchel was slung over one shoulder and Mike didn’t really want to know what it held.

 “I’ll be on my way now, unless there’s anything else you’d like to ask of me.”

  Mike thought about it, feeling a little overwhelmed by responsibility and the unknown. Sometimes he wished he were less competent and prone to worrying. While he knew that Saoirse and Ellie were capable, competent, terribly clever witches and that the world would manage to go on without him working away on its behalf every day, he could never throw the feeling that it wouldn’t go on quite as well if he wasn’t there just to make sure.

 The damning problem of practical Divination, he’d always say.

 The ridiculous problem of him being a soft-hearted if brooding hen, Ellie would always answer.

 He glanced at his wrist, sighed internally, and made up his mind.

 “Ellie drank a significant amount of my potions cabinet the other day,” Mike said. He might have been pushing his sister off a broomstick here, given how Saoirse’s brow furrowed in disapproval, but Ellie should have thought of that before she broke into his house the other day. “She said she’d have you make me more. If you’re willing and whenever you have the time, that’d be great.”

 “Of course,” Saoirse said. “What are you missing?”

 Mike rattled off his supply and felt absolutely no remorse in pointing his sister’s wife at her in retaliation. He’d probably regret it later when Ellie called him a snitch, but barely younger brothers had to take and bask in their revenge where they could.

 “I’ll have those to you soon,” Saoirse promised. “It wouldn’t do to leave you without in an emergency and it’s no trouble, before you say anything implying it is trouble. Thank you again for your help, Mike. If we need anything, I will be sure to let you or Ellie know.”

 “Please. Goodnight, Saoirse.”

 Saoirse left directly after that. She and Mike bid farewell again at the door and then Saoirse walked off towards the nearest point where his wards ended and then walked not much farther beyond where Janet’s car had been parked. Mike soon couldn’t see more than an outline of her, then he saw nothing of her at all. Without a flash, without a sound, Saoirse disappeared into the night.

 Mike looked down at one of his many Sight and tracking devices disguised as wristwatches. He didn’t have nearly as many as Ellie and now was one of the few times where he actually regretted that. Merlin only knew what Yaya’s not-watch was having to say about things now.

 Never mind that, he told himself.

 “I am going to bed so I can have a lazy Sunday with my wife and son tomorrow,” Mike said aloud.

 Then, after a few seconds longer, he said, “What the hell.

 And, some seconds later, after a fistful of powder and a flash of green flame, Mike said, “Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Hi Mary, it’s Mike. I need Captain Elena immediately please. If there’s a faster method than immediately, I need that yesterday.”

 

 

Chapter Text

ACT III: THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

~ I took the path less travelled by ~ the watcher witches ~ how do you solve a problem like time travel? ~ if you need anything ~ don’t let the monsters bite ~ passing through ~~ I await my protector ~ Hope ~ monsieur jon ~ face stealer ~ the courageous consultant unmasked ~~ a friend of a friend ~ into the cottage ~ the task that never ends ~ witching hour ~ the fantastic hippo thesaurus ~ something wicked this well holds ~ deal struck ~ worth its weight in silver ~ the price of human life ~ a great and terrible truth ~ say goodbye ~

 

PART TWO

 

June 27th, 1995

 

~ I await my protector 

 

 Harry awoke with a start again, half-remembered nightmares slipping back down his throat as always, but he calmed himself faster than he had the last time he’d done this. He knew where he was this time, for one thing. And the slightly dusty, barely sunlit guest bedroom of the Kenn cottage, with its pink wallpaper, white trim, and stacks of perpetually unpacked boxes, was a much better place in general to wake up than an abandoned, hostile Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

 Sitting up in bed, Harry listened to his surroundings and took stock. By the greyish light and muted sound of birds, it was fairly early in the morning; Teddy was snoring softly beside him and Harry could hear quiet voices and a radio downstairs. His scars ached and pulled in the way of his charmed protections against potential rain and such things fading slightly overnight. He could smell someone cooking up breakfast and… wrinkled his nose at the sharper smell of someone brewing potions as well intermingling with sausages. His stomach growled nevertheless, and Harry hauled himself out of bed at its painful command, eager to eat or at least fairly desperate to get the foul taste of a long sleep out of his mouth and wash the crust from his eyes.

 Unfortunately, there was only one washroom on this floor that Harry knew of and it was slightly down the hall. It wasn’t far at all but Harry was loathe to leave Teddy even that alone. His godson, like godfather and a fair number of his guardians, wasn’t a fan of waking up alone, especially not after a really rough night. Harry wouldn’t hesitate at all to call the past couple days rough.

 Fortunately, Harry had already come up with a decent trick to handle things like this.

 His magic was still shaky, still recovering, but Harry knew this particular spell like an old friend and he didn’t need it to fight off any manifestations of nightmares or foul feelings today. Many people, who didn’t share his capability or perspective, thought with envy or ignorance that he was showing off, and he rarely had the energy or inclination to argue with them anymore. If George Weasley had ever taught him anything, it was that sometimes you had to eat cheap curry on fancy china plates and wear your fanciest suit to do nothing at all just because you could. Sometimes you had to light a sparkler just to keep you company… or to keep your ten-year-old godson company, as the case might be.

 “Expecto Patronum,” Harry whispered hoarsely.

 Silvery white mist spiralled off of Harry’s palms, which were held facing outward in front of his chest, and twisted with hasty grace into a larger, more solid shape. Blue light started to curl off the mist and brushed off all the bookshelves and boxes, and then a silvery pale blue head tossed back and out of the air. Shining antlers sprouted and then a neck, shoulders, front legs, and hooves reared out of the mist, and then the rest of the glowing stag leaped into being and the guest bedroom.

 Prongs remained as handsome as ever, trotting carefully back around in the small bedroom to face Harry again, making sure not to bump antlers or hooves against the ceiling or boxes. Harry’s patronus was small today and surprisingly translucent, glowing more faintly than usual, thinner and sleeker in appearance than last Harry had called him. All unsurprising, given how this was how he usually appeared when Harry called him for company and how tired Harry was. Prongs didn’t seem to mind at all – he never did – stopping in front of Harry with silvery mist still curling off his edges.

 Harry couldn’t help but smile, a bubbling feeling in his chest despite everything. He reached out to Prongs, as though offering a hand for the glowing stag to sniff, and Prongs leaned forward with obliging and dignified curiosity. Harry knew his hand would go through if he really tried to touch and that Prongs was a spell, but it made him happy to show kindness and affection nevertheless.

 It had been a very long time since Harry had last really thought of Lily and James Potter. It had been years since anyone had said that he looked just like his father. Harry was twenty-eight, already seven years older than his father and mother had ever been, and had lived a very different life besides. Prongs had long-since stopped being just a memory of his parents for Harry. And yet… the desperate dream of a thirteen-year-old boy hadn’t been left behind or forgotten, even if it wasn’t the core of the charm anymore. Harry was now nearly overcome with nostalgia for those old daydreams and that happier time.

 “I saw Padfoot and Moony yesterday,” Harry whispered.

 Prongs leaned forward, tilting his crowned head as he considered Harry with sightless, shining eyes. The glowing stag was smaller than usual today, thinner and less broad, and Harry could almost think that Prongs looked… younger. Not just that the spell was dimmer for exhaustion and lack of urgency, but that here was a young stag who in Harry’s imagination could have been a reflection of the Animagus form of a twenty-old-year-old young wizard.

 Harry leaned forward too, so that his forehead nearly touched Prongs’ own.

 “I think they miss you,” Harry said.

 But Prongs couldn’t even blink with a lack of understanding, and so Harry leaned back. Prongs echoed his motion, leaning back as well, and looked towards the small hill of blankets and pillows that Teddy’s snores were emanating from.

 “Watch him, will you?” Harry said, and left the room.

 

~ Hope

 

 Harry washed up and made his way downstairs, where he could feel Saoirse and Muirgel were. They almost blended into the ancient magic of their house and the clearing, but they had a newness to them that still made them easy to find among the thick history of the house. They were the top, still unsettled layer of something with very deep, very old foundations.

 Entering the kitchen, he found breakfast keeping warm on the stove, a kettle beside it, both under Muirgel’s watchful eye from her place at the dining table. The table was set but still empty of food; Muirgel’s hands were still again click-clicking a long scarf together. Saoirse was in the kitchen area itself, but she was very focused on the potion she was brewing on the countertop. An old Celestina Warbeck tune warbled from the radio on the large windowsill by the dining table, and behind it, rain was starting to speckle against the glass.

 “Good morning, Mister Potter,” Muirgel said.

 “Morning,” Harry replied.

 “Good morning,” Saoirse said as well. “How did you sleep?” She glanced up from her potion brewing and her entire face fell. “Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry! I forgot to lay out some fresh clothes for you!” 

Harry looked over his hosts. Saoirse was still wearing the same practical green dress from yesterday, clearly wrinkled even underneath the apron she’d put over it. Muirgel was also wearing the same bright orange robes decorated with a variety of blue birds as yesterday, also wrinkled, like they’d been up very late and gotten up very early as well.

 Since Harry was in good company and didn’t actually mind wearing the same clothes from last night into this morning, he waved her off. The loose and silky robe-like top that Muirgel had lent him was very comfortable, whether or not it was soft pink and covered in bright butterflies, as were the flower-embroidered trousers. He’d charmed them gently clean this morning and was a bit too groggy to try making the trip back upstairs without some food just for clothes.

 “It’s fine,” Harry said. “I’d actually prefer some breakfast, if that’s being offered.”

 “Of course, have a seat! Can I get you some tea?”

 Harry sat and a teacup was soon brought over to him. “Thank you. What time is it?”

 “Just past nine o’clock in the morning,” Muirgel answered. “Is your godchild going to be joining us?”

 “Yes, I’ll go wake Teddy up now,” Harry sighed, realizing that he was going to have to tackle the stairs again anyway. He’d thought it was earlier. He couldn’t leave Teddy to sleep the day away, not without at least having something to eat. Growing shapeshifters needed their food.

 Just as Harry made to get up, however, there was a notable creak of footsteps and floorboards, and his godson appeared in the doorway to the kitchen slash dining room. Harry supposed that his spellmaking and washing up had woken Teddy. Harry had thought Teddy tired and burrowed enough to easily ignore the glowing deer loitering about, but maybe not.

 Then Harry noticed that Teddy’s hair – blue again – was now a darker shade similar to blueberries and long past the shoulders. Actually, it was long enough to go a fair ways down the back.

 “Oh,” Harry said. “Is today a Hope day?”

 He got a nod in response, a determined look at an unchanged face.

 “Do you want to introduce yourself?”

 “Yeah.”

 So Harry turned to look between Saoirse and Muirgel, realizing that he hadn’t really done proper introductions last night. He’d been focused on leaving as soon as possible. It had been very kind of Saoirse and Muirgel not to press him on his travelling companion.

 “Sorry about the belated introduction,” Harry said apologetically. “Hope, this is Saoirse and Muirgel Kenn, the guardians of the Witchwood and the Ninth Well. Saoirse and Muirgel Kenn, this is my goddaughter…”

 “Hope Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin,” Hope finished proudly.

 “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hope,” Saoirse said, without missing a beat, which was yet another reason why Harry admired her as a person. “I’m sorry if this is an invasive question, but for clarification: is Teddy a nickname or was it your name yesterday?”

 “Name,” Hope answered, coming to have a seat next to her godfather at the dining table. She looked tired still, lines under her eyes, but she was practically beaming at the understanding and attention and Harry was delighted for her. “But also nickname? Edward Remus Lupin-Tonks was yesterday… and the past couple days. Pleased to meet you too.”

 “Long names for such a little person,” Muirgel commented teasingly.

 “Lot of trouble for such a little person too,” Harry said, taking a sip of tea.

 “Lotsa talk for someone with little room for it,” Hope replied immediately, reaching out and making grabby-hands for Harry’s cup of tea. Harry handed it over and she peered at it warily, before she took a sip, considered it, and reached out for the bottle of honey on the table.

 Harry gave up on getting his tea back and turned to Saoirse. “Another cup, if it’s no trouble?”

 Breakfast was the most peaceful and vacation-like affair Harry could remember having for a very, very long time. Whichever one of the Kenns made the fairly simple breakfast, it was delicious, and both Harry and Hope put away what felt like an exorbitant amount of eggs, sausage, and toast. Muirgel and Saoirse were very kind and very happy to interact with Hope now that she was awake and feeling sociable, and listened intently to Hope explain some of the ups and downs of being a Metamorphagus. Harry sat back and enjoyed his goddaughter enjoying being the centre of attention for two kindly older witches.

 When breakfast started to wind down, Muirgel glanced at the clock ticking away on the wall and announced, “Our consultant should be here soon. Fifteen minutes after ten o’clock was the meeting time you mentioned, wasn’t it, Saoirse?”

 “Oh, yes!” Saoirse said, suddenly drawn out of her clothing discussion with Hope. “Yes, that’s it.”

 “Already? That was fast,” Harry said.

 It was already five minutes to ten o’clock according to the clock on the wall. Saoirse had left the house to deliver letters sometime around ten o’clock last night. That was extraordinarily fast, even according to Harry’s standards of emergency consultants.

 “Did we sleep a day away without noticing?” Hope asked, nose wrinkled.

 “No, no,” Saoirse assured her. “Elena worked with a wizard who studies space and time magic on a case a few months back, so I got his contact information from her brother and Flooed him immediately. He was still in his office despite the late hour and agreed to come out immediately when I impressed upon him how urgent the situation was.”

 “Huh,” Hope said.

 “Do you know him well?” Harry asked.

 Saoirse shook her head apologetically. “I’m afraid not, but Elena said he’s a good man and helped her case a lot, and I trust her judgement. We’ll see soon enough, won’t we? And we can find someone else if we have to.”

 “Alright,” Harry agreed, because that sounded… decent.

 “Who’s Elena?” Hope said.

 “Elena Palmsee is my wife.” Saoirse smiled widely and reached out her hand to show Hope the iron ring on her finger. “She’s an Auror Captain. She and her brother, Michael. We don’t have any children together, but she has a niece and nephew around your age – Christina and Chrisander.”

 Ah, that’s where Christina comes in, Harry thought.

 Then he realized, with sudden sadness, that he’d never heard Christina mention she and Saoirse were family, or the other way around. He’d never heard anything about Christina’s parents or her having a brother. While it wasn’t exactly surprising that he’d never known any of these things and Christina had never told him – Harry didn’t exactly go around telling people about his parents and godfather and so on – it was still sad.

 Harry next thought was: Auror Captain?

 This part was more surprising, because for all their efforts at preserving order, he’d never really seen or considered Palmsees or Kenns involved with or adhering to law. But then again, there was a vast difference between legal and ethical. Harry, according to Voldemort’s puppet government, had been the most wanted criminal in Britain for the past decade, so the law really hadn’t been what it used to be. But then again for a second time, what it used to be, if Harry remembered rightly of all the little injustices over his school years, was still not particularly great. 

 “Do they go to Hogwarts?” Hope asked excitedly.

 “Christina does. She’s just finishing up her second year in Slytherin.” Saoirse said Slytherin here as though she wasn’t sure what it was, which Harry inwardly found hilarious. “Chrisander’s eleven now, so Elena says he’s going to be starting his first year in September.”

 “I’m turning eleven in three days,” Hope said wistfully. “I’ve never been to Hogwarts.”

 Saoirse and Muirgel exchanged a look, in which they clearly silently agreed not to ask what exactly had happened to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry appreciated this and silently agreed it was probably for the best.

 “I’ve never been either,” Saoirse said.

 “Really?”

 “Yes, I was home-schooled. My magic is a little different than the sort they teach there, you see, so my mother taught me everything I needed to know. I was a little envious at first, but I have plenty of friends in the nearby village, many of whom have magic with different needs and attend the local school between lessons from their own parents.”

 “I was home-schooled too,” Hope said proudly, before she drooped and continued quietly. “But I sometimes wish I could go to a real school. But I guess my magic is probably too different for Hogwarts too, anyway.”

 Something in the vicinity of Harry’s heart curdled to hear that, but he did his best to keep a straight face. He’d often wished that his goddaughter could have had something resembling a normal childhood – that she could have lived in a world without the Sealing, attended Hogwarts, had a nice home, and been loved by parents and grandparents who’d survived an ended war. He’d done his best, but hindsight suggested he could have done so much more and he felt like he’d failed her. A permanent and loving home had been impossible enough, and Harry often doubted how good it had really been for a child after Andromeda had died and left him to finish raising Teddy.

 “Hogwarts could stand to open up its doors to different, if you ask me,” Muirgel interrupted, her needles going click-click still. “There are plenty of places to get a good, real education if you know where to go. Anyone who passes you over, Miss Hope, doesn’t deserve you to begin with.”

 Hope’s hair pinked at the ends. “Thanks,” she mumbled.

 “Now, Mister Potter, would you be so kind as to fetch our consultant from the edge of the woods? I believe Saoirse told him to wait by the eastern entrance next to the village just mentioned, by the gate there before the trees.”

 “Yes, that’s the one,” Saoirse agreed.

 Harry looked between them. “I don’t have a problem with that, but why me?”

 “I have to keep an eye on the potion I’ve left simmering,” Saoirse said apologetically. “It’s for Michael and I forgot we had a visitor coming so soon. It’ll be done in just half an hour, but he’s expecting someone to pick him up in fifteen minutes.”

 “I don’t want to make the walk, Mister Potter,” Muirgel said, less apologetically.

 Harry looked at her unimpressed but unsurprised.

 Muirgel looked back, unrepentant. “Would you be so kind as to fetch the consultant that we’ve found for you overnight, Mister Potter?”

 “Of course,” Harry sighed. “Thank you for that, by the way. Really.”

 “Can I come?”

 “I’d prefer if you stayed, actually,” Harry answered. “Sorry, Hope. I’m just going to be walking through woods and coming straight back; those woods are dangerous and I’m not feeling capable of watching more than one person at a time at the moment. I’m still a bit tired and you’re still grounded, missy.”

 Hope wilted. “Oh.”

 “Miss Hope, you can help me brew if you like,” Saoirse offered. “And we can put together some proper clothes for you. Harry’s mentioned that you’re quite the fashionable young sorcerer.”

 Hope brightened. “I like to think so,” she agreed.

 And any sort of tantrum was thankfully averted, leaving Harry to exhale in relief. Hope wasn’t precisely a brat, but it would be completely understandable if his goddaughter went into a screaming or crying fit given the last couple of days. It was kind of weird that she hadn’t yet, actually; although perhaps Harry had just been unconscious for the screaming fit. He’d have to have another sincere conversation with Hope about what had happened later, instead of just listening to what had happened and reaffirming that Hope had done the best she could under terrible circumstances Harry was very sorry she’d had to face. None of this could be easy on his goddaughter, even the supposedly good parts.

 It was a conversation that would have to wait, unfortunately. Harry had a consultant to collect and a demon to possibly bargain with, and Hope looked… not happier… but more settled and at peace than he’d seen her over the past week or so. Her smile was wide and thoughtless as she described her ladybug-print boots to a deeply interested Saoirse. Harry would leave her that, as long as he could.

 “I’ll be off then,” Harry said, getting to his feet. “Is there anything I should know?”

 “Nothing comes to mind,” Saoirse said apologetically.

 “East gate at the edge of the woods,” Muirgel reminded him. “I’m sure your skills at improvisation will have you manage well enough, Mister Potter. Keep being polite and keep your eyes open.”

 Harry felt exasperated in a way he usually attributed to Hope. It’d have to do. “Thanks.”

 “Bye, Harry!”

 “Bye, Hope. Be good.”

 “No promises,” Hope said automatically.

 Harry rolled his eyes as he left the room, but he was grinning. That’d have to do too.

 

 ~ monsieur jon

 

 The walk through the Witchwood during the day wasn’t all that different from walking through it at sunset or night. He could see more now, but the intensely green path was still dimly lit, the trees still loomed, and the overgrowth lurked around the winding trail. The main difference in weather was that what pieces of the sky he could see were grey and lightly spitting – not enough to really say it was raining, but enough that a few drops managed to drip pitifully through the leaves. It threatened a truly miserable rain that hadn’t decided whether or not it would actually happen, and Harry’s scars ached warily even despite his protective spells.

 The woods stilled thrummed with wild magic and old governance, with the slightly different taste that came with daylight but no less of the danger. These were still the sort of woods that watched while you passed and lay in wait to swallow you when you stepped from the path – that pulsed with the supernatural and the mystical and the eerily abnormal – that reminded you with each rustle and breeze that forests were full and unstill places for inhuman reasons indeed. The most likely predators shifted with the hour, of course, each having their own diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular natures, but they didn’t exactly go away. Harry tasted near-familiar dangers in the air, swarming by with little care for sunlight or rain, mostly likely disinterested or discouraged by the wards trekked into the beaten path.

 The thickness of presences lessened as Harry reached the fork in the path and went east as the Kenns had bid him. The roof of greenery parted slightly; the buzz in the air became less intense. Harry dared to relax a little as he passed smaller rune stones – mossy boulders the size of cars rather than tall houses – and crossed into the outer circles of the Witchwood. The magic in the air had thinned, but enough not to be entirely irregular in a Post-Sealing world, so Harry wasn’t given the overwhelming feeling that something nearby was eating it all up and might eat him as well.

Soon enough, Harry reached the edge of the Witchwood, mostly likely only a few minutes late. The gate that Muirgel had spoken of was really a crumbling stone archway just about where the lightening and thinning treeline stopped, curving over the path that would according to the Kenns eventually lead to the nearby village. It had many small rune stones gathered or discarded around it, ranging in size between buckets and school trunks.

 On the far side of the gate, sitting upon one of these rune stones was a wizard.

 Harry stopped in the middle of the path under the gate and had a look at the supposed consultant, who hadn’t yet noticed him. The lean man, sitting without apparent care on a rock at the edge of the forest, had his legs stretched out and crossed in front of him. One hand rested behind him, the other held open a small paperback book that he seemed entirely engrossed in. A leather hand bag sat by his feet, knocked over in a way that wouldn’t make it easy to grab if he needed to run, not entirely under the Umbrella Charm floating above his head keeping him dry. He hadn’t seemed to notice this either.

 The man himself looked Middle-Eastern and no more than thirty; he had rich, light brown skin and black hair that had been carefully tousled, and was clean-shaven save for a stylish moustache that curled slightly at the ends. His dark brows were furrowed and he seemed to be restraining himself from letting his hooked nose get literally stuck in his book. He wore an outfit somewhere between robes and an old-fashioned suit, rich blue and clearly tailored, and completely unpractical black dress shoes and a dark blue half-cape. It was eye-catching, which suited him because, last but not at all least, he was extraordinarily, incredibly, annoyingly handsome.

 Harry suddenly wished that Ron and Hermione were here. Partly, of course, because he missed them dearly; partly because he didn’t like gauging strangers without at least one of them giving him a second opinion; and partly because he needed to complain to someone about this. Hermione would sometimes question his taste and always be depended to go on a rant about what exactly made a person “annoyingly handsome”, but she would usually eventually agree and it was usually funny.

 Ron, on the other hand, whether he agreed or understood or not, could always be depended upon to hand Harry a stiff drink and solemnly agree, “That absolute fucking tosser. What a prick.” Which was the truly correct answer.

 Harry could do with all of that again.

 The man looked up after a few seconds longer and he was even better-looking head-on. “Oh,” he said, politely, and even this one sound was heavily accented. “Hello!”

 He was also, apparently, French. But Harry didn’t immediately hear more of this thick francophone accent, because the man had trailed off. It could have been a pause for Harry to introduce himself in, but the man’s dark eyes widened slightly and Harry remembered he had his scars bare and was still wearing Muirgel Kenn’s clothing (plus his own Dragonscale boots, which didn’t at all match). Damn.

 Neither of them spoke for several seconds longer, then Harry gave up and stepped forward. He needed to get home and he couldn’t sense anything off about the wizard, besides the annoying handsomeness.

 “Are you the consultant?” Harry asked.

 The man’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he otherwise didn’t move. He had yet to uncross his legs or close his book, which was a level of poise that Harry could grudgingly respect.

 “Are you the one with the time travel problem?” the man countered.

 “Yeah, that’s me.”

 “I was thinking someone else was coming for me.”

 “Saoirse’s busy brewing a potion.”

 “Ah,” the man said and visibly relaxed. He uncrossed his long legs, snapped his book shut, and moved to right his bag and return the book to it. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking I would be called out to a forest. This is strange for me, but I will do my best to help you.”

 The man appeared entirely sincere as he got to his feet with enviable grace, his Umbrella Charm moving with him. He was taller than Harry, unsurprisingly, by several inches. He straightened his half-cape and smiled hesitantly, clearly still taken aback by the situation.

 “I have one question for you first,” the man said, uncertainly. “There is something I first must know before I help.” His expression became deeply solemn. “It is of great importance.”

 “Yes?” Harry answered, preparing himself for the worst of the man’s curiosity.

 “If you are from the future, are your clothes the fashion?”

 Harry stared at the man’s solemn face for several disbelieving seconds, then noticed a twitch at the corner of his mouth, which affected his moustache as well.

 “I must know,” the man insisted.

 Harry laughed, aloud in a way he hadn’t done in some time. Because the man’s overdone seriousness and joke were charming and Harry found himself, despite everything, charmed. The man dropped his false solemnity and looked very pleased with himself.

 “No, thankfully not,” Harry said finally, before he held out his hand. “I’m Harry.”

 The man let go out his bag with one long-fingered hand and took Harry’s offered greeting. His grip was warm and incredibly soft, entirely unlike Harry’s curse-worn hands, but the handshake itself was firm and practiced.

 “’Arry,” he repeated, not unlike Fleur’s early pronunciations of his name. “Just ‘Arry?”

 “Until we’ve a more private place to talk, if you don’t mind.”

 “Ah,” the man said, letting go of Harry’s hand. “Then to be fair, I will be just Jon.” His pronounced his name the French way, so it sounded more like zh-awn without the hard N. “And it is spelled strange: J-O-N, if you need to write it.”

 “Thanks,” Harry said, smiling.

 “I am ready to go, ‘Arry, when you are ready,” Jon said.

 “Right. Well, this way.”

 Jon quickly fell into step beside Harry, shortening his longer strides to keep pace, as Harry led him back down the long trail towards the centre of the Witchwood. There was a comfortable silence between them for nearly a minute before Jon spoke up again.

 “Does Mademoiselle Kenn truly live in the middle of a forest?” Jon asked.

 “Yeah, she does,” Harry answered. “Well, it’s her mother’s house. I don’t know where she lives.”

 “I saw all the strange symbols on the stones. Those are very powerful and very old spells. Would it be rude to ask you what they are and why Mademoiselle Kenn lives in a forest? I will ask her if you don’t know, but I am curious now. Or is it rude to ask? Will she be angry?”

 Harry, who couldn’t remember a time when Saoirse got more than quietly angry about some truly disgusting and evil things, couldn’t help but snort. “She might not answer, but she won’t be angry. I’d tell you, but it’s her family business and the trees have ears.”

 Jon peered towards the nearest trees, as though looking for ears. Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the trees themselves actually had ears, but was bemused all the same.

 “I see,” Jon said. “I understand. I want to ask about your problem too, but I will guess that you don’t want the trees to hear about your business too.”

 “Yeah, thanks.”

 “May I ask what sort of forest is this that the trees have ears?”

 Harry looked at the other man, bemused and uncertain where to begin. Jon looked slightly embarrassed, straightening his half-cape yet again and raising his chin, his grip on his bag tightening.

 “I don’t study or go in forests a lot,” Jon confessed, raising a hand and waving it over the looming trees and thickening overgrowth. “I have very brown thumbs – in the plant way, not just usually. It is very different and strange here. Mademoiselle Kenn told me not to enter on my own and I am afraid that I now have a great many rude questions for her about her forest.”

 “She won’t mind,” Harry promised. “She likes-”

 Then he had to cut himself off. His hand shot out to grab Jon by the elbow and bring the man fully back onto the path, as he’d been about to step nearly entirely off it onto the long and deeply green grass that practically swarmed at the sides of it.  

 “Don’t step off the path,” Harry warned.

 “Ah. Sorry.”

 “It’s fine. Just watch your step. The plants aren’t very friendly.”

 Jon smiled back at him hesitantly as they were quickly on their way again. “You say, ‘not friendly’, ‘Arry. But I think you are being kind to the plants.” He shuddered a little, but kept his chin high.

 “Maybe; maybe not,” Harry said.

 People either responded very well (Neville, for example; the madman) or very badly (like Hannah; poor woman) to: that plant will eat you. Harry didn’t mean this man any offense, but Jon’s shoes were very nice, unpractical, and shiny, and the man had just admitted to not spending much time out in nature. He didn’t seem the sort to react badly, but there wasn’t a need to make the… possibly “adventurely inexperienced” man any more nervous than he clearly already was.

 They soon started crossing into the inner circles of the Witchwood, reaching the place where the path combined. Several car-sized rune stones were spotted off into the brush and bog of the woods as they passed, each resting among the wild woods not unlike large, sleeping beasts. Jon had begun to calm down as he adjusted to the darkness and the occasional rustling of the trees and bushes, relaxing in Harry’s company and keeping a running commentary on all the questions he dearly wanted to ask but would refrain from asking. He did ask the questions, though; it was just that he was contenting himself with not having answers for the moment, even though sometimes he seemed ready to burst from academic curiosity.

 He reminded Harry of Hope, were his goddaughter less mischievous, or a young Hermione. Harry had long-since adjusted to great marvels and terrifying miracles of magic, to the point of sorting most of them into some category of pest or problem. It was fascinating to see someone so enthralled by this small trail into a lesser version of the world of magic Harry had come to know as normal; he’d forgotten, somewhat, what it was like to be delightfully awed and curious of a new world.

 “I feel a small… ah… I have forgotten the word… touch on my skin and tongue.”

 “Buzz?” Harry suggested.

 Jon seemed to consider this, then said, “Is a buzz like this?” Then hummed, low and constant, for several seconds. “Like that sound. I don’t know the word for that.”

 “That’s humming. A buzz is defined as… a feeling like that, sometimes in air, but sometimes with a prickling feeling or sorts. It’s also a sound that bees make.”

 “Hmm. Buzz.”

 “HARRY!”

 Both Harry and Jon looked up from their conversation to see a small figure running along the trail ahead towards them. It was Teddy, wearing his clothes from last night again, down to the ladybug-print wellies and the purse over his shoulder. His hair was brown and, while not exactly brushed, wasn’t standing up at odd angles in an echo of Harry’s unruly hair or Hermione’s bushy curls.

 Harry immediately stepped closer to Jon and turned his head away from the person approaching. “Sorry. Things are gonna get rough,” he said. “Stay close.”

 “Pardon?”

 Harry looked back down the path and called out, “Teddy! What are you doing here?”

 “Saoirse said I could come get you!” Teddy called back.

 “What happened to Hope?”

 Teddy was barely ten meters away now and the confusion was clear on his face. “She’s still at the house,” he said, slowing down. “Who’s this with you, Harry?”

 Jon opened his mouth to reply.

 “Don’t,” Harry said.

 Teddy still hadn’t come to a stop, walking forward. He looked concerned. “Harry?”

 Harry sighed and stepped forward. “Sorry, Ted, I’m just tired. It’s been-”

 And then, without any warning, he punched a blazing red curse towards the thing pretending to be his godchild.

 

 ~ face stealer

 

 The curse hit the Fake-Teddy head-on, large enough to tear into the entire upper half of the body, and exploded with a great BANG and curling flame that made even the trees shrink back. The creature let out a terrible, high-pitched scream. It was childish at first, but dissolved within seconds along with its skin into something deeper, more terrible, and unmistakably inhuman.

 Harry didn’t wait to watch. As soon as his spell hit, he grabbed Jon, who was staring aghast towards the burning false child, by the elbow and launched them both towards the burning creature with a blast of magic from his Dragonscale boots. Dust exploded behind them and the air thundered.

 Jon was too caught by surprise to resist and shouted in alarm as a great arm erupted from the spell flames. Its flesh was burning and blistering, its skin shrunken against long muscles to the point of skeletal, and the limb was easily twice as long as a man was tall. It reached, frighteningly fast, to snatch them in a clawed hand with fingers each as long as Harry’s arm.

 But Harry’s hand was already outstretched to meet it, and he slammed his arm through the air as though smacking the creature aside. At his bidding, a wall of concussive magic crashed into the burning creature from the side, ripping it and the several great arms that were emerging from the flame out of their way. The burning creature crashed into the trees and overgrowth, which too were caught in Harry’s blast, and many of them were ripped out of the earth in an avalanche of green and magic.

 A second spell, brilliant white and swirling like a falling star, shot from Harry’s hand at he and Jon flew through the air and passed the spot where the creature had stood. The spell hit the Fake-Teddy before they or the creature could find proper ground. As soon as the spell popped against the long, centipede-like body and arms still emerging from the cursed flame, there was another great BANG and a greater implosion. The fallen trees and many new ones all converged on the creature as though starving.

 Harry and Jon left the creature behind them, shrieking, melting, and writhing in a cage of misshapen wood and curving overgrowth. It would break free soon enough, within a minute surely, but Harry knew that minute would count dearly. Especially with the consultant with nice shoes in tow.

 Harry landed from his blast forward with the ease of practice, but Jon stumbled and nearly fell. Harry’s grip was too tight on his elbow to let the man fall, and with the ease of practice again, he scooped the taller man up with a wordless Featherlight Charm and a Sticking Charm to keep the man’s handbag from being dropped and left behind. Before Jon could protest or even shout in surprise again, Harry was running and launched them forward with another blast of magic, leaping nearly two dozen feet down the path in a single bound. Harry touched down with only one foot and immediately leaped again, having practiced variants of his Seven-Metre-Boots Charm enough times that it was second-nature to him now when running for his life whether or not he was carrying someone.

 Flying would be faster and safer, but… there was no guarantee he’d find the clearing without the path.

 The moment he touched down for a third time, there was a great SNAP. Several loud SNAP and CRACK sounds, exactly like those one might imagine belonged to tree trunks being snapped in half by something with many sets of arms each the length of a car. This was followed, as Harry leaped again, by a shrieking roar and the scraping thunder of something that only had arms to yank itself forward and no legs. If Jon’s scream was any indication, their minute hadn’t lasted very long.

 “WHAT IS THAT?” Jon demanded.

 “A Face-stealer,” Harry answered, keeping track of the snarling, shrieking, and crash of trees behind them being ripped aside by a very large, very long body desperate to catch them. “I think.”

 “THINK?”

 “It’s a bit smaller than the ones I’ve seen. I think this is the parent of the ones I know.”

 Jon didn’t look at all happy to hear this, but he hadn’t looked happy to begin with. He was clearly terrified and possibly getting motion sick, turning slightly green at his edges.

 “I’m going to do a spin,” Harry warned. “Don’t puke.”

  With Harry’s next leap, he spun in the air as promised, quickly reaching out a hand to send a second swirling white spell out behind them towards the oncoming creature. Getting a proper look at it, he couldn’t blame Jon for feeling sick. It was hideous.

 The Face-stealer was as long as a bus, with six humanoid arms sprouting from its greyed, insectoid body that thrashed with every movement. It didn’t have an actual face so much as it had a mouth with more rows of sharp teeth than any one thing should have. It was also still burning slightly from Harry’s first spell and looked appropriately mad at being thwarted, its clawed hands ripping into the earth at the sides of the path to rip itself forward at a gaining speed.

 Harry turned, landed, and leaped again without seeing his spell hit, wrapping his hand back around Jon’s knees. He’d been fairly dead-on towards its mouth with his aim and he heard a satisfying pop sound behind his back. Then the groan, crash, and snap of trees converging on the creature. The Face-stealer shrieked painfully loudly, which was less satisfying, and even worse: it didn’t take long for its thunderous stomp to be following them again.

 Luckily, during his spin, Harry had caught sight of a rune stone nearly the size of a bus itself. It had been starting to glow yellow, he’d thought, unless that had been a trick of the light. He didn’t think it was. The air was thick with hunger and terror and wild magic, but it was thickening and buzzing with the wood’s taste of old governance as well.

 “Nearly there,” Harry promised Jon, who looked like he would be sick after all and was clinging to Harry for dear life. “Just hold on.”

 The edge of the Kenn’s clearing was in sight. Harry could see the massive rune stones the size of houses surrounding it, see the greyed sky clearly, and see the rocky steps in the path where the downward slope began. The two rune stones on either side of the path were starting to glow yellow, the symbols lighting up piece by piece, through the moss and reflected by the spitting rain. Just like the lantern, shining as bright and distant as a star, on its hook next to the faraway cottage door.

 In three more bounds, Harry crossed the circle of great stones, bursting out of the trees and into the clearing. There he finally stopped, sliding a little down the wet slope of the path towards the cottage but going no farther, as though there wasn’t anything behind them at all, and set Jon down on shaky legs. Harry kept the other man upright by a hand at his elbow again after dismissing the Featherlight Charm, and Jon looked ready to either scream at him or puke.

 “Shh,” Harry warned, raising one hand to Jon’s mouth. “Listen.”

 The sounds of the Face-stealer’s pursuit had stopped. There was no crash of trees or claws ripping into the ground, and not even any footsteps or breathing, much less monstrous shrieking. When Jon and Harry looked back down the path, out beyond the clearing and into the treeline, there was no visible sign of the creature. The only thing left was a faint burning smell in the air and Harry’s senses refusing to give up the feeling it had actually gone.

 Harry turned away for the moment and helped Jon sit down. The man’s nice robes probably didn’t deserve to sit on a muddy path, but Jon definitely deserved to have a seat for a moment and didn’t argue as Harry helped him down.

 “Hey,” Harry said in a whisper.

 Jon looked at him, wide-eyed, tinged green, and shaking.

 “I’m going to go finish it off. Can’t leave that thing out there, right? You can either sit right here or go ring that silver bell over the gate to get Saoirse. Don’t try to cross the fence without her; it’s warded and it’s got a nasty bite, alright?”

 It took Jon a moment, then he nodded. He swallowed, apparently with great effort, raised his trembling chin, and said with great dignity, “I am afraid that I have a great many rude questions now.”

 Harry laughed, lightly. “Good. I’ll answer them in a minute, alright?”

 Jon nodded again and Harry stood, turning back towards the entrance to the clearing. The rune stones were glowing with faint yellow light that was becoming brighter by the second; the ones on either side of the path glowing brightest. So Harry walked back up the slope and back through the stones without hesitation, and listened carefully to the Witchwood’s dangerous thrum. 

  Harry took a deep breath and looked around, then walked farther down the path, away from the clearing. The only movement around him were the rustling trees as he approached the end of the Face-Stealer’s trail of destruction. Trees along the side of the path bore deep scratches and had branches knocked off, if they weren’t knocked over entirely, and it looked a bit like small trenches had been dug on either side of the path from the creature’s claws. Then the trail ended, as though the Face-Stealer had simply disappeared… or suddenly taken great care in its movement.

 For a couple minutes, Harry stood at the end of the Face-Stealer’s tracks, looking out into the forest for some sign of it. There was nothing. It looked as though Harry would have to go out into the woods and hunt it down if he wanted some hope of finishing the horrible creature for good. With a heavy sigh of disappointment, Harry turned to walk back to the clearing.

 Jon was waiting for him just before the rune stones, barely upright and clearly terrified enough on Harry’s behalf to have come back and make sure nothing happened to him.

 “Is it gone, ‘Arry?” the man called out.

 Harry shook his head, raised his hands in front of him in a shrugging gesture, and called back, “Not yet.”

 And then he pushed his hands forward in another concussive blast of magic, a solid wall of air that sparked white and sharp, which slammed Jon off his unsteady feet and into the barrier of the rune stones.

 Light exploded from the runes of the massive stones – sudden and brilliant and red – as the collision of Harry’s target and the Kenn wards quaked with all the force, flash, and thunder of a lightning strike. The Fake-Jon was caught in the air between Harry’s spell and the barrier of scarlet wards that refused to let him pass. His thrashing was restricted by the sudden thickening of the air as he was held by the magic in the ruthless, shining stones on either side of him. The slowed air shook enough that it felt on the edge of shattering from the light, the world roared with deafening sound, and the frustrated creature borrowing Jon’s face shrieked its most inhuman shriek yet as the woods lit up red with the Kenn wards.

 The simplest way to put it was that the Face-Stealer dissolved for good against the ancient wards.

 The more descriptive way to put it was that the creature, trapped mid-air, exploded into its true form in a writhing mass of awful limbs and teeth, and then was destroyed by the wards with great heat and greater pain. Its deathly shriek gurgled as it was devoured by the magic, until its death knell cut off with a horrid squelch. It melted; it disintegrated; it was torn apart by bite after bite of brilliant scarlet light until there was nothing left of it.

 When the light of the wards faded back to yellow… then away entirely into the dulling, mossy rune stones after a forever that lasted no more than fifteen seconds… the only evidence of what had happened was the foul, burning stench in the softening air.

 Harry didn’t bother with dignity and pinched his nose, holding his breath as he walked through where he’d killed the Face-Stealer using the Kenn wards as a means of execution. Once he stepped down into the clearing around, he turned and raised his hand, then said, “Notos.” A warm blast of wind spiralled from his hand to dispel the horrible smell more quickly into the grey, still spitting sky and dark, wrecked woods - and Harry turned, satisfied, towards the real Jon.

 

~ the courageous consultant unmasked

 

 The real Jon was finishing throwing up off to the side of the path.

 “Sorry about that,” Harry said, belatedly realizing what a horrible sight that must have been. That had been fairly nasty even for him and he was now doubly glad he’d forced Hope to stay behind.

 Jon retched a few more times, waving his free hand in the air as though to forgive Harry or tell him to fuck off. Harry, unsurprised at the man’s reaction, waited around to see which of them it was. In hindsight, maybe it hadn’t been a great idea to let Jon see that; there was no way the man would want to be friendly towards him now and Harry had probably significantly hurt his chances of help.

 Harry realized, belatedly, that he probably shouldn’t have killed the Face-Stealer. Fuck, there he went meddling with the timeline and mixing things up even more terribly. He hadn’t been thinking and habits died so hard! If he was right in his guess from earlier, that thing probably should have been parent to a lot more of its kind and Harry may or may not have just made the creatures permanently extinct. Ordinarily, that would’ve been a great thing, but given the situation, it just made one more thing that Harry would have to worry about fixing.

 It shouldn’t cost... too much to resurrect a recently killed monster, he reasoned with himself.

 With another couple minutes, Jon was well enough to attempt getting to his feet. Harry stood back and let the man stand by himself, and with a great amount of wobbling, Jon managed to get upright again. He held his chin high, dusted off his robes, and adjusted his half-cape. He still looked unfairly and alluringly handsome, despite the leftover terror, breathlessness, and queasiness he hadn’t yet managed to shake.

 “Would you please remove your charm from my hand?” Jon asked. “I can’t drop my bag.”

 “Oh, sorry,” Harry said, waving his hand over the bag stuck to Jon’s hand. The leather hand bag wasn’t dropped, but Jon did sigh in relief and switch it over to the other hand, holding it more naturally.

 “Thank you.”

 “No problem. Sorry about that. Sorry about… all this.”

 Jon nodded, still looking as though he was repressing the urge to puke again. “I have questions and many rude things to say now. And… I am now stunned to think,” he began slowly, “that you, Monsieur Potter, need any help at all. My help not at all.”

 “Oh,” Harry said, slightly taken aback. “What gave it away?”

 “You have… many scars, but the one on your forehead is still very distinctive.”

 Harry ruefully supposed that he should have known.

 “Sorry about all this again,” he said. “I really do need your help. If you don’t want to help, then please at least let me get you a drink and let Saoirse say hello -” Giving Harry an appropriate amount of time to convince the man to help anyway. “- then I’ll help you be on your way.”

 Jon shot him a disbelieving look. “If you think, Just ‘Arry, that after all that I am leaving now, then you are wrong,” he declared archly. “I am already here and I have many rude questions and I am not leaving without answers for them. Not after that. All you need is my opinion, yes? Good. I have many of those to spare.”

 Harry snorted. “Alright then.”

 “But I am being rude too early, I played your game and must now introduce myself.”

 “Oh?”

 The man stuck out his hand for Harry to shake again. “Hello, I am Jon Delacour. You have too many problems, Monsieur Potter. Not just a time travel problem. Many too many problems. And yes, this is very strange for me, but I will do my best to help you.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

ACT III: THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

~ I took the path less travelled by ~ the watcher witches ~ how do you solve a problem like time travel? ~ if you need anything ~ don’t let the monsters bite ~ passing through ~~ I await my protector ~ Hope ~ monsieur jon ~ face stealer ~ the courageous consultant unmasked ~~ a friend of a friend ~ into the cottage ~ the task that never ends ~ witching hour ~ the fantastic hippo thesaurus ~ something wicked this well holds ~ deal struck ~ worth its weight in silver ~ the price of human life ~ a great and terrible truth ~ say goodbye ~

 

PART THREE 

 

June 27th, 1995

 

~ a friend of a friend 

 

 There were few things that genuinely surprised Harry Potter nowadays.

 He’d seen deathly wonders – graceful, near-human beguilers skipping on thin air and playing hopscotch-like games on abandoned suburban roads – and battled marvellous monsters – beings of teeth and shadow and hooked claw, which prowled low and enormous up walls and over rooftops that shouldn’t be able to hold their weight in search of prey. For him, even the greatest of monsters and most vicious of creatures had eventually been sorted into some sort of pest or problem. They were perhaps a momentary surprise, usually a highly unpleasant and terrifying one, but never a truly unexpected one.

 As Harry had grown older, more experienced, more jaded and tired and world-weary, there had and still yet persisted a feeling that he’d seen everything there was to see. With every monster, with every murder, with every horrific marvel, he sometimes found himself upset, in a terrible empty fashion, at his lack of surprise more than anything else. It was exhausting. He tried not to pay too much heed to this feeling, because there was too much good in the world to give such a grey creature power over him. It was a perpetually dissatisfied thing.

 As Harry had grown older, more experienced, more capable and understanding and wise, he had learned to listen and find newness in the world. Or, at least, to find things that never got old, and to use them to ward away the grey creature with stronger, brighter feelings. The foundation of the Patronus Charm, for example, was something he owed his life to many times over.

 People, he had found, if you looked… if listened… if you loved… never got old. They changed and they grew, for better or for worse, and to meet another person and be humbled by their own equal and unique personhood was a powerful thing. People were excellent at surprise. They cast the spell of it thoughtlessly through the grey just by being.

 Harry Potter stared at Jon Delacour and found himself, once again, surprised.

 “Delacour?” Harry repeated. “Any relation to Fleur Delacour?”

 Jon, who had been staring back, queasy and determined and still terribly handsome, looked rather surprised himself. Then he broke into a wide smile – and it only slightly looked as though he might throw up and was trying not to. He was still unfairly handsome either way.

 “Yes! She is my cousin,” Jon replied delightedly. “You know her?”

 “…Yes,” Harry said.

 Part of him wanted to elaborate in the face of Jon’s enthusiasm, but Harry wasn’t exactly in the habit of sharing more than he had to unless they were a friend or it was to get in a dig at someone he despised. Mostly, Harry was trying desperately to recall if Fleur had ever mentioned Jon before. He was coming up with nothing. Harry had no memory whatsoever of someone mentioning this man before even in passing.

 This wasn’t so surprising, however, as Fleur’s entire family had been caught on the other side of the Sealing. Harry and Fleur weren’t close enough to speak of lost family. They were friends, certainly; they could even be called family, united through the Weasley family as they were; and they had occasionally made jokes about their status as the two remaining Triwizard Champions, not entirely bitterly (Viktor hadn’t been caught in the Sealing and Cedric had been dead for years). When all was said and done though, Fleur and Harry had never been each other’s confidants and each had their own worries.

 Harry had once or twice overheard Fleur sharing some details of her home, family, and friends in France with Hope, which had inspired lots of travel plans in Harry’s goddaughter that left Harry feeling heartsick and guilty inside if he let himself listen. He generally hadn’t, preferring to strike up conversation and plans with Bill rather than reminisce about what might never be again. Harry had asked Fleur about Gabrielle about as much as Fleur had asked similar questions of him – which was to say: not at all.

 “Ah!” Jon said in sudden realization. He threw up his free hand as though to fan away embarrassment, or perhaps the queasiness still lingering across his brown face, or perhaps to adjust his moustache. He seemed to attempt all three. “How ridiculous of me. Naturally, you know Fleur! You are – were – Triwizard Champions together.”

 “Yes, we were,” Harry said, smiling slightly at the man’s expressiveness.

 Now that he knew they were related, it seemed surprising that he didn’t see the family relation before. Whereas Jon was richly brown-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed in comparison with Fleur’s silvery fairness, they still shared enough features: like the shape of their eyes and mouth, their very white and even teeth, their height and leanness, and the graceful glide to their walk when unhindered. Jon’s hands even moved in the exact same way when he spoke – deft and uniquely Delacour mannerisms that were just as expressive as his face when left unmuted. When Jon smiled, Harry could almost imagine Fleur in his place.

 It also explained the persistent, annoying handsomeness. If Jon wasn’t part Veela, Harry would eat whatever shoe Hope picked out for him. Harry, used to resisting far stronger enchantments, hadn’t been able to consciously place Jon’s muted, differently manifested allure, and so had apparently simply registered Jon as a normal “annoyingly handsome”.

 Whereas Fleur appeared to emanate a faint, silvery glow alongside her breath-taking beauty, Jon’s allure seemed to manifest only as a subtle, enriching goldenness from within that Harry had to look for to notice. Perhaps the man was controlling it slightly, as Harry knew Fleur could, or perhaps he just wasn’t feeling particularly brilliant now. He still looked a little ill.

 Jon nodded, still smiling delightedly. “Yes, I remember now! Of course! You know, we were all very proud when Fleur became a Triwizard Champion. I visited the little village next to your school to see her in November, you know. I didn’t see you, but I heard… many opinions, shall we say?”

 “Let’s,” Harry agreed with a grin that probably had too many teeth.

 He was long since over anything the Daily Prophet or their fervent readers might have had to say about him, though he still had a residual grudge over having been entered in a deadly contest as part of an elaborate plot to murder him and resurrect Voldemort. Bit hard to get over that.

 “I wished to stay and watch the First Task, but I was soon very busy with… ah…. My father stayed to watch Fleur. I met Elena and Michael Palmsee soon into my visit, and they had their own many problems,” Jon explained. Then added with great assurance and a teasing wink, “Almost as much as yours. So, I have been a consultant for this sort of thing before, you see. I would do my best to help you even if I did not know you, but I will endeavour to do better than my best for you, ‘Arry.”

 Harry had heard statements like that before and, while generally useful, they never really stopped being unnerving. Jon seemed to be the teasing sort of sincere rather than deadly serious, but even the “adventurely inexperienced” weren’t to be underestimated if someone was being driven to push past their limits. Thankfully, Harry found himself more bemused by Jon’s eagerness than wary. The man was still wobbling and clearly hadn’t much of a clue what he’d gotten himself involved in.

 “Thanks,” Harry said. “Any help you can offer would be much appreciated.” Then, as a thought hit him, he added with some teasing of his own, “Any opinions as well, as… strange as they might be.”

 Jon laughed. “Well, I have a great many of those, at least.” His smile was nothing less than dazzling, his golden allure deepening as he regained his composure and good humour. Especially so as his teasing fell away into something breathlessly sincere. “Problems such as yours – your misfortune is a fortune to my research, I’m afraid – you are doing much for me just by being here. My apologies for my gain. It’s the very least I can do to help the man who would save Gabrielle at the expense of victory.”

 It took Harry a few seconds to remember what Jon was talking about. That had been years ago for him, but he supposed it would be much months to the Delacour family. The actual danger had likely been so little, but it had won him an immediate initial friendship with Fleur, hadn’t it?

 “That was the very least I could do,” Harry assured Jon. “The Delacour Family owes me no debts. Believe me, if there ever was one, it’s been paid off a hundredfold.”

 

~ into the cottage

 

 Whatever response Jon would have given was interrupted by the clunk and groan of the Kenns’ heavy iron door. Harry and Jon both turned – Harry calmly and Jon startled – to face the stout figure of Muirgel Kenn, who was standing in the doorway of the cottage at the base of the clearing. Her knitting had vanished from her hands to be replaced by a tall wooden staff and she looked steadily up at them, the yellow light of the lantern next to her gleaming off her wire glasses. She had changed clothing, looking resplendent in bright green robes featuring toucans amongst vibrant flowers, with an ornament decorated with rainbow feathers standing out among her white hair.

 As though she was determinedly prepared for a non-existent tropical vacation, already ignoring anything the spitting sky and grey clouds might have to say.

 “That was a most interesting use of my wards, Mister Potter,” Muirgel Kenn called. She stepped outside, posture relaxed, wrinkled brown hands tight around her tall staff as it tapped against the ground. “My ancestors, I’m sure, will be pleased to know the work of generations was used as a bug zapper.”

 Her tone was smooth, chastising, but Harry could see the humour in her eyes. He grinned back at her, perhaps more giddily than he ought to be. It was either that or wince at his mistake.

 “Since that’s what wards basically are, I’m sure they will be,” Harry called back.

 Muirgel climbed up to the white gate, a smile growing as she approached. “For a man trying not to make any twists, Mister Potter, you spin a great amount of trouble. Thank you for your good intentions. Saoirse and I have been trying to get rid of that annoying thing for far too long. Foul, slippery creature. Last of its kind, you know.”

  “I did,” Harry answered, unable to keep back his wince this time.

 Muirgel looked at him and Harry was hard-pressed not to wince again. Instead, he met her look with an even, acknowledging stare of his own – his mistake, his responsibility – then looked towards Jon to perform introductions. Jon was a much more pleasing, less troubling contemplation, especially because he was wearing a very politely uncertain expression. Harry was hard-pressed not to laugh at the way Jon’s gaze flicked between Muirgel’s toucan robes and Harry’s borrowed pink butterflies, something not unlike alarm or sudden enlightenment or both in the gesture.

 “Jon, this is Muirgel Kenn, Saoirse’s mother,” Harry introduced. “Guardian and governor of these woods.” There were several other titles and responsibilities in that one, but he’d leave that for Muirgel or Saoirse to explain at their pleasure. “Muirgel, this is Jon Delacour.”

 It was impossible for Jon to offer a hand, with Muirgel standing below them on the other side of the viciously white picket fence. So instead, the other wizard swept into a nearly offensively graceful bow and smiled charmingly. “Madame Kenn, it is a pleasure to meet the mother of the lovely Saoirse. And may I say…? You have a truly terrific home.”

 Between the overdone wink and the play on words, even Muirgel Kenn had to chuckle. Harry nearly snorted himself, then frowned at himself for being so thoroughly charmed. Oh, if there was one even more “annoying” quality in Harry’s eyes, it was wit.

 “Why, thank you, Mister Delacour,” Muirgel said, looking very pleased with the monstrousness of her forest. “My daughter tells me you’re a professor of some sort at one of those grand European universities? Thank you for taking the time to come consult for us.”

 “Ah, the pleasure is all mine, I assure you. I am happy to help, not just because – I am sorry to say – the time travel problems of other people are a help to my work.”

 “Mmhmm. What do you study?”

 “The nature and manipulation of time and space, at l’Université d’Oriande,” Jon answered, the introduction spilling naturally off his tongue. “As you can imagine, there are many problems in experiments. The most troublesome is getting my students not to be arrogant and make grand problems of their own.” His tone then turned playfully self-depreciating, and he added with another wink, directed more towards Harry than Muirgel Kenn it seemed, “It would be an easier problem, I imagine, if I were a better example for them.”

 “You teach, Mister Delacour?”

 “Not this summer, fortunately. My help is all yours.”

 “Well, then you’d best come in to get started,” Muirgel said, and without further ado raised her staff a couple inches above ground before slamming it firmly down. As soon as the wood smacked the ground, the white picket fence’s gate swung open for them. “Come along, son.”

 Jon moved to follow immediately. “Thank you, Madame Kenn.”

 Harry hesitated, uncertain at the offer to enter without the lantern test. Jon stepped easily through the gate and Muirgel seemed content to let him through without further question, so Harry followed against his own paranoia. The gate let him through without issue, and with another tap of the staff and a knowing look in Harry’s direction, the gate snapped shut and Muirgel led them down the sloped path to her cottage. She had even left the lantern by the door and the thick iron door wide open, which… Harry supposed was her prerogative.

 The curtains fluttered at one of the windows and a familiar figure soon slid into the hall of the open doorway, followed by another at a more sedate pace. Here was where Jon stopped, a deer in the headlights of the nearly eleven-year-old girl hurrying to greet them.

 Hope and Saoirse had both changed clothes. Saoirse was wearing a plain but pretty dress, sensible and blue and with a hearty belt around, and appeared to have had no dampening influence whatsoever on Hope’s sensibilities. Saoirse was an intelligent woman and likely hadn’t even tried. Harry certainly didn’t.

 Hope was wearing a bright yellow pleated skirt, hiked up high on her waist so that it ended just above her knees, and a shimmery, lime green button-up complete with a bright orange bowtie. Her blueberry-coloured hair had been tied back into a braid and lengthened past her waist, matching her heavy, bright blue hiking boots. Overtop of the outfit – the colouring of which had Harry wondering if he should attribute it to Muirgel’s influence – Hope wore a dull brown jacket that was very well-worn and clearly made for a tall adult man. It was so long that it hung past her skirt and knees, and the sleeves had been pinned above her elbows in case she needed to glance at the beaten old watch Harry had given her, or to use her hands to get up to her usual no good.

 She was adorable, and at the least hadn’t tried to experiment with glitter again.

 Harry recognized the skirt and bowtie, and the shirt and boots looked like they’d been donated by the Kenns, but it took him a couple seconds to place the oversized coat. His heart nearly melted when he realized he’d seen the same coat, years younger, just yesterday on its previous owner. Hope was wearing her father’s coat. Hope had lots of clothing from her mother – Andromeda had kept Tonks’ old clothes and given them to her grandchild, including several Weird Sisters shirts that were among Hope’s favourites – but very few items of clothing from her father. That coat was a precious thing – a comfort blanket.

 “Harry!” Hope called, catching herself on the doorframe and grinning at him.

 “Hope!” Harry answered, stepping past Jon to greet his goddaughter. He grinned down at her, making a show of approvingly looking her over. “I like your outfit.”

 “Thanks. At least one of us can dress themselves,” Hope agreed proudly, nose in the air.

 With a snort, Harry reached down to straighten her bowtie, brushing at the beaten coat and fixing the uneven lapels. “Little dandy-lion. Did you thank Saoirse for the clothes?”

 Hope rolled her eyes. “Yes~, I did.” She batted gently at Harry’s hands and peered past her godfather’s elbow, a shrewd, mistrusting flicker crossing over her face before she grinned up at him again. “Did you know that you just have to listen for the fire and the screaming to know you’re at the door? Boom! What was that? Oh, that’s just Harry coming back. He’ll be in in a tick.”

 Harry chuckled. “You sound like Ron.”

 “Don’t block the door to my own house, Mister Potter,” Muirgel said from behind him. “Miss Hope, get out of the doorway so we can get away from that smell. I’ll not be left on my own doorstep.”

 “Oops, sorry.”

  Saoirse led them all into the cottage’s sitting room again, Muirgel ushering them all through the door so she could slam it shut with another stamp of her staff. Muirgel went directly for her rocking chair, leaning her staff against the fireplace and taking up her knitting again. Saoirse urged Hope and Harry to have a seat on the sofa, then whirled on an uncertain Jon in the doorway and welcomed him brightly.

 Jon seemed to come back to himself then and he and Saoirse greeted each other like old friends. Jon asked after Saoirse’s wife and brother-in-law, Saoirse asked after Jon’s parents and work, and after giving each other pleasantry answers, Saoirse urged Jon to take a seat as well in the free chair. Jon objected, but Saoirse insisted and brought in a chair from the kitchen for herself.

 Hope had, through it all, snagged Harry’s hand and not let go. She was watching Jon warily, shyly, curiously. Jon, though he was no longer staring, kept giving Hope equally wary glances, sidelong flickers while he smiled and spoke with Saoirse. As though, perhaps, waiting for Hope’s face to tear away.

 “Hope,” Harry said, once Saoirse had taken a seat. “This is Jon Delacour. He studies time and space magic at the University d’Oriande – which is in France, I assume, Jon? Yes. He’s going to try and help us figure out our situation. And yes, he’s Fleur’s cousin.”

 Hope went from wary to curious to delighted. “Really?”

 “Well, he said so and I’m inclined to believe him,” Harry answered, teasingly, squeezing Hope’s hand. He turned to Jon. “Jon – my goddaughter, Hope. She’s in the same situation I am.”

 “His fault,” Hope said brightly, belied by tension.

 “Entirely my fault,” Harry agreed.

 Jon looked between Harry and Hope, his expression lost between inscrutable and confused. Harry presumed he was mostly the latter, Hope the cause of the former, and allowed Jon enough time to recover himself. As to be expected of a Delacour, the man recovered with spectacularly unfair grace.

 “And the pleasure is entirely mine,” Jon declared, with a winning smile and a bowed inclination of the head. He placed his handbag on the floor by his chair, then gave Harry’s goddaughter a most beseeching look. “Mademoiselle Hope, forgive me for my surprise, but your godfather gave no warning that I would be assisting a lovely young lady such as yourself as well. My condolences for your situation, from one connoisseur of fashion to another.”

 Hope looked Jon up and down, either judging his clothes, his trustworthiness, or both. After several seconds, she clung tighter to Harry’s hand and finally said, “Thanks.”

 Jon took Hope’s shyness in good grace, giving her a warm smile before he looked back to Harry. “Now, I think you should be explaining your problems to me, ‘Arry.” He said this playfully, but there was a professionalism to him now. “How did you come to be here? And – I must assume, forgive me if I am wrong – where do you wish to go?”

 

 ~ the task that never ends  

 

 The honest answer to Jon’s question was, “I don’t know.” But, as Harry had learned over the years, that was hardly a helpful answer, even if it was easier to be afraid or lounge in uncooperative sullenness. The better course of action was to share what you did know. It could be surprising to learn how much you actually knew, and, once it was all laid out, sometimes the helpful answer could be put together from the pieces or by the process of elimination.

 Sometimes, Hope’s late grandmother had once said, allegedly paraphrasing her late husband, who had apparently been quoting Professor Sprout, knowledge needs to be mixed and left to sit. Like bread. Then, she had added, as her own thought: Maybe also beaten up a bit with a rolling pin, I’d think. I don’t know, I’m a bit shit at baking.

 First things first, Harry explained that there was an apparent lack of “twists” in time, which made this problem quite different to most time travel he’d come across. Harry thought he saw Jon’s eyes gleam briefly before Muirgel went on to explain that Saoirse’s wife had divined as much, but then Jon nodded very seriously and agreed this was concerning and mysterious.

 Secondly, Harry had Hope show them the cup that had transported them here. He did his best not to go rummaging in his goddaughter’s bag without her permission and the purse still irrevocably hated him, so it was best to let Hope upend her purse on the sitting room table and then carefully raise the bag, leaving the upside-down cup behind with only a slight clatter. She rolled her eyes as Harry, half-panicking and half-solemn, beseeched her not to touch it as she did, but Hope complied without argument. Harry’s goddaughter gave the Triwizard Cup a very wide berth as she sat back down on the sofa, her gurgling purse settling in her lap.

 There was silence in the room for a long moment, as the cup glowed in the centre of them. It was an ancient thing, now that Harry could have a proper look at it: made with glory in mind perhaps without knowing what the word meant. It was well-crafted but clearly not well cared for; tarnished and dusted in gold. The blue of it was eerie and whispering, similar to the glow of a Patronus but not borne of the same vein. A susurrus of discontented enthrallment steamed off the cup, rather than a resistant and joyful song.

 “I trust, Mister Delacour,” Muirgel Kenn said when the silence built up into something that might explode, her fingers once again click-clicking in her lap, “that you understand the risk of Mister Potter sharing his story, particularly the need for discretion and the potential memory loss? Whatever you learn, you might not be able to keep.”

 Jon tore his dark eyes away from the cup and gave their host a sharp and winning grin. “Madame Kenn, I am willingly a professor of time and space. It is a wonder that I still have my head at all, attached though I am to it. Though I make my jokes, though I would like to profit from this, I’m still here to help.”

 “So be it, Mister Delacour.”

 With a solemn nod in Muirgel’s direction, Jon turned his attention back to the cup. “That is a very old artefact, and… if I am not mistaken… that is a sand of time that is it covered in. It is a very dangerous substance; production is restricted, if not illegal.”

 A wry smile was the best Harry could offer to that. It was that or get directly into national isolation or complete governmental failure. He wished there’d been the ability to quote laws when someone or another had once again gotten it into their head that a crooked, half-broken time-turner could somehow reverse the Sealing and all the powers and people that had roamed it.

 “This is the Triwizard Cup,” Harry explained instead, “of the Triwizard Tournament.”

 “The one from your time, I assume?”

 “Yes. It was sitting in a vault at the Ministry of Magic – the British Ministry, that is – and, well, unfortunately, they weren’t keeping it very safely.”

 Harry goes on to explain that he had been taking part in a penultimate battle, Hope secretly following, and the destruction had broken several deep vaults in the Ministry, causing them to collapse in on one another. The Triwizard Cup, which had apparently been locked away in the Ministry since the Third Task, had fallen into a broken container of time sand. Harry had been knocked unconscious after the battle and, to save their lives in the face of the collapsing Ministry, Hope had attempted to use a personal Portkey to escape and accidentally dropped her Portkey into the contaminated Triwizard Cup.

 So, when Hope had grabbed for her Portkey, holding Harry tight, it had activated with at least two known interfering influences: a) the time sand and b) that the Triwizard Cup had been made a two-way Portkey for the Third Task. How else could they account for their destination?

 “You were tiny, Harry,” Hope said, as she quickly recounted realizing they were in a trap or a different time… or both. “Itty bitty baby. All chubby cheeks and… actually, you didn’t grow all that much.”

 “Yes, thanks, Hope,” Harry said, and continued.

 There were many other potential influences, he admitted unhappily, as the collapsed vaults had, according to Hope, been a smashed mess of artefacts and substances.

 Jon grimaced at this admission, but nodded. “The crossing of ‘Keys. The combination of two space-time artefacts or devices by accident is a frequent source of problems in my field – and sometimes not by accident, I must admit. You are both very lucky you are well.”

 Hope’s small fingers squeezed at Harry’s hand again, and she might as well have had a grip in his chest.

 “Your problem seems… grand… to say the least, ‘Arry,” Jon continued, eyeing the cup with wary distaste. “It sounds simple enough, but a problem that concerns me most, I’m thinking, is that this does not seem a wise cup to make a Portkey. Not at all.” He shook his head and tapped absentmindedly at his moustache with one hand. “The Triwizard Tournament is a very old and very powerful ritual, and to choose one of its instruments was… very dangerous.”

 “Ritual?” Hope repeated.

 A surprised expression crossed Jon’s face. “Yes, the Triwizard Tournament is a magical ritual. A grand ritual such as it draws an equally grand amount of power through certain steps: the three tasks, for example. In history, the power has often gone to the protection of the host school. I would not be surprised if this cup was the focus for the many energies the Tournament collects.”

 Jon waved his free hand, the one that wasn’t tapping at his curly moustache, in the direction of the cup on the table, which was still murmuring disjointed whispers and ill light. The ominous blue glow was reflected in his dark eyes, which were fixed with thought running quick and deep.

 “Look at it now. It is clearly active when it should not be, with the Tournament years over on your end, yes? You were clever not to touch it again, Mademoiselle Hope.”

 Harry didn’t let any surprise show on his face. He was sure someone had once informed him that the Triwizard Tournament was a ritual, but he hadn’t thought much of it then and had hardly dwelled on the competition since. It had been over and done with, as Jon had said, for years.

 “Could a person leech off the power gathered by the Triwizard Tournament to use in their own ritual?” Harry said. “You said the power has often gone to the school, but could it be redirected?”

 “Of course,” Jon answered easily. “There have been several scandals where the power was used by a headmaster or usurper for personal purposes. This ‘great temptation’ was one of the main arguments used for discontinuation when the Triwizard Tournament most recently fell out of popularity.”

 Then, more uncertainly, Jon said, “What does ‘leech’ mean, again?”

 “A slow and parasitic drain of something,” Saoirse said.

 “Little blood-sucking slug-thing,” Hope said at the same time.

 “Both of those,” Muirgel said, after a beat, “but Mister Potter meant the first one.”

 “Ah, thank you. I am concerned that the magic of a ritual object, with all the power and rules that come with such a thing, may have had an effect… or may be a problem in working to undo what has been done. If it is the time travel or that the Tournament here has not yet had its closing ceremony that has activated the cup… both ways, it may be a problem.”

 “Closing ceremony?” Harry repeated.

 “Yes, to end the ritual and make use of the power it has gathered. The ‘crowning of the champion’, as it is sometimes called,” Jon answered, before he looked away from the cup with a sigh. “But maybe I am making a problem where there is none? I must examine the cup to be sure, and, I must warn you, I will maybe need to see the point of travel as well.”

 “You know a lot about the Triwizard Tournament,” Hope said curiously.

 “I made a point on reading about it when my cousin became a Champion. The Goblet of Fire ties its Champions to the ritual and… I am no curse-breaker or expert on bindings, I must admit, so I would be a poor cousin and professor of magic not to do research. The ritual uses its Champions as… conduits… of a kind… to gather its power. Not a danger, exactly, but one cannot help family concern, yes?”

 Hope leaned forward, loosening her grip on Harry’s hand. Harry was too lost in thought, in sudden realization and minor panic, to pay full attention to the slyness in Hope’s posture as his goddaughter led the conversation into a corner. She sounded perfectly innocent as she waved her free hand at the cup, which ordinarily would have been the first sign.

 “How can you tell it’s active?”

 “The light and voices it is making, for one,” Jon answered easily, thoughtlessly, as though he were leading a class. “It’s very bright and very loud to be dormant. The cup is described as dim and silent before the beginning of the ritual. As the person to activate the Portkey and the time travel, Mademoiselle Hope, have you noticed a marked change in it? At what points?”

 Hope looked Jon up and down again, before she answered, “It changed after we travelled. It was a lot dimmer and quieter just after, and it’s still a lot dimmer and quieter than it was before. It was ‘active’ when I first saw it, Monsieur Delacour.”

 Jon’s confusion overtook his entire face and it took him several seconds to answer. “It was active before the travel? That is… a problem. Maybe I’m wrong about it being active, but… surely not. Maybe it was something in your battle that awakened the cup again.”

 “I don’t think so.”

 “Pardon?”

 The room looked towards Harry then, who was staring at the enthralling, whispering, upside-down cup with an expression that was calm only on the surface. He was very still. When he looked up, the tight smile he gave Jon was a cold comfort to everyone in the room.

 “What would you say, Jon, if I suggested that the cup hadn’t gone dormant at all?”

 Jon’s brow furrowed and Harry continued before he could answer.

 “Because I ‘won’ the Triwizard Tournament and I have no memory of any sort of ‘closing ceremony’ or ‘crowning of the champion’. Under the circumstances, it seemed a bit insensitive. So, what would you think if I suggested the ‘ritual’ was never properly closed, and so this cup’s been tossed aside in some Ministry vault and left alone for… oh… about thirteen or fourteen years?”

 Jon’s brown skin was more grey than golden at this point. Saoirse’s eyes were very wide. Muirgel’s click-clicking had stopped, though her expression hadn’t changed. Hope was frowning deeply as she tried to follow Harry’s casual-not-casual hypothesis.

 Harry continued: “Gathering power, as it does, through its Champions… who give it power by performing great feats of magic? Overcoming great obstacles? Physically, mentally, or emotionally suffering or struggling? All of the above? It could gather quite a lot of power over thirteen years, couldn’t it? Especially if, say, someone had done something extraordinarily stupid like trapping Britain in a Sealing: a contained magical apocalypse of sorts that released all manner of beasts and power?”

 Magic itched beneath Harry’s skin at this power, roiling with a wildness that was still not at its best but furious nonetheless. He hadn’t cared for any sort of glory or victory in the wake of Cedric’s death, and been glad to be spared. But had no one considered the consequences? Had no one known? Had it been the Ministry, in the face of Harry’s testimony surrounding Voldemort’s return, to spitefully postpone giving Harry any sort of credit or creditability until it was forgotten entirely?

 “…I would say, ‘Arry, that would be a terrific problem,” Jon answered slowly. “Are you saying that?”

 “Unfortunately, it seems like I am.”

 “Ah.”

 “Oh dear,” said Saoirse.

 

~ the witching hour

 

 Harry, Hope, and Saoirse went to the kitchen to make brunch. It hadn’t been all that long since breakfast, but Saoirse had announced that she felt peckish, didn’t everyone else feel peckish? She suggested they leave Jon to examine the cup before anyone else made any guesses or suggestions as to what had happened, since they wouldn’t know anything for sure until the experts did their bit. Harry, eager to get himself and his goddaughter the hell away from that eerie cup, had agreed he did feel a bit peckish and ushered Hope out of the room before she could object.

 It hadn’t been a lie; Harry was ravenous, once Saoirse had brought his attention to his appetite, between the battle with the face-stealer and how he had yet to recover from his battle with Voldemort. Hope hadn’t objected, looking torn between disappointment and relief. She was a growing Metamorphagus, after all, and heartily believed in as many meals in a day as a person could reasonably fit in while leaving enough time for decent adventures.

 Jon and Muirgel had stayed behind in the sitting room with the cup. Jon to do whatever he must to coax answers from the cup and Muirgel to supervise. Before Harry had left the room, Jon had been quick to promise, with sudden sincerity that had made Harry uncomfortable, that he would find answers.

 An hour, Jon had said. Give me an hour.

 Muirgel had told him there was no need to be so dramatic, but Jon had waved her off with a pithy line about time limits being the key to academic success and which one of them was the expert on time here, thank you very much. Muirgel had shrugged, disbelieving, and gone back to her knitting.

 There seemed to be an agreement in the kitchen that they wouldn’t discuss the issue. The sitting room was for time travel and Triwizard Tournament problems; the kitchen was for making food and flipping through photo albums. Harry and Saoirse dedicated themselves to the former, while Hope took over the dining table and up the solemn responsibility of the latter.

 “That’s probably not a thing to be showing around here,” Harry said, as Hope started pulling her precious albums out of her purse. “What are you doing?”

 “Looking for something,” Hope answered and ignored him deftly.

 An hour passed. Harry and Saoirse served brunch, which both Muirgel and Jon refused from the other room. Hope gobbled up her food like she’d forgotten what chewing was and all but threw herself over her albums to prevent Harry from seeing what she was looking at. She glared reproachfully at him, her mouth stuffed with food, until he leaned away. Harry obediently went to do the dishes.

 “Found it!”

 Harry turned away from where he was helping Saoirse clean the kitchen. It had been at least ten minutes; Hope was now holding a photo album aloft in triumph and fell off her chair scrambling to show her godfather. Harry had to push the album back out of his face so he could actually see it, then he squinted accordingly.

 “Is this Bill and Fleur’s wedding?”

 It’d been ages, to the point where Harry wouldn’t have recognized the scene without familiar, younger faces in wedding finery. He hadn’t realized that Fleur had given Hope copies of those photographs, but he wasn’t surprised. Hope scrapbooked to the point of hoarding, it was easy enough to make copies, and most of Hope’s family had been there, including her parents.

 “Yeah! See?”

 “I am seeing, Hope, but what am I looking at?”

 “It’s the guy! Fleur’s cousin!”

 “Jon?”

 “Yeah, Jon,” Hope drawled, unimpressed.

 Hope had to lay the album down so Harry could dry his hands and come over to have a proper look. She pointed triumphantly at a member of the wedding party in the background, a handsome man in splendid yellow dress robes. It was Jon Delacour, with longer hair and a stylish beard, a daffodil pinned above his ear. He was blending in perfectly with an absurdly attractive crowd of people, most of whom bore a passing if not striking resemblance to Fleur.

 In one of the photos, he and Fleur both turned to grin mischievously at the photographer, smiles matching and practically shining with happiness, and the last thing seen as the camera fumbled and dropped was Fleur laughing. She and Jon helped the unseen photographer up, and then went back to whispering and giggling together.  

 “Huh,” Harry said. “So it is.”

 They flipped through several more pages together, Hope pointing Jon out as she spotted him in the background. Harry tried to spot himself, but he recalled having kept far away from the wedding party and… hmm… speaking with others about Dumbledore’s recent death. Wedding photographers surely weren’t paid to take pictures of distant relations playing wallflower. Also, there were lots of redhaired Weasley-looking cousins and Harry had no idea which one was supposed to be him.

 After several minutes, Hope seemed to lose momentum in her search for Jon. “I figured he’d have been there if he were Fleur’s cousin,” she argued, unprompted, as her eyes lingered on a photograph where Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks were slow-dancing in the background. “Wanted to make sure he was who he said he was.”

 Then she shrugged in answer to an unspoken question, fingers hovering over her mother’s soft, content smile in a forever fixed moment.

 Harry sat down at the dining table and Hope did the same after a few seconds. Neither of them said anything and the only sound in the kitchen was Saoirse singing to herself as she chopped potions ingredients, the same Celestina Warbeck tune from this morning.

 “There’s a time and a place for us… secret but so sweet…
 A hidden spot and hour… where magic-makers meet…”

 “I shouldn’t have touched the cup,” Hope said.

 “You saved our lives,” Harry said. “Believe me, if there’s anyone who knows regretting touching that cup, it’s me. What happened in the Ministry was a whole lot of mistakes, big and small, by a whole lot of people, good and bad, building up and exploding. You did your best, got caught in the backlash of it, and you did an amazing job of keeping your head through it.”

 “…I guess.”

 “Come find me in the forest… off the path and down the stream…
 At the high of darkness… when the world is lost in dreams…”

 Harry moved his chair closer to his goddaughter and pulled her against him, tucking her head under his chin. “What’s done is done,” he murmured. “You were scared and alone, when you shouldn’t have had to face those things at all, and you did what you could with what you knew. I’m proud of you.”

 Hope curled her fingers into Harry’s borrowed shirt and pressed against him. After several seconds, she sniffed wetly and burrowed her face into his chest. She breathed heavily, and Harry felt a tremble go through her shoulders as he shifted to accommodate her nearly crawling into his lap.

 “It’s okay,” he whispered. “We’re okay.”

 “It’ll be you and me… as we were meant to be…
 Yes, all the hour of midnight… we’ll be dancing in the moonlight…”

 He meant it as he said it, because he had to mean it. Even if Jon came back with the worst of news, even if the witch in the well couldn’t help them, Harry would see them through this. He knew little else by now than to see them through things and was good at it. They would live, at the least.

 Inside, however, he despaired, and his heart beat as heavy and wet as Hope’s breath. She was so small and so young, and being clever, strong, stubborn, and prematurely aged didn’t change that. He could feel her fluttery heartbeat and lungs under his fingers and they terrified him. Hope Tonks-Lupin was an imbalanced child and always had been, dangerously and by necessity, but she hadn’t deserved becoming so in the slightest. It hurt Harry that she had never known peace or true safety or a forever home, and that even now, especially now, he had nothing to promise a too-grown child he should have been able to give everything to. She didn’t deserve what was happening now.

 “Come out by the old well… and let’s cast a little spell…
 And make a magic just for two… all witching hour through…”

 It was little wonder, he thought sometimes, that she had such an attachment to him. He had had the intentional appearance of the unbeatable, leading a resistance as he did, and he had been her parents’ chosen godfather – all an appealing figure for a child that had just lost their grandmother. Yet all it seemed Harry could do was let her down… time and time again.

 “That’s the time and the place for us… the old glade at high of night…
 A secret hour of enchantment… to forget the world outside…

 Time passed in the kitchen; Saoirse sang quietly and Hope clung to Harry’s borrowed shirt, and Harry held his goddaughter close and thought over past times. He thought over unknown futures and wicked deals too, but the temptation of Hope’s album sat open on the table and it was too much to ignore.

 It was too little wonder, sometimes, to Harry, why people kept trying to meddle with time.

 “Where no one and nothing knows us… because no one knows me quite like you…
 And we’ll come know each other… all witching hour through…”

 From a photograph of a wedding party of people who would soon later be lost, killed, or worse, Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin smiled brightly up at him and the daughter they had barely known.

 

~ the fantastic hippo thesaurus

 

 Jon had turned the Kenn’s sitting room into an orchestra of magical devices. When Harry stepped inside, much like attending a musical performance, he had to duck under the murderous whirling of a brass instrument that had too many pipes and no discernible purpose except to be extraordinarily loud. Admittedly, Harry knew next to nothing about music, but he had had at least one memorable nightmare in which he had been besieged and trampled by a great cacophony of shining instruments and, for one shining moment, he thought this might be it again. 

 Fortunately, Harry was not trampled as he stepped properly inside; he stared about the changed room. At least a dozen unfamiliar magical devices were scattered around the room, many of them quite large. They ranged from the ceiling’s height to a wobbling top not much larger than a hand, and they whirred and pumped and ticked and clanked behind the muffling of the door’s wards. They were mostly gold, silver, or bronze, with some stone and wood, gleaming and distressingly twisty. Some might not be out of place in a Diviner or an Astronomer’s workplace, or an advanced Alchemist, or Lee and George’s laboratory had they been much less shiny – or so it appeared to Harry, who could not have named a single one of them nor guessed knowledgeably at their purposes.

 In the middle of all the buzzing and whistling, Muirgel Kenn sat in her rocking chair, still click-clicking away at her knitting and looking extremely unbothered. In front of her, unmoved from the table it was sharing with some tea cups and a wobbly top of a device, was the glowing Triwizard Cup.

 “’Arry! I was just about to call you!”

 It had only just passed the hour mark, and Harry had only meant to check on progress. It was either that or have a bit of a breakdown, which was infinitely more Hope’s prerogative, and nap alongside his weary and blotchy goddaughter.

 “I am sorry about the noise!” Jon said loudly, stepped out from one of the taller devices. He didn’t look dishevelled in the slightest, and Harry couldn’t decide whether that was unfair or not. On one hand, he really ought to be a mess, but on the other, Jon Delacour was probably much like his cousin. Fleur did dishevelled in a particular and unfairly stunning way that ought to have required several hours of primping. “Let me do something about that and we will talk! I have opinions for your problems!”

 You and everyone I know, Harry didn’t say.

 “Where did all these devices come from?” he said instead, honestly curious.

  Jon’s entire upper body had disappeared inside one of the whirling machines, but Muirgel stopped knitting long enough to point at Jon’s open travel bag. Harry nodded in thanks as Jon pulled himself back out of the machine, now sighing to a stop, and pressed at another two to turn them off as well.

 “Sorry, ‘Arry, did you say something?”

 Harry stepped out of the way so Jon could get at the rest of the magical instruments, which either shrieked to a halt or puttered slowly out with Jon’s practiced jabbing. “I asked what all these devices were for,” he said instead, as Jon climbed over an armchair to get at the last few. “You don’t have to turn them all off if-”

 “No, no! I am done,” Jon insisted, as he waved his wand over the stragglers. “I must admit, there is little more I can do with them. I… I don’t know if I can explain what they all are for. Some are very new and still being tested, you see, but… they measure elements that can influence my work.” He came to stand next to Harry again and waved a hand over the stilled orchestra, only one of which was still coughing up the last of its smoke. “Divination instruments – hopefully more accurate than simple tea leaves.”

 Muirgel chuckled quietly. “Some people don’t have the knack for a good reading.”

 “This one is to study to flow of time and space – this dial is time – as are those three – that one next to you uses Astronomy, you see. And this is to make sense of foreign substances on the cup. This is for spells and spell memory. This was to measure the magical power but…” Jon held up the remains of a device that looked like it had ripped itself apart from the inside as a matter of self-protection. “It was not to be. This one is a clever device, I must admit-”

 “Jon,” Harry interrupted with polite defensiveness. “You don’t need to explain them all; I get the general sense. You said you had opinions? I’d rather hear those, if you don’t mind.”

 “Oh, not at all. Pardon me, ‘Arry. Ah, where to begin? Sit, please!”

 Harry dutifully returned to his seat from before, as Jon fluttered about the room, giving the still-smoking machine one last good kick, before he took his own advice. The professor sat gracefully and took an attractive pose that was a little too anxious to be properly languid.

 “Where is Mademoiselle Hope? Is she not to hear this?”

 “She’s sleeping. She’s had a rough few days.”

 “Oh, I am sorry to hear that.”

 “Yeah. I’ll tell her everything a bit later, after a decent nap. She was looking forward to your hypothesis – either that or a ‘hippo thesaurus’; she was drifting off at the end there. What’ve you found?”

 Jon looked very anxious for a moment, but quickly forged ahead with elegant hand gestures and a distractingly French accent that would have stunned a lesser person silly. Harry despaired of all of Jon’s students ever learning anything, and wondered if that was why he was not currently teaching.

 “First, ‘Arry, I can confirm that there are no ‘twists in time’, as you and Madame Kenn have called them. I cannot find any about you, nor Mademoiselle Hope, nor your cup. It appears that nothing you do has any effect on the future… excuse me… you are changing things, of course, but nothing you do affects – or, rather, threatens – you. You are stable. Completely. No ‘strings’ attached to you. If I did not know you were from the future, I would think you belonged here as much as I do.

 “Except that, of course, you are clearly from a very different place. You have an… aura and… magic and substances and an air about you that make it clear you are from another – distant and different – place… and I must admit… that is what I believe has happened. Are you familiar with the popular types of time travel?”

 Harry was busy being boggled at the fact that he apparently wasn’t in any danger of erasing himself from existence to immediately answer the question. None at all? The relief was so staggering it was nearly unwanted. Though it was an ideal sort of answer, it hadn’t been the one he’d expected. It had also been firmly impossible five minutes ago, and now Harry had absolutely no idea where he stood now in regards to his existence’s safety and his quest for home.

 Most of Harry wanted to respond: Wait, mate, what the fuck’re you on about?

 But since he was an adult with responsibilities, he said instead: “No, sorry. Not really.”

 “Ah, I shall try to make this quick. The first type is the one that you and I are very familiar with, where time is ‘turned’ – or ‘twisted’ as you said – by very limited magical instruments or spells. It is… impermanent? I believe that is it. It is the most common and easy way to manipulate time, but what is changed must have already been done for there to be no problems. Yes?”

 “Yes, I’m familiar with that one.”

 Those “problems” had nearly been the death – or sometimes rather: non-existence – of him on multiple occasions. Harry was not a fan of the… as Ginny had so fondly put it: “Tempormancy Tango.”

 “There are other types of time travel – very many of them are theories, I must admit, there is much that we do not know and cannot confirm – but the second important one here is very different. It’s more theory than confirmed fact unfortunately; very rare, but not unheard of.” Jon’s expression was solemn, but his hands were anxious. “What I think has happened is that you have come from a separate timeline, perhaps even created the line of time that we are in now.”

 Something about that sounded familiar to Harry, but unfortunately, his fuzzily recalled sources were dubious. The first was science-fiction or fantasy novels, both Muggle and magical, most likely gleaned off his goddaughter or a friend. The second was the long-since-discontinued Quibbler, because that sounded like something from a Quibbler article or Luna anecdote. The third was some half-listened-to Hermione rant in which alternate timelines just might have been mentioned in passing.

 “That’s… possible?” Harry said, again more surprised than he was comfortable with or used to. He chanced a glance at Muirgel, but her expression was serious and held no answers.

 “Anything is possible with magic!” Jon said with the desperate cheerfulness of a poor joke. His expression became serious again also, and sympathetic, with Harry’s answering grimace. “Yes, it is very possible. There are even several unconfirmed accounts of it happening in times past! There are many stories – fairy tales, journals, both – of people who find themselves in worlds nearly the same, but somehow better or worse depending on whether the story says it is a punishment or a reward.

 “Ah, but that is not comforting, is it? Let me assure you that magical theory supports the possibility… if it is a little… uncertain as to how it could happen exactly. Your story is an enchanting – forgive me – possible method for this type. The cup is a Portkey designed to return to move between two fixed points, yes? Between the time sand and other unknown influences, as well as a frightening amount of magical power, it is very possible that it ‘returned’ you to a fixed point – not twisting time, but a direct transport – and… in doing so… created a new timeline. Or created a passage between two parallel lines, I don’t know.

 “This is my theory – my opinion, as I said – I have others, but none as possible. It explains the missing ‘twists’, suits the ritual and the cup, and explains the lingering but broken path of the Portkey. Not bad for an hour, no? It’s not much, I know, yet… even if I had hours more… I still cannot say for certain. I am sorry, ‘Arry, but I have no safe way or way I could repeat to be certain that I am right. I don’t have the magic; it does not yet exist.”

 Jon’s expression was sorrowful, genuinely so, as Harry stared at him, his mind whirling. For several seconds, the only sound in the room was the steady click-clicking of Muirgel’s needles.

 “That is… incredible,” Harry said finally. He cleared his throat. “Far more than I hoped for. I understand you have your limits. Thank you, Jon.”

 Jon waved his hand to brush the thanks aside, smiling tightly. “I should be thanking you, ‘Arry! And I shall: thank you for allowing me to further study my life’s work and passion. I should at the least be able to offer you a way home… a true answer… and I’m sorry that I cannot.”

 Harry nodded, somewhat absentmindedly as he adjusted to this new knowledge, made somewhat uncomfortably by Jon’s apparently genuine regret. “Never mind that for now. A separate timeline? How does that… work… exactly?”

 “It is… easiest, perhaps, ‘Arry, to think of it as another… hmm… dimension? World? Reality? You did not explain what happened, but Mademoiselle Hope mentioned that she saw yourself of this timeline, yes? You are, as far as the problems of time go, another person from him. You are in a different world, much like your own. He is you as you were, and you are him as he could be, but your actions... should not threaten each other. He is, perhaps, now you as you could have been.” Jon hastened to add, “I wouldn’t be so quick to test it. This is just my opinion from what I know and can guess. My… ‘hippo thesaurus’, you said? If you will.”

 Harry laughed, both from Jon’s humour and from unbelievable relief. The pressures of the seemingly hundreds of little problems that had been building up were flowing away – not far, because as Jon had said, he did not know for certain, but it was still freeing. Oh, the things this could mean! The Face-stealer could stay dead, Cedric could live, and the secrets to Voldemort’s death could be shared! So many people – from loved ones to complete strangers – could live and never know of Harry’s future.

 It was the sort of time travel that so many people had so desperately dreamed of, and all done accidentally!

 “…Are you alright, there, Mister Potter?” Muirgel Kenn said.

 “Oh. No, not really,” Harry answered blithely. “So our… my world is… still there?”

 “I would believe so,” Jon said, looking somewhere between bewildered and sorry still. He moved quickly with the conversation nevertheless. “There are some types of time travel… specifically into the past… where it’s not so. But this is closer to moving between dimensions than time, really.” He paused for a moment. “If… I had the magical power – a very grand amount, I could not begin to say how much – I could perhaps reverse the Portkey to return you to your own timeline – the secrets are surely within it, so in theory it is simple enough – but I cannot be certain.”

 No, the wizard Jon Delacour didn’t have the power or knowledge to return Harry to his home. But very few witches or wizards might, which was part of why Harry had come to the Kenns rather than search out an expert like Jon Delacour. He could not know for certain, but the witch in the well could.

 “You’re a very clever young man, aren’t you?” Muirgel said finally.

 “I would like to think so, Madame Kenn.”

 “Wouldn’t we all.”

 “Ah, but you are a resplendently wise and finely-aged woman, Madame Kenn! Why would you be wanting to be a clever young man?”

 “Don’t be smart, Mister Delacour,” Muirgel said, eyes bright with good humour before she turned to look at Harry. “I don’t know about you, Mister Potter, but that sounds like quite a good theory to me. It certainly helps to know as much as you can before you go dealing. I imagine you’ll be wanting to see her now to see what she has to say about all this.”

 “…If you don’t mind, please,” Harry said.

 He felt a little stunned still, or perhaps distracted by all the new directions for his thoughts to run. Home felt within reach like it hadn’t before and a world of possibilities had opened before him, and all the temptation therein hovered over his shoulder. It was not the state to be in for dealing with a wellwitch, so Harry brushed the thoughts away and straightened.

 “If I am in another world…” Harry mused. “She shouldn’t know me.”

 “Shouldn’t doesn’t go a long way with her,” Muirgel answered evenly, with a matching gaze. “But yes, it would seem so. Remember not to let her smell your desperation, Mister Potter, and I’ll be sending Saoirse down with you when you’re ready to go.”

 “Of course.”

 “…Pardon me, but of whom do we speak?”

 Harry and Muirgel both turned to look at Jon, who looked very patiently frustrated. Harry sympathized with him, but it wasn’t really his place to share the secret of the witch in the well, so he looked to Muirgel. The watcher of the well leaned back in her rocking chair, hands click-clicking, and looked Jon Delacour up and down with intense consideration.

 “There’s a reason that Mister Potter came to the Kenns, Mister Delacour,” she answered finally. “We have a possible way to know for certain the truth… and perhaps to send Mister Potter and his godchild home. It is also, before you say something very clever, possibly less safe than your suggestion.”

 Jon closed his mouth and looked between them several times, then smiled charmingly and said, “If it is not too much trouble, could I have that in writing to show my colleagues? No one has ever said as much to me before. I will need proof or no one will believe me.”

 “I’m not surprised,” Muirgel said dryly. “I’d prefer not to get into it, Mister Delacour, as it’s a very sensitive family secret. The more people who don’t believe you, the better, in this case. Thank you for arming Mister Potter as best you could.”

 “It would be foolish to ask if I might accompany ‘Arry and Saoirse, I suppose?”

 The old watcher witch nodded. “It would.”

 “May I wait to hear what your secret says of my opinion?”

 “I don’t have any issue with that. Mister Potter, it’s up to you.”

 “Since I’m apparently not about to break the world, I don’t have any issue with it either,” Harry answered with a shrug. He couldn’t see a problem with letting Jon hang around to satisfy some of the man’s curiosity, save perhaps leaving the poor man to the mercy of Hope and Muirgel. “Wouldn’t want to leaving you hanging and worrying, and all that.”

 “Thank you, ‘Arry. I would have wasted away without knowing if I am right.”

 Harry laughed, and Jon winked for good measure, looking very pleased with himself; Muirgel looked terribly bemused by them both. “Are you boys done being clever, then? Mister Delacour, we’re glad to have you staying, especially since you’re not going anywhere without fixing the mess you’ve made of my sitting room.”

 “Ah. Of course.”

 “Mister Potter, Saoirse will see you down.”

 

~ something wicked this well holds  

 

 At the end of the Kenn’s front hall, there was a door. It was simple and innocuous, like any other passage to a basement, with a flimsy latch near the top and stairs immediately down. It even had a small hand-painted sign on it that said ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ ringed by a young child’s attempt at flowers.

 Saoirse waved Harry down first and closed the door behind them. Harry wandered down the rickety wooden staircase and waited on the first landing, by a lantern hanging from an iron nail in a thick post. The lantern was identical to the one outside, down to the steady yellow glow. It brightened as Saoirse took it in hand, her wooden staff in the other, and lit the way as Saoirse led them down another rickety staircase into the dark.

 The room at the bottom of the rickety stairs was difficult to describe, only partly because Harry could barely see it by the lantern’s light. It appeared to be a living room of sorts, abandoned and without the furniture. Its peeling wallpapers and trim were in an older style than the rooms upstairs. How much older, Harry couldn’t say, as the Kenn home above was not very new-looking itself and magical homes rarely kept up with Muggle styles, and the state didn’t help pinpoint the feeling of age he could sense. There was an old fireplace with a thin pile of ashes and a heavy grate, and several darkened doorways leading to other rooms, and little else besides the hanging lights. If it hadn’t been so dreadfully empty and dark, if it hadn’t had such a thick layer of dust, it might have been a very cosy space.

 Neither Harry nor Saoirse lingered, as Saoirse led them to another door underneath the rickety staircase and undid the latch at the top. There was a path in the dust between the stairs and this door, and the door swept open on squeaky hinges to reveal another staircase. This one was in grey stone, from the walls to the steps, and went farther down into the dark.

 Saoirse waved him in first, closed the door behind him, and they went down.

 At the bottom of this set of stairs, it had become noticeably colder, and the stark room that Saoirse’s lantern revealed didn’t help. This room was even older in style, another abandoned room with a terribly thick layer of dust and nothing besides a plain fireplace and more darkened doorways. Stone and wood that might have once looked nice now looked old and bare in the dim light. Its ancient floorboards moaned under their feet as they made their way to the next door under the staircase.

 The door groaned unsteadily as Saoirse opened it to reveal another stone staircase, this one slightly uneven as it wound down into the dark. There wasn’t a railing, but Harry didn’t dare touch the old stone walls. Saoirse didn’t either, and her staff’s rap echoed with every step.

 They found yet another dark and dusty room at the bottom, neither haunted nor welcoming, yet again even older than the ones above it. The age of it hung from the walls. The floor here was stone and the chill in the air sent a remembered, aching shiver over Harry’s scarred arms. They did not dwell. Saoirse pulled a hefty wooden door open, revealing another uneven stone staircase, and they went down.

 Three more rooms they passed through, each dark and long-since empty, before they came to a fourth that was no living space at all. It was more of a cave than a room and the rocky floor sloped in great lumps down into the dark, the wide passage ringed by stalactites and stalagmites as it went. A slightly uneven path had been carved through, smoothed by countless travellers. It wound around a massive rune stone before stopping very abruptly, not at all the long trek it seemed to promise, having reached a small rock platform of sorts with a stone structure that, with a moment, was clearly a large, very old well.

 It was circular, made of carefully ringed and rune-marked stones that matched the much larger rune stones scattered above the cavern, which stood out unnaturally among the jagged edges and drip. The markings seemed to gleam under the light of Saoirse’s lantern, but didn’t light themselves.

 The well was five feet from one edge to another, all around, and its wall was perhaps two high. Harry looked over the edge. A metal grate sat over the well at the level of the floor, identical in style to the heavy metal door that had reluctantly revealed the last staircase. It could have held a dragon back. Coal black and fierce, with crossed bars as thick as Harry’s arm, and holes between not large enough for more than a small hand to fit through.

 A similarly styled metal structure stood over the well, thinner and large and with two bars side-by-side over the well. On one, which resemble a fire spit, a metal chain wrapped around and ended in an ancient, wide metal bucket off to one side. On the other, Saoirse hung her lantern. She stepped over the well wall and hung the light on a hook at the centre, six feet above the grate, and then stepped off again. She said a phrase in a language Harry didn’t know, then knocked thrice on the metal grate with her staff and waited.

 The sound of Saoirse’s knock rang through the cavern like a great church bell, but Harry had to strain to hear the answer. Saoirse was calm, but the wait was as anxious as Harry’s first visit. When her knock finally echoed back to them, several seconds too late for Harry’s nerves, it was distant and weak.

 But with the answer, before their eyes, the heavy grate gave a massive groan and pulled away into its rim. The bars scraped slowly and hideously apart in four different directions until there was nothing left but a circular stone pit straight down. (Or passage, Harry supposed, or prison.) Even with the lantern just above, the bottom of the well could not be seen, and a cold breeze from below rustled through them – warningly, temptingly, mysteriously – and away. Like with many heights and holes, the urge to leap into the summoning dark wandered into the back of Harry mind. It held unusual power here.

 There was a crude metal ladder hammered into the stone on one side, but Saoirse ignored it and instead took the chain from over the well in one hand. The staff in one hand, the lantern left above the well, Saoirse stepped up onto the well wall and pulled the heavy bucket to hang in front of her. She held her foot over the edge of the bucket, which was just wide enough for two people to stand on if they pulled together tightly. She then looked down and apologetically towards Harry.

 Harry shrugged and stepped up on the wall as well. He took a space of chain just above Saoirse’s hand and put one foot out over the free side of the large bucket. He knew how this worked. Well, not exactly how it worked, much to Hermione’s frustration when he’d attempted to describe his visits to Saoirse Kenn. But he knew his part as guest in this process at least.

It went like this: Saoirse counted to three (after he’d assured her he knew what he was doing, of course). Harry, who ought to have been quite used to things like this by now, felt his heart pound in his ears, and heard each drip of water in the well’s cavern as loud as thunder as she did.

 On three: both Harry and Saoirse stepped neatly onto the ancient metal bucket.  

 As soon as they did: it fell.

 

deal struck

 

 Down, down, down into the dark, Harry and Saoirse fell. Not true falling, though neither of them had much to fear if they were, but the flight down was fast enough to send the staunchest of hearts to the throat. They both clung calmly to the chain and kept one foot on the bucket, and it was over soon enough. The bucket slowed to a stop like a train at full-speed into a brick wall.

 At their stop, Harry and Saoirse were left hanging (and spinning slowly) not entirely in the dark. Smooth stone tiles, ancient and wet, were no more than a foot below them, creating a small platform of sorts. On the edge of this platform was another post, and from an iron nail, a third yellow lantern was brightening. It lit a cavern much like the one above. And on the other side of the cave, through stone teeth and more rune stones and the sound of rushing water, there was the orange flicker of more light.

 Harry stepped down from the bucket and determinedly kept his balance, then turned to offer Saoirse an arm. She took it and stepped primly down, and, with her twisting staff steadying her, went directly to the waiting lantern. It too brightened further in Saoirse’s firm grip.

 Before he made to follow Saoirse, Harry glanced up at the well they’d fallen through. The long passage lay half-a-dozen metres above them now. Looking up the dark hole was much the same as looking down it, though there was always a great difference between a fall and a climb. All that could be seen of the top was a faraway glimmer, where the lantern had been left over the well.

 Harry half-expected to see Hope peering over the edge, though he couldn’t have seen her if she was. He’d woken her before they’d left – because Hope might need her sleep, but it’d be rude to disappear without telling her where he was going – and made her promise to stay put. Since they’d done this before, he thought (and hoped) his goddaughter would keep her promise. He’d gone off to the side and made Muirgel promise to sit on Hope if need be, anyway. Just in case.

 Jon had then claimed he was much beloved by all his little female cousins and promised Harry he would spare no indignity to keep Hope entertained, despite him and Hope still being awkward strangers. Harry had been touched, but immediately made Jon promise not to keep his word there. Hope couldn’t be trusted with an opportunity like that (especially with the way she had waggled her eyebrows at Harry over Jon’s shoulder, the brat). Jon had insisted that Hope alone couldn’t possibly be as bad as a horde of little Veela (“Beaks and claws and teeth and fire, ‘Arry.”), but Harry, though sympathetic towards Jon’s plight, had pointed out that Hope would be different, certainly, but that didn’t necessarily mean better if she decided to try her hand at mischief. Much like her grandmother, she would not be managed.

 Harry had met a limited number of people in his life who could genuinely solemnly swear that they were up to no good, and he could believe them as though it were a severe oath. Most of the Weasleys could, easily enough, though most especially George and Ginny. This interestingly included partners – through proximity, Harry assumed – such as Fleur, Lee, and Angelina, who could all do so well enough. Andromeda Tonks had been able, surprisingly enough, and, unsurprisingly, so in turn could Hope.

 Hope could even infect that little pack of hooligans she sometimes ran with. Harry had picked Hope up from an afternoon with Hannah Abbott’s bunch and always also received a glare and a casualty report. Jim, little Lily, and Al – those were the other four riders’ names. There were others, sometimes, but it was those three hellions that Hope got along with best. They were fellow war orphans, and they all got along like a house on fire. Very nice kids, though. Harry liked them, while feeling great empathy for Hannah.

 At the very least, however, he’d thought that Hope knew better than to run into some situations. The witch in the well had been a source of comfort of sorts, because Harry could tell himself, at the very least, there were some monsters Hope knew better than to risk going near. Another of those monsters, however, had been Voldemort, and now Harry knew nothing for certain.

 “This way, Harry,” Saoirse said.

 With one final glance, Harry followed Saoirse past the lantern’s post. She led through down a tile path towards the sound of running water. It was not a long path, and much like above, as soon as they turned a large rune stone, they came shortly to the water’s bank.

 It was more stream than river, only six feet across and three deep, and moved steadily enough to discourage wading across. The interesting thing about it was that it had split apart on one side of the cavern and both halves made a wide arch before joined again on the other. This left a circular-ish island of fair size in the middle, a gentle mound a little over twenty feet in diameter, and it was here where the other light was coming from.

 Because, on the top of the mound was a woman. She was sprawled on a great red armchair, long and pale legs over one armrest and wine-red hair spilled to a handsome carpet over the other, and her elegant nose in a paperback book held over her face. She was reading by the light of a large brazier nearby, which crackled merrily and gave off no heat whatsoever in the chill of the cavern. The book was a particularly lurid and enthralling romance novel, at least by the woman’s rapt expression, and the handsome wizard (shirtless underneath open star-patterned robes) and beautiful witch (equally scantily clad, and they were both wearing the pointy hats) on the very well-loved cover.

 Saoirse cleared her throat pointedly.

 There was no doubt in either of their minds that the woman knew they were there, on the edge of the bank, but she made a good show of looking towards them and sighing loudly as she closed her book. She was wearing an elegant dressing robe, which had fallen away from her legs, and apparently little else if anything by the sheerness of it, so she could have made a good show of languidly getting to her feet. However, she didn’t, and instead flopped upright like it was a chore.

 Harry was almost impressed. That flop could have given Hope a run for her money.

 The woman sat very put-upon in her comfortable armchair, putting an elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. “Saoirse,” she said, her voice high and annoyed and another good show. “I thought your mother dearest put an end to my gentleman callers. I’m not prepared for company.”

 “Sorry,” Saoirse said and didn’t explain.

 With another exhausted sigh, the woman flopped her other arm up and dropped her chin in that hand. She looked boredly over them both, free hand twitching for the book in her lap. “I was busy,” she complained.

 “Sorry.”

 “I don’t just stroll into your sitting room, now do I?”

 Saoirse didn’t bother to answer that one. Nor did she look pointedly at the circles of rune stones on both sides of the stream bank, and instead waited patiently. Harry took the time to have a look about said sitting room. It had looked different in his time; all the furniture would change.

 There was the great armchair in the middle, atop a plush carpet, with the cold-burning brazier beside it. A couple leaning bookshelves, stuffed carelessly with books, were at the back, alongside a large, old-fashioned record-player. Besides that, there was a small four-poster bed that was half pillows, a dresser, a large divider around which the edge of a gleaming, claw-foot bathtub was visible, and a full-length mirror. That was it. Not much, but it had to be fairly crammed together to fit, and most of it was on the far side of the little island. Nothing stood between them and the woman besides the hill and the stream.

 For all her flopping, the woman sat on that comfortable reading chair and looked down at them like it was a throne. She was beautiful, of course, but the devil was in the details. She was terribly thin. Her skin was uncomfortably, unhealthily white – veins were visible even from a distance – like it had never seen the sun. She looked to be fifty or so, with handsome crowfeet, but there was an edge to it: the age of someone ageless. Her eyes were bloodshot, her sharp face grey and drawn, and she had claws in place of nails. Her teeth, as she yawned, were long and sharp to points.

 “I suppose,” the woman said with tired magnanimousness, “I can be bothered.” She looked Harry up and down, clearly unimpressed by him and the outfit he'd borrowed from Muirgel, not a flicker of curiosity in her bloody eyes. “What wish would you have of the witch in the well?”

 She really didn’t seem to know him. Harry had been told that the witch in the well, unlike mortal creatures, was beyond the twisting of time. Apparently, this truly might be another witch entirely. Identical, yet different. Jon’s theory was appearing more and more likely the longer Harry thought on it, though he was loath to attach himself too strongly to it yet.

 “Answers,” Saoirse replied for him, “and perhaps more.”

 The woman raised her eyebrows at the second half, apparently finally intrigued. “Oh? And does the gentleman have the coin to pay for his answers?” Her voice was violently sweet. “And whatever else it is he wishes?”

 “He does.”

 “…Can the gentleman not speak for himself?”

 With how the woman looked expectantly towards him, she was clearly playing on his pride. Harry, fortunately, was familiar enough with his own pride – a valiant thing with rashness to spare – not to leap to his own defence. Saoirse had warned him not to, anyway, many times before coming down.

 “No, he can,” Saoirse answered evenly, “but I’ll speak for him for now. This gentleman is from a future a little over a dozen years from now, here by accident after coming across a contaminated artefact. He’d like to know if he comes from another timeline or threatens this one. If it is the latter, he’d like to know what can be done to fix things. In either case, he’d like to know how he can be returned to his own time or timeline. You may inspect and immediately return the contaminated artefact, unchanged.”

 “My, my, so many questions! Is that all?”

 “The ‘perhaps more’ depends on what can be done.”

 The woman hummed, looking towards Harry with greater interest now. Not rabidly curious or anything similar, but perhaps pleasantly unsurprised. She hadn’t blinked a bloodshot eye at the mention of time travel or different timelines. Harry’s mind was still whirling – he hadn’t the foggiest how Jon wasn’t constantly dizzy with opinions like that – but this edged woman just flipped her hair back.

 “The real question is rarely what can be done, dear Saoirse,” she said. Then she looked again to Harry, and smiled sweetly. It was stunning – and, if you squinted, in an uncomfortably increasing number of ways. “Do you know, my gentleman caller, what happens to men who ask questions?”

 Harry raised his eyebrows at her, but didn’t speak. He’d heard this one before.

 “They get answers,” the woman said. “Doesn’t that serve them right?”

 “Will you take the deal or no?”

 “Oh, so impatient, Saoirse! Have you ever known a well to spit a wish back up? I’ll give the man his answers, but I’ll take the coin first. Then, perhaps, we can deal some more.”

 Saoirse stared back at the woman, then looked to Harry. “Do you take the deal?”

 “Yes.”

 The word echoed around the cavern and the woman clapped her hands together, smiling close-lipped and gently, like she’d just swallowed a canary. “It’s been so long since I was in business.” Her claws clicked together and she cooed, “Throw over the coin, good gentleman, and I’ll weigh its worth.”

 With an approving nod from Saoirse, Harry cast his mind back to the payment he’d settled on. He looked in with focus, letting the rushing water drift out of hearing and the flickering light over the woman’s sweet, sharp teeth. It couldn’t be too important, but if he could catch just enough of her interest, these would be answers worth their weight in silver. 

 The witch in the well did take genuine coin, but Harry hadn’t exactly a vault of gold for her to play with. She took blood, he’d heard, but that was a line of payment he didn’t want to open. What could you give a demon that only truly wanted the one thing it couldn’t be given?

 Once upon a time, long ago and far away, perhaps not in this world precisely, there had allegedly been nine of these witch-shaped demons. Harry had heard many stories and believed none of them. Made-up legends stamped on in a search for answers, he’d thought, much like he had with the stories around the Sealing’s source. Harry didn’t know the full story of the demon down a well, and Saoirse Kenn had never offered it. All Harry needed to know to be true was that, now, the Kenns had this one here. She was trapped seemingly indefinitely down a well, guarded by a long line of watchers most recently known as the Kenns, and she dealt in the impossible for a price.

 Carefully, Harry raised a hand to the side of his face, at the right edge of his brow, and drew out a silvery-white wisp. Very, very carefully; he wasn’t good at this. The woman let out a soft sound and stood. Harry pulled the threads of memory fully out and into his hands, where it misted lowly, and looked at the woman coming down her hill towards him. Her bloodshot gaze was fixed on her payment.

 “It has been some time since someone dared to pay me in silver,” she said, as she stopped at the edge of the other bank. Her feet were bare, her toenails clawed, and all the rune stones nearest to her had lit up in a vivid scarlet. The closer, the brighter, and some thrummed with the threat. “But it has been some time since I had a gentleman caller at all.”

 Harry glanced at the spool of memory in his hands, drifting long and weighted, and then followed the woman’s gaze towards Saoirse. If there was a conversation there, he missed it. Saoirse’s expression held neither approval nor disapproval, and the woman soon looked back to the memory.

 “I still need to weigh the worth of your coin.” She held out a slender white hand, decorated starkly by blue veins and yellow claws. “Throw it over. Saoirse stops all those who try to cross the stream.”

 There was a challenge in the woman’s eyes: Could she stop you, if you tried?

 Harry didn’t really care to find out. This Saoirse Kenn probably wasn’t as powerful as the one he’d known, yes, but even if he was that sort of idiot, those pre-Sealing Kenn wards still weren’t to be reckoned with. Harry liked his eyebrows where they were.

 He tossed the memory over the running water. It flew in a high arch, and drifted gently but steadily down. Memories might have looked light, and sometimes were, but they could be surprisingly heavy as well. This one fell like a feather. The woman reached lazily up to catch it out of the air before it could go over her head. She let it hang by its glowing threads, looking softly up at it, and hummed.

 “Well, well, well,” she said. “As your saying goes: it’s time to put the money where the mouth is.”

 The best thing that could be said about what happened next is that it happened quickly. The cold brazier flickered low, long claws let go of the silver-white threads, and the woman’s jaw came unhinged and her sharp teeth gleamed as she went up on her clawed toes to swallow the memory in one horrifying bite. She didn’t slurp, at least, but she did chew her jaw back into place and smiled deliciously. Her bloodshot eyes briefly gleamed silver-white as she fixed them on Harry, who was casually getting his heart out of its hiding place in his stomach so he didn’t throw it up, and could have happily gone the rest of his life without seeing that saying made literal again.

 

March 22nd, 2008

  

 ~ worth its weight in silver

 

 No apocalypse had the right to have a view like that, Harry thought.

 The sun through the Sealing looked no different on the horizon, coming up dimly over the mountains and their sea of cloud. The morning mist lingered thick and cool over lochs and wood. Across the high hills, in the distance, a massive dragon revealed itself. It stretched its wings through the fog, lifted its great head to yawn slow and wide, before it curled lazily back in on itself and stilled, becoming yet another rock in a field of heather again. Another rock-like shape nearby flicked a tail and rolled over.

 Harry yawned and resisted the urge to lie back for a nap. Falling asleep in dragon-infested mountains wouldn’t be the most inadvisable thing he’d ever done, but he figured he’d better not risk it. Even if he was exhausted. He wasn’t ready to go back to camp yet, where there’d surely be a dozen urgent things to be done before he could make his excuses and collapse.

 “Lazing about, Potter? Why am I not surprised?”

 Harry let his head drop between his knees and made no effort to hide his groan. He was mostly behind a rock and had been hoping that the presence behind him wouldn’t wander up and talk to him. It hadn’t been likely, but it had been a fond hope anyway.

 He turned and glared. “Don’t you have better things to do by now than pull my pigtails?”

 “Oh, don’t you wish I would, Potter.”

 With a heavy sigh, Harry gave up fighting it and scooted over on his small-rock-turned-seat as the other man approached. “Yes, please, pull up a patch of grass without asking. Be my guest. It’s not like I had anything better to do than listen to you whine.”

 “Do you ever?”

 “Sometimes I wonder,” Harry said, and looked out over the highlands again.

 For a good minute, he and his new company sat shoulder-to-shoulder and watched the sun come slowly up and light what it could of the clouded landscape. The pressure of Harry’s exhaustion quickly disappeared, partly from company and partly because he’d rather jump off this mountain than fall asleep on the shoulder of this company.

 “You look shit,” his company said.

 “Fuck off, Malfoy,” Harry answered reflexively.

 “You smell worse,” Draco Malfoy continued, blithe as ever. Time and the end of the world might have made him slightly more tolerable, but one step back from insufferable was still unbearable. Becoming a relatively decent person was something Malfoy could grudgingly manage, but not being a git? Never.

 Malfoy hadn’t much room to talk, anyhow, about appearances. He looked nearly as exhausted as Harry felt. Harry might have been in worn boots and old pyjamas thrown over a layer of dirt, thoroughly bedraggled after getting dragged through monster-infested caves in search of a passage out of the Sealing, but Malfoy was wearing pyjamas too and the pale bastard wasn’t even wearing a shirt or shoes. Who wore fancy slippers in the mountain wilderness? Malfoy, apparently. Fine, he was clean, but the lanky git had hair down past his scarred shoulders now and there were ribbons in it.

 Harry couldn’t take it anymore and snorted. “I see you let your kid do your hair again.”

 Malfoy tossed his hair over his shoulder, showing off the uneven, slightly-tangled ribbons in Slytherin colours. What a tosser. “Post-full-moon bath-routine,” he answered, completely unembarrassed. “You should see what’s been done to Teddy’s hair; it looks like a rainbow threw up on it. I see you’ve been letting your mud-rolling adventurous habits influence my cousin, you degenerate.”

 “Uh huh,” Harry said. “Anyway, thanks for letting Ted spend the night with you guys again.”

 “Of course.”

 “He doesn’t get to do it often. He really likes it.”

 “Of course. We’re far less mangy than his usual company.”

 “Says you and Scorpius are his favourite cousins,” Harry continued, enjoying the way Malfoy was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with genuine feelings. The view of the heather-covered mountains was incredible, but Draco Malfoy was looking out in the way of avoiding eye-contact at all costs. 

 “We’re his only cousins, Potter,” Malfoy sniffed. “But, well, ‘Family First’, and all that.”

 Harry just grinned. “Look at you! All grown up! You didn’t even bring up blood!”

 “Yet maturity eludes you still, I see.”

 “How is Scorpius, by the way? I didn’t really get to see him before he and Teddy ran off.”

 “Very well, thank you,” Malfoy said, and his entire expression changed from pleased discomfort to glowing pride. “He turned eight just last month.”

 Harry’s own teasing grin turned to a bemused smile, because leave it to Malfoy to say that like his kid just did a birthday better than anyone had done before. He’d never seen the git look so genuinely happy before his son came along. If anyone had told him, seven years or so ago, that Draco Malfoy would adopt an orphaned, could-be-Muggleborn-for-all-anyone-knew, puppy of a kid, who was a complete sweetheart, and adore him more than life itself, Harry would have told them they were nuts.

 “Congrats,” Harry said sincerely. “Send a message if we’re in the same areas next year.” Teddy really didn’t get to see his cousins often enough. Maybe once or twice a year, at most, and only since Andromeda had passed away and Harry had soon after and very reluctantly introduced his godkid to Nymphadora Tonks’ first cousin Draco Malfoy, when they crossed paths again.

 “Well, I suppose he’d like to see Teddy, at least,” Malfoy allowed, letting the familiar not you hang in the air with friendly animosity. “Though, I’d hope, Potter, that we’re not all still in the same areas by next year. Granger insisted you were all making progress when I asked – in a completely civil manner, by the way, I want it noted; if she says anything different, she’s lying – but I’m not sure she wouldn’t tell me the sky was orange if I said it was blue.”

 “No, she wouldn’t,” Harry sighed, though he has no idea whether she would or not. At least, if anything happened back at camp, he’s pretty sure Malfoy started it. “We are making progress. This was just a detour on our way somewhere else. Didn’t pan out, but we weren’t expecting it to. We think we’ve found one of the Sealing’s support points – that’s where we’re really headed – not far from where Hogwarts used to be, actually. After this, Hermione doesn’t think it’ll be much longer before we can track down the heart and tear the whole thing down.”

 “Hm,” Malfoy said, unconvinced. “And what of the Dark Lord?”

 “The rest are keeping him busy back south. They’re dying, don’t worry, just… slowly. Stubborn gits.”

 “Weasley said you left Johnson and his sister in charge.”

 Harry learned back against the small rock that’d failed to hide him from Malfoy’s sharp sense of smell, unconcerned. “Well, fuck, Malfoy, you’ve cottoned on to my cunning plan. I was just gonna let the girls have at him and finish him for me. If you’d just lend me Lavender, then I’m sure he’ll have his throat torn out in no time.”

 Malfoy laughed, then looked utterly betrayed because how dare Harry make him laugh.

 “Don’t worry, though,” Harry assured him. “I know the girls are in charge. I won’t leave you to function without them.” Because like hell would Parvati leave her wife behind. “Why did you three drag the pack up here, though? Seems a ways out of your usual stomping grounds for a friendly visit.”

 Malfoy eyed Harry like he’d never heard the words friendly visit before in his life, and wanted no part in whatever strange disease it was. “We’re carrying a message from farther south, actually,” he said. “From Christina Palmsee. Some idiot managed to release a well-witch on the Spring Equinox.”

 Harry sat bolt upright. “What the fuck?” 

 “It’s dead now, of course.”

 “What?”

 “One of Palmsee’s fellows killed it after thirteen horrible hours of rampage. No idea how, but I’m told there’s a good patch of the south-west coast still on fire, so it’s good they managed it. Palmsee said she’d inform Weasley’s sister of the details, but she doesn’t think she’ll need you to do anything.” Malfoy sounded very approving. “Since she, of course, is apparently one of the few competent people who doesn’t believe she needs you, of all people, to get anything accomplished.”

 “Fucking hell,” Harry said, and dropped his head between his knees again. His hands were shaky and his heart had missed a few beats. He doesn’t even want to contemplate the disaster or the clean-up involved, or the number of casualties. “Do you know which one?”

 “No,” Malfoy answered. “Parvati might; she and Palmsee are friendly, you know, and sometimes talk Divination together. Not the one you give a damn about, though, if that’s an important distinction.”

 “Oh, fuck you.”

 “I’m really not interested in that sort of thanks, Potter; I don’t know how many times I have to repeat it. Are you raising my cousin with this sort of poor civility?”

 “That joke is old. This couldn’t have waited until I came back to camp?”

 Malfoy sniffed. “You asked why we bothered to track your ungrateful impatience all the way up here. I didn’t track you down just to tell you the Kenn woman isn’t dead. I came to inform you that my cousin, while currently asleep, is expecting to see you at breakfast, which is soon, and I expect you to have had a bath by then, Potter. Weasley mentioned you hadn’t yet cleaned up from Granger’s escapades.”

 Though Harry wouldn’t say it, Malfoy was right. He did need to wash up. With a groan, he got to his feet and let the grey spots dance back out of his sight. Malfoy stood as well, stretched, and flipped his childishly beribboned hair again. 

 “Do you know any of the details?” Harry asked, because he’d rather have this conversation while he remembers and before they get near other people again. “Any at all? Who did it and how? I didn’t know you could release them. I didn’t even know you could kill a well-witch. I rather thought that was the point of throwing them down a well without a key.”

 “Some ex-Muggle fool who stole something or rather from the Dark Lord, I believe. An Avalon-related relic or Avalon-tainted tool – most likely the latter, I’m not sure the former exists – was what I heard. I didn’t really care to ask for the gossip.”

 Harry eyed him suspiciously as they trudged their way higher up the mountain, where camp rested on the lower opposite side. “Why bother? When Lavender and Parvati tell you everything anyway?”

 “Exactly.” Malfoy nodded pompously. “I would tell you to ask Palmsee herself for more details, but with the mood she’s rumoured to be in, though, she may just be murdering everyone who has them. Perhaps the tool that released the witch was the thing that killed it, but I wouldn’t trust her to tell you.”

 That was likely apt. Malfoy was annoyingly canny about this sort of thing and Harry would probably act similarly in the same situation. Christina and Ginny, who was their unofficial liaison with Christina’s people nowadays, seemed to be good friends – perhaps more, Harry had wondered, but he figured it wasn’t any of his business – so maybe he should ask Ginny for the details when he got back. Just enough of them to recognize a fool mimicking the stunt, at least.

Harry took a deep breath, enjoying the chill and cloud of the mountain path. It had been good to go north for a bit, and get away from the cities and the centre of the madness. Every time he turned around, it seemed somebody else was trying to destroy the world with the impossible.

 “Do you believe any of the stories people tell about the well-witches?” Harry asked.

 Malfoy snorted, completely dismissive of Harry’s honest wondering. “No. That they’re the daughters of demons? Immortal priestesses of some long-forgotten religion? The original followers of Morgana?” Malfoy’s voice was mocking and sharp. “No. I believe those idiot folktales about as much as I do that the Dark Lord happened across the Avalon of legends. I wouldn’t trust those stories an inch. They’re convenient names to borrow for horrors and histories that were thrown down holes and buried because they couldn’t be burnt at the stake with the rest of their context.”

 Harry frowned, annoyed, because he felt much the same and he didn’t enjoy agreeing with Malfoy.

 “Why? Don’t tell me you believe the desperate grasping, Potter.”

 “No, I don’t.” Harry had had enough of people making things up and treating lies like they were gospel. He didn’t know what he believed, but he’d rather search for further truth than commit to the first history someone offered him. He hadn’t asked the Kenns the whole story, and he often wondered if they even knew it. “But do you think there’s any basis in them? Avalon and all that?”

 “Dear Morgana, Potter,” Malfoy drawled, bemused. “Did you pay any attention in History of Magic?”

 “To be honest, I didn’t think it’d have much to do with my future, and would you look at that.” Harry waved a hand carelessly over the lushly magical landscape with sweeping mists over monster-infested lochs and forests. “Anyway, bit hard to worry about Ministry propaganda and other imperialistic, English-centric, egotistical, puritanical, ‘pureblood’-edited, glorifications of horrible crimes or outright lies when you’re not sure you’re going to make it to exams that year.”

 Malfoy pulled a face, which was probably the closest he’d come to fair enough. “Potter, I hate to inform you, but you sounded exactly like Granger there. Is she sure that description’s not too short?”

 “She’s right and you know it, Malfoy.”

 “It wasn’t that bad,” Malfoy insisted mulishly. “Though perhaps I should be having this conversation with the actual Granger. The concept wasn’t precisely well-covered in class. And Morgana knows you didn’t do any of the extra-credit assignments.”

“Trying not to die,” Harry pointed out again.

 “And don’t you do spectacularly there, Potter. My point is that history is unfortunately closer to Granger’s description than one would hope. Even when it’s not a lie, it’s hardly certain. What isn’t lost gets misinterpreted. You want to talk about Merlin? Which one? The modern one who attended Hogwarts? The man the legends were based on? The fucking fairy tales?”

 Harry sighed. “How about the twisted combinations of all three and the additions from other cultures?”

 “You really do listen to Granger. Fascinating,” Malfoy said, sounding pleasantly surprised. “You’re not all wrong about that. Of course, there’s basis. There’s always basis if you’re willing to make enough leaps of wild logic, or are willing to entertain the thought that the past is full of perfectly intelligent people. Personally, I don’t hold with prophecy. I don’t believe that the Dark Lord found whatever he thinks he’s found. He’s mad and a fool besides, and whatever he’s tapped into is likely deeper and more dangerous than he’s named it. The Sealing reads – no, it reeks – of a mistake. In a poor plan in the first place.”

 “Not much faith in old Snake Face, eh?”

 Malfoy scoffed. “No, I’ve ‘all grown up’ there, at least. What do you believe, Potter?”

 “More or less the same thing,” Harry answered. “Though I hate to agree with you, since the sky might fall down from shock. Sometimes I wonder if the witches and the powers behind the Sealing are linked, is all. They seem the same sort of ancient, and wild, and hungry.”

 “I haven’t met the witches, so I couldn’t say,” Malfoy said, after a moment of thought. “I haven’t the inclination or need to go near them, and won’t if I can help it.” His tone turned harder. “I’d leave them alone, if I were you, Potter. For Teddy’s sake, at least, since you’re a self-sacrificial fool. If the fate of our world depends on a thoroughly frightening witch, leave it to Granger rather than a demon.”

 “I should tell her you said that. She’ll be ecstatic.”

 “I’m sure,” Malfoy said dryly.

 They had now reached a pass in the mountain and could saunter down the other side of the mountain, where waited an equally gorgeous view of a long loch and distant, rolling highlands. The peak was a ways off to their left, where Harry spotted yet another massive rock dragon pretending to be it. The creature, as large as that first Hungarian Horntail he’d faced, was blatantly sunbathing in the early morning light and stretched its wings out so it hugged the mountain. With a happy shiver, the dragon stilled and blended back into the mountainside, where its rump made the new highest point of the hill.

 Harry and Malfoy headed down, picking their way through the high grass and heather. It wasn’t supposed to be blooming in this season, according to people who’d lived here before the Sealing, but the flowers bloomed on-and-off all year around now without any mind to what they were supposed to be doing. The hills were purple more often than not, and they were deceptively idyllic.

 Malfoy spoke up soon enough, with a thought he’d clearly been mulling ever since the silence. “If you’re so keen on my opinion, though, Potter, I’d say that the Sealing is much older than your witches. Perhaps even much more other than your witches as well.”

 Harry would have asked what he meant, but the rocky cliff face they were passing stood up. Harry and Malfoy both froze, as a dragon twice the size of the one on the peak turned to look at the wizards that had… Harry looked down… shit… just stepped on its tail. Its great orange eye narrowed, its nostrils flared, and a sound like thunder was rumbling slowly up from its great, scaled breast.

 Harry forgot a lot of things in that moment. What he was going to ask Malfoy. What he was going to ask Parvati and Lavender. What he was going to ask Ginny… or Christina Palmsee… or Saoirse Kenn. It all suddenly seemed rather unimportant, considering.

 “Last time I bring you any mail, Potter,” Malfoy muttered, his face stark white.

 Harry didn’t answer. He tossed a blinding yellow firework into the craggy snout of the creature leaning down, grabbed Malfoy by the fang-scarred arm, and the scene erupted into sparkling whizzes, blaring white, and a pained roar that shook the world until it shattered into pieces of silvery nothing.

 

June 27th, 1995

 

~ the price of human life

 

When the white clouding left the woman’s bloodshot eyes, she was smiling. It was not a good smile.

 Home was lingering on the frayed edges of Harry’s thoughts, from which he had pulled the thread that fed the woman. What little home it had been. He just remembered that Malfoy had been helping bring the Sealing down in some fashion or another, alongside his own group of people who had volunteered once the word spread. Though Harry had been busy with his own part to play and didn’t know where exactly Malfoy had ended up helping – and now, of course, had no idea whether the man had lived – he remembered that Malfoy had done it for his son.

 “Well, well, well, my gentleman caller,” the woman said, her voice too sweet and her eyes too sharp. “Aren’t you a mystery that deserves some answers? I accept your payment. I look forward to perhaps seeing more.”

 At the woman’s beckoning, Saoirse Kenn undid the strings of a small pouch at her belt, and threw it over the stream. The woman opened it and tried to reach inside, but hissed and pulled back as though burned. Instead, she was forced to turn it upside down and shake. From the pouch’s small opening, the Triwizard Cup slid slowly and impossibly out, until the woman grabbed one fancy handle and pulled.

 Harry had flinched as she did, but she didn’t go anywhere upon touching it. Either the Porkey didn’t work inside her prison, or the woman wouldn’t be whisked anywhere without her permission. Harry was sure it was the former, but he had met people stubborn and powerful enough to make the latter possible.

 The woman poked at the Portkey for several minutes. She flipped it this way and that, like she was browsing in a home decorating store, then dangled it upside by pinched fingers and leaned in to sniff it top to bottom. She stuck out a tongue to lick it – the tongue was purple and forked of course – but Saoirse cleared her throat warningly, raising her brows like an unimpressive mother, and the woman reluctantly sheathed her tongue with an overdone pout. The woman flipped the cup right-side-up again and trailed a long claw around the inside of whispering blue glass.

 “You were right in your guess, my gentleman caller,” the woman said, as her hand went round and round the dizzying rim. “You are from another timeline, and it should please your heroic sensibilities to know that you don’t threaten this one with your presence. You’ve created a new future, and the consequences that will unravel have nothing to do with tangles in time.”

 Harry would have breathed a sigh of relief if not for the company. So Jon had been right. One of them would be pleased with what the witch in the well had to say, at least.

 “This is a powerful artefact, and in it brewed the unique spell that brought you back to where it was bidden.” The woman’s claw stirred the blue glow, which gleamed in her bloodshot eyes. “What it has done is extraordinary.”

 Oh, yes, that’s me. Extra ordinary, some anxious part of Harry’s mind quipped. He ignored it.

 “Where you came from and where you are… are separate… The path between them has faded fast and was created for a single moment in a single place, and the other potential port of call is one I doubt you call home, but memory clings to all things. This artefact remembers where you came from, and the memory could indeed be used to return you to your own timeline.”

  The woman tapped her claw against the glass, several times, and the sound rang through the cavern clearer than bells. She was looking at him, knowingly, but Harry couldn’t answer. He could barely breathe. The ting of her tapping rang through his head.

 “How?” Saoirse demanded.

 “Though the right ingredients and enough power,” the woman hummed. With another sharp look and smile, she began her explanation. “Here is my answer to you: it will not be a simple task. The power that this poor, befuddled artefact held was enormous, and it has lost nearly all of it to bring itself here.

 “There are so many worlds to choose from, but it is the space between them you must beware even more than your destination. Safe, stable passage is rare. Directionless, powerless, it is easy to become lost. Fools can throw themselves at the mercy of the void all they wish, but beyond there is not even the space for the realization that there is none to be found. They are more likely to be torn apart than find the land of their dreams.

 “You are fortunate to have this artefact to carry you across timelines. It has spent itself, but it is still an object of power, and its protection would be priceless to you. It would need far less power to return than it needed to come, but it does not have enough here to carry you to your… far more richly saturated world. Great sacrifices would be needed to gather a tenth of its power again, but it has also been disconnected from most of its sources and may be incapable of gathering power correctly in this world.

 “But that is power, and one can find power easily enough. Your true trouble is the ingredients needed to recreate the brew… to retrace the steps to take you between worlds. To pay your passage, as it were. Even should you return to the moment of your arrival, and use the path of your travelling while it is freshly cut – which would be the ideal moment to depart – the path is a peculiar one, as was the power spent to travel it, which was not easily brewed.

 “Gather the ingredients that created the path and the power necessary to travel it,” the woman said, high and commanding and oddly without malice, “and I can brew for you return passage.” But then she smiled sickeningly and added in coo, “For a worthy price, you must know, my gentleman caller. For if you’re good at something, you should never do it for free.”

 Harry didn’t answer that, too overcome with hope and fear and keeping both from his face. He knew how this worked; he’d done this before. It was the answer he’d sought – he and Hope could go home and finally be free – but this wasn’t all of it.

 It never was.

 This was the bait, and he had to wait and see if the trap was worth the prize. This time, he was prepared to pay a demon’s price to bring Hope home again. He had plenty with which to pay her. He was far more worried about the rest of the answer the demon was deliberately withholding from him… for dramatic timing, probably.

 If he was following the woman’s staggered explanation correctly, there were ingredients required to make his passage home, but he couldn’t be sure what those were. Physical substances? Possibly, given the crash of condemned treasures in the Ministry vaults. Harry didn’t like the idea of having to collect time sand, or worse: something even more unstable and dangerous from Unspeakables and their Department of Mysteries.

 But even that was better than the “things” that the Triwizard Cup could have gathered over a decade of waiting, apparently still connected to its Champions. What might the ritual have taken as "ingredients" as it stewed? Pain from Harry’s battles? Grief from Fleur’s own fights? Elements of a free life from faraway Viktor?

 The woman smiled at Harry as though she knew she held him by the strings, and Harry’s heart, which felt as though it were dropping rib by rib inside his chest, already knew the answer. The rest of him, the most of him, still listened in hope against hope, but something small in the back of his head whispered, with a sad note against the sinister whispering of the cup.

 It was a part old beyond Harry’s years – cynical and hopeful, weary and sorry, gruff and embarrassed and guilty – that he fell back upon when dealing with demons. The part was tough, and ugly, and sometimes it had made him feel exhausted and sick to the stomach, but he wouldn’t part with it for all the pretty smiles in the world. It had nothing to do with magic. It was not separate from him; it was him. It was thoroughly and unapologetically human in the way that kept humanity redeemable at all, and he stood steadfast by it as claws ran hypnotically around a beckoning, glory-filled, ornate piece of junk.

 All the pieces of long today came together unspoken, and he knew.

 The woman’s sense of showmanship allowed her continue, and she spoke of impossible things. Some, were simple enough in their near-impossible tasks, and others were not, but could be substituted easily enough by other near-impossible tasks and sacrifice and some demonic transfiguration. With blood and sweat and tears, it was doable. It was herculean, but the path was clear. If Harry put all his mind and might to the task, he might be home in months, and could return to celebrate a long-fought victory.

Harry looked back at the witch in the well and her offer of more.

 “No,” he said, “but thanks.”

 She wasn’t visibly taken aback by this, but her sweet expression did tighten. Harry was struck again by her beauty, and how sharp it was – it softened only by distance… or a willingness not to see.

 He had been right in his suspicions as to what the woman had meant by “ingredients”. Oh, there were the strange substances gathered in the battle at the Ministry, but more importantly there had been unphysical things as well. Pain, grief, and other despairing feelings, and all the other flavours of life as well. Even the woman had had to note the incredible amount of love that had filled the cup – a long list, she had said, of loves of many kinds – as well as the strength to overcome great obstacles and evil.

 But the part that most concerned Harry most was the talk of sacrifice and substitution. He had accomplished enormous tasks indeed, connected to that cup. He had died and returned, for a given measure, still connected to that bloody cup. To collect even a tenth of the power it had gathered within a reasonable amount of time – even if that meant one year or ten more – and the ingredients required sacrifices of either a similar vein or a deathly one. The ingredients that were truly impossible would require demonic substitution, and that called for blood or worse.

 Even the possible substitutions could not stray too far from the original sources, and Harry’s apparent fourteen and a half years of being a Triwizard Champion had been truly hellish at times and outlandish frequently.

 “There are many things that can be substituted,” the woman said, high and annoyed, “but this is not one of them. If is it the person you object to, someone similar… might… do.” Her voice slipped easily into something deliberately comfortable. It was forgiving, understanding, and terrible kind. “Princely young men are not entirely uncommon. One could be Divined for you. You would not have to do the deed yourself, and it would not hurt. He wouldn’t even know.”

 “No,” Harry repeated. He had known, but the disappointment curdled painfully in his stomach.

 “Is it not worth it for Teddy? To return home?”

 Harry looked up at her on her mound. “It’s not mine to give away.”

 “But you were so willing to fix things before,” the woman reminded him, bloodshot eyes slowly losing their made-up sympathy. “Why is it different now? You would have destroyed this world before to return home safely. So many people have died for your future and now for one the price is too much?”

 The words were twisting, and that old, tired, human part of Harry that was still Harry held him steady through the demonic woman’s dizzying lures. He had been worried about the consequences of his time travel because those were unpredictable. The ripples of attempting to change things could have wreaked all sorts of evil and death and chaos – the sort her sort seemed to live for. Here, no one had to die to make Harry’s horrible future, lest reality get cracked open or some other world-rending catastrophe.

 Harry took a deep breath. “Yes, it is,” he said, firm against her dizzying words and the whispering cup. “It’s too much. I won’t do it.”

 The woman wasn’t impressed, and her claws paused against the glass. “Something,” she said warningly, as cold as the prison of her cave, “took the death of Cedric Diggory as your safe passage across worlds. To cross again without fare tempts a fate worse than death.”

 “So does crossing with it,” Harry said simply, gaining strength with every word he said against her. He could ignore the despair for now. “I’m not going to kill anybody to go home, thanks.”

 Cedric Diggory had the chance to live in this world, and Harry would not take it from him. Not from him and not from any other innocent, talented young man given as substitute.

 Though… if it had been some foul bastard of a person that he might have killed anyway, Harry didn’t know what he’d do. The thought was chilling, suddenly confronted with his past and his capabilities. Could he serve a person up on an altar? He’d killed so many people over the years now. They disappeared among the flash of firefights and the demand of survival, but he had. What was one more life?

 That’s not what being demanded, he reminded himself. This is not the time for that question. That’s the witch in the well talking. She’s given the price and you’ve given your answer. Someone else’s life is not yours to give away. Stand by that, Harry Potter.

 Someone ought to do the right thing. Who will, if not you?

 He looked to Saoirse.

 “I don’t need to hear any more,” he said. “I’m done here.”

 

 ~ a great and terrible truth

 

 Saoirse Kenn looked back at him without judgement in her eyes. They had been discussing the collection of the impossible, the sacrifice of the innocent, and a crossing between worlds, and according to Saoirse Kenn’s expression, they could have been discussing teatime cupcakes or broomstick models. By her immoveable expression, she very politely couldn’t care less.

 “Go on, then,” she said kindly. “I’ll clean up.”

 Harry went, ignoring how the woman called out behind him. Her words at first held all the cutting shame and slippery temptation that his own mind had offered him, but then there was an echoing slam of wooden staff against stone floor. The well-witch’s taunts cut off immediately, and Harry didn’t look back to see how Saoirse Kenn had done it.

 He left the water’s bank and went around the rune stone, and let his legs carry him swiftly up the cavern path to the darkened platform. The heavy metal bucket spun lonely in the centre of the smooth, wet tiles. It was very dark, and Harry could hear his own heartbeat. He stood by the empty post where the lantern had hung, with his back to the light, and he breathed.

 Someone ought to do it. It bloody well ought to be you.

 He didn’t have to wait long before neat footsteps were coming up behind him, yellow light in hand. Soon enough, Saoirse Kenn was standing next to him, looking very sympathetic. She had the closed pouch in hand with her staff, Harry noticed, as she worrying hung the lantern at its post again. He also noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that the light coming from deeper into the cave had disappeared. The sound of rushing water dribbled out from the pitch black, but nothing else. He didn’t ask.

 “This way, Harry,” Saoirse said.

 They went to the bucket and put a foot on it again, and from there it all seemed too simple. They left the third lantern on its post and the bucket pulled them up, up, up, to where the second lantern waited like a glimmering star. The journey up was not as fast as the fall, but it wasn’t slow, and they were soon at the top of the well and climbing off the bucket. Harry offered Saoirse his hand as she stepped off the wall, and she took his hand with a murmur of thanks and no hesitation.

 Saoirse closed the well and took the lantern down. The thick metal bars had groaned back into place until the grate over the large well looked as immoveable as ever. Once safely sealed, Saoirse led them back towards the long climb back up.

 She stopped, however, at the base of the stairs and looked at him. “Are you well, Harry?”

 Harry thought about it. “I’m going to be sick,” he said finally.

 Then he conjured a bowl and he was.

 So much for brunch, he thought, with all the calmness that he wasn’t feeling.

 Saoirse waited for him to be finished without complaint, as though she had expected this. She looked a little green around the gills herself, Harry thought when he came up for air, but perhaps she was waiting to be ill until a little later.

 “That’s a fairly common reaction to her,” Saoirse volunteered apologetically.

 “Yeah,” Harry managed, as he vanished his conjuration. As soon as he did, having decided that he was done being sick, he felt like he was about to be ill again. “Sorry.” He put a hand over his eyes and breathed deeply, resisting the feeling.  

 “Oh, no, take your time!”

 Harry nodded and took several more deep breaths, before he said, “Would you have let me take that deal?”

 “Oh,” Saoirse said. “No, I wouldn’t have.”

 “I thought not,” Harry said, and breathed deeply again.

 “She’s yet to realize that my mother and I aren’t my grandmother,” Saoirse apologized. “Unfortunately, as far as I could tell and as far as I know, she was right. Not in what she wanted to do so that you could go home, but that… well… you’re in another world and you don’t really have a way of pointing yourself at where you came from besides how you got here. Which was horrible. Sorry.”

 Earlier today, not too long ago but enough had happened so that it still felt like yesterday, Jon Delacour had mentioned that Harry and Hope were lucky to be alive. Would they be alive, Harry wondered, if he wasn’t a Triwizard Champion? Would the cup simply have thrown them into non-existence had he not been the one to travel by it before?

 It wasn’t worth dwelling on, but it popped up for Harry’s perusal anyway. Like he might take the time to consider it instead of throwing the thought away if it just kept coming back. Every five seconds.

 “Perhaps Mister Delacour could find something better, if he were to study the cup,” Saoirse suggested kindly, in the way of someone who didn’t really believe what they were saying. Harry appreciated that she was trying, though. It was nice of her.

 He sighed and resisted the urge to laugh hopelessly. “I don’t think Mister Delacour is quite there yet.” 

 Not nearly far enough that Harry would dare risk Hope on the off-chance. 

 “Maybe if you give him twenty years,” Saoirse agreed sadly.

 “Maybe,” Harry said, because it was true enough. Also, because it was either polite agreement or collapsing to the floor in abject misery to truly think about everything he’d managed to lose, all so quickly, by a terrible accident immediately after a long-fought victory. It really wasn’t fair. Especially when he was grateful not to simply be dead.

 It didn’t matter that there were so many terrible things that could be prevented – an entire future to be redirected and apocalypse-of-sorts to avert. It didn’t matter that they at least had somewhere to stay and friends-of-sorts to support them, and potential family out there to meet. It didn’t matter that there was an entire new world waiting for them. Nor that Harry knew that they could do more than survive, that they could recover and adapt, and make new lives for themselves in a familiar enough place.

 He might have been alive, but he was alone. He felt it, down at the bottom of this dark pit. Alone. His lungs felt as though they might burst, his pounding heart might beat out of his chest, his hands were clammy and trembling, and his head whirled and sloshed in turns. It was too real to hold.

 “…What in the world am I going to tell Hope?” Harry said finally, his voice cracking at the end. He didn’t have tears in his eyes. Not yet. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet. But almost.

 “The truth,” Saoirse said simply. “She knows terrible things happen, and this is her life too, so you tell her the truth. Something terrible has happened: you can’t go home because you don’t know how to go safely and the witch offered prices too high to pay for the one passage you have. You’re stuck here.

 “But then you tell her it’s going to be okay. Because it is going to be okay. Because you’re here and you love her, and you’re not going anywhere.”

 

~ say goodbye  

 

 Harry had thought he knew exhaustion before, but by the time he reached the top of the long stairs, he knew he’d been wrong. His chest felt empty, but somehow his heart reappeared to drop to his stomach again when he saw Hope waiting for him at the Kenn’s dining table, flipping through her albums.

 She was so small, kicking at the air beneath her chair, in her father’s worn coat.

 Saoirse closed the door to the basement and went to find Muirgel and Jon. She had murmured, as she hung the second lantern at its post at the bottom of the first staircase, that she would give Harry and Hope some privacy. Harry could hear Muirgel and Jon, talking conversationally in the living room - Jon seemed to be doing most of the conversation, by the rapid-fire technicalities of magic - and knew that Saoirse would keep them there. It was a kindness. Most of what Saoirse Kenn did was.

 Hope looked up before Harry could gather the courage to step into the room. She brightened when she saw him, but her smile immediately faltered, because Harry’s answering smile was weak at best. Hope asked him what was wrong, and Harry could tell then that a part of her knew.

 He crossed the room and closed the albums, and took a seat beside his goddaughter. The words welled up at Hope’s expression – one of, horribly enough, hope giving way to fear – but there was so much to say that the first thing Harry could do was apologize. And then, sorrier still, he told her the truth.

 Someone ought to, so it’s got to be me.

 He told her about Jon’s theory, then the well-witch’s confirmation and elaboration. He told her about his connection to the Triwizard Cup and how the unfinished ritual had launched them across worlds. Nothing Hope had done had twisted time, and they could change all they pleased. Then he told her about how neither Jon nor the well-witch knew how to safely and easily send them back. The well-witch’s deal, as always, came with a heavy price, and Harry wouldn’t sacrifice innocent people for the chance to go home. Besides, even if they did take the offer, it was not guaranteed to work.

 They were not going home.

 Then, that said, Harry took his crying godchild into his arms and whispered the rest of the truth against their hair. As many times as he had to. 

 “I’m here. I’m here. I love you. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here. It’s going to be okay.”