Charlotte Washington taps her foot against the pristine marble tiles, the only sign of her irritation.
It's not as if she doesn't like the effervescent and lovely Miss Riddle, quite the contrary. She finds the young woman refreshing and sweet— if perhaps a bit naive. And she wonders on the girl's priorities, sometimes. Of course the care of the child should be first and foremost in her mind, as it should in all mothers, but surely she can see past that predicament and into her so thoroughly uncertain future? Miss Riddle has a steady job, and therefore a modest but feasible income that somehow manages to support both her and young Tom. She had first suspected that Tom was only at Wolcroft through scholarships, but after a few discreet inquiries to the accounting department she was stunned to find Harry Riddle had paid the entire year's tuition up front.
Charlotte could only assume the Potter's were behind this. Perhaps they had paid her a large sum of hush money to quietly disappear from England and keep out of their way. Perhaps young Tom really was her child, or perhaps yet another unclaimed Potter bastard that the family was trying to keep underwraps.
At any rate, Charlotte could speculate all she liked, it wouldn't change the matter at hand. That money wouldn't last forever, and her job wouldn't either. Couldn't she see she needed a husband to support her?
She had to find a gentle but urgent way to convey the necessity of the matter at hand. Harry was young, exceptionally pretty and of good manner and constitution. Despite not being raised in aristocracy, her manners were impeccable. These sort of traits would go far in attracting suitors, but her time was ticking. There were fresh young, charming eighteen year-olds in attendance here who would surely draw the most attention from the eligible bachelors in the room. The Swedish princess was even in attendance, and despite her young age of sixteen, Charlotte had heard her father had already been inundated with marriage proposals.
Charlotte was just worried, was all. Harry didn't have a father to negotiate beneficial marriage terms for her. Circe forbid, Harry might just get married without even considering the financials of the matter! Harry seemed the blissful type to marry out of love— a noble idea, but ultimately one that would end quite poorly. She would find herself in destitution and misery if she followed that route. It was up to Charlotte to figure out a way to change her mind.
She eyes the room critically, trying to find Viscount Charles once more. He was off to the side discussing matters with some of the other Earl's from England— about the war and the state of affairs in England, no doubt.
There were other men of favorable standing that she might be able to persuade, although none of them were that impressive. A Count from Belgium with a divorce under his belt and a history of mistresses; a younger man from an influential French family, that might be just a tad too young; a distant relative of the Tsar's maternal side, also on the younger side; the Marquis of Auvergne… Charlotte gives him a second glance. He was not a handsome man by any means, but he was of good social standing and ruled over a large and lucrative region of France.
Yes, the Marquis might be a good backup, if the Viscount was put off by Harry's earlier disappearance.
On the subject; where in Circe's name did the girl go?
Charlotte frowns, casually strolling about the large ballroom in hopes of catching a glimpse of vibrant vermillion hair.
After a few minutes of searching, Charlotte grows even more irritated and is about ready to call it quits when she spies some kind of jewel sparkling out the windows.
It's not a jewel; the beaded appliques interwoven into Harry's dress catch the light from the ballroom in scintillating sparkles, little diamond lancets that glitter underneath the stars. Her dress is positively radiant in the moonlight, drawing the eye like a beacon in the night. Charlotte pauses abruptly as she passes, careening closer to the glass french doors for a better look.
Upon further inspection, it really is Harry down there, in the middle of an open courtyard bathed in moonlight.
And she is not alone.
Charlotte covers her mouth as her eyebrows fly up to her hairline.
An elegant figure dressed in black hovers by her elbow, almost indiscernible aside from the shock of pale, winter wheat hair. So that's where their gallant host had run off to. She'd wondered at Gellert's mysterious disappearance, but she hadn't made the connection to Harry's coincidentally timed vanishing act. Lord Grindelwald was quite an influential presence in Europe after all, it wouldn't be surprising to hear he'd taken off to some back door meetings to discuss the state of affairs. Charlotte had assumed he'd been whisked off by one of his constituents, and hadn't given the matter much thought after that.
She leans in for a closer look; if anyone saw her she'd look quite the sight, but fortunately her blatant nosiness is covered by a billowing velvet curtain. The two appear to be talking rather… intimately. The Dark Lord has a hand on her elbow, the space between them too small to be anything but positively scandalous. He's speaking to her, eyes blazing passionately, as he holds her even closer. For her part, Harry isn't pulling away. She can't see the girl's expression from this angle, but she can certainly see the Dark Lord's. It's rare to see the man look expressive, and yet there is a fire dancing in his eyes that speaks to great emotion.
She can't help but speculate on what they're doing out there, but she thinks it's easy enough to draw conclusions.
The two of them, meeting alone in the midst of the winter ball, stealing quiet minutes together before they have to return to their respective stations…
A secret rendezvous under the moonlight?
Oh my, this will be the gossip of the century.
Harry is taken off guard by the strong grip to her elbow, turning her abruptly into a hard chest.
"Gellert— " She cries in alarm, barely managing not to trip in her heels or spill her champagne. An impressive feat, considering the heel height. After she's regained her balance she places her free hand on his chest, trying to put some distance between them. "What are you—
"Play along for a minute, would you?" He cuts her off in a low murmur.
Her eyes narrow distrustfully. "Play along with what?" She glowers up at him. It is such a helpless and innocent sight it's almost enough to make him forget just who this girl is. Not helpless or innocent in the least.
"Just don't move for a few moments," he says in answer, his eyes flickering up to the window where he sees they have an audience.
"This— this is a little uncomfortable." She stutters out. At least they're too close for him to see her expression; he's already seen her cry twice now, no need to let him see her blush.
"Sorry," he doesn't sound very apologetic. Worse, he puts his other hand on her waist to steady her a bit more, and despite putting a bit more distance between them the action is somehow even more unbearable. "Is that better?"
Hell if she tells him that though. "It's fine," she bites out, pretending as if she couldn't care less about their nearness. She doesn't care. She doesn't.
She's not actually from this time period; she's no blushing maiden who's never experienced anything more than a touch to the back of her hand. To be fair, she'd never been all that adventurous with boys either, but she's heard her fair share in the Gryffindor girls dorm room and experienced enough for herself to be wholly unmoved by this display. And yet, Gellert is not some nervous, adolescent Gryffindor boy with sweaty palms and an awkward smile trying to dance with her after a Quidditch game. Nor was he the equally nervous, but decidedly more handsome Cedric Diggory kissing her after the first task. No, he was a Dark Lord, inarguably one of the most dangerous men in the world, with quite a few years of experience on her and a terribly charming smile that she wishes she could ignore. In that regard, it's no surprise that being this close to him would make her nervous.
"You can still hear the music from here," he remarks, tone light. "Would you dance with me, my fair lady?"
"I hate dancing." She rejects blandly, shooting him down in flames.
On the subject of the handsome Cedric Diggory, the last time Harry had been made to dance had been at that disastrous Yule ball in her fourth year. She had spent most of it in abject misery; why did Cedric kiss her, but then take Cho Chang to the ball? Was it just a mistake? Did he not mean it? She'd taken a page out of Hermione's book and went with a charming and bright young Serbian boy from Durmstrang, who was attractive and nice enough and didn't speak a lick of English. Casmir had been really great about it, mainly because he didn't have much choice; they danced as minimally as possible and if he had a problem with it, he really had no way to tell her, what with not speaking a common language.
The man actually has the gall to laugh at her. "Is that merely because you can't dance?"
"No, it's because I hate dancing." She refutes, adamantly. "And if you dare to try it I will break your toe with my heel."
He gives the idea a bit of thought, before ultimately deciding Harry would very much so make good on her threat, and those heels do, indeed, look quite deadly. Still though, it seems like such a shame to have her all alone to himself in this winter dream and not have a dance with her.
"Not even a waltz?" He tries for.
"Not a chance." Harry deadpans.
She makes a vague attempt to move out of his grip, but he just moves with her. Above them, their audience still lingers.
He can't help but grin at her. "So you'll agree to my plans for 'world domination' but adamantly refuse to dance with me?"
"One of those is far more catastrophic than the other," she sniffs, and he honestly can't tell if she's being facetious or not. "And, for the record, I don't remember agreeing to your plans. I remember acknowledging that I can see the value in it, but I certainly didn't agree to it."
"There's a difference?" He feigns ignorance.
Harry scowls deeply and for a moment he thinks he's successfully baited her into anger, but then she opens her eyes and reads the amusement right off his face. This in turn only makes her angrier though, so he supposes his method was effective either way. His own amusement melts away though, as he studies her carefully. Her indignant anger had drifted into something much more pensive, lips thinned as she seemed to stare at something far away from him.
He has to remind himself, for the umpteenth time, how dangerous the small young woman in front of him really is. She might fool everyone else, with that supple, juvenescent skin and charming dimpled smile, but he knows that innocence is merely a ruse. There is a terrible and dark power to her, one he's never encountered in all his years studying the dark arts as intensely as he has. It's so subtle he could almost overlook it completely, if he hadn't seen it first hand.
"It was merely a jest," he feels the need to clarify.
"It's not a funny subject," she crosses her arms, jerking herself out of his grip as she turns away. "What you're trying to do is…"
"Extreme?" He offers.
"That might be an understatement." She says, flatly.
"How would you go about it, then?" He asks as he steps closer to her, genuinely curious to know.
"I've never thought of world domination, so I'm afraid I don't really know." She shrugs, and doesn't move away when he reaches for her again. It's an evasive answer and they both know it, but as much as Gellert might want to hear her opinion on the matter right now, he has a feeling she won't deign to give it to him.
"How many times have I told you it's not about world domination?"
"Well it certainly sounds like it!" Harry retorts, hotly, having to tilt her neck up painfully to meet his gaze as he moves into her space. "Overthrowing all the magical governments and consolidating them under a single regime— what, are you going to tell me the people will vote on the ruler?"
"Well of course not," he answers without missing a beat. "Democracy is a sham."
"It's a far cry better than all the other options." Harry returns, unmoved.
Grindelwald merely looks down at her critically. "I have a feeling we're simply going to have to agree to disagree on the matter." He says, diplomatically. "And it seems like such a waste of a perfectly beautiful evening to spend it arguing over matters we'll never agree on— "
Harry gives him a long look, as if waiting for the punchline of a joke.
He doesn't plan to keep her waiting for long.
"So why don't we dance instead?" He ends, with a roguish grin.
"No, oh Merlin no," Harry shakes her head rapidly, a few carefully pinned curls falling from her face to fall like silk upon her shoulders.
Gellert does not appear deterred in the least.
Harry plays her trump card. "And anyway, it's getting late. I don't want to leave Tom alone for too long…"
Especially considering the last time she left him alone he rendered himself unconscious.
There's not much Gellert can say in response to that; it's a solid, surefire excuse and they both know it. And anyway, he should be more than satisfied. He's had the pleasure of her company all to himself for almost the entire evening, and he has to admit even for his standards the dinner they had shared was nothing short of magical. Of course, half of that had to do with his dinner companion, and the riveting conversation they had shared. He hadn't expected her to seek him out, and he hadn't expected her to actually quietly listen to his plans without an ounce of judgment.
All in all, it had been a wonderful evening, and more than he could have asked for.
Perhaps that's why he's so reluctant to see it end.
"Will you at least stay for the grand finale, or have you tired of this pageantry?" He asks, and there's nothing hopeful in his tone, despite the wicked smile on his face.
"No. I'm tired. My feet hurt, and I'm going home." Unsurprisingly Harry rejects him without a lick of remorse.
He had expected as much, though. He doesn't think he's ever been rejected by someone so thoroughly, so many times in a row. He feels as if he should be discouraged somehow, but instead he's all the more excited for the challenge.
"Well, will you at least give my plans some thought?" He tries instead.
Harry smiles at him, and though it is small it is genuine. "I did promise, didn't I?" She returns, drily.
He sighs. "I suppose that's all I can ask for."
She steps out of his arms then, and he's surprised to find he'd actually completely forgotten he'd pulled her close in the first place. Something about her always managed to ensnare all the thoughts in his head. He looks up to the tall, arched window above them; curious Charlotte Washington is long gone, so there's no reason to pretend any longer. All the same, he wishes to close the distance and hold her again. It was so unfortunate that the woman hated to dance. Honestly, what woman hated dancing? He even offered to waltz!
Harry seems to have forgotten their closeness as well, for when she steps away a high flush rises on her cheeks as she looks away, clearing her throat. She tucks a stray curl back into the wreath of sparkling pins in her hair. It's entirely unsuccessful. The night wind has ruined her impeccable style beyond repair, giving her a rather windswept look, as if she'd spent the night at sea. Gellert looks her over once again, the blush on her cheeks and the loose curls falling down her shoulders. Or perhaps, a night spent being ravished against the side of the castle.
He shakes the thoughts away. No such ravishing has happened, but all the same it would be a rather obvious conclusion to draw, wouldn't it?
"Very well then, I suppose it is getting rather late." He says, smoothly. "Allow me to at least walk you to the floo."
Harry looks as if she has half a mind to protest, before eventually she just nods and gives up.
The walk back into the castle is quiet, the tinkling arpeggio of the violins their only accompaniment, aside from Harry's quiet cursing as she tries to fix her hair. She's somewhat successful— at the very least, it no longer looks as if it's come halfway undone. Now though, it just has the appearance of a hastily swept up look, which might just be even more indicative of the impression he's trying to give.
They enter the ballroom from a discreet door off to the side, and manage to make their way halfway to the floo parlor before anyone sees them.
It actually plays out exactly as he wants it to. They're only stopped a few times, and each time is quite brief. Harry doesn't try to weasel her way off on her own, mainly because Gellert has a not-so-subtle hand on her elbow. Their company always gives the two a surprised glance, but no one is actually rude enough to remark on it. All the same, the rumors will have caught on like wildfire by the end of the night.
He's not even entirely sure why the thought gives him so much pleasure. Because he's effectively thwarting that irritating old bat Charlotte Washington's plans without actually having to confront her, or because he knows Harry will be off limits for the rest of the winter season, and possibly beyond?
Harry appears hesitant once they make it to the floo parlor, stopping suddenly underneath the crystal chandeliers. The atrium lights tangle in her dress like a kaleidoscope of color, shifting patterns with every slight twirl of her skirt. He wouldn't consider it particularly risque in comparison to some of the other dresses out in the ballroom, with it's full skirt and modest neckline, but he's noticed the swooping back and tantalizing slit up the side have drawn more than a few interested eyes. He wonders how she always knows precisely what to wear to blend in and yet stand out. He blinks. Actually, that sounds a lot like the girl herself, doesn't it? Not particularly remarkable at first glance, but absolutely stunning beneath the surface.
"About Tom…" She starts, worrying at her thumb in what he's noticing is something of a nervous gesture.
"Yes?" He replies, calmly, waiting for her to continue.
"I'll need to think about it." She finishes, to his complete lack of surprise. "And talk it over with him, of course."
"Of course." He agrees easily— too easily.
Her vibrant eyes flicker up to him with vague suspicion, but she doesn't call him out on it. "I suppose we'll be in touch, then."
"You know how to find me," he points out, smiling. "I, on the other hand…"
His intentions are obvious, and only serve to make Harry smile with amusement. "You can send post by owl to the Boston public owlery. I'll find it there."
Harry thinks he'll press her for a more concrete response, but instead he just bids her a fond farewell. It's not exactly out of character for the man, but she can't help but feel wary nonetheless. She always feels as if the man just has something up his sleeve…
"Whatever you're thinking of planning to do, don't do it." Harry warns flatly, giving him a narrow look.
Gellert just grins winsomely. "Harry darling, I'm always planning something. You'll have to be specific."
Maybe it was too Gryffindor-ish of her to confront him bluntly and actually expect an honest answer. Well, it's not as if she doesn't have secrets of her own.
Harry stares down into the depths of her cafe au lait, wondering when she became the kind of person who actually knew what to order at a coffee shop. Across from her, Hermione looked as if she desperately needed another shot of espresso. She hadn't seen her friend this frazzled since… probably OWLs in their fifth year. It looked as if Hermione hadn't slept in weeks.
She tilts her head slightly to watch the rain drizzle down the side of the window; she hears Hermione struggle through ordering a cappuccino with three shots of espresso in Korean. It's a muggy and overcast day in Seoul. Ginny says that's pretty par for the course in this season, though. She finds it somewhat endearing— it reminds her of dreary summer days in London, except she couldn't be farther than her familiar homeland than she is right now. Everything in London has that old world charm; handsome Victorian era row houses and the neo-gothic downtown. Everything in Seoul— at least from what she can see from this view— looks sparkling and new, billboards rotating through gorgeous silhouettes of celebrities selling skincare of all kinds, intermittent street lights changing every few seconds, flashing neon lights in the gloom. She wonders what it looked like, fifty years ago. How much it had changed in that amount of time.
She doesn't know why it makes her think of Gellert's words from earlier, about how stagnated the wizarding world had become.
Their reason for even being here in Seoul at all is, of course, the younger quasi-fourth member of their group who galavanted off to the opposite side of the world after Hogwarts. Not that she could blame Ginny. She'd basically done the same thing, except she's gone off to a separate dimension instead. At any rate it had been a while since she'd gotten to really sit and chat with Ginny, and it was probably time to fill her in on things. The planning had been difficult, what with all of their conflicting schedules, but eventually they managed to pencil in a quick stopover during lunch break. A lunch break Ginny was (unsurprisingly, considering Ginny) running late to.
Hermione gives a weary sigh, drawing Harry's gaze back into the interior of the coffee shop.
Harry makes a sympathetic noise. "Work not going well?"
"That is an understatement," Hermione bemoans. "Work is a mess. Did you know I'm basically undersecretary to Kingsley now? I didn't sign up for this. But I honestly don't think there's anyone else capable or willing to do the job. Oh, sometimes I feel like all I'm doing is repeatedly banging my head against the wall…"
Harry watches her in quiet sympathy, feeling an odd pang of guilt. She should be there, braving it out with her best friend, trying to better the world in whatever small way she can. Instead she waved goodbye to all responsibilities to the wizarding world and this dimension at large and had never really regretted that choice.
She knew it would be something no one would be able to understand, so she'd told all her friends and family that she had wanted a break after the war. After everything she'd done for the world, no one was about to stop her. She deserved to live the rest of her life in normal, happy anonymity. And she was, for the most part. But that wasn't the only reason she had pulled herself away so conclusively.
She hadn't intended to breathe a word of it to anyone, keeping it buried in her own private thoughts, to maunder out again in the dark hours of the night, when she was alone with her old ghosts and bad dreams. She had never wanted anyone to know how intrinsically she and Tom Riddle were entwined together. How there was no way one could possibly live without the other. Harry had been a mess for months after the final battle— everyone else was suffering from their own demons from the war as well though, so it had been easy to blend in. But her demons were nothing like theirs. It wasn't a pain that would slowly heal with time. It was half her soul missing, and the rest of it was falling apart.
When she'd finally broken down and confessed all this to Hermione, the bright witch had speculated that they might have been radically wrong about the basic theory of horcruxes. It had never occurred to anyone of them, during their hunt, that horcruxes might actually be individuals of their own. Aside from the time Harry had been possessed by the locket, they'd never had the opportunity to study one in depth or, Merlin forbid, ask it questions about how it was feeling that day. Could they feel things? And if so, how had it felt when Harry had defeated the master soul when she was a baby? And then there was the curious case of being a human horcrux. How did that change things?
Dumbledore had once said, to speak of one is to speak of the other...
Perhaps her old headmaster had known far more than he had let on. Perhaps he had even foreseen this eventuality; Harry descending deeper and deeper into depression, obsessing over Tom Riddle and what could have been.
Perhaps Dumbledore had assumed there would come a day when she could no longer bear it, and would take her own life.
Dumbledore clearly didn't think outside the box much though. He'd never thought up time travel as a solution, after all.
"...I'm sorry…" She gets out, sympathy and guilt doing horrible things to her stomach. She pushes her coffee away; she doesn't even think she can stomach it right now.
"For what?" Hermione lifts her head up, bewildered. "Harry, it's really not your fault that the wizarding world is in the state that it's in. This has been a moving trainwreck for years. And Minister after Minister have just been putting bandaids on top of it without ever trying to solve the problem. And finally Kingsley's ready to roll up his sleeves and start changing things, but it's a bit like trying to climb your way out of a pit, you know?"
"If I had stayed, I could have at least been helping you." Harry points out, meekly.
Hermione gives her a small, warm smile. "Oh, Harry. Listen to me; you need to do what makes you happy. I know it doesn't seem like it right now— but this is what makes me happy. It's just infuriating me at the moment."
Harry nods mutely, staring down into the murky depths of her coffee.
"And, to be frank, you were not happy back home. In fact, you were kind of a mess." Hermione continues, brutally honest as always.
Harry can't help but smile and roll her eyes. "Not pulling your punches today, are you?"
"I waved farewell to my good humor months ago." Hermione shrugs, unabashed. "And I just— do you really not remember yourself? You were a miserable little shite, no offense. You're much better now."
Harry just laughs, because she can. It's easy to laugh at herself from just a few years ago, because it all seems so distant now. Tom is back in her life, and it's so easy to just let all that misery drift away in the face of his delighted smile or petty, stubborn frown.
"I feel better," she replies, honestly. "Although sometimes I just feel like…"
Hermione looks up from where she's fishing whipped cream out of her frothy concoction. "Feel like what?" She frowns
"Like our lives are drifting apart, I guess." Harry says, lamely. "I feel so distant."
Hermione huffs. "Oh, Harry, that's just growing up. I feel the same with Ron, and we live in the same flat! At least you make the effort, you know. You're so busy— hell, you basically live in a different timeline— and yet you always make time to see me, even when I know my schedule is just horrible to deal with. Ron, meanwhile, who even knows what he's doing with his life and yet every time I ask him to hang out it's all, 'oh the footie game is on, I don't feel like going out, I'm hanging with the mates'— " Hermione harrumphs, scowling. "Honestly. Since when did Ron watch football of all things?"
Harry grins at that. "Oh no. Is his taste in footie teams as bad as his taste in Quidditch teams?"
Hermione scoffs. "I don't know, because he's too cool for the Premier League— La Liga exclusively."
"Oh Merlin!" Harry almost laughs herself to tears.
It makes her feel better, somewhat, in the same way meeting up with Hermione always makes her feel better. Makes her feel more… well, her. Not that she really even knows who she is, these days. What she is. She pushes those thoughts away; she has enough to worry about.
"Well, Ron's terrible taste in football not withstanding, how is he?"
Hermione shrugs, looking put off. "Good, I guess. I wouldn't really know, seeing as he's avoiding me."
Harry just shakes her head fondly. It seems Hermione and Ron will forever be fighting in some fashion. Ostensibly they both had agreed to breakup and stay friends, but Harry has a feeling the situation was a little more complicated than that. More than likely Hermione wanted a break to focus on her career, and Ron felt put out by that and stubbornly insisted he felt the same, and at that point they should probably just break up.
"Nevermind me though," Hermione segues, leaning forward. "I feel like I've bored you enough with all this policy talk. What have you been up to, hm?"
Harry delicately sets her coffee cup back onto its saucer, clearing her throat. "Err— well, on the subject actually, I think I'd rather like to talk about that."
"Talk about what?" Hermione frowns.
Her best friend stares at her like she's grown two heads. In all fairness, the look is well deserved.
Harry has never been fond of politics, and even people who know nothing about her are well aware of that. But it's a well known disgust among the people who actually know her. Harry has had terrible experiences with authority and the government, as basically anyone from her school years can tell you, and has always been skeptical of their effectiveness. After Fudge, Umbridge, and then Scrimgeour, no one can blame her either. All her life it seems like figures of authority have done nothing but abuse their power and try to manipulate her— Dumbledore included. It was just yet another thing she and Voldemort shared; time and incidence had made them wary and mistrustful of any figures of authority.
Harry was still not particularly impressed by them, but maybe it was time to stop hating and ignoring the problem and start trying to figure out how to fix it.
Harry considers her best friend carefully. "Hermione, you're basically a genius," she begins without preamble, causing her curly-haired friend to blink and lean back. "If you wanted to take over the Wizarding World, how would you do it?"
Hermione stares at her in open surprise.
If anyone could validate or discredit Grindelwald's plan, it would be Hermione.
Her bookish friend takes a long moment to reply. Harry doesn't rush her; it is a rather loaded question, and she wanted to ask Hermione not only because she knew the other woman would have enough knowledge and experience to answer the question, but also because she knew the other woman would have enough knowledge and experience to take it seriously as well.
Hermione scoops up another spoonful of whipped cream as she thinks.
"Well let me start by asking— why do I want to take over the Wizarding World?"
It's Harry's turn to think.
"I suppose, because you know it needs to change, and you're unsatisfied by the lack of progress currently."
Hermione looks almost triumphant. "Ah. Well then. If that's my end goal, then yes, if I was trying to enact swift change, taking over the Wizarding World would be the most obvious and easiest course of action. To get anything done in a timely manner, consolidation of power is key. On the subject, revolutions can be swift on occasion but a quiet takeover is preferable to avoid riots and needless bloodshed. Not to mention, tearing out the entire government infrastructure would be less than ideal."
Harry blinks rapidly.
Hermione laughs. "Of course, just because it's the most effective way doesn't necessarily mean it's the right way. Democracy is a slow and lumbering beast that often falls apart at inopportune times, but all the same it's a goal no one should ever lose sight of."
Harry frowns thoughtfully. "So you're telling me— democracy doesn't actually work?"
She says the word as if she even really knows what it means. Well, of course she knows what it means, but only as an abstract concept she's heard Hermione say many times before. It's not as if Hogwarts ever offered any classes on policy or social sciences; and if they had covered governments in History of Magic, she had conclusively slept through it all and wouldn't know.
Hermione smiles thinly. "It does, but it's an imperfect and difficult system. But just because it is inefficient doesn't mean we should give up on it. It's silly not to acknowledge it's faults, but that just means we as a society have to constantly be striving towards being better."
She leans back in her chair, giving a sort of dreamy sigh. "Oh, Harry, I think you just reignited my passion for legislation."
Harry laughs, smiling winsomely. "Happy to be of service." She jokes, still not quite understanding.
Hermione just grins at her roguishly. "Somehow, putting it into words for you has reminded me of what I love about my job."
Harry grins a bit wider, happy to see her friend in better spirits. She still looks a right mess, but the beaming smile on her face means she's ready to dive right back into her endless work. Harry will never understand why Hermione does the things she does, probably in the same way Hermione will never quite understand why Harry's made the choices she has, but that doesn't make them any less of friends.
Hermione's grin falls then. "But on the subject of legislative policy— I'm assuming there's a reason you're asking me all this."
Harry nods, sighing. "Yes," it would be silly to think she could ever keep this sort of thing from Hermione. "You see, I was talking with Gellert— err, Grindelwald—
"I had assumed." Hermione surmises drily.
"And well, I used the pretense of his offer to teach Tom to ask him outright about his plans. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about his answer… obviously I'm not letting him near Tom either way, but baiting him like that was an easy way to figure out what he's after."
Hermione sits up straighter. "I see." She says, seriously. "And what did he say?"
"Well, that's the thing," Harry frowns. "I was hoping to get some recommendations for history books while I'm here, because I realize I'm far too ignorant on his impact on history. I'm really kicking myself for sleeping through Professor Binns class! I know history is written by the victor, but all the same it'll be good to measure what he said and what actually happened according to history—
Hermione grimaces. "Listen, Harry, about that… I have something I've been meaning to tell you—
Both Harry and Hermione startle abruptly, Harry almost knocking her cup over and Hermione literally jumping in her seat. She's not sure why she's so startled; it's not as if the newcomer is at all unexpected. They did come all this way for her, after all. Fortunately it goes unnoticed by their arriving third member; they both look up to see a slightly out of breath Ginny grinning widely at them. "So, what do you think? Not too bad right?"
Hermione makes a show of looking around the room, regaining her breath. "I think you've insulted everyone in here with that accent." She jokes, voice slightly shaky.
That was a close one. She meets Harry's gaze. Harry looks bewildered at Hermione's almost panicked expression. She very discreetly shakes her head, causing Harry to frown.
"Nonsense!" She cries, hopping into the chair between them. "I've been practicing a lot you know— I can even say thank you."
"Amazing," Hermione replies, rolling her eyes. "You can say two words. How long have you been here?"
"I've been busy, okay!" Ginny huffs, rolling her eyes.
Harry gives Hermione a quizzical glance, wondering what's going on here. She thought they'd agreed that telling Ginny was fine…? That was the whole reason they'd blown a sizeable amount of money on an international portkey to Korea to visit her. Or at least, that's what Harry had thought. Hermione gives her a telling look over Ginny's shoulder as the oblivious redhead settles herself in her chair. Harry's frown deepens, but she nods subtly. Hermione returns it, before returning to Ginny.
"So, Gin, how's work and everything?" Hermione directs the conversation with a casual hand of dexterous aplomb. "Sweet Merlin, your skin really does look amazing."
"Doesn't it?" Ginny enthuses. "I told you, snails are the way to go."
"I can definitely second that." Harry decides to just play along with Hermione for now, at least while Ginny's here.
It's always nice to catch up with friends, even if that wasn't exactly the reason Harry had come here. And she'd never been to Korea, so it was nice to travel somewhere new with someone who knew the area well. Ginny gave them a brief tour around Seoul station once they'd finished up their lattes; she happily babbled on about work as she led them through the newly build sky garden, connecting the station to nearby Namdemun. The overcast sky and light drizzle don't bother any of them, the three of them chatting away as they are. Ginny rants about her catastrophic breakup with Dean Thomas before leaving and how silly she feels about it now that she's apparently seeing some handsome intern fellow, and how much she misses home and her family but couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
It's great catching up with her, it really is. Harry can barely believe that it wasn't that long ago they were sharing a dorm room in dreary Scotland, and have managed to scatter so far and do so much in the interim of years since then. Ginny probably hasn't seen her since the months after the final battle. Ginny of course comments on the improved state of Harry's mental health with an approving and overjoyed smile, and if she looks a little more relieved than she should be, Harry doesn't call her out on it. Ginny is the only other person in the entire world who has an inkling of what Harry feels, being so intimately connected to Voldemort, to the very essence of his soul, being so wholly ensnared in him. Ginny must think Harry's finally moved on from this whole horcrux business; Harry is suddenly extremely happy Hermione didn't want her to reveal her dimensional traveling. That was one can of worms she didn't want to open with Ginny.
It's not until Ginny leaves and she and Hermione are readying to return to their real lives that her best friend grabs her by the wrist. Harry, halfway into squirreling through her bag, looks up with confusion.
"Harry," Hermione says, biting her lip. "Listen, now that Ginny's gone, there's something that I wanted to tell you about that's really been worrying me…"
The little cafe where they'd said their farewells suddenly seems claustrophobic. "Is this what you were trying to say earlier?"
Hermione nods. "It's about you, Harry," she reveals. "And you're— ah, traveling adventures." She looks around the over crowded cafe, as if anyone could possibly be listening in.
Harry is taken aback by the level of secrecy as Hermione drags her back down into her chair at the table they'd just vacated, scooting a bit closer towards her. They talk about Harry's dimensional traveling all the time without incident; what's so different about it now?
"I didn't realize, but, well… Harry, no one's ever actually done it before."
Harry blinks at her. "What?"
But there were books, and an entire time traveling department, and a house on Commonwealth ave that spoke to the contrary.
"I know." Hermione nods. "I just sort of assumed, what with time turners and all, that the Ministry must have some sort of knowledge on it, and furthermore, some sort of regulation. But as it turns out… time travel, or dimensional travel, as it is technically called, is more of a myth than anything."
"But, but what about— the time travel department? The meeting with the goblins? The wards we found and everything else?"
Hermione looks grim. "That's the thing, Harry. None of that exists here."
Harry leans back, stunned.
"All of that happened in the other dimension," Hermione continues. "Aside from the single book we found on the matter in Dumbledore's office— which I'm beginning to think might have been extremely illegal— which was purely theoretical, only time traveling within twenty-four hours is confirmed as possible, and even then it's not actually traveling into a different dimension. You see, I noticed some discrepancies when I was speaking to a coworker about the American side of things. Apparently, MACUSA didn't achieve this level of integration with Muggle society until the eighties."
"The eighties?" Harry clarifies, shocked. "But that's not—
"I know." Hermione cuts her off with a solemn nod. "It's not at all what happened in your dimension. From what you've said, muggle and magical society in America is almost fully integrated— the way it is now, in this dimension. But in this dimension, fifty years ago, they were even more segregated than Britain is now. They had the strictest statue of secrecy of any country in the world!"
"But there's no way that's right." Harry says, weakly. "I went to Capitol Hill and—
"That's what I'm trying to say, Harry. "These dimensions— they're more different than we thought."
Harry's mouth shuts, stunned.
"And then, when you started talking about Grindelwald and all your meetings with him, I started digging through some of the history books about him. And, well, let's just put it this way; he was really not that much better than Voldemort."
Harry stares at her friend in silence, mouth pursed into a thin line as her brows furrow.
"But, from what you've said, he doesn't sound at all like he does in the history books. This is what I was trying to tell you earlier, when you were asking about the books— Harry, I don't think books will help you." It looks as if it physically pains Hermione to say such a thing.
"Because they're not identical dimensions." Harry concludes.
Hermione nods grimly. "So what's written in our history books might be completely wrong in your dimension."
Harry looks contemplative, frowning down at the table. "But what… what could have changed that? Surely not— I mean, I couldn't have possibly—
"Considering these changes have been around since before you arrived, I doubt it has anything to do with you." Hermione assured. "All the same, it was quite a shock to find out we had no time travel department— imagine the look on my coworkers faces when I asked that question! They thought I had gone round the bend!I had to pretend I was loopy from lack of sleep…"
Harry nods along. "I'm guessing that's why you didn't want me to say anything to Ginny?"
Hermione nods in agreement. "Yes. I know when we got Bill to check on your wards again he must have saw something… strange, but since he hasn't said anything so far I think we should be alright on that front. More than likely he noticed them but didn't recognize what they did. But I don't think we should tell anyone until we know for sure what's going on. For all we know, this could be totally illegal…"
Could be? Harry snorts. It absolutely would be.
Harry hadn't told anyone aside from Ron and Hermione mainly out of an awkward sense of embarrassment. It's just… how would she explain it, really? Hi, yes, Voldemort and I sort of shared a soul, so despite being my arch-nemesis and all I sort of can't live without him. And that obsession he had with me? It went both ways, believe it or not. Funny how that happens sometimes! And so I decided to uproot my entire life to find him again and give him a different chance at life. She mentally scoffs. Yeah, that would have went over brilliantly over hols at the Weasley's.
It's not as if the people in her life hadn't realized something was wrong with her, after the final battle, but most had just assumed it was a difficult time for her due to the end of the war and the realization that she had her entire life ahead of her to do something with. And they had all assumed that moving to the muggle world had effectively sorted all of that out. That wasn't untrue, but it certainly wasn't the whole story, either.
"Not that we haven't had our fair share of illegal activities…." Hermione adds with an eye roll— Harry smiles slightly at that.
"But it feels a little different now that we're not kids defeating Dark Lords," Harry finishes.
"Being an adult is the worst," Hermione laments in agreement.
On the subject of being an emotionally mature adult… "To be honest, I'm really relieved I ended up not telling Ginny." She reveals, letting out a gusty breath.
Hermione blinks in surprise. "Really? I thought you were all for it."
"I am, sort of. She's one of our best friends, she's Ron's little sister, she's basically been dragged into all of our madness… that's sort of the problem, though. That whole thing with the Chamber when we were second years…" Harry looks away. "Ginny is probably the only person who has ever been as close to him as me. He— he possessed her, his magic had seeped into her soul— would have absorbed it fully if I hadn't managed to save her in time."
Hermione falls silent at her words. Harry never really discussed the events in the Chamber of Secrets at length, in the same way she doesn't ever discuss her complicated relationship with Voldemort, either.
"But Ginny didn't actually share a soul with him," Hermione points out, gently.
"Yes, and that's the thing. She knows how it feels, but she's not connected to him anymore. She— it was a temporary thing. Nothing like my own connection, which from our research seems to be far more than just a horcrux relationship. If she knew the… um, depths of my own connection, she'd probably freak out." Not even Harry liked to look too closely at them.
Hermione gave her a sympathetic look. "Oh, Harry…"
Harry was truly happy for Hermione's presence, her steadfast and reliable friendship and willingness to listen even if she didn't always know the answers. But sometimes, she just wished there was someone else out there, who could really understand her. She knew it was impossible, that she was too unique and different to ever find someone like herself, too immortal, too strange, too inhuman. It was an existence of total solitude, beyond the understanding of anyone in her life. She knew Hermione would do her best to support her, would try her level best to make Harry feel less alone, but at the end of the day Harry had to do this all alone. Hermione would die one day, and Harry would live on. Would keep living on, for who knows how long. Her existence would be one of endless loneliness. The thought was so horrifying and upsetting she pushed it away immediately.
The redhead shakes her head rapidly, giving her friend a big smile. "I'm fine. Sorry, I was just thinking of what I have to do when I get back to work."
Hermione does not convinced in the least, but lets it go. "It has been over an hour, hasn't it? We definitely should be heading back."
Harry nods. "Yes, let's."
Somehow, halfway through the main course their discussion on global politics has turned towards global economics— not the sort of talk Gellert is used to for dinner parties. Oh, it's common enough among the men in their cigar lounges, scotches in hand and a Montecristo in the other, in deep discussion over their own stocks and investment portfolios. But he would never expect it to come up in this sort of setting, and certainly not with this particular conversationalist.
"Regulation is far more important than people think," Harry says, off-handedly. "People bristle at the idea of curtailed freedom, especially in the economic sense, but free market only works in fair play. If there was no government oversight to throw out antitrust lawsuits, innovation would stagnate under the pressure of larger monopolies."
Gellert blinks, taken by surprise by such a well-informed viewpoint. "Yes, you're absolutely right." He agrees, after a stunned moment. "People rarely see it that way, though."
Especially women, for that matter. He doesn't think he's ever met a woman as economically savvy as Harry. On rare occasions he'll meet a countess or baroness who knows how to properly handle their money, but never to the point of understanding the effects of global trade and macro economics.
She rolls her eyes. "Yes, well, I do work in finance." She reminds him, taking a sip of champagne. "Specifically private investments in small and relatively new companies. I'm well aware how difficult innovation of any kind can be, especially in the hulking beast of bureaucracy."
He finds himself conclusively captivated, leaning closer as he props his elbows on the table, watching her with utterly unabashed fascination. "I've been wondering about that. What sort of private investing do you do?"
Harry pauses, looking caught off guard. She takes another sip of champagne as she gathers her thoughts. Gellert waves his hand, levitating the bottle over towards her glass to pour her another. Harry waits until he's done before speaking. "I'm not an investing partner; I work as an account manager. Most of what I know of investing is peripheral, not personal," she explains, modestly. And vaguely. Intentionally vague, at that.
"All the same, you're grasp on economic policy is impressive." He remarks, deciding not to press the matter.
He doesn't want to ruin the mood, even slightly. He finds he truly enjoys speaking with her. It's rare he ever finds people who can hold his attention like this.
Tom could barely believe how cold it was. It had been an unseasonably warm autumn this year, giving no indication of the bitter winter that was to come. One day the illustrious New England autumn was spreading its colors across the landscape, and in the next it had given way to a frigid and windy New England winter.
Christmas was just around the corner, followed by his birthday and the New Year. He'd be eleven. Finally. It felt as if he'd waited far longer than a year for this.
Tom frowns slightly as he buries his gloved hands deeper into his pockets, walking further through the public gardens. He'll be going to Hogwarts next year. He's not sure how he feels about that.
Under the frozen gray sky the gardens are all but deserted. A light dusting of snow from last night casts the sprawling grounds in a chilly, crystalline light. Swans traverse the unfrozen sections of the pond, pristine white in a monochrome world of grays. Well, almost monochrome.
A tall blonde man is lounging on a park bench near the water's edge. His lemon colored hair is a stroke of color in an otherwise unbroken and dull landscape. They are the only two in the park, and he wonders if that is intentional or merely a result of the unfortunate turn in weather.
Tom stops abruptly in front of his seat, observing him with an impassive expression.
"Harry says I'm not allowed to talk to you." He starts, without preamble.
The man grins. "And do you always do what the adults in your life tell you?"
Tom doesn't deign this with a response at first. Instead he fixes his scarf tighter around his neck to ward off the winds as he sets a look of pure contempt Gellert's way. If looks could kill, Gellert would have died in an explosion of fiendfyre. The Dark Lord is a little charmed despite himself. What a precocious little creature. He tells himself he's only so amused because this is Harry's ward, but he's not entirely sure that's truly the case. The boy is oddly familiar somehow… perhaps he just reminds Gellert of himself a bit too closely.
"Obviously not," Tom replies then, as he shoves his hands back into the pocket of his peacoat. Harry definitely buys his clothes; no child is ever this smartly dressed by their own volition. "Otherwise, why would I be here?" Despite himself he was impressed by the man's ability to manipulate his school post. He could correspond with the man and Harry was none the wiser about it.
Gellert merely smiles up at him in response. He pats the seat next to him. "Come, sit." He says, gregariously. "And tell me why it is your guardian is so set on keeping you away from me."
Tom hates to follow any sort of demands made by this man, but sees no real reason not to, so he sits beside him and glowered out into the lake. "I'm not entirely sure myself."
Gellert is dangerous, obviously. But so are all the professors at his school, and the majority of the spells they teach. He doesn't understand why Harry is perfectly fine with him resurrecting dead things and taking classes with a bonafide demon summoner but takes exception where Gellert is concerned. Harry must know the man is the Dark Lord, then. She wouldn't be so unyielding otherwise. When Tom had casually brought up the man's offer to tutor him, he was surprised by how vehemently he was shot down in flames. Harry absolutely does not want Tom near the man; and like any obstinate young child, Tom merely takes this as a sign to meet him anyway.
"She doesn't like me much, does she?" He observes, smiling ruefully.
Tom considers his answer carefully. "I don't think you've given her much reason to."
It is a gamble that pays off. The man stiffens, just slightly, but enough for Tom's intense observation to notice. He doesn't actually know Harry's opinion of the man— although it was easy enough to assume— and more importantly, how she came to have it. Harry is not the sort of person who judges people by surface appearance alone. She's an extremely, uncannily good judge of character, and seems to have a sixth sense on the matter.
From the Dark Lord's reaction, Tom can tell definitively that there is something in their history that would cause Harry to think upon him unfavorably, and the man knows it. What could he have done though?
"Hmm, I suppose not." By the time he has replied, the brief insight into his emotions is long gone. "But that's a subject for another time." He segues, smoothly. "How have those runes been treating you?"
Tom looks down at his sleeves, as if he could possibly see them through his many layers of clothing. "Well," he replies, curtly. "They haven't acted up at all, and I've had no… visitors or anything like that."
"Probably for the best," the man agrees. "But benign or not, I wouldn't stop researching it."
"I didn't plan on it." He replies, blandly.
He would have expected a Dark Lord to curse him for that kind of cheek, in the same way the matrons at the orphanage would have slapped him across the face. Instead he only smiles roguishly, as if he is privately amused.
"That being said I had assumed you may find yourself lacking adequate resources to do so," he adds, and pulls out a leather bound book from his coat.
He hands it over to Tom. Tom runs his fingers down the spine, flipping through a few pages. It's definitely not anything he's seen before— in Harry's library or the one at school. Then again, it's not as if that those two sources are the be all end all of academia. He spares a quick glance at the man beside him; he can only imagine the sort of resources the Dark Lord must have at his disposal. The knowledge he holds, the skills he possesses.
Soon, he thinks. Soon, he'll catch up to the man.
"Thanks," he says, begrudgingly.
"Read through that, and we'll meet up again to discuss it," Gellert says, as Tom tucks the book into his coat. "Do you think you can finish it before your break ends?"
Tom bristles at the very idea. "Of course." He sniffs, looking away. "I've already finished all my winter break homework, anyway."
"Of course." Gellert echoes, looking far too amused. "Very well then, I'll be in contact soon."
Tom watches him walk off with a wary look, before he pulls the book out of his coat. The title is in latin, but it certainly looks like a riveting read. He'll have no trouble devouring it within days. He hops off the bench, deciding the Dark Lord has the right of it and he shouldn't stick around. That being said he told Harry he'd be out wandering the neighborhood, and usually when he does that he's off exploring for a few hours, so he needs to find some way to entertain himself for at least another hour.
He cups his gloved hands and breathes warm air onto his palms. He decides to head off to a nearby cafe to start reading his book somewhere warm.
"World history and politics just utterly fascinates me. It's such a shame I slept through all of my History classes." Harry opines with a sigh, making him break out into a grin, after she admits she's not as well versed in foreign affairs as she'd like to be.
"That doesn't sound like the behavior of someone who genuinely enjoys the subject." He laughs.
Harry rolls her eyes. "That just goes to show you how important having a good professor is. My teacher should have gotten sacked decades ago— I wasn't the only one who slept through every class period, let me tell you." She prods at her onion soup, looking down. "It wasn't really until I graduated and had a chance to travel that my passion really ignited."
"Seeing the world will do that to you." Gellert agrees sagely.
Harry looks up then, smiling slightly. "Where's your favorite place in the world?"
It's not a question he's expecting. It's too casual and yet too personal at the same time. It's the sort of thing you'd ask… a friend. Someone you genuinely wanted to spend time with, someone whose answer you genuinely wanted to know. He wonders if she realizes this, or if, to her, it was merely just a question.
"Joseon," he says, which clearly takes her by surprise.
"Joseon?" She repeats, blinking.
"Yes, the Korean peninsula," she finishes, still looking quite surprised. "I know where it is. I just… I guess I wouldn't have expected that."
Gellert merely grins in response.
"It's a lovely place." Harry remarks, after a moment. "If not a bit… volatile, currently." A sudden look crosses her eyes. "Or… is that why you like it?"
The Dark Lord's grin widens. "Yes. It's not the only country rife with transitory, colonial issues, but watching it play out has been intriguing. How the Joseon Empire handles it will be a good indicator of other places, I think."
At first, Harry is annoyed at the idea of the man hanging back and being amused as a country loses its sovereign rights, before realizing that would be entirely hypocritical of her. After all, is she not doing the same? Harry has zero interest in trying to shape this world using her knowledge of the future. She's finished playing hero.
"Well, I'm personally a huge fan, for the skincare if nothing else." She says, if only to lighten the mood. It does successfully draw forth a surprised bark of laughter from him. "And while I have my gripes with Confucianism, I can appreciate the richness of their history and culture. I find the Japanese imperialism to be stifling and a bit of a shame, but I can understand why Western powers wouldn't intervene, and I'm sure Joseon will one day be a world power in their own right."
He raises a brow. "I thought you said you slept through all your classes?"
Harry laughs weakly. "Like I said, I'm interested in it."
He merely watches her shrewdly. The skincare doesn't surprise him; women are always obsessing over cosmetics of some kind, especially those from the Orient. They rarely care about the policy and politics of the places they come from, though.
(Harry quietly and profusely thanks Ron and by extension Ginny for roping her into their latest Netflix obsession. Who knew a k-drama set in the early twentieth century would ever come in handy?)
Harry wastes no time darting up the stairs and into her bedroom. Tom is out exploring the neighborhood— a common enough occurrence since they'd moved here that she doesn't even think twice about it— and this is probably Harry's best opportunity to get a moment away from him, what with winter break on the horizon. She heads into her dressing room, closing the door behind her as she squirrels through her underwear drawer.
It's the only place in the whole house Harry knows Tom would never touch in a million years. He's curious enough to go into basically about every other room and look around, but the one time Harry had done the laundry and accidentally dropped a pair of knickers on her way to the laundry room, he'd freaked out and hid in the living room like it was some kind of deadly virus. It had amused her endlessly, but she'd made sure to not drop anything after that. At any rate, it's the safest place in the whole house to hide things from curious eyes, and she pushes aside lace undergarments to the false bottom at the bottom of the drawer. She wiggles her hand around, and finds her enchanted bottomless bag full of things from the future she doesn't want Tom to find, but still wants to have on hand and not thrown into a vault. She eventually pulls out her copy of History of Magic, stained with drool from the many days she'd used it as a pillow.
In 1790, the fifteenth President of MACUSA, Emily Rappaport, instituted a law designed to create total segregation of the wizarding and No-Maj communities. This followed one of the most serious breaches of the International Statute of Secrecy, leading to a humiliating censure of MACUSA by the International Confederation of Wizards. The matter was that much more serious because the breach came from within MACUSA itself.
Rappaport's Law further entrenched the major cultural difference between the American wizarding community and that of Europe. In the Old World, there had always been a degree of covert cooperation and communication between No-Maj governments and their magical counterparts. In America, MACUSA acted totally independently of the No-Maj government. In Europe, witches and wizards married and were friends with No-Majs; in America, No-Majs were increasingly regarded as the enemy. In short, Rappaport's Law drove the American wizarding community, already dealing with an unusually suspicious No-Maj population, still deeper underground.
Harry looks up from the book, blinking rapidly.
1790 was… a long time ago. Way before Harry had arrived. She shuts the book and places it back in its hiding spot in the bag beneath the false bottom.
She tiptoes into Tom's room, scanning his bookshelf for one of his Magical American History books. She finds it easily enough, what with Tom's meticulous book organization.
She doesn't see anything about a Rappaport's Law. She doesn't even see anything about a Rappaport to begin with. The fifteenth President of M-SAU, the Magical Strategic Alliance Union was a man named John Adams.
Harry pauses as that sinks in, wondering why that name sounds familiar.
Fortunately, she doesn't wait long. The next passage in Tom's history book goes on to describe John Adams, wizard, President of M-SAU and Vice President of the United States of America as one of the founding fathers of the country, and also one of the largest proponents for magical integration. As a wizard born of non-magical parents, integration was of the utmost importance to him. Harry sort of skims through the rest of it; George Washington himself was a wizard, but was far less passionate on the matter, being from an old pureblood line himself. Then John Adams himself became President, and he took even more steps towards desegregation. Eventually the country was to fully assimilate some time before the first World War, leading up to what Harry knew of in this timeline. More often than not, the President of the United States is the leader of both the non-magicals and the magicals, and if he is not, it's common practice to choose a running mate who is.
The two couldn't be any different, Harry notices. In her own timeline, Hermione had mentioned that the eventual deterioration of Rappaport's Law and the beginning of governmental unity didn't start happening until the very late twentieth century.
Honestly, Harry should have brushed up on her American history before moving herself and Tom across the pond, but she hadn't ever thought this situation could occur. In the tome they'd found on dimensional wards, the author had said nothing about ending up in completely different dimensions. Supposedly in theory it should only work if the traveler traveled to the nearest dimensions to their own, which apparently would be the most similar. But it was beginning to seem like the nearest dimensions weren't identical ones— or even remotely similar, from the looks of things. She'd expected perhaps a few minor discrepancies, but nothing like a radically different turn in world events. Sweet Merlin, what else had changed? What else was different? Hermione had mentioned some discrepancies with Grindelwald as well; she'd have to look into that.
When they had found the old book on traveling through time and space, lost in the clutter of Professor Dumbledore's office that took weeks after the final battle to sort through, Harry had assumed that the presence of the book signified that it was possible. But as it turned out, it seems like the book had been purely theoretical, and all the wards and runes they'd found were hypothetical at best. And yet, they'd worked.
When they'd found the book, Hermione and Harry went back and forth as to why Dumbledore could possibly have such a strange thing in his office. Eventually Ron was the one who offered up the idea of regret. It seemed to make sense; as his history had come to light posthumously, Dumbledore seemed to have a lot he held regrets over, and the idea of traveling in time to fix it probably appealed to him. And Harry knew he'd gone after the resurrection stone out of regret over his sister, so it seemed perfectly plausible. At the time, they'd assumed the reason he'd never gone through with it was due to the fact it wasn't actually time travel, but rather, traveling to a different time in a different dimension. But now it was starting to sound like the reason Dumbledore never used these spells was because he couldn't.
Harry had managed it, though.
But then again, Harry wasn't really… well, she wasn't entirely sure what she was. But she wasn't mortal any longer. It's quite possible she was the only person who could use these spells, and if Hermione or Ron had tried it, it wouldn't have worked.
Harry tucks the book back onto Tom's shelf as she hears the front door open, hastily vacating his room.
As much as she hated it, it seemed like she was going to have to do a lot of research over the break.
He truly doesn't want the night to end, but it's an inevitability that cannot be avoided.
They held all sorts of riveting discussions on intellectual topics over the many courses of dinner, and he found he was always impressed by her insightful responses. Miss Riddle had a curious mind behind those celadon eyes, so much so that he's been discreetly asking the house elves to continue serving courses regardless of the fact neither of them were still hungry. Truly though, he simply didn't want their intimate dinner to be over. But at this point it had been hours, and he's run out of excuses, so he asks her what she'd like for dessert.
She tries to protest the trouble, but he manages to wrangle an answer out of her, and learns that her favorite dessert is bread pudding. It's exactly the sort of simple and yet unanticipated answer he's come to expect from her. When he voices this aloud she merely sniffs and says she her real favorite is Douhua, but she didn't want to cause his house elves undue trouble. He couldn't help but laugh; this too was exactly what he would expect of her.
He enjoys their deeper conversations, but he realizes then that he doesn't know anything about her, personally. Sure, he knows quite a bit about her observations on world politics, and usually that is the sort of opinion he wants to know, but he finds himself wishing for conversation topics that he normally avoids like the plague. The sort of pandering nonsense that is far more happenstance at the dinner table. She is one of the few people he would like to get to know, personally.
"What's your favorite place in the world?" He decides to turn the question back around.
Harry looks up from where she longingly stares at her mostly untouched dessert, looking like she'd love to have more but simply doesn't have the appetite. She seems surprised he asked— probably as surprised he was when she had.
She thinks on it for a moment.
"New York." She says, finally. And then; "For now."
"For now?" He repeats, curious.
The smile she sends his way is positively beatific. "Well it's a big world out there, you never know. So many cities to see, places to go. I'd really like to see it all one day, but that's probably impossible." She laughs at the end.
Oh, but he'd take her everywhere she wanted to see, if she asked. He is reminded of that brief glimpse of Harry in the desert, some far and foreign place full of stars and the undead. How striking and otherworldly she had appeared, in that moment. He can imagine them in all sorts of ancient and foreign places, full of mysticism and magic, discovering esoteric histories lost to time. He can even imagine the boy with them, the child no doubt snarking him at every available instance. It's such a strange and silly thing to think about. That would absolutely never happen. Harry might be humoring him currently, but he's under no delusions over her feelings for him. She's definitely not very fond of him.
"There's always next year's vacation, no?" He says, and if the smile he wears is perhaps a bit rueful, Harry doesn't notice.
Harry looks at him curiously. "Yes." She replies, blinking. "I suppose that's true. That would be more up to Tom, though."
"If that's the case, I expect you'll end up in the most far flung regions of the world, where running water and breakfast service are distant dreams." He chuckles.
Harry scowls. "Oh Merlin, don't remind me. I suppose I'll pick at least one place then, if only so that I can enjoy my kind of vacation for a bit."
She grins at him cheekily then. "I think Joseon would be a great choice, don't you think? Lots of magical history, fairly industrialized."
He wishes he could offer to show her around, but he has a feeling his proposal will be met with distant disdain. He does truly wish it could be so, though.
"I'm surprised at your level of interest Gellert," the man comments idly, "it's rather unlike you."
Beneath an indeterminable sky, the great Headmaster Pershing takes off his glasses with an air of casualness Gellert doesn't believe for a second, cleaning them off with a silk cloth. The Dark Lord leans back in his chair, observing the man across from him in pensive silence. Every meeting is a quiet battle between the two of them, he knows. Every word a block or strike, two careful lancers circling around each other. A thoughtless answer could lose him the battle, and who knows, perhaps even his life. He never truly knows what's at stake in their battle of words, but he doesn't plan to find out.
Is it even worth it to attempt nonchalance?
"She fascinates me," he decides upon, as he reaches for the untouched set of tea on the low table between them. Pershing has not touched his own, but that is no surprise. He never eats or drinks, as far as Gellert knows. He wonders if the man even sleeps. He's never seemed entirely human, but he doesn't know of any magical creature that could match his description.
Pershing looks amused. "Of course she does," he enthuses. "And why wouldn't she? Clever girl."
The Dark Lord finds himself, once again, intensely curious of the man's opinion on Harry. It's impossible to say. Positive? Derisive? He sincerely could not hope to guess.
"Did she enjoy the party?"
Gellert withholds a snort. "Not in the least."
He watches with disbelief as something like fondness crosses the man's features. He's fairly sure he imagined it, though. Pershing, no matter what name he was going by or what persona he was playing, never looked amused or interested in anything. And if he did, it was merely a veneer for his audience. Yet there was no audience here, just the two of them, sharing frank conversation.
"And the boy," at this, the man's face splits into an anomalous smile. Gellert does not think he's ever seen the man smile; not genuinely, not to this extent. This time, he's sure he hasn't imagined it. "How is he?"
"He excels just as you said he would," the blonde man replies, setting his tea down in a sedated gesture. "His excellence in necromancy is truly commendable."
The Headmaster's gaze drifts away from Gellert then, and in a surprisingly visceral show of emotion he can see something almost forlorn cross the man's eyes. The Headmaster is nothing if not enigmatic; to get so many reads on his emotions in one sitting is beyond disconcerting.
"All the doors are open for him, hm?" The man observes, quietly.
"I would hope so," Gellert agrees drily, hoping to lighten the strange mood that had come upon them. "I did offer to teach him, after all."
"I imagine young Miss Riddle did not take well to that."
"She crafted a delicately well-worded response to my query after the party, declining my offer. Unsurprisingly the boy hasn't let that deter him in the slightest."
Pershing looks curious, but Gellert doesn't offer anything else. He's surprised really, that they even spent this much time discussing this matter at all. He expected Pershing to want an update on the state of continental Europe, Germany and Russia in particular, as he has in all their recent meetings. They did have a lengthy discussion on Gellert's progress manipulating the various magical Ministries, and next steps, but he had expected as much. This, however, was throwing him off.
He was worried, truly. Pershing had never shown such interest in a single person before, excluding Gellert. He couldn't help but feel a healthy sense of trepidation; Pershing was not the sort of man you'd want to garner the attention of. The real mastermind behind this brewing war, and this century at large, he was perhaps the most dangerous man on this earth.
He wonders if it was inevitable, then, that the most dangerous woman would elicit his interest.
He knows what's coming, a dark weight settling in his stomach.
"I think I'd like to meet this Miss Riddle." The man enthuses, leaning back in his chair.
Gellert watches the man warily. He knows he cannot deny him, no matter how much he may worry over Harry's safety. Even someone as powerful as a not-quite god has something to fear when meeting this man.
"When would you like to arrange a meeting?" He asks, with resignation.
Pershing taps his chin. "After the holidays," he decides. "It would be rather rude to interrupt during the break, wouldn't you say?"
He wonders if that's a rhetorical question. Pershing doesn't strike him as the kind of man who cares about rudeness.
"I'm sure she'd appreciate the gesture." He agrees, drily.
"Well I can at least be courteous enough to wait," Pershing remarks, magnanimously. "After all, I wouldn't want to get off on the wrong foot, no?"
Gellert is fairly sure the man is goading him, but he does not rise to the bait. "Yes. It would do you well to learn from my mistakes." He says, humbly.
Pershing chuckles darkly. "Indeed."
More than anything, he wants to warn her. But what could he possibly say? And was it truly worth crossing a man who was inarguably the most powerful human on the planet? Was she worth it?
"I suppose I'll send her an invitation for tea after the new year," he muses. "I trust you'll be able to send the message along?"
His expression is cool and impassive, giving nothing away. "Of course."
Thanks for all your input last chapter! I'll keep it into account, and most of it was inline with what I want out of the story too. I love the world building, but I love the romance so much more haha - and it sounds like a lot of you do too. On that note - THE PAIRING POLL IS UP! - Vote now or forever hold your peace! / p / P7O5QM4W
Also on a related note, there were a couple anons I couldn't reply to that had some grievances to air out so I'm just going to address them here because I do think its relevant: first of all, sorry you had to go through 100k only to find you didn't like the direction I was taking this story. All the points of contention were valid, and not necessarily anything I personally disagree with.
That being said I don't get paid to write this story; all of the time, effort and frustration it takes to write this is given freely. I have no real reason to even post it online, aside from the feedback I get from my readers. That is the only reason I post things online. Otherwise I would keep this story with the other 300 or so stories I keep private. But I post them publicly because I get so much joy out of reading people's responses. It makes me happy knowing my update made someone's day, hearing what they thought about it, and interacting with my readers. It means a lot to me that they take time out of their day to leave reviews, so I take their feedback into serious consideration and try to write what they want to read.
Sorry for the rant, but I did want to clarify my thoughts on the matter. So, yeah, not to scare you, but a large part of the direction of this story is always decided by the feedback I get. No pressure! And sincerely, thanks to everyone who reviews!