Definition: Interim

(Adjective) Having temporary effect

serving as a temporary measure until something more complete and permanent can be established

(Noun) A period of time between two occurrences or periods

Harry Potter first came to the world at a specific coordinate in space-time. He entered England and 1980, and, not insignificantly, a prophecy that was to rule his life for the next seventeen years.

Had things been different, he may have grown up reading comics, watching Back to the Future or Doctor Who. But science fiction was a strange quirk of normal boys, and while it was grudgingly permissible for Dudley, Harry was deemed so far past critically abnormal that the Dursleys feared it might be the tipping point.

Harry hardly caught a glimpse, but he enjoyed those fragments immensely. He read some Batman, a little Superman, and saw the stories that tended to stick around the longest, but not much else.

Unlike other children of the 80s, Harry's childhood was void of science fiction. His teenage years compensated for this by being filled with magic, and in these years he never really thought about fanciful things like time travel or alien races, even though by thirteen he'd had more personal experience in that department than most people.

It only became apparent much later, but when he saved himself with his patronus, the most important things were summarised in one exchange: "I knew I could do it this time because I'd already done it … does that make sense?"

Though he didn't recognise it, in that moment, Harry attested to the inflexibility of time – he was saved by his spell, so he had to go back in time to cast it, because it had already happened. For a short length of time, he had already cast and was going to cast the lifesaving spell. So before and after… well, they're flexible. Dependent on one's point of reference, really. But events? Not so much.

"I don't know," Hermione had patently admitted she had no idea, and so captured the essence of just how mindboggling the whole concept is.

But the weird day passed without much acknowledgement and Harry never really contemplated it again.

Perhaps due to his fantasy-devoid formative years, Harry didn't deal in hypotheticals, in the innumerable what ifs. He dealt with the present, and he thought on the future. To him, the past was for irrefutable things and hints of what would come back to bite him later. It was less important than what was to come, wherein the actual effort not to die would take place.

Indeed, he thought about death far more often than any child should. It surrounded him in first his parents, then his godfather, his friends, and countless strangers. He faced it, year after year, wondering if this time he would catch it. Then he marched to it with open arms, the dead by his side.

And he came back.

With him were three souvenirs. The Deathly Hallows were thought to be no more than a story. Of course, personal experience discounted that theory. He united them.

Some believed that the three brothers had created the items, or maybe simply found them. Few believed that they were gifted by Death itself. Harry subscribed to the same doubt. Despite the proof of magic, he'd still come from a background with little patience for the blatantly fanciful. Harry preferred things he could see for himself.

Regardless, the story had a name for the one person who was the master of the Elder Wand, the Cloak of Invisibility, and the Resurrection Stone; the Master of Death.

And he let it all go.

He graduated with Hermione. He followed Ron into the Auror corps. He embraced anonymity when the fervour of his victory died down. He left Ginny when she couldn't accept that. He forgave Mrs Weasley for the howler.

He didn't dwell on the Hallows; they seemed to have played such a small part in events, despite their alleged power.

He later forgave himself for that. He'd had more important things on his mind at the time.

For five glorious years he moved on from his past, and for once he didn't have to worry about the future. He lived each day in the present, until that day when he very literally couldn't. Because he had held the objects that time would not let him forget.

Harry's last blissfully normal day was in fact not all that serene.

He started around lunch time, equipped with a vengeful hangover, and he proceeded to stumble through the next few hours without enough coffee. He swore he'd give up this ambition to drink a Weasley under the table. At least once a week. But this time was definitely the last.

A little while, and a niggling feeling later, he realised that he'd misplaced his best friend, and he may have insulted his missing-best-friend's wife. Ron and Hermione would forgive him.

"It won't happened again," he declared solemnly.

Hermione shot him an unimpressed look that bordered on amusement if viewed from the right angle. "Yes, it will."

He found he had to agree. "Sorry," he grinned unashamedly.

Her mouth opened in reply, but that was the moment Harry's vision whited out.

He was in an endless misty landscape. Painful memories of a similar experience with a train station and a dead headmaster were dragged to the fore. Cracking down on the immediate panic, he entertained the notion that he was hallucinating. Such occurrences weren't unheard of when a Weasley Episode got out of hand. He hoped that was the case, but without much conviction.

When a black cloaked figure emerged from the expanse of white mist and addressed him, "Master. Welcome to Interim," he felt a spike of pure and simple dread.

The name of the figure came to him, perhaps due to that instinct all living things possess, before the figure even announced; "I am Death."

"But… I didn't die."

"No," Death agreed. "You were called."

"I– what?"

"Come." The hand that touched his shoulder was oddly human in warmth and appearance. Wrinkles creased the skin, but the grip was steady.

Death looked as Harry would've imagined it, had he been the kind to personify such things – an old man, unremarkable except for his odd dress sense. His cloak was simple and unadorned, draped elegantly around him like a dark toga. Although he held himself slightly stooped, he was still taller than Harry.

Death led Harry to a bench and sat beside him.

Harry knew he should have felt uncomfortable as the silence drew on, but it was not easy to sense such things in that place. "Why am I here?" He eventual asked.

"A philosophical question, or one of logistics?" Death's lips twitched. "No matter, in this case one answer satisfies twice."

A wave of his hand sent the mist before them swirling. Colours bled into it, and Death's words wove it into a narrative.

"Only one being transcends the beginning of time and space as we know it, but others arose in short order. The first native entities include Eternity, Infinity, Oblivion, Phoenix and myself. Then there were Celestials – the beings that mortals revere as gods. Life spread, and here you are."

The mist showed colourful, fluid forms rising out of the darkness, coming together and against each other. They were beautiful and powerful, forces of nature in their own right, only somehow more so.

"One resides over us all: the Living Tribunal. He is the judge of cosmic entities, and ensures that the laws are obeyed. He is Balance. We serve, and we maintain reality, we maintain the Balance, by existing. Under out direct employ, are heralds. They have various purposes. For Galactus they act as seekers, for Eternity they are fates, and my heralds undertake aspects of my role."

Death, was, in fact, going somewhere with this. He rarely said things without meaning, and, annoyingly, they frequently contained several more. "Under your hand, my Hallows were united in the manner they were intended. You conquered your fear and released your attachments, and in doing so mastered my very essence. You are worthy being a Herald of Death."

Harry didn't like the sound of that. "Don't I get a say in this?"

Death smiled blandly. "I have been waiting for you."

"So then this was my fate, all along?" The words tasted bitter.

"You call it fate, I call it time. Same concept, different perspective. Essentially, yes, this was, is and will be inevitable. You are my ambassador for humans. Death has many elements; you need only concern yourself with steadiness. Death is steady in the sense that it is reliable, resolute, and prevailing. And above all, Death always answers the call of life."

"No, I'm done with fate! I played that part, I earned my life and I want it back, damn it. I won't do it!"

"Child, you don't have to do anything. We serve our existence by existing."

The next thing he knew, Harry was stark naked. And sitting the middle of a runic pentagram, surrounded by a group of chanting and dancing witches. It was wrong, he thought hysterically, that he could look at this situation and think it was just typical.

"My Lord Death," one of the older girls spoke in awe, "My name is Abigail. I summoned you to reap the souls of Elizabeth Proctor from Salem, and–"

Something about those names wrung a bell that sounded like the dulcet tones of Professor Binns. "What year is it?"

The girl blinked,"…1692"

Salem witch trials. He dropped his head into his hands. His breathing sped up, his heart stuttered, and for a time he didn't think at all. He was panicking, he knew in an oddly detached manner.

Awareness was slow in returning. He became mindful of a number of things. Firstly, the world was much too blurry. He didn't have his glasses. Secondly, his grip on his wand was liable to break it. He forced his fingers to relax. The slight movement drew his attention to two other things. A band encircled his finger. It was heavier than the engagement ring he had once worn. The material on his back was silken, almost like liquid; the invisibility cloak wasn't protecting much of anything from view.

If he was to look closer, he was sure that the wood in his hand was not his wand, but The Wand, and the ring had a black stone with the Deathly Hallows insignia etched elegantly into it.

"Death?" The girls didn't know quite what to do. They were milling around him and beginning to make more distressed noises. He gathered that he was supposed to fight for them, kill their enemies.

As if that was going to happen.

When he stood, they shrunk back immediately, taking refuge behind their line of runes. Harry wrapped the cloak around himself properly, effectively protecting his modesty by vanishing from sight. He ignored the startled yells.

He needed to get out of America, back to Britain. Part of him still believed this was a hoax. A ridiculously elaborate one, but still. He needed to be sure, and to be on familiar ground.

London was hardly familiar ground.

He took a deep breath. When that didn't do much, he took another. Live in the moment, survive in the now. He fell back onto established tactics.

After several measured breaths, he hadn't calmed, but he'd gotten a grip. He kept things simple. First order of business; he needed some clothes.

Harry didn't feel very good about stealing, but needs must. He had no money. He didn't know what he was doing, or how long he was staying, and he couldn't afford to have transfiguration revert back at an inopportune moment.

"Damn Death," he muttered aloud, as he struggled to pull on the strange, horribly uncomfortable and ill-fitting garments. He shrugged the invisibility cloak on and headed back into town. London. Horses, carts, long gowns, stupid hats, with the dirt-poor littering the streets. Every detail, from the buildings to the sewerage, was alien to the city he knew. "What the hell am I even doing here?"

He glared up at the sky, as if that would accomplish anything. "Just give me so goddamn answers, you bloody bastard!"

"That's no way to address an abstract entity," a low, warbled voice spoke up from nowhere. Harry jumped. A bird cawed, and he turned over his shoulder to see a large crow staring intently at him. Straight through his invisibility cloak.

"I'm going crazy." It would explain so much.

"Going, going, gone," the bird cackled. A talking crow.

Harry pinched himself. He felt the pain, he didn't wake up, so there wasn't much left to do besides wing it. "Um… hi?"

Wide, intelligent dark eyes blinked at him. "I am Archaean."

Oh he so couldn't deal with this. He turned on his heal and briskly walked away.

The flutter of wings and clack of talons followed him down the street. Occasionally, he saw the crow hopping along from the corner of his eye. This game lasted for several minutes before his patience fizzled out. He made it to an empty alley, at least.

"Would you stop following me?" he called, without turning to face it. He was still clinging to the hope that if he ignored it, it would go away.

It gave the bird approximation of a shrug, tilting its head and unfurling its wings slightly. "I feel a bond with you. I have waited, unfulfilled for years, until something lead me here."

Harry scowled, sensing Death's hand. "That didn't happen to be in a breadcrumb trail of carrion, I hope?"

"Ahk, no. It was magic, idiot."

Harry yelped as the crow swiftly launch itself off the rooftop and floated down. He couldn't see much; just a quickly approaching blur of whirling feathers.

The bird landed on his shoulder, with feet surprisingly sharp and a body unexpectedly heavy. "No, get away! What are you? A needy pet?"

It hissed at him, and puffed up primly, "No. On both accounts." It snapped its beak perilously close to his ear. He froze, then his shoulders slumped in surrender.

"Fine, come along, who am I to stop you?" He flung his arms up in the air to illustrate his defeat… and just to be a bit of a prick. He didn't manage to dislodge the bird. Its claws only dug in harder.

"Ow. Um… so are you female or male?" He wouldn't have thought its grip could get much tighter, but at his words it managed to an element of offence into the piecing pressure. "Female it is, then."

She glared down at him, loftily. "I will be your companion."

He cocked an eyebrow and the presumptuousness, "I assume you know who I am?"

"You smell of Death."

Harry scowled. "Fantastic. So are crows and ravens going to start flocking to me, now? Because I feel like making a comment about clichés and something tells me you really wouldn't appreciate it."

"No. You are mine, and mine only."

And that was… oddly comforting. He was lost in a strange time, or alone in his deranged mind. No, either way he was not alone any more, he corrected himself.

He removed the cloak. He was doomed to be inconspicuous, but he'd bet his life that a friendly crow wouldn't attract as much attention as one that appeared to be standing on thin air.

"Archaean, you're going to get me arrested," Harry eyed the suspicious, incredulous, and plain out hostile looks directed their way. "Scratch that. You're going to get me killed."

Fliers were up by the churches; they displayed witch burnings like prized events. Blame, hatred and hysteria. It had to be the bloody 17th century, didn't it? He couldn't have been dumped in a more peaceful era in muggle and magical relations, no, that would've been tolerable.

He was feeling more uneasy by the minute. He couldn't possibly blend in here. His speech, mannerism – everything betrayed him as unfamiliar, and that was all but a crime.

"Why don't you fly ahead. Can you lead me to a magical community?"

She stared him down suspiciously, "You'll follow?"

"I suggested it, didn't I?" She wasn't convinced. He signed. "I've nothing better to do."

The wizarding world was much more comforting. It reminded him of the Britain he'd left. Most of the shops were different, but those that had endured, like Ollivanders, were far less rundown.

Diagon Alley was even more old-fashioned and far less crowded, but at the same time, the atmosphere was more progressive. Shopkeepers flaunted new innovations, he saw fliers bragging about new spells, exploratory potions techniques. Evidently, the age of science and enlightenment had not passed over the magical population. In all, it was less stagnant than the time he'd grown up in. It really wasn't all that bad.

The people, though, he was feeling less charitable about. In this political climate, anyone even vaguely associated with muggles risked being completely outcast. So the Alley was perfectly lovely, but it didn't want to share it with him.

He was vulnerable and someone was bound to notice, if they cared to. He just hoped that he had the Hallows from his time, and that this era's Hallows remained with the doting owners. If the first thing he'd done was inadvertently steal from highly influential families, he was, plainly speaking, utterly screwed.

He needed news and money, but without his inheritance or his job he had neither. It wasn't as if he could just walk into the Potter or Black vaults. To that end, he didn't know if he even could call himself a Potter. Families counted generations from the past, not every potential branch from the future.

As for news, well, there were fliers for the important stuff, like the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy that they were implementing, but newspapers simply didn't exist yet. The common medium for everyday gossip was good connections.

Enough said.

He had none of the things that distinguished people from pavement; no past, no family, no friends, nowhere to go. As long as that was true, he had no way up. He probably couldn't get lower on the food chain if he tried.

"You do have family." Archaean was smart. She knew much more than she should, and she was learning more every hour due to some strange connection neither of them really understood. He was lucky to have her, but sometimes he really hated the options she presented him with.

It was a potentially delicate situation. Meeting his ancestors could go wrong in so many ways.

"What if I change the future?"

"That would really take some effort."

His logical brain persisted, however, "There shouldn't be a Harry Potter here."

"Shouldn't there?" Archaean challenged.

He remembered the patronus, then, and finally sat down to a very confusing session of thinking wherein he stubbornly hashed out the unique rationality of time travel. He hoped that the future he knew would result from whatever he ended up doing here, because in a way, it had already happened.

"Right. Time for some good old misdirecting."

He applied in what passed as the Ministry for a very painful, but faultless, blood test. To his relief, he took away a family name; the thing that mattered.

He didn't know where he could find the Potters, so he put his faith in a family he'd never liked all that much. He apparated to Grimmauld Place, tried not to cringe, and knocked.

The moment his hand left the wood, a butler opened the door. He was let inside, and the interior was so different he barely had to pretend he didn't know the way to the study. A middle aged man with regal bearing and a painful resemblance to Tonks received him. Harry bowed deeply, though somewhat awkwardly, not knowing quite what to do with his elbows and such. Even Archaean bobbed her head and remained silent.

Lord Marius Black was stern, stuffy and entitled, but he listened. Harry stuck to facts he could prove. His father was a Potter, his paternal grandmother was a Black. He'd never known his father, or his heritage, and his mother died when he was very young. He was a traveller. He'd spent time abroad, learning magic, and he'd come to meet his family.

Black's face was blank, though Harry could tell he was not pleased. In Black's mind, Harry could only be either a bastard, a half-blood, or squib born. Harry knew what conclusion he'd prefer, and that felt like betraying his mother's memory, but he bore the guilt.

Bastards were occasionally expected, but it was bad form: what went on with a missus was not supposed to have consequences. But Harry could swear by the name Potter so even if they thought he was a bastard, he was some important person's bastard. That was dangerous. The risk of his existence required a response of equal magnitude; nothing less that total endorsement or exile.

They might decide that it would be better if he just disappeared.

He rather hoped not.

"I must conference with my extended family, and the Potters." Harry didn't miss that he was pointedly excluded from this. "Monty! See this young man to the dining room."

Harry followed the house elf and met the Black matriarch, Lucretia. She somehow managed to insert criticism on his posture and upbringing, and probe for details all while making polite conversation and smiling enchantingly.

Desperation proved to be a decent suppressor of Harry's temper, but Archaean got bored. Harry thought they were done for. To his surprise Lucretia completely overlooked the comment about the pig and the caterpillar; her frostiness actually lessened by a few degrees. "A powerful familiar reflects well on a powerful wizard. Ravens are intelligent beasts."

Archaean twitched. "Crow."

That was progress, but not enough. Harry was still getting hostile vibes. If Lucretia was aiming to gather information, well, he needed to give it to her, and give it well. She would be his liaison to Lord Black, and her opinion would colour him greatly. Renewed by their small progress, he used some of Hermione's favourite big words, he drew on everything he could remember about exotic cultures, he described the foreign spells he'd learned in the auror corps, and when Lady Black hinted about the Black line hereditary abilities, he took that as a blessing. He played the parseltongue card. The snakes in the tapestries and embroidery perked up, clamouring eagerly towards him. That caught her attention.

Long after being wrung dry by courteous interrogation, Lord Black returned with Lord William Potter. Harry spotted his own eyebrows and nose on the older stranger's face. Potter took one glance at him, and pronounced; "He certainly looks the part, Master Black. Perhaps one of the disowned lineages managed to produce a magical heir. It has been known to happen."

"Both my parents were magical, I do know that much," Harry said quickly. He'd made a passably good impression, he wouldn't lose it.

Lucretia was a great help. "He had the officials test his blood when he discovered an affinity for parseltongue," she supplied nonchalantly, "You can trace the main Potter line back to the Peverells, wasn't it?"

Lord Black displayed some surprise, at that. "He must have good blood from our family. It has been several decades since parseltongue has resurfaced in our line."

Unexpectedly, the ice queen smiled slyly, "In any case… my, my, what has your House been up to William, dear?"

"Merlin only knows. At times I wonder whether my brother will form a House of his own." Harry was surprised to see Lord Potter grin ruefully. So humour had been invented. He was beginning to wonder.

Lord Potter challenged Harry to a duel to test his skills, supporting the traveller's belief that in the past they really did use duels to solve everything. To Harry's eyes, the world was a blur, but it was a manageable one. Debris would've been the main concern, but the room they fought in was wide and clear. He could see the other Potter, and he could certainly see the glow from his spells. He made do.

William was good, incredibly so. But Harry, until recently, had done this for a living, and he'd been the best. Even Lucretia admitted the he was powerful, though perhaps not fit to be seen in public.

They would teach him, it was decided, and if he could learn to fit in the public eye, he could carry the Potter name. He was adopted him on a preliminary basis, on the conditions that he never claim inheritance over William's sons, and he defer to Lord Potter or Lord Black on all matters. They had power over his life, from housing to marriage, and his successes would be theirs. But Harry had shelter, food and clothes. It was more than enough.

Over the next few months, Harry came to terms with the fact that the past was weird.

For one, Marius Black had an absolutely wicked sense of humour. It snuck up on victims when they were least expecting it and left them spluttering long after it had passed. He was oddly likeable.

Lucretia, however, was an evil taskmaster. Harry sat with her every day of the week, and she wrestled manners into his posture and shoved a strange way of speaking down his throat. She dragged him up to her standards and held him to them.

When he met William's best friend, well… he wasn't expecting it to be Julius Malfoy, who was as pompous as the ferret he knew, and almost as aggravating. Those two were nigh inseparable.

Soon after, he met Potter's eldest son, Rowland; a fanatic follower of the new emerging sport, Quidditch. Needless to say, they got along. Rowland had three younger sisters, all still in Hogwarts. To his surprise, Harry also liked the Black children. All five of them.

It wasn't that they were different from the stuffy pure-bloods he'd met in his time. These people acted like royalty because they basically were, and had the egos to go with it. Much of the time they were insufferable, but in a way that was endearing once he took the time to know them.

It made him uncomfortable, at first, to discover that of the inseparable duo, his own ancestor hated muggles far more passionately than Malfoy. Malfoy valued the privileges of their social circles, but William saw no saving graces at all.

Harry questioned William about this only once. Malfoy explained, very coldly, that William had watched his baby sister dragged through the street, after a neighbour gave baseless accusations out of jealousy. She was killed, not by the fire, but by a farmer who carved her head in with a shovel while their parents attempted a rescue. People had cheered.

Sensing more to the tale, Harry ventured hesitantly; "What happened?"

William watch from the doorway, face shadowed and eyes dark. "I hunted down those responsible."

"Good," Harry replied without pause. What could William have done? What the muggles had done was condoned, not a crime. No jails would take them, but it didn't feel right to just let them walk away. In the future, sure, he didn't think killing people was the answer, but all that stuff about being the better men, that idealism… it didn't hold up to reality of now.

Unlike in the 80s, the hatred was justified. He felt the stirrings himself. He could even understand why this society would hold a collective grudge for the next 300 years. Wizards aged slowly, and forgave even slower.

Harry became a well credited spell researcher. Playing with magic in the basement of Potter Manor made him feel closer to the future, to his best friends and his old co-workers, however briefly. But he was getting antsy. It'd been a year. He missed his friends. He mourned well-made glasses and treacle tarts and bad music. And his life showed no sign of changing.

He'd been determined not to jump through Death's hoops, but he was just about ready to give in. "What am I supposed to do, Archaean?"

"Death said you didn't have to do anything."

"But surely there's something! Some girls summoned Death and he sent me. Am I meant to stop them? The muggle conflict is only going to get worse once the events in Salem kick off."

"Maybe you are here because that is all the timeline needs to progress to the future. You don't have to aim for a goal, just live."

Live. Right. "I half blew myself up last week." Harry was beginning to doubt that he could die if he tried.

"I told you to hide the powder before you tried that spell."

Years passed. Harry watched Diagon Alley turn into a well-established central hub of activity.

The Ministry as he knew it formed its foundations, aiming to reinforce the Stature of Secrecy legislation to ensure that the witch burnings could never happen again.

Wizards still lived hidden amongst muggles, but communities were coming together as magical people drifted apart from the other, harsher world. It became fashionable to have no contact whatsoever.

The Blacks didn't even consider moving. The house had been built by the first Blacks half a millennia ago. They were above fashion, Marius informed his family pretentiously.

After the pronouncement, Harry scoured the Potter, Black and Malfoy libraries and he devilled into warding. He worked with Marius on Grimmauld place, over the years building up the infamous fortifications.

Paranoia, Sirius had called it. Granted. They went a little overboard. But they would be safe.

It was that way for nine years. He was successful and content. He had a family – it wasn't the one he'd imagined, but they cared for him and he for them.

So of course it couldn't last.

The next jump landed him in 1879. He was woken in the middle of the night, skipped the ghostly purgatory, and got dropped into the middle of a sacrificial summoning circle with only Archaean on his shoulder and the Hallows with his person.

He got out of there, quick smart.

Europe was chaos; wars were brewing, so he didn't stick around. He'd just gotten his feet under him, only to have the ground unexpectedly torn away again. Harry didn't dare repeat that for a while.

Harry and Archaean stay in that time for a year before another summoning pulled him into 1951 and, after five years, backwards into1910.

He actively tried to stop it. He imagined, sometimes, getting to the 70's and defeating Voldemort, fixing his life before it could go wrong, or better yet, catching up with the early 21st century and staying there. He wanted to be ready, if that happened, so he dedicated his time to learning. He moved around, from Australia to Haiti, and exchanged knowledge with the shamans.

Some years, he learnt magic, but other times he integrated with muggles. He studied their mythology, and soon became an expert on everything about personifications of Death. Roman, Greek, Norse, Christian, Hindu – nothing helped him much.

What wasn't rubbish, seemed bizarrely like his memories. He found traces of himself in old stories. Ones he'd read before this whole mess, but had not recognised back then.

He was woken by an insistent tug moments before the world was spinning away. As was his custom, after negligently stunning the sinister figures who'd summoned death, Harry apparated to London.

It was different.

Phones were bigger, flatter, and absolutely everywhere. The cars were sleeker, the fashion slightly scary, the buildings a little taller. It hadn't been so hard to find a newspaper since the seventeenth century. They said it was October, 2018.

Ron and Hermione weren't living in the flat they'd proudly bought together in 1998. After traumatising and profusely apologising to the old lady who did, Harry tried the Burrow. He scared the old lady there, too. Mrs Weasley hit him with a frying pan, hugged him half to death and scolded him for worrying her.

They called a whole Weasley congregation. From their view, he'd vanished, and now sixteen years later, just as miraculously reappeared. The air was charged with the hurt and blame of his disappearance – the questions had festered for years, and now that he was back, alive all along, they were asking why.

"Why did you stay away?" It felt like an accusation.

"Well…" It wasn't a short story, and he wasn't very good at telling it, but over the course of the evening his audience progressed from confused to disbelieving, straight on through to stubbornly determined.

"If I can't stop it, I'm going to jump again."

Hermione tackled the problem by sinking her teeth into some books, and Ron proposed a drink. Some things never changed.

Other things had. His best friends were married, they'd had kids. So had Bill and Fleur, George and Angelina, and almost everyone else he knew. He'd met Victoire that afternoon, and he couldn't wait until the Hogwarts term finished.

He did the math, he came up with a glaring irregularity.

"Where is Teddy?" Harry saw the looks they exchanged, and he knew.

It was a weak heart. Teddy had been born with it. The worst part was that it was completely curable, if they'd caught it early enough, but no one had noticed. The symptoms had been explained away. If his skin was too pale, it was a phase, and as a metamorphmagus it was only to be expected. If Teddy had been less energetic than the other children, he was respectful of his elderly grandma. When he started fainting, they noticed, but by then it was already too late; the healers could only slow the progress and make his last years as comfortable as possible.

Harry mourned for how time had moved on without him, and for his Godson, so far beyond his reach.

Ron and Hermione were as relieved to see him as he was them, but they had the weight of a decade and a half of vastly different experience between them. It became apparent that Harry couldn't just settle back into his niche; it'd long ago closed up and scarred over. It didn't help that Harry still looked twenty-two, the same as when he'd left.

They tried. Merlin, did they try.

"You have a… raven? You're really playing up the stereotype, mate," Ron goaded with a smile.

Harry blinked. The automatic response that would've come to mind years ago was glaringly absent. "Crow, and yes, it's getting old. We make appearances at summonings every so often and, a few hundred years of repetition later, suddenly we have a pop culture."

Ron's smile turned strained and confused. Harry dropped it, rather than explain.

Hermione bought tickets to a concert not much later. Harry supposed she was worried. He hadn't shown his face outside of the Hogwarts, Black or Ministry libraries since he'd arrived.

Harry took the ticket reluctantly, and read the gaudy, 70s style writing. "Star-lord?"

"Yes, Peter Quill. Muggles call him the Guardian of Good Music. For good reason, too. You can be grateful you missed what the technology revolution did to music in the last decade!" She shuddered theatrically, and then almost immediately clapped he hands to her mouth with more honest horror. "Oh, I'm sorry, Harry."

His smile hurt, just a little. "Don't worry about it."

"You should've told me you still needed glasses! I thought you'd had them corrected."

Harry looked at Hermione incredulously. "When would I've done that? Muggles didn't have laser surgery in the 1900s. Even wizards didn't have good glasses until recently. I suppose I just got used to it."

Muggle doctors did their science thing, and he wound up seeing the world more clearly than he ever had. Merlin, he'd forgotten how detailed it all was. It was almost beautiful.

Harry's hopes faded. He'd been buoyed up, relieved by the knowledge that Hermione was there, helping him. Answers had always tended to fall into place under her ministrations.

But not this time. There was no pattern to the jumps, and no hint of how to stop them.

What Harry remembered, and what Hermione remembered of their childhood, showed almost no disparities – Harry hadn't changed time. They recalled the same legends about grim reapers, mythology, whatever. Harry could add a few more details and point out where the authors exercised creative licence, but the stories themselves hadn't changed. Harry was embedded in history. It seemed as if he'd always been there.

Hermione had said, once, that terrible things happened to wizards who meddled with time. As they learnt together, more became clear.

"The universe compensates. There is some fundamental understanding that you cannot kill your grandfather; no matter how hard you try, you will always miss or experience an unfortunate accident. People can't erase themselves before they've travelled back in time, but they can die while travelling. Paradoxes can't exist, so they won't. Existence protects itself. That must be what usually kills people, and I think it's also why you're stuck."

Harry thinks about that. He decides, ruefully, that they might've missed the mark with the 'power he knows not'. Someone had to survive Voldemort, grow up, have the Hallows fall into his lap, and make history.

Prophecy wasn't complicated at all, he realised bitterly. The universe was an open book; one just needed the memo. He remembered, then, what Death had revealed. Fate and time are the same concept viewed from different perspective.

He never stood a chance. He, plainly, couldn't arrange things to never become the Master of Death. It had happened, and it always would.

It was beginning to sound inescapable. "We just need more time," Hermione stubbornly repeated whenever she saw his optimism flagging.

Harry had been there for six years. Most of his visits didn't last that long. He didn't expect to be around much longer. "I won't stay away forever," he replied each time.

...

A/N: I wrote about 50 000 words of this in 2014, but I didn't like the direction it went after the third chapter, so I scrapped most of it and haven't continued. And yet, I quite like the beginning and the terribly complicated ideas that sit behind it.

Although there is no end in sight, I decided to post it, and I hope that any questions you ask might spark something and help me pick a direction for this story.

I know it's not the story you guys want me to write. I'm still working on that one.