Story: [Lifetimes of Repetition]
Summary: Harriet Potter woke up in the cupboard under the stairs again. She isn't surprised. Hasn't been surprised by that in a very long time, actually. Fem!Harry, Time-travel, Femslash.
Genre: Romance, Adventure?
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Philosophically, one of the first things a person learns about the world is that there aren't ever any true 'endings'. There are endings, but they are in truth perhaps more accurately called beginnings, as what once was become something different.
A life ends, and the world 'begins' in the sense of the world continuing on without that life.
However, it should be obvious that certain endings could be true for certain people. The person whose life ended, for example, would obviously have ended. It could be argued that this would lead to a new beginning of 'being dead', but unless one believed in an afterlife this was a bit like grasping at straws.
For Harry, perhaps the best way to describe her own existence was to simply say that it was completely free of endings. It was a... frustrating kind of existence.
She had long since lost count of how many lifetimes had passed since the first time she'd woken up again in the cupboard under the stairs. She still counted them, but it was impossible to count them accurately without any kind of reference-point, so it became more that she could remember doing a certain thing 'six lifetimes ago' rather than calling it something like 'her sixteenth lifetime'. Unless she was referring to the absolute beginning of her repeating lifetimes.
She'd never quite managed to grow old, what with the war and Voldemort and her scar. But there was a point where staring out at the beginning of a new lifetime was more tiring than it was exciting. A point at which her mind and heart both grew tired, even if her body was still young.
Blinking up at the dark shadows of the cupboard's ceiling, Harry briefly wondered what life would've been like if her first lifetime hadn't included the Weasley-twins and a 'little experiment'.
At the time, it'd seemed innocent enough, and in the end she was infinitely grateful for it. But the consequences as reflected out over her many lifetimes since had been quite substantial, and sometimes Harry couldn't help but miss what she'd had.
She hadn't so much as talked to Hermione Granger in over five lifetimes. And even then it'd only been more akin to a polite greeting and deflection of question than anything like what they'd used to have.
Harry had gone along with the twins' little experiment, and landed herself with a female body that nothing anyone could think of would change back into a male one. She'd been quite upset with them and they'd been halfway to swearing to dedicate their lives to find some way to reverse it. But it wasn't like anything important had changed, and honestly it'd somehow ended up feeling more comfortable than her old body had ever done.
In hindsight, that Harry had been oblivious enough not to realize that she'd been born with a different gender than her biological body, shouldn't have been as surprising as it'd been. The Dursleys had never really approved enough of 'freakishness' like that to even allow it to pop up in condescending conversation, so that it'd even been an option hadn't occurred to her.
Still, she'd not exactly been happy with the change when it'd originally occurred. What with not actually having understood what the cause had been for her discomfort with her old body long enough to have anticipated the change. In the end, 'Harry James Potter' officially became 'Harriet Jane Potter' by popular vote in the Gryffindor common room, during Harry's third year.
Popular vote by people who'd actually mattered, that is. There'd been more than a few dissenters who'd been hoping for something different, but Ginny had always been wicked with her hexes, and Ron had a tendency to understand when certain things were important or not.
Some days, Harry missed them all terribly.
Not enough to return to Hogwarts, though whether that was Dumbledore's schemes or the uncomfortable way her fame chafed at her or simply that they were all small children who were so ridiculously childish that she couldn't quite handle it-... There were many reasons for staying away from Hogwarts.
The 'trio' of them had broken apart in Harry's second lifetime. Mainly because Ron had put his foot in his mouth and Harry hadn't managed to forgive him for it. Or rather, it'd hurt her a lot, and Ron hadn't really been... 'invested' was probably the best word for it. In their first lifetimes, Ron had been her best friend, and she'd been his. And when she'd suddenly turned out to be a girl, Ron had stuck with her.
It was the difference of 'this happened by accident to someone I care for', slowly transforming into 'my best friend is a different gender from what we originally thought but is still my best friend'. Compared to 'my new friend has always been weird and now they're suddenly a different gender, how am I supposed to trust them?'.
Ron could've learnt to be more understanding, and Harry should've been able to forgive him for some of the things that'd slipped out of his mouth – Hermione certainly always seemed to manage it – but she hadn't. It'd been difficult enough as it was, what with juggling her sudden and inexplicable reincarnation along with trying to make things better this time around, on top of trying to steer a relationship with Hermione and Ron that wasn't based on surviving a mountain troll. And so her second lifetime was the last time she ever reached out a hand in friendship to Ronald Weasley.
Her third lifetime, she still reached out a hand for Hermione. Hermione had understood her, had been willing to accept that Harry desperately needed to sit in a corner and mope about how her life was terrible because her best friend was an insensitive jerk. But that was when Hermione had also been hurt by the chasm opening up between her two best friends.
Hermione tended towards obstinate, and when she saw no reason for Harry moping in a corner during her third lifetime, she decided that Harry should obviously stop doing it.
Their duo broke down in record-time, and then Harry had no friends at all.
In hindsight, Harry could've probably easily become part of the trio once more, if she'd just been a bit more understanding of why Ron was a loveable prat. But that was an understanding that had reached her through a dozen of the lifetimes since, and by then she couldn't really recognize the two bickering children as the two war-torn friends of her first life.
Continuing onwards from there, Harry's fourth lifetime had been quite miserable, as it turned out that Luna – despite being great – was best received in small doses, and Neville was simply too frustrating in his insecurities and awkwardness for Harry have the patience to deal with him for extended periods of time. By the time her fourth year had come around in that lifetime, she'd resorted to mail-ordering philosophy-books in a desperate attempt to keep sane.
And then there'd been Fleur.
Removed enough from the Weasleys to not make it feel like Harry was stepping on Ron's toes, but close enough that she'd still been a bit like family once upon a time. Fleur swept in and Harry was grateful beyond words.
It didn't hurt that Fleur had a tendency to bring Gabrielle around everywhere with her, and she'd been so adorable in her own childish way that Harry's lonely misery had been almost casually disregarded.
But by then Harry had known that she was doomed to wake up in the cupboard under the stairs once she died, doomed to return to her lonely existence at Hogwarts for another lifetime. So when she'd stumbled across Dumbledore's plans for the Deathly Hallows, Harry had put two and two together and decided that if anyone should be allowed to live forever then it ought to be Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had socked Harry in the stomach once she realized what the true motivation behind the gift had been, but at that point Harry wasn't lonely any more so she'd been more than happy to take the hit.
Harry's fifth lifetime consisted mostly of trying to figure out what exactly had caused Gabrielle to reincarnate as well. After all, if it truly was due to the possession of the three Deathly Hallows, shouldn't Harry have not been reincarnated? Despite everything though they hadn't received any kind of definite answer before they stood in front of Death once more. Together on a train station where no train would ever arrive.
Death had called Gabrielle 'an assistant' and had more or less confirmed that giving away the Hallows like that would only ever work the one time. Harry was the owner, Gabrielle was the keeper.
Three lifetimes later, Harry would stumble across a beautiful young woman in the halls of Beuxbatons, and spend a wonderful hour in a broom cupboard, before starting to note that the beautiful young woman was beginning to shrink.
Gabrielle had responded to Harry panicking about snogging someone so much younger than herself with planting an elbow into her ribs before answering her panic with a tirade that would've caused Fleur to wash her mouth out with soap if she'd ever heard it.
Turns out, Gabrielle's biggest problem with their continued reincarnation was that it kept reducing her to the body of a child. Also, she didn't like the way it made Harry – who was never going to be anything other than willowy, no matter how old she was or how much food she was force-fed – even scrawnier.
There was something a little bit embarrassing about realizing that someone was actively trying to find excuses to motorboat her, and that her being blocked by a lack of cleavage because of lack of aging was apparently massively frustrating.
Harry wasn't entirely sure why she'd fallen in love with the biggest pervert she'd ever met, but then she was also the cutest pervert she'd ever met, so Harry couldn't deny that it had its upsides.
Still though, Harry could still remember how much her gender-change in that first lifetime had changed things. Or at least influenced them, it was hard to say what had been 'changed' when she'd never managed to try living through a lifetime as 'male'.
Sirius had nearly had a breakdown when he'd first heard about it, despite being in the middle of trying to hunt down Pettigrew. Which, considering how over-dramatic Harry's godfather tended to be, didn't surprise her in the least. But she was pretty sure that without that he would've never considered grilling her friends about her living-situation with the Dursleys, if he hadn't been overly aware of how much he hadn't known about her.
That interrogation had culminated with Sirius appearing on the Dursleys' doorstep a few hours after they returned from Hogwarts that summer, still with a 'wanted' on his head, and grinning like a loon. And Harry didn't think she could ever stop loving him for that. For taking her in, even when he barely had a roof over his own head, even when Dumbledore made threatening noises about how important it was that Harry stay safely ensconced with her relatives.
Thankfully, rather than having his entire escape-plan amount to 'Buckbeak can fly, Harry', Sirius had also grabbed ratty-looking wizarding-tent and found a good place to camp. Turns out the Blacks used to be fond enough of hunting – 'best you not ask 'what', Harry' – that they'd bought themselves a forest.
It hadn't been the most pleasant of accommodations, especially in the winter, but then that just meant that Harry had even more reason to check in on the poor sod for Christmas. And despite the cold and despite Sirius having mostly forgotten to cook since he spent most of his time 'living off the land' as Padfoot, the Christmas of Harry's first lifetime and fourth year at Hogwarts had been one of the best moments in Harry's life.
Dumbledore hadn't been very happy with either of them for it, but then Harry had still kind of been in the middle of reeling from losing her male body and coming to terms with her gender-identity, and Dumbledore hadn't really been very happy with that either so it wasn't like Harry could be bothered to listen to the old man.
An attitude which had prevailed once she realized that he'd always known about the horcrux hidden away in her scar. The horcrux that was keeping her alive.
Harry had barely lived to be eighteen in her first lifetime. Not that she'd horribly minded, what with walking out there to die on her own terms. Yes, she hadn't wanted to die, but she'd already resigned herself to it. So having survived that confrontation only to be struck by an incurable 'wasting sickness' immediately afterwards hadn't been a huge blow.
It'd actually been somewhat relieving simply because it meant that she wouldn't have to face the idea of 'a life without Voldemort'. Pleasant though it sounded, life without Voldemort meant that she'd actually have to pay attention in classes, or get herself a job, a career, other things to do for a hobby beyond 'survive for a little bit longer'.
Harry huffed a little laugh to herself as she sat up in the cupboard. Death had become something like an old friend of hers by now. And the irony of realizing that the horcrux that'd latched onto her soul had been the only reason she'd lived as long as she had, was still kind of funny.
She should've died to the Killing Curse. It'd wounded her soul, after all. But she hadn't, because the wound was 'plugged up' by a soul-piece that didn't belong to her, and then when it was removed the wound started to bleed out again until there was nothing left.
Currently she should be a few months shy of eleven, which meant that Gabrielle was back to being five years old. And they were back to not having been introduced, which meant that they were going to have to decide whether to take it slow or fake a kidnapping again.
Considering what Harry knew of her lover, they were definitely going to fake a kidnapping again. Gabrielle wasn't the most patient of individuals. But then again, neither was Harry, so it wasn't like she could point fingers about it.
Beyond that, there was the question of whether or not to brave Hogwarts, or to simply hide away under a different name until Sirius started looking for her. It was usually pretty easy to get the man released, once they'd figured out a way to drag in Pettigrew into their faked kidnapping. It was hard to explain what Peter Pettigrew was doing alive with a Dark Mark and a missing finger, when Sirius Black had gone to Azkaban for killing him, without actually investigating the claims of murder.
So Sirius was going to get released... somewhere around September, probably. Unless something else happened to mess around with that. And upon release, the first thing he'd try to do was go find Harry.
But if Harry disappeared under a different legal name, then 'Harry Potter' would be deemed dead by the goblins and the Potter-family would lose their heir and have their vaults closed until someone could claim it in their stead. Generally, they were waiting for something like a bastard-child, but seeing as Harry would still be alive she could theoretically open them back up again.
Not that she would, because it would focus an awful lot of attention on her after she'd gone to all that trouble to hide herself away.
Besides, Harry had different plans for her own future fortune. Mainly in that she still needed to deal with Voldemort, and if she was going to rob one vault of Death Eaters, there wasn't much stopping her from robbing several vaults of Death Eaters.
After that, it was still up in the air. On the one hand, she had no interest in going back to Hogwarts, but on the other hand she didn't particularly feel like going to Beuxbatons either. In no small part because last time she'd agreed with Gabrielle to go there, some eight lifetimes ago, the girl had somehow managed to warp everything until Harry had become the Headmistress of the school before she turned fifteen.
There was a limit to the amount of paperwork she was willing to subject herself to experience, and that'd been far beyond the pale.
Pausing in the middle of picking the lock to the cupboard, Harry decided that she was going to visit Chachazero's vault. The homicidal little doll was kind of creepy, but there was always something oddly comforting about visiting that place.
Maybe it was simply that she'd been stressed nearly to the point of tears over her problems in hiding away underneath a different name than Harry Potter, and that Chachazero had been willing to accept her as a family-member of her late master. Maybe it was that the little doll never seemed surprised to see her, as if it'd been told that some day someone would definitely arrive who'd be worthy of being called as 'crazy as a redhead'.
Harry would've dearly wished to meet Evangeline McDowell. Dark Lady or not, the woman must've been a character and a half. A vampire who'd decimated Grindelwald's forces to the point of leaving him open for Dumbledore to duel, her name had been almost entirely removed from history, and Harry had only found it because she'd known what to look for.
Vampires generally didn't stray into the affairs of wizards. Whether that be because the wizards tended to consider them dark creatures to be hunted down, or because the vampires enjoyed their solitude, was anyone's guess. Voldemort had been impressive in that way, for convincing several vampire clans to stand with him.
But Evangeline had been a creature of solitude even amongst her own. Even if there were a few records of the child-vampire being seen in the company of a red-haired wizard. As well as – if you knew where to look – the records of a desperate ploy from Grindelwald to cause a volcano to erupt, and the way that it was foiled by a red-haired man who died stopping them. A death which coincided rather well with Evangeline's later rampage.
Chachazero had called them 'lovers', but it wasn't like Harry had been able to see the full extent of their relationship with her own two eyes, and she kind of doubted that the doll would've been able to explain whatever intricacies there'd been between them, even if she'd wanted to.
Either way, it wasn't like Harry could've argued that 'robbing Gringotts blind' didn't sound just as crazy as 'going on alone to stop a group of wizards from causing a volcano-eruption'. So being considered to be as 'crazy as a redhead'... well, Harry didn't mind it, coming from Chachazero.
And with that visit, Harry would become 'Harriet McDowell'. Adopted heir of an already established family of purebloods, which would explain why she happened to have a sizable fortune to her name.
Sure, the McDowell name didn't even have a galleon to it, but it'd once had quite a bit more than that, and Evangeline had been very careful to keep the anonymous donations to orphanages anonymous, even in her death. Chachazero said that those donations was mostly because 'lover-boy' was a wimp whose affections ruined a perfectly good Dark Lady, but the doll had always been a bit odd about those kinds of things. So everyone would be expecting a fortune to belong to the McDowell heir, and nobody would consider it odd that the heir was a tiny slip of a little girl.
Being a McDowell would also explain her desire to avoid attending a wizarding-school, seeing as how the previous head of the family had been isolationist to the extreme. Most purebloods attended one of the three big wizarding-schools in Europe, in no small part as a way to make connections. But with Evangeline's distant and mostly forgotten reputation, the idea of being home-schooled was truly the only one to make sense in the eyes of her surroundings. And it'd also help wash away some of the suspicions that'd otherwise be cropping out about Harry's abilities with a wand.
Still, even with that, she'd still need some way to deal with Dumbledore and his plans.
The man was going to want to eliminate Voldemort as quickly as possible, because he knew that the Ministry of Magic would fold like a wet towel the moment Dumbledore wasn't around to prop them up. And being as old as he was, the man was awfully aware of his own mortality. So he wanted to deal with Voldemort before he grew too old to fight back himself, or even to be a point to rally behind.
Most of Dumbledore's plans would fall apart at the seams with the disappearance of the Boy-Who-Lived, and as long as there was a bit of chaotic revolution in the Ministry from how Sirius Black was sent to Azkaban without a trial, he'd probably be too busy to deal with the immediate problems to go after Voldemort.
Maybe they could try locking Voldemort away again? It never worked for long, but it should take him a few years to escape, and Harry didn't really feel like having to deal with Magical Britain crying out desperately for their heroic Boy-Who-Lived to save them from Voldemort's return. It was always a nasty kind of feeling to be faced with the idea of simply letting the war go on unhindered from her side of things.
It wasn't like she'd ever be the kind of person capable of standing back and watching as other people suffered. Even if they weren't people she liked, or even if they were people she actively disliked. In the end, she'd seen far too much suffering in her life to be willing to stand idly by and pretend like it wasn't happening.
So, she could start out with delaying Voldemort's return for a bit by imprisoning him, and then she could simply destroy the horcruxes and get back to waking up in the cupboard again.
There was a reason that Harry called her current existence 'frustrating'.
But that was for later, right now she was going to rob Gringotts.
And once upon a time, among her first few lifetimes, that'd seemed so much more exciting, and an awful lot less like an annoying chore than it did nowadays.
One of the main reasons that Gringotts was so high on the list of 'things to do' was that there really weren't a lot of places that kept bags capable of blocking out the influence of a horcrux. Not because it was an obscure piece of magic, but rather due to the sheer obscene amount of money they usually cost.
There were other places to visit whilst she was still in London, however. Or rather, there was one other place to visit in London. Grimmauld.
Harry didn't really have any fond memories of the place, seeing as the very few times Dumbledore had managed to convince Sirius into visiting had been back during her first few lifetimes when Voldemort's reign was seemingly inevitable.
Her godfather had been perfectly happy living out of their worn out tent in the middle of the forest. And though Harry had at times worried that he'd end up freezing to death during the winter-months, he'd always made it through alright, and nobody could've ever considered said forest to be anything but well-hidden and defensible.
The Blacks had been very fond of their privacy. Probably because they otherwise would've been thrown into Azkaban for whatever it was they got up to.
So, before robbing Gringotts, Harry made a brief detour to Grimmauld. Really, it was the only horcrux she could deal with without the bags she was planning on stealing in Gringotts. Mainly because she wasn't going to actually grab the horcrux as much as she was going to destroy the horcrux.
Kreacher was an awful lot more active than most of the horcrux-guardians, and he'd be very upset to find that the Locket he'd sworn to destroy had been stolen. Upset enough to track Harry to the ends of the earth. And really, there was no need for those kinds of dramatics.
Harry only really needed enough horcruxes to weigh out her own scar along with the conscious piece of Voldemort's soul. In other words, she could make do with only three of the things, two in a desperate crisis, and it was honestly easier to set up the ritual with four of the things than it was with five of them.
So – after a brief visit to the mad house elf to both destroy the Locket and convince him that he'd simply finally managed to stumble upon the solution to destroying it, all on his own – Harry made her way to her destination. The impenetrable goblin bank made of wondrous white marble.
Despite the many times she'd done it before, even Harry would admit that it was a bit amusing to simply waltz through the doors without a care, seeing as how everyone else would likely be talking about this in awed and fearful whispers for years to come.
The true story of it however tended to be dreadfully dull. Seeing as – since one of the main tricks to remaining undetected was to not use the carts – it mostly consisted of a very drawn out hike. Tunnels upon tunnels upon tunnels, twists and turns every which way, and if Harry hadn't memorized the path a very long time ago she would've been hopelessly lost.
One of the things Harry had learnt about Gringotts over the years was that – despite how they kept insisting on their neutrality in all matters – everyone who was anyone knew exactly what they were up to.
The goblins might not care for 'the affairs of wizards' but they certainly cared about 'the affairs of wizards providing them more gold'. So a bit of paid espionage with a bit of bribery on the side, and it was easy to find out who'd been accessing what vault – and often also why they'd done so, provided that the goblins actually knew the answer.
In most cases, this was completely irrelevant information unless you wanted to know who the responsible party for someone else's sudden change of heart might've been. Bribery was big in Magical Britain, and even if nobody could prove anything to anyone, knowing who was bribing who was usually good politics.
So, very little information was surrendered by the goblins, but it was often enough information to warn people that something was happening. And Harry very much needed to be unnoticed.
She technically still had access to the Potter vault, and she could probably argue a case for accessing the Black vaults, too. But she'd need to use her identity as 'Harry Potter' for that, and everyone would immediately be informed that not only was the Boy-Who-Lived wandering around unsupervised and with a pocket-full of cash, someone had informed the Boy-Who-Lived of how to get to that point.
Considering Dumbledore's tendency towards suspecting the truth about the horcrux in Harry's scar, the headmaster was very likely to panic if he caught wind of the Boy-Who-Lived acting as if they knew what was going on. After all, the only one who could've told Harry about that would've been Voldemort, and for them to be on good terms was a disaster for a man who'd been betting on using Harry to vanquish the Dark Lord once and for all.
So, with all of that in mind, even if Harry didn't particularly need to rob Gringotts blind, it was the sort of thing that she couldn't really avoid doing without horribly compromising her budget.
That the robbery in question would also serve to leave a sizable dent in the fortunes of numerous different families who'd happily support the return of the Dark Lord? Well, that was just a bonus really. It wasn't as if they'd go bankrupt over it.
Besides, she definitely needed to break into Gringotts in order to make it to McDowell's vault, because no self-respecting goblin would let anyone near it. It was a closed-off vault, after all, with its owner dead. And as long as it'd remain closed for another half-a-century they'd be perfectly within their rights to empty it wholesale.
Not that there was much of anything in there, excepting Chachazero, but it was the point of the matter.
Shifting the gold-stuffed bag on her shoulder, Harry felt a smile spread across her face as the vault-doors appeared around a corner. This was probably her favorite part about waking back up in the cupboard. It meant that she got a chance to see Chachazero again.
It wasn't like the doll really had much of anything left to tell her, after Harry had spent more than a few lifetimes listening in on the stories the bloodthirsty little doll could remember in her last fading moments. But it was... nice.
Chachazero was one of the very few people whom she'd only met thanks to her stumble into practical immortality, and there were even fewer among those who'd be so happy to see her. The doll had been alone for a long time before Harry showed up, and the sheer daring guts of breaking into Gringotts always seemed to leave the doll giggling to herself about redheads.
Gabrielle didn't much agree with Harry's pleasant feelings regarding the doll, but then Harry's lover had always been very opposed to the idea of 'crudeness'. She could be perfectly crude herself, but it was a kind of vaguely hypocritical kind of thing. Mainly centered around Gabrielle considering all British people horribly barbaric for reasons like 'chocolate frogs, Harry'.
Never-mind that there was a reason the muggle-side of Britain tended towards calling French people 'frogs' for what was considered a delicacy in that country. No, because a British person invented the chocolate frogs, the British people were unspeakably barbaric.
Harry was pretty damn sure she only did it to rile up her sister's mother-in-law. But by now it'd become something of an ingrown habit to turn her nose up against random things, and apparently Chachazero's green hair offended Gabrielle's delicate sensibilities on a deep and personal level.
If she were to guess, Harry would've put money on it being more related to envy of the hair-color being 'natural' on the doll, rather than anything actually serious. Gabrielle could be kind of ridiculous sometimes.
Either way, their first meeting had ended in disaster, and so had their subsequent five. Until Harry finally decided that perhaps they were simply not meant to share a room together. Which meant that Harry would rob Gringotts before Gabrielle faked a kidnapping on her side of things, even if it sometimes resulted in them being separated for an extra week or more.
Easily unlocking the vault-doors – despite what the goblins said, keys weren't really necessary if you knew what you were doing – Harry felt her smile grow a bit warmer.
The goblins couldn't actually ward the locks properly against someone without a key, without risking a very unpleasant cascade failure of every ward in Gringotts. Kind of like shoving car-alarms that went off during 'loud noises' right next to a bunch of other very loud car-alarms, and then having someone poke the first one into activating. The locks to the vaults were simply too close to the general vaults of Gringotts as a whole to risk it.
Wards within the vaults themselves on the other hand were... well, they were really up to the sensibilities of the ones who owned the inside of the vaults. If they wanted to pack it full of traps, they were welcome to do so, and if they didn't want to do so, then they were welcome to that too. The goblins didn't care either way.
They also had never bothered to consider a wizard who'd actually be crazy enough to be willing to simply walk to the vault of their choice, rather than be driven there in a cart – or attempt to fly there on a broom – so they hadn't accounted for that at all. Sure, there were a few dragons and other violent things hidden away in the depths of their tunnels, but as long as you didn't bring attention to yourself they'd generally leave you alone. Which unfortunately meant that the whole robbery was more akin to a day-long hike, rather than some daring high-speed chase through the tunnels.
As for McDowell, her vault had only a single ward within it. From what Harry could gather, it was designed to boil someone alive using the physical manifestation of their own greed. Which-... Harry didn't have a clue how that'd work, and she really didn't have the faintest of interests in finding out, but it'd also nearly scared her into a heart-attack the first time she'd realized that she'd tripped over it.
At the end however, it hadn't actually done anything to her, and she was still unsure of whether it was therefore faulty or if Harry herself was simply lacking enough in greed to not trigger the alarm. Either way, she'd always made very sure to disable it before letting Gabrielle enter.
Technically, there was also a second ward, but it was more of a proximity-ward than anything. And it was this one which Harry purposefully tripped.
The first and only ward she was going to do that with during this entire robbery.
"Hooh?" A tinny voice spoke up from a small pedestal. "And what are you doing, girly?"
Harry took in the sight of the small green-haired doll, still smiling. "Chachazero. It's been a while."
The doll would've probably tilted its head if it had enough magic left to move. The thought sent a brief pang of grief through Harry. This really was the doll's deathbed, regardless of Harry's actions from this point on. She couldn't replace the magic powering the doll without also replacing everything that made the doll into Chachazero. That was the way that she'd been designed by her late creator.
"Never seen you before, girly." Chachazero sounded a bit flat, suspicious of her intentions.
Harry let some of the sadness leak into her smile. "I know. That's always the saddest part."
Chachazero was silent for a little bit. "Who are you?"
"Harriet." Because even if she generally went by her nickname, her name was always going to be Harriet, regardless of whatever role she'd ever been dragged in to play. "Before you fade, Zero. Would you like to see the sun again?"
Chachazero was silent for another long moment. "You broke into Gringotts to show a doll the sun? Are you an idiot?"
Harriet couldn't quite help the startled snort of laughter that brought. She'd nearly forgotten how bluntly rude the doll could be. She really was going to miss her when she was gone again. "I've been called worse things by people far more horrible than you, Zero."
There was a wheezing sound that Harry only recognized as a strained kind of giggle because of the time she'd spent with the dying doll. "You wouldn't happen to be a redhead, would ya?"
"Only on my mother's side." Harriet finally walked properly into the vault until she could reach up and lift the doll on the pedestal.
"Should've known the kid strayed." The doll laughed to itself, sounding gleeful. "Master is going to smack him so hard he comes back to life once she finds out."
"I don't doubt it in the least." Harry straightened back up, and shifted Chachazero in her arms, until the doll was in a more comfortable position.
She'd already grabbed the money that she needed, and the fancy-looking mark that'd leave everyone scratching their heads had already been placed, so she was on her way out anyway. A simple charcoal-colored mark in the shape of a feather left behind on every vault she'd robbed.
After all, if she didn't leave some mark as to what had happened to the vaults, quite a number of the robbed individuals would attempt to go on with life as usual, as if they'd been completely untouched by the thief who seemed to have only gone after Death Eater sympathizers. And that would've been a dreadful shame.
Harry had spent years trying to figure out a mark that could compete with the Dark Mark in sheer extravagance, before ultimately surrendering. She simply wasn't over-dramatic enough to pull something like that off with a straight face, so she had to leave something a bit more subtle.
In the end, she'd settled for the feather, for a variety of reasons. She liked to fly, Hedwig had been her first real friend, the love of her life tended to grow a few sparse ones in awkward places when she got really angry, and... well, feathers were a sign of 'weight', and it could be said that she'd 'lightened their purses'.
Honestly, it was mostly the latter, but it wasn't like she'd ever tell Gabrielle that. The girl had been left blushing happily for weeks after Harry had finally settled on that mark, and Harry hadn't really been given a chance to explain in full the reasoning behind her choice before Gabrielle decided to 'thank her'. Said thanks had been very much appreciated, but also left Harry feeling like Gabrielle was going to be very upset with her if she ever found out the truth.
It wasn't like it really hurt anyone if Harry kept the pun to herself, after all. And even if she was pretty sure Gabrielle would forgive her for it, Harry was also very certain that the blonde would find some way to make her rue the day for the embarrassment of misunderstanding it in the first place.
No matter how cute Gabrielle was when she blushed, Harry really had no interest in exposing herself to that kind of thing if she could simply... not.
There was a quicker way to get out, but it tended to lead people to actually detecting her. Then again, it wasn't like Chachazero would last much longer than an hour anyway. And the doll had never been a fan of the idea of 'sneaking'.
So, instead of moving towards the exit, Harry turned a corner and made her way over to the closest dragon.
She was probably going to give a few people heart-attacks, and the Obliviators would be furious with her, but it wasn't like she could just leave them here. The goblins had no right to do this to living and breathing creatures, and Harry just so happened to know exactly how to unlock a few dozen shackles all at once.
A bit of excitement would be good for these people anyway.
And what better excitement was there than for some crazy thief to ride out of Gringotts on the back of a dozen dragons in broad daylight?
Harry kind of loved this part of her plan.
From the gleeful whoops coming from her arms, Chachazero wholeheartedly agreed.
Harry made a noise that might've been a laugh if her throat hadn't closed off in the last moment. "Again." She agreed, her voice barely wobbling.
There was a sigh on the other side of the phone, before Gabrielle changed the subject. Harry could've done without listening to Gabrielle's mostly-exaggerated outrage at her sister's crimes against fashion, but she appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.
She wasn't really sure why Chachazero's death always hit her so hard. It might've been that she was the only one to claim 'Harry' as family since the Weasleys, rather than some of the more convoluted 'welcome to the family'-speeches that she'd ended up on the receiving end of over her many lifetimes.
It might simply be that since she knew that Chachazero wasn't able to survive, being honest about how she knew about the doll wouldn't ever really cause any ripples. Chachazero didn't particularly care about any of that beyond her curiosity towards if Harry had done anything fun and preferably violent, and whether or not she was good at describing the bloodshed that had resulted from it.
The chance for honesty in regards to her origins was a very rare thing.
So Harry continued to listen to Gabrielle go on about her regular annoyances since waking up in the past again, and she tried to once again let go of the way her chest ached so horribly. She'd cry herself out sooner or later, and Gabrielle would stay and continue talking until the end.
It'd be better to be next to the girl, but Gabrielle always tried to arrange her kidnapping to be comfortably separated from the actual robbery in time, and it wasn't like she'd be able to leave France before then. Honestly, Harry was pretty sure she was actually just making up excuses for missing Fleur's send-off to Beuxbatons at the start of the school-year – because it tended to be a big and overly complicated affair, and Gabrielle really liked to sleep in during the mornings.
Harry was legally Harriet McDowell once again, and now she just needed to break into the Ministry and forge a few papers. Which would take her maybe an hour. After that she'd be able to go hunt down the horcruxes for Voldemort's prison, and then Gabrielle should've mostly finished faking her own kidnapping, so they could move on to framing the Death Eaters who would've actually been willing to perform said kidnapping.
There were tons of Death Eaters who deserved to be arrested. But most of them deserved to be arrested for things like bribery and tax-evasion. Not for crimes that they wouldn't commit except when under duress.
Considering how Harry would be busy dealing with both Quirrell and the Diadem, that would leave Gabrielle to track down the various Death Eaters they were planning on framing for her kidnapping. However, they kind of needed to time these things properly so that Voldemort's soul was actually inside of Quirrell by the time Harry broke into Hogwarts.
As for Quirrell, he was always a frustrating conundrum. On the one hand, he'd be dying from the moment he let Voldemort into his body and hastening that didn't particularly hurt Harry's sense of morals. But on the other hand he was so... pointless to kill.
They'd originally thought that maybe removing Voldemort from Quirrell would result in something a bit like removing Voldemort from Harry's scar. A relatively harmless procedure that usually meant that Harry had about six months of soul-withering to endure before she died, but which also placed the soul-piece being removed into an easily-imprisoned physical object.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out like that at all. Not only was sapience apparently a really big thing when it came to soul-pieces, the removal of Voldemort from Quirrell usually resulted in the man's very quick and painful death.
The frustration mostly amounted to a sense that this could've all been solved so much easier if only the horcrux-ritual – which they were basing Voldemort's removal from Quirrell on – wasn't so utterly useless at stripping a soul-piece of its sentience.
After all, imprisoning Voldemort's horcruxes was easy as long as you knew what you were doing. The prison had as a result been designed mainly around the idea of using the horcruxes themselves as a kind of resonator to trap the sapient Voldemort within a ward. It was a theoretically flawless piece of work, but Voldemort always managed to figure out some new way to bend that theory until it all came apart and he was free once more.
Horrible madman though he might be, nobody could deny that he was a genius with magic.
Still, another day and another attempt at it. So far they'd set up a ward to interfere with the frequency of Dark Marks, so that Voldemort couldn't use the leverage of him technically being reflected in those in order to inch his way to freedom. Then they'd stabilized and relocated the ritual circle so that Voldemort couldn't use his own magic to banish it one pigment at a time until it failed on its own. After that there'd been a ward to keep the different horcruxes from reacting to each other beyond the imprisonment-ward. And then finally they'd had to adapt a regret-clause into it to keep Voldemort from undoing the enchantments on the various horcruxes through sheer obnoxious spite towards the lot of them.
Having Voldemort in a single soul might sound like a great idea, but seeing as it sent Harry's lifetime-clock ticking down the six months of soul-withering, she wasn't very appreciative of it. Not to mention that the sneaky bastard would be able to run amok for however long it took Harry to wake up from having been knocked on her arse from the feedback. And then she'd have to track him down, and it usually just devolved into a horrible mess. So the regret-clause had been added to avoid that scenario, even if it'd been mindbogglingly difficult to implement.
All in all, Harry didn't really hold out much hope that this time would be any different from their previous lifetimes, but he needed to be dealt with and Harry didn't want to have to bother with him for as long as possible, so imprisonment it was.
After all, if she just killed Voldemort immediately, she'd only end up waking up in the cupboard again in another six months and have to do it all over again. It wasn't even as if they could use the Philosopher's Stone to stop Harry from withering away, because unfortunately the Stone couldn't actually heal anything at all. Sure, it could 'refill' someone's life, causing them to recover quickly from injuries and illnesses, and hindering aging from ever taking root.
But it couldn't heal damage to the soul, and so it was a bit like trying to fix a leaking water-bucket by pouring more water into it. Sure, it'd keep her alive, but there was a limit to how often one could imbue the elixir, and unfortunately Harry tended to wither away quicker than the Stone could replenish her vitality. Usually, she'd gain somewhere around another year on top of the regular six months, depending on how active she tried to be during that time.
Considering how a lot of people tended to get very suspicious about Harry's health during those attempts, she usually ended up lasting barely a full year after the removal of the horcrux from her scar, simply due to the great many people who wanted to 'talk' with her about it for one reason or another.
Better to die peacefully after six months than spend a full year being hounded by people every step of the way. Besides, it wasn't like the Stone made the whole process less painful.
So no, the Stone couldn't cure her, and the prison could never hold Voldemort. Which meant that she'd be lucky for this lifetime to last a decade, same as she tried to be lucky in all of her previous ones. And then it'd be back to waking up in the cupboard again.
Harry was more than sick of the repetition, but it wasn't like she could really do anything about it except try to stay alive longer.
Gabrielle had briefly considered the idea of sending Voldemort and his horcruxes to the moon, but from their handful of attempts at that Harry had learnt that it wasn't a good idea. Unless they could also remove the horcrux in Harry's scar and send that to the moon along with the rest of him, to keep him from following the 'pull' of that soul-piece until he was back on earth. And that was just counter-intuitive to the whole point of the prison, considering how it'd mean that she'd have six months left to live.
On top of that, whilst theoretically they might be able to successfully banish Voldemort for all time off if they could make a prison up there, the kind of perfect prison that it would need to be to trap him properly would hold him just the same on earth. Adding the moon into the equation was just making it needlessly complicated at that point.
Still, at least there was something to be said for practice making perfect, because gathering the horcruxes sounded about as daunting as robbing Gringotts did. Meaning, basically not at all.
Though unfortunately she wasn't going to be meeting Chachazero on this part of the trip, or end up releasing dragons on an unsuspecting populace.
Really, for all of his sadistic melodrama, Voldemort could be awfully boring about his choices in defenses.
If Harry had ever been in his position, she would've made sure to add dragons to the locations of all of her different horcruxes. There could never be too many dragons in any equation. No matter what Gabrielle had to say about it.
She was just jealous that Harry got to ride around on dragon-back. Even if she'd nearly killed herself several dozen times figuring out how to pull it off.
There was no need to worry about dragons. For all of their fire-breathing and bad reputation, they were really just very cuddly venomous lizards who liked to eat people.
In comparison to most of the things Harry had seen over the years, they were practically benign.
Harry usually dealt with Voldemort on her own, whilst Gabrielle cut down on their schedule by hunting down the Death Eaters they were planning on framing for her kidnapping. It was one of those things that had been agreed on after Gabrielle got really bent out of shape over how dull robbing people actually was, whereas Harry wasn't overly fond of tracking people down and capturing them in new and humiliating ways.
Gabrielle and Harriet were both two very different people, no matter how much they loved each other. So Harry was once again breaking and entering one of the 'safest places in Magical Britain' on her own.
Breaking into Hogwarts was a lot easier than breaking into Gringotts. Unfortunately, it also had a notable lack of dragons to ride out on, but since this visit was supposed to be a bit more clandestine than the great Gringotts robbery, it wasn't like Harry could really complain about it.
School was about a week away from starting, and all of the teachers had gathered in the castle to prepare for the influx of students. Which meant that Quirrell was there, along with the Stone and the Diadem.
The Stone wasn't usually one of Harry's targets though. It wasn't like it was of any use to her whatsoever, and it'd get both Dumbledore and Flamel into a snit over tracking down the thief. Frankly, Dumbledore would be annoying enough to deal with as it was, seeing as they'd be killing one of his professors in the middle of Hogwarts. The old man was sure to kick up a fuss about it.
Thankfully, with the robbery and the disappearance of the Boy-Who-Lived – which Arabella Figg should've told him about by now, even if nobody else probably knew about it since Dumbledore was in all likelihood keeping it very hush-hush – he'd be very stressed for resources to go tracking down some unknown who'd probably done him a favor. After all, Quirrell's death tended to make it blatantly obvious that the man had been possessed by something foul, and Dumbledore had gotten into enough trouble with the School Board for his hiring-standards that he'd end up breathing a sigh of relief at having 'dodged a bullet' with Quirrell being too dead to object to Dumbledore covering up the man's death.
But if Harry stole the Stone along with killing a teacher, Dumbledore would likely conclude that the perpetrator was somehow connected to Voldemort. In the sense that Voldemort might've gotten his hands on the Stone and then used Quirrell's death to regain his own body. It would've fit with his general methods, seeing as he had a distinct habit to not leave loose ends behind.
However, despite the pointless complications that tended to arise from stealing the Stone, Harry was going to be temporarily borrowing the Stone, this time around. Mostly as an experiment to see if she could use it to sort of fuse Quirrell and Voldemort together and then force a horcrux-ritual before their fusion settled properly. Theoretically, there was a small chance that they'd end up separating Voldemort's consciousness from Voldemort's soul, which – again, purely theoretically – would mean that Harry would be left with a bunch of Voldemort-horcruxes and a Quirrell with a warped mind.
In the highly unlikely scenario that this panned out, Harry would finally be able to finish that prison properly, without having to worry about Voldemort breaking out within half-a-decade. And then Quirrell would die, and Harry could actually live a semi-long and fulfilling life. Before waking back up in the cupboard under the stairs, but at least their endless lifetimes wouldn't feel nearly as repetitive if they could just continue surviving for a bit longer than a decade at a time.
So Harry was going to be grabbing the Stone. She'd just have to make sure to return it before Dumbledore figured out that it was missing. And preferably erase any lingering magical traces of the Stone's involvement in Quirrell's death.
She'd stolen the Stone enough times that it really wasn't a problem, and ambushing Quirrell had become almost laughably simple after a few dozen-or-so tries at it, let alone the countless ones that Harry had done since.
Setting up the actual ritual however was always annoying.
Everything had to be arranged perfectly, so that it'd properly latch onto Voldemort and Quirrell instead of herself. Then she had to incorporate a forceful-exorcism ritual into the mess of it, in order to properly specify Voldemort rather than Quirrell. And on top of that she had to keep the Diadem, Ring, Diary, and Cup as the corner-stones and her own scar as the key to the prison, in order to keep from accidentally imprisoning herself along with Voldemort.
It was gigantic mess of things, and it'd taken them nearly three lifetimes to figure out even the basics of it. It'd taken another six before they'd realized that it really was as perfect as they could get it, and that Voldemort was just too sneaky to remain trapped for long. Which had been a very bitter pill to swallow.
This particular one on the other hand needed to have a compensation for the Stone's presence, seeing as how the elixir couldn't be allowed to finish filling up Voldemort's life-force before Harry used that to shatter his hold on his own soul. It was an absurdity to imagine this working, in no small part because consciousness and soul were kind of one and the same in many cases, but also because the timing would have to be spot on and Harry didn't have the faintest clue how to even begin to measure something like that.
At this point, it was more a faulty experiment to see if it was even remotely plausible to use the Stone like this, than anything Harry actually expected to work.
Needless to say. It didn't actually work.
Quirrell screamed like the souls of the damned was eating him alive, Voldemort cursed and screamed as well, and then the prison took hold and nothing much changed from what usually happened. Harry got a horrible headache emanating from her scar, Quirrell keeled over dead, the horcruxes kind of sputtered and went dormant, and the magical circle keeping everything more or less under control in the Chamber of Secrets – nobody would go looking for it there, excepting Voldemort himself, and he was already trapped inside – continued to hum softly.
A failed experiment, but a successful imprisonment. Harry would've shrugged at it if her head hadn't felt like it was splitting open. You win some, you lose some.
Frowning vaguely at the sight in front of her, Harry made a miserable sound.
She really hated hauling bodies around. Especially when they were leaking ectoplasm and puke, and her head wasn't going to be making the trip any more pleasant. But she couldn't really leave Quirrell down here. Questions would be asked if the man couldn't be found, and Dumbledore might manage to track him down into the Chamber itself, and then he'd probably bust open the prison in an attempt to kill Voldemort once and for all. Which sounded like a great idea to anyone who didn't have a six-month life-expectancy riding on Voldemort's last soul-piece being destroyed, and Harry had never been very fond of the greater good, even if she could understand its necessity.
Turning to grab the Stone first – because the moment Dumbledore found out about Quirrell, the Stone would be the first thing he checked – Harry blinked a bit stupidly at it.
It'd... reacted a bit like the horcruxes? Almost as if its presence had signified another horcrux, except that it wasn't actually linked to Voldemort in any way. Except... with the elixir filling Quirrell's blood-stream, it should've been at least somewhat connected to the man. A faulty makeshift horcrux that was completely unattached to-...
A horcrux was a soul-piece. The Stone very much wasn't a horcrux – Harry had checked it extensively over her many lifetimes – but it was still... as 'heavy' as a horcrux? The same kind of metaphysical weight to its existence, and with a tenuous and already-fading connection to Voldemort.
Harry wet her lips, staring at the Stone with wide eyes, the pain in her scar forgotten for the moment.
What if she replaced a soul-piece with another soul-piece? Except, instead of an actual soul-piece, it'd only be a kind of imitation-soul? An artificial soul-piece, to replace the soul-piece that was currently the only thing keeping Harry's own soul from bleeding out.
Harry gave a brief thought towards Gabrielle – who always hated hearing about Harry deciding to experiment on herself in some way – and decided that the girl would have plenty of time to scold her for this recklessness later. Especially if it actually worked.
Taking a steadying breath, Harry set to work.
If she'd thought the previous ritual was complicated, that was nothing compared to having to invent a new one on the fly. But Harry wasn't the foremost expert on soul-magic for nothing.
The problem with consciousness is that it reminds you of the fact that your actions have consequences.
"Harriet." There's an impression of blue eyes and blonde hair. "What. Did. You. Do."
Harry very carefully didn't say anything about 'angering Gabrielle'. Whilst it would undoubtedly be completely true, it was one of those things that shouldn't be mentioned lest attention be drawn to it.
So instead, Harry went for a distraction. "You look lovely today, honey."
"Harriet." Gabrielle smiled at her, all frost and polite words.
Harry had never been very good at distractions to tell the truth. She remembered that now. She also distinctly recalled having been in a similar situation and swearing to herself to never try distracting Gabrielle in a temper ever again. Something about-...
Any response Harry might've made was preempted as the frosty expression crumpled, leaving a desperately relieved one to spread across her face in its stead.
Oh. Right. That's why. When Gabrielle got distracted from being furious, she tended to break down in tears instead. Anger was much easier to deal with. The worst Gabrielle could really do was force her to sleep on the couch for a few months, and maybe hex her a bit. Gabrielle's hexes tended to be pretty nice, all things considered, mostly just things like making her perceive the world only in different shades of green. But crying? That was just cruel.
Heaving herself into a sitting position, Harry very carefully ignored the sticky wet spot on her face that probably meant that her scar had opened rather violently. She also did her best to ignore the fact that she could see her own heartbeat from how her vision turned to gray with how every beat of it sent a fresh wave of pain through her head.
Gabrielle's weight around her neck nearly knocked Harry back down, but she managed to find just enough leverage to keep herself mostly upright on the stone floor.
That probably meant that Gabrielle had only arrived recently, which would mean that-... It'd mean that Harry had probably been unconscious for the better part of a day. Out cold on a wet stone floor, in a hidden and inaccessible chamber, doing a ritual that she'd never tried before.
Ah. Yes. That'd explain why Gabrielle had started out so furious.
Immortality was weird like that. Even if they'd died so many times over their lifetimes, it never really seemed to get easier. At least for the one who was left behind to see it happen. And Harry had nearly managed to spring that on Gabrielle a mere few weeks after waking up in the cupboard under the stairs.
Gently hugging the other girl back, murmuring soothing nothings as Gabrielle buried her face into Harry's neck, she found herself wondering about what they were going to do next.
Usually, they'd be sealing up the Chamber properly, to further delay Voldemort's escape. And then they'd stage Harriet rescuing Gabrielle from her kidnappers, followed by Harriet protectively bringing the younger girl all the way back to France on her own, leading to Harriet being introduced to Gabrielle's parents.
But Harry really didn't think she could even bring herself to doing enough wand-work to make an even half-decent show of actually being the rescuer in this situation. And from the way her fingers trembled, she was pretty sure she was going to end up being bedridden for at least the coming week. So, unless they were planning on delaying the faked rescue even further – running the risk of the Delacour-family actually getting their hands on someone competent to send after the supposed kidnappers – the one who'd be playing the damsel in distress would probably be Harry.
It wouldn't be the first time Gabrielle saved her life, and it probably wouldn't be the last. But there was always a few annoyances that crept up whenever Gabrielle did it at this early of an age. Generally, she'd be labeled as an amazing prodigy and draw quite a bit of attention to herself, but the annoying part was mostly how Fleur never let Harry live it down. There was just something about Harry being rescued by a tiny little girl half her age, that never ceased to bring Fleur to the floor with laughter.
Mainly because – whilst Harry could easily pull off the whole 'diamond in the rough'-look when she herself was the 'hero' – her appearance actually made it seem as if a stiff breeze could knock her out for the count. Skin and bones prepubescent witch, rescued by child-chubby part-veela.
It was also entirely possible that Fleur just considered it hilarious that Harry was hopelessly smitten with her little sister. Which – when Harry was the 'hero' of the equation – tended to come off as fiercely protective of an innocent child, instead of giving the impression of a hopelessly lovestruck little girl swooning after her savior.
Harry supposed that she would be a lot more offended by that comparison if she didn't already know intimately that Gabrielle had ruined her for other women forever. But it was still annoying to be considered a swooning damsel.
Harry didn't swoon!
Her jaw might drop, she might forget to breathe at times, and she'd been known to make desperate little whimpering sounds when Gabrielle was in a teasing mood. But she did not swoon!
Gabrielle giggled wetly into Harry's neck. "Chéri, you swoon all the time."
Harry tried to make an offended sound, but her headache took that moment to shove an ice-pick through her skull, just to make sure she didn't forget about it. Instead, the sound was a lot more pain-filled than originally intended.
"Serves you right." Gabrielle sighed, pulling away far enough that she could meet Harry's eyes, and then she smacked her in the shoulder. "Don't do that."
Harry rubbed her shoulder, trying to look as small and pathetic as she could manage, and was halfway to opening her mouth to say something witty and sympathy-inducing.
Gabrielle kissed her.
Her lover had always known the best ways of shutting her up.
Smiling a little bit, despite the salty taste on Gabrielle's lips, Harry closed her eyes and put her full attention to kissing the other girl. There were some things that could never get boring, no matter how many times she experienced them.
The world could wait for a bit longer.
Having mostly ruined the regularly scheduled rescue by becoming indisposed at a very inopportune time, things took a bit of an unusual turn this time around.
Ignoring the fact that Gabrielle had insisted on a very thorough check to make sure that all the pieces of Voldemort was truly gone and that Harry's scar wasn't bleeding her soul dry, there'd been the understanding that their regular methods and excuses for how they decided to return to France wouldn't really fly.
Normally, they'd be taking a leisury cruise across the channel and make land close to Gabrielle's hometown, so as to best spend time together uninterrupted. After all, they generally had to deal with quite a few things getting in between them all the time, and they usually needed some time together to be properly reassured that the other person hadn't truly died and left them alone forever this time either. So taking the long way around, rather than insisting on grabbing a highly uncomfortable portkey made perfect sense.
In order to excuse that behavior however, they'd settled for simply having Harry play up her hatred of magical transportation, and her unwillingness to let Gabrielle out of her sight. They'd after all just been kidnapped, and Gabrielle was so young and vulnerable that anyone with half-a-heart would end up feeling protective of her.
As it was though, their excuse for muggle-transportation had instead landed somewhere more along the lines of Gabrielle refusing a portkey because she was very worried that Harry would end up getting hurt by the rough landing. With an added understanding that it's an awful lot easier for a witch to muggle-hitchhike with a wand, than it is for a small child to convince a bunch of grownups that they should be allowed to go home already.
There was also how Gabrielle was going to be stuck playing up a distrust for adults and authority-figures for the next few years, likely with an extra helping of disgust towards the British Ministry of Magic.
Which should make it an awful lot harder for Dumbledore to convince anyone to stick their noses into the rescue of young Miss Harriet McDowell from former Death Eaters. Not that he was overly likely to go looking for her, especially if Gabrielle ended up with all of the credit for being a prodigy who 'rescued an older pureblood witch' rather than Harriet's actual name and description. But it was always nice to have a few extra angles covered.
The Daily Prophet did indeed not bother with the energy of tracking down Harry's name, beyond having the goblins admit – reluctantly, they were always upset that their reclamation of the McDowell-vault was delayed with another century or two – that she was indeed a pureblood heir. A long-since-orphaned heir at about the right age to start at Hogwarts, who'd been found after an unknown amount of time by Gabrielle when she herself had been kidnapped.
What little the Daily Prophet had to say on that account mainly consisted of Gabrielle being very scared at being kidnapped, only to find her resolve to escape and bring her kidnappers to justice after she realized that she wasn't their only victim. It would've been quite touching, if it hadn't driven home to Harry just how badly people were going to worry about her having been in the kidnappers grasp for 'an indeterminate time'.
Mostly though, the Prophet had decided to focus on the many different charges that'd be leveled against their kidnappers, who'd been such supposedly respectable citizens previous to these accusations. It was a mixture of disbelief in the accusations – if they paid the bribes – and condemnations for pulling the wool over the eyes of their surroundings in regards to their horrid ways – if they didn't pay the bribes. Which kind of described Magical Britain all over.
There were more than one reason for Harry having tried a few times to go off and live as a hermit, rather than continue dealing with people.
France's journalists were much more vocal about things. Mainly, they were yelling about a French citizen – particularly a young little girl – being kidnapped by English wizards, and how this meant that someone in the British Ministry needed to be held responsible for it. With a few extra side-notes of praising the young prodigy of a witch who could manage to outwit nearly a dozen adult wizards and rescue an older hostage at the same time.
A few pointedly casual comments from the alumni of both Beuxbatons and Durmstrang about how Hogwarts standards must've fallen horribly if an entire group of its graduates lost to a single little girl who hadn't even started school yet. But that was really par for the course with these things.
Nowhere did Harriet's name show up, which was a good sign. Usually, when the name of 'McDowell' showed up in text, most of Germany tended to suddenly get very very quiet. Suspiciously quiet, really. And 'Harriet' usually drew Dumbledore's eye, since he couldn't find his Boy-Who-Lived anymore. So hopefully the lack of her name in text would keep things from snowballing too far out of control in the immediate future.
Not that really any of that mattered to their arrival in France.
After all, it would've been remarkably silly for a traumatized and probably slightly paranoid little girl to tell anyone which ship she'd be crossing the channel on. At least, anyone other than her close family.
The Delacour family looked much like they usually did. Apolline had a few less gray hairs than the last time Harry saw her, Fleur looked more lanky than lithe, and their father had lost maybe a wrinkle or two. Their entire family aged very much like fine wine, and Harry was only marginally jealous of it.
Playing the hesitant follower to Gabrielle's enthusiastic charge towards her family, rather than the protective knight escorting her there, Harry wondered how that'd develop over the years.
Usually, when they got into a small-but-constant role like this, it'd end up influencing them for the rest of the lifetime. And whilst Harry had escorted Gabrielle to both dinners and balls and vacations, the thought of being the one to be escorted in turn was... at the very least slightly entertaining.
It felt a bit easier, to be allowed to trail after Gabrielle with a fond and trusting smile, than to have to glance around her with a frown looking for threats. Gabrielle was probably going to be enjoying the change too, since it'd mean that less people would go out of their way to consider Gabrielle 'the child' when she was clearly 'the competent one'. Being talked down to by adults tended to be annoying, even when you were barely entering puberty, earlier than that and it was pure hell.
"Maman, papa!" Gabrielle cried in delight, hugging them both most thoroughly.
Following in the blonde's wake, Harry took in the scene in front of her for a moment, before Gabrielle launched herself away from her parents to run back and grab Harry's hand, in order to physically drag her forward to be introduced to them properly.
Harry was pretty sure that Gabrielle's body tended to function in quick bursts of activity at this age. But she wasn't sure if it was due to her acting out her own youth, or if it was instead related to some kind of involuntary body-chemistry.
Fleur had looked a bit lost at not having been included in the original charge, and was now frowning a bit jealously at Harry. But Fleur was always going to be very protective of her little sister, and there wasn't much Harry could do about it except continue making Gabrielle smile. It'd resolve itself in time.
The actual introduction still managed to be more than a little bit awkward however, until Apolline rolled her eyes at the rest of her family, and grabbed Harry into a hug. Apparently, regardless of her having been 'dead weight' in the equation of their escape, simply the act of having been a victim alongside her own daughter had convinced the woman that she was a good person.
Hopefully, that impression wouldn't be dented beyond recovery when Harry proved herself to be both hopelessly clingy, and rich enough to buy an apartment in the neighborhood. Harry hated the idea of having to elope again. Gabrielle was really fond of her wedding-planning, and Sirius tended to get just a tiny little bit too cheerful about egging them on about it.
Having spent a decade in Azkaban, despite his innocence and without a trial, had soured what little faith Sirius had ever had in authority-figures. So he was very fond of the American expression of 'sticking it to the man', even when it came to more ceremonial things like weddings.
Harry loved her godfather dearly, but he wasn't the most socially competent of people, and bringing up them eloping in Gabrielle's presence was more likely to cause gritting teeth and a sharp down-turn in the blonde's mood, than cheer them all up with his heartfelt support of their actions.
So hopefully it wouldn't come to that. Even if they were going in a somewhat unusual direction, what with Voldemort being truly dead and Gabrielle playing the part of the kidnapped hero.
It shouldn't be too long now – another week at the most – until the Ministry stopped trying to suppress the truth of Peter Pettigrew's capture, and with that Sirius would be free once more. Which meant that Harry would need to covertly get word to him about her identity-situation.
It wouldn't do to cause him needless distress at finding that his precious godchild had disappeared completely off the face of the planet. But, at the same time, she really needed to make sure that he wouldn't let something slip to Dumbledore.
Harry had never had any interest in being the Boy-Who-Lived – even way back when she'd thought that she was an actual boy – and having it forced upon her now felt a bit like putting on a pair of sweaty socks that had been left to rot in a bog for the last few years.
She was Harriet McDowell in all ways that truly mattered. Even if she still went by 'Harry' among friends.
Harry really wished that she could say that she'd forgotten how bothersome Fleur could be when she put her mind to it. However, that'd be a lie, since the girl almost always ended up taking offense to Harry's presence in Gabrielle's life.
Harry still considered the girl a good friend and a somewhat beloved sister-in-law, but that didn't exactly mean that Harry and Fleur tended to get along.
If it wasn't Fleur being grumpy about Gabrielle spending time with someone else, it was Fleur dropping mocking hints about Harry's pathetic capabilities with a wand – seeing as little Gabrielle was the one to rescue her. Thankfully, Fleur was much too nice of a person to really consider bringing up a potential trauma to the face of the victim, but her dislike was very much prevalent in their various interactions.
Of course, that really just meant that Harry had a perfectly sensible excuse to invite Gabrielle to her apartment, rather than have Gabrielle invite her to her home. And, as long as she played up the 'hopelessly devoted'-angle in front of their parents, sleepovers were perfectly allowed.
Sleep was best experienced when next to Gabrielle.
Thus, by the time Sirius was released from Azkaban and actually set off to look for his disappeared godchild, Harry had once again managed to get used to waking up next to Gabrielle.
Later, that habit would become an awful lot more interruptable as well as more enthusiastic and sweaty than warm and comfortable, but that wasn't for a number of years yet. And warm and comfortable was infinitely preferable to sleeping separately.
Still, less interruptable or not, waking up was always a hassle. So Harry wasn't in all-too-charitable mood when someone decided to start knocking on her apartment's door the first thing in the morning.
Extracting herself slowly from Gabrielle's sleeping grasp, Harry suppressed the urge to wince in pain as Gabrielle had gotten tangled in Harry's hair again. It was one of those things that one got used to when sleeping together with another. Numb limbs, weird bruises in hard-to-reach spots, and long hair that somehow always ended up underneath someone else. All being ridiculously small prices to pay for Gabrielle's warm presence, but remaining definitely noticeable such.
Glancing around to see if she had anything more presentable than pajamas to wear in the general vicinity, Harry caught a glimpse of the clock. The clock that said that it wasn't even close to noon yet. Which meant that she would be going back to sleep the moment the visitor was dealt with, so she wasn't going to change out of her pajamas, and instead simply threw a robe over them.
There were times she could understand how robes had become the primary wizard-fashion in the world, but it was rarely a thought that occurred to her whilst watching Gabrielle. Robes were comfortable in many ways, but less than stellar in the visual department.
Wand slipping into her sleeve, Harry threw open the door to glare in sleepy annoyance at the interloper.
"Harry?" The voice sounded so heartbreakingly hesitant, that she felt her annoyance slip through her fingers.
"Padfoot." She smiled at the man in front of her. "So you found-..."
She was interrupted by the man sweeping her up in a hug. More desperate than happy, and a bit too tight for comfort, but Harry had always had a soft spot for her godfather. And this was his great moment of relief. That the world hadn't completely abandoned him, that there were still people he could love with an open heart, and that he hadn't thoughtlessly destroyed something precious when he'd foolishly rushed after Peter instead of spiriting her away on his own.
Sirius was always a bit clingy after being freed from Azkaban only to hear that his godchild had disappeared without a trace.
After another few minutes of hugging, a brief explanation of Harry truly being Harriet McDowell, and a casual smack on the nose for being loud enough to risk waking Gabrielle, Harry finally breathed a breath of relief.
Dumbledore suspected nothing, the Ministry was off in their own little world trying to root out their own corruption, and Gringotts was grudgingly abandoning their dragon-guards for being a much-too-risky violation of the Statute of Secrecy. There were better ethical reasons for all of these things than the actual motivations behind them, but ethics had never really been a thing that'd move Magical Britain.
Voldemort was dead, a lot of nasty people were in Azkaban, a few other innocents had been investigated and released upon Sirius's innocence being proven, Gringotts could no longer torture dragons within their tunnels, Harry was in no way connected to the Boy-Who-Lived, Gabrielle had mostly moved in to Harry's apartment, and the only true parental figure that Harry had ever accepted into her life was happy.
If life could continue on like this, with her growing up and then growing older, then Harry would be satisfied.
She'd seen a great many things in her many lifetimes, everything from volcano-eruptions to the Weasley-twins becoming responsible adults, but perhaps the one thing she'd always secretly anticipated the most was to catch streaks of white in her lover's hair and wrinkles on her brow.
They'd both been much too young for far too long, and even if Gabrielle was sure to kick up a terrible fuss at the prospect of growing old, it was something Harry's heart longed to see. If only because the years that they'd spent together would finally be reflected upon their bodies, rather than just their hearts.
Still, none of that meant that Harry couldn't appreciate that Gabrielle looked unimaginably adorable when she sleepily made her way into the kitchen to complain about Harry not being there for her to wake up next to.
She barely even remembered to kick Sirius in the shin for the disbelieving and gleefully insinuating grin spreading across his face.
There was no need to rush towards old age, just as there was no need to desperately cling to their youth. Life would move onwards, and so would they. All in due time.
The King's Cross Station was much the same as it'd always been. Which was perhaps a bit strange, because Harry could remember it changing quite a bit over the years.
Then again, this was more about tradition and spiritual resonance than a true reflection of the place, so it was hardly surprising.
Gabrielle's hand was in her own, smooth from wrinkles, even if her hair still had streaks of gray in it.
A soft giggle slipped past her lover's lips, and Harry raised an eyebrow at her.
"I'd almost forgotten how tall you are, chéri." Gabrielle smiled at her, fondly nostalgic.
Smiling back, Harry leaned in and kissed her. It was strange to be the taller one again, standing on her own two legs, when she'd grown so used to the wheel-chair. In hindsight, she really shouldn't have tried to fly on dragon-back across the Atlantic when she was old enough that even her niece's children thought it sounded like a bad idea rather than something delightfully amazing to witness.
But if Harry was stopped doing things because of something like hindsight deeming an action irresponsible and silly, then she would've never gotten anything done.
Breaking away from the kiss with a startled giggle when Gabrielle's hands started getting adventurous in a way they hadn't had the energy for for years, Harry took a deep breath and turned to face their reason for being at the train-station once more.
Death remained silently patient, as they always did. They'd long since grown used to the two of them and their antics. And though it was a bit paradoxical to face the being that both was and wasn't standing in front of them, Harry still considered them a precious friend, even if they hadn't seen each other for a very long time now.
It was a familiar place. A train-station where no train would ever arrive, a train-station where they'd always end up having to come again next time. Sad and frustrating at times, but never a bad place on its own.
It still felt a bit different this time. So many things had happened that would suddenly not have happened. Harry had become an aunt, and then a great-aunt, and then a great-great-aunt. She'd watched a few more revolutions pop up, both violent and peaceful. She'd listened to and helped right injustices that she wouldn't have been able to even begin to imagine during her youth, and they'd fought long and hard for a great many different things.
Life was like that. It wasn't perfect, could never be perfect. The world continued to turn, new problems came into being even as old ones were solved, and life continued ticking onwards.
She'd be sad to see it go. Sadder than she remembered being before. Even if it meant seeing a lot of people she missed again, to have to return to the way it once was felt like reason enough to grieve. There were still many injustices left to fight for, and regrets over things they could've done better, but it felt like it'd been shambling along in the right direction and they'd come so much further than ever before.
Feeling Gabrielle bump her shoulder into her own, Harry blinked and turned back to face her. Her beautiful face was solemn, and Harry smiled sadly at the sight. It was another lifetime with Gabrielle, and she could never hate that, no matter how tired she felt.
A strange sound interrupted whatever was to come next.
Steel straining, vibrating under the shifting weight of something else, and the distant rumbling sound of an engine.
Harry felt her jaw drop at the sight of a train pulling into the station. Old and worn down, there was no mistaking the Hogwarts Express.
Gabrielle's grip on her hand was almost painful, and she could barely breathe through her own throat.
"That's-..." Harry threw her eyes towards Death, desperately hopeful in a way that she hadn't been for a very long time. "That's really our train?"
There was a nod from the being that wasn't there. Solemn and paradoxical as always, as they motioned towards the train as if to encourage them forward.
Harry felt tears begin to flow down her face, suddenly exhausted to the point where she could barely place one foot in front of the other, and she heard Gabrielle sniffle in a way that she hadn't done since the first time she'd held their niece in her arms.
The steam billowed out as the train's whistle released the pressure on the engine.
And perhaps it was time for 'beginnings' in this world that didn't belong to themselves. Perhaps, now finally, there would be an end to their part of this long and endless journey.
Hand in hand, Gabrielle and Harry stepped onto the train.
A/n: Before anyone comments on it: There's a very big difference between living a long and fulfilling life, before moving on. In comparison to deciding to surrender against the world's onslaught because you can't imagine a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you ever feel like that's an apt comparison to your own life, please don't hesitate to turn to someone for help.
I originally wrote this for the sake of time-traveling unaging lovers. It's faced some truly massive revisions since then, because I very much didn't know where I was going with it in the beginning. But yeah, I'm very fond of it.