It had been quite the shock when, as Skull had died in that future that now would never be, he found themselves shunted not into his Arcobaleno self, but that of the seven year old boy he had been when he had first activated his Flames. That moment when the sheer desire to live sparked his Cloud Flames to keep propagating his blood until the bleeding stopped, when his body first learned the ability to internalize his Cloud flames to keep him alive.
Skull had existed for far longer than Harry. Had seen far more of what the world had to offer. Where Harry survived, Skull had actually lived.
And if this truly was a second chance. A way to put a lot of the wrong things right, then he was going to seize it with both hands and not look back, even if it meant losing everything he had 'gained' the first time around.
Skull had long since come to terms with the knowledge that if he had to give everything up, he would not hesitate. There had been so much needless loss and pain because of Dumbledore and his inaction, so much death because he was too afraid to do what was necessary to end a threat once and for all.
He was a Cloud that everyone mistook for Inverted because he was loud and had the patience of a saint when tested. They saw, but did not understand that his natural instincts had been flipped entirely due to his upbringing and the fact he was never allowed to be who he truly was.
Clouds were possessive, territorial bastards who raged whenever what was theirs was threatened or taken from them. "Harry" had nothing, was never allowed to claim anything as his and only his, and was expected to share everything regardless of how he had felt about the matter. He was little more than "public property" in the eyes of the European Magical enclaves, and thus was to be kept in a gilded cage.
So it was little wonder that Harry took a step back and went to sleep, allowing Skull to take his place.
First things first... he would have to get rid of the rather poor excuse of a 'minder' in the neighborhood before he could do anything. He knew that senile squib was the reason why he had been stuck there, as she reported everything to the old man.
It had taken him a night's tireless work to find the ward stone that anchored the rather pathetic wards around the home, and slowly, methodically, rewire it so that all the alarms go to him first. Blood wards are tricky, but would fall easily enough once he was rejected as blood kin by the horse-faced bitch and her fat pig of a son. He wouldn't mourn their loss, even as he discovered with some glee that Vernon apparently had ties to the mafia, and not one of the good ones.
Mafia connections means he doesn't have to be as careful when he wipes the Dursleys out, or the adults anyway. Dudley was still a child, and all Skull would have to do is wipe most of his memories and make it look like the trauma or a good hit to the head had given him amnesia to give the boy a clean slate to work with. Most of his behavior came from his parents being complete imbeciles who wouldn't know how to raise a flobberworm, much less a child. If they had given him even an iota of discipline then his behavior wouldn't have been so deplorable, never mind the health issues he had from being obese and eating all that junk every day in large quantities.
Really, Skull was doing him a favor long term, even if Dudley likely wouldn't see it that way once he was finished.
Mrs. Figg was pathetically easy to dispose of in a way that Dumbledore couldn't help her with. She was too busy trying to keep as many of her precious kneazles and cats to think of asking Dumbledore for help or notice what "Harry" was doing, never mind that it was the same boy who had set that Animal Welfare group on her on top of unleashing the darker side of Surrey's gossip circles regarding how she paid for her house and bills.
A single hint of a 'cat mill' was enough to send the senile squib out of Surrey, and by the time she realized there was no way she was getting her cats back he would be long gone.
Next came Vernon and Petunia. He vaguely recalled a class trip to London, and a little magic convinced the fat bastard to sign the slip and pay the small fee for him to go with Dudley.
It's easy to slip away from the class, the teachers too busy dealing with an irate Dudley over the fact his ice cream doesn't have the desired amount of chocolate to it and the vendor is wisely loathe to give him another for free.
Skull finds the English underworld with the ease of someone who had been there before. And, thanks to the fact no one is expecting "Harry Potter" to show up at Gringotts so soon, no one is any the wiser that he is using a backdoor into his many, many vaults.
Namely the fact he is using the Peverell vaults instead of the Potter or Black, which were almost certainly watched for any unusual transactions. The goblins were more than happy to audit the vaults...specifically the Potter-owned ones... in an effort to cut all funding to the Dursleys as well as any transactions made in his name without any actual approval.
Goblin audits took months, if not years to clear up and made things needlessly difficult for any witch or wizard trying to access their precious gold. Most wizards had never even heard of the concept of 'receipts', much less bothered to do their own accounting. They trusted the goblins to do all the money pinching unless they were relatively poor like the Weasleys were.
Which meant the Dursleys would have to provide actual proof that they were using the funds sent to their account every month on his upkeep. Proof Skull knew damn well didn't exist.
Vernon would find his fat bank account gouged by the less than amused new blood (muggleborn) accountants hired by the goblins to act as their go between in the non-magical side of things. Skull easily avoided the house, only making a token appearance long enough to keep the rapidly decaying blood wards from falling completely.
It was with vindictive glee that Skull learns of the hit placed on Vernon and his family as a warning to the others who follow the fat pig.
The Vindice weren't likely to bother looking into who actually claimed the bounty on the bastard with an active contract on his head.
Vernon and Petunia are found dead, two days after their murder. Skull left Dudley in an orphanage with very little if any memory of who he was or who his parents were, with an obvious head wound that would explain the amnesia.
In a way, Skull is rather grateful to that bastard in the Iron Hat. If not for the fact he had been stuck for thirty years as a toddler-sized man, he never would have picked up the skills needed to bluff his way into getting an ID and passport under his preferred nom de plume using the money he got from killing Vernon.
With Dudley 'missing', Vernon and Petunia very much dead and not likely to bother him again, Skull de Mort disappeared into the mists.
Skull was rather pleased with himself. Not only was he actually going to enjoy his childhood for once, but it was becoming increasingly unlikely that anyone would bother him with their 'well meaning intentions'.
The irony being that everyone assumed him to be a midget (in the non-magical world) thanks to his quick thinking and acting skills, or had recently suffered either a potions accident or had goblin ancestry that forced him to go through his magical majority a second time.
So it was with great shock and disbelief when, while in Italy, he stumbles across a familiar face on a child both older and younger than he remembered seeing.
Seeing the great Reborn scouring the trash cans for food after his mother's death, when he failed to complete a hit because of what he considered weakness... it was a major shock.
It was the Cloud who shielded the Sun from view when things got to be too much. It was the Cloud who stirred the Storm, Rain and Lightning into action when their Sky was threatened. It was the Cloud who provided the Rain that created the Mists that drifted along the ground.
Black eyes met startled emerald.
Skull, being a survivor by nature and a total softie when it came to children who genuinely needed help, doesn't even think twice.
He disappeared for a few minutes, before coming back with some cheap sandwiches from the local coffee shop and a cop of proper hot chocolate. It's not yet full winter, but the autumn winds are no less cold, especially in Venice where the water makes things that much worse.
Reborn scowls at him and says with stubborn pride "I don't accept charity."
"It's not charity. It's incentive to do me a favor later when I need it," countered Skull without hesitation. "I help you out now and you'll be inclined to give me a place to crash later when I actually need it. Besides, I know far too well what it's like to be so hungry for food that I'd happily go dumpster diving for something to fill my stomach, even if the food is expired or moldy."
Reborn gives him a long, hard look...and reluctantly accepted the sandwiches. It was pretty clear he wasn't used to going hungry and had never truly learned the same lessons all street kids did if they wanted to actually survive.
Skull gently rubs his back while giving him the same tips he learned the hard way.
"Small bites, and don't eat it all at once or you'll get sick later. If you eat slowly then your stomach has a chance to expand and you'll fill it up to the point where you can save the rest for later. And avoid the grates where the heat comes up... a lot of people get burns from those because they fall asleep and don't realize the danger until after the fact. Infections and burns hurt like hell," said Skull.
Seeing Reborn slow down in eating and actually listen was startling. A small seed of trust was beginning to form, and Skull could only wonder if it would last the cold, hard years that was to come later.
Skull quietly coaches Renato in how to spot the magically trained birds that could carry letters. Shows the boy he knew all too well would become the World's Greatest Hit Man in how to coach said birds to him in order to deliver a message. Shows the child who had yet to complete a proper hit how to blend in, to be able to walk away from the scene of a crime without drawing suspicion to himself and disappear into the background to avoid the many, many gangs who would eat the Strongest Sun alive if they caught him.
It was somewhat surreal, being the one to teach Renato the little things that would make him one of the most devastating hit men alive... but Skull is a Cloud and he wasn't about to let the petty 'crimes' committed against him by his Reborn taint the image of the unsure and untested child before him.
Seeing Renato make his first successful hit and the subsequent break down at the loss of innocence, it was heartbreaking. However Renato comes out of it with a resolve and a drive to be the best, to survive in a world that was already predisposed against him because of something his father did and the fact his mother was long gone.
It was a bit shocking that Skull walked away from Venice with the knowledge that he had won over a boy who would become the World's Greatest Hit Man and the Strongest Sun alive.
On an unrelated note, Skull was rather amused that he was the source of why Reborn always wore that ridiculous hat of his. Handing that tiny Sun the fedora to keep the rain out of his eyes had caused a habit that would stick with Renato for life.
(That loyalty would only be cemented the day Skull raged at the Family who took offense to the fact Renato was so much stronger than their Sky and was smart enough to refuse their invitation. Seeing that head of purple hair fighting grown men and winning, all for the sake of someone he barely knew was something that would stay with Renato for the rest of his life.)
Skull wanted to groan in exasperation, because of course things wouldn't be that simple. It was only instinctive that he look for the familiar feel of their Flames, to lean on them without even thinking twice about it and knowing they would have his back.
Seeing the cold and beaten form of Viper, Skull gently coaxed her to a safe house that was technically Black family property. Safe from the thugs who targeted the tiny Mist that saw too much and heard even more.
Viper quietly whimpered as Skull gently bandaged her bruised and bleeding form without a word. There was no expression of pity, just a quiet empathy. He said nothing as he made a quick meal and shared it with her...unlike Renato she had the sense to eat slowly and allow her stomach to expand.
It wasn't until she found a familiar family crest that she stiffened.
"You're a Black," she said quietly.
Skull looked her dead in the eye.
"I'm the heir of the Ancient and Noble house of Black. The current head is still stuck in Azkaban because it's too soon to free him."
While it hurt, knowing Sirius was suffering the Dementors, the thing that stayed Skull's hand was the fact that there was very little he could do at this moment to get him out without exposing the fact he was no longer with the Dursleys. He had spent far too long and spent too much effort to cover his trail to blow everything by freeing his godfather. That and the knowledge Sirius survived because he knew damn well he was innocent of the crime They claimed he had committed on the Potters until he broke free the moment he had a proper lead on the real culprit kept him from doing anything.
Viper quietly sipped the strawberry milk Skull had given her.
"Why are you helping me? I'm nothing more than a squib. Less than worthless and barely above a muggleborn."
Skull looked her in the eye and said with conviction "You're still family. Regardless of whether you can use magic or not, I won't let my own blood suffer. You have every right to call yourself a Black that the full magicals do, and I don't care what people say about the matter. Most new bloods come from squib bloodlines anyway... it's just that the inbreeding problem has gotten so bad that their magical pathways come out damaged."
Viper looked at him, realized he was telling the truth and relaxed.
"And if the adults don't like the fact that I'm reclaiming you, well I have no problem with you claiming the Potter name instead."
Viper stiffened in shock, before she looked at him with wide eyes and registered the scar hidden under his fringe. Realizing that Harry Potter was claiming her as family, despite her inability to use traditional magic shook her to the core.
Mists were ground-based Clouds. The two were so much alike that they either fought like cats and dogs, or they were a well-meshed unit that were nearly impossible to fight against.
Viper wants to cry. She doesn't even think of holding back this instinct when Skull hugs her.
"Welcome home," he whispered into her ear.
Another link in the chain falls into place as he leaves that city, handing over control of the home and the house elves attached to it to a grateful Viper.
Inwardly he wonders if this was going to be a pattern, this gathering of the Arcobaleno before their names are even a whisper across the minds of the Cosa Nostra. Before they become great enough to draw out that fake god out of hiding long enough for the Arcobaleno curse to be applied.
Either way, Viper is more than happy to act as Skull's eyes and ears in the magical enclaves, as he had helped to awaken their Mist flames long enough to mimic magic. With a proper outlet for their core, Viper is well and truly terrifying...but would be utterly loyal to Skull for life so long as he reciprocates in return. After all, Skull was more than happy to help Viper show the fools who cast her out because of her 'lack of magic' just how deadly she could be, even going so far as to help pay for lessons that would allow her to claim the title of "hedgewitch" and at least be able to hold her head up high against the more uptight pure bloods.