I apologise for the delay in updating, but my life was extremely busy those past two months and I was stuck on a very important scene in the next chapter that might have influenced what I had written in this chapter. Thank you for all your wonderful reviews! You guys are awesome!
smithback: Thank you! I'm trying hard to keep this story bashing-free, so I'm always glad to hear that it works ;)
rainnie: I imagine that Harry must have some sort of plan on how to prove Voldemort that he is a Gaunt, but I agree with you, he is asking for trouble by using it :P
Pheebzu: I love to hear that some of my Victory Day readers have moved on to this story after my first was done. Makes me feel all fuzzy inside, hehe. To tell the truth, I think that I wasn't very original when I made Harry stay at the Malfoy's like in VD, but part of me still wanted a deeper connection between Harry and them, even if the circumstances are very different. Plus, I always try to use as much of canon as possible in my stories to ground them in the original world when the plot is so far from the original narrative. Part of that strategy includes using locations that are described in the books as much as I can. About the time period, well, I feel like the First Wizarding War is rarely explored in fanfictions, but that it offers interesting possibilities because we know in general what happened, but not in details. I hope you will like my interpretation of it. As for the nicknames, you'll see ;)
pooka: I did think of making them friends, but Severus already has such an abrasive personality that who knows if he will let Harry in? I think that Harry will try, at least, because in these unfamiliar times, he will cling to people that he knows from before.
ELi: They will meet soon, I promise! ;)
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Chapter 6: Chance meetings
"Interesting. Hum, very interesting. I haven't had a customer so difficult in quite a while. Decades, indeed," mumbled Ollivander before he disappeared between his shelves once again.
Harry barely refrained from going in after him and picking up his wand among the lot. He didn't want to pique Lucius' interest even more than it already was, however, so he stayed put and sighed mentally once again.
Why he thought the wand choosing process would go more swiftly the second time around was a mystery. His grown Magic was increasing the extreme reactions of the wands rejecting him and more than once already he had to forcibly snuff out the agitated power to prevent the wands from exploding and hurting the other two. He didn't think Lucius had noticed his efforts, but judging from the wandmaker's careful glances in his direction, the latter certainly had.
When Ollivander came back with a familiar wand in hand, Harry had felt conflicted. What if the Harry of the past would need it? Would there even be another Harry here? He had managed to check the date on a Daily Prophet as Lucius and he had walked through the Alley to come to the shop and had discovered that it was the 10th of November 1979. With a quick calculation as he waited between two wands, he had determined that he would have normally been conceived around this time. Considering that he hadn't changed the timeline much at the moment, he didn't think he had done anything yet that could prevent him from being born. The Unspeakables hadn't told him what would happen if he did, but Harry didn't fancy vanishing out of thin air if he did something that interrupted his parents at the wrong moment. He would therefore try to not create ripples in the timeline for a while, just to make sure it didn't happen.
Harry considered his old wand carefully and felt a twinge of anticipation. What if he had changed too much and the wand didn't like the person he was now? He shook the thoughts off and boldly gripped the familiar wood.
He felt his Magic flare and the wand pulsed in answer with a blinding white flash. He quickly cast a charm that would clear the black spots away from Lucius, Ollivander and his' vision and prepared a reassuring smile for the older man. When the other started to go through his "curious, very curious" speech, Harry wondered whether he should stop him or not. In the end, he decided that it would only lend credence to the background he had chosen with the name Gaunt, so he simply listened as Ollivander informed Lucius about the brother of his wand.
Lucius feigned indifference, but Harry could feel his calculating eyes weighting him up and carefully considering everything Harry had told him so far. Harry had wanted to appear interesting and powerful to the Death Eaters so that they opened up to him more easily, but it seemed now that he had made the interest grow into a curious scrutiny that could become problematic.
"If I may?" asked Ollivander suddenly, reaching forward with reverent hands. Harry, who wasn't expecting any further comments from the wandmaker than the ones he got the first time, found himself confusedly giving back his wand to the other. When it left his right hand, he felt a twitch of uncertainty. What if Ollivander said it wasn't a good match in the end?
The older man turned the wand in his hands, twirled it and rolled it in his palms, all the while making strange groans which Harry could not interpret positively and made him twitch in worry.
"As extreme as was this wand's reaction to you, it doesn't feel like it has your complete allegiance," said Ollivander with a pronounced frown.
"What do you mean?" asked Harry, worried.
"Is your first wand, the one you said you lost, still...intact? It was not...ruptured?" whispered the old man, glancing at the stakes of wands behind him as he was afraid of their reaction to his words.
Harry blinked, not quite sure how to respond. His old wand was still intact, but he had left it behind in the future, so surely it couldn't interfere in the past?
"Er, I'm not sure what happened to it after I lost it," he answered tentatively.
Ollivander grumbled and muttered lowly to the wand. Harry wondered if he could somehow communicate with it, but wisely kept his mouth shut and waited for the other's conclusion.
"You have another wand's allegiance, but someone else is using it at the moment. This wand accepts to share you. Great things, from you, we can expect. Great things, indeed," he declared after a moment in a hushed voice.
Harry wondered who was using his wand in the future and decided that it probably passed down to Teddy. He was quite shocked to learn that there was more connection between the two eras than he previously thought. Perhaps time was less linear than most thought, in the end.
"Oh, well, one of those thieves probably uses it, then," he explained with a shrug, before he extended a hand nervously. "May I have my new wand back now? Or does it require more tests?"
Ollivander rubbed the varnish on the wand one last time before he handed it to Harry. His piercing stare was just as eerie as the first time he met the older man.
As per their previous agreement, Lucius paid for his wand. Harry didn't feel at ease with it, but he had checked his meagre resources and had determined that if he paid for his wand, he would not have much money left for basic things like food and accommodation if his arrangement with Lucius didn't last. He tried to see it as a salary for his work as a Healer and clenched down his pride. Besides, he felt more secure now that he had easy access to his wand.
The two of them exited the shop and walked down Diagon Alley in the direction of Madam Malkin, which had just been opened. Harry observed the damages left from the raid the previous day as he was walking. It seemed targeted on shops he hadn't known and which catered mostly to Muggleborns and Half-Bloods. One of them, for instance, sold rudimentary Muggle technology modified for working in a magical environment. The owner was talking with a group Ministry workers who were repairing some of the damage done to the shop while some Aurors looked on, bored. Apart from those few shops, the Alley looked relatively in good shape. Not far from where they were walking, a group of people were gathered at the place where his lightning bolt had fallen, examining the ground. Harry wondered what they were searching for. Yes, the spell had been overpowered, but surely it hadn't been so unknown it deserved closer scrutiny? It would be just his luck that one of the first spells he used in the past was one that hadn't yet been created.
"That shop to the right was targeted because they refused to serve known werewolves, I heard," said Lucius in a low voice, drawing closer to him. Harry turned to reply, but before he could say anything, he heard a chuckle in front of him.
He glanced in that direction and spotted high cheekbones, curly black hair and pale blue eyes. Harry's heart skipped a beat, thinking he was about to meet his godfather in the past, but then he noticed a few differences in the face, like fuller lips and a sharper chin, and he recognised Regulus Black with a jolt.
Harry felt reassured that Sirius' brother was still alive. He had a theory that Voldemort had started to become really insane after the Locket Horcrux was done and that explained why the last year or so of his first rise was so chaotic and destructive. At least now, he knew he still had a chance to prevent it from happening and to save Sirius' brother from his tragic fate.
"Naughty, naughty Lucius. You just announced at the Samhain ball a few days ago that my cousin is pregnant with your heir, and already you are here, parading your new lover. You should be ashamed. You know, it's good taste to wait at least until your child is confirmed a boy before you take a lover," commented Regulus with a careless grin. The two bulky boys with whom he was walking chuckled in answer. Harry thought he recognised younger Crabbe and Goyle seniors. But what were they doing following Regulus and not Lucius?
"I'm not his lover. I only met him yesterday," he protested reflectively, mortified. Why would Regulus even say that?
The young Pureblood whistled appreciatively.
"Working fast, aren't you, Lucius?" he said, not acknowledging Harry's presence directly. When Harry made to reply, Regulus cut him off. "Don't even try to deny it, old man. You are wearing his robes. That shows a lack of class, by the way. It practically screams to the world that you are his lover and if I was to guess, you clearly bottomed yesterday."
Harry spluttered, offended by the comment on his age (he was not old, Merlin's beard!) and the assumption about the robes, his status as a lover and the implication of his role in the imaginary sex session. He was so shocked that he didn't know by which point to begin his defence.
"Regulus. Don't project your unfortunate fantasies on everyone around you. Mister Gaunt here isn't my lover, he is my Healer, and you would do well to show more respect to him, to my wife and to me if you want me to allow him to heal you," said Lucius, cutting in and doing a bad job at defending Harry's honour.
"Wait a minute," interrupted Harry dangerously. "This wasn't what we agreed on. I am going to heal whoever needs my help and I won't let you hold it over everyone's head and gain some favours out of it and what not. I won't be a tool for barter and if that's what you want, then the deal is off."
Regulus burst into delighted chuckles.
"Oh, this is precious. You managed to somehow gain the support of a Healer and the first thing you do is act so controlling and domineering that he wants out? Brilliant job, Lucy," he shot, moving to pull Harry to him and to put an arm around his shoulders. At eighteen, Regulus was already taller than Harry's completely reasonable, average stature.
"Hello," he greeted, with a roguish smile that reminded Harry of Sirius. "My name is Regulus Black and I didn't mean what I said earlier. I know Lucius' pale arse couldn't attract the attention of someone as deliciously mature as you are. It just so happens that I am also searching for a Healer and would love to have you under my roof if you want to get rid of blondie here."
Harry moved to extract himself from under the other man's arm, feeling awkward at the younger man's proximity. He looked so much like Sirius that, no matter how attractive the other was, thinking of him in non-platonic made him feel ill at ease.
He had barely taken a step back that a few wizards dressed in the crimson robes of Aurors accosted their small group.
"You have some nerves, showing up here today," hissed a familiar voice. Sirius?
Harry turned around and the sight made him freeze suddenly. Of all the contexts and all the situations he had envisioned for his first meeting with his father, he had have never thought it would have happened like this.
The Marauders, alive, breathing and furious, were standing in front of him. Or, well, it would be more accurate to say that Sirius and his father were fuming, Remus looked decidedly awkward and Pettigrew quite uncertain. But Harry didn't see any of them at the moment. He drank in the sight of his father, noticing how similar to him he had looked when he was younger. Now, the resemblance was not as striking as it used to be, especially with their age difference.
It might have been stupid of him, but he never imagined his father had looked quite so...young when he died. When Harry was younger, he had looked at adults around him and had moulded the image of his father around their appearance and age. But what age was his father now? About nineteen? It was so...young.
"Yeah. You thought you didn't do enough damage yesterday? You came back to finish the job?" said his father with a sneer. Harry blinked and looked away. This wasn't the first image he wanted to have of his father either.
His eyes met Remus' curious and assessing glance. He cursed himself silently. He must have shown too much when he looked at his father. He wondered how Remus would interpret his reaction. That would make for an entertaining Order meeting: The Death Eaters and their new lovesick, Potter-obsessed Healer. Great. Everything was going wonderfully well so far.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't my brother dearest. Hello, Sirius. Have you torn down another family this morning, or is that scheduled for this afternoon?" bit out Regulus.
Harry frowned at the bitterness he heard in the young man's voice. Was there more to the story than what Harry had been told?
"It's too early in the morning for your bull, Regulus. What are you doing here?" asked Sirius flatly.
"Us? We are but innocent citizens reporting for cleaning duty after a horrible attack. We are just doing our civic duties. Are you going to turn away our help?" said Regulus, one hand theatrically placed on his heart.
"Like we would ever ask you lot for help. The repairs are already completed anyway, as you can very well see. Are you disappointed of how quickly your work was undone?" shot James Potter while Harry looked pointedly away from him. His glance landed on Pettigrew again and he frowned at him, wondering if he had already started to spy on the Order. Pettigrew had always rubbed him the wrong way and just seeing his slouched pitiful posture made an old anger flare back to life.
"Hey, you! Stop looking at Peter like that!" called Sirius.
Harry turned his frown to his younger godfather.
"He just made me think of someone I knew, that's all," he replied neutrally.
"Yeah, well, he's not that someone because you have no reason to know about him, okay?" replied Sirius aggressively.
"Well, I apologise if I made him ill at ease, but don't you think it would be up to him to defend himself if that was the case?" Harry pointed out as calmly as he could as his heart was pounding in his ribcage. Despite his mission in the past, he didn't want Sirius to hate him if he could help it.
Regulus snorted and came up to him, throwing an arm around his shoulders again, making Harry wonder at his familiarity. Had he done anything to encourage him or that was just how Regulus behaved normally?
"Them? Letting Pettigrew talk for himself? I don't think I've heard the poor sod utter a word in the five years we were together at Hogwarts," shot Regulus.
"Sod off, Reggikins," Sirius cut in. "Just because he doesn't talk to you lot doesn't mean he doesn't talk at all. It means he has taste."
James snickered at the joke, Pettigrew preened and Remus looked decidedly out of place.
"Even now, the only thing your so-called friends can offer is a pitiful defense that has for only purpose to prevent you from reaching your full potential. It's a shame that we will never know the real wizard in you, instead of that weak front you have allowed yourself to wallow in for most your life," interjected Lucius aloofly, with a small knowing smile in Pettigrew's direction.
Harry noted with some concern that the rat seemed to be really considering Lucius' words and wondered if an off-handed remark like that was all it took the first time around to make him switch side. That one comment that acknowledged there might be more to him than a poor kid who couldn't protect himself.
"That's enough!" interjected Sirius suddenly. "You're all suspects in yesterday's attack. As an Auror, I have the authority to ask you to roll your sleeves up and take you for questioning if you have the Mark."
"No, you don't," Harry blurted out, without thinking. The Death Eaters gave him curious looks. Sirius and James drew their wands warily, expecting opposition, but kept them pointing down when they saw Harry wasn't drawing his out. Lupin was throwing glances around at the growing audience while Pettigrew looked anxious at the turn of events.
"Are you refusing to comply?" asked James in a grave voice.
"I'm not refusing anything, but you just don't have the authority as trainee Aurors to ask them to roll their sleeves up without a search warrant," explained Harry like he had done so often to trainees whose newfound authority got to their heads.
"In a state of war like we are at the moment, yes, we can," contradicted Sirius. Harry frowned, but didn't reply. He shouldn't have said anything in the first place. It was possible that the laws had changed since the First War.
"Who are you, anyway?" asked James, jerking him out of his thoughts abruptly.
"Harry Gaunt," he replied immediately, mentally cursing himself for putting himself in the spotlight yet again.
"Why did you think the order to roll up their sleeves only applied to them?" Lupin cut in, frowning. "You said 'them' and not 'us'."
Harry was confused. He hadn't even noticed he said that.
"I've never heard of a Harry Gaunt," commented Sirius, diverting his attention.
"Using our genealogy lessons against us now, brother?" shot Regulus, even as he had noticeably stiffened at the name and withdrawn his arm from around Harry's shoulders.
"That's enough," commanded Lucius in an icy voice, making everyone turn to him.
"We will all roll our sleeves, and you will leave us be. Some people have better to do than stay here bantering with lowlifes."
Harry frowned at Lucius' decision. Why would they all compromise themselves like that? And just to get the attention away from him? It really wasn't worth it.
Harry schooled his features to neutrality when pale, unmarred skin was revealed to the crowd of onlookers and to the two Aurors trainees.
Were they not marked? But they had all been at the end of the war and Harry had sensed the Mark when he had healed Lucius the day before. Could their Mark appear and disappear at will during the first rise? That would be so much more convenient...
"Well, Gaunt, we're still waiting for you," said James, visibly frustrated that they didn't have the grounds to arrest them now that they didn't have the Mark.
Harry couldn't stop the surprise he felt from showing on his face. Nobody had ever suspected him to be a Death Eater before, that was for sure. A bloodthirsty psychopath, yes, a deranged pathological liar, yes, but never a Death Eater.
He rolled both of his sleeves up like the others had done and showed his forearms to his father and godfather, who looked noticeably disappointed.
"You really aren't one of them, are you?" commented Remus knowingly. "You still didn't include yourself in their group when James asked you to roll your sleeves up."
Lucius and Regulus pursed their lips, but looked at him, evaluating.
Wow, had he messed up so much he had nullified all the nice headway he had done with his little speech to Lucius on curses this morning?
"Well, I met Regulus for the first time about ten minutes before you arrived and, to be perfectly honest, although he doesn't seem to respect personal boundaries and is a bit clingy, I rather prefer his behaviour to the way you have treated me so far. I mean, you two are supposed to be Aurors, defenders of the weak and enforcers of the law, but all I have seen is you randomly targeting citizens because you personally didn't like them and trying to arrest them. That's misuse of power, by the way, and I have half a mind to report you to your superiors," said Harry in the self-righteousness he had often been faced with in his years as an Auror and from which every trainee he had ever seen had shied away unfailingly.
As he had predicted, Sirius and James stopped short at his accusation and offered the standards polite apologies they had learnt in their class before creating an excuse and dragging Remus and Pettigrew away.
Harry waited until they were gone before he let a satisfied smile grow on his face. Hopefully, they'd think of their actions and correct their behaviour accordingly. From what he had seen, they hadn't grown up so much from the Marauders days in Hogwarts. Then again, they were only nineteen.
Nineteen. So young, he thought again. He really had to get over this age thing.
Around him, the junior Death Eaters guffawed as much as their stuffy upbringing allowed them to and clapped on his back with wide smiles on their face.
"Well, with all that, I have to go. I'm afraid this little confrontation made me late for my appointment," said Regulus, still smiling. "It was an absolute pleasure, Healer Gaunt. I hope to see more of you soon, despite the harsh way you described me earlier. If you want to drop Lucy and move on to greener pastures, remember, Grimmauld Place is opened to you."
Regulus bowed theatrically to Lucius and him and left with Crabbe and Goyle trailing behind.
"Pff," huffed Lucius delicately. "You certainly wouldn't appreciate your time at Black's home, trust me on that. Ever since his father passed away earlier this year, his mother's sanity has severely degraded and she shouts like a harpy at everyone who isn't a Black. I can barely stand it myself when Narcissa does social visits to her aunt. I have recently opted to stay home on those days and I advise you the same."
Harry nodded distractedly, as he looked at where Regulus was heading. A Wizarding lawyer's office. Did he already go to the cave? Was he about to go? Did he know he would die very soon and needed to make a will? Did he have an appointment about something completely different?
"Are you coming? You still need new robes. Regulus was right when he said it was of bad taste that you wore some of mine. Even though I changed the colour, someone could still recognise their style and I don't want nasty rumours spreading," explained Lucius as he walked him to Madam Malkin.
"What do you think is Regulus' appointment about?" asked Harry, before he could stop himself.
Lucius sighed and stopped in front of the shop window. He furtively checked around before he cast a Muffliato. Apparently, Snape had shared his creations with Malfoy already.
"Regulus, like many of us implicated closely in the conflict, is worried for his mortality. We all have our wills up to date in case an...accident happens," he said, feigning to be absorbed by the store front.
"So you think your cause is worth dying for," asked Harry, curious of his answer. His question might be slightly naïve, but he had always thought that the Death Eaters went into combat thinking themselves invincible and the fact that Lucius had recanted his position so easily after Voldemort's first fall seemed to indicate such a lack of conviction.
"I would rather die than live in a world where the Light ideology continues to corrupt our Magic and endanger our survival," replied Lucius firmly.
Harry was curious to know what had made him change ideas in so short a time period. Was it living under the thumb of an insane leader for the next year or so, or perhaps having a child of his own and wanting to see him grow up?
"What makes you think our species is in danger?" asked Harry, the question striking a cord because of what he had lived in the future.
Lucius turned to answer him, but the door of the shop opened at that moment, startling Harry. A Wizarding family exited, chattering excitedly without paying any attention to them. When they disappeared around a street corner, Lucius replied:
"The world order is changing, but we are stagnating. The old wisdom is ignored and the Dark is shunned. Creatures who have always been part of our society are ostracised because of prejudiced Mudblood and our Ministry makes a growing portion of our magic illegal just to be seen as productive. Our government is a beast that grows fatter, more impotent and more corrupt as the Light draws away the power from the families and clans and centralises it in a pigsty of chaotic and useless bureaucracy that impedes social progress and crystallises society in its current unacceptable and vulnerable state. It's our responsibility as the holders of knowledge and tradition to be the instruments of social change."
"It's not everyday you hear 'tradition' and 'change' in the same sentence," commented Harry sceptically.
Lucius smiled slightly.
"If you look at political ideologies throughout History, you can see that the progressive elements of a generation often becomes the conservative ones when the next generation arrives with new ideas. In the Wizarding World, the opposition between the Light faction and the Dark faction has always existed, but they haven't always championed the same causes. It would be wrong to hold the current Dark responsible for old attitudes and visions, the same way the current Light would probably never have allowed that agreement with vampires centuries ago that let them have their haven in Transylvania," threw Lucius in with a careless shrug. "My point is that ideologies evolve and those who used to hold the reins of conservatism might find themselves fighting for social progress as we currently are. And if part of our progress includes the rehabilitation of useful traditions that were carelessly abolished decades ago by the bearers of the Light, then that just makes us more nuanced in our principles that those self-important idiots."
"I'm sure that whoever said that speech to you first didn't use the word 'idiots' at the end. It kind of ruins the whole 'solemn' effect," Harry commented with a small smile.
Lucius reddened very slightly at the perceived reprimand and Harry was struck yet again with how weird it was to be older than Lucius and have any sort of authority over him. Get over it, he reiterated mentally. Marvelling at everyone's age in the past was quickly growing old.
And making bad jokes in your head is not much better, he added as an after-thought.
"No, he did not," conceded Lucius. "And he explained it much better as well."
Something clicked in Harry's head and he suddenly understood that he was just served Voldemort's recruitment speech, give or take a few sentences, by one of his devoted. And the worst part was that great parts of it actually made sense. Oh, he didn't agree with all of it (he thought centralised power was better than too powerful families with their own code of laws, for instance), and had spotted a few places that had been left deliberately vague, such as of what consisted exactly those wonderful Pureblood traditions that the Light abolished, but he could still work with this better than he expected. As Lucius had said, and as Draco had warned him before he left, this Dark ideology was much more nuanced that he had thought and he could see the necessity for social progress Lucius was talking about.
But understanding the principle didn't mean he agreed with the method of execution, which was why Harry would try as best as he could to avoid becoming a regular Death Eater and being sent off on pointless raids of destruction and violence.
"I can see that you are not convinced. He has a better way around words that I do, I can assure you. Maybe if you meet him one day, you'll see what I mean," Lucius threw out there casually before he took down the privacy spell and entered in the clothing shop. Harry stayed outside, stared at the door and pondered silently how a meeting like that would go before Lucius opened the door again and called him in with a knowing smile.
I still have to register my identity before I can make a Will, he reminded himself as he stepped inside to get a new wardrobe.
That afternoon, after hours of boring wardrobe selection and mindless shopping that did nothing to calm his racing thoughts, Harry finally managed to ditch Lucius and to head to the Ministry to take care of 'the Unspeakables' List of steps to create an identity'. The whole process was made incredibly easier thanks to their foresight. The Unspeakables, who had dreamt of time-travel from the moment the word was first uttered, had created false identities throughout the timeline that could serve as potential families or names for the time-travellers. One of them was a Pureblood woman of the once illustrious but now very much extinct and destitute Turner clan. Harry had made her a Squib and the unfortunate mother of his sad life story. After all, since he had chosen the name Gaunt, he couldn't very well pretend that his 'father' had a healthy relationship with anyone. As he wrote Morfin Gaunt on his immigration paperwork, he couldn't help the sneer that appeared on his face. At least, he wouldn't have to pretend any lost love for his 'biological' father.
He filled the rest of the paperwork according to his new background information. When he arrived at the date of birth, he hesitated for a moment on the year. Should he keep the same age? He thought he looked quite good, for a 38 years old man, so maybe he could pass for younger. If he kept his age, his new date of birth would be in 1941, so two years before Tom Riddle framed Morfin Gaunt for his father and Muggle grandparents' murder. That would be enough time to justify Harry's fictive mother running away from her aggressor to another country. But that would make him fifteen years younger than Voldemort. Only fifteen years younger. Considering that in his original timeline, the other had about 55 years on him, it made quite a difference.
In the end, he thought he would have less chances of making a mistake if he could be as honest as he could, so he put in the 31st of July 1941 on the form.
He felt surprisingly vindictive when he ticked the box "Pureblood". He had made himself purer than Voldemort. Oh, the irony. And, on the positive side, it was also one less thing they had in common in the past, he thought with a satisfied smirk.
After the long trail of paperwork was filled and his story had taken shape, Harry left the Immigration office with a sense of contentment. He now had a pile of forms shrunk in his pockets and appointments for OWLs and NEWTs accreditations in the next few weeks. The next item on the List was to get his wand registered at the Aurors' office but, after the confrontation that morning, he wasn't looking forward to it at all. While he waited for the lift, he pondered the wisdom of waiting a few days before he headed in. He decided against it. If people looked at his file, they might wonder why he had waited and if he had anything to hide.
In the lift, he recognised the crimson robes of Aurors and barely refrained from nodding at them. They weren't his colleagues anymore, after all. The encounter set the tone for Harry's visit in his old Department. As soon as he came in, his feet took the direction of his office. It's only after a few steps that he stopped suddenly and looked around.
"I thought you knew where you were heading when you left the elevator, but you seem a bit lost now. Can I help you?" said one of the Aurors who had been in the lift.
Harry turned to look at him and felt like he should recognise him. The young man was tall and thin and had an open and friendly face, but he still seemed wary of him. Harry remembered that those were uncertain times and that everybody, but especially the Light, doubted of everyone's true allegiances. It was not the best of times to be a stranger in the community.
He pasted on his best friendly smile and answered:
"Yes! I was searching for the...Wand Registration Office? Is that how it's called?"
The Auror shook his head in answer.
"No, there isn't a set office for that, but if you follow me, I can get your wand registered," he said, heading down a corridor to the right.
Harry followed him silently, wondering if he had faked his ignorance correctly. There had never been a Wand Registration Office since the service was only used by the rare immigrants and those who had to change their primary wands after they lost it or broke it.
The Auror led him to his cubicle. Harry deduced by the location in the Department and the cleanliness of the place that the man had just recently graduated from the Auror training. As they started to fill the required forms together, Harry wondered where he had seen his face. He passed in review the names and information of his suspects, but came up short. The unknown identity of this man was nagging him.
"Please produce a Lumos in the box," the Auror said, tapping lightly on a box to his right.
Harry was familiar with the proceedings, and complied without hesitating, his head still busy with trying to guess the other one's identity. He cleared his throat and said the spell.
The light spilled out of the box in a flash and blinded him with its intensity. He hurriedly said the counter spell and pulled his wand out, but the damage was done and the box turned red, whizzed and released a trickle of smoke before it collapsed on itself.
The Auror had backed away from his desk and pulled out his wand, but he wasn't pointing it at him. If he looked wary before, he seemed downright suspicious now.
Harry put his wand away and lifted his empty hands up.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overpower the Lumos that much. The old wand I had really didn't fit me well and I got used to channel too much power to produce even simple spells," he explained. In truth, he had always kept the same wand, but his Magic had adapted to the ley lines drains and he had learnt to push more power into his wand to produce the same effect. Now that he thought of it, the strength of the magic in the ley lines was probably why his secondary wand had burst the day before and why it was suddenly so easy for him to cast wandlessly.
The young Auror visibly relaxed at the explanation, but stayed standing. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped when he heard footsteps coming in their direction.
James Potter's face appeared in the doorway a second after.
"Hey, Frank. Everything alright here? I saw a flash," he said to explain his presence. His eyes landed on Harry and frowned when he recognised him.
"Yes, everything is fine, but could you stay here with mister Gaunt while I go get another Registration box from the Supply Office?" he asked as he spelled the damaged box to float behind him.
"Sure. What happened to that one?" inquired James casually as he stepped in the cubicle.
"Overpowered Lumos. Happens sometimes," replied Frank nonchalantly. Harry wasn't fooled by his tone. He knew that the box would be examined quite closely and he silently cursed his carelessness. He should have known Magic would flow more easily in a time when the ley lines were still intact.
Frank left and James took his place behind the desk. He leaned on the wall faux-casually and Harry knew immediately from where he had gotten his inability to lie convincingly. James was too tense for the position to look comfortable and he was glancing around periodically as if he expected an attack. Harry decided to defuse the tension by extending an olive branch.
"I apologise about the comment I made this morning. It wasn't my place to say how you should treat your friends," he offered.
James narrowed his eyes distrustfully, but seemed to recognise his efforts because he sat down at the desk with a heavy sigh.
"It's alright. We are a bit touchy about it because we feel it's our duty to protect him. We've always treated him like a defenceless kid, so why stop now that we left Hogwarts to play in the adults' courtyard?" he joked.
"Just because you graduated doesn't mean all of you are ready to be adults," commented Harry.
James lost his smile and bit out:
"We are in the middle of a war. It doesn't matter whether we are ready or not, we have to be adults."
Harry had a bitter smile. He knew the feeling very well.
"Maybe your friend feels the same way and doesn't appreciate your efforts to protect him?" suggested Harry. If he could prevent Pettigrew from turning away from his friends, he would, even if he didn't think the rat deserved their love and support. After all, the chains of events was delicate at best, and he didn't know Pettigrew enough to say what had brought him to the Death Eaters the first time. If he condemned people for crimes they hadn't committed yet, there would be no end to it. He would at least try to give them a chance, even if he suspected that his hatred for certain people would be too strong to manage to be completely neutral.
James frowned in thought and suddenly looked quite similar to the few pictures Harry had seen of himself during the peace negotiations with the Muggles; stressed, tired, overworked.
He smiled slightly to himself. He hadn't thought the side he chose in the war would allow him to get to know his parents and talk to them civilly even for a brief moment. He felt lucky to have this opportunity with his father, despite their rocky start.
James suddenly snorted.
"You know, I would be a hypocrite if I got mad at you for expressing the same opinion my girlfriend...well, my wife now, has been telling me for years."
Harry lifted an interested eyebrow.
"Ah?" he said, to encourage James.
"Yeah, she's read this book about Muggle Psychology and has come up with the idea that we are 'enabling' Peter. It said something like: we're acting as his parents and letting him stay too long at our place. She also said something about living in our basement, but I didn't really get that part," he confessed unabashedly. "You see, it's not that I don't believe in Muggle skience per se, but I don't think it applies for us Wizarding folk the same way. And since she's Muggle-bo..."
He closed his mouth suddenly, looking horrified at what he revealed. The distrust was back on his face and he tensed as if Harry was going to attack him because he had chosen a Muggle-born wife.
Harry sighed, wondering how he could reassure his father that he wouldn't make his mother a target for the Death Eaters while at the same time still keep the illusion that he was a Dark supporter.
"Don't worry about it. I don't hate Muggles, and Muggle-borns even less," he stated with a small shrug. "I think we mostly hate what we can't or won't understand. I grew up in the Muggle World and I've met too many Muggles in my life to be able to put them all in the same category."
James looked bewildered.
"But, aren't you Dark?" he blurted, tactlessly.
"Political allegiance has nothing to do with it. I don't hate Muggles, but I am wary of them because I understand them and I know what they could do to us. I think that we have to grow stronger to be able to negotiate from a position of power when or if the Statute of Secrecy shatters," he said, thinking of what Draco had told him before he left.
"So, you are Dark," stated James, to clarify.
Although it wasn't illegal to be Dark, it was still frowned upon and Harry felt a bit annoyed at the label. Just because he had been seen talking to some possible Death Eaters, he was labelled Dark until he proved the contrary. If anything, it was a good indicator of the prejudice Dark wizards faced every day.
"I don't know what you are trying to make me confess. I don't have a side in this war. I don't hate anyone. If anything, I am saddened that there needs to be a civil war for factions to be heard and their ideas to be taken into account. It shows that the government as it is can't evolve without an open conflict," commented Harry.
"No, it shows that they think themselves above the law and just want their ideas to be implemented, regardless of what the rest of the Wizarding World needs," objected James, growing angry.
Hearing his father's tone, Harry stopped and pondered in silence. In Lucius' speech earlier that day, Harry had recognised the difficulties he had to face to bring change in the Ministry policies after Voldemort's death. He had worked in that confusing, tangled mess of a government for twenty years and the only thing that had made it unclog slightly was the threat the Muggles posed when the Statute fell. Even if his father was right and the Dark faction didn't represent the majority of the Wizards, they still had some good ideas that deserved to at least be considered.
"Regardless. Magical life is precious and every death that could be avoided, from any side and any blood status, is a loss for our small community," he challenged.
James frowned, surprised by the argument. Before he could reply anything, Frank returned with a new Registration box and Harry realised that he had forgotten where he had been and to whom he had been speaking. What was he thinking, debating the war with his father? Was he craving James' approbation so much that he'd compromise his mission to get his father to like him?
"I'll leave you with Auror Longbottom, then," James said, getting up.
Harry barely refrained from slapping his forehead. He hadn't made the link between Frank the Auror and Neville's father. Decidedly, today was not his best day for environment awareness.
"And, mister Gaunt?" called James from the doorway. "If that's anything to you...I might not agree with you, but I'm starting to understand your position."
Harry smiled at him.
"That's all I can ask for," he replied. James nodded and left the cubicle after sending a pointed look at Frank. The two would probably discuss his case right after he was gone.
"Now, I got sternly reprimanded about the last box, so please be gentle with this one," Frank advised lightly.
Harry smiled in amusement.
"I'll try my best," he reassured.
He took his wand out and saw Frank tense from behind his desk. It annoyed him and he wondered if he had unconsciously acted like that with Dark wizards in his time as well. Maybe not. He had never been afraid of them, after all. Not after having faced their Lord throughout his teenage years.
He took a moment to calm his agitated Magic and get a tight grip on it before he let the slightest ribbon of power be channelled through his wand.
Slowly, he allowed his wand to glow in the box that would register its signature. A gentle light appeared, gradually become more intense. When Frank nodded to him, he pulled it out and cut off the spell, forcing his Magic down. It had grown and become temperamental with the drains, but he now realised that the jump in the past had made it even more restless, as if it lost what grounded it before.
Harry wondered if he could not recreate his old custom Magic batteries to store up his Magic and possibly power some of the inventions that had been engineered by Muggles in the future. However, although some of the techniques behind them had been part of his Pensieve crash course, he would need time to figure out how to build them correctly. And it was time he didn't seem to have, because his Magic refused to retract properly or even calm down. If he lost control of it, it could have catastrophic consequences for everyone in the building at the moment.
His face started to sweat under the strain and his breathing grew shallow. He pressed a hand against his speeding heart and closed his eyes, focusing on taking deep and slow breaths. He cast his Magic around himself, trying to find something to ground it. A few meters behind him, he felt something respond to his call. The energy was familiar and reassuring and he focused on its steady beat, letting it guide him and calm the agitated power in him. It had never been so difficult for him to regain the control of his Magic before, even after the drains. He wondered if it was a consequence of the time-travelling ritual. Perhaps he had absorbed the Magic of the Unspeakables who had sent him back and was now struggling to assimilate it. Perhaps Magic was naturally grounded, not only in the land where you grew up, but also in the time, and the jump had left him rootless, like a travelling wizard in a new country who had to slowly approach and tame its natural energy.
But what could be grounding him now, if those theories were right?
Curiosity and apprehension churned in his stomach, now that his Magic was calming down.
He opened his eyes slowly and met Frank's apprehensive stare as calmly as he could.
"I might have been born in England, but I didn't grow up here and adjusting to the natural Magic, on top of the new wand, is challenging to say the least," he said, smiling as best as he could as he refrained from jumping up and going to search for the helpful energy source before it could disappear.
Frank did not relax his suspicions, but nodded slowly in understanding.
"Good. Well, if that's all with the registration..." Harry said quickly, glancing at the door of the cubicle.
"Yes, that's all, mister Gaunt. Thank you for your cooperation," said Frank as he sent him a searching look.
Harry silently cursed himself for attracting that much attention on himself and got to his feet quickly.
"I won't bother you any longer then. Thank you for your help, Auror Longbottom," he said, nodding at the other. He left the office without waiting for further acknowledgment and hurried down the rows of cubicles in direction of energy he felt earlier. It no longer felt like a beacon of power drawing him in, but more like a low and reassuring thrum. As he drew nearer to it, snippets of animated conversations reached him and he realised that he had ventured in the section of the Department in which the trainees had their desks and offices.
He continued more carefully and was relieved to see that the door of the office from which the power emanated was open. He walked up to it and glanced in, only to stop short at the sight that met him.
James Potter was there, balancing on the two back legs of a chair, head thrown back in laughter and hands pressed against a quivering stomach.
A pointed cough made him look at the door and notice Harry. He righted his chair and cleared his throat to regain a more serious look.
"Can I help you, mister Gaunt?" he asked cautiously.
Harry snapped out of his stare and looked at the unfamiliar faces of the other trainees before he managed to blurt out an excuse.
"Er...the exit? Is it...that way?" he said, pointing in the direction of the toilets as he tried to stop his face from reddening slightly in embarrassment.
"Take a right at the next cubicle and walk until you hit the main corridor. Turn left and follow it until you reach the elevators," supplied an unknown trainee.
Harry nodded his thanks and wished them a good day before he hurried away from the cubicle and out of the Department as quickly as he could without looking suspicious.
He took the stairs because he couldn't bear the wait for the lifts. The public generally didn't know of their existence, but all Ministry workers had been forced to take them at some point or another when lifts were cursed or had to be repaired. When he saw that he was alone in the stairs, he slowed down and let himself slump on the wall.
Was it his father's magic that had stabilised his? How did that even work if he wasn't born or even conceived yet? Did that mean that he was still in the same world and his father was still his father? Did that mean that he really had an opportunity to change the timeline, and not only some alternate universe's? And, most importantly, could he possibly have screwed up more today than he did?
There was nothing inconspicuous or discreet in the way he had acted. The only positive side he could see was that he had probably attracted enough attention to be noticed by his suspects. Once he got in contact with them, he would already have the reputation to be a powerful Pureblood wizard and that was all he needed for them to recognise him as a potential ally. Feeling slightly better, but still incredibly confused, he headed downstairs and back to Malfoy Manor at a more sedate pace.
Needless to say, his suspects were not the only who noticed him.
The memory ended and the group exited the Pensieve together.
Albus Dumbledore caressed his beard in thought, but did not say anything.
The others members looked at each other in worry.
"I don't like this. A new powerful player in the game, appearing out of the blue? It's suspicious," started a young, nearly scarless Moody.
"I'm not sure it's such a bad thing. Yeah, he's powerful, but he told me he didn't have a problem against Muggles or Muggleborns, so he can't really be a Death Eater, then, right?" objected James.
"He didn't say he wasn't a Dark wizard. He just avoided answering. I think he's hiding something," said Marlene McKinnon.
"He was really surprised when James and Sirius suspected he was a Death Eater, though. Most Dark wizards by now expect that sort of questions. It just doesn't fit," Remus pointed out.
"Yeah, but who emigrates to a country in the middle of a war if they don't want to participate in it?" reasoned Dorcas Meadows.
The group continued to argue for a while and Albus let them while he thought over the new information. That young man looked familiar. He couldn't place where he had seen him before, but when he thought about it, he could see some resemblance with how Tom Riddle had looked like when he was younger. And the wand, the name Gaunt, the magical power... He could not talk to the Order of the suspicions he had entertained for a while now, even if it seemed like Tom had finally confirmed them, but he would give them a warning.
He got up, effectively bringing silence in the room.
"My friends," he said with a deep frown. "I fear the situation is worse than you can imagine. The Harry Gaunt some of you have met today has identified himself as the cousin of the man who calls himself the 'Dark Lord'," he announced, sending his men into worried whispers. He paused for a moment, wondering again if he should share his suspicions about Tom's methods to reach immortality. He decided that, as careful as they were to minimise security breaches, their methods were not full proof and the less knew of this dangerous secret, the better. He did not like to bear the burden alone, but in his position, he simply couldn't afford to trust someone else completely. He liked to believe in the best of people, but he also knew too intimately that a new factor thrown in an old equation could very well turn anyone away from you at the drop of a hat. And love, the most powerful magic there was, was as beautiful and tender as it was sudden and deadly.
Albus chased the melancholic thoughts from his mind and returned to the matter at hand.
"I believe, however, that the truth behind his mysterious sudden appearance may be much more sinister. It is my hypothesis that our enemy has chosen to create a new public identity for himself through which he has gained a certain freedom of movement to recruit new followers and ensnare the minds of those he meet. Although I cannot be certain of this claim, there are many clues pointing in that direction."
"Why would he say he grew up with Muggles, then? Why would he say he didn't hate them?" protested James, horrified at the idea that he had discussed amicably with Voldemort.
"He did grow up in a Muggle orphanage and I am surprised he would voluntarily share this information with you, but he might have chosen to do so in order to throw you off balance, to make you sympathetic to him. To make you 'understand' him," continued Dumbledore.
James blanched suddenly.
"Oh Merlin. I told him Lily was a Muggleborn. I put you in danger, my love," he confessed to his wife, desperately.
Lily Potter squeezed his hand in reassurance.
"You didn't tell him anything he didn't already know, don't worry, James."
Despite her words, James still felt incredibly worried of having endangered Lily. He ruminated dark thoughts as the rest of the Order discussed the possibility.
Remus spoke up again:
"I don't think that fits. He said he had just met Regulus, but Sirius' brother was practically climbing over him and was acting way too comfortable with him. He couldn't possibly have been You-Know-Who."
"Maybe he didn't know yet of his new identity. You said he just met him," objected Marlene again.
"Or maybe Reggie did know and he's closer to his 'Lord' than we thought," suggested Sirius sombrely.
An uncomfortable silence fell as the members of the Order looked at each other in varying degrees of unease and worry.
Albus intervened again, breaking the silence.
"My friends, before we get lost in conjectures, I have to precise that we cannot act on our suspicions only. We need to gather information, so that we can react accordingly. This Harry Gaunt persona seems relatively harmless, if a bit naive and occasionally out of control. He does not, however, seem hell bend on destruction like his alter ego. While his influence on the greater public can be insidiously dangerous and we cannot allow him to roam free without supervision, he insisted that he wanted to avoid any deaths to his name, so he is not a priority at the moment. Now, there are a few more points we need to discuss..."
In the corner of the room, James listened distractedly to the discussions as he thought of his interactions with Harry Gaunt. The man had looked somewhat familiar, like he was a distant cousin of his he had only met a few times at Yule balls when he was younger. He had been powerful, and undoubtedly so, but James hadn't felt any malice from him. He had even seemed genuinely happy to discuss with him about Muggle kience, of all things!
Although James had tremendous respect for Dumbledore's wisdom and insight, he couldn't help but to feel like his leader had made a wrong call on this one. He darted a glance across the room to Remus, who had also seemed sceptical in the discussion. His werewolf friend met his eyes and gave him a minute nod in support. They would keep their suspicions to themselves, but as far as they were concerned, Harry Gaunt was not Voldemort's new public persona, but a completely new element in the game.
And anyway, why would a Dark Lord who called himself Voldemort choose a pseudonym like 'Harry'? James, for his part, had always quite liked the name Harry and refused to believe his future baby boy could have shared his name with a Dark Lord. No, there had to be another explanation and he was determined to find it.
Voilà! Thank you in advance for telling me what you thought of it! :D