Chapter 21 — Twenty Years Later, Part 2
Harry, warmed by the grace of the sun's rays, awoke enclosed by the nodding brown grass of the field adjacent to the Burrow. Painfully, he forced his creaky limbs to push him to his feet, and staggered twice before righting himself reliably. It was a gorgeous day, just like the one he had envisioned, despite the season. He sniffed. The air smelled cold even as it stood still and warm.
Deciding these oddities were the result of whatever magic rendered the weather so lovely, Harry pulled out his wand and put his usual disguise on himself. He wanted to appear non-threatening, so he went with what he was practiced at: a long white beard, white eyebrows, and even longer, flowing white hair. A few strokes of his beard where it met his face left him confident that it was convincing, but his hands were much too young. Harry masked those with a spell for spotting and one for wrinkles. He needed several tries to get the wrinkles right, and only managed it after adding a flesh-loosening hex. Usually, he did not feel jealous of Tonks' Metamorph abilities, but at this moment, they would be wonderfully convenient. He unfolded the borrowed hat from his pocket and smoothed it straight against his leg before adjusting it on his head tightly enough so it would not topple off as he walked.
The Burrow came into view beyond a copse of trees, as tilted, slapdash and unpretentious as in Harry's world. Harry smiled just at the sight of it. Outside the door, between the Ford Anglia and the garden, the twins and Ginny were setting up a second row of tables. One of the twins looked up and spotted Harry.
"Hullo!" the twin shouted.
Harry approached at a leisurely pace, thinking quickly how he was going to explain himself. The three redheads all stopped arranging tables as he made his way, long robes catching on the unmown grass, which made him even more ungainly.
"Hello," Harry greeted them, forcing his voice gruff, and giving a small bow of his head. "I just got into the country. I heard there was a picnic here." This seemed a reasonable assumption, given the weather and their activities.
"Ay, in a few hours," the other twin said. "You're early."
"Ah," Harry said, disappointed, because he did not have much time. As he fumbled for what to say next, the door banged open and Mrs. Weasley emerged, hovering two sizable covered dishes before her.
"Whom do we have here?"
"Uh, Aaron, Madame," Harry said, knowing from experience that his fellow trainee's name often made him turn his head because it sounded similar to his own. "Totten. Aaron Totten."
"Early for the picnic," a twin leaned over to inform his mother, voice insinuating that perhaps Harry was a bit old and daft.
Harry smiled pleasantly despite the perceived insult. Old and daft was fine with him just now.
Mrs. Weasley was undeterred. "Please, join us anyway since you're here. Been away long?" she asked, keen of hearing, apparently.
Harry helped Ginny hover chairs into place while they talked. "I've been away for a very long time. Years," he said, hoping to explain away his ignorance with something other than senility.
The Weasleys all gathered outside to help get things ready. Introductions needed repeating each time another cluster came out. Bill had two young children, twins. Charlie sported an animated dragon tattoo down his left arm. It appeared to be trying to bite Percy standing beside him. Percy shrank away a bit, as though it might possibly manage it.
Mr. Weasley wanted to know if Harry knew how Muggle strimmers worked. Harry from using one extensively at the Dursley house did know, but pretended that he did not.
"Fascinating and clever things. I had one you know. Still do, 'cept it doesn't, uh, do anything. Hasn't for a while. Makes a rather painful whining noise if you plug it in. You know about plugs?"
"So, where have you been . . . traveling?" Bill asked, letting his father's question lie.
This was not a good question for Harry, who rarely left England. He had to play it safe. "Switzerland. Finland. Around the Mediterranean."
The twins wandered out of earshot and put their heads together to chat in private. They seemed to be heatedly debating something. The remaining Weasleys stood relaxed. The small children played energetically on the large lawn. The whole scene practically bled idyllic.
Ginny leaned in close and said to Harry, "Fred and George are trouble."
What would Dumbledore say here? "Young men usually are," Harry knowingly stated, holding back on a grin at clearly imagining his old mentor saying exactly that. This brought a laugh from Mrs. Weasley, who, after a short struggle, had tapped a pint of ale from a massive wooden barrel under the eave of the house. She blew the excessive foam off the top of it before handing it to her husband, who gave her a reproving look before smiling in thanks.
"So, what do you do?" Charlie asked.
"What do you do?" Harry countered. "No, let me guess . . ." Harry stroked his beard and squinted at Charlie and his tattoo. "I will hazard to guess that you work with dragons."
Unexpectedly, Charlie blushed with pride. "I do. I suppose that's an easy guess." He rubbed his tattoo, which rolled over onto its back to expose its less scaly belly to the attention.
"But what do you do?" Bill repeated.
The tables and chairs were all arranged, so there were no more distractions. "Me? Oh, not much. Things. I get around."
"But you must do something," Bill challenged, accepting a pint and holding it away from himself to let it drip on the grass as the foam surged over the brim.
Harry conceded, "I sometimes hunt dark wizards."
Bill nearly dropped his beer.
"Do you really?" Ginny asked.
"I try not to make a habit out of it," Harry offered in a kindly voice, grasping again for something old sounding. The reaction had been unexpected; it was as though he had said something rude.
"None around here, I hope," Mrs. Weasley said.
Mr. Weasley dabbed his mouth with a napkin, saying, "We get troublemakers around here, Dear."
"Yes, but a prankster replacing manhole covers with an illusion of one is not a dark wizard."
"Have you actually captured a dark wizard?" Ginny asked Harry.
Harry blinked at her. She sounded so . . . naïve. "Of course. Many."
The group again froze as though waiting in tense excitement.
"Well, tell us about a few," Charlie insisted.
"Oh my," Harry said. "I wouldn't want to bore you to death with such trifles." Harry plucked up a biscuit, thinking that he sounded alarmingly like an old man, but he would rather not have to tell a story that might blow his cover with facts in conflict with this world.
Several of the Weasley children were laughing. "Come on, now," one said. "You can't leave it at that!" another insisted.
Harry wanted to point out that Mr. Weasley himself worked in the Magical Law Enforcement Department, but he probably could not be supposed to know that, and it may not be true here. The ruckus continued, and rather than abating, grew louder, his audience displaying a terrible hunger for such stories.
"Well, there was this rather interesting shaman in Finland, in the far north, above the arctic circle. Like all the Shamans there he has an Animagus form of a wolf."
"An Animagus? Really?" Ginny said, clearly intrigued.
"Oh, yes. Animagi are not as rare as you think." Harry let his eyes sparkle as he said this, teasing. "This particular shaman was fomenting trouble by kidnapping young children from a neighboring region."
"So, what did you do?"
"I chased him down as he was in wolf-form, leading off a young girl. I put a serious enough scare into him that he will think long and hard before trying it again."
"But how did you catch him?"
"Like I said, Animagi are not as rare as you think." Harry gave a wink to Ginny this time.
The twins and Ron said in series, "So, are you one? What are you?"
Harry smiled faintly. "Let's just say . . . a wolf is not a problem."
"Oh, come on!" The whole family reacted with dismay at his dismissal of the question. Except Mr. Weasley, who asked, "Are you registered?"
Harry shook his head. Bill grew sober. "Well, better not show Dad then. He's obliged to report you." He shot a glance at his father and bent to setting out the platters Mrs Weasley brought out and charming them to repel flies.
"Why aren't you registered?" Ron asked.
Harry found a lie easily enough. "Because I want to surprise the wizards I am hunting, if need be."
"And are they?" Ginny asked.
Harry sipped the butterbeer he had been handed, dragging the story out because it made them all so antsy. "Oh, this troublesome Indian witch and wizard I chased down once; they thought I was one of their god's own servants."
They all hung on his every word now. "I don't intend to create such confusion, normally," Harry said, sounding his humblest, which elicited a laugh from all around.
"You must be a great wizard," Ron said. "Don't you think, Percy?" he prompted his brother, who had been eating from a bowl of nuts on the end table.
Peanut shell fell from his lips as he said, "There hasn't been a truly great wizard in almost twenty years."
Because he needed to know, Harry guessed, "You must be referring to Albus Dumbledore."
Percy snottily said, "Of course I was." He looked Harry up and down doubtfully. "There hasn't been anyone close in all this time."
"Oh, I agree," Harry said.
"Did you know him?" Bill asked. "I just barely remember seeing him once, at a Quidditch match. You remember that, Dad? You had tickets to the VIP booth and he was there? He died right after that. Told everyone that with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named gone and things being quiet for a few years that he wasn't needed around anymore." He turned back to Harry with a soft and distant expression. "DID you know him?"
"Yes," Harry said, unable to lie to make his ruse easier. "I knew him for many years."
"Wow," a few breathed again.
"So, you must know a lot of Defensive magic," Charlie asserted.
"I know quite a bit. Don't you?"
Several laughed. "They haven't taught it since Dumbledore died."
"No?" Harry prompted. Voice stern, sounding exactly his fake age. "Why ever not?"
"Don't need it," someone said. "Encourages dark magic," a twin suggested, making quotes in the air with his fingers.
"That's ridiculous," Harry said, getting heated.
"That's the policy," Mr. Weasley confirmed. "There hasn't been any concern about dark wizards since Potter destroyed You-Know-Who as a baby."
"Amazing that," Harry said, hoping for more information.
"Yes," Mr. Weasley agreed, nodding so that his comb-over flipped forward. "No one knows how he did it."
"It's unfortunate that someone didn't see it," Harry mused aloud.
Mr. Weasley chuckled lightly. "Yes, well, James and Lily should have but, well, you of course know about that confusion."
Harry nodded sagely, although curiosity pained him viciously to do so. How could he claim to not know? He took a stab by saying, "Er, yes, Pettigrew and all that."
The faces around him grew grim. "Yes, sleazy one he was," Charlie said, "He's the one whose owl for help drew Mrs. Potter away."
Ron added, "Lucky for her, Who-He had already finished Pettigrew off."
"Now, now," Mrs. Weasley said. "Enough with this dark talk. I need some help in the kitchen."
Much of the family wandered off to chase down small children or to assist. Early guests began to arrive.
Ginny asked, "Can you show me some defensive spells?" She then blushed and admitted, "Some of the other students at school, we got together in secret and taught each other the few spells we knew. But I'm out of school now and we haven't continued it."
"Did that work out while you had the chance?"
"It helped when we had class time with the Slytherins. Removing hexes is really helpful then."
"Certainly I'll show you." Harry started to stride over, but remembered that would look strange, so he pretended his limbs pained him as he moved.
He led Ginny a bit away, over by where the lawn had been rutted by the car rolling in for landings. The ruts trailed off far before the distant road. He pulled out his wand and said, "The most versatile counter, I've found, is a block called a Titan. Take out your wand."
Ginny eagerly did so. Harry showed her how to hold it, flat against her palm, hooked under her thumb. "Hold your palms out like this. Your wand hand builds the spell, but the other helps stabilize it so that it is wide enough to protect you."
The twins were loitering nearby, listening in. Harry said, more loudly, "Perhaps your brothers will help us out."
Grinning, they ambled over. "Can we throw hexes at our sister?" one asked.
"In a moment," Harry explained patiently. To Ginny, he said, "This spell is pushed out through your palms. Let me do it for you a few times so you can feel it. Give us a hex, could you?"
Harry walked her through the spell until she had it. By this time, most everyone had gathered to watch. Even those hitting a Bludger around locked that up and came over instead.
"Show me another," Ginny said excitedly, when she withstood the second hex from her brother, Ron.
"What do you need protection against?" Mr. Weasley asked, sounding half teasing, half dubious. He stood nearby with his arms crossed, vague scowl upon his brow.
"Well, Draco hit me with a Jelly-legs in Diagon Alley last week."
"He must like you," Harry said.
"Oh, please," Ginny muttered.
"I can show you how to counter that one," Bill said. "Why didn't you ask?"
"I did. You said I was a girl and I should find a boyfriend to throw my hexes for me."
"I didn't say that."
"Yes, you did."
Harry stepped in between them, even though they were not all that close together. "There is a useful counter that works on the Minor-Neural class of hexes like that."
"The what of the what?" Ron stuttered.
Harry, keeping with his character, patiently explained, "It helps immensely to know a little spell theory. If you know what class of spell is coming at you, often you can utilize a generic counter or block, rather than learning a different one for every possible circumstance."
Harry had Ron send a Jelly-legs at him to demonstrate the counter, then had Ginny try it. She collapsed on the ground, to a few hidden grins. Blushing, she stood after Harry canceled the spell for her and tried again. She fared no better the second time.
"Let's do a different one," she said, sounding spoiled.
"No, let's finish this one."
"Are you trying to make me look foolish?"
Harry glanced around at the gathered Weasleys. They did perhaps seem more amused than supportive, but they also did not take Defense particularly seriously.
"I am trying keep you from failing. You and I can work on it. The others can go off now." Harry stated this sternly, eyeing each of them. Shrugs and grins greeted his obstinacy and eventually they were alone, except for Ron, who said, "I want to learn it too." To his sister, he insisted, "I wasn't laughing at you, honest. I've been knocked on my arse by that one at Hogwarts enough times; I wouldn't laugh about it."
Ginny gave Harry a pleading look. "Do we really have to work on that one more?"
"You cannot just give up on the second try," Harry said. "I'll show you using a different technique. I have several."
"Did you use to teach?" Ron asked. "You should have."
Harry found this amusing. "I tried once, but I don't care for handing out assignments, marking, and examinations as much as just playing with magic all day until I have it perfected."
Avidly, Ron said, "You sound like a great teacher! I hate revising, reading, essays, and taking tests."
"It is not as simple as I made it out," Harry said, finding the words flowing like a spell he was just getting the hang of. "I study a great deal, life administers the examinations, and the marking can be brutal."
Harry demonstrated the spell three or four times, adding advice as he thought of it. "Why don't we have Ron try it a few times and then go back to Ginny," Harry said, upon seeing the stress on Ginny's face. It transformed into a half-malicious grin.
When they each could produce the counter perhaps a third of the time, Harry proclaimed them done with it for now. The sun had appreciably moved in the sky and the picnic had swelled with new arrivals.
"Show us another," Ginny urged him as he was pondering the sky. "What do you think is most useful."
Harry glanced around, hopeful of seeing the Potters. "I think we should take a break for now."
"We want to hear more about Dumbledore, too," Ginny insisted. She was actually tugging on his sleeve to convince him. She quit it and bit her lip.
"It's all right, my dear," Harry said, finding his old man character easy now. "You flatter me. You know, an old man like me doesn't get many invitations to things."
People began arriving in earnest now, popping in and landing on broomstick and room-sized carpets. The three of them wandered over to where Mr. Weasley was directing something on the roof with his wand.
Charlie said, "Want me to fly up and adjust the Weather Vain properly, Dad?"
"Nah, I think it's all right. Seem warm enough to you? Sunny enough?"
Harry blinked up at the green corroded rooster with glittering ruby eyes perched on a bent grey arrow. Sparkles flickered off the arrowhead now and then. That explained the exceptionally nice day. Harry sighed with a hint of jealousy and surveyed the mollycoddling peacefulness of it all. Blankets were being laid out, the tables groaned under the weight of heaped plates and pots of food, children chased each other on small starter broomsticks.
Harry left his new friends and circled, mixing in easily, gathering only a handful of second glances. He resisted looking at his watch, not wanting to leave when he had come this far. Tonks would wait for him, he told himself.
He didn't see his parents, so when he found the table with Ron and his sister he asked if he could join them. Ginny literally jumped from her seat and found a chair for him two tables away.
"When were you last off fighting dark wizards?" Ron asked, even putting down his fork he was so involved in the question.
Harry said amiably. "Yesterday."
Ron leaned forward, so his elbow went into his mashed potatoes. "Really? Where?"
Harry waved a finger before him admonishingly. Amazingly, that's all it took.
"Drat," Ron muttered.
Ginny laughed. "Dad says you remind him of Dumbledore."
"Your father honors me no end by saying so," Harry said, accepting a butterbeer she had Accioed over. "Thank you, my dear." He gave her a wink.
She blushed and dabbed her mouth with a shredded serviette. "Too bad you're too old for me," she said with real regret.
Harry smiled, thinking idly that this was a side of Ginny he only usually caught glimpses of. She must not behave quite the same with him around. Maybe Snape's proposed match for him was not so unworkable. "I have a formula for a youth potion . . . but it only lasts a few days, alas."
Ron and she both giggled at this, making Harry amazed at how unthreatening he must seem.
"Can I stroke your beard?" Ginny asked.
Harry held it up for her.
"Thank you, young lady, I made it myself."
Ron snapped his fingers. "That's what dad said. He said you liked to joke around the way Dumbledore did. But I can't believe such a great old wizard could be as goofy as he insists."
"Oh, Albus was quite an amusing fellow. Especially if he was forced to give a speech."
Harry recounted a few stories, altering them as needed, or averaging out several different events to avoid specifics. The twins joined them halfway through the storytelling, each bearing plates overflowing with food.
Fred said, "Hey, Ginny, your boyfriend's just arrived." He tipped his head behind him and to the left.
"Oh, get off," Ginny snapped, angry in the way that only a person stung partially by the truth could be.
"What is this, my dear?" Harry asked, teasingly stung, but trying to sooth her. He just embarrassed her more.
"It's His Royalty," George offered. "An old crush of Ginny's. She insists she's over him, but we think she doth protest too much."
Ginny appeared ready to stand up and stalk off.
Harry said, "My dear man, you lack a certain minimally desired charm when you publicly embarrass your sister like that."
Ginny glanced at Harry's old countenance and stayed put, but sulked and drank her butterbeer, double time.
A boisterous group trouped through the picnic, turning people's gazes. Some picnickers rolled their eyes, others stood up to join the pack. Harry froze upon spying his father, leading the assembly, arm chummily around someone, to whom he was speaking directly in the ear. He released that person and turned to someone on his other side. The crowd shifted, parting and re-parting, and Harry caught sight of long reddish-brown tresses, a smiling face, glittering green eyes.
Transfixed, Harry watched the pair of them pass in and out of view through the thickly accompanying robed figures. A trailing figure split the crowd when it stopped at a table to high five some sitting people, Oliver Wood, Katie Bell, and other familiar faces.
Harry watched the vision of himself chummily greeting the table before joining it.
A wadded up sweet wrapper was tossed hard at Ginny by Fred, jolting Harry before anyone could notice how enamored he had become.
"Another butterbeer?" Ginny asked Harry beside her, nearly snarling. "My brother can get his own."
"Yes, please, my dear," Harry said, struggling to sound old and uncaring.
Ginny fetched the fresh bottles by hand. Upon returning, she glanced surreptitiously at the new arrivals, eyes nearly hidden by her hair. But Harry was well-practiced in interpreting glances through a veil of hair. He leaned close and whispered, "You are undoubtedly too good for him."
This had been an attempt to ease what he guessed was bothering her, but her reply was a silent, flat expression. She drank half of her fresh butterbeer down in one rapid set of swallows.
"He's a prat," Ron said, seemingly in support of his sister because it lacked real animosity.
Harry turned to the vision of his best friend, trying to grasp what he had said. He could not pull in a full breath right away.
Fred said, "Ron's just jealous. He wanted to join the Quidditch team, but Potter was the captain, and Ron could never convince him to let him join. 'Course, Ron isn't all that good . . ."
Ron frowned, but then brightened. "We should play a match today, don't you think? It's our pitch, so we get to decide who plays." He grinned slyly.
The twins chuckled. "Nice try, but I don't think you can keep Boywholived from doing anything he wants to. Besides, Dad won't let you upset them, he has to work with Mr. Potter, after all."
Harry let his focus relax beyond their red heads to where the topic of conversation sat, face bright. An animated conversation flowed around his table, buoying him.
Ron was saying, "We don't even have a Snitch. You'd think he'd be happy playing honorary Seeker for Puddlemere twice a season."
Disguised Harry shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. The twins were whispering fiercely to each other. They both stared at him as though maybe they were in trouble. "Uh, we're going to go take care of something."
Harry Legilimized them and found a prank forming in their minds aimed at his other self. "Is it worth it?" Harry asked gently.
"It what worth it?" George asked.
"The trouble you are going to cause?"
Fred's face twisted into a frown. "How'd you know?"
Ron burst out laughing. "You're always making trouble. Pretty safe bet, isn't it?"
Harry was getting more of the plan as they stared at each other. He said, "Such a plan as the one in your mind right now will cause panic, which is always harmful in a crowd of this size. Come up with a better one or wait until he is isolated."
The twins stared at him, showing him their thoughts as plainly as speaking. Harry said, "Yes, I am reminding you of a certain Potions professor." He cocked a smile at their now rather horrified faces. They slid off, at first walking backward to keep an eye on him.
Harry smiled back, holding it longer to display confidence that he could take them down.
Ginny said, "They keep begging mum and dad for Galleons to open a joke shop, but mum, especially, won't go for it. She tells them she might have if they had actually stayed on to finish their NEWTs. They've been selling their services on Diagon Alley, but haven't saved up enough money yet."
The twins finally stopped glancing worrisomely back and disappeared behind a hedge.
Harry idly asked, "What services are they selling?"
"They're installing what they call "security systems" in some of the shops. I'd call them death traps myself, but that just may be my years of living with them talking."
Harry turned to her in surprise and she stared curiously back, saying, "They need a shop of their own. I think it would keep them busy enough to keep them out of Azkaban, which is where they are going to end up when something goes really awry."
Harry rubbed his long mustache, wondering if he had learned something he needed to know for his own Plane. The twins reappeared and slunk off toward the drinks table, glancing back once at him. "If they make too much trouble here," Harry said standing up to better watch them and thinking of the riots that had destroyed the Ministry atrium, "I may have to come down on them. Innocents should never be hurt just because you have your own vendetta." Harry strolled slowly around the table, which also gave him a better view of the people he had come here to see. They were eating, chatting, smiling . . . alive, and he stared at them without breathing.
Ginny came aside him and broke him free by asking, "How often do you have your own vendetta?"
Harry fumbled for words. "I don't any longer. I used to."
Ginny willingly dropped that topic, presumably hearing something in his voice. "Can you teach us some more spells. I read about one that sounds wicked useful, an Expelliarmus, but I need it demonstrated. Ron here can't get it either."
Harry smiled. "I'd love to, but . . . " Across from him, his double was changing tables to sit with some middle-aged witches and wizards that Harry recognized as working in Games and Sports in the Ministry. Harry glanced around to see where the twins had slipped off to.
"Trying to protect him, now?" Ginny asked, sounding unhappy.
Harry laughed. "He is an interesting person."
"No, he isn't," Ginny snapped. "Thinks he's the best at everything. It's annoying."
"Is he what?" Ginny asked.
Harry innocently asked, "The best at everything?"
"NO," both she and Ron replied.
"My dear," Harry said, finding that phrasing so easy and natural that it stunned him. "I will gladly show you an Expelliarmus, but would you first do me the pleasure of introducing me to the honored guests; your brothers' reactions intrigued me and I wish to get better acquainted with them all." At her grim turn of disappointment, he reached for a better explanation, and added in a lower voice, "It gives me something to chat about with my drinking friends when I go back abroad. Old men like us have so little to talk about that we haven't already talked about."
Before they could reach any of the Potters, a familiar figure in deep green strolled up to his shoulder. Harry greeted McGonagall with a little bow.
"Ah, I have heard a bit about you, Mr. Totten, from Arthur. I had to admit I have not had the pleasure and I believe I should have."
Harry gave the back of her hand a gallant kiss mid-bow. She could blow his cover if he slipped up while discussing the past, so he wanted to get her off-guard.
Flustered, McGonagall said, "Well, my, that is . . . you must have been out of the country for quite a while."
"Many, many years," Harry stated vaguely.
"Well, please join us," she said, glancing at Ron and Ginny a bit dismissively for Harry's taste.
McGonagall had been sitting at the table with his parents, so he said, "I promised my young friends some spell demonstrations, but I think they will grant an old wizard a little first to reminisce." The two youngest Weasleys reluctantly relinquished him.
As McGonagall stepped toward a group reclining in overstuffed chairs, Harry leaned over to say, "You will forgive me if my memory occasionally fails me. Unlike Albus, I have never availed myself of a Pensieve."
"Of course, Aaron . . . may I call you Aaron?"
Harry merely nodded, unbalanced by the notion of being treated so reverentially. He and McGonagall sat down in great comfort for a picnic, sharing a pink and yellow flowered settee pulled up to face the end of the table.
Harry stroked the gaudy fabric as a way of not simply staring openly at his parents, who from this close were showing their forty years more plainly than they had from across the yard when they resembled a wizard photograph come to colorful life. Harry said the first thing that came into his head to explain his fascination with the upholstery, "This would have been to Dumbledore's liking."
"When did you meet Albus?" McGonagall asked. She now had a cup of tea, which Harry had not seen appear.
Harry took a deep breath and said, "I was very young. It was a very long time ago." He faded out, not sure where to go from there. He decided to deflect the question. "I admit not all of those memories are worth dredging up. They were painful times." True enough.
She squeezed his arm. "I am sorry. Here let me introduce you around."
Harry was introduced to two moldy members of the Wizengamot who vacillated in rockers off to the left. He was then introduced to Lily and James. James gave him a momentary narrowed gaze as though recognizing him, but he then smiled faintly and got up to shake Harry's hand before returning to give Lily a fit of giggles as he grabbed her under the arms before enclosing her in his own. Harry worked on hard on concentrating while shaking more hands, deaf to the names being related. He spent the next few minutes using nearly sport-level tactics to dodge questions he dare not answer. The table went back to previous gossip and Harry used repeated small sips of tea as a means of watching his parents over the rim. They were happy, clearly. And so alive, it continued to make breathing problematic. James teased nearly everyone who passed, until Lily tapped him on the arm as a subtle correction.
Harry stroked his beard to check that his disguise held true. Soul-deep sadness pressed in upon him. He had imagined this to be fun, but instead it felt desperate, and Tonks' concern entirely valid.
James behaved himself until Sirius strolled by, putting his hands on James' shoulders. His features were so much less unlined than expected it made him seem a decade younger than James. Only when he smiled did his eyes wrinkle into their familiar appearance. At Sirius' urging, Lily and James moved on to get seconds on food. Harry watched them amble over and be joined by Remus, who, of them all, most resembled himself.
A man by the name of Horace Slughorn wandered by and really began giving Harry a grilling. He acted highly and loudly perturbed to not have heard of an Aaron Totten previously. Harry stood to chat with him away from the table, thinking to shake him using the help of a few Weasleys. He glanced over to where Ginny and Ron were standing just outside the crowd, practicing the few hexes and the counters they had learned earlier.
Harry waved away the question about where "Aaron" had trained in Defense. Harry tugged Dumbledore's ideal persona over himself again and said, "I'm terribly sorry Mr. Slughorn, but your question reminds me that I promised these young people a little of my time and they are waiting ever so patiently. One does like to reward them for that."
Slughorn grunted, not wanting to disagree. Harry gratefully joined Ginny and Ron, leaving the unusually wide man frowning at his back.
"I didn't think we would get you back," Ginny said. "Ron thought maybe you had forgotten so we came over to this side to remind you."
"Oh, I would much prefer practicing the dueling of wands to that of dusty tongues. Come, let me show you my favorite disarming spell. It has saved my life more than once, I'll tell you."
He had their full attention then and the lessons proceeded, quickly becoming a game between the siblings. Eventually, a few others made their way around the large furniture, including Harry, Katie and Oliver, who stood like a matched threesome, poses relaxed, faces judgmental.
"Do some others wish to join us?" Harry in his disguise asked.
"No," Ron said. "They'll just want to duel."
"Why, don't you? Sounds like fun," disguised Harry urged.
"I'll duel someone," Ginny said, sounding very much in the mood for it.
This was overheard and Oliver said, "Away from the old-timers." He angled his head off behind the Burrow, which was empty.
"Why, is dueling illegal now outside Hogwarts too?" old Harry teased.
"No, it's not. All right, then," Katie said, stepping up before Ginny.
This Plane's native Harry stepped in with practiced ease and refereed. "Back to back," he told them, deciding where the pace-off line would be. Visiting Harry stepped back to make space for the others gathering to watch, including the Potters. Harry slid slowly over to be three people down from his parents where he could observe them freely. The rules were relayed to the participants, with some corrections because the style of duel was agreed to be freeform rather than regimented. Harry's chest grew stiff again staring at James and Lily, but he could not stop himself. Sirius ambled up beside his father and they shared an amused exchange. Sirius perched his hands on his hips, parting his loose robes. He stood straight and with ease, a pristine, undamaged version of the man Harry held in his memories. His heart ached again.
The duel began with a loud countdown. Katie and Ginny were evenly matched, but Ginny had her new disarming spell and on the third exchange, Katie's wand flew away over the onlookers.
Native Harry fetched it with a flick and held it out to Katie. "Let me try next," he said.
Ginny's eyes grew wider. Disguised Harry saw in them that she truly did not want to duel his double, was certain she would be embarrassingly put on the grass, at best.
Harry stepped up to her, blocking her view of his alternative self. "Shall I handle this round? May I borrow your wand?" She willingly gave up her wand while biting her lip.
"The old man wants a piece of Potter!" Oliver announced, laughing.
Disguised Harry looked his double over. The other Harry was taller than himself, tanned, well-fed and stood with overt confidence. "We can skip the pacing," disguised Harry said pleasantly as he cheated with a little Legilimency. His double's eyes were filled with heat, anticipating the challenge of the duel. The only scar he possessed was the one on his forehead; his mind was utterly clear of any others as though he were merely a Mirror of Erised projection.
A Jelly Legs came at Disguised Harry when the countdown completed, easily countered. An electric eel came next, deflected to vanish in twirling sparkles against the blue sky in a purely stylish move.
"Aren't you going to come back with anything?" Native Harry demanded after two more spells were sent aside. Disguised Harry could see in his mind many rounds of practice with James and faith that he could handle anything as a result.
"I don't want to hurt you," Disguised Harry said pleasantly, affectionately, instinctively knowing exactly how to duel with this young man using words.
"Oh, please. I can take care of myself." Native Harry laughed, slightly mocking because the comment had stung, as intended.
Disguised Harry bowed his head slightly and swung his arm around, wand tip twirling in an elastic mummy hex which, due to the force on it, could not be stopped. Native Harry was tangled helplessly until he curled on the ground, wound up so that only a few black hairs stuck out the top. The surrounding crowd gasped.
Disguised Harry cancelled the hex and watched his mirror image rise up, straightening his hair with undo care. "Huh," he muttered, temper bottled up so that it made his wand tap faintly on his leg. He thought he gave no warning for his blinding curse, but Disguised Harry, due to the risk of being revealed, was still cheating. He had the burst of light blocked with a rubber shield that swallowed it before it travelled half the distance between them. He felt the curse grow and channel, just as he had every other curse thrown at him for months while trying to work out how to block them wandlessly. This time, though, each part of the curse's progress felt accessible. Harry breathed heavily in excitement. He probably could have blocked that one without casting a counter.
"How'd you do that?" Native Harry demanded.
"It is a minor counter. Perhaps you need a new dueling teacher," Harry said, finding that verbal hex rising out of his aching heart without forethought.
Young Harry glanced at his father in consternation, looking for advice. The pressed in friends began shouting encouragement. "Go on, Harry!" "Show him what-for!" and "Stop holding back."
Native Harry tried in rapid succession a Cannon Ball, a Blasting Curse, a Chain Binding, and a Rictusempre which were all handled without disguised Harry even twitching more than his wand and wrist. He obsessively traced each curse on its journey from mind to magic, heart racing triumphantly after so many weeks of useless exercises.
Native Harry faintly stomped one foot in frustration. "You're still not hitting back."
"You want another like the last? I only have so many gentle spells and I truly do not wish to harm you."
"Stop worrying about me!"
Disguised Harry, letting his own jealousy leak into his judgment said, "You have potential, but you need a qualified teacher. Clearly Professor Snape is not allowed to teach dueling or you'd be better than this."
Old Harry felt the next curse before his rival even finished thinking it through. It was a Sectumsempra, borne on a key source of anger inside this version of himself. Disguised Harry squeezed it back into the wand before it could be cast or even finish generating. Since the spell was as close to his own nature as any Forbidden Spell could be, blocking it was as easy as turning off a tap.
Native Harry fell with a shout. He dropped his wand and clutched his arms around himself. Disguised Harry felt anger turn his blood acidic. Still aiming his wand at the vision kneeling across from him, he said, "Don't you ever cast a spell like that . . . AT ANYONE." He took a few steps closer as the crowd murmured. Lily Potter moved in to assist her son and James pulled his wand from his breast pocket and stepped in to guard both of them.
Disguised Harry forced the burning in his veins out through his breath and lowered his wand. Poisonous jealousy crowded around his anger, which did not help.
McGonagall stepped out of the spectators. "What happened?" she asked.
"I turned his own spell back upon him," Disguised Harry said, slipping his wand away, only to find that he already had one, one he had not wanted to reveal the core of. He held the wand out to Ginny instead, whose eyes were as wide as ever. "Thank you, young lady."
Native Harry was getting to his feet with assistance. He shot a befuddled glance over his shoulder before being led away to sit in a comfy chair.
"How many dueling tournies have you won?" one of the twins asked, enthralled.
Disguised Harry chuckled. "I am not allowed to participate. I get assigned as judge."
The twins and Ron chuckled too. They all turned to observe the scene around the chair. Harry felt nothing for his double, who had both parents to help with one painful spell in his entire memory. "You'd think the boy never felt an abbreviated Sectumsempra curse before," he said.
Fred exploded, "He sent that at you?! Even I think that should be on the Forbidden list."
Harry regretted speaking. "Perhaps he would have held off on actually casting it."
"Too bad you couldn't let him. Think of the trouble. Boy!"
"I should not have mentioned Professor Snape," Harry mused, serene now, buoyed by his own amusement at causing so much trouble so easily.
Beside him, Ginny giggled into her hand.
"Good thing you weren't planning on staying around for long," George said.
"True." Harry was very much ready to go home. Jealousy, now released to run wild inside him, threatened to take his own self-control again at the slightest provocation.
"Have one more Butterbeer, or teach us one more spell," Ginny pleaded.
"We are done with spells for now. Perhaps just a Butterbeer."
Their little pack went to the drinks table and Fred and George heated some bottles that were still in the crate on the grass underneath.
As he reached out to accept one, Harry was tapped hard on the shoulder.
"Totten, I'm told your name is," James Potter said. Harry fully recognized the fury distorting the edges of the face before him. It was the same as he had just battled inside himself.
"That's right," Harry confirmed softly, wearisomely pulling out a pleasant voice from a past that had receded into the mists after the duel.
"What's the idea challenging my son like that when you can clearly out-spell him?"
Harry had a hard time facing down his father—it made his chest tight—but he managed to come up with something befitting his disguise, even if it did nothing to express what longed to escape. "I am a bit old fashioned you see," Harry rambled. "In my time one would always step in for a lady in distress."
Ginny rolled her eyes and ducked her head.
Harry found his footing and stepped closer to the familiar anger of his father, close enough to feel the debilitating energy of it along his nerves. "You wanted me to do that," Harry said as if sharing a secret. "If I had let him cast that, he'd have been up before the Wizengamot." Backing off, residual anger flaring up again, he added, "Unless they are so doddered by his fame that they are incapable of it. Perhaps that's the case." More insinuatingly, "Perhaps that's even happened before."
"Oh, get off," James said. "My son would never do anything the Wizengamot would care about."
The surrounding Weasley's all looked away with various amused and dubious expressions. Harry stared at the man before him. James radiated protective instinct to the core—exactly as Harry fantasized about having from a father all those years when he had none at all. Harry could not feel additional jealousy, he had overdosed on it already. It could have worked out like this, Harry thought. Twisted and conflicting remorse torqued within Harry's gut instead, trying to metamorphose into something that could escape him.
James glanced around the unfavorable audience and snarled, "Stay away from my son," before stalking away.
Harry, untenable emotion clouding his thoughts, grabbed James' robe, his artificially aged hands just as strong as ever. Like in a duel he instinctively struck back at his opponent's weakest spot. When James spun to face him, eyes flashing, Harry said, "I was serious that he needs a new dueling tutor. He has potential."
James glowered and jerked his robe free, nearly running into Sirius, who stood a pace behind him. Harry stared longingly at his godfather, unable to stop himself. Sirius stared curiously back until tugged away by James, who felt less real. The mystified look from a purely compassionate Sirius made Harry starkly aware of how violently jumbled his emotions had become, simultaneously detached and over-involved: a recipe for disastrous distress if there ever was one.
Harry accepted an un-spilled drink and stared around the happy picnic. "You are all terribly spoiled," he muttered, understanding in a flash of disturbed thinking the motivations Svaha had in building spelling devices just to cause chaos. She had accused him, Vineet and their wizarding world of not appreciating the peace they had. She would go wholly berserk should she ever find her way to this place.
"You all right?" Ginny asked, when Harry rubbed his forehead.
"I am, my dear girl," Harry said, finding the persona of kindly old man debilitating now. "I should return home, however." He handed her the bottle back and closed her hand around it when she resisted taking it.
"Don't go because of his His Highness there . . ." one of the twins protested.
"It isn't that. I just have much too much to do." Indeed, Harry risked upsetting Tonks and even getting caught missing the longer he remained. He was happy to get away without any entanglements, and if he left now, there would be none. Tonks would be waiting, he was confident, but bad luck could easily show him to be missing.
Harry made his goodbyes to them, touched by their pleading that he remain. He stepped away, intending to go the long way around the picnic via the ruts in the drive. He was waylaid by McGonagall before he reached the orchard.
"Aaron," she said gently enough that Harry believed the topic was not his double and the duel.
He stopped, clasped his hands together and assumed a patient, in-character, pose only with immense effort.
"Given how well you knew Albus, I was hoping to get your advice on something." When Harry bowed, she led him closer to the orchard and gestured for Griselda Marchbanks to join them. "This is an issue that has been restricted to the Wizengamot and I do hope you can respect our desire to keep it there for the time being?"
"Of course," Harry said, thinking that he was never coming back, so how could it possibly matter?
McGonagall fidgeted before saying, "We have a Divination instructor at Hogwarts who for the most part is a harmless pretender. Albus hired her-"
"Sybill Trelawney, you mean?" Harry prompted, not at all liking the path of the conversation.
"Yes, of course Albus would have told you about her, I suppose?"
Harry nodded knowingly.
"Well, last week she uttered one of her rare true prophecies to me. I would be most appreciative if you could offer advice about what you believe is the wisest course and, more importantly, how you think Albus would react."
Harry breathed deeply and let it out slowly. He should have left sooner. "I'll do my best."
"The prophecy is as follows, and please do not tell another, we fear the damage caused purely by the reaction. A dark shadow approaches undetected, gathering the slumbering willing in its web. It will shatter half a century of peace so that the time before it will seem as if a dream."
Harry closed his eyes. There was no Voldemort here, of that he was certain, which gave him some relief. He must not have made Horcruxes in this place.
". . . power indescribably heartless will wreak cold vengeance upon wizardom. All will be touched for the worse. The only magic capable of defeating it is contained within the seventh pureblood son who is not."
Harry's pure white brow lowered as he pondered that. He wondered if the prophecy were warning about Svaha and Merton again, or something completely new. If the prophecy had said chaos instead of vengeance, Harry would have felt certain.
Harry said, "I think you need to start preparing the wizarding public for some tough times. If you don't want panic, make up an excuse, any excuse, for better awareness of danger, of dark magic." Unaware that he stroked his beard thoughtfully, Harry added, "Start teaching Defense to all years at Hogwarts again. And find this person."
Marchbanks complained, "There was confusion last time, too, over whom it may be."
Harry nodded. "The future is not fixed so the prophecy cannot be certain." He stated this with such authority that McGonagall's shoulders relaxed.
"Would you be willing to consult with the Wizengamot?"
Harry said, "I was not planning on staying. I have responsibilities distant from here. I cannot shirk them. I shouldn't even be here. Nostalgia got the better of me," he admitted in a bout of full honesty. "I shouldn't be here at all," he repeated.
"I understand," McGonagall said on automatic, regretful.
"I don't wish to abandon you at such a trying time, but I must. I can offer some advice. Take the worst case plans for the worst case outcomes you can think of and triple them." She stared at him as though he had lost his mind. Harry patted her on the arm, truly saddened and trying to imagine the times they had just been through applied to this peaceful place. "A year from now, you will remember I said that, and know that I was right. I don't say that to be cruel . . . quite the opposite."
He stepped back and tiredly said, "My own responsibilities are equally dire. I was granted a small break from them and I should not abandon them any longer, I'm afraid."
"I do understand," McGonagall said. Harry could see in her eyes that she hoped that if worse came to worse, he would magically reappear to help right things.
"Treat the wizarding public with respect and let them know the danger. They are allies if you let them be or victims if you don't." As he spoke, he felt grateful that this wasn't normally his role. He did not envy Dumbledore's old responsibilities as wizened leader one bit.
Harry made his goodbyes, and strolled through the orchard, where groups of wizarding youths had gathered in their own small parties, a few around magical fires. This meant Harry needed to walk farther away before slipping into the Dark Plane. But the walk allowed him to clear his head before facing the awful transference to his own plane.
Harry woke up on the floor of Tonks' flat, with someone playing with his ear. He giggled because it tickled. "Ger off," he mumbled, but smiled broadly into Tonks' worried gaze. He lay covered with warmed cushions from the couch and pillows off the bed.
"You were right that you'd return covered in ice," Tonks marveled.
Harry, with assistance, managed to sit up. "Thanks for helping me."
"You were gone a long time."
"As long as I wasn't missed," Harry said, thinking back over what he had learned. The most important thing would take some time to settle in. As to the other thing he had learned . . . "I need to go talk to the Weasley twins," Harry said. "Care to come along?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Harry shrugged. "I'd happily go on my own," he suggested.
As they arrived on Diagon Alley and stepped through the brick wall, Tonks said, "You visited someplace far removed from here and now you need to talk to Fred and George?"
"These other places aren't as removed as all that. Some things are the same."
"Did you find your parents?" she asked, wanting to believe, Harry could hear in her voice.
"Well, how were they?" she asked, teasing as she played along, but also sounding strained.
Harry hesitated before proclaiming, "Doting. Too doting." Jealousy threatened again, muted. "Their son Harry has no idea what he has."
Tonks grabbed Harry's sleeve as he moved to moved to a better spot to Apparate from. "Wait, you saw yourself?"
"Well, certainly. Odds are a James and Lily Potter would have a me; wouldn't they?"
She released him. "That's really disturbing, Harry. You shouldn't be playing around like this."
They strolled in silence past the soot-stained shopfront of Eeylops. At the door to the twin's shop, Harry said, "Can I talk to them alone? I may be far off base, but I have a suspicion about something."
She parked herself on the narrow window ledge of the shop window. "Five minutes."
She peered at him. "This official business?"
"It may be," Harry conceded.
"All right, ten. You owe me dinner, though."
"Any time." Harry reached for the door, setting off a series of jangles, bongs and squawks.
The shop was shrouded in grim light in contrast to the outside. One of the twins was helping a customer at the counter. Ginny popped her head up from the corner where she was straightening the shelves and tracked him crossing the room.
When the customer had moved on, Harry said, "I need to talk to you and your brother."
The figure across from Harry made no jokes, no faces, just gestured for Ginny to take over. He gave his sister a sharp glance before slipping through the back door to the stairway. Harry pretended that the glance meant nothing to him.
Upstairs, cauldrons were lined up on the long crooked table that had been repaired several times with scrap wood to cover blackened holes or long cracks.
"George!" Harry's escort shouted as he opened the door. "Guest."
George looked up from the parchment he held and spelled the stirring stick he held to keep on without his hand. He stuffed the parchment quickly away in his pocket. "What's this?"
"He insisted on a word," Fred said.
Harry dived right in and asked, "Did you have anything to do with the Eeylops fire?"
The two of them did not move and Harry realized his error. He had left open the possibility of denial. He tried something stronger. "Come on. I know you've been selling security systems to at least one shop down here."
This made them shift from foot to foot. Fred said, "What'd Ginny tell you?"
"Your sister didn't tell me anything," Harry insisted, conscience clear on that specific point. He tried to think ahead as quickly as possible. If the twins were responsible for dumping the gang members then why had the perpetrators no memory of what had happened? Harry, excitement building with understanding, said, "You wiped their memories, didn't you? Why the devil did you do that?"
George rounded on Harry at this accusation. "Why did we do that? Are you a nutter? They'd have turned us in."
Harry leaned into his disbelieving face. "We needed their memories for the investigation! Did you even stop and think about that?"
George angrily attended to a cauldron that was sending sky blue foam in a sheet onto the table. More calmly, Fred said, "We did think of that. They didn't know anything. Durumulna lackeys never know anything dangerous to the organization."
"You interrogated them?" Harry asked, too sarcastically, because it set Fred off.
"Yes. With stuff we got here, which is at least equal to yours. We're not stupid, Harry. Give us some credit."
Harry made himself back down. "So what went wrong? What happened?"
"What went right?" George asked. "Eeylop was tired of those guys coming around, demanding protection money. He wanted them stopped if they tried anything. We set a trap, but it, uh, backfired. No pun intended."
"Why didn't Mr. Eeylop come to us for help instead of to you?"
"Because he'd be spelled to a state of wishing for death within the hour, Harry. Don't be so naïve." He took a cauldron off the heat and set it in a water bath. "People can come to us for help without risking the gang's wrath. They've been doing it more and more. We can help them in ways you can't."
Harry fixed his gaze on the overcrowded mantel piled with ingredients and half-folded boxes and tried to decide what to do. The twins were thinking along the same lines.
"You going to turn us in?"
"I don't know," Harry said. They all glared at each other. "You shouldn't have wiped their memories."
George grew ferocious again. "Their memories were already wiped. Maybe I didn't make that clear."
"Maybe I only have your word on that," Harry countered.
After a space Fred quietly said, "You can help us help other witches and wizards, but you can't do it officially."
Harry felt the weight of responsibility settling onto him like he had in the other Plane. Turns out he could not escape it after all.
"I reserve the right to turn you in if you mess up again." He did not like his options and resisted being hard nosed and getting them into serious trouble if the result was as they insisted. Sounding stubborn he said, "Contact me if you get into a similar circumstance. We can work something out."
George mumbled, "Something you get the credit for."
Harry gaped at him. "I don't care about the credit. I can't believe you said that."
Fred stepped in front of Harry, hand on his chest to hold him back. Harry realized he had overreacted. He needed a break after his excursion to the alternative Plane, clearly. "Sorry," Harry said quietly. "I don't care about the credit," he stated factually this time. "I can arrange for someone else to always get it if you want."
Fred said, "It doesn't matter. Ignore my brother. He's upset we didn't get credit this time. He wanted a medal." It was not clear if he was serious.
Back out on the Alley, Harry put off Tonks' questions, saying with determination, "Let's drag Candide away from the office and take her home."
The accountancy was just a few doors down. When Harry entered, most of the activity stopped. Candide's coworkers looked up in surprise and vague wariness. Deciding to use his bad reputation to his advantage, Harry said, "I'm here to fetch Candide."
"Are you now?" the boss said, striding out of his office. His attitude shifted. "Oh, Mr. Potter."
Harry gave a patently false smile and turned to his guardian's wife, who stood still, hands full of files. "Ready to go?" Harry asked.
She glanced at Mr. Farnsworth and said, "Sure. Let me get a case for these files I have to sort."
Tonks helped her out packing things and they were soon on their way. Outside, Candide said, "Wow. I would not imagined it could be that easy."
"Your boss is scared of me," Harry stated.
"Come by at five every day, won't you?" Candide invited.
Author's notes: My betas deserve a special call out here. The criticism, especially on this last chapter, was super-useful and the chapter and the story would be a pale version of itself without you guys. So thanks!
Next: Chapter 22 -- Twenty Years Later, Part 3
As the last of ten long lines were drawn, Harry felt the floor vibrate. "I don't think this is a good idea," he said. "I can already feel it. I don't want you messing with anything dark."
Snape handed him the chalk. "You finish it then."
Was this a test? Harry wondered. He studied the diagram and Snape said, "You need to make a string equal to the length of the distance between the outer circle and the pentagon vertex." When Harry had done that, he made arc inward of the pentagon. Then he made more long lines, the intersections of which told him where to draw an inner pentagon to the first. He was not as adept at mounting the dowels and tracing the twine for a straight line, so this proceeded slowly.