Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 18

"Who you?"

Harry was greeted by a pointing toddler, the moment he stepped into the Potters' cosy kitchen, the morning after his interrogation in Dumbledore's office.

He smiled awkwardly at the child—at the miniature version of himself, "I'm Harry, pleased to meet you," and shook the sticky hand that the young boy had used to point at him. It felt fragile in his hand; had he really been that tiny once?

The child giggled mirthfully—his older self definitely couldn't remember ever being that carefree—and shook his head, "Nuh-uh, me Hawwy!"

"That's right," replied the teenager, "You're Harry, but I'm Harry too."

"Nuh-uh!" insisted the child, as he wondered who exactly the strange grown-up was; he who looked a little like Daddy, but he definitely wasn't Daddy.

"Uh-huh," countered the older boy, "One day, when you're big, you're going to look almost exactly like me—hopefully minus a few scars," he gestured to the faded bolt of lightning on his forehead, swallowing the wave of memories the action evoked—all the things he'd come back to prevent this Harry from living through, "and maybe a little taller..." This child would never be deprived of nourishment, the way he had been starved by the Dursleys.

"Nuh-uh!" insisted little Harry, though all he'd understood of the speech was that the stranger thought he'd look like him, one day, when he was big. When he was big, he wanted to be just like Daddy, not some stranger.

His counterpart sighed—had he always been so stubborn? Was he still so stubborn? Time for a change in tactics. "Fine, you're right, I'm not Harry; I'm Frankenstein's monster come to steal you away..." he responded, adding a growl at the end for good measure.

The toddler shook his head laughing, "Nuh-uh!" but—just in case the strange man really was planning to take him away —he searched the room for Mummy. He found her standing near the door to the big room where they ate when Padfoot and Moony and Wormtail came over. The strange woman he'd met earlier was with her, and Mummy was leaning on a big chair; her eyes were wet. Mummy smiled at him, and he felt safe. She wouldn't let the strange man take him away.

Harry followed the child's gaze, catching sight of Lily and Luna watching from the doorway leading to the dining room. He nodded at Luna and smiled shyly at his mother, before turning his attention back to the child, hopping around the table, as he asked, "I'm the Easter Bunny?"

His younger self giggled again, but disagreed, "Nuh-uh!" The Easter Bunny was a bunny! Mummy was giggling too, but her eyes looked sad.

He didn't have time to wonder why Mummy's eyes looked sad though, because now the dark-haired stranger was pretending to be Father Christmas. He shook his head vigorously, "Nuh-uh!" Father Christmas had white hair and a white beard.

"I know!" exclaimed the older boy. "I must be…Harry!"

"Uh-huh!" exclaimed the toddler, clapping. The stranger definitely wasn't Frankenstein's monster, or the Easter Bunny, or Father Christmas, maybe he was called Harry—but he'd still rather look like Daddy when he grew up.

"So you finally admit it?" asked the older wizard, smiling. It warmed his heart to see the child giggling happily, especially when he considered that in the original timeline he'd have been a few hours away from being left on the Dursleys' stoop.

"Uh-huh!" The toddler grinned, still clapping.

There was more clapping, but this time not from the child. Harry's cheeks reddened and he spun around. Luna was grinning widely and clapping as she entered the room, pushing a dining room chair in front of her. Lily stood in the doorway, still staring intently. Her expression was difficult to decipher, but Harry thought he could make out a couple of tears glistening in the corners of her eyes and he struggled not to squirm under the intensity of her gaze.

He was saved from further discomfort when Luna walked over, and leaning in close, addressed his younger self, face to face, effectively drawing Lily's attention away from her older son. "Listen here, Harry. One of the first lessons you need to learn in life is never argue with yourself. You always lose… And you always win."

The toddler looked at her pensively, trying to make sense of what she'd said, before getting distracted and instead pulling at one of the earrings that she'd appropriated from the Room of Hidden Things.

The awkward silence which followed her speech, as Luna tried to reclaim her ear, and mother and son stared at each other from across the room, lasted only a moment before being broken by the sound of little Harry's giggles. Lily stepped fully into the room, dragging the chair that she had retrieved from the dining room behind her, the sound of wood on linoleum loud in the relative quiet of the kitchen.

As she pushed the chair into place beside Luna's at the table, Harry couldn't help thinking that Aunt Petunia would never have let him drag a chair like that, afraid it would damage her floors. Then again, Aunt Petunia would never have brought dining room chairs into the kitchen either, or let him just sit and watch as she finished breakfast preparations.

He offered to help, but Lily waved him away, insisting she didn't need the help. So, instead, he sat back down and soaked in the scene, from the homey furnishings to the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.

Within a couple of minutes, his mother lay a full plate of eggs and sausage in front of Luna, who had, by then, succeeded in freeing herself from young Harry's sticky grasp, and reclaiming her seat. "Eat up, children, there's nothing but skin on your bones," she said, as she lay a second plate—twice as full as the first— in front of Harry, before serving herself and sitting down in the seat beside the high chair.

Harry smiled shyly at the motherly admonition, "Thanks, Mum." It was strange how different it felt hearing the words from her than the hundreds of times Molly Weasley had uttered the same thing. He took a bite—savouring the taste of a homemade breakfast after a month of camping in Antarctica—then asked, "Where's Dad?"

"Sleeping," Lily smiled fondly, "Your father could sleep all day if I let him. Not that I'll let him though. The Headmaster sent Fawkes with a message; he's expecting us at one. I was thinking of leaving Harry with Alice and Frank—he and Neville always got along so well before we went into hiding. Now that the danger is over..." she trailed off, noticing how both time-travellers were shaking their heads emphatically, "What's wrong?"

"Not a good idea!" answered Harry, shaking his head more vigorously.

It was Luna who explained, "Voldemort might be incapacitated, but his Death Eaters are not. Both Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured to insanity by Crouch Junior and the Lestranges on November fifteenth.

Lily blanched, and brought her hand up to her mouth in shock, letting her fork clatter to the floor. "Oh, dear!"

"Of course, given the changes we've made just by coming here, they may decide to move up their plans...especially if you send Harry there," Luna continued.

"Then what are we waiting for!?" Lily jumped up, knocking her chair over in the process. How could they sit there so calmly and inform her that her good friends were going to be tortured—might be in the process of being tortured, this very minute—and do nothing? "We have to warn them!"

Luna put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We will; but there's nothing to be gained by rushing things," she shot a reproachful glance at Harry, in reference to his actions the night before. "They're not likely to just take us at our word, and we really don't have any way of knowing what miniscule things might have been changed by our being here…"

Harry nodded his agreement, "Neville was a good friend, and his parents didn't deserve what happened to them. But things are complicated; we need at least one of the Lestranges alive—and in our custody—in order to recover the Horcrux that they have hidden in their Gringotts vault..."

Breathing heavily in an attempt to calm her nerves, Lily turned her attention from Luna to Harry, glaring. There was nothing complicated about the matter. "So you're going to sacrifice Alice and Frank, to get to one of You-Know-Who's Horcruxes!?" she exclaimed shrilly. For the first time since she'd met him the night before–since she'd realized that this was her little boy all grown up–Lily felt the stirrings of shame. Was this the type of person her son would grow up to be?

Harry shook his head vigorously, in denial, "No! No! I didn't say that. Just that it's going to take careful planning—something, I'm not very good at. So we really need to consider every angle before talking to the Longbottoms."

Lily's anger diffused somewhat. "I'll hold you to that, because if something happens to my friends because you decided to use them as pawns in your game against You-Know-Who, I'm not sure that I'll be able to forgive you—son from the future, or not," she warned.

Harry squirmed under her glare, her accusation running through his mind. He'd travelled back in time to avoid being a pawn in the war against Voldemort, to avoid his family becoming sacrifices to the cause… Was he now doing the same thing to Neville's family? Reversing their roles? Turing them into pawns and sacrifices in his family's stead?

No; he refused to be that person. He looked his mother straight in the eyes, as he responded definitively, "I promise, we will save the Longbottoms—even if it means letting the Lestranges go free." His conscience would never let him live with the alternative.

Lily felt a surge of pride. She nodded, the last of her anger draining away—though her hands refused to stop shaking—as she righted her chair and sat back down. Laying them flat on the table, she took a few calming breaths.

When she next spoke, her voice was musingly sad, "When did you get so old, Son?"

Their eyes met once more. "I'm eighteen years old, Mum," he answered, confused by the abrupt change in topic; one minute she was yelling at him, and now she was asking about his age?

"I know, and I've missed your entire childhood…You've grown into a man that I don't know…" There were tears glistening in her eyes. "But that's not what I meant," she continued, "Your eyes; they look so much like my own, and yet they look almost as old as Dumbledore's." She paused. "Eyes that old don't belong on such a youthful face. You're too young to be playing with people's lives…"

"I—uh—" Harry stumbled over his response, unsure what to say, how to explain. She already knew about the prophecy and all it entailed, so that wasn't what she was asking. He tried to reassure her that he was okay, that he didn't really mind his lot in life, so long as he could protect the people he loved and protect the child he once was from living the same life he had…but the words wouldn't come out.

Luna saved him the trouble of figuring it out, "Such are the consequences of war," she cut in. "Young men and women are struck down in the prime of their lives, while those left behind are aged beyond their years."

Lily turned towards her startled. "You're right, of course. It's just so hard to get my mind around… Last night, I had one son, one fifteen month-old little boy. Now my baby is still fifteen months old, but I've got another child—no, not a child," her voice cracked, "a grown son, almost as old as myself, an eighteen-year-old war veteran who has seen more of the world than I have…"

Luna smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, Lily," she patted the red-head's shoulder, and glancing over at Harry, added, "It's confusing for us too."

Harry watched the interaction uneasily from across the table for a moment, before making up his mind. There were butterflies in his stomach as he crossed the distance separating them and drew Lily into a hug, the hug he'd dreamed of for as long as he could remember. It was made awkward by the fact that she was sitting, but she didn't push him away—as he'd feared. Instead, she drew him onto her lap, and returned the hug with all her strength. The position couldn't be very comfortable for her—he was half a head taller and at least a stone heavier, but she held him tightly and refused to let go.

She'd seen the hurt in his eyes, the hurt she hadn't been there to protect him from. Her baby had been thrown into a battle he'd had no place in, forced to grow up before his time. And yet, despite all his trials, he'd grown into a fine young man. She couldn't make up for all the years she hadn't been there, but she could give him this small comfort now, this tiny piece of her heart.

Despite the unconventional position, Harry found himself melting into the hug. He'd had hugs before—Mrs Weasley in particular liked to trap him in her embrace on a regular basis—but nothing compared to this, to the feeling of a mother's unconditional love and protection as she enveloped him in her arms and held him tightly. He didn't struggle to squirm free; he didn't want her to let go.

Lily dabbed at the tears in her eyes as they finally drew apart. "Anyhow," she tried to change the subject, "I'm glad to see you inherited my eyes instead of your father's vision problems..."

"I inherited both actually," explained Harry, "But I had the vision taken care of before I left home, when I realized that my glasses wouldn't survive the trip."

"Oh?" replied Lily, "But, I thought there was no magical solution for nearsightedness?"

"No magical solution, no," agreed Harry, "but for the right price, Muggles have been repairing people's vision with hi-tech lasers since the early nineties."

Lily laughed, "One more thing that the Muggles figured out before wizards then…So, it works?"

"So, far, so good."

Lily smirked mischievously, "Maybe in ten years we can convince your father to do the same…"

"Why so smug?" asked Harry.

Lily laughed once more, "Your father may not be a pure-blood fanatic, but he doesn't have a very high opinion of Muggles and their technology… My sister still refuses to talk to me since the argument he started with her husband at their wedding—about drills, of all things. Granted, we hadn't been getting along all that well before that—ever since I started Hogwarts—but that was apparently the last straw for her."

"Probably best if you wait fifteen, then." suggested Harry, smiling. "The earlier surgeries weren't quite as successful as the later ones."

She was smirking once more, as she stood, "Can you two watch the baby for a minute? I'm going to go wake your dad up."

A minute later, the two time-travellers burst out laughing when they heard James exclaim, "NO WAY!" from the master bedroom…

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