Regulus walks out of the curse-breaking chamber smiling wider than Anne’s ever seen, which she chooses to take as a good sign. The better one is that his left sleeve is still rolled up; she didn’t even see his forearm uncovered when he was in the hospital.
Harry asks about it before she can. “All better?”
“All better,” Regulus says. “And now it’s time to get you all better. You’re still hurt from last week, after all.”
“Yeah.” Harry goes quiet for a few moments. “Scary?”
“It might be, and she’ll probably have to poke you to help fix it. But it’ll mean you’re not hurt anymore.”
Harry goes quiet again, but he nods, and doesn’t seem against the idea of going into the curse-breaking chamber. Anne sets him on the central altar according to Tornok’s instructions, and transfigures a couple of cough drop wrappers into bobby pins to keep Harry’s wild hair out of the way of the spell work.
“Tell me what you know about the curse damage,” Tornok says, and Harry surprises Anne again by piping up before she or Regulus can explain.
“Bad man hurt Mum.” It’s barely more than a whisper, but it’s the first thing she’s actually heard him say about his terrible weekend. “Green. Bad man went foo!”
“Treat it like a horcrux,” Regulus says. “I’m not holding out much hope that it isn’t, and it’s better to do too much than too little. As for the protective interference you mentioned earlier, that’s probably down to his mother.”
“Few mothers would not do such, in that position.” Tornok heads to the chamber door, sticks her head out for a few moments, and comes back with Silverclaw. “If we are to treat this like a horcrux, I will not do so without assistance. It may also be better if the child sleeps.”
“It is past his usual bedtime anyway,” Anne says. “What do you think, Harry? Do you want to be awake or asleep for this?”
Harry looks at her, then Regulus, then the goblins, then back to Anne. “Sleep.” Tornok nods and passes Anne a vial of Dreamless Sleep; it’s smaller than usual, so she assumes it’s a child-sized dose.
“This is for you, then. Don’t worry, we’ll both be here the whole time.”
Once Harry’s sound asleep, Tornok motions for Anne and Regulus to step back, and then she and Silverclaw set to work. Anne has absolutely no idea what’s happening; Regulus looks only slightly less lost, and she’d bet that’s because he just went through something similar. It feels like it takes forever, but she doesn’t say anything; this is the sort of thing you want to take a long time doing, to make sure it’s precise.
Then one of the goblins slices Harry’s scar open with a ritual knife, and Harry starts screaming.
No, Harry’s still asleep, and something else is using his voice to do the screaming. Okay, that’s one of the most fucking alarming things Anne’s ever witnessed.
Whichever of the goblins it is that has the knife - probably Tornok, but Anne’s lost track - shouts something that, despite the language barrier, has a decidedly ‘I cast you out’ feeling to it, just as a bright shaft of moonlight hits the stone altar. Not-Harry’s screaming gets louder, and then abruptly stops as some kind of oily black mist leaks out of the opened scar. The other goblin traps the mist in a crystal jar. The pair of them move to a stone vat to one side of the room, opening it just long enough to drop the jar inside.
Anne’s too curious not to ask. “What’s in there?”
“Basilisk venom,” Tornok says; she sounds exhausted. “It is done. He will sleep well into tomorrow. If he hasn’t awoken on his own by your evening meal, wake him long enough to feed him. If he still sleeps other than meals on Friday, bring him back here and we will see what we can do.”
“Thank you, Tornok,” Regulus says as he scoops Harry off the altar. “For everything. Silverclaw, I’ll likely be making an appointment with you soon, but I haven’t worked out all the details of the proposal on my end yet, and it’s something that can’t be acted upon until Mother’s dead and I’m the formal head of the family.”
“But you would rather have it in position for that moment?” Silverclaw nods. “I will await your appointment, in that case. Our cousins in London will reclaim the three promised shortswords tomorrow.”
When Silverclaw and Tornok lead them back out to the bank’s entrance, Anne isn’t even a little surprised to find it’s past midnight. “If we didn’t have a sleeping toddler to worry about, I’d say let’s stop by a diner.”
“Maybe we still could, if there’s one that would do takeaway.” Regulus shifts Harry in his arms so he can cover a yawn. “But I think I’d rather go home. Since you’ll be home tomorrow, we should go make sure you’re authorised to pick Harry up from daycare.”
Despite being exhausted, Regulus sits up for another hour and a half after they get home, just looking at his bare forearm. It’s still bloody odd, after so long, but in a good way. That ritual alone has taken a tremendous weight off his shoulders.
It’s not nearly everything, and he knows it. He put Anne in charge of finding him a therapist, since she knows what to look for far better than he does. If there’s someone in this city who actually knows a thing or two about British magical culture, it’ll save him a hell of a lot of explaining, but he’s not getting his hopes up; he’ll settle for someone who can help both himself and Harry, even if it’s two people in the same office.
Still, this is a start - he can’t be dragged back into the vipers’ nest, and Harry no longer has a ticking time bomb lodged in his head. As starts go, it’ll do.
Harry wakes up well after his usual lunch time the next afternoon, but shows no sign of side effects from the ritual. They swing by the daycare long enough to make sure Anne’s verified to pick Harry up, then go out for the celebratory dinner they were all too tired for the night before. Regulus isn’t sure if Harry truly understands what happened, but that’s all right; they can make sure he does when he’s older.
By the next weekend, he has his next plan as ready as he can make it on his own, and makes an appointment with Silverclaw.
“This is about the idea you mentioned last week?” Silverclaw says, after they’re seated.
Regulus nods. “My cousin effectively orphaned a child recently. One way or another, I intend to set up a reparation stipend for the child, since his parents may never be capable of earning money in their own right again. But I was wondering if it would be possible, once I’m properly head of the house, to reclaim Bella’s dowry vault and use that as the source for the funds.”
“There are no goblin laws against it. Human laws would likely take your side as well. It will depend on the wording of the contract that awarded Bellatrix Black Lestrange the dowry vault. This will take some time to arrange, if it can be done, which may delay the readiness of the reparations.”
“I have to wait for Mother to die before I can contact them anyway. She probably thinks this was an inspired move on Bella’s part and she was unjustly arrested.”
Silverclaw nods absently, reading over the draft of what Regulus wants made available for Neville Longbottom no matter where the money comes from. “This is a sound proposal,” they finally say. “I will discuss matters with our cousins in London to see what is feasible. If the contract allows for seizure of the dowry vault, all or part of the reparations will come from its contents, minus any goblin-made or Dark artifacts the vault holds. Fees will be deducted from the House of Black’s primary vault regardless.”
“As they should be. Thank you for your assistance.” Regulus is about to stand to leave, but Silverclaw motions for him to wait, and produces a key and debit card.
“You have been granted access to Harry Potter’s trust vault. We are still compiling the information on House Potter’s assets, but this much is done.”
“That was fast.” Regulus smiles. “Thank you again, then, for being so efficient about it.”
“You are a valued customer. We do not have many of those, these decades.” Silverclaw finally rises, signaling they have no more business to discuss.
Harry seems to improve by leaps and bounds now that the horcrux is out of his head. He still has nightmares, but he begins talking more and making friends at the daycare; the staff report that he’s even pulling down picture books to ‘read.’ Regulus just takes that as a sign that they need to read with him more, so he can get the hang of it quickly when he starts trying.
The winter holidays take some negotiation. Anne’s parents describe themselves as agnostic Jewish, which Regulus didn’t even know it was possible to be (“we were taught not to advertise it, given the state of the world at the time,” Sarah says by way of explanation, “and then neither of us really felt a need to practice”); Anne herself doesn’t have a strong connection to any religion in particular. Regulus would prefer a proper Yule, but his apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, which rather limits what he can do indoors. Harry doesn’t remember what traditions his parents kept.
“If I had to guess, I would say his mother’s family is some manner of Christian,” Regulus says, as they’re trying to figure out what to do. “The Potters had some Indian heritage, but I don’t know where in India, which would at least make a difference in terms of language.”
“And the one person you could ask for useful information is in jail.” Anne sighs. “I guess we’ll just have to wing it. Presents are traditional for pretty much everything at this point, aren’t they?”
“They are, and I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t like presents. Eight days’ worth seems a little excessive, though.”
“Considering we’re mostly looking at, what, three days tops for everything else? I can get behind that, but Mom and Dad might go for the full eight anyway. I’d say bring in a tree, but we don’t have anything to decorate it with, so that’d just be a fire hazard in the living room.”
Regulus nods, then goes still as an idea strikes him. “Maybe so, but I think I can find a useful compromise.”
It takes scouring four toy stores over the weekend, but one in the magical district finally turns up what he’s looking for - an overlarge stuffed goat charmed to ‘burst into flames’ periodically, with no actual fire involved. If he can’t have a proper Yule log, he’ll settle for a Yule goat, and there’s nothing saying it can’t guard the presents as well as a tree could. (Anne nearly falls over laughing when she first sees it, and Harry keeps trying to ride it. He counts it as a success.)
He has to go to London to sort out gifts; there’s only so much international business Gringotts can conduct, and producing physical objects from an ocean away on demand isn’t in the goblins’ skill set. He suspects it’ll be worth it for the end result, though, and Harry certainly seems pleased with the quilt he recovered from the Potter family’s primary vault. It’s a vibrant blend of British and Indian quilting practices, and appears to be made from remnants of old traditional clothing.
“You should at least have a piece of your family here,” he says, and Harry beams and hugs him.
Andy sent Harry a stuffed snake, after hearing about Harry’s attempts to talk to a snake at the zoo (Regulus still isn’t sure if he succeeded or not), and Anne and Regulus a non-magical toaster oven, calling it the single most useful kitchen appliance her husband introduced her to. Anne passes on a ridiculous amount of cookies from her parents - and gives Regulus some of her mother’s college textbooks.
She grins when he opens the package. “She thought you’d be interested in the different perspective, not to mention her notes.”
“She’d be right. Now open your presents.”
“Fine, fine.” Anne picks up the larger of her two presents. “How about I start with the mysteriously book-shaped one. Whatever could it be.”
“It would have been mysteriously broom-shaped, if you still played quidditch with any regularity.”
“Yeah, I don’t really fly enough these days to…” When she gets enough paper off to read the book’s title, Anne falls silent. “How the hell did you find this?”
“Magical London does have a bookstore, you know.”
“Oh, shut up. This is… it’s ridiculously rare, especially in the States. Like, I think there’s a copy in the Library of Congress and a copy in a collection of Ben Franklin’s old stuff and that’s about it. There definitely aren’t many first editions kicking around.”
“I’m aware.” Regulus can’t help a wry smile. “All we have in the family library is Io Black’s original manuscript, which isn’t the most legible piece of writing in the world. It’s not even in the Hogwarts library, unless it’s lurking in the Restricted Section somewhere. But that was worth scouring Flourish and Blotts for, so don’t you dare tell me you can’t accept it.”
“Seminal transfiguration theory that could probably pay my parents’ rent for the next year? I’m never going to get used to rich-people levels of reasonable presents.” But she doesn’t try to protest any further, which Regulus counts as a win.
He’s much more worried about how the smaller box is going to go over. That one, he had to raid the family vault for, hoping the entire time that his mother hadn’t decided to sell what he was looking for (she never did have any taste). Fortunately, it was still there; he just hopes Anne doesn’t reject it.
She gets the jewelry box unwrapped but unopened and gives him a look; then she opens the box. “Oh, wow.”
“I don’t know the last time that one was used, but it’s not cursed - I made sure of that much - and one of the perks of being from a rich family is we keep a lot of old valuables. That one felt the most like something you might actually wear, and I found a chain as well, if you’d rather not have it on your hand.”
“Both our main school colors.” Anne takes the ring out of the box; it’s a simple white-gold band, set with an emerald bracketed by a pair of amethysts. “Does this mean what I think it means?”
“That depends. Do you think it means I’d very much like it if you married me?”
“Absolutely.” She puts the ring on, leans over, and kisses Regulus with clear intent, even if they can’t follow through on that intent until Harry’s gone to bed for the night.
Anne does end up using the chain Regulus provided to wear her engagement ring as a pendant, most of the time. It’s easier on her mind than worrying about the setting catching on something at work, or the gems getting scratched up, or the whole thing getting lost or stolen. Her mom squeals in her ear when she tells her parents, and her dad is beaming. Harry seems pretty happy about the whole thing too, but then, as far as he knows she’s never not been with Regulus.
The only wedding tradition she insists on for herself is getting to stomp on a wine glass. Regulus looks baffled by the idea the first time she mentions it, but doesn’t protest. He’s working on wrangling his cousin’s presence, both as the only family he can safely contact at the moment and to do a ritual spell his family’s used in every wedding since before Hogwarts existed.
“The spell normally needs two people,” he says, “one for each side of the marriage. There is a variant that can be fully powered by one representative, but… do you think your mother would want to at least stand in that place, even if she can’t do the spell?”
“I think that would make her year. You get to ask her, though. She’s gonna want to know everything about the spell regardless.”
Regulus nods. “I’ll make sure to set aside an afternoon for it, then.”
After New Year’s, while Harry’s preoccupied with his new toys, Anne finally works up the nerve to ask about the house-elves thing. If she’s marrying into a family that has at least one, she needs to know what she’s getting into - and if it really is as bad as it sounds, figure out how to break the habit.
Regulus sighs, but doesn’t protest the question. “Ideally, it’s a symbiotic relation of sorts between the elf and the human family. In exchange for their services - cooking, cleaning, protection - the elves are granted food, shelter, and access to the human family’s magic. I’m not aware of any cases where that arrangement includes monetary or material pay as we’d recognise it, but those are family matters, so it’s entirely possible. I also don’t know the specifics Hogwarts uses for the elves that work there. The stronger the bond, the more powerful the elf is, and the more the humans benefit from the relationship.”
“And what does it look like when it’s not ideal?”
“Like the people here who freed all the house-elves had cause for concern, frankly. There are many families that abuse the setup for their own gain, either because they don’t understand the bond or because they don’t care. This has often included my own family. One of my great-aunts decided that the best way to honor a house-elf’s faithful service was to mount their head on the wall - we have a stairwell full of the bloody things.”
Anne winces. “Let me guess, the elves weren’t the ones deciding when their service was done?”
“They were not, no. I’ve always thought it was more of a threat than an honor. As soon as Mother’s dead, I’m going to ask Kreacher to make sure they get proper treatment.”
“Why not just free him?”
“The magical bond with our family is deeply entrenched,” Regulus says. “Cutting it off might kill him, and - he agreed to help a third party because I asked if he’d be willing, but I still nearly sent him to his death, and I won’t be doing that again. Besides, there’s no social structure for unbonded house-elves, and I don’t think he’d leave my side if I tried to force him to. Getting him to leave the cave without me was hard enough. If he dies in my lifetime, I’d most likely hire humans as a replacement.”
“And eat a lot of takeout until the kitchen’s human-scale, I bet. How do you free a house-elf, anyway?”
“By giving them clothes.”
Anne blinks. “Okay, then one, what do they wear, and two, who does the laundry?”
Regulus laughs, almost out of nowhere. “Sorry, I was picturing Mother washing her own clothes and how poorly that would go. Giving an elf clothes requires a bit more intent than just leaving things laying around or tossing them a dirty sock or whatnot - if that manages to break a bond, the bond was very weak to begin with. As for what they wear, they can do very creative things with sheets and tea towels.”
“Hope they don’t have to go outside much, in that case.” Anne sighs. “I don’t think I’m ever really going to understand, but at least you’re trying to do right by him.”
“Of course I am. He didn’t have much choice about being Mother’s enforcer, though I doubt Sirius will ever forgive him for that, but he’s still my friend.”
“I’m still trying to figure out how you stumbled into good manners with ‘the help,’ since your mother certainly didn’t teach you.”
“I can’t say it was altruistic,” Regulus says with a wry smile. “I was about five when I noticed being nice to Kreacher got me better meals. I decided to try the same thing the first time Father took me into Gringotts, and it paid off there, too.”
“And when did you expand that to other humans who don’t happen to share your vaunted pedigree?”
“Admittedly, that took longer, but the seed was planted at Hogwarts.”
In mid-February, completely by chance, she meets that catalyst.
Patient digging through credentials and asking everyone she knows if they could help finally turned up a therapist who knows how magical Britain works, and Anne was too excited about the success to ask how. She doesn’t think anything of it until they all go to meet the people at the office and Regulus stops short in the doorway.
“So this is where you disappeared to,” he says, and whoever he’s talking to laughs.
“‘Leo.’ I should have guessed. That’s not very subtle, you know.” She has traces of an English accent that sounds more like the Beatles than the BBC; it’s doing interesting things to the New York-based American she’s picking up.
Regulus finally moves out of the doorway, allowing Anne to get a good look at the therapist. She has blonde hair so curly it’s bordering on frizzy, and even sitting down looks to be a good foot shorter than Anne herself.
“Olivia Martin,” she says, offering a handshake once Anne’s shifted Harry’s weight enough to return it. “I’m the Greengrass family’s dirty laundry.”
“She was two years ahead of me at Hogwarts,” Regulus adds. “She was the first person I really talked to who didn’t grow up in a magical household. And the reason I passed my Transfiguration OWL without turning anything plaid, paisley, or other interesting patterns it was definitely not supposed to be.”
“So that’s why you never demonstrated,” Anne says. “But if you’re only two years older than Regulus, how are you here and working already?”
Olivia smiles. “I moved the second I got out of Hogwarts, for one thing. I wasn’t too keen on staying in a country where the people in power thought I had no right to exist because my sperm donor couldn’t keep his trousers closed. Strictly speaking, this is an internship, but they said you needed someone who understands magical Britain. I can’t work with the little one directly - assuming that’s why he’s here? - but I think I’ve already heard three-quarters of what brought Regulus here.”
“Yeah, Harry… he’s already been through a lot.” Anne doesn’t miss the way Olivia’s eyebrows climb when she says Harry’s name, but she also doesn’t say anything about it. “He’s not talking much yet, but we figured giving him a safe place for when he can would help.”
“It will. Therapy for him is going to look a lot more like playtime at this age, or coloring, but it’ll make it normal. As for you,” Olivia says, turning to Regulus, “I’m surprised anyone from your family knows how to admit they need help in the first place.”
“Yes, well.” Regulus shrugs. “You already know about my charming family and my cousin’s favorite pastime. Extracting myself from my cousin’s favorite pastime only added to the list, and now I have a traumatised toddler on my hands. Aside from setting a good example for him, I need to - not just pass my problems down the line. I’ve already had one panic attack about this. If I can cut down the risk of Harry thinking one of those is his fault, I’d like to.”
Olivia nods. “Well, you’re off to a good start. Let’s introduce Harry to someone who can do his play therapy, and then we’ll sort out where to start with your mind, shall we?”
Anne sits in the room with Harry while he gets to know the other therapist, a sweet older woman named Phyllis, and scribbles some pictures. She won’t be there every time, especially as he starts talking in earnest, but they all agreed it was a good idea for this first session. She just hopes this helps him as much as they think it will, in the long run.
Regulus has the most impressive poker face Anne’s ever seen in her damn life, but by now she can spot the one or two cracks in it that suggest he’s been crying, when they leave.
“We started with the part she didn’t already know something about,” he says. “That was bloody exhausting.”
“You can always take a nap when we get home. Do you think it helped?”
“...Maybe. This isn’t something I’m used to. But I’m hardly going to quit now.”
They order pizza when they get home, and settle back into their usual routine - and it’s not until the end of the month that Anne realises she hasn’t had a period since before Christmas.
Narcissa sighs as she begins sorting through her morning’s correspondence, brought in and placed on her desk by Dobby. She’s growing more and more certain that Lucius is one of those who don’t believe house-elves have true worth and thus does not properly respect the bond between elf and human, and there’s only so much she can do to rectify that while he’s in the manor.
Alas that his Imperius defense regarding the war seems to be ironclad, so far. Narcissa knows better - knows Lucius made himself subservient to another with scarcely a second thought, of his own free will - and she’s sure half the Wizengamot knows better, too. But his money is doing the talking, and Minister Fudge won’t risk losing it by pursuing such a blatantly false story.
Incompetent, the lot of them. She could do a better job herself.
It’s not the first time she’s considered getting into politics, but she has other plans to carry out first. Sooner or later, Lucius will slip up in a way that cannot be ignored, much like Bella finally did in November. At that point, she will disentangle herself from her husband, and lay claim to as much of his money as she possibly can on her way out. She’s going to be raising his child, after all. Then she can finally find herself a girlfriend, like she’s wanted to this whole time.
Draco already idolises his father, much to her dismay. She can only hope the means to keep him from repeating Lucius’ mistakes present themselves in a timely fashion. In the meantime, she will teach him proper manners, and try to see to it that he doesn’t become thoroughly unpleasant.
Most of her correspondence is quite standard - invitations to social gatherings and the sort of gossip that keeps magical society moving (though Narcissa isn’t quite so certain that it’s moving in the proper direction as she once was; thinking about her child growing up only to fight and die in a repeat of the war interrupts her sleep at the worst possible moments). There is, however, one envelope that stands out from the rest. It’s unfamiliar paper, and sealed with some form of tough adhesive rather than a wax seal.
A Muggle envelope? Who on earth would be sending her one of those?
The equally-unfamiliar paper inside, white with a series of blue lines, and its brief missive (in ink far too fine and consistent to have come from a quill) raise more questions than answers.
If B forced your hand on the matter of a certain bad tattooist, ask the goblins. Be prepared to repatriate something. A can vouch for this if you want a second opinion.
The note is unsigned, but then, it hardly has to be. Very few people indeed would dare to refer to Narcissa so informally - it started as a fond inside joke, before Andy left and Bella… proved she was never going to be a kind person and the joke turned a bit sour. Aside from that, she recognises the handwriting, a secret only three people were ever let in on.
Despite Aunt Walburga’s best efforts to the contrary, Reggie never stopped writing with his left hand. He just saved it for extremely private matters. Such as this one.
He seems to have found a better pen for the purpose, as well.
Narcissa shakes her head, attempting to gather her thoughts. At first she can’t think how Reggie survived whatever mad escape attempt the Black family tapestry says killed him - and then she remembers her favored hair pins, which have been part of every hairstyle she’s put up since Andy gave them to her, just in case. If he’s hiding in the Muggle world, or possibly abroad, that would go some way toward explaining the paper and ink.
She did not, as he worded it, have to make deals with a bad tattooist, but she’s glad Reggie found a way out of that deal for himself. She will not be passing this information along to Lucius; he can clean up after his own blunder.
But she does know a few others who may appreciate the insight.
Narcissa burns the letter and its envelope. As much as she’d like to keep the proof of her cousin’s safety, doing so would jeopardise that very safety; it’s enough that she knows, and even Dobby can’t be ordered to say anything useful about its contents.
Perhaps, though, it’s time to open a line of communication with Andy, if she’ll listen.