They hadn't been able to register until well into the next day. However, once they'd gotten to the desk, few if any questions were asked. The clerk didn't seem to care where Tom and his family had come from, what it was they did for a living, or why they had left everything behind. He had only grunted when Tom had noted (feeling like he was speaking blasphemy and daring the wrath of the aurors even as he said it) that his daughter had magic and would need an appropriate education.
Instead of answering, the clerk shoved a handful of pamphlets at them, stamped a few papers, then gave them what was apparently the deed to the empty plot of land they now owned, courtesy of the magnanimous and very generous emperor who gave away such plots of land to all arriving refugees. In a country where the laws of physics meant little, land apparently came cheap.
(Apparently, it was only if you wanted housing in the city proper, if you wanted neighbors, community, and an easy commute, that things because hideously expensive.)
And that had been that. Not a few minutes later, Lily, Tom, and Harry were staring at an empty field that, apparently, now belonged them. Glancing at their surroundings, Tom couldn't see a single hint of a neighbor anywhere in sight. The city itself large as it was, was also nowhere in sight.
"There's no house," Harry said, seated once again on her suitcase, and giving the empty field a very dull and unimpressed look.
There wasn't. One of Tom's pamphlets had suggested how to contact a carpenter or else a wizard (though, of course, it hadn't used that term), the latter being able to easily construct a house within the hour provided Tom had the funds to pay.
(There was a disturbing trend throughout the pamphlets Tom had glanced at so far, the idea that things could be done miraculously easily, so long as you had the funds to pay.)
Fortunately for them, Tom himself was a goddamn wizard, and could build his own house.
Closing his eyes to concentrate, Tom willed the structure into reality, only opening them when he heard a loud thunk and felt dust around them settling. Looking at it—well, Tom wasn't a carpenter, and it could use some work, but at least was standing.
Even if it was a little lopsided.
"We can work with this," Lily assured him, patting him n the shoulder, "It shouldn't be too hard."
Harry said nothing, looking at the pair of them as if they were idiots, and without a word opened the front door and slammed it shut as she stalked inside. Evidently, she was going to make her opinion on this move perfectly clear for a while yet.
Tom sighed and, motioning to Lily, followed her inside.
It wasn't terrible, Tom lacked for creativity, and the first floor looked extremely reminiscent to the house in Hogsmeade, but that was far from the worst thing in the world.
Unlocking his suitcase, he began to arrange most of their belongings in their correct places. They hadn't brought everything, but most of the kitchen had come with them intact, along with most of the furniture. Within a minute or so the house didn't look quite so barren.
Still a little lopsided, but at least it looked like people lived in this place.
Tom and Lily both stared critically at the living room couch, only just small enough for the space, but still a little too large to quite fit.
Once again, Lily insisted, "We can work with this, it's not so bad."
Tom idly wondered if Lily would be saying that when it rained, and the roof inevitably started leaking. Well, magic could take care of that too, Tom supposed. What Tom lacked in architecture he could make up for in raw abuse of magic.
That, at least, he knew he was good at.
As Lily said, they could work with this. Would work with this.
Tom sighed and looked down at the pamphlets in his hand, "I suppose we'd best take a look at these."
Lily sighed as she took several from him.
She flipped through them idly as she walked towards the kitchen, Tom following her and with a flick of his hand setting a kettle of tea on the stove.
"They're vague on employment opportunities," Lily said, frowning as she quickly read through the papers, "Something about a job center, but nothing about support networks."
Tom looked through his own pamphlets. One was on schooling for children, and it was also quite vague. There was mention of a public school system, an even vaguer mention of what must be the magical academy, but it was noted that in the case of the latter an application was required and would be submitted to some kind of board. There was an offhand mention of options existing in the public school system for children with 'the gift' but not what these options were or what they meant.
To register Harry for anything, it seemed he had to contact several places directly.
Tom supposed he'd never thought about registration. The Hogwarts letter system had always taken care of that for them. Wizarding Britain's long-standing traditions had taken care of many things for them.
He supposed, in terms of employment at least, that being competent wizards, unemployment shouldn't hamper them too much. So long as they had enough money for food, or at least for seeds, they would be fine. Oh, they'd have to make everything themselves, and it would be more than a little obnoxious, but it'd be doable.
A little disappointing, certainly, but doable.
Though, in retrospect, Tom wasn't sure what he'd been expecting. He was so tired, it all seemed so far away from him now, but he'd imagined—He didn't know. That it'd be more streamlined, he supposed, that it'd be a little easier to slip right back into this place.
Of course, intellectually, he'd known that he was leaving everything including a comfortable place in society behind, but he guessed he still hadn't quite been expecting it. Some part of him had thought that leaving would be the hardest part.
Lily sighed, summoned herself and Tom the tea kettle as it began whistling, and poured cups for them both, "We'll just have to start on this tomorrow."
"It can wait a few days—"
"No, better to get it over with," Lily said, "The longer we procrastinate the harder it will be to stand in line again. I'm hopeful, though, the world always needs apothecaries."
Tom nodded, any magical society did, at any rate. Those weren't going to be going out of business any time soon. Though, what Lily failed to mention but undoubtedly realized, apothecaries tended to be very stingy taking apprentices or even hiring staff.
At least, they were in Diagon Alley. This place, though, already seemed to play by different rules entirely.
"Will it need muggle studies professors though?" Tom wondered aloud.
"Please," Lily said with an amused smile, "We both know you're talented enough to do whatever you damn well please. You just—somehow ended up a muggle studies professor."
He supposed that was true. Well, except being a politician, that hadn't worked out so well for him. However, that was the trouble. While Tom could have sought employment with the goblins, started an enchantment business, or done anything at all, he hadn't.
After everything had fallen apart—teaching was all he'd ever wanted to do.
And he highly doubted he'd be employed as a professor here.
It was for the best, really, that chapter of his life had ended. Whatever it was he ended up doing in this place, better for it to have no relation to the failed life he'd left behind.
"Are you going to talk to Harry?"
Tom blinked, while he'd been lost in thought, it seemed that Lily had been staring at him. She looked at him pensively even as she drank her tea.
Tom's eyes moved to the ceiling, somewhere upstairs, Harry had undoubtedly claimed a room for herself, and was undoubtedly still seething. She'd hardly said a word to either of them since they arrived.
"I don't think she wants to talk to me," Tom finally said.
Lily just gave him a very pointed look.
Tom was serious though. He'd said his piece and, evidently, Harry didn't see it the way he did. He tried to think of how he would have responded as a ten-year-old. To have had such expectations, to have trained all his life to confront them, only to have someone go and pull the rug out from under his feet.
He'd have probably reacted ten times worse, but—he liked to believe that he would have understood why it was necessary.
When the Blitz had begun, he'd had no desire to return to London, had been terrified of the prospect. He'd been only thirteen then and had a far healthier appreciation of danger than Harry seemed to.
"Shouldn't you also be talking to Harry?" Tom asked Lily instead, giving her an equally pointed look.
"Oh, believe me, I'm going to," Lily said, "I just know you, and I have this terrible suspicion that if I leave you to your own devices then you won't talk to her for a week."
She—perhaps had a very damning point, as she usually did.
Still, wincing even as he said it, he asked, "Would you mind terribly going first?"
Lily's eyebrows raised and though she didn't say it aloud he could practically read the word 'coward' in her eyes. Though, perhaps not, perhaps that was just a word Tom projected onto her, because after a second's pause she did smile, grab his hand for just a moment, then made her way upstairs.
Tom sighed and slumped with relief.
With any luck, Lily would soften—whatever it was that Tom was afraid of. He wasn't sure what that was, he and Harry had always been close, to his recollection had never fought before now. Maybe that was it, they'd never fought like this before now.
Or maybe it was that, in trying to explain, Tom would have to confront the world that he'd left behind. The very reason they'd moved so quickly in the first place.
And the fear that despite everything, despite coming here, it could somehow happen again.
As if summoned by that thought there was a quiet, tentative, knock on the door. Without even looking, Tom knew exactly who stood on the other side of it. He closed his eyes, sighing, and searching for some of the courage that Lily insisted was inside his soul somewhere.
If he'd been tired a moment ago then he was positively exhausted now.
This, of course, was the other conversation he wasn't ready for.
He spared a glance towards upstairs, wondering if, for a moment, he should interrupt Lily and Harry. Lily wouldn't be pleased to know that Azrael had arrived when she wasn't there but—Perhaps it was easiest this way.
Tom had the sneaking suspicion that this was why Azrael had chosen this moment to arrive on his doorstep.
With a sigh, Tom walked over and opened the door.
For a moment, Tom could only stare. Every other time he had seen Azrael on his doorstep, he had been doing his best to look positively ordinary. Failing, of course, but he'd always had those oversized glasses, common, muggle, clothing, and the world's most awkward smile.
There was none of that here and Tom suspected he would never see 'Harry Evans' on his doorstep again.
There was no smile either.
Quietly, Tom stepped out of the house, closing the door behind him. In the kitchen, should Lily come down, she'd find a note explaining what had happened. She might rush out with her wand blazing, ready to tear Tom in half for leaving the house without a word, but at least she'd know where he was.
They walked several meters away from the tilted house, not headed towards any particular destination, but just far enough that it felt as if they had some measure of privacy.
When they finally stopped walking, neither said a word.
For his own part, Tom wasn't sure what there was to say, nothing that hadn't been said or promised already. Azrael himself had pointed out as much the day before. As for Azrael—perhaps he simply couldn't find a way to put it.
In the end, Tom started first.
"She doesn't know," he finally said, "She knows some of it but—not the details, not necessarily the consequences."
Of course, this didn't mean Lily's opinion of Azrael would improve any, had ever improved upon their disastrous first meeting. It didn't mean there was hope for their relationship, that things would ever clear up, or she would ever do more than vaguely tolerate Azrael.
But it felt important that Tom clarify; that he point out that Lily had some information, but perhaps not all of it.
He'd told her it was—not ideal, and perhaps she could guess, but—she hadn't been there when Azrael had insisted Tom's time travel might very well destroy everything. For better or worse, Lily trusted Tom to make decisions that he was perhaps not capable of making.
"I didn't think she did," Azrael said, a wry smile curving across his lips that failed to meet his eyes, "It's a hard thing to put into words."
That was a kind way of him to put it, rather than accuse Tom of not having the desire to put it into words.
"I'm assuming we're finishing that fight from earlier?" Tom finally asked.
Azrael just laughed, "Would you bother to listen to me this time?"
Perhaps, Tom didn't know. He didn't like to imagine that he would ever end up in such a situation again, he'd done so much to prevent it, but if he did—
He wasn't sure what he'd do, if he was being honest. This didn't seem like the time to make empty promises.
"Tom," Azrael said, his voice oddly human in how raw it sounded, "You have to learn to let go."
He looked at Tom then, staring through Tom's eyes to the deepest part of him, "They are mortal, Tom. Your daughter will die, your wife will die, even if you made them a philosopher's stone, they would one day die. That's how it works, Tom, for everyone but you and I. There's nothing you nor I can do to stop it."
"I know," Tom said but Azrael shook his head.
"No, I don't think you do," he said, "If you did, we wouldn't be standing here now, would we? You and I would be at a funeral and—"
"Harry's only ten—"
"And one day she'll be only twenty, then thirty, then forty!" Azrael cut Tom off, waving an angry pale hand towards him, "Don't you think I understand how this works? Don't you think I've gone through this already?! Do you think I wasn't tempted to—to rewrite everything, just for a single chance of one more second?!"
Intellectually, Tom knew what Azrael meant.
Intellectually, he was aware that Lily would die, had been bracing himself for that for year. He'd faced Harry's death twice now but—
She was only ten. She hadn't even made it to Hogwarts, had made it nowhere even close to adulthood. Surely, that wasn't too much to ask the cruel universe. Surely, she could make it to eleven.
"I am serious, Tom," Azrael insisted, "This time—it was bad, and you know it. You came very close to the end, whatever the end even is. There is no third time. There cannot, no matter what, be a third time."
The end—was that what it was Tom had seen on his kitchen floor? He'd certainly seen something, felt something, and he supposed that was what Azrael meant. Tom had come perilously close to breaking something integral, and he was well aware of it.
There couldn't be a third time.
"Promise me," Azrael hissed, lightning crackling beneath his feet, making his hair stand on end, and making him look more inhuman than he ever had before. Tom had a feeling, even without the ritual, without the formality, that if Tom agreed to this now it might very well be binding.
If Tom agreed to this, then when Harry died next it'd be for the last time. He would attend her funeral, there would be no do-overs. And Lily—Lily would well and truly be dead.
That would be it—and all the time Tom had bought them would be the only time he could ever buy them.
If Lily had known all the details, if she'd seen what Tom had seen, then he couldn't say she wouldn't have sided with Azrael. Slapped him to the ground, perhaps not, but she'd agree that a third time—
There couldn't be a third time.
And there would be if Tom didn't agree to this now. He knew himself well enough, Azrael knew him well enough, that if Tom had to make this choice when Harry's body was at his feet then he would not choose to grin and bear it.
Forcing himself not to think about it, to not think about anything at all, he took Azrael's hand, "I promise, there will not be a third time."
He felt the magic, sharp as electricity, running through his hand and then straight to his heart. It felt as if something in him shifted in one direction then another, and for a moment he was blinded by a great white flash of light.
Then he was standing in a field, still holding Azrael's hand, while Azrael simply sighed in relief.
"Thank you," he said.
Neither mentioned that, had it not come to this, Tom undoubtedly would have done it again, no matter the cost.
Tom, instead, looked back towards his tilted house, "Would you like to come inside?"
Azrael hesitated, clearly torn, likely wanting to but also likely knowing full well the kind of reception he'd receive.
"Perhaps another time," he finally said, when Tom had had a chance to talk to Lily, in other words, or when her opinion might suddenly, radically, change.
He wasn't sure it would. Lily—Tom didn't know if she was right or not, his and Azrael's friendship had always had its bumps in the road, and many of those were due to Tom himself but…
He'd have still called them friends, even now. Otherwise, well, who did Tom have left? Who would he have left?
He'd talk to her, not today or tomorrow, but he'd talk to her at some point and maybe he could get these two to see eye to eye. He doubted they would, Lily could be very stubborn and she'd never liked Azrael, but it was at least a thought.
Because at the end of the day, after this promise, Azrael was the only one that Tom would have left.
Author's Note: Next up, Tom discovers he had a lot of mistaken preconceptions and more.
Thanks to readers and reviewers. Reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter