There was a moment of absolute, perfect silence, broken only by John's voice. He sounded a little ill.
"Holy fucking shit," he said, and Archie whipped around to watch as a wizard pulled a knife away from Harry's arm, blood dripping from the blade. He held a vial of her blood in his hand, and Archie heard retching behind him, a couple hysterical giggles, and he felt his stomach roiling. He swallowed, thickly, several times. Blood – blood was not good. He didn't know anything about blood magic, especially with blood forcibly taken. Blood magic was dark. Darker than anything Archie was capable of casting, darker than anything anyone he knew was willing to cast.
The mage on the screen threw Harry's blood into the giant cauldron, which Archie saw almost as if for the first time. It was the size of a bathtub, large enough for a grown man to sit in, and smoke was pouring out of it. Archie didn't want to know why the cauldron was so big, he didn't want to know what was happening, but neither could he look away. There was nothing he could do for Harry from AIM, here – there was nothing he could do other than stand and bear witness.
The mage stretched out his hand over the cauldron, holding the knife under his wrist. Archie realized a split second before he pulled upwards what he was going to do, and he shut his eyes before he could see it. There was more retching behind him – more than one student had lost their lunch. When he opened his eyes, the mage was on the ground, and a few of the others had come to bind his stump. It had to have been a ritual dagger, Archie realized, swallowing thickly again. Ritual daggers were spelled – this kind of sacrifice was not something that could be Healed. Magic itself would rebel against it, because the mage had paid, with his hand, for something to happen. He felt sick, and took a few deep breaths, swallowing to stop himself from throwing up.
He had seen worse injuries, in the Trials, in the Tournament. It wasn't the injury itself that made him sick. It was the ritual of it, and he had no idea what the purpose of the ritual was. He doubted anyone at AIM would know – this was not magic as they practiced it, this was perverse.
The smoke coming from cauldron was thicker now, great clouds of it pouring out and obscuring the view. Archie couldn't see behind it anymore, but another shape, a young man, coalesced and stepped forward. He was robed in simple, forbidding black, but his expression was older, far older than his years suggested. He was maybe eighteen, maybe younger. He was tall, his hair was dark, his face was chiseled and handsome, but he was not attractive. To the contrary, he was terrifying – his dark eyes were soulless, pitiless, and he accepted his wand with the careless grace of a person who expected complete and utter obedience.
There were words, but the projector was silent – the camera orbs that the ICW had sent in with the players were working, but they didn't carry sound, which Archie realized was one of the functions of the comm orbs, and the Thief's Downfall had broken the spell on Harry's end. There were words, and Archie knew from Harry's expression (stubborn, with a mocking twist to her lips) that she was saying something supremely witty, supremely daring, supremely stupid, because what on earth did Harry have to lose, now?
The new mage raised his wand, and Archie didn't need to hear anything to recognize the Cruciatus Curse. His face crumpled, and he took one step closer to the projector, a noise like a cross between a hiccough and a sob coming out of his throat as tears started forming in his eyes, started dripping down his face. He took a shaky breath in, but what was the point of holding back?
This was Harry, his sister, and she was being tortured. Archie was fucking allowed to cry about this. He was allowed to be as emotional as he damn well wanted to be, and he let himself sob, he let himself cry, he let fat tears stream down his face, dripping down onto his sweatshirt, onto his jeans, onto his sneakers.
"Get him the fuck out of here," he heard John say, and he felt gentle hands pull him off the table. He couldn't see who it was – he couldn't see anything. The world was blurry through his tears, and there was a faint buzzing sensation, a sense of numbness, permeating his body. His arm felt heavy, as he wiped his eyes with his sleeve, still sobbing, and he felt someone wrap an arm around him.
There was a tickle of hair against his cheek, from someone several inches shorter than him, who smelled of summer rain and thunderstorms. Hermione.
"I'll do it," she said, pulling him snug against her. "Come on, Archie. You don't need to watch this. Let's go – outside."
"I should watch it, though," he choked out, looking at her. Her eyes were so big, gentle, warmer than he had seen them in months. "I should watch – I need to know what happens to her, 'Mione. She's my cousin, my sister… she's Harry."
"John and Chess, Neal, Isran and Derrick, everyone will tell you what happens," Hermione replied, her voice calm and soothing as she slowly led him from the dining hall. "That's what friends are for, Archie. There's no point putting yourself through this sort of pain for nothing."
"If I was stronger…" Archie sniffed, hiccoughed, letting her lead her out into the bright sunlight. It was a beautiful spring day at AIM, warm with just a hint of a breeze. The air felt clean to him, not muggy, cool on his face.
"What does it mean to be strong?" Hermione led him to a soft patch of grass, within eyesight of the doors to Seaton House. She smiled a little at him, a little sad, but resolute. "The SOW Party would say that it comes down to political power, to magical strength, but I think there is strength in other things. Strength of character, strength in resilience. Strength in tears, even."
Archie sniffled again, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. He was wearing his favourite AIM theatre sweater, which was too small for him now. He needed a new one, but this year he had gotten an AIM Triwizard Team sweater instead, and he was going to replace this sweater next year. It didn't bother him as much in his Harry Potter body, but as Archie Black, it irked him. He tugged at his sleeves uselessly, sniffling all the while.
He didn't feel very strong. Not compared to Harry, not compared to Hermione, or John. Harry – no one would ever say she wasn't strong. She was magically powerful, easily the most powerful witch of her age in Wizarding Britain, even if no one knew it, and everyone thought Rigel Black was the powerful one. She was a potions prodigy, she had started a potions apprenticeship with Master Severus Snape, the world's best Potions Master, four years early, all while discovering and publishing a new imbuing method of her very own. She had defeated the Sweating Sickness in first year, then she had killed a basilisk in her second year, and in her third, she had survived being locked in that hellhole, eating her own potions kit, for two weeks before anyone came to the rescue. And mentally, Harry had always carried the harder part of the ruse. She hid her gender, she pretended to be Rigel Black, and she would be the one paying the price if she were caught.
Hermione was strong, too. Not magically, maybe, but she knew what she believed in, she knew what she would fight for, and fight for it she would. She was smart, incisive, always ready for a debate, always ready to advocate for what she believed was right. She always had the bigger picture in mind, and Archie didn't think she was afraid of anything. Hermione had principles, core guiding convictions, and she would hold onto them with a death grip. Even if it meant getting hurt.
And John. John was a dueller, and he was good at it. One didn't make top ten on the North American League duelling circuit, or pass the AIM Trials, without that kind of strength. But, if Archie was honest with himself, he didn't think that was where John was strongest.
John's strength was that he cared. He cared about people he had barely met, he cared so much for a near stranger, as Chess was when they had just started school, that he had accidentally gotten them linked in trying to help. He cared about Archie, enough not only keep his secrets, but to put Archie in contact with his sister, to help him with escape plans, to defend him and vouch for him when it all came out. In the Tournament, he had cared enough about Sidney to argue over going to rest when Archie, Daine and Neal had taken over his care – Neal had had to threaten him to get him out. John cared, and he would share his not-inconsiderable talents, his connections, whatever he had, with the people around him, no return favours requested, no debts owed.
Even Chess had strength, though hers was not one that Archie often thought about. It took strength to go to classes every day at AIM, wandless as she was, day in and day out, hearing insults from so many of her classmates. If that was Archie, he didn't know how he would have survived it, and yet she went on, inventing the ACD, ignoring the voices of scorn and contempt around her. That wasn't normally what Archie thought of when he thought of strength, but it was there nonetheless.
What did Archie do, compared to Harry, compared to his friends?
Archie cried. Archie wasn't magically powerful, the way that Harry was. He wasn't a genius the way that Harry was, he didn't have Harry's emotional strength – Harry never flinched away from things, she always stared her problems in the face and just addressed them, while Archie, well, all Archie did was hide in America while they passed laws to deepen her inequality, while they sent plot after plot after her, while they tortured her. He wasn't Hermione either, though some part of him would have liked to have her conviction, her ability to put herself behind her words – Archie knew what he believed, but he hadn't put himself behind it, he didn't push for change the way she did. He wasn't even John – he cared about the people around him, but truth be told, Archie asked for more help than he gave.
What did Archie do? Archie cried. and Archie asked for help when he needed it. Archie relied on people, he leaned on people, and people were always there for him for whatever he needed. Dad and Harry, before he started school; after he came to AIM, he had Hermione for homework and hijinks, John for enthusiasm and escape plans, Chess for quiet and unquestioning acceptance.
Archie cried, and Archie trusted people, and for the most part, people came through for him.
Hermione didn't go back inside. Instead, she sat down beside him, her knees drawn up to her chest. She had never had much of a fashion sense – not like Chess, who was always neatly put together, usually in dresses and tights, who often wore light No-Maj makeup. Hermione didn't habitually wear makeup, and when not in her school robes, she preferred broken in denim jeans, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and sneakers. Right now, she was in a ratty old sweatshirt bearing the legend Oxford University and a pair of old dark-wash jeans, and her hair had been left down, flying around a little in the breeze.
"I don't really like milkshakes, you know," she said conversationally, looking straight ahead. Her voice was soft, with a bit of humour. "I kind of hate them, actually. I hate how thick they are. Something that thick shouldn't be a drink. It's basically soup at that point, a cold and overly sweet soup that makes no sense. But every time we go to town, I always get one. Because you like them so much, and the way you talk about them, it always makes me want to give them another try. Then I get one, and you always pay for it, and then I realize that I still don't like milkshakes."
Archie frowned, sniffling again. Hermione would have a point, she wouldn't go off on this tangent when Archie was so upset. "And?"
"That's a sort of strength on its own, Archie." Hermione tilted her head towards him, and she had a wry smile on her face. "You feel things, and you make other people feel them too. You love milkshakes, and you get so excited about them, that it rubs off. You were so worried, so distressed, about your mum that I couldn't help but say yes to helping you break the law. Even when I was supposed to be angry at you, you were so genuinely regretful and unhappy, it was hard to stay angry at you. I always had to remind myself how you had lied to me, and then I would end up arguing with myself for hours about it, and then you would be there, trying so hard without stepping over any boundaries I set. Even now – you cried, Archie. You made everyone in that room feel, through you, the kind of anguish you're going through about Harry, and even if it's crazy, I think most people at AIM who saw that are going to help you, however you need. It's part of what makes you a good actor – you're emotional, and you're relatable, and you always try your best, and people will always follow you and help you wherever you go, because you draw them in, you pull them in, and they can't help but want to help you."
"Oh." He didn't know what else to say to that. Instead, Archie pulled his knees to his chest too, his own jeans too short for him, showing his ankles, bothering him. He supposed he could get rid of half his closet, now – he wouldn't need the disguise as Harry Potter anymore.
What would he do now? The ruse was over. He would have to come clean to Dad, to Aunt Lily and Uncle James and Uncle Remus, that was a given. He would have to explain everything to them, regardless of how Harry felt about it – if Harry survived.
Oh, god. Archie did not want to picture a world where Harry did not survive. What would he do without her? He would have to be there for Aunt Lily and Uncle James, of course, but Harry was in so many ways his foundation. He had never lived without her, without her stubborn presence in his life – they were siblings, practically twins by age, she was his first friend, his first partner-in-crime. How could he live without his other half? He didn't want to – he couldn't imagine it, and he didn't want to imagine it, not even to plan. The minute he did, a gaping maw opening in his chest, a pain so deep, so powerful, that it was physical. His chest hurt.
She couldn't die. She just couldn't, and she had pulled it out of tighter spots than this, and he had to trust that she would break it out of here, too. Then what?
Damage control. Archie needed to do damage control – this was blood identity theft, and he was a pureblood, and he enjoyed a position of privilege. He was the Black Heir – there had to be something he could do, even from America. Some way that he could build sympathy for Harry – some way that he could make the public support her, avoid the most serious consequences of what they had done. Buy time, build in delay, so they could come up with something else.
But why? Archie jerked upright, and Hermione looked at him curiously.
Why just buy time? What they had done might have been unethical, it might have been fraudulent, it might have been an absolutely spectacular disaster of a lie. But was it wrong? Archie belonged at AIM, the world's best Healing school, where he could explore a new world and act on a stage, just like Harry belonged at Hogwarts, as the world's youngest Potions apprentice, beside the world's best Potions Master. She had done so much good there, breaking the curse of the Sleeping Sickness in her first year, then defeating the basilisk in second year. Just as Archie had done good at AIM, saving Jess' life, saving Sidney's leg. These were actions that couldn't be replaced – Archie wouldn't have done half as well as Harry at Hogwarts, just as she wouldn't have done half as well at AIM. They had both ended up where they belonged, they had both gone to the schools that they would have chosen, if nothing else had stood in their way.
Why stop at buying time? Why stop at delaying things, why stop at saving Harry? There were thousands of newbloods and halfbloods, documented and undocumented, who had been deprived of the educations they ought to have received by no reason other than their blood status. He and Harry shouldn't be exceptions, just because they were who they were. They should be examples – they should be the ambassadors of a better world, one where something like blood-status didn't matter.
Archie could be an example. Archie could stand on a stage and bring new worlds to people, he could make people live, love, and hurt as someone else for a few hours. Archie wondered if maybe, if Hermione was right, if he had enough people helping him and supporting him, if, just maybe, he could make people see.
If there was any chance of that, then he had to try. He had to try, because life was short, and he didn't want to leave regrets behind him when he passed on. And he would regret it forever if he didn't try.
"Hermione," he said, and his voice was very soft. He didn't look at her, because he didn't know what her face would say. He didn't want to know what her face would tell him. "I have to go back. To Britain."
"I know." Her voice was equally soft.
"Will you come with me?" Archie looked down, fidgeting a little. "I know… you probably have other opportunities here in America, because you're brilliant, especially if you were thinking of staying here after finishing at AIM anyway, and with what happened this year, Britain isn't safe for you, and it'll be even less safe for you if you're with me, and—"
"Stop." Hermione interrupted him, holding up one hand and laughing, a little helplessly. She smiled, a tiny, wry sort of smile, just for him. "Of course I'll come with you. Britain is my home too, and," she hesitated, then continued. "And I would follow you anywhere. I would follow you anywhere, Archie. Always."
Archie smiled back at her, though his face hurt, his eyes were swollen and raw from his tears. He hesitated a moment, and he reached out and took her hand in his, and she didn't pull away. Instead, she was looking at him, an odd expression on her face – part helplessness (which was totally foreign on Hermione's face), part nervousness, part something else. He leaned forward, slowly, hesitant, giving her plenty of time to say no, to pull away from him, but she didn't.
She didn't, and Archie shyly pressed his lips against hers.
It wasn't like how he had always imagined his first kiss. Archie had always thought that his first kiss would be fiery, passionate – he thought that he would see the stars for which he was named. He thought his first kiss would be explosive, earth shattering, that both he and Hermione (he had always imagined it would be Hermione) would be clinging together, unable to let go, and that one kiss would inevitably lead to another because just one could never be enough. He thought it would be lightning, electric, like the summer thunderstorms that Hermione always called to his mind.
He never imagined that his first kiss would be after so many tears, that his face would still ache, that his eyes would be puffy and bloodshot and dry. He never imagined that he would be afraid, during his first kiss, because he was afraid – he was afraid for Harry, he was afraid for himself, he was afraid of going home even if it was what he knew he had to do. He never imagined that he would need to cut it short, because his nose was stuffed up from his tears, and he couldn't not breathe for very long.
He never imagined that his first kiss would be so sweet. It wasn't fireworks, but something different, something deeper, something real. He knew Hermione – she was his first friend who wasn't in his family, she was his fellow superstar Healer, she was his comrade in arms over so many creature rights arguments and crazy pranks. Hermione had, with the exception of their fight this year, always supported him (even if she didn't agree with him, and so often she didn't), and Archie thought Hermione pushed him to grow sometimes, pushed him to think about things, about the world, about changing the world. What he felt for her couldn't be described as fireworks and passion – instead, it was a cozy night by the fireplace, it was warm blankets and hot chocolate and his favourite AIM sweatshirt and jeans and sneakers. It was home.
Her lips were warm, buttery soft, just slightly open, tasting of cinnamon and spice. Her breath stuttered, a little – there was a slight intake of breath, and Archie hoped it wasn't because he was bad at kissing. He was sure he could be better at it, given time.
He pulled away, sniffling slightly, looking away as he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket. He used it to blow his nose (another thing he didn't imagine his first kiss would involve), and Hermione was blushing a little, looking away. "Oh," she said, looking past him, and Archie turned around to see John and Chess walking over.
"She got away," John said, without preamble, when he and Chess reached them. "Stabbed Britain's new resurrected Dark wizard in the gut, grabbed her wand, and Apparated."
"Thank god," Archie replied, wiping his face with his handkerchief. "Oh, thank god for that. Now, we just have to do damage control. How do we do damage control?"
Things moved quickly after that.
Archie had been called in by a committee of professors, including Professor Ryan, who had asked him for further details and grilled him for some hours on the extent of the ruse, what it had involved, the reasons why they had done it, and everything else under the sun. Archie gave them everything, nothing held back (there was no reason for it, now) and with John, Hermione, and the entire AIM Triwizard Team backing him, as well as Professor Ryan's vociferous advocacy, they had begrudgingly let it go as long as he promised to meet with a Healer to be checked over for any mental trauma from his experiences. It was better than he had expected, honestly, and they would put his records in his proper name over the summer, and he could return to AIM next year and continue exactly where he left off.
Meanwhile, Hermione had collected a group of people she had thought would be supportive, and they had taken over the British Students Association club room to hash out a plan. Archie had never been there, but it was a surprisingly large room, dwarfing their planning committee. The tables in the room had been arranged into a square, and Archie sat at the head of it, Hermione on one side and John on the other.
"She Apparated back to Hogwarts from the graveyard," Derrick was saying, shaking his head. He had Apparated to town not long ago to call home from the public telephone booth, where his mum had read him the Daily Prophet article of the day. Telephones were awesome – no wonder John bemoaned writing letters so much. A letter would have taken at least a week – a week of planning and action that they couldn't afford to lose. "No idea why. Clearly it was the first place the Aurors expected her, she could have – she should have – gone anywhere else."
"If she went back, Derrick, then she had her reasons," Archie replied firmly, motioning for him to go on. "I know Harry – she's not like me, she looks before she leaps. If she went back to Hogwarts, then she needed to do something there."
"Well, the fact that she did doesn't really matter. She escaped again, overnight. Someone broke the wards Lord Dumbledore set around the infirmary and she got away – they're searching for her now." Derrick shrugged, sighing. "The Daily Prophet article listed the charges. They're crazy."
"What are the charges?" That was Hermione, pen at the ready. "The crazier, the better, for our purposes. Is there anything we can use?"
"No need to write it out, Hermione, I got the list here – wrote it down when my mom told me." Derrick fished out a crumpled looking sheet of paper from his pocket. "Blood identity theft, conspiracy to commit blood identity theft, twenty-seven counts of fraud, which includes ten aggravated counts of fraud while committing blood identity theft, conspiracy to commit fraud, five counts of detrimental reliance on blood status, free-duelling, possession of a dangerous weapon, assault with a weapon, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, twelve counts of trespassing, fifty-two counts of Healing without a license, unlicensed potions experimentation, eight counts of unlicensed potions distribution, killing an endangered species, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, escaping arrest, and reckless endangerment. And, to cap it all off, Apparition without a licence." He slid the paper across to Archie, who held it up for both Hermione and John to see.
"I feel like I'm a broken record," Neal complained from the other side of the table, where both Kel and Daine were sitting beside him. It was easy to see why Hermione, Derrick and Isran were in the room – as British newbloods and halfbloods, they had a vested interest in what Archie planned to do, and they would carry the word back to the wider expatriate British mage community. John and Chess were there because they cared about him, but he hadn't expected Neal, Daine, or Kel to show up. Neal and Kel had claimed they had connections in the wider international relations community when they walked in, but as far as Archie could tell, Daine was just along for the ride. "But what the hell is detrimental reliance on blood status?"
"Making friends while pretending to be a pureblood." Isran smirked, and his voice was biting in sarcasm. "Her friends relied on her being a pureblood when they decided to befriend her, to their detriment. Befriending a halfblood is inherently detrimental. They're dangerous, in case you haven't heard."
"Ostie de câlice de tabernac," Neal swore. "Give me a copy of that list of those charges – I'll pass it onto Will, who's at the ICW. There has to be something in there that contravenes one of the Equality Accords, if not something in one of the other Conventions. What is wrong with British Wizarding society?"
"I'm more concerned about these conspiracy to commit charges." Hermione pursed her lips, tapping her finger lightly on the sheet Archie held. Derrick's writing was messy, done as it was against the wall of a phone booth while in town on the phone with his mother. "Conspiracy means more than one person, and it's usually charged to a group of people. Logically, they'd have to charge the co-conspirators too..."
"I guess I'm getting arrested, then." Archie grinned, a little nervous, but mostly resigned. It was fine – scary, yes, but fine. Rosa Parks had sparked the American civil rights movement by being arrested. Martin Luther King was arrested for his participation and planning of the Montgomery boycott. Being arrested was fine – and it was better that Archie be arrested over Harry. "I'm a pureblood, and I'm the Black Heir, they can only do so much to me. I'm more worried about Harry. What can we do for her?"
"From America?" John shrugged, then shook his head. "The usual – international political pressure can do wonders, but we need a groundwork. If you released a statement, that could ground something that MACUSA could use to reinvigorate efforts at the ICW around the Equality Accords. Or the ICW could use it directly to issue a condemnation statement, which then we could use to put pressure on countries that are still not complying with the ongoing sanctions."
"Why stop at a statement?" Daine asked, leaning forward in a seat, a mischievous look on her face. "Do an interview. A tell-all interview, or that's how we'll sell it, and we'll have it out to the major American newspapers this week. Statements are boring, no one will read them other than politicians. You want to raise public awareness? Interview is the way to go."
"I like that." Neal smiled, thinking it through. "Archie is a good actor, and he comes across well. We just have to work on his character – downplay the lying, emphasize the Healing and all the good things, make him charming and relatable and likeable. If the public likes you, and through you, the real Harry Potter, then Wizarding Britain's hands are tied even more."
"You say that like I'm not already charming, relatable, and likeable." Archie wrinkled his nose. "I am the most charming, handsome and intelligent Black that has ever existed, don't you know?"
"The rest of them must have been pretty bad, then," Kel deadpanned with a straight face, and Daine and Chess giggled. "My brother Conal is a reporter with the American Standard. I'll send him an owl, and if someone can drive or Apparate me to town, I can try to call him, too. I'm sure he would love to do an interview."
"If we can get an interview out by the middle of this week, then it should have time to generate some buzz," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Copies made by telephone transcription will start making the rounds right after that, which will cause enough fuss that the Prophet will have to publish it, probably over the weekend. A censored version, but the copies will be out there first."
"That sounds good," John agreed, and Chess nodded along with him. "An interview would work – depending on what's in it, it could be enough for MACUSA and the ICW to release statements."
"I'll do it," Archie decided, shooting Kel a grateful smile. "Would you arrange something for an interview? I guess I'll need to get over to wherever he wants to meet, and we'll go from there. Oh, and I guess that means I'll need permission to leave campus, too. Hermione, Neal, Daine, John – help me figure out what to say? The rest will have to be a bit on the fly, I think – Derrick, would you mind keeping an ear on the Daily Prophet for us? I have to write home, to my dad, and to my aunt and uncle, too."
Later that night, Archie sat over a pad of paper, pen in hand. He had no idea what to write.
His first instinct was to handle it lightly. Surprise! He imagined himself writing, saying. Harry and I played a magnificent prank! We decided that, since Harry wanted to go to Hogwarts, and I wanted to go to AIM, we would swap. Yeah, that would be a bad idea, considering the situation. And it didn't reflect reality – he meant it, when he said that Harry looked before she leapt. The ruse was not a prank to them, it was what Harry believed she had to do to make her dreams come true. And Archie had seen that it would solve his problems, too, and he had dived in, head-first. But it had never been a game, to them.
His second instinct was to take it seriously and come clean. Hello Dad, Aunt Lily, Uncle James, he imagined himself writing. I suppose you've read the news reports by now. It's true – Harry and I switched, from the day we started school. I'm fine, I'm in America, and I'll see you this summer. But even that, he didn't think he wanted to say – he didn't want to go into so much detail, in a letter. One never knew where letters like that ended up, and he had to be careful with that he said, and right now it would be better to say less than more.
The letter that went out, by the fastest owl he could find, was short and to the point. It almost wasn't like him, but he didn't want to trust anything else to a letter. An interview would be carefully crafted, and his letter wasn't. All they needed to know was that he was fine. Well, him and Harry.
Dad, Aunt Lily, Uncle James:
I'm just writing you a note to let you know that I'm safe, in America. Watch the news later this week for more information. We'll talk more, in person, when I come home.
I haven't heard from Harry.
According to Derrick, who was heading into town at the end of classes every day for an update from Wizarding Britain, the Daily Prophet was covering the search for Harriett Potter in exhaustive detail. Uncle James was, of course, conflicted off the case, which was being handled by his second in command, Auror Dawlish. All her supposed friends at school had been questioned heavily, searching for whoever had helped her escape, but to no avail. Hogsmeade had been searched, as had Diagon Alley, though Archie was a little amused to note that they had skipped the Lower Alleys entirely. He supposed no one thought that the Heiress Potter would go traipsing around back there. She wouldn't have stayed there long, he didn't think, but he suspected the Alleys had been her first stop after Hogwarts. Hopefully, she had gotten out of the country by now.
It wasn't until Tuesday night, when he was holed up in his room with his friends, test-driving his interview persona for the thirtieth time, that Harry called.
"No, with why you did it, I think you have to be more of an idiot. Don't talk about how it was the only way to do what you wanted, Arch," John was saying, frowning as Archie went through their anticipated questions, with Chess playing interested interviewer, for the umpteenth time. "You were eleven – start with that. Then maybe focus on how it was the only way Harry could do what she deserved to do? I don't know, try that, let's see how that sounds."
There was a knocking noise from Archie's drawer, a thud thud thud that sounded so familiar. Archie was up immediately, lunging for his desk drawer. He pulled out the mirror – Harry had insisted that he take the one that had the P on it, heavily decorated with flowers, which Archie half-thought that she just hated. "Harry?!"
"Archie." Harry's vibrant green eyes, so recognizable even after so long, blinked up at him. "How are you?"
"I'm good," Archie grinned, a wider grin that he was used to giving when he saw Harry, these days. They had barely talked since AIM had withdrawn from the Tournament – he guessed that Harry had been busy, and to be fair, it was a little unusual for her to reach out to him anyway if she thought things were under control. But with the escape, with everything else that happened, he was just happy to see her. Things had changed. "I'm so glad to see that you're all right! You are all right, aren't you?"
Harry laughed, a soft sort of laugh that felt very true to her. "I'm fine – better than fine, really. I promise."
"I'm really happy to hear that, you've no idea, Harry." Archie sighed, a heavy, dramatic sigh of relief. Harry was bad about telling others about her problems, but better than fine was a sign that things were going well. "Hey, do you want to meet my friends?!"
He didn't wait for a response, instead holding up the mirror so she could see his room, his friends – Chess was sitting primly on the desk chair, a pad of paper in her lap, and a pen over one ear, and she was frowning the mirror. He then turned it to face his other friends, John and Hermione, both of whom were sitting beside him on his bed. "Francesca Lam and John Kowalski – and, of course, you've met my girlfriend, Hermione Granger."
My girlfriend. Archie never tired of the words. Hermione rolled her eyes at him – he was pretty sure had a silly grin on his face. He usually did, when he thought about his luck in being able to call Hermione Granger his girlfriend.
"Hello, again." John peered curiously into the mirror. "As I said before in the Tournament, nice shields. I couldn't read anything off you."
"Thank you, I think," Harry replied, her voice hesitant and unsure. She was making an effort, but Archie guessed that she was still finding her footing in a world that had been yanked out from under her. "Girlfriend, is it? Congratulations. Is Archie as terribly romantic as he always promised he would be? A bouquet of roses every day?"
"He's worse." Hermione smiled, a genuine smile even if she, too, was a little hesitant. "It's orchids. From the Orchideous charm."
"Archie!" Harry's voice was scolding. "Turn me back around. What would Sirius say? You know that spell-made flowers disappear within twenty-four hours. Is that your love, Arch? Disappearing in twenty-four hours?"
Archie laughed, because even if Harry had frowned at him in stern disapproval, a quirk in her eyebrow told him that it was mocking. She had always been good at facial expressions, but there was a note of real uncertainty in her bright eyes, too. She probably had more questions for him, but he didn't think he could answer them. There were things she would have to live to understand, he thought – she needed to experience the world, as big and as beautiful as he did, to see.
He hoped he could bring that world to her. He would bring that world to her, one day – not in America, but at home, in Britain.
"Thank goodness they disappear," Hermione replied, leaning forward. Archie tilted the mirror so Harry could see Hermione's face. "Or my room would be drowning in them."
"Spell-made flowers also don't have pollen, so they don't make 'Mione sneeze." Archie winked at Harry, in the mirror. "You're looking good, cuz, really good. Don't tell me anything about where you are, or who you're with, or what you're doing. I don't want to know anything in case DMLE tries to Veritaserum me when I get back to Britain, okay?"
"You're going back?" Harry raised her eyebrow higher, no longer mocking, and the frown disappeared. "You'll be arrested, Arch, and I can't tell what might happen. Politically, everything is in flux. No one knows what to make of the self-proclaimed Lord Voldemort, but I can tell you that he's a version of Lord Riddle that is a lot more… extreme. At least Riddle follows some rules, and—" She stopped, suddenly, biting her lip. "Well, just, Voldemort doesn't. You really shouldn't."
"I can't, Harry." Archie looked down at her, softening his expression. "The ruse is… The ruse gave us a unique opportunity to bring awareness to blood discrimination, to try to fight it head-on. And I'm a pureblood, so they can't do as much to me as they can to you. I can't turn my back on it, Harry. It's not just about us, if it ever was."
There was a pause, as Harry frowned, worried. Her lips tightened, and she bit her lower one just slightly, and Archie knew that she wanted to argue with him. But she didn't; her words, when they came, were slow and considering. "Is there anything I can say to make you change your mind?"
Archie shook his head. "I'll be careful," he said, instead. "There are plans. Trust me on this, cuz. They're my risks to take."
Harry sighed, but it was a resigned sigh. "I don't think you should, but I can't stop you. I just don't want to see you hurt, Arch. Neither would Sirius."
"Dad's spent years thinking that I was the one being hurt at Hogwarts." Archie's voice was firm. "He'll survive. This is important, Harry. Not just for us, but for everyone. I have to do this."
Another sigh - she didn't agree, but she didn't have to agree. Archie would do it anyway, and after the Tournament, she knew it. "Fine. Tell Mum and Dad that I'm safe, could you? And not to worry. I can't write right now in case it's tracked, but let them know for me, would you?"
"Of course." Archie smiled. "I'll write them. I'll talk to you later?"
"Yes – I'm safe for the moment, but I'm still on the move, so I'm not sure when I can call." Harry smiled, a little cautiously. "But things are fine, Archie. Don't worry; we'll get through this firestorm."
"And find worlds on the other side," Archie finished with a grin, moving to turn off the mirror. "See you later."
"Wait!" Chess' cry was sharp, and her expression was apologetic as Archie turned to look at her. She shrugged, a little helplessly, and Harry's eyes had tracked in the direction of Archie's, taken aback, even if she couldn't see the other girl. "I'm so sorry. I was trying to find a way to say this earlier but nothing seemed right. May I see the mirror?"
"Sure." Archie passed the mirror to her. She looked down at Harry, smiling apologetically, but then ignored the picture entirely in favour of tracing runes, with quick movements of her fingers, on the mirror. Magic flashed – pink of Chess' runes, then the image of the spells that made up the mirror appeared. Chess skimmed through them – judging by the pink flashes that appeared every now and then, Archie guessed that she was running her magic through them too, somehow. They weren't the same runes that Chess normally used, but she seemed to make some sense of them anyway.
"I'm sorry, but I think you need to destroy the mirror," she said finally, her face grim, glancing up at Archie. "I mean, I know that this is your main connection to each other, but – but these mirrors are like comm orbs. The Charms work because the two mirrors are the same, like they were made together and they're siblings. You can – you can track one with the other. Um, who knows you have these?"
"Our families," Harry said immediately. "They were a Christmas gift from our parents, so we could still be connected to each other at school. Our dads had them, too."
Chess shook her head, just slightly, passing the mirror back to Arche. "Then, um, I think they only need Archie's mirror to find you. If – if you keep it."
"I don't know who else would know..." Archie hesitated. He didn't want to destroy the mirrors – it would mean that he didn't have a quick and easy way to contact her. "Maybe if I left it in America?"
"No," John said immediately, his eyes flicking back from Chess'. "Or, well, you could, but it reflects badly on your image if anyone finds out. We need to make you look open, friendly, relatable. If you leave it here, it'll look like you're purposely obstructing justice or something if you're asked for it, which will play poorly with the public. We're in a better position if you hand over the mirror if asked, even if you know that it won't lead anywhere. Or, here's an idea: what if Harry just abandons hers somewhere as a decoy? If they find out about it and go after it, then it buys time for her to get away, but if they don't, she can always go back to retrieve it."
Archie looked at Harry, both of their expressions serious. "Well, cuz," Archie said, trying for another smile. "I guess I might not see you later, then. Don't tell me what you do – either way, I'll understand, okay? Write me, when you can?"
Harry nodded, smile gone from her face as she thought it through. "I'll try," she replied tersely. "I'll come up with something."
"Watch the news, for me." Archie sighed, then he waved his hand a little. "Bye – for now."
"For now." Harry raised her own hand in farewell and turned off her mirror.
There was an awkward silence, while Archie looked down, a little sad, at his mirror. He would understand if she destroyed her mirror, or if she abandoned it or hid it as a decoy, but it was still hard, letting go of that lifeline. Still – he knew Harry, and if there was any chance that she could be tracked through the mirrors, Harry would give up hers. She had no plans of being caught, and it would be better if she wasn't caught. She was in far more danger than Archie. He opened his drawer again and put the mirror away, and the sound of the drawer shutting sounded final, somehow. Like he wouldn't hear or see from her for a long time – he would just have to trust that, wherever she was, whatever she did, she would be all right.
"She seemed very nice," Chess offered shyly, picking up her pad of paper, and Archie pulled himself back to present. "Um, should we go back to what we were doing? Archie, why did you and Harry decide to switch places?"
Harry would be fine, and he had his own things that he needed to do, so he sighed and went back to interview preparations.
The morning of the interview was an early one. He wasn't meeting Conal until ten in the morning, in a café in Wizarding Charleston, but Chess and Thea were in his room at six, yawning and getting him ready.
Thea, from the theatre troupe, started by giving him a haircut, her wand moving around in quick, sharp movements as both she and Chess stared at him, considering. He wanted his hair short, which was better for Healing, and he looked good with his hair short. It was a little longer on the top than on the sides, long enough for people to tell that his hair curled, like Dad's, and he liked the way that the slight curls added texture to the top of his head. It was good, and even if it wasn't the Black traditional, keeping his hair short and out of his face highlighted how similar his facial structure was to Dad's.
For makeup, the plan was for a natural look, which actually took a lot of makeup. Chess handled that part – she had done stage makeup for her dance competitions since her first year, and over the last couple of years had added a bit to her daily routine. It was all No-Maj makeup, for her, since the spells required so much more effort for her than No-Maj makeup, and she thought there was more artistry in No-Maj makeup.
The main advantage of No-Maj makeup, though, was that most mages didn't bother with it. There were charms to lengthen and darken eyelashes, there were skin clarification charms, there were spells to darken the lips. But other mages could often tell when someone used a charm or a spell to alter their appearance, and the same didn't hold true for No-Maj makeup. Archie would look natural, as if he genuinely had such even skin, as if his eyes were naturally that large and bright, as if his cheekbones were actually that sharp.
The theatre troupe had gone all in on the interview – he had done a dress rehearsal in front of the whole club last night, trialing his new Arcturus Rigel Black public persona, then taken heavy criticism on how to phrase a few things just a little better, adapting his characterization just slightly here and there, choosing particular phrases to gain sympathy with an audience. Aside from Thea handling his hair, Evin and Zahir had taken control of his wardrobe. His robes today would be the same ones that he had worn at the SOW Party fundraiser in the winter, but they were tailored better to fit his proper frame. They had had to take out the hem and take it in in the middle, since Archie's proper body was both taller and leaner than his Harry Potter body.
Arcturus Rigel Black, Archie's new public persona, was quite a lot like Archie. That was important – whatever he said or did in public needed to be consistent and work with Archie when he was relaxed, Archie when he was casual, Archie when he wasn't paying attention. Arcturus Rigel Black had to be Archie, in many ways – it was Archie when he was at his best, handsome and shined up like a new penny. He was charming, he was friendly and funny and outgoing and relatable, but he was also serious about some things, and he was serious about the issue of blood discrimination in Wizarding Britain. He was thoughtful, he was kind, and all of those had to shine through. His prankster side was toned down, his tendency to fly by the seat of his pants had all but disappeared. Arcturus Rigel Black was handsome, quick to smile, quick to laugh, but he thought about things before he answered. He was the kind of person who could spark a movement.
That was what they were after – a movement. Harry was a flashpoint, and Archie would do his best to shape the coming conflagration. If she was Rosa Parks, he would do his utmost to turn himself into Martin Luther King Jr.
"Be careful about these hems," Evin said, helping him shrug into his robes, frowning as he checked the length. "Are you sure they're supposed to go past your ankles? Zahir and I added some weights in them so they'll hang better, but if you step on them, you'll rip them out."
"Anything shorter than this is inappropriate in Wizarding British fashion," Archie replied, shrugging. "Good job, though – it fits perfectly."
"You look good." Zahir was standing back, eyeing him critically. "We also shined and repaired your boots, though these ones aren't a perfect match for the black of your robes. It's not so bad because your robes nearly cover them, but they have a rosy tint to the black whereas your robes have a blue undertint."
"I know not to mix my blacks, Zahir." Archie rolled his eyes at him, then sighed. "I haven't been able to find a perfect match for these – at the Winter Formal, I wore No-Maj dress shoes, but I can't for this, not if I'm playing the Black Heir."
"You are the Black Heir, so go out there and break a leg." Evin slapped him on the back, stepping away, just as Neal and John walked into the room. Archie raised an eyebrow – he didn't think he had ever seen John in such nice dress robes. Scratch that, he didn't think he had seen John in dress robes, period. John had always chosen No-Maj formal dress.
"We're in Wizarding Charleston, and it looks better for your entourage to be in wizarding dress," John explained, voice brusque. "You ready?"
"I just didn't realize you owned formal dress robes." Archie eyed them closely – they were a very tasteful navy blue, ending at the knee, as American formal dress robes did, and the style was simple. John wore it over high-collared, black dress shirt, black trousers and boots, and his wand was in a holster on his wrist. Archie also thought he was wearing his ACD under his sleeve, and he had a pendant around his neck with a symbol that Archie didn't recognize – two sweeping crescents, interlocking, with a heavy line down the middle, like a stylized eye. The pendant, heavy silver, stood out against the black of his underclothes. "Heavily armed, for an interview, aren't you?"
"Call me paranoid." John shrugged. "You need something to show you have powerful allies abroad, and we're it. It's the symbol of a Natural Legilimens you're staring at, by the way – it used to be that Natural Legilimens were required to wear these at all times, but it's not in use much nowadays."
Archie nodded, turning to look at Neal. Like John, he was wearing dark underclothes, but his robes were longer, falling about halfway between his knees and his ankles, and they were a dark green, embroidered in delicate gold with two designs that Archie didn't recognize. There was a Chinese crest, and something that looked like a British coat of arms – a golden ship with a crown on top. He squinted at the designs carefully.
"House Queenscove," Neal said quietly, grimly, one finger tapping on the sword he had belted at his waist. He, too, had a wand holster, on his left arm. "And the Song family crest. It's my brothers' and my personal insignia. House Queenscove was Book of Gold nobility once, a pre-Conquest House. There were political disagreements in the middle of the nineteenth century, and my ancestors, a branch line, emigrated to Canada. The British Queenscoves died out about a generation later, a little after the turn of the century, but we never went back. But the arms are ours, and the traditional lands, if we so wish."
"Would you want to?" Archie raised an eyebrow, walking to join the two of them, and they headed out onto the grounds. Neal, who had secured permission to leave the grounds earlier from the teachers, would be Apparating with them to Wizarding Charleston, but they had to get off the grounds, out of the Anti-Apparition Wards, first. Driving would have been easier, he had grumbled, but then parking was always an issue near Wizarding Charleston. And it would have been a breach of the Statute of Secrecy to be seen in such wizarding clothes, anyway, if not also a bunch of possession of a weapon charges for Neal for walking around armed with a sword if caught by No-Maj authorities.
"I don't know," Neal replied pensively, looking away, towards the trees that surrounded AIM campus. "In the past, my family hasn't been interested. Noble houses cost a lot to maintain, and who knows what shape our traditional house will be in if we return? The last Lord Queenscove was a foppish wastrel, so he probably let everything go to ruin. And we all have lives outside of Britain – my family has moved on, been successful. Graeme is an Auror, Will has a career in Geneva, and I'm a Healer. My sister Jessa is at Ilvermorny, she's a third year. They say birds can never return to old nests, and we're not blood purists, so returning in the current political environment always seemed unwise."
Archie looked over at him – in his true body, Neal was only a couple inches taller than him. He was frowning, and it seemed like he was thinking. Archie hesitated. "If you decide otherwise, I'm sure that I, and the Light, would appreciate your support. And both the Potters and my family are wealthy enough, I'm sure we could help get your finances in order."
Neal nodded, turning away to the small gate in the AIM school walls. It was the first one that Archie had known about – the one that they had taken him through to see his very first movie¸ a James Bond movie, on his first night at AIM. It seemed so long ago, but it was a night that had changed his life. "Things are changing, and my family may be able to afford it now. I'll speak to my family and we'll think about it. Grab on – here we go."
Archie grabbed Neal's arm, and he shut his eyes against the intense squeezing sensation that he would never, despite much practice, get used to. He gasped, slightly, when they popped out the other side, opening his eyes to see a street that reminded him much of Diagon Alley. The streets weren't cobblestone, instead made of paving stones, and the buildings were half stone and half timber, but the signs, the smells, the sights were things that he remembered well. There were flags flying in a breeze that wasn't quite there, sparks of magic flying everywhere, apothecaries and Quodpot stores and wizarding robe shops. It was so familiar, and yet not – he had never been here before, and mages walked around in primarily No-Maj dress, with only a few people in robes. He, John, and Neal stood out in their finery.
Archie had never been anywhere in Wizarding America outside of school campuses, and he would have loved the chance to look around and see more of it! But he didn't have time – Neal was gesturing him down the street, to the small café where he had agreed to meet with Conal Mindelan, reporter for the American Standard.
"Let's do this," Archie said quietly, settling himself into his role as he had done so many times before. But this role was different, because it wasn't an actor's role – it was his role, it was Arcturus Rigel Black as his most appealing self. He headed down the street, opening the door to a small shop, Café Stars. An appropriate name, Archie couldn't help thinking.
At the back of the room, a tall, broad-shouldered man stood up, waving them over. He had a photographer with him, slight and almost dwarfed by her camera. Archie smiled at him and headed over, Neal and John picking their way carefully behind him.
Conal Mindelan looked much like Kel – he had the same hazel-brown eyes, the same chestnut brown hair, though his was cropped short and left messy at the top. He had a spiral notebook with him, opening at the top rather than at the side, and Archie spotted the pens that were in his front pocket. The woman beside him had dark skin, and her hair was shorn close to her head, almost entirely gone.
"Conal Mindelan. You must be Arcturus Rigel Black," the reporter said, offering his hand. Archie took it with an easy grace, matching him for grip. "I have our photographer, Vivian Hunter, with me. I see you came with some firepower – let's see, Nealan Queenscove I recognize because he's my sister's friend, and the other is…"
"John Kowalski," Archie introduced him quickly, with a genuine smile, taking the time to make his accent sharp – a clearly British, clearly noble accent. He sounded like Dad, which was the plan. "One of my closest friends at AIM. And call me Arch – Arcturus is a bit of a mouthful, don't you think? My apologies on the firepower. It's hard getting information out of Britain at the best of times, and my friends didn't think I should come alone, not in these circumstances. They say my Defense isn't very good."
Conal's eyebrow went up, as he considered John, but thankfully he simply nodded and moved on. He motioned for the three of them to join him at the broad back table, and Archie was amused to note that Neal and John placed themselves in defensive positions, where they could keep an eye on the doors, the windows, the other patrons. "No offense taken. I understand – there's telephone transcription, but it does take us a few days to reprint news from the Daily Prophet, with the independent verification process and so on. Anyway, shall we get started? Do you want anything?"
"A coffee would be fantastic, thank you." Archie let himself light up. "They won't serve it to us at AIM, but I do have a liking for it. Cream and sugar, please."
"The coffee here is pretty good – they roast it in-house, so it's worth trying. Neal, tea? John?"
"Nothing for me, thanks," John replied shortly, eyes roving around the room, as Neal nodded.
Conal smiled, just as easily as Archie himself did, turning to his companion and making small motion with his head. She nodded, getting up from the table to head to the counter to order. He set his notebook down the on the table, pulling out a pen. "Great. So, tell me – how did you come into this? Tell me everything."
Archie laughed. "Well, I suppose you'll have to excuse my cousin and I," he started, gracefully accepting the deep mug of coffee from the photographer with a smile, taking a sip and making a noise of approval. It was sweet, just the way he liked it. "You see, my cousin Harry wanted to study Potions under the greatest Potions Master in this century. As for me, well, I wanted to study Healing at the best Healing school in the western hemisphere."
"What do you mean by that?" Conal pressed, resting a pen on top of his notebook, where it immediately began taking Archie's words down automatically. A variant on the spell for a Quick Quotes Quill, Archie guessed, applied to a regular pen. It left his hands free for his own coffee, and to keep his eyes on Archie. Archie could see why he was good at this – one of the best young reporters in America, it was said. "Can you go into more detail? Why Healing?"
"Hmm…" Archie sighed, looking down into his cup of coffee. Coffee – he liked it, because his Dad liked it, and Dad liked coffee because Mum had liked it. It all came down to Mum, just like this question did. He wouldn't talk about the exact cause of her death, because they had decided that it was too speculative, but Archie could release that information later, if he needed to. "Well, my mother passed away of an incurable illness when I was young. It was… probably the defining moment of my life, until I came to school. After she died, all I wanted to do was study Healing, especially infectious diseases and incurable diseases – I never wanted anyone to have to go through what I went through. I wanted to become a Healer, to help people, and I have always wanted to. Hogwarts is an excellent school, but their Healing program is very limited, and I would have needed to attend extra schooling afterwards."
"As for Harry, she's something of a potions prodigy." Archie paused there, gathering his thoughts, gathering his evidence. This was about selling Harry – polishing her up as beautiful, as shiny and new as he himself had been shined up. He broke into soft laughter. "I remember when she read her first potions article – we were four, at the time, and she had the brightest look of wonder on her face! She just ate it up, and then she picked up her first Brew Your First Potions kits and started working on them, then those turned into potions textbooks, ingredient encyclopaedias, theoretical texts, advanced potions journals. She read her first article by Potions Master Severus Snape when we were about… hmm, seven? I think we had just turned seven, and I found her in the sitting room, and her eyes were huge reading this article. She has these beautiful, electric green eyes, you know, and when they light up, it's really something. Archie, she said to me, you have to read this. It's wonderful. And when I read it, I couldn't make heads or tails out of it!"
He laughed again, at the memory. Even then, while Archie had been advanced in his Potions compared to his peers, he was already nothing compared to Harry. "She admired Professor Snape so much, and all she ever wanted was her Potions Mastery. So… we switched places."
"Why did you need to switch places, though?" Conal nodded in encouragement, a light in his hazel eyes. He knew the answer, everyone knew the answer, but Archie did need to be on the record having responded to it.
"Oh," Archie sighed, adopting an apologetic look. "I'm so sorry. I guess, it's just been such a huge part of my life, I never considered the need to tell others about it. Hogwarts has a pureblood-only policy – you must be able to show that both your parents and your grandparents are mages to attend. Harry's mother, Lily Potter née Evans, is a Muggleborn, or a newblood as you would call it here, so Harry is legally a halfblood. I am a pureblood, though, so … I was entitled to go to Hogwarts, and she wasn't."
"Britain has very regressive blood purity policies, don't they?" Conal prompted. "You broke Hogwarts' pureblood-only policy, but there are other laws, aren't there?"
Archie was silent, serious for a moment. "There are," he said finally. "The biggest problem, right now, are the restrictions on employment. Although the laws are not specifically structured to discriminate on blood-status, they prohibit anyone educated outside of Britain from being employed in government, in defense, in quite a number of industries. Unfortunately, that also creates a chilling effect, where a lot of private enterprises who could hire people educated outside of Britain simply don't for political reasons. And, of course, since Hogwarts is pureblood-only, very few Muggleborns – newbloods – and halfbloods are educated in Britain now. There are homeschooling programs, but none of them are very well accredited."
Archie sighed, leaning forward and taking a sip of his coffee. Oh, that was good coffee. He looked at Conal very earnestly – according to the theatre troupe, it was one of his best looks. "That means that Muggleborns and halfbloods can't amass any political power, which is exacerbated by the British political system. We still have the rule of privilege, so nobles have particular rights and responsibilities, including law-making, that the general populace doesn't have. The votes are only within the Wizengamot, which is nobility only. All laws are proposed, written and passed with only the votes of the nobility.
"More than ninety-five percent of the Lords are purebloods, and while many Lords are supportive of blood equality, they have long been in the minority. All of this leads to a collection of laws that, while disparate, discriminate against Muggleborns and halfbloods. In the Wizarding British courts, a Muggleborn's or halfblood's word is worth only three-quarters of a pureblood's. You can only get Wizarding British citizenship if you are integrated in the Wizarding world, which means marrying a witch or wizard and working in the wizarding world, which works back into the employment restrictions. There are a lot of laws that only apply to Muggleborns and halfbloods too, like the blood identity theft laws." Archie shrugged, a little helplessly, with a sigh.
"From the perspective of American mages, these laws sound incredible," Conal said, leaning forward in turn. "We are, as you know, still recovering from Rappaport's Law, but even that law didn't criminalize newbloods and halfbloods; it only restricted access to the No-Maj world and forbade communication with No-Majs directly. The ability to do magic was overriding, and as long as you could do magic, no one cared about your ancestry."
Archie laughed softly, a little sad. "I don't really know how to respond to that, Conal. I agree with you. Our laws are incredible – insane, absolutely insane. If there's one thing I've learned in America, it's that someone's blood status has nothing to do with whether they will be a successful witch or wizard. My closest friend here is a British Muggleborn, and she's top of most of our classes, miles and away ahead of most purebloods, and definitely far ahead of me in most classes. And look at Harry, too – look at everything she's done while masquerading as me at Hogwarts! She cured the Sleeping Sickness in first year, saved Hogwarts from a basilisk in her second year. In her third year, under her own name, and on her own merits, she got an internship at the English Potions Guild and published the first paper on Shaped Imbuing – her own discovery. I understand that she's been collaborating with Master Snape for months now. If that isn't evidence that blood purity is a load of bunk, I'm not sure what is."
Archie paused. He had let himself get animated, in Harry's defence – this was one of the best opportunities he had to sell her and her achievements to the international audience. Harry was awesome, and he threw everything he could think of, everything that was independently verifiable, at Conal. And when one came to Harry, one couldn't get away from her sheer magical prowess.
"She's very powerful, too, in case you didn't guess. She always had to play it down as Rigel to protect me. My core is above average, the Blacks have always produced powerful, if not mad, wizards, but I'm nothing compared to her. I wouldn't be surprised if she were Lord-level."
Conal whistled, impressed. "That's hefty list of achievements, for a fourteen-year-old mage. I want to go back to blood identity theft, though, and your switch. What, exactly, is blood identity theft?"
"The crime of pretending to be a pureblood when you aren't one," Archie replied with a wry twist of his lips. "Well, specifically I think it is receiving a benefit exclusive to purebloods without being a pureblood. Obviously, if you're a pureblood, it doesn't affect you."
"And I'm guessing attending Hogwarts counts as a benefit exclusive to purebloods?" Conal asked, his voice kind. "Why did you decide to do it, to take the risks?"
Archie let the silence stretch, taking another drink of his coffee. He looked away, out to the sunny street outside. When he started talking, he kept his words slow, contemplative. Arcturus Rigel Black was thoughtful, open, considerate. He made mistakes, but he owned up to them. He was relatable.
"To be fair," he said slowly, looking very seriously at Conal. "I don't think we knew what we were getting into when we started. You have to remember, we were eleven – ten when we first came up with the idea. We looked very similar at that age, and we were around the same size, which gave us the idea."
He looked down, his expression melting into one of worry, a little guilt, but not shame. He was not ashamed of what he and Harry had done, and that was important. "We knew it was risky, but the risk has always been for her and not for me. I'm a pureblood – and not only that, I'm the heir to the House of Black, one of Britain's more prominent noble houses. If we were caught, I always knew that I could just have my schooling records changed to reflect my educational history, and aiding and abetting blood identity theft doesn't have the same criminal consequences. I would pay a hefty fine, but it's a fine that I and my family can afford to pay. And I, of course, would be here in America, ready to claim sanctuary if I needed it.
"The risk was always for her – we did know, intellectually, that if we were caught she would be in line for the Dementor's Kiss. That is the punishment for blood identity theft. She was willing to take that risk – and I… well, I was selfish enough to go with it, because I wanted it too. I guess we thought we were immortal, and I definitely didn't think there was anything that Harry couldn't do, and…" He fell silent, letting his expression ease into something serious, heavy, weighty, as he looked up to meet Conal's hazel-brown eyes. Conal nodded, his expression sympathetic.
"Honestly," Archie continued, taking another sip of his coffee, "I'm not sure I expected to get this far. But once we started, it became harder and harder to stop. We've had such different experiences, Conal – Harry could never pass as an American student, the cultures are too different, and she would never have chosen the path I did. Likewise, I can't take over her life in Britain. We're just too different, not just in personality, but in our interests, in our skills and talents. Even our magic – I'm as Light as Light can go, and I think Harry is true Neutral, if not slightly Dark. As we got older, we found that we had to hide more and more things from the people we loved, and that made things harder and harder. But with the consequences… well, we couldn't just stop, either."
Conal nodded, understanding, while the pen scribbled out Archie's words. "It must have become more difficult, too, as you both grew up and your bodies started changing. You didn't try to pass yourself off as a girl, but she had to pass herself off as Rigel Black, a boy, isn't that right?"
"That's right." Archie nodded with a smile. "English noble lines aren't known here, so I simply told the staff that my parents had played a prank, and I was really a boy named Harry Potter, and that worked well enough. But I am the Black Heir, and it's known in Britain that Arcturus Black is a boy, so she had to hide her sex. She had it harder that way, much harder than I did."
"How did you do it? Surely you don't look alike, now?"
Archie burst into laughter, just imagining it. "No, of course we don't. I'm taller, for one, and leaner, and she tends to be stocky, which is great because she plays Beater in Quidditch and she's well suited for it. Her facial structure is a lot like mine, but her jaw is rounder now. Her hair is messier than mine, and her eyes – no one could mistake them for mine, they never could. But as children, other than our eye colour, we did look very alike – that first year, we just both cut our hair the same and went to school as normal! For our second year, since we had grown up a little more, Harry came up with a modification of the Polyjuice Potion to make it last for about a year at a time. She also came up with the spell to blend our features so that we would continue to look alike. Third year is when it became easier, at least for me."
Archie winked. Being a Metamorphmagus was an excellent gift for him to reveal now, because it clearly linked him with the House of Black. There were no other Houses in which the gift ran as strongly, though the Blacks had intermarried with the other Houses enough that theoretically it could show up just about anywhere. He turned his hair blond, on a whim, and switched his noise out for a squat, upturned nose like a pig's snout, while he made his face rounder, softer, turning into a whole different person. Another blink of an eye later, he let go of all the changes, resuming his normal appearance – he had had to test this with Chess a bunch of times, to make sure that the makeup stayed on properly. Thankfully, with the right setting powder, it did. "Metamorphagi run in my family, but Harry kept with the modified Polyjuice Potion."
"No one has ever modified Polyjuice to last longer than an hour," Conal replied, eyebrow raised.
Archie shrugged. He knew that perfectly well, he just hadn't mentioned it before because it wasn't something that people knew Harry had done. But the fact that Conal had brought it up made Harry look even more awesome, so he didn't worry about it. "You would have to ask Harry the details of that, I think. I don't know."
"Alright," Conal said, letting it go. "What about the blending spell? Do you know anything about that?"
"Not a clue," Archie replied affably. "Something that required a lot of magical power, though – she was almost drained after casting it, and Harry is not lacking in magical power."
Conal sighed, shaking his head in fake regret. "I thought this was to be a tell-all, Arch."
"I never promised to tell you things I didn't know." Archie grinned. "You try growing up surrounded by mad geniuses, Conal. Sometimes they do things, and even if they do them in front of you, you'll still have no idea what they did. It was runic, that much I could tell, but I've never been much good with runes. I've never studied them."
"Runes are a headache," Conal agreed, leaning forward and taking a sip of his own coffee, still more than three-quarters full while Archie was down to the last third. "Don't, if you can avoid it. So, what now? Where is Harry now, and what are your next plans?"
"That's a good question." Archie leaned back in his chair, looking upwards in thought. "I suppose I'll start with Harry – I don't know where she is, and to be honest, since this will be published, I wouldn't tell you even if I did know. But as for me, I plan on returning home for the summer, where I'll be advocating for a change in all of Britain's blood purity laws. The laws are wrong, Conal. I know that there are many nobles fighting this fight, but they haven't seen it, lived it, the way I have; all of my closest friends at AIM are halfbloods and Muggleborns, and Harry, my sister in everything but blood, is a halfblood. These issues are very real to me in a way that they aren't for most nobles, and if there's anything I can do to help them, to change these laws that prevent them from enjoying the same rights, the same opportunities that I have, then I have to do it. And come September, I hope to be back at AIM under my own name, to continue my Healer training while balancing my political duties from abroad."
Archie looked back at Conal, whose light expression had turned into something more serious. He was nodding, slowly, in mixed understanding and respect. "I see," he said. "Is there anything you'd like to tell the public?"
Archie took a deep breath. "This isn't really for the American audience, so much that I'm hoping that we'll reach some British readers, too. Given a chance, I would say this: the world is big. The world is so big, and giving everyone the chance, the equal chance and opportunity to become their best selves, will only make the world a better place. We are all mages, and we all have the ability to achieve greatness. Thanks, Conal."
"You're very welcome." Conal grinned, grabbing his auto-writing pen and capping it, before he picked up his coffee for a big swig. "Or, I should say, thank you for making my career. Should we do some pictures?"
"I did wonder why you had brought a photographer." Archie smiled and finished off his own coffee, savouring the last taste he would likely get before he returned home. A peek over showed that Neal was done with his mug of tea as well. John was still sitting, eyes roving over the surroundings, with an air of concentration. Catching stray thoughts from the people around them, Archie guessed.
"Great! I'll let Viv handle arranging the photos – she's the pro. I'll just relax here, think about how to write up this interview, and enjoy my coffee." Conal picked up his coffee with a great sigh of relief, turning away to review his notebook, while Archie prodded John to let him out from where he had been sandwiched between him and Neal.
"Over here – the lighting is a little better, and I'm going to want a lot of shots," Vivian said with no preamble, motioning him over. "Yes, let's use this table here. Sit down behind it, look like you're thinking about something deep."
Photographs took forever. It seemed like Vivian wanted a hundred of them – there were a good thirty or forty taken at the café, most of them of Archie alone although Neal and John were dragged in on a couple shots. Some had Archie behind a table, others had him leaning against a table, some had him standing or sitting with a coffee mug as a prop. Then, they moved outside – there were shots in the hot South Carolina sunlight, which made Archie deeply regret his winter-weight robes. She went with mostly serious and thoughtful expressions, which Archie appreciated since it matched his Arcturus Rigel Black persona well, though many shots did have him smiling.
"I don't suppose I'd be able to get a copy of these after, would I?" he asked, at the end. Dad would love most of these, he thought. And he wouldn't mind keeping one of him and John in all their finery – when would he ever see John in wizarding dress robes ever again?
Vivian favoured him with a small smile – for her part, she had been coolly businesslike and professional, mainly telling him to go somewhere, how to stand or sit, how to rearrange his face, occasionally pointing a finger to tell him where to look. "Normally I wouldn't, but I'm a newblood and I like you, so I'll send you a copy of the best ones."
"You're an angel," Archie replied, grinning. "I'm looking forward to seeing them – and the published interview, too."
"Look for it in a day or so – American Standard, and I'm aiming for the front page." Conal smirked. "I'll send you an advance copy."
"That sounds great," Archie replied, holding out his hand for a farewell shake. "I look forward to receiving it."
The interview, once Archie read it, less than a day later, was as good as he had hoped it would be. All his best lines had made it in, though Conal had rearranged some parts of their conversation. He had made Archie a little more well-spoken than he normally was, cutting out some of his reminiscing and summarizing Wizarding Britain's blood purity laws with a few short lines. That was too bad, but at least all the parts where he talked Harry up had made it in as well as his closing lines. He had to be happy about that. They would censor the hell out of it for the Daily Prophet, but if Hermione was right, copies made of the original in the American Standard would be making their way into non-noble British wizarding society within the day.
"It's a good foundation to be working with," Hermione remarked. "And it's an excellent photograph."
"Will you frame it?" Archie asked, a little hopefully. Vivian Hunter had indeed sent along a selection of what she said were the best twenty or so photographs, and they were great. Most of them were just of Archie, but one of them had included Neal and John in the shot, the two of them on either side of him, looking like very serious bodyguards. He couldn't wait to show Dad – he didn't want to send them, because after his interview, he was sure that his owls would be intercepted if possible, so it would have to wait. Instead, it was frequent short notes, letting them know he was fine, that Harry was fine, and to look for him in the American Standard.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Does your ego know no bounds?"
Ah, well. One could always dream, but he hadn't really expected she would do anything like that. "No, you're right," he said decisively, leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. "You've got the real thing, and I'm better than any photograph."
"Please get a room," John groaned. "Some of us are dealing with long-distance relationships, you know."
"Or the absence of a relationship at all," Chess added, her eyes skimming the interview.
"There's always Faleron," Archie teased, but Chess rolled her eyes, turning the page.
"Faleron likes the idea of me more than he likes me," she replied, her voice matter-of-fact. "I liked your interview, Archie. It was good."
Aunt Lily and Uncle James were in the Daily Prophet, around the same time as when Archie's interview ran in the American Standard. They had, thankfully, been released for lack of information or connection with Harry's crimes, and were pleading for anyone with knowledge of Harry's whereabouts to come forward. His heart went out to them, but Archie hoped that no one would come forward – the consensus of his friends was that, even if Aunt Lily and Uncle James had meant their plea, it was an easy way for the Ministry to try to track her down.
The Ministry would have a good target when Archie came back, and he knew it. Someone had to pay for such a flagrant breach of the blood purity laws, and they didn't have Harry, they didn't have Aunt Lily or Uncle James, and they didn't have any of her friends. They only had Archie, and they would try to pin whatever they could on him – and Archie would go home, and he would take it. As a pureblood, the law was on his side, but he was worried, he was anxious, he was scared when he thought about going back. The worst they could probably get on him was a fine, but even so, the thought of the trial made his stomach cramp, his hands sweat, and he would find himself taking deep, even breaths.
He would reach out to Hermione, in these moments, grip her hand, and she would squeeze back without saying anything. In the common room, he would curl up beside her, his head resting on her shoulder while she read, while she made notes, while she tried to plan for every eventuality, and he would breathe in her scent, of summer rain and thunderstorms. She was warm, a solid, comforting presence, and she lent him strength without saying anything.
He didn't even consider changing his mind.
On the day of the return to Britain, Archie picked out his clothes carefully – he wanted to be clearly No-Maj, but he couldn't stand out too much. He would have liked to wear his AIM sweatshirt, but it was a bad idea, because Archie also needed to connect to the British students from the other schools, he had to connect to the people in Britain who would watch him be arrested, watch him stand trial, watch him argue for what was right. He had to connect to everyone and wearing an AIM sweater wouldn't do that.
He pulled on, instead, his favourite pair of dark wash jeans, a pair that he had gotten about a year ago which were butter-soft and comfortable, and paired it with a plain, dark t-shirt and cardigan. He fixed his hair carefully in the mirror, though he was sure he would need to readjust it before getting off the plane. He looked like a pared down, more casual version of himself than he had presented for the interview, and that was good. People knew he dressed up for an interview – this was Archie's chance to show that, even outside the finery, he was the same Arcturus Rigel Black.
He gave his trunk to Hermione, who would be finding Dad for him and passing it over. She was a little uncertain about how she would find the Lord Sirius Black, but Archie had reassured her that Dad looked so much like him that she wouldn't be able to miss him. And if he wasn't there, she only needed to call on 12 Grimmauld Place in London. Archie only kept a few things on him – his pocketwatch, which had the Black coat of arms on it, and his wand.
It was an early morning for him – their Portkey left just after six in the morning, the plane to Heathrow would fly at seven in the morning, and between the flight time and the time difference, it would be five in the afternoon when they arrived. John met them in the Pettingill Hall common room, looking, if not perfectly awake, certainly more awake than Chess, who met them just outside their dorm. Archie nodded his hello, but he didn't say anything – he was too nervous.
"We'll keep an eye on the news," John said, breaking the tense silence as they all walked together to Seaton House. "And it's only a week or so – Chess and I just need to clear some stuff up at home with our folks, and we'll head over to Britain to join you."
"You don't have to," Archie said, forcibly unsticking his jaws. He had told them this for weeks, after they had announced that they would be visiting Britain this summer. To support him – even if they didn't say so, he was certain. "It'll be fine. I'll be fine."
John shot him a skeptical look. "Like I said, I'm just visiting family. And the monster didn't get to see practically any of the sights in England through the Tournament, and it's fine. We'll come over."
"I have a whole second guidebook for London," Chess said, nodding in agreement. Archie couldn't tell how serious she was – no matter what they said, he was convinced they were coming for him. "And a third one for the rest of Great Britain. I'm going to see everything."
"I suppose I can't stop you," he replied finally, as he always did. "You have to stay with me at Grimmauld Place, then, at least for a bit. I want to introduce you to my Dad."
"It'll be our first stop." John smiled, a warm and genuine smile that was unlike most of the wide grins that he normally flashed so easily. This one was a soft smile, somehow serious, a good luck smile. "See you both soon."
Meeting up with the other British students from the other schools at John F. Kennedy Airport while they waited to board was another experience altogether. Archie wasn't used to having anyone pay attention to him – normally, he would sit beside Hermione, talking to her, or they would sit in silence while reading and waiting, while small circles of people talked around them. There was a sense of kinship between all the British students who had come to America for schooling, but people rarely had the chance to get to know each other, and mostly formed friendships within their own schools.
Today was different.
"Hey," Toby said, approaching them from a circle of Ilvermorny students, Saoirse trailing along after him. He paused for a minute, just looking him over. "I just wanted to say, Arch – I read the interview. It sounded great."
"Wish you had told us earlier, though," Saoirse added, waving a hand. "I understand why you couldn't, but it's a crazy, amazing, story. If you need anything, when we get back – just let me know, all right?"
"Thanks," Archie smiled weakly. "I'll keep it in mind, Saoirse."
"Don't worry, Arch." That was Sean, joining them from a tight knot of Cascadia students and slapping her on the shoulder. "We'll talk, Saoirse and I – there'll be riots throughout Wizarding Ireland if you're imprisoned, I swear it."
"Please don't!" Archie laughed, a little alarmed – Sean was utterly serious, and between Sean and Saoirse, he didn't doubt that they really would have Ireland up in arms. "I don't want riots associated with us! Peaceful protest is good, but you're undocumented, Sean – be careful."
"No promises." The Irish boy winked and disappeared to rejoin his friends.
They weren't the only ones to come and talk to him. A good dozen others came to say hello, to tell them how much they had appreciated his interview, to wish him luck, to ask him about Harry, to ask if they could help him in any way. Archie took the time to talk to every one of them, to shake their hands, thank them for their support, try to learn their names, tell the more militant of them not to do anything rash. They didn't know what would happen, from here on out – it was probable that Archie would be arrested (all the signs pointed that way), but even there, they couldn't be certain until it happened. It was hard to know what to say, sometimes, but Archie did his best.
On the plane trip over, every minute seemed to slip past him. One minute, they were just taking off – then it seemed like they were halfway across the Atlantic. The closer they got to Britain, the more nervous Archie felt. It was one thing to say these things from the safety of America, and it was something else to willingly return to Britain and do what needed to be done. His hand, in Hermione's, was clammy and he was probably squeezing too tight, but she didn't comment. Instead, she put away her book, curled up a little closer to him in their awkward plane seats, and pulled his hand into both of hers. It was warm, and comforting, and she drew little circles on the back of his hand.
"It'll be all right, Archie," she murmured to him. "We have a plan, and you know they want a show just as much as we do. You know what to do, what to say. We've thought through most of the possible scenarios – arrest at the aeroport, arrest at home, arrest anywhere else… No arrest at all."
"Yeah," Archie replied, quiet. "But it's probably the aeroport. They can't have me off to Grimmauld Place, totally free, they can't just let it slide. I know there's a plan, it's just … knowing and doing are different things."
She looked at him, and her eyes were huge, brown, and trusting. Her words were simple. "I believe in you, Archie."
Archie smiled at her and pulled her hand to hold in both of his. "Thank you."
All too soon, they were landing. All too soon, the people around him were getting up, unloading their small carry-ons from the storage compartments, lining up in the centre aisle to disembark. Archie waited – even if he was at the front of the plane, he needed a few minutes to gather himself, a few minutes for the people to gather in the terminal. He was still holding Hermione's hand, and he wouldn't let go until he absolutely had to. She leaned against his back, a solid, earthly presence, and Archie felt like she was lending him her strength.
"Showtime," he murmured as the plane cleared out, and took a heavy step down the aisle. One foot after the other, and Hermione was behind him the entire way. Down the aisle, off the plane, with a quick smile and thank you for the pilot and the attendants who wished him well with somewhat more than the usual fervour, down a long and winding gangplank, into a crowded terminal.
It was more crowded than he had ever seen it before. There were families milling about, but it seemed like no one had left – everyone was waiting. They saw him, and they stopped talking, they stopped chattering, and there was silence. Even the French-speaking students – they were clustered in a group, waiting for their Portkeys to Brussels, Paris, Toulouse, Lyons, Bordeaux. There were so many people in the terminal, and they were all Muggleborns, all halfbloods – and even if he was a pureblood, in this, Archie was with them.
He spotted the Aurors striding towards him. Auror Dawlish, he knew, worked closely with Uncle James, and it was Auror Shacklebolt beside him. Dawlish was non-noble, but Shacklebolt was Book of Silver, and his House was part of Dumbledore's Light faction. Dad was there, much farther back, and Archie sent him a heartfelt mental apology. His face was stern, like so many of the Black Lords that decorated Grimmauld Place – there was no way that Dad didn't know what was about to happen here.
"Arcturus Rigel Black," Dawlish said, an ambitious glint in his eye. "You are charged with conspiracy to commit blood identity theft and aiding and abetting in the commission of blood identity theft. You're going to have to come with us."
"And what about his rights?" That was Derrick, pissed off, shoving himself between Archie and the Aurors, while Archie groaned internally. "Aren't you supposed to advise him of his right to silence, and all that? I know we don't get that shit, but he's a bloody pureblood and a noble – just because he stands with us means he doesn't get his rights read to him, is that it?"
Damn it, Derrick.There were murmurs around in the crowd, and people were starting to move, bunching with the older students and adults in the front, the youngest towards the back. It was the beginnings of a mob, and Archie did not want a mob.
"It's fine, Derrick," Archie said, pitching his voice, firm, over the noise of the crowd. He finally, regretfully, let go of Hermione's hand, in favour of gently pushing Derrick out of the way. They had talked about this. Archie would be calm – he would be steady, and he would take the moral high ground. "Settle down, everyone. I know my rights. Auror Dawlish, as a noble and a pureblood, I am invoking my absolute right to silence and my right to counsel. You will not question me, you will not use Veritaserum on me, you will not touch me or use any form of compulsion or force on me whatsoever, and you will supply me with all basic necessities of life until my counsel can arrange for my release. If you please, call Percy Weasley at the law firm of Bones Goldstein for me."
Archie had met Percy Weasley only briefly, but he was Harry's friend, and he was from a blood traitor family. His firm, Bones Goldstein, was the pre-eminent firm for halfblood and Muggleborn discrimination cases. It was a bit of a gamble, but Percy was also the only lawyer that Archie knew, so it would have to be enough.
Auror Dawlish's expression tightened, but he was silent as Archie walked forward, towards him, and into the firestorm.
There would be worlds on the other side.
AN: And that's a wrap, folks! Thanks, as always, to faithful beta-reader meek_bookworm, who definitely spends far too much time helping me, and the the lot of subject matter experts who let me call them up and ask really absurd things at really random hours. And thanks to all of you, for all your support and reviews and comments - they are the fuel that keeps me running! As a favour, there are those of you who have read and enjoyed and haven't left me any comments yet, leave me one on this chapter at least, please!
We aren't done yet - of course we aren't done yet. Vanguard starts being posted next week, and here is your hint for Chapter 1 of Vanguard: We are the children you reject and disregard / These aching cries come from the bottom of our hearts / You can't disown us now, we are your own flesh and blood / And we don't disappear just because your eyes are shut (From Heads Unworthy, by Rise Against).