Title: Kairos Amid the Ruins
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Harry Potter/Orion Black, Albus Dumbledore/Gellert Grindelwald, mentions of various canon pairings
Content Notes: Time travel, heavy angst, Harry mentoring Severus, violence, gore, minor character deaths, AU
Summary: Harry's attempt to time travel and fix the past went badly awry. Time shattered, and the various pieces of the universe clung to each other as best they could. Harry finds himself in 1961, with Albus Dumbledore the Minister for Magic, Gellert Grindelwald his loving husband, Voldemort newly defeated…and Severus Snape being proclaimed the Boy-Who-Lived.
Author's Note: This is going to be a long story, focusing on Harry mentoring Severus as the Boy-Who-Lived, with flashbacks to an alternate World War II. The Harry-Severus mentorship will remain gen. However, the romantic pairings are a prominent part of the story. The word "Kairos" comes from the Greek, meaning a lucky moment, or the right moment, to act.
Kairos Amid the Ruins
Chapter One—Fix What You Broke
Harry tumbled through the mirrors.
That was what they looked like, broken mirrors flashing past on either side of him. He saw the faces of his parents, and Severus Snape, and Gellert Grindelwald, and Garrick Ollivander, and fellow Aurors, and Voldemort, and thousands upon thousands of people he didn't know, staring at him with open mouths, wide eyes, or shouting voices, or focused on someone else entirely.
The mirrors broke and broke and broke again, a rain of glass and sand joining Harry's fall through the non-time.
Sand. Sand, glass, hourglass. Harry remembered, for a hazy second, the sand of a Time-Turner pouring from one bulb to another. Like Hermione's in third year. Like the one he'd held, briefly, before a crazing crack had torn across the air right in front of him.
He'd been in the Department of Mysteries, in the Chamber of Time, and all he had been trying to do was travel back in time to keep Voldemort from killing his parents.
Voices passed him through the non-air, meaningless words. Harry fell and fell and fell. He became aware he wasn't breathing, tried to suck in a lungful of air, and felt the burn and the burn and the cough.
He still didn't breathe, as he tumbled through a sky the color of rain towards a destination he didn't understand.
Cracks ripped apart the greyness. He saw—not blackness through them, but a kind of dull non-existence. Nothingness. Cracks all around him, the sound of shattering glass of what sounded like an aeon of mirrors, and the nothingness increased.
Congratulations, Mr. Potter, you broke the universe, said a voice that sounded like Snape's, but could have been his. Snape was dead.
Except, was he? In this universe that was tearing itself apart around Harry, maybe all the people who had ever been dead were alive. And all the people who had been alive were dead.
He had doomed his friends, in a rash effort to save his parents.
The guilt burned in a way that the non-air hadn't. Harry struggled furiously to get his feet underneath him and lunge in a particular direction. The mad thought danced in his head that he ought to be able to fix what he broke if he just found all the sand and glass particles that had made up the Time-Turner. He might have forever to search, if time was no longer passing, right?
But he couldn't stop falling, or even stop turning head-over-heels. He thought he would vomit, but a marble whirlwind clamped his chest and a rain of sand or fine, fine glass tore into his eyes.
Harry shrieked. There was no sound. There hadn't been a sound, he abruptly realized, since he had heard Snape or not-Snape's voice talking about breaking the universe. All around him was nothingness, and when Harry stretched out trembling hands, he felt nothing.
He recalled a scrap of text in a book he'd read about Muggle sensory-deprivation tanks, and how people could go mad floating in them, suspended, unable to see or smell or touch or hear—
Or maybe he was already mad. Maybe he was already dead. Tumbling endlessly through non-dark while the universe apparently broke apart around him could qualify.
Harry looked around, and then gasped as a spark of light appeared in front of him. He reached out to it, since he still appeared to have a body, honestly not caring at the moment what it was. A way to the King's Cross afterlife where he had spoken with Albus Dumbledore once before? A reflection from a mirror? He wanted to touch it.
Warmth suddenly sprang into being around him, and Harry sobbed his gratitude to a god who might not exist to hear it. He shivered as the warmth abruptly changed to cold, but then one of the cracks began to knit together, slowly, looking as if a surgeon were working on the biggest wound in history.
Mirrors abruptly ignited all the way around the space he had been falling through, revealing it as circular. Or maybe dome-shaped, or a sphere. Harry didn't care about that, either. What he cared about was that the universe appeared to be healing itself.
Do you think you are that lucky, Mr. Potter?
Harry ignored the voice this time. He didn't even have evidence that it was more than the product of his own mad delusion. He stared upwards as faces appeared in the mirrors and light filtered back in and voices spoke, and sobbed.
Do you deserve to return to the world you came from?
Harry didn't know if he did, or even if it was possible, but he was going to try. He found himself reaching up and out, towards a mirror with Ron and Hermione smiling at each other, standing with arms entwined and waving to him with their free hands. It looked identical to a photograph he had had on his mantel for years.
His hands closed around it—
And then tore away.
Harry went spiraling down towards other mirrors, and what looked like a knitted skein of light, with a cry of loss. Hermione and Ron receded faster and faster, still waving, still smiling at him as though everything was fine. Harry tried to swim up through the air, or the waves, towards them. Nothing happened. The force continued to suck him in faster and faster.
Then Harry collided with the light, and felt pain for the first time since he'd tried to breathe the non-air. He thought his head struck something, and his eyes certainly slammed shut.
The last thing he heard was the cool, judgmental voice that reminded him of Snape's.
You go where you are needed.
Harry opened his eyes to rain.
That wasn't so unusual for England, and it actually made him sit up and look around in hope. He was under a thick, old tree with drooping leaves, one he didn't recognize right away. Well, he wasn't Neville to be a genius in Herbology. Far more important was the slope of mud right in front of him and the torrential river that flowed at the bottom of it.
Harry stood up, slowly, wavering back and forth, and got a better glimpse of the river as he finished brushing mud off his robes. He stared.
There was something wrong with it.
The water flashed and twisted with sparks of yellow and blue, as though it had drowned a neon sign when it began to rise. The sparks leaped up and brushed against each other like entwined, dancing dolphins. And the hum of magic that Harry hadn't been able to feel from under the tree was obvious once he stood on the bank—or what was left of it.
Harry remembered, vaguely, reading that running water was one of the hardest things to work lasting enchantments on. Who had done this? Was he outside some wizarding estate that used magical water to guard its borders? Perhaps this was a place near Malfoy Manor he'd never seen before?
Shaking his head, Harry drew his wand and cast an Impervious Charm, and then concentrated. Transfiguration that lasted a long time had never been his strong suit, but all he needed to do was create a bridge from rock and wood that would get him over the actual water.
Carefully, he formed the bridge, the floating pieces of rock snapping into wooden planks and the splinters of bark into handrails. The bridge grounded itself at his feet, and Harry ran across it, light-floated, his wand still drawn. If the river really was an enchanted defense, then it might fade away when he got above the middle, and he wanted to be ready to perform a quick Levitation Charm.
But the bridge held, and Harry set foot safely on the other side of the river. He shook his head as he glanced back at the rush of heavy, sullen water. The magic in the water didn't feel as strong from over here. Odd. Perhaps it was meant simply to deter people who would have tried to cross it on foot.
Harry Vanished the bridge and set out to find exactly where he was.
Harry leaned on the dirty wall behind him and closed his eyes. His stomach hurt from the sharp clenching in it, but he couldn't do much about it. Nor could he do anything about the soundless breaths pouring from his mouth, or about the tears making their way down his cheeks.
He had noticed something was wrong almost as soon as he began to walk down the streets of London, which had proven to be just beyond the enchanted river. For one thing, the cars and buses going past him looked different. Older. And streets wound in places that he knew they shouldn't wind, and there were more cobblestones he remembered, and there were—
There didn't seem to be things like Muggle mobile phones that he'd got used to over the last decade, either.
Harry opened his eyes and stared in silence at the Daily Prophet clutched in his hand. It felt like it had taken him forever to find. Then again, Diagon Alley hadn't been where he'd expected it to be, either. The Leaky Cauldron was gone.
And Diagon Alley had been...far more than an alley.
There was a pop in the distance like a champagne cork, and a glittering display of fireworks rose overhead. Harry stared blindly upwards, flinching as one of the rockets flared green like the Killing Curse. But there wouldn't be that much association with it here.
Because, as the front page of the Prophet, dated April 2nd, 1961, proclaimed, Voldemort was dead. They had printed his full name and everything.
And there was a photograph of the boy who had defeated him, black-eyed and scowling even at the age of fifteen months, the lightning bolt scar standing out hideously on his head. Harry closed his eyes.
The boy's name was Severus Snape. Already he was being called the Boy-Who-Lived, and the paper reported breathlessly that his Prince grandparents, who had disowned his mother Eileen when she married a Muggle, had agreed to adopt their "precious grandson."
Harry understood more now than he had an hour before. The universe had knitted itself together any way it could. It was a theory that he had heard Hermione discuss once before, during an idle hour when he and Ron were joking around and she was reading, as usual. If something did happen where a wizard managed to meddle with time enough to break it, most wizards thought time would mend the break.
But it would probably do so by grabbing great events and stitching them together in a new order. Hermione had even had a theory of times during wizarding history when that might have happened, but Harry was half-pissed and trying to beat Ron at Exploding Snap when every loss meant he had to drink a third of a mug of Firewhisky. He hadn't listened.
He would have given anything, at the moment, to hear her voice again.
In all probability, his world no longer existed. In all probability, Ron and Hermione might not be born now. Their parents might have other children, or perhaps they had lived and died in some other time. There was no way to tell. They existed only in his memory now.
Neville was gone, too. Ginny. The rest of the Weasleys. Hannah Abbott, who had become a close friend after the war as she dated Neville. Luna and her fascination with weird magical creatures. Minerva—
"What you doin', mister? You can't cry here."
Harry looked up, and something about his face made the young man in front of him step away very fast. The man swallowed nervously. He wore sleek robes of a style that Harry hadn't seen before, made of blue and silver cloth and wound tightly to his body. He pointed a willow wand at the ground with a hand that shook.
"I'm moving on," Harry snarled, and sounded savage even to himself. No wonder the man sort of cowered and watched him cautiously. He stuffed the paper into his robe pocket and turned away.
"I mean—sorry, did someone die?"
"Something like that." Harry kept walking, not looking at the man next to him. He had to make the best of things, he told himself in a numb echo of his voice inside his head. If he gave in and mourned the way he wanted, he'd never recover. And none of his friends or family would want that.
"You a stranger here?"
"What gave it away?" Harry asked dryly. His robes looked nothing like those of anyone else on the street, but so far that hadn't caused many people to look at him. They were far too occupied with the fireworks and the other parts of the celebration of Voldemort's overthrow.
"Well—it's just, I took a NEWT in Divination, see?" The man waited for Harry to grunt. "And my old professor, he told me summat once..."
The young wizard trailed off. Harry sighed. "Yes?"
"He told me that I'd meet a man crying against a wall with a piece of paper in his hand, and that man was the one who could help me make my business a success." The young wizard abruptly darted around in front of Harry and aimed his wand at him. Harry just stared at him incredulously.
"And he'd do that because you took him prisoner?"
"Just don't want to chance you getting away, see." The young man studied him from under floppy blond hair. "What's your name?"
"Harry Evanson," Harry said quietly. It was true as far as it went, and he had no desire to claim the names Evans or Potter, not when he had no idea what the status of their families was in this world. Maybe they were dead, or famous criminals. Maybe they were alive and snooty blood purists. He had no idea.
His mum might not end up being Muggleborn even if she was born. That was beyond weird to think about.
The man nodded briskly. "Laocoon Palmer." He paused, as if he thought Harry would react to the name somehow, but Harry only blinked at him. Palmer grunted. "I make my business selling defensive objects."
Harry reflected bitterly for a moment that he could have used a mirror that was enchanted to yell at him about playing with Time-Turners. "You mean dragonhide gloves and that sort of thing?"
Palmer drew himself up with offended pride. He didn't go very far. "Hardly such trinkets! No, I make my business with ward-imbued stones, amulets that cast the Shield Charm for you, boots that snap at people who try to steal them—"
"All right," Harry interrupted. He'd never heard of or seen a shop in Diagon Alley that sold that kind of thing, but he would simply have to get used to this world being different. "And how do you think I can help?"
"My Divination professor said so!"
"Look, for all you know I could be a Dark wizard." It looked like the naïveté and stubbornness of the wizarding world had stayed the same, anyway, Harry thought. Maybe it was one of the foundational building blocks of any universe.
"How many Dark wizards would be leaning against a wall in the alley and crying?"
Harry sighed. He had to admit there probably weren't many. "Fine, but I don't have NEWS in Defense or anything." He actually did, but he doubted any such records had made the transition with him.
"That's fine! You have some practical experience, right?"
Harry stared at him, and Palmer pointed smugly to some of the scuffs on his boots and the slashes in his cloak. "I recognize the spells that made those. I know that you can probably duel. Well, come and apply that experience to my shop! Cast the curses for me so I know how to create objects that defend against them."
"You can't cast them yourself?"
Palmer adopted an innocent expression that didn't conceal the way his cheeks flushed. "Don't want to get in trouble with the Aurors, do I? Minister Dumbledore has serious opinions about curses like that."
Harry felt as if someone had punched him in the solar plexus, but he forced himself to put his astonishment aside and move on. "And the real reason? If it was the one you just said, you wouldn't want me to cast them and bring the Aurors down on your shop, either."
Palmer's blush deepened before he sighed. "I have such a strong affinity for defensive magic that it's hard for me to cast offensive spells. I can do all the countercurses you want, but I need to see the curses at close range when I'm not trying to bloody survive so I can know how to put different defenses on the objects."
Harry nodded slowly. He doubted he would get a better offer, and he was here with no money or friends or shelters to his name. "All right."
They started down the street again, Palmer chattering brightly away about how glad he was that he'd found Harry, that his Divination Professor had been right, and that Harry's hair could use a wash. Harry found himself wondering distantly what kind of detritus would get into your hair from a fall between universes.
"Where did you come from, anyway?"
Harry started and looked up. Palmer had apparently run out of things to chatter about for the moment and was walking backwards, studying Harry with eyes as bright as a squirrel's.
Harry chose the least harmful lie. "I committed a stupid error and got kicked out by my family."
"No place to go, then?"
"Don't worry, Evanson," Palmer said, and took Harry's hand and shook it up and down. "You'll find that you're better off with me than you've ever been in your life! You're my Felix Felicia, I just know it! We'll be rolling in Galleons soon."
"Felix Felicis," Harry couldn't help correcting.
"Yeah, one of them things."
That was one beginning.