There was nothing to do here, in the Vesperpool. Other than long for a wand that didn't seem to want to be found and stare, in horrified fascination, at the reflection of the water when Harry forgot himself and got too near the shoreline.

Because – that was a thing. Harry had a new face now. Faint vestiges of Asian features rearranged the shape of his eyes; the same eyes that Dave swore up and down were blue. In fact, the stubborn older man repeated time and time again that he shared a great resemblance with Insomnia's Royal family.

… Whatever that meant.

For his part, Harry just wanted to retrieve his wand from the depths of the lake. He had little patience for anything else. His accio had recovered nothing, but the mere possibility of giving up on his Holly wand made his entire being ache.

Another surprise came in the form of the Capitis Haven – the place they'd abandoned the moment the morning sun had risen –, which resonated with some deep cornerstone of his soul every time he cast around with wandless magic. Regardless of distance, the rock formation was perfectly visible behind his eyelids (in a way that had nothing to do with sight and more with other preternatural senses); the location was currently acting as some kind of translucid beacon, feeling particularly welcoming and inviting to his magic, for reasons that went beyond his understanding.

There was a similar warm feeling coming from somewhere to the West of them, implying the existence of more of these havens in the area. However, much to his disappointment, there was still no signs of the candid aura of his Holly wand.

"No luck," Harry announced, opening his eyes.

Dave stopped sharpening his knife to shoot him a considering stare.

"Well, that's a damn shame," he commiserated with barely a nod. "We can always try again at a later time?"

Harry breathed through his nose and nodded, even as he tried again to get another feel of the land and came up, again, with nothing aside from those two local enigmas.

"We're burning daylight," he agreed. Far too easily, his magic rumbled with impatience. Harry might have called it mutinous if he weren't feeling the same despair it seemed to emit. "And we still have to meet up with your mom."

"Our supreme leader will be waiting for us in her usual place," Dave shrugged, a lazy spark to his eye as he put his weapon away. "She hardly moves from her chair, anyway. Nah, what I'm more interested in, is in finding you clothes that are a better fit. You can barely move in those right now."

"I really got to wash these, too," Harry grumbled, pinching the fabric of his jacket with a grimace.

Ugh, it smelt worse than rotten eggs. Some remnant of the sickness he'd expelled in the haven, no doubt.

Dave chuckled, a small smirk curling at his lips, and pushed off the rock he'd been leaning on.

"Not to worry. We'll get there soon enough and with plenty of time to spare," he said, stuck two fingers in the corners of his mouth, and whistled.

Harry stared, uncertain what that was supposed to do for them.

"Uh…" he began, a question wanting to be asked.

Dave shushed him.

"Here he comes," he said, staring intently into the foliage.

Sure enough, a few moments after, a shockingly large white bird ran out of the forest and greeted them with a merry squawk. Dave offered it a fond smile and mussed its feathers with careful strokes. In response, the bird chirped and nibbled at his clothes, seeming equally affectionate in their interaction.

"This fella right here," Dave said, "saved my hide on the road more times I care to count. Quite the loyal companion, in all my years as a hunter. His name is Salvus."

Harry was quite aware that he was gaping. The appearance of the giant avian creature had stirred some memories of Buckbeak and Fawkes, although Salvus didn't look nearly as proud or dignified as any of the two. This was a tame beast through and through, the likes that belonged in a stable or a farm.

Still, the lessons from Hagrid stuck. He wasn't about to jump any animal unless he knew what he was facing.

"He's gorgeous. What is he?" the boy asked, tilting his head in a silent question to the bird. Harry slowly began to approach it, giving himself ample time to back away if he spotted any sign that was discomforting it.

The creature only eyed him with curiosity and barely concealed energy.

"A chocobo," Dave replied easily enough. His lips were curled at the ends of his mouth, looking every bit as amused as he'd ever seen him. "Come on, come closer. He's not gonna hurt you, I swear."

Seeing no reason not to trust him, Harry put forward one of his hands as a token of offering.

The chocobo examined his hand for just a second and then threw caution to the wind almost immediately.

It came as a shock, to suddenly have a giant bird pestering him for affection. Salvus crowded Harry, nuzzling him in a clear quest for cuddles and love.

Harry was hardly unobliging.

"He's so soft," he said, wide-eyed. Buckbeak's feathers almost felt coarse in comparison to Salvus'.

"Not a surprise there. Wiz is a marvel with these animals," Dave said, seeming content with his awestruck expression. "He takes good care of them. Even the wild ones. The whole species is the apple to his eye."

"And he doesn't mind people riding them?" Harry asked. The satchel was a clear implication of how they were going to go forward in their journey.

"Hardly," Dave snorted. "Renting birds is his business. Brings food to the table and feeds the family. Besides, he knows he can trust us to take care of his birds. We always use them because he always offers us a discount - provided we step in to take care of pests from time to time."

Harry smiled at the cooing bird.

"It does sound like a nice system," Harry allowed, petting it with his all-too-tiny hands.

"It is," Dave said. "Now I'm going to pick you up and put you on his back, alright?"

It went without saying that Harry, as young and short as he was at the moment, was hardly going to be able to mount the bird by himself.

Harry grimaced, but nodded in acceptance. It was in moments like these that he wished he were able to fly without his broom.

They ended up setting out with Dave slotted in behind Harry. A tight arrangement – no question about it. But aside from some garbling from Salvus, both passengers managed to push through the discomfort of being sandwiched so close to one another without uttering a word of protest.

Luckily for them, Salvus was fast on the road and they were nearing Meldacio with time to spare, even after wasting two hours without anything to show for it.

"You'll have to borrow some gil from me if you want to pay for your new clothes," Dave commented when they entered the tunnel that would lead them to their final destination. "I've got to say, 'tis a pity that my ma already threw my old stuff away. They would have served you well."

Anything would work better than what he was wearing, Harry thought uncharitably. He really resented the stink. Aloud, he thanked Dave. Harry would just have to think about how to pay him back later.

Thankfully, their arrival at Meldacio didn't come with any fanfare. Nobody stepped forth to greet them as they emerged, or even as they descended their mount, which was completely fine by Harry's standards.

"Home sweet home," Dave muttered, looking around and stance growing laxer and laxer by the second.

This was the happiest Harry had seen him ever since they'd met – the boy remembered the undeniable flinches of the hunter during the dead of night or the way the older man glanced over their shoulder even as the sun was present over the horizon. The life of a hunter was plagued by many dangers, of that Harry had no doubt.

Inwardly, he wondered about Dave's childhood and the way he must have been brought up; he dealt with danger on a daily basis. As he spoke like a seasoned professional, he must have learned very quickly how to fend for himself.

They waved at people as they walked and guided Salvus to a basket filled to the brim with a bunch of green leaves. The vegetables themselves looked similar enough to lettuce, although Harry would put that judgement on hold for now.

"He'll be fine here," Dave said as a way of explanation once he caught Harry's inquisitive gaze. "Nice and protected from the rain showers and harsh winds. He'll be in a good mood after having a quick snack."

And Harry didn't doubt him. Salvus did look right at home even as it chugged down everything in the basket. He dared say that the chocobo would be having a nap after it was done with the food.

"He's going to get fat," Harry said, teasingly.

"Leave him be," Dave chuckled as he steered him away from the crowing bird. "Let a bird live the dream. We have to meet my ma, remember?"

"Right," Harry said, shaking his head.

"Don't be nervous," Dave said, herding Harry in the direction of the cabins. "If anyone's going to organize a search for your wand, it's going to be our Ezra."

Harry spotted the woman covered in a shawl before Dave could even think of pointing her out to him. She certainly looked old enough to be someone's grandmother. However, there was no mistaking the air of confidence that surrounded her; the hint of arrogance and the pride of a woman who was used to having her way with the people.

This was it. This was Ezra Auburnbrie, the hunter in chief.

Dave had learned much from her, Harry could tell. Her son carried the same mien as her, if only a little more muted, hidden under layers and layers worth of insecurities.

"Oh, I see you've returned," Ezra greeted her son with a curt nod and a tiny, but pleased smile. Her eyes were more guarded as she regarded him. "I trust everything went well?"

"Yeah, I came back earlier than expected," Dave greeted back. The hand on Harry's back remained with a tense undercurrent, which prevented Harry from feeling at ease. "Those reptiles weren't much trouble at all."

"Good to hear," Ezra said. "But I see you've brought us a guest to our midst? Would you care to introduce us?"

"Not a problem," Dave said, "Although, I think it would be more prudent to have this particular conversation inside the house."

Ezra's eyebrows climbed in curiosity.

"Very well," she said, tone level and unsurprised. "People are going to talk, regardless of where we are, but I trust that you have a reason for all this secrecy."

Dave offered a small smile.

"You know me, Ma. Never can be too prepared," he said in an upbeat tone.

Ezra nodded to herself and stood.

"Alright," she said, waving them on. "Make yourselves at home."

"Thanks," Harry muttered as he passed by her, in the direction of the front door.

It soon became apparent that Dave's home had a low roof and very few commodities to speak of. Fitting for someone that looked as though he spent most of the time outside, in the wild, and running errands. In spite of this, the place still managed to appear homey and well lived-in even to a stranger like Harry.

The cabin was small and square-shaped – a united front due to the lack of walls between rooms. Much like Hagrid's Hut, this place had a small, but unlit fireplace, which decorated the wall opposite to the entrance. Two small cots littered around the inglenook of the chimney, leaving little room about where the sleeping quarters were.

Caught as he was in his inspection of the place, Harry was a bit caught off-guard when Dave encouraged him to take a seat on the old sofa; one of the few pieces of furniture available in the entire house.

Obediently, Harry sat, painfully aware of the weight of both their gazes as he did so.

Neither of the two Auburnbrie joined him in his sitting arrangements.

"Would you like some tea?" Ezra offered, polite to a fault.

"No, thank you," Harry offered a tiny smile in response.

"What's your name, boy?" Ezra asked, dropping any pretension of small talk. "I let it slide outside, but now you lot owe me a name, at the very least."

"His name's Harry," Dave said.

"Let the boy speak," snapped Ezra, glaring in her son's direction. "I'm interested in him, not you."

Harsh. Dave averted his gaze, chastised.

Harry cleared his throat. There was a clear history here, but he had no intention of getting in the middle of a family dispute if he could help it.

"Dave's right," he said, inclining his head in acknowledgement. "I'm Harry Potter, ma'am."

"Ezra," she returned, almost flippantly. The older woman rested one of her hands on her hips. Merlin, she was intense. "I wasn't aware of the king having a bastard son running around these parts."

"I'm not," Harry refuted almost instantly, tired of this line of questioning.

"You're certain of that?" Ezra looked unfazed.

Harry flushed, but nodded. He needed to tell her his story before she convinced herself that he was some long-lost royal.

"This is not my world – or this even my body. I know it sounds strange, but it's true!" The words rushed out of his mouth before he could think of speaking them. "There's absolutely no chance of my parents being from here, much less being royalty," Harry stammered, "They were normal people."

"He's got magic," Dave demurred lowly, instantly earning Harry's ire.

"That's my definition of normal," he retorted, baring teeth out of frustration. Dave remaining skeptical was a horrible realization to have in the middle of this discussion. "Being wizards – you had magic no matter who you were."

Ezra narrowed her eyes and exchanged a glance with her son. Something indiscernible passed between them. Dave shook his head negatively, but Ezra only pursed her lips in consideration.

"Show me your magic," she stated calmly.

Harry squinted at her, dubiously.

"I'll consider what you say after you give me visual proof of your wizardry, boy," she said, meeting his stare without flinching.

Well, then. Harry took a moment to gather himself. His core was unusually active ever since he'd woken up here. It hummed with barely constrained power; he had the feeling that it would pounce the moment he told it to jump.

Nothing too destructive then. Something more controlled, simple-

"Lumos," he breathed.

Even prepared, it was surprisingly difficult to control the impulse to just blast the room with a scorching light. Light spouted from his fingers, easy and warm, but always threatening to grow too large and blinding.

Ignoring the way Dave choked in the background, Harry focused on maintaining the spell active and in check.

"Well, I'll be…" Ezra trailed off, wonderingly. It was the first time she broke away from the unflappable façade.

The old woman approached him and let her fingers graze his own, humming as the light seemed to tangle with her hand. Her gaze stopped on his face, eyes widening when she registered the red on his cheeks.

"Drop that," she ordered.

Harry did so, gasping. After a brief moment of struggle, his magic settled behind his chest, still churning and waiting eagerly to sprout again. And that, right there, was definitely not the standard behavior.

Something else that's different in this place, he guessed.

"Is that all you can do, boy?" Ezra asked.

Harry's eyes flashed dangerously in her direction, tired of being doubted for all that he'd been incredibly honest lately.

"Hardly," he rasped and swallowed in order to recover some moisture in his throat. "But anything else I can do can potentially break something here, since I don't have a wand to control my magic. And I really think we don't want that."

Ezra hummed, taking a metaphorical step back to reassess the boy standing in front of her.

"No, we wouldn't," she agreed. "What's your real age?"

"Seventeen," Harry answers, a hint of hope blooming in his chest.

Dave shuffled in agitation.

"Ma-" he began.

Harry shot him a glare, daring him to continue rebuking him.

"Not now, Dave," Ezra, likewise, looked irritated.

Dave huffed in indignation.

"He's infected," he said, gruffly.

"So, what?" Ezra seemed to catch on instantly. At the very least, she was taking into account Dave's worries. "You're saying this wee lad is hallucinating?"

"But I'm not!" Harry exploded, throwing his hands up.

Ezra studied him for a moment, before turning in the direction of her son.

"He's not bleeding that forsaken sludge," Ezra pointed out.

"Ma, I saw him pukin' it. A substantial amount of it," Dave shook his head. "He's not as well as he appears."

Harry gritted his teeth. They weren't even acknowledging him. He made to sit up. His plan didn't go beyond storming out in anger, but it was an option vastly preferable to staying put.

Only one person in the room seemed to guess his intentions.

"No," Ezra said. Her voice acted as a whip, full of expectation to be heeded. When Harry looked at her, snapped out of the haze of anger from sheer surprise, he saw that she was looking directly at him. "You, stay where you are. We'll see just how bad you have it. And you," she jabbed a finger in Dave's ribs, "You'll bring the boy something suitable for him to wear. Talk to Trond. He'll have some of his son's clothes for you, I expect. If he doesn't, you'll have to visit Cyrus and buy some from him."

Rubbing the spot where she'd poked him, Dave stared at her and then at Harry. After a moment, he nodded.

"Alright," he agreed. "But what do we tell them?"

Ezra rolled her eyes.

"Tell them that we have a new stray around. We can't get away with calling him family. He can be a new trainee or someone related to a family friend. I trust that our people won't ask stupid questions."

Dave seemed to consider this.

"And Niflheim?" he asked after a moment of deliberation.

"Harald's not here at the moment. Called away on some important business," Ezra replied haughtily, smirking. "And no one's keeping tracks of what we do. For now."

That satisfied Dave. With a quick glance back to Harry, he took his leave.

Ezra groaned and started massaging the bridge of her nose.

"That boy will be the death of me," she said, seriously.

But Harry was staring at where Dave was last seen. The brief feeling of companionship with the hunter felt like a shattered illusion. More than that – Harry felt as though he'd been betrayed.

"He doesn't believe me," he echoed blankly.

The truth hurt more than it should have.

"And he's got a good reason not to," Ezra said, cutting through his despair with harsh words. "The Scourge is nothing to be trifled with."

Harry glared at her.

"As you keep saying," he said through gritted teeth. "But for someone with no context or knowledge about it, I don't see how this affects me. From my perspective, I got ill one time and then everything I do and I say is questionable – all without one good reason. I'm sick and tired of being around people who think they know better and just lead me around in circles, as if I was some kind of dullard."

Ezra, who'd been quiet during his rant, nodded in acceptance.

"Alright. Take off your shirt and we'll talk about it," Ezra said.

Harry gaped at her.

"What?" he asked.

"I'm giving you a crash course," Ezra intoned, just as she was pushing up her sleeves. "If you are infected – and I have little doubt that you are; my son knows how to search for the signs – you'll have the chance of seeing it for yourself."

Harry didn't move. He couldn't believe what was happening.

"Well?" Ezra pushed, staying where she was and crossing her arms over her chest as she waited. "I'm not going to wait for you all day, boy."

His cheeks flushed.

"Is this really necessary?" he asked. The nature of her request had him wrong-footed.

"Yes," she said.

Curt and direct. Despite having known her for less than an hour, Harry was quite sure that she was always like this. Begrudgingly, he kind of liked it.

But no matter.

"I'm attacking you if you do anything out of the line," he warned.

"Fair enough. No touching," Ezra shrugged dismissively. It peeved him that she wasn't his threat seriously. "Come on, boy. I don't have all day. Stand up and strip."

Huffing, he followed her instructions. Took off the jacket in brusque movements – and instantly felt cleaner because of it. His magic lauded the sudden loss of the tainted article with a victorious boost of energy, almost making him gasp. His sight blurred at the edges.

Dizzily, Harry dropped the contaminated piece of clothing onto the floor by instinct.

When his sight refocused, Ezra was observing what little skin his oversized shirt allowed her to see with an air of clinical detachment. Harry was glad for it. This was embarrassing enough. And being baited into stripping by an old lady with impure intentions would be just plain mortifying.

This time, when he got rid of the shirt, he was prepared. Harry monitored the surge of magic carefully and didn't jump when he felt it buzzing pleasantly on his skin.

Speaking of skin, his front was completely unmarred. Harry felt almost vindicated by the absence of anything worth of note.

"Turn around," Ezra ordered.

Harry threw her an uncertain look, but complied. He kept track of her by tilting his head to one side, rotating it slightly over his shoulder.

The old hunter met his eyes and approached him slowly; her eyes soon fell to one fixed spot on his back. Harry's stomach dropped with dread when they didn't move from that place. As promised, her fingers danced over the skin, but didn't touch, tracing an invisible but considerably large pattern of something only she could see.

"I can see the source of the infection," Harry felt her breath on the scuff of his neck and shivered. His heart was deafeningly loud in his ears. "Wait here. I'll have to bring two mirrors."

The old hunter moved away. Waiting for her to come back was the worst kind of torture; Harry took a couple of breaths to calm himself, shaking away the temptation to turn and watch her rummage her house.

He needn't have worried; she came back in almost no time at all.

Face blank, Ezra passed him a mirror over his shoulder and told him: "I'm going to hold this mirror from my side. Just angle yours until you see the back of your hip bone. You'll notice what I'm talking about as soon as you see it."

Harry fought the urge to swallow and nodded, wasting no time in tilting his mirror so he could look in her direction.

She was right. It was painfully obvious what she was talking about. The black smudge on his skin contrasted heavily against the rest of his healthy skin. Almost mockingly, the black mark started on one side of his hip and then disappeared as it reached the waistline of his pants.

His skin broke out in goosebumps.

"How bad is that?" he asked in a whisper.

"Very bad," Ezra confirmed with a heavy air. "It has already seeped through your skin and has started corrupting you from the inside. No wonder your stomach started to reject it. It's spreading fast.

"It always starts like this," she informed him, eyes lidded in recollection. "The illness sneaks up on you in the most improbable of places. Daemon claws are coated with sickness; one touch, boy – only one touch and it could end fatally for you, if it ever takes root. Usually, when you realize that you have growths in other parts of your body, it's often too late to do anything about it. At that point, you have to search for the Oracle and pray to the gods for a miracle."

Harry swallowed slowly digesting that bit of information.

"Do I have a week? Dave mentioned that this Oracle could heal me," Harry abandoned the mirror and turned to face her.

Ezra's face turned from despondent to assessing.

"Depends on how much of a hold it has on you," she said, slowly. Almost as if she were afraid of sowing a seed of hope inside his young mind. "Most people don't turn for months after they've been infected. Others – well, I'm not going to sugarcoat it – the opposite is true. Those cases are the hardest, because they up and vanish and never come back to tell the tale."

"I feel fine, though," Harry said, tempted to reach towards his back and touch the infection with his own hands. As if that were to do anything except worsen it. "I haven't had another fit since last night."

"That tells us nothing. I've had colleagues that were like that before turning into daemons," she said. "That's no guarantee. Nothing, except the Astrals' blessing can help you."

Faith healing? At her words, Harry blanched. He was banking on faith healing to cure him. Oh, the horror was excruciating.

"Are there no potions to heal this?" Harry asked, frantic. "A ritual- Enchantments? Or- Or something to heal the symptoms?" Muggle medicine would be better than nothing, but after seeing Madam Pomfrey in action, it came to him as an afterthought.

Abruptly, Ezra's face closed off. A radical change; a second ago, her expression had been very earnest and open.

"There's nothing like it," she said, voice coming out fierce and strong. "And you'd do well not to rely on fake cure-alls and placebos. Unlike others, you have the chance of being cured; Lady Lunafreya has a scheduled trip in the continent – a healing tour of all things! 'Tis an unprecedented opportunity. Completely unheard of! You'd do well not to waste the opportunity while your luck holds. I cannot emphasize it enough."

A sudden knock stopped Harry from replying to that. Dave slipped in afterwards, carrying a heap of dark-colored clothes with him. His body froze awkwardly when it registered that all the attention of the room was on him.

"Clothes for our esteemed guest," the male hunter told them with a smile that did nothing to hide the nervousness in his voice.

"Just in time," Ezra's face fell back to that expressionless mask that she wore by default. "I cannot be certain if the boy's hallucinating or not, but he does need a cure after all. You know what that means, son."

"So, we're still unsure," Dave said, shuffling in place now that Harry's glare was back on him.

"Yes," she answered, ignoring the by-play. "There's no evidence supporting his claims – but there's also no evidence on the contrary. Fancy lightworks don't count, of course. The magic of the royal blood is not something that's documented in any public record; not any that's accessible to us, at the very least. We don't know if his magic is any different to any other existing Lucis Caelum."

Harry could feel himself bristling, unsatisfied by the fact that his little demonstration had been for naught – worse; it was reduced to another proverbial nail in the coffin against his claims, to his greatest indignity. Seeing this, Ezra held her hand out in order to pacify him. The old huntress met his gaze directly; a clear form of address.

"The situation is extremely delicate. There're no rumors of a royal bastard circling around the Kingdom and for your sake, there better not be. However. Since I don't doubt that you'll be amongst our people until we can determine your true identity – whichever that may be –, it would be... advisable to hide as much as possible."

"Which means, not to be seen and no interaction with anyone from the Empire," Dave recited, drawing Ezra's attention away from him. "Unfortunately, that would mean no getting close to any of the outposts either."

"Correct," Ezra said, almost pleasantly. "Or, in an ideal position, that would be the proper response under the circumstances. But we can't afford to. We need someone experienced to carry out multiple bounties – we're a still bit short in manpower."

"So, the plan's the same? We head to Lestallum, Hammerhead and then the Quay?" Dave enquired.

"I'm taking Hammerhead off your list," Ezra replied, after a moment of consideration. "Until we're certain about the proper social station of our guest, it wouldn't do to attract the attention of someone close to the current King. No, I'll send someone else in your stead. We're receiving reports of some unruly miscreants in Ravatogh. You'll have to take care of it instead of supplying Sophiar the parts he's requesting."

"You two are acting like I'm going to go along with whatever plan you settle on," Harry commented, dryly. He was still missing his shirt, a fact that he didn't appreciate. The boy crossed his arms over his chest to hide his nudity a little.

"I don't see why not," Ezra returned, a sardonic smile on her face. "I doubt you would turn down our help, with your life on the line."

"Ma, please," warned Dave.

Ezra shot him an irritated look, but deflated when her son stood his ground.

"Fine," Ezra sighed. She gave Harry a nod, as if to apologize for snapping at him. "To tell you the truth, you're in luck. We're offering you transport and assistance, something that goes beyond what most people would do for someone like you."

"Like me?" Harry interrupted, feeling his hackles rise.

"Ill, boy. Ill." Ezra turned up her nose at him. "Either way, you should consider this an opportunity, and not something meant to be squandered because we don't believe out-worldly tales of wizardry."

"I came here because Dave offered me the chance to organize a search for my wand," Harry said, wearily. "The clothes came as a pleasant surprise, I guess. But this whole trip to this Oracle business was never discussed in depth with me. In fact, you've been making decisions for me without ever thinking of going through them with me first – I'm not going through that again if I can help it."

"So, no ordering you around – got it," Dave muttered.

Harry kicked at his feet, pinning the floorboards with a glare, and grunted in agreement.

"The trip to Galdin Quay shouldn't take too long. A day or two at most," Dave began, tone conciliatory. "But that leaves us with more than enough time to do stuff in the meantime. We can start to fill the gaps in your memory and let you get started in basic survival stuff in case you wanna go your own way after all this."

And be alone? Harry wondered. He didn't even have a plan to return home. Merlin's beard! He didn't know if it was even an option, with so little resources at his disposal. Even under normal circumstances, Harry wasn't exactly versed with world travel; not to mention, he didn't trust his magic not to muck up whatever attempt he tried to cook up, using what little theory he knew. Apparition and Portkeys had never been easy – they never came to him instinctively the way charms and hexes did. As much as it pained him to admit it, this level of displacement went way his head. Which left him with – what? Being absurdly young and wandless, ready to take on a new forsaken world on his lonesome? No, thanks.

"Ma, could you-?" Dave asked, drawing Harry's attention again. He was gesticulating between her and Harry.

Ezra met her son's gaze with an unimpressed stare.

"You want me to get the lad's stick?" she asked.

"We have to compromise," Dave said, eyes borrowing beseechingly into hers. "We're not listening to him – we do have perfectly valid reasons not to, that much is true. That's one of the biggest hang-ups he has with us. If we relent on this, Harry's going to have an easier time trusting us."

"It would awfully be nice of you to do me this one favor," Harry drawled.

Ezra looked as though she regretted ever greeting them that morning.