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Author Notes:

I disclaim the quoted line in the middle of the chapter, which is by A.A. Milne.

The pile of ashes which had once been a black-bound diary belonging to one Tom Marvolo Riddle had been returned to the hiding place from which the diary had come. Dobby had taken his sock and departed, and the drawing room at Malfoy Manor looked as luxuriously pristine as it had when the girl called Neenie had stepped through its doorway those few minutes before.

As if I needed any more reminders what a difference a few minutes can make.

"Tell me when you're ready to go," she said aloud, turning in place to discover the direction best suited for casting the Threshold spell that would take her home.

Take us home, and isn't that something I thought I'd never be saying again?

A small hand rested against hers. Whenever you are. The sooner the better, really.

"Agreed. I'd just as soon not explain to a high-ranking Death Eater and his pampered pureblood wife why I'm stealing their precious son and heir in the middle of the night." She gave a quick hum of pleasure as an indescribable tingle along her nerves informed her she had found the perfect position. "Here it is. Hold on tight, now."

If anyone had been there to see them, Neenie knew, it would have looked ludicrous. The brunette witch in her late teens and the tiny blond wizard, hand in hand, stepping with care across an imaginary boundary. By the time the hypothetical watcher realized that the boundary was not imaginary but only invisible, the travelers would also have become invisible, as travel through a Threshold was instantaneous.

It's often the only thing that saves Legendbreakers' lives, when the people we're trying to help get entirely the wrong impression of us…

The dim light of the drawing room was replaced between one breath and another with clean afternoon sunlight, tinted slightly green by the number of leaves it passed through on its way to the forest floor. Neenie released her grip on the Threshold and turned to watch her companion, who had frozen in surprise or awe at the sight of their new surroundings.

Be what you are, she willed, feeling the spell she had set in place in her domain to do just that taking hold of him. Be what you know yourself to be, not what someone else has told you you must be…

With what she had heard Miss Eve describe as a flash of darkness, the toddler she had taken from his parents' house was gone. In his place stood a young man in his late teens, his pale-blond coloring unchanged but the sharpness of his features mitigated by the half-incredulous smile on his face.

He doesn't have my blood at the moment, but we can fix that later.

She stepped forward, taking his hands in hers and holding them at chest height between their two bodies. "Hello, Fox," she said softly. "Welcome to Outer Time."

"Neenie." His voice was a warm, lyric tenor, pleasant to hear even when thickened by emotion as it currently was. "I don't know what to say—"

"Then don't say anything," she interrupted. "An hour ago, I was thinking of giving myself up. Letting the Reality Cops rehabilitate me, turn me into someone I'm not, just so it would all be over. Now I have you, and I'm ready to tell them in detail what they can do to and with themselves and their blasted rehabilitation."

"I would certainly hope so!" Fox shook his head in vehement denial. "I can't believe you would want to do something like that, Neenie—"

"I was alone." She squeezed his hands. "Now I'm not."

"Now neither of us is," he agreed. "And we're safe here, in this—what did you call it? Outer Time?"

"My slice of it, yes. My domain. Our domain now. But we're not quite safe yet." Neenie withdrew one of her hands from the clasp and tugged Fox towards the west. "There's a ritual you have to perform, to break your ties from the world you came from. It will protect you, as long as you're not stupid, but even more important than that, it will seal you to Outer Time. That way, you can enter worlds at any point you like without being affected by their inner time."

"So does that mean we're time travelers now?" Fox followed obediently in her wake, stroking his fingers along the bark of the trees as he passed. "We could go into another world hundreds of years in the past or right now, this very minute, today—can we even go into the future?"

"Yes and no. Mostly no. I'll explain that later." Neenie looked around at him. "Do you know where we are yet?"

"Should I?" He turned his head, taking in the stately trees, the appealingly tangled flowers on the forest floor, the faintest suggestion of a path underneath their feet. "I should. It's familiar. But somehow it's familiar the wrong way…"

Neenie laughed and broke into a run, Fox keeping pace with her easily. "That's not because it's wrong," she said, the sound of their footsteps becoming more distinct as the path changed from soft bark to hard-pounded dirt. "It's just because you've never really been here before."

"Never really—" Fox stopped speaking abruptly as their run carried them through the last row of trees and into a grassy clearing.

"I wanted something familiar." Neenie hid her smile at the stunned look on his face. "Something that would feel like home, but not the Den. Either of the Dens. They would have made me miss everyone too much. This…" She gestured towards the snug, half-timbered cottage with its roof of slate tiles. "Well, this just made me miss you, and I was already doing that."

"It's ours." Fox raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, blinking back what Neenie knew he would claim were only reflex tears. She was smart enough, she hoped, not to challenge him on such a needless subject. "It's our cottage, from our dreamworld. The one place we knew we could always go. And when you needed a place to live, that's what you made yourself. Right down to the sodding flower beds."

"Excuse me!" Neenie planted her hands on her hips and lifted her chin at him. "My flower beds do nothing of the sort!"

Fox choked once and began to laugh. Neenie held her indignant pose for a few more moments, until she was sure he was safely started, then dropped it and began to giggle herself. Shortly both of them were doubled over, Fox on one knee, Neenie on both, gasping for breath and wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

Now we just need one to—there! She watched with satisfaction as Fox flicked one salt drop away from the tip of his finger, following its track with her eyes until it struck the ground. Step one, complete.

Maybe I shouldn't have tricked him into that, but he's not a girl. He can't cry on cue. And it wouldn't be safe to wait on his sealing until he unblocks enough to really cry about everything that's happened this past year for him. I'll tell him what I did as soon as we finish this next bit, since he has to know anyway in order to take the oath properly…

"Right," she said briskly, clapping her hands together. "I think the next thing we should do is re-twin ourselves."

"What happened to that sealing you were mentioning?" Fox crossed his legs under him and finger-combed his hair back into place. "Shouldn't that come first?"

"Sealing someone to Outer Time takes a lot of steps. Our twinning can actually be one of them." Neenie reached under her blue robes to draw her dagger, then paused. "I don't suppose you have yours back?"

"My—ah, right." Fox looked dubious, but mirrored her motion and stiffened in surprise. "Would you look at that." The hand he withdrew from his robes of basic black held a long, slim, shimmering silver dagger, its hilt set with a translucent green stone. "It appears I do."

"Excellent. We'll need it." Neenie got to her feet. "Now we need the woods for the fire. Pine, yew, and dogwood. The trees here are… not quite intelligent, but they do respond to needs and desires, so I try not to cut them if I can help it. Just put your hand around a dry branch and ask, and it should break off on its own."

Fox looked dubious. "They don't exactly know me…"

"But they know me, and you're with me, so obviously you're all right." Neenie turned and headed for the edge of the clearing before her face could betray the other reason the trees would obey Fox the same way that they did her.

Because I was so terribly lonely when I first came here that I made a dream-figure of him to walk with me, that whole first season…

When they returned to the small, bare spot on the lawn where they had often toasted marshmallows and swapped silly stories in a different life, each of them held three small branches in their hands. Neither spoke. The moment seemed too solemn for words.

Instead they knelt, Neenie with her left side to the house, Fox with his right. Together, they placed the branches in the small firepit in the form of a six-pointed star. Neenie lifted a rock to reveal flint and steel, and Fox struck sparks into the small heap of shredded bark kindling beneath the branches. When the fire had caught, he passed his dagger back and forth through the flames several times, then offered it on his open palms to Neenie.

She accepted it and lifted it to her face, meeting first his eyes over the blade, then her own in their reflection. Before she could think too much about what she was doing, she lowered the dagger's point to her scarred cheek and made a quick, shallow slice. The sting made her gasp, but blood gleamed satisfactorily red on the shining blade, and she passed it back to Fox over the heat of the fire, making sure that their hands touched on the hilt.

Fox made the same decisive cut along his own cheek, hissing between his teeth as he did, then held the dagger out for Neenie to grasp with him. They turned it together so that its point was aimed downward into the flames, allowing blood to drip from the blade, and two voices spoke as one.

"My hand in yours,
"My blood with yours,
"My life for yours,
"Now and always."

The fire flared as red as the blood which had been given to it, and Neenie felt the tingling rush of power through her skin as her cut healed instantly. Across the fire, Fox was grinning, the crimson flames flushing his face and seeming to singe his hair—

No, it's darkening. Turning the same color as mine. And his eyes are darker too—I wonder—

Neenie let a small throb of purr vibrate through their mental bond as the fire died back a bit, revealing that Fox's eyes had indeed gone the same baffling blue as her own.

Which means it is partly desire-based. Here, of all places, it would be.

I forgot how good that felt, Fox agreed "aloud" with Neenie's mind-purr. Or rather, I never really knew, since we were unconscious the first time the bond was activated for us.

Agreed. Neenie shook herself out of momentarily gloomy thoughts about the reason both their eyes had changed in the way they had. But now we need to go on with the sealing. Is there any blood left on the dagger blade?

Fox inspected his weapon, releasing Neenie's hand to do so. "A bit," he said aloud. "It's dried on there, and I can't tell if it's yours or mine. Does that make a difference?"

"It's unlikely to be only one or the other, especially after what we just finished." Neenie knee-walked her way around the periphery of the fire pit to join him. "Go ahead and stab it into the ground, then. I'll give you the words."

"Stab it in? Are you sure? I'd think that would be a bit rude…"

"It's that or cut yourself again and let fresh blood flow out on the ground," Neenie retorted. "And whose bit of Outer Time is this anyway?"

"I thought you just got done saying it was ours." Fox pulled back his sleeve and nicked his left forearm, collecting several drops of blood on the dagger blade. "Fresh is always best. So what am I saying?"

Just in case I needed reassurance that he really is my pesky twin, and not that dream-puppet come back to life… Neenie drowned her annoyance in amusement and laid her hand on Fox's right wrist, giving him the gist of what he would need to say but leaving the exact wording up to him.

He could use mine if he wanted to, but as he's just reminded me, my Fox always likes to do things his own way.

Fox tilted the dagger, letting the blood spill from it onto the earth. "Freely I give of myself, this blood and the tears I shed earlier," he said smoothly. "Blood for the life of my body, and tears for the life of my soul." He gave her a sidelong glance that warned her he wasn't entirely happy she hadn't told him about that part, but would let it slide for now. "Both body and soul I now pledge to the defense of this place, this time, and this person." He laid his left hand over Neenie's, making his final reference abundantly clear. "So I speak, so I intend, and so let it be done."

"So let it be done," Neenie echoed softly. "Fox, that was beautiful."

"Only the truth." Fox wiped his blade on the corner of his robes. "Shall we go inside, then? I gather the rest of the sealing ritual is taking rather than giving on my part."

"That's right, and I could really use a meal." Neenie chuckled ruefully. "If I ever have pets of my own again, I swear I'll feed them something other than dry kibble!"

Laughing, the brother and sister passed through the door of their home.

Fox seated himself at the far end of the long, rounded-rectangular dining table and watched his sister fussing in the refrigerator. His mind was starting to send out warning signals that he was approaching the end of his tolerance for strangeness.

It's a little sad that something this normal can be strange to me. But then, I haven't exactly had a normal time this past year…

The darkness rose inside his memory, threatening to overwhelm him. What makes you think this is anything more than wish-fulfillment? it whispered. Why should you rate some impossible last-minute rescue? You finally snapped, you're making this up because you can't stand reality, and any minute now you're going to hit some contradiction that blows the whole thing to pieces and open your eyes right back where you started…

Clenching his jaw, Fox pressed a foot down hard against the tiles under his chair. There, he snapped back at the darkness. Solid floors, no give. This is real.

Not necessarily. The darkness snickered. All that means is, it isn't a dream. You could always be losing your mind.

"Not much left to lose," Fox muttered.

"Sorry?" Neenie came to the table, carrying a wooden tray holding two glass bottles, a ceramic goblet glazed in the same warm chocolatey color that the kitchen was decorated in, and a plate done in a lighter tan shade with golden brown around its edge. The liquid in one bottle was clear and the other a garnet red, and the plate held a miniature loaf of bread about the size of two fists put together and a small pile of white crystals.

"Nothing. Just arguing with myself."

"Are you winning or losing?"

"Both, I guess. What is this for?"

"The rest of the ritual." Neenie sat down in the chair at Fox's left and tore open the small loaf of bread, sprinkling one half with a pinch of the crystals. "Do you want me to take the lead on this? You don't look your best."

Why do I have the feeling that's heavy on the understatement? "Go for it. As long as it will still work that way."

"It's just like swearing any other oath. You can speak the vows yourself or accept them after I've spoken them. It might actually work better if I start." She held out the half-loaf of bread, gesturing for him to hold it as well. "Freely I give to you, from the gifts of this land to me, this bread and this salt. Bread to give you strength, and salt to give your life flavor. Do you accept this gift, and pledge to spend that strength and share that flavor in the care of this land and its inhabitants?"

"I do accept it." Fox bit off a piece of the bread and chewed thoughtfully. It was dense without being heavy, its outer crust crisp and its interior soft and chewy. The salt…

Tastes like salt. He swallowed. Would go better with some butter, but I suppose that comes later.

Neenie poured equal parts of the two liquids into the goblet and held that out as she had the bread. Fox set it down hastily to cup his hands around hers again. Not to be rude or anything, but I hope this is the last step…

Don't worry, this is it. Neenie winked at him. I'm sorry to put you through this so soon, but it's necessary to keep you safe here. I'll get you "a little bit of butter to your bread" as soon as you have your drink, King dear.

Aloud, she said, "Freely I give to you, from the gifts of this land to me, this water and this wine. Water to sustain your life, and wine to give it joy. Do you accept this gift, and pledge to spend that life and share that joy in the care of this land and its inhabitants?"

"I do accept it." And curse you mildly for quoting silly poetry at me and nearly making me laugh in the middle of a ritual. Fox brought the cup to his lips and drank the contents in two long swallows. The wine was sweet and fruity, as far as he could tell with the amount of water that had diluted it.

"Can you think of any better way for you to be sure I'm really me?" Neenie laid her hand alongside his as he set the cup down, offering him the comfort of her touch but giving him the option to pull away if he so desired. "I know what you must be thinking, at least some of it. I thought plenty of the same things myself. And parts of this are still going to take a long time to sink in. But the important part is, you're here with me now, and you're sealed to this domain of Outer Time. And to me. No one can ever take us away from each other again."

Are you sure? Fox asked silently, a few of the images that still plagued his nightmares flashing through his mind. Faceless, featureless, man-shaped figures, an unnatural and uniform shade of gray, stepping through the door, through the windows, through the walls of his bedroom, melting out of the ceiling and the floor even as he heard his little sister shriek from downstairs, heard angry shouts and cries of dismay being cut off sharply, as though hands had been placed over mouths, and then those hands were on him, pinioning him, blocking his every move, cool and slick and feeling like nothing at all…

They have no power here. A hand still rested on his shoulder, but lightly now, seeking to soothe and reassure rather than hold and confine. They have dominion only in the worlds. None in Outer Time, unless we're foolish enough to invite them in.

Now I'm positive it's you. Only you would use the word "dominion" while I'm having a panic attack. Fox looked up blearily at his sister—and when had he ended up kneeling on the floor with his head in her lap?—and managed a smile. So what do we have to do, or not do, to keep from inviting them in?

You remember I told you not to use names? This is why. Her free hand shaped a complex gesture, and a small square of white cloth came fluttering through the air towards them. She caught it and handed it to him. Here. Names have power, and names that belong to one particular world, or set of worlds, can invoke that world even in Outer Time, which would give the Reality Cops their entry door.

Thank you. Fox blotted at his eyes with the handkerchief, then unfolded it all the way to investigate the small device embroidered in the corner. Eagle and serpent, hmm? No symbolism there, I'm sure. I didn't know you did this kind of fancy sewing…

I don't. But we have neighbors, one of whom does. They're very nice, you'll meet them soon enough—I think they're out on a job at the moment, but they should be home within the next few days.

Neighbors will be nice. If only to keep us from getting on each other's nerves and murdering each other within the first year. Idly, Fox ran a finger across the small embroidered design, using it to keep himself anchored in this moment of safety while his thoughts ranged backwards, a year and more.

What was it I heard them saying that I thought was so very important? I know there was something, I used to say it to myself over and over again in that damn pit just so I wouldn't forget, and now I went and forgot it anyway. It'll come back to me, I know it will, but I can't help feeling like it shouldn't wait too long…

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Author Notes:

A great many explanations begin next chapter. Stay tuned for more about the Legendbreakers, Outer Time, the Chroniclers, what happened to the Pack and Pride, Fox should be remembering, and lots more characters, both new and old!

Also, I officially start writing "as a job" on Thursday. If anyone has requests, either for fanfic or originals, this is a great time to make them...