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the deepest secret nobody knows

Chapter Text

Harry Potter sat on the floor of his room, staring up at the stars through blurry eyes, clutching his stuffed lion as tightly as he could.  His stuffed lion was his only friend now.

Harry had had friends before.  He'd started primary school last fall, and he'd had so much fun, even if he wasn't allowed to talk about magic.  He'd spent lots of time with Neville, and the two of them had played together for as long as Harry could remember.

But his mummy and daddy had taken him out of primary school.  Instead, his mummy stayed home with him and taught him.  Harry loved his mummy, but it wasn't the same.  He missed all his friends.  Harry wasn't allowed to go visit Neville anymore, and Neville couldn't come over to their house to see him.  The only people Harry saw anymore were his mummy and daddy, and they'd been acting funny for awhile now.

They hugged him too long, and sometimes Harry would wake up in the middle of the night and find either daddy or mummy sitting at the chair in the corner of his room, watching him while he slept with a funny look on his face. Some nights, he'd fall asleep in his own bed and wake up snuggled between Mummy and Daddy.

He wasn't even allowed to play in the backyard alone anymore.  He could help Mummy in the garden, and play on his toy broom with Daddy, but he always had to be with one of them to go outside.   His mummy and daddy never used to be like this.  Harry had been allowed to go outside by himself whenever he wanted, as long his parents knew what he was up to for as long as he could remember.

He was being punished.  The only time his parents had ever kept him from seeing his friends or going outside was when he had done something bad.  Maybe that was why he kept catching mummy and daddy crying when they thought he wasn't paying attention.  Maybe that was why they looked so angry sometimes, like the time he'd hurt himself when he snuck out on Daddy's broom and his face had turned all dark, the way it did a lot of the time now.

But it wasn't fair.  It wasn't fair!   Harry hadn't done anything wrong!  Even Mummy and Daddy said so!  It wasn't his fault!

Daddy had taken him on a trip to Diagon Alley, which Harry always thought was really fun.  There were so many interesting things to look at!  All the shop windows were so pretty, and if he was good, he sometimes got to pick out a toy from Enchanted Delights, the toystore.  Mummy had been busy doing some work that weekend, so it had just been a boys' day out.  Boys' days out were always a lot of fun.   He got to ride around on his Daddy's shoulders and other fun things that Mummy would have yelled about if she saw them.

But then Daddy had run into somebody Harry had never met before, and they'd started talking.  And they'd been talking forever.  Harry tried his best to be good, because his Daddy said that they would go look at brooms and if Harry was really well behaved, his daddy might let him try one of the big-kid brooms out.  But he wanted to go see the brooms now, and it was so hard being good, especially when the adults just kept talking about boring stuff and it was hot outside.  The brooms were right there, too.

Harry had tugged on his daddy's robe, even though he knew it was rude to interrupt, and his Daddy had looked down at him.

"What is it, Harry?" Daddy had asked.

"Can I go look at the brooms?" he asked, giving his daddy his sweetest smile.

Daddy gave him a look for a minute, before turning to look at the window of the broom store.  Daddy reached up and ruffled up his hair before he sighed.

"Alright, Harry," he'd said.  "That's fine.  But you need to promise to stay right in front of the windows, okay?  Right where I can see you.  You can't go anywhere else."

"Okay!"  Harry had chirped happily.  He'd reached out and hugged his Daddy's legs in thanks before skipping off to the window, leaving the boring conversation behind.

Harry pressed his face right up to the glass, even though his mummy had told him not to a thousand times.  But his mummy wasn't here, so Harry was going to do it.  Because this was the closest he could get to the brooms on this side of the glass.  So Harry scooted forward until his face was pressed against the cold glass and he stared, marveling at the brooms in front of him.

Harry didn't know how long he'd been staring, and how long the guy had been standing next to him before he talked.

"Cleansweep Four," the man said with a whistle.  "Top of the line broom right, there.  Is it your favorite."

Harry didn't look away from the broom, but he nodded his head.

"Why is it your favorite?"

"I like the color," Harry told him.  Most other brooms were just a boring brown, but this one was almost red.  The words on it were a very shiny gold, and all the metal holding the twigs together was the shiny gold.

"Red is your favorite color?" the man asked again.

Harry shook his head.

"Green," Harry said.  "But they don't have green brooms.  Red is my next favorite though."

Harry sighed and turned to face the man.  Mummy said it was rude not to look at people when you were talking to them.  He was tall and he was old,  about as old as mummy and Daddy.  He had a smile on his face, but something about his eyes made Harry think that he wasn't nice.

"No wonder you like green," the man said.  "Not with eyes like that."

Harry felt all the hair on his arms stand up on end, like it did when it was cold outside.  Only it was like it was cold inside him.

Harry didn't like this man.  He didn't like him at all.

"I'm going to go back to my Daddy," Harry told the man, turning around.

There was a hand digging into his shoulder, and Harry let out a cry of pain, tears filling his eyes.  

"Don't worry," the man said, a mean smile on his face.  "I'm a friend of your daddy.  I can take you back to him."

Harry sucked in a deep breath before he began screaming at the top of his lungs.

"DADDY!" Harry shouted.  "DADDY HELP ME!  SOMEBODY HELP ME!"

Harry fought and thrashed, but it wasn't enough.  The man pulled him up to him, and the last thing Harry saw before the was squished down was the look on his daddy's face.

Harry ran his finger across his pinky to reassure himself.  It had been scary.  It had been really scary.  The man had kept apparating over and over, and Harry had gotten splinched.  He'd only had nine fingers the time he'd been with the man.  Harry had spent most of it under the bed, terrified.  Harry had no idea how long he'd been cowering under there before he heard his daddy's voice.  His mummy and daddy had told him over and over again that they loved him, that it hadn't been his fault.  That he hadn't done anything wrong.

Except they must have changed their minds, because Harry was being punished.

Harry loved his mummy and daddy.  He did.  But he was lonely.  He was so lonely.  All he wanted was for everything to go back to the way it had been before.  He wanted someone his own age to play with.  Someone who could protect him, so that his mummy and daddy wouldn't be scared any more.  So that he wouldn't be scared anymore.

But above everything else, Harry wanted a friend.

There was a bright flash in the stars above, and Harry gasped.  A shooting star.  A real shooting star!

Closing his eyes, Harry wished for a friend with all his might.

There was a glow, so bright that Harry could see it with his eyes closed.  He was warm all over, like he was dunked in the bathtub but without the wet.  Like being wrapped in the biggest, fluffiest blanket.  Except there were tingles all up and down his arms, like he'd just shocked himself on the doorknob. 

Harry opened his eyes and gasped.  He was glowing.  All over his body.  He looked like a firefly.  Harry waved his arms through the air and watched the way the glow moved with him.  He giggled, a wide smile working it's way over his face.  It was so pretty.

Then suddenly the room began to waver around him, and Harry's eyes widened.  The wavering turned to spinning, everything rotating faster and faster around him until it was all a blur while Harry stood still.  Looking at the spinning made Harry feel sick, so he just closed his eyes and clutched his lion even tighter.

There was a sharp gasp, and Harry opened his eyes.

Gone was his room with the magical mural, his red canopy bed, the floor littered with toys.  Instead Harry found himself in a small, cramped room.  It was dark, and it smelled like mold.  There was only one window, and it was dirty.  Harry himself was sitting on a small, cramped bed, covered in a dirty, threadbare blanket. 

Sitting on the bed in front of him was a boy Harry had never seen before.  He was a few years older than Harry, but not old enough to go to Hogwarts yet.  He was really pale, with hollow cheeks and sharp cheekbones.  He stared at Harry with dark eyes that were blown wide, filled with wonder and awe.

The boy reached out and pressed a hand against him, his eyes growing even wider when flesh met flesh.

"You're here," the boy say, his eyes wide.  "You're real."

Harry's stared at him, his mouth open.

"I made a wish," the boy said.  "I made a wish, and now you're here."

He'd made a wish.  Just like Harry had.

"I did too," Harry said simply.

The boy looked at him with serious eyes.

"What did you wish for?" he asked.

"A friend," Harry answered.  "Somebody who could keep me safe."

He looked up at the boy in front of him.

"What did you wish for?" Harry asked.

"A friend," the boy answered.  "Someone who would understand me."

Magic.  Magic, Harry realized at once.  It had granted their wishes.   This boy, this boy would be his friend.

"My name is Harry," Harry said simply. "What's your name?"

"Tom," the boy said, giving Harry a look.

That was all Harry needed.  He threw himself forward and wrapped his arms around Tom.

"I promise, Tom," Harry said.  "I'll be the best friend ever.  I'll never turn my back on you, no matter what."

Tom sat there stiffly, like maybe he wasn't used to anybody hugging him.  That just made Harry hug tighter.  Harry would make sure Tom didn't go without hugs anymore.  But after awhile, he reached out and wrapped his arms around Harry, squeezing him even tighter.

"I'll keep you safe, Harry," Tom whispered into his hair.  "I promise. No one will ever touch you again."


Harry sat on the bed he and Tom shared in Wool's orphanage, tears streaming down his face.  In his hands were the torn scraps of his lion.  Billy Stubbs had snuck up on Harry while he was out in the yard, playing with Godric.  Tom had been stuck inside in the kitchen on clean up duty.  Harry had tried to keep him company, but he'd been chased out by Martha.

Undefended, Harry had apparently made far too tempting a target.  Billy Stubbs was the resident bully of the orphanage.  Harry didn't know what he'd done, but he'd somehow become one of Billy's favorite people to torment.

The first sign Harry had had that something was wrong had come when he'd been shoved violently, falling forward onto the ground and hitting his chin hard enough to have his teeth sinking into his tongue.  His eyes filled with tears as his mouth filled with blood, but Harry blinked them away furiously.  Being branded a crybaby was the last thing he needed.

Harry began to push himself up, but before he could, a foot connected with his side, knocking the wind out of him.

"Itty Bitty Potty, all on his own," a familiar voice said. 

Harry had to fight the urge to flinch when he recognized it as belonging to Billy.

"Where's Tom, Potty?" Billy asked as Harry pushed himself up and to his feet, glaring at Billy.  "I thought the two of you were joined at the hip.  Freaks have to stick together after all."

Harry grit his teeth, feeling hot all over as anger flared to life deep in his belly.  He and Tom weren't freaks!  They weren't!  They were wizard!  They could do magic!  When they were old enough, they would go to Hogwarts and fly on broomsticks and do all sorts of things a stupid boy like Billy couldn't even imagine!

"We're not freaks!" Harry shouted at him.

Billy laughed in his face.

"You're a freak, Potty.  You're a freak and a weirdo.  A coward too, always hiding behind Tom.  But Tom is ten times more freakish then you."

Harry's hands fisted at his sides.

"Tom is not a freak!"  Harry shouted.

"You're right," Billy said.  "He's a demon.  Everybody says so.  Devilspawn.  How else could he do those freaky things?  He's pure evil."

Harry was trembling with rage now, too angry to even speak.  Instead he reached out and shoved Billy as hard as he could.

Billy didn't just take a step back, or fall on his butt like Harry had been expecting.  No, Billy went soaring through the air before he landed on the ground hard, a full ten feet away from where he'd started.

Accidental magic.  It had to be.

They'd gathered a small crowd of children, all of whom were eager to see how the confrontation would play out.  After seeing Billy go flying across the yard, most of them had broke into delight.

Billy pushed himself upright, angrier than Harry had ever seen him, cheeks stained red with humiliation.

"You'll pay for that, freak!" Billy shouted.

Harry turned to run.  He wasn't a coward, and he knew that.  But standing his ground now would just be stupid.  Still, it didn't do him any good.  He barely made it three steps before a hand fisted in his ratty, third-hand shirt jerked him to a stop, practically choking him in the process.  Before Harry had time to recover, he'd been thrown to the ground, Billy towering over him.

The boy had an ugly sneer on his face, and a look in his eyes that Harry knew meant pain.  Then Billy's eyes fell on Godric, still clutched tightly in one of Harry's hands and he gave a truly malicious smile.  Billy kicked him hard in the ribs, then reached down and yanked Godric from his hands while Harry was struggling through the pain.

"Who's this, Potty?" Bill asked.

"Give him back," Harry snarled, trying to push himself to his feet.

Billy shoved him back to the ground with a cruel smile.

"Little baby Potty.  The coward needs a brave lion to protect him," Billy sneered.

The bully inspected the worn lion that Harry had had as long as he could remember, and Harry felt his stomach sinking.

"Where'd you get this, Potty?" Billy asked.  "None of the rest of us get anything so nice.  What makes a freak like you so special?"

"My parents gave him to me," Harry said, his mouth too dry for his voice to be loud.

"What?" Billy said.

"My parents gave him to me," Harry said again, louder this time.

The expression that crossed Billy's face then was even uglier than anything Harry had seen on it before.

"You're an orphan, Potty," he said with a sneer.  "You don't have parents."

And then he tore Godric's leg clean off.

By the time it was all over, Harry was curled in a small ball.  His lip was cut, his side hurt every time he took a breath, and he knew that in a few hours he'd be covered in deep bruises, including what was certain to be a spectacular black eye.  His glasses were broken again, which he knew would make the matron angry.  He didn't care about any of that though.  All he cared about were the bits of fabric and stuffing that covered the ground next to him.

Gathering them close, Harry felt his eyes burning.  Godric.  The last and only piece of his family gone.  Torn to pieces.

Harry bit his lip hard to keep himself from crying.  Not here.  He couldn't cry here.  He'd practically run back up to the room he and Tom shared, slamming the door behind him before he let the tears fall.  He remembered the day his Mum and Dad had taken him to Diagon Alley, the time they'd all spent playing together in the toy store.  The proud grin on his dad's face when Harry had asked for the lion, the way his mother had rolled her eyes with a smile on his face.  The way his Mum would make Godric talk when she was telling Harry bedtime stories.  The way Godric would "defeat" his Dad during tickle fights when Harry called on the lion to save him.  The adventures the two of them had together in the house, the garden, the park.

His last piece of home, gone.

Harry had no idea how long he sat there before he felt a hand on his shoulder.  Harry jerked back, startled, banging his back into the wall, making him hiss in pain.

Tom stood in front of him, his dark eyes taking in Harry's appearance before they narrowed, anger making them shine.  Wordlessly, Tom sat beside Harry and reached out, his hand cupping Harry's chin as he turned Harry's face towards the window.  Harry didn't fight him.  Harry would never fight Tom.  Tom took care of him.  Moments like this just let Harry know how much Tom cared.

Harry needed someone to care about him right now.

A fresh wave of tears fell down his face, and Tom let go of his chin to wipe them carefully away with his finger.

"What happened?" Tom asked, his voice calm.

Harry held up the scraps of what once used to be his prized possession in answer.  Tom looked down at them and his nose wrinkled.  Tom had never liked mess or disorganization, but he would tolerate it for Harry.  But then recognition washed over Tom's face and the disgust faded to be replaced with anger.

"Godric?" he asked, examining the scraps.

Harry nodded, throat too full of emotion to speak.

Tom gently pulled the pieces away from Harry and set them on the bed before he reached out and pulled Harry into a hug.  Harry ignored the pain in his ribs and reached out to wrap his arms around Tom in turn, squeezing tightly.  Tom took care of Harry.  He would stop the other orphans from bullying them.  He taught Harry how to use his magic a way no one else could.  Tom explained things in a way Harry could understand them.  Tom kept him company and played with him, even when it was clear that he thought the games were stupid just because it would make Harry happy.  Tom took care of him, making sure he had enough to eat and was warm enough even in the meager accommodations they were provided.  With Tom beside him, Harry felt like he could do anything.

Harry might have missed his parents, missed his home.  He might have hated the orphanage and the other orphans.  But he never once regretted the wish he had made.  Tom was the best friend anybody could ever have.  Harry wouldn't trade him for anything in the whole world.

"Who?" Tom asked simply, rubbing his hand up and down Harry's back in a soothing motion.

"Billy Stubbs," Harry managed to choke out, clinging tightly to Tom.

That night, while Harry was curled up in bed, right on the edge of sleep, he felt Tom slip out from under the covers.

"Tom?" Harry asked, sitting up, rubbing at his eyes and trying to make everything less blurry.

"Go back to sleep," Tom said, gently pushing Harry back down and tucking him under the covers.

"Kay," Harry whispered.

He closed his eyes and tried to fall back asleep, but it was hard to do in the empty bed.  There was no Tom there to help keep him warm, no Godric to cuddle close to his chest as he tried to fall asleep.  Without Tom, the room seemed especially dark, especially cold.  Still, Harry screwed his eyes shut, clutched the covers around him even tighter and did his best to fall back asleep.

Harry didn't know how long he lay there, staring at the cinderblock wall, but he was right on the edge of sleep when he heard the door creak open and then closed again.  A moment later, the covers were pulled back and cold air rushed in for a moment before Tom slipped underneath them.  When the older boy wrapped his arms around him, Harry gave a small smile before letting sleep claim him.

The next morning, when they found Billy Stubb's rabbit hanging from the ceiling, Harry knew exactly who was to blame. 

Harry ran back to their room to find Tom reading at the desk.  He dashed over and wrapped his arms around him.

"Thank you," Harry whispered.  "Thank you."

Tom gave him a wary look.

"You aren't angry?"

Harry just shook his head, clinging to Tom even more tightly.  Tom reached out and pulled Harry closer, his long fingers running through Harry's hair.

"You're mine, Harry.  My only friend.  The most important person." Tom said.  "No one is allowed to hurt you."

Chapter Text

December of 1937 came, and Harry could hardly contain his excitement.  Tom would turn eleven at the end of the month, and that meant he would receive his Hogwarts letter.  Harry had been telling Tom stories of the wizarding world since the day they had met, and Harry couldn't wait for Tom to see those things for himself.  Harry could barely wait for the supply list to come so that they could take a trip to Diagon Alley together.  He had so many things to show Tom!

After he'd given Tom his traditional gift of a magical drawing of a magical creature, with the added bonus of a book on Julius Caesar that Harry had managed to rescue and reassemble from a rubbish bin, they'd both settled in by the small window in their dreary room, waiting for the owl.  Harry could barely sit still at first, he was so excited.  But then the day dragged on, hour by hour, and as each one passed there was still no owl at the window.  Tom was pretending not to care, but Harry could see his friend getting colder and colder, more and more closed off as the time passed.

Harry climbed onto the windowsill, his face pressed against the glass, eyes straining to see something, anything.  Tom's letter was coming.  Harry knew it.  It had to be.

Tom was the most powerful, talented wizard Harry had ever seen.  He could do things with just a thought that Harry didn't think his Mum could have done with a wand and months of preparation.  Tom's magic was like nothing Harry had ever felt before.  There was so much of it.  Whenever Tom used it, it filled the entire space.  It just grew thicker and thicker the longer he knew him, Tom's magic growing as Tom did.

Tom had to go to Hogwarts.  He just had to.

"It's nearly curfew," Tom said, interrupting Harry's vigil.

Harry didn't respond, still staring out the window.  He wasn't going to budge.  Not until Tom's letter came.

"Harry," Tom said, his voice a little sharper.

Harry still didn't move.

There were footsteps and then a long-fingered hand wrapped around his shoulder and pulled until Harry had no choice but to turn around.

"Come to bed," Tom ordered.

"No!" Harry shouted, jerking himself out of Tom's grip to stare out the window again.

"Harry..." Tom said, a low, warning growl in his voice.

"No!" Harry shouted again, his vision blurring even as he reached up and rubbed furiously at his eyes under his glasses.  "No!  I'm not moving!  Not until you're letter comes!"

Tom said nothing, and Harry could feel the tears beginning to spill down his cheeks.

Harry turned around to face Tom, determined to make his friend understand.

"You deserve it!" Harry said through his tears.  "You're the best, most powerful wizard I've ever met and you have to go to Hogwarts.  You just have to."

His nose was so clogged he could barely breathe, but it didn't matter.  All that mattered was making sure Tom understood.

"You belong in the wizarding world!" Harry shouted.  "You do!  You're special and amazing, not a freak!  It's amazing too, and you belong there!  Not here!  Why won't the stupid letter come?"

Harry turned back to the window and pounded his fist against it once in pure frustration.  Then he lost all control of himself and began weeping in earnest.

"It's not fair," he muttered.  "It's not fair.  You're the best wizard ever.  Why don't they see that?  Why?"

Harry found himself surrounded by familiar arms, and he turned to burrow against Tom's chest, wrapping his arms around the older boy tightly.

"I won't go," Harry said stubbornly, his voice muffled by the fabric of Tom's nightgown.  "If they don't take you, then I won't go."

"Harry," Tom said softly, his hand coming up to run through his hair.

"No!" Harry said firmly.  "There's no point without you.  If you don't get to learn magic, then I won't either."

It broke his heart, but Harry knew it was the right choice.  Tom was the reason he knew as much about magic as he did.  The two of them being together was more important than anything.  They'd just figure it out themselves, the way they'd always done.

"You, Harry Potter, are the best friend anyone could have," Tom said, his voice full of affection.  "Certainly a better one than I deserve."

Harry pulled back and glared at him.

"You deserve everything," Harry said simply.  "All the best."

"We both do," Tom said, reaching up and ruffling Harry's hair.

"Together," Harry insisted firmly.

Tom looked down at Harry, his expression serious, but his eyes soft.

"Of course," Tom said simply, his arms tightening around Harry.  "You're the best thing that ever happened to me, Harry Potter.  I'm never going to let you go."

Harry rested his head against Tom's chest and smiled.  Even without Hogwarts, they would be okay.  After all, Harry had Tom.  And Tom had Harry.  And that was really all either of them needed.

---

It had been over a month, and still no letter had come for Tom.  For all that Tom pretended he didn't care, Harry knew his friend better than to believe that.  After all these years together, after being the only one Tom trusted, Harry had no trouble at all reading his friend.

Hogwarts had been the dream that the two of them had held close in the dark, cold nights of the orphanage.  On the days when the orphanage was filled with sickness and death. Hogwarts was their way out.  Hogwarts had been their hope.

To have that hope taken from them had been devastating.  Tom refused to show it, but Harry knew.

They needed a new dream, Harry decided.  One that could carry them through the next six years and into freedom.

Harry occupied himself with plotting this new dream one February morning while Tom worked his way through the book Harry had given him for the third time.  They were magical, obviously.  That much couldn't be denied.  And Harry knew, more or less, how to get to Diagon Alley.  It would help them get what they needed.

They wouldn't become part of the magical world, no.  If it didn't want Tom, than Harry wanted nothing to do with it.  But they could still use the tools there to help them succeed in the muggle one.  They could perfect their magic, train it, learn everything they could.  Magic would make them rich.  The tricks he'd seen his parents do with a wand would be more than enough to make them succeed in any business they chose.  Once they had money, they would have power.  They could use the money to get Tom into politics, maybe even become minister one day.  It was a roll Harry knew Tom would enjoy.  After all, he'd be the most powerful man in the country.

Harry, more than satisfied with this idea, was starting to work out the timeline in his head when there was a sharp knock on the door.

Harry sat upright, and Tom closed his book and placed it on the windowsill.  Harry shot Tom a confused look.  None of the other orphans would knock, and none of the orphanage staff wanted anything to do with the two of them.  They were left to change their own sheets and clean their own room.

Tom just shrugged his shoulders in response, but his face had turned blank, mask carefully in place.

The door was pushed open before they had a chance to respond, and Mrs. Cole stepped inside, her nose red and her eyes glassy.  Drunk again, no doubt.

"Tom?  You've got a visitor.  This is Mr. Dumberton - sorry, Dunderbore.  He's come to tell you - well, I'll let him do it."

With that, she backed out of the room and a man entered.  As soon as he was inside, Mrs. Cole closed the door behind him.

Harry took one look at the man and broke into a wide smile.  He had long, auburn colored hair and a beard that nearly reached his waist.  Far from fashionable in the muggle world, but a look Harry had seen more than once in the wizarding world.  If that wasn't enough of a hint, the man's suit, made of plum colored velvet of all things, settled any lingering doubts Harry might have had.  This man was a wizard, Harry was certain of it.

"You're here to give Tom his letter, aren't you?" Harry said, too excited to keep his thoughts to himself.

Tom cast Harry a quick look of surprise before turning his attention to the man in front of him, studying him intently.  The wizard didn't notice, however, giving Harry a searching look, his blue eyes feeling almost like they were peering into Harry's soul.

Then the wizard smiled, his eyes softening and beginning to twinkle.

"Yes, my boy.  That is exactly what I am here to do."

The wizard turned and held out his hand to Tom.

"Professor Dumbledore, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," he said.  "How do you do, Tom?"

Tom reached out and shook the professor's hand, a somewhat guarded look on his face.

"Professor," Tom said blandly in response.

Tom released the professor's hand and made his way over to the bed, taking a seat on the gray comforter before wrapping an arm around Harry protectively.

"Why didn't you send Tom his letter?" Harry asked, giving the professor an accusing glare.  "We waited all day for it!"

Tom said nothing, but he stared at the professor, clearly looking for an answer.

"The letters for those students who are unaware of the magical community are usually delivered by members of the staff.  What would you think if you didn't know magic was real? Would you believe it if you received a letter delivered by an owl that told you you'd been accepted to a school called Hogwarts which taught magic?" the man asked patiently.

Harry had to take a moment and really think about it.  After all, magic had always been a part of his life.  His mother had made certain he was familiar with the muggle world and he'd spent the last three years living in it.

"I...I don't think I'd believe you," Harry said slowly.  "I'd think it was a prank."

Dumbledore nodded sagely.

"Exactly," Dumbledore said.  "Muggleborn children and their parents need more than the letter to really believe what's happening.  They need a demonstration.  They need evidence.  They'll have questions, since they won't have gone to the school itself.  That's why staff members deliver the letter in person, to provide any explanations that are needed."

Harry crossed his arms.  What the professor said had made sense, but that didn't mean Harry was happy about it.  He'd made Tom think that he didn't belong in the wizarding world, and Harry wasn't going to forgive that any time soon.

"I didn't know I was expected," Dumbledore said in apologetic tone of voice as he took the seat Tom had just vacated.  "I am sorry for any anxiety I may have caused you, Tom.  Still, I must confess this is not a situation I run into, especially during these visits.  How did you come to learn of Hogwarts?"

Harry considered carefully before answering, casting a look at Tom.  He missed his Mum and Dad, yeah.  But Tom...he wasn't going to leave Tom behind.  Not if he could help it.

So Harry lied.

"I was six when my parents died," Harry said simply.  "I was supposed to go to my muggle relatives, but they didn't want me."

It was easy for Harry to imagine the circumstances.  If, somehow, he had been supposed to go to Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, Harry could easily imagine how things would have unfolded.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said.

Harry didn't have to pretend at sadness.  He was sad about not being with his parents anymore, at least a little bit.  All he had to do was focus on that feeling.  He brought it forward before cuddling even further against Tom.  He was rewarded with a hand running up and down his back, and he looked up just long enough to give Tom a quick smile, letting him know he was really okay before huddling against his side.

"I don't remember much about them, but I miss them," Harry said simply.

"I'm certain you do, my dear boy," the professor said, his voice kind.  "Your parents were magical then?"

Harry nodded.

"I made friends with Tom," Harry said.  "When I saw him doing accidental magic, I told him what it was," Harry said, proud of himself for being sure that Tom didn't stay in the dark about the world that he was supposed to be a part of.

"Excellent," Professor Dumbledore said with a smile, his blue eyes twinkling behind his glasses.  "So, Tom, tell me, what do you know about Hogwarts?" he asked, turning his attention to Tom.

"There are four houses," Tom said, his tone neutral.  "Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin.  Each house emphasizes different traits."

"What house do you think you're going to be in?" Dumbledore asked.

"Ravenclaw or Slytherin," Tom said simply.

"Ah," Dumbledore said, the twinkle in his eyes dimming somewhat.  He looked at Tom intently, and Harry could feel Tom stiffen next to him.  "Tell me, Tom, what sorts of accidental magic have you done?"

"Harry and I haven't done anything accidental in a long time," he said his voice filled with pride, his neck and cheeks flushed with excitement.  "“I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to."

It sounded worse than it was.  Some might call it revenge, but Harry thought it was justice.  To survive, you had to fight.  The orphanage had taught him that much.  Had taught him that to be different was enough to earn you hatred.  Power was the only way to stay safe.

Harry hadn't known what Tom was going to do to Dennis and Amy.  Honest, he hadn't.  Harry didn't even think Tom had known what he was going to do to Amy and Dennis.  He seemed almost as surprised as Harry with the results.  But as much as he knew he should feel bad, Harry couldn't bring himself to do it.  Because Amy and Dennis had been horrible to him and Tom.  There was a part of him that felt like they'd deserved what they had gotten.

Harry might have had his doubts, but what had happened afterwards had been more than enough to lay them to rest.  No one had so much as looked as them funny since the rumors about what had happened to Dennis and Amy had begun to spread.  Everyone had left them alone.  Everyone.  He and Tom got to pick their food first, got first choice of the limited number of toys the orphanage had, first pick of the even slimmer offerings of the small library that was really just a lopsided bookcase.

For the first time, they were safe.

Still, Professor Dumbledore was staring at Tom with narrowed eyes, the twinkle entirely gone.

"Would you like a demonstration, Tom?  Of the sorts of things you could do with your magic fully trained?"

"Yes," Tom said simply, his eyes shining brightly.

"Are you planning on taking your place at Hogwarts, Mr. Riddle?"

"Yes," Tom answered.

“Then you will address me as ‘Professor’ or ‘sir.’” Professor Dumbledore said, his eyes hard.

Tom’s expression hardened for the most fleeting moment before he said, in the polite voice he used when he wanted to be charming, “I’m sorry, sir. I meant — please, Professor, could you show me — ?”

The professor reached into a pocket of his muggle suit and pulled out his wand.  Harry found himself leaning forward, barely checking his excitement.

The Professor flicked his wand towards the small wardrobe the two of them shared, and it burst into flames.

Harry was on his feet immediately, shouting in shock, anger and hurt burning within him.  Everything they owned was in there.  Every piece of clothing.  All their precious memories.  Every gift Harry had ever made for Tom.  All of it consumed in fire.

Harry darted towards the wardrobe, determined to save something, only to be stopped by Tom's hand gripping his arm, jerking Harry behind him, putting himself firmly between Harry and Dumbledore.

Harry stared at the wardrobe, tears welling in his eyes.  Everything.  They'd just lost everything.

The Professor flicked his wand again, and flames were gone, the wardrobe standing entirely untouched.  Harry managed to wrench himself free of Tom and rush over to the doors pulling them open.  Everything was there.  All their clothes.  Harry could just make out the shape of the box of treasures on the top shelf.

Tom was saying something to the professor, but Harry wasn't listening. Instead he collapsed on the floor in front of the wardrobe, the stone jarring his knees painfully.  Harry didn't care.  He was too busy crying to pay attention to anything like that.

A moment later, there was a hand around his arm, gently tugging him upright.  Harry let himself be pulled up before he buried his face against Tom's chest, muffling his sobs in the grey tunic they were all forced to wear.

"It's alright," Tom said, running his hand up and down Harry's back.  "It's alright.  Everything's fine, Harry.  Nothing happened to any of our things.  It's all alright."

Harry pulled away from Tom long enough to turn to the Professor, who was staring at Harry with wide blue eyes.

"Why?" Harry asked him through his tears.  "Why would you do something like that?  Magic...magic is fun and beautiful!  Why would you do that?"  Harry's could barely see he was crying so hard, but he didn't let that keep him from glaring.

"You a mean man!" Harry declared.  "You're supposed to make kids excited to go to school!  To show them how fun magic can be!  Not make them think you've destroyed the only things they own!"

Dumbledore stared at Harry in shock, but Harry didn't want to look at him any more.  He turned and buried his face in Tom's tunic once again, his hands fisting tightly in the fabric.

"I..." the man began before stopping again.  "I'm sorry, Harry.  You're absolutely right."

Harry sniffed and turned around, giving Dumbledore the evil eye from within Tom's arms.

"I'm sorry to have distressed you so.  I confess that I did not consider your feelings on the matter as carefully as I should.  Will you forgive me?"

Harry glared at him and said nothing.

The Professor sighed heavily but did not push any further.  Instead he turned to Tom and began to speak once again.

“At Hogwarts,” Dumbledore went on, “we teach you not only to use magic, but to control it. You have — inadvertently, I am sure — been using your powers in a way that is neither taught nor tolerated at our school. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to allow your magic to run away with you. But you should know that Hogwarts can expel students, and the Ministry of Magic — yes, there is a Ministry — will punish lawbreakers still more severely. All new wizards must accept that, in entering our world, they abide by our laws.”

Tom went stiff against Harry.  Harry didn't think he'd ever hated anyone more than he hated Professor Dumbledore in that moment.

"Yes sir," Tom said, his voice entirely devoid of any emotion.

"Very well then," Professor Dumbledore said, standing up and passing an envelope over to Tom.  "This is your Hogwarts letter.  It includes not only your acceptance, but additional information about the school.  Enclosed is also your supply list for the year."

"I haven't got any money," Tom said.

"That is easily remedied," Dumbledore said, pulling a leather pouch from his belt. One that clicked when it moved.  He handed the pouch to Tom.  "There is a fund at Hogwarts for those who require assistance buying robes and books.  You might need to purchase some of your spellbooks and materials second hand, but the fund should be enough to allow you to purchase what is required."

Tom nodded stiffly.

"How do I get to Diagon Ally, Professor?" he asked, placing the pouch of money on the bed.

"I will show you," the Professor said.  "As well as the best places to -"

"I think you've already helped us enough, sir." Tom said, his voice hard.

Dumbledore's shoulders slumped at that, and his eyes darted to where Harry was still huddled in Tom's embrace.

"Perhaps you are right," the man said softly, a disappointed look on his face.

Dumbledore gave them detailed directions on how to get from the orphanage to the Leaky Cauldron, the entrance to Diagon Alley.

"You will be able to see the pub, but the muggles around you will not. " Dumbledore said.  "Inside the pub, you should ask for Tom.  He will take you to the entrance."

Tom nodded.

“All the details are on the second piece of parchment in your envelope,” said Dumbledore. “You will leave from King’s Cross Station on the first of September. There is a train ticket in there too.” Riddle nodded. Dumbledore got to his feet and held out his hand again.

Harry pointedly turned away, hiding his face against Tom's chest.  Tom reached out and took the professor's hand and shook it, but Harry could see from his vantage point that he was all but glaring at the man.  The handshake lasted only for a moment before it was broken.

“Good-bye, Tom. I shall see you at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, making his way towards the door.  Just before he left, he turned and addressed Harry.  "I am sorry my dear boy.  I do hope that the next time I see you, things between us will go better."

Harry glared at his back as he left.  He didn't think he'd be forgiving Professor Dumbledore anytime soon.

---

Tom's first year at Hogwarts was absolute hell for Harry.  It only took a few weeks for the other orphans to realize that without Tom there to protect him, he was an easy target.  Harry couldn't defend himself.  Not as well as he needed to.  After his time with Tom, Harry had much better control of his magic than he had ever imagined, even without a wand.  Harry could warm his clothes and his blanket to keep himself from freezing during the cold winter nights.  He could make a small sphere of light appear after lights out so that he could sit up in bed and read.  He could, if he was trying hard enough, make himself disappear, make it so the bullies forgot about him.

But he couldn't hurt them.  No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't do it.  And once the children of the orphanage figured that out, well...it was open season on Harry.  All the children were determined to repay Harry for the hurt and humiliation and fear Tom had put them through.

Harry had taken to hiding his belongings, those things he really cared about, in a loose floorboard under the bed.  Anything he left in the wardrobe would be destroyed, torn to shreds or ink dumped all over it or worse.  Every time Harry had to explain to the matron that he needed another uniform, he was punished.  The time not spent in school or being tormented by the others was spent doing extra chores to make up for his waste.

Life had been hell since Tom had left.

Still, Harry didn't breathe a word of it to Tom.  He couldn't.  Tom's letters made it clear just how much he loved it at school, for all that he was frustrated.  His housemates had treated him with distain when they thought him a muggleborn, but his knowledge of the wizarding world had quickly convinced them that he was a halfblood instead, which, while distasteful, was at least tolerable in Slytherin.  After that little hiccup at the start of the year, it seemed that everything was going Tom's way.  All the teachers adored him, and the house points he won along with his skill in magic, had earned him the respect of his house.

Tom had made friends, though he didn't call them that.  "I've begun making connections," Tom had written, and it had made Harry grin.  Tom been invited to stay with someone over Christmas break.  As miserable as he was, Harry had encouraged Tom.  Tom deserved to be happy.  It would be selfish to keep his best friend from doing something he clearly wanted to.

Tom's only complaint about the castle was that his classes were far too easy.

"You and I have already figured out most of the curriculum on our own," one of Tom's letters had said.  "Still, the library is impressive."   Tom's description of his extra-circular studies made Harry's head spin, but he was happy that Tom was happy.

Still, in a small, secret part of his heart, Harry hated Hogwarts.

Tom's letters, which had been weekly at the start, had started coming less and less frequently.  Harry, having no owl of his own, couldn't even write Tom unless the older boy wrote him first.  Those letters started to be filled with names Harry didn't know, and Tom had begun to speak of Hogwarts as home.

Tom was Harry's home.  He had been for a long time.

Harry was terrified that he was losing Tom.  That Tom would forget about him in favor of his new life at Hogwarts.  That'd he'd begin to see Harry as nothing more than an annoyance, the way he did most people.

Harry's eyes filled with tears at the thought, and he tried to pretend it was because of his arm.   Billy Stubbs had shoved him down the stairs earlier, and Harry was certain if it weren't for his magic, he would have broken his neck.  His head didn't hit the floor nearly as hard as it should have after falling down a flight of stairs.  Still, he'd broken his arm in the process.

Of course, it had happened during the week Harry's punishment was supposed to start for his latest round of "destruction of property."  So instead of the cleaning the matron had clearly planned, he'd been locked in his room and put on a diet of bread and water.

Tom was supposed to come home this week.  Harry didn't know when, exactly.  He'd lost track of the time while locked in the room.  But Tom was coming home.

Harry didn't want Tom to see him like this.  For all that Tom had protected him when they were both younger, Harry knew Tom hated weakness.  He was terrified that if Tom came back from Hogwarts, where he had made such rich and powerful friends, to find Harry a pathetic weakling of an orphan, that Tom would sneer at him.  He could just picture Tom staring at him with disgust, and the thought of it finally brought the tears streaming down his face.

He muffled them in his pillow.  There was no reason to provide the others with more ammunition.  He was hated enough already.

Tears streaming down his face, Harry carefully pulled himself out of bed, his whole body sore and aching.  He jostled his arm as he dropped to his knees and hissed in pain, but he powered through it.  He was used to being injured, at this point.  Careful of his arm, Harry pried the floorboard up one-handed.

Harry reached inside, ignoring the bits of food he'd managed to smuggle, his books, and all the rest of it in favor of a sheaf of parchment.  Removing the pile with care, Harry covered his hideaway before dragging himself back to bed, Tom's letters clutched in his hand.

They were worn, the edges crumpled and the ink slightly faint from how many times he'd taken them out to reread them, how many time's Harry had turned to them for reassurance, to assuage his loneliness.

Tears still falling, Harry managed to work his way through the first half before exhaustion and pain pulled him down into slumber.

-------

Harry woke slowly, the afternoon sunlight shining directly in his eyes.  He winced and brought his hand up to cover them, realizing a moment too late that he'd used the wrong arm.  Harry let out a cry of pain, letting the arm fall back to where it had been before, gritting his teeth against the agony that shot through him.

Then suddenly a hand was on his arm, and a moment later Harry felt relief like cool water wash through him.  Harry stared down at it in wonder, tentatively moving it only to smile in delight when there was no pain.  Harry looked up, a wide smile on his face, only to freeze when he saw who exactly the hand belonged to.

Tom.  Tom was here, sitting on the bed beside Harry.  Staring down at him with a blank mask that Harry knew never lead to anything good.

Harry set his shoulders.  He didn't care.  If this was going to be one of his last moments as Tom's friend, then he was going to make the most of it.

He threw himself forward, wrapping his arms around Tom as tightly as he could, eyes burning.

"You're here," Harry said, his voice hoarse from disuse.  "You're back!"

Tom's arms closed around him, so tight it would have been painful even without the bruises that decorated Harry's back.  It didn't matter.  No matter how much it hurt, Harry didn't care.  It was the best feeling in the world.

"I'm here," Tom said simply.

"I missed you," Harry confessed into Tom's shirt. "I missed you so much."

Tom's arms tightened, and Harry felt himself tensing, waiting for the blow that he was certain would come.  Tom hadn't missed him at all.  Tom had other, better friends now.  Friends more useful that a poor orphan who couldn't even protect himself.

"I missed you too," Tom said.

Harry couldn't believe his ears.  He looked up, eyes wide, staring intently at Tom's face.  Tom was an excellent liar, but Harry had known him long enough that he could spot a lie, even if he couldn't hear one.

But there was no sign of deception on Tom's face.  Just a soft look as he reached up and ran a hand through Harry's hair, with something burning in his dark eyes, something familiar.

It should have made him feel scared.  Harry knew it terrified everyone else.  But it just made him feel safe.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice gentle.

Harry set his jaw and averted his eyes.

"Nothing," he said simply.

"You've always been a terrible liar," Tom said, his voice hard.  A hand wrapped around Harry's chin and he found his head turning until he was staring right into Tom's eyes.  "What happened?" Tom demanded once again, his voice laced with his magic.

Harry felt his mouth opening, poised to respond, but he clenched it shut as hard as he could, screwing his eyes closed to keep the words from bubbling past his lips.  When he felt the impulse to talk in spite of himself fade, he opened his eyes again.

Tom was staring down at him, his frustration obvious but undercut by a look of grudging respect.

"You're too stubborn for your own good," he said.

Tom closed his eyes and shook his head until he looked up again, his expression totally different.

"Please, Harry," Tom said simply.  "Please."

Tom never said please.  Not to anyone.  Not even Harry.

Harry did the only thing he could do under the circumstances.  He began to speak.  He told Tom about what his time had been like since Tom had left, spoke of the torment and the bullying and the hunger.  Spoke of the endless chores and the exhaustion that they brought him.  When he was done, he stared down at the bedspread, too ashamed to meet Tom's gaze.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Tom asked, his voice strangled.  "Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want you to think I was weak," Harry said, tracing patters across the tattered blanket.  "I...I didn't want you to stop."

"To stop what?" Tom asked.

"Caring about me," Harry answered.

Tom's hand gripped his chin, and Harry's head was forced up until he found himself looking into Tom's dark eyes.

"Harry James Potter," Tom said, his voice trembling, eyes shining with emotion.  "You are mine.  You've been mine since the moment magic brought us together.  You are mine and I am never going to give you up.  Nothing is going to take you from me."

Tom reached forward and wrapped his arms around Harry again.

"You are the one good thing I've ever had," Tom said simply.  "You are the only one who has seen every side of me and yet stayed by my side.  The only person who understands and accepts me."

Tom reached out and brushed Harry's hair back from his forehead before leaning down and pressing a kiss to it.

"You're the only person I truly care for.  You are the one thing I need.  And I am never letting go."

Tom's dark eyes were burning with intensity as he stared at Harry, one hand cupping his cheek.

"Do you understand me?" Tom asked.

Harry, eyes burning, nodded.  He threw himself forward, wrapping his arms around Tom.

"I love you," Harry said.  "I love you so much, Tom."

If Harry had looked up, he would have seen the thunderstruck expression on Tom's face.  Shock too deep and profound to hide.  It was soon replaced by wonder and affection as he stared down at the boy in his lap.

"I love you too," Tom answered at last, his voice unbearably soft, a hint of wonder in the words as he spoke them, as if he could hardly believe they were coming out of his mouth.

Harry gave a happy sigh and curled up even more tightly against Tom.  For the first time in months, Harry felt complete.

Chapter Text

Harry followed Tom into King's Cross Station, holding the other boy's hand tightly as he looked around the space, barely keeping his excitement in check.  He'd been to the station before.  After Tom's first year, Harry'd taken to waiting at the station whenever Tom would come back. Something Tom now did every time he had the opportunity to do so.  For all that he'd tried to hide it, he'd clearly been upset when Harry had confessed how alone he'd felt, how scared he was that Tom was going to leave him behind.  Tom had been putting those fears to rest with a vengeance for the last year.  He wrote Harry every day, and expected replies to each.  Ones with honest answers about how Harry had been.

Tom had made it clear during the summer between his first and second year that just because he wasn't around didn't mean that people wouldn't be punished for hurting Harry.  Even hurting and scared, Harry could see in their eyes that now that they'd had a taste of vengeance,  they weren't about to give it up.  Tom had clearly seen it too, because he spent most of that summer teaching Harry every defensive spell he knew.  Harry could manage almost all of them, but he still struggled when it came to actually hurting people.  He'd looked up at Tom, afraid to see disappointment in his eyes, but had been met with a thoughtful expression instead.

"You've always had this problem," Tom said at last.

Harry shook his head.  It wasn't true.  He'd managed to make the other orphans hurt before, when he was angry enough.

"Yes," Tom said, once Harry had made his point, "but in all those circumstances, it was when you were defending someone else, not yourself."  Tom shook his head.  "You'll do whatever it takes to defend someone else, but simply can't apply the same standards to yourself."

Harry stared up at Tom in shock.  He was right.  He was absolutely right.

"Is that a bad thing?" Harry asked him.

"Not at all, dearest," Tom said, and Harry found himself flushing with pleasure at the name.  It was something Tom had been using ever since he'd come back, and Harry loved it.  Every time Tom said it, it reminded him that the older boy really did care about Harry.  "It simply means that I will simply have to protect you myself."

After that, he'd started teaching Harry different kind of spells, or suggesting different things he could try and make his magic do.  Ways to distract the others long enough for Harry to get away, ways to make them forget about him.  Things that Harry's magic took to easily.

Harry had seen Tom off, and Tom had hugged Harry tightly before he left, placing a kiss to the top of Harry's head.  When Tom had pulled away, there had been something hanging from Harry's neck.

"It will protect you," Tom had said simply.  "Keep you safe while I'm away."

"Tom..." Harry said, staring down at it in wonder.  "Where did you get this?  I thought you weren't allowed to do magic over the summer."

"I bought it," Tom said simply.  "I shall make you a better one when I get to school."

Harry had been touched.  Tom's money was barely enough to cover his school expenses.  Yet he'd spent what had to be a dear sum on keeping Harry safe.

And it had done exactly that.  Tom kept changing it, making it better, stronger.  As grateful as Harry was for what it did, he cared much more about what it meant.  Tom cared.  Tom cared about him, and wanted to keep him safe.  Even at his own expense.

The newest version which Tom had brought with him at the beginning of the summer was tucked under Harry's shirt even now, it's weight comforting and familiar.

Still, it was the last thing on his mind now.  Harry could barely keep his excitement in check.  This time he wouldn't be left behind, staring at the scarlet steam engine as it chugged away.  No, today Harry would be boarding the Hogwarts express along with Tom.

Harry could barely sit still by the time they had boarded the train and found a compartment, and Tom was giving him a fond smile.

"Tell me about the houses again," Harry said.

Tom rolled his eyes, but did as Harry had asked.

"Hufflepuff," Tom said, "is the house of those who value hard work, fairness, and loyalty.  Most people think they're useless, but underestimating Hufflepuffs is a mistake," Tom said simply.  "After all, their loyalty, once won, is absolute, and there isn't much they would not do to protect those who they are loyal to."

Harry privately thought that sounded more than a bit like him, and from the look Tom was giving him, he wasn't the only one.

"Ravenclaw is the house of the wise, for those who favor knowledge above all else," Tom continued.  "This by no means implies they are the most intelligent house.  In fact, most of them are entirely too concerned with learning to care at all about their grades."

Harry snickered, unable to help himself.  Tom clearly took issue with the fact that most people thought that Ravenclaws were the smartest.  Tom himself was brilliant.  Harry knew that, and he was certain that all of Tom's professors did at that point as well, what with him having been the top student in every subject he'd taken for the last two years.  Even Professor Dumbledore, who still hated Tom for reasons that Harry would never understand, was forced to give Tom high marks, even though Tom made it clear that the man refused to give him house points he earned and took them away at every opportunity.

It hadn't done anything to stop Tom from helping Slytherin to win the house cup his second year.  Apparently they would have won with ease all two years if it weren't for quiddich, which Tom had come to loath.  Harry, though, thought it sounded exciting.  He couldn't wait for his first flying lesson.

"Then there's Gryffindor," Tom said with a sneer.

You didn't have to be an expert in reading people to know how Tom felt about Gryffindor.  He was practically dripping with distain.

"Called the brave and chivalrous, I've never met a bigger bunch of pig-headed, stubborn idiots in my life."

Most of Tom's trouble, Harry knew, had come from Gryffindor.  At least after he'd gotten the problems in Slytherin sorted out and won them all over with his ambition.  But there was a rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin that was far from friendly.  There were a handful of students, apparently, who thought that Slytherins were evil, and were eager to punish them for having been sorted into the wrong house.

"Of course, there is Slytherin," Tom said, pride filling his voice.  "The house for the ambitious and the cunning.  My house."

Harry stared down at his hands, fidgeting with his robes, worry creeping over him.

"Tom," Harry said, "what if I'm not sorted into Slytherin with you?  I'm not very ambitious.  I just...I mostly just want to be left alone."

Attention, Harry had learned long ago, rarely lead to anything good.

"If you're not sorted into Slytherin," Tom said, wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulders, "then I will simply ensure that you have the password to our common room.  While the houses typically eat at their own tables, there's no rule that requires it.  You and I can eat together as often as you want.  We'll meet in the library and go over your coursework together, and you can help me with my projects."

Tom leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of Harry's head.

"Nothing will change between us, no matter your house," Tom said simply.  "I'm not letting you go, Harry.  Not ever."

"Not even if I get sorted into Gryffindor?" Harry asked.

"Not even then," Tom said.  "You're mine, Harry.  And nothing is going to change that."

Harry smiled up at Tom, his worries laid to rest, and snuggled against his friend's shoulder, looking at the hubbub of families and students on the platform outside.

There was a knock on the door to their compartment, and Harry sat up, turning to face the door.

"Enter," Tom called out casually, still winding his fingers through Harry's hair as he often did when they were sitting together like this.

The door slid open to reveal a group of four or so boys, all of them dressed in robes, though they didn't look like the simple black robes Harry himself had inherited from Tom.  Wizards, then.  Ones who lived in the wizarding world.  These were just their everyday clothes.

Harry couldn't help but be curious.  He'd been born in the wizarding world, had spent the first six years of his life a part of it, but there were things he didn't remember, things he hadn't had the chance to learn.  He was eager to fill in the gaps that meeting Tom had left.

"Riddle," the one in front said, hair so blond is looked white falling to his shoulders tied back. 

His voice was full of respect, and Harry could help the surge of pride that went through him.  Tom was clever and powerful, the best wizard there was. It was only right that these purebloods recognize that and treat him with the respect he deserved.

"Abraxus," Tom said simply.  An acknowledgement and nothing more.

Harry grinned.  If they wanted to join them, they would have to ask, apparently.

"May we join you, Riddle?" Abraxus asked.

"If you can all agree to behave yourselves, yes," Tom said.

Harry knew that tone of voice.  It was a promise and a threat all rolled into one.  Anyone who "misbehaved" in Tom's eyes would be punished for it.  From the looks on all their faces, the group in the doorway knew it as well.  Still, with masks firmly in place, they all made their way inside, each sitting on the bench opposite where Tom sat.

It was only when they had settled in that they notice him, and Harry saw their shock before they masked it.  Or at least they tried to.  They were nowhere near as good at it as Tom was, and Harry could easily see that their eyes were still wide with surprise.

"Who might this be?" Abraxas asked.

"Harry," Tom said, ignoring the boys on the bench across from him, "that is Abraxas Malfoy."

Harry blinked a little in surprise.  The name was familiar, but he couldn't quite figure out why.  One of his parents must have mentioned a Malfoy before.  Harry sat up, eyeing the older boy with interest.  None of this escaped Tom's notice, and he gave Harry a searching look before turning a hard look on Malfoy.  The boy quelled under the glare, but Tom only narrowed his eyes at him before turning his attention to Harry, arching one eyebrow in a silent demand for information.

Harry gave a small shake of his head before tilting it towards the other people in the compartment.  In response, Tom reached into his pocket, pulling it out and waving it in a complicated pattern, his magic surging briefly through the air before it settled.

"They won't hear us," Tom said simply in explanation, putting his wand back in his pocket.  "Now, why did you react to Malfoy's name?"

"I think I've heard it before," Harry answered.  "I think my parents knew a Malfoy."

Tom grasped the significance of this at once, as Harry had known he would.

"You believe Malfoy might know your parents."

"Or one of his relatives, yeah," Harry said.

Tom's lips pressed into a frown, and Harry could see that the idea of it upset him.  Harry reached out and grabbed Tom's hands in one of his own, giving his friend a stern look.

"Don't be an idiot," Harry said.  "I'm not going to leave you behind.  You're my best friend, Tom.  I'm not going anywhere you aren't."

Tom relaxed somewhat, but there was still a frown on his face.

"The orphanage is hardly a safe or nurturing place," Tom said.  "Getting you back to your parents would get you out of it."

"I'm not going anywhere without you," Harry said.  That was the end of the matter, as far as Harry was concerned.

"Harry..." Tom began.

"No," Harry said, interrupting him.  It didn't matter what Tom said. Nothing was going to change his mind.  "Magic itself knows that I need you more than I ever needed them.  I'm not going anywhere without you."

Tom's response was to tug him closer, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

"Stubborn brat," Tom said, but his voice was fond.

Harry nodded, a determined look on his face.  He was never going to leave Tom behind.

But his parents had been good people. Nice people.  And they'd talked about giving Harry a sibling...

"If we find them," Harry said, the idea coming together slowly in his head, "I bet we could get them to take you too."

Harry nodded in excitement.  The more he thought about it, the more he was sure of it.

"They'll be so happy to have me back that they would do anything I asked," Harry said.  "They were really overprotective, but they also spoiled me a lot.  They wouldn't leave you there," Harry said.  "Not once I told them how the other orphans treated us.  Not when I explained that you were family, that you'd protected me.  I won't go anywhere without you Tom," Harry said, a disbelieving smile on his face.  "Which means they'd have to take you to."

Tom stared down at Harry, an intent look of concentration on his face.

"It's an idea worth exploring," he said at last, and Harry beamed.  "I'll see what his family might know about yours tonight after the feast."

With that, he reached into his pocket and pulled down the spell he had put up, and Harry turned his attention back to the rest of Tom's friends.  He was fairly certain he could guess at their names from the letters Tom had sent them.  He was right.  Knott, Rosier, and Avery were the other three.

"This," Tom said when he was finished, "is Harry Potter.  He is my closest and dearest friend."

The four traded looks of surprise, and Harry tilted his chin up, daring them to say something.  He knew he was only a little kid in their eyes, but he had earned the title of Tom's best friend several times over.  No one was going to usurp him.  Not if he had anything to say about it.

"I expect all of you to offer him any assistance he requires," Tom said, fixing each boy in turn with a dark look.  "Am I clear?"

"Crystal clear, Riddle," Avery said, the others soon following suit with answers of their own.

"Regardless of what house he ends up in, he is welcome in the Slytherin Common room at any time.  I expect him to be treated with respect," Tom said, glaring at all of them.

There was another round of affirmations, and then Tom settled back in his seat, a satisfied look on his face.

"Good," he said simply.  "I expect you to ensure that the rest of the house is informed as well."

It was Avery who addressed him directly.

"What house do you think you'll end up in, Potter?" he asked.

"I don't know," Harry said, shrugging his shoulders.  "Hufflepuff, probably."

From what he knew about he houses, it seemed like the best fit.  After all, because of Tom, he was more than used to hard work.  And he was loyal to Tom.  He would do anything for him.

The boys began to snicker, and Tom sat up straight, a hard look on his face.

"Is there something amusing?" Tom asked them, turning a dark glare on each of them in turn, twirling his wand between his fingers.

The all quieted at once, fear on their faces, but it wasn't enough.  Tom was out for blood.

"Harry," Tom said simply, not taking his eyes away from the four other boys in the compartment.  "Why don't you show these boys exactly what you can do?"

Harry nodded and closed his eyes.  He'd been working on this all summer, but he hadn't had it done well enough to show Tom.  Concentrating on where his magic lived, Harry gathered it to his hands, holding them apart as he focused hard on exactly what it was he wanted.  When at last the magic had built enough he released it with a small shout and opened his eyes.

Sitting in his lap was green snake, exactly as he had hoped.  He turned to Tom and held it up with a proud smile, thrilled he'd managed to get it right the first time he'd done it.

Snakes had been their dear friends in the orphanage.  Tom, to Harry's wonder, had been able to talk to them, and would translate conversations for Harry with a put-upon tone.  They'd kept their fair share in their room in the orphanage as pets, Harry glad for the company, Tom impressed with their usefulness.  Tom had sent a snake after those that had tormented them more than once, and Harry privately treasured the look of fear on their faces when the small snakes had struck. It was about time that the tables had been turned.

Everyone was afraid of snakes.  Harry didn't understand why.  They were sweet, and their scales were nice and dry and smooth.  When they weren't afraid, they were very affectionate, eager to soak up as much warmth as possible, and Harry loved to walk around with a snake wrapped around his wrist.  Tom enjoyed having someone to speak with, and Harry never tired of watching him talk to the latest snake they had taken in.

Still, it always ended the same.  The matron was terrified of snakes, and when she discovered they were keeping one, she would have it killed.  Then she would punish Harry and Tom for having snuck it in in the first place.

Harry was tired of seeing his friends die, tired of the look of helpless rage on Tom's face each time it happened.  So he'd been practicing bringing snakes to him and sending them away.  That way, they could still have their pets, and the matron would be none the wiser.

"Do you like her?" Harry asked him.  "Her name's Nagini."

Tom said nothing, staring between the snake and Harry in wonder.

"She's amazing," Tom said simply, reaching out and picking the snake up carefully in his hands.  Then he began to hiss at her.

There was a thud and several gasps, and Harry turned to find all of the boys staring at Tom in open-mouthed shock that they weren't even trying to hide.  Rosier had even fallen off his seat, his mouth hanging open.

"What?"Harry asked.

"He...he's a parselmouth?" Malfoy said, eyes wide.  "Riddle is a parselmouth?"

"What's a parselmouth?" Harry asked.

"He can speak to snakes," Nott answered absentmindedly, his eyes still fixed on Tom.

"Oh." Harry said.  "Yeah.  Tom's always been able to talk to snakes.  Why?" Harry asked, taking in their expressions.

"Only one family in Britain has ever had the ability to speak to snakes," Malfoy answered, his voice reverent.  "Only the direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin have the talent."

"The heir," Rosier whispered in awe.  "He's the heir of Slytherin."

"I can't be," Avery said, shaking his head.  "It just can't be.  He's a halfblood, for Merlin's sake!  None of Salazar's decedents would ever lower themselves enough to have relations with a muggle."

"He can speak parseltongue," Rosier said. "He's a Slytherin.  He has to be."

Tom, who had clearly been listening, gave a smile that had the other four shuddering.

"The Heir of Slytherin, you say?  How interesting."

Tom had his plotting face on, so Harry left him be.  The other four excused themselves and practically rushed out the door, eager to spread the word, no doubt.  Harry simply curled up against Tom's side and played with Nagini, smiling as she wove between his fingers before finally curling around his wrist.  When the others had left, Harry titled his head back so that he could see Tom's face while still resting against him.

"What are you thinking about?" Harry asked him.

"Exactly how lucky I am to have you in my life." Tom answered simply.  Then he bent down and pressed a kiss to Harry's forehead. "Thank you, Harry.  I'm certain I would have discovered this eventually, but thanks to you I have enough time to plan properly."

"Plan what?" Harry asked.

"The future, my dear." Tom answered simply, fingers running through Harry's hair.  "Our future.  And what it means for the rest of the wizarding world."


The rest of the train ride was spent with Slytherins coming and going, all determined to see proof of Tom's talent.  Proof Tom was happy to provide.  Harry tuned out the endless string of introductions and groveling, turning his attention instead to his books.  He'd read them all before, of course.  Every year, Tom left his books behind for Harry to read through and practice with, even going so far as to give him assignments while Tom was in school.  Still, it had been awhile, and he wanted to be sure he still remembered what he needed to know.

He had his copy of Hogwarts, A History open on his lap, and was reading every section with information on Salazar Slytherin that he could find, eager to see if he could glean anything new.  Still, he didn't feel like he'd made any progress at all by the time the train finally began to slow.

Tom all but ordered the remaining Slytherins who had lingered out before locking the door behind them.  When they were gone, Tom summoned both their trunks down.

"Go ahead and change into your robes.  We'll be there any minute now."

Harry did as he was told, the boredom from before gone with a sudden surge of excitement and nervousness.  With trembling hands, he pulled his third-hand robes on.  Tom had bought them used and given them to Harry.  Still, Tom's skill at charms for mending and transfiguring clothing was extensive, and they looked almost new once they had been resized.  Since Harry had been able to reuse so many of Tom's old things, and Tom had been funding his own schooling with things he'd managed to win or steal from his housemates, they were able to open a Gringotts account.  One that Tom had begun investing.

If Tom was right, and Tom was always right, they'd have more than enough to ensure that they could afford new school materials the following year.  Not just that, but have enough saved to invest again. 

Harry didn't mind.  Tom had offered to use both their money to purchase him new materials.  Tom didn't want Harry to suffer the way he had, always wanting to take care of him.  But Harry didn't mind.  He actually liked the idea of using Tom's old books, wearing his old robes.  It made him feel even closer to Tom.

Harry pulled on his robes and examined himself, smiling.  Tom's charms work had been perfect.  The robes fit perfectly, and they looked almost brand new.  Certainly not like the third-hand things they really were.

Harry glanced up and gave Tom a smile, which his friend returned.  Tom looked very handsome in his robes, which Tom had managed to charm to look brand new.  The Slytherin coat of arms on the robe suited him.

"Your family crest!" Harry said, realizing it.  "You're wearing your family crest."

Tom looked down at his robe and smirked.

"Yes.   Yes, I suppose I am."

The train slowed to a stop, and Harry glanced out the window to find they had arrived at a train station.  He bit his lip and looked up at Tom, equal parts nervous and excited.

"It'll be alright," Tom said, putting a hand at the small of Harry's back.  "No matter what, Harry, I promise you that."

It seemed like Harry had blinked his eyes and found himself standing on the platform, Tom at his side.

"First years!" A man called.  "First years, follow me!"

Harry glanced at Tom, and the older boy nodded in encouragement.

"Go on," Tom said.  "I'll see you after the Welcoming Feast."

Harry nodded and biting his lip, he made his way over to the small crowd of first years.  As he was waiting, a boy approached him.  He had long, dark hair that was carefully pulled back from his face.  He had grey eyes above sharp cheekbones.  His robes were nice, and he carried himself like someone who was used to attention.  Handsome, Harry supposed.  Nowhere as handsome as Tom, though.  

"Are you Harry Potter?" the boy asked.

Harry nodded, confused.

"My brother said I had to be nice to you," he said, a sneer on his face.  "Even though you're a mudblood."

Harry remembered enough about the wizarding world to know exactly what that word meant.

"Don't say that word," Harry snapped sharply.

The boy blinked, but nodded.

"Alright," he said.

Harry kept up his glare for a moment before crossing his arms and looking at the other boy with suspicion.

"Why did your brother tell you to be nice to me?" Harry asked.

"Because the Heir of Slytherin likes you," the boy said.  "So I have to be your friend so that my brother can be his friend."

Harry gave him a look.  He could understand that, to some degree.  Being close to power kept you safe.  Harry had experienced that much himself.  Still, Harry was already close to power, and the boy was a jerk.  The kind of jerk who'd made his life miserable at school, mocking him for being an orphan, for being poor.

"Why should I want to be friends with you?" Harry asked.

The boy stared at him, mouth open in shock.

"I'm a Black!" he exclaimed in outrage.

"So?" Harry asked, unimpressed.

"You really are a mud...a muggleborn, aren't you?" the boy said, staring at him as if he were crazy.  "The Black's are one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight!  We are an Ancient and Most Nobel House! I can trace my ancestors back to the time of Merlin himself, and there isn't a single drop of muggle blood anywhere in the family tree!"

Harry simply arched his eyebrow.

"We have connections all over the Wizarding world!" the boy said desperately.

"Yet you want to be friends with a lowly muggleborn," Harry said.

The boy crossed his arms, an angry look on his face

"What do you want?" he practically hissed.

Harry gave that some thought.  What did he want, exactly?  He knew that Tom wanted a job in politics, that he had his sights on the ministry.  There were lots of things about the wizarding world that he didn't like, that he wanted to change.  Black's family connections would help him there.  And being such an old family, they would have a nice library.  The kind of thing Tom was dying to get his hands on.

"If you want to be my friend," Harry said slowly, "then you need to invite both me and Tom to spend every break with you from now until Tom graduates.  You're going to let him and I use your library, and you and your family are going help either of us with anything we might be struggling with."

Harry frowned, thinking it through.

"You're also going to help teach me wizarding etiquette.  I don't want people to think badly of Tom because I don't know what fork to use.  Deal?"

The boy tilted his head to the side, his eyes narrowed.

"Fine," he said at last.  "As Heir to the house of Black, I should be able to make that happen.  Satisfied?"

"No," Harry said simply.

The other boy growled at him.

"What?" he snapped.  "What else could you possibly want?" the boy all but snarled.

"Your name," Harry said simply allowing himself a grin.

The boy gawked at him, and Harry couldn't help but laugh.

"Hi," Harry said, extending his hand.  "I'm Harry.  Harry Potter."

"Orion Black," the other boy said, sounding dazed.

"It's nice to meet you, Orion," Harry said with a smile.  "Call me Harry, please."

"Harry," Orion said with a small smile of his own.

Orion's squared his shoulder and reached under his robe, pulling a ring off a chain he had around his neck.  He slipped it on his finger and reached out, gripping Harry's right hand in both of his.

"Harry Potter," the boy said seriously, "As heir of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black, I declare you and yours a Friend of the House."

The magic that rushed over Harry, dark as Toms but heavy with the weight of time.  It felt old.  Ancient.  A moment, two, the magic surrounding both of them, connecting them.  When it finally faded, Harry stared at the boy in shock, feeling more connected to Orion than he had to anyone other than Tom.  Acting on impulse,  Harry darted forward and wrapped his arms around the boy, ignoring the way his eyes widened in surprise.

"I think we'll be good friends," Harry said simply before pulling away.

Orion, when the shock had faded, gave Harry a tentative smile.

"I think so too."

The crowd of first years began to move then, and the two exchanged a look before hurrying after the rest of the group, Orion putting the ring back on the chain around his neck with Harry's help.

Harry and Orion picked their way carefully down the dark, narrow path the large man with the lantern was leading them down.

"Which house to you think you'll be sorted into?" Harry asked Orion as they walked.

"Slytherin," Orion answered at once.  "I'm certain of it.  Both of my parents were there, as well as most of my relatives.  Ravenclaw would also be acceptable, I suppose.  There's no need asking where you'll end up," Orion said.

Harry stared at the other boy in surprise.  He had no idea where he was going to end up, and neither did Tom.

"What makes you say that?" he asked.

Orion just snorted, as if Harry had told a joke, but he took a look at Harry's face and his eyes widened.

"Merlin, you're serious aren't you?" Orion asked.

Harry said nothing, doing his best to keep his embarrassment off his face as Orion shook his head in disbelief.

"Harry," the other boy said slowly,  "you just managed to become a Friend of the House of one of the oldest bloodlines in the wizarding world.  In a four minute conversation.  And then after forcing my hand like that, you somehow made me like you.  Of course you're going to be in Slytherin."

Harry stared at him, eyes wide.

"You really think so?" he asked, hardly daring to believe it.

"I've never met anyone more cunning in my whole life."

Harry reached over and hugged Orion again, unable to help himself.

"You'll be getting your first sight of Hogwarts in a moment!" the man called over his shoulder, and the two separated, eager for the first look at the castle they had heard so much about.

They rounded the bend ahead of them, and the narrow path opened suddenly, leaving them on the shore beside a huge lake, the night sky turning the water black.  On the other side was a high mountain, and perched at the very top of it was a vast castle.  It seemed to Harry like something out of a story book, too fantastic to be real.  There were turrets and towers everywhere, and the windows seemed to sparkle in the night sky.

"No more than four to a boat!" the man called out, and Harry and Orion wordlessly made their way to one of the long line of boats that waited for them on the shore.  When everyone was situated, the man shouted out "FORWARD!" and the boats began to glide across the smooth water.

No one spoke, all of them staring up at the castle in wonder.  It was as if they somehow all knew that speaking would break whatever spell had fallen over them at the first sight of their new home.

They all ducked as they reached the base of the cliff on which the castle sat, a curtain of ivy passing over their heads.  The small fleet of boats traveled through what seemed to be a tunnel leading them deeper and deeper into the cave until at last they came to an underground harbor.  The boats docked and the students clambered out, excited whispers breaking out amongst them.

The entire group was lead up a long flight of stairs, the whispers growing louder and louder until it became a babble of excited voices.  They all crowed around the large oak door that waited for them at the top of the steps.   The man took one last look over the group, seemingly counting, before he gave a short, satisfied nod.  He turned and rapped three times on the door.

It swung open at once and Harry had to work hard to hide his distain.  Standing before them in a set of midnight blue robes with enchanted stars actually shooting across the fabric was Professor Dumbledore.  Their time apart had done little to soothe Harry's animosity towards the man.  If anything it had grown, especially after hearing Tom's stories about the wan the man treated him in class.

"The first years, Professor Dumbledore," the man said.

"Thank you Ogg," Dumbledore said with a wide smile that set his eyes twinkling.  He pulled the door open wide and ushered them inside.

"Welcome!  Welcome!" he said as the students filed in past him.  Harry kept his gaze down, determined not to meet the man's eyes.  Still, he was soon distracted by the sight of the entrance hall before him.

It was huge, big enough that Harry thought you could have fit the whole of Wool's inside and still have room to spare.  The walls were lit with torches, the ceiling so high that Harry couldn't make it out.  There was a marble staircase facing them that lead to the upper floors.  The walls were lined with portraits, all of them moving and whispering exactly as Tom had said they did.  The warning didn't keep Harry from gaping amazement.

Dumbledore, meanwhile, had been prattling on about the welcome feast and the sorting, which Harry had happily ignored.  Tom had already told him all of this, and Harry was perfectly content to ignore the Deputy Headmaster as much as possible.

"I'll return when they are ready for you," the Professor said with a smile, finally concluding his speech.  "Welcome to Hogwarts, everyone!"

As soon as he was gone, everyone began to talk.  Ignoring the others around him, Harry turned to Orion and asked the only question that was on his mind.

"Did your older brother tell you about the sorting?" Harry asked him.  "Or any of your family?"

Tom had been frustratingly tight-lipped about the whole thing, simply smiling at Harry and telling him that it was tradition.

"No," Orion said, put out.  "Did Riddle?"

Harry shook his head before letting out a huff of frustrated air.

Before they could speculate any further, Harry jumped about a foot in the air and several people behind him let out screams.

Ghosts.  More than a dozen of them, streaming through the wall.  Tom had told him, of course.  But it was another thing entirely to see it for himself.

"That's Nearly Headless Nick," Orion said, pointing at one ghost who had a large ruff around his neck.  "His the Gryffindor house ghost."

"Why is he called nearly headless?" Harry asked.

"His execution didn't go right," Orion said.  "Took a whole bunch of whacks at his neck and still didn't cut all the way through."

Harry shuddered.  It sounded like a terrible way to die.

"Who are the other house ghosts?" Harry asked, searching for a distraction.

Orion pointed out the Fat Friar, and the Bloody Barren before Professor Dumbledore appeared before them once again.

"If you would all move along to the great hall," the Professor said genially to the ghosts, "the Sorting Ceremony is about to start.   I'm certain you don't want to miss it."

One by one, the ghosts did as they were bid, flying through the opposite wall this time.

"Now if you will form a line please and follow me, we can see about getting you sorted."

The Great Hall was beyond description.  Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor Dumbledore led the first years up here, so that they came to a halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver. Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars.  Enchanted, Harry recalled.  To mirror the night sky.  Still, it seemed as if there was no ceiling at all, the Great Hall simply open to the sky above.

Professor Dumbledore placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years, and Harry stared at it, appalled.

A hat.  An old, worn, singing hat that looked inside your head and figured out what house you belonged in.  That was the big secret that had to be kept.  Harry found Tom sitting at the head of the Slytherin table and glared at him, only to be met with a smirk.  Harry narrowed his eyes.  He'd get Tom back for that somehow.

The singing stopped, and Professor Dumbledore began to call the students forward alphabetically by last name.  Orion was one of the first called, and Harry was more than a little sad to see him go.  It would have been nice to have some company while he waited.  Still, the hat had barely touched his head before it called out "SLYTHERIN" in a loud voice and Harry joined in the applause, happy that Orion had gotten the house he wanted.

Time seemed endless, students being sorted into each of the four houses as he stood there and waited, growing more nervous by the minute.  He bit his lip and shot Tom a look.  Tom was staring straight at him, and gave him a reassuring smile. Harry took a deep breath and nodded, squaring his shoulders.  There was no need to be nervous.  Tom had promised that this wouldn't change anything between them.  He hadn't broken a promise that he'd made to Harry yet.  Besides, even if he tried, Harry wouldn't let him.  He was more stubborn than Tom, and knew all the older boy's tricks.  Tom wouldn't be getting rid of him so easily.

With this comforting thought and a small smile on his face, Professor Dumbledore called out the words "Potter, Harry!"

Harry stepped forward and sat on the stool, and then the professor dropped the hat on top of his head.  It was so large that it slid down to cover Harry's eyes, leaving him in the dark.

Hmm.  A voice said.  Difficult.  Very difficult.

The hat.  Harry realized suddenly.  Of course it was the hat.  He promptly felt stupid for being surprised at all.  Magic could do all sorts of amazing things.  He knew.  He'd made it do a fair share of them itself.  For something as important as this, of course the enchantment would be complex.  Harry wondered exactly what sort of magic it took to make a hat that could not only think for itself, but peer into the minds of others.

The hat chuckled.

Not a bad mind, it said.  Not a bad mind at all.  Incredibly loyal and willing to work as hard as it takes.  Eager to step between harm and others, fighting in the defense of those who cannot defend themselves..  And an urge to prove yourself.

Difficult.  Very difficult.

Harry sent a small thought of apology to the hat, hoping it would be able to pick up on it.  He hadn't intended to make the hat's job difficult.  The hat just laughed again.

There's nothing I enjoy more than a good challenge, the hat told him.  I haven't had one like this in years.

Harry still felt slightly bad, but if the hat said it was enjoying itself, then Harry wasn't going to push it.  He didn't really care where he ended up.  Tom would be his friend regardless.  Besides, it might be fun to undermine everyone's expectations.  No one would ever see it coming, after all.  Not to mention all the different doors he could open, the connections he could make if he was in a house that would have been wary of he and Tom otherwise.

Harry felt the hat smirking in his head.

In that case, it better be "SLYTHERIN!"

The last word was shouted aloud, and Professor Dumbledore reached down and pulled the hat from his head, giving Harry a deeply disappointed look.  Harry ignored him.  He didn't care at all about what the Professor thought of him.  He was far too happy to let anyone spoil his mood.  He practically skipped to the Slytherin table, and by the time he arrived, there was a spot open next to Tom.

Harry slid into it without hesitation, beaming up at Tom as the older boy wrapped an arm around him.

"Congratulations, Harry," Tom said, a proud smile on his face.

Harry just beamed in response.  "I can't believe it!"

"I can," Tom said simply.  "Don't worry.  Slytherin house will take good care of you."

To the students around them it was a clear threat.  But to Harry, it was a promise.  One that Tom had been keeping for years.  Sighing in contentment, he snuggled against Tom's side.  Slytherin house, Harry was certain, would become home in no time.  How could it not, when the Heir himself was Harry's dearest friend?

 

Chapter Text

A little more than two years later, Harry settled into his chair in the Slytherin common room, putting letting his head fall into his hands.  Harry loved Hogwarts, but these last two weeks had been a nightmare.  They'd been assigned partners for their project in ancient runes, and Harry, instead of working with Orion, like they had both planned, had found himself partnered with Nicholas Smith, a Ravenclaw boy who, in defiance of his house, was one of the stupidest people Harry had ever had the misfortune of meeting.

Smith could of course regurgitate information.  He often sounded as if he'd swallowed a text book.  But that was all he was capable of. Rote memorization.  Ask him to synthesize anything, to use what he knew to come to a conclusion, and he stared at you as if you'd asked him to defy gamp's law.

As if that wasn't bad enough, he was convinced of his own superiority and treated Harry like an idiot who didn't know his wand from his quill.  It wasn't as if Harry was top in their year, or the best student in the class by a staggering number of points.  Privately, Harry suspect that was exactly why the Professor had put them together.  It was no secret that for all he excellent in exams, Smith wasn't passing the practical component of the course.  Harry had no doubt she'd put them together to try and keep the idiot from failing.  Not that Smith seemed to realize it.

After two lunches spent arguing fruitless with the other boy, Harry had decided to wash his hands of the whole situation.  If Smith refused to listen to him, then Harry had no reason to try and help him.  Let the boy hang himself with his own rope.  Harry's grade could absorb the hit with ease, and even if he lost his position at the top of the class, it would be worth it to tear Smith to shreds when the time came to present their project.

All of that had been true before this afternoon.  Harry had no idea what to do to the boy now.

Harry could feel his eyes filling with tears, and he rubbed at them furiously.  It was stupid to be upset about this.  At least, to be this visibly upset.  Letting his guard down like this in the common room was a terrible idea.  There was no telling what people would do with this show of weakness.  It hadn't been that bad, Harry tried to convince himself.  Really, it hadn't.  Barely anything had happened, after all.

He and Smith had both had a free period that afternoon, and they'd agreed to spend it working on their project, which was due the next day. 

Harry hadn't seen any harm in Smith's insistence that they use an empty classroom.  They needed to practice their presentation, after all, and the librarian, Madame Fairfeather, had very little patience for those who talked above a whisper, with a very few exceptions.

Tom had, of course, charmed his way into her good graces within his first month at school, and when Harry had been introduced at his childhood friend, she'd taken one look at his round, eleven-year-old face and melted.

Harry wasn't about to fall out of her favor for an idiot like Smith.

He should have known that somethign was wrong the moment he had stepped through the door.  There was no sign of their project, and Smith had an odd look on his face.  When Harry had come into the room, Smith had waved his wand and the door had swung shut behind him.

Harry had jerked around to face Smith, his hand going to his wand automatically.  Smith just laughed at him.

"Don't be so jumpy, Harry," he chided, a smile on his face.  "I just wanted to ensure we didn't disturb anyone nearby."

"A privacy ward would have done that," Harry said, lowing his wand but not yet putting it away.

"Yes, but if I only had a privacy ward up, your shadow would have seen us."

"My shadow?" Harry asked, growing more uneasy with every passing moment.

"Riddle," Smith said, a scowl on his face.  "He follows you everywhere, always giving me detention and taking away points.  Overprotective bastard, isn't he?"

This was going nowhere good.  Harry reached behind him for the door, only to find that the knob refused to turn in his hand.  Smith was closing the distance between them, and Harry couldn't help but wish he were anywhere else.  Still, he wasn't a coward.  Whatever this was, it was time to get it dealt with, once ad for all.

"Smith..." Harry said, hoping his voice didn't sound as frantic as he felt.

"Nicholas," the boy said, not stopping until there was only an inch or two left between them.  "You should call me Nicholas, Harry."

"Smith," Harry said again firmly.  "What the hell do you think you're playing at?"

"I knew if I got you alone, then we could finally enjoy ourselves.  I've seen the way you've been looking at me during this project.  I can tell you want me."

Harry had to fight the urge to gag.

"Smith, I don't know who the hell confunded you, but you should probably go to the hospital wing to have someone take a look at it. I'm not interested in you.  At all," Harry said, not bothering to hide his disgust at the thought.

"You will be," Smith said simply, "once you see what it is I have to offer.  My family is descended directly from Helga Hufflepuff herself.  As a founder's heir, I have considerable political power.  I'm a pureblood, Harry.  I could give you things a mudblood couldn't even dream of."

He reached out to caress Harry's face, and Harry slapped his hand away.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Harry shouted at him, shoving both Smith's shoulders hard to get the boy to back up a step.  "You're an arse, Smith, and I can't even bear to finish this project with you.  I'm sure as shite not going to do anything else."

"I disagree," Smith said.

And with that he stepped forward, grabbing Harry's wrists and pinning them to the wall before he claimed Harry's mouth in a hard kiss.

Harry had never been kissed before.  Even if he had, he knew that this was not what a kiss was supposed to be like.  Smith's mouth was hard and clumsy, his teeth knocking against Harry's own in a jarring motion. He tried to stick his tongue into Harry's mouth, slimy and slippery in the worst possible way, and Harry had had enough.

He bit down, hard until he tasted blood, and only then did he open his mouth.  Smith swore, but Harry didn't give him time to recover.  Instead he drew his knee upward as hard as he could.  It connected, and Smith fell to his knees with a scream, his grip on Harry's wrists forgotten in favor of clutching his crotch.

Harry pointed his wand at the other boy and hexed him with the nastiest curse he could think of that wouldn't get him expelled.  It was something he'd been working on in his spare time, designed specifically to make the nerves ten times more sensitive.  Harry had intended it to be used for medical purposes, but he was far from blind to the more everyday applications.   A simple stinging hex later, and Smith was howling in pain.

"Come near me again," Harry snarled, "and Tom is the last thing you have to worry about.  Clear?"

The only answer he received was a whimper, but it was enough.  Harry reached down and picked up his bag, which had been dropped in the scuffle, and opened the door with a flick of his wand, storming out of the room and down to the dungeon.  He'd collapsed in his chair and then, despite his best efforts, his mask had crumbled.

It was stupid.  He knew that.  But Harry, for all that he knew how awful the world was, he was still a romantic.  The fact of the matter was that he'd been saving his first kiss.  There was only one person he'd ever wanted to share it with.

Tom.  It was always Tom, wasn't it?  Harry was a planet, in orbit around a star.  One bright and mesmerizing and destructive.  To get too close would be to burn, but Harry didn't care.  He couldn't pull himself away even if he had wanted to.

Tom had been the center of his universe since he was six.  That would never change.  But what had changed was how he saw Tom.  Tom had been Harry's protector, his friend, his confidant.  Tom was his whole world.

None of that had changed.  No, the connection between the two of them had only grown stronger, deeper.  The oaths they'd sworn each other, the secrets they had shared, the powerful wish that had first brought them together.  All of it tied them together, magic flowing between the two of them.

But Harry looked at Tom now and saw his broad shoulders.  Saw his handsome face.  Wondered exactly what it would be like to press his lips against Tom's, what it would be like to have Tom above him, staring down at him with dark hunger in his eyes.

Still, Harry felt helpless.  Tom loved him.  Harry knew that.  Tom loved him enough to give him anything he wanted.  Harry was terrified that Tom would agree, but for all the wrong reasons.  That Tom would do what Harry wanted simply because Harry wanted it, and Tom didn't care one way or another.

Harry didn't think he could bear that.  He wanted Tom to want him.  Not to simply give him what he wanted because he wanted it.

"What happened?" a firm voice said, and Harry's head jerked upright.

Tom.  Of course it was Tom.  Who else would it have been?

"I thought you had class," Harry said simply.

"I did," Tom said.  "I left.  Now, tell me what happened."

"Smith," Harry said simply.

Tom hissed, his lovely dark eyes glowing with anger, magic roiling just beneath the surface.

"If that little upstart laid a hand on you..." Tom said, one hand fisted.

"I took care of it," Harry said.

Tom froze, and Harry realized his mistake at once.  In saying he'd taken care of it, he'd admitted that there was something that needed to be taken care of in the first place.  Tom reached over and grabbed Harry's chin, tilting his face so that Harry had no choice but to meet his eyes.

"What happened?" Tom said again, his voice soft.

"He cornered me in an empty classroom," Harry said, disgust filling him.  God, how had he been so stupid?  "He was determined not to take no for an answer."

Tom growled, his eyes practically glowing.

"Did he touch you?" Tom hissed.

Harry let his eyes fall to the ground, shame burning in his cheeks.

"Did.  He. Touch.  You." Tom snarled.

"He kissed me," Harry said simply.

Tom released Harry's face and began stalking back an forth in front of the fire place, hissing to himself in parseltongue

"I'll kill him," he said, at last.  "I'll kill him."

"Why do you care?" Harry asked the words slipping out without his permission.

Tom rounded on him, eyes wide.

"What?" Tom asked.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

"Why do you care?" Harry asked again, trying to dredge up enough anger to cover the hurt.  "I mean it Tom.  Why do you care who kisses me?"

Tom stalked forward, and predatory look in his eyes, and Harry suddenly wondered if he had made a mistake.  Tom put his hands just above Harry's shoulders, his legs sliding between Harry's own.  Tom was standing so close that Harry could feel the warm puff of Tom's breath across his face.

"I told you, Harry Potter," Tom said.  "You're mine.  Mine in all ways.  I've just been waiting for you to grow up."

Harry stared up at Tom, looking for any sign of a lie.  He found none.  All he saw was possessiveness, desire.  And just a hint of vulnerability.

It was the last that destroyed any doubts he had.  Tom wanted him. Wanted him the way Harry hadn't dared to dream he would.  He wouldn't have been scared, otherwise.

Harry wrapped his arms around Tom's neck and pulled him down, kissing him deeply.

It was time for both of them to stop being afraid.


Harry sat in front of the Black Lake, running his fingers through the grass as he stared at the surface of the water, lost deep in thought.

He heard footsteps approaching and allowed himself a smile.  Harry didn't turn around.  He didn't need to.  He knew exactly who it was standing behind him.  Had expected it even.  Still, he thought he'd have at least a few minutes to himself before his shadow appeared.

Harry didn't want to be alone.  Not today.  He reached out and patted the grass beside him in wordless invitation. Stupid, possessive snake.  Always knowing what Harry needed even before Harry had figured it out himself.

Tom approached, taking a few steps forward, his robes rustling as he lowed himself to the ground beside Harry.  As soon as the man was settled, Harry leaned over to rest his head against Tom's shoulder.

"Ten years," Harry said, staring out at the lake.  "Ten years, today."

The shoulder beneath him shifted, and Harry felt long, familiar fingers begin carding their way through his hair.

"Ten years since I've seen my parents," Harry said softly.

"Ten years since I met you," Tom said gently.  "Ten years since allowed myself a childish whim and wished upon a star.  Since I wished for someone to understand me."

"Ten years since I wished for a friend," Harry said simply, looking up at Tom's face.

Tom had changed in those ten years. His cheekbones were sharper, his lips fuller.  Tom had been handsome as a boy, but he'd grown into a breathtaking man.  Still, his eyes when he looked at Harry were still the same. Possessive, protective.  There had been disbelief there, once.  Like he couldn't believe Harry was with him. that Harry was still with him, after everything they'd been through.  It had long since been replaced with determination.  Nothing would tear them apart.  Not if Tom had anything to say about it.

"Do you regret it?" Tom asked him, his voice soft.  "Do you regret that wish?"

"No," Harry said easily.  "No, I don't regret it at all.  My parents...I loved them, and they loved me.  But I needed you.  I needed you, and you needed me."

Harry turned and looked at Tom.

"You're my home now, Tom," Harry said simply.

Tom leaned down, pressing a soft kiss to Harry's lips.  Before either of them could become too involved in the taste of each other, Tom pulled away, a small, tender smile on his face as he stared down at Harry.

"You're the only home I've ever had," Tom said simply.  "Home is where the heart is, after all."

Harry couldn't let a comment like that pass without comment.  He pulled himself out of Tom's grip, but just enough so that he could swing one leg over Tom's other side, settling himself in Tom's lap.  Then he reached up and kissed Tom as if his life depended on it.

Tom was seventeen, Harry two years younger.  As randy teenagers, it wasn't really any surprise how things had proceeded.  Twenty minutes and a hastily cast cleaning charm later, Harry was yanking his shirt back on and tugging on his overrobes, his neck and collar bone adorned with a new set of love bites to accompany those that were already there.  Tom only faired slightly better.  His hair was still a disheveled mess, his lips swollen, and he had only just started to tie his tie.

Harry let himself fall back onto the ground, laughing.  Still, this was the way it had always been between them.  Serious conversations, intellectual debates, plans for the future.  None of it prevented them from acting their age, under the right circumstances.

Tom had settled beside him a moment later, rearranging Harry until his head was resting in it's usual place on Tom's chest.

"What are you laughing at, hmm?" Tom asked, his face still flushed.

Harry didn't answer.  Instead he stared at Tom, suddenly overwhelmed.

"I love you," Harry said simply.  "God, I love you so much."

It was the first time he'd spoken the words.  He'd felt them for longer than he could remember.  He'd always loved Tom.  Right from the start.  That love hadn't changed as they'd grown, but had instead grown with them, gaining depth and new dimensions.  They had always been each other's everything.  It had been no suprise to Harry when, one night in his third year, Tom had simply turned and kissed him.  It was only naturual, the next step in this thing that they had built between them.

Still, Harry knew that Tom was different.  He knew that Tom felt things differently than most people did.  Harry knew all the masks that Tom wore day-to-day.  Had watched as Tom tried them and discarded them and perfected them.  He was the only person who knew all the facets of Tom.  Deep and dark, but lovely all the same.  

This was why Harry had never spoke the words.  He was afraid not that Tom wouldn't return his feelings, but that Tom couldn't.

What they had was enough.  It was more than enough, and it would have sustained Harry for the rest of his life.  But he couldn't stand the thought of Tom putting on a mask.  Not for him.  It would break his heart.  So he had kept silent.

But now?  In this moment?  It was too much.  He loved Tom.  He loved him, and Harry wanted everyone to know. Tom most of all.

"I love you," Harry said again, smiling hopelessly down at Tom.

Tom sat up and grabbed Harry's face between his hands.

"Say it again," Tom ordered him, eyes wide and disbelieving and desperate.

"I love you," Harry said, vision blurring somewhat.

Tom leaned forward and kissed him, hard and claiming.

"Again," he demanded.

"I love you," Harry said.  "I love you, Tom.  I love you with everything I am.  I always have, and I always will."

Tom kissed him again, harder and longer than before.

"You, Harry Potter," Tom said when he finally pulled away, "you are everything.  Love is not a strong enough word for what it is I feel for you."

Before Harry could comprehend what was happening, Tom had reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a familiar piece of jewelry.

"I was going to wait," Tom said, as Harry stared down at the Gaunt ring.  The ring that held a piece of Tom's soul.  "I was going to wait until after I had graduated.  But this... this is better."

Tom looked at him, his dark eyes burning with emotion.

"Harry Potter," Tom said, reaching out and grasping Harry's left hand in one of his own, using the other to slip the Gaunt ring onto Harry's fourth finger, "bond with me."

Harry stared down at the ring, hardly daring to believe it.  A bonding.  Tom wanted to bond with him.

It was an antiquated ritual.  One that they'd found in an old, musty book down in the Chamber of Secrets.  It wasn't just a marriage, it was more.  One that bound two witchs or wizards together as tightly as they could be bound.  Magic to magic.  Soul to soul.  Life to life.

Neither could die while the other lived on.

Forever.  Tom was asking for forever.

Harry couldn't find the words to respond.  He let his actions do it for him.  He threw himself forward, kissing Tom, determined to show him everything Harry couldn't find the words to say.

"Mine," Tom growled.  "You're mine."

"Yours," Harry agreed breathlessly.  "God, Tom, yours."

"You and me, Harry," Tom said, staring at him intently.  "You and me, forever."

"Forever," Harry echoed.

Chapter Text

A week later, the Easter holiday was upon them.  For the first time since he had arrived at Hogwarts, Harry didn't put his name on the list of those students staying behind.  Tom was of age now, and he had made it clear that neither of them would be returning to the orphanage ever again.  Except perhaps to set it on fire.  Harry, after spending years being subject to the torment of the other children and the absolute terror of living in muggle London during the air raids, was thrilled with this plan.  Finally, it was time.  Time to leave the muggle world behind.

Harry spend his time on the Hogwarts express curled into Tom's side, reviewing the list of items they'd gathered from the room of Lost Things and the estimates they'd managed to come up with.  Some would sell better in the muggle world, and it was these items that Harry was picking out of the list, rewriting them on a seperate sheet.  It took much longer than it should have, Harry catching sight of the ring on his finger and losing track entirely of what it was that he was supposed to be doing in favor of staring at it with a smile on his face.

Tom was beside him, combing through the Daily Prophet listings, searching for both lodgings and employment.  Slughorn's connection would have made finding employment a simple matter.  The network he had built during his time at Hogwarts was both vast and impressive.  Harry had no doubt that Tom would avail himself of it when the time came.  But Tom was determined to travel the world, learning all the magic he could.  There was no point in getting settled when he would be leaving.

"Why not just leave after you graduate?" Harry had asked him years ago, the first time they'd discussed Tom's plans.

Tom given Harry one of those looks.  The kind that said that Harry was lucky Tom liked him enough to put up with his monumental stupidity.  The smile on his face and the soft look in his eyes told Harry that he didn't mean it though. Not really.

"Because you'll still have two years of school left," Tom had said.

Harry had thrown himself at Tom after hearing that, tackling him in a hug.  Ever since Tom had started talking about his plan to travel the world, Harry had felt like a block of ice had dropped into his stomach.  He wanted to be happy for Tom.  Wanted to be supportive, the way he knew he should be.  But a selfish part of him had wanted to pin Tom down and make sure he never went anywhere.  Tom was all he had.  Harry didn't know what he would do if he lost him.

"Idiot," Tom had told him, brushing his hand through Harry's hair as Harry had explained his fears to him, clinging to Tom like a limpet.  "As if I would go anywhere without you."

Tom had looked in Hogsmead at first.

"So I can keep an eye on you," Tom said when he'd spent one of their Hogsmead visits talking with every proprietor in town.  "Trouble magnet that you are, you need someone looking after you."

Harry had heard the words Tom couldn't bring himself to speak in public, and had kissed him for his trouble.  But housing in Hogsmead was too expensive, and the shops didn't pay enough.  So Diagon or one of the surrounding Alleys it would have to be.

Putting away the quill and waiting for the ink on the new list to dry, Harry turned his attention to Tom.

"Anything promising?" he asked.

Tom's brow was furrowed with thought, but he held the paper open so that Harry could better see the listings Tom had circled.

"Knockturn seems to be the best choice for housing," Tom said.  "The prices are ridiculously low, and it isn't as if you and I have to worry about safety there."

Harry snorted at the idea.  Harry and Tom had been training together, learning how to protect themselves long before they knew what magic was.  Tom was brilliant and stupidly powerful.  Everyone knew it.  It was what had earned him the respect of the professors (save one) and the admiration of his peers.  Harry?  Harry excelled in defense, threatening Tom's records in the subject.  He was certain that, had their wands allowed them to duel, he would have won just as many battles as he lost.  As it was, he could easily take three of Tom's followers at a time.  Knockturn would hold no dangers they couldn't handle.

"Knockturn it is then," Harry said.

"I'm glad you agree," Tom said.  "We'll have to actually see the space, but I think this should do nicely."

The advertisement boasted a one room apartment above one of the seedier pubs in the area.  There was a small living space and a kitchenette, as well as what Harry was willing to bet was a truly minuscule bathroom.  Much less than the luxury they were used to in Slytherin.  But much, much more than they had to put up with at the orphanage.

"How much?" Harry asked.

"The listing says a galleon and eight sickles per month, so one galleon, likely less," Tom answered.

Less, Harry was perfectly willing to bet.  Tom was not the King of Slytherin for nothing.  A presumed muggleborn didn't earn that spot without utilizing every Slytherin trait to the fullest extent.  Tom had a silver tongue and a mouth full of sharp teeth.  He would do whatever it took to get what he wanted, and he would not take no for an answer.

"We'll spend tomorrow getting lodging sorted out," Tom said, folding the paper neatly before turning the entirety of his attention to Harry.  "Once that's settled, I'll search for a job.  Will you be alright on your own?"

Harry rolled his eyes.

"I'll be fine, Tom," he said.  "I can more than handle myself.  I know when to keep my head down and when to hold my ground.  We've done this dozens of times before.  I can handle myself.  I'm not as helpless as you think I am."

"I don't think you're helpless," Tom corrected him gently.  "I think you're priceless."

Harry blushed.  For all Tom had made similar comments before, Harry didn't think he'd ever grow used to them.

"If I lost you, Harry," Tom said, his voice dark, "if I lost you, I would not rest until the entire world knew the depth of my grief."

Harry swallowed, his throat dry, chills chasing themselves down his spine.  Not fear, not arousal, but something in between.  Harry knew Tom.  The wizard wasn't bluffing.  No, this was a promise.

"I will not lose you," Tom said, before bending down and claiming Harry's mouth in a firm kiss.

"Take care of yourself," Tom said firmly when he pulled away, his dark eyes burning.

The words were not a suggestion, but an order.

"I will," Harry said.

"Good," Tom replied, holding Harry's gaze for a long moment before turning away.

The Hogwarts Express pulled into Kings Cross at just after five, and Tom and Harry departed, their only luggage the bags slug over their shoulders.  The room they reserved in the Leaky Cauldron was a little cramped, but considering what Tom and Harry usually had to share when not at school, it was downright spacious.  The bed was larger than the one they shared at Hogwarts, and Tom and Harry enjoyed it thoroughly before falling asleep.

The trip to Knockturn Alley the next morning was a pleasant one, Tom and Harry making the familiar trip with confidence.  Several of the more unsavory characters approached them with malice in their eyes, but one look at Tom, one brush from Tom's magic, was enough to send them melting back into the shadows faster than they appeared.  They knew a more dangerous predator when they saw one.

Each encounter left Harry feeling proud and satisfied.  Perhaps even a bit smug.   Tom was the most powerful.  The most dangerous.  He would protect what was his even more viciously than he destroyed his enemies.  And Tom had chosen Harry.

Tom noticed Harry's preening, and responded with a smirk, wrapping his arm around Harry.

"Have I told you lately how perfect you are?" Tom asked him.

"Yes, but I never mind hearing it again," Harry said with a grin.

Tom leaned down and pressed a kiss to his lips.

"I love you," he said instead when he pulled away.

Harry spend the rest of their short walk deliriously happy and was still wearing a wide, stupid smile by the time they arrived at the bar.  The blackout curtains were drawn over every widow, keeping out the sunlight. Not surprising given the clientele that Harry knew to frequent the establishment.  He doubted most of them would be lurking while it was so early in the day, but Tom ushered him over to a dark doorway off to the side that Harry would have missed if Tom hadn't pointed it out to him.

Inside there was a set of rickety steps that creaked every time either of them shifted their weight.  Harry knew that magical construction was much sturdier than it appeared, but he was still grateful when they were both standing on the landing above.  Another doorway, and then they stepped into hallway that had four doors, lettered A through D.  Standing, waiting for them was a man Harry instantly recognized as a vampire.

Harry elbowed Tom sharply in the ribs before he had the chance to speak, ignoring the dark look he got in return.  Tom gave the creatures of the magical world grudging respect for their abilities, but his distain for them was no secret to Harry.  The last thing they needed was to offend their future landlord, the way Tom was certain.  Besides, the wizarding world's feelings about Vampires and other dark creatures could only work in their favor.  Wizards would be reluctant to rent, which meant the vampire was no doubt desperate for tenants.   As long as they weren't rude, it should be a simple matter to drive the rent down even further.

After giving Tom one last warning glare, Harry took a step back and let Tom take lead on the negotiations.  It had clearly been the best choice.  The vampire was not allowed to have a wand.  Tom had easily negotiated an agreement to magically expand and modify the spaces in each room in exchange for not just free rent in perpetuity, but a not insignificant fee as well.  The vampire left the keys to every room with Tom, along with plans to the building, and dire threats with fangs exposed about what would happen if Tom were to try and cheat him before the vampire vanished in a cloud of dark smoke.

Tom thus engaged for the remained of the afternoon, Harry pressed a kiss to his temple as while Tom poured over the plans.

"I'll meet you back at the room when you're finished here," Harry told him.  "If you aren't back in time for dinner, I will drag you through the streets of Knockturn by your ear."

The only acknowledgement he received was a small grunt, and Harry rolled his eyes.  There really was no stopping him when he got absorbed like this.

"I'm going to start selling things today," Harry said, "so don't panic if you come back early and I'm not there."

That had Tom's attention.

He sat up and stared at Harry intently.

"Be careful," he ordered, staring at Harry intently.

"I will be," Harry reassured him with a roll of his eyes, leaning forward to give Tom a quick peck on the lips before he left.

Harry was careful.

It wasn't enough.


Harry had already finished his errands in muggle London and deposited the money he'd netted them in the Gringotts account they'd opened years before.  He'd allowed himself a moment to simply stand in the vault, staring at what they'd managed to accomplish in the seven years the vault had been open.  Once it had been empty.  Now?  The glint of silver sickles and gleam of golden galleons covered what had once been nothing but bare rock.  Not just money, but jewelry, magical artifacts, and rare and valuable books.  Some collected from the Room of Lost Things, others from the library attached to the Chamber of Secrets, and more had been liberated from their housemates in Slytherin.  What once had been a bare cave carved out of stone now looked as it was meant to - it was a vault.  A proper vault.

Harry turned away.  This was no time to rest on laurels.  This was only the beginning.  He and Tom had a world to conquer.

Harry's first stop with some of the more...interesting items he and Tom had acquired was Borgin and Burkes.  Over the years, they'd become frequent customers as they used the man's shop to sell the items they'd acquired.  The first time, the man had tried to by items from them at a price far lower than they were worth, Tom had set him straight in a way that the man hadn't forgotten since.  Still, Tom had continued to intimidate the man based on principal alone.

Harry knew he had nothing to worry about when he walked through the doors.  Borgin was afraid of Tom, it was true, but Harry had been certain to leave an impression the one time Borgin had made the mistake of calling him a mudblood.  They'd gotten along perfectly well ever since.

"Mister Borgin!" Harry called out cheerfully as he entered the shop.

"Mister Potter," Borgin said, straightening so fast Harry almost expected a snapping noise of some sort.  "I wasn't expecting you.  I had thought that Hogwarts was still in session for several more weeks."

Harry gave him a friendly smile as he walked through the shop to the counter.

"Easter holiday," Harry said easily, making a show at looking at the items in the display case.  "Tom and I are in town for the week."

Borgin blanched, and Harry had to fight a smirk.  Tom really was a terrible influence.

After a moment, Borgin recovered himself and gave Harry his appeasing smile.  The one he always used on customers.

"Of course, Mister Potter.  What can I do for you?"

Harry never had the chance to answer.

A wizard reeking of black magic burst into the shop and stormed to the counter, shoving Harry violently aside.

"Out of the way, boy," he snarled.

Oh, that was a mistake.  That was most likely one of the last mistakes the man would ever make.  Still, for all that the man had earned Tom's wrath, he hadn't earned Harry's yet.  The kind thing to do would be to take care of the problem himself.  Leaving the man for Tom would be cruel.  Beyond cruel, given the things Tom would do to him.  He had a tendency to torture before killing, especially when he was angry.  For this?  He would be furious.

But Harry was fairly angry himself.  The matron had called him boy.  Harry had no fond memories of the matron.

Harry stood, his wand in hand.

"Excuse me?" Harry said, his voice like steel.  He barely noticed Borgin ducking under the counter.

"You heard me, Mudblood," the man spat.

Harry blinked, nonplussed.

"That's right.  It doesn't matter how you well you hold yourself or the cut of your robes.  You're not one of us.  I can smell the dirty blood on you," the man said with a sneer.  "Run back where you belong, before I teach you your proper place."

 Unlike Tom, Harry had no problem whatsoever with muggleborn witches and wizards.  He thought they brought much needed perspective and innovation to the stagnant wizarding world.  His mother had been a muggleborn.

Harry?  Harry wouldn't tolerate slurs.

"Defodio," Harry said, pointing his wand at the man across from him.  He was capable of non-verbal casting, but he wanted this spell to be as powerful as possible.

He was rewarded when the man let out a high-pitched scream, his green robes suddenly soaked with blood in several spots.  Harry grinned, his wand held in one hand, his magic humming, ready to be called to his command.

"Perhaps it is you who needs to learn you proper place," Harry said with a grin, twirling his wand in one hand.

The man gave a wordless shout of rage, pulling out his own wand and launching himself at Harry.

To call it a duel would have given too much credit to his opponent.  The man had a spell repertoire limited to the hogwarts curriculum, and he wasn't powerful enough to make half the curses he was trying to throw at Harry work properly.  Harry simply dodged the spells the man threw at him, stocking his rage higher and higher, making his spellwork even more erratic.

This was when Harry made the mistake that cost him everything.  He was far from calm himself, and determined to teach the man a lesson.  Harry made the unforable mistake of losing track of his surroundings while he was toying with the man.

"Confrigo!" the outraged wizard shouted, and Harry, smirking, took a step back out of the reach of the flames that sprang from the man's wand.

A step right into one of Borgin's curio cabinets.

The glass shattered, and Harry felt sand begin to trickle down on top of his head, cascading down his body.  There was a tugging at his navel, as if a portkey were being activated, the world beginning to swirl around him.

By the time the fire from the confrigo had cleared, Harry Potter had vanished

Chapter Text

Tom took a look at the room in front of him with satisfaction, sweat coating his brow.  It had been harder work than he had anticipated, but it had been well worth it.  Free lodgings for as long as they chose to stay, which meant that with whatever income he managed to generate, he and Harry would have a tidy sum tucked away by the time they were ready to travel.  More than enough to ensure they were well supplied on their journey.  With wise investments, there should be a small fortune waiting for them by the time they returned to England.

Tom pulled out his pocket watch to check the time and then winced.  Harry would be far from happy with him.  He was remarkably tolerant of Tom's need to research, to work, providing silent companionship during Tom's projects on those rare occasions when he was not contributing.  But Harry would not tolerate Tom neglecting himself.

Tom didn't care.  He was more concerned with the consequences of leaving Harry alone for extended periods of time.  Having Harry out of sight had always made him uneasy, but the consequences of his behavior his first year still haunted him to this day.  It was all he could do to check the impulse to lock Harry up where only Tom could find him.  Still, Harry was far too independent to tolerate that sort of thing, and Tom had no doubt the plan would somehow backfire spectacularly, as so many things did when it came to Harry.

Their relationship, for one.  Tom had always known that Harry was the only one worthy to stand by his side, the only person he could ever see as an equal, as a true partner.  Harry was powerful, loyal, and brave.  He knew Tom as no one else did, and yet never once had he wavered in his faith or his friendship.

Harry had shown Tom things he had thought he would never know.  What it was like to be understood, to be trusted, to be loved.  And in return, he'd managed to pull things out of Tom he'd never thought he'd be capable of.  Harry was his.  Tom had made that decision the moment the boy had appeared in a flash of light, a literal wish come true.  Harry would always be his.  Tom could care for no one else the way he had cared for Harry.

Then Harry had begun to grow, and things had grown even more dire.  Because Harry was beautiful.  Handsome and powerful and utterly devastating.  Tom wasn't certain when it had happened, but one day he had looked at Harry and realized that he had grown up.  And he had grown up well.  Tom had looked at the boy he loved, and had seen a man, and he had wanted.  A stark, ravenous hunger he had never felt before.

Had Harry been anyone else, Tom would have pulled him close and pinned him to the bed, refusing to let Harry up until his hunger had been sated.  But Harry was more important than that.  Harry was more important than anything.

So Tom had begun to plan.  Fourth year, he decided.  In Harry's fourth year, he would begin his campaign in earnest.  He would court Harry in the pureblood fashion, as a sign of respect, and as a way of illustrating to those who followed him exactly how serious he was about the only person he had ever loved.

And then that inbred bastard Smith had stolen Harry's first kiss.

Tom had been enraged.  It was a miracle the boy was still alive, and it was only Harry's counsel that had stayed his hand.  It wouldn't do to risk expulsion for the sake of such a worm.  Dumbledore was already suspicious, after all.  It had kept Tom from finding the stupid boy and killing him at once, but it hadn't stopped him from sending the Basilisk after him.

A pity he had only been petrified, instead of killed.

No matter.  After graduation, there would be no need to stay his hand.  At this point, Tom was more than skilled enough to ensure that Smith suffered without leaving behind any evidence.  And Smith would suffer.  For what he had stolen, for what he had tried to take.  No one touched Harry and got away with it.  No one.

Of course, in the aftermath, Harry had ruined his carefully laid plans by kissing him first, but Tom had no complaints.

Even if the outcome had been one he desired, it only served to hammer the point home more thoroughly.  Nothing good ever came of leaving Harry alone.

Tom tucked away his pocket watch, gathered his cloak, and left the apartment without waiting even another moment.  Harry would be impatient, after all.

Tom made his way to the Leaky Caldron quickly, opening the door to their room with a smile on his face.  It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to spending the evening wrapped up in Harry.  The smile fell away at once, however.

The room was empty, Harry nowhere to be found.

Panic welled up within him, and Tom shoved it down.  Harry had warned him, after all, that his errands might keep him out late.  Perhaps haggling had taken longer than it should have.  Perhaps he'd decided to go looking for new stores to sell their wares.

Tom pulled out his wand and activated the tracking spell he'd placed on the ring.

He had given Harry his horcrux as a promise of their engagement for more than sentimental reasons, though in all honesty they had been a far larger factor than he would allow anyone but Harry to believe.  After all, Harry had his heart.  It seemed only fitting to give him a piece of his soul as well.

In the pureblood tradition, the gifting of a family heirloom was a promise.  One to bring the other person into your family, a sign of trust.  A show of exactly how valuable you considered them.  The gifting of a family ring was even more serious.  Not just one of marriage.  But a promise of partnership.  Of making them a true equal in all things.   A partner, in every sense of the word.  Tom was determined that the rest of the world would know exactly how important Harry was to him.

The ring's most important purpose, as far as Tom was concerned, was protection.  The piece of his soul within the ring would not hesitate to do whatever was necessary to keep Harry safe.  Tom was certain of that.  Not to mention that he'd worked a complicated tracking spell into the ring to ensure that he would always know exactly where Harry was.

It was this spell that Tom chanted now, waiting impatiently for the tug that would direct him towards where ever Harry was.

It never came.

Tom took to the streets at once, wand in hand, rage and fear tangled in a complicated knot inside his chest. He would find Harry, no matter what it took. Even if he had to tear the streets of London apart brick by brick. Tom would keep his promise. No matter what it took, he would keep Harry safe.

Whoever was keeping them apart would pay with their life.  And Tom would take his sweet time in ripping them slowly into pieces.  It would take days for them to die.  And while they suffered, they would explain exactly how they circumvented the tracking spell.  Because it had been circumvented.  No other explanation was possible.

The first stop was the bartender. Tom needed to know exactly how long Harry had been gone.

Tom stormed down the stairs, wand gripped tightly in one hand, magic roiling angrily, barely controlled.   Patrons quickly darted away when the saw him coming.  Those few who were too slow were roughly shoved out of the way with his magic.

There was no time to waste on appearances, now.  Harry was far, far more important.

"You," Tom hissed, reaching out and grabbing a fistful of the bartender's shirt to get his attention.  "The man who was with me.  When did you see him last?"

"Now see here," the bartender said, staring down at Tom's hand, an affronted expression on his face.

Tom growled and let lose his hold on his magic, allowing his aura to cover the room.  The faces of all the patron's immediately paled, every single person backing away with expressions of terror on their faces.  Tom paid them no mind.  All his attention was on the barkeeper, who had paled dramatically when Tom had released his magic.

"I have no time for games," Tom snarled, sending just a bit of his magic into the man, just enough to scare him. Not enough to hurt him.  Not really.  "When did you see him?"

"H-he left," the man said.  "'Almost two hours before you got back."

"Muggle London or Diagon Alley?" Tom barked.

"The Alley," the man said.  "He went to the alley."

Tom dropped the man unceremoniously and turned, stalking out of the Leaky Caldron.  People coward against the wall as he stormed past, but he experienced no satisfaction in their fear.  Harry was missing.  Nothing could be enjoyed until the man was back in Tom's arms, where he belonged.

Perhaps, after this latest stunt, Tom would lock Harry away after all.

He tapped the pattern with such force that one of the bricks actually chipped, and the wall seemed to blow apart to form the familiar archway.  If Harry had returned to Diagon Alley after going to muggle London, he'd no doubt been depositing funds in Gringotts.

For all Professor Binn's warnings, Tom would not hesitate to go to war with the Goblin nation if they had anything to do with Harry's disappearance.

Still, they were a powerful nation, as Harry had pointed out and Tom had reluctantly come to accept.  A people who were underestimated and belittled by the magical community.  Yet they controlled the wealth of the wizarding world, had rituals and spells none save them understood, and could craft magical artifacts beyond any wizard's wildest imaginings.  They were a war-like people.  If treated with respect, they would make powerful allies.

Tom managed to reign most of his magic in, but complete control was well beyond his grasp at this moment, and no doubt would be until Harry was safely back with him.  He made his way into Gringotts, and managed to approach the nearest available goblin teller without showing his distain.

"I wish to enquire about the timing and nature of recent transaction for a vault I possess joint ownership with," Tom managed to grit out.

"Name?" the goblin asked him with a sneer.

"Tom Riddle," Tom said, the usual reluctance over speaking the name he so loathed lost in favor of tumult of emotions Harry's disappearance had created.

"Do you have your key, Mister Riddle?" the goblin asked, staring down its nose at him.

Tom reached into his pocket and placed it down on the counter in front of him with slightly more force that needed.

The goblin took it an examined it with care.

"One moment," it said in a far from courteous tone of voice.

The goblin stepped of it's stool and left before returning a moment later, a piece of parchment in hand.  When he was back behind the counter, the goblin pressed the key to the parchment, and ink began to flow over it.

"Vault 827," the goblin said.  "Belonging to Mr. Harry Potter and Mr. Tom Riddle.  Is that correct?"

"Yes," Tom said, his teeth clenched.

"Last accessed today, precisely one hundred and thirteen minutes ago," the goblin said.  "Mr. Potter had muggle money converted and deposited the resulting sum into the account.  Mr. Potter then removed several magical artifacts from the vault before departing."

The goblin passed over the parchment he had been reading from, along with Tom's vault key.

"The details are there," the goblin said.  "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Tom didn't bother responding.  He took the materials and shoved them in his pocket as he all but ran out of the bank.  If Harry had left the bank with magical artifacts, there was only one destination he could have had in mind.  As soon as Tom was outside the bank, he turned on his heel.  He was sick and tired of wasting time.  He wouldn't waste any more of it.

Borgin and Burke's appeared in front of him a moment later, and Tom slammed the door open with a wave of his hand.  He stalked into the store, eyes zeroing in on the man behind the counter.

Borgin's wan face had turned deathly pale, his hand shaking in with fear.

He knew.  He knew.

Tom waved his wand and Borgin was dragged forward before Tom sent him flying into a nearby wall with a simple flick.  He stalked forward, letting his magic free, filling up the space.

"Tell me," Tom snarled, his voice right on the edge of parseltongue, more hiss than human words.

"It wasn't my fault," the man croaked.

Tom let his magic lash out, listening with satisfaction as Borgin cried out in pain.

"Tell me," Tom snarled again, tightening his magic's grip on the man even further.  "Tell me what happened to him, and I may spare you."

"Mr. Potter came in an hour and a half ago," Borgin croaked, his eyes watering.  "Had some things he was looking to sell."

Tom snarled in impatience, bring even more pressure to bear.

"Another customer came it," the man gasped, clawing at the invisible force around his throat.  "Called the boy...he called him..."

"What?" Tom snapped, letting his magic lash out when the man stopped.  "What did he call him?"

"A mudblood," Borgin wheezed.  "He called him a mudblood."

Tom felt fury and frustration course through him in equal parts.  Harry had always been adamant about his views on pureblood superiority. Namely, that he thought it was an ignorant and patently false belief.  He had made it a personal project to correct anyone about their "misconceptions" were they to utter them within his hearing.  Harry had more than been able to hold his own, but that hadn't prevented Tom from punishing those who had dared to consider even attempting to curse Harry a good idea.

"Potter...Potter attacked him..." Borgin trailed off, his eyes blown wide with terror.

"And then?" Tom snarled.

Borgin just shook his head back and forth, his eyes wide with fear.

This was a waste of time.

Tom dragged the man downwards with his magic, reaching forward and yanking his head until he had no choice but to but to meet Tom's eyes.

"Legilimens," Tom hissed before delving into the man's mind.

Tom had spent the three years since he had discovered the mind arts devoting himself to them.  His first priority had been defense.  He would not allow anyone entry to his thoughts.  No one would be permitted to tamper with his mind, with his memories.  They were his very self, and no one would have access except to what chose to grant them during conversation.

Once he was certain his mind was secure, however, he had turned to Legilimency.  It was too valuable a skill not to hone, and it was one Tom was certain he would excel at.  After all, he was already an expert in coaxing people's deepest and darkest secrets from them, teasing out the information they did not even know about themselves.  Magic simply made the process easier.  Easier, and so much more detailed.  And far less time consuming.

He would not allow Borgin to avoid his questions any longer.  He would not allow the man's fear or perceptions to color what had happened, out of some misguided attempt to spare whoever the dead man was.  For he was a dead man.  It was only a matter of time.  Tom would have the truth.  The unvarnished truth.  And he would have it straight from the man's mind.

The scene was easy to find, on the forefront of the man's terrified thoughts.  It was a simple matter to manipulate the memory to play before him the way he desire, to watch the way events unfolded.

The man was no match for Harry.  Tom could see that in a matter of moments, and it was clear that both wizards involved in the impromptu duel had seen the same.  Harry's cruel smile, the light in his eyes that only a fight could bring out in him, the terror and desperation of the other wizard.  Tom could see it all.

He could see too, the moment the tables turned.  Harry had misjudged the size of the room, and found himself with nowhere to retreat when the wizard sent a confrigro blasting towards him.

Tom waited for Harry to block the curse, to counter it.  To shield himself, or to even simply step aside as he had done so many times before to the fury of his opponents.

Tom waited, the fire growing closer with every moment.  And waited.

Dread grew in his stomach as he watched the curse grow closer and closer, and still Harry had not reacted.  Until suddenly everything was an explosion of fire.

When the fire cleared, Harry was nowhere to be seen.  All that was left of both him and the cabinet behind him was ash, nothing left save a mark on the wall where he had been standing.

Tom wrenched himself out of Borgin's mind, his thoughts racing.  It couldn't be.  It couldn't.  Harry was not dead.  Harry could not be dead.  Tom would not permit it.

Shaking off his thoughts once more, Tom tore his way into Borgin's mind again, not caring what damage he left behind as he clawed his way through the man's mind, looking for any sign that he was mistaken, that there was some detail he had missed.

Nothing.  There was nothing.

Not even the absence of the horcrux, all but indestructible, brought him any relief.  For in the cabinet behind Harry there had been a vial of Basilisk venom.  Just enough to completely destroy the horcrux.  Enough to ensure that there was nothing of his beloved left.

Tom yanked himself out of Borgin's mind, ignoring the man as he fell to the floor with sightless eyes.

His beloved.  His dearest.  His confidant, his companion.  His only solace during years of misery and torment.  His Harry.  Gone.  Claimed by that which Tom had feared and loathed as long as he could remember.

Death had stolen Harry from him.

Tom let out a scream of rage, his magic breaking forth from any control he had left, mourning the loss of it's only equal with fire and fury.

Only when Tom could scream no more, when his vast stores of magic had nothing left to give did he stop.  There was destruction and devastation all around him, buildings in a two-block radius all but leveled, Borgin and Burkes itself nothing but ash.

Destruction.  Like nothing the wizarding world had ever seen before.  Still, Tom knew it was only the beginning.  The rage still burned within him, the thirst for vengeance, had only grown.  The need to make the world that had taken Harry from him pay the same way he had - with everything.

Yet it was Death who truly stoked his rage.

Death, who had taken his mother before her time.  Death, who had threaten to cut his time short, to ensure he never achieved those things he knew he was capable of.

Death, who had taken Harry.

Tom had conquered Death once before.  He would do it again.

For Harry, he could do anything.

"I will have him back," Tom snarled, speaking to the faceless enemy which had terrified him so for so long.  "I will get him back.  He is mine.  You cannot have him!"

Tom was not afraid of Death any longer.  There was no place in the burning hatred he felt for fear.  Tom threw his head back and bellowed to the heavens, screaming his challenge for all the world to hear.

"No matter how long it takes, I will not rest until I have him back in my arms!" 

Chapter Text

Lord Slytherin sat behind his ornate desk in his office, his seat more throne than chair.  Ostentatious, yes.  But for audiences such as these, it was important that people remember exactly whom they were dealing with.

His next customer was already here, but Tom had no issue making the woman wait.  It was important to remind her who held the power, after all.  For his guest to forget it would be a grave mistake.  Especially today.

Tom reached out and took the small, framed photograph in his hands.  A familiar face smiled up at him, eyes bright with affection.  Tom brushed a finger over the image, and the figure within the photograph leaned towards the caress, a contented expression on his face.

His dearest.  His beloved.  His Harry.  Gone Forty-two years today.

The loss of him still ached.  Not a scar, but a raw, fresh wound, throbbing with pain every moment of every day.  Every minute he spent without the one person who had come to mean everything to him.  The only thing that had every truly mattered.

Time did not heal wounds.  It simply left them to fester.

Tom's fingers tightened around the frame, his knuckles bleached white from the pressure.

Forty-two years.  Of rituals, of obsessive study.  Forty-two years devoted to the blackest of all arts, and he had nothing to show for it.  Nothing of consequence, anyway. 

It didn't matter.  For Harry, Tom could be patient.  No matter how many hours it took, how many rituals, how much he had to sacrifice.  He would have Harry back.

Tom placed the small portrait back in its place of honor on his desk.  A reminded of exactly what it was he was working for.  Reaching up to wipe away the traitorous tears that had escaped his eyes, the man firmly set his masks back in place.  When he was ready, his face nothing but pleasantly blank, he waved his hand and the doors opened.

The woman who had been waiting outside was trembling with fright, but it didn't stop her.  Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and stepped into his office, only to blanch when she examined the space more closely.

His office was filled with magical artifacts and ancient tomes that he'd gathered throughout the years.  A mere collector, he would assure the ministry with a smile any time someone dared to come knocking.  He was fortunate to have the magic to handle such artifacts, to keep others from experiencing their effects.  And while they were powerful and terrible, it would be shameful to lose such important pieces of wizarding history.  After all, it was not illegal to own such items.  Simply to use them.

"I see you are admiring my collection, Ms. Prewett," Lord Slytherin said with a sharp smile.

This was an unexpected boon.  One that he would be certain to make full use of.  Prewett was an old name, and for all that they had little left in terms of their history, Lord Slytherin knew that Ms. Prewett's father, he could never remember which of the twins it was, was employed in the ministry.  The sort of position that most ignored, not realizing the power it held.  Exactly the sort of man Lord Slytherin most loved to have under his influence.

"I...I've never seen anything like it," the woman said, her eyes wide with fear.

Lord Slytherin had to admire that she'd still managed to remain tactful despite her terror.  It was a feat not many could manage.  Perhaps there was some hope for the Prewett line after all.

"Please," Lord Slytherin said, gesturing the woman to one of the low seats on the opposite side of his desk, "have a seat."

The girl did, gripping her skirts tightly, her face ashen.  Lord Slytherin rather thought that it was only the grip on her skirts that kept her hands from shaking.

"Now," Lord Slytherin said, crossing one leg over the other, a cruel smile on his face, "tell me, Ms. Prewett, what can I do for you?"

"It's my mother, sir," the girl said, meeting his eyes for the first time.

Lord Slytherin wasted no time slipping into her mind.  Information was power, after all.   The more of it he had, the more he could accomplish.

The girl's thoughts were with her mother, and it took only a moment to grasp why.  The woman was deathly ill, little more then skin over bones, any fat she'd once had long gone now.

"She has the wasting sickness, sir," she said, her eyes bright with tears.  "Nothing we've tried has worked, and the healers have given up hope.  I..." the girl took a deep breath.  "I can't lose her."

"I...I was approached by a friend," she said.  "Someone who told me that you...you could cure the disease.  For the right price."

Oh, this, this was perfect.

"Yes," he said.  "If the price is right.  But Ms. Prewett, I must warn you now.  What you ask of me is no simple task.  The price...it will be steep.  Perhaps steeper than you can afford."

The girl looked up at him with tear-filled eyes, and Lord Slytherin knew that he had her.

"I'll do it," she told him.  "Whatever it takes, I'll do it."

Lord Slytherin gave her a smile that was all teeth.

"Excellent."

The girl left half an hour later, a mark burned into her arm and tears in her eyes.

Lord Slytherin sat back in his chair, a smug, satisfied smile on his face.  His marked only grew in number every day.  For most, it was a magical debt given form.  A way to enforce his demands until he determined that payment had been made in full.  For others, it was an oath.  A promise to be loyal to him, to follow him and his commands.

The Wasting Sickness was a scourge on the wizarding world.  No one was certain of the cause, but it caused a person's magic to turn on them, to begin to consume them.  It was a death sentence, a long and painful one.  Severus Snape had discovered a way to stop the illness, but one that only worked if taken early in the disease's course.  Magical bindings did not stop it.  No, the attempt at ritual magic seemed to feed the disease, accelerating it.

The only cure was to remove someone's magic entirely, leaving them a squib.  And there were only two people in the entire world powerful enough to accomplish such a feat.

Albus Dumbledore, for all he was strong enough, still had yet to discover exactly how to accomplish it, despite many failed attempts.  Which left people only one place to turn - Lord Slytherin.

The cure was to take their magic.  Magic that Slytherin cleansed and then consumed himself, only increasing his power.

It had been a brilliant idea, the Wasting Sickness.  One that had taken Slytherin years to develop and then implement, but the work had been worth it.  He'd needed more power.  More raw magic.  Needed it to have the power to pierce the veil of death, and bring Harry home where he belonged.  True human sacrifice was too suspicious to use as regularly as he required, muggles and squibs not enough, and too many missing witches and wizards too obvious.

This was the perfect solution.  One that not only made him more powerful, but allowed him to bring more and more people under his control.  It would not be long now before all of Wizarding Britain was his for the taking.  It would not be long now until he finally had the power, the resources, he knowledge he needed to finally bring Harry back to him.

Tom reached out and picked up the frame once more.  He did not often allow himself to truly dwell on Harry's absence, beyond exactly how far he had to go to bring him back.  But today was the one of the few days a year he permitted himself to be maudlin.

"Soon," Tom told him, stroking along the frame.  "Soon, my love.  I promise.  I will find a way."

There was a knock at the door, and Lord Slytherin turned to find Barty Crouch Jr. standing in the doorway.  Crouch was one of his most faithful, and in him Slytherin had seen potential.  True potential.  He had taken the boy under his wing and instructed him.  Crouch was his apprentice, in all senses of the word.  A very prestigious position, and one that had earned him the boy's undying loyalty.

"What is it, Barty?" Lord Slytherin asked, not bothering to look away from the photograph.

"There's a message for you, sir," he said.  "From the ministry.  The Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

Lord Slytherin rolled his eyes.

"And what, pray tell, does Auror Potter want now?"

Lord Slytherin was untouchable.  He had friends in places both high and low, and had learned long ago to never leave any trace of his illicit activities.  It did not stop the Aurors from investigating him, however.

A diversion.  Most of them were nothing more.  However, on occasion, one would prove to be less of an idiot than his cohorts.  Someone would come close to putting the pieces together.  Close enough to provide something of a challenge.

James Potter was one such Auror.  One who Tom delighted in needling at every opportunity.

The first time Tom had seen the man, he'd been so surprised that he let his masks fall.

He was the spitting image of his Harry, his beloved, his dearest, who he had lost so many years ago.  Seeing the man before him left him feeling as if he was staring at a vision of what Harry would have been in the future, had he survived.

The man's eyes were wrong, hazel, instead of the breathtaking green Tom had so adored.  But the name...the name and his face were too much to be a coincidence.

A relative.  A descendant, perhaps of a brother Harry had never known.  For how else could those genes have bred so true?

Tom could not kill him, as he had so many others before.  Not when this was perhaps the last living connection to the man he loved.  His partner, Sirius Black, was equally untouchable.  Harry, Tom knew, would be very put out if he discovered that Tom had harmed one of his dear friend's offspring.

James was so like Harry.  Not just in appearance, but in temperament.  One of the few true pleasures Tom had let was toying with the man, watching him grow more and more frustrated.  It was an amusing diversion.  One that would perhaps do him some good today.

"He's respectfully requesting that you come into the ministry, if it suits you, to share what information you can about an ongoing investigation."

Tom allowed himself a smirk.  As a Lord of the Realm, and one from an Ancient and Most Nobel House, Tom could not be brought in for questioning.  The officers, out of respect for his title, could only ask that he come in for a conversation.  Something he knew drove both Potter and Black absolutely up the wall.

"How much do you think it pained him to pen such a missive, Barty?" Tom asked with a smirk.

"Judging by the blotches of ink and the depth of the strokes, my Lord, I'm guessing a great deal."

This was the perfect diversion, Tom though.  Exactly what he required, on a day such as today.  When he was finished toying with Potter, he would allow himself to retreat.  To spend time with those cherished, treasured items of Harry's that remained.  To spend time in the penseive, alone with his memories.  Yes.  This was exactly what he needed.

Tom stood and summoned his cloak with a simple outstretched hand.

"It wouldn't do to keep our esteemed member of law enforcement waiting," Tom said with a smirk as the cloak fastened itself around his neck.


Auror Potter's office was exactly as Tom remembered, down to the expression on the man's face as Tom made himself at home in the chair he had transfigured.

"Lord Slytherin," the man said through clenched teeth, a obviously force polite expression on his face.  "I was not expecting your response to be quite so...prompt."

Tom allowed himself a smirk.

"I did not want you to waste any more of your valuable time than necessary, Potter," Tom replied, his voice saccharine.

"Very kind of you," Potter said through gritted teeth.

"Could I trouble you for a cup of tea?" Tom asked.

The man grimaced at him.  Tea always meant that Tom intended to take his time, tormenting the man as much as possible while he did.  Poor Potter.  Really, he should have known better by now.  Tom never gave anything away in these sessions of theirs, and each encounter left him armed with more information about the Auror than the time before.

"Of course," he said, and for all that his expression was blank, his eyes were burning with frustration.  

Tom had no need of legilimency to know what the man was thinking. 

As Potter prepared the tea, Tom turned his attention to examining the man's office.  The only thing that seemed to have changed since his last visit was the piles of papers on the man's desk.  They'd somehow grown even more disorganized.

His eyes fell on the picture on Potter's desk, and his heart gave a small lurch.

Ignoring the cup of tea that Potter placed on the desk, he reached out to grab the photograph.

It was a family portrait, one that he had glanced at thousands of times before.  Still, this was the first time he'd paid it any true attention.

A family of three was within the frame.  Auror Potter, looking several years younger.  Beside him sat a woman with fire-red hair.  Beautiful, to be certain, but that was not what held Tom transfixed.  Her eyes.  Her eyes were hauntingly familiar.  The same green he had come to adore so long ago.

"How long have you and your wife been married, Potter?" Tom asked, staring at the woman.

The man became rigid, his jaw clenched.  Tom could hardly blame him.  The words, to Potter's ears, had no doubt sounded a threat.  They very well could be.  Regardless, he wanted an answer, and he was not a patient man.  Not when it came to matters that were truly important.

"Ten years," he said.  "We were wed right after Hogwarts."

"Childhood sweethearts," Tom said, staring at those eyes.  "How touching."

Potter said nothing.

"Your wife, Potter.  What is her name?"

"Lily," the man said, his voice dry.

"Her maiden name?" Tom asked, looking up from the photo to stare at the man intently.

"Evans," Potter said, his jaw set, his hand set into a fist beneath his desk.

"A muggleborn," Tom said, staring down at the image once more.

Between the couple sat a child.  No more than three years of age.  A child with black hair, green eyes, and familiar features.

Their son.  Their son.  A boy, who if Tom remembered correctly, had gone missing some years ago.  Not even the great Albus Dumbledore had been able to track the child. 

"How old was your son when he vanished?" Tom asked, hands clenched tight around the frame.

"Almost six," James said his voice hoarse.

Tom closed his eyes, fighting to keep his mask firmly in place.

They had searched for Harry's parents as soon as they had the resources, only to come up empty again and again.  They'd come to believe the story they had told everyone else was true.  That Harry or his father had been born on the wrong side of the sheets, and that his parents had died in the intervening years.

Perhaps the answer had been much more complicated than either of them had anticipated.

Wishing on the same star, not just kilometers apart, but decades as well.  Was it really so hard to believe that wish magic could have dragged his beloved through time as well as space?

"Harry," Tom said simply, staring down at the boy in the photograph, letting his thumb trace over the familiar features of the child.  "His name was Harry."

"Yes," Potter said, his voice thick.

A heritage potion.  Tom would have to send someone to gather samples from Mrs. Potter.  He needed to know.  He needed to be sure.

If they truly were his Harry's parents, that would open up a whole new world of possibilities.  Spells and rituals that he had thought beyond his grasp.  Those which were the most powerful.  Those which could finally bring Harry back to him.

Tom looked up and found himself studying James Potter more intently than he ever had before.  A relative of Harry's, as he had long suspected.  But not a descendent, no.  This man was Harry's father.

"What would you do," Tom said, staring intently at the man, "if I told you I could bring your son back?"

The reaction was not what Tom had expected at all.  When Potter had taken over his case, Tom had used his resources to discover what he could about the man.  The more he knew, the easier it would be to manipulate him should the need arise.

James Potter was, on the surface a typical Gryffindor.  Brave and brash, reckless and stubborn.  But he was shrewd as well, and when it came to his family, there was no rule the man would not break, no line he would not cross.  To Potter, his family was everything.

He would have been cautious at first, suspicious, yes.  But he would have been intrigued.  He would have been tempted.  Tom would leave him be long enough, perhaps sending Severus to nudge his wife in the correct direction.  In time, no more than two weeks, the man would have come to him.

Tom saw none of that.  There was no longing in Potters gaze.  There was only fear.  Fear and anger.

"I have no need of your services, Lord Slytherin," the man hissed, his voice barely polite.

Protective.  The man was protective.  But of what?

The knob turned, and Potter paled dramatically as it swung open.  Tom turned in his seat, wanting to see exactly who had the gall to interrupt Lord Slytherin in a private meeting.

As soon as his eyes met that of the figure before him, he froze, his mind blank.

He could vaguely hear James ordering the man to leave in a sharp voice, but Tom paid him no mind.

Standing before him, untouched by time, was the person Tom who had disappeared nearly half a century ago, taking a piece of Tom with him.

His beloved.  His dearest.  His Harry, before him again.

"Tom," the boy breathed out, his voice strangled, his achingly familiar eyes wet with unshed tears.

No more. Tom could stand no more of this. He needed to know.  Tom need to be sure.  He needed to know.  He would not let himself be fooled, not let his hopes be crushed.  Not again.  Not today, of all days.

He reached out with his magic, probing the figure in front of him.

Tom's magic was dark and encompassing.  Far too much for any wizard to withstand.  It put everyone on their knees, and had since he was a small boy.

All but one.

This boy's magic did not recoil.  No, it rushed outwards, mixing and intermingling with his own, as if greeting an old friend.  Familiar magic.  Magic he had ached for.  Magic that was as much a part of him as his own.  Magic he hadn't felt in forty four years.

The boy before him twitched in surprise and he rose a hand to his face, to examine the ring on his finger.

Tom sucked in a deep breath, his eyes fixed on the ring.  He would know that ring anywhere.  The Gaunt Ring.  The Resurrection Stone.  His horcrux.

Tom crossed the room as fast as he could, pinning his beloved against the wall.  He had been without him too long.  He wasn't going to let him escape now.  He would never let him out of his sight again.  For Tom had thought that there was nothing worse than death until he had lost the only thing that had ever mattered to him.

"Harry," Tom said, his voice filled with reverence, unable to believe what was in front of him.  He reached out and brushed Harry's fringe away from his forehead, feeling Harry's skin firm and warm beneath his fingers, his hair as silky as always.  "My Harry."

Alive.  Harry was alive.

How?  How?  What had happened, and how could Tom prevent it from happening once again?

Tom stared transfixed at those green eyes and probed as gently as he could against the barriers in Harry's mind.  He needed to know.  Needed to see for himself. Needed to understand how this miracle standing before him had come to be.

Harry dropped his walls, welcoming Tom in with a rush of love and affection and relief, tugging Tom closer mentally even as plastered himself against Tom's chest, determined to eliminate any and all space between them.

Tom offered his own love in return, bright and intense and burning, a fire that had been consuming him for years.  Harry.  His Harry.

Having offered this reassurance that even after all this time nothing had changed, Tom turned his attention to Harry's memories.

It was time to discover exactly what had kept them apart for so long.

 

Chapter Text

Harry woke slowly, in a great deal of pain.  He felt wrung out, the kind of soul-deep exhaustion that came after he'd used a dangerous amount of magic.  The world before him was blurry, and refused to resolve itself no matter how much he blinked.  It took him far longer than it should have to realize that it was because his glasses were missing.

Awareness of the rest of his body came in bits and pieces.  His face was pressed against a hard, cold floor.  Every part of him ached, his body feeling clammy, gooseflesh breaking out across his arms and legs.  Naked, he realized when the air brushed across his bare skin.  He was naked.  And he could smell blood.

The buzzing in his ears faded, and he could just make out two voices arguing in a furious whisper.

"...not Harry!" a male voice hissed.  "Our son is eight years old, not a teenager!"

"The ritual was specifically designed to bring Harry here," a female voice answered.  "I don't know what happened, or how it happened, but that is our son, James!  I can feel it.  Deep, in my soul.  Can't you?"

Something about the voices was familiar.  Not a memory, per se. More like something out of a half-remembered dream.

Still, he wasn't going to just lay here, exposed and vulnerable.  Gathering his strength, Harry managed to push himself upright with a groan.  The voices stopped at once, and there was the sound of two sets of footsteps against the floor before there was a large, warm hand at his back, helping Harry into a sitting position.  He wanted nothing more than to slap the hand away, but the fact of the matter was that he needed the help, as much as it galled him.

He looked up at the two blurs above him only to be greeted with twin gasps.

"Oh Merlin," the man said, his voice horse.  "It's him.  It's really him."

"Harry!" the woman said.  "Oh, Harry!"

Before he had the chance to try and brace himself, the woman had thrown herself at him, wrapping her arms around him tightly enough to provoke a small moan of pain.  Everything was sore and tender, and Harry couldn't help himself.

The woman withdrew at once, and all Harry could make out was a blur of red around her head.

"I'm sorry, Harry," she said gently, reaching up to push his hair back from his forehead.  "I should have realized.  I was just...you're here, Harry.  You're finally here."

 "Where the hell am I?" Harry blurted out, unable to help himself. 

There was a moment of silence, laden with emotion.  Harry couldn't tell what sort, not with not being able to see anything.

"Harry," the man said gently, still supporting Harry.  "Harry, you're home.  We finally brought you home."

Harry bit back an angry retort to the man's comment.  They hadn't brought him home, they'd taken him from it.

"Who are you people?" Harry asked instead, doing his best to keep his temper under control.

"Don't you remember us, Harry?" the woman said softly.  "We're your parents, sweetheart.  You're mum and dad."

There was only one appropriate response to such a ridiculous claim.

"Dragon dung," Harry said.


The three of them were seated in a parlor, the fire crackling in the hearth failing to penetrate the chill that seemed to have settled into his very bones.  Harry was wrapped in a cloak, a pair of transfigured glasses perched on his nose.

Harry stared at the couple across from him as avidly and intently as they stared at him.  Looking at the man felt like looking in a mirror.  His skin was a shade or two darker, and time had begun to leave lines at the corners of his hazel eyes, but everything else...it was uncanny.  The woman had green eyes, familiar from every time Harry had ever so much as glanced at a mirror.  Her hair was bright and vibrant red, and her pale skin was dotted with freckles.

His parents.  Even if Harry hadn't been willing to believe the evidence in front of his own eyes, the spell he'd cast and the heritage potion had proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Harry, his throat tight, looked down at the ring on his finger, running his fingers over it for comfort, feeling the small echo of Tom's magic in response.  The ring and his wand had been the only thing to survive whatever ritual it was that the Potters had used to bring him here.

Harry took a deep breath before looking back at his mother and father.  What did he say?  What did one say when meeting their parents for the first time they could remember?

"How...how did you find me?" Harry asked.

As much as he wanted to explore this link to his past, to who he was, Harry had made his choice long ago.  Tom was his family now.  The more he knew about what his parents had done to bring him here, the sooner he could figure out how to get back to Tom.

"We've been looking for years," his father, James, answered.  "Ever since you disappeared, we've tried everything we could think of.  Spells, rituals, potions..." He stopped to clear his throat after his voice cracked.  "We tried everything.  And when that didn't work, we started inventing our own."

Harry blinked in surprise.  He knew from his and Tom's own efforts that spell creation was a complicated task.  Once a spell had been created, anyone could use it.  But the first casting?  That was a challenge that only the magically powerful could accomplish.  Creating the channels that the magic for every spell after would flow through.

"It took us five years and every favor we had," his mother said, reaching out and grasping his hand in one of her own, "but we brought you home, Harry."

"Three years?" Harry asked, too surprised to pull his hand back.  "You've been working on this three years?"

His father was looking at him with shrewd eyes.

"Yes.  Three years.  Which is why we were rather surprised when a teenager landed in the middle of the ritual circle."

Harry sat, staring at them.

"We think there might have been a time dilation of some sort created by whoever was keeping you," his mother said gently.  "It would explain why we couldn't find you until now."

It was a sound theory, but one Harry knew to be untrue.  His parents didn't have all the facts.  But Harry did, and the picture they were painting was one he didn't want to look at.

"What year is it?" he asked.

His parents gave him surprised looks, but it wasn't long before his mother's green narrowed, and Harry could practically see the connections coming together in her mind.

"1989," his father answered.

Harry let out a sharp, disbelieving laugh, reeling as the reality of the situation hit him.

Forty-two years.  He'd traveled forty-two years into the future.  But was it really the future?  If he was from this time originally, didn't that make it the present?

Harry didn't realize he was panicking until a potion vial was pressed to his hand.  One look at the vial told Harry it was a calming potion, and he threw it back, downing it in several long swallows.  He felt his shoulders relax and his panic recede.  Harry let out a sigh of relief before he began going over the situation again.

He was in the future.  Nearly fifty years.  If the ritual had dragged him forward, perhaps he could send himself back once again.  He couldn't stay here.  He wouldn't leave Tom on his own. Not if there was anything he could do about it.

"Forward or backward?" His mother asked him shrewdly.

"Which time?" Harry asked, giving her a half-hearted smile.

"Where have you been?"

"It was the spring 1946 when I left," Harry said simply.

His mother's face turned ashen at once, though his father simply looked confused.

"Where?" she asked him, her voice weak.  "Where were you?"

"London, before I got my letter.  An orphanage.  I had to go back every summer."

Tears filled his mothers eyes, and she held a hand up to her mouth.

"The blitz?" she asked, her voice shaking.  "You were there during the blitz?"

Harry nodded simply.

At that, his mother burst into tears, while his father shot panicked looks between the two of them.  So, it seemed that the details of the war hadn't made it into wizarding history.  It wasn't surprising.  Wizards were always underestimating muggles, and it wasn't as if any of his schoolmates who didn't live in the muggle world had paid it any attention at all even while it was happening.

His mother was up out of her seat and had wrapped her arms around him, sinking onto the couch beside him faster than he could reaction.  She held him close, weeping.  His father was on his other side in a matter of moments.  The man had no idea what had upset his wife so, but that didn't stop him from wrapping his arms around Harry in a tight hug, as if he would never let go.

They loved him, Harry realized suddenly.  His parents loved him.  He'd always known it, at least intellectually.  His remembered that much.  But it was one thing to know that his parents had loved him, and another thing altogether to experience that love.

Five years.  Five years of constant searching.  Five years, and they hadn't give up.

It was humbling.

Harry closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment to just feel.  To just bask in the kind of love he and everyone in the orphanage had been so desperate for that they would have done anything to get it.  For the first time in a long time, Harry knew what it was like to have parents who loved him.

Harry didn't know how long they sat like that, but the weight of the ring on his finger, the feel of Tom's magic gently brushing against his own had Harry pulling away.

"I'm sorry," Harry said.  "I'm so sorry.  But...I need to go back."

Her mother reared back, her green eyes wide.

"Go back?" she said.  "What do you mean, go back?  Harry, you were in the middle of the blitz!  You could have died!  It's a miracle you weren't killed!"

Harry stared at her, mute with shock.

"You're home now, Harry," she said.  "You're safe.  We've already lost more years than you than we even thought.  We're not losing any more.  You're staying right here."

That was a step too far.  Harry stood up, pulling away from the hands of both his parents, turning to face them.

"I don't know you," Harry said.  "I don't know either of you.   You're strangers to me.  I've lived ten years without you.  What gives you the right to try and control my life?  I'm not five years old anymore!  I'm fifteen!"

Both of the Potters stared up at him in shock, clearly floored by Harry's outburst.  Still, the rage was burning under his skin now.  He was far from finished at this point.

"I have a life!  I have a life back there!  I have friends!  I have a man I love!" Harry shouted, holding up his hand to reveal the Gaunt family ring.  "I was supposed to get married this summer!  Not just married, but bonded!  That terrible time is the only time I've known.  It's when I grew up!  You may think it's barbaric and backwards, but that means that I'm backwards and barbaric too!"

Harry knew that his hair was standing on end, that his magic was crackling in the air around him.  He didn't care.  Who were these people, to think that they had the right to control his life?

Lily opened her mouth, but James put his hand on her shoulder and stood up.

"I'm sorry Harry," he said gently, approaching Harry like he was a wild animal.  "You're right.  You're absolutely right."

Harry glared at the man for one beat, two.  But he said nothing.

"When we performed the ritual, when we saw that something had finally, finally worked, we were just...Harry, we've been waiting for our little boy to come home for years.  Years, trying to bring him home.  When we saw you..." James paused for a moment, blinking hard.  "God, Harry, there aren't the words to tell you what it feels like to have you here.  But you're a teenager.  Almost a man.  Not the little boy we've been expecting."

James took a deep breath.

"You're right, Harry.  We don't know you.  And you've old enough now that you should be able to make your own choices.  But Harry, we want to know you.  Can we have the chance to do that, at least?"

"We can help you," Lily said, speaking for the first time since Harry's outburst.  "We can help you.  After all these years searching for you, we have exactly the kinds of experience and connections you'd need to do what it is you're suggesting."

Harry glared at them, warily.  The offer of help was too convenient, too quick after they'd been so determined to keep him here.  He didn't trust it.

"Why?" Harry asked them.  "If you're dead set on keeping me here, why offer to help me?"

James snorted.

"We are stubborn people, Harry, both of us," Lily said gently.  "And never is a Potter more tenacious than when it comes to love."

"It's a family trait," James said, throwing an arm around Lily.  "Potters in love?  We don't give up."

Lily rolled her eyes, but when she turned to Harry there was a small, if bittersweet smile on her face.

"Your our son, Harry," Lily said simply.  "We...we don't want to give you up.  But you're our son.  You're stubborn and in love.  You're going to find your way back, no matter how hard we try to stop you."

She gave him a sad smile.

"We would do anything for you, Harry," James said.  "At least this way, we'll have the chance to get to know you.  Make some memories, for when you go back."

Harry narrowed his eyes at them.

"You were both in Gryffindor, weren't you?"


"A Slytherin," James muttered, shaking his head in despair.  "My son, a Slytherin."

Harry rolled his eyes.  It had been two weeks.  He would have thought his father would have been over it by now.  Gryffindors.  Always so dramatic.  That, at least, hadn't changed in the last fifty or so years.

"My father," Harry repeated in the same tone.  "A Gryffindor."

James reached over and ruffled Harry's hair in retaliation, broadcasting the move enough that Harry had time to brace himself.  The last time one of his parents had caught him flinching, they'd looked at him sadly all day, trading meaningful looks with one another.  Harry knew it was only a matter of time before they attempted to confront him about his childhood.  Oh, they wouldn't think of it as a confrontation.  They would think of it as a way to help him heal, or some such nonsense.  For all that he had grown to like the Potters, he didn't trust them.  Not yet.  Not enough to share something he'd rather pretend had never happened.  Especially when hearing about it would only make them more determined to have him stay.

They may have been helping him, but Harry knew better.  They were hopping that by getting to know them, he would want to stay. It was almost painfully obvious.

Still, Harry was sick of this nonsense.  House rivalry had always been ridiculous as far as he was concerned.  Loyalty was all well and good, and the house cup provided both reward and punishment, not to mention quidditch.  Still, there was far too much animosity between the houses.  It seemed that things had only deteriorated further in the future.

Just as Harry was giving serious thought to hexing James, Lily appeared.  She took one look at the pair of them, and rolled her eyes, but there was a wistful smile on her face.  She was practically broadcasting her feelings - she'd been longing to walk in on a scene like this for years.  Had imagined it ever since Harry had been born, he was certain.

Lily said nothing, but she walked over and wrapped her arms around the both of them.

"My boys," she said, holding them.

Harry kept himself perfectly still.  He didn't pull away, for that all he wasn't totally comfortable.  He hated feeling trapped the way he did at the moment.

When he didn't respond the way she hoped, Lily pulled away, an understanding look on her face.  That, more that anything else, surprised him.  Nothing about what he'd seen made him think that Lily's childhood had been anything like his own.  But she knew the signs.  She knew the signs, and knew what they meant.  Knew when to push and when to give him space.  The only reason Harry hadn't noticed it earlier was that his father did the same thing.

Interesting.

"Come on," Lily said, stepping towards the fireplace. "We shouldn't keep him waiting any longer."

"I'm surprised your godfather hasn't tried using his body as a battering ram against the wards already," James said with a shake of his head.

Harry just stared at his father, more than a little appalled.  Gryffindors.  He was going to be surrounded by Gryffindors.

Before Harry had the chance to revaluate this particular choice, his mother had thrown a small pinch of powder into the flames, turning them bright green.  She then stepped into the flames and gave Harry a reassuring smile.

"Number Twelve, Grimwald Place," she called out clearly before disappearing in a flash of fire.

"Go on, Harry," his father said, nudging him towards the flames.  "I'll follow after you."

Harry stepped into the flames, still trying to process the implications of the words his mother had just spoken.  The address was familiar to Harry.  It was one he had visited several times during his years in Hogwarts.  The Black residence in town.  His godfather was a member of the Ancient and most Noble house of Black.

Perhaps Harry would find the answer he was searching for in the family library.  Or news of what had happened to Orion, one of Harry's closest friends from school.  Maybe even see the man again.  After all, seventy years was young, as far as wizards went.

With this thought bolstering him, Harry strode forward into the flames, calling out the familiar address before the world began to swirl around him.

A moment later Harry found himself staggering out of the grate in a very familiar parlor.  He managed not to fall flat on his face, but only just.  Travel by Floo was a skill he still hadn't quite mastered.

The house looked the same.  Well, more or less.  A few things had shifted here and there, the wards hummed louder than they used to, but time had, for the most part, left the Black Townhouse untouched.  Even down to the man standing before him, waiting at the floo.

"Orion?" Harry found himself whispering disbelievingly.

"James?" the man standing before him asked at the same time.

Not Orion, Harry realized suddenly.  Of course not.  The eyes were the same, the sharp cheekbones achingly familiar.  But Orion would never have been caught dead wearing muggle clothes, as the man before him was.  While Orion liked to keep his hair long, as did the man before him, he never would have allowed it to grow this untidy.  And Orion would rather have died than allow anyone save a trusted few to see him with stubble still on his face.  And while wizarding ages could be a bit tricky to judge, there was no way the man before him was seventy.  He was the same age as Harry's parents, if Harry didn't miss his guess.

The man in front of him did an examination of his own, blinking in confusion.

"No," the man answered absentmindedly.  "Orion was my father."

Orion's son's silver eyes met his own and they blew wide in shock, the man's gaze darting back and forth between Harry and Lily, where she had come to stand beside Harry, the man's mouth dropping open.

"Lily..." he said, his voice wavering, "Lily, what...?"

But he knew.  He had to know.  For Harry himself, now that they were face to face once more, could feel it settling over him.  A vow, a strong vow.  One that had been sworn in blood.  An oath to teach, to nurture, to guide.  To offer aid and comfort.  To protect, at any cost.  To love, always.

His godfather.  This man was his godfather.

"Harry," the man croaked, staggering forward as if he was drunk, reaching out with trembling fingers.

One of them just barely brushed his skin, and Harry could feel the long dormant magic of the bond between them flare truly to life once more.

"Harry," the man said, tears streaming down his face.  "Oh, Harry."

Harry didn't have to remind himself not to flinch away from this hug, not jerk back.  No, instead he had to fight the foreign urge to sink into the embrace.  For the first time in his life, Harry felt completely safe in a stranger's embrace.

Of course.  Of course he did.  Because this was his godfather, a man who could not harm him.  The vow he had sworn had ensured that.  Harry was safe.  Harry could be nothing but safe.  His magic had made that much clear.

Time fell away, until his godfather pulled back.

"How?" he said, the question directed at Lily and James, who had arrived while Harry had been distracted.  "How did you find him?"

They made their way to the kitchen, and it was there that his parents relaid the story, Harry only speaking when asked a direct question.  Until at last the whole story had been told.

"You're going back?" Sirius, as Harry had learned the man was called, asked him, his grey eyes shining with unrestrained emotion.  "But...you only just got here."

"I have to," Harry said simply.

Sirius looked at him for a long moment before he nodded.

"Then I'll help you," Sirius said simply.  "I'll certainly try and change your mind.  I make no promises about that.  But I will help you.  I could do nothing less."

Harry smiled, not bothering to fight it.  In these familiar surroundings, surrounded by people he knew cared for him and were far more exuberant then he ever would be, that it was safe to do so.

For the first time since his arrival, it finally felt possible, finally felt real.

He was going home.

Chapter Text

Sirius kept his word.  All of them did.  The three of them called in every favor they had, using their positions at the ministry ruthlessly to get Harry what he needed.  Both James and Sirius were Aurors, and Lily had once been a member of the committee on experimental charms.  She had retired when he went missing, devoting herself to the search for Harry.  She had the spells and rituals that she invented published, and her name was held in high esteem in the magical research community.  Even her forays into the Dark Arts she had published, albeit discretely and under the name Madame Leona.

Apparently the unspeakables had been conducting research in time travel themselves.  This was a double edged sword.  On the one hand, if Harry could gain access to the material, he would have a hell of a head start when it came to trying to get himself back home.  On the other, if the unspeakables discovered exactly who Harry was and where he had been, he'd become the subject of their research, and no one would even bat an eye.

Still, it was worth the risk.  The three of them together had managed to call in enough favors to get Harry access to the research.  Not as himself, obviously.  No.  Instead he was posing as James' cousin.  One from the wrong side of the sheets.  It was a roll Harry was used to - he'd been playing the illegitimate Potter for the last six years, after all.

Harry had been ensconced in the Black library when Kretcher had appeared with a pop, and Harry turned to him with a smile.  He'd always had a soft spot for house elves, empathizing with them a grate deal.  Besides, they certainly had their uses.  They were incredibly loyal creatures, and capable of much more magic than wizards and witches gave them credit for.  Most wards were nothing to an elf, and no one really knew the true extent of their magic.

Kreature had recognized him at once when Sirius had ordered him to get drinks, and had fallen at Harry's feet weeping with joy.  For all that the elf had adored the late Lady Black, he still held affection for the late Lord Black, and had been overjoyed to see Harry, a "Proper Wizard" after so long in the company of "Mudbloods and Blood Traitors."

Master Regulus, Sirius' brother, was out of the country on business, and Kretcher had been left behind to see to Sirius' needs. Officially, anyway.  Given their mutual animosity and Sirius' obvious distain for his family home, Harry thought it likely had much more to do with ensuring that nothing was destroyed in Regulus' absence.

"Master Potter sirs," the old elf said.  "Yous is having a message from the ministry of magics."

"Thank you Kretcher," Harry said.  "If you'd put it on the desk, I'll get to it in a moment."

Kretcher did so, muttering under his breath in admiration about how nice it was to have a proper wizard in the house while Master Regulus was away.  Harry rolled his eyes, but let him be.  There were more important things to focus on.

Harry took the envelope in both hands as soon as he was alone.  It was addressed to a mister Harold Potter, and Harry heaved a sigh of relief.  It seemed that the identity they'd crafted had held up under scrutiny.  Turning the letter over, he found the familiar seal of the ministry of magic.  Harry broke the wax and opened the envelope, pulling out the parchment inside with unsteady hands.

Dear Mister Potter,

We have received your request to review our research regarding temporal phenomina on behalf of Lady Potter as her apprentice.  Lady Potter's reputation within the field of magical research is nearly unmatched, and we here at the Department of Mysteries are happy to provide aid for her newest project.  Upon reviewing the references you have provided and the successful completion of your background check, we are happy to extend to you an invitation to come to the ministry to conduct the experiments you require.  

Due to your age and the volatile, unpredictable nature of the magics in question, you will not be permitted to conduct experiments directly. Once you have reviewed the information on the experiments that have already been conducted and their outcomes, you will be permitted to observe and gather data.  An unspeakable will be assigned to supervise you during your time in the department.  You may submit experiments to him on behalf of yourself and Lady Potter, which he will conduct.  The results will be given to you.  You will not be permitted in the room where the experiments are conducted, but will be allow to view the process through an enchanted two way mirror.

You may begin your research whenever you are ready.  For the sake of security, you must be escorted to and from the Department by an Auror, and will be subject to identity verification via Goblin methods upon each entry, and subject to search upon exit.

We look forward to your visit,

Head Unspeakable,

Department of Mysteries

Harry put the letter back on the desk he had commandeered, and tilted the chair back so it stood only on two legs while he considered the contents.  It wasn't what he had hoped for.  He'd know that his access would be restricted, but this...

Harry rubbed his hands over his face.  At the very least, he needed to be in the room.  The data alone wouldn't be enough.  Harry would have been able to learn so much more if he could feel the magic.  There would be no chance of that, not with the rules that the Unspeakables had outlined.

Harry heaved out a sigh and let the legs of the chair fall onto the floor once again.  It was better than nothing.  That he'd gotten access at all had been something of a miracle.  Besides, their largest concern seemed to be his skill.  It would take time, but he could demonstrate his ability.  Their show of concern about his age was just that, as far as Harry was concerned.  A show.  A few wavers and they wouldn't care, as long as he had demonstrated his care and skill.

It would take time.  Too much time.  But it was the best way.  Maybe the only way.  Harry would do whatever it took to get back to Tom.  No matter how long it took him.

Harry stood up and strode over to the fireplace in the library.  If it was going to take as long as he feared, then he needed to get started as quickly as possible.

A moment later, Harry strode out into the atrium of the Ministry of Magic.  He quickly stepped away from the front of the fireplace so as not to block traffic and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the space.  The floor was a rich, dark wood, polished until it gleamed.  There were golden symbols set into the ceiling on a bright blue background.  From time to time, they would flicker and change.  The walls were paneled in wood a few shades warmer than those on the floor.  In the center of the room stood a golden fountain, declaring itself to be "The Fountain of Magical Breathren."

He stood there, and he wondered.   Wondered what Tom would have done with the space if he were Minister.  What it would be like to walk through the space every day on his way to the minister's office, to kiss Tom goodbye here, in the morning before then went off to their separate offices.  Then Harry snorted.  As if Tom would let him have a separate office.  Possessive idiot.

Harry smiled, his chest tight and his eyes beginning to sting.  Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself.  The sooner he stopped moping, the sooner he could work on getting back to Tom.

A quick wave of his wand had his robes soot and wrinkle free, and allowed him enough time to finish composing himself.  He walked over to the security desk and handed his wand over to the clerk at the desk with a friendly smile.  Genial enough to be liked, but not enough to be memorable.  It was a balance he'd perfected, over the years.

"Holly with phoenix feather.  Eleven inches," the security officer read off.  "In use for five years.  Is that correct?"

Harry nodded in response.  A moment later, a thin rod Harry didn't recognize was waved over him and the guard gave a grunt of approval and a small smile when nothing happened.

"Right then," the guard said, placing the rod back where it had come from.  "May I have your name, sir?"

"Harold Potter," Harry answered.

"And your business at the Ministry today?" the guard asked.

Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter from the unspeakable and handed it to the guard.  He waited patiently as the man's eyes flickered across the page.  He ran his wand over the page a few times, muttering spells under his breath.  Checking the validity, if Harry had to guess.  After several minutes, the man put his wand away and handed the letter back to Harry, apparently satisfied.

There was a whirring noise and a soft clink, and a moment later Harry was handed a silver badge.  It was inscribed with his name, and written below that were the words "Guest Researcher, DoM".

"Pin that to the front of your robes," the guard told him.  "Keep it on you as long as you're in the building.  Now, I'm going to call an Auror down to escort you to the department of mysteries..."

"Oh, that's not necessary," Harry said with a friendly smile.  "My Cousin James in an Auror.  I thought I'd pay him a visit, if it isn't too much trouble.  I'm certain he'll be able to find someone to take me down to the Department of Mysteries once we've had the chance to chat some."

"Fair enough," the guard said with a shrug, clearly losing interest now that his job was done.  "Take the lift down.  Department of Magical Law Enforcement is the second floor."

A short ride later, Harry stepped out of the lift and into a hallway lit with artificial sunlight shining through the magical windows set into the walls.  The corridor was lined with doors.  Harry worked his way slowly around the hallway, reading the plaques beside each door until finally, around the corner, he found the one he wanted.

There were cubicles crammed into room, all overflowing with paperwork, the walls adorned with personal effects.  All this, Harry had expected.  But instead of the hustle and bustle he had expected, he was greeted with dead silence, the attention of every person in the room fixed on one of the doors that Harry assumed lead to an office.  A few people glanced at him as he entered, but barely spared him a look before returning their attention to the office once again.

Harry walked forward slowly, intent on discovering what it was everyone was staring at so intently.  At last he got close enough to make out the words engraved on the small golden plaque attached to the door.

James Potter, it read.

That was all the information Harry needed.  It really didn't matter what was on the other side.  Harry might not be willing to stay for his family, but he'd grown fond of them.  He wasn't about to stand by and do nothing while something was happening to his father.  Not an interrogation. No, that wouldn't be held in his office.  Either Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, had dropped by to ream his father out, in which case Harry would happily distract her, or his father was tearing a subordinate a new one.  If that were true, his father wouldn't care.

If it was truly important or sensitive, his father would have locked the door.

Ignoring the gasps of the people around him, Harry put his hand to the knob, only to have it turn easily in his hand.  Harry walked in, pulling the door closed behind him.


Tom retreated from the last of Harry's memories, fighting to keep his emotions under control.  His eyes burned, but Tom refused to blink. He would not take his eyes away from Harry for even a moment.

There were no words for everything Tom wanted to say.  No words could be enough.

Tom pressed Harry even further against the wall, leaning down to kiss him.  It was a violent kiss, fierce with desperation.

Harry met him head on, returning the kiss with as much fervor as he could.

Reaching out with his magic, Tom tore a hole in the wards of the Ministry.  There was no time for finesse.  He had been waiting for Harry for nearly half a century.  He would tolerate no delays in their reunion.  Ignoring the blaring of the alarms around them, Tom managed to turn on his heel without breaking the kiss, his grip on Harry as firm as ever.

They broke apart when the manor appeared around them. Only for a moment, while Harry caught his breath.  Tom couldn't keep his hands off Harry. Not for long.

Tom pulled down the collar of Harry's robe, revealing the long column of Harry's throat.  He stopped short at the sight of the fading bruises he found.

Forty years later.  Forty years later, and Harry still bore Tom's marks on his neck.  After all this time, Harry was still his.  The proof was there, for anyone to see.

Tom reached out and traced his hands along the marks, Harry shuddering at his touch the way he had always done.

Tom bent down and pressed his mouth against Harry's neck, scraping his teeth against the old mark before setting about making a new one.

"I missed you," Harry gasped, clutching Tom's shoulders.  "Merlin, Tom.  I missed you so much."

Tom pulled away to loook into Harry's eyes.  The emotions he saw there were too much, and Tom lost control. His magic burst from him, tangling in Harry's as deeply and as tightly as it could.  Tom kissed Harry as if his very life depended on it.

Tom pulled away at last, pressing his forehead against Harry's own, staring into those green eyes that had been his whole world for so long. 

"You are my everything," Tom said, the years of lonliness, loneliness, of desperation, of emptiness fueling the words.

"I'm here, Tom," Harry said, reaching up to cup Tom's face in one hand, his face lit with joy, green eyes shining with unshed tears.

"Nothing," Tom snarled.  "Nothing will ever take you from me again, Harry.  You are mine."

Tom would not lose him again.  Tom would never so much as let Harry out of his sight.  Not for the next century, at the very least.

"Yours, Tom," Harry agreed.  "Always."

"I made you promise," Tom said, staring down at him.  "Two score ago, I promised to bind you to me.  Magic to magic.  Soul to soul.  Life to life.  You were stolen from me before that promise could be fulfilled."

Tom kissed Harry, needing the reminder that this was real. That it was not a dream.  That his beloved was back in his arms once more.

"Bond with me, Harry Potter," Tom whispered, his voice rough, when he pulled away.  "Bond with me, and let us never be parted again."

Harry leaned forward and kissed him again.

"Yes," Harry said.  "Always, yes."

Tom lifted Harry into his arms, refusing to allow any more space between them that was absolutely necessary.  As soon as he was certain Harry was secure, he once again turned on his heel, disappearing into thin air.


Stonehenge was just as Tom remembered it.  The grass was green, the air practically humming with magical energy.  And absolutely surrounded by muggles.  Tom sneered.  He was not about to bond himself to the love of his life before an audience of muggles.

They were easily dispensed with. A wave of his wand, Tom's unprecedented power amplified by the nature of the magical nexus they stood upon, and the crowd disappeared.  The Obliviators and Muggle Worthy Excuse office would have a great deal of work to do later, but Tom did not care.  He had already lost forty years with the love of his life.  He would not lose even a single second more.

When they were alone, truly alone, Tom gently placed Harry on his feet.

"I love you," Tom said.  "Harry James Potter, I love you more than life itself."

Harry's eyes blew wide, his mouth parting, and Tom did not resist the urge to kiss him.  He was helpless, his self control a mere memory under the circumstances.  After so long starving for Harry's presence, there was nothing Tom wanted more than to gult himself.

Soon, he promised himself as he pulled away.  Soon.

Tom took his wand in his hand and turned to Harry.

"Do you trust me?" Tom asked him.

"With all that I am," Harry answered. 

The hair on Tom's arm slowly began to stand on end, the potency of the magic in the air swelling around them.  Tom blinked in surprise.  They had not yet begun to speak their vows.  In every account he had read, the ritual did not begin until the couple joined hands.  But Harry had just made a vow, and the nexus of power around them had accepted it.

The binding had begun.

Tom reached out and took one of Harry's hands in his own, leaning down to brush a kiss of apology across it for the pain he was about to cause.  Then he drew his wand gently down Harry's palm, the skin splitting in it's wake.  As soon as the cut was made, he repeated the process on the other hand.

Harry reached into his robes and pulled out his own wand, not even flinching as the open wound came into contact with the rough wood.

"Do you trust me?" Harry asked, echoing Tom's question.

"With my life and soul," Tom answered.

Again, the magic around them grew, the pressure almost a physical weight.

Harry drew his wand across Tom's palms one by one, but tom didn't feel the pain. No, all he could feel was the burn of anticipation, his heart beating against his chest.  He reached out and gently took Harry's hands in his own, pressing their palms together and weaving their fingers.

"Harry James Potter," Tom began, staring into those green eyes that had become his entire world "I vow to protect you from harm."

As he spoke the words, he felt his magic drawn from his core, a long strand of magic  was pulled from his chest, wrapping like a ribbon of fire around both their wrists, tying them together.

"Your enemies will be my enemies," Tom continued, another strand weaving between them.  "Your pain will be my pain, and I will alleviate it by any means necessary.  I swear to use the heat of my anger to temper the strength of our bond.  I vow to make you my equal in all things."

Each promise bound the two of them tighter, the fire of Tom's magic weaving their hands together.

And then Harry began to speak.

"Tom Marvolo Riddle," Harry said, his voice shaking, eyes filled with tears.  "I swear that I will share in your laughter.  You triumphs will be my own, your defeats my defeats.  I will find the brightness and goodness in you, and I will treasure both.  I will make myself at home within your darkness."

With each promise, each tie binding them tighter, it was as if Harry's very magic was wrapping itself around his soul.

"I will share your burdens and your dreams," Harry promised.  "I vow to make you my equal in all things."

The last line of fire wrapped around their joined hands, and began to glow so bright it was all but blinding.

"Harry James Potter," Tom said, the magic powerful magic swirling around him intoxicating, "I give you my magic.  I give you my soul.  I give you my life."

"Tom Marvolo Riddle," Harry said, green eyes practically glowing.  "I give you my magic.  I give you my soul.  I give you my life."

"And so with this this kiss, the binding is made!" Tom declared.

He leaned down and kissed Harry, his beloved.  His dearest.  His everything.

It was as if a tidal wave of magic crashed over both them.  Tom could feel his magic being pulled from him, but with every bit that escaped, familiar magic flowed in to take it's place.  Harry's magic, making itself a part of him.  A familiar presence made itself at home in the back of his mind, a connection blossoming there that hadn't been before.

When the last of the magic finally faded, when the light dimmed and vanished, Tom pulled away and opened his eyes.  Harry was beaming up at him, his eyes wet.  Tom could feel his happiness as if it was his own, warming his soul.

"I can feel you," Harry said, his eyes wide.  "I can feel you, Tom."

Tom grinned, brushing Harry's hair back from his face.  "You can.  Just as I can feel you."

"We're bonded," Harry said, breathless, as if he could barely believe it.  "We're bonded."

"We are," Tom said, leaning down and kissing Harry once more.  "We are, Harry.  Magic to magic, soul to soul, life to life."

"Together forever," Harry said softly, wrapping his arms around Tom.

"Forever," Tom agreed, pulling Harry even closer.  

Decades.  Tom had been waiting decades for this moment.  Harry, here.  Harry, back in his arms.  Finally.  Finally.  For the first time in nearly half a century, he felt complete again.

Never again. Never again would Tom lose the boy within his arms.  There was no living without him.  

Tom clutched Harry close, feeling Harry's tears brush against his skin where Harry's head rested in the crook of his neck.  Tom bured his hair and breathed deeply, ignoring the tears that were running down his own cheeks.

His beloved.  His dearest.  His Harry.  Back where he belonged at last.

Tom would never let him go.