Chapter 1: The Wrong Side of Heaven
It was nothing new for Harry Potter to be dragged behind the Dark Lord’s eyes at the behest of strong emotions-usually rage and sometimes happiness-but it had never been confused before.
Voldemort had been abroad for so long that seeing him back in Britain, standing in what was most likely the study of Malfoy Manor, was odd. And seeing through his eyes in full light was even stranger. He’d never had strong vision, and being condemned to the wrong prescription for so many years had only damaged his eyes further, and so suddenly being thrust in to a situation where he had inhumanely acute vision was more than a little bit discombobulating.
The headache that he could distantly feel beginning to build had nothing to do with his scar.
The Dark Lord’s nightmarish claw looked like an eldritch painting made in unnamable shades of white grey and blue, slightly scaled skin stretched so tightly over bones and sinew that it appeared almost transparent. Clutched in the long blue talons which tipped the spidery fingers like frosted crowns was a small bottle rather similar to the ones that he’d seen in Dumbledore’s cabinet, containing a silvery liquid that he recognized immediately as a memory. The writing on the label looked vaguely similar to something he might once have seen before; precise, florid and slanted, penned in metallic golden ink.
‘The Promise I Failed to Keep’
The confusion radiating from Voldemort intensified as he turned the vial in his hand, no doubt raking his ravaged mind for the Malfoy to whom the writing belonged and the situation to which the promise that wasn’t kept applied or even simply had occurred. Unable to do so he waved his other hand in a flippant motion and, with a pop, a cowering House Elf appeared.
“Bring me the Malfoy’s pensive!” The high, reedy susurrus of his voice sent shivers down Harry’s spine and seemed to very nearly petrify the poor House Elf who quickly did as it was told.
The pensive owned by the Malfoy family was very different in appearance to the simple grey stone one owned by Hogwarts for the use of the Headmaster or Headmistress. It was taller and thinner and far more ornate, more like a fluted glass than a flattened goblet, and had been carved from volcanic glass. Etched precisely around the lip of the pensive now sitting atop the heavy cherry desk were Runes which glowed a pale but vibrant blue.
Voldemort removed the cork of the vial with a popping sound that resonated like a gunshot through the otherwise silent room and, had Harry been in his own separate body at the time, would have made him jump. He upturned the vial, allowing the memory to pour out into the potion which filled the pensive.
Pale silver turned dove grey on contact with the clear fluid, spreading outwards in threads and random shapes as it diffused into the potion. The Dark Lord wasted no time in leaning forward and the all too familiar jerking sensation yanked both Voldemort and Harry-his as of yet unnoticed passenger-into the window to the past.
The plummet into darkness was brief, and when they landed they were standing in what quite honestly looked to be the den of a Pureblood manor. Banners of deep emerald hung from the ceiling, emblazoned with a silver basilisk wrapped around a wand clearly made from Yew. A fire roared in a stone hearth behind the wing backed leather chair in which a young Tom Riddle sat at the head of a long walnut table occupied by, presumably Pureblood, Witches and Wizards.
He looked no different than he had in the memory that the Diary Horcrux had shown him in an effort to convince him that Hagrid had been the one to open the Chamber of Secrets. His skin was pale but still possessed the glow of health; his cheeks, though angular enough to cut glass, were not yet hollowed; his lips were full and red instead of nonexistent. His eyes were still dark and, much to Harry’s absolute surprise, warm and baring the beginnings of what would become smile lines in later years-far more inviting than the red slit pupiled glare the Dark Lord now possessed-and he still had hair.
A full head of dark brown glossy curls complete with the rebel cowlick that hung between his eyes.
“My Knights,” sixteen year old Tom Riddle still spoke with a mellow baritone, no signs of the half-serpent monster he was destine to become yet audible in his words, “this meeting is adjourned. Please hurry to your respective common rooms; it wouldn’t do for us to be caught out after curfew, would it?”
Tom? They called him Tom, the name he’d been so eager to impress on Harry that he hated, and he allowed it? The raven was incredibly confused, irritation on Voldemort’s part bleeding through their link.
Chairs scrapped against the wood paneled floor as the members of the budding Dark Lord’s ‘Knights’ got to their feet, forming up a que to each press a kiss to the still seated brunet’s hand before filing out the door.
“Abraxas.” The blonde-plainly a Malfoy by the hue of his hair-who had been in the process of walking out the door turned back, “stay behind, please.”
The last few stragglers exited the room another handful of moments later, leaving the blonde alone with the young Dark Lord. “Is something of concern, Chéri?”
The brunet sighed and unfolded himself from the chair he’d been lounging in, reaching up to run long fingers through his hair and upsetting the way that the curls had been laying. He turned to the fire, the flickering light throwing his face into sharp relief.
Abraxas crossed the room and gently gripped Tom’s shoulder. Turning him about and reaching up to rest his palm against that angular cheek, the motion one that translated undeniably to the context of comfort in intimate contact.
Harry was alarmed. Voldemort was furious, disgusted, but too curious as to the meaning of the memory being labeled as it had been to pull away. The raven had thought that Tom Riddle looked down on the concept of relationships. Had had no friends. Refused to allow himself to be called his father’s name by his circle of followers. And everything that he’d been shown told and experienced up until then had supported that.
Yet here, so clearly, he saw the truth that Tom Riddle and Abraxas Malfoy were lovers.
What the bleeding hell had he stumbled on?
“Tom,” that tender tone was the one that Harry had heard Molly use with Arthur, Hermione use with Ron, Ginny use with him. It was the tone of genuine and honest concern. “Please. Tell me.”
“Have you noticed it, Abraxas? I have. The new wand. That blasted bird. His sudden shift from ‘waiting for Tom Riddle to snap and show his repressed hatred for Muggleborns’-Merlin, I hate that bloody term; it isn’t even remotely accurate!-to ‘he’s just another student’ doesn’t feel right to me.” He said. “He’s been acting strange. Ever since he put a stop to Grindlewald earlier this year. I’m going to confront him.”
“Confront him-!” The young Malfoy yelped, looking more than a little taken aback. “Chéri, are you…I know that you’re stronger than any of us but if he is what you think…”
“When I say confront him I don’t mean that I’m going to declare ‘I know who you really are’ and challenge him to a duel. I’m not a Gryffindor; you ought to know better.” He said tartly. “If the stories of his obsession were true, if the wand that he has is what I think, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I’ll have to take it slowly and gather enough evidence is presented, but we’ll have to hope that our government will do their jobs.”
“It may be a waste of energy to hope for that.”
“Yes.” Tom sighed. “But at this point there’s nothing more that we can do. Maybe in time I’d be able to match him, but we don’t have years to wait.” He said. “And that’s why I wanted you to stay behind so we could speak. I need you to do something for me. In case things go wrong.”
“What do you need me to do?” Abraxas looked wary. Tom resigned; it was an expression that Harry couldn’t help but feel didn’t fit properly on his face.
“You know why I started the Knights of Walpurgis to begin with. Because I didn’t buy into the idea that blood mattered; Magic is Magic. Because I was chosen by Mother Magic to help keep the balance. I want a promise made that, if I ever stray from the Knight’s ideals or resort to violence without provocation that you’ll put me down.”
Abraxas was already pale, but he turned almost ashen at what had been asked of him. Tom stared placidly. Voldemort was absolutely affronted. “I-I-! Tom, I thought that you were-.”
“Afraid of death?” the blonde nodded, eyes wide in shock. “I am. But I’ve a duty to preform and…I’d rather confront my greatest fear than live in a world where Magic died because I failed in my duties.”
“I suppose that I can understand that,” he said, “but why me, Chéri?”
In the closest thing to guilt that Harry had ever seen the other man display, Tom’s dark eyes shifted downward to focus on the floor at his feet. “It’s because I’m a weak man that fears pain almost as much as he fears death itself. And because I can trust you more than any of the others to both respect my wishes and to make it as painless as dying can be.” He said. “I don’t ask this of you to be cruel. Please don’t think that.”
“I don’t, Tom. I understand.”
“Then you’ll do it?” there was a grim hopefulness in his eyes as he looked up again, “you’ll promise me?”
There was pain in the set of his expression as Abraxas stepped forward, dropping his head onto the brunet’s shoulder. Tom wound his arms around his waist, propping his chin atop pale blonde hair. “Yes.” His words were difficult to make out, stilted and broken. “I promise.”
The memory collapsed around them into darkness, and as the irate and utterly bewildered Voldemort surfaced from the pensive Harry opened his eyes.
The fabric of the tent stretched above him, flickering in the slight breeze and stained the pale amber of painted glass by the sunlight slanting through it. The locket rested heavy against the bare skin of his chest beneath his shirt, still cold despite near constantly being worn by one of the three of them and ticking away as if possessed of a heartbeat all its own.
They were still in the woods where the Triwizard Tournament had been held, having just escaped from the Ministry two days before. They had their first Horcrux, were still without any way to destroy it and now, of all times, the raven had begun to think that perhaps destroying it wouldn’t be the correct course of action after all.
He’s just seen Voldemort view a memory left behind by Abraxas Malfoy. Abraxas Malfoy, who was the father of Lucius Malfoy. Abraxas Malfoy, who had been the lover of a Tom Riddle who was set entirely apart from anything Harry had been taught. Abraxas Malfoy. Who had promised to kill him if he ever became what he never wanted to be.
Nothing made sense any longer, everything that he knew to be the truth had been turned upside down, neither Tom nor Dumbledore-who had been the one to tell him about Tom, show him the memories of Riddle’s childhood and had set him on the course of destroying the Horcruxes-were looking to be quite who he’d thought they were and if what he’d seen could be believed, and Harry James Potter didn’t like it one little bit.
He didn’t like the thought of being used, and he was beginning to feel that that was precisely what was happening.
‘I’m going to confront him.’ ‘He’s acting strange.’ Was it possible that Tom had been talking about Dumbledore? ‘If things go wrong’. ‘But I’ve a duty to perform.’ Could the Headmaster, the kind old grandfather of a man that Harry had always perceived him as, have somehow had a hand in creating Voldemort?
There had been a time where Harry would have answered his own question with a resounding no, but hadn’t he begun to question his integrity and intention himself just recently?
Whatever this new revelation could mean for the future could wait just a few minutes longer before it was acted on. For now he needed to confer with Ron and Hermione on the matter.
The pair had woken up before him and were sitting outside of the tent, gathered around a small fire which had been built to both stave off the cold of early morning and to cook another can full of the rubbery mushrooms which was all they’d been consisting on since they’d landed in the area.
Ron was looking much better than he had before now that he’d had a few successive days to recover from the shock and blood loss caused by his splinching in their sudden escape from Yaxley, and was eyeing the billycan with a suspicion that the raven could quite readily sympathize with.
They both looked up at him as he exited the tent.
“Morning.” Hermione said, attempting to sound bright. Ron just grumbled something which vaguely resembled English and shot another half-glare at the fire.
“Morning,” he took a seat beside the fire as well. “We need to talk. I’m not certain that we’re doing the right thing. By finding the Horcruxes. By trying to destroy them.”
Ron and Hermione both went stiff; the red head gaped in surprise and looked at him as if he’d spontaneously sprouted another head; Hermione demanded that he hand over the locket immediately, as it was clearly beginning to influence him in danger ways.
All in all, they took it rather well.
“I’m not being influenced; I’m not saying that he’s right or that we shouldn’t be trying to stop him, I just…” the egg-sized clasp clattered on its chain as he pulled it over his head and handed it over, “something isn’t right. Things aren’t adding up and…it’s concerning me that there could be more to the story and that we could be playing into the hands of something bigger.”
“Like You-Know-Who, you mean?” Ron said sourly, unappetizing mushrooms for the moment left forgotten.
“No. Not like him; I’m starting to feel like he might be just another piece in something bigger. Something worse.” He said. “Last night I had a dream-.”
“Merlin, Harry! How many times do I have to keep telling you to-!”
“To shut him out because he could trick me, yes I know! Contrary to what you may think, Hermione, I did learn from what happened in our fifth year and I’d really appreciate it if you could stop talking for a minute so that I can make my point!”
It seemed odd that there would be a ‘church mouse finally roared’ stunned silence at his outburst given the fact that he’d gone off on them before, but the raven seized on the afforded opportunity regardless.
“I’d been having a string of them in the days before, all about him being abroad looking for some bloke named Gregorovitch, but this one was different. He’s back in Britain now; was in the study at Malfoy manor and was probably looking through their stored memories. I don’t know what happened exactly because I came in when he was looking at a vial labeled ‘The Promise I Failed to Keep’ in confusion.” The words poured out of him like water from a high pressure tap in an effort to effectively make his point before he could be interrupted. “The memory, it turned out, was one from Abraxas Malfoy; Lucius’ father. They were lovers. He and Tom, I mean. But Tom wasn’t at all like what Dumbledore showed me or like he is now; he was still an arrogant prat, obviously, but he was talking about how blood didn’t matter because Magic is Magic and said something a little strange about being ‘Magic chosen to help preserve the balance’.”
Harry paused only long enough to take a breath before plowing onwards.
“Apparently Dumbledore had started acting strange and Tom was concerned. Was going to ‘confront him’. He was worried that he’d catch on and would do something to make him change and made Abraxas promise to kill him if he ever resorted to the methods that the Death Eaters are now using. But that was why the vial was labeled like it was; Abraxas couldn’t bring himself to do it.” He said. “And I know that this wasn’t a trick because he was even more confused than I was. Something is wrong here, Hermione! What if what he’s doing and what he’s done isn’t his fault; what if someone else drove him into acting like this. What if he’s innocent; what if Dumbledore turned him into this?”
“Woah, mate, hold on. You think that Dumbledore is the evil one now? Did you forget the fact that he’s fought You-Know-Who for years, or maybe that he was murdered on his order?”
“It isn’t impossible that he could have faked his death; Muggles are able to do it, and with Magic it would only be easier. And we all have to admit that there is something weird about all of this.” Hermione said; Harry could practically see the gears turning in her head. “Looking at everything objectively Dumbledore did have a lot of power-he knew that the position of Minister for Magic was basically a figurehead position so he refused to take it, going for Supreme Warlock of the Wizengamot instead, and with Fudge in office and his habit of taking his cues from him the Headmaster had even more-and a lot of what he’s done is…questionable. Most especially assigning us this mission when we should still be in school! And all because of a prophecy that says Harry has to be the one to kill him? Your Mum was right to question it.”
“’Mione, we know that Prophecies are real-.”
“They’re self-actualizing!” She snapped. “But don’t think that I agree with you on everything, Harry. Once again you’re showing yourself to possess a chronic hero complex, and I think pronouncing him innocent-even if he is the victim of some nefarious machination-is a little bit excessive. That being said it would be incredibly remiss of us not to at least look into this; if there’s any choice we can get through to him and prevent war completely we need to take it.”
“Well, what’s our first move?” Harry asked her, unable to keep an eager edge out of his voice. Finally they’d really be doing something. Something with a somewhat more tangible, if perhaps considerably more difficult, goal. Something that, to his very core, actually felt right.
“We need to look into who Tom Riddle really was from at least one other source who knew him back then. Memories aren’t perfect, after all. And if they really were involved with one another it’s possible that Abraxas simply perceived him as a more benevolent figure than he truly was. We need to make certain we’re not getting in over our heads before we do anything.”
“Fat chance of doing that,” Ron said, “they’re all either Death Eaters or dead, aren’t they?”
Harry deflated with disappointment but Hermione simply sent them both an exasperated look.
“Professor McGonagall went to school with him; she was a few years below him but her testimony will be more than suitable for our purposes.” She said. “But that presents us with a new problem.”
“And that would be?”
“We’re going to need to steal an owl.”
Their efforts would have been made a great deal easier on their already quite thoroughly frayed nerves had Hedwig still been alive. They hadn’t had the time to grab Pigwidgeon or Crookshanks when they’d fled from the attack on Bill and Fleur’s wedding outside the Burrow but Harry knew for a fact that, had the beautiful snowy owl that Hagrid had bought for him during his first trip into Diagon Alley not died defending him in the sky battle over Little Whinging, she’d have found some way to get back to him. And she’d have gotten the letter that they’d written to their former Head of House to its recipient without fail; sure she was recognizable as all hell but, surely, they’d have been able to get around that fact somehow.
It made him miss her presence all the more.
The owl that they’d ended up managing to steal from the post office of a small Wizarding village the name of which Harry didn’t know was an eternally perturbed grey owl that could be flatteringly described as unfriendly. All three of them had ended up with holes in their fingers while trying to wrangle it into submission and it had hissed so much that he was half-convinced that, if he spoke to it in Parseltongue, it might respond. The thing reminded him of that horror movie that he’d caught snippets of a few years back, when his cousin had watched it on the telly. If he recalled correctly, it had been called The Exorcist.
It would be just their luck that the one owl they’d managed to commandeer for their clandestine mailing efforts would turn out to be possessed by the bleeding Devil.
The locket clattered as he leaned back against the bunk he’d claimed within the tent they’d been living out of since losing the ability to safely access Number Twelve. The ticking of the little metal heart which seemed to be inside it sped briefly to a near mind-numbing pace before slowing back down to match his own.
It fluctuated fairly often, he’d noticed, but the pace of his heart beat seemed to have quickly become its favorite speed. Harry, likewise, seemed to be the locket’s favorite holder especially now that they’d come to the decision to suspend their immediate efforts to destroy it. It was almost like the Horcrux was aware; not quite sentient, perhaps, but aware. And that it had overheard them.
Maybe he was tired but it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to him, especially given what his experience with the diary had been.
They still alternated the job of wearing the locket in shifts, but over the course of the week it had been since their shift in direction had occured the raven had found himself being the one to wear it most often. It probably wasn’t good for him in any way but it didn’t really bother Harry all that much. Where Ron and Hermione both reported mood swings, nausea and the chain around their necks becoming icy cold at random the raven had never experienced anything of the sort. If anything, the chain often times felt more like warm arms loosely wrapped around his shoulders than anything else.
There were times where he could almost swear he even heard the locket purr.
There had been no further insights into Voldemort’s mind, though his scar had continued to nettle him regularly, and for that fact if nothing else Harry felt grateful.
He’d tried to keep his thoughts away from the contents of that odd forgotten memory and what it would mean-not just for the war but for everything that Harry had ever thought he’d known-out of his mind and had been mostly successful at it. Though, from time to time as he was falling asleep, he could hear Tom Riddle’s voice in his head repeating things like ‘I need you to do something for me. If things go wrong.’ and ‘I’d rather confront my greatest fear than live in a world where Magic died because I failed my duty.’
Harry had always felt sorry for the wretched life that he’d lived before becoming the monster that had hunted him for all his life, but ever since learning about what he’d done in creating the Horcruxes-in tearing his own soul apart for some empty immortality, destroying innocent lives all because he was afraid-he’d begun to consider him an irredeemable coward as well.
Now he wasn’t so sure. And he wouldn’t move forward with eliminating Voldemort, wouldn’t stop looking, until he got to the bottom of exactly what had happened to Tom Marvolo Riddle.
What had Hermione said about believing he had a hero complex?
He was beginning to think that she might have been right.
The flap of the tent rustled loudly as it was pushed aside, the crisp crinkling sound of it unique to canvas. He looked up just as Ron came in through the opening, a look of excitement on his face that he hadn’t seen in a long time. A look which the raven immediately associated with progress.
Harry sat up abruptly, the locket clattering loudly in what almost amounted to annoyance at being thrown from where it had curled up on his chest like a cat. “The owls back?”
“The owls back and it has a letter; Hermione’s got it. Come on!”
Charged with a rush of new energy Harry leapt off his cot and ran out of the tent after him, both darting across the few pace distance that separated their tent from the fire beside which Hermione was sitting with a letter in her hand.
“That’s a letter from McGonagall, right? Not the same letter that we sent coming back?” he asked.
“No, take a look.” She held it up for him to see; Harry only needed a brief glance to recognize that the hand writing used to label it wasn’t any of theirs. “It seems to check out and there aren’t any Hexes or Curses placed on it as far as I can tell. If it has been intercepted and tampered with it’s been so well covered up that there’s no way for me to pick it up. All that’s left to do is open it and I thought it best that all of us were present for that.”
It wasn’t an answer to any of his questions but it was a step in the right direction. Progress was progress and, at this point, he’d take anything.
“Well, open it then.” He could feel his hands shaking.
“No, Harry, all of this was your idea.” She said. “You should be the one to open it.”
He didn’t wait for her to ask twice. Sparing no thought to the existent, if relatively small, possibility that there could be something nasty lying in wait beneath the envelope’s flap Harry took it from her and ripped it open. The raven paused for the space of a few heartbeats, every cell in his body expecting to be consumed by some form of Dark Curse, but when nothing happened he ripped the letter free of the envelope and unfolded it. Almost tearing the parchment in the haste of fumbling fingers.
‘To my former student,
I can’t claim to know why you’d be asking after such information but if it’s really so necessary to the work that you’ve engaged in towards furthering your Mastery in the subject of Transfiguration it’s my duty as your former professor in the subject and Head of House to assist you. Enclosed is the address to my home; the soonest time that I’d be able to get away from my duties as a teacher within the reformed curriculum of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will be around six in the evening on Saturday. We’ll discuss the matter in further detail then.
“Mastery in Transfiguration?” Ron repeated, confused.
“Really, Ronald? The letter is encoded!” Hermione informed him exasperatedly. “Given the fact that she herself was in the Order of the Phoenix, Professor McGonagall would know better than to come right out and say ‘oh yes, Harry Potter and his two fugitive friends one of whom is a Muggleborn currently marked down as refusing to submit to registration, do come over to my home at six in the evening on Saturday-the only time that I can get away from the bastard Death Eater currently calling himself Headmaster-so that we can discuss the years I spent attending schooling with the Dark Lord of all people for a couple of hours. If it had been intercepted, which it quite possible could have been, we’d all have been in rather deep…well, calling it ‘hot water’ would be considerably generous.”
“This is why we had Hermione write the letter that we sent along to begin with.” Harry said, folding the letter back up and shoving it into the envelope. “You encoded that too, didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t do much for it without obscuring what we were actually asking about; I ended up having to enchant it to only be readable by the intended recipient instead.” Hermione ran her fingers through her hair in a mostly failed effort to unravel the snits which had formed in her curls. “More important than the fact that the letter was encoded: the date that we’re supposed to meet with her is tonight. It’s noon now.”
“We’re leaving in about six hours, then?” Ron asked.
Harry nodded. “Six hours.” He said. “Nothing left to really do but wait.”
Waiting was torture.
Since their hunt for Horcruxes had begun it seemed to be all that they had really done. Wait to be forced to leave the Burrow, wait until information on the locket fell into their laps, wait for the opportunity to enact their plan and steal it.
He hated waiting. Maybe it was his Gryffindor nature, the lion inside of him, but he wanted to do.
By the time it was the time to leave he’d worn a furrow in the earth for all his pacing; Ron and Hermione had spent the majority of the intervening hours watching him bounce back and forth like a ping pong ball in total silence. All it took to clear their campsite and tuck everything away was a wide sweep of Hermione’s wand; once everything was safely tucked away back in her expanded beaded bag she held out an arm to both of them.
“It’s about time we got going. Preferably before Harry digs his way clear through to North America.”
The raven rolled his eyes but left the couple-inch deep track that the constant passage of his scuffed trainers had worn into the moist forest floor and walked over, taking her arm at the same time that Ron took the other.
The familiar sickening tug of side-along Apparition uprooted them from the spot. They landed seconds later amidst the small but well-kept garden of a quaint looking stone house. They barely had the time to really look around before the front door swung open, revealing their former Professor standing on the other side.
“Come in, all three of you, quickly! Before you’re seen!”
Given both the density of the greenery surrounding them and the wall around the garden the likelihood that they would be seen was very low but, given the political climate in Britain at the moment and the fact that the three of them were currently on the run he supposed that it wasn’t an entirely unfounded thing to worry about.
In much the same way as they had in the first year after being caught out after curfew and given a detention, the trio marched through the doorway and into her home. Though he knew the woman to be fairly strict and stringent at times Harry couldn’t help but think that the interior of the building fit her quite well. Cozy and warm without being cluttered, most of the furniture was either wood or chintz. A fire crackled in the hearth across from them and the room as a whole possessed over tones which were similar to both her office back at Hogwarts and Gryffindor common room.
It made him want to smile just as much as it filled him with a sharp sense of longing for the first place on earth that he’d ever truly called home.
The door closed with a dull clatter, cutting off the dimming evening light which had crept in from outside. She locked it behind them just for good measure.
“Sit. All three of you. It’s best that we get through this quickly.” Their former Professor motioned towards the sitting room that they were already half-standing in, an anxious tension plain in every motion. Hermione was the first to move towards the nearest armchair, followed not long after by both Harry and Ron. “Can I get you anything to drink? Water; tea; pumpkin juice?”
“Um,” Hermione looked over at both of them and said “I think that tea would be best, Professor.”
Both boys nodded. McGonagall sent a full tea set and kettle sailing over out of the kitchen with a flick of her wand, pushing a beaten tin towards them with the other hand and spilling a portion of the contents over the top of the table.
“Have a biscuit!”
Harry resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow as he followed her instructions, briefly flashing back to the time that he’d been sent to her office by Umbridge back in fifth year. Hermione did much the same while Ron happily cleared the table of the scattered Ginger Newts.
Seeing his normally rather taciturn and stoic former Head of House so nervous was a new experience and Harry had to wonder if it was having a trio of wanted criminals inside her house taking tea-including the ‘Undesirable Number One’ himself-some form of bad juju inherent in speaking of Tom Riddle or some combination of the two that had set her so on edge.
“I’ll have to admit that receiving a letter from the three of you was the last thing I expected, especially given the content of what you were asking for.” She sank into an open arm chair, her cup and saucer shaking in her hands. “Might I ask why the three of you are asking about Tom Riddle? Will this information somehow help you in putting a stop to this madness?”
“’Putting a stop to the madness’ is a good way of wording it.” Harry said, the warmth from his cup sinking into his fingers. “We’ve recently come across information that suggests Tom might not have become what he is now voluntarily. That he could potentially be a victim of this just as much as everyone else and that we could potentially save him from himself and put a stop to this without any more blood having to be shed. But we need more information on what he was really like as a school boy before we moved forward with it. In case we were wrong.”
“That’s certainly understandable, Mr. Potter, though I was under the impression that Albus had been giving you private lessons all of last year, many of which included Riddle’s past.”
“He did,” but if there was one thing he had learned from his experience with Slughorn it was that memories could be tampered with, even outright faked, and even if what he’d been shown in the pensive had been real they were undoubtedly distorted by a pre-existing lens of suspicion. “However…”
“We have reason, Professor, to believe that Professor Dumbledore may not have been…exactly who we thought he was.” Hermione’s tone was mincing; she was clearly being cautious with her words. “The same information that led us here has brought up questions about him as well. We’re here trying to sort everything out, and as such we can’t take anything that we previously thought we knew at face value no matter how much we may or may not have trusted the person that the information came from.”
“And where exactly did you come across this information, if I might ask?”
Harry had known that this question was coming, but he had hoped, at the same time, that it wouldn’t. “I found out through my link with him. I happened to see him uncover and view an old memory that Abraxas Malfoy had hidden away somewhere in Malfoy Manor.”
McGonagall’s lips thinned at the admission but she didn’t berate him on the matter like Hermione had, much to his relief. “I suppose that would make sense. Tom and Abraxas were quite close, at one time; he truly seemed to have quite the soft spot for the then Malfoy-Heir and they were rarely seen without each other. Abraxas was already contracted to marry someone else, as all Purebloods are at birth, but Tom seemed to have loved him enough to be willing to be little more than a paramour of sorts if it meant that they could stay together. That’s why it struck so many of us as beyond strange when their relationship fell apart so completely and Tom went round the bend.”
“So it’s true, then?” Harry asked. “He wasn’t always like this?”
“No.” She said. “He wasn’t. There was a time where Tom Riddle was a distant but kind and wholly benevolent figure at Hogwarts though he was a little bit odd with his ‘boys club’ that he called the Knights of Walpurgis, which for all the world appeared at the time to be little more than a nascent political party, and his general preference for the company and conversation of serpents over people. He did have a marked distaste for Muggles which he was quite vocal about but he was equally as likely to extend a hand to a Pureblood as he was to a Muggleborn. If you had even a drop of Magic in your blood he viewed as an equal in at least some capacity. This went for most Magical Creatures as well.”
“The first time that I myself ever met him was as a first year on the train home for Yule, when he assisted me in locating me cat. As a Gryffindor I never had much interaction with him-we were cordial, of course, with Slytherin but Albus was our Head of House at the time and for whatever reason he didn’t trust Tom; it was almost as if he could see the break in his sanity coming when no one else could-but he was never anything but a model student who was at the top of his class by leaps and bounds. He had fully reformed the Heirs of every Pureblood family who had been sorted into Slytherin within three years. Was intelligent. Charming. Charismatic. It came as a surprise to no one when, in his fifth year, he was named as Prefect. And then, at the end of that year, a girl was found dead in the first floor bathroom.”
“Moaning Myrtle.” Harry’s reflection waivered against the surface of the tea in his cup as he tried to force back the memories from his second year. “That was the night that he opened the Chamber of Secrets and released the Basilisk.”
According to Riddle-The-Diary when he’d spoken to it, the Basilisk had been freed with the intention of ‘purging the school of the unworthy’. But if he’d first opened it so close to the end of the year there couldn’t have been time for such a goal to have actually been accomplished.
Yet another detail that wasn’t adding up.
McGonagall nodded solemnly. “It all went to pieces after that. Though he never allowed figures of authority to see him without his ‘angel’ persona firmly in place and pulled the act off so well that he ultimately became Head Boy, Tom began to torment the other students. Pushed Abraxas away almost entirely-the official determination was that he died of Dragon Pox, and where that may be true I think the shock of Tom’s ‘death’ was what really did him in; he succumbed to the disease a week after that Halloween night in 1981, but before that point had been making progress towards recovering-and began decrying love as weakness, descending into a sadistic sort of paranoia which was really quite terrifying. The rhetoric of acceptance and Magical unity was replaced by the same discrimination he’d once fought against and he rebranded both himself and the Knights of Walpurgis with new names.”
“They became the Death Eaters. And he became…Him.”
“They did. He did. You’re quite right, Ms. Granger. Tom worked in Knockturn Alley for a few years after he graduated and then went abroad, presumably to study the Dark Arts in greater detail. The First Wizarding War began not long after he returned. Everything is history from there. History that I believe the three of you are well aware of.” She said. “Now, is there anything else that I can help you with? Anything else you’ve been told that you’re questioning?”
“No, Professor. That’s everything that we needed to know.” Hermione said as she stood up. “Thank you.” She looked over at the two boys rather sharply; Harry quickly put down his tea and got up but Ron gazed longingly at the tin of cookies before following suit. “We should be moving on, now. There’s no reason for us to risk inviting unnecessary danger to your doorstep simply because we’ve overstayed our welcome. Come on, both of you.”
They were dragged back out into the garden before either could protest.
“Well,” the brunet turned on them the moment they were cloistered in a fairly far removed and sheltered corner of the garden, “what have we learned?”
Ron gave her the same rather blank stare that Harry had long ago come to associate with Snape’s pop quizzes before hedging “that Harry was right and that You-Know-Who wasn’t always a massive murderous git.”
“Your eloquence never ceases to amaze me, Ronald.” She drawled. “Something must have happened when he went to confront whoever it was that he was talking about in that memory; from the information that we’ve managed to put together that person was most likely Dumbledore though even about that much we can’t be entirely sure. If it was Dumbledore something must have happened around that same time to push him to do something terrible to Tom in order to keep him from revealing…something. I’d be willing to bet Galleons on the fact that it must have had to do with some of the same dirty laundry that that awful woman uncovered in her recent ‘book’.”
“Rita Skeeter threw everything she could find at the wall in the desperate hope that something would stick.” Harry pointed out archly; as much as he’d begun to question the grandfatherly image that Dumbledore had always been sure to project to those around him he still hated the reporter with a burning fiery passion. “How could we possibly stand to know what, if any, of the dirt she claimed to have on him was true let alone what piece of it Tom might have stumbled on?”
“We can’t know but we can certainly guess, Harry. There’s only one thing that I can think of that’s really big enough to drive him to do something as terrible as what he did to Tom must have been if it broke his sanity to the point that it turned him into Him and it would make perfect sense; their historic duel had just taken place around two months before the night that Myrtle was killed.” She said. “I have a hunch that whatever this is it has something to do with Gellert Grindlewald.”
“Gellert Grindlewald?” Ron repeated, sounding shocked. “You mean that German bloke that was the Dark Lord before, well, the Dark Lord.”
“Exactly. But we’ll have to do a lot of research to be sure. Research that I’ll need a Magical library for as we simply don’t have the academic resources with us in my bag.”
“Hermione,” Harry said, “I’m sure you’re on to something, but in case you’ve forgotten we’re on the run. We can’t just walk into a Magical library for a bit of research; the Death Eaters would be on us in seconds.”
“I’m aware of that, Harry! And I don’t need just any library either. I’d need one with as much in depth information on as many subjects as possible for us to have the best chance at finding the answers that we’re looking for, not only about the matter of what might have happened to Tom but exactly what he meant with his comments about his ‘duty’ regarding ‘the balance’. The largest English-language Magical library in the world is located through a hidden entrance inside of the Library of Congress. That would be the place we’d need to go.”
“The Library of Congress?” the red head looked over at Harry as if expecting an explanation but the other boy just shrugged. “Where’s that?”
“The United States of America; very far out of the reach of You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters. We’d be able to research safely there.” Hermione sounded rather smug. “How do the two of you boys feel about a spot of studying abroad?”
Yes, I did change the time line with certain things. I moved the date of Abraxas' death up a bit and I also made the first time the Basilisk ever attacked anyone to be the night that Myrtle died. Those were purposeful changes and no a result of a lack of knowledge of the proper timeline in case anyone was wondering.
Chapter 3: Forging Documents
It's been a while and it's kind of short, unfortunately, but it's a transition chapter more than anything else. The next chapter should be longer.
Ron was rather conspicuous with his reaction to their surroundings as the raven, though aware he couldn’t possibly be all that better having never had the chance to stay in a hotel before as there’d never been a snowflake’s chance in Hell the Dursely’s would ever have taken him to one, doubted that your typical Muggle walked into the lobby and started looking around with their mouths agape like a fish. Hermione, seeming to share Harry’s sentiment, was quick to chide him on the matter and the red head closed his mouth so quickly that his teeth knocked together with a sharp clack. As the frizzy haired witch left them standing in the middle of the room to approach the front desk, presumably to make their reservations and pay for the room joined Harry in staring at their surroundings.
He doubted that the place was all that high end, not that he was really in any position to tell, but that didn’t matter in the end. It was more than likely all they’d be able to afford, and even then only for a short while, with what Muggle money Hermione had had the foresight to include in her expanded beaded bag of tricks. Attempting to pay with sickles and galleons would more than likely prove a bad idea as, as tempting as gold and silver might be, it was also liable to get the Muggle authorities called on them. And being held up in their efforts to leave the country for America would only heighten their chances of getting caught.
As badly as he wanted to proceed immediately Harry knew that Hermione was right. This wasn’t a situation which could abide giving in to his Gryffindor tendencies and rushing in with reckless abandon and a Hail Mary in hopes that his inexplicable luck would be enough to get to the bottom of the mystery and put Tom Riddle back to rights. They knew too little about too little and didn’t have any other choice but to rectify that fact and their best chance of doing so would be to go to the Library of Congress in America.
And that meant relying on the Slytherin streak which had almost landed him in Snake House to keep his patience long enough for Hermione to successfully undergo the process of forging the documents necessary for them to make it passed the American authorities.
The well-lit room, lined on all sides with beige-gold tile, and the wall inset with massive windows was setting him on edge. Every time something moved outside-a pedestrian, a car or something else-green eyes would dart swiftly towards it in order to assess the threat. Hand subconsciously twitching towards where his wand was hidden in the waist band of his pants. Nothing, every time. Still, it didn’t make him feel any better.
Needless to say, Harry was beyond relieved when Hermione returned with the room keys in hand and led them towards the elevator. Once the doors had juttered shut behind them and the elevator had started upwards with a ding she turned towards them. “I didn’t have much left on me so I could only get one room for about two nights. We still have a bit left over for food, but…”
“Better we get out of here as soon as possible. We were safer in the forest than we are in London.” Harry said. “Are you going to be able to get the documents done by then?”
“It will be pushing it but if I start right away I should be able to.” Hermione said. “As much as it isn’t ideal it may be better to only make one, duplicate it and then make the necessary modifications to them to ensure that we have the best possible chance of getting passed the authorities when we arrive.”
“Blimey, Hermione.” Ron said. “Mind telling us when and why you learned to do this sort of thing?”
“I didn’t learn to do it on purpose!” She swatted at him weakly with her bag, pink in the face. “You just…pick up on how to do a lot of things when you read as much as I do.”
“Do you know how to hot wire a car, too?” he raised an arm to defend himself from her retaliatory assault. “Better not let the plonker Mundungus find out. He might try and convince you join his little thievery enterprise.”
“Harry!” The beads on her bag rattled together as she swung it at him but the only half-serious attack ended when the elevator doors opened again with another shrill ding.
The halls were narrow with off-white grungy walls and floors paved in what could only be described as bowling alley carpet. It smelled like cleaning fluid and cigarette smoke. The room that they’d managed to book was 418, third down from the far end of the hall.
It took them a good three tries to finally fit the key into the look but, on the edge of giving up on the matter entirely and using an Unlocking Charm instead, they finally managed to force it in and turn it. Once the lock had clicked free of its lowered position the trio managed to shoulder it open and spilled inside in a heap.
The same unflattering carpet and smoke stained white walls awaited them, accompanied by drab less than clean bedding and atrocious floral curtains which reminded Harry far too much of Dolores Umbridge’s office for comfort.
“Aside from the fact that those curtains make it a bit too similar to the office of that awful Ministry Hag, I think I can work with this.” At least he wasn’t the only one who held such less than flattering sentiments. Hermione disentangled herself, rose to her feet, and brushed dust free of her knees. “Hopefully neither of you is allergic to dust.”
“Not me.” Ron said. “You, mate?”
“No.” Harry said, getting up as well.
“So, how are we going to do this?” He gestured to the only two beds in the room. “Hermione and I in one and Harry and…the locket?”
The raven rolled his eyes as he dropped onto the nearest bed with the shriek of old hinges. “I promise not to make out with it while the pair of you are in the room.”
“I’d hope not. Doubt my sister would be entirely pleased to find out you’d replaced her with a Dark Object.” Ron said as he sprawled out atop the other bed.
“Ronald, I understand that you’re her brother, but considering the fact that they’re currently broken up both Harry and Ginny are fully within their rights to be seeing other people. Not that I approve of you being with a Horcrux either.” The beaded bag clattered loudly when she dropped it onto the table, beginning the process of fishing out the required items. “Maybe after we’ve put him back together, if things go how we hope.”
“Bloody Hell, ‘Mione! Why are you, trying to set him up with the Dark Lord?”
“It should be obvious.” She’d managed to drag ink, a quill, a couple of pieces of parchment and a number of other objects the raven didn’t recognize out of her bag. “Face it, boys, the longest relationship Harry’s ever had with any one has been with Tom Riddle. And even with him having gone crazy you can’t deny that they’re a lot alike.”
“Thanks,” the raven drawled, dropping his head back onto the pillow. The thing was on its last legs and let out a sad sounding wheeze as soon as weight was applied to it. “I definitely needed someone to tell me that. Couldn’t possibly have gone on another moment longer without being informed of how similar I am to the Darkest Wizard of our generation.”
No matter if he was at fault for his own actions or not, and regardless of how sorry for him he felt, it still wasn’t the world’ most flattering remark.
“I’ll be a while,” her voice had taken on a distracted tone as she started in on the job of creating passports and IDs and whatever else they’d need to avoid being arrested immediately for unlawful entry of a foreign country. “Why don’t you show Ron the television, Harry? I’m sure that his response will be rather interesting.”
It was. Not quite to the stereotypical point of the red headed wizard asking how the Muggles got into the glass box but close enough to make both of them laugh. He, Harry felt sure, probably hadn’t looked much better when he’d first discovered the Magical World.
That night, much to the relief of all three of them, went by without trouble. They watched a bit of TV, ran over some of what they’d already decided would be the best protocol of action both if things went right and if things went wrong, ordered pizza and then went to sleep. And the next day went much the same. Wake up at ten in the morning (Hermione had been up since seven), watch more TV, eat the rest of the pizza for lunch, watch more TV. Then came dinner. No pizza left.
“There’s a café a couple of blocks west of here.” Hermione still hadn’t properly finished their false documents but, no doubt owing to the fact that they all remembered exactly what had happened the last time they’d been to a café, replaced them in her bag either way. “We’ll run there to grab a bite and then come back. Let’s go.”
After turning out the lights and ensuring, on reflex more than out of any need to have them, that they had both room keys on them the trio filed out of the room and left the hotel.
Darkness had fallen about an hour before and Harry couldn’t help himself from holding his wand in a death grip underneath his oversized jumper. The golden links of the locket’s chain were warm around his neck but did little to offer comfort. They reached the café without incident and sat at the table farthest back and away from the window. Dinner was quiet. Harry knew it wouldn’t last.
They were alone on the quiet street in the dark, halfway back to the hotel, when the locket suddenly constricted like a python. The force of the metal biting into his throat with enough force to cut off his breathing and made him double over, and as a result he narrowly avoided the spell which whizzed by just over his head. A cacophony of cracks ricocheted off the walls of the surrounding buildings as Death Eaters apparated into being around them, cloaks black as shadows and silver skull masks glinting in the dark. With how badly his eyes were watering (thankfully the thing had released him almost immediately) it was difficult to aim. He fired off one spell and then another and was gearing up for a third but never got the chance. Hermione seized him by the back of his neck and spun on the spot.
As the familiar darkness and crushing sensation of Apparition washed over him all Harry’s mind could focus on was the fact that the locket had acted to protect him.
Chapter 4: M.A.C.U.S.A
Maybe it was just a special curse which came with being a part of Gryffindor House, but why was it exactly that every single plan they’d ever attempted to concoct no matter how seemingly fool-proof somehow always managed to go catastrophically wrong? In his first year, he ended up proceeding alone to the mirror chamber after both Ron and Hermione had been taken out by the tasks and only narrowly managed to avoid being strangled to death by Volde-Quirrel. In his second year, Hermione had accidentally used cat’s hair in her dose of Polyjuice Potion. In his third year, Lupin had rushed after them without remembering to take his Wolfsbane Potion and the resulting chaos of his transformation had allowed Pettigrew to escape. In his fourth year, his plan to share the Triwizard Tournament victory with Cedric had led to the other boy’s death and Voldemort’s return. In his fifth year, his efforts to save Sirius from being supposedly held hostage in the Department of Mysteries had gotten him killed instead. In his sixth year, his best attempt to uncover what Draco was up to had only ever led to him nearly killing the blonde in a duel in a bathroom by using a spell the effect of which he hadn’t known. And now, in his seventh year, this.
Apparently apparating at random into Central Park with half-completed clearly forged papers and almost violating the Statute of Secrecy while they were at it because of the difference in time zone between New York and London wasn’t proper immigration protocol. They must have tripped some sort of alarm by doing so, because the trio had barely enough time to scramble to their feet and dust themselves off before they were surrounded a circle of witches and wizards who were apparently the United States’ magical authorities.
“Expelliarmus!” Their wands flew out of their hands before any of the three of them could react, not that doing so would have been a very good idea. Getting into any sort of conflict with the American Magical Government wouldn’t be a good idea. They were already on the run from the British Ministry. Didn’t need another country on their backs.
As one of the wizards hurriedly went about collecting their wands another, whom Harry assumed was their leader, stepped forward from the circle to speak. “The three of you are under arrest for unlawful entry of the United States of America and reckless use of magic in the presence of No-Majs.”
No-Majs? What the bloody hell was a No-Maj? Did he mean Muggles? Was there a different name for non-magical people in every country? Harry glanced over at Hermione, careful not to make too sudden of a motion and risk setting their detainers off. Catching his eye, she shrugged.
“You’ll be coming with us down to the M.A.C.U.S.A building, to explain yourselves. We’ll see if this is a criminal offense or just an accidental misstep; don’t try anything and make things worse for yourselves.” The man continued. “Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Hermione said hastily. “We’ll cooperate.”
Ron and Harry simply nodded in silent agreement. The locket now hung passive about his neck, ticking away without faltering. Its rhythm regular. Unrushed. The Horcrux seemed relatively unbothered by the situation in which they’d now found themselves, in stark contrast to the attack they’d just endured, so Harry figured that for the time being they were safe.
To a certain point, at least.
However much that amounted to still had yet to be seen. Harry doubted that the Horcrux, whatever part of Tom remained locked up inside the tiny doors currently resting against his chest, could really be all that much help if things were to turn bad. Sure it could pull him out of the way of getting his head blasted off but that couldn’t possibly be all that helpful passed a couple of times.
And then there was the question of why the locket had even bothered to protect him at all. Did it know what they were doing? That they were trying to help? The diary hadn’t seemed in any way spared from whatever madness had since stolen over the Dark Lord, but maybe the locket was different. Maybe a part of Tom wanted to be whole again. Or, at least, as whole as they could make him with both the diary and the ring destroyed.
If it was true that Dumbledore was in some way responsible for Tom’s abrupt change in personality he must have known he had a hand in the creation of the Horcruxes. And rather than attempt to fix what he’d done he’d chosen to murder him instead. Not just once but seven separate times, as if he didn’t care. And would have used him as a weapon to do it.
Knowing what he might have gone on to do, if he hadn’t seen that strange forgotten memory purely by chance, filled Harry with an overwhelming sense of guilt. He almost wished that he could return to the time where he’d been unable to see Voldemort as anything but an evil, heartless monster. Something born murderous which had never been loved nor possessed even a single once of true humanity. He knew he couldn’t leave Tom to languish in the hellish prison of a broken mind, a fate far worse than death could ever be, but would returning his awareness truly be the kindest course of action?
What would it be like to return to sanity to discover that you’d come so close to irrevocably damaging the world you loved and had so badly wanted to protect? That the man you loved had died? That you weren’t just a murderer but a notorious serial killer and the leader of what amounted to a ruthless cult? Had Harry been the one facing such a prospect, he’d have prefered to die. But he knew that he couldn’t bear the blood on his hands that it would take to give him that mercy. It was selfish, but there wasn’t any changing it.
Tom would be around seventy seven, now. Would he have aged at all or would his body still be sixteen? Would he be struck looking reptilian and warped forever? What about his mind? Surely after what he’d been through, even after he’d been pieced together to the best of their abilities like a broken doll made out of porcelain, there’d be some damage left behind.
Harry was pulled free of his circling thoughts by the rather rough descent of a hand on his shoulder and the return of the crushing sensation of side-along apparition as the authorities which had detained them took them from the park.
They reappeared in the midst of a narrow, dingy alleyway somewhere else in the crowded city. Promptly carted forward and out onto the street, the trio found themselves surrounded by the rushing tide of a crowd of speeding cars and bustling commuters and wide eyed tourists. Bright yellow taxis pulled up to and away from the curb with the same regularity as the blood in his veins, picking up or letting out groups of Muggles onto whatever their destinations might be. Car horns and voices bounced off the faces of towering buildings in an impressive din and the sky scrapers all around them glinted in the late afternoon sun. Ron stared around in mild fascination. Harry and Hermione, far more used to the sights and sounds of the Muggle world than their Pureblood friend, were more concerned with where they were headed.
No magical phone booths. No-flush-yourself-into-the-floo entrance. Not even, by the look of things, a place to apparate into. Just a towering sky scraper of gleaming metal and glass, a revolving door with a small metal owl mounted on the top and a sign which read Woolworth Building. The man at the front of their group waved his wand in a swift pattern he didn’t recognized and they proceeded unabashedly through the revolving door which spun on its axis so quickly it blurred.
Harry doubted that was natural but didn’t have much time to think about matters before he’d been pushed through it and, after being spun about like wet greens in his Aunt Petunia’s salad turner, stumbled out the other side.
The atrium of the M.A.C.U.S.A building was nothing like that of the Ministry of Magic. Rather than the domed blue roof scattered with shimmering golden symbols, white tile floors, glittering lift grates and a wall of hearths with which to floo into the building the room was paned on all sides by hundreds upon thousands of windows, all stacked atop each other and vanishing into the eventual darkness of a seemingly endless vaulted ceiling. The floor was paved in polished tiles the color of fine champagne leading up to a grand staircase railed in with ornate banisters of burnished bronze. Above them rose a gabled archway of marble and gold, held up on pillars topped in golden phoenixes and sheltering a circle of statues of witches and wizards bound in chains. Carved above it in bold cut letters was the phrase IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS, FEBRUARY 1692 – May 1693: INTEGRETAS, UNITAS, VIRTUS, MAGIA.
As they descended the staircase Harry caught sight of an object which reminded him starkly of Mrs. Weasley’s clock that was labeled ‘Magical Exposure Threat Measurer’; its hands were currently pointing at the green square reading ‘Level One: Low Threat’.
American witches and wizards, Harry decided, must have been quite a considerable degree more paranoid than the Ministry had ever been to find the need to even produce such a thing, let alone one so large. Had they had an international equivalent, it would probably be pointing towards, at the very least, the red block reading ‘Danger’.
They were marched down the staircase and through the halls towards some destination, though precisely where that would be Harry didn’t have any real idea. And even down here the color scheme of black and gold continued. The little raven didn’t doubt that, by the time their stay there was finished, he’d find himself possessed of a poignant hatred for the colors that he hadn’t had before. With any luck, that would be the worst of it.
Without that luck, however, they’d end up with an all-expenses paid stay in an American wizarding prison or, worse still, an all-expenses paid trip back to nearly certain death in Britain.
That was quite a considerable risk to hang on the sympathies of total strangers. Then again, perhaps Voldemort’s actions would be enough to convince them to be merciful. Surely word of all that the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters had done must have reached the Wizarding factions of foreign nations the world over by now, for threat of an irreparable breach to the International Statute of Secrecy if nothing else. Perhaps they could claim to be refugees seeking temporary asylum from the new war? Or perhaps he could use the fame which he so dearly hated for something useful for once.
Perhaps he should stop trying to think up hypothetical outcomes before he knew what was really going on. He didn’t want to waste time getting his hopes up for things which had no chance of happening.
The trio were separated the moment that they reached the office labeled ‘Suspect Entry’ and, before Harry could process much beyond the fact that he was quite suddenly alone without a familiar face to look to he was pushed into a tiny room by one of the men.
“We’ll be in to talk things over in a minute, bright eyes.” His tone was flippant and rubbed him the wrong way. “Sit tight.”
The door shut and locked behind the man before the raven could utter a word.
The furnishings of the room were, to put things bluntly, sparse. They reminded him of one of the sets he’d seen briefly on one of the police dramas his relatives would watch on the off occasion between Vernon’s news, Dudley’s action shows and Petunia’s overwrought soap operas. The light which hung from the ceiling was dim and flickered just enough to make him question if he was starting to lose his mind. The floor was concrete, the walls were bare and it was incredibly cold. The only furniture in the room was a severely dented metal table which looked like it might have been the chew toy of a Cerberus at some point and a lone metal chair. Not wanting to stand for however long it was that they’d be kept there Harry sat down in it only to have it immediately tilt alarmingly sideways with a loud click.
One of the legs was shorter than the other three, just enough that the chair would be set noticeably off balance. Of course. Harry huffed. The ticking of the locket sped up, then slowed down again; if he had to guess, he’d probably say the soul fragment inside the locket was good-naturedly amused.
And wasn’t thinking of any part of Voldemort as ‘good-natured’ in any manner bizarre?
With little else to do to occupy his mind and hands while trapped in the little interrogation room Harry pulled the locket from around his neck. Holding the heavy clasp in his hands. Running his thumb up and down the graceful contours of the glittering S embossed across its lid. Feeling the rough texture of the tiny emeralds dragging across his skin. Worrying at the little clasp which had held the doors stubbornly shut no matter how much pressure of cajoling they’d attempted to levy against it. Harry nearly jumped a mile when the little room was filled with the sharp sound of a quiet click and the clasp popped open.
What? The Horcrux was…open? Had opened on its own! But why? Didn’t that make it vulnerable to any attempts he might make at destroying it, not that that was on his mind for the time being. Was it possible that the locket, whatever part of Tom was in there, was aware of what he was trying to do and was attempting to make that fact known with a show of trust? Or was this a trap like what the diary would have pulled?
With slightly shaking hands, Harry lifted the little doors fully open.
He didn’t know what he’d expected: a billowing cloud of dark mist? A wicked grin or glowing red eye reflected back at him from one of the mirrored doors? Skeletal, clawed hands to shoot out and drag him forward into the locket along with the soul shard? The only change in the Horcrux was that the ticking had begun to race like a frightened rabbit and the chain, where it had draped across his wrist, seemed to tremble. The little glass panes were empty, holding no traces of the portraits or photographs that may once have been there. All that looked back at him was his own reflection.
And then something moved over his right shoulder and Harry went very still, his own heart suddenly beating as fast as the locket’s. A figure, blurry and indistinct as though it lacked the strength that was required to fully manifest itself in any notable capacity. Its face was half Tom’s and half Voldemort’s and, though he couldn’t truly tell, it seemed like it was trying to silently plead with him for…something. Help? Death? Something else entirely?
He leaned forward to get a better look only to have the clasp almost snap shut on his nose like a predatory plant. Harry jerked back in shock, narrowly avoiding losing his grip and flinging the Horcrux into the wall, just as the door opened.
Well, apparently Locket-Tom was a little bit shy.
“Didn’t mean to scare you.” The man’s voice was neutral, neither harsh nor kind. He wasn’t one of the people who had arrested them and was dressed in such a way that made him strongly suspected he was more than a simple officer of common law. He stood with a posture reminiscent of a member of the military, hands folded behind his back, as the door swung shut behind him. Above their heads, the light continued to waver. “We’ve spoken with both of your friends and they’ve told our people some interesting things. You’re from England?”
Harry nodded. “Yes.”
“They said that you’re on the run from that mad man who’s recently overthrown the magical government across the pond and that you’re here with half-forged papers trying to do one thing or another.”
Well, he resisted the urge to say, their papers would have been fully forged if it hadn’t been for a badly timed appearance by that pack of Death Eaters.
“You sure you’re not just trying to run?”
This complete and total stranger was going to stand there and insinuate that he was a coward, was he? Harry grit his teeth but, urged by a voice which sounded remarkably like Hermione’s to calm down, simply said “running wouldn’t do any good. Voldemort would chase me into hell if he had to just for the sake of finally being rid of the Boy-Who-Had-The-Strange-Misfortune-Of-Not-Dying-When-He-Bloody-Well-Should-Have!”
That was a mouthful. No wonder people preferred to call him the Boy-Who-Lived instead.
The man rocked back on his heels and stared him down with storm grey eyes. “I’m going to need you to confirm your identity.”
Well, maybe there were some pinch perks to having what all but amounted to an ID card on his forehead. Harry pushed his uneven bangs back from his brow, revealing the jagged red scar emblazoned against his pale skin. “Harry James Potter. Gryffindor. Hero complex.”
The man chuckled low in the back of his throat, reached behind himself and opened the door. “Come with me, Mr. Potter. The President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America would appreciate a conversation.”
The President of the Magical Congress of the Unites States of America wanted to speak to him? Well, it couldn’t be any worse than speaking to the British Minister of Magic could and he’d come face to face with two of them on multiple occasions starting at the age of thirteen. Then again Fudge hadn’t been much beyond an incompetent nincompoop who was more concerned with schmoozing enough to ensure that he could keep the job he never actually did and Scrimgeour, well…Harry had had Dumbledore to protect him in his sixth year and the looming war to relegate his insolence to little more than an annoyance not worth the expended energy in his seventh. Perhaps he should be at least a little bit more careful here, considering he didn’t have enough information to know if the former was true and knew he didn’t have the latter on his side.
Dropping the locket back over his neck and feeling the ticking even back out to match the beating of his own heart, Harry pushed himself to his feet and shuffled passed the man and out the door. He looked him up and down-the raven tried not to notice the fact that he was barely half the other’s height; the lifelong consequences of his childhood malnourishment didn’t bother him at all-and said “interesting accessory you have there.”
“It’s a priceless family heirloom.” Which wasn’t entirely a lie. He and Tom were related somehow; distant cousins or something, maybe a couple hundred times removed.
Their conversation ended there and they walked down the hall in silence, out of the ‘Suspect Entry’ office. After being led down a spider web of hallways and a handful of staircases Harry found himself standing outside of a pair of heavy double-doors. His escort rapped on them smartly before he pushed one open and motioned him to enter, aiming a respectful nod at the occupant and saying “Mr. President.”
“Thank you, Johnson.” Said the man standing at the window of the massive office, well-appointed with dark wood and more of the same black and gold accents (working anywhere in the M.A.C.U.S.A building must, Harry thought, cause the development of a complex regarding those two otherwise innocuous color). He was rather short, at least compared to Johnson who had since walked off, though still a head and a half taller than the raven himself was and wore fine Wizarding robes over a button up shirt and slacks. His face, when he turned, was outwardly congenial, his brown eyes hemmed in with crow’s feet and dark hair threaded through with strands of grey; he was one of those people who could have been anywhere between thirty and seventy, it really was impossible to tell. “Harry Potter.”
Harry nodded. “Yes Sir.”
His smile grew larger and he stepped forwards, holding out one of his hands for him to shake. Harry took it and forced himself to smile. “Samuel G. Quahog. I have to say I never expected to come in to work this morning and be informed that a foreign celebrity had suddenly appeared in Central Park, very narrowly breaching the Statute of Secrecy.”
“It wasn’t a purposeful.” Harry told him, turning red. “If we hadn’t been ambushed by some of Voldemort’s Death Eaters,” he wasn’t certain if it was refreshing or strange to see a public official not flinch at the invocation of the Dark Lord’s name, “we’d have apparated over at night.”
“So the unlawful entry into my country was purposeful, Mr. Potter?”
No point in denying it when they’d found the papers. “We didn’t have a choice, Sir. The British Ministry of Magic has been taken over by Voldemort and as far as he’s concerned I’m Public Enemy Number One. He wants me dead to a degree which can only be described as obsessive. There was no possible way that we could have gotten the proper papers necessary to enter into America legally. We hadn’t meant to cause trouble.”
“I suppose that’s understandable.” The man said. “Tell me, Mr. Potter, why were you and your two friends trying to come to America? Were you looking for political asylum, perhaps, if it’s true that Voldemort is after you?”
“No, Sir, we’re not trying to run away from our problems and find safety hiding behind a foreign nation.” He said. “We think we’ve found a way to defeat Voldemort once and for all but needed to do a lot more research to pull it off. And to do that we needed access to a magical library. We were already on the run by that point and couldn’t access any of those in Britain. And the largest one in the world was here, in America.”
“So you came here?” Harry nodded. The President sighed and walked back around the side of the desk; Harry couldn’t quite be sure, but thought he heard the man mutter ‘obscurials’ and ‘madness’ before he sat down behind it and steepled his hands in front of him. “We’ve had a European ‘Dark Lord’ rampage through our streets once before and it very nearly led to exposure for the entirety of the Wizarding World. We cannot afford to have such a thing happen again, but if nothing is done I know that it will. Men like Grindlewald, like Voldemort, never do content themselves with their own countries of origin. You and your companions will be given leave to stay here for as long as you may need to do this research, and will of course have full access to everything in the Magical Library of Congress; it’s easily reachable through the floo of the guest house where you’ll be staying.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Of course. It’s the least we could do to help an allied government pull itself out of trouble; why your Minister didn’t contact us for aid before he was overwhelmed I’ve no idea.” There was an unmistakable calculation in his brown eyes when he said “I’m certain you won’t make the same mistake, Mr. Potter.”
Had he gone to Hogwarts, this man would most certainly have been a Slytherin. “No, Sir.” Clearly he’d been mistaken for someone possessed of actual political power. Unfortunate for him, but the raven wasn’t about to attempt to correct him otherwise.
“Johnson will be back here any moment now and will take you to rejoin your friends; travel will be arranged to your lodgings.”
“Thank you.” How much longer would this go on?
“And feel free to contact me if there’s anything else that you might need, Mr. Potter.”
Harry nodded and, thankfully, Johnson returned at precisely that moment and led him out of the room. As he walked back through the hallways of the M.A.C.U.S.A building, Harry couldn’t help but feel that that had been the most uncomfortable meeting he’d ever had with another person. And that included being locked in a broom closet with Rita Skeeter and her blood thirsty Quick Quotes Quill.
Ron and Hermione were already waiting for him in the room with the fire place, what looked like some sort of staff lounge filled with a small group of curious Aurors, huddled close together and whispering nervously. They hadn’t had a meeting with the President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America and thereby didn’t know what was going on, so it was understandable that they were concerned.
“Harry!” Hermione said on catching sight of him and she and Ron both hurried over. “They gave us back our wands-here’s yours-and told us we were being put up somewhere. What happened?”
“A politician happened.” He replied, sighing; really, some things never bloody changed. “I’ll explain later.”
“If you need something make use of the provided owl.” Johnson said, pulling a handful of glittering green floo powder out of the pot where it was kept. “You’ll be staying in a fully stocked apartment just down the street from the entrance to Elidian Alley; the Magical Library of Congress is directly accessible via the floo.” He threw the powder into the fire, which immediately flared emerald green. “Number twenty seven, Washington and Greene.” Straightening up to look at them again, he told them “enjoy your stay in New York.”
One by one, they stepped into the floo.
They’d been there for a week, and already Harry wished they could go back to squatting in a tent in the woods somewhere spending every moment precariously balanced on the precipice of death. It wasn’t even that he was bored out of his mind, like Ron evidently was (neither of them had seen Hermione since the first day they’d gotten there) but he was very much sick to death of Samuel G. Quahog, who he’d been forced to see daily for ‘tea’ or some other such excuse. At this point he’d rather apperate back to Malfoy Manor and have biscuits with Voldemort and his snake that wanted to eat him for dinner in all of their insane, reptilian glory.
“I hate politicians.” The little raven groaned, sprawled across a leather day bed in a puddle of warm sunlight. The locket was coiled up atop his chest like a lazing cat.
“You and ninety percent of the rest of the world, mate.” Ron said, prodding listlessly at one of the pawns on the Wizard Chess board. “Watching a flobberworm dig a hole would be more entertaining than this! Want to come over here and let me thrash you in a couple matches of Wizard’s Chess?”
Harry turned his head and stared at his friend for a moment before saying “but that’s so far.”
“I’ll move the bloody board if I have to; please!”
Before the raven could open his mouth to reply the hearth flared bright green and Hermione tumbled free into the room, flinging aches in all directions and with her arms filled with piles upon piles of notes. “I know!” She shrieked excitedly, words overflowing like a bubbling cauldron of Felix Felicis. “I think I know everything that we need to about all of this!”
Chapter 5: The True Master of the Elder Wand
“The Magical Library of Congress is incredible, really! So is the Muggle one, to be honest! I’ve never seen so many books in one place before; I didn’t have the slightest clue where to start! It took me the entire first day to even begin to have success in finding the books I needed!” The array of decorative objects which adorned the coffee table pelted to the floor in a series of cacophonous clatters and crashes as Hermione swept one of her arms across it only to promptly dump the load that she was carrying onto the revealed space. Papers, all of them absolutely covered in lettering and fingerprints and smears from the haste with which she was writing, went everywhere and Harry couldn’t help but smile as a wave of nostalgia for their enforced pre-exam study sessions washed over him. “And the book that Dumbledore left me in his will ended up being the key to all of it! It was in front of us all along and it all fits together so well; we just didn’t know where to look at first!”
“Hermione,” the raven said around his now almost painfully wide grin, “have I ever told you how amazing you are?”
“I wouldn’t let the locket hear you say that, mate.” Ron snickered. “It might force you to camp out on the couch.”
Both boys snorted (though he had to admit that the thought of being pinned down to a piece of furniture by a sentient item of jewelry was rather terrifying in its own right) and went to join the bushy haired witch around the table.
“You look like you’re about to explode from excitement, ‘Mione.” Ron said. “Well, spit it out.”
“It all starts with one of the fairy tales in the Tales of Beetle the Bard!” She announced, seizing the worn copy of the book in question and waving it around excitedly. The raven scooted a bit further out of her way to avoid the possibility of getting pegged with it in the face. “Have either of you heard of the Tale of the Three Brothers?”
“Oh, yeah. Mum used to read us all of the fairy tales in that book…well, except the Warlock’s Hairy Heart.” Ron said. “Thought it was too scary or something. I dunno.”
“Regardless of that digression,” Hermione said, “the Tale of the Three Brothers is incredibly important to all the rest of the information that I found out and since Harry hasn’t heard it I’m going to take a bit of time to read through it for his benefit.”
With that having been said she promptly pulled open the book and flipped through it to the end. “There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely road at twilight.”
“Midnight.” Both Harry and Hermione turned their heads to stare at him. “Mum would always say midnight, when she read it, to make it seem creepier.” The raven cleared his throat, drawing his friend’s attention to the sharp glare the brunet witch was shooting him. The red head cringed. “Twilights fine. Better, even.”
Nice save. Once again, the locket seemed amused.
Hermione cleared her throat and tried again. “There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely road at twilight.” She shot Ron a challenging look, as if daring him to open his mouth and interrupt. When he didn’t, she lowered her eyes back to the pages and continued. “In time, the brothers reached a river too deep to wade through and too dangerous to swim across. However, these brothers were learned in the magical arts, and so they simply waved their wands and made a bridge appear across the treacherous water. They were halfway across it when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure. And Death spoke to them.”
“Death spoke to them?”
“It’s a fairy tale, Harry! Now can I please get through this story without being interrupted?”
The raven raised his hands above his head, half to defend himself and half in surrender. “Ok, sorry. Merlin, Hermione.”
With yet another glare, she returned her attention to telling the story. “He was angry that he had been cheated out of three new victims for travelers usually drowned in the river. But Death was cunning. He pretended to congratulate the three brothers upon their magic, and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him.
“So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death! So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from the branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.
“Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from Death. So Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead.
“And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own cloak of invisibility.”
At this point Hermione gave Harry an inexplicable look before she kept reading. “Then Death stood aside and allowed the three brothers to continue on their way and they did so, talking with wonder of the adventure they had had, and admiring Death’s gifts. In due course the brothers separated, each for his own destination.”
“The first brother traveled on for a week or more, and reaching a distant village, sought out a fellow wizard with whom he had a quarrel. Naturally, with the elder wand as his weapon he could not fail to win the duel that followed. Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor, the oldest brother proceeded to an inn, where he boasted loudly of the powerful wand he had snatched from Death himself, and how it made him invincible.
“That very night, another wizard crept upon the oldest brother as he lay, wine-sodden, upon his bed. The thief took the wand and, for good measure, slit the oldest brother’s throat. And so Death took the first brother as his own.
“Meanwhile the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone. Here he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead, and turned it thrice in his hand. To his amazement and his delight, the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him.
“Yet she was sad and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there, and suffered. Finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, killed himself so as to truly join her. And so Death took the second brother as his own.”
“But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the cloak of invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, as equals, they departed this life.”
Hermione closed the book with a snap and picked up one of the pieces of paper she’d taken notes on; all that was on it was a strange triangular symbol. “The elder wand,” she pointed to the line down the middle, “the resurrection stone,” then the circle, “and the cloak of invisibility,” the triangle. “The mark of the Deathly Hallows. The mark of Grindlewald. He was obsessed with them, most specifically with the elder wand.”
“A Dark Lord, obsessed with something crazy?” Ron asked. “Since when is that a groundbreaking discovery? The Hallows are just a fairy tale.”
“Yes, I thought that too when I first read it.” Hermione reached for the pile of papers again, shuffling through them.
“Has that since changed?” Hermione asked.
She nodded. “I found historical evidence, after a bit of digging. Historical evidence which made me realize that all of it may well be real, at least to some degree. Maybe the Hallows weren’t truly given as gifts by Death, in fact I highly doubt they were, but I’m now all but certain that they exist.” Finding the papers that she was looking for at last, she sat back. “I believe that the three brothers mentioned in the tale are the Peverill brothers, and that the portion about Death may be a distorted by product of the line’s rumored association with the attempted furtherance of Necromancy as a legitimate branch of magic. Antioch, the eldest, who had no descendants as he died after a bloody duel. Cadmus, the middle brother, whose line ultimately culminated in the Gaunts. Ignatus, the youngest, who’s the very distant ancestor of, well…you Harry.”
“You think that Harry’s cloak is the one from the story?”
“It would make sense, Ron.” Hermione said. “Think about it. Invisibility cloaks aren’t meant to last forever. Aren’t supposed to maintain their affect for long enough to be passed through so many generations. But his has.”
“I’ve seen that symbol before, in one of the memories which Dumbledore showed me. Tom was wearing it when he asked Slughorn about Horcruxes; it was on the Gaunt family ring.” Harry said. “He made it into one of them. Dumbledore destroyed it.”
“That’s probably a good thing. Even considering the elder wand, the resurrection stone was the most dangerous Hallow as it seems to have been designed for the express purpose of driving whoever used its power to suicide.” She said. “But onto the wand; there is a wand of elder wood and thestral hair which was created at some time in the Middle Ages, about when the Peverills would have been alive. It carved a bloody path as it changed hands over the course of two centuries before vanishing. What if Grindlewald found it, and Dumbledore claimed its loyalty after winning their duel?”
“But what would that have to do with his sudden change in behavior?” Harry asked. “Tom very specifically noted that he found it incredibly odd that he’d changed so suddenly and so completely.”
“There are other legends surrounding the Hallows. One claiming that the person who united all three of them would become the ‘Master of Death’ though what such a thing would amount to such a thing would amount to isn’t made clear. The other, and this one is of far greater interest, suggests that though the elder wand can change hands by being won somewhere out there there may be a person who’d be the wand’s ‘true master’. That this person would have certain qualities that Death might look for.”
“And you think that Dumbledore was that person?” the raven asked. “That that was what changed him?”
“Yes. I believe that taking true possession of the elder wand drove Dumbledore mad, somehow. That it led him to turn on Tom when he confronted him and break his mind somehow.” She said. “And then there was the last bit of information that I came across; the hardest bit, out of all of it, to find.”
Harry and Ron both looked at her in confusion. “And what was that?”
“Do you remember when you told us that Tom said something about being ‘magic chosen to help preserve the balance’?” the raven nodded. “I think I may have found out what he meant. Where the term ‘Dark Lord’ really comes from. What it really means.”
“Let me guess,” Harry propped his chin up on one of his hands, “it doesn’t mean ‘crazed murderer who wants to take over the magical world and either enslave or eradicate Muggles who uses Dark magic to do it’?”
“No. It doesn’t.” She said. “Balance is important in nature, something perhaps best noted by the ancient Chinese wizards who first came upon the idea of Yin and Yang: Hot and Cold, Male and Female, Dark and Light. Magic isn’t any different. In order for it to flourish there needs to be a balance of both, and in recent decades administrations the world over have been tipping it too far to the Light side of the scale with their regulations against anything Dark or even just perceived as Dark. But magic hasn’t survived this long by being passive: it self-regulates. Light and Dark Lords are its way of doing that, and they only appear when the balance is threatened.”
“So what are they?” Ron asked. “Is there a Light Lord out there too? Is it Harry? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“There are never two at once, Ron. They’re meant as a weight to drag the scale back into alignment and their power is only equivalent to the imbalance, which explains why Voldemort is so powerful because if Tom is a true Dark Lord the imbalance he was meant to rectify is massive.” Hermione said. “A true Dark or Light Lord is a witch or wizard born with an unusually large and powerful core who are often considered prodigies and have an affinity towards the branch of magic which they’re meant to restore. In the case of a true Dark Lord, they’re able to use Dark magic without any of the consequences typically associated with doing so.”
“But if that’s the case why did the Horcruxes make him crazy?” Harry asked. “And why does he look like…like that?”
“Because Horcruxes aren’t Dark magic, Harry. They’re Black magic. There’s a very big difference between Light and Dark and White and Black magic, namely that the latter two should never be touched.” Hermione said, tossing her final pile of notes back onto the paper-swamped table. “But this is all conjecture without proof.”
“I know that look, ‘Mione.” Ron said. “You have some sort of plan for us to get that ‘proof’, don’t you?”
The witch twitched where she sat, a nervous motion which Harry was entirely unused to seeing. “I do have a plan to get proof of it, but…it’s incredibly dangerous and far from the wisest course of action. But it may be our only choice. What better way to find the proof we’re looking for than go straight to the source; we do have a link straight to him. I think it’s time we’re the ones using it to our advantage for once.”
“Hermione,” Harry said carefully, almost unable to believe his ears, “are you suggesting what I think you are?”
“If you think that I’m suggesting that you use your link with him to get into his head and find the memory of what happened that night wherever it might be buried, then yes. I am suggesting what you think I am.”
“Hermione, how do you expect me to be able to do that? I’m not a Legellimens; I can’t even manage Occlumancy!”
“The link is already there, Harry. With all likelihood he has a much trouble blocking you out as you do him; I’m starting to doubt the bond you two have has anything to do with mind magic at all.” She said. “But it’ll be extremely dangerous.”
“You think?” Ron snorted. “I mean, all he’s doing is riffling through You-Know-Who’s head. What could possibly go wrong?”
Harry had to admit to being solidly in agreement with Ron. Not that they really had a choice. “How do we prevent him from noticing and hunting me down?”
“We don’t.” Hermione admitted sheepishly. “We wait until it’s late at night in England and hope that he’s asleep. And we stay here, in America, while we do it to make it that little bit harder for him to get us quickly.”
“We go back to England.”
Not the most sound plan in the world, then again having a sound plan had never stopped it going wrong before. He didn’t even know why he really bothered anymore. “The sooner we get this over with the better.” He said. “What time tonight are we going to be doing this?”
“At nine o’clock here it’ll be two AM in England; if he sleeps at all, he’ll be out by then.” She said. “That’s the time we’ll put our plan into action.”
Chapter 6: The Abyss Gazes Back
“I understand needing to do this with an ocean in between him and us, but if we’re going to be heading back to England immediately afterwards anyway is blindfolding him and locking him in a windowless room really necessary, ‘Mione?”
“We’re sending Harry into Voldemort’s mind, Ronald! Every precaution that we could possibly take is ‘necessary’!” She pulled the knot of the blindfold taut; beneath the cloth, Harry winced. “Thinking more about our plan now…it’s madness, really. Wand!” Somewhat reluctant and very blindly now that his eyes were covered the raven pulled the Holly wand from his back pocket and handed it over to her. “Thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong. Having him catch you. Somehow find our location before we can leave. Possess you. Not to mention the fact that the things you could see in a mindscape as broken as his is bound to be could drive you insane as well.” She sat back. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”
“We don’t have a choice.” Harry quickly reminded her, though he had to admit to having reservations of his own. Namely about the last bit she’d mentioned. Being hunted down, captured (however briefly) and even possessed by Voldemort was nothing new for him. Had happened so often by now that he’d become desensitized and the ‘horror’ of it had sort of lost its edge. But to think that he could see something doing what he was about to that could drive him round the bend? That was concerning. “I’m about as fond of the idea as you are but this is the only thing that we can do. We need proof, don’t we?”
“And this is the only way to get it, isn’t it? Aside from going up to Voldemort and asking him ‘hey, would you mind providing us with this memory you’re probably not even aware you have? I know you hate me and I’m prophesied to kill you and all that but, seriously, this is for your own good’.” Harry said. “Would you rather we try that first? Because I can tell you right now exactly how that is going to go.”
The brunet witch sent him a mildly scathing look and huffed. “There isn’t any need to be talking like that.” She said. “Of course, I suppose you’re right. And this was my idea, but…even still.”
“I’ll be careful.” Harry assured her. As careful as he could be. He might have been a little bit reckless, sure, and maybe he had earned a reputation for getting himself into trouble but Harry didn’t bring that sort of thing on himself. At least, not purposefully. And he had no intention of drawing attention to himself; being confronted by Voldemort in the man’s own mindscape, where he could do quite literally anything that he could think of, wasn’t something that he had on his bucket list. “But maybe we should set some of the Order’s precautions into place, just in case.”
“What are you suggesting, mate?” Ron asked.
“When I come back from my little…excursion into Voldemort’s mind, if it even works at all, I’ll knock on the door.” Harry said. “Ask me a question and if I answer it correctly then you’ll know it’s me.”
It was a flimsy defenses and all three of them knew it, but ‘flimsy’ was better than nothing. Ron and Hermione both nodded and then, realizing he couldn’t see them between the blindfold and the fact that his glasses were sitting on the coffee table, verbally communicated their agreement. He heard their footsteps retreat from the room, followed by the thud of the door and the click of the lock being turned behind them. He was now firmly stuck in that room.
Time to get to work, then.
Waving his hands around himself and bumping into furniture, Harry still managed to somehow find his way to the couch sitting against the far wall. Once there, he felt his way down onto his back and settled his hands on his chest. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. He’d fought Basilisks and dragons, gone back in time to assist with jail breaks and had even broken into the Ministry of Magic in order to steal the locket now hung about his neck but even still that was nothing like what he was about to attempt.
And what if it didn’t work? What then? Would they have to abandon the pursuit of helping Tom? Of putting him back together? Or would they just leap without looking and make use of whatever had been recorded on the pages Hermione hadn’t shown them to go through with it anyways in hopes everything would work out in the end. After all, they weren’t in Lion House for nothing. Then again, maybe Ron and Hermione both had better sense than he did.
That phantom sensation of warm arms wrapping around his shoulders returned, as if the locket was attempting to encourage him. Harry reached up and lifted the clasp, returning to what had become a nervous tick: running his thumb up and down the contours of the locket’s serpentine S. What if it didn’t work? What if it did work? What if he got caught?
What if? What if? What if?
And then an idea popped into his head and Harry went very still. ‘Can you tell me about what happened fifty years ago? Who it was that opened the Chamber of Secrets?’ ‘I’m sorry Harry, I’m afraid I can’t do that. But I can show you.’ The diary had been able to drag him with it into the memory of the night that Tom had pinned the blame for Myrtle’s death on Hagrid. So maybe…he didn’t know why the idea popped into his head; what might have prompted it he had no idea, but it did none the less. The Horcruxes were all a part of Tom, of Voldemort, weren’t they? Surely they’d have some link to him, if not of the same sort that he did. Maybe the locket could function as a key.
“Tom,” he said, “I’m trying to help you and I’m almost certain that you know that. But I need to be sure we’re doing the right thing and I need the other half of what happened that night in order to be. So I have to go wading through your head to find it, but I’m not certain I’ll be able to get there on my own.” What was he doing? It was stupid; he felt stupid. Why was he talking to the bloody locket, expecting it to be able to do something? “Can you…can you help me? Please. If there’s anything that you can do…I’d really appreciate it.”
Nothing happened. Not that he’d really expected it would. The ticking in the locket had stopped cold and he now had the distinct feeling that something was staring at him curiously, as if attempting to measure whether he was serious. Or maybe it just thought he was crazy.
Wouldn’t that be bloody rich? A shard of a mad man looking at him like he was crazy!
Then he heard it, or more accurately, felt it. A voice without a voice which brushed across his awareness like the tail find of a fish darting off into dark water, urging him to “close your eyes, Harry.” Warm. Calm. He’d heard that voice before, but the only time it had sounded like that-without even the faintest hint of cold cruelty-was in the memory of the night of that long ago meeting in the Room of Requirement. It was Tom’s voice.
Harry was very much aware that doing so could quite possibly be the death of him but pushed concerns of the locket’s potential intentions and did as the gentle voice had bid. Closing his eyes beneath the cloth Hermione had tied over them.
The couch really was quite comfortable. The overstuffed cushions were upholstered in soft, glossy leather. He sank into them, feeling his body begin to go boneless.
“Just listen to my voice, Harry. Can you hear me?” Tom’s voice spoke at once directly into his ear and from the back of his head. “Follow it. Come to me. Yes, just like that.”
It was dark, all around him, but the shadows were starting to form into what looked like a corridor. And there was light ahead, around a corner; the flickering glow of what looked like torches. He walked forward, hesitant at first but quickly picking up speed, and turned that corner. A small room opened up in front of him, lit by a ring of bracketed torches, and all that stood before him was the gaping maw of a crumbling well. The winch which hung above it was rusted to the point of being immobile, the wooden hang-board so badly rotted through that even touching it would have caused the thing to crumble into dust, and the robe which dangled from it had snapped just below the knot. Picking up a piece of broken stone, Harry shuffled carefully forward and dropped it into the abyss. Heard it click away until the sound faded into nothing.
Ice pooled in the pit of his stomach as he realized it never hit the bottom. He leaned forwards, gripping the decrepit lip with white knuckled fingers and squinting down into the dark though what he hoped to see he didn’t quite know. And then Tom’s voice urged “down” and the locket still slung around his neck like a talisman gave a sharp tug and Harry tumbled forward into the black.
It felt like he fell for an eternity.
He landed, at long last, with a great thump in the middle of a small cramped and incredibly dusty room. Faint light spilled through a single dirty window, the small pane of smudged glass depicting the depressing view of the grey brick wall outside. A chipped wardrobe stood to the window’s right like a bodyguard, accompanied by a squat desk and three legged chair, and a metal cot rested against the far wall. Harry had seen this place before in one of the memories which Dumbledore had showed him: it was Tom Riddle’s room at Wool Orphanage.
A couple times bigger and with more furniture, but otherwise little different from his cupboard under the stairs at Number Four. Harry pushed himself up onto his feet and looked around; a number of pairs of pinpricks of white lights lined the walls, all at about the head-height of a late adolescent. The raven squinted closer and then went very still. The realization of what he was really looking at forming like a slow drip of cold water.
Eyes. He wasn’t alone in the room anymore; maybe never had been. A group of twelve shadowy figures stood around their room, their backs against the walls, staring directly at him and radiating a sense of absolute hostility.
And then, as if being acknowledged freed them somehow, they moved. All at once in eerie synchronization, the barely humanoid figured converged on him. Their motions the jerky gait of a distressed insect. Their features blurred. Mouths dropping open into gaping black holes, jaws falling far passed what should have been possible. Reaching for him with fingers as long and sharp as the bare bows of winter trees, voices rising into a deafening screech.
“Run!” Tom’s voice urged him, the locket delivering an urgent tug towards the door. Harry didn’t need to be told twice, turning on his heel and fleeing from the figures which surged after him like a combination of gelatin and half-melted flesh. He flung the door open and skidded to a stop, instantly seized by a powerful wave of vertigo.
Looking down the hall, it was as if he was looking at an abstract painting. As if reality had broken! The hall should have been straight but it wasn’t; it looked like a piece of metal might after being thrown from the wreckage of a collapsing building. There were placed where the floor was on the ceiling and the ceiling was on the floor! Even worse, directly in front of him the ceiling and walls were gone entirely and portions of the floor were left to float like ships in empty space! How was he supposed to get to the stairs?
“Run!” Talons scratched at his back and a fresh jolt of fear propelled him forwards. Consumed by the instinctual need to get as far away from whatever the hell those things were Harry flung himself forward towards the length of floor nearest him. His chest collided with the edge, his nails clawing at the wood and finding purchase just short of falling into endless black, the force of the blow setting the island of scuffed wood and dust sluggishly floating towards its nearest neighbor as he scrambled to relative safety and kept running. Playing a fatal game of hop scotch with the strange stepping stones until finally making it across to the bent hall.
The staircase he needed to take down to the bottom floor, where the front door which was his access to freedom would be, was at the end of that hall. Problem was, for the first stretch the floor was above his head. Was he just supposed to…walk on the ceiling? Would that work?
A hiss from behind him was all the encouragement he needed to throw what little caution he had left to the wind. Harry leapt and fell upwards and, to his great alarm, ended up dangling from the floor, which was where the ceiling was supposed to be, by his feet. Seizing the locket with one hand to keep it from falling off Harry started running. Stumbling slightly each time the shifting sensation of the changing position of the floor and ceiling overcame him. Reaching the staircase at long last and discovering it was even more of a corkscrew than the hall he’d just run through. Without hesitation this time, he pelted down it and out the front door, slamming it shut behind him.
Stifling silence closed in around him like a wet quilt, the air hot and choked with fumes which burned his lungs. The buildings lining the mangled, crater pock-marked streets had been reduced to nearly rubble; many of them still smoldered. Ash fell from a blood red sky like winter snow, and not another soul was visible.
Heart tapping a sharp staccato against his temples Harry disembarked the stairs and hurried through the orphanage’s weed-choked front lawn. The rusted iron gate shrieked as he pushed it open, the piercing sound echoing away down the street in both directions. Swallowing down the lump which had formed in his throat, he stepped through it.
The awful, high-pitched wailing of distant sirens instantly shattered the near suffocating air, joined by the drone of engines as the black forms of massive planes appeared on the horizon like a flock of birds.
Harry had attended Muggle school for long enough to know about the Blitz. He didn’t need Tom’s urging, this time, to start sprinting full tilt down the street.
A low groan rang out alongside a series of snapping pops and the earth began to shake. Heaving violently like the back of some ferocious creature newly awoken from a long sleep. Lifting up in places and tumbling down in others and ripping apart completely in still more, spitting up gouts of spark and liquid rock. What few of the destroyed buildings were still standing collapsed like piles of children’s blocks as the rumbling thunder of falling bombs raced up behind him. Tearing up with fear he forced himself to keep his eyes ahead of him only to realize with a jolt of alarm that he was no longer in the city at all but running up a grassy hill atop which stood a grand manor.
Putting on an extra burst of speed, Harry bolted up the wooden porch stairs and barreled through the front door.
He collapsed into a heap on the ground and simply lay there until his heart beat slowed and his breathing evened. Then the little raven pushed himself back onto his feet and looked around. He’d seen the place before, a great deal more run down and through the eyes of a doomed Muggle caretaker, and he was relieved to find that there was nothing particularly odd about his surroundings. Harry could have sagged in relief.
Not entirely sure what else to do, he started up the staircase towards the second floor. Peering with cautious curiosity through all of the doors that he came through. An empty library. A well-appointed dining room with three people-an older couple and a man who, from behind, looked remarkably like Tom-sitting hunched forwards around the table. A grand bedroom. Harry turned at the creak of floorboards from behind him and let out a yowl of terrified surprise: somehow, without making a single sound and in the time it took to blink, the three figures had converged on where he stood.
They had no faces.
And just like that he was running again. Through the hall and down the stairs. Daring to look back only once to see his pursuers not far behind: running without moving, like an image captured in a series of still photographs. He turned the wrong way in his panic and ran further into the house, yanking open the first door he came to and tumbling through it. Rolling head over heels down a flight of stone steps and landing in a painful heap on the basement floor. Only it wasn’t a basement.
It was a cell. A prison chamber with no doors and no windows. The walls covered in scratches, marred with blood and the jagged shards of broken nails, the floor flaking with an inch thick layer of near black which filled the little room with the choking stench of iron. Painted all around him in desperate, rust-red scrawl were words which rapidly descended into the ramblings of utter madness.
‘Help me! Someone! Please! I’m stuck! He did it! I can’t get out!’
‘I’m trapped here!’
‘Kill me. Please.’
‘Abandoned! I’ve been abandoned! Abandoned by man! Abandoned by God.’
‘Have I really been forgotten here…?’
And then, repeated ad nauseum across every inch of remaining surface was the phrase ‘Carbones ignis cadere in illis; fiant in ignem mittetur; in profunda aquaram, ut non adjiciet ut resurgat.’ It only ended near the very top of the ceiling, cutting off mid-sentence as if whatever portion of Tom had been held there had been suddenly torn away in the process of reiteration.
Was this where the locket had been held before being broken off from the main soul and transferred to a new prison? The Horcrux’s trembling seemed to answer that question. He looked further upwards and, eyes widening, was met with the sight of a door which swung open as the room tilted on its axis.
Much to Harry’s absolute relief, he found himself in a familiar flagstone corridor at the base of a tapestry of dancing trolls. The locket spoke once more to him, saying “watch” before falling silent. The door to the Room of Requirement swung open a moment later and Tom and Abraxas both stepped out of it into the hall.
“Should I wait up for you, Chéri?”
“Don’t trouble yourself with that.” Tom said, waving a hand dismissively. “After I ‘speak’ with him I still have my duties as a Prefect to attend to. I’ll be in to our dorm room once I finish them.”
“If you’re certain.” After exchanging a chaste kiss and a smile the pair parted ways, Abraxas back towards the dungeons and Tom to Dumbledore’s former office back when he’d been a Transfiguration Professor. Picking himself up off the floor, Harry hurried after the brunet.
He moved with the same stately grace Harry could recall from the memory the diary had shown him. A fluid gait which was far more human than the mist-like surge Voldemort used to get around. He held his head high and his shoulders drawn back and, as he moved, Harry caught flashes of the bone white wand sheathed at his wrist.
Brother to his own.
Seized by a renewed surge of need to help the other man, Harry sped his pace as they turned into the last corridor. Trotting to a stop outside the office door, Tom raised one hand and knocked twice. A long moment passed before the room’s occupant called for him to come in. The door creaked as it was pushed open.
Dumbledore looked up from where he sat behind the desk, grading papers, blinking at the new arrival with pale blue eyes. “Tom.” He said. “Strange to see you here, especially so late. Is there something I can help you with, my boy?”
“Actually, Sir,” Tom said, “I was wondering if there was something I could do to help you.”
Dumbledore raised an auburn brow. “Help me?”
“Yes, Sir. I’ve noticed recently that you haven’t been acting like your normal self. I know we’ve never exactly gotten along and that I’m merely a student, but in the wake of what happened not too long ago…if you need someone to confide in I’m more than willing to lend an ear.”
“Thank you, Tom, that’s quite thoughtful of you.” He said. “However my concerns are such that should not trouble a student, even one as brilliant as you’ve proven yourself to be. Now, I’m sure you have duties to be attending to as a Prefect of Slytherin House?”
“Yes, Sir. I have rounds in a few minutes.”
“Very well. Pip-pip.” As Tom turned away he raised his wand and fired an instantly recognizable spell; the Torture Curse pegged the brunet in the back as he reached for the door and he dropped onto the floor with a scream. Dumbledore held him under it mercilessly as he rose from his seat and strode forwards. Releasing it just short of risking inflicting mental damage. Despite the incredible pain he knew he must have been under having experienced Crucio himself for less than half that time, Tom still attempted to go for his wand only to be disarmed and briefly Crucioed again. “Now, Mr. Riddle, are you going to behave?”
The Slytherin Prefect panted harshly, shuddering on the ground, before managing to find his voice; rough cut from the screaming he’d done and with a trickle of blood trickling from the corner of his lips where he’d bitten them. “So you admit it, then? Who you really are? Through your actions if not your words?” Tom licked the blood from his lips. “Torturing a student, even a student he didn’t get along with, isn’t something the real Albus Dumbledore ever would have done! It is something, however, that Gellert Grindlewald would do!”
Dumbledore, or perhaps it would be more accurate for Harry to start referring to him as Grindledore because that was what he was, flashed a sickly smile and fingered his wand. Watching Tom as he lay there, nerves firing at random and robbing him of all ability to move, unable to do much beyond fix him in a glare of affronted defiance.
“It seems that using the cover of our duel to switch places with a complex glamor isn’t all I have to do to pull things off convincingly.” He said. “My acting needs a bit more work.”
“Where is he?”
“The real Dumbledore!”
“Are you worried for him? How sweet. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear that you have a heart after all, not that that will remain to be the case by the time I’m done with you.” Calmly, he began to pace the room. “Albus has been comfortably put up in Nuremgard’s finest quarters. I passed him off as me so that I might continue my plans for the betterment of the magical world.”
“And how do you intend to do that?” Tom growled.
Grindledore was silent for a long moment; Harry didn’t like the way that he was staring at Tom. “You, of course.” He said. “A true Dark Lord destined to grow far more powerful than I could ever be. To maintain the ‘balance’. I must admit to being a little bit jealous. But now you’re going to help me.”
“I’m not going to do a bloody thing for you!” The brunet snarled back. “My job is to heal magic, not to help you further destroy it!”
The Dark Wizard laughed at him. “My dear boy, you’re clearly misunderstanding how the dynamic between us is going to work.” He said. “You don’t have a choice. With a single spell your will will be mine, and once you’ve done all I have to ask of you you’ll be more than willing to by my avenue to control by your own power. To be my boogeyman. The wolf to frighten the sheep into looking to me as their shepherd.” He pointed the wand at him again. “Imperio.”
Tom’s body bucked off the floor as he struggled against the Curse’s creeping influence, expression rapidly shifting from furious determination to horror as he began to lose ground. Harry looked on in horror: if he could throw off the Imperius Curse than Tom should have been able to, yet here he was. Fighting it and losing.
“Struggle all you like, Riddle. Your strength will give out before the elder wand does.” He was stubborn, but it was equally obvious that he was flagging. Horror had transitioned into despair; tears glittered at the corners of his eyes like pearls of frost. Moments later the tell-tale glaze of the curse over took him and Tom stared, dead eyed, at the ceiling overhead. “Get up.”
With shuffling motions, made clumsy by the lingering effects of the Torture Curse he’d been put under, the brunet rose to his feet.
“Retrieve your wand.”
He obeyed, then stood still and silent as Grindledore began to circle him. Tapping the elder wand against the brunet’s chest. Running the tip along the length of his neck with almost enough force to slit his throat. It must have been painful, but the ensorcelled young man didn’t react.
“I’ve heard about your…interesting lineage, Mr. Riddle. You’re the Heir of Slytherin, are you not?”
“Yes.” A monotone with no inflection.
“Does the Chamber of Secrets exist?”
“Have you found it?”
“Where is it?”
“The first floor girl’s bathroom. There’s a sink with a serpent carved on the spigot: that’s the entrance.”
“Is the ‘monster’ real?”
“What is it?”
“And you’re able to control it?”
“Thank you, Mr. Riddle. You’ve done quite well to give me this information.” The praise was a mockery. “Go to that bathroom and call the beast. Use it to kill the girl you’ll find crying there. I’ll be in to give you further directions once you’ve done so.”
Tom turned and stumbled out of the door of the office, back down the corridor towards the first floor girl’s bathroom. Harry, heart hammering in his chest, hurried after him. Aside from lacking the ‘out of order’ notification which it now sported, the place hadn’t changed much from when he’d last seen it. The soft sound of Myrtle crying could be heard emanating from one of the closed stalls. The Slytherin Prefect proceeded forward towards the circular sink and hissed at the tap to open, followed by a string of Parseltongue meant to call the Basilisk which Harry assumed had been left free in the Chamber while Tom was at Hogwarts. The scrapping sound of massive scales being dragged across stone echoed up the shoot towards them, a massive pair of yellow eyes becoming visible just as the stall door swung open and the doomed girl yelled “get out!”
The great serpent’s giant head whipped around with a low hiss and a split second later it was over. Myrtle’s body crumpled to the floor. Tom didn’t react to the Basilisk’s presence or what had just happened, just staring dumbly at the tiled wall.
“Tom.” No response. The Basilisk lowered its snout enough to nudge him in the shoulder. “Hatchling please, answer me.”
“Dismiss it.” Grindledore’s voiced echoed off the tiled walls and floor. He wasn’t visible; probably standing around the corner of the door to avoid any chance of accidentally looking into the serpent’s deadly eyes. “Make certain it won’t get in our way down in the Chamber.”
Again, Tom obeyed. Ordering the Basilisk to return to the Chamber, to the statue from which Harry had seen the diary free it in his second year. Though clearly reluctant, the massive creature obeyed and disappeared back down the passageway.
“Go down ahead and make certain it’s clear.” Grindledore ordered. “I’ll be along behind you.”
Tom went down through the passageway first, followed soon after by Grindledore. Harry sighed and went down as well, enduring the same awful plummeting sensation he remembered from his second year. At least memories couldn’t get covered in whatever slime coated the slide.
By the time he got to the bottom Grindledore and Tom had moved on; Harry sped his pace and hurried through the Chamber’s passage-ways in order to catch up. By the time he found them again they were in the main chamber (there was now much less water there than there was when he’d last seen it) and a ritual circle had been traced onto the ground by the bloody tips of the brunet’s cut fingers.
“Turn out your pockets.” Grindledore ordered; for all that Tom was regarded as the prince of Slytherin he was still an orphan, and all that came out was a familiar leather-bound diary. “Pick it up. Put it in the center of the circle.” The diary landed on the stone floor with a loud thwack which echoed off the vaulted ceiling of the room. Grindledore then produced Magick Most Evile and thrust it into Tom’s hands. “Read!”
Harry didn’t get to see what happened next because the memory exploded into swirling eddies of shadow and a cold, clawed talon descended on his shoulders.
Chapter 7: Troubling Revelations
He knew, immediately, who the hand belonged to; as if the incredible pain which erupted in his forehead wasn’t enough confirmation, Harry couldn’t think of anyone else who had hands like that. Large and spidery, dead white and covered in hundreds of tiny diamond-shaped scales. Razor sharp blue-tinged talons dug into his shoulder with a merciless grip, Voldemort’s confusion and fury at his presence surrounding him like the heavy coils of a highly irritated snake.
“Harry Potter.” The Dark Lord snarled, tightening his grip to the point where the little raven thought for certain that his shoulder would pop out of its socket from the pressure that was being applied. He whined in pain, unable to pull away now that his feet had become cemented to the floor. “Come here often, boy? How irreverent of you, riffling through the head of someone many times your better. Not even possessed of the decency to do so properly, forced to resort to underhanded methods and back doors. I’d thought Dumbledore had taught his precious ‘Golden Boy’ better manners!”
There was a flash of motion in his peripheral vision as Voldemort moved, the hooded cloak he always wore blending in with the darkness surrounding them.
“Though I must admit to being curious as to how you managed to get behind my walls at all, let alone so deep into the furthest reaches of my mind. Severus has told me of his brief time spent attempting to school you in the Mind Arts; as I understand it, you were a miserable student.”
As much as the tone the Dark Lord used might have rubbed him the wrong way Harry couldn’t exactly allow himself to become offended by the statement. It wasn’t like Voldemort was wrong. Snape’s entirely abysmal efforts to actually teach him anything aside, the raven would be the first to admit that he was about as proficient in Occlumancy as a drunken flobberworm.
“Did you even realize where you were? Or did you mistake this little jaunt through my mindscape as simply a dream? Well, perhaps nightmare would be a better term; I doubt a Muggle-loving Blood Traitor of your ilk could stomach half of what lurks in my memories.” The talons drove themselves deeper as the force behind his grip increased; their glittering points threatening to pierce skin and draw blood against his shoulder. It was painful, but the raven forced himself to contain any sounds he might have made in response to the unpleasant sensation. “What are you here for, Potter?”
Harry kept his mouth shut; maybe Tom wanted to be put back together but he doubted Voldemort would and, if he were to discover their intentions, it was almost a certainty that he’d act to stop them.
“Potter.” His voice was now a growl, low and dangerous as he slowly released his grip. Pulling his talons from the imprints they’d created in Harry’s skin. The constant pain from his scar was starting to make him feel ill. His vision was blurring. “Do not play this game with me. You may believe me to be little different from the children of my Death Eaters whom you’ve spent your school days playing with but that, I promise you, is a belief which will soon be proven false. You’re in my head, boy; here, I am God even more so than in Britain, and anything I will is possible. I am a merciful Lord, even to my enemies, but if you continue this I will subject you to such unimaginable pain and suffering that you’ll wish you were never born!”
He circled around to the front of where Harry stood frozen, pinned in place by the Dark Lord’s will. Glowing, slit pupiled eyes panned across his form and stopped cold when they landed on the locket still hung around his throat.
“Where did you manage to get your hands on my locket?” Voldemort’s hand shot out with clear intent to grab the clasp and yank the Horcrux from around his throat; his talons scrapped against Harry’s chest but his hand passed clear through the clasp and chain as if the locket was made from the same dark smoke the memory which he’d been viewing had dissipated into. “What?” He tried again, only to have the same result occur. Narrowed eyes raised once more to glare at him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m not doing anything!” Harry shot back. He knew that he shouldn’t say it, but he couldn’t bite down on “Tom doesn’t want you touching him!”
“Tom?” Voldemort repeated harshly, reaching out with his warped hands and seizing him by the throat. Forcing his head upwards and locking eyes with him. “Where are you, Potter?”
Harry screamed as the pain from Voldemort’s touch crescendoed into the same soul-burning agony as he’d felt in the atrium of the Ministry when the Dark Lord had attempted to possess him. Was he doing it again? No. No! He couldn’t let him! Couldn’t let him take over and find out where they were, even if chances were high they’d be able to escape before they could be caught. He tried to fight back, tried to push him out, but couldn’t. There was nothing he could do. All his attempts to force the Dark Lord back led to his hands passing straight through him as if he were nothing more than a mirage.
Then, suddenly, Voldemort withdrew. Body stiff. Eyes wide. “Impossible!” He hissed, releasing his grip. “A Horcrux? You can’t be!”
A Horcrux? He was…? No. It wasn’t….that couldn’t be what he meant. Surely it wasn’t possible. Then again, he’d made Nagini into a Horcrux. But snakes weren’t the same as humans. When could it have happened? And how? Didn’t creating a Horcrux require a complex ritual alongside who knew what else?
Harry was so thrown off and confused that he was actually about to start questioning Voldemort on the matter in an effort to get something else out of him that would actually provide answers but the locket took action before he could; seizing the opportunity that the Dark Lord’s confusion and broken contact had provided to get him out of there before the other man could recover. The chain snapped tight around his neck and Harry’s eyes snapped open.
Sitting bolt upright, the little raven tore the blindfold from around his eyes and fumbled for where his glasses sat on the coffee table, shoving them hurriedly onto his face. Alarmed by the possibility that he himself was a Horcrux and still disoriented by everything that he’d seen in Voldemort’s mindscape Harry quickly pushed himself onto his feet and hurried to the door.
His frantic knocking was answered by Ron’s somewhat nervous voice. “What happened to Lockhart in our second year?”
“He Obliviated himself on accident using the wand you broke when we crashed your dad’s flying car into the Whomping Willow.” Harry said. A moment later the lock on the door clicked and Ron pulled it open, peering through at him.
“It’s really you then, mate?”
“Yeah,” he said, pushing passed him and into the hallway. “We need to talk! Get Hermione!”
He didn’t really give the red head the chance to do so, stampeding down the hall in an effort to locate her himself which found success a handful of moments later. She was sitting at the kitchen table with a book and a cup of tea and looked up at him in mild surprise and concern. “Harry.” She stood up, pushing the chair back behind her as she did so. “Are you alright? Have you found anything? It’s been hours.”
“I found out a lot, but he caught me. We need to talk, but first we need to go; I don’t know if he’s found out where we are or not but it’s probably better that we don’t stay here any longer.”
Hermione didn’t stop to question him, pausing only long enough to give him back his wand and seize her bag from where she’d left it sitting on another chair at the table, and started for the front door. “We’ll talk once we get back to England. Come on.”
Out the door and down the street they went without bothering to check the direction they were headed in. The trio turned corners and darted down alleyways and, after finding themselves at a dead end in the midst of a desolate industrial district and able to be relatively certain they weren’t being followed, apparated.
They ended up in yet another forest, surrounded by gnarled mossy roots and the gentle patter of falling rain. He didn’t know where they were, but it looked considerably different than the woods in which the Quidditch World Cup had been held. In fact, if Harry hadn’t known better, he might have mistaken the place for the Forbidden Forest.
“Where are we?” Ron asked, joining Harry in looking around.
“The Forest of Dean. I used to go camping here with my parents from time to time when I was younger.” Hermione said. “Help me set up the tent before we freeze to death in this rain.”
The tent came out quickly and was erected soon after; all three of them quickly filed inside.
“It wasn’t Dumbledore.” Harry told them, dropping onto the edge of his bunk with a thud. “It was never Dumbledore. None of us, bloody hell, none of our parents have even met Albus Dumbledore!”
“Woah, mate, slow down.” Ron said, wide-eyed in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“Yes, Harry…we don’t follow what you’re trying to tell us.” Hermione told him, carefully perching on the edge of the bunk across from him. “Dumbledore was the Headmaster of Hogwarts for the entirety of our time at school. He was Headmaster when yours and Ron’s parents went to Hogwarts as well. Do you think that something you saw in there…?”
“This has nothing to do with what I saw in his mind, Hermione! The Albus Dumbledore that we know isn’t Albus Dumbledore! The real Albus Dumbledore is in Nuremgard! Grindlewald won their duel and took advantage of the chaos to use the elder wand to apply a permanent glamor to himself so that no one would notice but Tom did! He realized that it wasn’t really Dumbledore because he wasn’t acting like he was supposed to! But when Tom confronted him on it he tortured him and used the Imperius Curse to force him to kill Myrtle with the Basilisk and use her death to turn the diary into a Horcrux!”
Silence followed that declaration and for the span of a few moments all that could be heard was the gentle sound of the rain pattering against the canvas as Ron and Hermione stared at him. Then the other wizard said “is that…is that all you had to tell us, mate?”
“No.” Harry told him. “When Voldemort caught me, confronted me, I realized…what the seventh Horcrux is. That we…that we’ve had it the whole time.”
“Really?” Hermione asked. “What?”
The raven sighed and fell back onto the bunk with a thud. “Me.” Some small part of him had expected the pair to erupt into thunderous uproar but neither of them said anything. Neither of them moved. They both just stared at him. “As much as it surprised me, as horrifying as it is, as confused as I am by how it’s possible…I think…a part of me has always known. The connection between us. The Parseltongue. All of it. It makes so much sense without making any sense at all at the same time.”
“So we’re helping both of you, then, aren’t we?” Ron asked.
Harry and Hermione both looked up at him. “What do you mean, Ron?” Harry asked. “Yes, we’re helping Tom, but how are we helping me?”
“Come on, mate, isn’t it obvious?”
“Not really, no.”
“Originally we were out to destroy the Horcruxes, weren’t we? We had to, in order to be rid of You-Know-Who once and for all. And if you’re a Horcrux that means we’d have ended up having to kill you to kill him.”
Harry felt as if the floor had suddenly dropped out from underneath him and blinked at Ron in open mouthed alarm. Hermione gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. He was right. Ron was absolutely right. And Dumbledore, Grindlewald, knew!
“It’s what he wanted!” Both wizards almost hit the ceiling when she shouted it. “That bastard! It was his plan! Everything he’s ever done has been about control! Turning Tom into what he is! Posing as Dumbledore! Planning to send Harry in to die so that he could come back afterwards in some sort of cheap Houdini trick to sink his claws in even further!”
Ron looked over at the raven and asked, quietly as if in an effort to avoid setting her off further, “who’s Houdini?”
The raven shrugged.
While they’d been distracted by the small exchange Hermione had almost fallen forward into her expanded bag, waving the papers around wildly when she resurfaced as if she were a bird attempting to take off. “I’m certain that the strain of attempting to throw off the Imperius Curse didn’t help, but I know for certain that the creation of the Horcruxes is what drove him insane. More and more with each one.” She said. “Creating Horcruxes doesn’t split the soul into even pieces; it splits the soul in half! And maintaining sanity requires at least fifty one percent of a soul!”
“So the diary had fifty percent of his soul in it, and all six of the others combined with the Dark Lord have the other fifty?” Harry said. “What are we going to do, Hermione? With both the diary and the ring destroyed, seventy five percent of his soul is already gone!”
“It’s not completely hopeless, Harry.”
“How can it not be?”
“Because I managed to combine the reverse of the Horcrux Creation Ritual with another Ritual which may solve our problems.” She said. “It’s risky, and the fix will be shaky at best but…”
“What are you talking about, Hermione? Spit it out!” Harry snarled, losing his patience.
“He needs access to at least fifty one percent of a soul.” She said. “But it doesn’t have to be his. We should still be able to return him to sanity, theoretically, even if he was sharing twenty six percent of a soul with you.” Hermione looked up at him, then, as if fearful of what his reaction would be. “You already have a connection-of course, now we know why-so it shouldn’t have any truly adverse effects. The bond between you might become stronger-you may end up hyperaware of each other’s feelings, for example-but there shouldn’t be anything really bad that happens. And it wouldn’t be permanent; as soon as one of you dies the bond will break. You’d still have your entire soul.”
“And what if it doesn’t work?” Ron asked.
“We hope that it at least incapacitates him long enough for us to get away, because we’ll need him to be present and inside the ritual circle for it to work.” She said. “We’ll have to do it on a Wizarding Holiday and we’ll need all of the Horcruxes which haven’t already been destroyed to be in the circle as well. Which means we’ll have to find both the cup and the diadem and somehow get Nagini here in just over a month for Yule. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait for Beltane in the spring.”
“Nagini goes wherever he does so she’s bound to show up with him to wherever we do the ritual.” Harry said. “I’m not certain how we’re going to find the remaining two Horcruxes, though.”
“If you’re connected to him because you’re a Horcrux, wouldn’t all of them be connected to him? And to each other through him?” Ron asked. “Maybe the locket can help?”
The locket? It had helped guide him through Voldemort’s mindscape and had gotten him back out when the Dark Lord showed up. Still, that was a lot of energy for the Horcrux to have expended. It was probably tired, if not completely out of energy. “I dunno,” he said, “that seems like a bit much.”
Locket-Tom quite clearly did not appreciate being thought of as incapable because the chain around his neck pinched him. Harry jumped and yelped, but before he could react much beyond that he was blinded by a stream of images which flashed passed so quickly that Harry felt dizzy and could barely process what he was seeing. Gringotts: a long, meandering railway and a massive vault filled with gold. Hogwarts: the Room of Requirement, in the Room of Hidden Things, atop the cabinet inside which he’d hidden the Half-Blood Prince’s book.
“Harry!” He jumped and looked over at her, confused. “Are you alright? You sort of just…zoned out.”
“Well?” Ron asked. “Did it show you something?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it did.” Harry reached up and ran a nervous hand through his black hair, making it even messier than usual. “This isn’t going to be easy.”
Chapter 8: Ritual
Every time he thought he’d already done the craziest thing he possibly could in his life fate just had to come around and prove him wrong in the most flamboyant way possible. Delving into the Dark Lord’s mind without any ability or competent training in the Mind Arts with only the help of a Horcrux whose trustworthiness would always remain, at least to some degree, questionable? Not crazy enough! Violating the Taboo and allowing themselves to be captured in order to steal the necessary ingredients to pose as Bellatrix with Polyjuice Potion and break into the vault where the cup was kept? Not crazy enough! Actually going through with their plan to break into one of the oldest and best protected vaults in Gringotts? Not crazy enough! Escaping Gringotts by riding on the back of an entirely blind dragon? Not crazy enough! Break into Death Eater occupied Hogwarts through the Chamber of Secrets and retrieve the Diadem from the Room of Requirement, avoiding discovery by the skin of their teeth? Not crazy enough!
But this? This had to be.
The night was cloudless, starlit and so cold it was physically painful to stand outside. It was minutes to midnight on the eve of Yule and Godric’s Hollow was deathly silent; the only people not warm in their beds at that hour, or at the very least inside, were the three of them. Snow lay thick in a glittering diamond dust blanket between the back gate of St. Jeromy’s cemetery and the dark tree line which rose behind it, undisturbed but for their footsteps. As unpleasant as it may have been to stand up to his mid-calf in the frozen powder Harry wasn’t about to wish it away.
They were depending on it to mask the locket (which he felt strangely naked without after having worn it for so long) cup and diadem (both of which, in retrospect, had been considerably less pleased to be removed from their resting places than their gold and emerald sibling), as well as the Ritual Circle in the center of which he was standing, arms wrapped around himself in a pitiful attempt to conserve as much warmth as he possibly could, from view.
If Voldemort noticed anything amiss, came to suspect that the little raven was up to anything more than surrendering himself in hopes of gaining the Dark Lord’s ‘protection’, then everything would fall to pieces and their only chance to get Tom back would be gone forever. He wouldn’t fall for such a ruse more than once: even through the haze of his insanity, he was still incredibly intelligent.
All it would take was one false move… Quickly, Harry shook his head to free himself from such thoughts. Worrying over everything that could go wrong wouldn’t serve as any help to them. In fact, it might end up a hindrance. Either way, it was better that he stopped.
In hopes of finding something which could serve as a distraction he looked towards his friends. Ron stood off in the shadows of the gate, where his footsteps in the snow would have the least likelihood of being noticed by anyone who wasn’t specifically looking for them, with the invisibility cloak draped over his arm. Hermione was slowly working her way backwards towards him, erasing her footsteps as best that she could with her wand as she went. Once she got to the fence, the brunet witch straightened up and looked back at him.
“Alright, that’s the best that I can do as far as erasing any evidence of disturbed snow goes.” She said. “There’s only two minutes left before the Ritual Circle will activate: as soon as midnight strikes. You need to both be inside when that happens or it won’t work.”
“We’ve been over this, Hermione.” Harry reminded her, voice strained with the anticipation of the approaching hour. Heart thudding rapidly against the curve of his ribcage. “I know. I’m going to call him as soon as the two of you get under the cloak.”
“Oh, yes, the cloak!” Seemingly reminded of their need to hide by Harry’s mentioning of the matter, she quickly reached for the cloak. Fumbling with it for a moment before managing to pull it from Ron’s arm. “Come on, Ronald!”
Both ducked beneath the silvery fabric and, moments later, disappeared from sight. For all intents and purposes Harry was now alone just on the edge of the graveyard where his parents had been murdered. Carved into the deep snow, tinged blue by the light of the moon which shown down from directly overhead, was the trail of his footsteps leading to the point where he now stood; the only trace that anyone was there.
Taking a deep breath, watching a lacy cloud of silver steam rise upwards towards the star studded sky, he rubbed his numb fingers together in a futile effort to restore some sense of feeling to them and closed his eyes. Reaching blindly through the darkness until he managed to find the link between them. Prodding at it once. Then again. Then a third time.
The far end of his probe was viciously seized hold of like a lure in the fang-lined mouth of a blood thirsty shark. Harry jerked back with a yelp of alarm, almost toppling over into the snow, Voldemort yanked on the other end with all that he was worth, and then abruptly the tree line became a little colder. A little darker. Cautiously, Harry looked up.
Red eyes met his from where the Dark Lord stood on the edge of the trees, wrapped in the black cloak which seemed to be all he owned with how often he wore it and with Nagini’s emerald coils draped about his skeletal shoulders. The shadows seemed to form shapeless figures which flitted about them as they stared at one another in total silence. And then Voldemort spoke.
“Harry Potter.” It was strange to hear the man speak his name with anything other than contempt, though what emotion was now behind it he couldn’t tell. Didn’t think Voldemort knew. “Harry Potter.” He took a step towards him and then stopped. Tilting his head like a curious parrot when he made no attempt to run or raise his wand. “No effort to run. No effort to fight. Here you stand, alone. Did I not know better, I’d think you called me here on purpose.”
“I did.” The tremor in his voice was, he thought, quite convincing. “I did call you here. Because of what you said. About what I am.”
“It took you,” Voldemort moved forward again, coming closer but not yet stepping into the circle; Harry could have cursed: there were only seconds left, “this long to react?”
“I didn’t want to believe it.” Harry said. “But I can’t deny it anymore. And I’m scared. I don’t want to die. I’m one of your Horcruxes. There’s a piece of your soul in my head. I thought that if anyone would have a good reason to protect me…please.”
The Dark Lord’s smile was sharp and disturbing but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that Voldemort had finally entered the circle. There couldn’t have been more than twenty seconds left. They were standing almost chest to chest. “You needn’t fear anything now, my little Horcrux. There is no one in the world that better cares for their things than I.”
He smiled. “Good.” Taking advantage of their proximity, Harry flung his arms around the taller man to prevent him from leaving the circle and before the Dark Lord could react the clock had ticked down to midnight. Beneath the layer of snow the Ritual Circle began to glow with a blinding white light and a split second later pain unlike anything he’d ever felt ripped through his body. Harry screamed. Or maybe Voldemort screamed. Hell, they both could have screamed, the little raven wasn’t in any position or state to really tell. His head felt like it was about to crack open. Something sharp was burrowing into his rib cage. It felt like his body was turning itself inside out. And then, at last, blackness flooded in around them, and both young man and Dark Lord crumpled into the snow.
Tom awoke with a violent start, attempted to sit up, and promptly crumbled back onto the bunk where he’d been lying with a painful groan. From the top of his head to the tips of his toes, every part of his body hurt. His entire being felt…wrong, his core still wracking with misuse and his person feeling as if he were a sewn together patchwork full of invisible seams. The last thing he remembered was…the last thing he remembered was…Merlin’s ball sack, forget his bloody beard, he couldn’t remember a damn thing beyond his name! All of his memories were spinning wildly about inside of his skull like a cloud of sediment thick in the rushing waters of a river. Letting out another groan, low in the back of his throat, just for good measure Tom dragged his uncooperative, leaden arms up off the thin mattress and rubbed at his temples. Pausing abruptly when he realized that what was touching his forehead wasn’t skin.
He pulled his hands back and looked up at them, confusion flooding in through his muddled awareness. Black leather; supple and soft. Gloves. Why was he wearing gloves? Come to think of it, where was he and what had happened? The last thing he knew had happened was he’d concluded a meeting with his Knights and left the Room of Requirement. School was still in session, wasn’t it? He had rounds to be doing. Surely Abraxas was beginning to worry by now.
The first order of business was to figure out where he was. Everything else would surely fall into place in due time after that. Tom turned his attention to his surroundings: the canvas ceiling of a tent stretched above him, obviously enlarged from how far apart the walls were and all of the furniture which someone had managed to set up inside. A number of bunks were contained within the tent as well, but the only other one which was occupied held a petit, raven man who was quite clearly unconscious.
Beautiful was the first thought which popped into his head, immediately followed by a potent surge of guilt. He was already in a relationship, quite happily, and shouldn’t be thinking such things of other people even if Abraxas was to marry someone else soon. Still, that guilt wasn’t enough to fully bury the strange draw he felt towards the other. An implacable warmth. A faint but undeniable tugging which seemed to seek to pull him into the little raven until neither of them could tell the difference between themselves anymore.
He didn’t even know the man.
Yet he felt like that wasn’t true. As if he’d known him intimately for many years.
Tom needed a distraction before he sank any deeper into whatever it was that he was currently experiencing. Making sure that the little raven wasn’t in any real distress seemed like the best possible way to do so currently available to him.
Just as soon as he figured out how to move his body properly.
Hands. Legs. Feet. Yes. Everything was intact or at least seemed to be, which was good. Now to grin and bear the pain enough to haul his sorry arse off the bed he was sprawled out on and across the tent-why the bloody hell was he in a tent anyway?-to where the little raven potentially lay dead. With a great painful effort he managed to sit up. Good. A second strain to get his legs off the side of the bed and his feet on the floor. Also good. His final attempt to push himself up onto his feet instead ended up with him lying on the floor in a less than elegant heap.
As much trouble as he might be having wrestling with his slowly settling memories Tom was very much aware that he’d never settled for anything less than absolute control of his body before. So how did he get to a state like this?
So many questions and absolutely no answers. Damn it all! But he could focus on that, and on determining exactly what the source of the faint buzz in the back of his head was, later. For now he had a task to accomplish. Mortifying as it was to have to half-crawl half-slither across the floor, he made it to the other bunk eventually and pulled himself up into a seated position using the bed posts.
The little raven was breathing, he could tell by the gentle rise and fall of the curve of his back, and when he touched him he was warm even through the gloves he had on. Warm! Warm! He was warm and it had been so long since Tom had been that he’d forgotten what it felt like to be anything other than freezing. An urge to curl up around the boy like a snake would around a sun-warmed stone swelled up inside him like a roaring tidal wave. So strong that he almost gave in, only barely holding himself back with reminders of the fact that he was in a relationship, was supposed to be loyal and, perhaps most importantly of all, didn’t know the raven.
For some reason thoughts of Abraxas weren’t as affective as they should have been and that realization filled him with a sense of implacable distress. He was missing something. Something had happened. They’d broken up, or…oh! Why! Why couldn’t he remember?
Tom turned away from the other bed and the raven that lay in it, taking a step away and almost crumpling but managing at the last moment to keep his feet. Where was he? Where was he? No, a far better question was when was he? How much time had passed since he was last aware? How many years had passed? Why did the clothes the other wizard wore look so different from anything he’d ever seen?
The brunet let out a yowl of frustration not all that unlike a cat whose tail had been stepped on, the sound promptly answered by the rapid approach of two different pairs of footsteps. Tom reached for his wand in an effort to defend himself only to find that it wasn’t there, took a step back and toppled over. His head collided with the leg of the table, his vision went momentarily white, and by the time he regained his bearings he was being stared at by a frizzy-haired witch and a red-headed wizard.
If he hadn’t already been convinced that he was out of his own mind, the first question which spilled out of him very much confirmed that. “What the bloody hell are you wearing?”
The wizard raised an eyebrow at him. “Jeans, mate?”
“He’s from the forties, Ron!” The witch stated sharply, before turning her attention to him and stepping forward. “You really shouldn’t be up. How are you feeling?”
“Bewildered.” He admitted, blinking up at her like a concussed owl. “Where am I?”
“The Forest of Dean.” She said. “Do you know who you are?”
“Tom.” He said. “Tom Marvolo Riddle, though why my mother insisted on naming me after the father who abused her and the man that abandoned us both I’ll never know. What of you, Ms., and your friend over there?”
“Boyfriend.” Ron growled.
The still very confused Dark Lord fixed him in a placid gaze. “Don’t feel threatened; I’m not interested in women. Besides, I’m already involved with someone else.” The look that they exchanged raised the hairs along the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, what year is it?”
“Merlin, he’s almost as bad as Lockhart after he Obliviated himself.”
What sort of utter buffoon Obliviated themselves?
“I’m Hermione Grander.” She told him, and then indicated the other. “This is Ron. Ron Weasley. And Harrys on the bed; Harry Potter.”
“Harry Potter?” Tom repeated, looking back over at the still unconscious raven. “I know that name. Why do I know that name?”
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions. That you’re confused.” She reached down and, with Ron’s help, hauled him to his feet. “It’s better you sit down before we explain. This is…probably going to hit you pretty hard.”
So it was bad news, then? Just what he needed. The brunet allowed himself to be pushed down onto the bunk he’d woken up on without resistance. “Are you going to answer my questions now?”
“Yeah, mate, just…before we do…sorry about your snake.”
Tom stared at him blankly. “Snake?”
“Yeah. Your snake.”
“Who’s Nagini?” Another exchanged glance. “Are the two of you going to answer any of my questions or just leave me sitting here like a fool? Where’s my wand?”
“Oh, um,” Hermione dug through the beaded bag she carried for a moment before producing the yew wand and handing it back to him, “here you are.”
Relief swept through him the moment his fingers closed around the smooth hand, a fair bit of the tension Tom hadn’t realized he’d had disappearing. “Thank you.”
Despite his best efforts not to, his eyes strayed back to the occupant of the other bunk. “Is he alright?”
“Unconscious, but he’ll be fine. The ritual hit him harder than it hit you; your body and core had gotten used to the strain after preforming so many of them.”
“What?” Tom repeated. “No, Ms. Granger, I’m afraid you have it wrong. The only rituals I’ve ever taken part in are the traditional ones which honor the holidays.”
“Tom,” Hermione suddenly sounded much older than she should have as she and Ron both perched themselves on chairs. “This is going to be very difficult for you to go through but, well…your memories will return over the next few days so if you’d rather-.”
“My patience only extends so far, Ms. Granger. I need to be getting back to Hogwarts soon. Now, please, tell me what year it is.”
She sighed. “It’s 1998. Or, at least, it will be in another handful of days.”
The brunet went very still, his mind grinding to a shuddering halt before it leapt forward in a panicked rush. Trying desperately to make sense of how he could have possibly blacked out for sixty one years but failing to without all of the information he’d need being readily available. All he managed was the less than eloquent declaration of “I’m seventy seven years old?” Mother Magic, he was practically a geriatric! “Abraxas?”
“Dead. For almost seventeen years.” She said. “Dragon Pox. I’m sorry.”
The grief wasn’t as poignant as it should have been; another thing that he’d known without knowing. Maybe he was just in shock. “What happened to me?”
“The details will, with any luck, come back along with anything else. The short story: you were forced to use Black Magic to rip your soul apart and it drove you mad. It took almost everything we had to put you back together.”
Black Magic? Split his soul? Drove him mad? For sixty one years he’d been loose as a mad man? Who knew what he’d done? All the damage he could have caused? Guilt and horror smothering him, Tom sagged backwards onto the bunk. Covering his face with his glove clad hands. The pair patiently waited for him to gather himself. “Where did the gloves come from?”
“I put them on you while you were unconscious.” Hermione told him. “Thought it might be a bit too much of a shock to have you wake up as confused as you are and see your hands.”
“My hands?” Lord, what was wrong with his hands?
“We didn’t get to put you back together completely. Some of the pieces were already destroyed. You had to borrow a bit of Harry’s to be put back to rights.” Ron said. “You’re a little disfigured.”
Disfigured? Tom seized the bottoms of the leather gloves that he wore and ripped them off, recoiling in shock when he saw his hands. His fingers were long and skeletal, tinged blue as if by frost bite and tipped with nails which were more like razor blades than anything human. The consequence of Black Magic, of committing crimes against nature and the balance he was supposed to be preserving, and he doubted that the evidence stopped there. With a swift motion of his wand Tom conjured a mirror only to immediately regret it.
His once midnight blue eyes were now hellish embers, combining with the same frost bitten skin tone of his hands to form the monstrous visage of a nightmare. His irises were gone, pupils reduced to serpentine slits, and the whites of his eyes had reduced to a fiery red. Fresh horror flooding through him, tinged with revulsion, and he raised a hand to touch his face. Trace his features. Make absolutely certain he wasn’t hallucinating.
“I’m young.” He said, at a loss for how else to respond, chest tight as he began to hyperventilate. “Younger than I should be. In my early forties, at most. Why?” He was over seventy; even if wizards aged a bit more gracefully than Muggles did, he should look older than his.”
“Get the Draught of Peace.” Hermione told Ron as she handed him her bag. “You’re seventy seven. Harrys seventeen. Your current appearance is an average of both, I think.” The red head handed her the potion, which Hermione in turn held out towards him. The silvery blue liquid inside of it rippled gently with the motion. “Here. Take this and try and get some sleep. Your memories should return over the next few hours or days; just try and stay calm.”
“Yes, thank you.” Tom hastily uncorked the bottle and downed its contents. A sense of calm immediately began spreading through him, barely noticeable at first but rapidly growing stronger. His breathing evening out and heart rate calming, he let out a shuddering breath and lay back on the mattress. Panic replaced with exhaustion.
“We won’t be going anywhere until you’ve recovered, Tom. We’ll need your help getting back into Harry’s house: Number Twelve will be the best place for us to go about dealing with…well, I suppose it’s better we talk about such things once you’ve regained your bearings a bit more.”
This time, when he tried to answer, all that came out was a slurred groan; the words that he’d tried to say unintelligible even to him.
“We’ll leave you alone to rest.”
He barely heard the pair as they moved away, sinking down through the thin mattress into a sea of dreamless black.
Chapter 9: Alliance
Harry woke slowly, his entire body stiff and filled with the dull ache unique to having lain in one place for too long. The room that he was in looked familiar, though in his muddled state the little raven couldn’t fathom for what reason that might have been. It was dark and, though by no means small, was made to feel stuffy by the antique furniture and the thick moth eaten drapes-dark green velvet, and looking as if they’d once been sumptuous but had since fallen into a state of severe disrepair-which furnished it. Wide motes of dust spun like ballroom dancers in the shaft of evening sunlight slanting in through the window, spilling a washed out puddle onto the wooden floor. It couldn’t have been more than an hour before sunset.
How long had he been unconscious? Had the ritual worked? The last thing that he remembered was that horrible pain before he passed out in the snow.
Harry opened his mouth to call for his friends only to discover that he couldn’t so much as make a sound with his mouth and throat being as dry as they were; his tongue had all but superglued itself to the roof of his mouth. Looking for some other way to go about finding the answers to his questions, the little wizard turned his head to the side to look for his wand on the bedside table and almost jumped out of his skin with a cry of alarm.
He couldn’t be certain, but thought he heard the satin sound of rich laughter somewhere in the back of his head as the extremely hairy House Elf blinked up at him with bulging watery eyes. “Kreacher was just coming in to check on his master.” Kreacher informed him, Regulus’ locket glinting against his chest. “Kreacher’s master has been unconscious for a week, since his friends and the Dark Lord sent his servants who were waiting here to ambush Kreacher’s master away and follow after he had made certain Kreacher’s master was in bed.”
“Thank you, Kreacher.” Harry croaked, wincing at the sound of his own voice.
“Kreacher will let his master’s friends know he is awake, but first Kreacher will get his master a proper meal. Is there anything else he will be needing?”
“No, Kreacher. Thanks.” The elf promptly popped away.
It’s good to know that you’re finally awake, Harry. Your two friends and I had begun to grow concerned.
The little raven jumped, then quickly looked around the room expecting to find Tom standing in one of the corners or sitting in one of the chairs. He was alone. Confusion flooded through him as he heard that laughter again.
You can look for me all you like but I’m afraid you won’t find a trace. Harry could hear the curl of a smile in Tom’s voice. It seems that in the wake of your efforts to save me from what that bastard Grindlewald did a link between us has opened. Or perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say a link which already existed between us has been widened. At current, I’m speaking to you from a meeting with my followers at Malfoy Manor. A feeling of concern filtered through along with his words before the other wizard could stop it. Blast! I apologize; I hadn’t meant for that to slip through.
Nothing good. Was the reply. But now isn’t the time to speak of such things. It can be brought up later, at the Order meeting which has been arranged to take place tonight. For now, focus on regaining your bearings: I hope the process is easier on you than it was on me.
Order meeting? There was an Order meeting that night and Tom was going to be there? Who had arranged this? Who had thought it was a good idea?
Another chuckle. That would be Ms. Granger. Tom informed him. I’ll be arriving a few minutes before it starts. Harry…you and I need to speak. Face to face.
Before the raven could question him Tom’s presence faded from his mind. Once more alone in the room, Harry huffed. Moments later Kreacher reappeared with the sharp pop characteristic of Elvish apparition; the House Elf shuffled over to the bed and propped a tray across his lap.
“Kreacher has brought all his master’s favorites so his master can choose what he wants to eat.” He pushed an ottoman over towards the bed and climbed up onto it so that he could peer over the covers at him. “Both his master’s friends and the Dark Lord have asked Kreacher to make sure that his master stays in bed resting until the meeting starts.”
Harry looked down at the tray across his lap, sizing up the strange conglomeration of Treacle Tart, Steak and Kidney Pie, Bangers and Mash and…a peeled lemon? The little raven hadn’t been aware that he was partial to lemons. Maybe they’d simply run out of oranges and the aged, slightly barmy elf had gotten his citruses mixed up? He doubted it was a subtle attempt to inform him it was best that he ‘sucked on a lemon’ as it were; Kreacher seemed more direct than that, be it intentional or not.
“What time is the meeting supposed to start?” he settled for asking, pushing the sour fruit aside to be discarded and starting in on the slice of steak and kidney pie.
“The meeting with the,” apparently the elf hadn’t been fully broken of old habits because he mouthed a few silent insults before finally being forced to settle for “Order is set to start in two hours. The Dark Lord is going to arrive back at the House of Black in an hour and fifty minutes, unless something happens to hold him up.”
At least he wouldn’t be stuck bored in bed for a small eternity. It wouldn’t be long before he could finally see Tom-the real Tom, not Voldemort or a half-translucent projection from a diary-whole again. The Boy-Who-Lived attempted to convince himself as best he could that the source of his anticipation was a desire to see how well their efforts at restoring the Dark Lord had worked but he’d never been good at lying. Especially to himself.
A part of him, admittedly a small and very reluctant one, hoped that the other wizard’s appearance hadn’t been repaired. Or at least that it hadn’t been repaired fully. Because Harry knew he wouldn’t be able to deny his attraction to the brunet otherwise, and worried that he wouldn’t be able to prevent Tom from noticing now that their link was as open as it was.
Merlin, he really needed to work on learning Occlumancy.
Then again, his little jaunt into Voldemort’s mind had made it rather clear that even bomb-resistant mental walls wouldn’t do anything about their link.
It was entirely imprudent for him to even be thinking of the other man in such a way. He was older than him by decades, though admittedly the mental damage Tom had likely suffered may have rendered their mental gap much smaller than it would have been otherwise, had been responsible for the deaths of his parents alongside countless others, even if he hadn’t been quite right in the head at the time because of what Grindledore had done, and was doubtlessly in a state of mourning over Abraxas’ death. Even if he’d known of the fact that the Malfoy Patriarch had succumbed to Dragon Pox years before, the knowledge was bound to be more pointed, more painful, now that the haze of Black Magic induced madness had been removed from his awareness.
Harry knew what it felt like to lose a loved one, had experienced the process more than once during his very short life, but he didn’t know what it was like to lose someone who had been what Abraxas was to Tom. A life partner. Someone he’d been so devoted to that, even proud as the brunet was, he’d been willing to stand faithfully beside while tradition had bound Abraxas to someone else. It would be entirely wrong of him to even insinuate possessing such desires to a man who had no heart to give him, because it had already been buried with someone else.
Better that he think of something else, and quickly, before his emotions leaked through their link and alerted Tom to the source of his distress. Some valiant attempt to shield the other man further pain he would have made only to give himself away because he’d dwelled on the matter too bloody much!
With the pie finished, he picked up the flagon of butter beer which sat on the tray and took a swig. Prodding at the Treacle Tart with the fork in his hand. The course of his thoughts leading his appetite to wither.
“How long did you say that I was unconscious for, Kreacher?” it wouldn’t get his mind very far off the subject at hand, but at least it would do something to break his thoughts away from Tom and his highly inappropriate attractions.
“Kreacher’s master’s friends and the Dark Lord brought Kreacher’s master here about four days ago.” The House Elf told him in his croaky voice, banishing the tray back to the kitchen two floors below once certain that Harry was finished. “But Kreacher has been told that his master has been unconscious since Yule, a week ago.”
So he’d been unconscious for a whole week? That explained how stiff and sore he’d been when he finally had recovered. At least he’d managed to sleep through any magical backlash the Ritual might have caused.
“What’s happened while I was unconscious?” he asked mildly, needing something else to pass the time between then and the start of the meeting. Knowing his thoughts would return, inevitably, to Tom if nothing was done to stop them.
“Kreacher’s master’s friends have been quite busy while his master has been sleeping. They have had to travel quite a bit to locate some of the Order members who went into hiding when the Dark Lord overthrew the Ministry of Magic. Kreacher has been left to care for his master in the meantime.” The elf croaked. “Though Kreacher has not always been alone in the effort. The Dark Lord is different than he remembers; the time not spent at Malfoy Manor repairing relationships or visiting the late Lord Malfoy’s grave was spent in this room watching Kreacher’s master sleep. When Kreacher asked what he was doing and if he needed rest he would refuse and speak of owing debts of blood and magic to his master. For saving him.”
Debts of blood and magic? Was that the same as a life debt, like what Snape had owed his father after he’d saved him from being mauled by Lupin? “He doesn’t owe me anything.”
Was that what Tom had wanted to talk to him about before the meeting began?
“Whatever Kreacher’s master says.” The House Elf jumped down from his perch and landed on the wooden floor with a thump, beginning to push the ottoman back into its place.
Rapid footsteps in the hall outside the bedroom, which the little raven now realized was the very same he’d shared with Ron back in the summer of fifth year, was all the warning that he had before the door was thrown open to reveal Hermione on the other side. She scanned the room and, once her eyes landed on him, rushed forward to throw her arms around his neck.
“Oh, Harry, you are awake!” She pulled back quickly to look him over in concern. “Are you alright? Does anything hurt? Do you remember everything? Who are you? What happened?”
“Hermione,” the little wizard said with fond exasperation, “I’m fine. A little stiff and sore but fine. You don’t need to worry about me. How’s Tom?”
“Not good.” She told him, pity and sympathy having now entered her voice. “He didn’t remember much beyond his name when he first regained consciousness. His memory returned over the course of a few days and…God, Harry, I’ve never seen anyone break down like that. He’s since shut himself away behind a mask, like a true Slytherin, but you can tell that he’s in agony when he thinks no one’s looking. The man he loved is dead. He’s failed the duty he was born for. Has learned that he’s a mass murderer and nearly ruined us all. It’s painful to be around him: he radiates sadness the way that a Dementor radiates fear!”
Maybe killing Tom would have been kinder, but even if he could have brought himself to do it that ship had already sailed. “Does he still look the same?”
“Like he’s half-snake?” Harry nodded. “No. His eyes are still the same and his hands haven’t changed but instead of looking like something out of a Muggle horror movie he looks like he froze to death! He’s not just pale, Harry, he’s blue!”
“Is that something I should worry about?”
“No. I mean…I don’t think so.” She admitted, shivering. “It’s just uncanny. Eldritch, even. He’s really not bad now, when he isn’t moping or trying to get ahold of his mind-we’ve only pulled him back to the point where he’s aware of the fact his psyche has shattered like a dropped mirror instead of being blissfully ignorant of it-it’s just…off putting to feel like you’re sitting in the same room as a corpse.”
The wizard’s response was preemptively cut off by a polite knock on the door. Both Harry and Hermione looked over, and then the witch stood up. “That must be him. He did say that he wanted to talk to you before the meeting.”
“When should we be down?” he asked.
“I’ll send Ron up to get the two of you once everyone has arrived.” Hermione told him, opening the bedroom door and nodding to the tall figure standing on the other side. “Tom.”
“Ms. Granger,” came the soft reply as the two slipped past each other, one into the room and the other out of it. The door clicked shut behind him. Tom folded long, gloved hands behind his back and sent a polite nod in his direction. “Harry.”
“Tom.” He replied as Kreacher vanished from the room with a final sharp pop. “It’s good to see that our efforts worked.”
Harry was trying not to stare, truly he was, but in the end he couldn’t help himself. The red eyes which had looked so terrifying set deep into Voldemort’s skull like face were now alluring astride Tom’s cheekbones. His chocolate curls looked glossy in the low light. Like Hermione had said his skin was now tinged an unhealthy, bloodless blue and in places appeared almost translucent over muscle and bone. Rather than find it off putting, Harry couldn’t help but find it beautiful.
Tom truly did cut a breathtaking figure and as Harry’s chest grew tight he knew his determination to contain himself had just been made a hell of a lot harder.
“It’s likewise good to see you finally awake.” The Dark Lord rocked back on the heels of his dragon hide boots, the black robe he wore open over a crisp shirt fluttering about his ankles. “You’re well?”
“I am.” He said. “Are you?”
The older wizard’s smile failed to hold up against close scrutiny and Harry had to hold himself back from cringing. “Well enough.”
“You wanted to speak to me? Before the meeting?” He prompted.
Tom inclined his head. “I did.”
“…” Nothing. Harry cleared his throat, the atmosphere in the room suddenly becoming awkward. “Well, what was it?”
“I wanted to discuss with you,” he was moving towards him now, each of his footfalls seeming to ring like thunder through the cramped and dusty room, “ arrangements towards my repayment of the debt which I owe you.”
They were almost chest to chest now and Harry backed away only to have Tom follow. He didn’t feel threatened, per say, but was certainly confused and his inability to determine what exactly the older man had in mind made him nervous. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“I’m afraid you’re wrong about that, Harry.” Tom’s voice was soft as those crimson eyes bore into his own. “I owe you everything. And that’s precisely what I’m willing to give you. All that I am. All that I have left.”
“Tom, I’m sorry, but you’re being irrational.” He squeaked.
“Don’t hide little lion. Don’t stopper your feelings in an effort to spare me pain. My whole existence is pain, now, so what’s a little more?” The brunet’s grin was almost manic. Jagged, like a hyena’s. “I’ve spent weeks slung about your neck. Years imbedded in your forehead. When I told you that I knew your heart and soul, Harry Potter, I did not lie. I have never lied to you. And if you desire it, as you desire it, I’m more than willing to repay you in-.”
He cut off abruptly when Ron knocked on the door and called “meetings starting” through the wood. Much to Harry’s relief, Tom stepped back.
“Perhaps later, then.” The Dark Lord tore his gaze away but the raven’s heartbeat didn’t slow. “Excuse me. It’s better, I’m sure, that we don’t go down together.”
Before Harry could catch his breath enough to speak, Tom was gone.
Chapter 10: War Council
I've gotten a question on clarifying Black and White magic further on FF.net; in case anyone here was wanting further clarification as well that will be explained at least somewhat better in chapter 12 so hang tight.
On another note, has anyone seen Origins of the Heir yet? It's an amazingly done fan film centering around Tom Riddle featuring a lot of young Tom and book-appropriate Voldemort eyes. It doesn't exactly follow what his story was according to Half Blood Prince but it's still really good and i recommend seeing it if you have the time. It's not even an hour long and definitely worth it.
No matter what happened, Harry knew the meeting wouldn’t be ending in any manner which could be considered ‘good’ by any even marginally sane person. The question wasn’t if the night would result in a disaster, it was how bad of one. Having given himself enough time for his racing heart to calm and successfully push questions regarding what in Merlin’s name Tom had been attempting to offer him-it couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was, could it?-aside and without any other excuses left for him to stall even a moment longer the little raven haired wizard took a deep breath and strode down the hall. Opening the door which led into the kitchen.
Countless pairs of eyes immediately turned onto him with rapt attention and Harry had to physically hold himself back from cringing. He hated, hated, hated being the center of attention almost as much as he hated politicians and being the Boy-Who-Lived. But he knew, already, that things were only going to get worse. It was, after all, simply a matter of time before Tom would come walking through the same door he now stood in and all living hell would break loose.
With nothing in his power to stop the matter, Harry figured that he’d just have to brace for it well ahead of time. Ron and Hermione, intermixed amongst the rest of the rabble which were as of yet unaware, seemed to have much the same idea. Neither of them looked particularly thrilled with the bedlam they were all three well aware was soon to come.
Deciding it was better not to dwell on it, the little raven instead turned his attention to taking stock of who else was in the room as he made his way to the seat at the head of the table. Arthur and Molly were both there, as were Bill and Fleur and both the twins. Lupin was there, though Tonks, understandably, was not. To his surprise McGonagall was there-how she’d gotten away from the school Harry didn’t know (though he suspected Tom had probably said something to Snape)-and seemed to have worked out at least a portion of what was going on because she kept looking towards the doorway of the kitchen as if expecting someone else to come walking through it. Kinglsey sat quietly, arms crossed, waiting for whatever might be happening to happen. The remaining handful of people in the room, all of whom the little raven was less than familiar with, shifted about and muttered nervously.
“We called you all here not because the war is over, but because things have changed.” Harry sat back in his rickety kitchen chair, hoping to make himself as comfortable as possible in the few seconds remaining before the fire and brimstone all started. “Voldemort,” a number of them flinched but he ignored it, “isn’t who we should really be fighting. He’s nothing more than a smoke screen for the real enemy, who’s far more insidious than the mad man he created could ever be.”
Harry paused, less for effect and more for the chance to gauge the reactions of his only somewhat captive audience. They were…rather split. Those who knew him well, like the Weasleys and Lupin, were reserving judgement until he finished. The rest seemed to be reconsidering their decision to disagree with the Daily Prophet’s coverage of him during his fifth year.
“As I’m sure we all know Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindlewald fought a historic duel in the 1940s.” Nods all around. “The startling truth of matters which I’m certain that most, if not all of you, aren’t aware of is the reality that Albus Dumbledore didn’t win. Gellert Grindlewald did, and used the cover of the duel’s chaos to glamour both himself and Dumbledore to looking like each other. The real Albus Dumbledore was thrown into Nuremgard, the ruthless Dark Lord seamlessly taking his place, primed to take over the wizarding world in more subtle ways certain that no one would notice or act to stop him. But he was wrong. A student, a sixth year Slytherin Prefect, a true Dark Lord born to protect magic, recognized that ‘Albus Dumbledore’, with whom he’d never gotten along, wasn’t acting as he should have been. He moved to confront him, in a Slytherin manner designed to wheedle him into divulging incriminating information with which he could then go to the Ministry and have him unmasked, but Grindlewald, unlike Dumbledore, was not a Gryffindor and easily saw through his deception. Tortured him. Used the Imperius Curse and forced him to murder a fellow student in the girl’s bathroom on the first floor and then preform a Black Magic Ritual which robbed him of his sanity and split his soul in half. He created Horcruxes, seven in total and six on purpose, and broke himself into eight pieces. Descended deeper into madness with each one. And Grindlewald took advantage of the chaos he unleashed to tighten his hold on Wizarding Britain.”
The little raven glanced at the doorframe. Still empty, though he couldn’t tell if Tom was lurking further off down the hall.
“He ultimately went on to fake his death last year atop the Astronomy Tower, though admittedly we don’t know exactly how, and waits in the shadows to swoop back in in the wake of the final duel in which Voldemort,” another flinch, “and I were meant to kill each other. Because the only way to kill the Dark Lord, and at the time we’d been led to believe that killing Tom was our only choice, was to destroy all seven of his Horcruxes. And, unknown to him, on the night he tried to kill me in Godric’s Hollow he accidentally turned me into one of them. It was the source of the link between us, though it’s since been removed, and allowed me by chance to view a memory hidden within Malfoy Manor titled ‘The Promise I Failed to Keep’. In it, Tom Riddle asked his lover Abraxas Malfoy to kill him if he ever turned to Voldemort’s methods, if his confrontation with Grindlewald went wrong, but Abraxas loved him too much to do it.”
Another pause. There was movement in the hallway at last, much to Harry’s relief. For a time it had seemed as if the Dark Lord had begun to get cold feet.
“We managed to perform a Ritual which put him back to rights, for the most part, and he’s here with us tonight to help start on plans to put things right and stop Grindlewald once and for all.” He said. When the brunet didn’t immediately make an appearance the raven sighed and said “stop lurking, Tom!”
There was a quiet shuffling sound and then the Dark Lord edged into the light of the doorway. He looked a great deal more ruffled than Harry remembered, no doubt from having torn through the entire house looking for something to use to hide the more unnatural elements of his appearance with little success. His once neat clothes were in a notable state of disarray and a set of pince-nez sunglasses with the right lens severely cracked perched on his nose like a misshapen raven. Needless to say ‘sane’ was not the first adjective which popped into his mind.
“Riddle,” McGonagall’s clipped tone’s cut through the stunned silence of the room, “you look like you’ve been dressed by a drunken monkey!”
Tom’s face scrunched up as he peered through the broken glasses. “Hello, Minerva. It has been…quite a while.” He said. “Thought I’d go for a bit of Koroviev…but there’s no reason to be mentioning Russian literature….Muggle Russian literature no less…. Would it be remiss to ask about your cat?”
“My cat?” she repeated. “Tiddles, if you’re referencing the cat I enlisted your assistance in relocation on the Express, is dead. Has been for a number of decades now.”
“Oh.” Tom grimaced and then, more as a question than a statement, said “condolences?”
Harry face palmed, Ron snickered and Hermione covered her eyes. Tom, for his part, seemed to at last succeed in plucking up his dignity despite looking like he’d just escaped the Cuckoo’s Nest and cleared his throat before regally sweeping through the room, lowering himself onto the empty chair to Harry’s left. Fred and George, who were on his other side, seemed torn between cringing away and properly looking him over.
“Are you just going to wear those around everywhere now?” the raven asked. Tom nodded, not turning his head to look at him though Harry was close enough to know he was being watched out of the corner of his eyes. “It’s not that you can’t pull off the ‘I just fell out of a lorry’ aesthetic but…isn’t it painful to wear sunglasses inside? All you’re going to do is give yourself a headache.” Not to mention the fact he hadn’t bothered to repair them.
“You wear glasses.” He pointed out.
“Because I’m blind without them, and I don’t think that you can say the same.” Harry said. “Then again, being blind without glasses and being without a nose with which to wear them would explain Voldemort’s utter and repeated failures to kill me through the years.”
“My vision is twenty-twenty when I don’t have cracked lenses in front of my eyes, but seeing as it isn’t imminently necessary for me to have the best vision possible, as all we’re doing is talking, I figured that the people here would prefer that I hide as much of my disfigurement, and yes that includes my demon eyes, as possible.”
“I’m sure we speak for everyone when we say we appreciate the effort,” Fred said.
“But it’s probably better you came down like this instead of trying to hide in one of Mrs. Black’s fur coats.” George said.
“Though I think all of those were tossed.”
At the image of Tom wrapped up in piles of moth-eaten fur formerly owned by the hag whose screaming portrait hung in the hall Harry had to bite down on the urge to laugh. Tom sighed.
I’m pleased that, at the very least, I can serve as a source of mild amusement for you. He said. The brunet tried to hide behind a mental smile, but without the distance which had formerly existed between them Harry could clearly detect the deep sadness which underlined his every thought. It was the same abyss he’d dipped his toes in after losing Sirius but-though it hadn’t seemed like it until he’d been confronted by someone who was truly drowning-hadn’t fallen into. It wrapped around his mind like thorny vines and the raven was quick to pull away, wincing in pain. “Shall we move on with things, Harry?”
“Yes.” The little wizard nodded and shifted in his seat. “That’s probably a good idea.”
“Indeed.” Tom said.
A long pause. “…Well, I’ve been unconscious for the past week so if anyone has a plan going forward it would probably be you. You or Hermione.”
“Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley have been quite busy this past week gathering everyone who is here tonight. I myself have been busy as well, attempting to reign in my followers, but I have spared some time to think things over. We won’t be able to do anything truly affective towards stopping Grindlewald until he reappears. Which he’ll do on his own accord when he realizes that his plan of subtlety has been ruined.” Tom tapped his fingers against the table top, the leather padded tips making a dull thud against the dried wood. “For now, we should concern ourselves with preparations for the coming fight, the first order of which, aside from alerting the Ministry and mobilizing the Aurors, would be freeing the real Dumbledore. I think the man has suffered in undeserved imprisonment for more than long enough.”
“The coming fight?” All eyes turned to Lupin when he spoke up. “You seem to believe that Grindlewald, if what you say is true, will be pushed into not only resurfacing but revealing who he really is. Certainly you don’t think people who believed in his pretense will continue to follow him then?”
“My Knights believed in my goals of protecting the Magical World, regardless of blood, but none of them are left now. And most of the Death Eaters follow Voldemort’s ideals, not mine.”
‘Nothing good’ Tom had said. Harry stiffened. “That was what you meant.” He said. “They won’t give up what you campaigned for while you were out of your head! You think they’ll desert and join Grindlewald!”
“They already have deserted, Harry.” Tom informed him, focusing his gaze on his hands. “Almost all of them. The Lestranges, Greyback and his pack, and with him most of the other werewolves. The Giants. The Dementors. Countless others. I only have a few left: Severus, the Malfoys, a small handful more. Things don’t look too well for us in regards to numbers-Grindlewald may not have much support among the Light side of the public but we won’t either once my hand in things is revealed-and such will remain so unless we managed to get a foreign nation involved. The Nordic Countries are Dark oriented and more likely to side with Grindlewald. France will want nothing to do with me. Neutral nations like Italy won’t even want to get involved.”
“The M.A.C.U.S.A will help us.” Harry said.
Tom looked down at him; he’d likewise recaptured the full attention of the rest of the room. “You sound very certain of that.”
“Quahog blew more than enough smoke up my ass for me to be absolutely certain of it.”
The brunet raised an eyebrow. “When did you speak with Samuel Quahog?”
“When we were in New York.”
“When were you in New York?”
“Recently.” The raven dead panned. “We needed access to a magical library and with you still completely barmy at the time we couldn’t exactly go strolling into any of the ones in Britain. Besides, none of them were big enough.”
“So you went to the largest one in the world: the Magical Library of Congress. Quite brilliant, really.” He said. “But…where did you get the papers?”
The Dark Lord let out a long suffering sigh and dropped his face into his hands. The smaller wizard sat primly by his side, much too occupied by a cavernous yawn to verbally reply.
“You’re exhausted.” Not a question, but a statement. Even if the yawn hadn’t given him away Harry knew the brunet would have felt it through their link.
“Maybe a little.” He begrudgingly admitted. “I did only just wake up a couple of hours ago.”
“You should go back up and sleep some more. You need your rest, Harry, and I’m certain that I-with the help of Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley-am more than capable of managing the close of this little meeting on our own.” Tom said.
“I don’t know, Tom-.”
“If anyone has experience leading meetings it’s me.”
“He has a point, Harry.” Hermione piped up from where she sat near the opposite end of the table. “Those shadows under your eyes make you look like a raccoon.”
“Bed.” The brunet prompted.
The younger wizard huffed, but obediently pushed himself to his feet; he really was tired but, at the same time, didn’t want to leave Tom alone in the meeting not knowing what would happen or might go wrong. –Yes, Mum.-
-Watch your cheek.- Tom watched the raven shuffled reluctantly from the room, ignoring the way the others sitting around the table shuddered at the sound of the snake language. Once he was gone, he folded his hands in front of him. “Let it be known that I am not a fool. I’m very much aware that, ‘of my right mind’ or not, I’m still guilty for all the crimes I’ve committed and must pay the consequences. One way or another, the end of this will see me dead.”
“Dead?” Hermione repeated. “I wasn’t aware Wizarding Britain even had a death penalty!”
“It’s rarely used. Reserved for the worst offenders. What did you think the Veil in the Department of Mysteries was for?” Tom seemed to be fighting a gallows smile. “They’ll want to make an example of me, of course.”
“Allow it? He has no choice, Ms. Granger, but the knowledge he would try until he’s as blue in the face as I am regardless is precisely why I waited to mention this until he was no longer in the room.” He said. “We are not dealing with man’s law, not really, we’re dealing with Magic’s law. I betrayed my purpose by tipping the balance in the opposite direction rather than bringing it back into order. The only way to atone for that, as per the ancient laws, is in blood. And it’s not as if I’ve much left to live for.” Tom picked at the bottoms of the leather gloves he wore and reclined in his chair. Looking strangely at ease with the prospect of his greatest fear looming over him. “But we’ve more immediate things to be concerning ourselves with. Onto the matter of preparations.”
Even as tired as he was Harry had only slept a couple of hours before he’d woken up again; it was now the middle of the night, with hours left until dawn, and Grimmauld Place was quiet. The meeting had ended a long time ago. Ron and Hermione were probably asleep. Tom, for all he knew, had gone back to Malfoy Manor for the night. He could have called Kreacher, he supposed, if he’d really wanted the company but he was fine with the silence. At least for the time being. It gave him time to think (of course, ‘thinking’, at the moment, might well get him into even deeper trouble; hopefully Tom was sound asleep or otherwise occupied enough by something else that he wouldn’t be paying attention to anything which might leak over through their link) over the things which were currently weighing the most heavily on his mind.
The old springs buried in the mattress he’d been lying on creaked in protest with the shift of his weight as Harry stood up. The little raven had since changed into a pair of old sweat pants (the only thing he was currently dressed in) and they hung low on his hips as he crossed to the window. Looking out at the less-than-charming street outside and shivering delicately in the draft which filtered through the loose wooden frames, leaving a trail of goosebumps along his exposed skin.
Harry could understand the brunet’s motivations for spending the amount of time at Malfoy Manor that he did. Not only had it been his pseudo-headquarters ever since his return, and there by the best place for him to easily meet with his Death Eaters (what few of them were now left), it was the site of Abraxas’ grave as all Purebloods (with a few exceptions, like his parents) were buried in family plots on their manors’ land and the home of his lover’s son and grandson. The last link he had to the man whom he’d been so deeply in love with. It was, of course, only reasonable then than he’d want to repair his relationship with them. Rebuild the bridges which he’d burned.
It was only natural. But that didn’t stop Harry from feeling jealous. And then feeling guilty that he was jealous. Merlin, had he no control of himself?
A knock on the door, so soft that Harry wasn’t entirely certain that he’d heard it at all, pulled him from his thoughts before he could answer his own question in a vindictively self-deprecating manner. The little raven paused to listen and when the knock came again, slightly louder this time, moved away from the window and crossed the room to answer it. The red eyes gleaming out of the darkness at him would have given away who it was that stood there even if he couldn’t instantly recognize the cut of his figure despite the uniform black which the shadows had reduced it to.
Flustered by that realization and with the awkward wariness returning beside the memory of their last conversation Harry took an involuntary step back. “Tom.” He said, surprised. “What are you still doing here? I’d thought that you’d gone back to Malfoy Manor by now.”
“I’ve spent more than enough time at Malfoy Manor, I think, to last me quite a while.” It was painful for him to be there when all that was left were bitter memories of what he’d lost. Of all that he’d missed out on. Still wearing his leather gloves but having finally dispensed with the pair of Pince-nez, the brunet motioned passed the raven’s left shoulder and into the room behind him. “We need to finish speaking of repayment. May I come in?”
Damn it all, he’d begun to hope that the other man would have left the ‘repayment’ issue drop. Harry really should have known better by this point. “How did you know that I was awake?”
“Your thoughts were troubled.” He said. “I could sense them through our link; nothing tangible, I’m not certain what you were thinking about so don’t fear I was prying, simply interference like what one might find on a Muggle radio, but more activity than is typical of sleepers. So I knew that you were either awake or having a nightmare, in which case I figured I should wake you up.” A brief pause, and then he asked again, “may I come in?”
“Oh,” with nothing else to do but allow it short of shutting the door in the other man’s face (and Tom hadn’t yet done anything to deserve such treatment from him) Harry stepped aside to allow the taller wizard to pass through the door, “yeah, come in.”
The brunet stepped over the threshold and Harry closed the door behind him.
Caught out, the little raven could only blink at him dumbly. “I don’t follow.”
“My offer, Harry, which I made to you earlier. Before the meeting.” Tom had come entirely too close again but the younger man didn’t give ground; his Gryffindor nature choosing, as usual, a poor time to kick in. “My repayment. Did you not understand what I attempted to insinuate or have you simply forgotten?”
“If you recall, Tom, we were interrupted before you could finish making your offer so I really, honestly, have no idea what you were trying to ‘insinuate’ to begin with.” He said.
Red eyes bore into him, something in their depths which the little wizard had never seen before and couldn’t place. It wrapped around him like a serpent and devoured him like a flame. Tom’s answer was a single word, verging closely on slipping into Parseltongue. “Pleasure.”
Harry’s mental process ground to an abrupt halt and his heart began to pound. What was he trying to…surely he wasn’t…all of the sudden the Boy-Who-Lived’s mouth was very dry and he had to lick his lips a few times before he could speak. “What are you talking about?”
The Dark Lord’s answer wasn’t verbal, yet clarified matters far better than words ever could have. The man swooped down on him like a great crow before he could react and, moments later, soft warm lips were pressed against his own. Harry’s yelp of surprise was swallowed by the other, the brunet taking advantage of the opening to slip his tongue into the raven’s mouth. Sliding it enticingly against his own. Coaxing it into a hesitant dance. Large, gloved hands holding him tight. The taste of spice and citrus heavy in his mouth. The scent of Tom, rose water and petrichor, overwhelming him. Harry wanted to give in to the way that his body seemed to fit perfectly against Tom. To melt into the warmth of his taller form. But he couldn’t bring himself to satisfy his own desires when he knew that he’d just be tearing at old wounds which would never fully heal. And there might have been a small spark of injured pride in there as well, offended that he’d be looked at like a duty.
Gathering all his strength and courage, the raven placed both his hands on the other’s wide chest and pushed. “Don’t!”
Tom barely moved, his stance stronger than Harry had expected (he’d likely anticipated the raven’s reaction) but gave the smaller wizard the needed opportunity to slip out of his arms like an eel. The taller male followed him. Stalking forward like a predator as the raven backed away.
“Tom.” No reaction. The backs of his knees collided with the bed and he collapsed onto it amidst the creaking of springs. “Tom, stop!”
The Dark Lord did indeed, eventually, stop but not until he was between the smaller male’s legs. Flush against the side of the mattress. “Need I say it again, Harry? That I know your heart and soul? That I’ve seen your desires in great detail? Tell me you don’t want this.”
"I'm in love with someone else!"
"But not involved with them, at the moment. Regardless of what that reason might be; because of the war or something else. There's nothing substantial to prevent this. And that isn't what I asked." Red eyes narrowed. "Tell me you don't want this."
“I don’t want this!” He spluttered, too quickly. It sounded unconvincing even to his own ears and he winced.
“Don’t lie to me.” He spoke softly, and without Voldemort’s susurrus, but there was danger clear in his voice. “Abraxas is gone now and perhaps, had I met you years ago, I’d have moved on as he’d urged me to; wanting, as he did, to see me with someone who could truly be mine. We both get something out of this arrangement: pleasure, for you, and a distraction for my mind for me, as well as relief from the debt which I owe you. Don’t let ‘guilt’ or ‘pride’ get in the way of that.” Slowly, never breaking eye contact with him even for a moment, Tom sank down onto his knees. Gently placing his hands against the raven’s legs and running them along his thighs, making him shudder. “Swear on your magic that you do not want this, that you don’t want me, and we’ll work out something else. Though it will be paltry by comparison.”
He couldn’t. And even though Harry had begun to doubt that Tom would hurt him he knew the consequences of continued dishonest to the man would be anything but pleasant. The brunet was the one hounding him, so perhaps it was stupid of him to feel guilty. As for his pride…he could nurse those wounds later.
Harry’s acquiescence was silent but none the less clear to the brunet, though whether it was through their link or something in his expression which gave it away he wasn’t sure. His focus was quickly derailed by Tom’s attention. The brunet’s warm, soft mouth nuzzled into the pale skin of his stomach. Spattering open mouthed kisses along the elastic band of the sweat pants he wore. Delivering a handful of swift teasing tugs on the bottoms, near his feet, but always stopping just short of pulling them off.
Much to Harry’s relief the older male tired of his game relatively fast and switched his grip from the bottoms of his sweats to the waist band. The backs of gloved fingers trailed along the sensitive skin of his stomach as he was stripped of both remaining articles of clothing, leaving Harry bare against the sheets and Tom still fully dressed. The Dark Lord peered up at him with his ruby eyes, slitted pupils dilated to the point where they almost looked round. Soft leather trailed once again up and down along his now bare thighs, grinning almost feral when he caught the brief hitching of the raven’s breath.
Slowly, without breaking eye contact, Tom leaned down, hot breath fanning across his leg, and bit him. Gently. Sinking perfect teeth in just deep enough to leave a bruise before releasing his hold. Moving a little to the left and repeating the process until a trail of marks littered his pale skin and the little wizard was left painfully hard. Tom’s eyes were nearly black, now. Harry attempted to glare at him the best he could while biting down on a needy whine.
“Need something?” the Dark Lord purred, running the barest touch of gloved fingers up along the length of the sensitive flesh. Holding him still with his other hand to prevent him from bucking upwards to find more friction than the older male was providing. He glared a bit harder but Tom seemed unruffled. “I’m here to please, more than willing to do exactly as I’m asked, but you need to be a bit more vocal.” Another teasing brush, a bit harder than before, still wearing that lascivious grin. “So I’ll ask you again. Need something?”
Harry was well aware of the fact that he was likely as red as the other wizard’s eyes and that the blush had likely spread down his neck and across his chest. “I think, Tom, that it should be fairly obvious what I ‘need’.”
“Obvious?” mischief trickled along their link clear as day as he looked down at Harry’s ‘little problem’, never ceasing his gentle touches. “No. No, I’m afraid it really isn’t.”
“Help me with…with this!” Harry didn’t even know how to begin to go about asking in a more specific manner.
Another chuckle from the older man as he leaned in once more. “As you wish.” The soft scrape of teeth. The questing touch of a slick tongue as it traced blue veins. The tight wetness of a smoldering mouth. Tom stared at him, unblinking, as he hollowed his cheeks. Harry groaned, head lolling back as his fingers buried themselves deep in silky chestnut hair, nails scrapping at the scalp underneath. Hips still pinned in place to keep him from choking Tom. When the brunet hummed around him, sending vibrations straight into his core, the knot which had formed there came undone. The little raven saw white, his back arching, and had to bite down on a yell to keep it from escaping.
Tom released him with a quiet pop and licked him clean before he rose. Banishing their clothing with an easy flick of his wrist and allowing skin to slide seamlessly against skin. Scars to trace scars. “No need to be coy, Harry.” He said against his ear, forcing him back with his larger body. Bare chest fitting to bare chest as he pressed the younger male into the mattress beneath them. “I’ve already silenced the room; we can be as loud as we wish.”
The little wizard didn’t know if it was his tone or his proximity or simply the natural consequences of what they’d done and Tom so clearly intended to do but something stirred him back to life. He could feel where the brunet pressed against him, feel his warmth and the thudding of his pulse, and it pushed his arousal higher. Tom kissed him again. Deep. Needy. Overwhelming in its intensity; Harry could feel nothing on the other end of their link except for buzzing static.
A distraction. That was all that this was for the brunet atop him. Empty. Just sex without intimacy or feelings behind it. Harry knew he shouldn’t have expected more. Didn’t truly know if he was attracted to Tom aside from his looks. Knew he shouldn’t attempt to unravel that mystery to find the answer because all it would do was put unfair pressure on Tom. Not to mention the fact that he was in love with Ginny. Yet his pride sparked up again, sharp along his spine, but not enough to pull him back. They’d already gone too far.
Harry moaned again as an insistent finger breached his body and, again, the sound was swallowed. The finger became two, and then three. Odd, at first, then uncomfortable, and then he adjusted. When Tom found that bundle of nerves deep inside him and pressed against it a flood of pleasure which verged on dangerous washed through him. He gasped out a swear as the brunet began nipping at his collar bone and the column of his throat. Aligning himself with his newly stretched entrance and pressing forward. Larger than his fingers. Filling him. Pressing folds and ridges into sensitive flesh as he continued to attack his upper body with a diversion built of teeth and tongue. One hand attending to Harry’s own neglected length while the other skillfully tortured his chest as the raven adjusted to the intrusion.
When Tom moved again after what seemed like a small eternity Harry almost choked on a throaty mewl. Hands coming up to grip broad shoulders. Nails cutting red furrows down the blue-tinged skin of his back. Sweat. Moans. Skin slapping in ways which could only be described as obscene. Hands everywhere. He tumbled over the edge for the second time that night, evidence of their tryst spreading across both their stomachs as Tom’s hips juttered a few more times before he spilled himself inside him.
Heart pounding and breathing hard, curls pasted to his forehead by the thin sheen of sweat which covered them both from head to toe, Tom freed himself and sat back on his haunches. Red eyes studying the gasping raven lying near boneless in the damp sheets, the size of his pupils steadily reverting to normal.
“I’m at your beckon call.” His voice was so soft it was difficult to hear over the combined volume of their chest-arching breaths. Tom never had removed his gloves, the raven belatedly realized, as the brunet trailed a gentle touch along the pale skin of his inner arm. “For this and other things. Just ask and it will be done.”
Harry didn’t want him jumping at his command. Hated even the thought of having so much power over another person, but when the older man moved to pull away and leave the room he acted without thinking and grabbed his wrist. Fingers closing just above the mouth of his glove. Tom looked down at him. “Stay.” His voice was small. Almost embarrassed. “Please.”
He sighed and nodded and, after a bit of wandless magic to clean them and dress them both in thin night wear, crawled back into bed. Stretching out beneath the sheets beside him. Harry rolled onto his side and laid his head on his chest and Tom held him until he fell asleep.
Chapter 11: The Northern Prison
“Harry.” Tom’s voice, combined with the touch of gentle fingers carding through his wild hair, roused the raven from a state of deep drowse; the calmest sleep he’d had in living memory. The cocoon of blankets which had formed around him was warm. He was perfectly comfortable curled against the old mattress. Relaxed by the gentle sounds of the other wizard’s breathing and heartbeat. Really wanted him to cease his incessant efforts to pull him from the glorious clutches of sleep, no matter how good those fingers might feel. “Harry.” Amusement laced the brunet’s tone far more than the stern severity he was trying to go for, a laugh on the edge of boiling over, only just contained as the younger wizard made an annoyed grumble and nuzzled closer. “I’m sure you’re tired and I’m certain that you’re comfortable, judging by your evident lack of desire to move, but I’m afraid I can’t allow you to sleep any longer. We simply must get up. Both of us.”
“Izershade?” the little raven slurred, still half asleep, which Tom somehow managed to correctly translate as “is there something important that we have to do today?”
“Quite.” He removed his fingers from the younger man’s wild hair, an action which received another grumble of protest, and nudged him a bit more insistently, though still gently, with his knuckles. “Our schedule today includes some very important things, most immediate amongst them breakfast and dressing for the weather.” It seemed somewhat odd that he’d mention the weather. Sure it was cold and there was still a bit of snow on the ground but that was hardly ground breaking or new. It was winter after all. “Come on. I think you’ve drooled on me enough for one night.”
Oh, shite! Harry sat upright, looked down at Tom’s robe in mild panic and, seeing it dry, fixed the now cackling older wizard in a mild glare. “Wanker!”
“And a bloody good one at that by the sounds you made last night. Really Harry, it sounded like the choirs of hell had broken through the window while we’d been dragging ash.” He ran a hand up the raven’s back, pressing gentle fingers against his spine, and felt the smaller male shudder in response. “I do apologize about that fib my little lion but you simply left me no choice. All of my upright attempts to fully wake you fell through; there truly is much to do and I’d thought you’d want to go with me when I left. After all, we’re both leaders in this.”
“Go with you?” he repeated, blinking down at him and not quite fully awake as he fumbled blindly for his glasses. “Go with you where?”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
The smile that Tom flashed him was devoid of any traces of warmth or amusement. “Nuremgard.” He replied, slipping from beneath him and rising with a grace which Harry could only envy. “Dress warm: you don’t truly know the meaning of ‘cold’ until you’ve wintered in the Arctic Circle.”
Grumbling once more just for good measure Harry allowed his head to drop back down onto the mattress, knocking his glasses askew on his nose, and watched as Tom moved gracefully about the room. Fixing his appearance in the mirror with rapt attention.
“Come on Tom, you look better than usual with sex hair.” Not that he was really unhappy that the older man was erasing all the evidence of what they’d done the night before that he could. Harry would rather avoid being ribbed over it by Ron or Hermione or, even worse, both of them. The reality of what they’d done the night before was slowly beginning to sink in, and the more it did the more the guilt began to eat at him. And below that there was something else. A hollow, radiating pain clawing at the inside of his ribs. As if a hole had been bored into his heart while he’d been sleeping and only now that he was awake could he feel it.
He’d been too busy with trying to survive from year to year at Hogwarts to spare much time for thoughts of things like intimacy and sex, but prior to this he’d been under the (perhaps naive) impression that the act was supposed to make you feel wanted not used.
Harry expected Tom to laugh at his comment or brush it off, like so many others did to so much of what he’d said throughout his life, but instead the older man stiffened, something rictus passing across his face. Before Harry could decipher exactly what it meant the mirror Tom had been standing in front of cracked with a hair-raising crunch. The little raven jumped in alarm and the brunet’s reflection, voice distorted by the badly broken glass, let out a squawk of “bloody hell, control your magic!” before running out of frame as if its life depended on it.
“I’m sorry.” Tom said, gaze focused on the floorboards at his feet. “I didn’t mean to…I lost my hold on…it’s simply that…you sounded like him. When you said that.”
“Like Abraxas?” Harry asked without thinking. When Tom flinched as if burned he was flooded with guilt, but buried beneath that guilt (and not very deeply) was thorny anger. A distraction. That was all Tom was looking for. All he was. Had he been in the moment, the night before, or had he been in the past? Imagining that it was his dead lover he was lying with instead? “You’re still dealing with accidental magic?” he asked to change the subject, though not quickly enough to keep a margin of resentment from invading his tone.
The tall brunet refused to remove his gaze from the floor. Though he couldn’t see his face from that angle, the break in his voice gave his efforts away. “Physically I’m in my seventies but appear in my early forties. But the mental damage which was done to me that night has left me stuck firmly at sixteen. And though your efforts, for which I’m truly grateful, have returned a measure of my sanity I’m far from stable. Never will be, I don’t doubt.” Harry wasn’t certain, but amid the shards of shattered mirror he thought he saw Tom force a smile; a thin, pained flash of teeth against pale lips. He understood that he was suffering, still trying to come to terms with a great deal, and doubted he’d be faring too much better were their positions switched yet something about his constant brittle front was beginning to rub him the wrong way. “I wouldn’t suggest taking anymore daytrips into the darkest depths of my mind, Harry. Awareness of one’s madness tends to make its manifestations far worse, and you’ll find no wonderland on the other end of that rabbit hole.” Without further pause Tom swept towards the bedroom door, the thin night robe he was still wearing fluttering about his ankles. “I’ll see you down at breakfast.”
He was gone before Harry could say another word and, helpless to do much else, rolled out of bed at last and pushed himself onto his feet. ‘Freak’. ‘Burden’. ‘Your parents were drunks and their deaths were your fault’. What the bloody hell had Tom been thinking? He probably hadn’t been. For all he claimed to know his desires from years spent in his scar how had he not known what he’d gone through? How it had affected him? All the effort that he’d had to go through and all the years it had taken to lock it all away to the degree that he had? How had he thought, for even a moment, that what he’d done would turn out in any way good? Obligation. Duty. Distraction. Empty. Didn’t care. ‘Had we met earlier…’. Yeah right.
And what about Ginny? Pale skin. Red hair. Brown eyes. Her scent, like flowers; one of the things he’d smelled in the steam emanating from the cauldron of Amortentia Slughorn had brewed the year before. A treacherous part of him wondered if he’d still smell it in that steam today, or if it would have been replaced with rose water and petrichor. With Tom. Of course not! Ginny loved him. He loved Ginny.
Or, at least, he thought he did.
He needed to clear his head. Get Tom off of him. Get Tom out of him. The water in the shower was hot, hotter than it probably should have been, but he wasn’t focused on the discomfort for the time being. Not on the heat. Not on the fact he’d attacked himself with soap perhaps a bit more force than necessary, leaving his pale skin tinged red. He was clean when he stepped from the shower, the water now cold.
It didn’t help. Not really. The memories of what they’d done hadn’t washed down the drain, obliviating himself wasn’t a very good idea, and the dull but constant pain in his chest was still there. Giving it up for lost before any of the others could grow concerned and come looking he changed into the warmest clothing that he had-his Weasley sweaters from the past two Christmases worn atop each other-and headed down into the kitchens.
“Morning, Harry.” Ron said through a mouthful of food, much to Hermione’s evident exasperation, as the raven edged around the pulled out chairs left behind by the Order meeting the night prior and headed towards the end of the table to sit down. Concern flickered across their link as Tom caught sight of the redness of his skin but he said nothing, simply lifting his mug of coffee to his lips. Between then and the time the raven had last seen him he had, likely by use of a few effectively placed Transfiguration spells, exchanged his thin black sleep robe for a much thicker version, lined in fur, worn over heavy (and still very formal looking) winter clothing.
Typical Slytherin, Harry couldn’t help but think with a measure of annoyance.
Kreacher appeared beside his chair almost the instant he sat down, placing a plate of full English breakfast and a cup of coffee on the table in front of him.
“Thank you, Kreacher.” He said.
“Does master Potter require anything else?” the elf croaked.
“No, Kreacher, not at the moment.” He told him. “But we’ll be sure to call for you if that changes.” The House Elf was gone again a moment later.
With the way that Tom was poking at his food the younger man had to wonder if black and white pudding weren’t to his taste. Harry supposed that he couldn’t entirely blame him, as he wasn’t very partial to either of them himself, yet now even that annoyed him.
“Is that the warmest clothing that you have, Harry?” Tom asked mildly, scooping a forkful of eggs into his mouth.
“Yes.” How short his answer was surprised even him. “Is that a problem?”
“In Britain, no. But where we’re going average temperatures are well into the negatives.” Tom said. “And on top of that we’ll be flying up to Nuremgard: it’s the only way to get in. You’ll definitely need a lot more than that to prevent yourself from becoming an ice sculpture.”
“I don’t have anything else, Tom, unless you want me to wear everything in my wardrobe at once.” He said. “You’re not going to make me stop by Diagon Alley before we head to Iceland are you? Not only do I hate shopping with a fiery passion,” to this point Tom snorted, “I’d rather have the full reality of the changed situation be released to the Wizarding public in a more controlled manner than allowing Rita Skeeter to get her claws on a picture of me trying on coats under the Dark Lord’s watchful eye would manage. Not to mention that I don’t need you using me as a dress up doll as well.”
“Point noted.” Tom’s tone had begun to reflect a measure of Harry’s annoyance as he reached for the carafe to refill his mug, though he hid it much better. “We don’t have the time to go shopping for coats in Diagon Alley anyway. What’s gotten into you?”
The brunet huffed but let the matter drop. “Come here once you’re finished eating. I’ll fix you up properly then and we’ll head out to retrieve Albus from his prolonged stay in Grindlewald’s ‘best rooms’.” Another long draught of coffee; black, Harry belatedly realized, without even a trace of sugar. “I’m sure he’ll be grateful.”
“I’m certain that he would be.” Hermione agreed. She’d now begun to eye Harry as well.
“I’d bloody bet he would!” Ron shoveled second helpings onto his plate, not seeming to care that he was spilling fried potatoes onto the table. “Sirius only spent thirteen years locked up before he risked everything to escape he was so desperate! Dumbledore’s been in there for almost fifty!”
“Sirius was in Azkaban, Ron. Not Nuremgard!” Hermione pointed out, half-sharply.
“What’s the difference?”
“That’s a good question.” Harry looked over at Tom, who’d been quietly watching the pair argue with a carefully blank expression. “What is the difference between Azkaban and Nuremgard?”
“Azkaban is cold dark and wet, being on an island in the sea and there-by susceptible to the wind and sea spray. Nuremgard, for starters, is both cold and dark but not wet. It’s too high up.” Tom replied. “For another, Azkaban is guarded by fear incarnate. Nuremgard at once has no guards and is guarded by something much worse.”
“What do you mean by that, Tom?” Hermione asked.
“Isolation, Ms.Granger. Nuremgard has no guards but the darkness and the cold, it’s perched atop a massive pillar of stone which was once a sea cliff but has since been eroded away with time by the sea. Its walls are too sheer to climb. Its wards prevent apparition and portkeys, its location is unplottable, and it’s defended by very dark magic from aerial approach by everything but the Black Arts. One of which happens to be the spell for flight which I’ve come to favor.”
He winked. Harry made a point of looking away. If it bothered him Tom did a damn good job of hiding it. “Make haste, Harry. There’s only so much light that close to the top of the world and it only gets colder after the sun goes down.”
The raven cleaned his plate a few minutes later and stood up, walking around the chairs were Ron and Hermione were still sitting-Ron continuing to shove food into his mouth while Hermione looked on in resigned disapproval-and coming to stand beside Tom’s chair. The brunet rose, his fur lined cloak pooling around him like dark water, and tapped a complicated pattern against his top jumper with his wand.
The maroon wool shimmered as it shifted form to a long hooded cloak, lined in mink fur the same color as Tom’s hair. Another few snaps of his wrist draped the cloak in a number of powerful warming charms and Harry let out a yelp of alarm.
“Oh pish.” The Dark Lord seized both his hands to prevent the little raven from ripping the cloak off and throwing it onto the ground. “You’ll thank me in another moment. We haven’t any time to waste.”
With that, Tom spun on his heel and the God awful crushing sensation of side-along apparition closed in around him. A moment later the darkness was replaced by blinding sunlight, reflected back at him seemingly from all directions by snow and sky and sea. Even with the warming charms he felt like he’d been dumped into a vat of dry ice and made an involuntary effort to crawl inside of Tom’s clothes while still wearing his own.
Harry doubted it really would have done much anyway. The brunet chuckled, gently holding him back.
“I warned you.” He said. “Take a moment to look around, Harry. Cold as it is and urgent as our business may be the view here truly is incredible.”
Still very much unwilling to expose his face to the biting wind and rather displeased to be being ordered around, even pleasantly, the younger wizard did as he was told and turned to look. He forgot the cold immediately at the sight which met him. The volcanic sand beneath their feet was jet black and frozen hard as concrete. Despite being able to hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore he couldn’t see the water under the jagged crust of ice which jutted up in all directions, forming a Persian rug of white and vibrant blue. But the most eye-catching thing about it all were the washed up bits of glacier, clear as crystal and ranging from the size of his head to the size of the Knight Bus, scattered all around them.
“What is this?” he asked.
“A Diamond Beach.” Tom told him. He kept his voice and expression impassive but couldn’t hide from their link: he was pleased that Harry found their landing place so enthralling. “Smaller bits of ice which break off from glaciers and ice bergs in the surrounding area get caught in the current and wash up on beaches like this one.” He explained. “I happen to think that sights like these make such extreme conditions worth it. At least to a degree.”
“I happen to think that’s your remaining crazy talking.” Harry replied, reminded of the cold by talk of icebergs and glaciers and burying his face in the fur lining of his cloak. “I don’t have gloves like you do, Riddle, so can we maybe get a move on before my hands freeze solid and fall off.”
As was in his nature, it seemed, Tom’s reply was to pick up a toaster-sized piece of ice and make a show of transfiguring it into a pair of snow white gloves which he then handed to him. Grumbling, though very much grateful for the increased chance that he’d get to keep his fingers, Harry put the gloves on and then took the hand that Tom offered. Unexpectedly, but still gently, the Dark Lord drew him close against his chest across the ice-crusted black sand.
“Hold on to me, Harry. Tightly. And don’t let go.” The movement of his lips against the shell of his ear was as much a reminder of the prior night’s activity as any verbal acknowledgement could have been and the little raven had to restrain himself from pushing the taller man into the ocean. “I don’t want to drop you.”
“I’ll hold on.” He wrapped his arms around the brunet’s neck as tightly as he could without running the risk of choking him. He hadn’t any desire to go take a swim in the no doubt well below freezing water. “I don’t want you to drop me either.”
“Cheek.” The Dark Lord chuckled as a cloud of black mist whipped up around them. A moment later they parted from the earth and went slingshoting across the frigid sea. Harry had never once considered the Black Arts as useful for anything but causing chaos and destruction but this simply wasn’t fair! He’d always loved flying more than almost anything else. Now he found out that, in order to do so unaided by a broom or a winged magical creature, he’d have to hand himself over to the forces of evil.
Not quite worth it, though perhaps only barely.
“More than barely,” Tom’s voice seemed to meld with the keening of the rushing wind all around them, “trust me, Harry. My memories from the time I spent as Voldemort aren’t very clear, but you haven’t the stomach for Black Magic. Dark magic maybe. But not Black Magic.”
“And you do?”
“No. But at the time I hadn’t the brain for my stomach to discuss its grievances with. Now? Well, it’s a little late.” He said. “Nuremgard is just ahead. We should be able to see it in just a few moments.”
Silence fell again between them as Harry looked towards the horizon. The deep blue sea, disturbed on occasion by the foam of the breakers whipped up by the wind or the blue-white icebergs steadily converging on the shore they’d come from, stretched beneath them. A pillar of pale stone, naturally formed by centuries of erosion, reared up ahead. Tom changed trajectory and they rocketed upwards. And then the prison came into view.
Nuremgard was a grim fortress rising black against the stone it sat on, harsh cut into a triangular shape with smooth walls and small slits in place of windows. Carved above the door, barely visible as a brief flash of gold on black as they streaked by, was a familiar phrase: ‘For the Greater Good.’
How no one but Tom had realized what was really going on, that it was really Grindlewald and not the real Dumbledore that they were dealing with, Harry would never know.
The brunet slowed the pace of their flight as he began a coiling pattern upwards towards the very top of the prison. Around and around and around they went until they reached the terrible fortress’ crown. Then, with a suddenness that made Harry feel as if he’d been hollowed out with a melon baller, he surged forwards and through some loophole in logic and reality managed to slide both of them through the slit in the stone.
The room was small and cramped, leaving the pair barely able to stand anywhere but on top of each other in the miniscule space which hadn’t been taken up by a thin and very worn out cot. Curled up on top of it with their back facing them, shivering beneath the barely there blanket which had been draped across the skeletal form. Tom uncinched his cloak and removed it from his shoulders before edging around where Harry stood stunned by the horrific sight, spreading the thick fabric over the trembling form.
The brunet growled low in the back of his throat, sounding remarkably like Crookshanks had during Harry’s third year whenever he’d caught sight of ‘Scabbers’. “Still has the bloody glamor on, just like I thought.” He muttered it mutinously. When Tom spoke again, a moment later, it was much louder. “He wouldn’t have survived much longer like this. It’s a good thing that we arrived when we did; we’ll need to get him help immediately.”
“We’re taking him to St. Mungo’s, then?” Harry asked.
“We’ll contact healers from St. Mungo’s, yes, but we’re not going to take him there.” Tom told him, lifting the frail form into his arms. “It’s not secure enough. Not anywhere near secure enough.”
“Then where are we taking him?” the raven took the hand that he was offered once again, though only with reluctance. This time Tom couldn’t hide his frown.
“The place that was the first home to both of us.” With the same lurching abruptness as before they once more barreled through the window and out into the open sky.
Ron and Hermione,
Our efforts at Nuremgard were successful, though we’ve hardly much to celebrate at the moment. Dumbledore isn’t in a good way and it’ll be at least a few days before he wakes up; healers from St. Mungo’s and Madam Pomfrey are tending to him now.
I’m sure that you’ve realized from the mention of Madam Pomfrey in the above line that we’ve returned to Hogwarts. Tom is insisting that we stay here from now until Grindlewald is dealt with; the castle is well protected already and he has plans to fortify it further. It’s probably best that the two of you come as soon as you can: the guards in Hogsmead have been told to expect you.
See you both soon,
Harry set the quill which he’d been using aside and closed the borrowed inkwell with the sharp click of glass and metal. After muttering a quick spell to dry the ink instantly and folding the crisp parchment before sliding it into the envelope which sat beside his hand on the makeshift desk he’d assembled upon arriving in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey and the Medi-witches that had come in from St. Mungo’s were still surrounding the bed which Dumbledore lay in, and with nothing left to do now that he’d dispelled the glamor Tom was left standing in the middle of the hospital wing watched everything around him go on.
Feeling his stare, the Dark Lord turned his head and smiled when he caught sight of him. Harry tried not to acknowledge the pain which shadowed his features and tightened the corners of his mouth. The smile lines were still there, if less evident, so he focused on those. “Finished?”
“Yeah.” The bone white wand that he’d once been so afraid of showed itself once more and with an easy motion Tom banished the ink and quill back to where they belonged. Now that he wasn’t focused on the inevitable effort of its owner to kill him, the little raven had to admit that the wand which had almost taken his life on more than one occasion fit Tom well: the only white wand he’d ever seen, and polished to a well-tended gloss, it was as unique as the wizard it had chosen. Wands chose their partners, which lent them at least some sentience. Had it suffered just as much for what Grindlewald had done?
He was wrenched from his thoughts by the sensation of leather against skin as Tom traced the scar on his forehead with his thumb. “Stop thinking, little lion.” The brunet said. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“Stop!” Harry pushed his hand away and stood up.
The taller man seemed bewildered by his sudden motion. “Harry?”
“Just…stop.” He stepped away and, when Tom didn’t follow, headed for the doors. “I’m going to the owlry.”
“Meet me outside of the Head Master’s office once you’re finished.” Tom’s voice had taken on an almost pleading tone, like a child who didn’t understand what they’d done to make the tone of their guardian turn suddenly sharp. “I think it’s high time the pair of you cleared the air. On top of that, I know for a fact that he has some information you’d be at least somewhat interested in.”
“Don’t want to talk to Snape.” Harry grumbled without turning around.
“I figured that you wouldn’t,” Tom’s voice easily carried after him, “and while I can’t blame you I’m afraid that we all, as adults, must do things we do not want to on the oft occasion.”
Because using someone else to drown your pain, and likewise allowing yourself to be used, was very ‘adult’. Harry sped his pace down the hall.
Tom had told him that there were Death Eaters in the castle, many of them having been brought on to teach newly introduced courses or take over from Professors who’d left, been deemed unsatisfactory or had simply disappeared but that those who still remained in the castle knew better than to touch him. Though Tom had since regained his good grasp on sanity, it seemed that he still retained his monstrous temper.
Frankly, and even though he was in technicality not a student, Harry was far more concerned about being found by Filch and his damned menace of a cat. Thankfully he didn’t see hide nor hair of either of them and managed to make it up to the owlry without incident.
He couldn’t stop his eyes from sweeping the eaves full of owls in search of a flash of speckled white feathers even though he knew that Hedwig wouldn’t be there. With a pang of fresh remorse, he called down the nearest bird and attached the envelope to its leg.
The faint static sound in the back of his head grew louder before he heard Tom’s voice filter through. What’s wrong?
Nothing. He thought back, sighing as he watched the owl fly away out the window. Being up here just reminds me of Hedwig.
He was sorry? Of all the things Tom could have apologized to him for, he chose to apologize for killing his familiar? It might have been a nice gesture once, but now it made him wish there was a way to slam their link shut. She was only an owl.
We both know that isn’t true. Tom sounded wistful. She was your first friend. And she was murdered in front of you. I know how that feels.
Despite himself, and frustratingly true to his nature, Harry still felt a surge of pity for the other man in spite of the spiral of prickly emotions which had been swirling around inside him all morning. What do you mean? You had an owl?
No. She was a grass snake; green, like your eyes. I found her in the orphanage’s garden on the edge of winter and she asked me to take her inside where it was warm. She lived in my room for six months before Billy Stubbs found her. He felt Tom’s shudder. He ripped her in half. His friends held me down and I didn’t have enough control over my magic at the time to stop them.
That was why you made his rabbit hang itself. It wasn’t a malicious effort to terrorize him, it was revenge.
I wanted to hurt him. The rabbit wasn’t much really, he only cared that it was something he could lord over the rest of us, but it was the most he had. We were orphans. None of us had much to our names.
But you had the least of all.
It’s in the past.
That doesn’t make any of it right. Harry said. I understand.
Why you hate Muggles. He said. I don’t agree with it, but I understand.
There was a long pause before the other man answered him. Thank you, Harry. That truly means a lot. Tom said. Now, I think you’ve stalled in the owlry for long enough. Severus isn’t going to bite you.
Obviously, you and I aren’t talking about the same man.
The brunet sighed. Come on, little lion. There’s something I’d like to give to you as well.
Really? What is it?
You’re going to have to come see for yourself if you really want to know.
With an annoyed huff, Harry resigned himself to his fate and trotted back down the owlry stairs.
Tom was waiting for him beside the gargoyle at the end of the corridor, dressed in somewhat lighter clothing than he’d worn while they’d been in Iceland. Harry couldn’t quite contain the thought that the older wizard changed outfits like normal people changed shoes. Of course, it was probably easier when you were just using Transfiguration instead of actually physically changing what he was wearing. The brunet turned at the sound of his footsteps on the floor and nodded in acknowledgment.
“Harry.” He said as the smaller wizard moved closer, eyeing the gargoyle as if it might spring from its post and attempt to bite his head off. What would the password be now? Snape didn’t strike him as much of one for sweets. “Glad that you could make it in good time.”
He responded with a frown.
“It won’t be as bad as you’re thinking. I’ve made it incredibly clear precisely how it is he’s allowed to act.”
“And you expect him to listen?”
“He’ll behave if he knows what’s good for him. I may no longer be Voldemort, but I’m still a Dark Lord.” That Harry didn’t doubt. “But there’s one last thing before we head up.”
“Giving me what you wanted to?”
“Indeed.” He said, crooking one long gloved finger. “Come here.” Harry stepped up to him. “Close your eyes.” He wasn’t in the mood for games but knew Tom would insist and didn’t want to waste the energy arguing so he did as he was told. Harry felt a familiar weight drop around his neck with a metallic sounding clatter and didn’t need to look to know what it was.
“I have no Heirs, Harry. Salazar Slytherin’s direct bloodline ends with me. You’ve shown me already, while a piece of me was trapped inside, that you know how to take care of it.” The brunet said. “I’d rather the locket, the Heirloom of my family, be left in your hands than in those of someone who will lock it away somewhere to never see daylight.”
Knowing it was better he resisted the petulant urge to lob the priceless artifact down the hall away from him Harry reached up and threaded his fingers through the delicate golden chain; the locket felt odd without the steady ticking from within the clasp. “Thank you, Tom.”
The older wizard inclined his head, folding his hands once more behind his back. “Of course. Now, we’ve business to attend to.” Paying little mind to the raven’s pout Tom fixed the gargoyle which blocked the staircase in a firm gaze and delivered the new password. “Always.”
The meeting hadn’t gone quite like either of them had expected: not as well as Tom had hoped, not as badly as Harry had been braced for, but it was certain either way that no one could exactly call the air between them ‘cleared’. He had, however, learned that Snape and his mother had been very close friends at one point in time. That ‘that horrible boy who told her about the Dementors’ hadn’t been his father after all. That the dour man had been in love with her. Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that last piece of information. Disturbed would, no doubt, prove to be the winning emotion once he’d fully gotten over the shock.
The brunet, for his part, seemed to find the raven’s turmoil amusing though the younger wizard was well aware that Snape’s story had affected the man. His thoughts, no doubt, had once more returned to Abraxas.
Tom turned his head to look at the smaller wizard while they waited for the staircase they were standing on to swing around to its proper position. “You’re staring at me.”
Even as annoyance bit at his insides at the other’s playful tone, the raven couldn’t keep his face from warming. “I didn’t mean to be.”
No doubt picking up on Harry’s emotions, he quickly changed the subject. “Where are we headed?”
“The Room of Requirement.” Harry said. “With Snape as Headmaster and a number of Death Eaters on staff I have a feeling that I’ll find some people hiding out there.”
“The students you trained in fifth year, during the rule of the incompetent pink thing which the equally incompetent former Minister appointed as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor?” when Harry shot him a look he raised an eyebrow. “Draco complained about you lot to his father, Nagini overheard and told me. Between that and the portion of me which lived in your scar I know all about the lot of them. As well as your very wet experience under the mistletoe.”
“Thanks for the reminder that kissing me apparently makes girls cry.”
“I didn’t cry.”
“Are you a girl, Riddle?” Tom snorted. “I thought not. I heard what happened, by the way. To Nagini.”
“It’s better this way. That snake was as mad as I was, which was likely my fault, and wouldn’t have gotten any better.” He said. “You may need to change their name from D.A. now that we know you never had Dumbledore as a Headmaster to begin with.”
“Maybe.” He said. “What do you suggest?”
“The F.D.A perhaps?”
“And that stands for?”
“Fake Dumbledore’s Army.” Harry shook his head at him, rolling his eye. “Perhaps the G.A., then, to at least make it accurate.”
“I don’t think calling ourselves ‘Grindlewald’s Army’ is a very good idea.”
The brunet hummed as they entered the 7th floor hallway. “Maybe you’re right. It would be in rather poor taste to have you lot referring to yourself as the army of the wizard you’re fighting.” He said. “Shall I wait out here, in case there are people in there? We wouldn’t want to start an unnecessary uproar.”
“Oh, uh…yeah. That’s probably a good idea.” Harry said. “I’ll just knock from inside when it’s time for you to come in.” After Tom nodded, the little raven opened the door and slipped through it.
He was met with the sight of a cluttered room filled with hammocks and tables and a number of wands pointed in his face. Not really able to come up with a better response in good time, Harry simply grinned and said “hi guys, thought you might be here.”
A long beat of silence followed as everyone stared in shock and then it was broken by a shout of “Harry!” and Ginny came flying at him in a streak of red and black. Broken out of their defensive surprise by the action the group converged on him, all with bright smiles and looks of relief. All ready with questions and pats on the back.
“What have you been up to?”
“Who do you have with you?”
“Where are Ron and Hermione?”
“We’re going to chase out Snape and the Death Eaters now, aren’t we?”
“We’re going to be fighting Voldemort here, at Hogwarts?”
Neville had been the one to ask the last question; hearing his formerly timid friend say the Dark Lord’s false name, Harry looked up at him and sighed. “It’s complicated, Nev. Nothing’s been as we’ve been told.”
“What do you mean, Harry?” Seamus asked from somewhere near the back of the group.
“Voldemort is already gone. He was never the Dark Lord that we really needed to be fighting.”
“So Voldemort’s dead, then?” Ginny asked, brow knitted in confusion. “How? Is there another Dark Lord that took over for him? By force, perhaps?”
“…Not exactly.” With a sigh, the raven reached behind himself and rapped smartly on the door. With a keen inclination that the red head’s first reaction would likely be to attack Tom, be it with the Bat Bogey Hex or something worse, Harry tightened his grip around the witch in his arms to keep her from any potentially violent reactions as the door opened and the brunet slipped through.
Ginny let out a cat-like hiss of “bastard!”, brown eyes burning a hole straight through the man, and wands were pointed on both sides.
“Spells start flying and things will get unpleasant very fast.” The brunet spoke in a dangerous purr, white wand glinting in the low light. “Do behave yourselves, children.”
“I hope you’re including yourself in that statement.” The Dark Lord turned his head to look at him, a smirk tugging at his lips, and then flicked his wand in his direction. The raven let out a yelp of surprise as the clothing he wore changed color. “Really, Riddle?”
“Maroon clashes with those beautiful eyes of yours.”
“They’re not Slytherin colors.”
“Liar!” The smaller male shot back. “I’m nearly blind, not nearly color blind! These are green and silver.”
“No, they’re olive and dove. There’s a real difference there.”
“Quite.” Tom looked down at his own clothing as Harry retaliated with the same spell. “That was unnecessary.”
“It matches your eyes.”
“Are red and gold, not ruby and champagne.”
Nervous laughter went up among the group as Tom stowed his wand in his sleeve. Around them the room had shifted form slightly, one of the corners pushing outwards as the table and chairs from the forgotten memory, complete with green and silver banners, had appeared. “It looks like Hogwarts likes your style.”
“Everyone with sense ‘likes my style’.”
“Really? Because up until recently your ‘style’ made you look like someone who was either color blind or had assigned his shopping to Snape.”
“Perhaps Voldemort was color blind: flawed as my memories of that time are, I don’t remember allowing Severus anywhere near my wardrobe.” Tom said. “But I think our audience is looking for explanations instead of semi-good-natured banter between two people who should never have been fighting, at least not to the degree we were, in the first place.”
“This is Tom Riddle, the man who became Voldemort though not by his own choice.” Harry said, successfully resisting the urge to give him a more colorful introduction. “Ever since the night I was attacked in Godric’s Hollow I’ve had a link to him and it was through that link that I found out the truth that Gellert Grindlewald destroyed a wizard who wanted only to make the magical world a better place for everyone, regardless of blood, in order to hide. He forced Tom to perform Black Magic which broke not only his mind but his soul. Ron Hermione and I managed to put him back together, as much as was possible, and now I’m telling everyone that I can get to listen the truth so that they can help us fight him when he comes back.”
“The real Albus Dumbledore is now recovering in the hospital wing from decades spent imprisoned in Nuremgard. None of you have ever met him.” Tom said. “Somehow, Grindlewald managed to get his hands on the legendary Elder wand and defeated him with it during their historic duel. He them used the chaos to apply glamors to make things appear the opposite of that reality. He was a good actor, no one else noticed the difference, but when my ever suspicious Transfiguration Professor ceased to treat me like a five-X ranked creature on the loose in his school out to devour the poor defenseless ‘Muggleborns’-Merlin do I hate inaccurate terms-I knew something was amiss!”
“Why do you think ‘Muggleborn’ is an inaccurate term?” Zacharius Smith drawled.
“Smith.” Harry supplied when Tom sent him a questioning glance.
“Digressions, Mr. Smith, cannot be entertained at current. If you still have questions about the consequences of too much inbreeding and the Purebloods historical tendency of abandoning their squib children in the Muggle world when we’re done here we can discuss the matter then.” He said. “Back on topic: Grindlewald was losing his war for control by relying on force, so he took his new disguise as a chance to change tact to a far more insidious and subtle plan. I knew I was putting myself at great risk when I confronted him in an effort to unmask the fiend, but with all that was at stake I hadn’t much choice.. He turned me into the rabid attack dog you lot know as Voldemort and used the havoc I wrought to steadily increase his grip on the Wizarding World, posing as the Headmaster. When things went as far as they could with that effort he planned to remove himself from the situation-hence his ‘death’ last year: Severus has admitted that he assisted in the ploy, being at the time unaware of whom he really was-and allow Harry and I both to kill each other before swooping back in like a vulture to pick up the pieces.”
“Most of the Death Eaters and creatures who had aligned themselves with Voldemort have since abandoned Tom now that he’s kicked the ‘blood supremacy’ bollix back into the bin where it belongs. Grindlewald will resurface soon once he realizes his plan has fallen through, and when he does they’ll all but certainly rally around him. Bellatrix. Greyback. The Dementors. We’ll need you lot to be prepared when they come, and that means no more hiding out in here.” Harry said. “Lower years will start going over drills for evacuation alongside their normal classes. Everyone fifth year and up will be focusing on preparation for the coming fight so that they can participate if they’re willing to because we’ll need all the help that we can get, even with Tom on our side.”
“Flattering as your faith in my power may be, I’m only one man Harry.” The brunet put both their clothing back to rights with a wave of his hand. “My presence is no longer needed?”
“Not particularly.” Harry said. “You’re leaving?”
“I’ve some things to be doing in the Chamber and around the school. And I’d like to revisit my old Common Room. Do a bit of reminiscing about the time before it all went to pot.” His scarlet eyes shifted on to Ginny, who was still glaring at him. “Not to mention your stance towards having me around seems to have shifted since this morning, and the fact that you’ve…company.” Wasn’t that an observation. “Should you need something…?”
“I’ll get into contact.” Tom exited the room with a short nod. As the door swung shut behind him, Harry looked down at the younger witch. “I think…we need to talk.”
Chapter 12: Come to Terms
It had been a week since he and Tom had returned to Hogwarts from the black prison in the middle of the ocean off the ‘Diamond Beach’ in Iceland. Ron and Hermione had apparated there the next morning after his letter had arrived at Grimmauld Place. They’d spent considerable time together, though he’d spent even more of it with Ginny (sometimes he really cursed his link with Tom because it allowed the older wizard read his thoughts but he supposed it had some use in helping to avoid him: though a lot of his feelings had cooled since speaking with Ginny about the matter and sought her forgiveness despite not having been together at the time (and how little she must have thought of to Tom give it so easily) though he didn’t know where any of the three of them were at the moment. Hermione was probably in the library doing some eleventh hour reading. Ginny no doubt training in one of the dueling pits which had taken the place of the classes in preparation for Grindlewald’s arrival. As for Ron…Harry had little reason to expect not to find his best friend camped out in the kitchens. Tom had vacated the castle entirely about two days before, headed for the Ministry of Magic to oversee the mobilization of their remaining forces and the dealings with the MACUSA. Harry hadn’t heard from him since beyond the occasional vague trickle of resigned annoyance which filtered through their link. Alone in the castle and with nothing better to do but the thing that he’d been trying to avoid, the little raven sighed and charted a course for the hospital wing.
Albus Dumbledore had been many things to him throughout his life. Headmaster. Guardian. Mentor. Idol. Friend. But all of it had been a lie. He hadn’t even truly been who he’d said he was. Had plotted, throughout all the years that Harry had looked to him for help and support, to see him dead. To turn him against Tom and make out the boy he’d destroyed to have been evil from the start. To use both of their graves as a throne in order to take over the world, both magical and not, ‘for the Greater Good’. And now that he was truly meeting the man he’d never really known Harry didn’t quite know how to react.
Which was precisely why he’d put it off for so long. But he was a lion at heart, even if he did have more than a few Slytherin traits which got him into trouble far more often than they kept him out of it, and Gryffindors were supposed to be brave. Hiding from an old man who’d yet to be pronounced fit to leave his bed hardly embodied ‘brave’.
He squared his shoulders as the wooden double doors came into sight and put on a burst of speed, pushing them open and striding purposefully through before he could lose his nerve. The hospital wing’s ward looked just the same as it always had, only a handful of the cots being occupied by injured students in a variety of years and Houses. Sunlight spilled through the large windows. Madam Pomfrey, who had just finished tugging open all of the curtains, glanced over as he entered.
“I’m glad to see you here for a reason other than a life threatening injury, Mr. Potter.” She said.
Despite her stringent tone and the nervousness still fluttering in the pit of his stomach Harry couldn’t keep a smile off his face. “Glad to be here for a reason other than a life threatening injury.”
“You’re here to speak with Albus?” he nodded. “Third bed to the left, behind the curtain.”
“Thank you.” Stepping around the aged witch the little raven made his way over to the bed which had been mentioned and cautiously pushed one of the curtains aside, peeking through. The elderly man on the other side, propped against the pillows, still didn’t look well but appeared to have recovered a great deal from when he’d last seen him under the healer’s care. At the sound of the rungs scraping along the curtain rod he looked up, pale blue eyes centering in on Harry with visible curiosity. “Um…good morning, Professor. May I have a word?”
“Of course. Good company as Poppy can be when she’s not puttering around with one of her potions she doesn’t have much time to keep an old man entertained.” He said with a familiar smile. “Pull up a chair, my boy.”
He had to struggle not to flinch at the phrase as he waved his wand and summoned a chair. Sitting down in it gingerly, Harry folded his hands in his lap. “You’re feeling better?”
“A great deal, thank you Harry.”
The younger wizard couldn’t quite keep down his surprise. “You know who I am, Sir?”
Dumbledore nodded, his smile shrinking into something sad. “Tom described you to me in quite a great deal of detail. He spoke rather fondly of you, though it’s clear he’s not been left quite right by all that he’s been through and that the two of you aren’t on the best of terms at the moment.” He said. “We discussed a lot, after he finished with his snarky comments about glamors. Good as it is to see a man getting up in years himself acting not a day over sixteen I fear in this instance it’s a bad sign.”
A bad sign indeed. “He was a lot worse before the Ritual, but we couldn’t fix him completely. Over half of his soul had already been destroyed.” Harry said. “Tom puts up a good show but we’re…linked, I suppose I’ll say though I’d rather not rehash the explanation.”
“He’s having a hard time with everything. Has buried himself in whatever work he could find, in any distraction he could find, to stop himself from thinking.” Harry fiddled with the cuff of his sleep. “And you’re right, I suppose, though the reason we’re not on the best of terms is a rather private one and doesn’t stop me from worrying for what he’ll do once all of this is over. When he can no longer ignore his pain by focusing on something else.”
The sad smile had returned, this time holding a curve to it which made him think he knew something that Harry didn’t. “He’s making the right choice, Harry. I misjudged him as a boy. I regret that now.”
Well, at least he’d realized his prejudice had been unfounded. Not that it helped any at this point. “What do you mean ‘he’s making the right choice’ Sir?”
“The decision Tom has made is a hard one, but is necessary. It isn’t my place to tell you, Harry.” He said. “If he believes that you should know I’m certain he’ll tell you in time. If not, there’s reason for it.”
He hated being confronted with the ‘we’ll tell you if it becomes necessary’ bollix that always seemed to be hanging over his head but figured it would be untoward on his point to go after the very old or mentally fragile in an attempt to shake them down for information.
“Did you come here seeking help with something, Harry?”
“Not ‘help’, particularly.” The green eyed wizard shifted his position on the chair into a more comfortable position. “I suppose I was just curious about what you could tell me about Grindlewald. From what a friend of mine told me she learned from some of her research, the two of you have a…history together.”
“There isn’t any need for you to be delicate about it, Harry.” He said. “I first met Gellert after my family moved to Godric’s Hollow from Mold-on-the-Wold, when he came to stay with his Great Aunt Bathilda Bagshot after his expulsion from Durmstrang Institute of Magic. We got on right away. I’m ashamed to admit that I agreed with him on many things at the time.”
The older man nodded. “It did, yes, but not soon enough and an innocent suffered for it. My poor ill sister, Arianna, lost her life. My brother, Abeforth, never forgave me. Gellert ran off back to the mainland and began his campaign of terror. I returned to Hogwarts, became the Transfiguration Professor and later the Head of Gryffindor House and Deputy Headmaster as well.”
“And then you met Tom.” Harry said.
“My brush with Gellert and all that it had caused, my guilt over ever having entertained such terrible beliefs, made me determined to never allow another young witch or wizard to succumb to the same temptations. To the manipulations of a heartless predator. I knew what true Lords were, if only in a vague sense. Knew that a Dark Lord would soon be coming, with the laws being what they were. And when I saw Tom Riddle for the first time, heard of him from the matron and witnessed the shadows in his eyes, that determination blinded me from seeing what I’d truly been faced with: a suffering child.” He said. “Despite everything, he still did all in his power to protect magic and guide his Dark-inclined peers onto the right path. Though I doubt it would much affect what happened, were I able to go back I’d have acted differently.”
Harry fingered his wand, foot tapping a senseless staccato against the ground. “I think everyone would say the same about something, sir.”
“I think you’re very right about that, Harry.” He said. “Now, you seem rather eager to be elsewhere. The weather seems pleasant today; you ought to go outside and enjoy it. It’ll be a nice change, I’m sure, after having been stuck on the run for so long.”
“A nice change.” Harry repeated, looking out the nearest window at the sky. Cloudless and powder blue on an unseasonably warm day with very little wind. The perfect condition for a pleasant bit of flying. And he even had a snitch of his own to toy around with while everyone else in the school was busy with one thing or another, and from his brief time as the Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team he knew exactly where the school brooms were kept and how to get to them. “I think you’re right, sir. It was nice speaking with you.”
“As was speaking with you, Harry. You’re much better company than a man’s own thoughts, after all. Even if he manages to stay sane during that frame of time, fifty years with nothing but one’s own mind for company doesn’t allow for many stimulating conversations.” He said. “Though, if you’d allow me a moment further before running off, I’ve a bit of advice to offer you.”
“It is in the nature of the serpent to have trouble thinking of others, especially while grappling with suffering themselves.” Dumbledore said. “Tom may not realize what he’s done wrong; I think it will do you both well to discuss the state of things between you.”
“Thank you, Professor.” Without another moment spared Harry quickly stood up and exited the hospital wing. Speak to Tom about the state of things between them? Maybe that was sound advice maybe it wasn’t. Harry wasn’t certain either way. On one hand, approaching Tom would likely cause the uncomfortable emotions-unnamable to him, difficult as they were to pin down, which burned in his chest like lye against an open wound-which had since settled, at least to some degree, to be stirred up again. On the other, it could potentially put an end to the problem which was a great deal more permanent than sticking his head in the sand ever would be.
He’d worry about it later; Tom wasn’t even at the castle at the time, Harry wasn’t about to hasten his return by calling him with their link, and he was better served for the time being blowing off steam on a broom than doing anything else. Pushing thoughts of the matter to the back of his mind the little wizard sped his pace towards the castle’s front doors.
It wasn’t ‘warm’ out, precisely, but the temperature was more than bearable with the sun beating down on him from above. Harry trotted down the slopping ground towards the small shed where the school’s brooms were kept, having left his Firebolt behind at the Burrow when they’d fled after the Death Eater’s attack on Bill and Fleur’s wedding, removing the golden snitch which he’d been left in Grindeldore’s ‘will’ from the moke-skin bag strung around his neck as he went. The door creaked on unoiled hinges as he pulled it open and stepped inside, grabbing the first broom he found.
Old and worn with a number of the bristles sticking out at odd angles: it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fast as what he was used to but that was fine. As long as it got him off the ground, that was what mattered. Watching the snitch’s tiny wings unfurl as he held it in his open palm before flying off into the blue. Slinging one leg over the broom in his hand, the raven kicked off from the ground and rocketed after it.
Though it didn’t go out of his sight the snitch never the less put up a good fight, taking him low over the Forbidden Forest’s treetops, across the Black Lake, around the highest spires of the castle and through the goal posts of the Quidditch Pitch. After almost three hours of flying and having caught the snitch just over a hundred times Harry was hovering beside the Gryffindor stands watching the golden ball flutter weakly in his grasp.
“I open at the close.” He muttered, suddenly recalling the words which had scrawled across the gleaming metal in that familiar curling hand. He hadn’t known, at the time, what in the bloody hell the ‘close’ referred to at the time but now, in the light of all that had happened and what Harry now knew had been Grindledore’s intentions, it all made a sick sort of sense. And he had a creeping suspicion that… “I am about to die.”
For a moment nothing happened but then, with a quiet whirring sound, the chitinous golden body of the little winged ball popped open. Inside the snitch was hollow, and sitting inside the concealed cavity was a faceted stone about the size of his thumbnail. Jet black and reflecting no light despite being highly polished. Emblazoned with the symbol of the Deathly Hollows on its front and split down the middle.
He’d seen it before! It was the stone which had been set into the Gaunt family ring! One of Tom’s Horcruxes up until the point when Grindledore had destroyed it with the Sword of Gryffindor! But Harry now had reason to suspect it might have in fact been something else as well.
The Resurrection stone. The second Hallow with the power to give him a glimpse of his family and loved ones. Not give them back, but let him see what he could have had. What he’d lost. Designed, no doubt, to be the final push to drive him to his end at Tom’s hand. Harry’s first reaction was to throw the stone into the Black Lake, to have it disappear forever into the dark water, but held himself back.
He could think of a much better use for it.
“How you could possibly look so comfortable sitting on one of those bloody things I’ve no idea.” Tom said, leaning casually against the railing of the stand. Bruise-like shadows were imprinted faintly underneath his red eyes. “Just looking at that ancient twig makes me nervous.”
“Says the man who can actually fly.” Harry pocketed the small stone.
“I trust my own powers not to drop me.” He retorted, reaching up to run his fingers through his brown hair before letting out a sigh and slumping further down against the railing. “I think we need to talk.”
All of his misgivings instantly boiled up inside of him but seeing Tom’s stance-curled inward, exhausted and with his head bowed-and kicked krup expression made it impossible to turn him away. “Yeah,” Harry said, tucking the now empty snitch away inside the moke-skin pouch, “I think we do.”
“I believe there are places better served towards such ends than here.” He said, sending another furtive glance towards the old broom the raven was sitting on. “Join me beside the Black Lake?”
Tom leapt over the railing without another moment’s pause and glided off towards the lake, leaving a trail of wispy black smoke behind him. Shifting his grip on the handle of the broom, Harry flew after him.
The brunet was standing on the rocky shore of the Blake Lake by the time he arrived, the clear cold water lapping at the toes of the dragon hide boots that he wore. Staring out at a distant island which formed little more than a splotch against the near horizon. He didn’t turn when Harry handed a handful of yards behind him with the clatter of disturbed pebbles.
“I’ve overstepped my bounds somewhere. Miscalculated. Acted poorly. Done something wrong.” Tom kept his eyes on the rippling water’s surface. “I’m sorry. Next time-.”
“There isn’t going to be a ‘next time’, Tom.” He said, cutting the other off. His voice wasn’t sharp, just tired. “I can’t.”
“Can’t this! I can’t just be a distraction! Not to you or anyone else! I don’t see how you could possibly be so wrapped up in your own pain and loss that you could have failed to realize that but it seems to be the case!” Harry snapped. “I’ve been objectified for my entire life, by everyone! Maybe this arrangement helps you, but it only makes things worse for me! And ‘pleasure’ in the moment isn’t worth pain later. Pain that I’ll deal with for the rest of my life!”
Wind made a hollow sighing sound as it passed through the dry undergrowth behind them. “You’re right.” He said, finally, after a small eternity. “I’m a representative of darkness, Harry. It’s in my nature, I suppose, to be selfish even when I’m making some effort-even a weak one-not to be.”
“Careful, Riddle, or I might start to think that you’re making excuses.”
Tom nodded again and, for another long moment, there was silence. “Ginny.”
An involuntary twitch shot through him. “What about her?” Harry wasn’t able to keep hostility out of his voice as his thoughts strayed back to memories of the diary and all that it had done.
“Do you love her?”
“Answer honestly, please. Do you love her, Harry? Or do you simply think you love her?”
“To which one?”
“I love her!”
“Now you’re lying to yourself.”
“What are you bloody talking about?”
“Your heart doesn’t belong to her. Not completely.”
“Not completely?” Harry snorted, unsure of whether it was out of disbelief or disgust, and shook his head. “You can love more than one person Tom, even at the same time. But what does it matter if I love you or not when you don’t love me back? When you’ve admitted that you can’t?”
Silence reigned as, for once in his life, Tom Riddle had no answers.
“Black and White magic,” he ground out in an effort to change the subject before his emotions got the better of him, “what are they? Hermione never really explained it.”
“Forbidden.” The brunet rocked backwards on his heels, the pebbles crunching underfoot as he shifted his weight. “The extremes of both the light and the dark. Against nature. The powers granted to those who use them were never meant for mortals. Never meant to see this world. The domain of things which aren’t human. Which never were.”
“You mean…like Gods?”
“Gods? I suppose you could call them that. Fate, Time, Death and many of the others have all been worshiped at some point or another throughout history by many different cultures.” Tom scooped up a handful of stones and began throwing them into the lake. Skipping them across the placid surface.
“You’re going to need another distraction.”
The older wizard nodded. “I will.”
Pulling the little stone from his pocket, Harry held it out to him. “Here.” He said. “If nothing else, that should give both of you at least a little bit of closure.”
“Closure?” the Dark Lord looked down at the small stone, examining it. “Is this-?”
The raven nodded, lifting his broom from where he’d left it propped against a small stand of boulders. “Just be careful about how often you use it.”
“The story does make it seem like a dangerous little item, doesn’t it?” Tom spoke without removing his gaze from the stone now cradled in his palm; staring at it as if it were the first light of sunrise after centuries of darkness. “Thank you, Harry. Wherever did you find it?”
“It was set into your ring all along; Grindlewald left it to me inside the first snitch I ever caught.” He said. “I’ll just…leave you alone now.”
Harry doubted that Tom heard him because he didn’t reply; far too busy spinning the black stone three times in shaking hands.
Chapter 13: Light and Dark
Rain drummed deafeningly against the flagstones of the Astronomy Tower and pattered against his shoulders. Splattering his pale skin in a thin layer of cold water and plastering dark curls to his forehead. Surrounded by the smell of petrichor and thunder Tom blinked cold rivulets out of his eyes and squinted through the curtain of rain which had draped itself over Hogwarts’ grounds like a heavy blanket. The thick green grass which coated the grounds flashed an undulating patter of emerald and olive as the canopy of the Forbidden Forest shook madly in the wind. To his right, beyond its rocky shores, the Black Lake boiled beneath the force of the February droplets’ blows. Shivering in the cold, his cloak and clothing soaked through so completely that they clung to his body like a second skin, he ran his leather-clad thumb along the Hallow symbol etched into the face of the stone in his hand. It had been a month, now. A month of preparing. A month of scattered information, sightings and confirmations. A month of resumed attacks on Muggles and blatant Light supporters scattered throughout the whole of Britain. Giants in Bournemonth. Werewolves in York. A ‘cloaked man’ whom Tom suspected to be none other than Grindlewald himself seen at regular intervals from Swansea to Blackpool and everywhere in between; an effort, no doubt, to draw him from territory where he knew that Tom held the advantage, however small it may have been.
Clever, really, but he wasn’t a fool and refused to be prodded into rising to the bait. Had gone so far as to demand he be alerted to happenings only if things changed so as to avoid even the possibility of temptation. So much was at risk and they balanced on tenterhooks above a sea filled with sharks: mistakes could not be afforded. That wasn’t to say, of course, that he didn’t send Aurors to the afflicted areas. Leaders of countries, even ones which were arguably illegitimate, had a responsibility to the people whom they governed to use their power to defend their lives and dignity. Not that his doing so was really helping them.
They’d lost almost half their force already, leaving their chances of victory on even less stable ground.
At least Harry’s insistences that Quahog would be willing, if not pleased, to provide them with any aid they might ask for hadn’t been false. Talks had only taken a week and a half and a handful of stubborn appearances by the Boy-Who-Lived before the deal had been finalized and a force of the M.A.C.U.S.A’s elite Aurors, though it was admittedly smaller than he’d have preferred given their situation, had arrived a week later. Since that time, Tom had been hard at work locking down all outside access to the Ministry and overseeing fortifications of the castle by the combined force of teachers, students and government staff that had gathered there. As well as adding, on occasion, a number of unique protections specialized to his repertoire as the Heir of Slytherin.
But now, more than ever, was a call for concern.
Grindlewald’s highly visible efforts to draw him out, problematic as they may have been from almost every angle, had contained at least one comfort in the fact that Tom could be certain there was still time. Time to prepare. Time to fortify. Time to find holes which might have been formerly overlooked in their defenses and correct them. When Grindlewald was trying to lure him out he was visible. When he was visible Tom could be certain that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was outside the direct line of fire. But now the Dark Wizard had vanished, taking all of his followers and the trouble they’d been causing with him, and there was only one thing that he could be sickeningly certain of.
Grindlewald was coming. And was coming soon. Could be lurking nearby with his army even as Tom thought this, leering up at him and concealed by the conspiracy of the heavy rain and the forest’s trees.
Control yourself, damn it! Paranoia is a product of your broken mind and it really isn’t any help right now! Annoyed with the unshakable delusion that he was being watched and unable to stand the cold and damp for even a moment longer Tom turned on his heel, narrowing avoiding losing his footing on the slick stone, and hurriedly descended the stairs leaving a sizeable trail of water on the floor behind him.
Not wanting to leave behind a massive mess nor advertise precisely where he’d gone to anyone who might be in the castle and happen upon the trail, never mind the fact that doing nothing about the matter would only have led him to be cold for longer, Tom made quick work of his less than presentable state with a few flicks of his wand and a handful of well-placed cleaning and drying charms. After taking another few moments more to pick the wind-torn bits of leaves which had managed to get themselves caught in his hair, he left the Astronomy Tower completely.
Dumbledore had since recovered from his stint of time spent in Nuremgard to a degree which Madam Pomfrey had deemed passable enough to allow him to leave the Hospital Wing, if not completely healed, and spent the majority of his time back in the Headmaster’s office. This occurrence being one which was much to Severus’ relief as the Potions Master, it turned out, had had no desire to become Headmaster of Hogwarts and was much happier now that he could go back to being the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor; the only position he’d ever really wanted in the first place. The Head Master’s office was thereby where he headed, in hopes that the old man would be able to confirm his suspicious and allow him at least some assurance of the fact that he wasn’t imagining things.
At least, not entirely.
At least the password to get passed the gargoyle hadn’t been changed. The last thing he needed was to have to stand outside in the corridor for Merlin only know how long, playing a guessing game with the bloody statue until he either got it right or someone opened it from the other side. There simply wasn’t the time to waste on such endeavors at the moment (or ever, really, but that wasn’t the question).
Tom barely gave the gargoyle the chance to jump aside before he’d stepped onto the staircase beyond, allowing the corkscrew motion to run its course and deposit him outside the office door. Without further pause even to knock the Dark Lord pushed it open and strode inside.
He hadn’t seen the office of the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since the 1940s, when the title had been held by Armando Dippet, but what immediately caught his attention wasn’t the copious amounts of spindly silver objects giving off puffs of colored smoke, the three crystal bowls set at even intervals and filled each with a different confection (all conspicuously Muggle in nature, much to his distaste, and not without representation by the ‘noble’ lemon drop) or the golden bird stand which now sat empty and forgotten in one corner. It was the pair of green eyes now giving him a look which could only be described in any honest capacity as ‘judgey’ from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
“Most people in polite society, Tom, knock on doors before barging through them. Especially when the door leads to an office which doesn’t belong to them.” The little raven crossed his arms. “And not having parents isn’t an excuse: I manage doing it just fine.”
They hadn’t spoken much since their conversation on the shore of the Black Lake when Harry had given him the Resurrection Stone and Tom, as per the raven’s unvoiced wishes, hadn’t made any effort to go out of his way to seek out the younger wizard so as not to upset his relationship with the ever glaring (or at least so it seemed) witch though Tom could tell that, ‘forgiven’ or not (though it could easily be argued that the raven hadn’t done anything too terribly wrong) that the shadow of his overreach would linger over the pair for many years. Maybe it would never be spoken of again, maybe it wouldn’t be recognized for what it was, but it would be there. Pervasive. And he had little doubt that Harry would come to resent him for it if he didn’t already, which seemed likely given the continued shortness of what rare few conversations they did have. If nothing else, at least the hard feelings between them would soften the inevitable blow to come.
Had that been what he’d intended? To push the other into being unable to look at him straight without being forced to by circumstance? To make him think so little of him that he wouldn’t find distress in the example which would soon be made of him? Perhaps, even, to think he deserved it (if such a thing as making Harry Potter think that anyone deserved to die would even be possible)? Or had it been his madness, some lingering shadow of Voldemort, using his ignorance to its presence to lead him to punishing the wizard he was trying to repay?
Tom had no answers. Maybe he was just making excuses where none could be had. One thing was undeniable: thinking about the matter caused a piercing headache to bloom behind his temples.
“Now now, Harry, I’m certain that Tom would not have come down from the Astronomy Tower where he’s been held up for the past three hours if it wasn’t urgent.” Dumbledore calmly interjected, his clear blue eyes falling on the brunet. He’d gained a considerable amount of weight and trimmed back his hair and beard since being freed and, mercifully, didn’t seem possessed of whatever mildly senile urge which had possessed Grindlewald to dress like the bastard offspring of a pack of highlighters and a box of glitter.
“The Astronomy Tower?” Harry repeated, his expression now shot through with obvious concern. “But it’s pouring rain outside, and freezing! What were you thinking?”
Typical of a Gryffindor, and even more typical of him, to worry for the health of even those he wasn’t on the best of terms with at the time. Such a trait might well come to be a disservice to the little raven in due time, but for now in that perhaps a bit over large room it was simply something about him which Tom could only find endearing. A nice departure from the varying degrees of clinical detachment (from only mildly removed to utterly aloof) which was in the very nature of Slytherin’s like him.
“We’ve more than enough Pepper-up to go around if I do catch something.” He said. “We’d still be more than fine if I caught something and I needed to clear my head.”
“Not if you caught your death we wouldn’t.”
“Tell me, Tom,” Dumbledore said around a smile, “what is it that’s brought you here with such urgency you failed to knock?”
“Grindlewald,” the brunet answered, noticing the slight stiffening of the smaller male out of the corner of his eye when he brought up the Dark Wizard’s name. “He’s stopped making appearances, as have his followers. I fear that that means he’s coming to Hogwarts, and that he’ll be here soon. I wanted to confirm I wasn’t the only one who felt it. That it wasn’t simple paranoia.”
Though, if he were being honest, Tom would have had to admit that half of him hoped it was simply a product of his imagination.
“I wish I could tell you that you’re imagining the signs, Tom, but lying to you would serve nothing.” Dumbledore informed him from his place behind the desk. “I believe you’re right. And I fear my old friend will show himself here sooner rather than later; it’s best we operate under the assumption that he’ll be arriving here tonight.”
“Tonight?” Tom spluttered, taken completely off guard; he’d had suspicions that that could possibly be the case but to be confronted with the reality that he hadn’t been the only one to suspect it but Dumbledore had said nothing? All that he could hope to say was “Gryffindors!”
Harry seemed to share the sentiment despite being one himself. “I’ll spread the word,” he said, turning towards the door. “Both the D.A and the Order will be prepared by sundown, even if the Aurors aren’t.” The little raven vanished down the staircase.
“You really expected us to have come out upright from this without you saying anything?” Tom struggled to keep his tone even, meeting his smile with a glare. “You weren’t going to say anything, were you?”
Dumbledore’s response was an infuriatingly knowing smirk aimed at him over the top of his half-moon glasses. “Rally your men, Tom. In this unstable time you stand for Britain’s Minister of Magic, and our country needs you to protect her.”
“The Aurors from both the Ministry and the M.A.C.U.S.A are up in arms. The Order and the DA are likewise ready to respond at a moment’s notice. The professors have all woven a powerful shield over the castle to re-enforce the wards which were already present. McGonagall has used a spell none of us even realized existed to animate all of the statues and suits of armor in the castle. There’s nothing more to do but wait.” Ginny watched the raven haired wizard ping pong back and forth across the length of the Entrance Hall. “We can’t do anything but wait so you shouldn’t waste your energy worrying over what’s going to happen: they could arrive at any moment or they could arrive in another handful of days, and either way you should be resting. Aside from Dumbledore and that red eyed bastard you’re our strongest fighter.”
Harry bit his tongue on the matter despite the urge to correct her references to Tom as ‘red eyed bastard’ or something similar. Despite the cold feelings which now lay between him and the older wizard Tom wasn’t responsible for what the diary had done, Grindlewald was. And though he also understood and sympathized with what Ginny had gone through and where those feelings came from he wished that she could understand that. “What about the evacuation?”
“Finished, as of yesterday. As Hermione, Ron and I have already told you.” Her tone was one of exasperated fondness. “Three times.”
“…Right.” Harry paused in his pacing, somewhat embarrassed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I guess there’s just so much on my mind that it’s difficult to keep everything straight.”
“Not the least of which being him.”
“Ginny.” Harry sighed.
The red headed witch frowned and shook her head. “I know.” She said. “Maybe it wasn’t really in his nature to create the Horcruxes. Maybe he’d never have done anything like what Voldemort did if left to himself. But that doesn’t change the fact that he did do them. Having been subjected to the same thing he went through with Grindlewald at his hand I have little sympathy for him. But that’s not all there is behind my dislike of him.”
Harry looked at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Again Ginny shook her head, the motion accompanied this time by a roll of her brown eyes. “Jealousy, Harry.”
“Ginny, we’ve been over this. What happened between Tom and I-.”
“Didn’t mean anything. I know. But that was only on his side of things, wasn’t it?” she said. “Did you want it to mean something?”
“I love you!” It took him a great effort to keep a handle on his frustration, exacerbated further by the stress of waiting for battle to break out. “That night I spent with Tom was a mistake.”
“You don’t really believe that, Harry. At least not completely. And I know that you love me, but as I’m sure you’ve told him you can love more than one person. Even if, in the end, you can only chose one of them.” She said. “And that’s not why.”
“Then what?” he asked.
“It’s simple.” Ginny sat down on the Grand Staircase’s bottom stair. “Be it Voldemort or Tom Riddle, the Dark Lord is the person you’ve had the longest relationship with. Good or bad. And then there’s the matter of the soul shard that was living in your head for the past sixteen years. Well…you probably know more about the concept of ‘soul mates’ than I would, what with it being a Muggle concept.”
“We’re not ‘soul mates’.” He said, the words heavy, coming to sit beside her on the stairs. “Soul mates don’t actually exist. They’re just a Muggle concept of magic, like so many others that Hermione would say don’t make sense and would then proceed to list off all the reasons why.”
The pair shared a brief chuckle.
“But if we were, other relationships wouldn’t matter. Not you and me. Not him and Abraxas. But it does. And we aren’t. We can’t be.”
“Maybe the fact that he couldn’t give his heart to you is one of the reasons why but it’s not the only reason.” She said. “And it’s not the biggest reason.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love you. Really, I do. But sometimes you can be so dense it’s painful to think about.” Ginny said with a snort. “Even with your past being what it is it’s in your nature to love someone, after you’ve fallen for them, even if they don’t love you back. Even if they can’t love you back. It’s a part of what makes you such a good person, and a fairly common flaw among Gryffindors to varying degrees. Tom’s hang up alone wouldn’t have stopped you.”
“Then what did?” Harry wasn’t certain that he bought into her theory, partly because he didn’t want to admit she might be right that his hero complex-as well as the associated issues which came with it-had truly gotten so out of control, but he figured the least he could do was humor her.
“He killed your parents. Killed Cedric. Killed Hedwig. Had a hand, at least, in Sirus’ death. Has tried to kill you multiple times. And has over all utterly destroyed your life.”
“He wasn’t himself.” Harry said.
“And we’re back to my earlier point.” Ginny replied. “You may have consciously forgiven him, and to have been able to do even that much goes to show how good of a person you really are, but subconsciously? You’ll hold it against him forever. And you have every right to do so. It’s only natural.”
Harry didn’t have anything which he could even bring to bear as a response. Was what she said true? Deep down, did he still hold something of what Tom had done against him? He supposed that it was possible. It didn’t change anything, not really, but it was possible.
“Yes.” Ginny smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. “You being who you are, altruism and all, if part of why we love you. But believe me when I say that we all wish you’d be just a little bit more self-aware.”
The raven grumbled in response but didn’t say anything more on the matter. They sat together on the steps like that for a while longer before Harry felt something brush against his mind, gentle but insistent. The little wizard sighed and stood up.
“It seems like he wants to speak with me.” He said. “I’ll see you in half an hour?”
Ginny smiled at him, standing up as well. “Go.”
Where are you? Reluctantly, Harry began to scale the stairs.
The Room of Requirement came Tom’s reply a moment later. I know it’s only been a few hours since we last spoke in Dumbledore’s office, and that I’m interrupting, but this matter is a necessary one. And it shouldn’t take but a moment of your time.
Whatever you say. He said, turning down the corridor. After walking by the spot on the wall three times, Harry pulled open the door and stepped inside.
He hadn’t known quite what to expect, but it wasn’t this. The hammocks, tables, chairs and all traces of the clutter left behind by the extended habitation by most of the DA were gone. As was all other furniture, furnishings and even the walls. The area that he now found himself in was nothing but undisturbed white, eye searing in its brightness, and appeared to stretch on forever in all directions. Stood dead in the middle of it all, back facing to him, was Tom.
For a couple of seconds before the realization that the effect was simply caused by the uniform color making the walls seem absent Harry could have sworn he’d somehow ended up back in Tom’s mindscape.
“I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted, so I settled for something neutral.” He said.
“Usually, when people hear ‘neutral color’,” Harry said, “they think ‘beige’. You said there was something urgent. Or at least ‘necessary’?”
Tom turned towards him and held out his hand, the Resurrection Stone blending in almost completely with the leather glove he wore. “I wanted to return this to you.”
“I don’t want it.”
“I’m not asking you to keep it, Harry. In fact, I’d rather that you didn’t.” Tom said, once more rocking back onto his heels. “The Hallows…they’re terribly dangerous items. Items which really shouldn’t be left to exist for any poor and unsuspecting fool or power-hungry monster to stumble upon at random. They should never have been created in the first place.”
“They why are you giving it back to me?” he asked.
“Because I want you to promise me something. Though I know I haven’t any right to ask anything more of you. For the good of others, if not for me.” Tom said. “I want you to promise me that you’ll never let it out of your sight. And that, before you die, you’ll see to it that it’s destroyed.”
“Why not do so yourself?”
He answered with a brief, tight smile. “Between you and I, Harry, you’re more likely to have the opportunity.” Before the raven could open his mouth to further question him the castle shook beneath them. Tom’s eyes darkened from scarlet to crimson. “He’s here.” He said. “Their forces are attacking the wards and shielding which the staff has erected. They won’t hold forever: you and I ought to hurry to our places before Grindlewald and his men manage to break through our defenses.”
Tom was moving before the smaller wizard had a chance to respond, brushing passed him out the door and taking off down the hall at a shocking speed. Caught somewhat off guard by the suddenness of the move Harry rushed out after him, struggling to keep up with his much shorter legs. He eventually had to resort to half-sliding down the stone banister of the grand staircase to catch the brunet before he bolted out the front door.
“Riddle!” Harry shouted at the same time Ginny called his name, rushing out of the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione just behind.
With one leg inside the doors and the other outside them Tom skidded to a stop and looked back at him. “Make sure everyone knows what’s going on. Send them to reinforce the potential breach points of our defenses. Once you’ve done that join me outside: Grindlewald himself is going to come from the front, I can promise you that.” He vanished down the outer staircase.
“He’ll be fine, Harry.” Hermione said when his eyes lingered a fraction of a second too long on the doors.
“I know,” he said, turning abruptly and rushing off down the hall away from the door. “Come on!”
Surprisingly-note the sarcasm-the entire castle shaking beneath their feet as the forces of darkness gathered at their gates and hammered the protective wards was a good warning of the fact that they were being attacked. All they had to do was direct the people they came across to their proper stations. A force to the bridge under Neville. A group each to the lake and the forest under Luna and Ginny respectively. A small group, consisting of Lavender Pavati and Professor Trelawney, back to the Divination class room to make use of the result of the equation formed when adding gravity to crystal balls dropped from a great height.
It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes before they got back down to the entrance hall but the battle had already spilled in from outside. Spells flew in all directions: jets of colored light whizzing by their heads as they bolted down the stairs. A Cutting Hex collided with a deep purple curse Harry didn’t recognize, showering the area with a rain of silver sparks. A Killing Curse exploded against the wall into eddies of green fire, covering the staircase behind them in an avalanche of rock. Bellatrix pursued her niece with a mad cackle, both disappearing into the roiling crowd. A giant’s echoing roar thundered from outside.
Dismounting the final step all three fired off spells, heading for the open doors and rapidly becoming separated in the melee. Hermione running to the left to help Lupin. Ron disappearing to the right towards where Draco had gotten himself backed into a corner by Greyback. By the time Harry made it through the doors he was alone.
Outside the castle was even worse: the courtyard was in ruins, covered with a blanket of broken stone and building dust. A snarl of activity between Death Eaters and Aurors from both the Ministry and the M.A.C.U.S.A lined the area in a ring of dark colors and flashing light. In the center, locked in a clash of incredible force and power, were Tom Dumbledore and Grindlewald.
The three wizards faced off in a three man duel, teacher and student standing side by side despite their differences, raining spell after spell down on their opponent in a hail of vivid color which made the air around them crackle and raised the hair along Harry’s arms. And then there was Grindlewald who stood alone, holding them both off with ease and the Elder Wand in hand. Two against one was nothing for the German wizard with the first Hallow at his command, but maybe three would push the balance in their favor.
Harry dismounted the stairs of a run, raising his wand as he pushed his way through the crowd. Catching the motion out of the corner of one crimson eye Tom turned his head, looking horrified.
“So the boy is how you managed to regain your sanity, Riddle?” ice blue eyes fell on him, lit with something brutal even Voldemort had lacked. “Shall we see where you’ll be without him?”
The raven didn’t know if it was a Hex or a Curse that was fired, but the jet of light now flying towards him was a dark malicious blue. He had no idea what it would do and no time to react but before his mind could even process that fact Tom had tackled him, pushing his much smaller form out of the way.
Harry skinned his palms against the stone, hearing a thin whine and a blood chilling crunch. Blood pooled rapidly around Tom’s form as he crouched nearby, face ashen and jaw clenched. Shards of badly broken bone stuck out of his shattered wand arm at odd angles. Before he could get up or Grindlewald could cast another spell Tom etched a strange symbol against the stone in his blood and hissed something that, despite his knowledge of the snake language, Harry’s mind simply couldn’t comprehend.
The ground began to violently shake, sending both Dumbledore and Grindlewald stumbling, and then the flagstones split apart. First, rising out of the hole which had formed in the center of the courtyard, came the massive skull which bristled with fangs the length of sword blades followed immediately by hundreds upon hundreds of interlocking ribs and vertebrae. Soon all fifteen meters of the skeletonized Basilisk had raised itself up into a striking position. Necromancy. Black Magic.
Harry looked over at Tom, slack jawed, only to find the older wizard wan and shaking. “I can’t hold this spell for very long.” The brunet said, clutching his ruined arm. “Get that wand while he’s distracted and destroy it!”
Shaking off his surprise and forcing himself back up onto his feet Harry ran around to the left side of the Basilisk, hissing madly, as it lunged at the Dark Wizard, punching a second smaller hole into the stone courtyard and snapping viciously at his fleeing form. Grindlewald caught sight of him and shot another spell at him but this time Harry didn’t bother guessing at what it was before he dove for cover. Ducking out briefly from behind his chosen shelter and firing back.
Grindlewald brushed the spell aside with a flick of his wrist. “You’re not going to win this, Harry. Not you. Not them. Cunning of Tom as it may be to have you attempt to steal my Death Stick, it’s a plan that’s doomed from the start. And this overgrown worm,” he slashed the Elder Wand through the air and the resulting spell send the Basilisk reeling back, “isn’t going to change that.”
“Expell-!” The top of the half-collapsed wall he crouched behind shattered, forcing the raven back into cover.
“Six years of magical training, countless encounters with Voldemort and all the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’ can muster is a Disarming spell?”
Don’t rise to his taunts. Even across their link it was clear Tom was struggling to remain conscious. I have one last trick up my sleeve to distract him. On my word, cast that spell again.
Now! With an earthshattering bang the giant skeleton exploded, pelting the surrounding area with shards of bone and venomous fangs. The sound of the pieces hitting the ground around him as he ducked from behind his cover was indistinguishable from hail, off white slivers landing in his hair and on his shoulders like flakes of snow.
The red jet of light shot across the court yard and the Death Stick flew out of the Dark Wizard’s grip and upwards in an arch. Grindlewald lunged forward, grabbing for it with a ferocious snarl, but the brunet wasn’t about to run the risk of him getting hold of it again.
Harry caught the wand as it fell and quickly snapped it, three times, in his hands and dropped it onto the ground. Stepping over Grindlewald’s body without sparing it a glance and starting towards where Tom lay slumped and near unconscious. He barely made it half way across the ruined courtyard before scarlet-clad Aurors descended on the older man like vultures on a carcass. Aiming their wands as if expecting to be viciously attacked. Reaching down and dragging the Dark Lord onto his feet, mangling his arm even further.
“Hey!” He picked up his pace to a trot and then a run as they began hauling the older wizard away. “Hey! What are you doing; he’s hurt! Stop!”
“Harry.” A hand, wizened but strong, closed around his arm and pulled him to a stop. Somber blue eyes met with his as Harry turned, agitated and concern. “He’s been arrested, Harry. As Tom knew he would be once this was resolved. And he’s not the only one. It’s unwise of you to attempt to stop them.”
“I…arrested…but he’s hurt!”
“He’ll receive medical attention at St. Mungo’s before they take him to-.”
“Tom doesn’t deserve Azkaban!”
“They won’t take him to Azkaban right away, but to a holding cell beneath the Ministry.” Dumbledore told him. “There will be a trial. I know that you believe Tom to be free of responsibility for what he’s done because of what was done to him but you must let justice take its natural course. When things come to it, you can speak for him then.”
“At the trial?” he questioned, feeling dazed.
Dumbledore nodded. “At the trial, my boy.”
Reluctant as he was Harry knew he had no other choice and relented. Shoulders slumping as he watched the Aurors’ red-clad forms become smaller and smaller before vanishing from sight.
Chapter 14: Through the Veil
The courtroom in which the trial was conducted was the same one where he’d stood accused of the unlawful use of magic in the presence of a Muggle during his fifth year. The same one in which Dolores Umbridge had held cruel command over the Muggleborns accused of ‘stealing’ their magic just months earlier. It was still stone walled and as shadowy as Harry remembered it. Still as cavernous, rounded and disorientingly well-like. At least the Dementors were gone. At least this time he was in the stands, though the sight of the Wizengamot’s members and Kingsley Shacklebolt-currently standing in as Minister of Magic and with a good chance of becoming permanently installed in the position-were still as unnerving as they had been when he’d been the one dragged before them. Something about the way their faces were obscured by the heavy darkness, with only a sliver of their purple robes and the giant ‘W’ emblazoned on their front visible was frightening to him on some level buried within the instinctual portion of his brain. As a witness for the defense alongside Dumbledore-much to the surprise of many present-he knew he’d have little choice but to devote his attention to them for at least a period of time. He’d just have to get his testimony over with as quickly as possible and, perhaps, direct his focus to the wall above their heads instead.
Ginny, Ron and Hermione had all accompanied him in a show of support for which he was incredibly grateful (likely because they were well aware of his rather frosty relationship with the Ministry of Magic and less than pleasant track record with trials and court rooms in general) and were now sitting in the spectator portion of the stands which was now packed to the brim with both reporters and members of the public. Including, much to his distaste, Rita Skeeter her rhinestone glasses and acid green Quik-Quotes-Quill. Worried as he was for the potential outcome of the trial despite confidence in the strength of the older wizard’s ‘Grindlewald made me do it’ defense he couldn’t quite contain himself from sending a handful of dirty glances in their direction.
Tom, for his part, sat silently with his head bowed and thoughts quiet. Bound in the magical chains attached to the chair of the accused he was dressed in a simple black robe, one of the sleeves hanging limp at his side in the absence of the arm which had been so badly mangled when Harry had last seen him. He gave no reaction to any of the younger wizard’s efforts, both verbal and mental, to catch his attention and kept his scarlet eyes on the floor.
The low buzz of urgent conversation filled the room with a tense anticipation as those gathered in the courtroom waited for what was, no doubt, the trial of the century to finally begin. It was only with great difficulty that Kingsley managed to silence them enough to set proceedings into motion.
“Criminal hearing of the fifth of March regarding war crimes committed by Tom Marvolo Riddle, also known formerly as ‘Lord’ Voldemort, including but not limited to the murder of Amelia Bones, the murder of James Potter, the murder of Lily Potter nee Evans, the attempted murder of Harry Potter, a litany of hate crimes against Muggleborns and Muggles and countless violations of the International Statute of Secrecy.” The former Auror’s deep voice echoed across the large frigid room, underlain by the furious scratch of the ravenous quills of the armada of reporters for the Daily Prophet and other outlets present at the trial. “Interrogators: Kingsley Shacklebolt, current stand-in for the Wizengamot, alongside the whole of the assembled Wizengamot. Witnesses for the defense: Harry James Potter and Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. You are Tom Marvolo Riddle?”
“Yes.” Tom said, voice dull, not looking up from the floor.
“To the listed crimes which have been so mentioned here today how do you, Tom Marvolo Riddle, plead?”
All of the air seemed at once to be sucked from the room as the audience took in a collective gasp. All expecting that the bowed brunet, the Darkest Wizard of their age, to deny guilt. For there to be a real trial that would be spoken of for decades to come rather than a simple condemnation and sentencing. But with a single word the Dark Lord shattered all their collective expectations and left Harry standing horrified.
Raising his head at last to look upon the assembled Wizengamot with muted fear in his crimson eyes, Tom opened his mouth and said “guilty.”
Guilty? Guilty! What? No! That…that couldn’t…why? Why would he plead guilty when he wasn’t guilty? Harry tried to get up. To protest or at least say something but the words stuck in his throat that restricting hand, once more catching hold of his arm, held him in place. And before he could recover his opening for objection was gone.
“Your plea of guilty has been accepted by the court.” Harry couldn’t be certain but the former Auror seemed to be avoiding looking at him while he spoke. “For your crimes against both the Magical and Muggle communities of Britain, the Wizengamot hereby sentences you, Tom Marvolo Riddle, to the Veil.”
Harry’s green eyes snapped open abruptly as he startled himself out of troubled sleep, the pale morning sunlight slanting through the windows of Ron’s bedroom doing his already terrible vision no favors. Squinting and sitting up, he reached out a hand and blindly fumbled around until his fingers found his glasses and managed to shove them onto his face. Sparing only a few moments to check the time with a Tempus Charm he pushed himself to his feet, wincing at the shock of the cold wooden floor against his bare skin, and hurriedly gathered clean clothing for the day.
March tenth, six thirty in the morning. Two and a half hours left to go before the execution.
Pulling the jumper over his head and running his fingers through his hair in a rather poor attempt at taming the unruly raven locks, he spared a brief glance to his still dead-to-the-world best friend before leaving the room.
On the Burrow’s bottom floor Mrs. Weasley was already awake, bustling about in the kitchen making the necessary preparations to start cooking one of the titanic breakfasts which had all but come to define his visits to the home of the red-headed clan. She looked up at him as he shuffled into the room. “You’re up early, Harry dear.” Molly said, flicking her wand in the vague direction of a small mountain of potatoes. The root vegetables immediately got down to washing and peeling themselves. “Breakfast won’t be ready for another hour.”
“I just couldn’t sleep any longer,” Harry said. It wasn’t untrue. The images of the trial, of the way that Tom had pled and the sentence which had been passed down. Maybe Ginny had been right that, of his right mind or not, Tom had still done what he’d done. Blood and destruction was still on his hands. But hadn’t he been punished enough already? Fractured apart. Trapped for decades in the hellish madness which Harry had only glimpsed when he’d ventured into the older Wizard’s mind. Left with the knowledge of what he’d done and of the loss of everyone he’d known and cared for. Forced to shoulder the burden of his regret. Wasn’t that enough? What was the point of pushing it further? Of going on to make an example of him? Wasn’t that simply cruel? “Can I use the Floo?”
“The Floo?” she repeated, surprised by the suggestion. “At this hour? But where would you be going?”
Yes, the Floo. Sadly. Because he couldn’t apparate legally quite yet, no having had the chance to get licensed before the Ministry had fallen to the Death Eaters and as bad as he was at using the bloody thing it was better he tripped and fall on exiting than splinch himself and end up once again in need of medical attention.
“The Ministry.” He said. “I need to talk to Tom before they…before his sentence is carried out.”
“I thought you’d decided not to attend the execution.”
“I did. And I don’t think that’s going to change, but…” Harry fidgeted and looked over at the cold hearth. “I still have questions that need to be answered.” He could have used the Resurrection Stone to speak with the Dark Lord about such matters later but he would rather avoid doing so if at all possible. Between the way the Tale of the Three Brothers made the artifact’s nature sound and the motive which had compelled Grindlewald to leave it to him in the first place, the little wizard had more than enough reason not to trust its power. It was a shame the thing was capable of surviving damage even a Horcrux wasn’t because he hadn’t the slightest idea of where to begin attempting to destroy it. Didn’t know if destroying it was even possible.
The Elder Wand’s condition seemed to lend credence to the fact that it wasn’t. At least, not permanently. Despite having been broken into kindling and tossed into the nearest fire the thing had shown up, good as new, in his left trainer early one morning the week before. Harry hadn’t mentioned it to anyone but something about the wand’s return…it made him nervous about what owning all three of the things could possible mean.
“Well, if you really need to speak with him I don’t see a reason not to allow you to use the Floo.” Mrs. Weasley said with a small sigh, sending a large pot of water gliding onto the stove. “Just be careful with your pronunciation this time, dear.”
“I will, Mrs. Weasley.” The last thing Harry wanted was to end up back in Borgin and Burke’s because he’d choked on soot. Even if he could have gotten out of Nocturne Alley on his own, now, with a fair amount of ease he couldn’t afford the time such a mistake would eat up. Stepping up to the fire place and pulling a pinch of emerald powder from the small pot which sat on the lopsided mantle beside Mrs. Weasley’s magical clock Harry tossed it into the hearth and followed it in; hearing the gentle crunch of soot and charcoal beneath his trainers. “Ministry of Magic.”
The sickening spinning sensation immediately overtook him, whisking the little raven away from the Burrow and towards his destination. Flashes of sitting rooms and offices and foyers viewed from the mouth of a hearth racing by at a thousand miles an hour, interspersed with the warm tongues of emerald flames licking up his arms. Head still spinning even after the Floo had deposited him in one of the stone hearths lining the entryway of the Ministry, Harry stumbled out into the crowded atrium leaving a trail of soot and sparks behind him. For once, much to his relief, no one so much as glanced in his direction as they filed towards their respective jobs within the many departments housed within the building.
The wizard behind the desk labeled SECURITY was, to Harry’s knowledge, not the same one who had been there when he’d come for his own trial; better shaven than the other had been but still dressed in the same peacock blue robes.
“I’m here to speak with a prisoner.”
“Over here.” He drawled, putting down the book he was reading and walking out from behind the counter. Harry stepped up to him and tolerated having a golden rod run up and down his back. “Wand.”
From there the encounter proceeded just as he remembered: he handed over his wand, had its make read out, and was then given it back.
“Thanks,” the raven grumbled, not really meaning it, and hurriedly moved towards the golden lifts.
Crammed into one of them along with a small hoard of Ministry workers-thankfully sans the fire breathing chicken-the small wizard endured a rattling descent into the bowels of the building. By the time he reached the level on which both the Department of Mysteries and the oldest courtrooms were held Harry was almost entirely alone and went unaccompanied down another set of stairs to where the holding cells were located.
He’d never had the misfortune of visiting Azkaban but Nuremgard was still fresh in his memory, and though the inside of the Ministry wasn’t quite as cold and lacked the oppressive smell of brine from the ocean far below the place was still miserably dark and intolerably damp. Harry’s footsteps splashed through the small puddles which had formed in divots in the stone floor and the sound, magnified by the claustrophobic walls and low-slung ceiling as he peered in through the doors of the cells that he passed, echoed far ahead of him.
All were unoccupied but for one: Tom was sitting up when he arrived, poised on the edge of the thin cot which looked far too much like a table in a morgue for Harry’s comfort. His red eyes seemed to give off a faint glow in the low light but the older wizard’s face betrayed nothing of what he might be thinking. Had he really wanted to know the thoughts of a man fully aware he was experiencing the final hours of his life Harry could have abused their link but…that felt too much like an irredeemable invasion of privacy. Instead, forcing his curiosity elsewhere, he directed his attention to the empty sleeve.
“I was told you were getting medical attention,” he said, “not that they were cutting your arm off.”
“I was hit with the considerably darker cousin of the Bone Breaking Curse. The damage was extensive and reversible only by hours of highly involved delicately technical work by a team of Britain’s best healers.” Tom picked at the thin fabric of the robe where it hung thin from his shoulder. “I told them not to waste the effort.”
“You never intended to have a trial.” He hissed, green eyes narrowing. “You were going to plead guilty from the start, even knowing what would happen! And you didn’t say anything? Why!”
In that moment, more so than Harry had ever seen him, Tom looked aged. Tired. “You wouldn’t understand. Not then. Not now.”
“I am seventeen!”
“My assertion, Harry, has absolutely nothing to do with your age, but rather your inability to prevent yourself from feeling the need to convince me better of what I know I must do.” He said.
“But I thought you were afraid of death.” The echoing of the line, but to Harry’s dismay, didn’t have the affect he’d hoped for. Tom, having caught onto his admittedly obvious attempt at manipulation, narrowed his eyes and set his jaw.
“I am.” He growled, words heavy with deliberance. “But I failed in my duties and because of that the balance has been thrown even further out of whack. If nothing is done magic could collapse in upon itself and disappear forever. The only way to stop that now is-.”
“For you to die?” the raven spat the words onto the stone floor at the foot of the rusted bars. “There must be some other way. There has to be.” Never mind the fact that it was far too late for any reprieve to be found. Tom’s fate was sealed and Harry was left to grasp futilely at straws.
“Set aside the toll of retribution. The only thing that can avert disaster now is a Light Lord, and there can only ever be one Lord in play at a time.” Tom said. “They cannot be born until I have died. The damage needs to be put to rights as immediately as is possible, and thereby it is best I die as immediately as possible.” He adjusted his position into something more comfortable, the cot creaking loudly as he shifted his weight back onto his remaining arm. “Seventy seven years is enough of a life. A fair amount of time: neither too much or too little. I’ve nothing left to live for. Not really. And who here would want me to choose, instead, to stay?”
“I would!” The stone walls around them amplified his words to a deafening volume and both men winced. The raven looked hastily down at his scuffed trainers, feeling his face begin to warm. When the silence returned, it was somehow thicker than before.
“Will you be there?” Tom spoke so quietly that he almost didn’t catch his words. “In the Death Chamber. When I pass through the Veil?”
He hadn’t planned to. In fact, he’d planned for quite the opposite. Hadn’t wanted to enter the Death Chamber again. To be near the Veil again. To see another person that he knew and cared about die in front of him. But Tom was alone, something in his voice pitiful and full of a grim hope that he’d be granted what he couldn’t bring himself to ask for yet desperately wanted all the same. And how terrible would that be? To pass away surrounded by those who not only wouldn’t mourn you but would celebrate your death as something great to be remembered for years to come. “Yes.”
Tom nodded once and then bowed his head back to the stone floor of his cell. “Thank you.”
He said nothing else and, after a few minutes of watching the older man watch his shoes, Harry left the cell block behind. With no desire to subject himself to the Floo again before he had to the little raven chose not to return to the Burrow and simply spent the remaining near hour between then and the execution hanging out with Tonks. When the time came that he could no longer avoid doing so without being late, he trudged back down to the lowest floor and into the Department of Mysteries. Making it to the Death Chamber only with direction by one of the Unspeakables.
The place was as crowded as the courtroom had been on the day Tom had stood trial, bodies cramming the room from wall to wall; a sea of people and clothing and cameras which swallowed up the Chamber’s uneven floor. Awful as he thought it was that something as terrible as death would be transformed into a public spectacle Harry found himself relieved that the sound of them all blocked out the awful whispers which he knew would otherwise have called to him from beyond the silvery fabric hanging from the ancient doorway.
He didn’t have to wait in that chamber for more than a handful of minutes before the Aurors, their crimson robes standing out starkly against the dark stone floor, appeared with their wands drawn. Tom, wrapped in runic chains likely meant to prevent any use of wandless magic, stumbled along before them. His movements impeded by the heavy metal rungs which hung about his chest and from his shoulders in a sad perversion of Voldemort’s emerald-scaled familiar. The crowd of people parted before them, hundreds of pairs of eyes watching the Dark Lord who’d terrorized long for so long trip and narrowly avoid falling.
As Tom came to stand before the stone archway the sway of the pale fabric became more pronounced, as if caught in a stiff wind. Stretching towards him but not quite able to reach. His expression betraying little of what he was feeling but fear trembling clear across their link the brunet turned his head and searched the crowd, eyes landing on where Harry stood near the doorway and holding his gaze. Goodbye. The pale fabric coiled around his form as he stepped into the archway, dragging him backwards into shimmering white, and like Sirius before him the older wizard disappeared.
The link between them snapped with such force that Harry stumbled into the stone wall behind him with a pained gasp. Reflexively reaching out for where Tom’s mental presence had been until just seconds before only to find that there was nothing on the other end but darkness. Gone. Completely gone with nothing left behind. A part of him vanished after nearly seventeen years. It set his mind reeling, a cold sweat breaking out across his skin as a headache built behind his temples. Off balanced and stumbling slightly himself Harry rushed from the Department of Mysteries and back into the lift before anyone could try and stop him. Struggling to control himself even as his body attempted to revolt and descend into panic. He’d managed to calm his breathing by the time the lift reached the atrium but was still shaking badly and pale in the face as he hurried back towards the set of waiting hearths.
“Harry, if I could speak with you a moment?”
Reluctant, the raven paused and turned around. “Minister?” he liked Kingsley, he really did, but in light of what had happened Harry had trouble keeping his tone in check. “Is something the matter?”
“The matter? No.” The former Auror assured him as he came to a stop as well. “I won’t keep you long, but thought it better to catch you before you returned to the Burrow.” Reaching into one of the pockets of his robe, Kingsley produced a small thin box and handed it to him. “He asked that you be given this. Normal protocol is to destroy them after executions but in this instance…I believe you can be trusted not to mishandle it.”
“Thank you,” Harry said as he took the box, without the slightest clue as to what might be in it. It was light and, when he moved, something could be heard softly clattering around inside. “I’m sure you have plenty of work to be doing?” Recognizing the unvoiced request the taller man nodded, turned, and walked away leaving the raven to resume walking towards the hearths. But curiosity got the better of him before he reached the nearest one and he drew once more to a stop, pulling off the lid and peering in.
Sitting inside, stark against the black velvet lining and held together by a thin thread of gold and ruby feather, were the twin halves of Tom’s broken wand.
Chapter 15: Beneath the Yew Tree
Even with all that had happened in his now going on five hundred years of life Harry Potter knew that there were three things he could trust to never change: his appearance-despite his record breaking age and all he’d been through he didn’t appear to have aged a day since the moment he’d disarmed the former master of the Elder Wand and was still mistaken, on the rare occasion he ventured out into public now a days, for only being seventeen-the wet and chilly weather of English October and the tree atop the hill behind Potter manor; a sturdy Ogham Yew with large gnarled branches draping down towards the ground in a protective curtain grown-much to his original surprise-from the broken wand that he’d buried in the soil.
In literature, both Magical and Muggle, immortality was seen equally as both a gift and a curse; the eternal question of which was truly the case spanking quite a number of rather vicious arguments throughout the ages, but having been unknowingly afflicted with it Harry alone was in the position to be able to answer that question from experience.
It was, inarguably, a curse of the worst kind. And after three hundred years without his wife and friends, one hundred without any of his children and the world around him reduced to nothing like anything he remembered Harry truly knew what it meant to be alone.
The Light Lord had come and gone by then. The balance was back to what it was meant to be. The Muggle and Magical worlds were at peace. And Harry had removed himself from all of it. It was better to hold himself apart from the rest of the world, no matter how badly he missed the companionship, than subject himself to losing anyone else. Not when he’d never see them again. When he couldn’t die. When he knew he couldn’t.
The gentle sound of the rain pattering down around him was muted further by the now ancient trees stretching bows. Harry lowered his wand, dismissing the spell he’d used up until then to keep the frigid droplets off of him during his journey from the house, and looked up. The beady eyes of a bowtruckle met his from a few feet away, the tiny green creature clinging to bushel of bright red berries and swaying with the branch in the wind. It squeaked a short greeting when the little wizard smiled at it-he came there so often that the bowtruckle living in the tree had grown used to his presence-before resuming its business; plucking on of the berries and scampering off up the branch.
Tucking his wand away in the back pocket of his pants the raven continued forwards until he reached the wide trunk and then sat down. Pressing his back against the uneven surface of the thick bark. The needles were dry here, sheltered from the rain by the canopy above, and soft. Surrounding him with the scents of petrichor wet soil and the poisonous sap which leaked from the softly groaning tree. Harry couldn’t decide if it was funny, sad or stereotypical that the last companion of the Master of Death would be a plant of symbolic of death and immortality. Maybe it was neither. Maybe it was all three. Either way, he supposed it didn’t matter. He hadn’t come here for introspection or to toy with stupid questions or even to take advantage of the odd sense of comfort the tree never failed to afford him. Harry had come to indulge in the guilty pleasure of his broken resolve never to use the thing. To answer the question for himself of whether or not it worked (of course it worked! It was a Hallow!). To see who it was that the stone would show while at once frustrated in already knowing.
The small stone was cold and heavy in his hand as he turned it between his fingers. Once. Twice. Three times. Watching its facets flashing black and grey in the weak light. Feeling its weight against his palm. A powerful gust of wind made the massive tree creak and urged the onslaught of the rain even harder, chilling the little hollow below the drooping branches enough to make him shiver and leaving behind another presence when it left. They said nothing. They didn’t need to. He recognized them by that silence alone and half of him mourned it. Wishing that the summons would somehow have reformed the link which had once existed between them. The other half clinging to the vain assertion that the fact this hadn’t happened was proof, indisputably, that it wasn’t him that stood there but someone, anyone, else.
Deafened by the raging storm and shivering in the cold, unable to bare the silence and the sight of the stone cradled in his palm, the unknowing, any longer Harry raised his head.