Chapter 1: Prologue
He catches Pettigrew in London, in a sewer of all places.
It is oddly fitting, though Lucius might have held him under the Cruciatus for an extra minute or three for making him wade through sewage. Muggle sewage at that. Battle hardened dragon hide and impervious charms be damned, everything he is wearing is going to have to be incendio’d at the soonest opportunity. Really, it is a miracle that he has not snapped his boot down on Peter’s neck and drowned the miserable rat in the sludge.
And oh, hadn’t that been a surprise.
My rat, Peter, the Dark Lord had called him with a slight turn of his lips that would have been called tender if it hadn’t been so utterly terrifying. Lucius had always assumed it was just because the watery eyed man was one of their spies – a turncoat, a rat in the Order’s midst. He hadn’t ever dreamed that the Dark Lord had meant it literally.
So yes, the surprise of watching (unassuming, simpering, weak) Peter Pettigrew turn himself into a rat after some impressive theatrics and a well-placed bombarda had frozen him to where he stood, watching Sirius Black collapse in hysterics in the middle of the street as Aurors swarmed the scene. He had barely managed to make it home before his polyjuice had worn off.
He had, however, wanted to go after the rat immediately and drag him, kicking and screaming, into a circle of hooded men with bone masks to face what he had done.
He had betrayed the Potters, as was his task, but then something had gone terribly, horribly wrong.
Lucius had watched from field across from the Potter’s house, Peter at his side, as the Dark Lord had walked up the hedge lined path and disappeared inside the house. He had not been worried, strictly speaking, though even he could admit that James Potter was a talented duelist and his wife was a powerful witch, even if she was a mudblood. He had watched as the windows lit up with the flash of the killing curse – once, twice, and then the whole upper side of the house had exploded. Vaguely, he had been aware of screaming, of a baby crying as the pain in his dark mark had taken him to his knees.
By the time he had regained his mind he could hear Black and that half-giant oaf arguing over where Harry, the baby, was supposed to go and Pettigrew… Pettigrew was gone.
Lucius has spent two years waiting for this moment, dreaming of this moment, of the moment when he finally puts his hands on Pettigrew – the rat who led their Master to his destruction. He had to spend two years subjecting every moment of his life to the pathetic ministry, to letting aurors raid his home and hound his every step. He donated positively obscene amounts of money to charities and even larger amounts to the pockets of politicians and other influential people – discreetly, of course. He had sat in a prison cell – not Azkaban, thankfully – and, most galling of all, he had been forced to sit, bound by chains, before the full Wizengamot and testify that he had been forced into Voldemort’s service via the use of the Imperius curse.
Him. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy: the Right Hand of Lord Voldemort.
The idea that he would not submit to his Lord, that he would not relish the opportunity to offer up his magic, his loyalty, and his life had been deeply insulting but he let the insult pass. No, he had done more than that. He had furthered the insult with his own lips, had let them search his mind to find the traces of the Dark Lord’s imperio lingering in his nerve endings.
He had faced the curse willingly, calmly, with a smile on his face as the weight of his Lord’s magic had stolen his own will from him.
“You stand at my right, Lucius. You are my sword, my figurehead, and you will do me no good if you cannot retain your influence,” the Dark Lord had murmured. “I am certain of your loyalties, now let me be certain of your safety.”
But now, two years later, the wizarding world has settled into a new and shiny peace.
And now Lucius has finally caught the rat.
“Hello Pettigrew,” he sneers and the rat squeaks in terror and cowers in the corner of the unbreakable cage. “We have so much to talk about.”
But not here.
He refuses to play with the rat in the sewers. It is too cliché.
“L-L-Lucius, my f-friend…”
Lucius silences him with a sharp slash of his wand and a boot to the man’s face. Two years in hiding has not been kind to Peter Pettigrew. Of course, he hadn’t been much to look at before the sewers either. The chubby man has wasted away, though his form is still soft and rounded with not an angle in sight and his brown hair is limp, dull, and long enough to brush his shoulders. Lucius’ lips curl in a wordless snarl as the rat lets out a high squeak of terror and cowers beneath the blow.
“We have never been friends, Peter.” His voice is surprisingly steady. Cool, calm, and even. He could be talking about the weather in the vaulted halls of the Ministry instead of splashing a man’s blood onto the stone floor of the manor’s dungeons.
“N-no, n-no of c-c-course n-not,” the rat back pedals instantly, watery eyes darting around the room. There’s nothing there, of course. Nothing but a plain wooden table, a single chair, and enough wards to masquerade as a level of Azkaban.
“We are but servants,” Lucius murmurs silkily, letting his voice curl around the room just like his fingers curl around the polished wood of his cane. The amplified hum of his magic is a heady thing, something that even now, a year after they’ve given his wand back to him, that he can’t take for granted. It is incomplete though. It is torn jagged at the edges, shredded and aching, reaching for a power that is no longer there. If his dark mark were not still visible on his forearm it is conceivable that he would simply add a generous dollop of poison to his evening tea and be done with it. But it is still there, gray and sickly, but there all the same.
The rat whimpers.
Lucius strikes like a snake and the whimper turns into a howl as has Pettigrew thrashes on the floor, spine arching until he is nearly bent in two.
“I am a faithful servant,” Lucius murmurs when, after he has cancelled his curse, there is nothing but the sound of Pettigrew’s wet, broken panting and the stench of fresh piss filling the air. “What about you, Peter? Are you still faithful, or is that mark on your arm a lie?”
“M-magic, b-b-body, and s-soul,” the rat stammers, the words a listless, broken sigh.
“And yet he is gone.”
“I-I didn’t… I…”
Lucius holds the next round of cruciatus until Pettigrew’s nose bleeds.
“P-please, Lucius, I- I d-did wh-what he a-a-asked.”
“And that is the only reason you are not dead,” Lucius informs him coldly. “But our Lord is more merciful than I and is willing to offer you a chance at redemption.”
Pettigrew’s watery blue eyes flicker open and stare unsteadily in the direction of his face. “R-redemption? B-but…”
“Are you so stupid that you believe something as meaningless as mere death can stop our Lord?” Peter is silent – silent and staring with his mouth hanging open and his pale faced streaked with tears and blood. “Once chance. I will offer just once…” Lucius pauses and twirls his cane through his fingers and the rat tracks the movement with a flinching uneasiness.
“O-of c-course,” Pettigrew agrees quickly and Lucius smiles.
“Sit,” he orders with a tip of his cane and Pettigrew scrambles unsteadily into the chair. From the pockets of his robes Lucius removes two items, which he sets reverently upon the table. “Write.”
“I d-don’t u-understand.”
Lucius holds back the curse that crowds upon his tongue, barely. “Do not be an imbecile,” he snaps. “I think it should be perfectly obvious. Open it up. Introduce yourself.”
After a long moment of baffled blinking Pettigrew slowly cracks the spine of the small, black book and picks up the blood quill.
Hello, Lucius watches him write, his handwriting cramped, if legible. I am Peter Pettigrew.
For a moment the blood shimmers on the page like dew upon the summer’s grass and then it is gone, sinking down into the paper, vanishing from sight. At first nothing happens and then,
Hello, Peter. My name is Tom Riddle. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?
Chapter 2: Part 1: Chapter 1
The first time the Boy sees the strange man he’s standing across the street and staring at Number Four Privet Drive with an unhappy look on his face. The Boy is used to unhappy looks but he doesn’t want the strange man to be sad. He’s too pretty to be sad. The Boy wants to wave to the man, to offer him a big smile. People smile when the Boy smiles at them, wide and toothy and shy all at the same time. Well, everyone but Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. And Dudley. But the Boy doesn’t smile at Dudley. Dudley hits him when he smiles. Dudley says it’s to fix his stupid face. The Boy doesn’t think his face is stupid but Dudley is bigger and older, so maybe he knows something that the Boy doesn’t.
“Boy, have you finished dusting the sitting room?” Aunt Petunia’s shrill voice echoes out of the kitchen and makes the Boy jump.
“Yes, Aunt Petunia!” he says carefully, giving the side table one last wipe.
“You better not have knocked over the lamp again!”
The Boy shakes his head frantically as if the tall, unhappy figure of his aunt can see him. “No!” he cries back, instinctively stepping back away from the table and putting more distance between him and the lamp in question.
He didn’t want to go back in the cupboard again. He didn’t want Uncle Vernon to take away the lightbulb and leave him in the dark.
The Boy takes another step back, just to make sure that he’s far enough away.
When he steals another glance out the window the strange man is gone.
That’s the first time he sees the man but it’s not the last. The strange man becomes a semi-permanent fixture on Privet Drive, though no one but the Boy ever sees him. If they do, he certainly doesn’t hear about it. Not from his aunt and uncle. Not from his cousin. Not from Nosy Number Seven down the street and certainly not Mrs. Number Three, on whose lawn the man likes to stand when he comes to Privet Drive and does…
Well, the Boy doesn’t know what he does. As far as he can tell the strange man in his funny black clothes doesn’t actually do anything. He just shows up, stands across the street, and stares at number four with a rather pinched look on his face. Sometimes he stays for hours, other times he’s there barely long enough for Harry to note his presence as he does his chores. Once, the Boy catches him writing in a slim black book with a feather.
The Boy wants to ask him how he can write with a feather.
He wants to ask about the flowing black clothes that look like something between a dress and Uncle Vernon’s dressing gown. He wants to ask about the thin, white stick that the man sometimes waves around. He wants to ask why he spends so much time staring at Number Four.
The Boy wants to ask him a lot of things.
The first time he talks to the strange man the Boy, who has discovered that his name is Harry, is walking home from school.
It’s a long, slow process. Mainly because he doesn’t dare dart in front of Dudley and Aunt Petunia. They’ll yell at him. Harry doesn’t want to be yelled at. Besides, walking isn’t so bad and since he’s walking behind them it is like he doesn’t even exist. Not existing outside is much better than not existing inside. At least here there are things to look at and not the closed, dark quarters of his cupboard.
“…can’t have a gold star yet! But I want a gold star! Why does Boy get a gold star?” Dudley whines as he lumbers down the walk, his huge hand clasped tightly in Aunt Petunia’s boney one.
“Of course you can have a gold star, Duddikins!” Aunt Petunia is exclaiming before Dudley even finishes. “I tell you what, when we get home I’ll call your father and he’ll pick you up a whole packet of gold stars on his way home! And maybe some ice cream to celebrate how smart you are?”
Harry bites his tongue.
“I want chocolate and vanilla!” Dudley announces after a moment of thought.
“Of course! You can have whatever you want,” Aunt Petunia croons and leans over to plant a loud, messy kiss on the top of Dudley’s hair, which provokes a loud, squealing, “MUM!!! STOP!!!” from his cousin.
Harry sighs and promptly trips over the too long hems of Dudley’s old trousers.
Aunt Petunia and Dudley fail to notice but Harry rather doubts that they would do anything even if they had.
Great, now he is bleeding. Harry stares at the palms of his hands where blood is oozing out from beneath broken skin. How is he supposed to get his homework home without getting blood on it? Or his clothes? He doesn’t want to make a mess! Aunt Petunia hates messes. He’ll get in trouble!
“Allow me to help,” a smooth voice says and Harry barely has time to blink before a hand closes on his upper arm and hauls him to his feet.
Above him, the strange man lets out a gasp as Harry lets out a whimpered, “Ow!” It feels like the time that he got his finger stuck in the hot bacon grease. Harry jerks instinctively against the hold on his arm but it only tightens and something sharp stabs at the middle of his forehead. “Ge’off!” he cries instinctively, turning in on himself, “I didn’t do anything!”
A hand on his chin, hot and scorching, skin bubbling beneath the grip, forces his gaze upward and Harry finds himself staring in pleasant brown eyes. Or they would be pleasant if they weren’t narrowed coldly at him. For a minute he can’t blink, can’t breathe, his entire head caught in a vice and then…
…then everything suddenly stops hurting. His skin stops burning, the sharp pain in the center of his forehead recedes, and the grip on his arm turns gentle.
“Impossible,” the strange man breathes.
For a minute Harry just stares at him, unsure what to do.
“Let me,” the man murmurs softly as he releases Harry’s arm and draws Harry’s bleeding hand in between his own. There is a warmth there between the man palms and something tickles at his skin. When the man releases the one hand and takes up the other Harry stares at the skin of his hands, now unblemished.
“How did you do that?” he asks, his eyes round.
The strange man smiles at Harry and leans forward as if to share a secret, “Magic.”
Harry’s eyes nearly bug out of his head and he flinches. “I’m not supposed to say that word,” he mumbles. “I’m not…”
“BOY! What have I told you about bothering people? “ Aunt Petunia nearly rips him out of the strange man’s hands and shoves him further down the street. “No one wants to deal with you, you little freak,” she hisses in his ear and Harry shrinks away from the venom.
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” he whispers, nodding his head. “Sorry, Aunt Petunia.”
When he dares to turn around and look the strange man is gone.
Harry shivers and hunches his narrow shoulders in an attempt to hide from the wind as he kneels in front of the front flower beds. His hands are buried in the damp dirt, tugging at the last of the dying plants. They have to be pulled now, never mind that it’s rainy and his jacket is already soaked from when Dudley pushed him into a puddle.
He wants to push Dudley into a puddle.
He would try except he’s pretty sure that that he’d simply bounce off his cousin’s bulk and fall in the puddle anyway.
“Oh.” He stares down at the bare patch of earth and little, dark green snake coiled there. “Hello,” he greets after a moment of surprise. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you cold?”
The snake raises its head and stares at Harry with its yellow eyes, “You sssspeak?”
Harry smiles. “Of course I speak. Doesn’t everyone?”
“Not like you,” the snake replies. It sounds very sure but Harry doesn’t think he talks differently than everyone else. Or maybe he does and no one has told him. Is that why his aunt and uncle call him a freak? “Massster did not sssay you were a Sssspeaker.”
“A speaker? What’s that?” Harry asks, feeling curious.
“Someone that can speak to snakes,” the animal replies, like it’s obvious. “There are not very many of them. Your human tonguessss are not sssshaped correctly,” the snake adds.
Harry feels that is possibly a little unfair. He is a human, after all, and one generally doesn’t expect a human to be shaped like a snake.
“BOY! Come wash the dishes!” Uncle Vernon’s roar is enough to make Harry jump.
“C-c-coming Uncle Vernon!” he calls back. “You should go,” he whispers to the snake as he gathers up his bundle of freshly uprooted plants. “My aunt and uncle don’t like snakes. They’ll kill you if they see you.”
If Harry didn’t know better he’d say the snake was laughing at him. “They could try,” it hisses.
Harry doesn’t have the heart to explain to the little snake that Dudley could kill it simply by stepping on it. Uncle Vernon would probably use the garden shovel.
After that, whenever he has outside chores, Harry inevitably finds himself talking to the little green snake. Harry likes to ask him questions about being a snake because he finds the idea terribly interesting and occasionally the snake asks him questions too. Sometimes it is questions about school (Harry doesn’t like it much because every time he does better than Dudley he gets in trouble) but mostly it is questions about what his favorite food is (Harry doesn’t know. He suspects it might be ice cream but he’s never actually had any) and what he does during the day (besides school, that is). The snake seems generally interested in his responses and Harry wonders if that means that they’re friends. He’s never had a friend before so he’s not exactly sure how it all works.
When Harry learns that the little snake is, in fact, cold he doesn’t hesitate to pick the creature up and slip it in the pocket of his shirt.
“Thisss isss nice,” the snake tells him, curling into a little ball. “You are warm.”
Harry is so proud of being able to help his new friend that the little snake soon ends up riding around in his pocket every time the Boy is outside.
The second time he talks to the strange man, he is hiding.
“…arry! Where are you? STOP RUNNING AWAY!! You’re ruining my FUN!” Dudley’s howls ring in Harry’s ears as he dives behind the hedge, one hand clasped over the pocket flopping against his chest so that his friend doesn’t fall out. He lies panting on the ground, trying to control his breathing, trying to be quiet as he listens to the sounds of Dudley and Piers yelling for him.
Eventually their voices grow quiet and they move away, interest lost now that Harry isn’t right in front of them.
“You have to make them fear you.”
Harry jumps at the sound of the voice, fingers tightening around the little body coiled in his pocket. The strange man is standing next to him, the edges of his strange black clothes fluttering in the breeze. “Dudley’s bigger’en me,” Harry mumbles.
“Doesn’t matter,” the man dismisses with an airy wave of his hand. “Because you have something the vile little muggle doesn’t.”
Harry doesn’t know what a muggle is but with the way the man spits out the word he thinks it has to be a bad thing. Maybe it’s one of those grown up words that he’s not supposed to say.
“I do?” Harry can’t help the suspicion in his voice. Because Dudley is, well, Dudley. He has everything. And everything he doesn’t have Aunt Petunia is more than happy to get for him. Or have Uncle Vernon get for him.
“You do,” the man assures. Harry doesn’t believe him – a fact that the man must realize because he lets out a little sigh. “Have you ever…made things happen?” The man asks hesitantly. “Strange things. Things you can’t explain. They just happen sometimes when you are angry or frightened.”
Harry’s face goes numb and he instinctively curls himself into a little ball, tucking his knees up to his chest and wrapping his skinny arms around his legs. “Yes,” he whispers into his knees. “I… I made all my hair grow back once when Aunt Petunia cut it off and… and… sometimes when Dudley is chasing me I’m just somewhere else and I don’t know how I got there and…” his fingers spasm against his leg. He wants to hold his Snake. To wrap his hands around it and feel its soft scales against his skin. He doesn’t dare take it out of his pocket. “… Icantalktosnakes,” he finishes in a rush as he stares up at the man from beneath the mess of his hair.
The man smiles so brightly it hurts to look at him.
It’s beautiful and Harry freezes. He doesn’t know what to do. Why is the man smiling at him? No one smiles at Harry. Not like that.
“I can talk to snakes too,” the man admits and places his hand against his shoulder.
Harry blinks. “Really?” he asks suspiciously.
“Really.” The man moves his hand to reveal a triangular head pressed against the side of his neck. The snake is a lighter green than the one curled in Harry’s pocket, brighter like spring leaves instead of dark like the needles on the Christmas trees beginning to appear in shop windows, the color broken up by delicate gold lines.
“Oh. Hello,” Harry greets politely. “How are you?”
“I am well, Hatchling,” the snake replies. It turns and bumps the man’s chin with her nose. "This hatchling is so polite. I like him more than the shiny one.”
The man’s entire face twitches.
Harry wants to ask who the shiny one is. Someone very rude, apparently. He doesn’t ask because he doesn’t want to appear rude too. He rather likes the idea of someone actually liking him, Harry, more than someone else.
“I have a snake too,” Harry finds himself saying.
“You do?” Both man and snake turn their attention back to Harry and he nods, slowly uncurling just enough to reach into his pocket and scoop out the little warm body resting there.
“Well, he’s not really mine. I found him while pulling the dead flowers and he likes to keep me company while I do my chores,” Harry explains and holds out his hand so that the man and his snake can see the dark green coils shifting in his palm.
The man smiles again. “Hello, little one,” he croons. “Are you well?”
Snake raises his head enough to stare up at his observes, his small red tongue flickering in and out of his mouth. “Little Master keeps me nice and warm,” the small snake replies. “But the fat hatchling won’t stop chasing us.”
“You should eat him,” the larger snake suggests.
Snake appears to be considering this more than Harry feels is strictly necessary. Even if he is pretty sure that ‘the fat hatchling’ is Dudley. “He is very fat,” Snake hisses, “and I am still very small.”
“You are right,” the man’s snake acknowledges. “The fat hatchling is much too fat for you. I will eat him instead.”
“Um. I don’t know that Dudley would taste very good,” Harry points out, feeling somewhat obligated to protest his cousin being eaten by someone’s pet. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would never forgive him – and it would be his fault, Harry is sure. Besides, he’s pretty sure that Dudley would taste horrible.
“I could always spit him back out again if he is truly awful,” the snake assures. “Besides, he can’t taste any worse than the dead rat m…”
“Now, now my dear, no need to regale everyone with your top unsavory meals,” the man cuts in smoothly and Harry can’t decide if he’s relieved or disappointed that the rest of the other snake’s sentence got cut off. He kind of want to know what would taste worse than Dudley. On the other hand… he doesn’t want to know what tastes worse than Dudley. “The point I was trying to make, Harry, was that you can make things happen.”
Harry nods sadly. He knows that he makes weird things happen and while talking to snakes is pretty cool everything else just gets him into trouble. Talking with snakes would get him into trouble too, he bets, even if there are other people that can do it. “Yeah, ‘cause I’m a freak.”
For just a moment the strange man’s eyes turn a deep, startling red and both snakes let out long drawn out hisses that he can’t quite understand. “You are not a freak,” the man replies instantly. His mouth is pinched into a thin line like Aunt Petunia does when he doesn’t do something right. “You’re not,” the man repeats firmly. “Being able to make things happen doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you special – and you are special, Harry. So very special and you are infinitely better than them.” Harry starts, flinching away from the soft touch of the man’s finger on his chin, tilting his head upwards. “So if you don’t want the fat one to chase you,” the man continues, “teach him not to chase you.”
Harry furrows his brow in thought. Is… is the man suggesting that he make things happen to Dudley? To keep him from chasing Harry and pushing in puddles and… and…
“…They’ll lock me in my cupboard,” Harry breathes in horror. The moment he even looks in Dudley’s direction… if… if he makes anything freakish happen they’ll lock him in his cupboard and never let him out.
The strange man’s eyes are red again.
“What do you…”
“BOY!!!!” Uncle Vernon’s roar shakes the whole street and Harry automatically flinches.
“I… I have to go!” he says suddenly, shoving Snake back into his pocket. “I… thanks for talking to me!” he adds, giving the man a hesitant smile. The man looks like he wants to say something, like he wants to stop Harry from leaving but Harry just gives him a little wave and begins to jog back towards Number Four.
“I like him,” he tells Snake quietly. “He seems nice.” Nicer than Dudley, that’s for sure.
“Nagini has always thought so,” Snake hisses from inside his pocket.
It had been a mistake to bring Snake in the house.
Harry knows that now. He knew it then, actually. It’s just… it’s Christmas Eve and it’s snowing again and Mrs. Jones, who runs the library at school and helped him find books on snakes, says that reptiles can’t keep themselves warm and so Harry thought… Harry thought….
It had been a mistake.
“MUM! DAD! The freak’s got a SNAKE! AND HE’S TALKING TO IT!”
Dudley’s cry is enough to make Harry’s heart stop in sheer terror and he’s up and out of the corner behind the sofa before Dudley’s even all the way out of the room. “No, no, no,” he whispers under his breath, scrambling to open the window over the front flowerbed.
“Little Master, what is happening?” Snake hisses as he curls tightly around Harry’s thumb. “What is…”
“You have to go,” Harry tells him frantically as he shoves at the window. “You have to go. Uncle Vernon will you kill you. He’ll…”
Harry cries out and scrambles for the windowsill even as Vernon hauls him backwards with a meaty hand clamped around his arm. Just briefly he catches sight of piece of the tapered, scaled body that he knows so well and the little bloody smear.
“No. No, no, no, no…”
“SHUT UP BOY!!! How dare you bring such freakishness into our house? You little shit. Going to have it attack, Dudley, were you? Going to harm MY SON?” Vernon shakes him so hard that his teeth rattle.
“No, no… Uncle, I’d…”
“I thought I told you to SHUT UP!”
Harry doesn’t remember much after that.
The loud, banging noise rips Harry from his uneasy sleep, his entire body screaming with pain at the sudden movement. Harry immediately curls back into a ball and huddles on top of the ratty little mattress that is his bed. It’s dark in his cupboard and for once he’s thankful for that. Suddenly, instead of a cage, the cupboard feels safer - its short sturdy walls and dark spaces protecting him from what is happening outside of it.
It can’t be anything good.
Harry bites back a whimper as he flinches to the sound of someone - no two someones - walking up the stairs. He doesn’t know what’s happening. Are they being robbed? Uncle Vernon did just bring home that new television. But then why are they going upstairs? Dudley has a lot of toys and gadgets, true, but the new television is in the sitting room.
Overhead a high, shrill scream tears through the night followed by a loud THUD as something hits the floor.
“What are you doing?” Vernon’s roar is weaker than usual. “T-this is m-my house and I will not stand for any of your ki…AHHHHH!”
Why are they screaming? What is happening? If they’ll do that to Vernon what are they going to do to Harry? Because Harry isn’t important, he’s just a worthless freak who got left on the doorstep because no one else wanted him. He’s… he’s… He clutches at the crusty blanket and listens to his aunt and uncle scream, listens as Dudley’s whimpering cries join them, listens as the noise gets louder, accompanied by a series of thumps and bumps and then footsteps on the stairs over his head.
Harry claps a hand over his mouth to stop the cries that are burning in his throat.
“Where is he?” a smooth, almost soft voice asks. There’s something… something about that voice.
“The boy is not upstairs, my lord,” another voice answers. “There is nothing to indicate that a second child lives here.”
“Where is he?” the first voice asks.
“BLOODY FREAK, GET OUT OF MY….” Vernon’s angry roar dissolve into screams. They seem to last forever but Harry barely has time to muffle another squeak before the high pitched sounds of pain stop and muffled sobbing takes their place.
“Where. Is. Harry. Potter?”
Vernon groans. “…cupboard…”
“Cupboard?” the second voice repeats, sounding shocked.
“I did not see him in the kitchen,” the smooth voice hisses and Vernon lets out a little shriek.
“…cupboard…” he insists. “…. U-under…”
“I can smell him Master,” a third voice joins the conversation. “Here. There is blood.”
Harry blinks. There’s something about this voice too. Something… it whistles, he realizes, like a tea kettle left on the stove or…or…
…or like a snake.
The cupboard door opens and a dim, blue light pricks at his eyes. He blinks, trying to clear them. Blinking only does much, though, but it’s enough for the shape crouched in the doorway of his cupboard to solidify into a familiar form.
“Filthy muggle beasts,” the man spits, fingers tightening around the white stick he’s holding in one hand until Harry’s afraid that he’ll break it. He doesn’t know what the stick is but the strange man always seems to have it so it must be important. “Can you get yourself out of there?”
Harry tries. Honest, he does, but everything hurts and as soon as he gets up on his hands and knees everything goes fuzzy again and he topples over sideways. He doesn’t hit the ground though. Instead, he freezes in midair, floating a few inches above the floor and he stares, wide eyed as the strange man beckons with the white stick and Harry floats out to him.
“Little Master! You are hurt!” Harry blinks as another form appears in the dim entry hall. She’s bigger than he remembers her being, curled up around the man’s shoulders, but it’s definitely the same snake. She’s the same leafy green color with the thin gold markings on her scales. Her head is also bigger than Harry’s. “Who hurt you, precious hatchling? Was it the fat hatchling? The big fat one? The sour one? Which? Which? I will eat them,” the snake hisses, coiling around Harry and the man like a big blanket until Harry can’t see anything but the man and a wall of shimmering green scales. “I will bite them and I will sit until they are dead and then I will eat them.”
“Now, now, my dear, all in good time,” the man soothes as he leans over Harry, his fingers gently tracing the bones of Harry’s face. The touch is soft and cool, barely there at all, and that fact alone keeps Harry from flinching. “Look at me, Harry,” he instructs and his smooth voice is so gentle that Harry can’t help but listen.
There’s a gentle brush against… something. It feels like feathers inside of his head and then a hug and then a pop like when he breaks open a blister. Except it doesn’t sting like a broken blister. It just…
There’s something there, inside his head, holding him back from…from something.
Easy, the man’s voice soothes. You do not need to live it again. Just let me watch.
And then it is gone and the man is snarling above him like Aunt Marge’s bulldogs when Dudley winds them up by poking them with sticks.
“…foul, loathsome beasts. How dare they? How DARE they?” the man hisses as he smooths a gentle hand over the mess of Harry’s hair. “Never again,” he promises, “Those fucking muggles will never lay hand on you again.”
It takes some maneuvering and several jabs and sweeps of the white piece of wood but eventually the man hoists Harry into his arms and Harry’s not sure if he wants to flinch away from the fact that someone is touching him or if he wants to burrow closer because someone is touching him and it doesn’t hurt. Harry settles for laying the cheek that doesn’t hurt against the man’s shoulder, his sore arm resting in between them.
The whole time the man is hissing and growling, a strange mix of threats and promises that leaves Harry with nothing but relief. He doesn’t even know the strange man’s name but that doesn’t stop him from pressing his nose into the line of his shoulder.
“Nagini, eat the fat hatchling,” the man hisses and the giant snake seems to laugh.
“Of course, Master.”
The man turns, following the movements of the snake as she unwinds from around them and slithers into the sitting room.
There are two other men in the room, both of them wearing the strange black clothes and holding sticks of their own in their hands. They have masks on their faces: small, white ones that only cover their eyes and noses. The one closer to the door has Uncle Vernon lying on the floor at his feet, rocking and moaning in a pool of his own vomit. The other man is taller and is standing in front of the sofa where Aunt Petunia and Dudley are sitting, Aunt Petunia with her boney hands clutching at Dudley’s fat arm while she yells – except there is no sound coming out of her mouth.
Harry watches with a sort of satisfaction as the snake pulls its head back and strikes, an arrow of green flesh that wraps her jaws around the center of Dudley’s fat stomach. Petunia screams, wordlessly, scrambling and hitting at the snake’s head but she just tosses his aunt away, dragging Dudley down onto the rug.
“I can’t believe he fits,” he mutters to himself and beneath Harry’s cheek the man shakes in quiet laughter.
“He is not the first person Nagini has eaten, nor is he likely to be the last,” the man dismisses. “Lucius, your arm.” Harry blinks and looks away from where Dudley’s feet are still kicking where they’re poking out of the snake’s mouth to see the man next to Uncle Vernon shove back his sleeve and hold out his left hand. Harry clutches at the man’s clothes with his good hand to keep himself from falling as the man reaches over and presses the tip of the white piece of wood to the strange skull and snake tattoo on the other man’s arm. “Selwyn will meet us at the Manor. Finish them. Our time grows short.”
“Of course, my lord.” The man with the tattoo gives a short little bow and points his stick at Uncle Vernon. “Avada Kedavra!” There’s a flash of green light, bright enough that Harry can feel it echoing inside of his head. At the man’s feet Vernon flops over on his side, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling without seeing.
Harry’s never seen a dead person before but he thinks that Uncle Vernon might be dead.
Good, he thinks viciously, remembering the way the window had slammed down on Snake.
Over the man’s shoulder Harry can see Aunt Petunia lying on the floor, digging at the rug with her hands as she tries to get to Dudley, whose feet have stopped moving now that nothing more than his ankles are visible. Abruptly her screams fill the room – broken, ugly things that make Harry flinch against the solid warmth of his savior’s shoulder. She’s so loud. She can’t stop screaming for Dudley but she never screamed for Harry. Never even cried. Not even when he bled all over her new couch cushions.
Harry watches with hard eyes as the third man crouches down in front of her and rips the mask from his face. “Quiet, you foul bitch,” he snarls and his voice is dark and impossibly deep, a rumble that curls around the room just like the snake.
Aunt Petunia jerks back as if the man had slapped her though Harry can still see both of his hands, one holding a stick nearly as black as his clothes and the other curled around the edges of his mask. And then all the color, all the blotchy, angry red color falls right off her face.
“I thought it fitting that since Lily is no longer capable of killing you for the way you have treated her son that I do it for her,” the man tells her calmly. “Good bye, ‘Tuney.” The hand holding the stick moves so fast that Harry can barely track it, slashing through the air with enough force that Harry can hear it whistling, and Aunt Petunia erupts in a fountain of red.
The man rises to his feet in a whisper of cloth and steps back from the growing puddle of blood, turning on his heel to leave Harry’s aunt gurgling desperately on the rug. Without his mask Harry can see the pale skin of his face and the firm set of his lips beneath a rather large nose and eyes that are as black as the strange man’s are red.
And for a moment it looks like he is about to cry.
But then the sudden frown smooths away and the man takes two quick steps toward them. “You have your mother’s eyes,” he whispers as he softly smooths Harry’s hair away from his face.
Harry blinks. “You knew my mum?”
The man nods. “Since I was not much older than you. She was my best friend. I’ll tell you about her, if you would like.”
After no more than a moment of consideration Harry offers him a cautious nod.
“Later, Severus,” Harry’s savior warns. “We must leave before Dumbledore arrives.”
The dark eyed man nods his head. “Of course my Lord.”
“Nagini, come.” The snake, with the Dudley sized bulge expanding her gut not that far behind her neck, immediately raises her head to touch the man’s outstretched hand and… she shrinks. Harry watches down the length of the man’s arm, his eyes so wide it hurts as the giant snake shrinks to the size that he remembers from the day they spoke behind the hedge. “Hold tight, Harry,” the man orders as the snake winds herself around his leg. “You are already injured so this will likely hurt but it will be over quickly and then there will be someone to fix you up and make sure you don’t hurt anymore, alright?”
Harry tightens his grip and presses his face even harder into the man’s shoulder. “Alright,” he hisses softly.
“Make it look like an accident,” the man orders and then, with a jerk and the sudden sensation of being sucked through a straw, they are gone.
Harry never sees Number Four Privet Drive again.
Tom Marvolo Riddle is reborn on a dungeon floor in a baptism of magic and ink, propelled back into tangible existence by the sacrifice of another wizard’s blood, magic, and soul. The dungeon itself is all but empty – naught but a single chair and table (complete with fresh corpse) to break up the monotony of cold, unyielding stone.
After the quiet, inescapable blankness of the diary it is almost too much.
The cacophony of the dead man’s thoughts and fears – so many fears, pathetic, sniveling rat – rattling around the edges of his mind like the roar of a crowded quidditch stadium does not help.
So, for the first few minutes of his new life, he lies on the cold stone and remembers how to breathe.
His eyes flicker open and almost instantly pick out the shape of a second man (this one alive) standing in the shadows of the doorway and Tom slowly gets to his feet.“…Abraxas?” Tom knows as soon as he speaks that he is mistaken. The man is a Malfoy, of that there is no doubt. There is no other family in Britain that can lay claim to those distinctive platinum locks. But this man is not Abraxas. He is taller, for starters, and chin is the wrong shape though the eyes are the same icy blue.
“His son, my lord,” the man answers softly, as if he is scared to speak. “Lucius Malfoy, at your service.”
It is no idle pleasantry. Tom can feel the truth of it before he speaks, his slowly unfurling magic reaching out towards the other man and licking at his aura in what Tom can only privately think of as delight. The Malfoy – Lucius – lets out a little gasp and slumps against the door frame.
“It is you,” he whispers thickly. “It is really you.”
The sight of the tears rolling silently down the older man’s cheeks is almost enough to make Tom cross the room and wipe them away with a snarl. The Malfoy – Lucius, he corrects himself, Abraxas’ son – is his. He can feel it, feel it in the way his magic has woven itself around the other man and sunk down into him body, mind, and magic. He does not know this man – not really, not yet – and he operates under no illusion that the knowledge that the rat has imparted to him on the subject of the man will be even a miniscule fraction of the truth but he does know this. He knows that the man is his. That he belongs to Tom.
And Tom always takes care of his things.
“What happened?” he asks instead and Lucius presses his lips together.
Naked as the day he was born, Tom raises an eyebrow in silent condemnation. “So I gathered,” he replies dryly, glancing once more at the table with the dead man sitting at it. The small, black book lying open before him catches his attention and it is less than a moment before the familiar object is cradled almost tenderly in his hands. “What is the date?” The rat’s memories had been sufficient, but lacking. He is aware that some time has passed but exactly how much remains a mystery.
“November 21, 1983,” Lucius replies instantly and despite himself, Tom’s eyes widen at the information.
“So I have much to catch up on.” So much to do. So much to figure out. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. It is alright. He has time. Nearly fifty-four years old and he has the body of a sixteen year old. Of course, until he can find the primary soul piece and integrate their memories he is his sixteen year old self.
“Whatever you need, my lord,” Lucius murmurs. “My resources are at your disposal.” And the resources of a Malfoy are no small thing. Tom blinks and tips his head slightly to stare up at the other man’s face. Lucius is taller than him but not by much, and not for long, he suspects. The muggle that had sired him had been tall too.
“My thanks,” he offers politely and watches the other man shiver at the sound of his voice. “For this as well,” he adds, pressing gently, and waves the hand holding the diary to indicate the body behind them.
There is nothing but an open, almost terrible sincerity in that proud face as Lucius meets his gaze. “It was an honor.”
It is disturbingly easy to slip into the man’s mind. So easy, in fact, that Tom is not actually trying to – is not even thinking of doing it – when it happens. One second he is looking at ice blue eyes, trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on and the next he is simply inside Lucius’ mind. He does not read the man’s thoughts or look at his memories. Instead, his magic simply unfurls and seeps through the other man’s mind like it has been there before.
Tom freezes and the connection – the instinctive, effortless connection – doesn’t waver.
He has been here before.
Not him, personally, but his past – future? – self. His magic has been here, has been here so many times that it has worn pathways in the other man’s brain.
“You are my Right Hand,” he murmurs, bits and pieces of the rat’s memory solidifying in his thoughts. The rat hadn’t known what it meant, to be sure, had thought it an empty title of empty words used to denote favor. But it is more than that. So much more. Sixteen year old Tom Riddle only has vague ideas to guide him, little pieces of obscure texts that he had found hidden in the Chamber of Secrets, but his magic knows.
It knows and it hits Lucius like a lightning strike, racing down through mind and magic until… until…
Tom inhales sharply.
His magic. His magic.
He did not know it could be like this. Even after he withdraws from the other man’s mind his magic is still there, still woven through the other man like a single golden thread through a tapestry that spans the entire length of the Great Hall. Pull it out and the tapestry still exists but something is lost, a shine that cannot be replaced. All of his life, ever since he had realized that this thing inside of him was not the devil but a blessing, a gift and that he could control it, he had thought of his magic as a snake. That is how it moved. It coiled, it twisted, it slithered silently through the grass and across rock and stone. It struck. It consumed.
But now he thinks of it as a storm. Of a bank of clouds and ripping winds and no way to connect to the earth. He has always known that he is powerful, that he is miles and miles above everyone else that he has ever met (save for Dumbledore, the prejudiced old goat) but he has never realized, not until now, that he had possessed no way to connect. No way to breach that distance.
Lucius is his lightning rod, his grounding force, the conduit that allows his magic to reach farther, flow faster. Lucius’ magic is Tom’s anchor.
Tom, in his ignorance, had not even realized that he was adrift.
There are tears on Lucius’ cheeks again. “Welcome back, my lord.”
“Master! Master! Master!” They are scarce out of the door, Lucius’ robes pulled around Tom’s bare shoulders to ward off the chill until he can get to his own clothes – which, Lucius promises, are waiting for him upstairs – when Tom is hit around the middle and goes down in an ungraceful heap. “Master! Master! Master! It is you!” Large golden eyes stare at him through the murky light of the dungeons as a tongue flickers across his face. “You are small again!”
Tom stares back and feels another bond slip into place as if it had always been there. She is his, like Lucius is his, though the exact shades of the bond are different. Lucius is an anchor, a vassal, and this magnificent, deadly creature is his familiar.
“I… am,” he agrees hesitantly. This close he can spot the odd shimmer across the creature’s gaze that gives away the fact that she has her secondary eyelids lowered. It is not a feature he knew existed prior to meeting Sacha. It is something that he doubts few, if any, know about. He has certainly never read it in a book and he has devoured any book that even mentions basilisks. It seemed the prudent thing to do, once he realized what, exactly, lives in the Chamber.
“Your outside is smaller than when I was a new hatchling,” the grass green beauty replies, “but your inside is bigger.”
Tom stares, the implications of the serpent’s words dashing through his thoughts like a hyperactive snitch. Can she see his magic? Can she see his soul? If so – to either possibility - what does she mean about him being bigger than his original counterpart? Should it not be the other way around?
“This is good,” the snake continues blithely, as if she has not set his mind racing. “You will be stronger – and this time I will be big enough to take care of you properly!”
“I am not a child,” Tom points out as he struggles to sit up. The basilisk is having none of it and simply loops around him in another coil and bumps him in the face like an overly affectionate cat. Over the green and gold scales he can just make out Lucius, standing just beyond the excited thrashing of the snake and watching the scene with a haughty blankness. Well, a mostly haughty blankness. Tom narrows his eyes at the amused smirk that keeps pulling at the other man’s lips.
“You are not a new hatchling,” his familiar agrees with a bobbing of her head that could almost be a nod. “You are not full grown either. You will get bigger here,” she gently noses at his shoulder with a head that is bigger than his, “and taller. And not so scrawny,” she adds after a moment of contemplation, her coils flexing gently around his ribs.
“Scrawny?” he squawks.
The snake dismisses his indignation with a flick of her tongue. “This time will be better. Once you are big I will not let you get scrawny like last time. Not again.”
Tom stares, opens his mouth, and then promptly shuts it. He is mostly naked on the floor of a dungeon, wrapped up in a snake. This is not the time or the place for a conversation that will undoubtedly be long. So instead of asking, Tom sighs and lays a hand on the snake’s head. His hand barely spans the width between the serpent’s eyes. “Of course, pretty one,” he agrees quietly, seeing little harm in doing so. “Now, will you let me up? So I might find clothes and food? I have been trapped in a book for a very long time.”
The snake releases him almost instantly and Tom bites the inside of his cheek to keep from letting out a startled cry when he hits the cold stone floor. The whole situation is already undignified enough without him appearing weak.
Or weaker than he already is.
Tom inhales sharply and lets it out slowly. This is not Wool’s and it is not Hogwarts. The only beings here are his Right Hand and his familiar. You are not weak, he reminds himself. They tried to kill you and they failed.
“Food?” the snake sounds entirely too excited by the prospect. So excited, in fact, that Tom finds himself eyeing her length once he has regained his footing, checking for any signs of starvation or abuse. There are no. The opposite, in fact. The creature’s skin is polished until it gleams like fine jewelry in the dim light and her coils are sleek and deadly – a perfect balance of flesh and muscle.
“Do you need to eat too, lovely one?” he asks dryly.
The snake positively wiggles in the middle of the corridor and Tom swears he hears Lucius laugh but when he steals a glance at the other man the Malfoy is still standing where they left him, waiting patiently. His lip is still twitching, though.
“My name is Nagini, Master, and you know that my kind never stop growing. The more I eat the larger I become. The larger I become the easier it will be to protect you. It will not take me a thousand years to be as large as Sacha.”
Tom blinks and, after thinking of and discarding at least half a dozen questions in response to that, simply turns to Lucius and announces, “She has decided she is hungry.”
At that, Lucius does smile. “Unsurprising,” he murmurs as he rolls his cane through his fingers. “Though now that you have returned, my lord, perhaps you could request that she stop hunting my peacocks and instead stick to the menagerie that has been provided for her?”
“Peacocks?” he asks the snake lounging on the ground.
“They look pretty when they run,” Nagini informs him. She is completely serious, he thinks.
“Menagerie?” he asks the other man as they begin to walk down the corridor.
Lucius hums, tipping his head in elegant confirmation. “You are fond of taking her hunting but we have kept a menagerie for her for as long as I can remember. I believe my father started the practice before I was even born.” Tom stumbles a little at that, his leg neatly folding beneath him as it simply stops working while he gives the other man an incredulous look. If Lucius notices it, or the fact that only Nagini’s head keeps Tom from falling flat on his face, he does not acknowledge it. “We keep herds of deer, cattle, and goats, a flock of sheep, a sounder of boar, a stocked pond, and flocks of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. We even still breed rats, though they must be enlarged to be of any real use to her at this size. In the past we have even brought in dog packs, large cats, and even hippogriffs so that she might practice subduing prey that fights back. Before…” Lucius falters a little and takes a quick, steadying breath. “Before your demise,” he spits the word as if it is poison sitting on his tongue, “there were talks about acquiring a dragonling or two.”
“Dragons?” he repeats a little faintly.
“I will eat them,” Nagini hisses insistently, seeming to have no problems following the human conversation. Not all snakes can, he knows. Is this something particular to her species or her intelligence? Or had he given her that ability?
He opens his mouth to reply, torn between a terrible fascination at watching such a fight and the horror of putting his familiar in such danger, when something else occurs to him. “…rats?”
At this, or perhaps at the tone of his voice, Lucius does pause and turn to look at him. “My lord?”
“Do the rats always have to be rats or could they, perhaps, be something else?” His eyes flick back the way they have come. Lucius smiles, cold and charming and about as welcoming as a shark.
“You will rediscover that Nagini will eat just about anything - especially if you ask it of her.”
Tom smiles back. It is not a pleasant smile. “Nagini?”
The twenty foot basilisk vibrates like an excited child. “Yes, Master?”
“There are the remains of rat, just back there,” he gestures back at the cell that they had emerged from. “He has served his purpose. Take care of him, please? I would hate to leave a mess for Lucius.”
Despite the fact that a snake’s face is not built for such a thing and it is an actual impossibility, Tom is certain that Nagini smiles.
The forests of Albania are an old, ancient place. Old enough that even now, with the sun high in the sky and the trees themselves naked of leaves, the forest floor is little more than murky shadows and a weighted, fearful silence that follows in his wake. Though whether that is because of him or the twenty foot basilisk following behind him he is not sure. His money is on the basilisk though. Tom might be a magical prodigy and a Dark Lord but he rather imagines that the wildlife does not really care about that. A sixteen year old is not particularly intimidating. Plus, Nagini is magnificent.
He might be slightly biased.
“He was here,” Nagini’s hiss filters up through the crunch and whisper of their movement against the rug of leaves. “It hasn’t been long. His scent is still warm.”
Tom believes her. He can admit, here, in the dark of the forest with no one else around, that he would be utterly lost without Nagini. Lucius has been a solid, steadying presence this past week as Tom as adjusted to living outside of a book but Tom is not the Dark Lord the other man once knew. Not quite. And Tom does not know him at all. He is connected to him, intimately, their magic more interwoven than a tangle of Devil’s Snare but he does not know him. Not yet.
Hopefully this will help. Hopefully he will be able to regain some of the memories, some of the knowledge that he has lost - or rather, failed to gain in the first place.
Nagini is easier. Her devotion and affection for him bright and unmistakable. It eases something tight in chest to feel her scales against his skin, to hear her give information without expectation or judgement.
She makes him feel safe.
He does not think he has ever felt safe before.
Tom swallows that thought and moves on.
They find what little remains of Lord Voldemort shoved inside of snake, which in turn is hiding in a rotten, hollowed out tree that has fallen to the forest floor.
“It took you long enough,” Voldemort hisses after a moment and Tom stares incredulously. The snake is not holding up well to the task of holding a piece of a Dark Lord's soul. It is cracking around the edges, skin splitting as if it is attempting to molt but there is only inflamed flesh and beads of blood and pus slicking its scales.
“Well, you left quite the mess,” he finally mutters. “It is going to take me forever to clean it up.”
Even with the memories and knowledge of his past – future?- self the mere act of figuring everything out is going to take forever. It is truly a monstrous task that he has found waiting him.
Voldemort laughs. Or maybe his borrowed flesh just seizes. Either one is probably a perfectly valid option. “Like you will do any better.”
Tom extends his hand downward, the little black book resting in his grip as unremarkable and pristine as the day he had bought it nearly forty years ago. Voldemort hums, head tilting so that his scarlet gaze can look at book with a focus reserved for prey after long hibernation. Tom smiles. It is not a nice smile, not at all. It is feral and sharp and it splits his face as he stares down at his future potential and raises an eyebrow in imperious demand.
Tom Marvolo Riddle is reborn on a dungeon floor in a baptism of magic and ink, propelled back into tangible existence by the sacrifice of another wizard’s blood, magic, and soul. He is not the Dark Lord that anyone remembers, not quite. He is the sapling from which Lord Voldemort had grown but things are different. He will be different.
He has to be.
They tried to kill him and they failed.
They will wish that they had succeeded.
I don't even know what happened in that middle section. Nagini kind of just seized control (and now I can't stop picturing an enormous snake chasing an R.O.U.S - a la The Princess Bride - across an overly manicured set of formal gardens).
I'm not 100% happy with this chapter but if I stare at any more I'm going to rip out my hair or stall out on the writing process to the point where it's difficult to recover and just no.
Lord Voldemort was an idiot.
It is a depressing thought to have given that he is – had been? will be? – Lord Voldemort.
Tom leans back in his chair and stares at the newspaper clippings and financial documents spread across the massive mahogany desk. There is a stack of Lucius’ own journals sitting at his elbow and a supple wood-and-leather case that glows lightly with the shine of memories. It has taken him months (months!) to make sense of the mess his past self has left for him.
Pinching his nose with one hand, Tom flicks the fingers of the other at the slightly raised pedestal at the other end of the desk and watches out of the corner of his eyes as his thoughts are repeated in ink across the page the black bound book is open to.
How does the saying go? ‘It takes one to know one’.
Tom scowls and turns back to the evidence scattered before him. This is what is what he had done. This is where he could end up should he attempt to follow the plan that the primary soul piece had devised: arguably insane, inhuman, erratic, violent past the point of reason or use, half a step away from betraying the sacred trusts laid in his hands, and dead. Defeated by a child. No. Defeated by a baby.
The Boy Who Lived.
The very thought of it makes his stomach sour.
Nonsense, another flick of his fingers, at this point the only stupidity I am guilty of is letting Sacha kill Myrtle.
Give it time.
Tom bites his tongue inside of the safety of his mouth so that he does not simply attempt to incendio the diary where it sits or worse: roll his eyes.
I rather think that I will have the leg up in that respect. After all, I am still half of our soul.
The diary is tellingly silent and the edge of Tom’s lip twitches upward.
Creating so many horcruxes had been over ambitious at best.
Or rather, perhaps the ambition had been not in the creating of so many but in expecting that the primary soul piece remain the primary soul piece. It is – or had been - the piece in possession of a living, breathing body to be sure but it is a mere three percent of his soul. Three percent. Expecting continued rationality and competence from such a small number is madness. No, clearly it is better to let one of the larger soul pieces to rise to eminence while the smaller pieces take the supporting role that they were meant for – tethers that hold him to this plane of existence. Anchors that allow him to weather the storms of death.
The half faded memories and knowledge now imprinted upon his mind and the commentary from the piece now living in the diary are just a bonus.
It had proven - perhaps unsurprisingly – impossible to absorb the piece of soul that had once been Lord Voldemort. Several days of pseudo possession, though, has resulted in an echo of memories, a pale imprint stamped upon his brain. They could not reform themselves into one body but they are one person and as such the life that Lord Voldemort had lived without Tom has been transferred to him by – as best as they can figure – the sheer fact that they are one soul in multiple pieces. The memories and knowledge are faded and jumbled but they are there and the more time he spends going over them – both with Voldemort and via occlumency exercises – the clearer they become.
I still cannot believe you spouted all of this blood purity nonsense. We are a half blood, Tom points out. Regardless of how we feel about the stupid muggle beasts, you have to know that such a stance would only bite us on the arse in the future.
No one knew.
Dumbledore does. Unless, of course, you managed to obliviate the old goat? When Voldemort does not reply, Tom sighs. I did not think so. And Dumbledore will not let the world forget. He will make sure that the truth comes out at the time in which it will do the most damage.
It was an easy way to access power.
Tom sighs again. You got impatient, he scolds. What is the first lesson Wool’s taught us?
For a moment he does not think he will get a reply. Recent history has shown that Voldemort does not like talking about his pre-Howgarts days. Not even to himself. Tom does not blame him.
Make them fear you.
And the lesson after that? Tom pushes.
Wait for the opportune moment to strike.
You chose the easy way to gain access to pureblood power and society. It was effective but now it means that I must be more careful – not just of Dumbledore and the wizarding world in general but of my own followers. How many would turn on me should they learn the truth? How many will seek to topple a Dark Lord because of your impatience?
Voldemort does not answer, not yet, but Tom does not expect him to. It had been a quick way to gain influence and power and a quick way to grant himself absolution from his mother’s weakness and his father’s abandonment but nothing more. He had grown impatient and greedy and desperate and had grabbed for the most available power source. He had taken the easy route. The plebian route. And they both know it.
I will compile a list. If the diary could sigh, it would be. Lucius would probably know better than I, he adds.
My thanks, Tom notes, because the diary would not be able to see him nod his head.
Blood status is no true measure of power, he continues after a moment. He remembers, perhaps better than Voldemort, how they had been treated otherwise. How his classmates and housemates had viewed him: Tom Riddle, a supposed mudblood sorted into Slytherin. Finding out that he is a half-blood had been both a relief and a crushing disappointment. It had drug his name out of the mud but had still denied him entry into the house itself – an error that he had begun to show them this past year (or his fifth year, rather). He had known it then, just as he knows it now (how could he not when he is living, breathing proof? When so much magic bubbled in his blood and filled his flesh that he felt bloated with it, that only an iron control born beneath bullies’ fists kept him from exploding and leveling buildings) but he wonders if - somewhere between the Horcruxes and the War – he has forgotten.
The three most powerful wizards in Britain are half-bloods, he reminds the diary.
Harry Potter, it seems, will make a fourth.
Which, considering how they had ended up in their current situation, could become a problem.
A soft knock on his open study door draws Tom from his thoughts and he looks up, waving Lucius in with a slight motion of his hand.
“Pardon, my lord,” the man murmurs. “I don’t mean to interrupt…”
Tom dismisses his words with a wry chuckle. “Nonsense. You are just saving me from arguing with myself.” Literally and figuratively. “Was there something you needed?”
Lucius hovers just inside the doorway, rolling his cane through his fingers in what Tom has come to recognize as a gesture of self-comfort. “It… uh…” the proud man takes a deep breath. “My son has gone missing,” he gets out. “I am not too concerned, of course,” he rolls his cane again, knuckles white. “The wards have not registered his exit or any attempts to do so but the house elves are saying that they cannot fetch him…”
Tom raises a hand, stalling the proud man before he begins to ramble. “That is my fault, I am afraid. I gave them orders that they are not to enter my study.”
Lucius blinks. “Your study,” he repeats skeptically. “Draco is… here?” he gives the room a quick, scrutinizing glance. There is no platinum haired menace in sight.
“In the solarium, actually,” Tom murmurs and feels his lips twitch as he nods at the open French doors along one wall of the room. In the other wing, the mirror of this room is Lady Narcissa’s private sitting room with the connected room of glass filled with fragrant flowers and carefully pruned citrus trees. His solarium is decidedly more… useful. It is filled with planters of ceremonial herbs and a wild and varied assortment of his most commonly used botanical potions ingredients. All of it is arranged around the corners of the room and climbing up the walls, leaving the center of the room clear for rituals and large, rune based spells.
Who is currently coiled into a tight ball in the very center of the room, her massive head held half a dozen feet in the air and swinging back and forth like an entranced cobra. The Malfoy heir is sitting just behind the jut of her skull, skinny little limbs wrapped around her smooth scales and giggling like a madman. Clearly, he is having the time of his life. He is not sure that the same could be said for the basilisk.
“Oh, Merlin…” Lucius pales, his fingers convulsing around his cane so tightly that Tom can hear the wood creak. “My lord, I apologize. I did not… he is supposed to be…” Tom blinks. Oh. The man is embarrassed? Ashamed? Possibly both, Tom realizes. “Draco!” Lucius hisses and moves to take a step forward, likely to fetch his wayward child, but Tom stops him with a light touch to his shoulder.
“He is perfectly fine, Lucius,” he assures and the other man gives him a flat, unbelieving look. “Truthfully, I should probably thank him. He has kept Nagini entertained and out from under my feet for nearly an entire hour.”
Lucius opens his mouth, likely to disagree with that sentiment, when Nagini turns just enough for the young Malfoy to spot them standing framed by the French doors. “Daddy!” he shrieks, high and excited. “Look! Look! ‘Gini is a dragon!” he exclaims with a mighty kick of his legs.
“Ridiculous hatchling, I am nothing like a dragon,” the snake grumbles but Tom knows her well enough now to hear the thread of exasperated fondness in her sibilant tones. “Now stop kicking me or I will eat you.”
Draco, having no idea what she is saying, simply kicks her again and tugs at her scales to direct her. Lucius look positively horrified. Tom’s lips twitch.
“Leave them,” he orders. “Nagini will keep him safe and out of trouble while we speak.”
Tom waves him back into the study and over to a pair of chairs sitting in front of the windows. “There is something I wish to speak of and since you are here already…”
Lucius nods and spares the pair in the solarium one finally glance before he sits. “Of course. What do you need?”
Lucius’ eyes dart to the paper and journal heaped desk and back. “Certainly,” he replies smoothly. “On what?”
Tom inhales sharply. “Harry Potter.”
In the other chair Lucius goes so still that he may have well been petrified.
“Breathe,” Tom reminds him, not ungently, at the flash of sheer terror that moves across his face.
“Please, my lord, please…”
He catches the other man’s eyes and neatly slips through them into the mind that reigns beyond. He expects to find chaos. Instead, he finds a mindscape as still and frozen as the man it exists in. “I am not planning on rushing after the boy,” he reassures, stabbing right at the heart of the other man’s fear. “I just need information, everything there is to know about him, about his parents.”
Lucius instantly parrots back, “Of course,” and then he pauses and takes a deep breath. “Why?” he asks and Tom does not miss the way he flinches, just a little, just at the corner of his eyes, when he says it and it makes something sharp spring up behind Tom’s ribs. Make them fear you, that is the first and most important rule that he had ever learned. There are other ways to motivate people, better ways even, but fear is the quickest, the easiest, and the surest. Fear is predictable. Fear is easy.
He just never thought to use it on his followers. Not to the extent that they fear to question him, to challenge him. That is what they were for after all – a safety measure, a guard against complacency.
Lord Voldemort had grown complacent. Lord Voldemort had been reckless and foolhardy.
Tom would not make such mistakes. Not this time.
“Why is the boy so important?” Lucius presses cautiously when he does not respond.
“There was a prophecy,” Tom admits, picking through the shadows of the life his other self had lived. “He, I,” he corrects with a grimace, “acted on partial intel. It is a mistake that I will not repeat.”
Lucius stares at him for a moment. “A prophecy?” he repeats with surprise. “That…” he shakes his head a little and swallows. “That is a good place to start.”
In the end, Tom simply walks into the Ministry.
It should not be that easy but it is. Months of carefully gathering information, of learning about wards and guard rotations and studying floorplans and in the end he simply waltzes through the front door and no one even blinks. Inwardly he sighs as he glides along at Lucius’ heels. Just when he thought his opinion of the wizarding government could not get any lower…he bites the inside of his cheek to keep from shaking his head. It is just one more thing for the ever growing list of tasks he must complete.
“Ah, Lord Malfoy, is this the young man you mentioned?”
Lucius allows the trace of a smile to pull at his lips as he turns and beckons Tom forward. “Marcellus, may I introduce Unspeakable Broderick Bode? Bode, my cousin Marcellus Malfoy.”
Tom hides his smile at the Unspeakable’s reaction, the older man’s bushy eyebrows nearly climbing off of his face. “Monsieur, a pleasure.” Their hands meet in a brief, perfunctory shake and Tom’s magic flares at the touch.
Not marked, no, but Bode is one of Tom’s – one of Lord Voldemort’s – all the same. Tom watches him with interest from behind a polite mask and makes a note to consult with the diary once they return to the Manor.
“Likewise,” the man dismisses, already turning back to Lucius. “I was not aware that there were any other Malfoys rattling around the countryside.”
“A distant relation,” replies Lucius. He sounds almost as dismissive as Bode but the smile on his face can only be described as shark-like: cunning and full of teeth. The statement is not even a lie. It is a (very) distant connection and so watered down that it hardly counts but a Malfoy daughter did marry into the Gaunt line sometime in the fifteenth century. Ignoring that tenuous connection, the statement still holds true thanks to the blood ritual that he – or rather, Lord Voldemort – and Abraxas had performed the summer after they graduated from Hogwarts – a ritual that he had repeated with Lucius some months past. Just in case. It’s another layer, another intricate web of blood and magic binding them together and it quiets the beast inside of Tom’s chest just a little more. It is another tether bridging the distance between him and the life the other half of him had lived while he lay trapped in a book. “From the French line.”
Bode narrows his eyes speculatively. “Beauxbatons?”
“Oui, Monsieur. I graduate at the end of the term.”
Bode nods and waves them both into the Department of Mysteries. “Yes, yes. I received the owl from your Headmistress this morning. Your marks and accomplishments are quite impressive.”
“Merci, Monsieur. You are too kind,” Tom demurs even as Lucius drawls, “He is a Malfoy” and gives his cane a little twirl that Bode eyes cautiously.
“Quite, quite,” he agrees without hesitation. “I simply wondered why an intelligent, well connected young Frenchman wished to work for the British Ministry?”
Bode blinks, clearly not expecting that answer. “Prophecies?” he repeats dubiously.
“Oui. The British system for handling and storing verified prophecies is rather unique. It would be a pleasure to get my hands on them, from a purely academic viewpoint,” he hastens to add with a wave of his hand. “I imagine that the spell crafting is breathtaking.”
Tom bites back another smile as Bode’s eyebrows rocked up his forehead once again. “Spell crafting is not a talent that follows the Malfoy line,” the Unspeakable points out.
Delicately, because it would not do to be blatantly insulting. Speaking of potential bastardry with any of the pureblood families, let alone an Ancient and Noble House, is always a dangerous matter and not for the faint of heart. He is not sure whether the fact that Bode dared bring it up raises or lowers his opinion of the man. Bravery is not necessarily a skill that he prizes, though it does have its uses.
“It is not,” Lucius agrees as he settles in the sleek velvet chair offered to him. “Marcellus’ mother’s father was the last of his name. The name – and thus the family, alas – died with him but the line lives on in Marcellus. I have no doubt he will make quite a name for himself.” And for the Malfoys, goes unspoken but the statement is clear enough in the firm mixture of pride and expectation Lucius allows to color his voice.
The rest of the interview is conducted with proper civility over cups of steaming tea.
“Well, I can’t guarantee you the position,” Bode warns as they conclude. “We have to interview all the qualifying candidates but your application, knowledge base, and recommendations are certainly exceptional. Easily the most qualified of the applicants that we’ve interviewed already. ” Tom tips his head in acceptance of the compliment. “Since you have such a specific fascination with our Department, however, I would not feel out of place allowing you to sneak a peek, as it were. I have some a quarter of an hour before my next appointment.”
Tom’s lips curl in a slow, almost lazy grin.
You were an idiot, Tom thinks scathingly as he listens to the prophecy yet again.
I was proactive, Lord Voldemort defends from inside his head. Tom can feel the other soul piece slinking around the inside of his mind: a snake inside of glass aquarium, twisting and sliding across the walls that cage him. Occupying the same vessel as another soul piece is… uncomfortable. Already, he can feel Voldemort beginning to get restless. If left for too long the smaller soul piece will no doubt try to gain control of their vessel – of Tom’s body. In the short term it is not something that Tom is overly concerned with. Voldemort, after all, is only three percent of a soul. In the long term, however… well. He may only be three percent of a soul but he has the advantage of more than forty additional years of knowledge and experience, which is why he is slithering around in Tom’s brain to begin with. The moment Tom had finally gotten his hands on the prophecy he had known that he would not just be able to write the words of it in the diary and be done with it.
No, a prophecy is something that is meant to be heard.
You were an idiot, Tom repeats. You did not even have the full prophecy and you went tearing after the boy.
He was a threat, Voldemort hisses. He is a threat.
Is he? Tom wonders as he manipulates the memory back to the beginning and lets it play again. I am not so sure.
“I do not like it,” Lucius says as soon as the pensieve spits them back out. “…either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…” His Right Hand shakes his head. “It sounds as if you must kill each other.”
Tom ignores him for a moment and places the tip of his wand against his temple and after a moment of focus pulls. Lord Voldemort goes easily, or as easily as can be expected, and Tom grimaces at the strands of tar that dangle from his wand for a moment before they reform into a shadowy specter of a tall, snake-faced man. Tom ignores the hissing and plunges the soul shard back into the diary, mollifying his older self with enough blood to spell the words of the prophecy out upon the creamy pages.
“It does,” Tom finally agrees, straightening to watch as his Right Hand paces around and around his study. “Though true prophecy is rarely that straightforward.”
Lucius pauses mid-step and looks over sharply. “You think it a fake?”
Tom shakes his head. “No,” he admits. “I do not.”
It is a pity, really. Things would be infinitely simpler if it were. Of course, they would also be a great deal more complicated as well. The prophecy has been verified as authentic by the Ministry and while the Ministry is little more than a building of bumbling buffoons on a good day Tom is inclined to trust in the authentication process. The Department of Mysteries is generally a great deal more competent than the rest of the Ministry combined and the effort required to negate the verification process without revealing that such a thing had been done would be enormous.
Tom is pretty sure he could do it with enough motivation and time, which means that Dumbledore is perfectly capable of it as well.
Still, as much as he believes the old goat to be completely (easily) capable of that level of manipulation he does not think that is what is going on here – and he tells Lucius so.
“So… what, my lord? You just think that…that you will be locked in some sort of never ending conflict with that child,” Lucius sneers, “until you manage to kill each other?”
Tom sinks into the chair behind his desk and loosens his control on his magic just enough to let tendrils of it curl around the room. The other man relaxes minutely at its touch, tension bleeding from the line of his broad shoulders as he stares at Tom.
“What I think,” Tom replies quietly, picking his words with care, “is that it does not matter if the prophecy is true or not.”
Lucius inhales sharply. “My lord?”
“Did you know that most prophecies are not associated with people and events until decades, even centuries, after the events have transpired? The sacking of Troy, the death of Julius Caesar, the fall of Rome, the Battle of Hastings … we are taught that these events were prophesized. That they were fated. And yet Marcus Aurelius was the first to write of the prophecy of Caesar’s death. Your own foremother was the first to bring up a prophecy in connection with the Battle of Hastings, nearly sixty years after her grandsire helped William the Conqueror take the field. Prophecies, Lucius, are tricky things.” Very tricky things. “Any true scholar of divination will be quick to point out that prophecy, for all of its vaulted importance, has the precision of a rogue bludger. If you want accuracy you consult the heavens or you throw runes. If you are intelligent enough to know what questions to ask a pendulum is terrifyingly precise. Even a tarot deck in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing is more accurate than prophecy.”
“And how does that help us, my lord?” Lucius quietly asks, the death grip he has on his cane finally loosening just a little as he sinks into the chair on the other side of the desk. Tom relaxes his control a little more and sighs at the sensation the freeing of his magic not unlike unbuttoning a pair of trousers after a particularly large meal.
“Think on this, Lucius: why does everyone assume that this prophecy is about me?”
“Because you are the Dark Lord,” the man answers instantly and Tom holds up a hand.
“No,” he corrects. “I am a Dark Lord. I am the only one currently in Britain, yes, but Grindelwald still lives, even if he is imprisoned. There are also, to my knowledge, at least two Dark Lords in China, one in Mexico, two in the Pacific Islands, one in Egypt, and at least three others scattered about the African continent. So why, of all those Dark Lords, do we assume that this prophecy is referring to me and not to one of them? Or to a Dark Lord that will rise in the future?”
Lucius narrows his eyes and stares off into the distance, fingers tapping quietly against the serpent carved into the wood of his cane as he flips through information and possible scenarios behind the unseeing blue of his eyes. With various flicks of his wand towards the pot sitting at one end of his desk Tom begins brewing some tea and settles in to wait. Understanding cannot be rushed.
“Knowledge of the prophecy is not public,” his Right Hand finally begins as Tom sips away at his second cup of tea. Tom looks up from where he is making some notes on a piece of parchment and waits. “But if it was, I would hazard a guess that they would ascribe it to you because you went after Potter.”
“And why did I go after Potter?”
“Because he fit the criteria… and because someone else believed he fit the criteria and hid him because of that.” Tom smiles at the sudden firmness to Lucius’ voice. He realizes. He understands.
“You see why its validity does not matter?”
“Because someone – because Dumbledore,” he corrects and he sneers at the man’s name as if it is a bit of flabberworm shit that he has discovered on the bottom of his boot, “believes in its validity. He believes it to be a promise of his victory and as such will seek to force its completion by any means necessary.”
“Exactly,” Tom murmurs.
"So what do we do? How do we stop him?"
Tom looks at him. "We find Harry Potter."
1) For anyone still left wondering: the Nagini of this 'verse is, in fact, a basilisk that Tom Riddle hatched the summer after he left Hogwarts. Because you can't convince me that 15 year old Tom Riddle didn't take one look at the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets (who I've named Sacha) and go "Salazar's familiar was a basilisk. I want one."
2) I read a fic a while back ( A Marauder's Plan) in which the author cast Benedict Cumberbatch as adult Tom Riddle and I've never been able to get that characterization out of my head. Marcellus Marvolo Malfoy, who is going to become Tom's alternate identity, is modeled after Benedict's depiction of Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate".
2b) With fics featuring a young/reborn/de-aged Voldemort he frequently passes himself off as his own son. I wanted to nod to that but also distance his new identity a bit further from the Big Bad Dark Lord. Thus, he is pretending to be his own grandson. My canon for the situation goes something like: young Lord Voldemort (early 20s?) had an affair during his world travels with some pureblooded witch, because true immortality involves more than simply living forever. His child (a daughter) is fostered by the Malfoys remaining in France and marries into the family. Marcellus is the resulting child.
3) Both Tom and Lord Voldemort might seem a bit (or even alot) out of character and that is mostly intentional. Lord Voldemort, with his itty-bitty soul piece, is now (predominately) confined to the diary. I imagine that the significantly smaller world and complete lack of outside stimuli has made him stable...ish. He's still angry and crazy but he's dialed it back a bit from full on megalomania. Tom, on the other hand, is the 50% of the soul that got cut away (via the murder of Riddle Sr because I believe that the imagery of using the death of his hated muggle father to secure his immortality would appeal greatly to Tom. Plus, I'm running with the idea that Myrtle's death was a complete and total accident and Tom would have been in no way prepared to make her murder into a horcrux) and subconsciously, I think, Tom cut away anything he saw as making him weak (kindness, empathy, the need/desire to be loved and to belong) and that that coupled with 40 years of complete deprivation has made him totally desperate (in his own way) for touch and interaction. This results in a young man who is going to grab any second chances head on. He's not going to isolate himself and he's not going to make the same mistakes twice. He hopes, anyway.
4) Timeline: Tom was 16.5 when he came out of the diary but for simplicity's sake we'll keep his bday as December 31, which means that he turns 17 not long after his rebirth in '83. This chapter ends sometime around September of '84. Physically Tom is in his late teens but as we all know Tom Riddle hasn't been an actual child since he stopped being an actual baby plus he now has the memories of Lord Voldemort's life/knowledge/experiences swimming around in his head. I imagine it gives Lucius a headache from time to time.
5) This chapter and the next were supposed to be one chapter but I was creeping up on 8k words so I decided to split it. The next chapter should be up soon (probably over the weekend). We'll be returning to Harry's POV in the chapter after that.
6) Comments are loved and admired and hoarded like a dragon's treasure. You all are the best. Thank you for your interest/support and patience!
Chapter 5: Part 1: Chapter 4
How does the saying go? "If you want to make the gods laugh tell them your plans"? Was hoping to get this up Sunday but instead spent the day with a sick toddler in my lap.
Also, I originally broke this chapter up because it was nearing 8k words. And yet, here I am with part two which is... you guessed it... almost 8k words (and there's no good place to break this one, imho). I'm pretty sure my muse likes to sit and laugh at me.
The first time Tom visits Privet Drive he sincerely hopes that there is no one of even middling magical talent lurking nearby because the house and garden light up like bloody dragon fire at the touch of his diagnostic spells. The fiery sharpness of Dumbledore’s magical signature is easy enough to detect. It is responsible for most of the warding on the property – delicate, intricate things that Tom is forced to admire, if only from an academic prospective. The old coot is arguably an overly cheerful megalomaniac but the headmaster is powerful and he, in his own way, has delved just as deeply as Tom into arcane knowledge and obscure magics.
Dumbledore’s warding is a thing of beauty but beneath it…
“Well, well, well,” Tom breathes to himself as he examines the strands of magic. “Lady Potter, you devious thing, I wonder what your husband thought about your dabbles in the Dark Arts.”
Dumbledore’s warding might be beautiful but this, oh Merlin, this will be the real challenge.
Tom has been free of the diary for one year and ten months when he finally gets his hands on Harry Potter.
It does not go how he expects.
He reappears in his study, bent over and wheezing. He had managed to maintain control there on the street in the bland muggle neighborhood with those wide green eyes staring up at him but here, now, where he is safe and away from prying eyes all composure leaves him and he goes to his knees in the middle of the room.
He cannot… the boy… the child … he is… he is…!
Tom gasps against the tightness in his chest, fingers scrambling across the shined wood floor, desperate for something to grip, to hold onto, to use as leverage to hold him steady while he tries to force air into his lungs. His head is swimming and his heart is pounding so hard that he can feel it beating, beating across his tongue. There is a rushing in his ears, his blood no doubt and the sound of it makes the world feel like it is spinning.
“Master? Master! Are you alright? Are you hurt? What has hurt you? I will bite them! I will eat them! Master?”
Nagini’s presence is a balm, a surety that he reaches for the moment it pierces the fog of his desperation. His fingers brush against the softer scales of her belly about the same time he feels her tongue flicker over his face and he clings to her. He clings and lets her coil herself around him until he is contained and held still by the gentle pressure of her body.
“Master?” she repeats hesitantly, nudging at his shoulder with her nose once he has finally managed to breathe.
Tom lets his head drop to the dry warmth of her scales and does the only thing he can do in the face of this absurdity. He laughs. He laughs until tears prick at the corner of his eyes; laughs until his throat is clogged but his chest is no longer so tight. He simply lies there and laughs because there is simply nothing else he can do about the situation. It is unthinkable. It is absurd. It is…
Lucius’ concern douses the hysteria as effectively as the Black Lake being poured over a single candle.
“My lord, what is it? Are you alright?”
“I am unharmed,” Tom responds instantly to the worry he can feel through their bond, his voice a scratchy, broken mess. “He is a horcrux,” he continues. It feels strange to say it out loud, to hear the words somewhere besides the inside of his own head.
Tom inhales sharply and lets it out slowly. “He is a horcrux,” he repeats and his voice is stronger this time, the absurd idea of it starting to solidify in his mind. “The boy… I do not know how it happened, exactly, but Harry Potter is a horcrux. One of mine.”
The way Lucius goes absolutely white and sinks to the ground is almost gratifying.
Tom buys a house on Laurel Drive, three streets over from the Dursley residence. It is close enough for him to give him a base from which to monitor Harry and far enough away not to trip any of Dumbledore’s alarms. He does not live there, not really, because even after nearly three years the pain of a shredded bond is still too fresh in Lucius memory for Tom to feel comfortable in leaving his Right Hand for overly long stretches of time. Lucius is his family, by magic and by blood, and that is no small thing to someone who grew up ostracized and alone in a cold, desolate orphanage. It is not something he likes to think overly long on, either.
Sometimes he likes to imagine what Dumbledore’s face might look like if he were to stumble upon a youthful Dark Lord out sipping tea in his back garden and waving to his neighbors (filthy muggle beasts) over the flimsy barrier of a wooden fence. He might have actually let such a scene play out for truth if he thought that the shock would actually kill the old goat. But it would not, so he does not, and continues to live primarily at Malfoy Manor despite the fact that the muggle house is only one of numerous properties he has acquired since he was reborn, not to mention his residences from before.
He does spend a fair amount of time in the muggle neighborhood, though. Almost as much time as he spends at the Ministry these days, which is to say less than when he was an intern and more than Lord Voldemort ever managed.
Right now, specifically, he is hunched over the table in the kitchen, watching with baited breath as cracks form in the egg’s surface. Objectively, he knows that he has done it before. Nagini is living proof of his success.
That knowledge does not stop the curl of apprehension from churning in his gut.
Across from him a miniaturized Nagini – all six feet of her – is coiled on the tabletop, her face held inches away from the egg and vibrating with so much excitement that she is little more than a brilliant green blur before his eyes. “Almost there,” she hisses, her tongue flickering against the shell. “Almost there. You can do it. You’re almost done.”
The cracks in the egg flex, making the whole shell shake, and then, with a sudden, small snap there is a small, pointed nose on the outside.
Tom immediately shuts his eyes and forces himself to not lean closer. “Good, good job little one. Take a breath. Let your lungs adjust,” he soothes, pitching his voice nice and low to give it an obvious difference to Nagini’s higher pitched excitement.
“Yes! Yes!” His familiar exults a minute later. “Welcome baby hatchling! You did it and now you can rest and once you have rested we will find you a hot mouse to eat and…”
“Easy, Nagini,” Tom speaks over his familiar, shushing her with a gentle prod of his magic. “The world is new. Do not overwhelm them.”
“Him,” the older basilisk corrects instantly, “It is a male hatchling, Master.”
Tom very nearly blinks at that because while male basilisks are not unheard of, they are certainly not common either. It is something no one – or at least no on in recent memory - has ever quite nailed down: a mystery of biology, temperature, humidity, and climate acidity. If he had the time to experiment with basilisk breeding he might find out for himself. Alternatively, once he finally gets back inside Salazar Slytherin’s library he rather suspects he can just find the answer there.
“Him,” he allows the correction with a smile. “Do not overwhelm him, Nagini.”
His familiar makes a sound that can only be described as whining, but she does calm down. Tom keeps his eyes shut and lets Nagini offer gentle explanations as the new basilisk pulls himself out of the animalistic fog of hatching and begins to access the instinctive knowledge that all of his race possess. Tom keeps his involvement to the minimum, offering quiet words of praise and encouragement for the new baby to imprint on.
“…good. Now, shield your eyes so Master can open his.”
“Master?” the newborn snake’s voice is little more than the hiss of a water droplet striking a hot griddle.
“My Master,” corrects Nagini, and Tom can just picture the smug little tilt of her head. “He is the warm one who smells of green things and dry, dead places. His hisses are the kind ones that rumble like thunder.”
This may be the first time in his entire life – in all of it – that he has ever been called kind. It is not a word he would ever ascribe to himself. It is not a description he has ever sought to embody. He does not want it.
“You can look now,” Nagini hisses, excited again. Tom opens his eyes.
The two basilisks are still on the tabletop. Nagini is hopping like an over excited rabbit, her lower half twisting and turning in brilliant green ribbons while the rest of her holds steady. The newborn is obviously smaller, scarcely the length of his hand and thinner than the pen resting on the desk upstairs and whereas Nagini is a brilliant green the baby is closer to Sacha’s near-black, his still damp scales shining dark green in the sunlight streaming through the back door.
“Hello, little one,” Tom greets calmly, holding out his hand for the small reptile to nudge at with flickering tongue and tiny, damp nose. Inside his chest his heart hitches, stuttering against his ribs at the unexpected bloom of warmth at the center of his being.
He did it. He successfully bred a basilisk.
He had done it before, he knows, but those memories are like ghosts here, but not here. His, but not his.
“That is what Nagini calls me, yes.”
The little snake slithers up into his hand and coils itself into a loose knot over the center of his palm. “But not me?”
“You may call me that too, if you wish, though I will not be your Master. Not truly. I am already bound to Nagini.”
“Oh.” If anything the little snake gets even smaller.
“Do not worry, little one, there is someone else I have in mind for you. A very special someone who is needs to be watched over and protected.”
The little snake peeks out from underneath his coils, small golden eyes gleaming. “Tell me!” he demands and Tom smiles.
When the Little Snake returns to the house on Laurel Drive several weeks later and excitedly tells him that Potter – that Little Master – is a Speaker Tom cannot quite find it in himself to be surprised.
There is a part of his soul living in the boy’s head, after all.
“I do not like it,” Nagini hisses as they watch the boy run down the street. “The fat one is angry and he makes the hatchling taste of fear.”
Tom clenches his jaw. He does not like it either. He does not like the way Potter flinches away from sudden movements. He does not like how small the boy is, especially in comparison to the other (muggle!) child. There are too many signs, too many clues and they all remind him of living at Wool’s. Or of his life in Slytherin house before he taught them how much they should fear him. Before he earned their respect and their awe.
No, he does not like it either.
“Remind the Young One to keep a close watch on Potter,” Tom finally orders. “I’ll move up the timetable.”
Nagini tightens. “We will bring the Little Master home?”
Tom draws his fingers over her skull, rubbing at that one spot behind her left eye that always makes her melt into a reptilian puddle. “Yes,” he agrees. “It is time to bring him home.”
Truthfully, it had taken every ounce of self-control that he possesses (and then some) to not simply apparate back months ago and steal the boy away the moment his panic had faded. Prophecy or no, the child holds a piece of him and he has left it far too long under Dumbledore’s (albeit distant) control. But if he is going to steal Potter away then there is another matter he must wrap up first.
Sighing, Tom closes his eyes and turns his magic inwards. His bonds to Lucius and Nagini are easily found, both of them thick, strong, and glowing with health. Avery and Nott have solid bonds as well, their presences as steady as they have always been. There are a handful of other bonds, newly awakened: Bode, Selywn, Rowle, Dolohov, and Yaxley. Most of them are his oldest supporters or some of his truest, Death Eaters who are loyal to him rather than the cause.
Some of his bonds (too many) are shredded and empty, dead as the men and women on the other end of them. A few of the bonds are brittle and cold, shrouded from his touch by the dementors of Azkaban. The rest are mere shadows, not gone but not living either. They are dormant, waiting for him to wake them up.
He misses them, misses the weight of the bonds humming at the back of his mind, misses them even though the memory of them is but a shadow, a ghost that does not entirely belong to him. He wonders if he will ever manage to achieve such a thing or if, with the loss of Lord Voldemort, most of the bonds are doomed to wither and fade until there is nothing but the empty loneliness inside his head to remind him that they ever existed at all.
Tom exhales slowly.
It is time to speak to Severus Snape.
“You had him,” Lucius had told him in the early days after his resurrection as they sat sipping brandy in front of a roaring fire. “You had him until you did not.”
“So he betrayed me?” Tom had asked, soothing away Nagini’s sudden his off anger with a stroke of his hand.
Lucius had sighed. “I do not know. I would like to think not but… the mudblood – Potter’s wife - they grew up together. They were friends long before their Hogwarts letters came. She was his confidant and the sister of his heart. He always thought himself more than a little in love with her.”
Lucius had waved a hand back and forth in a so-so gesture. “He loves her, certainly, but is he in love with her? I doubt it, my lord.” The platinum haired man had shrugged eloquently. “Severus is about as interested in the fairer gender as I am. Still, I doubt the nature of his affections has any bearing on this. He loved Lily Potter and you killed her. You hunted her. I do not know, if it had come to it, if he would have stood against you himself but I would not be surprised if he went to Dumbledore the moment the Potters became a target.”
“Then he is Dumbledore’s man now?”
Lucius had dismissed that with a single, swift shake of his head. “No,” he had replied instantly. “Severus is a powerful dark wizard, very nearly a Dark Lord in his own right, and before everything he was well on his way to standing at your Left.”
“He begged for her life,” Tom had remembered slowly, the shadows of it forming on the back of his eyelids. “He begged me to spare her and…and I tried.” Tom had exhaled sharply. “For him I tried, but she would not step aside.”
“What mother would?” Lucius had murmured and swallowed the last of his brandy in one go. “Still, no doubt he feels her death a betrayal and thus he is adrift. The master he loved and served murdered his oldest and dearest friend and the other man he turned to in order to protect her failed to do so. He is moorless and alone, no doubt filled with guilt…” Because Severus had been the one to bring him news of the prophecy, Tom had remembered in a flash. “…that is assuredly made worse by whatever Dumbledore is whispering in his ear. He is not yours, my lord, but he can never truly be Dumbledore’s. If anything, he is Potter’s.”
That had surprised Tom. “The boy?”
Lucius had shrugged. “Harry Potter is all that remains of his mother. I doubt there is any force on this earth that could make Severus truly move against him. You will have to decide what you are doing about the boy before you tackle the problem of Severus Snape.”
Tom had nodded and let the subject go.
Though it has only been several weeks since he made the decision he feels like he has been waiting forever for this moment to arrive and these last few minutes? Well, the tension of it just might kill him. The sheer crushing weight of apprehension just might succeed where a backfired avada kedavra had failed.
It is nearing ten o’clock in the evening on December twenty-fourth and Lucius’ study is comfortably warm in contrast to the snow falling thickly outside the windows. Lucius himself is sitting at his desk with a Gringotts's portfolio spread in front of him, the soft scritch, scritch, scritch of his quill against the parchment a gentle counterpart to the occasional snap and crackle from the fireplace. Outside of that they wait in complete silence with only the fireplace and a lamp on Lucius’ desk for light. The quiet and the dark seem necessary and not just because Tom knows that he is prone to dramatic displays.
There is a whisper in the corner of the room as Nagini moves, slinking deeper into the shadows so that the flash of her scales is not readily apparent.
The clock on the mantle chimes.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten, Tom counts them off silently in his head and as the final bell sounds the fire in the grate roars higher, the flames turning green, and a tall, lanky man steps out and straightens with fluid precision.
Tom remembers that. He remembers how even at an age when young men are typically nothing but gangly limbs and as coordinated as a newborn hippogriff Severus Snape had been graceful, possessing an economy of movement seen only in those whose health, whose life, depended on knowing exactly how and when to move their body.
The first time he had met Severus Snape it had been like looking in a mirror.
The other man has grown since that first meeting. He is even taller now and still leaner than he probably should be, though the half-starved skinniness has been (mostly) replaced with a wiry strength. His nose is even more crooked than Tom remembers, his full mouth pressed into a permanent tight-lipped frown while sharp, black eyes observe unflinchingly from behind a shoulder length wave of gleaming black hair. Combined with the severe, unrelenting black of his clothes his skin is so pale that it almost shines, no longer just the creamy white of fine porcelain but a sallow, unnatural shade that makes something behind Tom’s ribs hurt.
Tom stays where he is, leaning against the wall beside the window, and watches as Lucius closes the leather bound folder and stands.
“Ah, Severus, welcome.”
The two men stand in uncomfortable silence, staring at each other for moment after long moment before Lucius finally asks, “Will you join me for a drink?”
Severus tips his head to one side and studies the other man with all of the intensity of a hawk about to swoop down on some poor unsuspecting mouse. “Just a drink?” he responds, quietly suspicious and obviously aware that something is going on here. He just still thinks that whatever happens is going to come from Lucius.
The platinum haired man lets a small smirk play at the corner of his mouth and motions to where two crystal glasses and a bottle of very expensive fire whiskey wait. “And conversation. It has been some time since we sat and talked, Severus.”
“We don’t have much to talk about these days, Lucius.”
“I know.” Tom is surprised to hear the genuine sorrow in Lucius voice. He knew that they had to have gotten on well. Severus Snape would not have been ‘well on his way’ to becoming his Left Hand if they had not. Still, he had thought them friends - brothers, perhaps but no, their body language (stiff and skittish as it is) is all wrong for that.
Or at least the chance of it, once upon a time, if not the actual relationship.
“…not think you would welcome it.”
Severus clenches a fist, the action very nearly hidden by the folds of his robes as he strides over to one of the armchairs. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” Lucius acknowledges, still sounding a little sad. With new insight, Tom imagines that his Right Hand had probably hoped to rekindle his acquaintance with the other man under less official circumstances. “We have been waiting to speak with you for some weeks now.”
“We?” Tom does not miss the way Severus’ wand snaps into his hand instantly.
I really am prone to fits of dramatics, Tom muses as he (finally!) relaxes his hold on his magic and steps out of the shadows.
“You…!” He did not think Severus could get any paler but the other man certainly does, standing poised between the Dark Lord and his Right Hand, with his want clutched so tightly between his fingers that Tom half expects it to snap. Those black eyes stare at him and a wave of panicrelieffearlovehate slams into Tom with a ferocity that stuns him.
And then it is simply gone, wiped away as if it never existed, and Severus is on his knees, prostrating himself at Tom’s feet.
“My lord,” he intones. His voice is remarkably steady and absolutely empty.
Tom wants to snarl. Or perhaps be sick.
Lord Voldemort was an idiot, he thinks instead, for what is most certainly not the last time.
“Get up, Severus,” he tells the other man quietly. There is respect and fear and then there is this. This is sniveling, prostrating enslavement and Tom has never wanted to hurt himself so badly in his entire life. That he could bring such a (brilliant, powerful, devoted) wizard as Severus to this. Tom inhales sharply and pushes his anger back behind his own occlumency shields. “Sit and have a drink with us. We have much to talk about. I swear on my power as a Dark Lord and whatever remains of our bond, you have nothing to fear from me tonight. No matter how this conversation ends.”
For a moment Tom does not think that Severus is actually going to listen to his words, the fear of retaliation in response to something other than complete obeisance too ingrained in his psyche, but eventually the Potions Master rocks back on his heels and stares up at Tom.
“You’re different, my lord,” he drawls in frank suspicion and Tom can see his eyes flickering around the room, noting exit points and calculating how they are likely blocked. His eyes freeze on the green length of Nagini, who has crept up behind him and now lies warming herself before the fire.
“I am as I should have been,” Tom replies with an angry motion of his hand. “And I apologize that you had to endure me otherwise.” On his other side Lucius blinks in surprise at the words and Tom offers him a small nod of his head. “Now, will you get up and speak with me?”
“If I refuse will I be allowed to leave?”
Tom ruthlessly squashes the instinctive rise of his magic, refusing to give into the way it wants to curl itself around the other man and keep him here. Force him. He has done quite enough of that already. Instead, he replies instantly, “Of course. I will have to take this meeting from your mind but I will be gentle.” He pauses, takes a deep breath, and offers the only manipulation he can bring himself to make right now– and only because it is absolutely true. “If you do not allow me then I will be hold you until my vow runs out and I will force it from you. It would break me, Severus, to break the brilliance of your mind but I cannot risk Dumbledore knowing of my return or anything else that passes here tonight. I cannot allow the risk to Harry.”
“Harry?” Severus repeats, his voice going hard. “Harry Potter?”
Tom sinks into his chair and motions to the other. “Get up.” When the other man – after several long moments of hesitation during which, no doubt, his brain is running through a thousand different thoughts – finally gets up and gingerly seats himself in the chair Tom lets out a silent sigh of relief and relaxes the death grip he has on his magic. It flows away from him like water overflowing a dam, twisting and expanding across the room until the air is thick with it, until Tom can feel it inside his nose, his throat, his lungs. Until he can feel it bubbling through his veins and swirling in eddies at his feet, purring and hissing like an overgrown cat thrown into a pile of catnip.
On either side of him both Lucius and Severus inhale sharply and the gasps of them reaching for air is enough to light up their bonds inside of his head like a fireworks show.
Tom inhales gently and melts back into the cushions. “What,” he finally begins, the depth of his voice gone gravelly, “do you know about Horcruxes?”
Severus narrows his gaze thoughtfully. “Horcru…you made one,” he says.
Tom smiles and begins at the only place there is to begin. “I made more than one.”
When he reaches the part of his explanation about what happened that night at the Potters, Severus insists on watching the memory of it and nothing Lucius’ says can sway him from that decision. Tom is not surprised.
He is also not surprised when Severus drops to his knees upon leaving the pensieve and is promptly sick all over the floor.
He stands back and waits as Lucius crouches next to the fallen man and strokes the hair away from his face.
He knows the moment that Severus gets it, the very second that he understands.
The sallow man’s voice turns white, every ounce of blood leaving his flesh as he stares, horrified. “He’ll be raised like a lamb for the slaughter, kept back until whatever moment Albus deems best and then he’ll destroy the boy.”
This time, when Severus retches into a hastily conjured basin, it is Tom’s hand on his shoulder that steadies him.
“I will not let that happen,” Tom vows, letting his magic give weight to the words.
“How can you stop it? The Headmaster has hidden the boy with some of his family. I’ve searched for him, of course, but…”
“He is not as hidden as one might think,” Lucius breaks in with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Once we set out to actually look for him we found him in little over a month – and most of that was spent waiting to hear from various contacts.”
“Where?” Severus demands. “Where has that bloody old fool put him? He wouldn’t want the boy out of his sphere of influence but Potter – James – has no remaining family left in Britain.”
“Harry was not left with any of the Potter line,” Tom replies.
“But then who… the Headmaster has been quite consistent in insisting that the boy is with family so who… no.” Black eyes widen in dismay. “No, my lord, please tell me that he didn’t leave the boy with that bitch…”
“I am assuming by ‘that bitch’ you mean one Petunia Dursley nee Evans?” Lucius’ drawl is enough to make the Potions Master snarl.
“My lord, you cannot allow him to stay there. She… ‘Tuney is the worst type of muggle – she hates anything different that her and will do her utmost to destroy it!”
“I am aware,” Tom replies. “That is why you are here.”
Severus blinks. “My lord?”
“I have been watching Harry for months and it is glaringly obvious that the child cannot remain with his… relatives,” Tom sneers. “You are here because I wished to ensure that when I take Harry that you will not assist Dumbledore in finding him.”
“Assist Dumbledore?” Severus hisses. “My lord, I will assist you.”
“That went better than I dared hope,” Lucius remarks as the clock begins to chime midnight. Severus has gone back to Hogwarts, disappearing in a flash of green flame, and the threads of his bond are humming inside of Tom’s head. There is still a ways to go before it is strong and healthy but for now, just the fact that it is awake, that it sings is enough to make Tom almost giddy.
It is ridiculous and completely undignified but Tom does not fight the smile that tugs at the corner of his lips.
“I am glad, for both my sake and yours,” he replies honestly as he shrinks Nagini and lets her climb his torso until she is draped across his shoulders like a shawl, the flat of her head tucked into the curve of his neck. “I am going to go check in with the Young One.” He had felt his wards ping hours ago, announcing the arrival of the young basilisk at the house on Laurel Drive – a little early for their usual check in, but not so much that it made Tom worry. No doubt the vile beasts were insistent that the boy do something for them inside, where it is dangerous for the infant snake to follow.
“Of course, my Lord. I will wait up.”
“It is late, Lucius, go to bed.”
Lucius simply settles himself behind his desk in response. “I have to finish going over this portfolio. Gringotts's will gut me if I do not have it for them by the New Year.”
The ridiculous smile on Tom’s face becomes even more ridiculous, twisting itself into something positively fond at the other man’s words.
The house on Laurel Drive is dark and quiet when Tom appears almost silently in the lounge. Letting Nagini down he flicks his hand at the fireplace and sets it merrily roaring before he pushes his way into the kitchen and promptly freezes, eyes locked on small, dark green form lying on the table in a puddle of tacky liquid, nearly a quarter of his body shorn off.
“Young One?” he calls, hurrying to the table, wand whipping through the motions of a diagnostic spell. On the tabletop the serpent’s head twitches minutely, eyes flickering open.
“Master?” his voice is little more than air escaping over a tongue that twitches insistently, tasting the air to confirm other senses.
“I am here,” Tom reassures instantly, his own eyes jumping to the read out of the spell as he brightens the room and bends down to get a better look. “Can you tell me what happened, little one? Who hurt you?” He is relieved to note that the small snake is no longer bleeding, though the amount of blood retained in his body is barely enough to keep it functioning.
“Master? Master? I smell blood! Something is wrong. Something is… who hurt the baby? Who hurt the baby? I will eat them!”
Tom ignores Nagini for a moment, shoving none to gently at her coils as she threatens to simply squash the little snake in question in her enthusiasm to protect him.
“Young One, I need you to focus,” he says instead. “I know it hurts and I will do my best to make it better but I need to know. Who did this? Is Little Master alright?”
“Little Master is kind,” the Young One hisses. “He brought me inside so that I might get warm. The…the fat hatchling heard us talking.” His entire body convulses, flailing on the tabletop until Tom immobilizes everything below his head. “Little Master put me out the window. I could hear him, Master. The others made him make pain noises.”
For a single, unmeasurable moment Tom is sure that he is going to level not just his house, but the entire street, structure after structure lost to the implosion of his magic as it ripples out of him.
But then he takes a deep breath.
He will not be stupid. He will do this as he has planned.
He will just do it now.
He reaches for two of the bonds in his head and shoves the image of his lounge down them with more force than is strictly necessary. The summons will hurt and for that he is sorry, but not sorry enough to stop it.
Come in uniform, he orders, pushing the instructions after the image and then he is gone. He makes himself pull back from the bond and instead focus on the snake. Basilisks are impervious to most spellwork so there is very little he can do. He will, after this over, have to consult with Severus and with Selwyn to see if there is anything they can do the injured snake. But for now…
He conjures a small box and lines it with medical gauze before he transfers the Young One with a careful swish and flick of his wand. Once the snake has been safely ensconced and offered words of reassurances Tom carefully lowers the temperature inside of the box, chilling it until the blood is sluggish, almost stopped, inside the reptile’s veins, his heartbeat slowed to a single, echoing thud every few minutes.
It is all he can do for now.
Placing a cover on the box – it would not do to get someone killed because the baby forgot to shield his eyes in his pain – Tom straightens and collects Nagini from where she is roiling and hissing like a boiling cauldron at his feet. “Come, I hear Lucius.”
“My lord?” the man in question is standing next to the sofa, a bone white mask clutched in one hand. A soft crack announces Severus’ arrival.
“What has happened?” he asks instantly.
“They have hurt Harry,” Tom replies and it is the only explanation needed, both men reacting with snarls. Wordlessly, he offers them his arms and, once they have grasped them, he apparates away with a turn of his heel.
Privet Drive is quiet and unassuming, the snow covered yards lit by streetlight and the glow of cheerily decorated Christmas trees set in front of windows. Tom ignores it all.
“Give me a circle,” he orders, his wand already moving through the familiar spell that will light up the warding to his magical senses. “Dumbledore will know the moment the warding is breached and we need to delay his arrival as long as we can.”
Neither Death Eater answers. Instead, they have their masks fixed securely to their faces and have their wands out, pulling magic from themselves, from the earth, from the air to layer around him. When they are finished they take up their posts: Lucius to the north (steady, grounding) and Severus to the east (clarifying, dispersing) and wait, wands ready.
From his pocket Tom removes the diary and presses his wand to the pages. He cannot do this alone. Maybe if he had another year of studying under his belt, another year for the memories to solidify inside of his head he would be able to do such a thing but he is not willing to risk it. Not now. Not when Harry is what is at stake.
At his side, Severus inhales sharply at the sight of the specter hanging from his wand but says nothing as Tom raises the Horcrux to temple and lets it sink through his skull. It is an icy, stabbing pain and he welcomes it, positively relishing the sensation of Lord Voldemort racing through his mind and acquiring information. The red haze of blood lust, the bone deep cry for violence and vengeance is a heady thing that he wants to hold to his chest and breathe further life into. Instead, he pushes it back.
Not yet, he growls inside of his head.
They will die for daring to touch what is ours.
They will, Tom agrees, easy as a sigh. It was always going to end that way. But first the wards or Dumbledore might ruin everything.
Quickly, then, Voldemort snaps. Our soul has been in that house too long already.
Tom lets go and sinks into the spell craft.
It is no small thing to circumnavigate wards laid by Albus Dumbledore himself. For all that Tom despises the man – and he does. Truly, deeply, with every fiber of his existence – the fact that he is brilliant is uncontested. Mad as a hatter, of course, but a genius. His OWL and NEWT scores still hold the records at Hogwarts. Of course, Tom had matched him in all corresponding courses but the old coot holds the record still by virtue of the fact that Tom would have cheerfully skinned himself alive before submitting himself to Muggle Studies. Their post Hogwarts obviously saw them head in very different directions but the correlation is still there – a mad genius that gives each man a disturbingly accurate insight into the other.
Tom forces himself to move slowly, patiently, manipulating the lines of the wards with a delicate touch. He could unwind them but Dumbledore would feel them unravel as surely as he would feel them come crashing down so instead he captures them. He disables the built in alarms and the repulsions against Death Eaters as well as the monitoring spells, taking away the old man’s ability to track the spells cast within the building, and traps them in the cage the three (four) of them have made, anchoring them into the circle and trusting that the circle itself with hold.
At least for a time.
They only need a little of it.
“Ten minutes,” Tom says with a gasp as he comes back to himself. “Ten minutes and then it will all come down.”
“Understood,” Lucius murmurs. Severus nods curtly.
Tom flexes his fingers around his wand. “Go.”
The door shattering beneath the weight of his magic is nowhere near satisfying. Tom feels pulled, stretched thinly in a thousand different directions with the effort of holding Dumbledore’s wards blind and deaf. Voldemort’s fury raging against the inside of his skull does not help. Nor does the frantic rat-ta-ta-tap of the other soul piece. He can feel it like another heart beat inside of his chest, a desperate flutter of wings against his pulse. The boy is here and still alive, thank Salazar. Tom takes a quick turn through the ground floor of the house but he sees no sign of Harry.
The frightened screams from the muggles is better. A balm.
“Where is he?” he purrs, tipping the fat, screaming one’s face upwards.
“The boy is not upstairs, my lord,” Lucius murmurs. “There is nothing to indicate that a second child lives here.”
Tom lets a smile curl across his lips, lets Voldemort slip to the front of his mind turn his gaze redder than the blood pumping in their veins. “Where is he?” he repeats silkily, emphasizing each word with a threatening tap of his wand.
Tom’s magic stretches itself further, searching.
“BLOOD FREAK, GET OUT OF MY…” Tom catches the muggle’s gaze with his own and rips. The man howls at the assault on his mind, screams as his thoughts and desires are torn to shreds beneath Tom’s gaze. Tom pushes further, pushes until the mind is little more than jelly, until the man is nothing but a quivering beast cowering on the floor in a puddle of his own vomit and urine.
“Where. Is. Harry. Potter?” Tom bites out and this time each word is punctuated with a tightening on the man’s mind, surging past the thoughts and memories to make all the nerve endings light up with pain.
The fat beast moans. “…cupboard…” he breathes, choking.
“Cupboard?” Lucius repeats, baffled.
“I did not see him in the kitchen,” Tom corrects silkily and yanks at the man’s mind. He could find the answer here, no doubt, but muggle minds are so disorganized. So messy and faded, their entire lives no more than whispers and half destroyed impressions.
The man shrieks and gags against the pain. “Cupboard,” he repeats insistently. “U-under…”
“I can smell him, Master,” Nagini interrupts. “Here. There is blood.”
Nagini noses pointedly at the door built into the side of the staircase.
Stretched as thin as he is, it is still a bloody miracle that he does not do more than shatter every bit of glass in the room surrounding him, reducing it to nothing but dust as he strides across the floor and unlocks (unlocks! ) the door before throwing it open and crouching down to get a good look inside.
He rather wishes that he had not.
Harry looks impossibly small, little more than a bruised and bloodied body, poorly clothed, cured up on a disgusting mattress with only a threadbare blanket to keep him warm.
Tom can hardly think over the pounding in his head and the wood of his wand creaks ominously in his grip. “Filthy muggle beasts,” he spits out as he stares at the child.
“Can you get yourself out of there?” Tom asks as Harry blinks slowly, those brilliant green eyes unfocussed and glassy behind the sparse cover of his glasses.
The boy tries, Tom will give him that. He tries and makes it about as far as getting on his hands and knees before his body gives out on him and sends him tumbling towards the ground. Tom stops him with a flick of his wand and slowly eases him from his dark and tiny prison.
Our soul, our soul… what have they done to you?
“Little Master! You are hurt!” Nagini nudges her head close, stopping just shy of actually touching the boy, her tongue flicking in and out at a desperate pace. “Who hurt you, precious hatchling? Was it the fat hatchling? The big fat one? The sour one? Which? Which? I will eat them,” his familiar vows, so incensed she is shaking as she twists around them, immediately cocooning Tom and Harry in the protection of her body. “I will bite them and I will sit until they are dead and then I will eat them.”
To be honest, that sounds like a fantastic way of dealing with the whole situation but they are running on a clock here and Tom needs to know what happened. “Now, now, my dear, all in good time,” he promises as he gently traces the structure of Harry’s face, gently nudging his chin upwards until he is staring down into remarkably green eyes. “Look at me, Harry,” he encourages and Lord Voldemort all butt purrs when the boy does exactly that.
It is remarkably easy to slip inside the child’s head. Frighteningly easy, in fact, with the soul piece making the connection the instant he reaches out.
Easy, he murmurs as he feels the soft, inquisitive touch of Harry’s consciousness against his own. You do not need to live it again. Just let me watch.
When he gently disentangles himself he’s shaking, growling and snarling like a rabid animal.
HOW DARE THEY? Those…
“…foul, loathsome beasts! How dare they? How DARE they?” Tom hisses and gently runs a hand over the unruly mop of Harry’s hair. Just the touch, the warmth of it beneath his fingers is enough to let him suck a deep breath of air into his screaming lungs. “Never again,” he swears, “Those fucking muggles will never lay hand on you again.”
“… my lord?” Lucius voice is rope tossed to a man drowning in stormy seas and Tom grabs onto it like the gift that it is as he settles Harry into his arms. The boy is too light, too small, liable to break apart and shatter at any minute…
Tom sucks in another breath and nudges the coils surrounding them. “Nagini, eat the fat hatchling.”
Another time… a time in which he had more time he would have taken his time. He would have let go of the iron restraint he holds over himself these days. Any other time and he would have let Lord Voldemort loose. He would have stripped the flesh from their bones, he would have held them beneath his wand until they were nothing but a drooling, mindless mess. Any other time he would have shown them exactly what it means to cross a Dark Lord. To hurt what is his.
Our soul, our soul…
Instead, he must settle for this.
Lucius, as always is a consummate businessman. Ruthless and efficient he goes straight to the Killing Curse, and the life leaves the fat uncle in a blaze of green light so near to the color of Harry’s eyes.
Severus though… for Severus it is personal and when the bitch’s blood sprays forth and splashes the carpet Lord Voldemort exults inside Tom’s mind. A dark smile curls his lips as he stares at Severus over Harry’s head as the dark eyed man turns his attention to the injured child.
“You have your mother’s eyes,” Severus observes as he gently brushes a wayward strand of hair out of Harry’s eyes.
“You knew my mum?”
“Since I was not much older than you. She was my best friend. I’ll tell you about her, if you would like,” Severus tells the boy but he looks up at Tom while he says it.
In the back of his head, their bond blazes to life: a guttering candle turned into a raging inferno between one heartbeat and the next.
“Later, Severus,” he manages to get out past the sudden tightness in his throat. “We must leave before Dumbledore arrives.”
Severus inclines his head. “Of course my lord,” he agrees and if Tom had a hand free he would have laid it on the other man’s head in benediction.
Instead, he holds out an arm and calls for Nagini.
“Make it look like an accident,” he orders once he has both snake and boy settled securely on his person.
Be quick, he adds silently.
Then, with a turn of his heel, he vanishes and with his passing the wards come crashing down.
The explosion, Lucius tells him later, was spectacular.
A gas leak, the muggle newspapers call it.
Severus just smiles.
Chapter 6: Part 1: Chapter 5
Harry doesn’t want to wake up.
It’s soft and warm and comfortable and he doesn’t want to wake up.
He doesn’t want to wake up because as soon as he does he’ll be back in his cupboard. He’ll be alone in the dark of his cupboard, lying there aching and hurt. He’ll have to lay there and listen to Dudley rip his way through dozens of brightly laughed gifts while trying to ignore the smells of coffee and spiced pastries that will make his empty stomach twist and rumble with hunger.
Harry doesn’t want to wake up, so he doesn’t.
The first time he wakes up he is met with a vague sensation of space. Lots and lots of open space. Certainly far more than is in his cupboard. He shrinks away from it, away from the wide emptiness that is nothing more than a blur of colors and shapes. The… bed?... that he’s lying on is soft, softer than anything he’s ever laid on – even including the time he snuck up onto Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s bed just to see what all the fuss was about when they bought a new mattress. He is warm and while he aches, especially his arm, nothing actually hurts. Or at least, nothing hurts enough to count.
It’s probably the nicest, best way he’s ever woken up and it terrifies him.
He doesn’t know where he is – not his cupboard, certainly – or what is happening.
He hates his cupboard. Hates the confines of its walls and low ceiling. Hates the stuffy, stale air. Hates the dust and debris and the spiders. He hates it but it is familiar and the closest thing to safe that Harry understands.
It is a dark, misery filled prison but more than anything else in his life it is his. His misery, his darkness, every line and corner familiar to him, a sanctuary that no one else in the house could violate beyond reaching in to grab him.
“Easy, hatchling. Stop thrashing around. You will hurt yourself again.” Small, frantic movements that he hadn’t even been aware of making are stopped when a warm, heavy weight slides over his legs and torso and curls around his head. “The fat ones and the sour one can’t hurt you. You are safe. Master won’t let anything get you.” Something flickers against the side of his cheek, there and gone in a moment before something dry and warm leans against his skin. “I won’t let anything hurt you. I will bite them and stare at them and eat them and they will be dead.”
There’s a comforting sort of finality to that.
But still he twitches, trying to make himself small, trying to get away, trying to… he doesn’t even know.
A hand on his head stops him and for a single, heart stopping moment he thinks that the hand is going to grab. That the fingers are going to wrap around his unruly hair and use it as a handle to slam his face into…something. The bed is too soft to do damage but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something nearby that won’t make it hurt.
The fingers twitch.
“Oh, my soul,” a deeper, familiar hissing fills all that open space of his head with something heavy and sad. Harry doesn’t understand why anyone is sad. “Rest, precious one. Rest and when you wake up you will be better.”
He doesn’t know where he is or what is happening and everything is open and scary and exposed.
“Rest, Little Master,” the first voice tickles against his ear and despite the rolling in his stomach, Harry closes his eyes and does just that.
The first thing that Harry sees is the ceiling. It’s really far above his head and very much not a ceiling that Harry has ever seen before. It looks like the pictures Aunt Petunia admires in magazines: ornate wooden beams set in a grid over the ceiling painted a deep, midnight blue with a chandelier that shines and sparkles like Aunt Petunia’s wedding ring hanging in the center of the room. It is without a doubt the largest and fanciest room Harry’s ever been in and he can’t see anything but the ceiling.
Harry’s rather terrified that he’s going to break something.
Even if he doesn’t move from this spot, where he’s lying on the softest, most comfortable bed he’s ever touched, he’s completely sure that he’s going to break something just by looking at it. Not literally… except, there had been that time with that ugly tea set…
Harry winces at the memory and then pauses, surprised. It doesn’t hurt. He doesn’t hurt. He remembers hurting. He remembers…
His eyes burn painfully with tears as he remembers what had happened to his little friend. He shouldn’t have brought him inside, even if it was cold outside. He shouldn’t have talked to him where others – especially Dudley of all people – could hear them, even if he was lonely. It’s all his fault and Snake is dead and…
“So you are awake.” Harry jumps at the sound of the voice and twists in the bed until he can find its source. There’s a woman that Harry doesn’t recognize sitting in a desk beneath a wall of windows and Harry is torn between admiring them and very much hoping that he won’t be expected to clean them. She’s a very pretty woman, he thinks, with pale blonde hair that has been pulled up into some sort of fancy knot at the back of her head and her eyes are a very pale gray that makes Harry think of the silver before Aunt Petunia had made him polish it. “How are you feeling, dear?”
Harry shrinks away, folding himself into an impossibly small ball as she stands up and approaches the bed. She sounds nice but Aunt Petunia sounds nice when she wants to. When she’s talking to Dudley or when they’re out doing the shopping. And Harry’s never seen this woman before. He doesn’t know who she is or where he is or what is going on and Snake is dead and it’s all his fault and…
“Oh, darling,” the woman pauses at the side of the bed. “You are terrified of me, aren’t you? You poor child.” She sounds so sad when she says it.
Harry doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t dare.
“Libby!” A soft pop follows the call leaving the woman’s mouth and Harry can’t quite stifle the small cry that falls from his lips at the sight of the… of the…of the… thing that is suddenly just there.
Harry shoves his fist into his mouth to keep himself from making any more noise as he stares at the odd little creature. It is short, almost as short as Harry - who is well aware that he is significantly shorter than most five year olds. Its skin is leathery and a grayish sort of green and it – she…? – has large round eyes set over a pointed nose and large, bat-like ears. She’s dressed in a crisply starched pillowcase with a very intricate M embroidered on her chest.
“What can Libby be doing for Mistress?” the strange little creature asks in a high pitched voice as she bobs a curtsey in front of the woman.
“Carry word to his Lordship and Healer Selwyn that Mr. Potter has woken. If his Lordship is in his study then give the message to Master Lucius. Then some tea would not go amiss.”
The creature gives another neat bob. “Of course, Mistress.” And then, with another pop, she’s gone. Just… gone. As if she were never there to begin with. Maybe… maybe he imagined her? He imagines things sometimes, when he’s been in his cupboard too long or if something hurts too badly. But this… this doesn’t feel like that. That sort of thing is always… fuzzy and muffled and blurred around the edges. This, wherever he is, feels real.
Harry’s not sure if that is reassuring or terrifying.
“Now, darling, we seem to have found ourselves on uneven footing so allow me to introduce myself. I am Narcissa Malfoy but you are welcome to call me Cissa.”
Harry has no idea what’s happening. People don’t talk to him. They just don’t. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and Dudley scream at him. Mrs. Figg goes on and on and on about her cats. His teachers will give him instructions or scold him for not trying harder when he purposefully gets things wrong. But none of them are actually talking to Harry. In fact, Harry thinks that the only person that’s ever actually talked to him is that strange man. The one with the funny black clothes he hangs around Privet Drive and also talks to snakes.
He has no idea what’s happening and he doesn’t know what to do and he doesn’t know where he is and everything is so, so open and he feels tiny and exposed and unsafe and anyone could get him and…
A sharp knock at the door jerks Harry from the whirl of his thoughts and he stares, wide-eyed, as a man enters the room. The man is rather unremarkable next to the pretty – to Cissa – with blonde hair that falls past his shoulders and deep blue eyes set in a rather broad featured face.
“Ah, I see young Master Potter is finally with us,” he says and doesn’t stop walking until he is right next to the bed and Harry finds himself pressed against the headboard, fingers knotted in the silky pillow coverings, and trembling so hard he can hear his teeth knocking together. A stick – this one a warm, sort of honey color – appears in the man’s hand and he gives it a complicated looking sort of wave and a deep green light flashes towards him.
Harry lets out a scream and scrambles across the pillows, trying to get out of the way, but the light hits him in the back of his thighs as he tries to squirm free of the blankets and sheets tangled around his legs and keep an eye on the man at the same time. There’s a brief icy hot sensation where the light hits and then his entire body tingles like when he falls asleep awkwardly and wakes up feeling like there’s a thousand needles pricking under his skin.
Two things happen almost at the same time.
First, the man beams at Harry like he’s accomplished some miracle. “Excellent,” he begins, addressing his comment over Harry’s form to the woman. Cissa, Harry’s mind corrects through the veneer of confusion and fear.
Second, the door behind him bursts open and the largest snake Harry has ever seen slithers into the room and bolts over to the bed, the brilliant green and gold length pulling itself onto the bed and circling itself around Harry until he is surrounded by a wall of scaled flesh. Something in Harry eases as soon as he is embraced by the shifting coils. He is safe here. He’s not quite sure how he knows it but he does. Here, curled up in a little nest made up of snake coils, he is safer than he’s ever been in his entire life.
“Little Master! Why are you making fear noises?” The enormous snake nudges at his face with a snout bigger than Harry’s entire head. “Did the sharp-green smelling one hurt you? Did he?”
Harry tries to nod and shake his head at the same time. “N-no. I don’t… I don’t think so? There was just some light and it kind of burned and then it kind of stung but I don’t… I don’t…” Harry inhales shakily and finds his fingers curling around the edges of the coil wrapped closest to his skin. The scales are dry and soft and just slightly cooler than his own flesh.
The gigantic snake rears back her head and upper body just enough that Harry can see the bits of the room. Both the man and Cissa have frozen where they stand, eyes locked on the snake. “I will eat you,” the snake hisses in the man’s face, her tongue flickering out to taste the air in front of him.
“Nagini.” A deeper, calmer hissing enters the room along with a tall man dressed in a familiar looking black robe-dress-thing. Harry trembles inside of the snake’s coils. It’s the man. The strange man from Privet Drive. The one who stands outside and looks at the house, the one who talked to him that day behind the hedge. The who can talk to snakes too. He had a snake, Harry remembers, a beautiful green and gold creature looped across his shoulders like a shawl.
Harry stares at the coils beneath his hands.
“You’re so big,” he murmurs, not even realizing that he’s speaking. “You weren’t. Last time, I mean.”
“This is my true size,” Nagini replies with a flick of her tail. “I have to be big to protect Master and you and all his shiny pieces. Master makes me small to carry me places. It is nice.”
Harry imagines that it probably is.
“Nagini?” The man’s voice is a little more forceful now.
“He made the hatchling make fear noises,” the snake says shortly, still staring at the first man who, it appears, is trying his absolute best to not even breathe beneath her focus. “I will eat him.”
“You’ve already eaten today,” the strange man’s eyes are brown today, not red, Harry notes as he stares at him. His hair is dark brown and falls in gentle waves around his face, stopping just below the sharp lines of his jaw. It also sounds like this isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation. Or some form of it.
“Only one peacock. I still have plenty of room,” Nagini argues. Harry can’t help but feel rather touched at her dedication. The idea that she would eat someone for him…
“… you ate Dudley,” he remembers suddenly, the scene forming out of a muddle of memories. The man had been there too. He’d taken Harry out of his cupboard. Harry stares at him. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t know why. Why did the man take him out of his cupboard? Why did Nagini eat Dudley? Why is he here in this bedroom that’s bigger than the whole ground floor of Number Four? Why?
“The fat hatchling was disgusting. Almost as bad as the rat man. But even disgusting food makes me grow bigger.”
“Bigger?” Harry can feel his eyes getting impossibly wide.
“Bigger,” Nagini repeats with obvious relish.
“Nagini!” The strange man doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t scream or yell or turn purple in the face like Uncle Vernon. He doesn’t even sound angry but there’s something there all the same, something hard and sharp and almost breathy – like all the air’s suddenly gone out of the room – that makes Harry freeze inside of the massive snake’s coils even as she lets out a very angry sounding hiss. It doesn’t sound like words to Harry’s ear but he’s heard Uncle Vernon curse at the telly often enough to recognize the sorts of things that the snake must be saying. “Selywn?” he asks calmly, though the unspoken threat is still there.
“M-my Lord, I… I…”
“Sometime today, Selwyn.”
“It… It was just a simple diagnostics charm, my lord. To ensure that the boy – that Master Potter – is fully recovered.”
The one called My Lord turns his head to look at the first man.“I see,” he says after several moments of quiet staring. “You thought it a good idea to cast, without warning, on a five year old boy who knows nothing of our world and who has recently been recovered from an abusive environment.”
It is absolutely not a question.
“Leave us,” My Lord commands, “and be grateful that I am not feeding you to Nagini.” The first man lets out a horrified little squeak at that and steals a pale-faced look at the enormous snake still hovering mere feet from his face. “She is fiercely protective of what she considers hers.” The explanation – if it is one, Harry’s not quite sure – is softer and faintly amused sounding.
“It was a careless mistake, Selwyn. We will speak of it later.”
The other man stares, pale faced and wide eyed for a moment, and then he nods his head. “Of course, my lord. I will await your call. Master Harry,” Harry blinks as the man turns back to the bed and offers him – and by default, Nagini – a small bow, “I am pleased that you are recovered. My sincere apology for startling you. Lady Malfoy,” he offers another bow to the other occupant of the room before he turns on his heel and leaves the room quietly.
“Narcissa, my dear, I need a moment alone with Harry.” Cissa looks up from where she is deftly arranging a full tea service on a small table on the other side of the room. Harry’s not sure how it got here. Maybe it just appeared like the strange little creature? Or maybe she brought it?
“Of course, my lord.” She doesn’t offer everyone in the room a bow before leaving but she does pause next to Harry’s strange man and presses a soft kiss to his cheek. “You were not at lunch and Circe knows the poor boy needs to eat. Do not let Libby’s efforts go to waste.”
The man smiles, just a little, and it lights up his entire face. He looks younger, suddenly. Not nearly as young as Harry, obviously, but definitely younger than Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. “I will do my best to not forget,” he tells her and something tells Harry that this isn’t the first time he’s told her that – and forgotten.
Well, Harry won’t let him forget. Even from his cautious nest of snake coils on the bed he can see chocolate biscuits and little sandwiches in addition to neat triangles of toast and small pots of jam sitting on the silver tray. As is, it’s only the caution of a life time that’s keeping him from throwing himself off the bed and absconding with every single crumb of it.
“Nagini, get down and let Harry breathe. You have defended him admirably but if you get any tighter you are going to suffocate him.”
“Won’t,” the snake insists stubbornly and Harry smiles as he runs his hands down her smooth scales. It is one of the smoothest things he’s ever touched and Harry wants to curl up here, in the nest of her, and never leave. Beneath his touch she practically purrs.
“It’s alright. I – I like snakes and mine…” he inhales sharply. “My snake is dead. Uncle Vernon chopped him up with the window.”
The smile that forms on the man’s face is as brilliant as the sun, beaming to the point that Harry can see his teeth, flashing white, between his lips. “First things first, then,” he murmurs to himself and crosses to the side of the bed. He moves almost like a snake when he walks, smooth and controlled. Oddly enough Harry doesn’t find his approach nearly as scary as the other man’s. “Come here, Harry,” he murmurs and gestures a small box on the table beside the bed. For a moment Harry doesn’t move but in the end his curiosity – and the fact that, outside of startling him that first time, this man has never hurt him – wins out.
Or, it would, if Nagini would move.
“Nagini…?” his voice is hesitant and his touch gentle as he pushes at her body and hopes that she gets the message.
The snake grumbles in a very un-snake like fashion but she does move. She uncoils slowly, her length twisting across the bed until she is sprawled across almost every inch save for where Harry is kneeling and the expanse of bedding between Harry and where the man stands waiting for him by the box. “Thank you,” he tells her.
She nudges him forward. “Such a polite hatchling.”
Crawling forward, Harry spares the man another look and he motions once again at the box. Harry takes a nervous breath and looks inside.
“Oh,” he exhales. Even through his suddenly watery vision he can see a familiar dark green form lying on a pad of white gauze at the bottom of the box.
“He is alive,” the man tells him softly. “He lost a few inches off of his tail and quite a bit of blood before he got to me but he is alive and mending. He should be awake within the next day – or so Selywn thinks. And Selwyn might be a careless idiot but he is a very capable Healer.”
Ignoring the tears that are dripping out of his eyes, Harry reaches a trembling hand forward and gently sweeps a finger down Snake’s cool back. “Thank you,” he whispers. He doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t know why he is here or why this man would take him away from his cupboard and Privet Drive. He doesn’t know why Nagini would eat Dudley or why these things are happening to him. Maybe because he is a freak. He can’t really imagine all of this happening to any of the normal boys kids in his class at school.
The man’s hand is gentle as he smooths back the wild mess of Harry’s hair and nudges at Harry’s face until he looks up. “You are not a freak,” the man says firmly, “and I know that you are frightened and that you do not understand what is happening but I promise you – I promise ,” he repeats in a hiss, “that you will never be treated like that again and that I will do everything in my power to ensure that you remain safe.”
Harry trembles, his entire body torn between the desire to run away and the need to throw himself at the man and never let him go. “But why?”
The corners of the man’s mouth turn up just a little. “Because you are precious, Harry. Because you are important and wanted and full of potential.”
Harry doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t understand.
“You will,” the man says. “I promise, someday you will.”
And Harry nods.
Harry is a wizard.
Magic is real.
His father had been a wizard and his mother had been a witch. They had not died in a car accident but been killed in a war and someone named Albus Dumbledore – what a funny name! – had sent him to live with the Dursleys after their death. He might hate this Dumbledore just for that.
The man is a wizard too. As is Selwyn. Cissa is a witch. There is an entire magical world that exists alongside the normal one. The muggle one.
His entire world has been shaken and then turned on its side.
Harry doesn’t know if he should laugh or cry.
In the end, he does a bit of both and the man simply gathers him into his lap and strokes at his hair until the tears stop.
“You know my name,” Harry says as he nibbles on his toast. His skin feels tight and his eyes are swollen. He’s pretty sure his face is red and blotchy but he’s trying not to think about that. Or about the fact that he just cried like a big baby into the man’s shoulder.
The man looks at him over his tea cup. “I do.”
“But I don’t know yours.”
The man takes a long sip and then puts his cup down. “I have many names,” he tells Harry, “some more important than others. You can call me Tom.”
“Tom,” Harry says it slowly, rolling it around on his tongue. It is such a normal name. Normal like Harry or John. As normal and simple as one can get. He expected something bigger. Grander. More important. Something that fit. He tips his head to the side and stares at the man. Well, something that fit better.
As if sensing his thoughts, Tom smiles. “Not much, is it? Our first names rarely are. It is the names that come later that embody us. The names that others give us and, most importantly, the names that we make for ourselves. Still, those first names never stop mattering. They are part of the foundation upon which everything else is built, one way or another. Tom is the name my mother gave me before she died.”
Harry blinks, startled. “Your mum died?” he asks before he can stop himself. So much for being the polite hatchling.
“Mmm. A very long time ago. She only lived long enough to name me. I grew up in an orphanage, cared for by people who treated me much as your muggle family treated you.”
Harry can’t imagine anyone treating Tom the way they treated him. Tom is grown up and strong and he has a really big snake.
Tom laughs. “I did not always have Nagini, though the idea of her meeting Mrs. Cole is perhaps one of the most delightful thoughts I have had all week.”
Given how the fuzzy memory of Nagini eating Dudley makes him smile, just a little, Harry rather thinks that he understands.
They split the last chocolate biscuit.
Tom spends the rest of the day answering questions and telling Harry about the wizarding world. Harry thinks that he probably has something better that he could be doing but he’s too curious to remind Tom of this. He learns about wands and Tom lets him hold his. The elegant piece of white wood is warm and comforting in his hands, though there’s something about it that makes Harry think not quite. When he tells this to Tom, Tom just smiles.
“The wand chooses the wizard,” he tells Harry, “and most wands will not work – or at least, will not work well – for anyone but their master. You could use my wand without much difficulty and I suspect that I will have little issue with using yours once you have one. I can use Lucius’, though it produces mediocre results in my hand, but I suspect that Severus’ would blow my arm off simply for picking it up.”
Severus, it turns out, is Severus Snape and he is the dark eyed man who had known Harry’s mum. And who had made Aunt Petunia erupt like a broken water fountain.
Lucius is the other man that had come with Tom. The one that had killed Uncle Vernon. This is his house, though Tom lives here most of the time as well, and this room is Harry’s room. Harry doesn’t know what to do with that. The room is bigger than the entire ground floor of Number Four. The bed alone is nearly as big as Dudley’s second bedroom.
Tom tells him about different kinds of magic. About hexes and curses and defensive spells and astronomy and charms and something called transfiguration. Harry gets excited when he mentions herbology and potions. They sound an awful lot like gardening and cooking, things that Harry is pretty good at already, even though he is only five and a half.
“Severus will be pleased,” Tom tells him.
Harry looks up from the book – An Illustrated Guide to Common Flora and Fungi – that Tom had produced to let him flip through. He can read most of the words but the pictures are beautiful and detailed – like a photograph. And they move! “Does he like potions?”
Tom’s lips twitch. “He does,” the man replies, sounding very amused. “He one of the best Potion Masters in the world and he is but twenty-five. I imagine the strides he will make in that field over the course of his life will be nothing less than miraculous. He also teaches Potions at Hogwarts.”
Britain's school for witchcraft and wizardry.
Harry will go there when he is eleven, though Tom and others will make sure he learns things before then.
Tom speaks about the school with fondness and unmistakable longing in his voice.
“It was the first place I ever felt at home,” he tells Harry.
Harry looks around the too big room and wiggles his toes in the plus cream rug and wonders if this is going to be his home. If someday he will speak of this big blue room with the same sort of voice as Tom uses to talk about Hogwarts.
Despite feeling very tired, Harry can’t fall asleep. The room is too big. The bed is too big. The bed is too comfortable, the softness beneath his body and the thick warmth of the down comforter even more unfamiliar and alien that the existence of actual magic. So instead of sleeping, Harry tosses and turns and tosses and turns until the sheets are knotted around his knees and his hair is damp with sweat and sticking uncomfortably to his neck and forehead.
The room is too quiet and, compared to his cupboard, too bright.
He’s never going to be able to sleep.
Harry hugs a pillow – too soft, too squishy, he’s never had a pillow before - and sighs once again.
Harry bolts upright and looks around the room.
It doesn’t actually do a lot of good because his eyes are shut.
“W-who’s t-t-there?” he calls out, voice shaking as he forces his eyes open. A second ago he had been thinking that the room is too bright but now he can’t see anything beyond vague shapes. “G-go away! I-I’m a w-w-wizard and I’ll…”
“Silly hatchling, your threats need work.” Nagini’s head pops up over the footboard, her eyes glowing like two small suns in the shadows of the room. “Besides, nothing can hurt you here. The Shiny One’s family has put a lot of magic into the house-nest. It protects those that are inside of it. Besides, Master is here and so am I. I would eat them,” Nagini reminds him.
“You like to eat people, don’t you?”
Nagini makes an odd little huffing hiss that makes Harry think of a shrug and slithers up onto the bed. “People are stupid. Stupid prey is easy to catch. You should be sleeping, Little Master.” Harry reaches up and runs his fingers along the ridges of her skull as she noses at him, her tongue flickering out over his face. It tickles.
“I can’t,” Harry tells her. “Everything is too big and too soft. I’ve never had a bed before. It feels weird.”
The snake moves slowly, twisting and turning until her entire body is sprawled across the bed and curled around Harry, her massive head resting gently on his hips. “Sleep, silly hatchling, I will keep the bed from being too big.”
Harry rests his hands on the warm scales, scratching at her scales with his blunt fingernails. “Thank you,” he tells her, because he is supposed to be the polite hatchling. He doesn’t think it’s going to work.
Eventually, though, his fingers move slower and slower. He turns his head to press his face against the paler scales of her belly, breathing deep of the musty, slightly sweet scent of snake, and somewhere, between one breath and another, he falls asleep.
Chapter 7: Part 1: Chapter 6
Let's just ignore that it's been a year since my last update. Yes? Yes.
This fic has not been abandoned. I'm still here, still writing, and have a fairly detailed outline for all eight parts. Your patience and support is greatly appreciated. You're amazing.
“Come on, little one,” Tom croons at the small snake. “You can do it.” Inside the box the serpent twitches and Harry echoes the movement from where he is kneeling on a chair next to Tom. In the boy it comes off more as the wiggle of an overexcited puppy instead of the jerking of an animal returning to consciousness.
“I saw it!” Harry exclaims, a gleeful smile lighting up his face. “Snake moved!”
“Yes, he did. You were right,” Tom reassures, a smile of his own tugging at his lips. Five minutes ago Harry, who had insisted on carrying the little box with his snake around with him all day, had bolted upright from where he sat looking at a book in front of the fire and shoved the box onto Tom’s desk, exclaiming “He’s waking up! He’s waking up! I saw him move!” as he scattered dozens of documents across the polished wooden surface and onto the floor. “You should close your eyes now, Harry.”
The boy blinks, as he always does when Tom uses his name, momentarily caught off guard. “Um… why?” he asks, clearly hesitant. Tom fights back the urge to find a way to resurrect the boy’s muggle relatives so that he can kill the vile beasts all over again. Slowly.
“Because he is a very dangerous type of serpent called a Basilisk. They have the ability to kill something just by looking in its eyes.”
“Oh.” Harry’s eyes grow impossibly round. “But he’s looked at me and I’m not dead.” He pauses, suddenly pale. “Am I?”
Tom bites down on the chuckle that rumbles around in his chest. “No. You are not dead,” he reassures. “Basilisks have a special membrane that they can pull across their eyes that renders their gaze harmless. I have asked that your companion do the same as Nagini and keep his eyes shielded. That is why you were not injured or killed during your earlier interactions with him but he is a very young Basilisk and I do not know if he will remember to keep his eyes shielded when he wakes up.”
“Oh.” Harry promptly shuts his eyes and claps his hands over them to keep from accidentally peeking. Tom smiles and barely resists the urge to run his fingers through the wild mess of the child’s hair in silent approval. Harry does not react well to touch, particularly touch that he does not see coming.
You cannot resurrect the dead, he reminds himself firmly. There is no magic truly capable of that.
But oh, he wants to try.
Inside the box, Snake twitches again and Tom takes his own advice and shuts his eyes. “Nagini?”
“The polite hatchling is still covering his eyes,” the snake responds instantly and though that is not exactly what Tom had been about to ask he is relieved to hear it all the same. Not that he expects otherwise. Harry responds well to logical reasoning, quite capable of controlling the limitations of his five year old senses and emotions if given a proper explanation as to why.
And no, Tom is not going to think about why Harry has such control.
He has already contemplated murdering the already dead more than enough in the past quarter of an hour. Even for him.
Lord Voldemort on the other hand…
Tom shakes the thought of it out of his head and cannot resist taking a brief glance at the shrunken form of Nagini who has innocently imposed the triangle of her head between the snake in the box and the boy quivering with excitement in the chair next to him before he recloses his eyes. The young basilisk is very nearly conscious. He can feel it like a buzz against the ribbons of his magic that he has loosed in the privacy of his office, a sliver of warmth the feels familiar-but-not-quite-right as it slides up against him.
And then, like a bubble upon the breeze, it simply pops.
“Oh,” the boy lets out a quiet, breathless cry.
Beside him Harry wiggles so hard that the chair nearly tips over – would have tipped over, were it not for the foot Tom hooks around a leg of the chair as it gives a slightly terrifying wobble.
Harry’s cry is loud enough to overwhelm the assurances and encouragement that Nagini is hissing to the young basilisk and Tom barely stops himself from clamping his hand down on the young boy’s shoulder. “Keep your eyes shut!” he reminds him and he can feel the poor boy nodding frantically.
“I am! I am!”
“Snake! Snake! I’m here! Are you okay? Do you hurt? I’m sorry! I’m…”
“Easy, Harry,” Tom soothes, leaning slightly so that the length of his torso is gently pressed against the boy’s quivering form. “He is still waking up. Patience.”
“Oh.” Harry freezes as surely as if he had been petrified.
“Are you well, little one?” Tom turns his attention, sightless as it is, to the small snake.
“…hungry,” Snake announces after a moment of reflection. “And my tail is sore.”
Tom hums thoughtfully, the soft noise cutting off Harry’s latest round of apologies. “Regretfully the missing piece could not be reattached or regrown but the wound is healing cleanly. I have a salve that can be rubbed into the scar tissue to make it more pliable.” Something that would be a veritable necessity as the serpent grew.
“That is acceptable.”
Harry giggles and Tom cannot help the smile that spreads across his lips at the sound.
“… and Little Master?” Snake asks after a moment. “The fat one hurt him.”
“The fat one is dead,” Tom relays with a vicious sort of satisfaction, “and Harry’s wounds have been seen to. He is safe. If you would shield your eyes then he might pick you up and allow you to reassure yourself.”
“It is safe,” Nagini announces a second later and Tom barely manages to get his eyes open in enough time to see Harry scoop up the tiny basilisk with both hands and raise him to the boy’s face. Harry is talking a mile a minute, the sound of his hissing filling the air as his familiar twines himself around his fingers and lets his small forked tongue taste the air around the boy, searching for hints of pain or illness.
Tom does not bother to listen to their conversation. The words themselves are not important. What is important is the way Harry’s face – still paler and far more pinched than is acceptable – is lit up, as if the sun itself has risen behind the thin covering of his skin. So instead he just watches and smiles and gently trails his fingers over the smoothness of Nagini’s scales, the other basilisk watching the young pair with so much pride on her reptilian face that Tom could have easily believed that she had hatched them both.
Harry spends the next few days following Tom around in a way that is far too reminiscent of a lost puppy, Snake wound around his fingers or nestled safely in the pocket that the house elves have sewn onto the breast of all of his new shirts. Tom lets him. What else is he to do, after all? Leave the child shut in his room just like those vile muggles? The fact that his young horcrux’s new room is nearly the size of the beasts’ house is irrelevant. Tom is all to aware of what it feels like to be utterly confined by four walls and he will not make any magical child, let alone his horcrux, endure that.
Besides, Harry’s puppy-like behavior gives Tom ample opportunity to introduce him to the everyday wonders of the magical – and even the mundane – world without utterly overwhelming the child. And while Harry obviously delights in the experience, fascinating and grinning in equal measures as he shows the boy simple spells, gives him a tour of the manor, and introduces him to the wonders of magical flora and fauna there is a singular wariness that is evident in his limbs. Tom recognizes it. Tom knows it. He remembers it from his years creeping around Wools trying to survive; from the years he spent at Hogwarts with the constant fear of being sent away (of waking up and realizing that none of it had been real) beating against the inside of his ribs.
“They are in France,” he finally says on the third day, when Harry pauses in the doorway of the conservatory where they are to eat lunch and warily glances around the glass walled room as if expecting people to jump out of the enormous pots of blooming flowers and drag him back to his room.
“France?” Harry echoes uncertainly, shrinking in on himself.
Tom hums in confirmation as he crouches in front of Harry and resists the urge to nudge the boy’s chin higher (Harry Potter carries part of his soul and should cower before no one) or ruffle his fingers through unruly black locks. “Cissa and Ariadne – that is the Lady Parkinson – keep a home in Paris. Every year the Malfoys host a Yule Ball on the solstice and then both the Malfoys and the Parkinsons retire to the ladies’ townhome for the rest of the holiday season. They usually return to Britain on or around the New Year, pending previously made plans.”
“But what about you?” asks Harry and it is obvious that the idea of Tom being left behind when something as lofty and incredible as France is involved alternately offends and terrifies his young horcrux.
Tom brushes his fingers gently against Harry’s arm in quiet reassurance. “I celebrated Yule with them but I had other matters to attend to – not the least of which was getting you out of that despicable hole you were living in. The Malfoys especially have done so much for me, I usually let them have the holidays to themselves as a family.”
“And… you’re not family?” Harry asks hesitantly.
“I am, by magic and given blood, but not by the happenstance of my birth. Abraxas was very dear to me and Lucius is equal parts friend, advisor, and brother though some part of me almost sees him like a son. We have a very unique situation, the Malfoys and I, but I would be utterly lost without them,” Tom cannot keep the unmistakable fondness from his voice and the warmth of it seems to ease an unspoken tension in Harry’s shoulders. “They would have loved to have you join them but we thought it best that you get settled in a little before overwhelming you with everyone. Lucius and Narcissa have a son, Draco, who is about your age – as is the Parkinson’s daughter, Pansy. They will not treat you like the fat hatchling did,” Tom adds with a vicious hiss. “Draco can be a pretentious little snot and Pansy is a bit high strung but they’ll be delighted to have another member of the family.”
Harry’s eyes nearly bug out of his head. “But I’m not… I’m not…”
“Silly boy,” Tom hisses and offers the boy a soft smile. “Of course you are. It is even, technically, true. Let me see your paternal grandmother – so your father’s mother – was Dorea Potter nee Black. Her older brother was Pollux Black whose youngest son, Cygnus Black, is Cissa’s father.”
Harry blinks. “Ummm…”
“It gets confusing, I know,” Tom agrees dryly. “Cissa could probably tell you the exact name of your relationship to her but it is to the point where she will likely refer to you as ‘cousin’ when the need arises. Truthfully, now that she has you in her clutches she is going to mother you to death.”
Indeed, had Ariadne not been so recently delivered of her second child – a son the Parkinson pair had named Panos – Tom rather doubts that he would have won the spirited discussion about where Harry should spend his first days of his new life and in that vein Tom blesses young Panos’ timely arrival not a month earlier. Cissa knows many things and is a ferocious, loving mother but she does not know this aching, heart stilling, breathing stealing fear that someone like Harry is going to feel in the face of such opulence and privilege let alone things as foreign as affection and acceptance.
“I do not mean to overwhelm you,” Tom tells him when he notices how rapidly Harry is blinking, how quickly the boy’s pulse is pounding away beneath his fingertips. “I just want you to understand that you have a place here, in this house – and all their other houses – and with these people. They want you here, Harry. They want you to be part of their family. They are not going to demand that you cook and clean for them. They are not going to lock you in a room when they go shopping or on holiday. They are not going to hurt you or starve you or yell at you. They will use your name and treat you with affection and respect because you deserve it. Because you are a child and because you, Harry Potter, are not a freak.”
Harry nods slowly but Tom can tell that he does not believe him. Tom had not believed it either, at first. It had taken him years to realize that he deserved things, that he deserved affection and devotion and respect and all the things that he had hardly even dared to dream of. And before it had even sunk in he had diced his soul into so many pieces and lost the realization all over again.
Harry does not believe him now but he will, someday.
“Come,” Tom takes Harry’s hand as he rises to his feet. “Let us eat lunch and then we can go out in the snow. I bet there is enough out there that we can build a snow Nagini chasing snow peacocks.”
Despite the uncertainty still hovering at the corners of his eyes, Harry smiles.
“They seem to be getting along well.”
Lucius’ voice draws his attention away from the trio of children laid out on the rug before the fire and Tom concedes the point with a small nod of his head. Not that he would ever, in a million years, admit it but he had been nervous about introducing Harry to the Malfoy and Parkinson family but he had been. In no small part because Harry had been absolutely terrified by the idea. It had been all well and good for Cissa to be there when he woke up. Cissa, in addition to being the epitome of a noble pureblooded lady, is kind and gentle and exuding of a maternal fierceness that children find calming. But Tom is under no illusions about the rest of the family.
Ariadne is loud and commanding with enough fire in her veins to burn the house to a crisp – and the whole of magical Britain, for that matter. Her husband, Pelleas, is a great deal quieter but has little use for children or other people in general and is only a member of this family by virtue of being the only son of a once sprawling line and in desperate need of heirs. Actually, his penchant for spending all mandatory family gatherings in a corner with his nose in a book might make Pelleas the safest – in Harry’s eyes, at least – of the combined clan. Lucius is, well, Lucius and his default personality when he is uncertain or frightened (or out in public, away from the safety of his home) is cold and distant. Tom feels a small flush of pride in his Right Hand for the way the powerful man had gotten down on the floor and solemnly welcomed Harry with a tip of his head and the offer of his hand: a greeting of equals. But really, it is the children that had worried him.
“What if they don’t like me?” Harry had asked, hiding in Nagini’s coils. “What if they think that I’m a freak?”
“I will eat them,” his familiar had hastened to assure, which Tom had noticed was probably a little more comforting to the boy than was strictly appropriate. But then, his lovely serpent had eaten the fat, loathsome muggle child and was quite possibly completely serious in her assertation for all that she did possess a certain fondness for the Malfoy and Parkinson spawn.
Later, he had told her that it would be unacceptable to eat the other children unless they were posing a direct and imminent threat to the lives of Harry or himself. Just to be sure.
“They will not think you are a freak, Harry, because you are not a freak,” Tom had hissed back. “You are wixen, just as they are. I imagine that they are thrilled to have another playmate their age.”
“But they could make me leave! It’s their house! And I…”
“Harry, it is alright,” he had reassured, gently running his fingers through the unruly mass of the boy’s hair, careful not to touch or tug too much. “You will go nowhere because your place is here, just like them. Just because you were not born in this house does not mean you are not of it. I was born on an orphanage floor – should I not be allowed to live here either? Should Lucius and Cissa throw me out?”
The very thought of such a thing happening had made Harry’s eyes widen. “But they can’t! This is your home!”
“Just as it is yours,” Tom had told him. “The Malfoys are very possessive of their family members and very devoted. You have nothing to worry about, Harry.”
Harry had worried, of course, and Tom had worried right along with him. Not about the same things, mind, but about how the children would react. Draco is exuberant and often overbearing, used to the doting love of the adults in his life and (nearly) always getting his way. Pansy is as commanding and outspoken as her mother with a dash of Cissa’s cool ferocity and Tom has already made several notes to be nowhere near any of the Malfoy holdings when it comes time to negotiate the girl’s betrothal. The yelling and the tears, he predicts, will be excruciating.
But Lucius is right. Things seem to be going rather well.
While Pelleas hides in the corner with his book and a pot of tea and the ladies sit half curled up around each other on the sofa with young Panos held snug in their arms the children sprawl across the thick rug before the fire. Draco has brought out his collection of toy dragons and is excitedly showing Harry each one and demonstrating what each one does while Pansy directs him, a doll nearly as large as she is tucked under one arm. Harry is watching them both with wide, overwhelmed eyes, but he’s following Draco’s words with interest and even – after much, much coaxing – sneaks out a finger and presses down one of the spinal ridges on the Norwegian Ridgeback. The toy promptly lets out a hissing roar and leaps into the air and flies around in one, two, three circles while spewing a harmless, illusionary flame.
Harry is absolutely delighted.
So delighted that he lets out a small laugh and then promptly holds both hands over his mouth so that he does not make too much noise.
But Tom can still see the smile on his face.
“Yes,” he murmurs to Lucius. “They do.”
After the holidays Harry is folded into the existing lessons that Draco and Pansy already attend. Reading, penmanship, art, music, decorum, and the study of magical and mundane flora are taught in cozy, if strict, lessons with Cissa and Ariadne. Lucius coaches them in basic mathematics, politics, and in the running of an estate as well as giving them weekly lessons on the rest of the living creatures that they share the earth with. Reluctant to be parted from Harry, Tom carves a few hours out of his busy days and volunteers to teach the children the beginnings of meditation and magical theory. It is too early – far too early – for any formal magical instruction. Their cores are still far too underdeveloped for that but these early clear the way for later, more application based lessons.
They are, quite arguably, the most enjoyable hours of his days. Certainly, in comparison to his work as Marcellus in the Department of Mysteries or his slow, persistent work in rebuilding the estates of Slytherin and Gaunt. Though interesting (the former) and gratifying (the latter) they both also involve working with idiots and weak-willed fools – something he has never borne well. Even without Voldemort in his head sometimes it is all he can do to not start throwing unforgivables around like leprechauns hand out fake galleons.
But the true highlight of his day is every night, before Harry goes to sleep, they curl up with their serpents, hot cocoa, and a plate of chocolate biscuits and talk. Their voices fill the room with soft hissing as they speak about the magical world and the muggle one; about dreams and nightmares in a secret language that no one else could possibly understand.
“Congratulations, Malfoy,” the man across the desk from him offers him a heavy, cut crystal glass with amber liquid sloshing around the bottom. Tom takes it, ignoring the way the residual magic of his vows makes his fingers sizzle and tremble. “Youngest Unspeakable in over four hundred years. Jamison owes me ten galleons,” he adds over the rim of his own glass and Tom gives him a positively toothy grin in response.
“Glad to be of assistance,” he murmurs with an elegant raise of his eyebrows that has clearly been stolen from Lucius. With Voldemort’s fractured knowledge swimming through his head it had been astonishingly easy to accomplish even though he only works part time for the Department.
“Your cousin will be pleased,” Edmund Bulstrode: Head of the Department of Mysteries continues, as if pleasing Lucius is his life long ambition instead of the other way around. “Though I confess, it surprised me that you continued to pursue this path. I had thought, after your internship, that you would turn to more influential positions.”
Tom merely offers the man a smile. “There are many ways to power and influence, monsieur. Knowledge is power and so many people possess so little of it.”
“Knowledge or power?”
“Both.” Bulstrode lets out a huff of agreement. “Besides, once I have rebuilt the estates to a proper level of respectability, I fully intend to claim the seats on the Wizengamot that are available to me. Through my mother’s father’s line,” he adds, seeing the look of confusion – and interest – cross the other man’s face. There is little risk in letting Bulstrode know this. There are dozens of seats on the Wizengamot that have been left empty for years as entire lines faded from existence. Plus, it is important to make the man realize that Tom – or rather, Marcellus – is not ever going to belong solely to the Department of Mysteries. “Until then I will leave the wheeling and dealing to Cousin Lucius.”
After all, the man has it down to an art form and while Tom is perfectly capable of being utterly charming he is still learning the art of patience. Besides, out in the open, with Lucius, is too dangerous a place for him to be right now. No one else in the Ministry is going to see Marcellus Malfoy and think Tom Marvolo Riddle but Dumbledore is practically guaranteed to. He might not think they are the same person but the old goat is too crafty and too paranoid where Tom is concerned to dismiss the similarities. Even partially.
But the Department of Mysteries? Dumbledore will never think to look for him here.
“Now that we have that taken care of, let’s talk about your placement. Your aptitude tests are, quite frankly, off the bloody charts in all categories and it says here that while your internship was spent in the Hall of Prophecy and the associated Divination Department you have spent the last two years working rotations with Chronos, Magical Maladies, Experimental Charms, Blood Magic, and even some time in the Death Chamber. All of them gave glowing recommendations. I’ve got several sub departments with openings and they’re all clamoring after you like vultures so why don’t we go over your options?”
Tom smiles disarmingly. “Of course.”
One of the unquestionable delights about that first year is introducing Harry to celebration. Merlin knows, those muggle beasts had never deigned to celebrate a single thing about Harry in the four miserable years he had suffered in their house. Nor had they ever bothered to include him in celebrations of any holiday. Tom has no doubts that had they not taken Harry when they did the child would have spent Christmas day locked in a dark cupboard, lying in his own blood and filth.
As is becoming common whenever he dares to think of Lady Potter’s muggle relations, Tom makes himself stop and breathe deeply while counting backwards from ten. In Latin. And then Greek, Gaelic, and finally Parseltongue when it all inevitably fails to calm him.
They are already dead, he writes to remind himself after watching the wonder unfold on Harry’s face as the household celebrates the lessening of winter and the oncoming spring. The sheer bafflement on his features as he helps brush out the corners of every room (well, not every room because the ancestral Malfoy home could house several dozen people with room to spare but all the rooms that they use at least) with a small broom is enough to make Tom laugh. Once he has gotten that out of his system he explains the symbolic nature of it, how the sweeping and the cleansing is representative of removing the stale, old energies and bringing in the new. Later, when they throw open all the doors and windows to the cold winter air and put lit candles in every window before making offerings of ewes milk and beer the pure delight on Harry’s face is enough to make Tom’s heart clench painfully in his chest.
They have neighbors, Voldemort writes back. Neighbors that did nothing.
Tom considers it for longer than he probably should.
It would be too suspicious if an entire neighborhood suddenly died, he finally points out. And our soul is safe now.
There is that squib though, he adds nearly two months later, having just watched Harry hide the majority of the enormous chocolate egg he had been gifted as part of the equinox celebrations. Despite getting three meals a day plus snacks and probably more sweets than are technically good for a child (Draco has a sweet tooth and neither Lucius nor Cissa has ever quite mastered the art of telling him “no”) Harry still routinely stashes food around the house and in the pockets of his clothing.
The one with all the cats?
I am listening.
“Dumbledore is still looking for him.”
Tom looks over as Severus drops elegantly into the chair next to him and leans back, tilting his face up to the sun. It is the beginning of May and the frenzy of preparing the students for their OWLs and NEWTs are upon him. It is incredibly likely that the man has not stepped foot outside of Hogwarts in days. Remembering the chaos of his own school days – even with Slughorn and his general lackadaisical approach to the actual teaching part of job – Tom would not be surprised if this is the last time Severus will see the sky for weeks. Frankly, the man looks in need of at least a week of sleep and lounging on a tropical beach somewhere but Tom rather thinks that Severus would dig his own eyes out with a rusty spoon before partaking in such a frivolous action.
“It is not unexpected,” he finally admits. “I have not held much hope that he would simply assume the boy dead.” It would have been lovely if he had, though. If Harry Potter had just been able to die as he had not half a decade ago – if he had been able to live on as just himself, just a child, and not this weapon of prophecy that the meddling old fool surely deemed him to be. It would have been far too easy and far too good to be true but Tom cannot stop the brief surge of disappointment from flaring at Severus’ words.
Out on the perfectly manicured expanse of lawn Pansy lets out a shriek followed by a mixture of laughter and yelling as she chases Draco around and around the may pole. Harry’s laughter is quieter but Tom can still hear it, the smaller boy sitting on the ground nearby with his arms wrapped around his knees and a small smile on his face.
He does that more and more these days: smiling wide enough to reach his eyes, laughing long enough to make the corners of his eyes crinkle and his cheeks turn pink. He still hoards food and does not like being in rooms with the doors shut. He still jumps when someone makes too much noise and, despite Lucius giving him his own house elf – an excitable little thing named Dobby – he has to clean his own room everyday or he starts to panic. But he also laughs and plays and…
The very sight of it is enough to make Tom’s chest swell up like one of Lucius’ ridiculous peacocks. He restrains himself, barely, but he cannot keep the undeniable affection from his gaze. Such a wonderous, precious, miraculous creature: a living horcrux, a feat of magic thought impossible to exist. It still catches him off guard at the oddest times: this boy carries a piece of his soul entwined with his own. This child, whom a damaged version of himself had tried to murder, is now one of the reasons that his mind still exists at all.
Tom has never been much for religion. Not after Wools, not after the Blitz. But he is fairly certain that if there is a higher power, a vast lord of all creation looming over the old gods that still lurk in the shadows and the magic woven into the earth, it is no doubt laughing its arse off.
“What are we discussing?” Lucius breaks the flow of his thoughts as he carefully takes the remaining chair at the table.
“Dumbledore knows Harry is alive. He has several instruments of his own invention devoted to monitoring the boy that assure him that he still lives.” Severus drawls, his eyes fluttering back open and Tom does not miss the way the dark eyed man follows Lucius’ movement as he resettles Panos in his arms, the milk fat infant tucked beneath the powerful lines of Lucius’ chin with one fist half stuffed into a sleep slackened mouth and the other chubby hand buried in the signature Malfoy locks.
Tom hides his smile.
“Can he track him?”
Severus presses his lips together so tightly that they nearly disappear. “It is possible. I think it likely that he has attempted, at least. He had enough blood to bind the instruments to Harry’s signature. I wouldn’t put it past him to have taken enough to ensure that he could keep track of the boy if needed. It is likely that the wards on the manor have prevented him from being found.”
“Malfoy magic and blood has fed these lands for over nine hundred years,” Lucius murmurs. “The only place more well warded in Britain is Castle Black. It does not matter how much of his blood the old fool has – he will not be able to find him here.”
The laughter of the children collapses into giggles, the three of them a tumble of arms and legs as they roll around in the grass. No doubt they will be scolded later for the inevitable grass stains and both Draco and Pansy will sigh and roll their eyes because they know their mothers do not mean a word of it beyond the admonition to always be aware of their appearances but Harry will apologize, solemn and contrite. He will probably even apologize to the house elves in charge of the laundry and the entire household will be subject to the creatures’ wails of adoration every time they come face to face with the boy.
Tom sighs. “The manor grounds are extensive but what sort of life would that be to never leave the bounds of it?” Baring war, incurable disease, and unfortunate accidents wixen are quite capable of living well into their second century. Dumbledore is only nearly done with his first. Even if they only hid Harry here until the old coot died he could still be trapped here for another fifty years or more.
The very thought of it makes him want to reach for his wand.
Severus, however, snorts. “A better one than he had previously,” he mutters darkly and his fingers twitch like they are reaching for a drink.
“True,” Tom agrees, “but still unacceptable.” And Severus inclines his head in agreement.
“What if,” Lucius begins slowly after a long pause in which the three men sit at a table in the gardens of Malfoy Manor and watch the children play. “What if we changed his blood?”
Harry Potter is blood bound into the Malfoy line on Midsummer’s Eve.
It is a potent date, the magic of the earth ripe for the picking and welling up out of the ground and seeping out of the air faster than they can use it. Tom draws the runes (his hand has always been steadier for this sort of work) with a mixture of blood from Lucius' veins and semen from his cock. When he is finished he stands in the circle with Lucius, Draco, and Harry and makes careful cuts on the palms of their hands and feeds them a potion that tastes like iron and salt before making the final markings on their faces.
They hold hands, the three of them, and Tom stands in the center with the bone-white of his yew wand clutched between his fingers as he says the words.
The four of them. Together, though only two of them will ever bear the name.
The Scions of House Malfoy.
Harry’s birthday is spent in Greece in a villa that has been in Ariadne’s family for centuries.
He cries when he sees the pile of presents waiting for him at the breakfast table and throws himself at Tom, hiding his face against Tom’s stomach.
“Is this real?” he asks and Tom thinks of twelfth birthday, when Abraxas had gifted him a book on wizarding etiquette. It had been more of a joke than anything else, a cutting commentary to the supposed mudblood of how low and unworthy he was. Joke had been on them though. By the time the spring equinox had rolled around he had been speaking and acting like he had been raised in one of the great houses and had never set foot in the muggle world. Once they had stopped tormenting him and started listening to him… well. The power of parseltongue on a bunch of pureblood elitists who frequently lived and died by their house pride cannot be overstated.
“It is real,” he hisses into the boy’s unruly hair. “I promise, on my life and my magic, that it is real.”
The gentle tap, tap, tap of the rain against the conservatory windows is enough to lull Tom into a meditative state. Sitting cross-legged on the stone floor he inhales slowly and lets his arms fall lax and heavy across his lap on the exhale. For a moment he sits there in silence, breathing, letting the rise and fall of his chest ease the tight coil of magic and tension that thrums in his veins. It has been nearly three years since he had consumed Wormtail’s life, magic, and soul and spilled out of the diary. Three years spent learning of his mistakes and beginning to correct them. Three years of trying to figure out what he is going to do – of how is he is going to change their world. Save it, even. But outside of keeping the alias of Marcellus and pursuing his career he has not outwardly done much.
Part of that, he is not entirely proud to admit, is out of fear. Fear that he will misstep and become Lord Voldemort once again, that he will descend into madness and be reduced to nothing but irrational violence and paranoia. Part of it too, is punishment: a self-inflicted sentence of waiting. Voldemort had gotten impatient, had fallen victim to his own eagerness and in doing so had not only destroyed himself but his followers and his cause. Tom’s work will only be so much harder now.
So he has waited. He has forced himself to wait. But now… now it is not just about him. Not just about his followers, those little threads he can feel in the back of his mind.
It his him. It is them. It is Harry.
Tom pulls the rising worry into a bubble and breathes it out, wiping his mind clear once again.
The confirmation that Harry Potter would not simply be allowed to die in a muggle accident had only driven home the need for an official plan and now, after so much thought and hundreds of hours scribbling in the journal or reliving memories in the pensieve with Voldemort prowling around in his head, he thinks he might have one.
Something very, very different than his last approach.
He is not a lion, chasing after his prey. He is a serpent in the grass, who lets his prey come to him.
“My lord?” Lucius’ voice is as soft as the rain pattering against the windows and the weight of it coils at the base of his spine.
Tom smiles and opens his eyes to the pretty picture of Lucius and Severus standing together in the doorway: the silver of the moon and the darkness that holds it. “Please, join me,” he motions back towards the golden glow of his study. “I have something I need to discuss with you.”
When Lucius asks about tea Tom waves it away and presses glasses of brandy into their hands. “I think,” he says quietly from where he stands before the fire, “that it is time for us to talk about what we intend to do from this point forward.”
It is hard to start speaking, to give life to all of the words that have tumbled around in his head until he is dizzy, but once he does he finds it almost impossible to stop. So he outlines the idea that will not leave his head: a snake in lion’s clothing, a game of chess played out until the very end only to reveal that you were never playing chess at all.
When he is done both men are staring at him. Lucius’ face is lined with worry and wonder, his fingers tapping at the curve of the armrest and Severus’ face is absolutely, terrifyingly blank. Tom is not sure if the Potions Master is about to kill him or simply grab Harry and make a run for it but he would believe either course of action.
Tom has certainly contemplated doing the latter.
“My lord, do you understand what you are saying?” Lucius asks hesitantly. “Do you understand what you are asking us – asking Harry to do?”
Tom swallows. “Yes.”
“You are asking a child to live some of his most formative years in a lie.”
Tom closes his eyes. “Yes,” he repeats.
“You are asking a child who is a member of my house, who is as much my son as Draco, to spend nearly a decade of his life pretending to hate the siblings he has been raised with. You are asking him to endure being belittled and shunned by those who raised him.” Lucius’ voice is like iron left out in the snow, scorching in its coldness.
Tom feels the mixture of shame and guilt catch in his throat. “In the public eye? Yes.”
“Why?” Lucius asks, voice breaking. “Why would you do that to that poor boy? Why would you do that to us? Why would you take that risk?”
“Do you think I want to?” Tom bites out and he wishes, suddenly, that he had poured himself a drink as well. “That boy has a piece of my soul in him! Ignoring everything else about him do you think that I want to let him anywhere near Dumbledore? The bloody fool believes that the prophecy he heard pertains to Potter and I and he is not going to let it rest. He is not going to stop trying to ensure its fulfillment!”
“Then just kill him!” Severus snaps back and though his face is empty and blank Tom can feel the man’s fury rolling around in the back of his head like an agitated snake. “Surely it would be easier to simply kill Dumbledore and be done with it,” he growls, cutting straight to the heart of the matter. For all of his cunning and subtle craftiness that quite possibly outdoes his own, Severus values efficiency more than anything. It is what makes him so terribly good at inventing new potions and improving those already in existence.
“It would,” Tom agrees because it really, really would. And yet, “It would be easy to kill him. I suspect that if you wanted you could slip something in his tea tomorrow and he would be gone. You could probably even do it without getting caught. But if he just dies what about everything we hope to accomplish? What happens to our struggle to earn back the magic and customs that have been stripped from us? If we turn Albus Dumbledore into the next Merlin – because, I truly, honestly believe that is what will happen if he dies now at the height of his powers – how can we ever improve our world?”
Tom looks away.
“If Dumbledore dies now the balance of power in Britain will remain as skewed as it has been since his defeat of Grindelwald. But if he lives unchecked then he will do all in his power to make Harry his weapon against me. This is the only way I can think of to cripple his influence. Keep him focused on his weapon and on Lord Voldemort’s inevitable return while we break down his reputation and take control of Wizengamot and the Ministry. And once he is weakened, he falls to the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived triumphs over Voldemort for good. Dumbledore is mourned, but allowed to fade. Voldemort is left in the dust of history and Harry is not only free to live his life but in possession of a great amount of influence.” Tom runs a shaking hand over his face. “I have thought of this again and again and again. Just because I bring the suggestion before you do not assume that I like it or that I want to implement it any more than you do. I bring this before you as my friends, as my family, as my Right Hand and my Left – acting Left,” he corrects at the twinge of Severus’ lips. “I bring it before you as your Lord. Not to command but to beg your advice. It is difficult and convoluted. It will be terrible for all of us and most of all for Harry but I can see no other way to wrench our world free of Dumbledore’s grasp. If you do, please, tell me.”
It is the closest to begging he has come since the moment that he stood before Albus Dumbledore as a twelve-year-old boy and pleaded not to be sent back to Wool’s – to London. He would not have begged Dumbledore for anything, not even his own life, but if he thought that it would get him a favorable response from his Right and his Left then he would have prostrated himself at their feet.
Instead, he is met with silence.
“That is what I thought,” Tom murmurs hollowly and finally pours himself a drink.
He wanted to save Harry from being Dumbledore’s weapon. Instead, he is going to end up being Tom’s.
On Samhain, the Ministry raids the manor.