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Inevitabilities

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“You don’t believe me, do you?”

Harry looks between his two best friends. Hermione is chewing her lips, a sure sign of nerves. Ron is looking pointedly at anywhere but his face. Their body postures are non-threatening, his accusatory tone earns nothing more than a wince from Hermione. Ron is beginning to pick at a loose thread on his robes. Harry feels a pang of anger and betrayal.

“Come on , guys,” he says, trying to ignore the anger for now, for the urge to lash out and prove he is right, he’ll make them all see… but he doesn’t, he pushes it down. It comes out pitiful and pleading, “You know I’m right about this. Riddle is the heir of Slytherin. It’s obvious!”

Ron clears his throat, “Yeah, mate, we hear you, it’s just… that’s what you said about that time last year with the duelling club and the snake. And that turned out to be an accident. And then there was that thing with being ratted out to Umbridge and it was Edgecombe--”

“It’s just,” Hermione says, rather diplomatically, “You have a tendency to obsess over Tom Riddle. And blame him for everything. And he hasn’t done anything so far.”

“He called you a mudblood! And told you that your parents were filthy savages and your mother was probably--”

“I know what he said!” Hermione snaps, flushing, still upset by the words even two years later, “But you’re the one who punched him in the face!”

“He deserved it,” Harry says, mutinously. “You would have too if you had got there in time.”

“He was winding you up because you could produce a corporeal patronus and he couldn’t even manage a mist,” she snaps, exasperated, probably just unwilling to admit she would have punched Riddle in the face as well had she the chance, “And he’s so used to being the top of the class--”

“I thought you were the top of the class.”

“Not in everything!”

“She’s got a point,” Ron says, “You didn’t even know he existed until then. You bumped into him in second year and called him ‘Avery’,” he sighs, “I miss those days. Before Dumbledore assigned the pair of you detention together and you didn’t even know his name. But after it was all ‘Riddle this’ and ‘Riddle that’ and if I didn’t know you better and you didn’t have a crush on Cho all this year I’d say you fancied the guy.”

“I do not--”

“We know,” Hermione soothes, “But you have to hear yourself. You think Tom Riddle is the heir of Slytherin and has been petrifying students? You really think that Tom Riddle had something to do with Myrtle Warren’s death?”

“He can’t be the heir,” Ron says, anyway, with a certain finality to it, like he’s already made up his mind and nothing Harry says can sway him, “He’s a muggleborn.”

“He’s a parselmouth!”

“Nobody else heard him, Harry. Just you.”

“FINE! Fine ,” he sighs. His fingers twitch, urging him to do something . They don’t believe him. They never believe him about Riddle, they just can’t see through the other boy’s perfect facade but Harry can. Harry has seen through the cracks-- “I just… if they don’t catch the killer, they’re going to close the school.” He looks up at them, slightly desperately, “They’re going to close Hogwarts!” he repeats, emphatically, “I heard them talking! I can’t - they can’t do that! I’ll be sent back to the Dursleys. For good!” he adds, as if he hasn’t got his point across.

“Maybe you could live with Sirius?” Ron suggests, “Now he’s back in the country--”

Harry looks somewhat hopeful, but Hermione snorts, “Black spent twelve years as a prisoner on the wrong side of the stalemate. He’s not exactly--” she breaks off, casting Harry a nervous glance.

He sighs, “Hermione’s right. Sirius isn’t… in a good place. He’s not allowed custody. And Remus is a werewolf, and your mum is lovely, Ron, but she’s got seven of you. Don’t argue - you know it’s true.”

Hermione reaches out to wrap a hand around his, “The aurors are searching,” she says, trying to sound reassuring, “They might find something.” She smiles at him, but it’s shaky with wariness and fear. The culmination of months of terror permeating the school has taken its toll. Their underground duelling club had been shut down by the Ministry official sent in to try and restore order. It had just caused further unrest and now--

Now a student was dead.

A strange mix of guilt and fear permeates Harry’s lungs. He knows-- knew Myrtle, he had taught her a bit of spellwork. Maybe if he’d taught she better she’d still be alive--

But they were going to close the school. Hogwarts - his home, his safety net - it was going to be forbidden to him and Harry refuses to let that happen.

He pulls away from Hermione’s grip, “I’m going up to bed,” he says. Ron and Hermione aren’t going to do anything. He can see that. He will have to take matters into his own hands.

The announcement will come tomorrow, no doubt, which means he has hours . He is running out of time.

He leaves his best friends, their worried eyes gazing at him as he vanishes up the stairs to the dorm. They see him ascend, they never see him descend, shrouded in his father’s invisibility cloak.

They might not believe him, but Harry knows he is right about this. Tom Riddle opened the Chamber of Secrets. The other boy had been acting suspiciously the whole year; Harry has seen him sneaking around, watched his footsteps linger on the Marauder's Map then vanish from view.

He’s guilty, Harry knows this already.

Now all that is left is Harry needs to prove it.

*

He watches Riddle’s ink dot on the map pacing one of the seventh floor corridors. His own dot approaches rapidly, his footsteps silenced and invisibility cloak shielding him from prying eyes. The school is chilled and eerily empty. An aura of fear and unknown uncertainty hangs over the whole place.

It’s been hanging around for a while, ever since the first petrification. It has only grown worse. People had taken to travelling in clumps, nobody willing to be caught out on their own. Even silenced and invisible, Harry’s heart still beats in his chest so loud he thinks the monster might be able to seek him out and end him before he ever gets a chance to confront Riddle.

But no - he makes it to the route the fifth year prefect is walking, at ease in the dark of the evening. Of course he’s at ease, Harry thinks, he’s the murderer. He’s hardly going to be scared of himself.

His plan is half-cocked and too-Gryffindor. It’s all confront-confront-get-a-confession. He rolls his holly wand between his fingers, contemplating how best to do this. A stunner and tying him up - old-fashioned - it should work though--

It might well have worked, had fate not interfered, potentially literally in the bug-eyed form of Professor Trelawney hurrying around the corner clutching several large crystal bottles of sherry. So focussed on Riddle, Harry had not been aware of her dot hurrying towards the seventh floor, and he doesn’t realise she’s there until she walks into the back of him. Her shriek sounds in his ears and he just manages to keep the cloak on as several sherry bottles go flying with a shattering crash.

Riddle whirls around, alerted to her presence. He’s oddly still, staring at the Divination Professor, “Professor Trelawney,” he says, simperingly. Harry can taste vomit. “Are you okay?”

She blinks, her eyes many times magnified by her thick-lensed glasses. Her expression turns into devastation at the shattered crystal and red liquid of her precious alcohol. Harry thinks he got some on the cloak, he frantically mutters the few cleaning charms he knows in case it affects his visibility. “I-I must have tripped,” Trelawney mutters, clearly confused, “I just walked right into something--”

Riddle’s eyes light up at that, “Really?” he drawls. His eyes flicker around at the destruction, at the mumbling seer amongst the sea of glass and fortified wine, of the way the crystals scatter. She’s still talking but neither Harry nor Tom are really paying attention. Maybe if they had her hoarse mutterings would have been of greater interest, but as it is Tom Riddle and Harry Potter always manage to become the object of each other’s obsessions.

Potter’s got an invisibility cloaks, Tom must realise, at about the same time as Harry realises that Tom knows Trelawney walked into some one not some thing .

Homenum Re --” Tom is saying, at about the same time as Harry just straight out grabs him and shoves him through the nearest convenient doorway. He hadn’t even known there was a room here, but it serves its purpose and Riddle’s arms windmill as he tries to avoid falling over.

Trelawney comes out of her trance to an empty corridor, “How rude,” she says, clicking her tongue, and going about trying to rescue what is left of her sherry.

*

This, Harry thinks, was not his plan. He watches Tom Riddle off-balance for less than a second before he’s whirling around and putting a stunner straight into the spot Harry would have been in had he not moved already.

“Potter,” Riddle says, staring carefully around, “What do you think you’re doing?”

This isn’t going to go very far with his cloak on, nor with Riddle pointing his wand at him, so Harry tries for his original plan of stunning Riddle. It doesn’t work. The red jet bounces off a shield and just gives away his position. With a snarl of annoyance he ducks away from his previous position, tugging off the cloak, “I just want to talk,” he says, “ Expelliarmus !” he shouts, and Riddle knocks the spell aside with a sneer.

“Really, Potter? A disarming charm? How pitiful. Bombarda .”

“Woah!” Harry deflects the exploding jinx, catches whatever the next spell Tom sends his way and throws it back, “I said I wanted to talk!”

“You’re the one who tried to disarm me. And shoved me into this room. And snuck up on me invisible…”

“And you’re the one who murdered a girl!” Harry snaps, glowering. This, he thinks, is why he hates Tom Riddle. Nobody else quite gets under his skin in the same way, nobody else can wind him up and get his blood burning and adrenaline pumping. Riddle’s face grows cold at those words and Harry’s shield takes about five hits, two of which looks nasty and brutal. “ Senia! Depulso! Stupefy!” he sends back, chaining them.

Tom leaps out of the way. The room is oddly suited to duelling, Harry thinks, as if it was prepared for their fight, but the next second Tom is casting at him and he’s casting back--

Arrente !”

Malaire !”

One is a crimson red-brown, the other is a forest-green. The lights flash and Harry is moving to deflect or dodge when there is a deep-seated tug from the wand in his hands, and in that moment the lights hit each other.

Harry’s wand explodes. Not literally, in wooden splinters and burning phoenix feather, but practically. Light burns and his wand is suddenly an unstoppable force that he can barely hold onto. It trembles and shakes and he claws at it, following the beam of light that spills out of it.

It links directly, inexplicably, to Tom Riddle’s own wand. The normally poised prefect looks alarmed, like this was the last thing he was prepared to happen. His wand bucks and lightning dances across the beam like electricity along a wire. Harry expects to get shocked as it brushes past him, but it feels gentle and soothing and he hears a phoenix singing--

“No!” Tom panics. It’s clear in his eye, and he yanks his wand away. The rope - impossibly bright, impossibly strong - breaks with a crack and for a moment Harry is blinking black spots as the light vanishes like a candle blown out.

Harry takes his chance, “Expelliarmus !” he shouts, and this time Riddle doesn’t dodge. It hits him, sending him stumbling, but it doesn’t knock his wand from his hands. Tom has already dropped his wand like it burned him the moment the golden link broke - it’s already on the floor rolling around. The spell instead rips a small black book out of Tom’s grip and sends it flying to the side.

Harry stands there a moment, adrenaline still coursing through him. He sways a bit, weary, but keeps his wand pointed at Riddle, “Is that a diary?” he sneers, squinting at the small black book embossed with gold lettering, “You have a diary?”

Riddle looks fed up and brimming with anger, “What do you want , Potter? You better have a good reason, because I will go to Dumbledore, and he will have you in detention from now until graduation for attacking me unprovoked--”

“Unprovoked?” Harry laughs, outraged, “Unprovoked--well I’ll take detention, you’ll be expelled ! You murdered someone!”

Tom’s face - handsome and good-looking - looks alien in that moment as something flashes across it. It makes him look cruel and ugly and it’s gone before Harry can identify it. He smiles, charmingly, “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. I murdered who?”

“You know who,” Harry sneers, “Myrtle Warren. That Ravenclaw who got picked on because of her glasses. The girl they found dead in a second-floor bathroom. The one your pet killed.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tom says, completely blase.

“Don’t you?” Harry blinks, “It’s Slytherin’s monster, Slytherin’s heir, most of the school might not have made the link but I know you’re a parselmouth and so was Salazar Slytherin. It doesn’t take a genius to work out you’re the one behind all these attacks.”

Tom steps forwards, and Harry might still have his wand but it means nothing when Riddle looks at him like that. Like he’s prey. Like he’s a diamond or something he hadn’t seen before. Harry wants to step backwards, but he is a Gryffindor, so he holds his ground and juts his chin out until Riddle is so close. Harry’s wand digs into the older boy’s chest, but Tom ignores it, an odd smile on his face as he looks down at Harry. “You spin a good story, Harry,” and his name sounds sinful on his tongue, “But where’s your proof? Who, exactly, is going to believe you - a reckless emotional Gryffindor who skims by all his classes because of a poor attitude and talent for picking inane fights - over me - perfect record, highest grades in the year, prefect, unblemished record, poor orphan Tom Riddle?”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” Harry says.

Riddle scoffs, “You disagree? You think you’re doing better than barely-passable grades?”

“Oh, no, you’re probably right about that - except in defence where I trounce you. But highest grades in the year - I’m pretty sure Hermione has you beat,” Riddle’s face twitches, “And that galls you, doesn’t it? That a mudblood has better grades than you do. But you’re right. You said it yourself - I have no proof. Just my word against yours. And you haven’t even admitted anything now, have you? This is all hypothetical, right?” Harry scoffs.

Riddle’s head tilts to one side, almost curiously. “You’re a lot smarter than you act,” he says, insultingly.

“And you’re stupider,” Harry says, “Because hypothetically, if there was an unknown monster killing the students, and there was somebody out there who could control them - well, you should have worked out what happens next by now, surely.”

“Surely,” Tom shrugs, still relaxed, at ease, “The monster strikes again, Slytherin’s heir appeases the masses of oppressed inbred purebloods.” His torn is scornful.

“Somebody died , Tom. There are consequences, there are always consequences. They’re going close the school!”

“They what ?” his face shutters. The perfect facade cracks and Harry can’t help but smirk at his victory. “No,” he shakes his head, horror stealing into his voice, “No, they can’t , they wouldn’t--”

“Riddle, somebody died .” Harry's voice is cold, “They can't leave it open if there are going to be more deaths. Dumbledore is already facing enquiries from the Ministry, there are auror teams patrolling daily, they can't afford to keep them up. Both financially and if more people die.”

Riddle’s eyes widen, like a fly trapped in a web, “Nobody will believe you,” he says, wildly, “They can’t pin me to any of the petrifications, I can’t--” he pauses, “You knew it was me, you’ve known I was a parselmouth ever since that thing with the snake at the duelling club. You knew it was me, but you don’t have proof, so why on earth did you confront me, reckless, Gryffindor move, unless--”

Harry takes a careful step away from Riddle. His wand drops to his side and he focuses on anywhere other than the dark eyes of the Slytherin prefect, “You have two options,” he says, “You turn yourself in and the attacks stop,” he can see already how that suggestion goes down. He swallows down a lump in his throat, “Or you can help me find something else to pin it on and the heir of Slytherin dies. Tonight. Because despite your murderous ways I know you’re the only person who probably wants the school open more than I do. They'll send you back to the orphanage, and then where will the great heir of Slytherin be?” he scoffs, “No, you have to stop, and you have to help me.”

He’s so busy bathing in his victory he misses the moment Tom lurches forwards, hand closing around his collar as Riddle slams him backwards against the wall. The other hand comes up to press on Harry’s wrist where his wand is, grip cruel as he pins Harry in place, “How?” Riddle’s words are smooth and deadly, “How do you know about the orphanage?”

Harry swears at him.

Tom’s grip grows bruisingly tight, “Tell me,” he hisses, words almost parseltongue.

“Because I asked!” he snaps out, thrashing in Riddle’s grip. Tom relaxes it slightly but doesn’t let go, “I asked to stay over the summer, okay? Dumbledore said ‘no’, said you already asked! I’ve known since second year!”

That of all things forces Riddle to step back, a frown creasing his face as he lets Harry go. They stand there, too close, breathes intermingling, “Why on earth would you , precious Gryffindor’s Golden Boy, Potter heir to a fortune comfortable enough that you will never have to work a day in your life - why would you want to stay at Hogwarts? Guardians not spoil you enough?”

Harry sneers, “They’re muggles ,” he snaps, and even the weakness that comes with revealing that is worth it to see Riddle flinch, “My mother’s family - they don’t like magic. They think I’m going to curse them in their sleep - you of all people probably know what that’s like.”

Tom Riddle’s expression flickers and for an absurd moment Harry thinks he is about to apologise… but then the moment is gone and he’s looking at Harry with those dark eyes, an almost obsessive gleam in his eyes. He steps forwards and Harry cringes back. The wall is right behind him, and he doesn’t make it far as Tom rests against the wall with one arm, half caging him in.

Remembering his wand, Harry brings it up and jabs it into Riddle’s throat but doesn’t deter him, “So you’re proposing a partnership?” he asks, voice almost a purr, “ You’re going to help me cover this up?”

“You could always turn yourself in,” Harry suggests, sweetly, and Riddle laughs. He looks oddly exhilarated, but Harry can’t work out why, “The last thing I want to do is help out a murderer, and I’d try to catch you red-handed except even you’re not stupid enough to go back with aurors crawling all over.”

“But you have an invisibility cloak,” Tom’s eyes gleam. Harry’s stomach does an odd sort of flip - he can’t believe he’s doing this. All instincts scream at him to turn Tom in, to tell Dumbledore, to do something , somebody died --

But nobody will listen to Harry. Maybe in another world where he has a scar across his brow and a title earned before he could speak, but here? Here; Harry Potter is an orphan whose one desire is to leave his childhood far behind and never return.

And if the solution to that is to work with Tom Riddle, well, some things have to be done.

“Deal,” Riddle says, decision made, “We cover it up. Hogwarts stays open. You keep your pretty mouth shut.”

“You stay away from the second floor bathroom and your pretty snake-adorned sink,” Harry adds, pointedly.

Riddle’s eyes widen subtly at the knowledge of exactly how much Harry has worked out, “Fine,” he grinds out, “The Chamber stays closed. You tell nobody I’m a parselmouth.”

“Deal.”

“Deal.”

It’s not an unbreakable vow, but as Harry feels the magic tingling in the air he thinks it’s as good as.

*

“This is fantastic - we shouldn’t need to close the school, see Lucius, didn’t I say it would all work out?”

Lucius Malfoy looks like he’s swallowed something sour, “Of course, Minister.”

“This is fantastic, great news, special awards to both Mr Potter and Mr Riddle, I think, and, uh, maybe a monetary sum? I trust that the public don’t need to be made aware of the acromantula roaming the school, it’s a miracle the papers only just heard about the death--”

“I’ve told you already, Cornelius, acromantula are not capable of petrifying--”

“That thing was ancient - who knows what it could or couldn’t do - we’d have someone look at it of course, but I had them burn the body-- don’t look at me like that Dumbledore, I’ve heard your basilisk theory but there is no way an acromantula would be anywhere near the castle if there was a giant snake around. And a basilisk - don’t you think someone would have noticed a giant snake, Albus?”

Dumbledore's blue gaze feels like a piercing dagger but Harry smiles blandly and keeps his gaze focussed on where the Minister is bumbling about rewards. The look their headteacher gives Tom is too knowing. Riddle himself is smiling blandly at Malfoy who appears to be busy critiquing Dumbledore’s robe choice to notice. Somewhere Harry wonders in odd detachment if Madame Umbridge made it out of the forbidden forest in one piece.

He decides he doesn’t really care.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything you would like to tell me, Harry?” Dumbledore appeals to Harry, appearing to already recognise that Tom will give him nothing. Harry wonders if he spoke up now if he even could or if their deal would bind his tongue.

“No, Professor,” he says, meeting the blue gaze for a moment, thinking about the spider the size of a car, of it’s fangs, of Tom screaming at him to use a more effective spell you idiot and of the curse that finally pierces the exoskeleton into pieces--

“I’ll have to tell Hagrid,” Dumbledore says, quietly, “I believe the acromantula may be from his colony - he had one as a pet once--”

“Ah yes, that was what got him expelled, wasn’t it?” Tom asks, too casually, “It’s a shame we didn’t manage to find whoever brought the acromantula in and scrawled the messages on the walls, I’m sorry we couldn’t do better--” he ducks his head. It’s the perfect act. Harry marvels at it, just a little bit.

“Not at all, not at all,” Fudge eats it up, “What you two did was very brave, wasn’t it Lucius?”

“Indeed,” Malfoy says, his gaze linger on the pair, “A most fascinating team up.”

He looks a bit unsettled by it, actually, the idea of Tom Riddle and Harry Potter teaming up.

Sensible, Harry thinks, they’d made for a brutally efficient team. Harry himself had been scared by how well they had worked together.

“A fucking basilisk?” Harry hisses, when the Minister and Malfoy and Dumbledore finally leave them alone in the hospital wing, recovering from their baiting of an acromantula, “A giant freaking snake? Of cour-- ” his words are cut off as Tom lunges across to his bed, grabbing Harry’s collar and dragging him up so they’re eye to eye.

“You won’t breathe a word of this,” Tom says, voice low and dangerous. His dark eyes track over Harry, the threat clear in every line of his body.

“I tell them,” Harry says, slowly, “They’ll still close the school. There’s a basilisk in the basement . Don’t worry. Your murderous secrets are safe with me. But anymore dead bodies, Tom, and I’ll go to the aurors. To Dumbledore--”

“You can’t,” Tom says, smirking as he relaxes his grip on Harry’s collar, pausing to smooth out the wrinkles and then step backwards, “You’re complicit now, Potter. How does that really make you better than me?”

*

“So?” Hermione asks, the next day, “Were you right? Was Riddle the heir?”

And Harry meets her gaze squarely, unflinchingly, “No,” he lies, “I was wrong. But I found the monster and RIddle may have helped.”

Chapter Text

"Harry, make him move."

Harry can feel the presence sitting next to him. He had been purposely not looking at the other boy, but now he twists around to see Riddle smugly paging through his textbook in the seat to his right. Ron hovers awkwardly behind, staring at where his usual seat is taken up by the Slytherin prefect.

"I don't control him," Harry says, then adds anyway, “Riddle, get lost.”

“Hmmm, no, I rather think not,” Riddle says, smugly, “It’s a free country, I can sit where I want.”

Harry glares at him, then does a frantic glance around the room to see if there are alternative seating arrangements. He locks eyes with Draco Malfoy whose jaw is blatantly hanging open as he stares at them. The blonde pureblood looks torn between revulsion and horror that his favourite schoolyard rival has been stolen away by Slytherin’s resident mudblood of all people, except the one-track obsessiveness exhibited by Riddle and Potter alike terrified him into silence.

(Albus Dumbledore would be alarmed at the similarities between the young pair of wizards and himself and another powerful man, were he not too busy playing a chess game with said powerful man with the whole of Europe as their chess board.)

“Take a seat, Mr Weasley,” Professor McGonagall sniffs, barely appearing to notice the new seating arrangements. Ron slinks to the row behind and drops down next to Seamus.

“Seriously,” Harry hisses at Riddle, “What’s your problem?”

“I’m checking out my investment,” Tom’s grin is like a shark, “Gotta keep an eye on you somehow. Also--” he shoves the book he had been looking through towards Harry. It is not, as Harry had first assumed, their textbook. It’s a thick library tome about wandlore of all things.

Harry pages through, taking in the sections on famous wands, mystical death sticks and Merlin’s staff, wand cores and wood types and--

“There,” Tom’s finger jabs down on the page about cores and the creatures that can provide magical conduits. “Your wand is phoenix feather, right?”

“No,” Harry denies, “It’s unicorn hair.”

He is met with an unimpressed look, “Even if I didn’t know you were lying, unicorn is notoriously bad at dark arts and you, yourself, excel at defence.”

“Exactly - defence, not dark arts.”

“I watched you throw Parkinson across the room only last week,” Riddle says, “You give as good as you get, better even,” Harry longs to punch the pure smugness out of his voice. “It’s called Priori Incantatem . When two wand cores of the same creature - in this case the same phoenix - come into contact they refuse to fight. Instead the cores force the wands to regurgitate echoes of spells previously cast.

Fascinating ,” Harry tries to ignore Riddle, to pay attention to McGonagall’s lecture on human transfiguration.

“Don’t you see? It’s fate --”

“Mr Riddle, would you kindly demonstrate?”

Harry is almost relieved at the interruption. There had been something feverish in Riddle’s tone, something dark and deep and impossible to fathom. Ambition and longing and an odd possessiveness like he had been proven right about---

Something. Harry can’t tell what, only that his own apparent obsession with Riddle runs both ways. “Of course,” Riddle is all charms and smiles. Magic comes so easy for him, blooming from his wand - phoenix feather, apparently - a long, pale white wood. He’s calm and collected and so bloody perfect all the time while Harry is a veritable mess - hair windswept, thoughts scattered and magic powerful but erratic and hard to pin down long enough to do anything, let alone the flawless spell that turns an indignant Zacharias Smith into a tortoise.

Laughter rings around the class, and McGonagall even gives the Slytherin a small smile, “Ten points to Slytherin. A bit exuberant, maybe, and I had asked for a mammal, Mr Riddle, but flawless nonetheless--”

When Riddle turns back to Harry, the Gryffindor has constructed a barrier out of his own textbooks and his school bag. The book on wandlore is still open on the table in front of him, and he adds it to the pile, ignoring Riddle’s huff of either amusement or frustration. The book might be interesting, Harry thinks, at the very least Ron would get a kick out of an ‘unbeatable wand’.

*

Riddle’s watching him from across the Great Hall.

Harry had never realised exactly how much he was aware of the other boy. The Slytherin table was separated by the Hufflepuff table, which means everytime Harry glances over he has to twist slightly to see past Ernie McMilliain’s head, yet it’s almost a second habit.

Hermione is watching Harry with suspicion. Ron appears to not have noticed, too busy shovelling food into his mouth. There is a pause and he glances at where Harry who is once again checking to see if Riddle is staring at him, and rolls his eyes and turns back to his food. He’s probably ignoring it deliberately. “I hear they’re giving you two an award,” Hermione says, “For catching the monster.”

“It had to be a bloody spider,” Ron moans through his food prompting Demelza Robbins to shift further down the bench away from the spraying food.

“It was incredibly dangerous, sneaking out like that,” Hermione sniffs. She sounds disapproving, but Harry knows she’s just worried, “You could have been killed!”

Ron swallows, thankfully, “Can’t believe you tried to find dirt on Riddle. I told you - the guy’s a prat but he’s squeaky clean. A goody goody two shoe prefect. Heard he’s gonna be a shoe in for Head Boy too.” He pauses, as Harry does another reflexive look across to the Slytherin table, “He keeps looking at you,” Ron says, “What did he want in transfiguration?”

“Wanted to compare our wands,” Harry murmurs, distracted.

Ron chokes. Hermione sprays out a mouthful of orange juice, “That better not be a euphemism,” she says.

“What? NO! No, he lent me a book on wand lore. Or, well, he shoved it in my face and I didn’t give it back because I was too busy hoping he’d fall in a hole and die.” That is, of course, the natural thing that should occur. With the secret of the Chamber and the girl’s death hanging between them, Harry should stay far away from Riddle. He should forget it ever happened - if anyone found out it would ruin his future. He’d never get into the aurors, he’d be carted off to Azkaban, Potter name or not--

“Come on,” Ron says, “We’ve got Defence next, I want to grab a seat before Riddle tries to be all buddy-buddy, you’re my best friend - he can go and find his own--”

“Honestly, Ron, someone can have more than one friend and if it means Riddle is going to be a little nicer--”

“Have you met the guy? He’s got a stick shoved so far up his--”

Harry lets the soft bickering of his friends wash over him as he trails after them to Defence. True to his word, Ron sits in his usual seat next to him. Harry can’t help but be aware of the moment Riddle enters, the teenager pausing and barely appearing to glance at Harry before moving to where the Slytherins group together.

He’s a murderer, Harry thinks, disjointedly. Guilt claws at his stomach. Riddle is a snake among sheep, and he can’t tell anyone --

Riddle is a snake among sheep and he’s playing them. He’s pretending to be a sheep, to be harmless and innocent and the good guy. He can’t reveal his Slytherin heritage anymore - Harry has in one move as good as ruined any prospect Riddle had of evern holding power in Hogwarts and Harry knows how much that galls the older boy.

And now Riddle is retaliating by irritating Harry into an early grave. Still, he thinks, he can give as good as he gets and his fingers itch at the challenge.

“Your OWLs are almost upon us!” their teacher says. Merrythought claps her hands together as she surveys the class. She’s looking more ill every year, and they have had an increasingly long list of supply teachers of various competency covering for her. “I want perfect shield charms from all of you - I won’t have anyone here fail their practical while I still teach here - partner up, I want to see you duelling. Attack and counter and shield only , this is a classroom not a war zone!”

“Partner up?” Ron says, like it’s a natural conclusion as the seat he had tried so hard to get goes flying to the side of the classroom, piling up with the desks like some elaborate tetris. Harry marvels at the magic for a moment before his gaze catches on something else and he makes up his mind. “Harry?” Ron asks, waiting for the affirmation. He turns to where Harry had been, only to find his best friend no longer there.

Harry had always had a poor sense of self-preservation and a natural talent for finding the biggest point of trouble and throwing himself in head first.

And right now Tom Riddle, murdering, budding psychopath in the making, is a giant red danger flag that Harry can’t resist. Harry crosses the classroom in an instant, sidling in next to Riddle and forcing Avery, Tom’s usual partner, to almost walk into him.

“Want to test your theory?” Harry says, and the moment Riddle’s dark eyes fall on him they light up, like someone had just given him an early birthday gift. Avery is spluttering in the background, but Riddle ignores him, just nodding and gesturing towards an empty spot in the classroom.

“Of course, darling,” Riddle purrs, “Let’s see how your--hmm, unicorn core wand works in a proper duel, shall well?”

“Maybe you’ll have better luck this time,” Harry says, snidely, and Riddle visibly twitches.

“Nothing harmful!” Merrythought calls out, “I don’t want to see a single person in the hospital wing-- I said nothing harmful !” she snaps as Crabbe throws an overpowered knockback jinx at Nott who tries to shield and duck as the same time and fail at both.

Ron is making faces at Harry across the classroom and promptly gets hit with a stunner neatly fired from Hermione. Harry isn’t paying them any attention, too busy sizing up Riddle. For a moment they stand there, two predators regarding each other, and then they’re flinging spells.

Their shield charms are solid. Most of the spells get deflected and this is going to make for a very boring practice, Harry thinks, as he tilts his head in a clear challenge to Riddle, “Want to spice things up a little?”

Riddle’s eyes gleam and Harry throws himself out of the way of the incendio that burns his shield to ashes. Riddle’s triumph is drowned, quite literally in the aguamenti that dowses the flames and starts freezing. Riddle knocks the ice aside like it’s an irritating fly, shaking water droplets out of his face, uncaring that he almost took Avery out with a chunk of ice the size of his head. “That was tame,” he says, and promptly almost gets strangled by a curtain Harry banishes at him.

Merrythought looks too engaged by trying to rescue Neville from where he had gotten himself stuck to a wall to notice the wide variety of spells Tom and Harry have actually started flinging at each other. Harry is pretty sure that purple one he just dodged was an entrail expelling curse. A few of the students have paused to watch because seeing Harry Potter in his element and Riddle, usually composed and at ease, throw himself around the room with magic pouring off him is a practically unseen spectacle.

Harry casts another shield charm just for the sake of it, but Tom’s next spell is so powerful it shatters it, and Harry is forced to rapidly cast back. In the midst of the bright spellfire, it’s inevitable that their spells meet again - a stunner catching a disarming charm.

Gold flashes, not as bright as that night, but still distinctly gold and Harry tears his wand away before a golden dome can erupt in the middle of their defence classroom. He doesn’t need everyone to realise that Riddle and he have a wand with feathers from the same phoenix, he’s read the relevant chapters in the wandlore book to have some idea of what rumours will spread from that.

Soulmate, fate-bound, worst enemies, lovers, rulers, death-bound, equals-- he doesn’t want to know what interpretation Riddle took from it.

The gold breaks and Harry’s so busy worrying about the wand link he steps sideways right into the expelliarmus that sends him crashing to the ground and his wand flying.

Riddle catches it, fumbling only slightly to show his fatigue through the triumphant smirk on his face. Gold sparks fizzle from the wand tip as he wields Harry’s wand, twirling it through the air. He steps forwards with a smug bright-eyed exhilarated grin that even though he lost, even though he’s on the floor wandless and beaten, Harry can’t help the rush of the challenge that flares through him.

“I knew it was phoenix feather,” Tom’s dark blue eyes have an odd glint in them, “Take good care of it, brother ,” mockery and an odd joy lace his voice as he tosses Harry his wand back. He’s grinning wildly, and Harry finds his own face is twisted in a smile.

*

There are times he wishes he had just framed Tom for the Chamber and moved on. Except he hadn’t had enough evidence and with the risk of failure leading to Hogwarts being closed--

It had been too great, and instead Harry and Tom had found themselves in an unwilling vow. Tom remains a no-name muggleborn with good grades. He cannot reveal his ancestry, his parseltongue, his true intentions without breaking their vow. Apart from to a few select friends that are really more followers, he is just another student.

And Harry cannot tell on him. Tom’s secrets are his secrets, Harry remains complicit in a murder cover-up. The guilt gnaws at him, and he avoids the second floor where the ghost haunts her death.

“What are your plans this summer?” Riddle drops into a seat next to him at lunch. Harry barely blinks over where he’s reading another book on wandlore - the subject actually fascinating. Since exams have finished, Harry’s been using his free time to explore the subject. He’s pretty sure he only failed History and Divination, which is probably pretty good all things considered.

“Harry,” Seamus peers around Riddle’s form, “Is this guy bothering you?”

“What? No, it’s okay, Seamus, Tom, what are you doing here?”

“Eating,” he says, and proceeds to help himself to a sandwich. The Gryffindors nearby give him a weird look. Ron, approaching in the distance, takes one look at Riddle and decides better, going to sit with his sister.

Some friend he is, Harry thinks with a snort.

Riddle ignores the stares, “So this summer - your plans?”

“You’re asking why?” Harry frowns, then the cogs click and he does a double take at Riddle, pretty boy extraordinaire who is about to be subjected back to a miserable muggle orphanage. “My relatives, probably,” he says, just about hiding the flinch, “Ron says I can stay with him, and Sirius might be around--” the latter is said with as much cheer as he can and it comes out horribly, terribly flat.

He meets Riddle’s blue gaze. The expression there is not pity - Tom Riddle is a murderer, he doesn’t know how to feel pity - it’s… understanding? Fury, anger at being caged and forced back to their crappy homes? Harry can’t tell.

“You live in London, right?”

“Surrey.”

“Close enough. I want to do some… family history. Come with.”

“I’m sure you can do your studies without me,” Harry doesn’t understand why he’s asking.

“Maybe,” Riddle shrugs, “But I’m worried our… vow...might interfere…”

“Oh,” Harry says, contemplating the mechanics of their not-vow and exactly what Riddle means by family history. “Sure, fine, I could use an outing. But you’re buying me dinner.”

“It’s a date,” Riddle says, and Harry wants to roll his eyes at the wording, even more so as some of the Gryffindors who had been clearly eavesdropping choke.

*

It’s not a date. Very, very clearly not a date and the outing is anything but fun. Riddle’s orphanage is dreary and dull. Harry himself is trying to hide a set of bruises from where Vernon had shoved him sideways into the kitchen cabinets, and his muggle clothing is still too big and baggy with too many holes. Tom’s might be second-hand and look just plain odd on him - Harry more used to him in robes than a shirt and jeans - but at least they fit him.

“You’re a state,” he says in greeting.

“You look fantastic too, nice to see you,” Harry says, and contemplates what idiocy has led to him meeting up with Tom freaking Riddle in the middle of London. He’d never contemplate meeting up with Draco Malfoy, but Tom--

Tom actually doesn't look too good. He’s pale and thin and looks slightly peaky.

“Knight Bus?” Harry says, given they’re both underage and can’t apparate anyway.

Tom pulls a face, but nods. Instantaneous travel might be instantaneous, but defying the laws of physics had horrible reactions on the human body. They did, however, end up in South East Sussex without much issue other than Tom’s pallor gaining a green tinge.

“Have they been feeding you?” Harry asks, almost concerned, “Have you been eating?”

“Yes,” Tom snaps, irritable and annoyed, “No,” he corrects a moment later, “They’ve brought in rationing for the war, after Hogwarts I’m not used to it.”

Harry knows that feeling too well, his aunt and uncle had been especially bitter in his first summer back after first year, possibly something to do with Hagrid’s exuberant welcome he had given Harry to magic that may have included giving Dudley and Uncle Vernon a pig’s tail. He’d spent that summer in a locked room with a cat flap through which cold tins of soup and beans were passed through. “The war’s getting worse,” he says, “The wizarding war been going twenty-odd years now and finally the muggles have caught on. They’re sending men over to Germany, Vernon wants Dudley to enlist and my aunt won’t even hear of it.” He pauses, “I think they’d send me if they weren’t scared of Dumbledore turning up to curse them or something.”

“I doubt Dumbledore has time for that these days,” Tom sniffs, “I hear the Ministry has finally managed to get him to step into a more militant role. About time, too.”

“Really?” Harry arches an eyebrow, “I thought he just summoned his precious Order - Sirius sent me a letter saying he was heading back to the country.”

Tom rolls his eyes, like the actions of everyone around him are naught but stupidity and idiocy. He examines a sign in front of him, one pointing to a ‘Little Hangleton’ and the other way to ‘Greater Hangleton’. “Come on,” he says, “Let’s walk and I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered about the Noble and Ancient House of Gaunt.”

There was nothing Noble about the Gaunt House. Ancient, maybe, decrepit and falling to ruins. “Is that a snake ?” Harry peers at the front door, “I think we’ve definitely got the right place.”

Tom knocks. There’s a pause and a shuffling and the door opens to a wild, monkey-like man with small dark eyes and an overgrowth of hair on his face. The man squints at him and hisses something under his breath. Tom doesn’t acknowledge the parseltongue, “I’m looking for Marvolo,” he says, calmly, pointedly.

“E’s dead, innee?” the man sneers, “Gone an’ left, jus’ like alla them.”

“Then you are--?”

The man squints at Tom suddenly, “Aint you that muggle?” he asks, abruptly, “That fancy one that lives on the ‘ill, the one Merope took a fancy too?” his leer reveals blackened teeth and yellow gums, “Get lost, filthy mudblood scum, plotting against the House of Gaunt, oh yes, Morfin knows this--” he tries to slam the door in their face and Tom shoves his foot in the way.

“Tell me more,” he says, “What muggle on the hill? Merope? Was that her name?”

Morfin is half-mad. He drops into hissing and Tom hisses back, startling him enough to allow them to push their way in. Harry hovers in the background for the most part, unable to understand a large portion of the conversation. There is a ruckus as Morfin lunges forwards, apparently forgetting he was a wizard and reaching out with rotting necrosed fingers for Tom who reacts like lightning.

His wand is in his hands and Morfin is blasted backwards across the room, dropping into a messy heap across a rickety chair. Harry startles, straightening and on alert, “Tom!” he snaps, “What are you doing?”

“He attacked me!” Tom announces, “Thought I was my father. My muggle father. Who lives on the hill just across from here. Apparently my mother and he eloped…”

“You used magic,” Harry hisses, “Won’t the Trace pick it up?” he asks, cautiously as Tom takes a step forwards.

“With him living here - shouldn’t,” Tom says, bending over the man and fiddling with something. When he straightens he’s holding an odd ring, “He said this was a heirloom,” he says, sounding almost awed. “That this was the Peverell ring.”

“Peverell?” Harry perks up, “I think the Potters are related to the Peverells, guess that makes us cousins,” he’s trying to be lighthearted and it falls flat. Everyone in the wizarding world are cousins, including Ron and Draco. He and Hermione had decided against mentioning that to their ginger friend and save themselves a headache.

Tom’s gaze appears drawn to the ring and he holds it up to the light, “I’m not a mudblood,” he says, quietly, as if trying to prove it to himself. Then with a sigh he tosses the ring to Harry, “I can’t wear it,” he says, sounding bitter, “The vow - I can’t reveal my family history, you might as well keep it.”

“It’s fucking ugly,” Harry says, “I don’t know why you’d want to wear it anyway.” The stone is too big for the dirty gold band and there’s some kind of imperfection in it. On closer inspection it appears to be a symbol of sorts.

“It’s an heirloom,” Tom says, and Harry hears the note in his voice, hears the wistful note that’s more possessive than anything. Tom probably feels about this the same way Harry feels about his invisibility cloak and the map. Things that belonged to his dad, proof his parents existed, proof that he is more than poor orphan Harry.

Stole Slytherin’s locket, didn’t she ? Morfin had spat at them, and Harry has this sudden urge to hunt down the locket that Tom’s mother had worn to present to him. To give Tom something --

A part of him realises that Tom doesn’t want it for sentimental value. Tom doesn’t care for pictures, he cares about possessing, about claiming things belonging to other people. He’s stolen something Morfin finds precious - now the man will suffer without it. And Tom still owns it - sure, Harry holds it now, but it’s still Tom’s.

“Are we going to the house on the hill then?” Harry asks. Tom is still inspecting the shack, but it’s as desolate as it looks at first appearance. “Do you want to meet him? Your father?”

Tom had assumed he was an orphan. To find out that he isn’t--

Harry had dreamed of someone coming to take him away from the Dursley’s. He wonders how many times Tom had dreamed about some mysterious father coming to take him away from the orphanage. Now, to find out that he was alive and just… hadn’t…

That feeling when Harry had realised that Sirius had left him , that Sirius had run away to chase vengeance and gotten himself stuck on the continent on the wrong side of the stalemate instead of looking after him--

Things could have been very different for both of them, Harry thinks, but they weren’t and they were here, in this rundown shack, and he was still watching Tom, waiting for the older boy’s decision.

There is a determined edge to Tom’s jaw and he nods once, sharply, “I think it’s time Tom Riddle Senior met his heir,” he says, and his smile is not nice. His handsome face is twisted cruel and Harry is again vividly reminded that he’s hanging out with a murderer. Tom tucks his yew wand away but Harry keeps a hold of his own, hidden up his sleeve. Tom no longer looks eager with the prospect of discovering about his family - not after finding this useless shack, his crazed uncle and the fact that he apparently isn’t as much as an orphan as it first appeared.

Tom Riddle Senior lives in a large manor house on the hill opposite the rundown nearly overgrown shack. A maid answers the door and lets them into a small waiting area, charmed by Tom’s smile. Her eyes linger on him, like she knows why he’s there and if Morfin’s words are anything to go by then the resemblance must be as uncanny as Harry’s to his own father. Tom’s oddly still, but Harry, trailing behind him, can sense the thrumming of a creature buried beneath Tom’s skin that longs to break out. There is barely restrained violence there, and he keeps his grip on his wand throughout their wait, right up until there are footsteps on the stairs.

Tom whirls around. Harry does a double take between the pair - gosh, if this is why everyone keeps comparing him to James then he’s not surprised - Tom and his father are the spitting image of each other except for the eyes. Riddle Senior has pale blue eyes, while Tom’s eyes are dark mahogany brown.

Harry had not been sure of what reaction he expected. He hadn’t, he’ll be honest, even expected to encounter Tom’s father. Just a Slytherin relative or two. He does know that he didn’t expect the fear and revulsion to cross Riddle Senior’s face. “You!” Riddle Senior sneers. His eyes are wide and he looks horrified at the sight of Tom lounging in his entrance way. “So the witch spawned , did she? What do you want, money? I have nothing to give you!”

Harry is entranced - if this is anything like what Tom will look like in twenty years, he will keep his looks. And this older version of Tom doesn’t quite have the same venom in his tone - that’s clearly a Slytherin trait, he thinks, Morfin had the same viciousness like a rabid dog--

“I don’t want your money,” Tom’s lip curls, “I want an explanation - you left her. My mother. In midwinter, you left her penniless and alone and pregnant --”

“She bewitched me!” Riddle Senior shouts, gesturing wildly, a desperation in his eyes, “Put me under her spell, and then one day I woke up and I saw her for the horror she was, the witch put in my way for my misdeeds and I fled! Why should I care what happened to the whore and--and--” his feverish rant calms slightly as he eyes up Tom, his younger reflection.

Tom makes an abortive movement, as if to go for his wand and Harry darts forwards, seeker-quick and wraps his hand around Tom’s wrist, “Don’t,” he says, because he can sense the truth of the words. Tom is blinded by his rage and anger. To him this man abandoned him. This man let his mother die. This man is the cause of all his suffering and here he stands, comfortable and living in luxury while Tom--

“Thomas?” a voice calls from a doorway and Tom and Riddle Senior both twist. A woman stands, clearly Tom’s grandmother. Her hands come up to cup her face as she sets eyes on Tom. Under Harry’s wrist he feels Tom tense, can feel him trembling with anger. For someone who can’t even understand the concept of love, Tom is far too familiar with anger and revenge and Harry’s grip grows cruel.

“Tom,” he says, and both Tom’s turn to him. “Tom, let’s go. There’s nothing here for you.”

“Didn't you hear him ?” Tom hisses, words almost parseltongue, “He left her. He ran away scared --”

“He was under a fucking love potion, Tom, weren’t you listening? Let’s leave, now.”

The words sink in and Tom goes boneless in Harry’s grip.

“She named you ‘Tom’?” the muggle man asks, voice oddly soft, like he might almost be reconsidering the idea of a son--

“I’m sorry to waste your time,” Harry says, tugging Tom backwards, “Don’t worry, we won’t be back.”

The Riddles stare after them, Riddle Senior looking like he wants to shout and hurl accusations, while his mother wants to scoop her grandson in close. Tom still looks like he wants to murder them.

“You can’t,” Harry hisses, “You vowed not to, remember - you can’t kill them.”

Tom’s shaking, trembling in his grip. He hisses something. It splits the air and Harry can’t understand it but he’s sure it’s suitably foul and angry.

He tightens his grip and pulls them further away.

He doesn’t stop, doesn’t let go until they’re away from the house, until they’re down the road and past the Gaunt shack, until they’re almost at the sign post they had first arrived by. Tom finally tugs his hand free, “I’m not a child,” he snaps, twisting as if he might march straight back to his uncle or father, “You don’t need to hold my hand.”

“You just met your dad,” Harry says, trying to sound reassuring, “You looked like you were about to break down.”

Tom looks indignant, finally turning from where he had been gazing hungrily down the road, “I wasn’t going to cry , Potter, not like you when your precious godfather turned up out of nowhere.”

“I meant break down and murder them, prat ,” Harry snaps.

“She died!” Tom snarls, stalking forwards and Harry can’t help but flinch as Tom prowls up to him, gesturing violently, “My mother died . She was weak , you heard Morfin - practically a squib . And he left her ! He ran, leaving her alone and pregnant and--and-- I want to kill him.” He pauses, chest heaving from the adrenaline, from the rage. His handsome face is almost ugly as he rants and his eyes have an odd gleam to them. He takes another step towards Harry and Harry refuses to back down as Tom’s tone turns sickly sweet “He deserves to be killed. It would be so easy , Harry, can’t you see? Morfin’s half-mad, it would be easy to frame him for their deaths. Take out both lines at once, right?” His grin is razor sharp and it’s so, so easy to cut himself on it, Harry thinks.

He shakes his head wordlessly. Tom’s passion, his wild emotions are terrifying to behold. Everything Tom suggests is mad and impulsive, fuelled on rage and years of bitterness and he’s glad he got Tom out of there because Tom’s right - it would have been so, so easy to stand back and watch him deal out his idea of justice. In this moment Tom is violence given human form, and it’s all Harry can do to let him rant and rave.

Tom lets out a harsh, barking laugh and appears to sag slightly, “Even my worthless mother,” he says, “So weak she died… almost a squib… almost… but enough magic to brew a love potion. To drug my father. To drug him into love, into dependency, into marriage - she raped him - look at what Slytherin’s great line has come to, huh?” He laughs again, running a hand through his hair until the locks are in messy disarray.

Harry just stares in wordless fascination and horror.

“I want him dead,” Tom says, eyes still alight with that feverish look, “I want him in pieces.” He settles, somewhat, at that proclamation, and meets Harry’s gaze, “Don’t worry,” he taunts, “I know I can’t. No more dead bodies until we’re out of Hogwarts, right?” his voice drops soft and crooning and he steps forwards, hand coming out to cup Harry’s cheek, “I’ll behave,” he promises, hand dropping back to his side as he examines Harry, almost curiously, “I half expected you to run,” he says.

“I told you I’d come with you, stop you doing anything stupid,” Harry says, “Ron and Hermione did for me when I finally met Sirius,” his grin is wry, “Thought he’d betrayed my parents - he didn’t, just ditched me to chase after the man who did - but I still wanted him dead. Even if he hadn’t betrayed them - he still failed them, failed me . Got himself captured as a prisoner on the continent on the wrong side of the stalemate and I ended up with muggles,” Harry shrugs, “Sometimes, Tom, these things happen for a reason. If my parents were alive, had Sirius not run, had your mother not used a love potion, had your father not left her… I would not be me and you would not be you.”

*

Harry drops by the orphanage exactly once more that summer. Tom is not expecting him - he is sitting looking as thin and pale as he did earlier that summer, Paradise Lost of all things open on his lap in a small box-like room with grey walls and peeling paint.

Tom doesn’t ask ‘what are you doing here’ and doesn’t snap that Harry shouldn’t be there. It’s in his eyes when he looks at Harry but still makes space for Harry to drop down next to him on the bed and shove a box of food at him. “Most of it’s from Molly Weasley,” Harry says, “Apparently I look too peaky, but Dudley’s no longer on a diet so at least there’s normal food in the house, even if things like sugar and fruit are near impossible to find anymore.”

Something’s changed, somewhere, and Harry can’t quite put his finger on it, as Tom helps himself to a sandwich and shoves a textbook at Harry, “I stopped by Diagon - found a supplementary Defence textbook - you did get an O, didn’t you, I’m not going to a class where I’m going to have to duel Malfoy --”

Chapter Text

Contrary to Tom’s threat, he does not have to duel Malfoy. Harry gets a neat O in both Defence and Transfiguration and he refuses to admit that the latter only came about because Tom had persisted in sitting next to him in McGonagall’s class and he had refused to do worse than Riddle. Spite can get a lot done, apparently. He had neat E’s across the board and had, as predicted, failed History and Divination. He’d scraped a pass in Astronomy and Care.

Tom, as expected, had passed everything with Outstandings. So had Hermione, although her Defence grade was only an E, and Harry vowed to never let Tom find that out because poor Hermione would never hear the end of it.

“Herbology, Transfiguration, Charms, Potions and Defence - you want to be an auror?” Tom raises an eyebrow as he reads out Harry’s schedule. Harry snatches his timetable back and peers at Tom’s own. He’s not quite sure when he made it over to the Slytherin table - he had come over to ask Tom something and was now half-way through breakfast. Malfoy was glaring at him - Harry had only just noticed and that appeared to piss Malfoy off more than anything else.

“And?” he asks, “You’re doing everything, right?”

“Hmmm, I’m dropping History, Astronomy and Herbology. I can self-study most of it anyway.”

Harry squints at Tom’s timetable, “Why are you still taking Divination?” he sneers, “Trelawney is insane.”

“You just don’t like her because she predicts your death every other lesson.”

Harry raises an eyebrow, “Well, duh, you’d hate her too if you had to listen to her tell you how you’re going to be gruesomely eaten by a ghostly spirit that’s going to rip out your entrails and spit you back out for the wolves to chew on.”

*

The papers that year are splashed with the news. Grindelwald is in France. His supporters who have been quiet for years are gathering like a storm building on the horizon. The few times Dumbledore is seen around school he looks stressed and tired, auburn hair starting to salt and pepper. His beard is short and neatly trimmed, and his robes are becoming increasingly bright and alarming in colours like he throws the first two things he sees on in the morning.

“I think he’s losing it,” Ron says, “Or he’s faking it - my parents have joined the Order - what with all of us almost of age, they’re finally free to do something. It’s not much - my dad’s keeping an ear out at the Ministry mostly.”

“Sirius is back in the country,” Harry says, “I haven’t really seen him - briefly in the summer, but not since. Remus is off with the werewolf packs apparently.”

Hogwarts remains a quiet, somewhat stable point in the chaos of the outside slowly gathering war. Tom skulks around, still Slytherin’s mudblood, but he’s top of most of his classes and so nobody argues with him anymore. Avery trots at his heels and the rest of the purebloods alternate between being jealous that he beats them without seemingly trying and attempting to appear like they’re not being shown up by a muggleborn.

“How, exactly, did you two become friends?” Ron asks, as Harry passes on a pick-me-up game of Quidditch, sometime into their seventh year. “I could have sworn you hated each other’s guts.”

Harry remembers those days vividly. He is still very much aware of how just… unstable Tom is. A murderer, his brain reminds him, accompanied by the usual guilt. He avoids the second floor bathroom, dodging Myrtle’s ghost on the map. But Tom--

With Ron he talks Quidditch and how he’s so glad Snape left to go on his potion course of sorts because Slughorn is a lot nicer. With Hermione he talks homework and odd magic quirks they’ve noticed.

With Tom it’s mostly a lot of morals. But it’s not just morals, and Harry’s chiding when Tom looks seconds away from cursing a second year girl who accidentally knocked into the prefect and spilled his ink, it’s ideals and Harry’s deepest darkest thoughts and desires about how the Wizarding World in his head matches up to the one in reality and how easy it would be to make magic great again . Everything he says, every opinion he has gets argued over. It’s tiring and exhausting and Harry never feels more alive than he does when he’s talking to Tom.

(Had Dumbledore been aware of the friendship that had blossomed under his roof he would have no doubt been horrified at the similarities between the pair and a second duo of powerful wizards, but as it was the second duo were too busy warring across Europe and it went unnoticed.)

“We bonded over killing a giant spider,” has become Harry’s default response to queries about his odd friendship with Tom. It is enough for Ron who just shrugs it off - he doesn’t want to hear about a giant spider. Besides - a stray troll brought in for a Defence class had been how Ron, Hermione and Harry had bonded initially anyway - it’s more believable than brother wand cores, a shared obsession and a grim trip to Sussex throwing the pair through an emotional rollercoaster.

Harry leaves Ron at the Entrance Hall to meet with Tom in the library. When he gets there Tom is, predictably, deep in a pile of books. It looks unstable and seconds away from toppling straight over on top of him. Harry considers stabilizing it but decides it will be funny if it falls on top of the Slytherin Head Boy and so leaves it, dropping into a seat across from Tom and sliding his bag onto the table.

He peers at the book collection, pulling a face at the subject matter, “I don’t understand your fascination with Divination,” he huffs, pulling out his Herbology essay. “Even Hermione agrees it’s garbage.”

Tom emerges from his studying trance to sniff imperiously, “Yes, well, little miss logical likes to believe in things she can see. Thing such as the future are an abstract concept and myths such as the Chamber are… how did she put it? A children’s fairy tale?”

“Well at least half of Beedle the Bard’s works are actually genuine historical facts.”

“Oh yes? Including the one where they meet Death ?”

“Okay, maybe not that one,” Harry concedes, “But at least it’s just twisted information that’s just aged poorly, as opposed to information that by all accounts should not exist yet.”

“I don’t understand your hatred of it, quite frankly,” Tom hums, “Why did you quit Divination?”

“You mean aside from the fact I failed my OWL? I… I don’t like it - my fate being governed by something I can’t control.” Harry chews on the end of his quill, jotting down another sentence on his Herbology essay. When he looks up to try and find a reference in his textbook Tom is still staring at him.

“No,” he says, flipping aggressively through his divination textbook, “Failing your OWL, not liking fate… that’s not it. There’s another reason, isn’t there?”

Harry flinches. Tom is too perceptive for his own good.

He glances around the library, and sighs, flicking up a muffling spell to stop any of this being overheard, “You know my parents died, right?” he asks, and Tom nods, because while it wasn’t common knowledge, he had been aware that James and Lily Potter had been victims of one of Grindelwald’s raids on England. “They joined Dumbledore’s Order and fought against Grindelwald.”

Tom nods; this he had also known, Harry had mentioned it to him when the Order had re-emerged last year.

“For years I thought they died because they joined Dumbledore, but… apparently there was another reason. A prophecy. It was made before I was born and said something along the lines that a Potter would be the one to kill Grindelwald. So he tried to wipe us out. Killed my dad, tried to kill me but mum got in front of the curse and would have killed me too but Dumbledore turned up in time.”

Tom’s face is inscrutable, “And then you ended up an orphan, abandoned with muggles.”

Harry shrugs, “Grindelwald lost interest after his defeat. He retreated to the continent to lick his wounds, seemed to think the whole prophecy was a trap to bait him into some sort of duel with Dumbledore he thought he was going to lose. He doesn’t care about me anymore, but… well, sometimes I think Dumbledore does. He keeps approaching me about joining his Order.”

“No,” Tom says, like it’s that simple, “You can’t, you’re mine. You’re not allowed to join Dumbledore’s foolish suicide venture.”

“But I could help people ,” Harry snaps, “And I’m not yours ,” he shakes his head, “Grindelwald murdered my parents and I want him dead, yes, but he only killed my parents because of the prophecy and because they’re dead I want him dead and-- I don’t know where it ends, Tom. I don’t want to do something just because fate created this never-ending loop of insanity. Because in the end it means it’s self-fulfilling and means nothing in the long-run - my parents died for nothing.”

“I’ll kill him for you,” Tom says, like he’s giving Harry a present, “That way you don’t have to compromise your delicate morals, and I break your prophecy for you.” Harry grins, like it’s a joke, although he suspects Tom isn’t actually joking. He’s relieved at least partially that Tom has taken the news that Harry is some kind of prophecy child well. He’s still acting like his usual murderous self, at least.

“Divination still sucks,” he says, “I get why you like it - you want to understand the future because there’s magic in everything right? But you put too much faith in it.”

Tom grits his teeth and ignores Harry - he’s a control freak, Harry thinks, it comes of living in an orphanage due to events beyond his control. Tom is obsessive and borderline on so many issues Harry wonders how the rest of the school still don’t see how unstable he is. Then again, Harry has no right to talk, he’d cursed Zacharias Smith last week for talking down on ‘those who can’t trace their pedigree back more than a generation’.

Harry has a short righteous temper and Tom has obsessive, psychopathic tendencies.

Nobody’s perfect.

“I'm serious,” Harry says, raising one eyebrow, “Divination might be an interesting subject but the class here sucks. I bumped into Trelawney in the corridor yesterday and she dramatically predicted my death to everyone within hearing distance. ‘Death will kill you,’ she said, lowering her voice for emphasis, I am, apparently, going to be ‘betrayed by the one I consider a friend, a knife in the back, a wand in the hand, a locket around the neck, dead things don’t always stay dead’. I’ve made Ron promise to never touch a knife and we're all good, my fate avoided.”

(Later Tom will think back on this and wonder if she knew. Oh, foolish Harry, had you only listened to the warnings given.)

Right now he snorts, “Okay, so she’s probably a fraud,” he concedes, “But there is truth in some of what she teaches.”

“Teaches? You mean she actually teaches something beyond death predictions?”

“Sometimes,” his lips twitch in an almost smile.

“Your obsession with the past clouds your ability to see the future,” Harry sniffs, airily, “Bet you don’t know what I’m going to do next,” he says, childishly.

“Something stupid, probably,” Tom says.

“Naturally,” the green-eyed Gryffindor smirks, “Gotta go meet Ron and Hermione, I’ll see ‘ya later, Tom,” Harry grins, slinging his bag over one shoulder and strolling away. He’s at the doorway when Tom realises that the bag Harry has slung over his shoulder is not his usual ratty backpack: it’s Tom’s almost equally ratty but heavily charmed to look more put-together own bag. He stares in disbelief. What is wrong with Potter? He reaches for his wand to summon his bag back and then stills, realising he had shoved his wand into his bag following potions and not yet retrieved it.

It was still in his bag. The bag with which Harry was now strolling off with.

“POTTER!”

Harry breaks into a run.

*

“Harry never hangs out with me anymore!” Ron bemoans with the air and hyperbolic nature fully warranted by a best friend. Unfortunately the only people to witness this are Luna, Hermione, Ginny and Neville and considering one is busy studying, one is trying to teach her puffskein to skip and one is tending to a potted plant with odd blue bulges in the leaves, it leaves his audience as one blonde girl who is staring dreamingly at a spot just past his ear.

“It’s a clear case of the blooming wartitle virus,” Luna says, with a tone of great severity that Ron knows better than to take seriously by now. “Friendship evasion is a key symptom.”

“It’s all ‘Riddle Riddle Riddle’! I mean - he was obsessed before, but now they’re actually hanging out and I have to put up with that git’s smug face. I mean, it could be worse, it could be Malfoy --”

“I think it’s nice Harry has someone to intellectually challenge him,” Luna says, oddly blunt, and Hermione’s head snaps up indignantly.

“Harry? Intellectually challenged? What on earth have I been doing the past six years?”

Ron looks slightly offended too, but less so.

“Well,” Luna peers down her nose at Hermione, “You don’t exactly think very creatively - you’ve only ever solved one of the Quibbler’s Runic Puzzles while Riddle has solved at least six.”

“I hardly think that magazine’s puzzles are a measure of creative thinking,” Hermione scoffs, “Or intellect. For Merlin’s sake, one required origami to be made out of the magazine, and two of them had to be solved in conjecture because time was a factor in how the puzzle got solved !”

“Ah, yes, I think Harry even managed that one.”

“Hey, hang on,” Ginny pauses next to Arnold, her tiny puffskein, which is tripping over it’s own legs, “Isn’t that Riddle now?”

The group lounging around the courtyard, enjoying the last vestige of sun before the weather turns, all peer across to see somebody sprinting across the grounds.

“Nah,” Ron says, “Can’t be. Tom Riddle doesn’t run. Strides, paces purposely…”

“No, that’s definitely Riddle,” Hermione says, “Oh, and Harry too, I think they’re racing.”

The distant shout of “Give me back my wand!” comes echoing across to them, and the assembled group wince as Harry narrowly avoids a group of Hufflepuffs and Tom Riddle takes a shortcut by shoving Draco Malfoy face first into the grass. Ron chortles with laughter, “Changed my mind, Riddle’s okay,” just as Riddle throws himself at Harry, the two going down in a tangle of limbs.

*

“Come travelling with me,” Tom says.

The pair lie breathless on the bank of the lake, Tom's bag reclaimed and both his own wand and Harry's clutched in his fist. The phoenix feathers hum in his palm. His hair is in disarray and Harry is still laughing. Somewhere behind them Tom had ploughed over Malfoy to get to him, and Harry hadn't seen the blonde so put out since the day he realised that Tom Riddle had stolen his schoolyard rival.

“What?” Harry asks, tilting his head up so he can see Tom more clearly.

“It’s a thing, isn’t it,” Tom says, an odd look on his face, “Wizards take a year to travel the world?”

“I mean, yes, but I thought you had plans - the Defence job, working at the Ministry, at--”

“And I thought you had plans to join the aurors but I don’t see you filling in that application in your bag.”

“Okay, first of all - I was getting around to it, and secondly--”

“I don’t want to be in this country for the war, Harry,” Tom interrupts him, “And say what you like about wanting to help Dumbledore - if you join his Order you should do it because you want to, not because you feel fate obliged. So take a break, don’t rush into it. I want to visit some of the more obscure magical communities - I think you’d like it. They have new methods of defensive magics and the dark arts they teach are unique , not practiced anywhere in the world. I’ve even heard whispers of parselmagic .”

“That’s not a thing.”

“Come with me and find out?”

Tom’s dark eyes are alight with an unholy fire and Harry can’t help but burn himself, “Okay,” he says, propping himself on his elbows to look at Tom more clearly. The older boy’s grin is wild and infectious and Harry shoves him back into the grass, “Don’t look so smug, you’re just happy because now you don’t have to put up with Avery.”

*

Hogwarts ends in glorious sunshine and birds singing. Harry drags his grades up to graduate with Es and Os, while Tom and Hermione fly through everything with top marks. Ron fails transfiguration following a practical where he had accidentally turned his examiner’s wig into a hedgehog instead of a glass into a cat, but does surprisingly well in all other regards. They graduate in a summer that doesn’t seem to want to end, and not the least bit shadowed by the war stirring in Europe.

“Are you going to join the aurors?” Ron asks, slightly put out that he won’t be able to until he retakes his practical transfiguration. “I know Hermione has a Ministry job lined up already, but I don’t think I ever saw you finish your application.”

“That’s because I didn’t,” Harry says, “Sorry, I was going to tell you but that was about when Hermione entered her pre-exam stress. I’m taking a year out. To go travelling, learn about some different cultures and and learn about some obscure magical theories they don’t practice anymore.”

“That sounds fascinating,” Hermione’s eyes gleam, “That’s a wonderful idea - I hear it’s a kind of rite that some wizards and witches do - I considered it, but there was simply so much I could be doing in that year with the Ministry and my career--”

Harry considers the path before him, the open freedom - for the first time he does not have to return to the Dursley’s. Tom does not have to return to his drab orphanage - they are free. And Harry has caught Dumbledore’s gaze, and he knows the old man won’t approach him - Dumbledore values Harry more than that, more than asking him to be a pawn. But the weight of the prophecy does exist and Harry doesn’t want it.

He wants more than a pre-written destiny. He wants his own plans and dreams to come true.

Fifteen year-old Harry would have been alarmed to know Harry was planning on going travelling with Tom Riddle.

“If I fail again,” Ron says, contemplatively, “Or don’t get accepted into the auror training programme - can I come with you?”

“If you can put up with Tom for a year.”

Ron blanches, “You’re travelling with Riddle ?” he rolls his eyes, “Of course you are, why do I even ask. If you need me next year, I’ll be on a road trip with Draco Malfoy.” He grins as Harry shoves him good-naturedly, “Does my sister know you’re dating Riddle?”

“I’m not dating Riddle ,” Harry says with a sneer oddly reminiscent of Riddle, “And I broke up with Ginny, remember? Or, she broke up with me, it was a mutual break-up,” he still feels flustered about it, because he likes Ginny, he really does, and if he thinks too hard about it he can see his future with her, their family and his perfect normal life and--

But it’s too simple and Harry lives for the challenge, the fight. There’s a reason defence is his best subject. He has no desire to throw himself into a war headfirst, following Tom seems like the safer option.

He doesn’t want to die like his parents. He doesn’t want to join something he isn’t even sure he believes in because surely Grindelwald has the right idea - magical children should never be exposed to the sort of childhoods Tom and Harry were subjected to.

He’s prophesied to kill Grindelwald. He knows this, but he doesn’t want to join this group just to be thrown into the Dark Lord’s path.

Harry wants to fight, he wants peace, he wants revenge on the man who killed his parents, but he wants to walk into the arena with his head held high knowing what he’s fighting for.

Right now he doesn’t.

*

“What are you doing after school?” Avery asks Tom, looking like he expects the world. Like he's going to hear about Tom's grand plans and radical ideas.

“I'm going to travel for a bit,” Tom says, “Learn more about magic. Come back and see where I stand after a few years more experience. Dumbledore can turn me away from the Defence job at 18 citing I'm too young, he can't at 25.”

Avery nods like he understands Tom's plans. He doesn't. “I can come with, my lord,” he says, slipping into the formality as if thinking this is part of Tom’s grand design, “Accompany you--”

“I already have a travelling companion,” Tom says with an easy shrug, “Harry and I already have plans, I'm afraid there isn't room for a third.”

He enjoys seeing the ire in Avery's gaze before it is forcibly squashed down. His follower ducks his head respectfully, but Tom caught a glimpse of the thoughts running through his head. Anger, simmering betrayal and jealousy. He doesn't believe Harry to be worthy of Tom's time. And in many ways he isn't; Harry is uncouth, brash and reckless. He is emotional and stubborn and argumentative. He is Tom's opposite in so many ways.

Yet he is, throughout the whole of Tom's time at Hogwarts, the only one who has pushed Tom to be better, do better, take a step beyond his comfort zone. He is the closest Tom has to an equal.

Avery, Malfoy and Nott couldn't even come close.

*

“There is something that can be said about muggles,” Harry says, in the middle of a bustling muggle airport in Brazil, “They’re certainly innovative and that flight was a lot less unpleasant than a portkey or floo.”

“Tell that to the cramp in my calf,” Tom says, pulling a face. He flicks an invisible piece of lint off his shirt, crisp and white looking like it’s been newly ironed. Harry, as per usual, forgets anti-wrinkle charms exist because he’s looking very ruffled right now. Tom wants to flick a few spells at him to straighten his lopsided muggle hooded sweater and collar, but he doesn’t. There’s something almost appealing about Harry’s dishevelled state.

What a complete and utter irritance Harry Potter was in his life.

A persistent pest. Righteous and always so so certain he was in the right in everything, taking every opportunity to try and shove Riddle down. Right up until Tom slipped and Harry was there, still an annoyance, but a necessary one because they were going to close the school and Potter had been offering a way out and--

How dare he tie Tom down in a fumbled vow? How dare his wand match Tom’s own? How dare he continue to challenge Tom, to glare at him with brilliant green eyes and pick holes in his ideas?

How dare he drag Tom away from his retribution against his filthy muggle father? How dare he be so understanding, to look at Tom with that expression? How dare his own story reflect Tom’s so terribly closely?

Harry Potter is a rough, unpolished gem amongst river stones. A diamond in the rough. Tom still can’t believe he found him.

He can’t help but try and shine the stone a little brighter, to chip it into the perfect cut, but diamond is the hardest stone for a reason and as much as he chips away at Harry, Harry carves right back.

Even now Harry peers around the airport, fairly open even if there is increased security. Still, they had decided specifically not to start with Europe - they would work their way back there depending on the swing of the war. “You know I think most purebloods still think muggles live in the middle ages - I told Malfoy they visited the moon and he didn’t believe me.”

“They’d slaughter us with ease,” Tom says, darkly, “Grindelwald’s war is drawing too much attention as it is--”

“So perfect isolationism? I still don’t think that’s viable, not in the long-run.”

“Did you know,” Tom says, humming, “There is a whole village that exists in a space-fold - an undetectable extension charm folded into space and air itself. Muggles walk across an empty field and don’t even know it’s there, magical people walk into a hidden city.”

“I know, it’s on the list, but I thought you wanted to speak to that runespoor--”

Of course he does, serpents are Tom’s forte, Harry knows him better than he knows himself and accepts him . Harry knows all his dark crevices and petty, cruel tendencies and accepts them. It’s still an unfamiliar concept to Tom - even Avery looks at him with fear when he speaks of the dark arts - but Harry, ever since he’d found out Tom could speak parseltongue, hadn’t been scared. He calls Tom out on his bullshit, and then, years later, even buys him a small magical snake of some sort that Harry won’t disclose as a graduation gift given Tom can probably reveal his heritage now school’s over. Nagini is the length of his arm and growing, and she prefers Harry to Tom, but is otherwise perfect.

Slytherin’s heir deserves a snake. Besides, Tom thinks, he’d always been a child of the devil.

Hell child, they call him at the orphanage, Satan’s spawn. Tom undergoes two exorcisms by the time he’s eleven. Children aren’t born evil, but Tom is born with something missing and he makes the other children regret picking on him. He gets left alone.

And after, after Dumbledore, after Hogwarts, after the summers when he comes back as a reclusive lurking around waiting for the summer to end he still hears whispers. Devil worshiper. Freak .

Freak is what Harry’s muggle relatives call him, he learns, but only later. Freak and boy sneered in hateful tones. There are no exorcisms for Harry, only because they already know what the problem is. There is no letter penned in Dumbledore’s hand to curb their treatment. Grindelwald and Dumbledore have bigger things to worry about than a 2 year old boy. So Harry grows up hated and unloved.

They might not beat him, but they don’t care about him. His cousin shoves him around, his aunt treats him like a slave and his uncle as something in his way. Harry grows up on the outskirts, in the shadows, and he knows sometimes you have to do what you must. Yet despite that he’s got an intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong.

Tom doesn’t, but then again there’s a reason he’s been using Harry as his moral compass for the past few years.

Tom has something missing and Harry has the oddest of unshakable morals. He’s so good , Dumbledore had said, once, and Tom thinks the old fool has never met Harry Potter as he has, with nothing to lose. With blazing green eyes and accusations of murder on his tongue and the drive to survive . Harry is unshakable, and even Tom and his murderous, impulsive tendencies can’t combat him.

He caves, listens to Harry’s demands and it works . Tom hasn’t had this much fun since he hung Billy’s rabbit in the rafters. Harry is fierce and strong and delightful and he’s a burning fire of convictions and certainty. He’s the precious gem of Tom’s collection, and he steals Harry from his Gryffindor friends with an almost ease that nobody, not even Harry, really notices. Weasley might, and he glares at Tom in hallways, and Tom just smugly grins back.

He’s mine now, he wants to say, his conviction, his loyalty, his unshakable faith is mine. He will listen to me and better yet, he’ll burn me if I get too careless.

Tom asks Slughorn about horcruxes but never follows through. Dumbledore’s busy with Grindelwald, yet still has time to give Tom intense stares when he sees the Slytherin. Tom keeps his head down - no more dead bodies, he believes were his exact words to Harry, no more murders while still at school.

Well, he’s not at school anymore, and while his fingers itch to complete his plans he refrains. Murdering his father, ensuring immortality-- it can wait. He is oddly content in this moment, following Harry around South America to whatever items of magic take their fancy.

They have it all planned out and Tom can see it all spread out before them, and they have the freedom to do what they want.

It is glorious .

There is so much to learn , to see , they spend longer than they intend to circling the globe. Europe remains in a period of cold war - neither side willing to attack the other for fear of retribution - so they travel everywhere but.

To New Orleans to the French Quarter witches and their voodoo spells, their death-sending ceremonies under Baron Samedi.

To North America to uncover the Native American rituals used to call on the weather, their shamans who can walk beyond and the spirits they once summoned.

To Japan to learn about kotodama, the language of names and souls and spirit that can manipulate the world around them.

To India - Harry is right, Parselmagic isn’t a thing, it’s just a language, but there are snake charmers who speak the language as well. Some have have even managed to teach bits of the language despite the fact that Tom’s got a bit of his magic that twists his mouth and tongue into the right shapes to form the correct hisses. He teaches Harry what he can, and Harry sounds like a dying cat half the time. Tom’s growing snake adores it. Tom finds it mildly irritating but plays along with fond amusement.

To Mongolia where Harry drags Tom to a Quidditch game. Tom spends half of it reading, but indulges Harry’s wishes.

To Siberia, indulging Harry’s whims as they wander around lost in a Siberian Forest attempting to locate the heart tree of the forest. Neither are quite sure how they find themselves thousands of miles away from their starting position somewhere near Moscow. Tom vows to never indulge Harry again, only to break that promise shortly after.

To Egypt and walk among the tombs and the pyramids and learn about the rites and the soul magic that was performed on the departed because soul magic fascinates Tom and Harry is chasing myths and local legends and he can’t say no to Harry..

To Greece to locate Temples to the Gods, curses still scrawled onto their walls.

To Rome to find out about their sacrificial ceremonies and resurrection rituals that will allow one to walk through hell and emerge unscathed, provided they do not turn their back

The world breathes magic, and Tom and Harry are born to it .

“I feel sorry for them,” Harry says, as they sneak around the war lines to Scandinavia.

“Who?”

“Muggles,” Harry says, “They never get any of this,” he gestures around, “No magic, no feedback - everything is just dead to them, cold metal and harsh technology - and it’s smart and ingenious and terrifying, but it’s a cheap replacement for magic, in the end.”

“Guess Grindelwald has the right idea,” Tom says, a slight sneer to his tone, “They really are lesser beings.”

Harry pulls a face, “Don’t go spouting off that ideology, you know it’s ridiculous.”

“I do, but he does have good points. It need work though - we fight them, we’d lose, we try and avoid them, well, discovery is inevitable. We’ve talked about this conundrum--”

“And I’ve given you a solution.”

Tom arches one eyebrow, “You think they’d work with us?”

Harry sighs, like he knows that’s a fool’s dream, “Can’t you imagine it? A world where magic is free? Where magic and non-magic blurs together - can you imagine what we’d achieve combining muggle tech with magic? Where we not only save whole civilisations from diseases that magic has cured centuries ago, but we integrate our cultures and knowledge and--” he cuts himself off with a shake of his head, “It’s impossible, but it’s a nice thought, a world where Dudley and I could have grown up as friends.”

“It will never happen,” Tom says, sharply, “They will always see us as something to be feared. Freaks. Mad. Hellspawn.”

“Society isn’t perfect,” Harry acknowledges with a tilt of his head. So hopeful, so idealistic, Tom thinks with a sneer. Harry is too optimistic, he still sees too much good in the world.

“Is your boggart still a dementor?” he asks, suddenly, wondering just how deep this idealistic streak of Harry’s goes.

Harry twists at the change in subject, “You know it is,” he says, “It turned into one during our NEWT practical, I told you that.” A pause, “Is yours still your own gravestone?”

Tom flinches - he had not told Harry that tidbit of information to have it thrown back in his face, but then again he had brought the subject up, “Yes,” he says, “Dying… being forgotten, being nothing , I can’t--”

“Everything dies, Tom,” Harry says, and he, like Tom, has been intimately familiar with death since childhood.

“I won’t,” he says, watching Harry’s expression grow confused, “I won’t, I refuse to. Magic exists, and there are ways to conquer death out there. There is an alchemist’s stone that can prolong your life. There are tales of a cloak that can hide you from death. An archway that allows one to pass through to death and back. And…” he says, trembling from the pure knowing , “There is a spell. A viable one. It splits your soul, allows you to hide away pieces of your soul like anchors so you will never die.”

He turns, excitement coursing through his veins, expecting to see Harry’s wide-eyed, awed look but instead is met with blank nothingness giving way to disgust.

“Are you that scared of death?” Harry asks, wrinkling his nose, “To split your soul , Tom, that’s foul .”

“It will prevent death from ever touching us,” Tom says.

Us ?” Harry repeats, on his feet in an instant, “I don’t want immortality, Tom! I certainly won’t split my soul to do so!”

“But think about it,” Tom steps forwards, feverishly, “We could be eternal. Forever. Harry, just think about what I’m offering you!” Why can’t he see it? Tom is giving him an opportunity he will give no other and Harry’s throwing it back in his face.

Harry is shaking his head, stepping backwards away from him, “No, Tom, you can’t… you’re mutilating yourself, reducing yourself to living a lesser life. No matter what immortality means to you, it’s not worth that. Eternality is fleeting. I won’t.”

Fury blazes in Tom. Harry continues to defy him, always defying him. So stubborn, he thinks, almost fondly, it will get him killed one day. Harry will die and he would sooner leave Tom than take his place at Tom’s side.

He’s offered Harry the opportunity to be his equal and--

And for the first time Harry looks at him like they did at the orphanage when he was six and the priest was chanting in latin and Tom’s rage catches fire and burns .

*

Tom fears death. He fears the nothingness that comes with it, he fears the shouts that are scarred into his memories of what hell awaits him after, if there is even is a hell.

And yet, he thinks, watching Harry argue his way out of a fight with some large, brutish looking Norwegian wizards, there is something he fears just as much as his own death.

He can make himself immortal, tie himself, tether himself to the world, yet Harry refuses. Tom will be invulnerable and unbeatable and Harry will be--

Frail. Weak. Pitifully human.

Harry will die, he thinks, this stupid, foolish, irritating boy who dares to challenge Tom with every fibre of his being, with every breath his takes, will die and leave Tom alone. Unchallenged.

Tom wants to be immortal because to take away death will leave him all-powerful. He will be unable to die, he will be powerful and nothing can stop him except--

Except this annoying boy with green eyes and that stupid streak of optimism that burns half of his plans and dashes the rest against the rocks. Argumentative, perfect, a rival but--

Also an obstacle.

Harry is Tom’s anchor, his confidant, his friend--

Harry is Tom’s weakness, he realises.

He can’t have that. He can’t afford to be tied to someone like this.

And if Harry won’t take immortality, well…

There are other ways to ensure Tom has no weaknesses left.

*

Harry avoids the subject of immortality and plans regarding future politics following Tom’s declaration. It seems like the moment has passed, like a storm they’ve just dodged. Harry relaxes, trying to shove down the worry, the fear , because Tom had been planning to split his soul . Even Harry knows enough about dark magic to know that soul magic is a one way ticket to hell.

Yet there is something in Tom’s expression when he looks at Harry now. It’s unbearably fond, but there’s something new, some dark idea that hadn’t been there before. Harry sees it take root, is aware of the way Tom will watch him when he thinks Harry’s not looking. Hears the odd turn of phrase Tom will throw into conversation.

Harry can’t help but feel like he’s failing a test he didn’t even know he was taking. He turns away from the fire of Walpurgisnacht. Burnt to ward off witches, he thinks, yet it had been hexxenacht first.

Witches night.

“I think I want to run for Minister,” Tom says, suddenly. Harry twists to look at him standing so close he can feel the warmth of Tom’s body, “I would, I mean, if the war wasn’t on. There is so much that can be changed, made better, fixed --”

Harry stares at Tom, because his first thought is that Tom would make a brilliant politician, followed closely by the insanity of it all because Tom is a psychopath , he was their murdering valedictorian. He’s rash and impulsive and something would go wrong but Merlin , he’d be amazing--

Tom laughs as he meets Harry’s gaze and Harry pointedly looks away, “It’s rude to use legilimency,” he says, peeved.

“Then learn occlumency.”

“I did. I’m pants at it. No, I think you’d be a terrifying politician, but--”

“My views are a bit too radical?”

Harry dares to meets Tom’s dark gaze again. Lit by the firelight his eyes look almost red. “Only the genocidal ones,” he says, “You’d have my vote, Tom, you know that.”

“I don’t want your vote,” Tom says, and there’s a feverish glaze to his eyes, “I want you .”

Harry shakes his head, “I’m no politician,” he says with a small grin, “I’m flattered though,” he adds, to appease Tom. His friend doesn’t argue as much as he’d expected, just reaching forwards into Harry’s personal space to smooth Harry’s collar down, thumb coming up to trace Harry’s jawline before the hand drops away.

“Shame,” Tom says, tongue flickering out to wet his lips, “Are you sure, Harry? We could do great things together. We’d be legends --”

Eternality is fleeting.

Even legends die too, eventually.

Harry’s lack of an answer appears to tell Tom all he needs to and suddenly, although he hasn’t moved, there’s a distance between them, “I found some local stories of a temple,” he says, “A tomb to the gods. It’s somewhere up in the mountains - apparently it likes to move around and nobody has seen it for the past decade or so. I think, it’s hard to tell, the translation spell was wearing off so she kept slipping into Norwegian. Viking period, I think, Aesir blessed and the roots of Yggdrasil buried within - you like magical trees, right?”

“I like wand trees, ” Harry corrects, “As a side hobby. Into wand lore.”

“Ah, so that’s why we were wandering around Siberia--”

Harry’s missing something, but Tom’s wry twitch of his lips is genuine and so he lets it pass. Tom’s strange moods usually do.

*

The temple is either not as hard or mystical to find as Tom’s source said or the translation spell was broken. It’s a beautiful thing, ancient and crumbling and sitting on top of natural catacombs of rock that travel deep into the mountain beneath. The tunnels are cold and damp and the air tastes like it hasn’t seen sunlight before.

Tom is, as usual, engaged by the script and the spells warding the norse pantheon temple. Harry follows the tree roots, which to his surprise are actual tree roots, that bury themselves down down down into the dark clawing earth.

His lumos throws curious shadows onto the walls as he follows the roots through the natural catacombs. He keeps descending further and still they spread. The rocky floor beneath him is slippery and treacherous, and he stops while he can still see the light he emerged from, turning back to the surface.

The last thing he needs is to be lost in a mountain as well as a forest.

He almost turns straight into Tom whom he hadn’t realised had followed him down. “Ragnarok,” Tom says, wand lit tip close to the wall where Harry can see a crude depiction of a wolf devouring the sun as a magnificent tree burns behind it. “The end of all things. The death of the world.”

Harry moves along the rocky tunnel and his foot kicks at a rock sending it bouncing along in front of him. He pauses, bending over to scoop it up. It’s smooth white with ridges and pits and his fingers curl into the foramen naturally as he realises.

It’s not a rock.

It’s a skull.

“A temple to the gods, huh?” he hums, holding out the skull in his hands, “I don’t think this is a temple, Tom, I think this is a tomb.”

“No,” Tom says, reaching out and tracing the wall carving, “No, it’s a temple. People used to worship the gods here - they believed down here they were closer to Hel, to the pits where if Ragnarok was starting they’d be closer to hear it. They used to sacrifice people to the gods here to try and slow it down, to stop Ragnarok from coming.” He laughs, “How foolish, to try and defy their end, but still, they do it.”

It’s an odd thing to say, especially given Tom’s recent musings and Harry twists to look at him, “What are we doing here?” he asks, suspiciously.

Tom just steps past him, still examining the murals, “Did you know the Norse pantheon bound Loki in chains with snake venom dripping down onto him. Sigyn tries to catch it in a bowl but she has to leave eventually to empty the bowl and when she does Loki thrashes and screams and the earth shakes. When the end comes he will be released, to right wrongs done against him.”

Harry frowns at him, “That’s a very interesting story,” he says, “That doesn’t explain the skull.”

“Like I said - the sorcerers who used to live among the Vikings used to sacrifice people down here to try and appease the gods, to delay Ragnarok. They’d drag someone down on a full moon and slit their throat and leave them deep in the maze of the mountain. Their thoughts were, I presume, to leave something precious to be destroyed by venom and death and fire, and in return Ragnarok, their inevitable end, would wait another day.”

“Morbid,” Harry says, poking at when he thinks might even be a blood spot on the skull, “But definitely your sort of morbid--”

“It’s the full moon tonight.”

Harry pauses, because that’s an odd observation and Tom’s wording-- something precious to be destroyed to stave off an inevitable end--

Something precious--

A full moon--

His hand tightens on the stone.

Tom --” he says, voice sharp, at the same time Tom moves.

“Macarre.”

Harry turns straight into the curse. It flays his skin, his vision blacks and he lets out a howl of pain. The skull rolls from his hand, blood splatters dripping red against the white white bone. It hits the ground with a clatter. Harry’s knees hit the stone right after, a disarming charm ripping away his wand from where he scrabbles for it, his weight dragging him down as a wave of pain and dizziness hits him. His shoulder crashes into the rocky wall and he just about avoids ending up flat on his back, even as he claws at where his face is burning, tearing open . His hand is sticky and he can’t breath there is fire in his throat--

“You’re extremely precious to me, Harry,” Tom’s voice drifts around him, “The least I can do is make your death worth it. I give you to the temple, to the caverns, and in return Ragnarok does not arrive.”

He tries to choke out a response, but he can’t. There is so much blood, and his throat feels like someone has an iron grip around it. He’s lucky he’s not dead already, lucky the curse had only just caught him ripping cuts into his flesh.

He feels dizzy and sways but then Tom’s there, cradling him, stroking his hair soothingly, “I’m sorry about this,” Tom sounds genuinely remorseful. Harry’s laugh is scornful and doesn’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth as he tries to claw Tom off him to no avail. He feels so weak and Tom just sighs, “No, really, you were… something. And you could have been amazing , working with me, but I know you, Harry, and I know you would never follow me or my ideas.”

“Your ideas ?” Harry chokes on his own blood, “To take up Grindelwald’s mantle, to reshape the world into a dystopia?” He can hear his own breath whistling through holes that shouldn’t be in his throat and he coughs again.

“See?” Tom gestures wildly, but Harry can’t see half of him, his vision is blurring and black and he’d be on the floor already without Tom holding him there, “I knew you weren’t going to play along, and you’re too dangerous to leave alive. Think instead of how this way you’re going to be able to offer me so much, and you don’t even have to compromise your values.”

“You’d sacrifice me to the temple? To the gods?” Harry sneers, “For the power to - what? Live forever?”

“In a way,” Tom still sounds sad, “Because death is a weakness, and I am not weak. You will not be my weakness. You’ll bleed out soon, sweetie, and then it will be all over,” his voice is soft, and lulling. Harry can’t breathe properly, he’s covered in blood and he just wants to close his eyes and rest here in Tom’s arms as the older boy croons, “You did such a good job, Harry, so perfect for me, this had to be done, you’ll understand--” he hisses something in parseltongue, the words ear-splitting and inhuman.

Harry’s fingers close around worn wood and tighten and his eyes snap open. Tom realises a second too slow--

“Reducto!”

Harry’s hand closes around Tom’s white wood wand and he jerks it up to point at Tom’s throat. The spell misses Tom who shifts out of the way, but it hits the wall with a crash. The whole rock surrounding them seems to shake and shudder and Tom rips away from Harry leaving him floundering with no support. He lets out a yelp as he drops to his knees, vision blacking.

“Bombarda! ” he aims at the rough direction where Tom is.

“Crucio .”

Harry drops, screaming. Blood blurs his vision and his world narrows to the pain. He chokes, liquid thick and hot in his throat. It lasts seconds but it feels like hours.

Expelliarmus ,” Tom snaps out, and Harry catches sight of his own dark holly wand in Tom’s hands. His fingers clench reflexively over the wand he has - not his own but close enough - and lurches out of the way of the spell. It costs him and he sinks down, trying to breath. Tom follows Harry’s failed path with a lazy wave. “Exp--”

Confringo !” Harry shouts out in panic and Tom flinches out of the way. The spell is so close it grazes his shoulder, but doesn’t hurt him.

Tom is laughing.

“No,” he gasps, “Tom--”

“Almost,” Tom clicks his tongue in disapprovement, “But not quite. You see this is the exact sort of backstabbing I was expecting, Harry, but now? Now I leave you here to rot. I’ll… name an orphanage after you or something.” Tom takes a step forwards, probably to retrieve his wand, just as the temple around them gives a large shudder. Harry loses his balance with a harsh cry of pain. His fingers twitch convulsively, and the wand in his hand slips between numb fingers. Weakness creeps at him, and he feels the rock clawing into his skin as he struggles to stay standing, to get out but it’s already too late.

The temple is collapsing, the exploding curses had been a bad idea--

Tom appears to think so because he eyes up the distance between them and backs away, “We could have had a good thing, you and I,” he says, still with that odd tone of regret, “You just had to go and ruin it .” He spins away, stalking towards the light of the exit.

Harry makes an effort to drag himself up but he can’t. His limbs feel useless and the ground is rolling and shaking around him. He can’t see where he dropped the wand. There is blood in his eyes, in his mouth, a crack through his glasses. He chokes on more blood. “ Tom !” Harry screams at him from the darkness of the temple, his own voice clawing white hot lines of pain through him, “Tom! TOM !”

Death will kill you, Harry Potter, Trelawney had whispered once, betrayed by the one you consider a friend, a knife in the back, a wand in the hand, a locket around the neck, dead things don’t always stay dead.

Tom stands there for a moment, silhouetted against the moon behind him, and then he’s gone, turning his back on his dying friend as the rocks still, encasing Harry Potter in his tomb.

Sacrifices have to be made, Tom thinks, along with the odd empty sensation that comes with his usual lack of guilt, the slight trickle of regret--

He shoves the thoughts aside and walks away to Harry’s echoing screams of his name.

“Tom? TOM !”

Chapter Text

“What happened to Harry?”

Tom Riddle looks up from his Ministry desk. Not exactly what he’d planned his take over of the Wizarding World, but then again there was a war going on. Sometimes things just had to be done the open, obvious way.

Hermione Granger is standing over him. She’d loom except she’s not particularly tall. Also, Tom isn’t yet high enough up the food chain to warrant a non-existent door to a non-existent office. “I can’t make contact with him,” she says, frowning in obvious concern, “And I know you said he went off to do his own thing - look into wand lore and other stuff you didn’t care for - but all owls I send come back and my patronus messages are like shouting into the void.” Her ramble trails off and she looks at him bright-eyed and worried.

Tom sighs, schooling an expression of concern onto his face. He’d avoided many questions when he finally made it back to British soil, 18 months after he left, by the simple vestige of avoiding society. Since starting his Ministry job though he is in regular and close contact with at least some of Potter’s old friends, and he is in the perfect place to get hassled.

Hermione Granger is staring at him like he has the answers she wants. And he does, but not ones he can or ever will give.

He sighs, tiredly, “I wish I knew - I told you - we split ways. I haven’t seen him in over a year now. I expected him to have returned to Britain before now but it’s possible…” he pauses, waits for her interest to perk, “You know about the prophecy?”

The bushy-haired young woman’s face clears in understanding, “You think he’s hiding?"

An easy shrug, “It’s just an impression,” Tom says, “But it’s been three years - I’d have expected him back by now.”

She still looks worried. She still looks like she wants to push further. Tom is just thankful it isn’t Weasley barging his way over with his brash, too-worried attitude. At least Granger is quiet, even if she is more of a danger.

Granger and Weasley know Harry was travelling with Tom. Others do as well, but those two are probably the only ones who know exactly what plans they had. They are, of course, the two Harry wrote to, the two Tom had to fake letters to when the time came, the ones who are startlingly aware, bordering suspicious of his absence, especially with Tom Riddle back in the country and walking around as if nothing happened.

And Tom suspects, but can’t prove it, that Harry told them his suspicions about Tom, about the Chamber, about the murder.

They’re the only ones who can put the pieces together. They, like Harry years before, can’t prove anything, but they could prove to be a thorn in his side in the future.

“I’ll write him,” Tom says, “See if I can pin him down, but it might be best to accept he just doesn’t want to be found,” he says, hanging his head slightly.

Granger’s gaze is still oddly piercing. For a moment he thinks she’s going to press further but she backs down, nodding almost reluctantly, “I will write too,” she says, distantly, “Tell me if you hear anything, I need to go, I’ve got to file this for Madame Bones--” Tom watches her go, marvelling just slightly at how despite her muggleborn routes, she is rising up the ministry ranks with ease like she was born to push paper and boss people about. He watches her go and for a moment contemplates how Harry could have thrived in the Ministry--

Another figure appears in his eyeline. Long blonde hair and pale eyes. He ducks his head respectfully, “My Lord,” Lucius Malfoy says, and it sounds like he hates every word, especially to be bowing to someone the same age as his son.

But Tom had staked out his claim, his plan, and his need for a prize. And reluctantly or not, Lucius Malfoy bows his head.

He twitches at the address, “Not in public,” he chides, “Lucius, can I help you?”

“I made some enquiries into the object you were asking about,” Lucius says, voice low, “Borgin did indeed have possession of it, but he sold it to a witch who collected objects of value and historical import. I’m working on tracking her down to arrange a meeting.”

Tom suppresses the wave of anger. It’s okay, he thinks, he has the diary. The others can wait until he finds the right objects and the right time. “Do hurry,” he urges, a hint of violence in his voice, “I don’t appreciate untimeliness.”

Lucius’ curt nod doesn’t quite hide the way his face pales and lip trembles. Tom purrs internally - he has done his work well, set up a good foundation. And soon soon he could step into the spotlight. “I hear the Order lost several members,” Lucius adds, “There was a fight near Birmingham, Moody lost another chunk of his face but is still alive, neither Grindelwald nor Dumbledore made appearances.”

Tom hums, “Oh, I’m sure they will. They can’t keep hiding forever. Especially not with a new player about to join the game.”

*

Junior Auror Nymphadora ‘call me Nymphadora and die’ Tonks witnesses death first hand in a quiet street in Norfolk. It’s not even an unforgivable - it’s a levitation charm of all things, holding a screaming muggle in the air. She’s not even sure it’s intentional, but she apparates onto the scene with the rest of her squad and the spellfire that erupts forces the caster, wherever they are, to drop the spell, and the muggle just drops .

They hit the ground with a sickening crack, landing right in front of her. She flinches back, shield flickering only to be reinforced by a young man on the obliviator squad. She’s pretty sure he’s one of the wizards they’ve drafted in - she recognises him as Cedric Diggory and knows his father arranged a decent Ministerial position in the Improper Use of Magic Office, and the fact he’s here now means they’re either desperate or he really is the good-hearted volunteering Hufflepuff she remembers him being.

“Cheers!” she shouts over to him. He meets her gaze, gives a moment to check she’s more orientated and then darts out of the way towards where the muggles are, to try and get some spells and protections up.

She shakes herself - she’s a Junior Auror, not a newly graduated Hogwarts student.

She launches herself into the fray. The street is illuminated with colour as spells flash everywhere and she focuses on the brightly robed wizards and witches that bear Grindelwald’s mark, taking them down with well-placed spells. Her neat aim and metamorphmagus abilities were what had caught Moody’s attention in recruitment, and she shows them off now, carving a small path through the crowd.

Grindelwald’s acolytes don’t care about the muggles around them though and that gives them an advantage over the newly arrived aurors. Someone casts fiendfyre and Tonks can see Kingsley and Robards attempting to put it out to no avail. Another casts a blasting curse at a building near her and the shattering shards send her flying to the ground.

She gasps for breath, disorientated for a moment. She scrabbles up, reaching for where she had dropped her wand. She sees Diggory start in alarm towards her and twists around to where an acolyte looms over her, wand raised already and spell on his lips--

A flash of orange and the expression jolts. Tonks claws her way backwards along the mud as the body above her chokes, throat torn neatly open by the cutting curse that passed through it. A robed figure steps forwards and almost gently, pushes the acolytes body to the ground where it lands with a thud.

“Need a hand?” a handsome voice asks, but when the robed figure turns, their face is cloaked and shrouded. A gloved hand offers her help and she knocks it aside, still staring at the body in front of her on the ground.

“Tonks!” Diggory has his wand up, skidding to a halt as she battles her way to her feet. He looks seconds away from cursing the newcomer who--

Ignores them. He twists away and another spell dances out and hits another of Grindelwald’s followers currently trying to feed the fiendfyre monster. Another twist of the wand and the fire jumps to attention, wings flaring out and then dying as the newcomer’s magic wrestles it under control.

“You’re welcome,” the newcomer says over his shoulder. There are more cloaked figures, Tonks sees, forms black on black and they’re all wearing masks, gaunt, skeletal things that shine silver in the depth of their hoods.

“You’re helping us?” Cedric asks, “Are you with the Ministry?”

The stranger laughs, “Ah… no,” he says, and Tonks can hear the smirk in his voice, “I’m very much against the Ministry. I just thought, while everyone’s warring over how the wizarding world should be won, I’d put my claim forwards. It seemed like a good time, no?” He appears to examine the body on the ground for a moment before reaching down and plucking up the metal symbol of the Dark Lord that hangs around most of the acolytes necks. “Curious,” he hums.

“My Lord,” a shrouded figure apparates in right next to the stranger, “Grindelwald’s forces are in retreat and the fiendfyre is receding--”

“Of course it’s receding, I’m controlling it, you fool,” the leader snaps, “Have you started obliviating yet?”

The servant grovels , dropping to his knees. It’s sickening, Tonks thinks, but awe-striking, to witness the amount of power here-- “Yes, my Lord, almost done.” A dismissive wave and the servant reels back, straightening and looking for all appearances like he was not just on his knees begging at this… this Lord’s feet.

Slowly, each movement meticulous and with perfect conservation of movement, the leader turns to Tonks and Cedric, “Pass on the regards of Lord Voldemort and his Knights of Walpurgis to your leaders,” he says, smoothly, and lifts his wand straight up into the air, words whispered unheard.

He disapparates in that instance and Tonks and Cedric are left staring at the green that erupts into the sky. It’s a snake, the size of a house, coiled in the sky. It writhes in circles, clouds pressed together to form the green garish symbol that hangs there.

And even though the stranger and his servants had just saved her life, had fought against Grindelwald, Tonks can’t help the frisson of fear that passes through her.

*

Dumbledore stares at the map. Around him the Order look up to him, listen to him as if he’s all-knowing. As if he holds all the answers in the palm of his hand.

He doesn’t.

Even with how close he and Gellert had been for those few years he can’t predict what the Dark Lord will do next in his quest to drag the wizarding world into the light.

And now…

Now...

Lord Voldemort .

He hears the name whispered in the shadows, sees the reports and a new young upstart appearing in fights and ruthlessly attacking both sides before vanishing into the mist again. And if it is as he fears, then Gellert Grindelwald is no longer the only Dark Lord rising.

“Have you heard from Harry?” Sirius isn’t even paying attention, leaning over to where Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley sits. Hermione makes an aborted gesture and Ron just looks oddly tight-lipped but neither get a chance to answer because Molly Weasley hits Sirius with a rolled up newspaper like she’s swatting a badly behaved dog.

“Pay attention,” she hisses. The Weasley matriarch has a pinched look on her face from seeing her youngest two here volunteering to fight. Her oldest is a member too, but he’s busy dealing with Goblins at the moment. The twins are technically members, but they’re on hire as inventors more than strategists.

“The obliviating squad is run ragged,” Ron is saying to the group, “The aurors are losing more members than we’re gaining. Grindelwald has a nice secure little base in the South he appears to be running things from. It’s only a matter of time before we have another incident like the New York Incident or that thing with the manticore smuggling back in July.”

“I heard they had help,” Moody growls out, eye spinning, “The Ministry accepting civilian recruits now?”

Ron bristles, indignantly, “They’re not with the Ministry. They show up and everyone’s so damn grateful to have that bit more help that nobody complains. They turn up quicker than the Order, half the time--”

“The Knights,” Dumbledore confirms, and Ron nods, “And their leader - Lord Voldemort.”

“Dora ran into him,” Remus says, gaze fond as he talks about his fiancee, “Turned up to the fires that ran wild in East London. Their ‘Lord’ was powerful enough to put out raging fiendfyre.” Whispers run abound and Emmeline Vance shudders in visible horror. “The werewolves are restless,” Remus adds, frowning.

“Of course they’re restless,” Severus Snape sneers from where he’s lurking in the corner, Black glaring at him intermittently. Those who had the fortune of studying under the Potions Master for a short period have all given the hooked nose man a wide berth. He is unpleasant in demeanor, cruel at a glance and nobody looks much further than that. “It’s the full moon soon, I’m surprised you aren’t running around baying for blood, Lupin.”

Remus looks uncomfortable, “That’s just it-- some of us are. I heard Greyback ripped apart ten muggles the other night and it’s not even a full moon. But the others-- there was a supply of wolfsbane at the shelter. Pure, perfect stock. Free. The vicious are rallying and… there was a Knight at the shelter, the other day. White mask, black cloak, snake adornments--”

“If the Ministry are aware of Lord Voldemort and his rising movement they are saying nothing,” Kingsley says, “Which means they either deem him not a problem, are aware of him and ignoring him or--”

“Or someone’s bribing them to turn their heads,” Hermione Granger, bright girl that she is, says out loud what Albus is thinking. He ponders this new group being an offshoot of Grindelwald but--

No, Gellert doesn’t care about werewolves. He had slaughtered whole packs in Belgium during the stalemate, near eradicated at least three vampire families. Magical purity - he would never stoop lower for anything less.

Remus is frowning. Sirius sitting next to him opens his mouth and then closes it again, sharply, “The purebloods are acting oddly,” he says. “Odder than usual, that is, my little cousin acts like she knows something I don’t--

“Tonks?”

“No, Narcissa’s younger sister - the one who was at school with Harry - Bellatrix. Druella and Cygnus are marrying her off to one of the Lestrange brothers.”

“Well if I needed money and connections for somewhere, the purebloods would be the way to go,” Ginny Weasley admits, ignoring the somewhat disgusted look from her brother at the thought, “What?” she hisses, “Britain’s archaic - blood purity matters more than we like to think it does, the only reason it’s not a bigger thing is because the Ministry need everyone they can at the moment. Otherwise there is no way Hermione would have gotten a job. I’m sorry,” she says to Hermione, “But it’s true.”

“No, it’s okay, I know everyone’s prejudiced but… I could have sworn I heard a rumour that Lucius Malfoy wants to pass some kind of law regarding muggleborns but I can’t for the life of me find out whether it’s good, bad or just a rumour.”

“The Malfoy’s have money,” Ron points out, and there’s a pause.

“Slytherins,” Sirius Black says, “They’re all bloody Slytherins.”

“I take offense to that,” Kingsley says, mildly.

Albus just ponders it all, the intricacies of it. Snake adornments, he thinks, along with a young boy proclaiming ‘I can speak to snakes too, they find me whisper things to me ’--

There is a new player in this war, and it’s time he found out who this Lord Voldemort was and if his suspicions were correct.

*

Albus follows Hermione to the Ministry the next day. She leaves to go and try and chase down some files of import while Albus allows himself to get rushed by the usual crowd. His advice has been well-sought after ever since his first defeat of Grindelwald nearly twenty years ago.

Power was corrupting, though, and he had fled from it as he had fled from his sister’s death so many years ago. Dippet had all too eagerly shoved the headmaster position in his hands, and at least at Hogwarts he was doing something.

He should be doing more, he knows this, he should confront Gellert and end this, but Gellert knows better now that to attack him outright. So he supports the Ministry, and his Order run interference and missions to try and slow Gellert’s advancement on Britain. He shakes the right hands, plays off the slightly eccentric teacher act and finds out that yes, his suspicions are, as usual, right.

How he hates being right all the time.

Muggleborn and magically isolated protection act . It’s not even totally awful - it’s a good idea, but parts of it--

Taking magical children from their parents and obliviating their mothers and fathers--

Wizarding retribution for crimes done against magicals--

The Purebloods are up to something. A third side exists, and soon Dumbledore will be further spread thin over the ground.

But so will Grindelwald.

He can only play the waiting game and wait for them to step out of the shadows unless…

Unless he forces their hand...

“Here,” Hermione manages to sidle through the bustle. People are staring - but people always stare at him, Hogwarts’ headteacher who is too involved in the war , who should just finish Grindelwald like he did before --

He likes to think they’re staring at him because of his bright red and purple robes instead. There are tiny star shaped buttons on the sleeves.

“There’s been a retransfer of funding,” Hermione says, “I tracked it best I could, and someone’s feeding some of the war stipend into something else. The funds just stop, trail cold, but I know someone in Gringotts who can help.” She hands off part of her pile of paperwork to him, and he takes it, impressed as always with Miss Granger’s ingenuity. “Malfoy also has failed to donate his usual-- oh, hang on, Riddle, Madame Bones wanted me to pass these on to you--”

Albus Dumbledore freezes, still flicking harmlessly through the finances like it’s a knitting magazine. He looks up.

Tom Riddle is as handsome and charming as ever. His tone is polished and smooth. Any trace of the London slum he had once had as an orphan he has eradicated. He could be a proper pureblood heir were it not for the name. He stands there, looking expectantly at Dumbledore like he wants something.

Knows something.

Hermione hovers for a bit, but ducks her head, “I’ll see what I find,” she says, “I can catch up with you later, Professor--” stressed and overworked, Granger ducks away, curls escaping from her messy bun as she strides away.

Dumbledore meets the dark mahogany gaze of Riddle for a moment. For a moment both of them know exactly what the other is thinking and then it’s gone.

“Professor,” Riddle takes a moment to adjust his grip on the paperwork that had been shoved into his hands, “You’re looking well.” His voice is pleasant enough, but there’s just something--

I can make people hurt. If I want.

He has not thought about those words for a long long time.

“How are you, Tom?” he asks, curious despite himself, “How is--” he pauses, because he genuinely doesn’t know what Riddle is doing.

“Oh, I’m a glorified secretary for the Department of Magical Relations,” Riddle demurs, “I’m a no-named mudblood, none of the purebloods even looked at my grades.”

There is a harsh, blunt and raw truth to his words. Albus barely suppressed the flinch, “I’d rather you didn’t use that term, Tom.” He eyes the boy, puzzled because he knows Tom must have been the one behind the Heir of Slytherin business, but there is no way he can prove it. He can’t figure out how or why, or why it stopped or how Harry Potter got involved.

Yet Tom’s abilities as a Parselmouth remain unknown to the general populace, and in a shack down on the south coast Morfin Gaunt still lives in what appears to be ignorant bliss of another snake-speaker possibly related to him.

The handsome boy ducks his head, and he looks contrite, “Apologies, my years in Slytherin must have rubbed off on me,” he says.

“You surprise me,” Albus finds himself saying, “I thought I’d find you--” he pauses over the words, because he knows Tom could do amazing things. He had feared he’d lose Tom to the dark before now, “Wasn’t politics more your strength?”

He laughs, a gentle chuckle, shaking his head, “Maybe in the long run, but with the war… the politicians get nothing done,” Riddle argues, clearly passionate about this, “It’s… shall we say… the powers behind them. Would you honestly say Fudge has any control over the war efforts? Or that Scrimgeour when elected as his inevitable replacement will hold any real power over anything?”

It’s as good as an admission. Albus arches an eyebrow, “You know an awful lot about the current political climate for one not working there.”

Riddle’s tone is still polite, but not even Albus can miss the satisfaction gleaming in his eyes, “Yes, well, it pays to be informed.”

He should have kept a closer eye on Tom Riddle, he thinks, because the young, angry passionate man before him reminds him a lot like Gellert had been, except Tom Riddle does not have the moral qualms. He doesn’t have any morals, apparently, and he plays the part well.

Albus shoves those thoughts from his mind. He’s being ridiculous. Overly paranoid.

“It was lovely seeing you again, Tom,” he says, fondly, “You’ll have to stop by Hogwarts sometime for some tea.” He turns as if to go, only for Riddle to stop him.

“Professor?”

“Yes, Tom?” he turns back.

“About Hogwarts… I was just wondering… I always had an interest in teaching, and I know Professor Merrythought was getting on in years. I was wondering if you required a teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts? I’d be interested in applying.”

“Even with your Ministry career?”

“Please, sir,” he wonders what it cost Tom to beg , “Hogwarts was my first home, and an opportunity to teach there would be invaluable.”

Really, Albus thinks, staring at the young man who had scared him so when he had first met him so many years ago. Tom Riddle, who had passed through his school quietly, brilliantly intelligent and with a spate of mysterious happenings and then that dreadful business with the Chamber--

That had all ended with Harry Potter and Tom Riddle in his office, lying by the skin of their teeth to his face.

Since Riddle had been quieter. Somehow better behaved, despite his flawless record beforehand. Albus had no choice but to make him head boy - Tom deserved it, and if it would help propel him to a better career, a better path--

Then Harry Potter and Tom Riddle graduated and left and Albus hadn’t noticed, too busy trying to convince Grindelwald to stay away from Britain, and the next thing he knew--

For a moment he realistically considers the potential advantages of hiring the rising Dark Lord before him for the position, ponders over what Tom could give to the school but then reality hits him. The mere thought of Tom back in Hogwarts surrounded by vulnerable school children-- Tom had shown he was capable of murder at 15 and that children were not off-limits.

“I’d love to have you in for an interview,” he says, with a cheerful smile, “If you could answer one question right now for me - what happened to Harry Potter? I was led to believe the two of you had grown close?”

Tom’s face shutters and goes oddly blank at the personal attack, “Yes, well,” he says, shortly, “Having people close to you is a weakness - they let you down.”

“Do they,” Dumbledore observes. It’s not a question.

“I’ll see when I have time to swing by,” Tom says, “I might be busy.” He’s not going to show, Albus knows this already. He wants the job, of that he has no question, but as he turns away with a quiet dismissal, Albus knows he won’t see him for an interview.

He can’t answer the question.

*

Tom watches Rabastan and Crouch bickering in front of him, pondering whether he should hex them to shut them up or if it will be more entertaining waiting for one of them to snap.

“Break it up.”

Avery, spoiling all his fun.

Their voices are hushed whispers in the dusk. In the distance: the flickering lights of a building, warm brick and cool green gardens and the ozone tang of magic in the air protecting it.

War is, Tom reflects, a lot like chess. You just have to move the right pieces at the right moment and everything falls into place. Now he can peel away the shadows and step into the light. Watching the wizarding world run around trying to cope with the new player is amusing.

Except for Dumbledore, he thinks, still irked by his encounter with the man. Like a bloodhound the infernal headmaster had gone straight for him with charming words and twinkling eyes.

He’d turned down his application to teach at Hogwarts. Tom fumes internally. He had seen the shallow distrust in the headmaster’s eyes, and while it is not misplaced, the old man believes Tom’s wishes for returning to Hogwarts are insincere.

They aren’t.

Instead Dumbledore once again bars Tom from his home. It makes him furious. His fingers twitch and roots of hatred bury deeper in him. This mission is probably unnecessary, he thinks, but he wants to make a point that can’t be missed. Then Dumbledore can no longer ignore him or disregard him as worthless, as something to be cast out again. The Order will flinch at the appearance of his Knights in the street, and Grindelwald himself will think twice about continuing his onslaught of Britain.

England already has a Dark Lord.

And Dark Lords have always been known to be possessive creatures.

Now Tom stands here, surrounded by those loyal to him, those whose power he will use and abuse to further his goals.

It always helps to emphasise your point, after all.

The Lestrange brothers had been the year below him in Hogwarts. Crouch had been a Ravenclaw two years above him; a fantastic find with a great mind and a stifling burning desire to be free of his father.

Tom has always prided himself on finding the best.

Malfoy looks like he resents every second he’s spending, slipping through the dark with Tom and his merry men. But Malfoy is made for this, despite his airs and graces, he too will get his hands dirty by the time all this is over. He can see where the power is moving and he knows when it’s a good idea to follow and obey.

Avery pauses by the edge of the wards, half turning to Tom as if asking a question. Tom gestures for him to step aside - the wards don’t stand a chance against him. He drops into a crouch as he reaches out to the runic ley lines, magic appearing in the air as he goes about trying to unravel it. The holly wand hums in his hand - it prefers the soft, twisted magic and in moments like this it works better than his old yew one ever had.

Around him his Knights mill impatiently. Crouch chews on his fingernails and Lucius waves his wand around, illuminating the cobbled street leading to the house.

"This is ridiculous," Avery sounds unhappy, "There's no way we can crack through these wards - this safehouse is protected to the teeth."

"They haven't met me yet," Tom practically purrs, sparks trailing in the air as he reaches out for the cat’s cradle of spellwork.

It takes time. He can tell the others are getting impatient, and Lucius is circling like a disgruntled cat around and around and--

Something, some shape or animal, darts around them in the night and all the Knights flinch. Tom ignores them, too engrossed into his spellwork.

Lucius lifts up his wand, taking a step forwards. " Homenum revelio ," he says, and it rings flat. " Incidendia Cerula ," bluebell flames spiral into being and he cups them in his hand, holding it forwards.

Eyes flare red in the gloom and the shadow detaches itself from the darkness around it and steps forwards, a low growl echoing. Lucius flinches, letting out a slight yell and then stiffening as the shape comes into focus.

Avery laughs at him, "It's only a dog, Malfoy," he says, “Put your wand down, unless you want to kill the mutt.”

"It startled me, I didn't think there would be animals on the ground."

"I don't think it's a pet - look at it--"

Tom turns to glance at what his followers are squabbling about and stiffens as his eyes set on the dark shape skulking in his shadows, heart freezing in his chest.

"That's not a dog," Rabastan Lestrange says, and clearly someone took Divination, "That's a grim, that's--" his voice ends in a squeak and Malfoy stumbles back so fast the bluebell flames spill from his hand as he scrabbles for his wand.

They drop to the ground but don't burn - just spill out into a small pool like water. They illuminate the great hulking beast, the size of Hogwarts' half giant's boarhound. Tom had seen Sirius Black’s animagus form once and this monster makes Black looks like a puppy in comparison. It's fur is inky black and it's fangs look like silver bone shards stuck into bleeding gums. The red reflection of the eyes looks haunting in the light of the blue flames, and it's muzzle and skull are littered with scars like it's been in a fair few fights.

"You're joking," Avery says, as the creature makes no move towards them, just stands the other side of the flames.

"I got an O in Divination, Avery, I know what a fucking grim looks like and that-- oh Merlin, we're going to die, we're going to--"

"We're not going to die," Tom says, ignoring the icy shard in his heart. He can't die, he reminds himself. "They're just magical creatures, seeing one doesn't actually kill you--" he stops, because the beast's eyes are oddly focussed on him. It's hackles are raised and it's not friendly, not in the slightest, but out of all of them, it is Tom that the grim looks like it wants to pounce on.

It doesn't. It lets out a growl and a snap of teeth that has Lucius whimpering and Lestrange frantically crossing himself and muttering a protection rite and then it's gone, spinning back into the shadows.

Tom's magic cracks through the last of the spellwork, "Come on," he orders, voice authoritative enough to make everyone jump to attention, "We have a house to raid."

Their shakiness dies a little, and that is, of course, when the howling starts. It's a baying, that echos like there is a whole pack of wolves nearby, but that's ridiculous because Britain hasn't seen wolves in centuries.

"The hounds," Lestrange squeaks again, and Avery hits him, trying to shush him.

"They'll hear it," Crouch realises, "The house--"

Tom curses. Indeed at the safehouse the awful ruckus caused by the howling grim is causing lights to start appearing as the occupants awake. "Move," he says, "Quickly, quietly, and if you see that infernal creature, kill it."

"But you can't kill a grim, it's Death's creature--" Lestrange whispers.

"I don't care," Tom says, marching towards the safehouse with a snarl on his face. He has conquered death, finishing off one death dog will be nothing.

*

By the time Tom and his followers have finished with the safehouse, his mark hanging over the tomb of the dead, the baying has stopped and the barghest is gone.

*

He doesn’t really expect to see it again after that. A rare magical creature like that doesn’t simply reappear to the same person. And it’s certainly not an omen of fate; Tom’s fate is eternity after all, not death at the mouth of a demon hound.

He stalks towards Malfoy Manor in a foul mood. The gates turn to smoke as he reaches them and he moves unheeded, allowing his anger and magic to roll off him in waves. He’s furious .

The locket is gone.

The cup is gone.

In his fingers is a scrunched up clipping from the Daily Profit. Zacharias Smith, a Hufflepuff that is apparently the same age as Tom, but not one he’s ever deigned to notice before, was recently gifted the famous badger cup of Helga Hufflepuff. He had donated it to Hogwarts where it was now on public display to the school.

It was unacceptable .

The cup is bearable though, the cup he can live without, it was just a trinket he had thought to claim. His fingers twitch and he satisfies his childish impulses by helping himself to pieces of the Malfoy family silver as he makes his way to the meeting. Even if Lucius notices, he can’t protest.

No, the cup is bearable.

The locket though--

He’s afraid Hepzibah Smith is not looking in good shape. How dare she? Slytherin’s locket, bought off a young, near-starving pregnant girl for a measly 10 galleons--

Tom is not familiar with pity, and so feels nothing for his mother, alone and pregnant in midwinter.

He is very intimate with rage, and it licks liquid fire in his veins. He will hunt down the locket, his locket by birthright , and he will claim it, mark it, make it his , in a way most items should not be owned.

It will be worth it.

“Your information, Lucius,” he announces before the door’s have even opened fully, “Was unreliable and delayed .”

Lucius Malfoy’s flinch is a sight to behold. It’s refreshing, after all this time having to put up with Draco’s pitiful attempts to bully him, to see Lucius bow so readily. And soon soon , Lord Voldemort will rise and then Draco will regret his actions against Slytherin’s heir. “I’m sorry, my Lord, I acted as quickly as I could.”

In the gardens one of the Malfoy’s white peacocks lets out a cry. It sounds like a haunting ghost.

“See that you act quicker in future,” his tone is one of barely contained threats. “It would be horrible to find out that one day your delay might have resulted in...irreparable harm.”

He enjoys watching Malfoy’s visible gulp. “Barty,” he says, still eyeing up Lucius like a stray piece of meat, “Tell me you have better news.”

Crouch’s grin has too many teeth showing. They gleam white. “My lord,” he says, looking like he might prostate himself at a moment’s notice, “My father wouldn’t stop going on about the mysterious group who attacked Grindelwald’s men. They’ve put out a watch list for information--”

He lets Crouch’s voice drone on - most of it is, after all, nothing he doesn’t already know. He turns and paces the length of the room towards his seat, gaze passing over the crowd. Most are young witches and wizards who were behind him in Hogwarts - a few were a couple of years ahead of him and he remembers the way they had looked at him, a no-named mudblood.

He’s not a no-named mudblood anymore.

He enjoys the atmosphere of the room, the awe and fear tangible in the air. His gaze drifts, past the gathered group and to the windows of Lucius’ too-fancy manor.

A dark shape moves, catching his attention, black against white and red running down. It takes him a moment to place it.

A large black dog drops a bone white peacock on the ground. Red blood runs down pure snow feathers and it’s teeth are stained red in a bloody grin.

It’s not a dog, he thinks.

Not, like he had thought for a moment, a dog, no--

It's not a dog, he thinks with no small degree of horror, it's a grim. Just sitting there, watching him. Possibly even the same grim, it's hard to tell, the creature is too far away to see the scars, but the chances of two different grims appearing are slim unless--

“My Lord?”

He whirls on Lestrange, “What ?”

His fury is such that Rabastan splutters, trying to find his words, and he turns back to the window but---

There is no grim outside. The hillside is green grass, not a peacock or grim to be seen.

He’s imagining things, he thinks, stepping from the shadows and trying to keep a hand in everything that is going on is stressful.

Tom turns away from the window, attention drifting back to his followers.

“Are we ready to move, then?” he asks. And he - not Tom Riddle, not that poor orphan boy with no past, no history, nothing, a freak - Lord Voldemort, he thinks with a thrill, gazes around at his disciples.

“Yes,” Avery says, ever practical, ever prepared. Right now Voldemort has more important things to worry about than a stray dog.

(But were he to walk over to look closer he would see the bloody white feathers littering the ground).

*

The street is littered with bodies.

Ash smokes through the air and blood trickles through the streets. Lord Voldemort steps over the bodies in his way.

The report had come through too late for him to mobilise the Knights to move. Too late for the Order too, he thinks, he had seen the hassled look on Hermione Granger’s face as she dived for a floo, seconds before Tom himself was apparating out. It wasn’t worth chasing, not really, but impulse had guided him. In the distance the aurors and obliviators are dealing with the muggles. Healers rush away wounded, leaving the dead. Any participants in the fight are long gone - either dead or physically fled.

The muggles will blame it on a gas leak or factory fault. Not on the Ukrainian Ironbelly that had landed on Britain’s shores with mouths of flame and claws of steel. Voldemort is pretty sure the dragon wranglers will be chasing it for a week still, an obliviator squad following behind. Those of Grindelwald’s acolytes who had seen the dragon safely over the Channel and then released the beast lie either dead or already in chains in the Ministry, no doubt soon to be kissed on Fudge’s incompetent orders.

It’s okay, Voldemort thinks, he won’t remain in power for long.

The dead lies haphazardly, limbs askew and he’s heard death described as something akin to sleep, once. Whoever said that has never seen death. It’s messy. It’s stench is foul and there is nothing elegant or graceful about the way people drop like they’re puppets with cut strings. It’s a waste, he thinks, but it’s also terribly terribly real. The veil is not a physical tangible thing, despite what the Department of Mysteries dig up, and these empty hollow shells are just that.

But he will never experience that. He will be better, is already better . Death will not find him.

“Your Order got here too late,” he says to the old man in the street. Dumbledore’s looking more and more tired every time he sees him. His auburn hair is peppered with grey and his beard - neatly trimmed and short for the length of his Hogwarts’ stay - has grown out now, bushy and neatly tucked into his collar.

“Your Knights never made it.”

“Well you can’t expect us to take over the Order’s job entirely,” he says with a smirk and easy shrug.

Dumbledore turns to face him. He’s not nearly as confrontational as Voldemort had envisioned - he’s almost disappointed. “Then what are you doing here, Tom?” he asks, then pauses half a beat, as if reconsidering, “Or should I called you ‘Lord Voldemort’? It appears many do, in recent days.”

He enjoys the thrill of pride that curls through him at the name, “I thought it might be more appropriate,” he says, “Given what I plan to do.”

“What you plan to do,” Dumbledore echoes back, “Tell me, do your… I hesitate to use the word ‘friends’... followers, maybe? Do they really bow to you as their lord? I can’t imagine Lucius Malfoy bowing to anyone.”

“Even those pure of blood will acknowledge strength of magic, something I’m sure you’ll have experience with.” Voldemort is well aware of the hypocrisy of his movement at this stage. He is a half-blood, and so, he realises, is Dumbledore. The man’s mother had been muggleborn.

My mother was muggleborn , he hears Harry telling him months weeks years ago .

The strongest two wizards of their generation and they had both been half bloods.

To think the purebloods still believed that garbage , well, soon he could push forwards, crush their views and show them magic was might.

In his hand, dark holly thums with magic. Dumbledore is looking at him with wariness. Good, he thinks, the man deserves to be scared. “You know I was going to wait,” he says, “Play the long game, but the war made for new opportunities. The wizarding world needs to be remade and now is the perfect time to do so.”

Dumbledore pauses, as if trying to work out what moves Voldemort has planned, as if to see the whole chess board that has been set up between them while he had been concentrating on Grindelwald. “Are you here to fight us, Tom? Are you going to fend off the Order and Grindelwald’s Reapers in your bid to destroy the Ministry?”

Destroy the Ministry - Voldemort wants to laugh. That would be the easy option, the boring option, people will hate you if you murder your way to the top, Tom , Harry says in his head and no, he’s not going to destroy the Ministry. He’s going to rebuild it.

“I’m not destroying anything,” he says, gesturing to the ruins around him with outstretched arms, “You already have!”

Around them destruction rains. Ash flakes to the ground as fire curdles in old houses. Bodies line the streets, both Grindelwald’s men and Ministry. Stalls, once colourful and organised, lie in a scattered ruined mess. Blood runs down the cobbles of the street.

A pyrrhic victory for the home front, Tom thinks, triumphantly proving his point. A smirk curls languidly over his features and he feels, more than sees, the way Dumbledore reaches for his magic in preparation to fight Tom. He doesn’t need to - Voldemort is not a threat to Dumbledore. Not yet. Yet he still itches for the fight, desires to see the man put in his place--

“Tom Riddle?”

Voldemort stiffens at someone daring to interrupt him. Dumbledore twists to see who has spoken. There is a girl standing in the street. Unremarkable, cute, about six or seven with blonde plaits and otherwise normal if not for the fact she has a giant messy hole where her liver should be and a piece of her scalp peeling off.

She is unquestionably dead. Sightless eyes gaze at him and he hears Dumbledore’s gasp. “What trickery is this, Tom? What magic have you delved into now?”

“This is no trick of mine, Dumbledore,” he admits, reluctantly, “Who are you?” he asks the girl.

“Tom Riddle,” she says again, voice high pitched and her head tilts to the side almost questioningly, “Dead things don’t always stay dead, Tom Riddle.”

“What?” he asks, but gets no answer because her body drops to the ground in that moment, like a puppet with its strings cut. Tom glares up at Dumbledore, “Is this meant to intimidate me?” he laughs, stalking over to the girl and knocking her to her back with a sweep of his wand. Her eyes are sightless. There is no life there, no animation, nothing--

He looks up to see Dumbledore looking horrified, “Necromancy,” he breathes, “Tom, that’s not--”

“My name is Lord Voldemort,” he hisses, cold fury and ice piercing his heart. Terror, he realises, terror and helplessness because dead is dead. There is a reason necromancy is outlawed. Forbidden. Cruel and bloody, the practice barely exists. The Inferi curse remain one of the few remnants of the practice. And this…

Dead things don’t always stay dead, Tom Riddle.

There is a necromancer who knows his name.

There is a necromancer who--

He twists away from the street, disapparating and leaving the corpse of the girl behind. Foolish superstition and fancy, he scoffs. He will not be intimidated by someone who hides in the shadow behind broken dead dolls. He will not--

There is a dead crow on the doorstep of his flat. Like a cat’s dropped it’s prize, except dropped kills are not spread out with its wings pinned like an angel of death. Dropped kills do not have their hearts removed and organs peeled out, eyes gouged into sightless red scars and in the centre where it’s heart should be, a golden chain of a locket.

With adrenaline rushing through him, Voldemort reaches in further, grabbing the chain and tugging the locket out. It is beyond his worst fear.

A bird with its heart replaced by Slytherin’s locket. His mother’s locket.

How did they know , he thinks - who he is, who he is descended from, that he was even looking for this locket, wanted it, to use it and hide it away and--

There is a harsh cry and he flinches back as the bird lying dead on the ground flaps its wings. It clatters up into him, and he bats it away in alarm, feeling the blood and viscera that drips from it.

The bird is still very much dead.

Flames from his wand burn the damn thing to ash. The holly is warm in his palms from his rage and terror. The locket is cold against his fingers.

Dead things don’t always stay dead, Tom Riddle .

Chapter Text

(Tom, now.)

The Ministry atrium is scattered with busy workers en route to their offices in the early morning rush. Tom’s furious stalk across the atrium is interrupted repeatedly by idiots too engaged in their own shallow self-serving problem to recognise his ire.

He is immortal, he reminds himself, it is laughable that he should be worried. To think that he could be scared with jewelry and a few dead creatures.

Soon, he promises himself, soon they will all know his name. They will throw themselves out of his way and bow at his feet--

Egotistical mental ramblings are interrupted by a call across the atrium. “Tom Riddle?”

He pauses, taking a moment to school his features and to push down his anger. It has been simmering for hours now so it’s not easy - he refocusses it instead on the sight of Kingsley Shacklebolt shoving through commuters towards him.

He plasters a charming smile across his face and pauses by the golden fountain. Magical Brethren, he thinks with derision. Magic is magic and yet still they rank it.

“Thank goodness I caught you,” Shacklebolt says, like they’re old acquaintances while Tom remains pretty sure he’s only spoken to the man once before.

“Can I help you?” he asks.

“I hope so,” Shacklebolt says, “You see I’m chasing some leads on a few cases that have hit my desk this past week.” Tom tilts his head in feigned curiosity and bemusement, “Some unauthorised wizards and witches fighting the war. We’ve had vigilantes and rogue groups before but this group is different. More organised, and with bigger plans than just the war.”

“That sounds troublesome,” Tom says, indifferent, “If I hear anything I’ll be sure to let you know, auror--”

“You see,” Kingsley slides into Tom’s path, looking annoyingly smug, “There are rumours,” he eyes Tom warily, knowingly , “Rumours you’ve taken up a new hobby, Riddle.”

Dumbledore told him, Tom thinks, even as he arches one eyebrow, “Ah, yes,” he says, “The stock market has proven quite a stimulating exercise--” that’s not what Shacklebolt means, not at all. “And,” he enjoys seeing the ticks in the older man’s face, “I interviewed for a side job just the other day as a shop assistant. It’s in Knockturn - not the best location, but beggars can’t be choosers--”

“I spoke to Albus,” Kingsley confirms his suspicions with an irritated, low voice that sounds muffled as he throws up a privacy charm. Underneath the irritation there is hard raw steel in his voice, “I know you’re Lord Voldemort.”

Tom laughs. Plain and open and just laughs. Spins around and arches one eyebrow, “And what are you going to do about it?” he asks, “Where’s your proof?” he adds, enjoying watching Kingsley squirm.

The auror thought remains doggedly determined, “I heard from sources that you went travelling after Hogwarts in the company of Harry Potter. Might I ask where Mr Potter is now?”

“I don’t know,” Tom says, “We went different ways--Mr Shacklebolt, is this an interrogation? There seem to be rather a lot of questions, and I feel like I am being judged and accused of a crime I am not even aware of. All of this in such a public setting--” he gestures around him, to where several people have paused to not-so-subtly listen in, “Well, it’s a shame the auror standards are dropping so severely.”

Kingsley plasters a fake, reassuring smile on his face, “Then you won’t mind swinging by my office for a couple of minutes. I just have a few details to clear up - some paperwork needed filling in, some Gringott’s goblins got a bit restless - I’m sure you know how it is. You appear to be the most appropriate person to answer these questions.”

“I don’t think that is--” Tom doesn’t get the rest of his sentence out. There is a loud ringing and the world next to him explodes. It’s only half instinct, the rest is purely magic that has his wand ( Harry’s wand) forming a shield spell around them as with a flash of light, the Fountain of Magical Brethren explodes.

There is dust and fire and smoke. Screams rip through the air, and around them are loud cracks as people apparate in. Dressed in black, silver lining their cloaks the newcomers are loud and jeering as they take to the atrium.

Tom is on the ground, gravel studding his cheek. His ears ring from the force of the explosion. He can see Kingsley pressing a hand to where a splinter of wood the size of Tom’s arm is sticking into his shoulder. The auror’s gaze slides to Tom, mouthing something but Tom can’t hear him.

‘Stay there’ probably, Tom thinks, which is stupid because he’s still dazed and dizzy and he tries to pulls himself up but his fingers spasm weakly. He feels the smooth grain of holly wood but can’t curl his fingers. Dust coats the inside of his throat and lungs making him cough.

And around him--

Reapers, he thinks, Grindelwald’s men.

In the middle of the Ministry. He’s amazed at the audacity of it.

And in the centre of it all; Grindelwald himself. He has his hands out like a conductor at a stage and he’s controlling the risk and fall of the music. He’s talking, lips curling into a satisfied smile as he examines the destruction wrought in the Ministry.

 

For a moment of paranoia Tom knows  that this is targeted against him, Grindelwald knows Tom is threatening his position. He knows what Tom will be. There is no way the Hungarian Wizard will allow another Dark Lord to rise and has decided to end Tom before he can consolidate his power except--

Grindelwald doesn’t even look at him. He’s directing some of his men as he takes a position near the centre and starts talking .

Tom will give him this much - the man is charismatic. His ears are still ringing, so he catches bits and pieces as he claws his way to his feet. Shacklebolt has sent off a silver patronus - Tom wonders how quickly the Order will react. He himself reaches out with his magic, feeling those he marked thrumming on the edge of his mind and he twists and burns the black black ink--

“We are subjecting ourselves to unnecessary subjugation,” Grindelwald is saying, and even terrified, scared and huddled, the dissent sparks in the masses, “They destroy our world with bombs. They keep us hiding in sewers like rats. The muggles are an infection, and we are the cure --”

“And we must wipe them out for their own good?”

Dumbledore appears directly behind Grindelwald in a flare of flames as his phoenix deposits him and then soars off on wings of fire.

“For the Greater Good,” Grindelwald parrots back, head tilting and pale eyes fixed unnervingly on Dumbledore, “Your words, I recall.” His focus is so singular, he barely appears to notice the reinforcements decked out in red and gold sneak in.

Tom does. He also feels his marks on the edge of his consciousness as they arrive, slipping in amongst the Order. He, himself, keeps his head down, to the sidelines as much as it burns him to throw himself in and show them all what real magic is--

He misses who casts the first spell between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, only that they’re duelling. This is, he realises, the first time the pair have probably fought since their legendary fight twenty years ago. The one in which Harry’s parents’ death had been the catalyst. Even with as much magic as Tom knows, as much as he found out in his travels, their battle still amazes him. It flows like water between them, spells ripped from the air and sent straight back to the caster.

Ozone burns in the air, hazy heat waves form from the sheer volume of spellfire. It’s beautiful to watch. They throw everything at each other - transfigurations, elemental magic, a wide range of curses and charms.

He has his sight so fixated on Grindelwald that he misses the stunner that flies out of nowhere. It’s not enough to knock him out, but it is enough to knock him to the ground, dazed. He hits his shoulder, fingers spasming over his wand as he hits soil. He twists, seeing one of Grindelwald’s Reaper's stand over him. Triumphant.

“Well,” the Reaper says with a leer, “Looks like I’ve caught one civilian who didn’t know when to run,” the man sneers, raising his wand, a spell already on his tongue. " Avada-- " the word dies in his throat before it forms as a great big black shape erupts from nowhere and tears his throat out.

Tom flinches back. On the ground in front of him the man twitches weakly, and the hulking grim looks up, blood dripping from bone shard fangs.

It is the same grim. The same hulking beast from that night, scars twisting around half it's skull and it's close enough that he can see that one eye is actually glazed white from it. It's a terrifying sight.

It’s growling, like an approaching rumble of thunder. “No,” Tom says, “No, I am not going to die, I can’t die , begone!”

It just fixes him with a beady one eyed glare and it’s growls grow deeper.

Tom brandishes the holly wand, " Avada Kedavra! " he snarls, and the beast actually flinches out of the way of the spell. It's single eye gleams knowingly, far too intelligent for its own good. " Pyrkagia ," he curses, and fire spills from his wand. It leaps and twists into a monstrous quetzalcoatl, and the grim falls back away from the fiendfyre.. Tom channels his will into the magic, tries to force the fire forwards to consume the hell hound--

"My lord... my lord?"

He twists away. This beast is testing his sanity, he thinks, he has just cast fiendfyre to try and kill it.

Still, he thinks, if anyone can kill a grim it would be him. He looks away from Avery’s worried gaze through his bone white mask, but the hound is nowhere to be seen.

“My Lord?” Avery says again, because the fiendfyre is growing larger and wilder and--

Fiendfyre in the middle of the Ministry Atrium, he thinks, and he’s unmasked, uncloaked, the raging feathered serpent pouring from the holly wand that casts the dark spell with it’s usual reluctance, but does so anyway and with as much power as he remembers his yew one having.

It was going to happen eventually, Tom thinks, and he turns his back on Avery as his magic flares brighter. The fire hungrily takes and takes and takes and he enjoys watching Dumbledore and Grindelwald scatter as the quetzalcoatl lunges for the spot between them. It twists, feathers and wings of flames burning. Grindelwald is doing some fancy spellwork to construct a barrier, but Dumbledore’s gaze crosses the distance to where Tom stands--

Tom smirks. Flicks his fingers in a mock salute. Pours more of his magic into the serpent, watching it spread its wings even as it explodes between the pair of warring wizards. Grindelwald dives out of the way and Dumbledore, irritating fool that he is, just stands there while his phoenix flares into existence to redirect the fire away from him.

He steps forwards in the wake of the fire, embers still floating through the air. The atrium falls still as he moves in the wake of the magic that had been at play. Thrill shoots through him, a heady feeling at the absolute control he has in that moment with all eyes on him.

Too early, Harry says in his head, you played your hand too soon, Tom , and he hushes his friend’s voice as he comes to a halt near the ruined statue. “Gentlemen,” Tom says, long fingers playing over his wand, “I thought two men such as yourselves would be able to have a simple conversation without resorting to petty spellwork like squabbling school children.”

“You’re the one who calls himself Lord Voldemort,” Grindelwald surprisingly speaks up first, suitably wary.

Tom spreads out his hands, “As charged,” he says, “I’d say it’s a pleasure, but,” his expression is tamed into one of pure derision as he eyes the pair, “Well, you’re busy destroying my Ministry. In the future, we’d all appreciate it if you kept your temper tantrum to yourselves.”

Grindelwald laughs. It’s a clear bell-like laugh that is almost handsome, were it not for the look in his eyes, “I like you, boy,” he sneers, “Got aspirations, have you?” Tom’s lip has curled at the dismissive tone. “Maybe come back in a few years.”

“I would ,” Tom makes it sound like he’s regretful, “But watching the pair of you make such a mess of things? I just couldn’t stand by - what sort of person would I be then? No, I’m putting forth my claim. Equal magic. Complete separation.” Genocide isn’t the way to go .

There is movement behind Dumbledore, and he stiffens at that thrice damn grim. He blinks and it’s gone, but he knows it was there.

“That’s not--” Dumbledore has paled, “Tom, that’s not feasible --”

“Lots of things aren’t feasible,” he says, shortly, “First and foremost is continuing this goddamn, pointless fight. Think it over. I’ve got things to do.” Dogs to kill, he thinks, ripping his magic down his marked and disapparating out.

He throws his symbol out before he vanishes. The green serpent curling through the air in a loop of infinity.

He leaves too soon to see Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley appear from seemingly thin air, a black grim stepping forwards to meet them. The couple look dishevelled and Ron, for some reason, is carrying a container of brains.

*

Lucius’ contacts are invaluable. Lord Voldemort saves Ministry is the perfect spin on the story. It couldn’t have worked out better than if Tom had planned it. Playing the sympathies of the war torn, stepping forwards as a safe refuge.

Someone who wants to stop the fighting.

Someone who wants equality for all.

Someone who wants to forget about the muggles entirely---

Genocide can wait a few decades. It’s a step up from the subjugation Grindelwald has planned and marketing it as separation means he’s not hiding anything. He’s being subtle in his plain spoken campaign.

And it’s working , but all Tom can focus on right now is that damn mongrel --

Unfogging the Future lies open in front of him, and it’s definitely a grim, he thinks, it’s nothing like that mangy black dog Sirius Black turns into. It’s got the right ear set, and nothing can quite mimic the way the eyes have that glazed dead glow to them, nor the way it lopes through the death fields like it was born in the destruction.

“Grindelwald fled following. I suspect the Ministry attack was only half political - there are reports of several breaks ins. The Department of Mysteries lost several valuable items, the auror office lose dozens of files and the records also had some information stolen. Oddly enough it appeared more like a raid for family history than anything modern - marriages, family trees - like they were trying to track something or someone down.”

Tom’s too furious to listen to Malfoy’s report, let alone take note of the family history Grindelwald has apparently taken an interest in. Another Divination book, another stating clear hard facts.

The grim heralds death. Be it as a warning, or the one to actually tear away your soul, it is inevitable.

It is impossible, Tom thinks, he can’t die , so why is that damn grim--

Maybe it’s not following him. Lucius had been around for two incidents. Dumbledore for another two. And it’s not actually attacked him, if he was getting technical it had ripped out the throat of one potential threat--

And what, maybe a hound of death was friendly ? Another book slams open saying the same thing and with a furious snarl he shoves it off the desk. He lashes out, sweeping out and sending quills and parchment tumbling to the ground.

“My Lord?”

He enjoys the way Lucius’ voice shakes. “Yes?” he spins around.

The man’s throat bobs nervously and he doesn’t dare voice the question. Behind him several members of his inner circle hover, all looking similarly wary. “The grim,” he says, ripping one of the pages out of the fallen books and slamming it into Lucius’ chest with enough force to make the man double over, “The one we saw before our raid on that safehouse. I want it found.”

“A-a-a grim ?” Lestrange - he can’t be bothered to work out which one - stutters, “You want us to find --”

“Do I have to repeat myself?” his tone is glacial, temper snapping, “I want it dead ,” he snarls out, fury in his veins. He is not prone to temper, his anger is fierce words and crucios , and his trembling rage has Lestrange flinching back, “F ind h im,” he hisses, words edging on parseltongue.

Mad, he sees in their eyes, questioning his sanity, but that’s nothing new. People have called him mad since he was a child. Reverence, awe and fear at his power. They stumble away from his raging magic that lashes at the windows.

The glass cracks.

“I can smell their fear,” Nagini appears from where she had been basking by the fire. She is no longer the small serpent she had been when Harry had gifted her to Tom. She is six feet long and still growing. Malfoy freezes like if he doesn’t move she might not notice him. She slides past to where Tom stands, “They’ll bring you the hound of bones ,” she hisses, as she wraps herself in a loose coil around him, “And I’ll eat it .”

“Well?” Tom demands, like he can’t hear the sibilant words, “What are you w aiting for ?”

He enjoys the sight of them shoving each other out of the way to go and fulfill his request. They scatter at the sight of his sanity bared before them. “Do you think they’ll succeed?” Nagini asks, from where she’s curled.

“It doesn’t matter,” Tom says, lips curling into a grin, “I’ll go and hunt that dog down myself if needs be.”

*

Dear Tom.

The familiarity galls him.

I hope you are well. I am writing to inform you that our dear Sylvia Burke, our replacement Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher follow Galatea's retirement, has decided to stand down. The long hours, distance from home and nature of children intent on turning their desks into dragons didn't agree with her.

Should you still be interested, I will be interviewing for the now open position of  the Defence post on June 3rd. I conduct my interviews at the Hogshead, Hogsmeade. Kindly attend around 1600 hours.

Yours sincerely,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.

Even signed it with his full name. It’s ridiculous, Tom thinks, it’s a waste of time. Between the two of them Albus has already made it clear he is not interested in offering Tom the job.

But Tom is bored, Grindelwald is still licking his wounds and his followers are for some reason having difficulty tracking down one mythical magical creature that could be anywhere in Britain. In retrospect maybe he should have done it himself and not assigned a bunch of idiotic half-wits to do it.

Hogsmeade is quiet when he gets there. The afternoon rush is gone and the shops are lingering for that last hour before their workers can leave for the day. The Hogs Head is it’s usual grimy self hidden out of view. Nothing about it has changed from how he remembers it.

Dumbledore is already in there when he arrives, sitting at a table with a glass of butterbeer in front of him. Tom slinks forwards, ignoring Dumbledore’s benign smile as he takes a seat and reaches for the glass Dumbledore slides towards him.

“Unusual place for an interview,” he says, picking up his glass and eyeing it up. Deciding that it is glass, and that no, it should not be yellow, he puts it gently back down on the table and refrains from drinking.

“I happen to be good friends with the local barman,” Albus says, charmingly, eccentrically like hs idiocy makes him look smarter or something. “You have made your claims, now, to the world. Ambitious, as always, but then I would expect nothing less from you, Tom.”

“Stop calling me that,” he says.

“You’ll have to forgive me, but you will always be Tom Riddle to me, no matter what name you persuade your...ah...friends… to call you.”

He is already regretting coming. He is not in the mood for dalliances with Albus Dumbledore of all people. “What do you want, Dumbledore? It’s clearly not to offer me a job. Besides, it’s too late. I’ve found my own.”

“I had hoped I might see what we could do about an alliance of sorts.”

“An alliance…”

Albus sighs, “We both disagree with Gellert’s plans. What they mean for the wizarding world - they’re not ideal for either of us. They’re not ideal for a lot of people, and if we keep this up we risk losing. You could make a difference, though. You could help --”

“And why,” Tom enjoys watching Dumbledore try to jump through hoops, “Why would I want to do that?”

Albus eyes him for a long moment, blue gaze unfathomable, “I had hoped--” he starts, “But no,” he shakes his head, “It appears I was mistaken, coming to you for help. You will not change. Still as unreasonable as ever, as unshakable and stubborn as a Gryffindor, my, I wonder what Salazar thinks of his heir?”

The words are almost mocking. Tom’s had enough. If he stays he fears what rash action he might do. His demeanor turns to cold ice and he stands, chair scraping, “I think we’re done here. It was a pleasure, Albus, I hope you find someone for your teaching post.”

He can find whoever he wants for the teaching post, Tom thinks, vindictively. They won’t last a year. None of them will, he will make sure of that.

“I’ll walk you out,” Dumbledore doesn’t know when to quit, “And don’t worry, I have a few potential candidates lined up. But please, Tom, just consider my words, my offer. If you can be reasonable there is no reason for any of this to turn to bloodshed--”

“You want to chain me. Shackle me--”

“I had hoped you could be persuaded to show restraint, yes--”

“Restraint?” Tom snarls as he stalks out of the door into the cool dusk light of Hogsmeade. The words are cyanide on his tongue, “ Restraint ? You have the gall to talk to me about restraint? About playing nice, about sticking to the good, the light magic . Fine. I can do that,” he enjoys Dumbledore’s flash of surprise as he rounds on him, the seconds before he throws his terms out, “But you have to keep your pet grim on a leash. Preferably you put it down, but we both know how you feel about necessary ends, so I’ll settle for it chained and shackled.”

Dumbledore stares at him. “Grim?” he asks.

“Your dog !” he snaps, “Your grim , that damn omen that’s been stalking me day and night. I want it gone, and then, then we’ll see about being reasonable, hmm?”

Albus opens his mouth, faltering, “Tom, the grim-- it isn’t mine. I haven’t even seen it.”

It’s ice stabbing into his heart. Because if it’s not his enemies, if the mere thought of the creature sends his followers scattering, if it’s not someone moving against him then it’s real--

No--

“Then who ?” his words are near a parsel hiss, and he knows, can feel his eyes flash red with fury.

And that’s before the new voice slots into their conversation, whiskey-rough British and oh so familiar -

“That would be me.”

He knows that voice. He hears it in his head, chiding him even now you’re being reckless, Tom, such a Gryffindor , and that’s where it should stay, in his head , because the owner of that voice is dead.

Tom killed him.

But when he spins around, it’s to a familiar figure standing in the street. “Hello, Tom,” Harry Potter says with a glasgow grin, “Miss me?”

*

(Harry, before.)

He dies in a cave. He is alone and cold with blood curling up his throat. Drips down his face like tears. The dead are screaming in his ears. In the distance the last vestige or light snaps out as the temple collapses around him. For a moment Harry can still see the glimpse of Tom, brown eyes bordering on crimson as he moves out of Harry’s reach. Steps away, moves beyond where Harry can follow leaving him alone in the dark as his world falls down.

“TOM!” he screams, “ TOM !” he knows the other boy can’t hear him, screams anyway, “Tom! Tom, please-- ” his words border on begging and he stops, choking on his own blood as nothing responds, just a hollow dead echo of his own cries.

He’s alone. He’s alone and nobody knows he’s here and he--

He is going to die, he realises with horror. He is as good as dead, trapped and buried in his own grave.

Tom left him. Tom tried to murder him--

His face feels like it’s on fire. Sticky blood drips down, and his throat whistles everytime he tries to breath. He presses a hand to his throat, lungs burning, panic rising up and he forcefully shoves it back down. No . He will not die like this. He knows a few basic healing spells - not enough, not right, he hadn’t anticipated the need to heal in his future and now he wishes he had. But first he needs a wand--

His holly wand is gone, snatched away by pale fingers and gone. Tom has it now.

But somewhere in the shadows, in the dark, lies Tom’s yew wand. Keeping one hand pressed to his throat and his breathing steady he reaches into the shadows for the piece of wood. His fingers meet cold stone and claws and horrors in the dark and he lurches backwards in alarm.

Nothing leaps out at him, and hysterically he wonders if the blood loss is getting to him. “Lumos,” he tries, still wandless and so so alone in the dark. It is no use, he thinks, his wand is gone and his wandless skills are subpar.

He reaches out blindly. The air is humid, and the oxygen is thin. He’s dizzy, from blood loss or oxygen deprivation it’s hard to tell. He stumbles forwards.

“Lumos,” he tries again. “ Lumos!”

Nothing.

Rage pours through him, bordering on desolation. He takes another step forwards, trips on something and crumples into a messy pile of blood and flesh. He’s a wreck . He’s dying. Tom’s curse shoots like knives down his body and he shudders. There is a sound in the darkness and he cringes away from it, hope fast fading as reality sets in. He’s dead, he’s dying, let him die in peace--

Sparks flash and fire burns into existence at his fingertips. He catches a glimpse of the thing with him and wants to laugh. It’s just a rat - just a stupid, fat, lazy rat - seconds before the fire leaps for it and engulfs it. He flinches back, watching the fire burn. The smell of cooked flesh is foul, but--

Foul, but edible - at least he won’t starve down here, he thinks, accompanied by oh merlin he’s going crazy, he’s going mad --

The fire dies and he feels it in his magic, burning rage and anger. He shoves it out again and the flames spring back up. It’s not a lumos , he thinks, but it will do, he will make it do--

A pale smooth, bone white slip of wood shines like a beacon in the light and he scoops it up with trembling fingers. His hands are so blood slicked that he leaves sticky brown smears on the immaculate wood. “Episkey,” he rasps out, and nothing happens, “Episkey ,” he snarls, the phoenix feather in the wand humming in recognition even as nothing happens.

He turns the white wood, now smeared bloody, over in his hands, and it’s with horror that he sees the crack in the wood, the phoenix feather visible at it’s centre like a red and gold heart beating within.

“Episkey ,” he snarls, pointing it back at his throat, and it’s with pure stubborn will that he forces the cracked wand to work. WIth a gasp he draws in oxygen as his throat knits itself back together.

He pats his throat, feeling the knotted scar tissue that wraps around part of his trachea and carotids. He’d been milimetres from death, he thinks, had he not turned the slicing curse would have torn straight through his carotids and jugular instead of just nicking the trachea and muscle.

Tom had been aiming to kill, he realises with a numb sort of horror. He’s not surprised, he realises, betrayed, yes, but surprised?

Tom’s a murderer, nothing about this is surprising.

He still can’t see out of one eye - there is blood across half of his face and his temple is throbbing. His throat is tight and words hurt. His way out behind him is blocked by rocks and dirt and rubble. The wand in his hand is cracked, and Harry remembers vividly when Ron’s inherited wand had broken and had put Gilderoy Lockhart out of commission (thankfully) as their supply teacher in Defence.

Tom’s wand, much like it’s owner, is more likely to kill him than help him get out. He’ll bury himself alive trying to levitate the rocks out of the way without the whole tunnel collapsing.

He twists forwards, trying to force the blue fire his magic had conjured into something that might give him a glane of where the tunnel leads. He hadn’t ventured far - darkness looms impenetrable in front of him.

The only way is forwards, and Harry is a Gryffindor at heart.

His fingers wrap around his - no, not his wand. His wand. The grain is unfamiliar and the magic channels through it the same way but there’s a temperamental, fiery edge to the yew that his holly wand never had. He starts forwards into the shadows.

The tunnel winds down and twists around in circles. Cold walls claw at him and it’s adrenaline and magic keeping him going. The air gets colder, mustier with every twist. Mould coats the walls, and the obsidian stone rips his hands to shreds as he keeps himself going, pulls himself forwards--

His grip meets air and he almost tumbles straight over as one side of the rocky wall drops sharply away. The tunnel opens out into a cavern of sort, stalagmites and stalactites joining and merging into pillars of minerals. Cracks in the rocky walls suggest routes forwards, but there are so many and Harry doesn’t know which way to go. He steps forwards, and something crunches under his boot and a humanoid shape looms out of the gloom.

He flinches.

The lumos he casts doesn’t work, but the blue flames he has wandless trailing him flare up, illuminating the figure. A strangled cry escapes him before he realises it isn’t another human being. Not anymore, at least. It’s a skeleton, and beyond it he can see more, all slumped in death. It’s a bone field, he realises, bodies upon bodies upon--

This will be his tomb, he thinks, hysterically.

Spinning around the darkness falls in on him, claustrophobic and choking and he hears whispers on the edge of his consciousness.

It would be so easy to just lie down and close his eyes.

Something moves in the dark. His imagination or something else, he doesn’t know. Whispers, the leathery flap of wings, his blue fire flares brighter as if in anticipation--

Claws on rock and he spins around as something launches itself at him. He catches sight of a gargoyle-like creature, the name in the back of his mind. His Care of Magical Creatures hadn’t continued into NEWT, and the only reason he knows what the shadow-spirit creature is, is because he found it in an obscure Defence text he’d pilfered off Malfoy while hanging out with Tom in the Slytherin common room--

Tom --

The vetala - a bat-like creature with clawed hands and wings leaps for him. It’s pale, eyes sightless from living in the dark, skin wrinkled and ugly and it sinks one claw into his shoulder before he can hit it off. It screeches, a hollow echoing cry that reverberates around him. It’s eyes reflect white against his fire, and it drops to the ground then clambers up a nearby rocky shelf, spitting at him.

More white eyes appear in the gloom. Vetala are grave-robbing spirits, he remember reading, with a tendency to possess dead bodies and control them. Scavengers, he thinks, and they’re waiting for him to die.

Anger and betrayal curls through him and his fire flares out, sending the vetala scurrying backwards. Good , he thinks with detached amusement, before the despair returns.

They’re waiting for him to die and at this rate it’s only a matter of time. He has to stay standing, has to stay strong and ready and--

A bone rolls away from under his foot and the twisting motion sends sharp electric shocks of pain through him. He drops to his knees with a cry. Seeing his weakness one of the vetala snarls hungrily. It’s claws are like chalk on a chalkboard as it starts forwards, wings outstretched. Harry tries to claw his way back up, fumbling for the yew wand.

At the very least he can stab the damn creature--

He readies curses on his tongue but the second attack never comes. With a flap of wings the vetala is gone, he hears them fleeing into the bowels of the earth. Muscles still tense he stares, waiting for them to come back, waiting for the fight--

A deep growl reverberates through the air. It vibrates in Harry’s bones and merlin, he thinks, how many monsters are down here --

Incendia Cerula ,” he tries to force magic through the cracked wood. It doesn’t work. “Incendio!” he snarls, but the stubborn wand stays dead in his hand. His heart is thumping in his chest, and there’s a shape like a tidal wave of shadow stalking forwards towards him, the growling growing louder--

He feels his magic then, vividly. He’s always been aware of it - most wizards and witches are born with an innate awareness of it - but in that moment in the dark he can feel it . It beats through him like an extra heart he didn’t know he had. It courses through veins like electricity sparking and it’s almost easy to force it out into the air and shape fire from it.

Blue flames spark into existence and illuminate a fangs and claws and a beast too large to be normal. It’s a wolf, chained and muzzled and starving , Harry can count it’s ribs. It’s huge. Ten-foot tall with jaws that scrape the ceiling and eyes as big as dinner plates. It’s fur is shadow and ink and bone where the chains wrapped around it dig through flesh cruelly. A fenris, Harry thinks in horror, a fucking fenris bound and chained in this temple. Be it in punishment or as a guardian he can’t tell.

It’s horrifying and it chills his blood with fear. It must be centuries old, older even. He has no idea how it got down here - it’s too large for the tunnels. It’s possible it was chained when younger, smaller, but it’s outgrowing it’s chains. It’s coat is grey with dust and rock. It’s fangs are as long as Harry’s hand.

The Viking sorcerers were crazy, Harry thinks, to drag a fenris down here. It’s Ragnarok quite literally waiting to break free. Fenris are near extinct for a reason because they don’t stop growing and this one is already the size of a house. The chains bite into it’s skin, impossibly heavy and thick yet fine and like a silk ribbon. The image slides slickly through his mind until he can barely see them.

He stumbles back, twisting for the tunnel he had come up. There’s no way the fenris would be able to follow him through it, but the wall behind Harry is smooth rock. There are no gaps, no tunnels--

He ducks behind a stalagmite and for a moment he casts his gaze around the cavern for a way out--

And for that moment the beast watches him, almost curiously, with an inhuman intelligence, and then, seeming to decide something, it’s muscles bunch and it moves.

It’s surprisingly nimble and quick for such a large beast, and Harry throws himself out of the way as it crashes into the wall where he had been standing. Bones fly everywhere and he tries to claw his way back to his feet.

WIth a snapping growl the giant wolf lunges, knocking Harry hard to the ground, his head hitting rock and for a moment he lies dazed. The sense of his magic grows stronger, a pulsing screaming danger warning in his head and he gathers it, and the bones around him shift and something on his hand burns --

Hot sulfurous breath engulfs him and he brings his hand up to try and ward it off, to try and make the sparks near his fingers ignite as the terrible fangs descend like a firebrand into his skin.

He’s on fire, he thinks, sense of time and self sliding as teeth tear through him. He catches a glimpse of the wolf’s vivid avada kedavra green eyes and then it’s gone, ripping away, jaws a steel trap that snap open leaving his head spinning. He hears the screech of vetala, his blue fire is burning and there is a sea of bones around him, twisting and moving and flaring gold as skeletons reach out like they’re alive. The whispers drown out the ringing in his ears and he can swear he can feel something in his magic, in his blood breaking --

And then there’s nothing.

Silence.

An emptiness crushes his senses, the change in pressure making his ears crack and he curls away from the expected pain or blow that doesn’t come. His heart races, still trying to beat it’s way free of his chest. There is a throbbing behind his eyes and a dryness to his tongue. His bones are weighted steel and his magic…

Something’s wrong with it.

Harry opens his eyes. He is curled into a stalagmite, alone and cold in the dark. His whole body throbs, the fire has gone out and there is nothing but cloying poisonous silence around him.

Was he hallucinating? Oh Merlin, the blood loss is getting to him. Riddle’s damn cutting curse was still affecting him and now he’s psychotic. His eyes strain in the pitch black. No vetala, no fenris, nothing. No skeletons, no bones, just Harry, alone and dying in a cave.

He is ethereal and spirit and magic bound in cold human flesh. A cage of meat and bones and a heartbeat sluggishly keeping him alive, keeping him moving--

Magic crackles at the edge of his consciousness, like a new limb he wasn’t aware of previously. Tom’s wand is clutched in his hand like it might somehow help him, cracked as it is. The phoenix feather is warm where his skin spreads over the cracks. His hand hurts and he feels his clothes sticking to open, raw wounds. On his finger Tom’s precious, precious Gaunt ring, and a wave of hysterical laughter bubbles through.

It’s only appropriately, he thinks, that Tom buries all of his treasured items in one place, after all. And to think he’d been intending to give the ugly black stone ring back. The laughter makes his ribs and throat and everything hurt, really, but he can’t stop. Tom had been so possessive over it, had been so possessive over him but in the end Harry was still just another item he had tossed away.

The ring feels warm, he thinks, but that might be the blood he realises is trickling sluggishly from a giant bite mark in his arm.

Oh, he thinks.

Not a hallucination.

He wonders where it went. Why it went. Harry can only guess, and none of his guesses are good.

He reaches for that sense of his magic again, and it comes easier now. Soft light dances into view as his fire relights. The cavern is empty. Empty rock and stalactites and Harry.

Harry, alone.

He tugs the ring from his finger in a sudden fit of rage. He doesn’t want anything of Tom’s, not his wand, not his stupid ring--

The imperfection is, he sees in the firelight as he pulls it off, not a crack in the stone. It’s a crest, a symbol, it’s--

He recognises it, he thinks, and it’s not with shock or horror just a blank curiousness because what are the chances of an heirloom ring over five centuries old bearing Grindelwald’s mark?

He turns it over in his hand, the fire catching the black at funny angles and making it look like it’s liquid as he twists it.

“Harry--”

He almost drops the ring. Reflexively his fingers curl over it and he points his wand (not his wand, but close enough, his for now, he’ll make it his) at the figure in front of him.

Figures, he realises, two, standing there, the one so close he could reach out and touch. She’s so pale, like a ghost but paler . An echo of a memory of a black and white photograph and his breath catches in his throat as she crouches down in front of him. He has never seen anyone look at him with that expression before, with that exact look of joy and pride and pure love he sees there.

His wand wavers and drops. The fire splutters, dying to mere embers but the two figures seem to cast their own light and he lets it die.

He’s so, so tired and maybe--

Maybe this is finally it.

“Mum?”

Lily Potter smiles at him, “You’ve done so well,” she whispers, her voice a breeze in the night, “We’re so proud of you.”

And Harry’s gaze slides past her to where James Potter lounges against the rocky wall, looking around as if curious, “Nice place you’ve found yourself, a bit gloomier than I imagined your first house to be, interesting decor choice--”

“James ,” Lily scolds, and James’ face breaks out in a grin, cheeky and mischievous and nothing like Harry’s own quiet smiles. “Ignore him, dear,” she says, looking back at Harry, “We believe in you, and you’re not going to be stuck here forever.”

“How ?” Harry’s voice doesn’t break. It doesn’t. There are tears in his throat, he swallows and tastes nothing but blood, “Am I dead?”

James’ grin fades, Harry’s father growing concerned, “Not yet,” he says, “You called, we came. You seemed to need us.”

“I called--” the ring is still clenched reflexively in his fingers, the stone digging pits into his skin as he looks down at it, “A stone to bring back the dead,” he breathes, “No, that’s not-- that’s a fairy tale --”

A wand to win every battle.

A stone to bring back the dead.

A cloak to hide you from the world.

There are tales of a wand that has a bloody history. Invisibility cloaks don’t last for very long, the spells and the demiguise fur fades and becomes translucent over time, they just don’t last generations. Stones studded onto rings are not supposed to bring back his dead parents as silent, guardian wraiths.

“Just the wand left,” James says, and it’s half bright-eyed and determined and half a warning.

“You need to get out of here,” LIly reaches for him, but her hand passes through his shoulder when she tries to touch him, “You need to live, Harry, don’t let yourself die down here.”

“You need to kill that blasted Slytherin,” James growls out, quailing slightly at Lily’s fierce glare, “It wasn’t your fault,” his father says, “We trusted the wrong person too. Friends betray you. Riddle betrayed you. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I wish I had known you,” Harry whispers, “I wish we had met.”

“I’m sorry,” Lily whispers, “This shouldn’t have been your life. I should have been there for you. James should have been there for you. Sirius should have been there for you. You should not have had to grow up with my sister, with no knowledge about our world, but you did so well. We are so proud, you are everything we could have dreamed you would become.”

“I--I don’t--” his voice trembles, “I’m going to die here, I can’t--”

“You can,” Lily says, fierce and determined and her green eyes are pale and a washed out watercolour but they blaze the same way Harry’s do, “You will, Harry, the blood of the Peverell’s runs in your veins, you have two of the Deathly Hallows in your possession, you have already survived two murder attempts and you are our son . It’s in your blood, your magic, you will live .”

“I don’t know the way out,” his voice sounds so small. Pathetic. Weak.

“That’s okay,” James’ grin is cocky and lopsided and he reaches out as if to help Harry to his feet, but Harry has to stand on his own given his parents’ intangibility. It’s painful, and every muscle aches, but there is renewed determination there now as he forces himself to his feet. James’ grin grows wider and Lily straightens until he can almost feel them, supporting him, “We’ll show you.”

*

Harry stumbles into cold mountain air. There are no shadows in his wake, no ghostly guides, no fenris in the shadows but the stone is warm on his finger and there’s a cloak of lethifold skin wrapped around his neck.

It’s a moonless night and he is alive.

He’s alive.

He’s--

He breathes and his lungs ache at the beautiful freshness of the night air.

*

(Hermione, sometime between.)

“Ron,” Hermione says, teeth worrying her bottom lip, “I think something is wrong with Harry.”

Her boyfriend doesn’t argue or protect because she’s just saying what they’ve both been thinking for a while. He’s standing in the too-small kitchen of their tiny little flat, cooking ladle in hand and he drops it with a clatter into the empty pot. Their meals sits steaming on the plates but Hermione doesn’t feel very hungry.

Ron pushes her plate at her anyway, and doesn’t speak until she takes a bite.

“What did Riddle say?” he asks, head tilting, “Did he even say anything?”

Hermione takes another mouthful. It’s delicious, and it’s something to do, to avoid answering immediately, “No,” she says, “That’s the thing. Riddle’s been back for two months and Harry-- he’s sending us letters but they’re just--”

The parchment crumples in Ron’s hand as he reads through it. “It… it reads like Harry,” he says, “But it… I didn’t think anything of it, but one of the letters had something in it about girls he’d hooked up with, and mentioned Cho.”

“I didn’t think anything came of that,” Hermione says, “He just complained about some wet snogging.”

“That’s my point,” Ron says, “And there are other things - something about rooms at the Burrow - Harry knows his way around well enough to know that half of us share.”

“You’re saying it’s not Harry?” Hermione says, taking a sip of water.

“I’m saying something is up. And with Riddle involved?”

“I think Riddle killed him,” Hermione says, and Ron jolts hard enough to send his own meal splashing onto his hands. He winces at the hot stew hitting skin, and hastily puts it down. “No, but… listen. Harry always used to suspect Riddle. Said something was up about the Chamber but after it got resolved and they became sort of friends I assumed they’d overcome their differences. But what if… what if Harry was right? What if he was a murderer?”

“Harry wouldn’t be friends with a murderer,” Ron shakes his head.

“You can’t say it was a normal friendship, exactly,” Hermione says, carefully.

“I just thought they had a thing,” Ron says with a shrug, “And Riddle is weird and creepy and a best-friend stealer but--- kill Harry? Riddle was always so…”

“Weirdly possessive?” Hermione says, with a frown, “Yeah, I wouldn’t think so either except I saw Riddle today. He’s got a job at the Ministry, and…” she pauses, trying to work out how to say it, “I saw his wand. It used to be white, didn’t it?”

“I’m not Harry, I didn’t obsess enough over the bloke to remember what his wand looked like.”

“I didn’t either, it’s just… we knew Harry really well, he was our best friend and I know what his wand looked like. And I’m almost one hundred percent certain that Tom Riddle is using Harry’s wand. I… I don’t think I’ve seen him use his wand for ages. Or I missed it, like an idiot , but it’s definitely Harry’s wand.”

Ron stares, “What idiot murders someone and then uses the victim’s wand?”

“Maybe he thought nobody would see? Maybe his own got lost? That’s what started Harry’s wand-obsession anyway, wasn’t it? Their wands matched or something.”

“Then Riddle’s a murderer. If it is Harry’s wand-- Harry wouldn’t just give up his wand . Harry was right - he was responsible for the Chamber. And for some reason Harry… the idiot trusted him enough to go travelling with him and Riddle--” Ron chokes on the words, “He can’t be dead, ‘mione’, he can’t. He… it was just going to be a year travelling, he was going to come back and join the aurors with me, he was going to be here , Hermione, and now--” He cuts off, words fumbling, “We’ll find out what happened to him,” he promises, “Even if I have to kidnap Riddle to do it.”

Hermione’s smile is weak and her chest heaves from her righteous anger. “What if he is dead?” she whispers, weakly, and she can see the same question in Ron’s eyes.

He brushes a stray strand of hair behind her ear, cupping her cheek softly, “Then we’ll get revenge. For Harry. Or, y’know, we’d get Riddle thrown in jail because Harry wouldn’t want us to become murderers.”

She smiles and he kisses away her tears. She melts into him, so fierce and passionate and ready to fight to the end and Ron will fight with her, loyal and stubborn to a fault.

There’s a knock at the door and the two jump apart, almost guiltily as if they had just been caught snogging in a broom closet like that incident in seventh year with Professor McGonagall. Straightening her blouse, Hermione pauses, looking at the time, “Awfully late,” she says. Neither make a move to answer and there’s another knock, an odd urgency to the raps.

“What now ?” Ron asks, craning his neck towards the door. Hermione heads to the front door of their little apartment, sliding back the deadbolt and using her wand to lift a few of the security spells. The door creaks as it opens and she has it less than half-open and she’s freezing. Ron steps to the side so he can see past his girlfriend and he too freezes when he realises who is standing there.

“Hi, guys,” Harry Potter says, leaning on the doorframe with a lopsided, jagged grin slashing like lightning across his face. “So can I say ‘I told you so’ now?”