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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?”

Chapter Text

(before)

“You’re not dead,” Hermione says, like an idiot, to where Harry is lounging by their fireplace. Alive.

He looks like death. There is a jagged lightning scar down the right side of his face like he ran straight into a cutting curse. It cuts down his face, straight across his eye and cheek, curling around his throat in an almost loving embrace.

The eye it bisects is milky white and unseeing. The other remains a brilliant green.

It must have been a curse, Hermione thinks. Otherwise even Harry, as incompetent as he is with healing spells, would have done something. She imagines the healers would have a go at regrowing the eye, but the whole procedure is not only painful and risky, but it takes time and considering Harry still looks half-dead, she imagines time is not something he’s had a lot of.

“What happened to your face ?” she asks, “Where were you? Did you only just get back? What happened, oh Merlin we thought you were dead , Ron was seconds away from cursing out-- oh--”

“It was Riddle, wasn’t it?” Ron asks. It’s not accusing, it’s not the smug tone of someone who was right, just a blank kind of horror.

Harry’s lip quirks up in a lopsided smile and the scar lightnings over his face and twists his expression to something almost cruel, “Naturally,” he says, “You never did believe me about the Chamber, did you?”

Hermione worries at her sleeve, and Ron just tries to find words, but gives up after a bit, “Thank Merlin you’re alive,” he says, about the same time Hermione gives up and throws herself at Harry in a hug, shortly joined by Ron who is so lanky he simply envelopes them both, “Going to kill Riddle,” Ron mumbles.

“No,” Harry says, squirming out of their grip, but still clinging to Hermione’s hand and head resting on Ron’s shoulder, “No, Riddle’s mine. Mine to kill, he left me for dead. I’m going to return the favour, I’m going to break him .”

Hermione draws back slightly, alarmed by the ferocity in her friend, “Don’t--” she begins to caution but stops, “What happened to you ?” she says instead, her eyes scanning over her friend. “Something’s changed, hasn’t it?” she asks, quietly.

“You mean apart from the--” Harry waves a hand at his new facial feature with a quirk of the lips, “Yes, it’s been a while. Things are… different. But I’m fine. I’m-- knock it off ,” he bats away Ron who is hovering too close.

Hermione sniffs, “You know what that stands for, right? Fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Which when it comes to Tom Riddle, you are.”

“Should never have let you two meet,” Ron is muttering, “Haven’t seen you this thin since I picked you up in second year, Mum would have a fit if she saw you. I can’t believe that bastard tried to kill you.”

Harry clears his throat, “Umm, about that,” he says, dropping into a seat on their sofas, “He sort of did? I think? I don’t know, but you’re right. Things have changed.” He pulls something from his pockets and Hermione wrinkles her nose at the smell.

“What--is that a dead bird ? Harry!”

“No, watch,” he says.

“Harry, I want the dead bird out of my flat -- eek --” Hermione’s words are cut off as the songbird jerks into movement. It’s eyes are glazed and clearly still dead. Feathers drift off it as it flaps its way into standing on Harry’s palm. He croons over it, brushing down a ruffled pinion feather on it’s tiny, quivering form.

Ron stares, wide-eyed, “Mate, no offense, that’s disgusting .”

“How did you--” Hermione recovers from her fright to lean forwards curiously, “That’s-- you didn’t use a spell? That’s just… is that necromancy ?”

“I appear to have a skill for it,” Harry says. “Ever since Tom cursed me and left me for dead. Ever since the temple.”

“Temple?”

And Harry talks. And eventually, once he’s gotten rid of the dead bird, Ron and Hermione collapse into seats next to him, pressing to him as if to reassure themselves that he’s there, he talks and talks and talks.

And his two best friends do what they always have.

They listen.

*

“Saw Riddle again, today,” Hermione says, some eight months later or so. She considers the man who’s been living in their tiny flat like a fugitive.

Well, not quite. She’s pretty sure he’s moved into Grimmauld, inherited from his godfather who hates the place and dumped it on Harry at first chance. But maybe it’s the silence of that big lonely pureblood townhouse, or maybe it’s the days weeks months of isolation in who-knows-where Norway that keeps him at their tiny flat. Like a moth to flame, he seeks out their company and imposes himself.

Neither of them mind enough to turn him away.

“Oh?” he arches one eyebrow, closing the book he’d been reading and leaning back on the sofa. “And?”

Hermione takes a deep breath, air whistling in past cold-cracked lips, “He said he’d write you a letter,” she says, laughing, “Like he thinks we don’t know you’re missing. That something’s wrong. He thinks he’s still playing us--”

It’s only because Harry knows his friend so well that he can see she’s fuming under her calm exterior.

“I still can’t believe he has the gall to use your wand ,” she is indignant for him in that regard, “How stupid does he think we are that we wouldn’t recognise it? How egotistical is he that he thinks he can just use another wizard's wand ?”

Harry’s fingers play over white yew, “Well, to be fair,” he says, tossing it up in the air in what has become a familiar motion. The white wood spins through the air, and parts of it gleam gold. He catches it with ease, tracing over the section of it that had once been cracked open. He’d painstakingly fixed it himself, eventually. Liquid amber melted and poured into the crack, sealing the feather, not damaging the conduit for magic - if anything it works better for him than his old one. Won, fair and square, and with the golden amber almost humming at the way his twisted magic runs through it.

It looks like a lightning bolt, he thinks, zig-zagging gold along the white wood. It’s almost appropriate.

Hermione sniffs at him, “Riddle still denies knowing what happened to you; says you're hiding from the war or some rubbish. And I’m the last person to listen to what Riddle has to say but I have to agree with him.”

His head rolls lazily to look at her, “I’m not hiding,” he says, but it comes out petulant rather than scornful like he had intended.

Hermione shakes her head, “No, I know you’re not,” she exclaims, “And don’t think I don’t remember how you were when you first turned up on our doorstep - a light wind would have knocked you over, your vocal cords were inflamed and you had laryngitis so bad I thought you’d either lose your voice permanently or die from starvation simply because you couldn’t swallow.” She sees the subtle flinch and changes the subject, “But you’re healed now,” she presses, “And… I know you want to do something about Riddle, but we’ve got nothing on him.”

“What’s to say though,” Ron appears from the direction of their kitchen, “That Riddle still won’t try to kill Harry if he reappears?”

“At least I’ve got a handle on my powers,” Harry says, stretching his fingers and dropping the book he’d been reading on Hermione’s lap, “There is still so much to learn but I’m getting there--”

“I checked the Ministry records,” Hermione says, “In the DoM - there’s very little about magical temples. The witch who worked there suggested I spoke to the goblins or a curse-breaker - they’re far more well versed on ancient magical sites but I don’t think it’s going to help. I don’t think that temple you got trapped in exists. There are no records or it, no records of any kind of ritual or branch of magic like that.”

“Of course not,” Harry snorts, “First of all - it’s a magical temple. Secondly - I think Tom got it wrong. I don’t think it was for just any old sorcerers. I think--” his fingers brush the ring on his finger, “I think you can only find it if you’re of a certain blood, of a certain magical ability. To everyone else it doesn’t exist.”

Hermione lets her hand splay across the book he had been reading, “I think that’s the cause of your necromancy,” she says, “It’s hard to tell without knowing anything about the temple, but from the sounds of it you had the ability already from your ancestors. Combined with you having two necromantic artifacts, being hit with a curse and left there with the intention to die, your magic did what it could to keep you alive.”

“You’re saying I resurrected myself?”

Ron chokes on where he is stuffing chocolate frogs in his mouth, “That’s--” he pales, “Ugh, just no, Harry, don’t say stuff like that. It was bad enough with all the dead birds and I can deal with the cat but if you start rotting--”

“Hey!” Harry and Hermione chorus together. Harry, because he’s quite proud of his undead cat that is neither rotting nor falling apart and is, for all extents and purposes, still alive. Hermione because she had been devastated when Crookshanks died, and so is prepared to overlook his dubious living status to have the half-kneazle continue to maintain guard over their flat.

Hermione’s hand darts out lightning quick to grab his wrist, pressing against the base of the thumb for a pulse, “I mean, you’re not an inferi,” she lets go, slowly, “I don’t know. Right now you know more than I do about necromancy. I could read the books but I still wouldn’t understand half of it, let alone have the magic to perform it.” She lets out a weak laugh, “There is one disadvantage to being muggleborn,” she admits with a sad smile, “I will never inherit any magical ability. But my children will, my fresh magic and blood practically guarantees it. Turns out some of the stigma might be warranted after all.”

“None of that,” he reaches forwards, grabbing her hand, “You’re twice the witch half those purebloods are. Half of them are so inbred I can see the congenital diseases from here.”

“Talking about purebloods,” Ron says, “Think Riddle might be gathering pureblood followers. The rich family circles are bowing to someone.”

“Oh? How was the meeting?”

“Sirius asked where you were,” Ron says, “In the middle of the Order meeting. Again.”

“Seriously?” Harry asks, and when nobody cracks a smile at the pun he sighs, stretching out his limbs like a dog that’s taken over their sofa, “Clearly he never learned the art of subtlety.”

“I don’t think Dumbledore noticed,” Hermione says, “But really, you can’t keep hiding from everyone except us, Remus and Sirius for another 8 months.”

Her friend’s expression shifts; wariness, distrust, hurt and a righteousness that is just so Harry , “I’ll leave, if I’m imposing,” he says, voice bordering just on the side of callous, “I didn’t mean to drag you into my mess--”

Ron hits him; a friendly punch to the shoulder, “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says, “You’re not imposing,” he glances up at Hermione who just shakes her head in agreement, “You’re our best friend, you recently survived a murder attempt and some weird freaky shit happening to your magic. Yes, it’s been a long time, but we understand why you’re keeping your head down. But it’s not exactly healthy.”

“Maybe you should see a healer,” Hermione suggests, “I think one of the Patil siblings went into mind healing--”

“I’m not--”

“I’m not saying you’re mad--” Hermione looks flustered.

Ron clears his throat, “I think you need to get out,” he says, “Not literally , we’re not kicking you out. I think you need to do something . Get a job, restart your life, get your wand back off Riddle - get Riddle arrested for that matter.”

“About that,” Harry’s smirk is positively feral, “I’ve got some thoughts.”

*

Knockturn Alley is as gloomy as Harry remembers it being when he was 12 and stumbling out of the wrong floo. He’d always been terrible with those things. He fits in now though in a way 12-year-old Harry hadn’t. His magic positively sings at the energy in the alleyway, and he can feel it on the edge of his consciousness like a living breathing dragon slumbering in the dark.

Or rather, he thinks, a slumbering hellhound under a mountain.

He has long accepted he will never know what happened to him. He had walked into that mountain with the full moon fat and full in the sky and limped out, the moon empty and new and months having passed.

Time doesn’t just skip half a year. Mountains don’t just have death spirits haunting it.

Rings don’t just turn ghosts out of nothing.

In the shop’s windows his reflection stares back at him from under his hood. No longer emaciated and with a fever that wouldn’t die; there is colour in his cheeks now. His right eye is still blind - white scarring filming it and despite Hermione’s protests he hasn’t seen anyone about fixing it. His remaining green eye is bloodshot at the moment from too little sleep and too much magic and the green and red contrast horrible. His dark hair is like ichor against his skin and gazes are drawn to the striking lightning scar that twists down half his face.

Harry looks like a wraith, like a walking incarnation of death.

It is, probably, appropriate, all things considered.

The bell rings as he enters the shop. Dust coats the shelves and shadows loom in all the wrong spots. The array of merchandise holds no pattern or organisation and it hasn’t changed much since the last time Harry had been in here. Fancy necklaces hang next to dusty wigs, old cabinets and shrivelled skulls lie stacked equally. A skeletal crow rests on a podium, bones bleached white. A brass set of scales enameled with what looks like rubies is balanced precariously on a chest with actual fangs.

“Can I help?” the shopkeeper is downright skeptical of Harry’s appearance. He is, no doubt, used to serving richer clientele than someone who looks like they wandered in off the streets.

“I imagine you can,” Harry says, “I’m looking for some books on… a specific type of magic.”

Wrinkled eyes gleam. He’s probably trying to weigh up if Harry’s an auror in disguise or genuinely interested. “What… kind of magic?”

“Death magic,” he says, bluntly, too much of a Gryffindor to play these word games.

The man leers at him, casting him an accessing glance. “I might have some books. You’re welcome to have a look at them but most find them a bit… unsuitable.” He steps towards a cabinet, pulling out a collection of keys and jangling through until he finds the right one.

“How so?”

“Most of it’s forbidden,” Borgin says, like half the contraband in his shop isn’t illegal, “And the Dark Magic books… well, they’re picky about their readers. One customer touched one and turned to ash. Most just can’t open them.”

He drops three old tomes on a nearby desk. He makes no move to open them, just gestures with a smug smirk that suggests he clearly already knows the outcome.

“I’ll take them,” Harry says.

“Don’t you want to check their contents?” Borgin’s eyes narrow.

“Why? You said already they don’t open. I want to try my hand at home, with some more time and space. Besides - books that don’t open are useless to you.”

Harry argues the man down in price. And only once the galleons are exchanged and the books in his hands does he flip one open and enjoy watching the smug look on Borgin’s face slide off. Under his fingers the magic tingles, warm and comforting. Borgin had been right - most people would not be able to open these books.

But Harry is not most people.

Borgin shuffles off to hide away his galleons when the doorbell rings again and Harry pauses in his perusal of his new acquisitions. A well-spoken, snobbish voice greets the shopkeeper and Harry tilts his head in recognition. He shifts back into the shadow that like most of the dark spots in this shop, has nothing there to cast it. His cloak’s transparency grows with a thought and spark of magic, shielding him as Lucius Malfoy steps into the shop, Borgin already hurrying to greet him.

“Mr Malfoy,” he says, pandering to the pureblood in a way he hadn’t to Harry, “Perfect timing, I’ve got a new shipment you might be interested in--”

“Not now,” Malfoy says, disinterested, “I’m trying to track down one of your old customers. The one we spoke about last time?”

“I don’t - ah - really keep track of them--”

A chinking sound. Galleons.

“But I’m sure if I take a look through my records--”

Their voices drops down and Harry just waits, makes no move to listen in further. Patience is a new gift he has learned, and so he waits, observing Borgin bustle around and the half-whispered conversation to continue between them. Malfoy has no idea he’s even there and Borgin has already forgotten about his odd dark magic inclined customer already there.

It’s not until Malfoy is gone, door chiming behind him that Harry steps back into visibility. Borgin jumps at the reminder he’s there, face narrowing in suspicion.

“That man,” he says, words lingering for a moment in the dusty air as he starts meandering through the store towards the shopkeeper, “Has he been after anything else, of late?”

Borgin sneers, “What’s it to you?”

Harry stops his pacing. Considers him for a moment. Pureblood, haughty with too much care for money and power. His left hand splays over the cover of his new books and his right reaches out, trailing through the dust with a finger. It floats into the air, gold sparking and Borgin’s head turns, not sure what his eccentric new customer is doing--

There is a soft clatter and the skeletal crow, balanced on it’s podium, hops off. Sightless eyes gaze around and to all extents and purposes it should not be standing. Not only is it very very dead, but there are no ligaments or muscles or tendons to even warrant movement except--

It spreads skeletal wing-bones that should not fly but somehow does, flapping them and landing on the desk next to Harry. Bones clicking, magically held in place as Harry reaches out and runs a finger down smooth bone. Gold follows, and then blooms red as tendons and muscles begin to unravel like a rope puzzle around the bones. They reach upwards with curious fingers of muscle fibre and blood vessels, wrapping themselves around bone as it rebuilds the creature from the blood up.

Merlin bleeding-- ” Borgin clatters backwards, away from where the crow is dying in reverse. Fascia and connective tissue wrap around and out like a blooming flower, feathers shimmering into place. It’s beautiful, Harry thinks, how could they ban necromancy when it gives you this ?

“I want to know what it is Lucius Malfoy is after,” Harry says with a grin that is anything but pleasant, “And you are going to tell me exactly what you told him.”

*

Harry leaves an ashen Borgin behind, his books stuffed in an illegally expanded pocket and his crow balanced on his shoulder, cawing with it’s new vocal cords. It’s still missing a few organs and feathers, and it’s an empty facsimile of life, hollow and entirely at the control of Harry’s magic, but it is to all purposes alive.

How odd, Harry thinks, how odd it is that death magic involves so much life. He trails a finger down the soft feathers of his resurrected crow. It’s beautiful; bones move to his tune, flesh given life. It’s eyes are a sickly avada green.

He knows just what he’s going to do now.

Tom had always been so superstitious, so aware of his own mortality and fate. And Harry will see the terror in Tom Riddle’s eyes. He hungers for it, a small vindictive part of him that wants Riddle to burn .

He stills in the shadows for a moment, and then, with a smooth step like he’s been doing it all his life he moves straight into his animagus form.

This had been worth the effort, he thinks. Weeks and months of pouring over filched transfiguration textbooks, of having to listen to Sirius’ truly awful explanations and eat that disgusting leaf and finally having to force his broken magic into self-transfiguration--

He wonders if it was inevitable, his form, or if the odd resemblance to the giant wolf that tries to chew on you as a midnight snack in a magical temple underneath the earth is just coincidence?

Stupid. Of course it’s not coincidence.

He knows it is, at its heart, a reflection of whatever happened to his magic under that mountain. The way it twisted to keep him alive, to keep the fires burning, to spin out ghosts from a stone. The way it can reach through and pluck souls back from the dead, the way corpses will walk if he tells them to. It wraps around him like a shroud and then he’s on four limbs, a mouth full of razors and ears that hear whispers of the dead.

The crow takes wing, whirling through the alley and into the sky, still a puppet of Harry’s bastardised magic.

And on the ground the human turned death omen sets off. He’s got a locket to retrieve and a best friend to haunt.

Tom always had been too superstitious for his own good.

Well, Harry can make good use of that.

*

(now)

“Miss me?” Harry asks, dead and yet standing before him, alive alive alive.

Harry-- ” the name falls off Tom’s lip like a sacrifice.

"Ah, Harry," Albus says brightly, like a dead man isn't standing there, oblivious to the tension in the air. "Just in time, Tom was on his way out."

"Unsuccessful interview?" Harry asks with a grin that is twisted lopsided by the jagged scars that lightning half his face, bisecting straight through his right eye like a bolt of electricity leaving it glazed cataract white.  His remaining left eye shines a brilliant verdant, killing curse bright. His dark hair is windswept, messy as always and there is the faintest hint of stubble across his chin. His laugh is a clear ringing bell in the air except its not , it’s a hoarse twisted thing from where healed wounds knot around his throat.

It is the same as the grim that has been haunting him, Tom thinks, one glazed white eye and the other deathly green.

"You," he says, words failing him. It’s like that time Harry punched him back in third year, knocking all the wind from him and leaving him gasping for air. Simply the sight of this boy he had thought dead come back to life is like a knife in the gut.

"Me," Harry repeats, amusement clear in his face. “Hi, Tom,” he says, alive and breathing and standing in the Hogsmeade street looking like he’s never been gone.

“I thought you were dead,” he says, clear enough for Dumbledore to hear where he is still standing next to them, watching with a shrewd gaze. Aware of the presence of his headmaster the words stick in his throat but Harry tilts his head in acknowledgement all the same. I killed you. I threw a cutting curse at you and left you bleeding out and wandless as the earth buried you alive. I killed you, you’re dead!

“You know, people keep saying that. I don’t think it quite means what everyone think it does.”

“You were dead,” Tom says, stepping forwards outside of Dumbledore’s hearing range, passion in every movement and some kind of unshakable belief in his own skill and power, “I killed you .”

“Well you certainly tried,” Harry laughs, stepping forwards a few steps, “Leaving me buried alive like that - it was very rude, Tom.”

“Harry,” Dumbledore says from where he stands, staring at where Tom and Harry have ended up in front of each other, barely a metre of space between them as Tom’s eyes hungrily savour the sight of his not-dead friend. Dumbledore hesitates, stumbling slightly over his words, “G- Tom - what did you do?”

Albus is, Tom is surprised to note, alarmed when he takes in Harry. Like he hasn’t seen the Potter heir since graduation. Like this is proof, confirmation brought to him of Tom’s misdeeds. He hadn’t known before, or rather, he’s suspected, but this is irrefutable proof.

Harry just laughs, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, Professor,” he says, half-stepping around Tom, downplaying it dramatically, “We just had a little squabble during our trip, fell out of contact.”

Dumbledore’s blue gaze is too accessing. Like a scale weighing up all of Tom’s deeds and finding him at fault. So judgemental and so stricken , like Harry’s plight was somehow his fault. He’s staring at the two of them like he’s seeing them for the very first time and something about Harry and Tom standing there, Tom full of anger and bone-deep terror-turned-rage and Harry, scarred and something clearly wrong is familiar to the older man.

“I’ll be in, in just a moment,” Harry says, “I was early anyway--”

“You’re here to interview?” Tom’s brain stops on that of all things, indignation and anger flaring up, as he twists to look at Harry, “I didn’t think you had much inclination towards teaching.”

“I taught our year how to pass their OWLs while there was a giant snake petrifying half the school and still had time left over to track down a suspect,” Harry says, blithely, “I reckon I’d do a pretty good job myself.”

“I quite agree,” Dumbledore says, and it’s probably meant to come out cheerful but it just appears sort of constipated, “Maybe we could all step inside and have a small talk, Harry, it’s been a while--”

“We won’t be long,” Harry promises, shooting a glance at the headmaster. Whatever Dumbledore sees in that expression it reassures him, because he nods, half-turning as if to give them the facade of privacy while still clearly not trusting the situation enough to step back inside completely.

“I did always so much admire the view,” he says, gazing out. Tom stares for a solid moment, because Dumbledore’s eccentricities still throw him even now, and right now the headmaster is staring at a wall of trees like it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen--

Movement has his head snapping back around to where Harry steps almost warily around him. The sight of him there sends a flash of emotions through him, the only one easily identifiable is an overwhelming anger. He takes a threatening, stiff legged step towards Harry, “You’re an animagus,” he accuses.

Easy shrug. Feigned nonchalance as if every muscle isn’t lined with tension and wariness like he half expects Tom to curse him again. As if Tom would be so idiotic with Dumbledore right there, “Guilty. You like my form? Sirius got a kick out of it.”

“You’re a grim,” there’s a note of disbelief in his voice, “That’s not possible, magical animagi aren’t a thing --”

“Neither are a lot of things,” Harry shrugs, “And anyway we both know there was nothing normal about that place you left me.”

Tom moves then, grabbing Harry’s arm to stop him moving away and twisting his body so that for all intents and purposes it looks like they’re still talking. Dumbledore won’t be able to make out Harry’s own holly wand levelled at his throat, nor the bruising grip Tom has on Harry’s wrist. The green-eyed man doesn’t struggle, just stares at Tom’s eyes with a wariness that suggests they’ve flashed red.

“You dare ,” he snarls, “You dare stalk around in the shadows and interfere with my plans? I thought you were a Gryffindor, Harry , not a coward.”

“You tried to kill me if you remember, and you’re indignant because of what I had the gall to do in petty retribution?” Harry’s laugh is disbelieving. He twists so the holly wand digs almost cruelly at the base of his throat, right next to knotted scar tissue that Tom put there, “But you’re missing pieces, Tom, come on, I thought you were smart. Haven’t you worked it out yet? Why I’m here. How I’m here.”

“Clearly,” Tom drawls, “I didn’t do a thorough enough job the first time.”

Harry shrugs, still undeterred by the wand pointed at him, “Or sometimes, Tom, dead things don’t always stay dead.” His voice is a near croon and Tom flinches .

He can see the scars, see the grim beneath Harry’s form, Harry turns into a fucking death omen and--

‘Dead things don’t always stay dead’ a dead girl whispers, and a dead crow flies up a locket in it’s breast and--

Harry’s a fucking necromancer.

Rage is his first instinct. Rage and the overwhelming desire to wrap his hands around Harry’s throat and squeeze --

It twists itself into a fierce joy . Pride . Harry’s still here. Harry, who he had thought himself rid of. The nuisance who stood in his way. Dragged him down. Shackled him. Tom’s one weakness he had pruned himself of is not dead . He is here, alive, and he’s a necromancer and alive and--

It’s heady. Harry came back to him. He came back to him .

"Choose your curse carefully," Harry says, barely breathing, words near silent, "Last time you tried you weren't very successful."

With an a raged snarl Tom tears away. He wants to rip Harry apart, leave him behind in the past where he should have stayed but he simultaneously wants to drag him closer, keep him at his side where he belongs . An amused green eye watches him silently.

Tom wants to demand that Harry stay. That he answers Tom’s questions, that he pays for what he’s been putting Tom through these past weeks.

He doesn’t. He can’t , not with Dumbledore right there Harry’s timed this perfectly.

"Guess I should go,” Harry steps away from him, green eye unflinching, “See you around."

"Yes," Tom responds, shortly, "You will."

*

“I take it you’re not actually interested in the Defence position, are you?” Albus asks as Tom Riddle disapparates away with a whirl of his cloak and eyes that flash red. The subject of Lord Voldemort’s ire practically skips over to where he had been waiting patiently, observing what little view he can see from Aberforth’s dingy pub. “You just came here to antagonise Tom.”

Harry Potter’s bright green eye, so like Lily’s gleams . “Well I wasn’t lying about enjoying teaching,” he says, “But I’m more of a practical person, really, academics aren’t my thing. Teaching 13-year olds how to disarm someone again and again might get repetitive. Tom would do a better job than me, but I doubt you’d accept his application given his recent...ah...political leanings.”

How did he miss this, Dumbledore thinks, because for a moment seeing Tom Riddle and Harry Potter standing there, not-quite-friends and not-quite-enemies and both looking at each other like they want to destroy each other… for a moment he had seen himself and Gellert. And that terrifies him.

Albus holds the door open, letting Harry slips past him into the Hog’s Head. Aberforth gazes at them before quietly preparing some drinks as the pair seat themselves, Albus sliding up some privacy spells.

Harry might have Lily’s green eyes, he thinks, but he’s lost a lot of his resemblance to his parents with age. He’s thinner than James had ever been, an almost unhealthy pallor to his skin. The striking scar down his face twists the features until he barely recognises the handsome narrow faced man sitting in front of him. Little squabble , Harry says but that’s probably an underestimation. Dark curses that scar like that aren’t the sort of thing that get thrown around in petty fights.

“I had feared you dead,” he admits, “I’ll admit it does warm my heart to see you here before me.”

“Does it?” Harry’s tone is oddly bland, “Or are you just hoping I’ll kill your Dark Lord for you?”

A stab of hurt, but Dumbledore probably deserves that one, especially given the way he had withheld from telling Harry about the prophecy for years too long. Besides… “The funny thing about prophecies,” he says, “Is they’re purposely vague. Made to misinterpreted, made to steer the wheels of fate by forcing pieces around the board. You’ll have to forgive a foolish man for holding too much at stake when I heard that one. Vanquish the Dark Lord . The very idea that someone could deal with Gellert other than me…”

Harry’s head tilts, much like his new animagus form, “Gellert,” he parrots back, “Were you close?”

“Once,” Dumbledore lets slide, “We were, I fear, a lot like you and Mr Riddle.”

The young man before him pauses in sipping his butterbeer like he’s trying to decipher what Albus means by that.

“I was young,” he sighs, “Gellert was handsome with so many ambitions and dreams that it was easy to befriend him, to share in his grand plan. I could so easily see how the future could fall, with us there to guide it. But alas, things do not work out how we plan them. Revolutions get waylaid and put behind as a failed youthful endeavors, travel plans get readjusted as friendships...don’t work out.”

Harry is gazing just past him, focussing on the wall much like the way Albus had been examining the scenery earlier.

“I didn’t want to confront him,” Albus says, “And I’m sorry. Because of my cowardice it took your parents dying before I did something. Too late, unfortunately, and this time he’s learnt. Pinning him down is proving difficult but I will. And I will do what I should have done years ago.”

“So what are you saying?” Harry says, shortly, “You don’t need me to confront your Dark Lord for you?”

Vanquish the Dark Lord ,” Dumbledore quotes, “Like I said - prophecies are vague things. And who knows, maybe you will vanquish a Dark Lord. Just not the one we originally thought.”

At that Harry’s gaze sharpens onto him, but there’s something about him. Whether it’s the fact one eye is misted white or there’s something in his magic that blocks him, Dumbledore can’t see even a hint of thoughts. He won’t push, he just waits. “You think I’ll kill Tom.”

“I think we’ve both learned our lesson about assumptions,” Albus says, slowly, “It was just something to ponder.”

“I’m not a murderer,” Harry says, but it’s quiet and distant and more to himself than Albus and maybe it’s the hesitance, or maybe it’s this new edge to Harry he’s unfamiliar with but… while the sentence is not a lie, it’s not exactly truthful. But then the moment is gone and Harry quirking a lip at hip, wry smile on his face, “Tom’s not easy to kill,” he says, and just that assuages about half of Albus’ fears about just how much Tom Riddle has slipped through the net.

“Ah,” is all he says, “I had feared something like that might be the case.”

“It’s okay,” Harry shrugs, “Tom’s my problem anyway. Or...Lord Voldemort, whatever he’s calling himself.” His gaze is surprisingly shrewd as he meets Dumbledore’s gaze again, “Unlike you I won’t wait twenty years.”

The headmaster reaches for his drink to take a small sip, “Then good luck,” he says, “I think you might need it.”

Harry’s laugh is a horrible, whiskey-rough gravel studded thing, as he pushes his barely touched drink away from him and stands, “I don’t need luck,” he says, sliding around his chair, fingers tapping out a pattern with the pads of his fingers against the aged wooden chair. “Fate’s on my side. No, I think you’re the one who needs the luck, Professor. Or haven’t you heard? Grindelwald’s hunting Hallows.”

Albus pales, flinching at the term, “ Excuse me?”

“You know . Of course you know, you gave me my Cloak. Grindelwald’s hunting them down, he broke into the Ministry to try and track down descendants of Cadmus and Ignotus. It’s okay, don’t look so worried. I had people on it - he found nothing of use. Besides,” Harry’s lips tilt up in a lopsided smirk, fingers tap-tap-tapping and a gleaming black stone ring sitting on his finger so glaringly obvious Dumbledore can’t understand how he didn’t see it sooner-- “I’m winning the race.”

Then he’s gone, door swinging behind him and leaves Albus alone, privacy spells fading around him. He reaches out for his drink to try and steady his nerves.

His hand is trembling.

Chapter Text

“Congratulations, Mr Potter, welcome to the team.”

Somewhere James Potter is rolling in his grave at the mere thought of Harry going into research . At least, that’s what Sirius claims, and Harry knows from personal conversations that James probably doesn’t care - his parents are proud of him regardless of his job and magical inclinations. Especially as Harry’s job is less ‘research’ and more ‘dangerous and dubious magical experiments’.

Which, given his new proclivities for certain branches of magic, suits him perfectly.

The Department of Mysteries is fascinating. It had been on first perusal a week or so ago stalking through it in grim form with Ron and Hermione, it’s magic centuries deep and singing in his veins. It is now as he stalks through it. So many things in here affect him. The Death Chamber. The Prophecy that until recently had sat among hundreds of yards of wooden shelves filled with so many glass orbs, his name scrawled out with a question mark next to it.

Tom would probably love to explore that room, he thinks with an odd glee, but he’s already exploited Tom’s belief in the certainty of futures imperfect. And despite Hermione’s derision, he had enjoyed it , watching the fear and bone-deep terror in Tom’s eyes when confronted by his worst fear. Death incarnate, stalking his steps.

Because above all, the betrayal still lingers. It burns .

Tom left him.

Tom left him.

Betrayal curls in the pit of his stomach. Anger claws at him and it’s the thing that has been keeping him moving, walking, fighting.

He is going to see Tom Riddle wrecked . That one thought had been the one thing keeping him alive. Alone and near-dead in a foreign country with only his clawing, raw and poisoned magic for company, the thought that he would get to see Tom Riddle suffer --

And now, over a year since he watched Tom walk away, to once again be confronted with that burning anger and irritation in red-brown eyes. Seeing the anger, the madness that lingers in Tom’s gaze, that single-mindedness focussed with unerring intensity on him--

He’d forgotten how much he had enjoyed the way Tom challenged him.

To be the single focus and obsession of a psychopath should be a terrifying prospect. It should not be adrenaline in his veins and an odd thrill at being able to one-up the other, at being a step ahead on the chess board. It should not be so appealing to watch Tom chase after him, convinced Harry is death itself given form to wreck his oh-so-precious immortality.

He is, in a way. Vetala claws scar his shoulders. There is an odd twist to his left hand where the fenris had bitten him. He should be all accounts be dead. But instead he had chained death to him, bound it and controlled it , overpowered it--

And here he is, alive, breathing, with Tom Riddle sitting perched on his new desk watching him with dark starving eyes.

“Tom,” he pauses in the doorway to his own office, “I’m surprised,” he plays off his actual alarm with humour, “The great Lord Voldemort , showing up for his desk job?”

If Tom catches the barb at his name choice he doesn’t comment, just rakes his gaze over Harry. It’s oddly piercing, lingers too long. “I thought you were interviewing for the Defence position?” he looks oddly flustered and annoyed, as if by somehow not getting the teaching job Harry was foiling some sort of plan.

He shrugs, easily, “I decided it wasn’t for me. The Department of Mysteries has a position open. I’ve gained an interest in ancient magic. It comes, somewhat, of being locked in an ancient Norse tomb.”

“Temple,” Tom corrects.

“No. That’s where you’re wrong, because that? That was to be my fucking tomb, Tom, don’t try to call it other than what it is.”

Tom straightens then from his lounging stance against Harry’s desk, stepping forwards slow and measured steps. Harry doesn’t move. “You didn’t die though,” Tom says, with no small measure of fascination, “You’re alive. You’re here .”

Harry doesn’t say anything. Tom is still looking at him with that strange look on his face.

It twists into irritation after a moment, “Leaving dead birds on my doorstep like a stray dog though was not appreciated,” he says, gentle mocking cruelty in his words, “How long have you been scrounging around back alleys begging for scraps anyway?”

“You and I both know I’m not a dog, Riddle.”

Tom’s eyes gleam and his head tilts to the side, “You know why grims are dogs?” he asks.

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

“They’re kind of echos, of spirits, that protect graveyards. The first spirit to be buried there would be forced to take shape and watch over those who would be buried after, doomed never to move on, doomed never to rejoin the living, trapped forever in the graveyard. People couldn’t bear to subject their families to that, so they killed and buried a dog instead. First to die. You were the first person I killed, Harry, and you came back.”

“Have you forgotten Myrtle Warren?” Harry arches one eyebrow. “Pretty sure she was murder number one.”

Tom waves a hand dismissively, “The basilisk killed her,” he says, “It was going to be my father, but you stopped me. It was only appropriate that you were the first to die by my hand.”

Harry’s trembling. He’s not sure if it’s rage or because of the odd fascinated tone in Tom’s voice as he stares at the green-eyed man. He wonders if he should point out he didn’t actually die, but he thinks it will make little difference. He makes to step around him, makes it two steps before Tom’s hand closes around his wrist, twisting him back and slamming Harry into the wall of his own office. Black wood settled into a space between his lower ribs, uncomfortable and intention clear. Harry growls, “Don’t you dare threaten me with my own wand,” he snaps, batting Tom’s hand holding his dark wood away, “How dare you keep it and use it after what you did?”

“Why not?” Tom shrugs, still holding it loosely in his long fingers and keeping it pointed at Harry. “Your feather works as well as my own. Besides - don’t think I can’t sense it thrumming in its sheath - don’t deny it . You’ve got mine on you, haven’t you? Does it work as well for you as it did for me? Yours does.” His eyes gleam, “Give it to me.”

“No.”

“Harry--”

Tom lunges for Harry’s arm where the 13’ yew lies, and for a moment they’re squabbling like children. Harry feels his magic bristle, rakes his nails down Tom’s arms as the older man gets one hand around his throat and pushes down, cutting off Harry’s air supply. He goes for the yew wand again and Harry tried to kick him in the groin. He misses by virtue of the yew wand choosing that moment to respond to Harry’s rolling magic and spitting gold sparks at Tom’s fingers. Tom draws back with a flinch.

Brown eyes flash red with fury and before Harry can get his breath back Tom is there, pinning Harry with his body, fingers curled around his windpipe, “What did you do to it ?” he sneers, “How did you get out of that cave ?”

Tom Riddle is not one someone imagines standing, hands wrapped a throat in an almost kind embrace. It’s a strangely intimate way to be killed, Harry thinks. For Riddle to bear the snarling and spittle and clawing of his victim as his murdered seeks to break free, a body who would mark him as he exited the world.

“You think it will stick this time?” he gasps out, seconds away from forcing his body into fur and claws when Tom lets go of his throat, suddenly, nearly dropping Harry to the ground. He doesn’t move away, stays pressed up against him and staring at him in horror.

Tom thinks he’s immortal , Harry realises, how adorable . His lip quirks as he meets Tom’s gaze.

“Would it stick if I killed you?” he dares ask, breathe, whisper , “If I ripped out your throat right now would you die?”

“I am not scared of death,” Tom says, with all the power of a maniac and the naivety of a child.

Harry just laughs, “You think I don’t know you? You think I can’t feel what you’ve done to yourself? It’s foul, it’s horrifying that you can’t see the cracks, that you can’t feel the way your soul is screaming --”

“If you two are done,” a prim voice says from the doorway. Harry feels satisfaction curl in him at Riddle’s abrupt alarm, stepping away from Harry and mask of nonchalance and polite disinterest sliding over too late, too obviously fake. Harry enjoys being able to slip under his skin like that. He enjoys it even more when Tom turns to see who is standing there and the mask just cracks .

“Granger?” he chokes out, “She knew?" Tom exclaims, turning back to Harry, "Granger and Weasley knew you were alive and they still saw fit to burst into my office on a weekly basis?"

"If you call that desk an office," Hermione sniffs. She takes one look at the volatile emotions brewing between the pair and doesn’t even hesitate before plunging in, “Harry, a word. Now .”

“Out of my office, Riddle,” Harry says, not turning away from Tom. The Slytherin’s jaw clenches but he doesn’t protest, “I imagine the paperwork on your desk must be piling up.” He feels surprisingly refreshed for someone who can feel the bruises forming around his neck like a collar.

(Tom goes to burn his stupid ministry damn desk. They use the term ‘you’re fired’ for a reason, after all.)

“That’s unhealthy,” Hermione says, as Riddle vanishes out of the door and she closes it pointedly behind her, “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he says, still staring at where Tom had been.

She glares at him, “You’re not allowed to use that word,” she scolds, “I know you don’t mean it. Nobody means it, least of all you.” Her gaze slides to where Harry’s rests, “He’s still obsessed with you,” she observes, “Guess some things never change,” she sighs, “You’re still obsessed with him too.”

“Did you want something?”

She flinches slightly at his tone, busies herself with admiring his new broom closet office for a moment before speaking, “I thought you might appreciate the intervention but next time I’ll leave you two to it.”

Harry softens, “I can handle Tom Riddle.”

Hermione clears a box off a free chair and sits down, “I know you can,” she says, as Harry goes to perch where Tom had been earlier, “But you and Tom Riddle terrify me enough apart, when you’re together… you’re like a spark hitting oil.”

“As I said,” Harry says, reaching out reassuringly to lay a hand on her arm, “I can handle Tom Riddle. It’s Grindelwald and Dumbledore who are the problems.”

“Oh, that’s what I came in for.”

“Dumbledore?”

“Well you still owe me and Ron for that, he quizzed us for nearly an hour about whether we knew you were back in Britain. How to tell him you’d been back for over half a year crashing intermittently between our couch and under their very noses in Sirius’ house that tries to eat you if you sit on the wrong sofa--”

“Sirius said he lied through his teeth when I met him for dinner the other night,” Harry says with a wry grin, “Remus has just avoided Dumbledore since, Tonks said he threw himself out the window to avoid being quizzed. I think she was exaggerating though.”

“You wrong-footed him,” Hermione says, “Especially about the Hallows. Grindelwald’s catching up - I don’t know where he heard since we definitely wiped out the records during the Ministry attack last week, but he tracked the ring to the Gaunts.”

“Oh?” Harry’s head tilts to the side, because that doesn’t affect him particularly--

“It didn’t even make the news and it’s not attributed as a war crime. It was a minor case that passed Susan’s desk - mad Morfin Gaunt dies, attributed to natural causes.”

“So dead end for Grindelwald?”

“You’d have hoped. But I took the liberty of going through the muggle news, and, well,” she pulls out a page of newspaper, “Riddle family found murdered, doors locked, gardener arrested--”

Harry ponders the news. He’s surprised Riddle Senior still lived, he’d half expected Tom to have hunted him down already. But no, all that had happened was Harry had delayed his death until the next Dark Wizard came along seeking out Slytherin’s heir. “So he knows or suspects Tom of having the ring,” he shrugs one shoulder, “Fine, hardly an issue, Tom can look after himself.”

Hermione folds the newspaper back up, tugging out a fat gold galleon so she can pass it to Harry to set the time and date around the outside, “You care for him,” she says, more of an observation than a question and Harry stiffens.

“He tried to murder me , Hermione.”

“Yes,” she says, knowingly, “And that’s what makes you such a good person because even after that, you still care. And you’re too much of a hero, Harry Potter, because you’re still trying to save him. To make him better and oh, Harry, can’t you see it wont work? Someone like Tom Riddle can’t be saved .”

It is a strange twisted thing that he and Tom have, Harry thinks, and it’s anything but simple. “I’m not trying to save him,” he denies, “He can rot in hell for all I care. Let Grindelwald take him. He doesn’t need my warning - I doubt he’d appreciate my input anyway.”

But as he hands the galleon back to Hermione there’s an awful, knowing look in her eyes. “Harry,” she says, and she puts so much emotion into his name he can’t decipher it all. But she just sighs, shaking her head, “Don’t play games you can’t win.”

“Oh, but Hermione,” he says with a red slash grin, “I’m already winning.”

*

“Tom Riddle and his Knights are not under arrest--”

“Because Lucius Malfoy is lining your goddamn pockets--

“We are a country at war, and he saved the Ministry the other day--”

“He cast a giant fiendfyre monster--

“Responding with violence in these situations was legalised with Bartemius’ recent rulings in the Wizengamot…”

“But Minister--”

“You can’t do that , they’re criminals --”

“They are working as an independent branch of the Ministry,” Fudge says, and he’s talking out his ass, as usual, and even Scrimgeour, clamoring to replace him any day now can’t do anything about it because the honest truth is they need all the goddamn help they can get --

Ron ducks his head and tries not to punch something in his frustration at the mess they’re in.

They’re losing the war.

Grindelwald can make all the statements he wants in New York and Paris - they’re larger, more populated and with magical communities far more open to change but also far more adaptable to threats.

England is small. Backwards. The magical population still don’t realise muggles don’t live in dark houses and burn fires to cook their food. Instead they use something call elekty and miniwaves - the things Hermione and Harry tell him about sometimes still surprises him.

It means they’re just simply unprepared for Grindelwald. For a country waiting on a Cold War spanning twenty one years you’d have thought they’d have better preparations in place but no.

They’ve grown complacent.

“My galleon burnt,” Seamus wheels his chair over. He’s looking his usual slightly singed self. “I’m surprised, but I have to say - it’s about damn time. I heard Harry was back in England - where the hell’s he been? Hiding out in America?”

“Buried in a cave in Norway,” Harry himself answers from where he’s holding what looks like two coffees, one of which he deposits on Ron’s desk. Ron takes it gratefully and decides that was probably a better answer than ‘crashing on my sofa while he resurrects dead animals in my living room’.

“Harry!” Seamus says in pleasant surprise that twists into alarm, “Fuck me sideways,” he stares at Harry’s face, “What happened to you? Lost a fight with a werewolf?”

“Cutting curse,” Harry says with an easy smile, “It’s fine, better than it looks. How goes the demolition department?”

Seamus snorts, “What department? It’s all me, blowing up shit on my own - hard work I tell ye’--”

“Tell that to Dean. I’ve never seen someone so exceptional at putting out fires before.”

Seamus snorts, “He loves me really,” he says with a leer, “Got your message,” he says, flipping a gold coin in the air, “What’s it for? The DA hasn’t met since we had that drunk reunion last year which our fearless leader couldn’t attend because you were apparently… buried in a Norwegian cave?” the skepticism is evident in his voice but neither Ron nor Harry correct him.

Harry smiles, “You mean you don’t want to do something about the fighting? Are you really content to just play to the Ministry’s tunes, blowing up a few safehouses here and there when we can stop it - actually stop it. Fix it.” He watches Seamus’ skeptical face and then, in something that’s far more Slytherin than Harry really has rights doing, he says, “You ever wondered why, if Dumbledore can beat Grindelwald bad enough to send him scurrying back to Europe with his tail between his legs for 20 years, why he didn’t confront him earlier? Doesn’t confront him now?”

Seamus frowns, forehead creasing. “Figured he was just busy,” the Irishman mumbles, “You got an actual reason?”

“Albus Dumbledore grew up in Godric’s Hollow, did you know that?” Ron asks instead, “Birthplace of Gryffindor. Place Lily and James Potter died. Place he duelled Gellert to a standstill in ‘81. Place Bathilda Bagshot lived.”

“Who?”

“No idea,” Ron shrugs, “Hermione says she apparently she wrote our History of Magic textbooks - like I ever read that thing.”

Both Seamus and Harry also shake their heads, “She has a nephew,” Harry says, “Great nephew, I think. He visited her a bit when he was a teenager, years back. Young Hungarian who got kicked out of Durmstrang for radical ideas--”

“You’re kidding .”

Seamus’ jaw drops open. Ron would probably choke on his coffee had Harry not already told him this.

“Nope. Heard he and Dumbledore were… intimately acquainted , during their youth,” Harry adds, and it’s slightly terrifying, how easy he manipulates the situation. Seamus is the best and loudest person they know to spread the word without making it seem like gossip. It’s a wonder Harry was in Gryffindor at all.

“War’s never gonna be done then, innit?” Seamus sighs, running his hands through his hair, “Yeah, sure, I’ll show for the meeting. I’ll tell the others - blimey - Grindelwald and Dumbledore --”

He wanders off still muttering to himself and Ron casts Harry an impressed look, “I don’t know how you do it,” he says, “Stupid scrawny kid like you, sneaking around Hogwarts like a half-starved cat and somehow you get them all looking up to you. Sitting next to you on that train was the best decision I ever made.”

Harry’s grin is blindingly genuine, and even after all this years there is still that note of uncertainty to it, “Cheers,” he says, “Dumbledore should really be careful about what he lets slip,” Harry says, carefully, and there’s something in his voice that chills Ron, just a little bit.

He’s still intrinsically Harry , though, and that, that’s enough for him.

“What do you want me to do with the… y’know?”

“What did you do with it?”

“It’s sitting on the mantel at home next to the brains.”

Harry’s sigh is fond, “You didn’t need to steal those too, you know that, right?”

“I wanted to. Besides, they nearly took my arm off, I’m going to have tentacle scars for life now,” Ron rubs his shoulder ruefully, and then winces at Harry’s very unimpressed look, especially given his own lightning facial disfigurement. “Ah, well, I’m sure I’ll find a use for them,” Ron says, “Be a great story to tell the grandkids - and those brains in a jar I robbed from the Department of Mysteries which we broke into while Gellert Grindelwald, Lord Voldemort and Albus Dumbledore were squabbling in the Atrium with fiendfyre raging everywhere, and instead of doing what sensible people do and getting the hell out of there or watching from a safe distance, we decided it was the perfect time to rob the Ministry .”

“Don’t forget destroying irreplaceable Ministry records. I thought Hermione was going to cry.”

“What do you want me to do with the prophecy?” Ron asks.

Harry shrugs, in disinterest, “Destroy it. It’s done enough damage.”

“You don’t want to hear it?”

“No,” Harry says, shortly, “I’ve got better things to do. You’ll be around later for the meeting?”

“DA getting back together? Actually doing something other than sitting on our asses occasionally telling the Order what we’re doing? That’s a stupid question, Harry. Don’t die in the interim.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “I’ll try not to,” he says as he dismisses the privacy charm and stalks off, surprisingly settled in his skin despite spending the past months in hiding. Ron turns back to his paperwork and shoves it away. Work is just not happening today.

Ron wonders if Harry’s instructions extend to the second prophecy with his name on it, Tom Riddle’s name sitting next to it like they’re always meant to be together. Harry had grabbed it like an afterthought, like he hadn’t really believed it to be there and shoved it into Hermione’s too-large-on-the-inside purple bag.

Harry doesn’t like divination, he thinks, and instead that evening he tosses both orbs into the fire in a thousand glass pieces watching the flames eat it up. It will happen anyway, Ron knows, somethings are just unavoidable.

*

Avery watches Riddle pace slowly around the table, like a predator in his territory. It’s not his territory at all, Avery thinks, but he sure acts like it. He knows, theoretically, Riddle owns a flat somewhere, but he’s not for the life of him worked out where, let alone been there . No, this is Nott’s home manor, the man sitting at the table with his fingers steepled and carefully not meeting anyone’s gaze. Cantakerous Nott, despite all his airs and graces and ancient house, bows his head to Slytherin’s heir just as easily as all the rest of them do.

It’s hard not to, Avery thinks, quite how most of the school had overlooked Tom Riddle and his rising power while at school he’ll never know. And now to watch him in his element, magic practically dripping off his form, it’s a sight to see.

Riddle’s pissed. That is, however, nothing new. He’s always been emotionally labile, but this-- there’s a barely simmering rage and impatience beneath his movements now.

“That grim’s vanished into thin air,” Rodolphus Lestrange is saying, gesturing emphatically, “My lord, we’ve been unable--”

Avery expects Riddle to be annoyed at that. He doesn’t expect Riddle to shrug it off dismissively, “Forget about the grim,” he says, and Lucius Malfoy’s jaw drops open in surprise before he realises and slams it shut again, “I’ve located him and Potter’s mine to deal with.”

“Of course--” Rodolphus says, then pauses, “Hang on… Potter ?”

“I heard he made it back,” Barty says from where he’s chipping away at Nott’s table with a knife. Nott looks like he’s trying to ignore what Crouch is doing to his no doubt priceless table. “DoM hired him right up, some sort of consultation job.”

“Yes,” Tom’s tone is odd, Avery thinks with growing dread, because if there is one thing he remembers vividly from school it was Tom Riddle’s near obsessive fascination with Harry James Potter. “His animagus form is a grim.”

Barty’s knife slips and slams into the table a little too hard. The younger Lestrange brother squeaks and nearly falls out his chair. Crouch raises an eyebrow, “A magical animagus?” he sounds skeptical.

“It doesn’t matter,” Riddle says, again, “He’s mine.”

“Maybe it means Potter’s going to die soon,” Lestrange says, “I mean - turning into a death hound can’t be healthy.” he sounds unsure and also slightly terrified.

“I thought you were the expect, Mr O-in-Divination,” Avery snorts. Riddle rubs at his forehead like he’s getting a headache listening to them bickering. He drops into a seat, sitting there like he owns the place.

“Something’s fucking wrong with Potter,” Barty says, and he always acts so off there are times Avery forgets he was a Ravenclaw who graduated with full Outstandings. “Heard a guy had an dragon animagus once and they eventually figured it was because he had schizophrenia.”

“I didn’t think wizards got muggle mental health problems?”

Barty’s grin is tooth-filled, “They don’t,” he said, “That’s why I said - Potter’s fucked up.”

“He’s a necromancer,” Tom mumbles, “And he’s also more talented that the lot of you put together so for Salazar’s sake, don’t mess with him. He’s mine .”

Avery is 90% sure Tom didn’t mean to say that outloud. He’s also pretty sure ‘he’s mine’ means more than they hear, but maybe he’s just reading into it.

Then again he remembers what the pair were like at school and no, he’s probably reading it correctly.

Something is off about this whole meeting - Tom isn’t nearly as snappy as he usually is, temper present but clearly focussed on other things. They’re also meant to be discussing allying with the giants and vampires, not Harry bleeding Potter.

“A necromancer ?” Rabastan looks like he’s about to fall out his chair again. Malfoy looks paler than usual. Avery just takes it all in his stride - complications like this are bound to come up and besides, when it’s got to do with the subject of Tom’s obsession he knows to stay well enough alone.

“Heard Grindelwald was into necromancy,” Barty looks curious, “No talent for it though.”

“Does it matter? Grindelwald’s got enough going on - he’s single-handedly taken over most of Europe.”

“He’s not getting much further. The Order are keeping him busy, and we managed to route out another three safe houses for his acolytes the other day, I don’t think we’re giving him the welcome he’s expecting.”

“We’re lucky everyone was so sick of the stalemate he never managed to garner much support here, otherwise this would be a different story completely--”

“Bellatrix,” Tom says, suddenly into the middle of the talking. The witch sitting next to Crouch and Rodolphus perks up. Her dark eyes have never left Tom’s figure for the whole duration of this meeting. She’s sitting by her fiance, ring on her finger, and she can’t take her eyes off their lord.

Avery remembers her from school, Narcissa’s quiet, baby sister, almost twenty years younger than Druella and Cygnus Black’s oldest daughters. She had spent a long time as Tom’s glorified stalker, he recalls as well, Tom had ignored her for the large part. He still ignores her, has barely paid attention to her this whole meeting before now.

“Yes,” the young woman leans forwards eagerly, practically throwing herself on the table to get close to him.

“You’re apprenticing in the Ministry, right?”

Her dark eyes widen, “I-uh-not quite, I’m meant to start with some of the hit-wizards soon, but they keep delaying it--”

“Perfect,” Tom says, completely uncaring, “Keep an eye on Harry Potter for me, will you? I want to know what he’s doing, where he’s going and who he’s meeting.” He says it like Harry Potter is the root of all his problems. Avery narrows his eyes, wondering if he should consider taking Potter out of the equation but almost instantly dismisses the idea. Tom would string him up for even daring to think the idea.

Bellatrix, however, doesn’t appear to realise this. “Why not just kill him, my lord? If he’s a threat--”

Crucio .”

It’s the way he says it, voice flat, emotionless, inhuman --

Bellatrix screams. Avery doesn’t flinch but Rodolphus does as his fiance slumps back in her chair. She’s under the curse for about five seconds, less, just a sharp warning, a point being made. “My lord,” she trembles, “Forgive me--”

“Don’t question my decisions again,” Tom Riddle’s handsome face is carved from marble. Avery suppresses a shudder. One thing is for certain.

He doesn’t want to be Potter when Riddle finally decides what to do with him.

*

Harry may not enjoy manipulating people the way Tom does, may not care to see people cater to his every wish or demand, but that does not mean he does not know how to do it. He had persuaded the Dursley's to leave him alone for several summers under fear of magic, persuade Dudley to do things for him in exchange for chocolate and sweets, once bribed Slughorn out of an expensive piece of potion's ingredient by guilt-tripping him about his mother.

'Did you know that Dumbledore and Grindelwald used to be friends? Then Dumbledore's sister died.'

It had been so easy to get answers out of Bathilda Bagshot.

Foolish Dumbledore, Harry thinks, for talking too openly with him. Telling too much.

It's just enough to sow suspicion. To induce a few chases into archived records, to ask a few questions in the right place-- Harry's former underground duelling club mostly have their own jobs, their own lives, but there are enough that still remember the Ministry's harsh regulations and enough who have progressed to what Harry had never really intended to train them for in fighting the war. Those in the Order of the Phoenix take a second or two longer when listening to Dumbledore's honeyed words and a few letters swing his way from the Ministry telling of their plans and dealings.

It's not anything like the Order, or Tom's pet Knights, but Harry's had nowhere near as much time as they have to establish connections. It's a start and it's promising and he gets his first sign it's succeeding when he burns the time and date into a gold galleon and people actually turn up.

“It’s about time,” Ginny Weasley says, arms crossed over her chest. Her brown gaze is fierce and her gaze lingers a bit too long on him before moving on.

“You’re telling me,” Neville says. There’s a smudge of dirt on his nose. “The moment I step outside of Hogwarts I feel like I’ve walked into a cemetery. It’s like the wizarding world is just waiting for the world to end--”

“I’m in,” Susan Bones says, confidently, “I mean, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but I’m up for helping, I think it’s a good idea-- oh, you know what I mean. Offering up an active response force, not like the Order skulking about in the shadows or these Knights who are just joining in the fight for their so called ‘Lord Voldemort’... actually just standing up for what is right and helping --”

“And for those who don’t want to fight,” Padma Patil says, “Healing. Places of safety. Sanctuary that isn’t Hogwarts or the Ministry--”

“And let’s be honest, the Ministry isn’t exactly the safest place given Grindelwald strolled right into the middle of it,” Seamus snorts.

“Maybe we should change the name,” Ginny says with mischievous eyes, “Defence Association is a bit pacifist for a vigilante group, isn’t it?”

“So you want to be the AA, oh, that will go down real well.”

“What’s wrong with the AA?”

“It’s stands for Alcoholics-- never mind--”

“No, we keep the DA initials,” Ginny interrupts the bickering, “But we make it stand for Dumbledore’s Army. Because despite everything - despite him appearing every now and then to protect the odd town, despite the Order of the Phoenix being active and monitoring everything - they’re not doing anything . Us actually doing something, and using his name to do it is like the biggest Fuck You.”

“I like it,” Hannah Abbott says.

“I don’t,” Hermione sniffs, “Someone of us actually have to go to Order meetings and pretend we don’t know what’s going on with other aspects of the war.”

“Let’s do it,” the name matters little to Harry, it’s the people, the influence that matters. He looks around at the group - mostly his year from Hogwarts with people from Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor forming the overwhelming majority. There are a few of Ginny’s friends, a few older Gryffindors he played Quidditch with, Luna--

Luna Lovegood who is, currently, turning her wand into some kind of mobile with leaves and bits of feather hanging off it threaded through with cotton, “Luna,” he asks, staring at the spinning feather, “Do you need anything for whatever you’re making?”

“It’s a catcher of spirits,” Luna says, airily, “There are so many around you now--”

Harry very carefully doesn’t flinch, “Is the Quibbler in?” he asks.

Her silver eyes are bright when she meets his gaze, “Of course. Daddy always loves opportunities to destabilize a government. Can I tell him about you and Tom Riddle?”

“Tom Riddle?” Anthony Goldstein - one of Hermione’s quiet Ravenclaw buddies frowns - “Isn’t that the guy proclaiming himself Lord Voldemort?”

“Honestly,” Hermione rolls her eyes, “It’s like none of you even bothered to learn who we went to school with.”

“Harry’s ex-boyfriend,” Ginny says.

“My--” Harry pauses, giving Ginny a sharply look but her words are without malice, purely teasing and he gives up with an eye roll, “My what , no, not like that, we were friends, and anyway seeing if he could compromise was going to be my job because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what that word means--”

“I can tell. It looks like you two had a pretty bad break up the last time you refused to compromise,” Luna says with her usual startlingly blunt manner. She’s eyeing up Harry’s lightning bolt scar with curiosity, “Did you know Typhon tried to steal Zeus’ thunder once, and for it Zeus cast him into Tartarus. Buried him deeply under Mouth Etna.” Her gaze is oddly knowing.

Harry feels himself tense, forces himself to turn away and relax. The others have already dismissed her words, “Tom Riddle is not the issue here,” he says, carefully, “Besides, he’s mine. If we play this right we just need to worry about Dumbledore and Grindelwald.”

“And the Ministry.”

Harry shoots Goldstein such a withering glare the man actually stumbles. “The Ministry who are simultaneously trying to employ the Knights, use the Order as spies and maintain a perfect facade of neutrality?” He glances around, taking in the group, “Besides,” he says, “Most of us are Ministry employed. But for the politicians, well, we have a tried and tested method.”

“And what’s that?” Goldstein asks.

“Use a Malfoy to bribe them,” Harry grins, and nearly everyone cranes their head to where the one Slytherin is sitting, trying to look like he isn’t there.

“Great,” Draco Malfoy says, looking distinctly unimpressed with literally everything, “You finally remember I’m here.”

*

“Remember when Malfoy blew up my cauldron in our final year and everyone almost died because it was the Draught of Death and I’d actually brewed it correctly for a change?”

“Yes?”

“Can I do it again? This time with him standing nearby, preferably.”

Ron ! You can’t just go around chucking potions at people !”

Harry is chuckling and he tries to school his features before Hermione notices. He ducks his head back to his lunch in the Ministry canteen as his two best friends continue to argue.

“I can’t believe we have to rely on Malfoy for money. Ugh, the very thought of it is giving me hives.”

“I can’t say it’s one of Harry’s brighter ideas, especially given the fact his father is deep in Riddle’s pockets, but Malfoy appears to have the right motivation--”

“Right motivation? Right moti-- Hermione, he set a snake on Harry at the duelling club! He forced me to vomit slugs for a week! A week!”

“As I recall that was your spell and your broken wand--”

Harry wonders if this is how his friends feel when dealing with his Tom Riddle obsession, as he finishes his lunch and leaves them to it, waving bye at Hermione. Ron doesn’t notice, he’s still too busy spluttering.

“Sometimes I still dream of the day Moody turned him into a ferret.”

Draco Malfoy is not perfect, but he’s convenient. A father who is deep in the rising Dark Lord’s trust and the heir who wants absolutely nothing to do with anything illegal, just wants to marry his schoolyard sweetheart and live alone in his fancy manor with his money. And out of the whole of the DA he has the political swing to keep them in the game. Susan Bones might come close given her aunt’s role as head of the DMLE, but Malfoy’s got connections to the shadier side of the Ministry.

He slips back to the lower floor of the Ministry, shooting a passing smile at Cedric Diggory as he passes by towards the lifts. It almost amusing, Harry ponders, Tom spends years trying to form connections and play his way to the top and Harry manages it in a few short weeks.

Then again, he’d had it established since school, so maybe it wasn’t so surprising.

He slips out the lift on the lower levels, black marbled corridor stretching out before him. It would be weird having an actual job if he hadn’t just slid into doing what he was already exploring - death magic and necromancy. He heads towards the side entrance saved for employees, to allow him to avoid the swinging doors and--

He pauses. He’s not a werewolf - scents and sounds don’t carry over into human form the way it does for Remus, but he can still tell when somebody is there. Call it good instincts.

“You can come out now,” he says, head tilting to one side. He waits a beat, smile curling onto his face when there is the eventual shuffle and an invisibility cloak is pulled off a small feminine form. He eyes her up, “Bellatrix Black,” he says, only a small amount of surprise creeping into his voice. His head tilts as he considers her, “Or is it Lestrange yet?”

She pouts, “Harry Potter,” the girl who had been a year or two behind him in school says, pouting at him, “My cousin’s brat of a godkid who is lined up to inherit the Black fortune.”

“You’re following me,” Harry says, and it clicks into place. He rolls his eyes, “Tom sent you - you’re not doing a very good job, are you, if I noticed you.”

She juts out her chin, “Yes,” she admits, “I don’t know why , you’re hardly worth the effort or attention he puts into you. Just another boring Gryffindor, stupid enough to get himself into enough trouble to permanently disfigure himself. You’re not worth my time and you’re certainly not worth my Lord’s.”

She says ‘my Lord’ the way someone would say ‘my King’ and ‘my sweetheart’ combined all into one. Reverently, like it’s the sweetest thing she’s tasted on her tongue. Harry stares at her.

She’d always been odd - Sirius’ youngest cousin - and she’d always had a weird fascination with Tom. Harry has never paid her much attention before.

But now she’s looking at him like he’s worse than the mud on her boot. It takes a few more moments but the expression clicks after a while. “Are you jealous ?” Harry asks of the younger girl. She sneers and it looks like it belongs on her proud haughty face.

What on earth is she jealous of, he stares in disbelief, and in his head he hears Ginny’s quiet teasing ‘Harry’s ex-boyfriend’. He wants to say the thought hadn’t occurred to him, but someone would have to be blind to not notice how handsome Tom Riddle is.

And Bellatrix is staring at him, brimming with envy, “How did you get that cut?” she asks, spitefully, “I heard Tom tried to kill you. You’re nothing to him --”

Harry laughs, because she’s wrong. Harry is everything to Tom. He might have been a minor nuisance initially, an inconvenience that punched him in the face and broke his jaw, but ever since he dragged Tom into the Room of Requirement with wands that refused to fight each other, it’s just been about them.

Hermione is right - they are obsessed with each other.

“I thought you were engaged ,” he sneers at her, “What - are you expecting him to drop everything to sweep you off your feet? Are we talking about the same Tom, here?”

Dark lashed eyes glare at him judgingly, “You’re a man ,” she says, “ I ? I can give him heirs , I can serve him obediently, loyally --”

“Like a dog,” Harry clicks his tongue, “Go fetch--

Her nails curl and he has no doubt she wants to rip them into his face. Heirs, Harry thinks, and he’d wanted children once, he thinks, in another life where he gets back together with Ginny and they have two and a half children named for his parents and they live in a house and he works as an auror and--

It’s a dead dream, starved of oxygen before it even took its first breath. Harry’s childhood has guaranteed he wouldn’t know how to raise a child, and his broken magic guarantees his attempts would fail. Children are not an option for him, he has realised that for a while now and is quite prepared to live vicariously spoiling Ron and Hermione’s bushy haired and freckled kids.

Besides, what use has Tom of heirs when he plans on living forever?

“He chose me,” Harry says, turning fully to face the jealous young witch, “And that irks you. You great Lord cares more for a half-blood over you. A man over your barren body--”

She lets out an actual snarl then, wand out and spell firing and Harry doesn’t even try to dodge. He just lets his magic well up gold gold gold and cannibalise the spell, focussing at it eats the dark hex to nothing. Bellatrix’ eyes widen. She takes a step back.

“Me or you ,” Harry says, grin twisting his scars, “Well, there’s no contest really, is there? You never stood a chance.”

She looks like she wants to try to murder him there and then, but, well, Tom’s the only one who gets the chance. He slips his yew wand into his hands, still casually slouching in the middle of the corridor. He flips it in a neat, lazy spin, waiting for her to move but she just stands there. If looks could kill he’d be dead. No doubt.

She still appears to be floundering for words and Harry’s seriously considering just darting through the door to the DoM and leaving her there, speechless. It would be a fantastic exit, and she wouldn’t even be able to follow him - the door is warded so only employees can use the side entrance.

He’s seconds away from doing just that when it’s decided for him in the sound of a loud, ear-splitting alarm that rings out. Harry flinches - his hearing is slightly more sensitive since he’d become an animagus. Bellatrix whirls around in alarm.

The sound doesn’t abate. It’s a caterwauling charm combined with a Sonorus and it’s hell . Screeching yowling that doesn’t relent for a moment. It carries an urgency about it, a warning and there’s only one thing this could be. Harry imagines this is what Muggle London must have been like during the Blitz with air raid sirens wailing overhead. A door behind him to one of the legal offices slams open, and he can already feel the panic in the air. A general mass of fear permeates everything .

“Grindelwald’s attacking,” Bellatrix realises, “There’s an attack, the Ministry only got the charms set up last week after the dragon incident--”

“Gotta go,” he says with a grin. It is not a nice smile, and even as spiteful as she is, Bellatrix takes a step backwards away from him, “I’ll say ‘hi’ to Tom from you when  next see him. If you see him first - tell him to come stalk me himself.”

And then he’s gone, throwing himself through the door into the DoM. He needs his new office with it’s handy new floo connection.

He has places to be and a wand to collect.

Chapter Text

The call comes of an attack on Diagon Alley when Tom’s in the middle of a meeting with Rufus Scrimgeour. He has a feeling the lion-like man is seconds away from cursing him - he can see the knowing in that man’s eyes, but thus far he has been restrained and is settling for listening to Tom spin plans for defending the Ministry.

All, of course, perfectly legal.

Perfectly sound. Plans that he is honestly disgusted Dumbledore hasn’t sorted already.

Then again the man had enjoyed hiding in his school and pretending everything was all alright.

The caterwauling evacuation call has almost all members present to go for their wand. The soon-to-be Minister for Magic looks horrified but whether it’s at the fact the charms actually work or that they’re working already remains to be determined.

It’s easy to excuse himself, to slip out and send the burning flare of magic through the mark. When he makes it out of the anti-apparition zone and appears in Diagon, it’s to chaos.

Around him, laughing acolytes of Grindelwald take joy in shattering shop fronts. There’s a certain solidarity to their movements, and they still make no attempt to hide their faces. There is confidence in everything they do, a certainty to it. They know what side they have chosen, and they would do anything for their cause.

People will look to him like that, he vows, one day - not just the Pureblood who think he’s Slytherin reincarnated.

The English wizards flee, shop fronts shatter and accents are thick - English, German, Norwegian, French, American - they blur together around him.

Spells flash towards him and bounce off a shield. He stalks among them unafraid. Several make to attack them and a force catches them, dragging them into the air like puppets before slamming them back to earth fiercely. His lip quirks in a smile.

Cracks as the Ministry fighters arrive, the aurors looking harried before they’re even there. The odd flash of Order Members in red appearing to assist.

So clumsy, he thinks, and his wand calls forth raw, undiluted magic that cracks and claws its way through the earth. Water rushes up, gathering from the gutters and frost in the streets, the condensation in the air and it forms a surging roaring wave that hangs suspended for a moment, reaching upwards.

Then he lets it drop. Grindelwald’s followers cry out in alarm, first to avoid the weight of the crashing water, and then to dodge the ice that it freezes to. Icicles erupt, stabbing outwards. One pierces an unfortunate man through the chest. Voldemort hears ribs crack, sees blood drip down down down into the water pooling messily in the street.

The pale haired figure of Grindelwald steps into view. The cobbles gleam with ice. He’s so close Tom can see his mismatched eyes, searching the area, as if searching him out--

There’s a shape in Grindelwald’s shadow--

Avery steps into view between them, ready and masked and assessing the area. “We’re ready,” he says, “Malfoy’s circling around to pick up escapees, Rosier’s in charge of--- my lord ? My lord?”

But Tom isn't listening, his gaze has become enraptured by the sight of the skulking pitch black grim at the edges of the battlefield. Whatever Harry is up to, it's not to haunt him this time because the animagus' attention is oddly focussed on where Grindelwald is fighting.

"My Lord?"

"Excuse me a moment," Tom says, "I have a grim to murder. Again."

"He's lost it," he hears someone mutter in disbelief and it's a testament to how focussed he is on the hellhound that he doesn't take a moment to figure out who it is. Instead he’s already halfway across the street, almost carelessly summoning a clear shield that hovers in the air for a long second before exploding outwards taking out at least four of Grindelwald’s acolytes.

His attention doesn’t waver from the grim. Harry notices almost too late, green eye oddly fixed on where Grindelwald is wielding magic when his ear twitches and the hound spins around towards Tom, fangs curling back with a snarl.

Tom's already moving, shooting out a stunning spell. The grim dives out of the way and for a moment is there, hulking and black and too-big for a normal dog and then--

Gone, fur shimmering into invisibility like he’s a demiguise, not a grim or--

Or like he’s got an invisibility cloak.

Tom's lip curls, "Stop hiding , Harry," he sneers, " Revealio ."

Something slams into him. Harry’s human, lashing out at Tom’s arm with a jarring blow that sends spasms up his arm but he doesn’t drop his wand. Harry lifts his wand - Tom’s wand how dare he - white yew pointed unerringly at Tom and spell already forming, etched bright orange on the tip--

Tom does the only thing he can think of. He claws his hand around Harry's wrist and spins, tugging them both away from the battle into disapparition.

There is a flash of orange and they crash out onto a street. A horn honks, a bus looming over them with a screech of brakes. They crash out the way, the orange spell deflected harmlessly into concrete pavement. Behind Tom looms Wool’s Orphanage, just as cold and unforgiving as he remembers. His hand is still closed around Harry’s wrist--

“Let go of me--” Harry tears his arm free, yew wand still ready, “What’s your problem?” he snarls, “I’m not even fake haunting you anymore!”

Tom is acutely aware that Grindelwald is back there, that’s his chance but right now his gaze is entirely focussed on Harry, “You’re doing something,” he says, “I want to find out what.”

Harry’s head tilts to the side, green eyes blazing, “Well, go on then,” he spreads out his arms, “But I warn you - it won’t be so easy this time.”

“This time?” Tom stares, uncomprehendingly.

Harry laughs in clear disbelief, “You tried to kill me !” his temper snaps, and oh, his fury is glorious to see. “Don’t you want to try again? Merlin, I should have turned you in for Myrtle’s death, I should have blasted open the Chamber entrance and killed the basilisk myself. Once a murderer, always a murderer, right?”

“The Chamber was warded,” Tom says, distractedly, “But no, Harry, darling , I don't want you dead ," he says, not realising the truth of that until the words pass his lips.

Harry falters, "You tried to kill me," he says again, and Tom's pretty sure he doesn't mean for his voice to sound so hurt and bruised under all that anger and indignation. “You left me buried until a mountain in Norway bleeding to death and choking on my own blood !” his hurt twists into a snarl of betrayal, teeth bared like the grim that lurks beneath his skin.

"And you came back," Tom breaths, in awe. “You survived and you’re still here, still fighting --”

Harry's gaze is puzzled for a moment before it grows almost fond, "Still so damn possessive," he sneers, white yew wand firing off another spell at Tom.

Tom laughs as he deflects it, “Are you going to try and kill me, Harry? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you, but I don’t think you have it in you.”

He is forced to sidestep a spell he doesn’t recognise. It’s dark, but it’s also not and the very trace it leaves in the air sends shivers down his spine. Harry’s grin is wild, “I think you’ll find I’m not exactly the same as when you last saw me,” he says, twirling the wand in his hands. Tom’s wand, he realises with irritation.

“Face it,” he spits, “You were helpless then and you’re helpless now. You’re a dead man walking. I did you a favour - where would you be now without me? Dead by Grindelwald’s hand? Under Dumbledore’s thumb? Some dull mediocre job at the Ministry?” he sneers, “Look at you, look at what I made you into, you’re beautiful --”

He is forced to duck another unfamiliar spell. He knows what it is now though, realises what magic Harry is using. He’s exhilarated. Thrilled. Necromancy , it’s as horrifying as it is fascinating. It’s not a branch of magic one learns, it’s one you can either do or can’t, much like being a seer. Like parseltongue.

Death magic curls around Harry like a second skin. It sparks gold at his fingers and in the ring of his green iris as the anger burns.

“I’m not yours ,” Harry snaps, and oh he’ll burn himself on that temper if he’s not careful, “I’m not a creation, not a pet . I will not bow to you, Riddle .”

It would have been almost disappointing if it had been easy, Tom thinks. “Going to kill me, Harry?” he asks, “ Revenge ?”

“Oh, think of it as more preemptive justice,” Harry says.

If Tom had been obsessed with Harry Potter before he murdered away his weakness, well, a Harry Potter that came back from the dead to haunt him makes his previous behaviour look like a mild crush.

What is more perfect for him after all than someone who came back to life just for him?

It’s been years since they raised their wands to each other but it’s like no time has passed. They still have that uncanny instinct for what the other is about to do next and they both have to take that extra moment to make sure their spells aren’t going to connect. The holly wand burns in his hand like ice and judging by the way Harry keeps stopping to shake the yew, neither wand is particularly happy about having to fight.

He keeps his spells varied, more nuisances than anything harmful. Fire that splits and dances into several flaming balls crashing together. Chains that whirl out like snakes and paralysis hexes and mirrored shield charms to throw Harry’s own curses back at him.

Harry’s picking up half Tom’s curses like they’re nothing more than inconveniences. Tom literally watches Harry catch a tendon twisting hex with his yew wand and drain the magic from the spell, but then he’s trying to deal with the transfigured eagle attacking him and he gets distracted--

He’s also acutely aware that they’re duelling in the middle of muggle London. He can see some non-magical idiots stopping to stare and he hopes someone on the obliviator squad is paying attention to something other than where Grindelwald is currently trashing the heart of the wizarding shopping district. Harry’s spell repertoire is more varied that Tom remembers, but he still has that unpredictable flair and so when Tom’s crashing wave of water gets frozen and sent back at him he spins into apparition instead of dodging or dealing with it.

He re-appears behind Harry, ready to catch him off guard only to find a wand in his face and hand clamping around his arm and then they’re torn away. They reappear in the middle of a London street before Tom manages to get a punch in. Harry staggers, and they seperate for a moment before Tom’s there, hand fisted in Harry’s collar and ripping them back into the space in between.

He deposits them in a spot near Hogsmeade. They stagger for a moment, and he thinks they’re going to get dragged down into the cold hard dirt but then Harry’s not there, his body is twisting away, clothes and skin rippling black--

Harry shifts into grim form the way a room plunges into darkness. One moment he’s human and right there, the next your eye is trying to adjust to the absence of light, the absence of human, to focus on the shapes in the gloom. Harry’s shape blurs and a great black hound rips it’s head to the side, teeth snapping and eyes gleaming. It’s not a pretty form - fangs broken oyster shells and fur ink black dripping and Tom flinches at the sight. He levels his holly wand at the creature - at Harry - only Harry would somehow manage to turn into a creature of death, only Harry who he tried to kill and fail, who should be dead and isn’t--

No spell falls off his wand. He keeps it levelled at the grim animagus who looks seconds away from ripping his throat out the way he had done to that acolyte of Grindelwald’s. Harry had ripped out a man’s throat to save him.

It makes Tom giddy.

The beast isn’t moving, is just standing there, oddly still. A breeze ruffles Tom’s cloak, and the fur of the animagus doesn’t move, and it’s that, more than anything that sparks him into action, curse sliding forwards--

His shield bubbles up in time to deflect what Tom knows was a cutting curse aimed at his throat. A laugh bubbles up at him - it was the same one he had used on Harry. The curse lobbed at the grim passes straight through and the image of the graveyard dog wavers and fades, the illusion dying.

Tom twists to where Harry is standing behind him, three more curses and hexes already on his wand. Tom dodges them, still laughing, “Illusions? Such a Slytherin move, Harry.”

“After-image,” Harry shrugs, “Doppelganger variant charm - neat, huh?” He hurls a projectile curse and Tom turns the rocks that fly at him into knives, spinning them around and sending them back to where Harry’s already moved. “You and I both know I was a Slytherin hatstall.”

Tom doesn’t even hesitate to send a ventus behind him and he hides his smirk when the grunting of it hitting its target can be heard. “You’re still predictable,” he says with a sneer, “Come on, if you want your revenge, come on and take it. I’m right here--”

The sound of displaced air and he turns, but the street is empty. He pauses, waiting for Harry to materialise behind him but--

He’s gone--

He’s run--

Tom’s anger flares, fury abound and he barely thinks before he’s throwing himself forwards into Harry’s apparition scar. Risky, but then again he knows Harry’s magic like he knows his own and it’s too easy to follow the other wizard’s path.

He emerges in an unfamiliar graveyard of a small village. Stupid, he realises straight away, he’s an idiot because of course Harry hadn’t fled. Instead he’s waiting with a deadly green spell and curses cast so quickly Tom can only dodge, throwing himself behind a gravestone. Harry just laughs and as magic flares and an unnaturally strong hand made of bone and rotting flesh shoves its way up through freshly dug soil in a plot to his left, Tom realises his disadvantage.

As long as there’s a dead body on the field, Harry has something he does not have.

So, he thinks, he’ll just have to rectify that, won’t he?

Harry clicks his tongue from where he’s stalking forwards like the grim in his bones, “Tom Riddle, still chasing after things that don’t bow to you. So predictable...”

Bombarda! Malare! Crucio!”

A clawing skeleton grabs his ankle, and the torture curse goes flying past Harry instead of hitting him in the throat.

Incendio ,” he snarls, and the clawing skeleton lurches away. Tom tears free, just in time to walk into another corpse. This one is fresh - muscle still hanging off bone and it shouldn’t be able to walk , there aren’t connecting tendons--

Fulguria .”

Tom blasts the corpse to pieces and barely has time to shield against the lightning Harry throws at him. His shield sucks in the magic like a sponge, and when Harry lifts the lightning to cast a new spell Tom releases it, the electricity exploding outwards and shattering two nearby gravestones. Tom sends the pieces flying forwards, and uses the distraction to put some more distance between him and the necromancer.

The graveyard is not unfamiliar, he realises with horror as he darts back two rows of graves, it’s Little Hangleton.

It’s where his father and mother were from.

Where the Gaunts were from.

And there, in a fairly new plot, he can see his own name scrawled on the stone.

Is this some sort of twisted game of Harry’s, he wonders, even before he sees the other names of ‘Mary and Thomas Riddle’ can see the date, last week sometime, realises it’s not him, it’s his muggle father, the man he is named for--

“Grindelwald killed them,” Harry says from where he’s busy flinging pieces of gravestone shard away from himself. “I’d apologize but I know you’re only going to be sad because you didn’t get the chance to do it yourself.”

“You know me too well.”

Another hand of bones rips through soft topsoil almost sending him flying. He burns it with a fiendfyre runespoor that materialises, middle head lunging for the puppeteered dead while the others rear up, flames feeding on his magic as the three-headed serpent grows in size, looking for more substance to ravage. He sends it over towards Harry, cutting the magic as he does so leaving nothing more than empty flames flaring bright.

If Tom wants any advantage here he will have to do what Harry doesn’t expect him to.

So he lunges, not to the side, not into apparition, but straight through the dying fire. He sends yet another reanimated inferi flying with a flipendo and crashes into Harry. One hand closes around Harry’s wand hand and the other around Harry’s collar, and then he apparates. The world compresses sickeningly and spits them out again.

Harry’s eyes widen in alarm. Gold sparks from the hand holding his wand but it’s too easy for Tom to draw holly to his throat and whisper “Avada Kedavra .”

Green light explodes between them. His wand freezes in his hand and the spell sends a small shockwave out sending Tom stumbling back, letting go of Harry as he does so. Around him the graveyard lies sprawled out at a different perspective from seconds earlier from his apparition.

Harry stumbles, back hitting the wall with a thud and for a moment he’s limp and boneless. Dead, Tom thinks with horror , he’s actually managed to kill him--

But then green eyes flash open, the same colour as the curse and Harry lets out a breathless, exhilarated laugh. “Don’t you know, Tom?” he asks, his smile all bared teeth so much like his grim form, “You have to mean it ,” he says, tone both sneering and full of wonder .

I do , Tom wants to snarl, if I had a wand that actually worked against you, if you weren’t so deep into necromancy you’re practically dead already--

If only. The words stick in his throat.

Harry’s still looking up at him, hand clawing at the gravestone he’s leaning against for support, skin so fragile and spread so thin Tom can see bones outlined against it. He wants nothing more than to reach out and press down on that wrist until the fine, narrow bones crunch and snap like the bird’s wings at the orphanage once had.

You’re mad, they had said at the orphanage, and maybe he was. Harry Potter is an infection, one Tom Riddle had already thought he’d cured himself of. But instead he’s back, like a fever under his skin, palpitations and autonomic reactions at his mere presence.

He doesn’t notice when Harry moves, and the propulsion jinx catches him in the sternum sending him flying backwards.

He lands with a thud, still trying to get his bearings because he failed to cast a killing curse, fine , Tom will tear his heart out --

Then Harry’s there, over him blocking out the sky as he pins Tom, one hand curling around Tom’s wrist with vicious cruelty until his grip spasms and the holly wand falls from limp fingers. The yew wand comes to rest on Tom’s sternum, and Tom grasps at it with his free hand.

Gold sparks and both Harry and Tom let out hisses of pain as the wand protests, slipping from Harry’s sweaty palm and rolling in the grass. Tom reaches for it as Harry goes for a second option, sliding a knife out of a sheath previously unnoticed at his waist and bringing the blade to bite his skin. Pinned, Tom goes still. Over him Harry’s chest is heaving, determination lining every muscle. He stares down at Tom, blade pressing in but not moving further.

“Go on then,” Tom’s lips curl up in a smile, “Let’s see if it sticks, shall we? Or are you too weak ?”

“We both know it won’t stick,” Harry says, “Look at us, Tom, round and round we go, neither can die and we’re both unable to stay dead,” he laughs, a bloody war torn thing from the back of his wrecked throat and the knife presses uneasily into his skin, “Wands that still won’t hurt each other, even now.”

“Still don’t believe in destiny?” Tom asks, pinned and powerless but still in control , in more control almost than his angry friend hovering over him, “After all this - can you tell me you don’t believe in fate? We’re destined , Harry Potter, you and I--”

“Maybe we are,” Harry admits, and although the knife is still held in his grip the intention has gone out of him, “Insanity must be catching,” he murmurs, half to himself, “I’m mad, this is insane, we are insane .”

“We’re all mad here.”

“Tom Riddle,” Harry says, almost fondly, “Quoting muggle literature. Whatever would your followers think,” his grin is wild, on the wrong side of mad, “Bellatrix Black thinks you’re her perfect pureblood heir, but you’re not, are you? Still the half-blooded orphan playing the Slytherin prince--” His head tilts, consideringly, “She’s crazy obsessed with you,” he says, and there’s an odd look in his eyes.

“I don’t care about Bellatrix Black,” Tom sneers, clearly the incompetent girl hadn’t even managed to do one simple job without getting caught.

“Do you care about me?” that odd look is still there.

Can’t Harry see? “I made you ,” he says, knife biting blood as Harry presses down, forgetting it’s there, “We made each other - isn’t it obvious? If you hadn’t confronted me about the Chamber, had I not left you in that mountain… I would not be me, and you would not be you - we’re the cornerstones to each other’s fates, Harry Potter. We’re destined --”

The blade goes slack, Harry’s grin is glasgow crooked, “At least it’s you,” he breathes, and there are definitely broken, jagged edges from where Tom left him shattered the first time, but he’s all the more beautiful for it.

That look is still there and it is, Tom realises, as if Harry is trying to decide whether to kill him or kiss him. He isn’t sure if that alarms him or arouses him and doesn’t get a chance to find out because Harry’s following through on both instincts in that moment, burying the knife into Tom’s side as he bends down to kiss him.

Tom lets out a gasp of pain that gets muffled by Harry’s mouth on his. He bites back, furious and reaching up to grab Harry’s collar, to twist it tighter until he hears the sharp hitch in Harry’s breath and can yank Harry off him--

A green eye sparkles defiantly. Cheeks are flushed, dark hair messy and lightning scar sharp and defined and Tom had done that, Tom had marked him, made him, created this --

“That was rude,” Tom says, letting go with one hand to yank the knife out, a wave of raw magic stemming the bleeding. “And it hurt.”

“You like it really,” Harry mocks, “Besides,” he laughs, “You can survive without a spleen . It’s the infection you have to worry about.”

Tom considers him for a single moment before dropping the knife forgotten to one side in favour of tugging Harry back down into a kiss. Harry goes with it, still laughing into his mouth.

For a moment they’re sprawled out on Hogwarts ground by the lake under golden sunlight, rolling around bickering over thieves wands and book bags, hair messy and insults fond and touches lingering too long and a high school romance that could have been were they not so jaded and cynical.

But the moment is gone and they’re older and tiny glass shards ripping each other to shreds as they press together, teeth and nails and too much bad blood between them to be healthy. Harry lets go of where he had Tom’s wand arm pinned to curl his fingers into Tom’s collar and with extra leverage Tom grabs Harry’s shoulder, hooks his leg around the other and rolls them over until he’s crouched over the other.

Harry falls back with a huff as they break apart for a moment, breaths mingling as he waits, as if half expecting Tom to reach for his wand and curse him. When nothing happens his lip curls up in a lopsided smirk, scar twisted and fond, “So possessive,” he murmurs.

Whatever Tom says back Harry doesn’t understand because it’s ear-grating hisses from the back of his throat as he presses Harry back into the ground, kissing Harry like he needs him to breath. Like it’s the only thing keeping him alive. Harry’s warm under his touch, rough skin and clawing nails dragging them closer together. Flesh spread over bones, scars torn down his face and biting retaliation at every mark Tom tries to dig into his flesh.

He has never known this monster under his skin, the way his magic flares up and sings in his veins like a slick-sick fever. It scares him and exhilarates him. Once again he feels alive with Harry in a way he doesn’t with anyone else. Nobody else completes him so perfectly , nobody else had come back to life for him --

They draw apart, chests heaving for breath. Tom eyes the man beneath him, wondering when this had become the more preferable option than fighting.

“So,” Harry grins cheekily up at him, “Truce?” Tom’s confusion must show on his face because Harry’s gaze drops down to his chest, deft fingers moving to Tom’s shirt buttons with sharp, seeker-nimble movements, “You want to be the only Dark Lord. I want something the current terrorist Dark Lord has. Said Dark Lord is the cause of this war. How about we sort something out, some kind of partnership--

Tom’s hand wraps around Harry’s. Fury licks in his veins, red hot, because Harry will bow. He’s breathing heavily - they both are - and it would be so easy to reach down and wrap his hands around Harry’s scrawny neck like he should be done years ago--

But all he does is trace the scars there, nails leaving a faint red line behind and Harry arches beneath him, lips parting slightly. “A partnership,” he repeats, “You and I? I thought we’d already proved too volatile together. It didn’t end well the first time.”

There is gold twisting in Harry’s eyes, and it’s the only warning he gets before Harry’s hooking one leg around his and twisting them, rolling so he’s back above him with Tom’s back pressed into the dirt, shirt riding up against his spine. “You tried to murder me the first time,” Harry says, “But you’ve learnt your lesson, haven’t you?” the pads of his fingers press into heated flesh, head ducking to mouth the words against Tom’s collar bone.

“You were a weakness,” Tom moans, swears and drags his fingers through Harry’s hair to drag the other’s face up, meeting his gaze. Anger still flares there, an age-old hurt.

“A weakness ?” Harry asks, voice breaking slightly, “Am I a weakness , to you, Tom?”

His breath is warm on Tom’s skin. His right eye is still glazed white, but the left’s pupils are dilated, near black eclipsing the green. “Yes,” Tom says, because Harry Potter will always be his weakness, “But not one worth getting rid of.”

Besides, Harry came back to him once. If anything happened Harry would come back to haunt him again.

Harry’s lips curl in amusement, always so damn smug, Tom thinks, before his fingers are curling in Harry’s hair as he brings their lips crashing back together.

*

“I still think this is a bad idea-a,” Hermione practically sing-songs in Harry’s ear a day later. She leans on the sideboard in the kitchen of Grimmauld place as the Order drift in slowly. They’re all still sporting wounds from the latest battle.

Except Harry who is uncomfortably supporting several interesting bruises along his collar bone. Hermione doesn’t notice though and he keeps himself twisted in the shadows to avoid the immediate attention of all the members he doesn’t know. “How’s Susan coming along with those cases?”

“Clear. We’ve got them. And before you ask, Parvati got the records sealed. Can’t trace anyone’s ancestry back now. She and Padme made up some bullshit excuse about medical records and then neglected to specify which records they were sealing. They’re all private and the Ministry authorised it without even looking twice like blind idiots .”

Hermione has only sounded more disgusted with their government that one time when Umbridge started firing teachers during exam period.

“Ernie MacMillan got uneasy about it,” she continues, “Hannah obliviated him, called him out on Hufflepuff loyalty, then Neville punched him and then she obliviated him. Apparently they’re dating now.”

“Good for Neville - hang on, Hannah Abbott ? Quiet little Hufflepuff - Susan’s friend?”

“Do you know any other Hannah? Oh, and Luna’s managed to get a column in the prophet under a pseudonym, I’m still not sure exactly how, but nobody has called any article out yet. Oh, and Remus said the werewolves aren’t worth bothering about - they’re all behind Voldemort.”

Harry sighs in irritation, “I mean, that was expected,” he shrugs, “But don’t call him that. His name is Tom , Voldemort is just… pretentious.”

“It’s the name all the criminals call him. And the purebloods too by the sounds of what draco Malfoy tells us.”

“It’s an anagram,” Harry rolls his eyes, “Only he would do something like that with an anagram he scrawled at the back of his diary when he was fifteen,” he pauses, fond smile oddly fixed, “Huh,” he says, the thought running through his mind again because he hadn’t considered that --

“What is it?”

“Nothing, just a thought.”

“About the anagram?”

“The diary. Don’t worry. What did you say Dean had managed?”

“Treaty with the Goblins. Or as good as--” Hermione breaks off at a joyful cry from the doorway.

“Harry, dear, you didn’t say you were back! Oh, look at you! You’re so thin - are you eating?”

Harry blinks away the tears, plasters a smile and lets the red-headed matriarch descend on him. She still smells like homemade fudge and that sweet earthy smell of their family farmhouse. “Mrs Weasley,” he says, trying to squeeze out of her embrace, “I’m fine - I’m sorry I haven’t made a visit yet--”

“You know you’re always welcome, right?” she says, fiercely, and what did Harry do to deserve this family who cared for him so much, who did it because of him, not because of an obligation to James or Lily, but because he was Harry --

“Harry,” Kingsley Shacklebolt who has actually been in the room for about ten minutes actually notices his presence, “Disappointed to hear you didn’t take that auror job I thought you would.”

“Yes, well, I had other callings,” Harry says, turning to him. His face catches the light and he hears Mrs Weasley’s gasp, hides his own wince as she makes as if to peer at it, but restrains herself. Sensing his discomfort she steps back, goes about fussing over cups of tea but casting him worried glances in between.

Kingsley has no such reservations, “Nasty cutting curse you ran into,” he says.

Harry’s grin is not pleasant, “Trust me,” he says, “The other guy regretted it.” There’s no anger in his voice, and Hermione gives him a strange look. Ron appears, with the twins and Mundungus Fletcher trailing behind arguing about retail prices.

Ron sidles up to them, and if he’s aware of the tension in the room or the way everyone keeps glancing at Harry, he does a great impression of obliviousness. “You look weirdly cheerful,” he says to Harry, “Get laid or something?”

Harry hums, then realises what he just assented to.

Ron pauses and stares. Hermione chokes on saliva next to him. “You what ?”

Ron’s mouth drops open a little, “You got laid ?” he whispers, a tone too loud forcing Tonks and Sirius to turn to stare at the pair of them, and Ron opens his mouth again to ask the inevitable ‘who’ when something occurs to him. He pales rapidly, ear tips turning red, “Tell me you didn’t --”

Harry doesn’t even get a chance to answer, Ron shakes his head wildly, emphatically.

“No,” he says, emphatically, eyeing up Harry’s neck with trepidation, “I do not want to know, I do not want to know--”

“Mind your own business,” Harry snaps, “Besides, Dumbledore’s here.”

Ron opens his mouth, then pauses, “Is he?”

“Entered the house ten seconds ago,” Harry says, still irritated, “Can’t you feel his magic? It’s like a tidal wave, seriously, it’s--” he shuts up as said man appears in the doorway to the kitchen. HIs gaze almost immediately falls on Harry - it appears sensing magic goes both ways.

“Harry,” Dumbledore says, and then doesn’t follow up with anything like he’s not sure what to say.

“Professor,” Harry responds, mildly, as if the last time they spoke he hadn’t just dropped a bombshell on the man and waltzed out of the door, “I hope you don’t me crashing the meeting.”

Albus looks like he does mind, or at least wants to have a private conversation with Harry first but he does an amazing impression of looking unbothered, “Not at all, dear boy, the offer of joining was always open.”

“Besides,” Harry adds, “This is my house.”

There’s a pause as the words register. “Not dead yet,” Sirius rolls his eyes.

“Like you actually want to live here,” Remus responds, and Albus is still just blinking. Harry’s amused - they clearly haven’t realised Harry’s moved in upstairs. He can’t wait until the day he changes the wards to keep them all out. But right now he needs to Order.

And like it or not, the Order need him. He can see it in Dumbledore’s eyes everytime he shoots Harry a glance throughout the meeting. The meeting itself is dull. Predictable. A raid here. Some tidbits of information there. The Knights are practically legitimised within the Ministry. No mention of the DA - how blinded the Order are, thinking they’ve got everything under control.

They haven’t.

“Have you spoken to Tom?”

Harry is jolted from musings by the question directed at him, “Riddle?” he confirms, as if Dumbledore is talking about another Tom here. He subconsciously wants to rub at the bruise on his neck, but doesn’t. Ron’s giving him uncomfortable looks. “Yes,” he says, because denying it would be useful.

“I heard from a source in Grindelwald’s fold that he’s after Tom.”

“Of course he is,” Moody growls out from where he’s adjusting his wooden leg, “Riddle’s practically proclaimed himself a rising Dark Lord, of course Grindelwald wants to get rid of the competition.”

Kingsley shakes his head, “Not by Ministry standards, he’s just another citizen - although given his influence and the contract Scrimgeour and he drew up, he’s less a citizen and more a… Ministry advisor? Ministry adjacent power? The wording was dubious when I got a chance to look through it.”

Dumbledore shakes his head, still eyeing up Harry. No, he realises, he’s looking at Harry’s ring . Oh. “Some muggles were murdered in the south,” he says, “As was the last of the Gaunt family. Warn Tom when you next see him?”

“What makes you think I’m planning on seeing him?” Harry manages to perfectly balance his voice between scorn and wariness, but the man before him just shakes his head tiredly. He knows, Harry realises, curious, intrigued, wondering if there ever had been anything between Dumbledore and Grindelwald.

“Be careful,” is all Dumbledore will give him.

Harry wants to laugh. It’s too late for that, he thinks, far too late. There are stories about wolves and feeding the wrong one, and Harry wonders what you do when there’s only the one wolf and it’s starving and it survives on death and one Tom Marvolo Riddle.

“And Harry?” Albus calls after him and he pauses in the doorway, inclining his head but not turning. He can feel the distraught stare of the headmaster on his back, practically hear the indecision before the man just sighs, “Don’t the same mistakes I did once.”

Harry slips away, wondering if Albus Dumbledore regrets falling in love with his worst enemy.

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor is as elegant and perfect in it’s facade as always. Lucius prides himself on it - if there is one thing the Malfoys have it is wealth and he does not hesitate to show it. Velvet curtains hang across sections of the walls, a great tapestry hand woven depicts the Battle of Avalon in all its glory. Gold leaf is painted onto the ceiling mural and from all the walls paintings of his ancestors stare down with curiosity and assessing eyes. One day soon Draco will inherit the family home, but until them his son is staying in his own flat.

That option is preferable, Lucius thinks, to have Draco out of the manor while Tom Riddle treats his house like an office. Riddle does so with an attitude that means Lucius can’t tell if he’s doing it to be petty and get back at Malfoy for all Draco and Lucius’ insults over the years, or if he’s just that sort of person. Riddle exudes such an air of confidence and power that Lucius doesn’t even dare question it - the young man, barely older than Draco, has already strayed further into the Dark Arts than Lucius would even dream of. He sees it in the red flashes of his eyes, in the unhealthy pallor to his skin, in the turmoil of emotions that are flighty and as dangerous as a hurricane.

The truth is Tom Riddle, heir of Slytherin, Dark Lord Ascending terrifies him.

He almost trips over the seven foot python as he steps into his own study. Nagini’s triangular head swings around to eye him up. He always wonders if she’s considering him as her next meal.

The other members of the inner circle are already there. Riddle is leaning back in his chair at the head of the table that spans the room. It’s the first time Lucius has seen him since Grindelwald’s raid on Diagon Alley. His Lord had last been seen stalking towards a rather horrifying death hound with a possessive look in his eyes.

Judging by the expectant gazes around the table, nobody else has seen him since either. Riddle current has his dark wand pointed at his side and muttering various spells at it. “Live without a spleen ,” he can be heard saying between spells, “I’ll rip his spleen out and see how he likes it.”

There is, Lucius sees as he draws closer to his chair, a nasty knife-wound in Riddle’s side. It’s healed, but it’s been done messily, as if half-heartedly or too-quickly. Riddle’s slowly but surely making the mark fade, but still, the fact that somebody had gotten close enough to him to stick a knife in his side...

“Did Grindelwald flee?” he asks the room at large, still distractedly twisting healing magic over his side.

Avery clears his throat, “Not… not exactly.” Riddle’s head snaps up, mahogany gaze clearly tinged red. “He brought down the wards,” Avery says, quickly, words running into each other in his haste to get the information out there, “His spells were so powerful… they burnt up everything keeping the alley hidden. But it’s okay!” he hastens to add, “The Obliviators got there in time, and some Ministry workers managed to get enough protection spells up nobody noticed, but it’s the biggest incident since the dragon got released down the south coast and that manticore last year--”

“The muggles--”

“Unaware, my Lord,” Lucius inputs over Avery’s ramblings, “Unclear how or who, but there are people in the Ministry who managed to clear any traces in time. It’s all a mess, and the fear of what Grindelwald is going to do next is growing. The wards didn’t stand a chance against his power.”

“And Dumbledore?” Riddle’s head tilts, curiously, to the side.

“He showed up late,” Snape says from where he’s lurking near the end of the table, “It’s… unclear what he was doing, but I believe he was hunting down some artifact he thought could help him defeat Grindelwald.”

Riddle considers all this with a quiet hum. He relaxes back into his seat, pads of his fingers tapping out patterns on the arm of the chair. “All the wards fell?” he clarifies.

“All of them. The space-distortion, the muggle-repelling, the illusions, the protective wards-- all of them. Nobody there was strong enough to stop him--” Crouch bites his tongue at that and Lucius flinches, not sure if that sentence had been an insult or a compliment.

“I was… otherwise occupied,” Riddle says, with a hum, “So tell me, Bellatrix, why did I have to leave the Alley to hunt down Harry Potter, when I distinctly remember that your job was to keep an eye on him .”

His sister-in-law has been keeping quiet, Lucius notices. Bellatrix Black has her head down, still hanging on to Riddle’s every word but she’s nervous. Skittish about something. And now when Riddle’s ire turns to her she flinches, throwing herself out of her seat to her knees. “My lord, I beg your apologies, I was following Potter but he spotted me, he’s just an irritation, let me get rid of him--”

“I distinctly remember,” Riddle’s voice is cold, “I told you to remain inconspicuous… ” He holds up her hand to stop her protestations before they start, “You were given one job , Bellatrix,” Riddle says, damningly, “And you failed it. You will do what I tell you to do.”

“But my lord , please, let me bring Potter in for you. If he’s a threat, let me deal with him --”

“Potter is mine,” Riddle snaps, temper clearly wearing thin, “You touch him and I’ll eviscerate you.” His eyes flash red and everybody flinches. Lucius has never heard the young Dark Lord sound so… so… territorial , about anyone like this before.

“That’s almost sweet,” a voice drawls from behind Lucius. “I’ve never had anyone threaten evisceration on my behalf before.”

Riddle barely moves from where he’s lounging in his chair. If anything he perks up, chin lifting as if scenting the air, as if things just got interesting.

The rest of the room do react, mostly in alarm, spinning to where the subject of conversation is lounging against the mantel, half-hidden in shadows cast by the fire. Harry Potter shifts into the light as their attention spins to him, and Lucius barely suppresses the shudder at the horrible mark scarred across Potter’s handsome defined face. A chill runs down his spine because how did he get there without anybody noticing?

“Harry,” Riddle’s tone is bland, hard to read as he turns with gleaming eyes towards Potter.

“Tom,” the level of familiarity galls some of the Knights who make murmurs of distrust and dissent.

How did he get in his manor , Lucius wonders with horror, his wards, his protections are the best , and yet a Gryffindor of all people waltzes through them like they’re not even there.

“It’s polite to knock, before crashing meetings you weren’t invited to,” Riddle drawls. More than one Knight has drawn their wand and Bellatrix looks seconds from lunging at Potter and just straight out stabbing him with her walnut wand.

Riddle twists to look at Potter. He pauses, the movement catching the newly healed wound. He only just about manages to hide the wince.

Potter doesn’t miss it though - “Still healing?” he says with a grin and an electric laugh, “Gotta be more careful, Tom, you never know who’s gonna stab you in the back, huh?”

The words are weighed, carefully, purposely, and Riddle’s fist clenches, eyes flashing a deep, vivid red. None of the Knights quite manage to suppress the flinch from his fury, raw and sharp knives. “Harry,” he purrs , voice sinful and Lucius almost chokes, “Our… arrangement does not mean you are not disposable,” his words are cruel, callous and Potter--

Potter laughs . “Aren’t I?”

Riddle visibly twitches. Rowle makes a fumble for his wand at the pure gall of the halfblood but Bellatrix is faster, lunging with her walnut wand and flipping it at Potter who just--

He doesn’t even move. The spell hits him and just kind of dissipates. No, Lucius realizes in horror, Potter’s a necromancer, apparently. It didn’t dissipate, Potter drained it . Necromancers leech magic. Tear it up, rip it out and drag it back from places it shouldn’t be. “How dare you ?” Bellatrix snarls like a mad animal, stepping forwards--

A ferocious hiss. It’s not from the Parselmouth in the room, it’s from the snake that rears up between Potter and Bellatrix, fangs bared.

“Down, Nagini,” Potter actually talks to the monster serpent, English tripping off his tongue. The serpent relaxes slightly from being ready to strike and hisses something at Potter who looks amused but doesn’t react, “She’s grown,” he comments, to Riddle, “You’re beautiful,” and for a moment Lucius thinks he’s talking to Riddle before he realises that Potter’s crooning to the fucking snake .

She practically preens at the praise, then turns to hiss at Bellatrix again, and Lucius doesn’t need to be a parselmouth to understand what she’s saying. The posture says enough, even if Potter doesn’t wave the snake off, “Leave her, she’ll give you indigestion.”

“Stop teaching my snake bad habits,” Riddle says, and it’s almost petulant as he finally stands. Bellatrix practically throws herself to her knees but Riddle has eyes only for Potter. “You’re trespassing,” he comments to Potter, “I don’t think Lucius invited you into his manor.”

Potter just smirks infuriatingly, stepping forwards closer to their lord. He reaches out, and Lucius half-expects Riddle to bat the hand away, not let fingers reach out to scoop at a chain resting at Riddle’s neck.

He thinks the sight of the young Dark Lord wearing a green emerald locket would be surprising were he not already at the limit of his shock for the day. "I see you got my gift," Harry drawls, and more than one Knight looks distinctly uncomfortable at the way Harry’s fingers trail along Tom's collar bone and scoop up the emerald green locket that sits there.

It doesn't help that Tom is looking at Harry like he wants to devour him.

“Get out,” Riddle says. Potter doesn’t move. Riddle’s head snaps around, Potter’s fingers still entangled in the chain around his neck and there’s a horrible startling clarity that Riddle wasn’t talking to Potter at all.

He was talking to them.

“Out. GET OUT!” he snaps at them, eyes flashing red and they don’t need another warning. Except, perhaps Bellatrix who flounders, still kneeling and Lucius has to scoop her up and drag out his sister-in-law. Narcissa would be sad if something happened to her baby sister.

The door slams behind them and Lucius and Bellatrix are left, locked out of Lucius’ own study and staring at each other in wordless numb confusion. There is a click of the lock. Nobody is barging in, although Bellatrix looks like she might want to.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Lucius scolds, as Bellatrix tries the door handle regardless. She pulls out her wand, looking about to blast it open when voices drift through. Careless, Lucius would think, that they forget to put up silencing charms except he’s too busy panicking over the fact it’s not words they’re overhearing.

Bellatrix freezes like she's been punched. Lucius feels his face grow slack with shock.

Words interspace the moans, a crash as some piece of furniture falls over. A breathless laugh. “Let’s go,” Lucius doesn’t want to stay around much longer. There are some things he would rather remain oblivious about.

He wonders, as he drags Bellatrix away, if it’s possible to obliviate yourself.

*

Blood lust bleeds. Slick fingers, slick madness filling the abyssal hollows between them. Watching, clawing, naked hunger that devours and takes.

Like a slow infection the fever teases, curls and sinks inside.

They fuck like they fight, like it's a competition, like they're seconds away from ripping out each other's throat with too-eager kisses and flesh heated moans.

And Harry gives in. Tom had been expecting more fight, but Harry lets himself be manhandled against the wall with one arm caging his head trapping him in. Tom presses against him, rejoicing in the warm body under him, taking care to leave bruises along the nape of Harry’s neck. The litany of his name falls from his mouth like Harry is begging and damning him in the same breath.

He doesn’t notice the satisfied smirk on Harry’s lips.

There’s nothing tender there, because neither allow it through. The soft after, of faces buried in each other’s neck, of sweat and skin and breaths warm against each other, they don’t let it linger. Harry pulls away, stumbling only slightly as he straightens himself. Words fail them in that moment. Tom runs a hand through his dishevelled hair. Harry paces the room curiously.

“How did you get in?” Tom asks.

“Wards don’t guard against animals,” Harry says with a shrug, “Even magical ones - Lucius has several Abraxans in the stables. Also invisibility is easy with the right tools.” A beat, “Knights of Walpurgis? Really? Protect us from witchcraft, we do pray. You had to chose that day, huh?”

How could he not, Tom thinks, that had been the day Lord Voldemort had been born and Harry Potter had died.

But he stands here, still Tom Tom Tom he’ll always be Tom to Harry, Harry who isn’t dead, Harry who perches on Lucius Malfoy’s desk and begins to poke at pieces of paper like he belongs there.

Tom decides he rather likes the sight of Harry, still messy haired and clothing now rumpled equally, sitting on the desk at Tom’s side, on Tom’s side --

I won this one, Dumbledore, Tom thinks vindictively, Harry was his --

“So I heard Diagon was a mess. Thanks for that,” his tone is sarcastic and for a moment they’re in class, Tom giving unhelpful advice while Harry stabs his beetles he’s meant to be transfiguring a little too viciously, squashing it. “You’re lucky I had people on it. They got wards up soon enough before there was too much damage.”

“Your people?” Tom asks, skeptically, “You have people?”

“My world is wider than just you, Tom Riddle, don’t be so surprised.” Harry teases, “Alicia Spinnet works in the muggle side of the auror division, she wiped any records or images the muggles might have managed of Diagon. Susan Bones managed to lose a few case files with some rather interesting reports on the misdeeds of your Knights. You’re welcome.”

Tom watches as Harry continues flipping through files on his desk, “Then next time,” he says, weighing everything up, “Next time Grindelwald shows up we’ll take him out. You and I. We could do it easily , we’re the strongest of our generation.”

“So I’m not disposable?” Harry asks, cheekily, looking up from Lucius’ papers in his hands. Tom crosses the distance between them, stopping in front of Harry. Harry’s gaze is mischievous - green and glazed white eyes and Tom runs his finger down the lightning scar.

“No,” he affirms what Harry already knows, “You’re not disposable, darling, even if they could, I won’t let you.”

“I’m not immortal, you know that, right? Not like you and your split soul.”

“We can sort that,” Tom says, dismissively, aware of Harry’s thoughts about immortality already. Sure enough he scoffs.

“Living forever is overrated,” he says, “You’re trying. Grindelwald’s trying. It will be your downfall, Tom. Grindelwald is after the Gaunt line, did you know that?” Tom tilts his head, curious despite himself, “He killed your uncle. He went after your muggle father and grandparents. He’s going to come after you soon.”

Tom shrugs, disinterested, “He’s after me anyway since I told him and Dumbledore to get off my stage and let the new generation take over. Did you have anything more helpful to tell me?”

His fingers are still resting against Harry’s cheeks and like a dog wanting petting Harry leans into his touch, “Just thought I should warn you,” he says with a shrug. Tom frowns - he’d been expecting more complaint, more vocalisation.

“Still trying to play the hero,” Tom quirks his lip, and he cards his hand through messy black locks. This is easy, working together, easier than fighting about every damn thing, easier even than killing him. Why didn’t they ever do this sooner, Tom wonders, Harry is his already, this last step should have happened years ago. It would have made everything a lot simpler.

“I need to go,” Harry pulls reluctantly away from his touch, “I rushed out an Order meeting to get here.”

“Does Dumbledore know you’re cavorting about with me? I doubt he’d approve - he always kept an annoyingly close eye on me at school.”

“What Dumbledore doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Harry says, cagily, slipping off the desk and stepping out from around Tom. “I’ll see you soon. Don’t murder anyone in the interim.”

It’s cute, Tom muses, how Harry thinks he can control him, “I’ll try not to,” he says, watching as Harry steps away from him towards the fireplace, scooping up a handful of floo powder and dropping it in the hearth. The fire flares green, the a shade duller than Harry’s eyes, and Tom should really find a spell to heal the scarring across Harry’s right cornea, he thinks, as Harry vanishes through the flames.

Tom stares after Harry, thoughts drifting and stuttering to a pause. This was, he realises, the first time they have encountered each other since he discovered Harry was alive without fighting. Harry had been too relaxed, too satisfied … When had Harry ever gone along easily with what Tom had wanted--?

Something was wrong .

Harry had been too content, too quick to get out of there, hadn’t even contended Tom’s murder plans, too happy to bait him half-heartedly and lounge on Lucius’ desk--

He lunges for his desk drawer, the one Harry had been sat by. He tears it open, sending parchment and quills flying as he searches for it, surely Lucius Malfoy hadn’t been stupid enough to keep it here --

A howl of rage escapes him and the drawer crashes to the ground in his rage. Magic sparks in the air and were Harry not already gone, had Tom not already left him choking on his own blood once before he would rip him open again and leave him bleeding out onto the stones.

His diary is gone.

Warded in Malfoy’s desk, the spells aren’t even tattered shreds. They’re just gone . So distracted, so enamoured by Harry, he hadn’t even noticed Harry siphoning the spells.

The fury of his magic sends earth tremors through the manor. He grabs a messy handful of floo powder, dropping it in the fire and almost snarling out, “Granger’s flat,” because he might not know where Harry has taken up residence, but Harry will always leave himself vulnerable through his precious best friends--

The floo powder settles in the fire with a dull hiss and a single green spark and fizzle. He glares at it, grabs another handful. Had Harry drained it of it’s magic? That was just the sort of thing necromancers did, drain magic from people and spells and warded desks--

A wet splutter and the fire doesn’t burn green. No, he realises, someone has shut down the floo network, he realises, about the same time he hears spellfire and alarmed cries.

Attackers, he realises. Someone is trying to sneak into the manor, with less success than Harry had managed. From the sounds of it they’ve been found out while still in the grounds.

He guesses Harry was right - Grindelwald is sending men after him, scouting him out.

It’s perfect timing. Tom draws holly that warms at his touch, phoenix feather humming song in his ears.

He had been looking for someone to take his ire out on.

*

The body lies at a broken angle, blood pooling under it thick and viscous. Eyes are wide, open and drying cold and dead in the skull. Skin is mottled bruises and gasoline stained. “It’s good to know,” Tom Riddle says, flicking a speck of imaginary lint off his shoulder, “That when it comes down to it you’re all too incompetent to understand the instructions ‘take them alive’.”

If his Knights are quailing at his tone he doesn’t pay them any attention. He’s only vaguely aware of Malfoy, Lestrange and Rosier in the room. Greyback’s there too, and he won’t deny the werewolf had been useful. If only he had learnt restraint...

He eyes up the second acolyte of Grindelwald they captured who didn’t survive interrogation. Greyback ripped him to shreds .

Tom feels better. Less uncomfortable in his skin, less anger pouring off him. He’s still furious - to be mistaken over that assumption is a mistake the two in front of him will not forget - but it’s a simmering, targeted rage now. Harry stole his horcrux, fine , he probably thinks he’s doing it out of some misguided petty revenge scheme against Tom anyway. Or leverage - Harry would do it for something like blackmail.

This whole situation should not be an issue. Someone trying to kill him probably wouldn’t bother him much at all had Harry not stolen his horcrux .

It will be easily sorted - he just has to drag either Weasley or Granger here, maybe even Black or Lupin, and Harry will be begging him for forgiveness. Preferably on his knees--

The third attacker faired better than his companions. He is still alive at least, squirming and mumbling nonsensical words at Tom’s feet. Tom stands over him, tilting his head curiously at the balding, watery-eyed man.

“Please,” the man sobs for breath, “ Please , don’t kill me.”

How curious, he thinks, the quivering fool is actually British by accent.

“Why not?” he asks, “We killed everyone else. Three of you survived, of which one refused to talk, one I fed to the werewolves and the last one sits before me, just waiting to join his allies. Do you not want to join them? Are you not prepared to die for Grindelwald’s cause?”

“N-n-no, I didn’t w-w-want to-- I had no other choice, they’d have killed me! I couldn’t come back I had no other choice!”

“Then tell me - what is it that Grindelwald wants from me?”

“He wants a s-s-stone.”

“A stone?” Tom tilts his head, waiting, but the man offers nothing more, “Do elaborate. I’d hate to have to loosen your tongue.”

A terrified squeak. “Something of the Gaunts. He said you’d have it, the Gaunt’s stone!”

“Stone?” Tom asks, “I have a stone?”

“Family heirloom,” the man shudders, “A Gaunt heirloom--

A Gaunt heirloom, the Gaunts don’t have heirlooms, they pawned their wealth of years ago, all they had was the locket and the ring--

The ring , Tom realises, mind racing, they want the Gaunt ring , the Peverell ring, the ring that he gave Harry, that Harry still has, deep pitch stone on his finger and-- I want something the Dark Lord has , Harry had said, with a stone and a cloak and--

He’s a necromancer--

“I think the Potters are related to the Peverells,” Harry had told him once, “Guess that makes us cousins.”

That fucking bastard --

“P-please, they’ll kill me, Sirius will kill me, Grindelwald will kill me--”

“Sirius?” his attention drifts back to the man cowering before him, “Sirius Black?” Tom’s smile grows until it’s cheshire cat wide. He looks at the man before him. Weak, he thinks, and he meets watery eyes and rips into the man’s mind with little care. How curious , he thinks, and what perfectly good timing.

“You know,” Tom says, staring at the long-thought dead Peter Pettigrew, “There is one thing you could do for me.”

He may have just found his required leverage over Harry.

*

Grimmauld Place is gloomy and there is too much dust. Somewhere Kreacher creeps through probably doing anything but cleaning. There’s a hollow echo to the house, despite it’s close quarters and the way the rooms twist into each other in odd shapes and designs. The furniture is ancient, heavy beech stuff and there is the oddest arrangement of artifacts spread throughout the building. Harry fiddles with a locket he’d stolen off Kreacher. A Black family heirloom, he can just about make out a faded toujours purs in the metalwork. It’s polished to a sheen, an odd amber-green colour. Once belonging to Regulus Black, it will do for what Harry wants it for.

“Are you sure you don’t want a different house?” Sirius asks from where he’s been shoving artifacts into a hessian sack. Half of which Harry will drain of magic later for his uses, the other half are probably too cursed to warrant anything other than a swift fiendfyre. “This place is horrible.”

He asks this as if Harry hasn’t been living here for almost a year.

“Well it was this or the burnt out ruins of Mom and Dad’s house in Godric’s Hollow,” Harry says, tone bordering on teasing sardony, “Besides, I needed the library,” he says, because he does. The Black Library rivals Hogwarts in how much information has been hidden, ferreted and collected there, except unlike the Hogwarts Library the information found in the Black’s is very, very dark.

Sirius still looks dubious.

“I was probably going to sell it later,” he says with as easy shrug, “Give the muggles a heart attack when number 12 reappears in their street. But it’s not a bad house and I don’t have any bad memories associated with it. Privet Drive - I’d never go back there unless it was to burn it, you really don’t have to be here helping me clean.”

His godfather winces. He looks tired. Tired and old, Harry had always pictured Sirius as someone eternally twenty-one while growing up at Hogwarts. It’s only now he realises how wrong he was. “Leaving you this house and making it habitable is the least I can do,” he says, voice full of years of regret, “Are you sure you don’t want to throw the elf heads out?” Sirius says, looking like he wants to reach for one that is being used as a lampshade but decides better, “You’re not going to resurrect them, are you?”

“Not unless I need a house elf army,” Harry says, “And I like them. Gives the place personality.”

“Personality,” Sirius mutters, “Fucking creepy if you ask me,” his tone perks up, “Can you imagine the look on my mother’s portrait when I tell her about everything I got to throw out?”

Harry winces, “Uh, I might have gotten rid of her.”

Sirius pulls up short. “You what .” Tone flat, disbelieving, eyes wide.

“I got rid of her. I’m sorry. I should have made sure you were here to… I don’t know - say goodbye? Laugh in glee? I wasn’t sure it was going to work--”

“Harry, kiddo, my mother’s permanent sticking charms kept the grand piano stuck to the ceiling for… well, let’s just say it’s still stuck there - how on earth did you break it?”

Harry mumbles something. Sirius stares at him.

“Gonna have to repeat that.”

“I took out the wall!” Harry snaps, emphasises each word. “Stationary charm on the supports, a few bombardas on the surrounding wall and I removed the section with her portrait, then very hastily rebuilt the wall. She’s now in Kreacher’s cupboard if you want to speak to her.”

Or laugh at her, Harry thinks, concerned Sirius might break a rib he’s laughing so hard. He cracks a grin because he can appreciate Sirius’ pure unadulterated joy at his vandalism of the Black Family Home. “Took out the wall ,” Sirius chokes, “Wish I’d thought of that, Merlin , removed the whole wall --” he dissolves into howls for another moment, wiping away tears of mirth, “You know there are times I’m surprised you weren’t in Slytherin,” he chortles.

Harry shrugs one shoulder carelessly and neglects to mention he was a Slytherin hatstall, “Maybe I would be, now, if they resorted. People change.”

Sirius’ smile is wry and all too-knowing. The mirth fades, receptive to Harry’s sombre tone but the smile stays, strong and reassuring, “Sure, but at their base? They’re still the same. And if given the choice, you’d still choose Gryffindor, right?” Harry’s head snaps up sharply. “What? You think you’re the only one who got to choose between Slytherin and Gryffindor?” Sirius laughs, “It’s our choices that define us, Harry. That define you! It doesn’t matter that you’re playing with dark magic - don’t deny it, I know what it feels like and I know you stink of it - it doesn’t matter that you have a bloodline ability involving necromancy.”

“And if I kill people?” Harry asks, rhetorically, “I can do a lot worse than carve out a wall around an old portrait and resurrect a few dead things.”

“We’re all good and bad, Harry, what matters is what part of yourself you choose to act on.”

Choices, Harry thinks, define us, and yes, he had known this, but Sirius telling it to him again allows it to sink in with understanding he did not have previously.

“And if I make the wrong choices?” he asks, because he’s pretty sure Tom Riddle is all his wrong choices piled together in one person.

“Maybe,” Sirius says, “But I’ve seen good people broken by war and you-- you don’t break, Harry,” he steps forwards, a clenched fist pressing down over where Harry’s heart sits, “You still see the best in everyone. Even Tom Riddle,” he adds, as if hearing where Harry’s thoughts are going. “Your parents would be proud of the young man you grew up to be, and I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help.”

The stone on his ring is cold on his finger. So cold, and Harry has used it only three times since the cave. He told nobody he used it successfully, but he has told Ron and Hermione he has it. Sirius he had not, because he knew what Sirius’ request would be. While still playing with the borders of life and death Harry was not comfortable breaching that issue but now--

Harry opens his mouth to tell him, to offer him that chance--

He never gets it. The front door slams and the sound of arguing voices drifts into the drawing room. Harry and Sirius exchange a confused look before turning to step back into the hall. Below them by the front door Ron, Remus and Hermione are crowded together.

“I’m just saying, Bill got clawed up by a werewolf and apart from some preferences for red meat, he’s fine ! You’re being a selfish idiot and Harry and Sirius will tell you the same.”

“I’m a monster. The child is going to be a monster. How could I have done this, how could I have cursed an unborn child--”

“There is no evidence that’s true!” Hermione says, curls bouncing as she whirls on Remus, “Shifted werewolves birth full wolf cubs, but that’s due to the influence of the lunar phase! Unless you had some weird kinky full moon sex--”

“Hermione --”

“Then there stands to be no reason for any of this… this… idiocy --”

Sirius sticks his head over the banister, “Kinky,” he says, and Ron jumps in surprise and trips over the troll umbrella stand, “But also my cousin, Remus, please, stop--”

“Child?” Harry goes for the stairs, bounding down them in two and three step increments, “Remus, what’s all this about a child?”

Remus pales alarmingly, the scars on his face stand out sharply and a floor above Sirius lets out a whoop, “You sly dog,” he says, grey eyes gleaming, “You knocked up my cousin! Oh, wait until the Black Family portraits hear about this - Andromeda’s half-blood daughter having a baby cub--”

“Tonks is pregnant?” Harry asks, “Congratulations! That’s amazing… why are you looking like that?”

“What if I’ve cursed it?” Remus almost wails, “Why can none of you realise that? It might be a monster like me --”

There is a loud crunch. Harry, who had thrown himself to the side to avoid Sirius’ mad dart down the stairs, scoops over to where Remus lies on the ground, dazed and clutching his nose. Sirius stands there, shaking out his fist from where he had punched Remus solidly in the face, “Never,” Sirius says, “Never call yourself that. You are not a monster. And your child will not be one. Even if they get the werewolf curse--”

“Which they won’t, I’ve been trying to tell you, it’s not genetic--”

“Even if they like their meat raw,” Sirius shrugs, “They will be your child and you will love them. And I will love them, second Marauder baby boy or girl, and Harry will love them, and Ron and Hermione and if you call yourself a monster again, I’ll break your nose.”

Remus huffs, “I think you already did,” he says, but it’s muffled and comes out sounding more like ‘tink oo ‘ready ‘id.’.

“Episkey ,” Harry says, fixing his nose for him, “If Sirius doesn’t,” he says, “I will,” he offers Remus a hand.

The man takes it, tiredly, still looking anxious, “You’re sure?” he asks Hermione who just huffs.

“Don’t question her,” Ron says, sagely, with the experience of someone who knows from experience.

“It’s not a blood curse, like a Maledictus, it’s a magical disease, honestly, Remus, I’d have thought you’d know this, you’re the werewolf.”

Remus looks sheepish, “I just… Dora told me and I--”

“Oh Merlin,” Sirius says, “You panicked and ran out of there, didn’t you?”

“No!”

Sirius makes a gesture, “Someone get him a drink, we need to send him back before my baby cousin thinks you’re leaving her--”

Ron materialises a bottle of firewhiskey from somewhere. Sometimes Harry is scared by his friend’s ability to locate the nearest bottle of alcohol, especially as he rarely sees Ron ever drinking the stuff. He shoves it at Remus who, still looking slightly dazed, just kind of takes a swig of the whole bottle.

“Now,” Sirius says, as Harry opens the front door and Sirius boots Remus out, “Go back to Nymphadora and tell her how thrilled you are.”

“I, yes, thank you--”

“I better be godfather,” Sirius says, as Remus disapparates with a crack. There’s a pause as he stares at the spot on the porch where Remus had been standing, “He took the firewhiskey… that was my best firewhiskey…”

Hermione sighs, “Thank you for talking sense into him. Or punching sense… he turned up at the Burrow looking like he wanted someone to put him out of his misery.”

Sirius makes to close the door, when there is a sudden descent of something feathery and black and he lets out a girly shriek. The door slams and there’s a thud of something hitting wood.

Harry stares, “Did you just slam the door on an owl?” he asks.

“No.”

“It wasn’t Errol, was it?” Ron asks, anxiously from the end of the corridor, “I don’t think that bird will survive flying into any more windows--”

Harry pushes past Sirius to open the door, fishing up the dazed out that lies there. “No, it’s okay, it was a Malfoy owl. I recognise it from when Draco used to get mail from home.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Ron sighs, then stiffens, “Wait, why are you getting mail from Malfoy ?” he asks, but Hermione’s mouth opens in a soft ‘oh’ of understanding and Ron’s expression just drops, “So now he’s sending you love letters?” he throws his hands up, stalking down the corridor to the kitchen, heard to be muttering, “Why did it have to be Tom freaking Riddle?” as he went.

Harry ,” Hermione says softly, looking at him wide wide-eyes as he slides a finger under the parchment seal. Sirius isn’t saying anything, just staring curiously, but not judgmentally.

“Stop saying my name like that every time Tom Riddle gets brought up in conversation,” Harry rolls his eyes, “We’ve worked out our differences. For now.”

“I didn’t take the Dark Lord Voldemort as someone who would be sending you love letters,” Sirius says.

“I don’t think Riddle knows how to love,” Hermione scoffs, and Harry would protest if it probably wasn’t true.

“If he hurts you,” Sirius says, falling into the role of overprotective godfather, “Then I’ll kill him.”

“You can’t kill Riddle,” Harry says, because he really doesn’t want to find out what happens when you try to murder someone with horcruxes - he’s not expecting anything good, “He’s immortal,” he says, “And don’t worry about me, Tom can’t kill me--”

“Are you immortal too?” Hermione asks, “I mean, of course Riddle would find a way to inflict himself on the world for longer but you--”

“Hermione, I turn into a spectral dog who is meant to act as a spirit guide to the underworld, I resurrect dead things… I’d probably still die if you stabbed me, but I’m not exactly normal anymore.”

“Still can’t believe you get to be an actual grim ,” Sirius says, enviously, “Trelawney would have a heart attack if she saw you,” he’s clearly trying to lighten the mood. Harry wonders how to explain that turning into an actual death omen isn’t a good thing.

That’s the question though, isn’t it? Is he immortal? Tom had certainly assumed so readily enough, but the honest truth is he doesn’t know. He should have died, in that cave under the rubble and the blood and with the claws of a vetala in his shoulder and a fenris’ jaws around his hand.

He didn’t.

Necromancy runs through his blood and his magic and twists gold sparks around him. He is black fur and bone shard teeth and a howl that can summon the dead. A ring of onyx, a cloak of lethifold and a wand of eternality. The last might not yet be his, but it will be . There’s no question to it - the Hallows are his birthright. Tom might be descended from the older brother, but Harry is the one with gold death magic sparking in his blood.

He is all things not quite right and so no, Harry thinks, death will not comes for him easily, the way it does for mortal man, but unlike Tom he knows one thing.

Death is absolute. Death is inevitable. It will come for him one day. Both of them - not even Tom can escape it. And Harry knows when that moment comes he will be the one to tear Tom from this world.

He unfolds the parchment and pauses as he reads the short missive there. It’s clear and to the point. He swears, looking up to meet Hermione and Sirius’ gazes.

“Do I get to try and kill Riddle?” Sirius sounds way too eager.

“No,” he says, mulling over the letter, “But how do you feel about killing Peter Pettigrew?”

Chapter Text

“I warn you, Tom’s probably going to be a little pissed at me.”

Harry’s probably underestimating that. Tom is going to be furious . Harry stole his horcrux. His only horcrux, Harry suspects, it certainly feels that way. He’d chosen his diary with the kind of careless easy thoughtlessness that suggested he was planning for more than the one horcrux. Harry remembers the black leather bound book clutched in Tom’s grip that night he’d confronted Tom about the Chamber.

Merlin , had he’d been planning on making one that night? His thoughts twist with horror. It had only been Harry’s interference that had stopped that from happened. Possibly Tom would have made more, but instead he has just the diary. Ink drips into the pages and the book breathes it in, a living breathing piece of Tom’s soul in his hands.

So vulnerable, Harry thinks, the power he has with the diary is heady. It would be so easy to crush the soul fragment, and then the next time a knife blade buries itself in Tom Riddle it will be fatal, and not just an inconvenience but--

He can’t. Even if he could bring himself to kill even the diary, he can’t. He needs it now, as leverage to trade. He should to all extents and purpose leave Peter Pettigrew to rot but--

Tom knows him too well, Harry thinks wryly, and he knows Harry wants answers and revenge. And even if not him, then Sirius, thrumming with nervous tension next to him. The gates of Malfoy Manor open to them, and it’s a short, tense walk to the front door.

“I can’t wait to kill that rat,” Sirius says, gnashing at his teeth a little like a rabid dog. Harry worries, sometimes, how much of this is from his imprisonment, and how much is the Black madness finally rearing its ugly head.

“Just don’t panic if he threatens me,” Harry says, “Tom, I mean, not Pettigrew. Or draws his wand. I don’t need you to be the overprotective godfather right now--”

He’s right to warn Sirius, he’s not even a step in past the front door than something is slamming into him, throwing him to one side. Not a spell, no, Tom knows Harry can deflect spells, drain them, cannibalise their magic. No, Tom’s ready and in a manner similar to how he’d once thrown himself at Harry to get his bag and wand back, he throws his full weight on Harry to get his diary back.

He sees Sirius look alarmed, but Tom’s minions are there - Avery and Lestrange with their wands out and Sirius snarls wordlessly at them.

It’s funny, Harry thinks, as Tom pins Harry to the ground, how Riddle’s the compulsive thief yet it’s Harry who has enjoyed stealing Riddle’s belongings from him. His wand, his ring, his horcrux--

Where is it ?” Tom’s words have a hissy quality that suggest they’re bordering on parseltongue.

“Why?” Harry asks, cheekily in a tone he had perfected to get a rise out of Severus Snape, “Worried I’ll read all your dirty little secrets? Dear Diary, today I fantasised about killing those rotten muggles at my orphanage, in the end I cast fiendfyre and watched it burn--

A slam of fist against the ground next to his head. Tom is fuming, brown eyes blazing red, “My horcrux ,” he snarls out, the words barely audible, and the sentences that follow are definitely parseltongue because Harry can’t understand them, they’re bone grating hisses - an unearthly sound that sends shivers down his spine and he can’t help the shudder as it crawls over his skin.

Relaaax ,” he manages to get out, but Tom is looking at him with contentment that he’s managed to get under Harry’s skin, “I’d give it to you except you’re kind of pinning me to the ground.”

Tom is on his feet and pulling Harry up so fast he gets a headrush. He stands there confidently, his minions still keeping Sirius away. He doesn’t look like someone who would scrape to getting their hands dirty, not when magic was available but Harry enjoys being the exception to Tom Riddle’s perfectly ordered rules.

Even the look of slight surprise in his minion’s eyes at seeing Tom Riddle launch himself bodily at Harry is entertaining. They don’t know, after all, why Tom didn’t just curse him.

Their wands still won’t fight each other. Regardless of who holds which one, regardless of the crack through the yew, the phoenix feathers still spit gold sparks the moment they’re brought against their original owners.

“Rude reception,” Sirius snorts, where he’s caged in by the door, “You invited us --”

“I invited Harry, but it’s nice to see he brought a mutt with him. I hear dogs are meant to be loyal,” Tom drawls, “Lucius, show your cousin-in-law in.”

From where he had been lurking unnoticed near the stairs Lucius Malfoy steps forwards. He looks disgusted at having the scorned son of the House of Black here in his own home. Glancing at Harry still staring down Tom, he looks more confused. Uncertain.

Fearful.

“Harry, come on,” Sirius says, stepping around the unmovable wall of Avery and Lestrange. He makes no move to follow Malfoy.

“Harry won’t be going anywhere until he gives me back my property,” Tom says, curtly, eyes bright. He steps forwards, back into Harry’s personal space. Tom has two modes - obsession and murder - and right now Harry is the target of both of them. “ Darling ,” Tom’s tone is dangerous. Warning signs that read desolation. “Be a good boy now and give me back what you stole.”

“Let’s see Pettigrew first,” Harry says, cocking his head to one side. Mahogany eyes flash crimson and instead of moving away Harry reaches out, trailing his finger along the locket, much like he had the last time he had been here. His fingers curl, twisting until he can press them to Tom’s bounding pulse, nails scratching carelessly at pale skin beneath. “So much fuss over one silly little book,” he mocks. “Don’t worry, it’s safe. As if I would do something stupid with it, it being what it is. Think better of me than that.”

His hand is swatted away, fingers raking through his hair and yanking his gaze up cruelly. Green eyes meet red. “Then tell me, sweetheart , where it is . Legilimens.

Riddle dives into his mind carelessly. It should hurt more than it does, Harry thinks, Tom is not being careful. He rips through Harry’s thoughts like he had ripped through the Gaunt shack, tearing apart furniture with the fury of his magic. Images flash across the reflections in Harry’s eyes, memories of Ron, Hermione, Remus, Sirius, Hogwarts, Tom--

Harry is, and probably always will be, absolutely terrible at Occlumency. He doesn’t think that way, can’t just shove his clutter away. He lets it overwhelm him, consume him instead.

So instead of leaving his mind blank and empty, he balls it up and shoves it at Tom. The cave, light slamming shut as Tom turns away, vetala lashing out of the dark and a huge wolf with daggered jaws leaping for him with death in it’s bite and ghosts in its wake and bones scattered around them--

Tom tears out of his mind, away from the wolf that threatens to consume him. His mouth is twisted in a snarl, limbs trembling, eyes glossy from the images Harry forced upon him. This is, Harry realises, the first time he has even given Tom hint of what happened to him. Laughter bubbles up and spills from his lips. Harry stumbles, a pounding headache starting up behind his eyes, but stays standing. Riddle’s followers are staring at Harry with fear, and Sirius looks pale. "So scared of death, Tom," he croons, “Like it's some sort of punishment. But it's not a punishment, it's an inevitability."

For a moment there is nobody else standing there except Tom and Harry, tearing each other to jagged pieces. Then Tom spins away, backing down, “Pettigrew is this way,” he says, sharply. His followers jerk at the sudden change in tone.

Harry slides into Tom’s shadow like he’s meant to be there, and even Avery, Tom’s right hand man, doesn’t attempt to push in front of him.

*

From the drawing room, a gloomy staircase curls down. From the grandest room of the house, straight into the cellar which is easily the dingiest. Pillars are spaced intermittently throughout it and the room itself is gloomy. It’s a miserable place and it would probably be damp but Malfoys don’t do damp or mold, meaning it’s simple unpleasantly cold radiating from the stone, despite the heat of the outside.

Malfoy, Avery and Lestrange stop at the top of the stairs as Tom leads them down into the cellar. “There you go,” he gestures to where Peter Pettigrew is imprisoned, “A small group tried to infiltrate the manor. They were dealt with. Three were captured, he’s the last one alive--”

Black lunges for the shape huddled at the end of the room, chained and bound but Harry gets in his way, “Relax,” he snaps at Black, “Give it a fucking moment --”

“Harry, he is the reason Lily and James are dead! That traitor is the reason I didn’t get a chance to raise you--”

Pain is visible in Harry’s eyes. He did always wear his emotions on his sleeve. “They’ve been dead for twenty years,” Harry hisses at Black, voice low and urgent, “What else did you get out of him?” Harry turns to Tom, “Did you need anything from us, or is he just a present?”

“I like to think of it more as a gesture of goodwill,” Tom’s sharp eyes rake over Harry. So defiant , he thinks, wondering if he can make Harry tow the line.

Does he even want Harry to kneel in submission? He’s not sure.

He does want his horcrux back, so right now he enjoys pushing on known weak spots. Watching Harry tear himself apart on his own insecurities. “I know, of course,” he begins sagely, “That his presence will not bring back your parents, nor will it stop Black’s foolish decision to run off to the continent instead of looking after his charge--”

“He betrayed them.” Oh good, Black is digging his own hole, “He was a threat, a danger to Harry--”

“He was an excuse to satisfy a foolish impulse and all it achieved was leaving your godson to grow up with abusive muggles.”

“Tom .”

Black flinches and Harry tenses. Good, Tom thinks. Harry’s glare is absolutely filthy , he knows exactly what Tom’s doing here.

“Think of it as a gift if it suits you,” he says with an easy shrug, “A good note to start off our… relationship .” Partnership, had been the word they’d used, ally works as well but this moment is too precious to pass up. Harry doesn’t react, but Black looks like he’s just been stabbed, like the blade is still inserted and is being twisted around inside him. “It might satisfying some small modicum of revenge.”

“Oh, it will satisfy something,” Black reminds him of Bellatrix in that moment, and something must ring warnings to Harry because he’s there, in front of Black.

“Don’t kill him,” he hisses, “Feed him to the dementors or something, Sirius, my parents wouldn’t want you to become a murderer over them.”

Black looks distinctly put-out by that, “You weren’t advocating that earlier,” he points out.

“Yeah, well, I’ve changed my mind,” Harry says, sharply, “Choices, remember?”

Curious. “Did you change your mind before or after you ripped out a man’s throat?” Tom asks, lightly. He can practically see the conflict in Harry’s eyes, because Harry might be a killer, but he’s not a murderer and there is a difference. He had killed the man at the Ministry for a reason, but right now pointing out that the reason was to save Tom’s life is no less helpful than futile denials of his sins.

He wonders how far he can push Harry - what exactly would it take to blur that line, salazar, corrupting him would be beautiful --

“He deserves death for what he did,” Black says, the brash Gryffindor still wanting to rush in.

“Let me talk to him first then,” Harry challenges, “I deserve that much at least, don’t I?”

Pettigrew is a messy pile of limbs and chains and bruises from where Tom’s Knights have been less than kind. He stirs as they approach, and his gaze falls on Tom first and foremost, to be filled with an indescribable terror and mute obedience--

Then they fall on Harry.

“J-James?” he asks, cowering back, trying to make himself smaller, “ James --”

“No,” Harry’s voice is flat. Cold. A door slamming in the face. “Harry. James is dead because of you, Peter, surely you know that?” His head tilts, “Although you can talk to James, if you’d like--”

Whatever necromantic skill Harry is referring to, it goes over Pettigrew’s head. He quivers, “No no no , I’m sorry, I’m--” he spots Sirius, voice going squeaky, “ Sirius , you’re here? You’re, oh, thank goodness you’re-you’re-you’re safe--”

“No thanks to you.”

Pettigrew’s gaze is shifty, cagey as it darts from one to the other. He knows, can see the futility of his situation, there is no escape. It settles on Tom once more with a final kind of certainty.

“What actually happened?” Tom’s curious. “How did he end up working for Grindelwald?” He knows Pettigrew was integral somehow in the death of the Potters, but he doesn’t know how --

“He was their Secret Keeper,” Harry says, like it explains everything, and in some ways it does, “They went into hiding,” he adds, “Dumbledore was parading the prophecy around like some kind of live bait, and so they went into hiding from Grindelwald. They used Pettigrew as Secret Keeper because nobody would think stupid, meek, useless little Peter would be the one they trusted.” His words sting and Pettigrew flinches at each one, “But like the coward he was, he lasted only a few months before running straight to Grindelwald.”

“It wasn’t like that, Harry, p-p-please, please--

Harry ignores the pleading, “The rest is history. Grindelwald attacked Godric’s Hollow. He murdered my father. He murdered my mother. I still hear her screams when the dementors get too near me, do you know that?”

The man lets out a pathetic moan at that. Tom frowns, because even he wasn’t aware of that tidbit of information although he does recall Harry had a rather nasty reaction to the creatures.

“He would have killed me too had Dumbledore not shown up. Duelled Grindelwald to a standstill and the Hungarian fled to the continent. And you fled right after with Sirius on your heels yelling vengeance and when he finally caught up to you, instead of facing him like a man, you stepped back and let Grindelwald’s men arrest him.” Harry shakes his head, emotions tearing at old old wounds, “You’re the worst kind of Gryffindor. The one who acts recklessly without thought for consequences.”

“I w-wasn’t b-brave like James, or c-clever like Sirius,” Pettigrew moans, “The Dark Lord - he had power you can only dream of, I had no choice --”

“My vote is to feed you to a dementor,” Harry says, dispassionately, “May you hear my parents being murdered over and over again. But first Sirius wants to have a little chat. He’s been waiting twenty years - it’s cruel to deny him any longer.”

“H-Harry, please , kind Harry, you look so much like Lily, like James --”

DON’T TALK TO HIM ABOUT LILY AND JAMES!” Sirius snarls, bounding forwards now he’s been given permission. Tom has to hand it to him - Harry his dogfather well trained, “You don’t get to say their names,” Sirius backhands Pettigrew sending the rat-faced man cowering to the floor.

“How muggle,” Tom murmurs, watching as Sirius punches the man again. One well-placed crucio would have had the man screaming for hours. One well placed crucio had in fact had him screaming for hours.

Harry is looking at him, green and white-glazed eyes contemplating something Tom can only guess at. There is another whimper as Sirius continues to lay into Pettigrew. “Leave him,” Harry says, abruptly into the gloom, “Mom and Dad wouldn’t want you to stoop to his level in the name of revenge.” His gaze is challenging as he glances at Tom, but he doesn’t say anything. He just watches - he wants to see how this all unfolds.

Pettigrew isn’t moving - he hopes Black didn’t knock him unconscious, he still needs to hear his cue.

“Fine,” Sirius stalks back over, stiff-legged, “I agree with Harry, we hand him over the dementors.”

“How disappointing,” Tom intones, voice flat. The look he receives from Black is full of disgust.

“You hurt Harry again,” he says, “And I’ll kill you myself.”

Tom laughs, “Wow, the overprotective parent speech, I didn’t think I was entitled to one of those. Especially not from you . You weren’t much of a guardian, after all,” he sneers, “Imprisoned on the wrong side of the stalemate for twelve years before they finally released you.”

He’s really enjoying rubbing this in. He might still be sans horcrux, but right now baiting Sirius Black makes this whole venture almost worth it.

“They didn’t release me,” Sirius says, stiffly, not even trying to deny the claims about his poor guardianship, “I escaped. Shifted into a dog and left.”

“Only took you a decade,” Tom drawls.

Enough ,” Harry snarls, and for a moment there is too much gold in his green eyes, too much death magic pouring off him and even Tom knows when to stop pushing, “Can we stop arguing long enough to drag Pettigrew to the DMLE? I can let Ron and Susan know we’re coming.”

“Someone will need to hit him with an anti-animagus charm,” Sirius says, blithely, and there’s a moment’s pause that takes a few seconds too long. Pettigrew freezes, chest heaving and eyes widening, realisation hitting them all at the same time.

“Why?” Tom takes up his cue, “What do you mean we need to hit him with an anti-animagus charm--?”

“He’s a rat ,” Harry’s eyes widen in realisation. Clearly he’d forgotten Pettigrew had been an animagus, he’d never met the man after all, and he’d assumed there would be anti-animagus wards except no, there aren’t, Harry had waltzed in only the other day due to that exact defect-- “ Shit -- stupefy --”

The stunner misses as Pettigrew twists out of the way, form shrinking smaller and smaller and it’s ugly, his transformation. Nothing like Harry’s light switch flicker; his limbs shorten and hair sprouts rapidly, horrifyingly, he forces the magic to transform him, it doesn’t flow easily.

Tom could probably shoot a spell or two at him, and for a moment his fingers touch holly.

He doesn’t draw. He’s got an excuse, after all, there is no reason he should know that Pettigrew is an animagus.

Harry shoots another stunner and misses, and further spells are disrupted when Sirius Black pushes past him, sending Harry off balance. Black lets out a loud, furious, “NO,” and throws himself at the rat. He shifts as he does, his own transformation smoother, faster, a heat haze and a twist of limbs and he lands with four paws and a snarl. It’s only now that Tom can really appreciate the difference between Black’s dog form and Harry’s grim - the dog is half the size of the grim. It’s a mongrel; some kind of black german shepherd or wolfhound mix but Tom can’t tell quite what. In the gloom of the cellar he only gets a glimpse of the rat and dog before both are lunging away.

Shit ,” Harry swears again, “Padfoot!” he snaps, but the dog’s already at the stairs.

“Oh dear,” Tom says, and it falls far too flat. He should probably try harder, but then again Harry had always been the one to see right through him. Right now Harry looks too stressed to be worrying about Tom, “Shame Malfoy can’t put better wards on his manor,” he drawls, gesturing, “After you, he shouldn’t be hard to recapture.”

“No,” Harry says, bounding towards the stairs, “He really shouldn’t-- Avery, after Sirius, don’t lose them , Malfoy, put up some anti-animagus charms on your manor, Lestrange, seal off the main exits--”

Glee bubbles in Tom at the ease at which Harry commands his Knights. Said Knights, still lingering in the drawing room, freeze. They have no idea what to make of Harry or his instructions. Avery starts to move, but pauses, looking reflexively to Tom who just smiles mildly, “Well?” he asks, “You heard him.”

There’s a mad scramble as the men hasten to obey.

“I can see why you keep them around,” Harry tilts his head, consideringly, muses quiet but still audible.

“We should go after Pettigrew,” Tom says, and there is precisely zero urgency in his voice. He should probably try harder, he thinks, taking a step past Harry as if to follow Avery out of the door--

“Tom--”

Harry had always seen right through him.

Tom shouldn’t have turned his back on Harry. He feels the change in magic in the air, feels tension crackle between them as he turns to green eyes burning with fury and a yew wand pointed at his heart. “You knew ,” Harry says, accusingly.

“Knew what , Harry, what are you--?”

“You knew he was an animagus, you didn’t cast those charms on purpose, what game are you playing ?”

“No game,” Tom says, hands raised, palms forwards to show he is unarmed, “An easy mistake--”

“You don’t make mistakes,” Harry snarls, pressing his wand harder against Tom’s sternum. “You planned for this. You really expect me to believe you, of all people, forgot to put up anti-animagus charms, especially after I used them to waltz off with your precious diary? No, you meant for him to escape. You meant for Pettigrew to get free and like a coward he’s going to run straight for his master.”

He gives up the facade - his charming and innocent act had never worked on Harry, not even at Hogwarts, and like always Harry sees straight through it. His placid meant-to-be-soothing smile drops and he lets his hands fall, “You’re right,” he says with an easy shrug, “Happy?”

Tom --” Harry sounds more disappointed than angry. The wand relaxes from where it’s resting against his chest. That’s boring, Tom thinks, where’s all the righteous Gryffindor anger--

The door slams and Avery appears, eyes wide and mouth halfway through a “my lord” when he sees the pair of them and abruptly backtracks--

It’s enough. Harry twists, distracted in that moment and Tom grabs his holly wand from his belt, lifting it up--

He doesn’t even get to cast a spell. The phoenix feathers get within a metre of each other and his whole wand feels like it’s on fire in his hands. Red and gold sparks fizz at the end and both Tom and Harry flinch back, dropping their wands in alarm. Harry stares in mock-betrayal at the yew, but Tom just laughs. “It gets more temperamental all the time,” he says, almost fond. “Just like you, darling .”

“My lord?” Avery asks, hesitantly, “We’ve blocked the exits - there’s no way Pettigrew is leaving--”

“Good,” Tom’s smile is thin. He waves a hand dismissively. Avery doesn’t argue, vanishing back out the door - he, at least, knows not to question Tom’s orders.

Harry’s glaring now. “You know Pettigrew will summon Grindelwald right here,” Harry says, voice rough, “He knows you’re descended from the Gaunts, he knows they held the stone last, he’s going to be coming after you with everything he has.”

Tom shrugs, uncaring, “I’ll be fine. After all - I don’t have the Resurrection Stone, do I? You do.”

Harry stiffens. His eyes flash with fury, betrayal, a raw kind of wariness that reminds Tom of the grim, skulking in the shadows, “So you made sure I’d be here, you threw me under the bus --”

“No no no !” Tom hisses, Harry is misunderstanding, “He’s coming here , now, sure, he’ll have the wand , that’s what you need, right?” he presses forwards. They’re both wandless and so he grabs onto Harry’s empty hand, feeling the frantic pulse beneath his fingers, “It’s a trap, sure, but not for you, for him. We can take him easily, we can end this --”

Harry tears his hand free of Tom’s grip, “That,” he says, “Is not how you plan a trap, Tom, why on earth didn’t you tell me ?”

“Tell you?” Tom laughs, “You act as if I’m meant to trust you after you stole my horcrux--”

“Oh please , you don’t trust anyone, you wouldn’t have trusted me horcrux or not. Besides - you’re the one who is going around tearing their soul to shreds , you don’t even realise what effect it will have--”

“I do trust you,” Tom emphasis, but Harry’s gaze is skeptical, “More than the other Knights, at least--”

“Sure, that’s why it was in Lucius Malfoy’s drawer --”

“Are you jealous ?” Tom’s having difficulty pinning Harry’s emotions down.

He’s said the wrong thing. Harry’s fury flares, magic cracking in the air, “You set this up as a trap, Tom, to lead Grindelwald right to us, to me , to the Hallows , don’t pretend you’re not clever, don’t pretend you didn’t think about that. But you - your stupid, irrational emotional petty self probably thought that was a great plan. Like immortality. Like horcruxes. Like breaking your soul, your very being into pieces. You think it makes you greater but it doesn’t, it makes you lesser. You split yourself smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left.”

Harry presses forwards, shoving Tom back with a palm to his shoulder. Tom stumbles slightly, moving backwards and Harry uses that, stepping neatly around him to scoop up his wand.

“You should have known better,” Harry says, twisting to him, “You of all people should know that nothing is guaranteed. Not death and certainly not immortality.”

He’s holding something. His wand (Tom’s wand) in one hand, and in his other--

No.

His diary, black leather, his name embossed in gold, how come he hadn’t noticed it was there -- he can feel his magic all over the thing, it’s not a transfigured copy, it’s definitely his but--

Surely he should have noticed the presence of his own soul--

And now Harry holds it out in condemnation and damnation, fingers curling over the cover, splaying out sacrificially intimately over the cover.

He reaches, but he’s too slow before he even begins.

Pyrkagia ,” Harry snaps out, voice brittle like old plastic and Tom sees red. Harry might be better at playing with dead things and draining magic, but Tom had mastered wandless magic by the time he was eight. If it’s not necromancy Harry’s own wandless ability is and always will be shit. It’s easy to send a surge of raw power to send Harry slamming into the wall with a wave of his hand.

It’s already too late. A phoenix of fiendfyre flares out and consumes the diary like it’s been starved of food. The burning firebird and diary drop to the ground as Tom grabs for his wand, throwing water charms and starving the oxygen of the area. For a moment the phoenix flares up over the book, wings spread like it’s poised to attack him, and then the water drags it’s form into oblivion.

It doesn’t matter. The diary is a smoking, charred wreck . He grabs at it - it still resembles a book. Horcruxes are only destroyed if they’re damaged beyond repair, he tries to reassure himself, but the water soaked pages are limp. As he turns them they filter to ash and float away. The binding glue has melted, and it drips burning onto his fingers. He barely notices. The smell of burnt leather permeates the air.

Harry drags himself up from where Tom’s magic had thrown him sideways into the wall. He looks distinctly satisfied as Tom pages through the book. “What’s a little betrayal between friends?” Harry taunts, like they’re still squabbling fifth years.

“You dare ,” Tom snarls at him, feeling like a starving predator hungering for blood, “You might not be disposable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make you hurt --”

“You’re cute when you’re angry,” Harry mocks, “Like you expect me to quiver and bow for forgiveness, to kiss at your feet--” he hisses in pain as Tom’s wildfire wandless magic pins him to the wall. There is a snap as his head cracks backwards against plaster, “Well I’m not going to,” his grin is still tinged too triumphant, “We could ruin each other, you and I, but luckily for you I’m feeling nice.”

Nice ?” Tom’s finger curls into the ash that was the diary, “You call this--” he pauses. His magic covers the thing, it’s definitely his diary but--

It’s just a diary.

It feels like it had only ever just been a diary.

There isn’t a trace of dark magic in the diary, not even a scarred remnant--

He whirls on where Harry is grinning, his magic releasing the necromancer who stumbles slightly but stays standing. His smirk twists up along his scars, and it looks cruel, “It’s empty,” Tom says - asks - but it’s more of a statement than question. Harry still looks like he’s having the time of his life, and ‘ think better of me than that’ Harry’s voice echoes in his head, “It was empty when you burnt it, it wasn’t a horcrux it was just a book but--” His mind races, “Where’s the soul fragment?” he asks, because there is no question that this is his diary, he can still taste his magical signature all over it, it’s just… not a horcrux.

It’s not his horcrux. Which means... “Where’s the horcrux , what did you do ?”

He wouldn’t put it past Harry to drain the magic from the soul fragment at this point. He’s honestly not even sure what that would do to it. “I told you,” Harry says, straightening his clothes, “It’s safe. But you have to trust me, Tom.”

“Point made ,” his tone would be cold were it not suddenly shaking from shock. Blazing fury like ice in his veins freezes him. Just the consideration, the thought... His heart is still racing. His hands are shaking from the raw terror at thinking he’d lost his horcrux--

“It’s okay,” Harry croons, stepping forwards until he’s back in Tom’s personal space, reaching out cautiously but not quite touching, “Tom, it’s okay , I’ll keep it safe. You trust me, right?” It’s almost meant to be comforting, except there’s still that tinge of unstable humour in his tone.

Who’s manipulating who, here, Tom wonders. Him, pushing Pettigrew around the board to watch Harry and those he loves panic and run after him, or Harry, blackmailing him with his own soul?

Harry’s fingers hover above his cheek, like he’s considering pressing forwards for a kiss. His gaze is considering - warring emotions reflective of Tom’s own superficial moods. “If you split your soul again,” Harry breathes against him, “I’ll destroy it.”

He’s not bluffing. Not this time.

“If you destroy it,” Tom barters back, “I’ll kill Granger and Weasley.”

“You can try.”

“Maybe later,” he considers, “But don’t doubt that I know all the ways I can ruin you, Harry Potter.”

“Oh Tom,” Harry murmurs, “Can’t you see you already have?”

There’s a flash of silver and the pair draw apart, Harry words heavy in the air. A patronus lands between them, forming into a silver dog. Black’s voice emits from it. “Pettigrew’s going after the warding stones. He’s going to summon Grindelwald.”

*

They find Malfoy near the Entrance Hall looking hassled. He’s probably not used to people breaking into his manor, let alone three incidents in one week, “Your warding stones?” Harry pauses to ask.

“In the East Wing,” Lucius says. He looks highly distressed. Harry is hard-pressed to tell if that’s because he’s here, standing at Tom’s right hand like he was made to be there, if it’s because Sirius Black is running around his manor like a madman or if there is the impending risk of the protective spells tied into the manor falling. Harry wonders where Narcissa is, no doubt avoiding this disaster, avoiding the young Dark Lord taking up residence in their manor.

“Black’s already heading there,” Lestrange says - Rabastan, Harry has no doubt that the moment Tom decided to get Harry here, he sent Rodolphus and Bellatrix far away. “Avery went with him--”

“It’s always good to have a Gryffindor rush in first like a fool to spring any traps,” Tom drawls, stalking eastwards. Harry waits a moment. He’s amused when both Malfoy and Lestrange make no motion to follow Tom, bodies unnaturally tense and clearly waiting for him. The fear and awe is evident in Lestrange’s eyes, Lucius simply hides it better.

Harry reluctantly follows Tom.

He doesn’t want to. Right now he wants to grab Sirius and get the hell out . He doesn’t want to think about Tom. He doesn’t want to think about how everything he does revolves around him. About how he’s playing five steps ahead, and he knows Tom is too. About how every interaction is to get another rise out of the other followed by petty revenge. Tom tries to kill Harry. Harry haunts Tom. Tom messes up Harry’s plans. Harry steals Tom’s horcrux. Tom makes traps without Harry’s knowledge. Harry burns Tom’s former-horcrux to ash.

This is Harry and Tom, trapped in mad mad circles of each other’s orbit, two suns burning out into black holes.

It’s destructive and wrong and intrinsically broken and yet it’s the worst kind of addiction because it’s one he can’t break. There is no getting off this train even if Harry wanted to. He will continue to chase Tom Riddle, let the other man chase him until they destroy each other (and Harry doesn’t doubt that fact, he knows they will destroy each other eventually).

But until then he’ll enjoy the ride.

They run into Sirius - or to be more accurate Sirius runs into them - around a few corners. Avery is catching his breath behind and Sirius looks to be some unstoppable creature of vengeance. Harry tries to catch hold of him, to pause him, “Sirius,” he hisses, “Stop a moment, Sirius --”

“Harry, let me do this,” Sirius pleads. His gaze is that of a man far younger than he looks. He never did get a chance to grow up, Harry realises, a young man thrust into a war and then imprisoned far too soon, “I failed you once, please , let me do this--”

Harry should stop him. He should grab Sirius and drag them out of here. If Pettigrew is fast enough they’ll be able to apparate straight out through broken wards but--

For a moment he feels like a thirteen-year-old seeing someone who wants him , who wants Harry , wants to love him unconditionally, wants to look after him and he doesn’t want to disappoint him, but a larger part of him doesn’t want to lose him and it’s ridiculous because Harry hasn’t needed a parent figure for years --

“It’s not a risk worth taking,” he says, shaking his head.

Sirius ignores him, “This way?” he gestures down the corridor.

“The far corner,” Malfoy says, stiffly, eyeing up the pair like he’s still not sure if Harry’s orders are to be followed, “By the library and the old portraits - it’s the oldest part of the Manor--”

“Stuffy purebloods,” Sirius mumbles, starting off down the corridor before Harry has a chance to protest further. All purebloods present look insulted. Tom is too busy watching Harry. Harry takes one scattered look around and starts after Sirius at a jog. His bones ache to shift into grim form, but the anti-animagus charms are heavy in the air. He draws his yew wand, ready, keeping track of Sirius’ form--

Sirius stops so abruptly Harry almost runs into him. There, quivering in the corridor, Pettigrew stands. He spots them, eyes widening and darts around the corner to where Malfoy claimed the warding stone to be and Sirius--

Sirius brandishes his wand and goes straight after him.

“Sirius, Padfoot, wait--

“No,” Sirius shakes his head, “No, I let him escape once, I won’t let him escape again, he’s cornered now--”

“Sirius, Sirius no --”

You left me once, Harry wants to say, shout, scream, don’t leave me again--

The words stick in his throat. On his finger the Resurrection Stone burns ice , there is a horrible rendering crack and he feels the tremor in the air as the wards drop and fall.

He sees it happen before it does, sees the triumphant mad grin on Sirius’ face--

Last time Sirius chased after Pettigrew he ended up imprisoned on the wrong side of the stalemate.

This time he ends up on the wrong side of a wand.

Harry rounds the corner, Tom right behind him, fast-paced walk furious because his precious imperfect plan is already predictably failing. Behind the Knights march like they’re out to execute someone - probably not something unfamiliar to them.

Harry rounds the corner and freezes at the sight. A shattered stone slab lies on the floor, Pettigrew standing over it. Around him stand six witches and wizards, wands drawn. One of them has a wand to Sirius’ throat.

Harry recognises the faces of Grindelwald’s acolytes from the old European Wanted posters. Rosier, Carrow, Nagel, Abernathy, Krafft, MacDuff… and in front of them all with a small smile on his face stands Gellert Grindelwald.

“Kill him,” Grindelwald says, dismissively. “Allow me to greet my welcoming party--”

“Harry, don’t --”

“No !”

Tom latches onto him like a physical limpet to stop him from throwing himself forwards. The words from Sirius’ mouth don’t need finishing, not that he gets a chance because triumph still in his gaze, victory on his tongue as the wand in his face flashes green.

The howl of grief must come from him. But in that moment everything is disconnected. His voice and vision are playing out on a seperate film reel from his physical body, trapped and held in Tom’s arms. He tries to claw his way free but Tom’s wandless magic wraps around him, paralysing his limbs. Instead he is frozen. Forced to watch the memory etch itself into his eyes, that horrible second that the light leaves Sirius’ body as the killing curse tears the soul connection into shreds and spits it out.

The body goes lifeless, smile still on his face as he drops. Harry can taste the death in the air, can feel the magic and he can’t do anything --

Harry waits for the moment Sirius stands again, shaking off the spell but it…

It doesn’t come.

Harry, don’t resurrect me, Sirius never got to finish his last words. Don’t bring me back. Don’t don’t don’t-- he doesn’t know exactly what but he can guess.

He goes limp in Tom’s hold, quivering. Tom steps to the side but keeps one hand wrapped firmly around Harry’s wrist and the other keeping a holly wand trained on Grindelwald. Mismatched eyes assess them calmly on Harry before dismissing him, turning to Tom who is still holding a trembling Harry. “Mr Riddle,” he says, charminly, “Thank you for the invite into your charming residence. I think we need to have a little tête a tête, Lord to Lord.”

“Mayhaps,” Tom says, “But killing my guests, that was just rude.”

“Ah, but, we practically had an invitation ,” Grindelwald’s tone is charming. Pleasant. Reasonable, not one you’d imagine of a murderer.

Pettigrew cowers behind the acolytes,Harry’s gaze zeros in on him unnervingly. He’s going to rip that rat to pieces --

“My Lord?” Avery asks. They’re outnumbered and while they’d probably put up a decent fight, the numbers are not in their favour. Sirius is dead. Tom, Harry and three Knights don’t stand a chance. Unless Tom has some kind of other plan up his sleeve--

Tom ignores Avery. “I didn’t expect you to bring such a...well known force to our little chat. After all, no wands need to be drawn. We’re all adults here, we can use our words --”

Grindelwald laughs , “You’ve got ambition, little Lord,” he begins pacing the width of the corridor, “It’s a shame, you could have gone far--”

“I will go far.”

Riling up a Dark Lord is as easy as insulting his achievements. Tom bristles.

Could have,” Grindelwald reiterates, “This is my war. You’re not playing around in your precious halls of Hogwarts now, this is the real world. I’ll give you one warning, Mr Riddle, because I like you. Step aside and let the adults handle this.”

Tom’s eyes flash red. Possessive, prideful, cursed creatures, Dark Lords are, Harry thinks, “I have performed magic you and your ilk wouldn’t even dream about,” he brags, “Don’t think to tell me my place, Lord Grindelwald .” The honorific is purely mocking.

“You think you can beat me, boy .”

“Of course we can beat you,” Tom sneers, turning to look at Harry who can’t even meet his gaze. So much for Tom’s perfect plan, he thinks. Tom turns back to Grindelwald, “You want the Peverell Ring,” he states, words clear in the air, “I’m sorry… I don’t have it.”

Grindelwald pauses in his pacing. Whether it’s because of their knowledge of what he seeks or the admission that Tom doesn’t have it-- “I visited the last of the Gaunts,” he says, “My, how the great lines of old can be laid low. Your mother love potioned a muggle, didn’t she?”

It’s Harry who moves this time, grabbing onto Tom to stop him doing something stupid in his tempered fury, like sun beaten metal in the heart of a star turned supernova.

“I’m sorry; I’ve hit a nerve,” Grindelwald’s lip kicks up at one side. “How pitiful that our ancient lines are laid low once more. By muggles …”

“It changes nothing,” Tom says, “I don’t have the ring. You coming here is for naught.”

“Before I killed your uncle,” Grindelwald’s eyes glint cruel, “I ripped through his mind. He remembers you visiting. He remembers you stealing the ring before chasing after your muggle father. I killed them too, before I left. I know you have it, don’t lie to me, Tom Riddle.”

Harry makes his decision then, with the same split-second recklessness that had made him ask for Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat. He lets go of Tom and twists to face Grindelwald, “He’s not lying,” he says, “He doesn’t have it.”

His voice rings out. Tom barely reacts, but he clearly wasn’t expecting that. His body’s gone tense, waiting to see what Harry will do next. They all are, and behind Tom his Knights

“Tom doesn’t have it, because he gave it me. I have it,” Harry says, confidently, tilting the hand that holds yew wood and phoenix feather, and it’s obvious there on his finger - black stone studded into the ring. Grindelwald’s eyes settle on it, hungrily.

“Well now,” the Dark Lord smiles, “Why didn’t you say so?” His gaze flickers over Harry, taking him in and Harry isn’t sure whether to be insulted or glad that it takes him a few seconds to place him, “Harry Potter,” he says, realisation lighting in his eyes, “Albus’ little pet. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.”

He must know those words are wrong the moment he says them. Tom’s smirk is too wide and Harry barely reacts to them. “I believe the last time we met I wasn’t old enough to exchange pleasantries,” he keeps his tone like civil poison, layered over his tongue, “And now… well, this has been anything but pleasant. You just had my godfather murdered.”

The raw anger is still there, under the surface.

“That can be rectified,” Grindelwald says, confidently, “Give me the Resurrection Stone. Don’t be Albus’ lapdog, help me. Give me the stone and when I hold all the Hallows I will use them to bring your precious godfather back for you,” his smile is easy. His words are nice. Pleasant. Charming , almost, but the sweet words settle in the back of Harry’s throat like slickness and silt.

Fury, grief and a hysterical laughter bubble in his chest but he forces it down. Grips onto that cold cold crack of his broken magic and grips it so tightly he fears he might tear himself to pieces on it.

Sirius is dead. It rings in his head like a wordless scream repeating itself over and over. He thumbs at the warm yew and amber in his palm, looking up to meet the mismatched gaze of the Dark Lord, “Could you?” he asks, voice empty, “Bringing someone back from the dead… that kind of necromancy is pretty powerful.” Grindelwald fingers his collar like he’s about to chide Harry, but Harry keeps talking, “I don’t think you can do it,” he says, with an easy shrug.

“Of course I can,” the Hungarian says, like it’s not even a question, “With the Hallows, necromancy will no longer be a… dying art, pardon the pun. Nothing should be banned, not the Dark Arts, not Necromancy, there should be no restrictions to what magic can be performed. And soon, there won’t be any. I promise that.”

“No deal,” Harry doesn’t even hesitate, “You murdered my godfather and you expect me to - what, bow down to your ideals? Your knowledge of necromancy is paltry at best, I’d be lucky if you even managed to animate his corpse.”

Grindelwald looks saddened, almost, but he doesn’t even bother reaching for his wand, “Then, Mr Potter, it appears our interests do not align. Abernathy--” he nods at one of his acolytes, the one who had killed Sirius. Perfect, Harry thinks, as the man steps forwards, drawing his wand.

Tom stiffens but doesn’t move. Harry fingers yew but doesn’t fire a spell. He tilts his head to one side, “I’m afraid the only way you’re getting the stone is if I’m dead,” he says, dispassionately, “And better wizards than you have tried and failed. Give up. Leave now.”

“You expect me to be scared of you?” the wizard - American by the accent - scoffs, “You’re nothing. You’re not even worth the dirt beneath your feet, you should have taken Lord Grindelwald’s offer.”

“Mayhaps,” Harry hums, “But his knowledge of necromancy is just insulting , what do you think we do, sit around resurrecting dead bodies over and over and--”

“Avada Kedavra ,” Abernathy snaps out.

Tom flinches. Green light flashes. Harry misses death by a hair’s breadth, had tasted the sickly taste of rotting flesh dripping off the curse, avoids it in part because it had been a killing curse and he does now have an odd sensitivity to death.

He can, on a good day, drain the magic out of spells flung at him. Ron had spent an afternoon having far too much fun flinging every hex he could think of and more at Harry. He can only successfully catch and drain less than a quarter. The problem with thrown spells is he simply doesn’t have time to process the spell, to wrap his broken magic around it to hold it in place and siphon in.

He doesn’t even want to try and see if he could catch a killing curse and drain it because the chances are the rotting green curse would probably tear him to shreds before he could even think the thought.

Stupefy,” he snaps back, but Abernathy blocks it with lazy ease. “Confin--

Diffindo,” Abernathy forces him to shield and then follows up with several high-powered hits. Behind him, Harry catches a glimpse of the others going for wands and panic hits him, tinged with grief because they will lose if they have to fight-- “Solea,” Abernathy is still firing curses, “Reducto. Defodia! Avada --”

Harry moves before the killing curse finishes leaving his tongue. Batting aside the previous string of jinxes with his yew wand, he steps forwards, finally close enough to reach out and close his hand around the man’s wand arm.

Catching spells is hard, near impossible and deemed not feasible after Ron hit him with one too many petrifying jinxes because Harry is forced to quite literally catch the magic. It’s not practical.

Draining wards and already existing protections though? That’s a lot easier - the magic isn’t going anywhere, it’s just sitting there. It’s not nice, it’s fucking hurts , siphoning off spells like boiling water to add to his own magic sitting like poison in his veins. It doesn’t, as one might think, simply give him more magic, no, it fucks up his own magic like someone had just overcharged an electric pylon with a lightning bolt--

But it’s feasible and almost easy through direct skin contact with the magic. Or, in this case, the magical person.

His hand clasps Abernathy’s wrist, killing curse on the man’s wand and for a moment Harry sees the green of the killing curse form--

But there is a hum beneath the man’s skin, and Harry reaches out and grasps at it.

The green spits and dies and Abernathy lets out a pained cry, grip on his wand going limp.

“Necromancy is not just about death,” he says, as Abernathy drops to his knees from pain. Harry grits his teeth and remains standing, “It’s about rebirth. Living and dying and cycle and reusing what there is, taking and giving and circles around and around--”

Their skin at point of contact burns red. Harry can feel the man’s magic. It’s terrifying and infinite and his broken, twisted power reached out, digs down to the roots and tears --

It’s like a fire, burning in the hearth, warm and comforting and full of so much life --

It’s the cruelest thing he can do, to take that magic away.

It’s also the easiest.

Abernathy screams . His skin blazes with heat as Harry siphons the magic from him, grip cruel and not releasing until the man is shaking, trembling and empty --

He lets go, feeling the power settle in under his bones. It feels like cement, if cement were heavy and cloying with liquid nitrogen and acid in his blood and not just ground stone and water. Abernathy sucks in oxygen, a horrible choking whimper settling in the back of his throat. His wand has fallen to the ground from lax fingers that still twitch reflevely.

“What-- what did you do ?” he gasps out.

Harry’s fingers curl in the golden strewn air as the light fades into his skin, “I tore out your magic,” he says, dismissively, voice slightly ragged, “You’re as good as a squib now. A muggle. Tell me, how does it feel, to be something you so detest?”

Someone laughs. It is not Harry, it’s Tom who has been watching the whole exchange with hunger . “I guess you were wrong,” Tom says, eyes not even flashing red anymore, they’re just crimson burning hellfire, “Necromancy isn’t a dying art,” he says, “Is it, Harry?”

Harry can’t stop the grin, “I got buried in it,” he says, enjoying the dawning horror on Grindelwald’s face, “Quite literally,” he adds, watching gold sparks dance off his fingers. It’s a shame the only corpse nearby is that of his late godfather - Harry wouldn’t dream of abusing Sirius’ memory like that.

It would be heartbreaking watching the man fumble for his wand to try and cast a spell. Even a simple lumos gets him nothing. Around him unease spreads and Grindelwald takes a step back. “No,” he breathes, horror and revulsion in his voice. “That’s impossible . The necromancers died out--”

“I guess,” Harry says, consideringly. He’d become so used to Tom and his friends being accepting of it, he’d kind of forgotten the implications of it, the legalities of it, “It’s kind of a bloodline thing, I doubt you’ll be finding anyone else with the gift.”

“Bloodline?” Grindelwald’s mismatched eyes gleam, darting from Tom to Harry, “You’re of Peverell blood.”

“We’re the last,” Tom says, dismissively. He, after all, hardly cares about necromantic ties, he’s far more interested in Dark Magic and Soul Magic.

Grindelwald’s gaze falls again on the ring on Harry’s finger.

“Want to try for it?” Harry challenges, “You win - you get the ring, I win… well, I think we both know what I get--”

Harry gets the wand. Harry gets the Hallows united, Peverell’s bloodline with all three Hallows and gold necromantic magic clinging to his fingers and even Grindelwald appears to think that’s a bad idea. “We’ll meet again,” Grindelwald says, almost flirtingly, “A baby Dark Lord and wannabe Hallows Master. You’re way out of your depth.”

“Someone take the squib with them on the way out,” Tom throws out, cruelly, and Vinda Rosier grabs hold of the shaking Abernathy. Around them the cracks of disapparation sound out as one by one Grindelwald’s acolytes flee before finally Grindelwald himself twists into the air and is gone. Harry closes his eyes, still aware of the thrumming stolen magic tingling in his veins. He’s drained spells before, but this is the first time he’s siphoned a person ’s magic.

He doesn’t regret it.

Heated fingers trail along his jaw and he opens his eyes to Tom Riddle staring at him like he’s just found and stolen something precious . “I do trust you,” Tom breathes, “You’re mine, Harry, you’re mine and you’re perfect ,” there is clear wonder in his voice, “That was beautiful .”

“My godfather just got murdered,” Harry says, hollowly. He twists to where Sirius lies, still and at peace at last in death, but Tom remains standing in front of him, fingers curling into Harry’s collar to keep him in place, to drag him closer until he fills Harry’s world with his mere presence, his magic nearly tangible in the air.

Tom’s lips curl into a smile, “So? What do you want to do about it?”

Harry’s breathing is ragged. He can feel Tom’s magic beneath his skin and Merlin , he could reach out and tear it out of him so so easily but he--

He doesn’t want to.

“I want him dead,” he says, barely breathing, “I want to tear out his magic. I want to rip his fucking heart out of his chest. I want to kill him, Tom, I want to see him dead--”

Tom bites the words off his lips with a bruising kiss and the anger in Harry surges, rebels, flares into a fire , “For you, darling,” he breathes, “I’d burn the world to ashes.”

And Harry can see Tom Riddle perched lazily on his throne of bones watching the carcass of the world burn around him.

There’s an ink-black hellhound lounging at his feet.

He closes his eyes to the image and lets Tom kiss bruises into his heart.

Chapter Text

A month.

Nearly a whole damn month and there had been neither hide nor hair of Gellert Grindelwald. It is, to all extent and purpose, like he’s run back to Europe, except Ron is pretty sure he hasn’t run.

Why would he run, after all, when all his enemies and goals are here in one place? There is no strategic advantage to running, no, he’s biding his time. The real trick here is not to wait for him to make his move, but to move first.

Harry’s gone back to haunting Ron and Hermione’s flat. He’s clearly grieving Sirius, but is somehow keeping it together. He’s looking gaunt and thin again, and Ron knows the necromancy is taking its toll, doesn’t know what he can do about it, not when they need Harry to win this war. When he’s not there, Ron would bet a lot of money that he’s holed up in Tom Riddle’s apartment. It’s all too obvious he’s avoiding Grimmauld Place. Remus and Tonks, the few times they’ve appeared, both look equally stressed and distraught. Tonks’ pregnancy is almost a blessing, it’s a distraction for them.

Why Harry’s distraction had to be Tom Riddle, Ron can only hazard guesses at, but the truth is he’s known Harry had a self-destructive streak the moment Harry threw himself off a broom at eleven to catch a remembrall plummeting to earth. He’s only proved that time and time since. Tom Riddle is all of Harry’s unhealthy tendencies bundled up in one prettily wrapped package.

All Ron can do is make sure he’s there for his best mate. A couch to sleep on, a warm meal, a ear to listen and right now, an auror on his side. He will do what he can.

Working with Draco Malfoy is pushing his limits, he thinks.

“Aren’t they going to notice you’re skipping work?” Malfoy’s sneer seems permanently engraved on his face. His dark robes are well-cut, clearly tailored to fit. The cuts are sharp and smooth and Malfoy looks every inch the Junior Undersecretary at this moment. Ron feels severely underdressed in his auror uniform. “I didn’t think Robards took kindly to his aurors skiving off--”

“Shut up,” Ron snaps, “Won’t Scrimgeour notice his baby underling is missing?”

“Of course not,” Malfoy says, snottily, “I informed them I had a prior engagement.”

Ron glares, “Susan’s covering for me,” he says, shortly, “She can’t get away, working for the Investigative Subdivision, so this is on you and me. Don’t fuck this up.”

“Me? If anyone makes a mistake here it’s going to be you , Weasel --”

He grits his teeth, already feeling them grinding raw. Hermione had worked hard for her Wizengamot administrative post in the DMLE and hell, even Riddle had been forced to throw a lot of weight to even end up working in the Ministerial Administrative staff. And here Malfoy was with his position practically handed to him. He’s doing this for Harry, he tells himself, and for Sirius--

“Oh, no, wait, I hear they’ve released a warrant for Potter.”

He pulls up short, “They what ?”

“Potter. Rumours are flying that he’s been practising necromancy ,” Draco shudders.

“It’s not all illegal,” Ron says, uncomfortable, because the truth is had his relief at Harry being alive not overcome his revulsion of Harry’s new skillset, he probably would have had the same reaction as Malfoy.

Malfoy who has, at his words, has frozen. His expression is shocked. Horror creeps over his face, like a child confronted with their childhood nightmare, “You mean the rumours are true ?”

“Maybe,” Ron says, cagily, “If the Ministry hear confirmation that Harry’s a necromancer from you though, I’ll make you regret it.”

If anything Malfoy looks paler. Ron honestly wasn’t sure that was possible, “What do you mean ‘ he’s a necromancer’ ? He… the department… I heard Robards only wanted to talk to him about death magic, I didn’t… he’s an actual full-blooded necromancer ?”

“There’s a difference?”

“There-- of course there’s a fucking difference-- ” Malfoy ducks his head, looking around them, voice taking on the imperious tone of one who knows better than his peer, "Necromancy is the magic - spells such as the inferi curse, rituals to resurrect bodies, the trick to creating a ghost... but Necromancers are abominations ."

"Harry's not an abomination!" Ron snaps, trying not to remember fierce arguments and insults thrown between himself and his friend, because there’s is not really any denying that the magic itself is…

Not right .

Not just in the sense that the magic feels wrong and broken , but he can see the impact it has had on Harry since he came back to them. The wild swings in his mood, the gold spark that lingers in his eyes… Ron knows Sirius had seen it, had been going to talk to Harry about it, doesn’t know if he ever did…

Malfoy seems more surprised than insulted. "Didn't your mother tell you about them? Warn you ?"

Ron shifts uncomfortably, "No," he says, "She doesn't like to talk about stuff like that after her brothers were murdered."

Draco's expression clears slightly, "Necromancers are a bloodline ability," he explains, "Like metamorphmagi, parselmouths... but it's an abomination. Its... it's a trauma to a person's magic that gives them their power."

"A trauma?"

"I don't know, I'm just saying what my mother told me. Maybe they're born with it, there must be some sort of bloodline element to it, but either way the long and the short of it is their magic is fucked. Broken. I mean... their magic has to be to deal with life and death the way they do. But the thing is...well... there’s a reason the necromancers are all dead.”

Ron doesn’t think he wants to know.

Malfoy tells him anyway, “They were hunted down,” he says, callously, “Exterminated. Because their broken magic? It sent them mad. Imagine a group of people with the power of life and death. People who can drain wards and spells, hell, there are rumours they can drain a person's magic.”

Horror steals into Ron's veins because that's true. All of it. He has personally tested Harry's abilities to drain wand magic, knows it's limited to skin contact over seconds to minutes to hours depending on what it is. Knows it also makes him unable to cast even a lumos without exploding something for a solid week ... “Harry’s not like that,” he says, but the words have a bitter taste, “The stories are clearly exaggerations.”

Malfoy stares, “If Potter starts going mad,” he says, “Give me some warning so I can get the fuck out of the country.”

“Shut up,” Ron shoves the Malfoy heir, surely the asshole will survive one punch. Just one .

He must be exaggerating. Lying except…

Ron shoves the thoughts from his mind. Later, he tells himself, he will deal with it. But first…

“There you are! Oh dear, Ronald, you look like you’ve been stung by an Umgubular.”

Ron has never been more relieved to see Luna Lovegood before. He snickers at the look on Malfoy’s face at the girl. Her blonde hair is trailing long down her back, there is something colourful threaded through the odd strands and her wand is stuck behind one ear.

“I can’t believe we’re following a lead from Loony Lovegood--OW , what was that for?”

“You can insult me as much as you like,” Ron says, from where he had stood sharply on Malfoy’s foot, “But don’t insult Luna.”

“Or what , you’ll tell Potter ?”

Ron scoffs, because he doesn’t need Harry to deal with Malfoy, “No, because I’ll punch you so hard you’ll need a muggle dentist to fix your teeth afterwards.”

He then proceeds to turn his back on the spluttering blonde. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply to ignore him.

“That’s awfully nice of you,” Luna says, with wide, owlish eyes. Ron tries not to blush, because while Luna had always been Ginny and Harry’s friend primarily, he has grown to appreciate her with her odd quirks. He also finds the way she leads Hermione to fuming hair-pulling frustration secretly amusing, but he’ll never tell his girlfriend that.

“You said you had something to tell us,” he says. Malfoy is making muffled indignant noises behind him, “Something about Pettigrew?”

“Oh, yes!” Luna says, brightly, like they’re talking about the weather, “There’s a rat that’s taken up residence in a bar off Diagon Alley.”

“A rat?” Malfoy shoves his way in front of Luna, “You called us here because of a rat ?”

“It’s an awfully intelligent rat,” Luna clearly doesn’t see his issue.

“But a rat --”

“He’s an animagus, you dipshit,” Ron grumbles, “Now shut up and look pretty. That’s the only reason you’re here - I need a way in. It’s a high-end wizarding club, I’m… not high end and I’m an auror to boot.”

“It’s also,” Malfoy sniffs, “Members only.” His lip curls but he doesn’t argue anymore. He shoots Luna a curious look but whether that’s because he’s pondering how this strange slip of a girl managed to locate a rat animagus in the whole of London or because Luna’s taken to skipping along the cobbled alley in front of them is hard to tell. “I guess some Quibbler articles make a lot more sense now,” he mumbles.

Ron does a double take, “ You read the Quibbler ?”

“Of course, I need to have some amusement in my life and hearing about the Ministry's conspiracy to make everyone wear dentures is one of those. Well, that and the fact my family owl has been acting a bit oddly and keeps losing the paper so I haven’t read the Prophet in a week--”

Ron gets a vivid image of the Malfoy eagle owl and Sirius Black closing the door in its face, “Mine’s kind of like that,” he commisterates, neglecting to mention what might have happened to Draco’s family owl.

“Are you talking about the Prophet?” Luna asks when they catch up to her, “It’s an exercise in mass hypnosis.”

Malfoy opens his mouth and then closes it again, deciding not to comment. He almost looks grateful when Ron changes the subject. “So where did you see this rat?”

The name is something fancy and French. It’s off Vertic Alley, near the shops Ron has always known theoretically exist, but never had the desire to look through a shop for… he squints… witch kitchen supplies. Although now he thinks about it, Hermione might appreciate a gift from there--

“There,” Luna points out the club. “The rat likes to sit on the wall and commune with the stars. He waits there for precisely one hour, because one is a very important hour to wait. Then it drops down to the back-alley behind.” Ron opens his mouth to ask further questions, sliding into auror mode, but Malfoy beats him there.

“Do you see anyone else?”

Luna reaches for her neck, “They wear Harry’s symbol.”

“Potter has a sym- hang on, that’s Grindelwald’s --”

“I thought it was--”

“See, they’re wearing it now--”

“Get down !”

“Skjule .”

The sensation of raw egg and Ron goes still. He can see Malfoy’s outline, if he squints, and Luna didn’t even bother to disillusion herself, she’s pulled out a magnifying glass and is peering at some odd creature that looks like a fat purple and blue bee with moth wings. People look at her - of course they do, she draws attention to herself - but she somehow succeeds in making them feel so awkward they all look away very quickly.

Ron wonders if he can convince Luna to help him pass his concealment and disguise class.

A woman bustles past them, hair pulled back in a tight bun. A man is with her, slicked back wiry ginger hair and a stupid beard that makes his face look longer and thinner than it actually is. As they enter the club, Ron sees the rat that climbs up the wall, taking a position on the sun-warmed bricks. “How long will Pettigrew stay there?” he asks Luna, “One hour regardless, or as long as they’re in the club?”

“Rosier and Krafft,” Malfoy’s voice comes from where his fuzzy form can be seen, his tone clearly disapproving, “Recruiting purebloods, no doubt, I’d heard Grindelwald had people in the government, but to be meeting here--”

“Be indignant later, right now we need to grab Pettigrew--”

“Just Pettigrew? Why grab Pettigrew - he’s a bottom feeder - when we can go after one of his top lieutenants?”

Ron bites his lips because he doesn’t want to admit that Malfoy is right. Except he owes it to Harry to grab Pettigrew, and Luna is not a fighter. He eyes up the rat which looks dead instead of sleeping - it really is a scrappy looking thing. He ponders how much work getting Harry to teach him the animagus spellwork and potions would be - but no, it’s not worth it, if only because he remembers how much paperwork Harry had to file on the downlow with the registry department, especially given his unconventional death dog form.

“Fine,” he says, “You sneak in, given you actually have a membership, and I grab Pettigrew and then join you--” he hears a scoff, “What’s your plan then?” he glares at Malfoy, but given he can’t see the other, it’s rather difficult.

“I grab Pettigrew, you use my ID to sneak in and do your stupid reckless Gryffindor stunts with the lieutenants.”

“You're like a bit like a pickle, aren’t you?” Luna says, currently arranging her new moth-creature friend as a hair clip in her wild blonde hair.

"What?" Malfoy’s indignant tone is obvious.

"Well you care an awful lot for self-preservation, I’ve noticed."

The blonde splutters. Ron chokes on his laughter. “Luna,” he says, “Never change.”

The man on the door stares at him and then down at Malfoy’s real ID, with a fake name, “Never heard the pureblood name Wazlib before,” he says, suspiciously.

“That’s because we’re older and more distinct than lines such as yours,” Ron says, in such a sneering imitation of Draco Malfoy that he frightens himself. He definitely intimidates the bouncer who steps aside so fast Ron’s surprised he didn’t fall over himself in the process. The fake beard and moustache probably help make him look more distinguished.

The inside is all polished surfaces and dim lighting. It’s rather pleasant in a sickly rich kind of way, and there’s some incense burner that gives the whole place the scent of old cologne. Ron starts trying to stalk through unobtrusively, mimicking a kind of pacing he has seen Lucius Malfoy emulate to perfection. Head high, as if everything beneath him smells of dirt and muck-- he practically feels attention just slide off him.

Rosier and Krafft are at a table near the back of the establishment, partly hidden by a large glass aquarium with exotic fish swimming around. Ron settles nearby at the bar, “Ogden’s Mead,” he asks, because it sounds distinguished enough, but the bartender gives him an odd look. He probably shouldn’t be drinking on the job, anyway, he thinks, staring at his glass reluctantly.

He casts some auspicious listening charms as he begins to plot out his moves. Like a chessboard, he thinks, he just needs to time this right--

“I can’t give you what you want while Albus Dumbledore lives,” a man Ron recognises as Hector Fawley, one of the men who could have potentially taken over as Minister. “And everyone knows that Grindelwald won’t confront Dumbledore--”

“Are you suggesting that Gellert is scared of Albus Dumbledore?” Rosier laughs, scornfully. Fawley stutters, “Don’t be ridiculous,” Rosier says, “Why on earth would he waste his time on Dumbledore, when it appears Britain is producing its own Dark Lord. One of Dumbledore’s former students--”

“You’re talking about Riddle,” Fawley’s grin is more of a grimace, “No matter what the criminals call him, you won’t get anyone believing he’s a Dark Lord on the rise. He’s got a spotless record--”

Krafft shrugs, “Doesn’t matter, he can take out Dumbledore for us, then Gellert takes out Riddle--”

“It’s not going to work ,” Fawley is a typical politician - a total coward. “My daughter was a prefect a year or two above Riddle, there’s no way even if he does clear out Dumbledore for you, Gellert won’t win against him.”

“Of course he will,” Rosier is absolute in her certainty, “He’s a mudblood. Impure, unaware of our world, he’ll fall easily--”

“You think he’s… you haven’t heard the rumours, have you? There are whispers that he’s heir Sl--”

Fawley is interrupted by a scuffling at the door. There’s a loud ‘pop’ and suddenly an ugly, rat-faced man is in the middle of the club. Rosier and Krafft are on their feet in alarm, and Ron reaches for his wand, because this can only be Peter Pettigrew.

“You’re meant to stay outside,” Krafft growls out.

“Someone’s here, picked me up and I bit him - a Malfoy--”

“One of Riddle’s lot?”

Fawley panics, “I never saw you,” he says, “You, this--no deal, no--” he makes for the door and almost gets ploughed into by Draco Malfoy.

Malfoy is red-faced and spitting. Like a cat. “Let me in, I told you, I have ID, it got stolen, you know who I am, you’ve seen me here before--”

“Go,” Rosier motions to Krafft, and the pair spin around straight into Ron’s wand.

“Don’t--” he gets out, but spells are already flying.

“Not in my club!” someone has the audacity to shout as Ron ducks behind a protego . Malfoy draws his own wand, firing off a neat Impedimenta that Pettigrew doesn’t so much as dodge as ducks straight under and turns into a rat.

Stupefy ,” he snaps at Rosier, who shields and casts back. It’s something vicious too, it hits a piece of wooden panelling by his head and tears it to splinters . “Get Pettigrew!” he snaps to Malfoy. The blonde looks like he wants to protest, but the ginger-haired Krafft starts firing bombardas at random, distracting both of them.

Ron casts a wild glance around. Patrons scatter out of the way, and he knows he’s going to be in deep trouble at the office for this. He’s not only outnumbered, he’s outgunned, for all that Malfoy was successful at throwing around jinxes in school corridors, he hasn’t had any auror training.

“Get the rat,” he shouts again, planning his move in a moment. He might not be the best dueller, but Ron had aced Tactics and Strategy for a reason. Malfoy, predictably, goes for the fat brown rat wriggling it’s way across the floor. Krafft and Rosier are trying their hardest to hit Ron, they’re not paying attention to their surroundings.

They certainly don’t notice it when one of Ron’s spells flies wide - half of his spells are missing anyway - and they certainly don’t realise when it hits the lovely elaborate glass aquarium behind them.

Not, at least, until it shatters.

“Uh oh,” Malfoy mutters, as with a splintering the glass cracks. Rosier whirls around, darting out of the way of the cascading water straight into Ron’s follow-up stupefy. Krafft is slightly more innovative, whipping the water that crashes down towards him into a whirlpool around him and throwing it at Ron. It’s easily deflected, but Krafft doesn’t hang around. He’s across to the door, shoving among patrons making it impossible for Ron to shoot spells at him.

He sighs, checking Rosier is well and truly stunned, and then looks for Malfoy--

Malfoy, who is dripping wet with a still struggling fish in his pretty blonde locks. He’s holding onto an equally drenched rat.

“Ah, good,” Ron tries not to laugh, “See you caught Pettigrew.”

The pureblood seems to be trying to find words. The rat struggles in his grip and Malfoy holds it out as far away from himself as possible, “The bloody thing bit me ,” he says, indignantly, “I had him, grabbed him straight off the wall and was about to stun him when the fleabag bit me . Oh Merlin , what if he’s infectious?”

Ron stares around the smoking club. Kraffts exploding curses did a small radius of damage and what he didn’t hit, Ron’s tactical water has drenched the rest. “Least one good thing came out of this. Hermione will be thrilled to hear I destroyed a haughty pureblood establishment with a Spanish name I can’t pronounce.”

“It’s French ,” Malfoy sneers. He looks like he has the remnants of soup splashed over him. He’s still holding Pettigrew by the balding tail, “Here, take this sewer creature, I hope you’re happy--”

“You hope I’m --” Ron is going to strangle Malfoy, he thinks, the ponce had one job . “If Harry doesn’t kill you,” he says, “I bet Riddle will.”

“Shut up,” Malfoy looks uncomfortable, “I didn’t ally with Potter and his ilk to have to put up with Riddle, you can deal with Potter’s boyfriend.”

Ron shudders, “Please don’t remind me.”

Malfoy pales, “They’re not… actually… that was a joke .”

Ron takes the dead-looking rat, and if he happens to hit it a little too hard against a wooden table… well…

He’s breaking so many auror protocols right now, he thinks, but takes gleeful joy in turning the rat into a teacup. He had been aiming for a bottle and for a moment he pondered whether Hermione would be able to turn him back. Surely Riddle would be able to, the man was a genius.

He shrugs, pocketing the teacup which is oddly furry with a rat-like tail to give to Harry as a present later.

“You got the other?” he asks Malfoy. Rosier is laid out at the blonde’s feet. Malfoy gives her an extra kick for good measure.

“Sure we shouldn’t take them in?” he asks.

“And face Harry and Riddle’s ire?” Ron laughs, “No, let’s hand them to the bosses like the good little minions we are,” he says, neglecting to mention the DA have been acting outside of the Ministry’s jurisdiction for weeks now. But the truth is Harry and Tom have been single-handedly managing this war better than the whole of the Ministry and Dumbledore combined. The few half-hearted attacks haven’t even made the Prophet - they’ve been put down before they begin. With Harry’s network and Tom’s supporters they’re remarkably ready for whatever comes their ways.

Besides, what Draco Malfoy didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

“For the record,” Ron says, “I still hate you.”

Malfoy’s glare is absolutely filthy. The fact he’s still drenched in water doesn’t help.

*

“How did you even know where my flat was? Not even my followers know where I live.”

“Magic, duh.”

Harry presses a little too hard and Tom lets out a hiss of parseltongue. Nagini is curled languidly by the fire and perks up, sliding towards them. “It’s okay,” Harry says, licking his thumb and wiping off the blood from Tom’s exposed shoulder, “Stop whining.”

“Hurry up and finish --”

The scalpel is cool in Harry’s hand, and it’s soothing, almost, cutting runes into the canvas beneath him. The fact that the canvas is Tom’s shoulder and living flesh - well, he’s enjoying it far more than one should, carving runes into his partner’s flesh. Another flick cuts a bit too deeply as he finished Sowilo and there’s another snarl of parsel that sends shivers down Harry’s spine.

A heavy weight at his back as Nagini moves around him, her head coming up to examine what they’re doing. Her jaw opens, scenting the air. Harry can see her fangs, far too close for comfort, but he can never get the image of the six inch snake she had been when he begifted her to Tom out of his head. She doesn’t intimidate him, now, and it doesn’t help that he knows she has a soft spot for him.

She hisses something, coarse and soft rustling as Harry brushes blood off Tom’s shoulder blade. He examines his handiwork, content. This would have been a lot easier had he learnt Ancient Runes at school, but as it is he had 8 months and Hermione. He makes do. “It’s okay, Nagini,” he says to the snake, “I’m all done.”

She drops down onto his lap where the pair are sitting sprawled on the floor of Tom’s flat, tasting the blood in the air.

“They’re to keep him stable,” Harry says, “Having a split soul isn’t healthy. The rest are just protection charms, to keep him safe. I know our big bad Dark Lord doesn’t need them,” he pats Tom’s back over the newly carved runes, feeling muscles tense underneath his palm. They’ll heal up in a day or so, and they shouldn’t even scar.

Tom wrenches himself away, head tilting, “How did you know what Nagini asked?” he stands, peering down at where Harry still sits cross-legged with the large snake poured across his lap.

Harry’s smile is thin-lipped as he scoops up the snake, draping her over his shoulders, “Lucky guess,” he says, scratching under Nagini’s chin where he knows she likes it.

“Okay, well time to pay up. I’ve let you poke and prod both me and my horcrux, now--” Tom holds out his hand, palm up. Harry sighs, because try as he might he can’t figure out a way to stick the soul back together.

Remorse , one book had said, and that’s just laughable.

Against his chest there is a warm beating living heart of Tom’s soul, encased in Regulus Black’s locket. He reaches for it with a sigh, scooping up the soul shard. It hums against his palm, used to him and his magic after a month of him experimenting with it. He feels the echo of Tom pressed against his palm before he lets it drop.

“I still don’t know how you switched it’s vessel,” Tom grumbles, dropping the horcrux carelessly in a pocket.

Harry shrugs. That had been the easy part. Trying to fix it, trying to fix Tom --

It was proving impossible - the best he could do was sooth the ragged wounds Tom had torn in his soul. He was beginning to realise the tear itself was probably permanent. It wasn’t as if Harry had been expecting it to change anything - Tom had been a murderer at fifteen - what had Harry expected? For Tom Riddle of all people to find morals ?

It’s laughable.

“It’s foolish to think you won’t make more, isn’t it?” Harry sneers, “It’s barbaric , Tom, the whole ritual, what it does to you --”

“You’re still so innocent,” Tom’s magic swims in the air. It paints cutting fractal patterns in the air around him which trembles as it is given weight. “Power like that comes with a cost. You understand this, it’s the basis of your skillset.” His head tilts, that one incessant lock of hair falling in his eyes to be brushed away with a familiar, habitual move, “Did you know the Cŵn Annwn - the large white Welsh hell hounds - run with the Wild Hunt, sometimes? Their job? They hunt wrongdoers into the ground until they can run no longer.”

“Are you saying I’ve run you to the ground?”

Tom huffs in amusement, “No, but you can run Grindelwald to the ground if it makes you feel better, my hound.” He outright leers at where Harry sits, a seven foot snake coiled over him, “I like the look of you with my snake wrapped around you.”

Nagini hisses something, coarse and sandpaper raw. “I can, you know,” Harry doesn’t bother moving, doesn’t bother trying to translate the parseltongue, fiddles with the gold coin in his hand from where it has burnt warm with a message, “Run you to the ground - punish you for your wrongdoings. We’d be here forever though.” Tom laughs at that. “But you’d probably much rather watch me run someone else to the ground,” he glances up, “My people have Pettigrew.”

Tom barely reacts, “A bottom feeder, but if you want him as present for the role he played in Black’s death then by all means--”

“A present sounds nice,” Harry hums, consideringly, lips twisting into a smile, “Give me one hour with Vinda Rosier and I’d accept.”

Tom’s eyes gleam .

*

“I hope you enjoy your present. I’m not always so generous--”

“But Tom, I thought I was your favourite --”

“I thought you were joking --” Draco Malfoy hisses to where a Weasley of all people stands on Lucius’ very expensive Persian rug at the front door to his manor. He’d complain about the Weasley contaminating his property, was there not an unconscious acolyte of Grindelwald also lying slumped at his son’s feet.

Tom Riddle and Harry Potter enter from the drawing room where they had flooed in. Together. Lucius closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and steps forwards to stand next to his son, trying to pretend he can’t see the abomination or Dark Lord there. He grips Draco’s shoulder a tad too firmly, voice low but urgent, “What are you doing here ?” he asks, voice low and urgent.

“Is it true?” Draco asks, a frantic energy to his voice, pale eyes flickering between Riddle and Potter, “Is Potter a--”

“Don’t say it,” Lucius doesn’t even want to think it...

“Oh,” Riddle says behind him, taking in the scene, “Draco Malfoy, it’s been a while.”

“Hands off,” Potter stalks past towards Weasley, his countenance somewhat akin to the giant ink-shadow monster he sometimes parades around as. “You get the father, the son’s one of mine.”

“I’m not your anything ,” Draco spits, red beginning to creep into his face.

Potter pauses, then turns to Tom, “Never mind,” he says, dismissively, “Mark him if you want--”

The blush bleeds out of Draco so fast Lucius is surprised his son doesn’t keel over, “Don’t you dare --”

Riddle just snorts, “He is somewhat amusing. I can see why you keep him around.”

“That and his money,” Weasley mumbles under his breath before greeting Harry with a grin, “Found you something you’d like. Tempted almost to keep him, I’ve always fancied a pet rat.”

“Didn’t you have one ? Before Pig?”

What on earth is a Pig , Lucius wonders, that’s an awful name for any kind of creature.

“Percy’s old rat that he found in the garden? Uh… yeah, it went to sleep one day and didn’t wake up. I didn’t notice until I went to clean my trunk and-”

“That is disgusting--” Draco, who had been listening in, can’t help but comment. Potter just looks insanely curious, probably wondering if he could resurrect the damn rat of all things. Lucius shudders to think.

“Robards wants to...uh...question your choice in magic,” Weasley adds, “Is that why you haven’t been going in to work for the past few days? Haven’t the other Unspeakables noticed ?”

Potter appears dismissive, “The Unspeakables don’t care. How did news reach the auror’s ears?”

“Dumbledore probably,” Riddle sneers, unbothered. He, of course, sees nothing wrong with it, he is not a pureblood despite all his pretences. The scent of the muggle orphanage will always cling to him; the implications are not known and Lucius refuses to be the one to tell them.

“Or Grindelwald,” Potter shrugs, too busy squinting at the fur-lined teacup, “Does he turn back?”

Weasley’s ears go redder than his hair, “I-uh, might have screwed the transfiguration, look, it’s not my strongest subject, but I think Sirius would have appreciated it somewhat.” Potter’s grin as he takes the teacup is terrifying. Lucius busies himself with following Riddle’s directions and levitates Rosier’s unconscious body, taking her to the heavily warded cellar. As he leaves he hears Weasley’s voice, trailing off into the distance. “Give me a call when you’re done with her. Now I just need to find an excuse as to why I didn’t take her straight to Robards, he’ll have my head --”

Avery and Crouch are hanging around today, and Crouch looks thrilled to see their prisoner, “Do we get to torture her?” he asks, a little too eagerly. Lucius wonders if there’s Black blood in him somewhere.

“No, she’s Potter’s,” Avery says, taking over the levitation spell from Lucius in time to drop her in a chair. “Why don’t you run and tell Evan his cousin’s been captured?”

Crouch waves a hand, uncaring, “He doesn’t care what happens to her. Following Grindelwald, I’m pretty sure she’s been struck from the family tree. You should get your wife to look, isn’t her mother a Rosier?”

Sometimes it makes Lucius a little uncomfortable how closely related all the British wizarding families are related. His family lived in France until recently, and he’s thankful for it. He’d have hated for Draco to turn out like those two goons who had followed him around during Hogwarts.

Riddle and Potter enter the room like they’re kings. Lucius wonders what Avery thinks about having his second in command position stolen, but looking at how Avery appears unbothered, and how Potter is hardly deferring to Riddle he thinks he might have the wrong impression.

But that’s ridiculous. Riddle doesn’t see anyone as his equal .

Riddle’s gesture to where Avery is finishing off some binding charms is an elaborate mockery of a bow. Potter hesitates for a moment, and Lucius stares, because does Riddle really expect Potter to torture her for information? He doubts the boy could even cast a successful crucio .

Ennervate ,” Avery intones, and has to step aside as Rosier tries to spit on him. “Behave,” he says, “Grindelwald isn’t around to save you now.”

“So now you’ve got aurors working for you?” she takes in the dingy cellar, the three purebloods and Riddle and Potter, lurking around her, “How corrupt your government is. It will fall so easily. Already it crumples--”

“Bor-ing,” Riddle drawls, “He can try. He’s been trying for years , his petty fear of Albus Dumbledore has kept him away. Dumbledore might not have the guts to finish him off, but we do. We just want to find out what you know about his plans.”

“I won’t talk,” Vinda Rosier says, confidently, “And Veritaserum won’t work. My Occlumency is impeccable.”

Riddle looks content, fingering the dark wood wand of his but Potter steps forwards, “You’ll talk,” he says, with the odd brusque that leaves no question, “They always talk.”

Torture ?” Rosier’s thin-lipped smile is far too confident. “How crude. Go ahead. Do your worst.”

Potter glances at Riddle, but it’s less asking for permission and more a statement of face. Riddle looks curious, but gestures, “Try not to damage her permanently. We need her in one piece to hand over to the aurors.”

Potter’s grin is not pleasant. It’s filled with too sharp teeth and it’s a wolf’s smile that promises a feast. Lycaon’s leer as he watched the gods feast on mortal flesh. “Okay,” he turns to Rosier, dropping to a crouch in front of her, “Here’s the deal. You tell me what I want to know and I’ll kill you. You don’t talk and you live.”

Rosier’s laugh is like a bubbling stream, “Oh, precious wanna-be necromancer, you’ve got the whole threat and torture thing a little backwards. Are you new to this? You don’t scare me.”

“I should,” Potter straightens, drawing his pale bone-coloured wand and flicking it out, almost lazily. " Collum disrumpam ."

There is a horrible crack and Rosier’s head snaps to one side, cervical vertebrae shattered, smashing the brainstem next to it. She dies almost instantly.

Lucius can’t hide his flinch. Oh Morganna , Riddle is going to be pissed --

He dares cast a glance at his lord. Riddle…

Riddle doesn’t even look angry. Just overwhelmingly curious and oddly disappointed, “I told you not to permanently damage her,” he clicks his tongue, disapproving. Lucius doesn’t even doubt that had a Knight killed someone they were meant to be getting information they would be under the Cruciatus for days .

But Potter remains oddly still, an odd gleam in his eyes as he examines the woman’s corpse, reaching out and dragging a finger down her cheek almost lovingly, but there’s a frown on his face of clear concentration, “Give it a moment--” he hums, “Just… about... now --”

Vinda Rosier jerks back to life with a gasp and a choked scream that has everyone except Potter reeling backwards. Even Riddle takes a step, but it’s a step closer to peer at her. “Huh,” he says, like he’s just read an interesting Prophet headline, not watched someone resurrect a murdered body, “And she’s not an inferi?”

“No, no, please --” Rosier is coherent. Talking. Her eyes roll around and settle on Potter, and this time Lucius sees terror, “What--? No, you, you’re actually --” she starts, but doesn’t finish, fear closing up her throat.

“Like I said,” Potter says, tone far too casual for the situation, “You talk, I kill you. You keep quiet, I drag you back. Again and again and… well, you get the picture. I’ve got all day.”

She’s trembling. There’s a shade of something behind her eyes. All Lucius feels is horror. “You mean--” Rosier whispers, “You would--” she breaks off, shaking her head, “I won’t talk. I won’t--”

“Fine,” Potter shrugs, carelessly, wand flicking out and there’s another wet crunch as her bones snap. Lucius tries to stop himself hyperventilating. He can see Avery backing away as far as he can get from Potter although Crouch looks oddly impressed. He can see the way this is going already. Potter is going to kill her again and again until he gets what he wants.

“Can you do this with anyone?”

Potter is killing and resurrecting someone as easily as one would snap a twig. And Tom Riddle is watching him with soul hungry eyes like it’s something educational.

“I have to be the one to kill them,” Harry says, shortly, “And it has to be recent. Within the last hour, otherwise their souls have moved beyond and at best I get an inferi. I tried it with someone who died a natural death - well, a cat , but I imagine it’s the same for humans - I didn’t have the right connection so the soul’s either not there, or they’re half-there, kind of like a ghost given corporeal form--”

Rosier jerks back to life with a wet gurgle, writhing and clawing. Potter ducks the sharp nails grabbing her hand and pinning her down, “Are you ready to talk?” he asks, “Death isn’t a punishment,” his voice is soft, almost soothing, “It’s a kindness, one I can grant you so easily--”

"No no no no," Rosier shudders and shakes, "No."

"No?" Harry waits half a moment more, just long enough for Rosier to realise he's taking that as assent, to open her mouth to scream and then Harry's leaning forwards to press yew under her throat and whisper an incantation.

The cutting curse neatly severs her carotids. Blood spurts everywhere and Potter sidesteps it like an afterthought watching as her thrashing dies with her.

Watching her heal is almost, if not more traumatising, than watching her die. Watching Potter’s hands wipe away the blood as if that would help, only for gold to spread from his touch, for her skin to knit together and claw its way back over empty flesh-- she wakes in a pool of her own blood and across the room Avery can’t stand it. He darts for the door as with a wet gurgle, Rosier claws bloody handprints across Lucius’ floor.

Potter barely reacts, merely moves to pin down her flailing limbs.

This time her denial is slower to come. The words are stuttered, “I-I’ll n-n-never--”

"I know, it hurts, right?" Harry says, almost kindly, "People aren’t meant to come back from that place and dragging your soul back splinter by splinter is probably kind of like being dissected alive, piece by piece over and over...  but the truth is - living hurts. But death? Death is easy . Just tell me what Grindelwald’s planning. Where he is. What he’s doing. Because until then I'll drag you back again and again into this broken sack of meat. I'll rip your soul right back out of whatever dark corner it flees to. And that? That's a thousand times worse than any cruciatus curse will ever be."

Her stutters break off into laughing sobs. Her mirth is the grating of broken bones scraping together under skin and muscle. “I’ll never tell,” she leers, “For Grindelwald, for Victory--”

The snap of her neck is loud.

Riddle is staring, wide-eyed and with a look of complete joy on his face. It’s horrifying to watch, Lucius thinks, even more so because it’s Harry Potter he’s watching. Even more so the fact it’s Harry Potter who is currently resurrecting and killing a woman at his whim. The power in the room is palpable, and Tom Riddle and Harry Potter practically radiate it. Merlin, it’s amazing Rosier can find words at all.

Watching a necromancer kill someone and then drag their soul straight back to their body in a never-ending cycle is terrifying. Lucius feels the fear lodge in his heart like pure cold ice.

No wonder these aberrations got wiped out - this is sickening. It is a twisting of everything that magic is, this is so so wrong ; Dark Magic twisted beyond even the realms of what should be possible. Rumours fly around the Ministry and the aurors want to drag him in and they have no idea . They’re under the illusion Potter’s been playing with a few necromantic rituals and accidentally given himself a death omen as an animagus. They have no clue what he really is, what damage has been done to his magic.

They won’t hear it from him - Lucius values his life far more than that to harbour any illusions as to his safety following a fool move like that. Riddle would make what Potter was currently doing look like a light interrogation in comparison.

He had heard Rabastan Lestrange and Evan Rosier discussing the fact that every leader had a mad dog at his side. It had been in reference to Evan’s cousin. Said cousin is currently being murdered and resurrected in a twisted mockery of a phoenix cycle.

The pair had been pondering if Bellatrix was going to fulfill that role for Tom but standing here, Lucius is not so sure.

Potter’s mad, there’s no question about it. Something is cracked in that lightning scarred face, and in the magic that resurrects and makes the dead scream . But the truth is Riddle’s no better.

Maybe that’s the trick. Maybe they’re both the mad dogs - that’s the only truth he can see in all this. The pair are just as mad as the other.

Lucius flees with the woman’s screams chasing after him.

*

Crouch drags her away, an hour later. He’s the only one apart from Tom and Harry still there, watching with something that is half madness, and half Ravenclaw curiosity. She stopped screaming about half an hour ago. She’s sobbing, tears streaming down her cheeks which are blotchy and ugly. “You promised,” she says, between gasping breaths, “Kill me, please , you promised me death.”

Harry’s face is carved from stone, “I promised no such thing,” he says, turning away as Crouch and Rosier vanish up the stairs.

“I thought you were going to kill her,” Tom sounds almost disappointed.

“Maybe later,” Harry shrugs. He’s tired, exhausted , and for a moment he sways on his feet and then Tom’s there, holding him steady. He makes a mental note to limit his resurrections to no more than five a day. He’s got the beginnings of a migraine too, and vindictively he adds, “For now? Let her suffer.”

Tom looks a bit freaked out, but freaked in the way someone does when there is too much alcohol and potions pumping in their blood. He looks exhilarated, he looks high , with red-rimmed eyes and the incessant curl to his hair he always tries to straighten out. He’s looking at Harry as if he’s found religion and it’s thrilling . It’s like lightning in a storm, it’s like standing in the eye of a hurricane. His focus narrows to Tom Tom Tom .

"So angry , Harry," Tom's grin is wild, "And so near to acting on it, finally, Salazar look at you, you're beautiful."

“I don’t need to kill her to prove a point.” He refuses to let Riddle twist his morals more than he already has.

He thinks he is failing.

Tom scoffs, pulling away from him and just watching him with glee, "You literally ripped out the throat of someone trying to kill me. That excuse is getting old, sweetheart," he says in disbelief. “Is that how you’ll get out of killing the Dark Lord? Murder’s out of tune and sweet revenge grows harsh?”

Harry lets out a barking laugh, “Are you quoting muggle literature again?”

“Shakespeare,” Tom admits, carelessly, “But tell me - I thought you wanted Grindelwald dead?”

Harry sucks in air. It whistles dry and with the tang of ozone through his lungs past dry lips, “He might have killed Sirius…” he says, “But you engineered the situation, Tom. It was your fucking plan in the first place--” his words twist into a poison lash, and he opens his eyes to Tom leaning back against the chair Rosier had been bound to. It’s an uncomfortable plain wooden thing, yet Tom treats it like it’s a throne encrusted in gold. Like the blood stains are rubies and the ropes still hanging there silk.

“For one who plays with death, it sure does punish you,” Tom’s soft amusement sounds fake to Harry’s ears. He steps forwards, forcing Tom to tilt his head back to keep Harry fully in his gaze.

Harry just stares at him, gaze ever so sad, "Do you even know what love is, Tom? Can you even begin to imagine it? Caring for someone other than yourself?"

Tom stares, not understanding, "I care for you ,” is torn from his throat and Harry freezes, because that’s almost a confession. Tom ruins it, though, with a snort, “Love’s not real. It’s a biological construct,” he answers, abruptly, voice rough, “A neurochemical con job." Harry pauses, not sure if he’s waiting for something more but there's isn't anything else. The words are hollow. Tom appears to realise this, shaking his head. "I don't need love," he sneers, "I need submission.”

"My submission?" Harry's head tilts, “Me on my knees before you?” he drops down in front of Tom’s lounging pose. The floor is cold but it’s worth it to see the way Tom’s nostrils flare, pupils dilate as he gaze follows him down and fingers curl furrows into the arms of the chair. It’s heady, and not demeaning only because the very action of Harry kneeling before Tom is mocking with every angle of his body from the blood soaking into his robes to the baring of his throat with pink curling scars. “Do you want me to bow to you? Let you mark me brand me claim me --”

Tom’s parseltongue hiss is something raw and crude as he drags Harry up by the collar, shoving him back first against the wall. His fingers are still entangled around Harry’s neck. “Oh, Harry, darling , can’t you see I already have?” he croons. His fingers trace around the knotted scar across Harry’s throat before slotting his hand around it, almost delicately, and using his leverage to keep Harry pinned as he leans forwards to bite kisses along Harry’s jaw. His nails dig in cruelly, “You’re my first marked, I’ve already branded myself into your soul--”

Harry’s laugh is too self-deprecating to be healthy, “You’ve fucking ruined me ,” he says, “So we do this my way, Tom Riddle. My rules.” Tom’s magic hums under his fingers and he feels the other still, feeling the way the pads of Harry’s fingers press against his ribs. Tom draws back slightly, listening, “I’m foretold to kill a Dark Lord,” Harry says, “The prophecy never said which one. So let me kill the Dark Lord. With Grindelwald out of the way you have a clear power gap.”

“On one condition,” Tom relents.

“Sure. What?”

“Both Grindelwald and Dumbledore have to die.”

Harry frowns, “Dumbledore doesn’t need to die.”

“We’ll agree to disagree,” Tom’s tone is sweet venom. His accent gets thicker in moments like these, Harry realises, the East End cockney he’d grown up with slipping through. Harry only vaguely remembers Riddle at 11 - he genuinely hadn’t known the other boy existed until he was 13 and Ron will always mourn those days - and he had definitely had a rough London accent before Tom’s stubbornness and being dumped into Slytherin house among the purebloods had chipped it away.

“No.” Clear, stubborn and unshaking. He was a Gryffindor for a reason, “If you kill anyone it will be by my say-so. I’ve given you too much already, you will listen to me on this.”

Tom’s firebrand fingers are back, tracing patterns along Harry’s collar bone, “Fine,” he purrs, “I’ll behave. For you.”

Wrapped up in Tom like this Harry can barely remember how to exist. He can see the same echo in Tom’s eyes. It lacks the emotion, the damn caring that will always be Harry’s simultaneous strength and weakness, but it’s caring in the only way Tom knows - blood, ownership and something he’s stolen.

They are nothing, not in the bigger picture. A temporary formation of atoms exploding against one another. Everything is temporary and everything, even Tom, will die, one day.

Chapter Text

“Happy Birthday to me,” Harry whispers to himself, leaning against the worn bark of a tree. The Forbidden Forest sprawls out in front of him, trees shaded and soothing in the height of summer. And in the distance and from his perspective a bit to the east of the front gates he can only just make out the North Tower looming over the Entrance Courtyard. It calls to him, and it will always be his home. He knows the feeling is irrational - it is a school, not a place of residence, yet it has, and always will be, his first and only home.

Happy Birthday indeed.

He tries to remember how old he is. Near-death experiences in a death temple in Norway have ways of screwing with your sense of time, even had he not entered the temple in May and clawed his way free eleven months later, with no sense of time passing. It had been less than a week for him in there, or at least it had felt that way, but in the outside world...

Phantom scars on his shoulder and left hand throb. The world around him is so thin, sometimes, he thinks, like fragile tissue paper and it just tears so easily. How simple it had been to slide through the gaps. To be spat back out in shiny broken pieces.

He can taste Hogwarts’ wards on his tongue. Ozone like the air before a summer storm, lemon rind crusted with sugar and something sweet, like lavender, in the air. So close to them he wonders if he could reach out and drain the magic from them too. Pluck through the protections and charms that layer generations of generations over his home.

He has no desire to. Draining Abernathy had sent his magic haywire for a week . His spells had failed to work properly - a lumos had almost set Hermione’s coffee machine spontaneously combusting and a wingardium leviosa had blown out three windows of Grimmauld Place. He’d half expected the yew wand to explode with the force of it all, but like something that had been made for him specifically, the yew and amber just glowed. It seemed unbothered by the acid trickling through his magic, but also equally unable to actually channel his stolen power.

Besides, Hogwarts is his home. It’s magic is soothing, like a balm, like a mother welcoming a lost child and he enjoys the feel of it, brushing against him. He has no desire to rip her to shreds. There’s a chance it would kill him in the process anyway; normal magic doesn’t like his magic. It’s one thing draining small protection spells and wards or people , but draining a thousand year old castle?

It would rip him apart.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

He barely manages not to twitch. He hadn’t noticed Tom’s arrival, so enraptured by Hogwarts’ magic. He looks like he’s dressed for murder; his clothes might be all black but those are definitely duelling robes, they’re too close fitting to be anything but.

Harry can’t exactly talk, he’s pulled gloves on simply to avoid his magic reacting to the living breathing creature that is his school’s walls, he looks like some kind of muggle cat burglar right now. “I never tire of looking at her,” he says, simply.

“You better have a way in,” Tom says, looking up at the castle with the same mix of emotions that Harry himself had. And maybe that had been, at its core, why Tom and Harry had managed to turn their rivalry into friendship with such ease. Hogwarts means the same to both of them, their first true home etched into their hearts.

Tom looks handsome in this moment, slight curl to his dark hair, eyes dark and face that of his muggle father’s. He looks perfect, like the perfect Ministry paper-pusher, like their good little protective dog who has signed up to be their poster boy for the war, as if his criminal doings under a pseudonym have nothing to do with him. He’s perfect .

Harry wants to be the one to ruin him. To crack that perfect facade.

“Of course I have a way in,” he says, piece of parchment in his hand, “But first you have to solemnly swear you are up to no good.”

Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” he holds out the battered parchment. He thinks there is a bite mark in one corner from where Padfoot must have carried it in his mouth at one point. “Tap it with your wand and swear it.”

Tom eyes him up like he’s trying to determine whether Harry is screwing with him or being serious. Harry internally crows at the pun, but doesn’t make it, his heart still clenching over his godfather’s death. Dark holly is pulled out, dropping to rest gently on the parchment, “Should just incendio it,” Tom mutters, before clearing his throat, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Ink bleeds. It blooms like a flower from Tom’s wandpoint. He arches one perfect brow at it, watching as the Map unveils itself like a bride at her wedding day to them. “Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers are proud to present the Marauder's Map,” he reads out, “Ah. I had wondered how you always knew where all the secret passage ways were. Trust Black and his gang of stupid nicknames to come up with something so ingenious, and yet so clearly meant to be used for something so juvenile..”

“I don’t think you’re one to talk about stupid nicknames, Lord Voldemort,” Harry’s lip twitches. “I still can’t believe you used an anagram --”

Tom blatantly ignores him, “Oh look, it shows people in the castle,” he says, tone perfectly bland, “No wonder you managed to seek me out with such relenting accuracy.”

Harry splutters, tugging the Map from Tom’s fingers, “Seek you out? More like avoid you, you narcissistic asshole ,” he turns his back on Tom, briefly calculating the best route in that doesn’t involve some kind of gymnastics over the front gate, “Come on,” he says, “We’ll use the one to the statue of Gregory the Smarmy on the first floor, save us trooping to the Shrieking Shack and having to dodge the Willow, Filch knows about it but we can dodge him if need be, I have my cloak--”

“Your cloak,” Tom repeats, as he follows Harry to one of the standing stones just outside Hogwarts’ gates. One of the seemingly fallen slabs will shift aside with the right shove at the right angle, and Harry does this, as Tom regards him curiously, “I hear you need it - the Ministry still want to question you. You’re avoiding them.”

“Yes,” Harry doesn’t want to talk about this, practically throwing himself into the midnight black hole of the tunnel to avoid this conversation. “But they’ve got no proof and no charges. They can’t do anything.”

Tom is persistently relentless though, dropping down almost on top of him, “Does your little club know? What do they think?”

“They understand,” Harry says, stalking off down the tunnel as if he can get away from Tom’s words. The lumos at the tip of his yew wand unreliably flares like it’s a flickering candle, illuminating his path through the gloom.

“Liar,” Tom sing-songs, following him sedately.

“Enough of them understand,” Harry corrects, because that at least is true and he doesn’t want to think about the rumours flying around the Ministry in his absence, “They know I’m not an evil megalomaniac and don’t have an obsession with death and destruction--”

“Also a lie --”

“Well, death, maybe, but the destruction is definitely all you,” Harry sneers, ducking a piece of soil sliding down into the tunnel. Tom almost walks right into it.

“Do you even have people still on your side? They believe you’re the paradigm of good , I imagine it was a shock to their system to find out you’re not --”

“Necromancy isn’t evil ,” Harry snaps.

“Just illegal,” Tom corrects him.

“No, inferi are illegal, there is nothing illegal about talking to spirits--”

“Ah, but we both know talking to spirits isn’t the only thing you do. And we both know that necromancy might not be evil, but necromancers have a stigma for a reason--”

“Just because I won’t make you an inferi army--”

“I have no desire for an inferi army,” Tom chides, “It would probably put you in a coma for a week if you did it properly. And you’re changing the subject, pretty little necromancer - it runs in your blood, that makes you different from me and my inferi armies and Grindelwald’s dabbling in rituals.”

Harry doesn’t look around to Tom. His paces increases ever so slightly. The tunnel is not long - about five minutes slightly uphill, and they’ve been walking for almost three already.

“There are stories about what happened to the last full-blooded necromancers.” If he didn’t know better he’d think Tom sounded worried about him.

“I’ve heard.”

“Do let me know if you feel your sanity slipping,” there, that was more like the Tom he was familiar with.

“Of course,” he complies, “Once I reassure to the Ministry I’m not insane, of course. I can’t hide under my invisibility cloak forever, after all.”

“Death’s own cloak,” Tom sounds amazed and he casts a glance back to see naked hunger in Tom’s brown eyes, “Wherever did you get it? You had it at Hogwarts, didn’t you? Your invisibility cloak… where did you find it?”

“Dumbledore gave it to me as a Christmas present in first year, would you believe it?” He sees Tom’s irritation flash across his face before he manages to hide it. “I know, not exactly how you expect to stumble over one of the Deathly Hallows. But it had been in the family for ages. You can trace it right back to Iolanthe Potter. Née Peverell. Her grandfather?”

“Ignotus Peverell,” Tom always had enjoyed spoiling his fun. “You have Ignotus Peverell’s Cloak and Cadmus Peverell’s Stone.”

Harry stops. Around him tunnel has flattened off, stone has begun to interspace itself into the brick. He takes a few more steps, eyes narrowing as he turns to face Tom. “Your point?”

His wand light flickers, flaring and dying like a living heart pulsing. It casts Tom’s handsome features in sharp, too-defined light. He looks like a phantom, half masked and cloaked in the gloom of the tunnel. His smile is a dark crack across his face. There is something almost serpentine about his features, “The ring is mine. The cloak is yours. The wand… well… that remains to be determined. They’re powerful objects. A cloak to hide you from death. A ring that resurrects fallen spirits. An unbeatable wand--”

The light in the tunnel flares and dims and Tom stops talking when he finds a yew wand pressed against the pulse at his throat. His smile curls, languid and content. “No,” Harry says, sharply, only a slight tremble visible in his wandhand, “The wand is mine. The ring? Mine. The cloak? Mine .”

"Technically,” he says slowly, voice a low drawl, “Technically as descendant of Cadmus Peverell who was older than Ignotus, I have better claim to their name and inheritance than you do."

"And yet I have the claim to their magic," Harry says, tone layered like stone slates stacked wrong, too close to cracking. "Funny, that, no, the Hallows are mine . You've got your horcrux. Horcruxes, if you were an idiot.” He’s not sure if Tom made another, if Harry’s reckless destruction of the diary had scared him into making more, despite his warnings otherwise.

“I told you I wouldn’t,” Tom inputs mildly. Harry doesn’t know whether to believe him or not but that mahogany gaze looks sincere.

He shakes his head, “I'm working with you anyway - be content with that, Tom."

Tom looks torn. War sharp eyes consider that statement. Vices battle; gluttony wins the battle of sins. Like he wants to claim ownership of Harry and the Hallows combined. There’s clear amusement, “You think they can fix you, don’t you?” he asks, pressing forwards against the wand tip at his throat, “A necromancer’s magic is intrinsically volatile and broken , rumoured to have driven past necromancer’s mad . You think the Hallows will save you --”

“Shut up,” Harry says, roughly, because there are scars on his magic , claw marks on his shoulder and teeth marks around his wrist that simply don’t exist in this plane of existence. He should know, he’s spent hours looking for the scars he knows he can feel tugging at his skin, but can’t see. His flesh is smooth. Unmarked. His magic though... “My magic wouldn’t be like this , if you hadn’t left me in that accursed tomb in the first place.”

Tom’s smile stays oddly fixed to his face. “Fine,” he says, knocking Harry’s wand from it’s position at his throat, stepping closer to Harry as if to pass him along the tunnel, “I get Horcruxes, you get Hallows. You need something to keep you around. Keep them.”

Keep them ?” Harry repeats, slightly disbelieving. Tom says it like it’s a concession. It's not. True, the Hallows are as much Tom's blood right as Harry's, but they're his already by magic. Soon they'll be his in their entirety. Anger flares white hot in his blood and his nails catch in Tom’s shirt as he passes, fisting in the silky fabric and wand coming back to rest over Tom’s chest, “They were never yours . Don’t give me that,” he snaps, “Like they’d work properly for you anyway.”

“Temper, temper,” Tom scolds but makes no move to remove Harry from his person. In contrast he looks delighted. It just ignites Harry’s fire further.

Harry wants to hurt him. He wants to see if Tom Riddle still bled, if he was still human enough for that.

Gods didn't bleed and if Tom Riddle bled then it proved he was still mortal.

He forces his hands to unclench from Tom’s shirt but keeps the wand aimed at Tom’s heart. His temper would never stop getting him into trouble, he thinks, regretfully. “There are moments,” he admits, comforted by the blanket shadows of the tunnel, “Moments that I hate you.” He’s too close to see Tom’s expression, he’d have to crane his head and he doesn’t want to do that, doesn’t want to give Tom the satisfaction. “Moments that I want to hurt you.”

“They say that love and hate are just two shades of obsession,” Tom’s voice is barely a whisper. “Maybe that’s it. Do you love me, Harry Potter?”

His anger recedes further, this game is familiar. Easy. And the truth is simple too because either way you look at it, Harry Potter and Tom Riddle were obsessed with each other. “I don’t think you’re totally beyond saving,” he says, simply. There’s a hitch in Tom’s breathing - he hadn’t been expecting that, and Harry leans closer, as if for a kiss, only for his fingers to splay out against Tom’s shoulder and shove him backwards--

Tom goes, arms windmilling, and then he’s gone, stepping backwards through the illusion of the wall behind him. Harry takes half a moment to compose himself before following Tom out into the first floor corridor.

He hasn’t been back to the castle since his seventh year. It’s odd, being back. The corridors, once so expansive, seem smaller, somehow. It’s quieter without the students. There is no bubble of chatter, no sound of footsteps on stairs, no flare and spark of magic being practiced. Hogwarts had always been a living breathing creature in Harry’s mind, and it’s odd being here while she slumbers.

“Second floor, then?” he asks. Tom’s gaze is still heavy. Harry can taste Tom’s magic on his tongue, the sweet spark of pomegranate and something cold. Like trees in November. “Let me just check Myrtle isn’t in her toilet, that’s the last thing either of us need.”

“Ghosts appear on the map?” Tom’s head tilts, curiously.

“The ghosts do, as does Peeves. All humans, even if they’re in animagi forms, Firenze appears, I’ve never seen a House Elf appear - it’s some weird Homunculus Charm. I’ve never seen it so empty but--” his finger taps the square marked as Headteacher’s Office, “As Hermione said, he’s not here.”

The peace of the school is pleasant. Unusual, but not unwelcome. Sun-kissed stones slumber in the late afternoon as the pair make their way up to the second floor. “It’s ridiculous how easily we just managed to waltz in,” Tom sounds a bit disgusted, “You’d have thought Dumbledore would have employed better protections.”

“Oh, he did,” Harry says, “I took a look at the wards - we raise our wands against anyone in the castle the wards kick in with a punch . Dumbledore finds out immediately. Possibly they’d react if we cast against each other, it’s hard to tell, it was all very tightly woven. I don’t want to chance it - I mean, would you try and find a workaround against Albus Dumbledore’s spellwork.”

Tom looks like he’s smelt something foul, but tries to play it off, “Glad he’s expanded beyond the simple anti-apparition charms. Someone should probably warn him to put anti-animagus charms up too.”

“I doubt McGonagall would be impressed with those .”

“Least the teachers go home during the holidays. At least - I assume they go home. Apart from Filch, and I know Pomfrey spends the summer restocking her supplies--” He peers down at the Map, just to check said caretaker isn’t lurking around.

“While Sprout and Pomfrey no doubt have to spend time here due to their careers, I really doubt the caretaker lives --”

Filch’s name isn’t visible but an equally hated name is. “Mrs Norris,” he moans in annoyance, “Oh come on --”

“That map shows cats --”

“It used to like to show me Hermione’s pet cat-- well don’t just stand there, unless you want to explain to Filch what we’re doing here--” Harry shoves the map in a pocket and grabs Tom as the name of the caretaker’s cat appears at the bend in front of them. Tom makes a noise of complaint but is given no time to utter it as Harry drags them through the nearest door.

It turns out to be a broom closet and Tom almost sends a mop flying. He grabs it with one hand to stabilize it and Harry tugs the door closed, freezing when he ends up pressed awkwardly against Tom’s chest.

“Why, Harry,” Tom’s voice is sinful, “If you’d wanted to get me into a broom cupboard for some time alone, you just needed to ask. Fifth year would have been a lot more entertaining.”

Harry glares and hits Tom, “And here I thought murder was your prime entertainment,” he sneers and is silenced by Tom’s hand covering his mouth suddenly.

“Hush,” Tom is saying and so Harry bites him. Tom flinches back, almost dropping the mop and that is, naturally, when the loud meow of that accursed cat can be heard.

“People? In the castle? Nobody but staff and house elves, my sweet, Dumbledore adjusted the wards, nobody allowed in over the summer. Sniff them out then, we’ll drag them to the Headmaster, yes--”

Harry makes a vague grab for Tom’s wand. Technically his. He misses, naturally, and Tom’s eyeing him up with amused, slightly uncomfortable brown eyes at Harry’s groping hands. Harry manages to eventually slide out the holly wand and aim a silent scent blocking charm at the door, and then, after a moment’s consideration, does what he really hopes turns out to be a transfiguration.

He lucks out, as usually, and there is the joyful meow of the cat and a bounding of paws.

“Just a mouse,” Filch mumbles, “Don’t go spitting up hairballs now, my pet, let’s check the dungeons, plenty of rats down there…” his voice trails off. Harry waits, giving the elderly caretaker time to leave the immediate vicinity, more than ready to get out of the small, claustrophobic space.

“He’s gone,” Harry says, relief creeping into his voice, and he reaches for the door handle. His fingers scrape bronze and then are knocked away as Tom grabs hold of his shoulders and pushes him gently but firmly straight back into the shelf of cleaning supplies, pressing his lips to Harry’s. The mop Tom had been holding up goes clattering to the ground and Harry lets out a muffle noise of surprise as Tom plunders his mouth. Teeth click together and Harry tilts his head unconsciously for better access, every touch sparking heat up his body. His heart races and he feels more alive, somehow, with the other pressing him down and curling sharp fingers into him.

Tom pulls away too soon, and Harry can’t quite stop the whine in his throat. He sounds like a damn dog, he thinks, followed by the thought that it’s hardly surprising. Tom’s head tilts to one side, “Definitely gone,” he says, and then suddenly he’s no longer there, warmth pulling away and vanishing out of the cupboard. Harry quivers there for a moment, before following with a snarl, stumbling only slightly as he almost trips over the mop.

“What the hell?” he snaps.

“Just thought we might as well do the full broom closet experience,” Tom leers at him, and Harry would probably have been flushed red and so embarrassed were this actually fifth year, instead his first instinct is to launch himself at Tom and make him hurt --

Temper, temper, Tom mocks in his head, and Harry curbs the feelings with dry amusement, “Your followers would be in awe. Their great Dark Lord, hiding in a broom closet from the caretaker squib.”

“You and I know full well the squib isn’t the issue. The issue is Dumbledore and his accursed new wards that would choke our magic the moment we threaten any inhabitant here - that extends to staff members, no matter how repulsive, and to memory charms.”

Harry laughs, “Albus Dumbledore terrifies you, doesn’t he?”

“No,” Tom says, cagily, “He’s an old fool.”

“If we’re to win this time, we need Albus Dumbledore. Not necessarily on our side, no, we’ve got the power without, but as a distraction.”

“I want him dead .”

“Get over your feud with him, it’s petty .”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if it was Severus Snape.” It’s almost petulant. Like a child demanding, throwing a temper tantrum until he gets what he wants. Harry feels like he’s scolding an errant kitten.

“No killing Dumbledore.”

Brown eyes are a shade too red. A kitten with claws , Harry thinks.

“No killing Dumbledore,” he reinforces. Like scolding a pet. “You only need Grindelwald dead to ascend, Dumbledore might be a fool, but he’s just that. A fool. Leave him.”

There’s a familiar burn in his pocket and he fishes out the Protean Charmed coin from his pocket. Tom recognises it with a frown. “Message from your groupies?”

“Hermione,” Harry says, frown furrowing his face. Displeasure curls, “Dumbledore’s on his way back. Guess I’m going to have to run distraction.”

Tom’s grin is a crocodile's smile, “Why bother? Together we can easily finish him off--” he must see Harry’s expression, “Or I finish him off? Or, better yet, we pick up the basilisk and let her kill him with a single stare, we don’t even have to raise a finger. Technically we’d be innocent of any crime--”

“Is that what you tell yourself about Myrtle?” Harry snaps, “No, someone needs to catch him as he gets in. He’ll sense us here. He always did have an uncanny knowledge about the castle. Also the portraits will tell him, but if I interrupt before they can pass it on--”

Dislike and annoyance crosses Tom’s face, “Just let me deal with Albus Dumbledore,” it’s not a plee, it’s more of a demand.

“Tom, I can’t exactly speak parseltongue. Just go get your pet.” He waves Tom’s petty desires off.”

“Harry,” Tom mimics his tone of speaking to a small child, “I need you to get out of the castle.”

“You said the Chamber had an exit into the lake?”

“I am not swimming --”

“Doesn’t matter, your basilisk is intelligent, right? Send her there, meet me at the lakeside, here--” he unclips his cloak from around his neck, the silky fabric fading into a colour not quite silver and not quite transparent as he shoves it at Tom, “Use this, I’ll find you under it. And I want that back .”

Tom sighs, “And I had so looked forward to the sight of you in my Chamber.”

“Another time,” Harry growls, tired of Tom’s games, already plotting the best way to get to Dumbledore’s office before the man himself did. He might have to shift and run for it, he thinks, and he needs an excuse to be here, hang on, Dumbledore owned a phoenix, right, that would be perfect although given his animagus form there was a chance the bird might attack him on sight. A death omen was hardly good news for an immortal bird. He might end up having to eat it--

Tom grabs his chin with the pads of his fingers, tugging Harry up to meet his gaze. “Don’t look him in the eyes,” Tom assesses, critically, “Your occlumency is shit.” He pauses as he skims Harry’s surface thoughts, no doubt very confused as to why Harry is contemplating the mechanics of eating a bird that spontaneously combusts. “Although it might work,” he amends.

“I think I know how to deal with Dumbledore,” Harry says, pushing him away gently but Tom’s like an unmovable object.- still cupping Harry’s cheek. His touch lingers for a second longer.

“You never did answer me,” Tom says in the moment before he pulls away, “Do you love me?”

Harry stares at him. He knows Tom doesn’t care about love, so why is he asking this? Harry barely knows the answer. In some ways it’s obvious - of course he cares for Tom. That’s his weakness, he cares for people, Tom knows this already, so what is he after? “I used to dream about killing you,” he says instead, “Of ripping your throat open with a cutting curse and watching you try and fail to breath. There were nights that thought was the only thing keeping me going. The thought of seeing you dead was the only reason I made it back to Britain.”

He expects anything but the reaction he gets. Tom… Tom looks ecstatic . “How sweet,” he murmurs honeysuckle words, “Oh, and before I forget,” he purrs, “Happy Birthday, darling,” Tom drags Harry closer for a kiss he hadn’t been expecting, lips a touch too insistent, magic sparking like fireflies in the night with pure satisfaction that just makes Harry bite back harder. Then Tom’s pulling away. "We should break into Hogwarts more often," he says in parting, "This was a fantastic date."

Harry hates more that Tom got the last word than the connotations.

Tom twists away, hand falling away and Harry feels something drop around his neck. He reaches for it, as Tom slips away, fingers finding cold metal. He peers down, but he can already feel the dark broken soul magic in the necklace allowing him to recognise it.

Only Tom Riddle would think giving Harry a piece of his soul for his birthday was a sweet idea.

“What-- Tom ?”

But Tom Riddle has already vanished down the corridor towards the Chamber leaving Harry with his horcrux.

Don’t steal it indeed, he thinks with a scoff. Possessive bastard. He drops it back under his shirt. Last thing he needs is for Dumbledore to figure it out.

*

Harry Potter is the last person Albus Dumbledore expects to find lounging in his office as he floos back from the Ministry. He should, in hindsight, not be surprised. Miss Granger had been oddly insistent he hang around for longer. He had forgotten who she was loyal to.

He had written Harry Potter off as dead, a victim of Tom Riddle’s thrall - a stupid mistake on Albus’ part; he had underestimated Lily’s willpower and James’ tenacity that lived on in their son.

He had predicted Tom, to some extent, although maybe not to make his move so early. But Tom was impulsive, of course he had felt threatened by Grindelwald’s rising movement impinging on England. He’d made to consolidate his power, already intimidatingly far-reaching for someone who had only graduated three years ago. And it had almost, in a way, been his fault - they’d forced him into the light, into legitimacy . There will be no more skulking around in the shadows for Lord Voldemort, instead Tom Riddle had been raised beyond his supposed muggleborn status to positions he wouldn’t have achieved without years of work. And while he still has a way to go, Albus has no doubt he will get there. Maybe he should be relieved that the war had come home - he would hate to imagine Tom Riddle left alone with years instead of months to gather his followers.

He had predicted Tom. Tom he had watched through school, taught, he knew what the boy was aiming for.

He hadn’t predicted the fourth player. A stupid, foolish mistake. Harry Potter, his prophesied child that turned out not to be anything of Dumbledore’s other than a series of mistakes. First his parents’ deaths, then the home that had raised him, then finally his blind eye at school as Tom Riddle and Harry Potter struck up a rivally turned friendship that would bring the wizarding world to its knees.

He hadn’t predicted the owl, asking to meet. His prophecy child. Their saviour except - no - Harry Potter is only Dumbledore’s saviour and damnation.

Harry Potter is charming and still somehow so kind , and his old school friends flock to him. Harry thinks Dumbledore is unaware of what goes on under the Order’s nose, and Dumbledore lets them. The Order were outdated when the second war started. He knows when to stand aside and let the younger generation move in.

It just breaks his heart how Harry makes friends and allies, but not with him and those who fought besides his parents. Not with Dumbledore who is prepared to lay down his life to see Grindelwald’s path of destruction halted…

No, Harry allies with Tom Riddle and his band of pseudo-followers. Harry has dark magic clinging to his skin like a cloak. He has two of the Hallows and a gold glint edging to his eye that only begins to hint at the magic he dabbles in nowadays.

He had suspected ever since he had seen the dead girl walking in the ruined street with a message for Riddle that someone had been dabbling in necromancy. And he had hoped, prayed that he was wrong, but even he has not been deaf to the rumours. The thought horrifies him.

Harry Potter is leaning against Dumbledore’s desk. He is the first thing Albus sees when he enters from the fireplace. Dressed oddly in black robes that are too tight fitting to be for anything other than duelling. He looks thinner than when Albus had last seen him, scar lightning down his face standing out sharply on his face. His hands are gloved and hair is ruffled like he’d sprinted to be up here in time to meet Dumbledore. Albus is impressed, despite himself, he could only have had minutes warning from Granger to get up here.

“Harry,” he says, letting surprise enter his voice. Seeing his former student here is, after all, the last thing he had been expecting, “You’re certainly dressed for the weather.”

It’s about 27°C outside and Harry’s wearing long sleeves and gloves. It’s a veiled question, one Harry doesn’t so much as answer as sidestep. “I love the pineapples,” Harry says, un-sincerely, he’s actually eyeing the yellow fruits dancing along the bottom of Albus’ sky blue robes with horror. Albus thinks they’re perfect - just the right shade of perfectly hideous .

He smiles benignly, heading to his chair behind his desk. Harry slides off into the seat opposite, gaze flickering to the portraits that line Dumbledore’s office walls.

Ah.

He realises what so disturbs him about this situation - it’s the sight of Harry Potter without Tom Riddle close behind. He sighs, he can only dread to think what Tom Riddle could be up to in his school.

“I’m sorry to drop in like this,” Harry starts up, and for a moment he’s a fumbling teenager caught after curfew by his teacher, trying to come up with a valid excuse, and then he’s meeting Dumbledore’s gaze with too-bright eyes and that odd spark of gold that makes Dumbledore flinch , “I’d been hoping to seek your advice--”

“Harry,” he doesn’t want to hear false excuses, “I think we both know why you’re here.”

Harry’s smile remains fixed on his face, bland and strained and doesn’t succeed in hiding the tension in his eyes. He holds the pose for a moment before slumping  back in his chair, “Fine,” he says, gaze dropping to Dumbledore’s desk, “You’re right. I’m going to kill Grindelwald. I wanted to ask for your help.”

He can’t help the sharp gasp of breath that escapes him. “I thought,” he says, slowly, “I thought you didn’t believe in the prophecy.”

“I don’t,” Harry’s tone is a tad too sharp, “This is my decision. He’s a plague on this country. He killed my parents. He killed my godfather. He isn’t going to stop until he brings our world crashing into the muggle world. We…” he pauses over the word, “We uncovered some of his plans,” Harry says, green eye flicking up to Albus’ blue and then to the side, examining the view with the attitude of one who doesn’t care, but the pose of one who cares too much, “He’s going to make a move against the students on September 1st. Kings Cross is in the middle of muggle London - he’s going to tear away the concealment charms… nobody will be able to fight him, not with all the school children around. But we found out his plan, we’ve got a trap prepared - I’d appreciate your help to stop him. Trap him, cage him, finish him --”

He sits there, as if waiting for validation. As if waiting for Albus to leap straight into his plan. But Albus can’t think, can’t breath --

He had looked at Harry and Tom and seen himself and Gellert and he was so fucking wrong .

He’d never been scared of Gellert.

Your plan,” he repeats, quietly, feeling far older than he is, “Yours and Tom Riddle’s.”

The glint of gold in Harry’s eye grows steely, his head tilts to one side, challengingly. “I know you have a problem with him,” he says, callously, “He hates you. I never understood what warranted it but just listening to you throw him under the bus, maybe I can guess. Did you even give him a chance?”

“I gave him many chances,” Albus says, “I did nothing while he passed through my school like an epidemic--”

A harsh laugh, “Like you did nothing about Grindelwald? For old times sake?”

“I had hoped they would finish each other off,” he admits, because the air is already heavy with secrets. Throwing another bone onto the pile will make no difference now, “Gellert always did hate people who cared nothing for his accomplishments, and Tom did always have to be the best--”

He sees the moment Harry makes the connection, eyes closing in mock despair, “You’re the leak,” he breathes in realisation, “You met with Grindelwald. You told him about Cadmus’ line ending in the Gaunts. I had wondered - Ron, Hermione and I destroyed the records, I assumed he’d found a pureblood family with the right family trees but the Gaunts got thrown off them years ago. I’d wiped the trace of the Peverell line, Grindelwald wasn’t meant to find me or Tom and you… you threw us at him.”

It was his worst decision of late. He’d intended it as a distraction, and instead had ended up with a muggle family dead and himself swamped in guilt guilt guilt.

The truth is he had been late to Diagon not because he was trying to hunt down an artifact of power, but because he was too scared to face his mistakes.

He can’t make excuses anymore, Harry is right.

“I threw him at Tom. Just Tom,” he corrects. Not that it makes the act better. “To my deepest shame,” he says, quietly, “I have no excuses.”

He can’t meet the scarred gaze that rests on him, weighing his heart up against a feather. Albus knows the outcome, knows the weight of his crimes far exceed that. “You sent him after Tom.” Harry’s voice is cold steel. Outrage. A note of alarm in it as he laughs at his own words, “It’s funny,” Harry says, quietly, “Once I would have given anything to hurt him, but now--”

“You’re good for him,” Albus notes, “I only fear he’s not good for you.”

He looks surprised, avoids Albus’ gaze by eyeing up the Sorting Hat sitting high and lonely on a dust covered shelf.

“You’re stronger than I,” Albus says with a wry twist to his lips.

Why is it, he wonders, that they’re all fated to tear themselves to pieces for greatness? For lies and whispered promises, their life defined for them at so young an age--

His words startle Harry, and he turns to look back at him, "I did what you couldn't do. I gave him a chance."

"You covered up a murder."

Harry doesn’t quite manage to hide his flinch.

Albus sighs, “I don’t know how or why,” he says, “But I know Tom was implicit in that poor girl’s death. I can speak to snakes too, he professed to me on our first meeting, they find me. Whisper things to me . I knew then he would be something, someone important, had I only known what he’d do with his power-- he was clever, the legends too old and no clues left to use until the body and then-- well, I think you probably know the rest better than I.”

Harry’s tense. The guilt is obvious in his posture, in the uneasy tap tap tap of nails against the edge of the desk. He shrugs it off, callously, “Why does it matter? She was already dead, we just ensured the school stayed open.”

“Harry, Tom Riddle was capable of murder at fifteen. He’s dangerous, and he’s not a good person to be making these sorts of plans with.”

Harry's laugh is a horrible, tortured thing, "You think I don't know that?" he gestures at his scars, the first time he confirms for Albus their actual origin despite his suspicions,  "The real question is - you knew what he was.” He stands suddenly, pacing across to Dumbledore’s shelf of trinkets before spinning back to him, the perfect pureblood posture and his odd gold magic dripping off him. “Childhood history of animal brutality,” he quotes, as if from memory, “Violence, arson , theft , compulsive lying… ” His head tilts to one side, curiously, “I can’t blame you for Tom’s behaviour. Circumstances make us, and they certainly made him. But sitting aside and doing nothing while he sets a basilisk on the school? You’re just as guilty.”

Albus opens his mouth to agree, but Harry’s ire slams him down.

“Sitting aside while Grindelwald murders his way across the country? Standing back and letting my parents fall to his wand, hoping praying beyond all hopes that your precious prophecy comes true and you don’t have to step in and kill your beloved -- at least if Tom goes too far I’m prepared to shut him down. I know how to kill him.”

There is more to his words to be dissected, but not right now. “We all share guilt,” he admits, freely, “But covering it up, Harry, that makes you culpable to. Even you are not exempt from trying to protect the ones we love.”

Harry’s smile is so so sad, “And that?” he asks, rhetorically, “That only happened because I didn’t want Hogwarts to close. I couldn’t go back - wouldn’t go back - to the family I was condemned to. Because of you. Your decisions. Standing aside and letting other people sort out the problem.” He shrugs, “We’re all to blame for something though, right? Circles within circles.”

Albus feels like he’s trying to knit with only one needle and the wool just continues to unravel, the faster he tries to thread it.

"This war could have been prevented. My parents’ deaths could have been prevented. All of this could have been prevented." He stalks up to the desk, hands splaying across the wood as he leans forwards, eagerly, “Help us prevent worse from happening, Professor. Please--”

He opens his mouth to acquiesce, because Harry is right, this knowledge, this plan had potential and--

He pauses at the sight of an odd amber-coloured locket visible around Harry’s neck. Albus is good at sensing magic. It’s a skill he had honed, primed and so he just has to lay eyes on the thing to see the foul twisted magic radiating off the thing.

“Harry,” he can’t stop the horror ringing in his voice, “What is that?”

It’s gone from his sight moments later, Harry straightening smoothly and tucking it back in his shirt. It’s like someone has just relit a candle in the room that had gone out. “Birthday present,” Harry drawls, voice a little too knowing. He knows what it is. “Turned twenty-one today, Professor.”

“A birthday present. From Tom.” It’s not a question. It’s not something he needs confirmed.

There is a moment he contemplates finishing off not just Gellert, but Tom Riddle too. Clean up his messes except--

No. He’d already tried that and it had been a foolish venture before he started it. Besides, looking at the young man before him with a broken soul shard around his neck, he knows Tom Riddle is not his to touch.

“Stop acting like he’s your own personal failure,” Harry’s voice is calm. Soothing the damnation in Albus’ ribs. He stands, stalking over to the door, pausing with one hand on the handle. “Tom Riddle is responsible for his own decisions. Take responsibility for yours. The Knights and DA are meeting in a week’s time to establish the plan. The Order are welcome to join.”

“The DA?”

Harry twists around, “The-- I thought you’d know ,” his tone has grown cruel. Callous. “Dumbledore’s Army,” he quotes, lips curling in a mocking grin, “We’ll fight, even if you won’t. Oh, and if Grindelwald finds out about this?” the side of his mouth kicks up again, but it’s not a smile, it’s a twist of his face, a flash of lightning scar and gold magic, a threat left unfinished but still clearly present as he vanishes from Albus’ office, the door drifting closed behind him.

He sinks lower in his seat. He has a lot to think about. He did not plan for this, he hadn’t seen it coming at all .

“Albus,” the portrait of Dippet says, over from near the fireplace, as if this is the first time he’d been able to speak - possibly it had been, “Riddle was here too, he was last seen on the second floor--”

“It’s okay,” he holds one hand up, “I’m sure Harry knows what he’s doing.”

He can only hope.

*

He pauses to watch the large hulking form of the grim vanish up the stairs. Harry is as much a dog as an eldritch horror forced into the form of a feral wolf. And he's Tom's. A shudder of joy runs through him, and for a moment he wonders where he'd be without someone to challenge him, push him, to break him--

He hopes Trelawney happens to pass by and see Harry in Grim form. It might prove entertaining.

Myrtle is haunting one of her stalls in the second floor girl’s bathroom. Tom tries out Harry’s cloak - lethifold skin, he thinks, he’d love to examine it further but not only does he know Harry would hurt him for it, but the cloak itself feels wrong in his hands.

It knows it isn’t his.

He flings it over himself anyway and hisses a petulant open at the sink. He hears Myrtle’s confusion at the groaning of magic twists the stone tunnel open, and then another hiss summons up some stairs. The stairs are reluctant to emerge - Tom thinks the mechanism or spell might be broken from all the tampering following Myrtle’s murder.

“Is anyone there?” the ghost says, “If you’ve come to make fun of me --”

Nothing for it, he thinks, and clasping hold of Harry’s invisibility cloak, he throws himself into the tunnel.

He regrets not thinking of throwing a cleaning charm down first. Years of mould and algae cling to him. A cushioning charm stops him from crashing into the giant snake skin at the bottom of the tunnel, and several scourgify charms clean his robes, but he can still smell pondweed on them.

It’s a shame Harry isn’t still with him - he’d been looking forward to showing him around the Chamber. There is more than what there appears to be on first inspection - a massive hall, three times the size of the Great Hall is impressive, after all, but there are at least two shelves filled with ancient books, and several rare artifacts Tom had never had time to explore properly. He’s pretty sure at least a few of the tomes would have been of interest to Harry, even if he didn’t have the desire to simply show off his heritage in a way he has not had the opportunity to so before.

Still, he needs to talk to the basilisk - it was probably better Harry wasn’t here for that, even if he can’t understand the bloodthirsty words that slip from her serpentine tongue.

His footsteps are damp on the cold stone slabs. His lumos flares and hovers above him, twisted green by the light that shimmers faintly around, reflections from the lake so far above them.

And at the far end, looking over his greatest secret, Salazar Slytherin sits immortalised in stone. He thinks it must be Salazar himself, if not a Gaunt ancestor. The features hold that same monkey-ish quality that Morfin had held. Then again the Chamber had undergone a lot of renovations since the Founders’ Era, including but not limited to the connection to the plumbing. Corvinus Gaunt was either mad or a genius. Maybe both.

That it ended up in the girl’s bathroom though-- inconvenient.

Well, time to see if the basilisk still remembered him.

“The Heir of Salazar Slytherin has returned. Come out and greet your Lord.”

Like a gaping maw to hell, the great stone mouth cracks open.

*

Dumbledore frustrates Harry.

He always has, from the moment he’d found Harry sitting in front of a mirror, aged eleven and staring with hungry eyes at the image of his parents, immortalised before him in polished glass.

He hadn’t even recognised them at first--

And it’s an old wound. Deep and never fully healed. And he’s moved past it, he knows nobody is perfect, least of all Albus Dumbledore but--

The man had the audacity to try and go after Tom.

It is, in reflection, the same thing Tom had tried to do - bait Grindelwald into a trap and finish him off. It shouldn’t annoy him so much, but it does . Tom is his . If anyone kills Tom it will be Harry and Harry alone. And right now, he contemplates, fingering the cool chain around his neck, he is the only one who can.

Tom has, of course, probably made another horcrux to risk giving this one to Harry. He doubts Tom trusts him enough to give him his only one, but it is a sign of… of something , Harry isn’t sure what. Trust? Care ?

I want to hurt you, he had told Tom, and Tom had smiled and left him with part of his soul.

And Dumbledore had the audacity to not only try to sic Tom and Grindelwald against each other like rabid dogs, but to try and warn Harry against him. The man was years too late. Did he think Harry was an idiot?

Harry is under no illusions about the kind of person he has fallen in bed with, he should, after all, know more than anyone with a piece of the man’s soul around his neck and scars from his hand across his face.

Then again Dumbledore probably should be suspicious, after all, Harry and Tom working together for a dubious reason is nothing new after all and doesn’t lead to great consequence. That had been the foundation of their friendship. Dumbledore in true Dumbledore fashion knows this.

The truth is the man is more problematic than Harry had intended.

The lake is still. Like a pensieve, spilling silver memories onto Hogwarts shore. He waits there, fingers playing cat’s cradle with the ward strands. He hovers over one for a moment, before plucking through to find the one he wants to… well… not cut, trim , maybe--

“Tom,” he asks, the Map open next to him and Tom Riddle’s name approaching him. There is a ripple as the air parts to reveal where Tom is standing, “Did you put a curse on the Defence position to kick out any magical signature but yours?”

“Of course not,” Tom’s lips curl lightly, tone that of sweet lemons, “Why would I do that?”

He doesn’t question it further, toying at the one spell wrapped around the castle-- “Where’s your pet?”

Tom’s grin is slightly crazed. It’s the only warning Harry gets before the still waters next to him erupts sending him scrambling to his feet and five paces back from the lake. The basilisk erupts like a reticent of prehistoric times, water pouring off glittering scales as she opens her mouth revealing fangs as long as Harry’s arm.

He slams his eyes closed, relieved that she’d emerged from water. Petrification was inconvenient, but reversible, death was… well, potentially reversible to him, but far more of a problem--

“It’s okay. Snakes don’t have eyelids but I charmed the transparent scales covering her eyes - she can still see but her gaze won’t kill. Open your eyes, it’s safe.”

He cracks one eye open, and for a moment will only look at the reflection in the choppy water. “Sure?”

“Trust me.”

He doesn’t, but he still looks up, and for a moment he thinks this is how he will die a second time, staring at a great yellow pair of eyes, like dinner plates polished golden, except they stare at him and nothing happens.

“See?” Tom says, proudly, like a child showing off his toys. And yes, Harry does see.

She’s beautiful . And yet terrible . Ribbed scales run down in ridges, her colouring is emerald green in places, shaded to dark black in others. There are crimson feathers along the scales at the back of her head, a remnant of the magic that made her from a chicken’s egg. To think, that this magnificent serpent was born from something so mundane, to think that her own parents could so easily have caused her death--

To be born from nothing and destined for greatness…  she reminds Harry of Tom, but he doesn’t think Tom would appreciate the comparison.

She’s centuries old. All cold cruel steel, Chamber forged now, vicious famine on her fangs. She hisses something, and Tom snaps something back, foreign words clipped, harsh, rounding off into softer vowels and breathy wet throat sounds that make Harry shudder just to hear them.

“Is she going to eat me?”

“No, she obeys me unconditionally,” Tom says, staring at her with adoration. A living breathing reminder of his heritage. He reaches out, laying a pale hand against green scales and the serpent rumbles something to her master. Harry takes in her size - she’s massive , easily eight foot if not longer.

“What’s she saying?” he asks, hoping the snake isn’t asking to eat him as a snack.

“You smell like grim,” Tom hums, and hisses something back. “Like death and dog and something I can’t translate into English. Humans don’t have a word for it, but you can stop looking seconds away from running.” He lets his hand drop from her great and terrible scaled nose, turning to Harry. “Can we apparate out now?”

He tears his gaze from the king serpent, “No, the giant serpent distracted me. Give me a moment…”

The serpent settles her head back into the water, twisting and snapping at what Harry hopes is a fish. He closes his eyes to her, reaching out for the wards he’d attempted to familiarise himself to earlier. He can feel them, like electric pylons buried in the ground beneath him. He drops into a messy sprawl in the grass on the lakeside, sinking his hand in the ground and feeling the hum of magic in the soil. For a moment he can pretend he’s back at school, like everything is okay and there isn’t a war happening.

"Are you done? I thought it was easy to drain magic."

His eyes flash open, "This isn't easy," he snaps, "Have you any idea how many spells there are around Hogwarts? I have to find one specific spell, and then try and drain one tiny corner of it so we can apparate out with a giant snake, but not damage the whole thing so as to leave Hogwarts open to attack all while feeling like I’ve stuck my hand in acid so no, no this is not easy and I am not done."

Tom, surprisingly, drops to the ground next to Harry, a frown etched onto his perfect features. “What did Dumbledore have to say?” he asks, like a content cat who has just been proven right. “Did he warn you about me corrupting you? Did he try and persuade you to be his prophecy child?”

It’s that, more than anything, that makes up Harry’s mind for him. “Do you still want to kill Albus Dumbledore?” he asks, quietly.

“Always,” Tom says, hungrily, reaching out towards Harry, fingers brushing the horcrux locket before coming to rest against his cheek.

“Do it. Kill him,” Harry says, before he can regret it, because he will, he is already, “I’ll look the other way just… just make it painless.”

“Why, sweetheart,” Tom says, “I’ve broken you, I think. But don’t worry. The killing curse leaves no marks.” His gaze is that of the basilisk behind him, venomous, rose-sharp and lethal, and Harry surges forwards, clawing red nail marks into Tom’s perfect skin. Around his neck the soul necklace is like a beating heart against his chest. Torn out and shoved into unforgiving metal.

“Thanks for the birthday present, by the way,” he says. “I’m still not giving you my Hallows.”

“Of course not,” Tom smiles against his lips, “Letting me kill Albus Dumbledore is thanks enough. I really have ruined you," his tone is one of delight, his kisses are too hungry, too sharp and Harry just takes it. Their heartbeats are stampedes under tissue thin skin stretched over needle line veins, "Harry Potter, advocating murder." Tom's fingers trail down Harry's scar and he shudders beneath curious fingers, “Will you stay then?” he asks, and the words don’t register initially, they hold no meaning, no register, no context except for a curious yearning desperation in the question. “Stay,” this isn’t a begged question, it’s an instruction but the question is still being asked, somehow. “Stay by my side. Just you and I, Harry, just think of what we could do,” in his eyes are firelit dreams of so many futures, all different but the pair of them the one constant.

“Together?” Harry can almost see it too.

It terrifies him, just a little. How much he wants to brand, to bleed his touch into Tom’s skin. To tear Tom to pieces and rebuild him like Tom had done to him.

“Together.”

Harry has a record of making decisions that are bad for him, though, head nodding his assent, “We're so fucking bad for each other," he murmurs against his lips before Tom bites down, claiming what little Harry will allow him to.

Chapter Text

(Now)

Kings Cross Station is it’s usual bustling self. A large clock hangs above the platform with a board of trains arriving and departing. The curved metal roof slants, panes of glass a patchwork of cleanliness. Wayward pigeons that have gotten misplaced flutter through amongst the commuters on the morning of the 1st September, trolleys and suitcases wheeling past with a stampede of feet. A humming mother leans over her wailing baby whose won’t cease upset crying. The mother has tears of frustration stinging her eyes.

Albus’ clothing today is less flamboyant than usual. He doesn’t need to draw attention to himself or make people feel uncomfortable. He is, in a way, dressing for a meeting with a very close friend. It’s still a deep green. He’s not quite sure of the way it looks with his auburn hair and beard, and the last thing he had wanted to do was ask Minerva of her opinion. His deputy head was still running around trying to prepare for a new school year.

A student wanders past, and Dumbledore’s gaze slides off them as they get close to the barrier. He looks back to them and his gaze slides off them again, the Notice-Me-Not on the barrier extending to recognise the student walking towards it. A small family pass, clearly wizards despite the muggle dress. There is an owl on their trolley, hooting at passing muggles. The boy is short with dark hair and bright eyes. The student is clearly a first year with how eager he skips towards the barrier.

The students are the future, Albus thinks, and as always it has come around sooner than he planned. He looks forwards to seeing how the boy is sorted, and wonders how much that might influence him, if it influences him at all.

He remembers two other boys with dark hair sitting under the hat. They couldn’t have been more similar or different. They were two parallel lines that should never have crossed. They were practically Godric and Salazar themselves reincarnated.

Harry and Tom are everything he and Grindelwald weren’t. They will change the Wizarding World in all the ways Albus had dreamed and more. The thought is terrifying because Tom Riddle is not someone who inspires trust in him. Not by any measure.

But Harry does. And he may not be the wide-eyed boy who went looking for a troll because he had heard another student was in trouble but Albus chooses to believe that boy has not completely been burnt away by the raging inferno of Riddle.

Still, he could be wrong (he prays he is not wrong). His instincts are rarely wrong, but there are always exceptions.

The biggest exception stands in front of him, looking like he’s reading the train departure times on the notice board. He knows Dumbledore is standing there, he can see it in the ways the shoulders tense and then relax. He lifts his head, turning so he can see the smile sitting on his face, “Albus,” his tone is still clear, crisp enunciation, “I’ll admit it. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. I like the beard.” He sounds almost fond.

“Gellert.” The man’s name tastes like apples in his mouth. Tempting, but the ultimate sin. Why apples, he wonders, what did they ever do?

He’d thought the same of his friend once.

“I’ll admit I’m surprised you asked to meet,” Grindelwald turns to face him fully. He looks well. Albus says as much and the man laughs, “Victory suits me. And soon I imagine I will look better.”

Dumbledore clears his throat, “Ah, no, I don’t think you will. In fact, if I were you, I’d stop now. You’ve been outmanoeuvred.”

“Oh, you mean this trap? This is a trap, isn’t it?” one pale blonde eyebrow arches, “Don’t disappoint me now, Vinda went missing weeks ago - did your precious little prophesied saviour really think I wouldn’t change my plans? Reposition my men, reschedule my attack--?”

He swallows the lump in his throat, “Harry is smarter than most people give him credit for.”

Potter ,” Grindelwald sneers, “Is descended directly from Iolanthe Peverell. It took a lot of digging, a lot of bribery but I found where the cloak is, only to realise it’s the same place the ring is. Do you know what your little saviour is, now? What Peverell’s blood has turned him into?”

Albus Dumbledore has been purposely blinding himself to what Tom Riddle and Harry Potter have been doing for practically his whole life. He has no intention of changing that - he doubts the pair would appreciate him interfering more than necessary. “You mean beyond his success in Hallow collecting and his rather unusual animagus form?”

“He’s a necromancer .”

Dumbledore closes his eyes at confirmation of what he already knows, trying to ignore the cold chill that runs down his spine. The pieces of a puzzle he didn’t realise he had been building slot into place, the picture clear to see. “Ah.”

Gellert laughs. It twists his marble cold face into a beautiful statue of mirth, “You didn’t know,” his head tilts, “Guess your new boy toy doesn’t share everything with you after all. Or is he too busy on his knees for that no-name Riddle?” He shakes his head, dismissively, “He’s a necromancer. By blood . You know what that means, you know the real reason they hunted them all down, don’t you, Albus? They’re crazed, half-mad creatures famished and obsessed with decay. Full-blooded necromancers are the reason the Ministries banned the practice in the first place. He’ll go the same way, you know this.”

Albus shakes his head. Over Grindelwald’s head he can see the time on the grand clock hanging above the departure boards. It’s almost 11 o’clock. “You still underestimate his strength of character,” he says, sliding his oak wand into his hand, “I have more faith in him than that and like I said - did you really think they hadn’t planned around you? After all,” he spreads out his hands, almost self-deprecating, “I’m here.”

Grindelwald’s head tilts, as if considering him and finding him not worth it. He turns away, “Enough games, Dumbledore. I think it’s time we get to the main act. No doubt Riddle and Potter have pathetic attempt to stop me planned but they’re no match for me. Not even you, although I’ll admit you’re a wonderful distraction,” his tone is leering, mismatched eyes gleaming as the Elder Wand twists in his hand. “It’s time to bring it all crashing down.”

*

(Three weeks earlier)

It’s the oddest group you’d probably expect to find working together, civility a thin veneer but still present. A firelit table, schematics and plans and people leaning over with quills and a few pens the purebloods keep picking up and clicking with blatant disgust that turns into startled curiosity. Smaller groups huddle together, whispering among themselves and at the head, Harry and Tom, their respective groups spilling out around them.

If Dumbledore and his Order are coming, they’re yet to show. Ron is waving his arms around, a chessboard set up in front of him with scraps of parchment with scrawled names stuck to the chess pieces.

“Grindelwald’s going to know, there’s no way we can keep this secret for a month . Not if Rosier doesn’t show back up.”

“We could Polyjuice her and pretend.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, it would never hold.”

“I’m good at imitating people.”

Harry thinks Barty Crouch Jr is more likely to snap and murder someone, but declines from saying so. “So we prepare for that,” he shrugs, “A trap in a trap in a trap. He expects us there; he won’t change his plans. The timing is too perfect, the attack point too obvious a weakness to give it up. So we don’t, but we make it really fucking difficult for him.”

Ron knocks over his carefully constructed pieces, “So your plan is not to have a plan?”

“We need to do something about the kids. We can’t allow the students to walk into the middle of a firefight.”

“But informing all the children and parents makes it obvious that we know something’s up. There’s no way it won’t find it’s way back to Grindelwald.”

“So we don’t tell them,” Ron says, in sudden realisation, head snapping up from where he’d been toying with the fallen queen, “We make like we’re winging it, like the pair of you are just going straight after Grindelwald, and then we turn the tables.”

“How exactly do you expect to do that, Weasley?” Tom sneers, clearly unimpressed.

Ron gestures to the mess of the chessboard, “We take everything off the board.”

*

(Now)

The baby with the crooning mother is still crying. Someone has dropped their handbag and is picking up it’s contents frantically. A passerby stops to help.

They don’t pay any attention to Grindelwald standing in the middle of them, Elder Wand sparking with power. He triumphantly thrusts the Elder Wand in the air, as if proclaiming its power.

It’s like a thunderclap. It rumbles through the station, through Dumbledore’s bones. Light flares and splits from the wand in the Dark Lord’s hand like the shell of an egg, splintering outwards. The crack of spells lightnings like electricity arcing from the storm. A growl of tide and hungry waves and it crashes out, arching towards the panes of glass in the roof. It hits tiles like there is weight to the magic; cracking them and sending them flying.

And for a moment the platforms are all visible, nine-and-three-quarters there in the subspace between its neighbours, overlapping, a hair’s breadth away, and yet unreachable.

And with another whip- crack of lightning, a crack appears in the brickwork.

The baby is still crying.

A man with a suitcase on the phone notices the time and sprints across the station. A family pause to stare at a map.

Grindelwald stiffens, and Albus sees the realisation appear in his eyes, sees the fury as he whirls around, dropping his wand hand from his brutal attack against the spells within the station to throw a wordless shockwave out. Several people duck, but they are few and far between and Dumbledore can see wands sticking out of sleeves and pockets. Grindelwald’s men, blending with the commuters, look as alarmed as their leader does when the people around them stutter like a muggle television, static and grainy radio waves and then vanish. Where moments earlier there had been the hustle and bustle of morning commuters there is suddenly nothing but silence.

“Ah,” quiet realisation, angry but almost expectant, oddly delighted that the pieces on the chessboard are fighting back, “An illusion. How clever. How quaint .”

“And a lot of muggle-repelling charms,” Albus admits freely, now the game is up. He smiles serenely, unbothered by the way Grindelwald’s acolytes slide out wands and begin circling closer.

Gellert shrugs, “It doesn’t matter. I’ll still rip down the wards. Let’s see how you get your children to school when their secret station is no longer hidden,” he twists to Albus, “Don’t you get tired?” he asks, simply, “Of having to hide?”

Of course , Albus thinks, but doesn’t trust himself to respond. Exposure like this is not the way to go. “They are children,” he plees, hoping, praying he might appeal a logical, rational portion of the man before him, “Gellert, please --”

Pyrkagia ,” Grindelwald answers, and fiendfyre blooms at the tip of the Elder Wand. No lightning storms now - he goes straight for blue fire that leaps and rushes straight out. Such a hungry spell, it spreads out leathery wings, a draconic head snaking around and tail thrashing before it leaps straight upwards. If it breaks through it will go for the rest of London. If it breaks through there will be no hiding any more.

It’s so tempting to let him.

But Albus is not here to worry about that. He is merely the distraction.

*

(Three hours earlier)

“It needs to be a clean win,” Harry had insisted when they gathered that morning. “Besides,” he adds, his scar-torn voice is as smooth and gorgeous as rabies, “With Dumbledore out of the way you have a clean shot at that Defence job you’ve always dreamed about. Give the ministry a chance to settle down for a few years before we overthrow it. Behave , Tom, or I’ll make you wish you had followed your original plan of a life in retail.”

Tom had laughed, “As you wish, my hound.”

“I’m not a dog --”

“No,” he looks amused, “You’re a grim. A hellhound, a bargest, a black shuck, a garmr…you’re death walking, Harry Potter, and you’re mine .”

“Your own personal hell hound,” Harry says, Tom’s thumb tracing the scar that bisects his eye, thumbing at the eyelashes. Harry doesn’t flinch, blinking slowly, “You know there are some myths of black dogs that guide travellers to the right path in the darkness?”

Tom’s nail scratches down Harry’s face, “ Faire chlaidh ,” he says, “Graveyard watch. A churchyard vigil haunting me; is that it? I’m your bleedin’ pet project, then?”

His partner’s grin is hoarfrost, his heart beat is in stereo with Tom’s soul kept safe around his neck, his kiss is like dry ice. It would be child’s play for Harry to bring Tom back if a Killing Curse flies straight, that is, he tells himself, the only reason he’d give Harry his horcrux. “No killing anyone but Dumbledore,” Harry whispers, “And if you’re good I’ll give you Grindelwald’s still beating heart.”

“Enough with the bedroom talk, come on, Hermione’s waiting, where are your men?” Ron Weasley had interrupted them with fake gagging motions behind Harry at this point. Tom had idly wondered if he’d be actually gagging if he knew what their so-called ‘bedroom talk’ consisted of.

Harry’s hand sneaks down Tom’s wrist, pressing against his left arm in the same spot his marked followers have their curling snake tattoo. It’s meant to move freely around the body but it has a tendency to stay there; a flaw in the spellwork somewhere he has yet to work out. Tom grits his teeth at the feeling of Harry’s magic - it’s like when their wands interact, an electrifying static spark. “Let’s see how quick your little club show up,” Harry leers, “Do they arrive immediately or are they ever late?”

“Where exactly are your little defence club turned revolution?” Tom yanks his wrist from Harry’s grip, rubbing it slightly to ease the tingle of electricity still in his veins. He still can’t believe he had forgotten about Harry’s club. He had, after all, been a Slytherin and not invited. He had also been the heir with control of the monster they were all preparing to fight, so in hindsight it was probably a good thing he hadn’t been. Also Harry had spent months of fifth year following him and being a general nuisance while Tom was trying to exert his control over a thousand year old basilisk that was very insistent on eating muggleborns.

“They’re here,” Ron says, flatly, “Clearly more organised than your haughty pureblood propaganda club--”

There is a crack as several Knights apparate in. Unfortunately it's only Crouch and Malfoy, closely followed by the younger Lestrange brother who almost lands on top of them.

“I think you should screen your minions for basic competency,” Harry looks like he’s trying not to laugh.

He half wants to let Harry’s DA volunteer to fight and save his followers, but as Bellatrix and Rodolphus appear, the former looking slightly manic he thinks maybe Weasley has a point - it might be an idea to thin out the pureblood upper class a little. Avery isn’t even here yet, his second in command is usually more prompt than this.

Disregarding it for now, he leaves Harry running things through with Weasley who, although Tom will never admit it, is a pretty good tactician. He’s also doing Tom’s job of forcing Harry to eat more - he’s been looking thinner lately although whether it’s stress or the drain of his abilities Tom can’t tell. It’s not like Harry had been the paradigm of health before Tom had tried to murder him.

Around him Grimmauld Place is a treasure trove of hidden artifacts and dark magic - he’d love to explore it further when he isn’t liable to running into a redhead, of which there seems to be a never-ending supply. Still, he makes it to the kitchen unheeded. Holly is smooth in his hand. It is as if it’s the wand that had always chosen him, and he wants for no other (he as good as owns the yew wand and it’s user anyway, Tom’s inner kleptomaniac is content).

He unlocks the door to the pantry. It’s empty, a few old tins and stale biscuits on the high shelf. At the back wall, huddled in a mess on the cold stone, a rat-faced man flinches away from the light that seeps in through the open door, like a grinning crack.

“Good news,” he announces to Pettigrew, “Harry’s been very anti-murder lately, so he left you to me to deal with. And I’ve got the perfect thing, you see, I have a beautiful woman I’d like to introduce you to.”

His smile is like a knife, waiting to be bloodied.

[Avery does eventually turn up twenty minutes late, hair dripping wet and face flushed, “I’m sorry,” Avery says, looking mortified, “I was in the bath, I wasn’t expecting to be summoned early!”

Tom decides not to even deal with that, thanking Circe that nobody else heard.]

*

(Now)

“Is it true?” a wide-eyed third year asks, staring at King’s Cross, “Are Grindelwald and Dumbledore duelling in there?”

“Hush, Fitzgerald, head over to the queue for apparition,” Ginny Weasley shoos the kid away. He is not the first and he will not be the last to ask these questions. It’s a pain, but she keeps the fixed smile on her face and keeps herding the kids through. He patience is thin, but her anger is tempered by the anxiety rolling through her, the knowledge of the wizards behind her in the train station. They’ve been here for the past hour herding children, and Dumbledore had finally walked in fifteen minutes ago.

Nearby, Seamus’ loud Irish tones can be heard arguing with parents. “The children only ,” he reiterates for what must be the hundredth time, “We’ve already got to ferry five hundred children, we can’t ferry you too and you’re not keyed in to apparate to the station--”

“If you think I’m letting a stranger take my daughter into the middle of a duel --”

“Ma’am, I assure you, we have the children’s safety as our top most priority--” Tom Riddle is charming smiles and a slight East London twang that makes him all the more endearing to the frantic parents.

An entitled pureblood shoulders his way through, clearly under the impression he’s better than Tom Riddle. Wrong, Ginny thinks, because Riddle prides himself on being perfect. He is in his element. “And what precautions are being taken?” Selwyn demands, “Why won’t you tell us?”

There is a horrible spine tingling growl. Like a nightmare dressed in hellfire the pitch coloured grim materialises next to Tom Riddle like a wraith. There are screams from those amongst the DA who aren’t familiar with Harry’s animagus form, and hushed chidings from those who are. Selwyn lurches away, mumbling a rite in Latin as he stares with wide eyes at the grim.

Harry ignores them, stalking straight past and making a beeline for Ginny. He gets within a metre before his form melts back to human, he pauses half a second to shake himself off like a wet dog before shooting her a cheeky grin. “You ready?”

Selwyn is sputtering, torn between revulsion, horror and awe. Riddle looks amused, gesturing to where Draco Malfoy is lurking to deal with the pureblood.

“Naturally,” she responds to Harry’s query, tossing red hair over her shoulders, “Ron and Hermione are on the train already.”

Harry hasn’t changed since she met him aged ten, a shy wide-eyed boy on the platform. She’d be enraptured at first by this boy who wasn’t-her-brothers, and then later when Ron, Fred and George had collecting him in her dad’s flying car she had been fascinated by how kind he was, even to a fumbling idiotic preteen girl.

Her crush had seemed stupid for so long. She’d dated other people, moved on, and then in sixth year had turned around to see Harry looking at her in a way he never had before.

He doesn’t now. He hasn’t since their mutual break-up in his final year. Instead he has eyes only for Tom Riddle and the expression on his face?

He’d never looked at her like that. Like he’s the centre of his world, like there is nothing more important than Riddle in his eyes. It’s scary, she thinks, and she both hopes and fears someone looking at her like that. Because Riddle returns the expression, and she’s familiar with it on his face because it’s the same look he has before he turns to murder or torture.

Hermione worries about it. Ron complains about Riddle’s crimes, about the scars he’s left in Harry’s flesh and psyche. And Ginny thinks that they don’t give Harry enough credit.

He’s clearly not the victim here - neither of them are. No matter how often Riddle looks like he wants to dissect Harry to find out how he works or Harry course corrects their plan to the less violent, the more secure and safer option and Riddle doesn’t even argue --

They’re terrifying together. Ginny doesn’t know why Hermione and Ron are scared for Harry, when they should be scared of Harry.

“Recovered from the other day?” he asks, eyes fever bright and she’s not sure if they’re green or gold. Hermione had force fed him a potion on his birthday to try and fix the cataract scarring to his left eye but it hadn’t worked. Harry had spent the next hour vomiting up every last dreg of the potion while Hermione hovered outside the door, flustered and guilty and debating with herself whether they had just left healing it too late or if it was a bad reaction with Harry’s magic.

It’s a worry because if potions didn’t work… well, what other potions won’t work for him?

“Mostly recovered,” she answers his question, shrugging.

Percy’s wedding - a quiet, family thing - had been interrupted by a collection of Grindelwald’s men. Whether they had been attacking the high ranking family of the Order, or whether they were still after Bill who had been fending them off since a werewolf tried and failed to capture him two years ago it’s hard to tell because they’d misjudged just who the Weasley’s were friends with.

Harry is the seventh brother Ginny isn’t quite sure when she gained, only that she knows he’d die for them, just as they would for him.

“Mostly?”

“Just bruises,” she shrugs off his concern. Riddle’s looming, probably more than he intends, “Some acolytes thought attacking the Burrow was a good idea,” she comments to him, “It ate them.”

“It ate --” Riddle looks alarmed. “Can’t believe they tried to attack your family, that could have been genocide - there are so many of you.”

Ginny ignores him. “You remember my room?” she asks Harry. She’s trying to annoy Riddle by reminding him that her and Harry used to date. He barely notices, although Harry does, shooting her a warning glance. She ignores him, biting her tongue cheekily. “Well it’s no longer at a 45 ° angle, it’s at a 70 ° angle, Mum and Dad have delayed sorting the tilt out until it’s safe to tear away the old spells and redo them. Fred claimed he saw one of the acolytes running off, covered in garden gnomes.”

“MacDuff?” Tom’s tone is mildly threatening, “I wondered where those odd bites on his face had come from. Huh,” his tone is thoughtful.

There is a loud crack, like a tree falling in a forest or a branch, laden by snow, tumbling down. Ginny flinches and around her, the collection of DA that have been ferrying students to the platform all turn to stare at the station behind them.

It’s hard to see the problem. One of the Creevey brothers sees it first with a gasp, “The roof!” She sees it then, the brilliant light bubbling under it like a candle in a softly lit room except that is no candle.

There is a screeching roar as the glass roof shatters under the intense heat of the fiendfyre dragon clawing at the roof, trying to escape. One claw escapes, glass popping and straining and then something tugs the fiendfyre monster back down into the bowels of the station.

“I think,” Tom Riddle says as several students let out loud screams. “We’re probably about due inside--” He gestures to several of his lackeys, Avery, Lestrange, Rosier and Crouch appearing around him.

“You sure you’re okay?” Harry turns to her, “It’s almost 11 and then it will all be on Ron and Hermione--”

“I’m fine--”

“It was a nightmare trying to persuade Dumbledore not to call it all off, but we didn’t want to give Grindelwald any hints, so we need you to do your jobs. If a student gets hurt--”

“Harry,” she says, calmly, sternly, “We’ve got it handled. Go beat the Dark Lord.”

His grin is lopsided and mischievous and for a moment her heart aches for the boy she once used to love. Harry steps forwards straight into an animagus shift. There is a scream or two from people who forget the death omen is Harry. He doesn’t hang around, bounding off into the shadows and letting the magic of the invisibility cloak eat him.

She turns away. The man is not the boy and Ginny is not that girl and schoolyard romances do not always survive to adulthood in the real world.

She turns around to George and Dean, “You ready?”

*

The fiendfyre dragon is suspended above the departure boards like a spectral demon of burning hellfire. Below, Dumbledore and Grindelwald are exchanging spells with a ferocity that has been lacking from their previous fights. Untethered, uncontrolled, the dragon spreads its wings, taking off and making another break for the roof. It’s thickset with vicious spikes of flame running along it’s spine - a Hebridean Black given form in cursed fire.

Tom slips into the station. Somewhere there are some of their best spellcasters holding a variety of protection spells, the primary one a Muggle-repelling charm. He almost wants to let them just wander in on the battle - it would serve them right, he thinks, but it’s the last thing they need right now.

No, Tom’s plans for the muggle world can wait until he’s had time to refine them, has the power to put decisions forwards and primarily Harry , to refine and perfect them with him.

Soon, he promises himself, first they need to get rid of Grindelwald.

Dumbledore is currently transfiguring what looks like everything in sight, keeping Grindelwald busy and pinned down dealing with stone lions leaping for his throat. With no instructions the fiendfyre is growing larger, and Tom lets his followers slip in front of him, masked and robed and keep Grindelwald’s acolytes off Dumbledore’s back. He busies himself with trying to rope his magic around the fiendfyre.

It’s resistant to his attempts, Grindelwald’s magic is wrapped tightly around it with the full power of the Elder Wand. The dragon hits the ceiling again and the whole station shakes. Tom’s magic is nothing more than a fly to the creature, and with annoyance he flicks a tongue-tying curse at MacDuff who is busy duelling Lestrange with another acolyte whose name Tom doesn’t know.

They’re outnumbered - a purposeful move on their part, their forces scattered between herding the kids, guarding the train and dotted around the station to recast spells and protections as quickly as Grindelwald tears them down.

He had promised Harry no killing. They had to do this legally, legitimately -- The clock ticks closer to 11 o’clock and the Dark Lord has yet to make it to the train. His acolytes are strong fighters, and Crouch, the best dueller of his Knights, get thrown violently into a pillar. Tom’s grip tightens on holly, the wood once so reluctant to violence, but now, like it’s original owner, spells of all kind fall from the tip. The unforgivables are the only ones it still protests to and, well, Harry’s forbidden him from using them.

He fires off a killing curse and takes care to make sure it doesn’t hit anyone. He had only said he wouldn’t use them on people, he had said nothing about using them as he does now, to clear a path - it’s unblockable after all. The acolytes are forced to dodge, and it makes them easy to pick off with lesser curses. Tom’s particularly fond of a rather minor haemorrhaging curse carefully aimed at the liver that kicks in about five minutes later when it finally travels up the inferior vena cava and reaches the heart and they start violently coughing up blood--

With a furious snarl Grindelwald lashes his magic around the fiendfyre dragon like a lasso, and Tom’s momentary clear path is obstructed by the large Hebridean Black made out of fire. It accidentally stands on one of Grindelwald’s own acolytes who fails to get out of the way quick enough. Tom throws himself to the side and back into the fighting. By the time he can fix eyes on Grindelwald again, the Dark Wizards has blasted Dumbledore back long enough to turn his attention to the station itself. Tom doesn’t hear the spell he mutters as he points the Elder Wand at the brick wall, a bright blue beam hitting the station.

There is a moment in which the whole station glitches . The wizarding platforms are visible, hidden between the existing ones.

There is only one that matters today and now.

The scarlet steam train is visible as the barrier between it and the muggle side turns completely transparent and then returns to red brick.

“I’ll bring down the wards,” Grindelwald snarls, “The illusion… it’s time for us to step into the light, and I will reveal the heart of the wizarding community. Your precious, precious children, exposed to the muggles… people will have to act then, will have to pick a side.”

“No,” Albus says, firmly, “You leave the children alone. This isn’t their war.”

“On the contrary - do the future not get a chance to decide what to do with this world?”

A furious lash of the Elder Wand and the whole station shudders. Tom diverts a tongue of flame from the dragon causing havoc in their midst, and so distracted by the fiendfyre monster, he misses the acolyte sneaking up behind him. Footsteps and he twists around, still busy trying to control the fire plume to get out of the way--

A brilliant flash of green and the man drops with a scream. Tom gives up diverting the breath of flames, throwing himself out of the way and letting the fire crash straight onto the hapless acolyte.

Next to him Harry steps out of invisibility, twirling his yew wand between his fingers, “Tom,” he scolds, as the guy burns, “I said no killing.”

“Says the person who just cast a killing curse.” He’s honestly surprised. A little bit gleeful. He didn’t actually think Harry was capable of casting it.

Harry scoffs, “Don’t be ridiculous. It was a scourgify ."

"It burnt the guy's skin off."

"It was a really strong cleaning charm. Clearly he was very dirty,” Harry’s caginess is adorable. Like he thinks he’s better than Tom. Like he doesn’t have blood on his hands when the truth is he’s dripping with it. He will see eventually, Tom knows. Tom will strip away his petty fantasies, he will show Harry how deep the cracks run and then he will be there to put him back together. Tom has never wanted to possess something more, and it’s such a high to realise he already does . Harry is the worst kind of addiction.

“Be more careful,” Harry chides, stepping away from him, pausing to dodge a curse and send him own back, “Can’t have you dying on me now, I’d hate to have to bring you back.”

A gleam of metal around his neck between seeker-deft fingers. A habit Tom notices Harry has taken to and it sends shivers down his spine and he feels like a content cat curling in the sun at the sight and it’s meaning. Infinite resurrections, essentially, a horcrux in the hands of a necromancer is a guaranteed safety net if something goes wrong.

Besides, it’s good to have his weaknesses all in the same place.

Tom also deeply enjoys the sight of Harry with his horcrux around his neck. Like a little tag of ownership.

“Death is immaterial,” he says, “You and I, Harry, are infinite.”

And soon, he thinks as Harry slips back into grim form, he will have his horcrux and Harry will have his hallows and they will be eternal. He remembers the horror he’d felt at the sight of the grim, of his own death assured to him, and never thought he’d be grateful to see the sight of a mars-black death hound in the shadows.

Harry’s still convinced he’d going to be Tom’s death walking. It’s adorable and Tom will let him maintain that illusion for a little bit longer.

“Cru-- Curare ,” he changes his spell at the last minute. Legal, he reminds himself, this has to be legal. The acid curse burns away a patch of tiling on the floor and an acolyte Tom thinks might be Krafft drops with a scream. It’s hard to tell, Malfoy hits him with a concussion curse at the same time.

Tom throws a wave of water at the Hebridean dragon but it evaporates instantly on contact. The beast makes another lunge for the roof, clawing frantically at the bars of it’s cage. It’s beginning to dwindle although it’s hard to tell if that is from the spells Harry’s club members on the upper levels keep sending its way, or a lack of concentration on Grindelwald’s part.

He sees Harry in grim form, one large paw batting one of the acolytes out of the way. It looked like a gentle cuff, but the man’s head hits the ground so hard Tom sees blood. The eldritch horror of a dog looks thin. Clearly the Weasley’s have been failing in their job to keep Harry fed or maybe repeated use of death magic just plays hell on metabolism. The hellhound is quick though, setting his sights on his prey and with the fiendfyre dragon no longer a direct problem, he goes straight for Grindelwald’s throat in a black blur of flesh and shadows.

It’s too obvious a move and Harry’s forced to dodge the brilliant green of a killing curse, throwing himself to the side. Tom sends his own spells at the man, who bats them aside with the Elder Wand like they’re not even there. Dumbledore is currently picking himself out of an imprint of his body in a marble column.

Unhindered, Grindelwald disregards them, striding straight for the barrier between platforms nine and ten.

The grim lets out a furious snarl, and then is forced to dodge once more as Nagal and Carrow start throwing curses at him.

The Notice-Me-Not around the school Platform barrier is shattered, and Tom sees the moment he hits the barrier.

A trap within a trap within a trap . Harry’s voice echoes in his head.

And Grindelwald walks head first into the wall.

*

Dumbledore’s bones ache. He thinks he might have broken something, but everything moves as it should and he manages to stand. He sees the moment Grindelwald leaves him, making for the barrier. His oak wand is cold and clammy in his hand and he clenches his grip tighter. With a sigh he starts after the Dark Wizard, limping heavily and one hand pressed to his side. He does not raise his wand.

Above him the fiendfyre dragon is clawing weakly at the roof. Someone must be containing the spread, as bits of the ceiling flake to ash and fall to the ground. Tom Riddle is fighting his way across the station with crimson eyes, spells all non-lethal but on the darkest side of legal. His gaze is fixed on the barrier with a vicious determination that makes Albus increase his speed to get there first. His masked followers are making a fair dent against Grindelwald’s men. Harry Potter is currently pinned down near the barrier to seven-and-one-third looking slightly ill as he duels three acolytes at once. He’s very much outnumbered and clearly sees that because he gives up, vanishing behind a shield that holds long enough for invisibility to cloak him. He reappears moments later behind one, lashing out with brutal efficiency and a glinting knife.

He takes half a moment to send Minerva a patronus to summon the Order - it’s probably an idea to get the Order and Aurors here before Riddle or Potter decide to toe the line into illegal and dark.

He also sees the moment Grindelwald walks straight into a solid brick wall.

It could have been entertaining; a man walking into a solid brick wall, but his foot clips it and trips him, sending his hands flying out for balance. His hands scrape bloody against brick to keep himself standing, clawing at the rough surface, “It’s sealed,” he sounds displeased. His knuckles come out to hit it, but the stones ring solid beneath his touch.

House elf magic is, Dumbledore thinks, a wonderful thing, as he watches the Elder Wand try and fail to break the spell that isn’t there. Wild magic, untamed by a wand, an inability to be shielded against, something most wizards don’t even consider . The house elf in question here is a friendly, bright-eyed creature with a sock obsession to match Dumbledore’s own. He has a sneaking suspicion Harry stole the elf from the Malfoys, although ‘liberated’ had been the term he’d used. He thinks he prefers this. Liberated has a nice ring to it.

“How--”

The barrier chooses that moment to give a headache inducing static flicker. The platform-side becomes visible for a split second, a single-glimpse of the scarlet red engine and steam pouring across the platform and then it’s gone again. Grindelwald lets out a furious yell, Elder Wand slashing down at the barrier, attempting to strip it of it’s magic.

His shoes click on the platform, announcing Grindelwald to his arrival. The man is staring with raw fury at the wall.

“They’re children,” he says. “You didn’t really think we’d let you anywhere near them, did you?”

“I won’t harm them,” Gellert tilts his head, mismatched eyes catching the light, “Just force exposure. Strip away the concealments. Force the world to face our existence.. Our children are the future, and they will see the muggles at their worst. Their horror and fear at what has been hiding in the centre of their precious city. They are nought but cruel and callous animals, destroying all they touch. They ruined your sister and they will ruin our world unless we do something about it.”

“You don’t get to talk about Ariana,” Dumbledore’s voice is like a glacier, “I’m going to give you one chance, Gellert, for old times sake. Leave. You’ve failed here.”

“Is that a note of fondness I hear, Albus? After all this time? Can’t you see I’m doing this for us . Our plan, made real. I’ve already come so far. I refuse to turn back now.”

The Elder Wand sparks off the barrier and with a slow, cunning patience that had made the Dark Wizard so terrifying, his gaze turns upwards to where his fiendfyre dragon is still raging uncontrollable against the ceiling. “I’ll bring every spell here crashing down soon enough.”

He directs the wand to the sky, and the dragon answers the call. The fiendfyre takes on a blue twist, wings spreading spreading spreading--

In Dumbledore’s peripheral vision there is a brilliant flash of light and a crash of a body hitting the ground. Around them spells are still painting the air with colour, although the worst of the duelling is situated near the entrance. Riddle appears, looking a little worse for wear, but the source of the noise is from where Potter’s finishing up with the last of the acolytes who had minutes earlier had him pinned down. Now one lying unconscious and bleeding and another stumbling away. Potter is standing over the last, the woman clutching her wand with limp fingers and something is terribly wrong with her--

She’s muttering spells, Albus realises, spells that ring empty empty and hollow in the air--

He feels sick. He sense feel it already, even in the chaos around him. There is a complete lack of magic emanating from the woman. “Grindelwald!” Harry shouts out, stepping forwards. The man pauses, dragon still puppeteered by the Elder Wand in his hands, “Let’s settle this! You want the Hallows, right? Well come get them .”

His image distorts and there’s a split second where he is not human, he’s a grim with an oyster shell snarl and full moon eyes; but then the image is gone. If Harry notices the way magic blurs his very form it’s not apparent, pace smooth and steady as he stalks towards Grindelwald. There aren’t any pretences, and now it’s been pointed out to him Albus can’t quite tear his gaze away from where Lily Potter’s green eyes are eclipsed by feral feral gold, one still misted white. Necromancy , Merlin, how did Dumbledore let Harry slip so far off the edge?

Not that it would have made any difference. It’s in the blood. Not quite a blood curse, but enough to drive the Peverell brothers to making the Hallows. Enough to lead to the extermination of the ability. The magic still existed - inferi and bastardised resurrection rituals some of the worst examples.

He’d hoped if anyone could escape the madness that came with playing with death magic it would be Harry Potter. He had faith and he knew the boy was stubborn but…

The gold-eyed monster stalking forwards reminiscent of a wolf stalking its prey is not recognisable.

*

Harry has a few favourite memories that he will treasure forever. Soft, cotton things such as moments with Ron and Hermione, Mrs Weasley’s hugs, the lakeside with Tom pressed to his side.

He has a few that he treasures for different reasons. They cut instead of comfort, there is a cruel kind of masochistic pleasure that comes from their existence. His parent’s faces in the Mirror of Erised. The threadbare look on Tom’s face when he realises Harry is alive. The expression on Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s faces as he stalks towards them.

There are so many emotions there. Horror, revulsion, disgust, Grindelwald still looks at him mockingly, like he thinks he’s better than Harry. He wants to wipe that smug look off his face with a curse, but his magic is currently sparking like a blown power socket. His wand is useless to him, but it was worth draining that woman of her magic to see the haunted fear that makes the Dark Wizard stop and take him seriously.

“You could always make it easy,” Tom slides over like he’d just happened to be passing by, and not like he’s just left a small trail of bruised and broken but still breathing bodies behind him. “Give Harry his wand and we might go easy on you.”

“A baby Necromancer and a wanna-be Dark Lord,” Grindelwald coos, “How sweet .”

“Give me the Elder Wand or I’ll rip it out of your cold dead fingers,” the savage words are torn from Harry’s throat. There’s burning magic like acid in his blood, and some of that desperation must be obvious, because surprisingly it’s Dumbledore who steps forwards.

“The Hallows won’t help you, Harry,” Albus says.

Harry shrugs, “Well it’s easy enough to find out, isn’t it? I’ve got two already.”

Dumbledore just looks so so sad. Grindelwald in contrast looks gleeful at the confirmation that Harry has the cloak as well as the stone. He looks between Tom and Harry.

“You’d make this easier if you just give up the wand,” Tom shrugs, “I’d wanted to kill you for him, as a present--”

Grindelwald laughs, interrupting Tom. “You think you can beat me? It’s laughable. You’ve barely graduated. A no-name boy who can’t even control his pet necromancer.”

Harry ignores the insult to himself, glancing over at Tom, the ghost of a smile beginning to form on his face, “I don’t know where you got your information from, but you forgot something important.”

“Oh?” Grindelwald arches on pale eyebrow, “What’s that?”

“The Gaunt family that you murdered so callously were remnants of an older line,” he tilts his head to the side, but if Grindelwald knows the answer he’s not indulging Tom’s taunting. Harry can practically feel the smugness radiating from him. “You’re clearly not familiar with the history of our school,” he says, slowly, savouring the words, “Or the four founders who built it. There are a few lines that can be traced back to the founders - but the Gaunts could trace their line back to Salazar Slytherin himself.”

“I don’t care who your ancestor was, boy Lord , he’s not here to save you now.”

“But don’t you want to hear about what I can do?” Tom’s eyes widen, as if offended.

“Maybe a demonstration is in order,” Harry tires of Tom’s games.

With a shake of his head and a laugh, Tom opens his mouth, but what comes out isn’t English. Parseltongue is a language Harry cannot comprehend, despite Tom’s attempts once to teach him some of it. The choking hisses and sibilant vowels are simply not something his vocal cords can mimic. It sends shivers up his spine, like rose thorns wrapped around his vertebrae.

Grindelwald flinches at the sound, head tilting in open curiosity, “A parselmouth,” he notes, “Fascinating-- but ultimately not very intimidating--”

He stops when Tom lets out a huff of amusement, “Intimidating?” he asks, “It’s not meant to be intimidating , it’s meant to tell her what to do .”

A beat. “Her ?”

The basilisk emerges like hell had fury given visible and clear impact on the mortal realm. The screams are fire and the beast is all kind of demons given flesh.

For the first time, Grindelwald looks scared.

Chapter Text

The important thing about balance is that things are meant to be - well - balanced . Maybe there is a reason Tom and Harry should have been born nearly sixty years apart. The world wasn’t meant to have four wizards with such power at their fingertips at the same time. Power is damning.

A Dark Lord must fall for a Dark Lord to rise. It’s all about balance, really .

The basilisk emerges from the stairs to the underground, erupting with the speed of a cobra despite her size. There is a shape in front of her - Harry is vindictively pleased to see Tom did as he threatened and used Pettigrew as bait. The rat-man lasts another three seconds, slowing now he’s made it to the station intact and that is, of course, when the basilisk strikes.

She is fury and fangs and a fierce harsh cold brittle fire that sends tiles and stones scattering to the side like water droplets pouring off Jormungandr’s scales. Pettigrew lets out a terrified scream as with an emerald green flash fangs tear through him like tissue paper, shaking his corpse like a dog before tossing it aside carelessly. The image is pleasing, and it’s easy for Harry to slip into his grim form as he throws himself out of the basilisk’s path. Around him the fighting is scattered in very distinct alarm at the sight of the king snake.

There is a moment Harry is vividly aware that there is a monster grim and world-sized serpent within close vicinity of each other and Tom Riddle like some kind of demon hellspawn in the middle with eyes burning red.

Grindelwald trembles. His hand is clearly shaking, but then he’s got the Elder Wand in hand and summons up a shield of stone.

Harry reaches  the edge of the station, melting back to human. He’s near the barrier to the school platform, and the clock that had been hanging up is lying on the floor with mangled metal arms still pointing at the eleven which is slightly charred.

A roar as the Hebridean Black drops down like a meteor from the sky to crash into the basilisk. She lets out a shriek of pain at the flames, venom dripping off her as she tries to bite at her attacker. Realising her gaze is not petrifying, Grindelwald is growing bolder sending dark cutting curses that bounce off her armoured scales.

There’s a shimmer and the previously solid barrier next to Harry relaxes it’s mimicry of a solid wall long enough for Ron and Hermione to leap through. The acolyte following them is not so lucky, leaping just as the brickwork reforms. There is a strangled scream that gets cut off as the wall chooses to reform, regardless of it’s new addition, and rough brick slices right through him. The man stills and goes limp, cemented in place mid-jump. He’s dead, an instant kill, that much is obvious. Harry can see his throat still gulping as frayed nerves still try to signal disconnected pieces of body.

“Holy Circe ,” Ron leaps back from the corpse in horror, “Dobby, mate, keep doing what you’re doing, I’m naming my first born after you.”

“I was thinking of Rose,” Hermione says, chewing on her bottom lip, “But I suppose we could work it in as a middle name--”

“Everything okay?” Harry says, leaning heavily against the wall, trying to catch his breath. His blood still feels like a live wire and for a moment the pain cripples him, has him doubled over struggling to breath.

His friend’s worried faces swim into view but they keep their briefing short, “That guy managed to steal a portkey from Ginny’s group outside but got to us too late - the train is gone. The kids are out. Safe. Neville and Susan are-- is that the basilisk , holy Merlin , that thing is huge .” Hermione’s jaw drops open at the sight of the basilisk currently trying to choke the life out of the fiendfyre dragon.

“How the hell did you manage to get that thing to King’s Cross?” Ron looks paler than normal. “From Scotland ?”

“Metropolitan Line,” Tom deadpans, appearing next to them, one eye still fixed on his basilisk, fingering his wand like he’s seconds away from trying to shield her from the dragon she’s currently wrapped around.

Ron blanches, “Oh, okay. I am never riding the Underground again.”

Hermione hits him.

"Your friends are adorable," Tom croons to Harry. Across the station the basilisk drops away from the fiendfyre dragon. Her tail lashes like a whip, yellow eyes gleaming , mouth opening to rip and stare and kill. “Oh Merlin,” Tom says, and breaks out into a snarling hiss that has Hermione squeaking and almost leaping into Ron’s arms. “Pettigrew may have staved off her appetite, but she’s hungry.”

“As long as she doesn’t eat me, I’m skin and bone, I’d get stuck in her throat,” Ron says.

Tom’s dry look is withering, “I’ll be sure to tell her.”

“Uh oh,” Hermione says, as Grindelwald begins tracing runes in the air with his wand. Harry’s knowledge of runes is rudimentary, but both Hermione and Tom look worried. “I think he’s trying to kill your basilisk.”

“Get out of here,” Harry says, “Ron, check in with Bill and see how he’s holding the anti-muggle charms and illusions. Hermione, find Tonks, see if she’s heard from Neville yet.”

“But you need help,” Hermione insists.

“He’s got me,” Tom snaps, irritable and half-distracted by where he’s hissing instructions to the basilisk. There is a shriek across the atrium as the molten Hebridean lashes out cruelly, like a cat pushing glasses off the shelf just to watch them fall. Harry sees a lava fang catch Avery, sending him flying. Even Grindelwald’s men are not exempt, scattering like flies as the hellfire monster rages.

“Go,” Harry insists, to his friends. “I’ll be fine.”

“Harry, you look half-dead--”

“Do what I said,” he snaps, “Tom and I will deal with Grindelwald. Go!”

Ron looks like he wants to argue and that’s the moment the Hebridean Black takes to the wing again, crashing into the basilisk. Spellfire against the creatures scatters, deflected every which way by emerald scales and a raging inferno of dark magic given elemental form. Tom grabs Harry, shielding them both from erratic flying spells and when he looks up again, it’s to see his friends taking his words to heart and heading for the fire exit.

Tom takes several strides forwards, hissing out commands. The basilisk, locked in the coils of the fiendfyre dragon tilts her head. Her hearing is fine enough to pick out a mouse creeping along the floor of her chamber - of course she hears whatever Tom instructs, and with a sound like glass breaking she writhes her whole body sideways, taking the fiendfyre monster down with her.

The spells Grindelwald are constructing in the air are glowing now, and it’s with a near frantic energy that Tom snarls an instruction at the basilisk. Harry feels useless, his wand isn’t even drawn. He has better luck with the corpse his magic senses. He’s not touching it, which makes it harder, but he manages to wrap the electricity in his veins around it, sparking dead limbs to life.

Thankfully it’s not someone he knows. It’s the guy from earlier that Harry had hit with a Scouring Charm more commonly used for washing pots. His skin is flayed red, muscle visible and burns coating half the face from where Tom had let the fiendfyre rage. Like a puppeteer Harry feels his broken magic sink into the empty flesh, animating it to his wishes.

The man would look normal were it not for the horrendous burns and peeling, black skin flaps. He stands, and though his legs should not hold him, too broken, too burnt, he walks anyway.

There’s an empty hollow deadness to his eyes that even Harry can’t change. A blankness, glazed dryness already gathering there. He doesn’t waste the energy in healing it; the man’s dead, least he can do is distract Grindelwald from whatever runes he’s still tracing in the air--

The inferi never makes it there, a force slamming the body to one side. The side is, unfortunately, where the fiendfyre dragon had been thrown off by the basilisk. It’s head snaps around, as if intelligent, sightless fire eyes eyeing up the corpse before scooping it up in a taloned claw.

Dumbledore stands with his wand out, and he turns from where he had just rid Harry of his new toy. “ Harry ,” his old teacher says it like a remission and scolding, tone breaking half-way through into horror.

Harry shrugs, unapologetically. He had to try. His magic might be fucked, but it sings and demands to be used. He’s still brimming with stolen power - it had been a relief to channel it into something. Given right now he can’t use normal wand magic until he’s lost the stolen magic, he’s limited to resurrecting things.

Their attention is both diverted as the basilisk, free of her fiery attacker, makes another pass at Grindelwald. Tom’s eyes gleam because Grindelwald stands there undefended with a thousand year old basilisk bearing down on him, poison dripping off her silver sword teeth--

Grindelwald’s eyes widen in alarm, spellwork still hovering in the air, a spell humming on the end of the knobbled deathstick and no time to react--

The basilisk hits a mirrored shield, fangs snapping in the air half a metre from the Dark Wizard. Tom lets out a parsel hiss that is pure anger and frustration, mahogany-red eyes levelled at the refractive puddle-like shield emerging from Dumbledore’s wand.

“That’s enough ,” Albus says, “Gellert--”

“No,” Grindelwald sneers, “I’ve had enough of Riddle’s palty parlor tricks. Let’s see Slytherin’s famed monster hold up to this --” He twists the Elder Wand, runes glowing with a harsh hospital white light and spreading out. It heads straight for the basilisk’s chest and rips through the emerald scales without stopping. They splinter, shred themselves open like a bomb has gone off inside the serpent’s chest. The basilisk lets out a shriek .

At the edge of the station the Hebridean Black stalks like a cat, tail lashing as it leaps. There is the haziness of a heatwave as the molten form erupts into a brilliant blue fire. It’s mouth cracks open in a solar bright snarl as fiery fangs go straight for the basilisk’s neck, ripping out it’s throat in one clean tear.

The basilisk shudders.

She lets out a pained cry and Harry doesn’t need to speak parseltongue to know it’s her death cry. Her large serpentine body writhes, the heat cauterising some of the wounds instantly as she drops to the ground, shuddering…

She writhes, muscles growing weak and spasms fluttering like a fragile butterfly wings pinned to the ground. Another wave of Grindelwald’s wand and the violent slashing motion tears open the emerald scales. The Hebridean stands over it’s kill, fire erupting from its feet at it’s triumph. Blood pools at its feet as the thrashing finally stills. The basilisk lies, bone white ribs exposed, flesh charred and torn. Her chest lies open like a messy dissection in process that someone had given up doing half-way through.

She is univocably dead.

“Now that?” Gellert turns to where Tom looks furious at the death of the basilisk, “That is power.”

The dragon’s wings spread, heat uncomfortably warm against Harry’s cheeks. They lift the flaming monster into the sky, straight upwards towards the roof once more. The Hebridean Black slams into the ceiling, clawing fire talons down the spell layers. It rips through them, forcing it’s way through with it’s sheer overwhelming presence.

Grindelwald turns to Dumbledore, “We could have had this,” he is saying softly, “You and I, working together, we could have had this but you threw it away--”

Dumbledore is looking with sadness at the dead basilisk, “No,” he shakes his head, “No, our petty fighting destroyed that. I had to put this ancient beast out of its misery.”

Too old, too weak in the face of an uncontrollable fire, too mortal , Harry thinks, but that’s okay. He’s been as good as useless since he drained Carrow’s magic, but now he thinks he’s found something to channel it into.

How kind of Grindelwald, to give Harry a weapon.

He closes his eyes and reaches for the golden acid buried under his ribs.

*

Grindelwald is spinning the Elder Wand between long fingers. Tom stands on the edge of the pool of blood, murder in his veins. “The power that comes with leadership,” Grindelwald says, “Is truly great.” He turns to where Albus is staring sadly at the corpse of the giant serpent. “Thanks for the help.”

“So you choose your side,” Tom says, sneeringly, “Guess love really is your greatest weapon after all, old man. Though this is taking the Slytherin-Gryffindor rivalry a little far, don’t you think, Professor?”

Dumbledore manages to look torn, “It petrifies with a look , Tom… how you got it here from the castle without death--”

“She listened to my every command. Instructed not to open her eyes, to bite only those bearing his scent but you couldn’t help but interfere, and now a millennium old basilisk is dead. So much for the plan.”

Grindelwald looks smug, wand flickering. There is a horrible wrenching crack as he splits the basilisks’ ribs open. “The Vikings call this the blood eagle,” he says, tearing what must be the lungs out like bloodied wings spread across the concrete. His lips twist in a calm, relaxed manner, now satisfied the corpse is suitably mangled. It won’t be getting up and going anywhere.

Tom clicks his tongue, unaffected by the violence. He had done worse to cats at the orphanage, “Shame,” he says, seemingly uncaring, feeling more than seeing Harry step up behind him. In his peripheral he sees Harry reach out, clearly concentrating, sees Dumbledore startle and Grindelwald laugh --

“Good luck fixing this, baby necromancer,” he sneers, gesturing to the damage wrought to the corpse of the giant snake next to him.

Harry’s eyes snap open, blazing gold.

Grindelwald’s laugh strangles itself in the womb, and behind him there is the subtle, but very definite shiver of movement in dead muscle. He lurches away from where gold tendrils, like glittering stars burning white hot cold reach out with curious probing fingers to the corpse, and there is a grating crunch as bone reconnects.

“No,” Grindelwald curses. “ No ,” the Dark Wizard whirls, wand practically pouring with spells all aimed for where Harry stands.

Tom gets in the way, side-stepping with a heavy conjured bronze shield taking the brunt of the spellfire. “How long do you need?” he asks, teeth gritted with the strain of the high powered shield spell, especially as what he thinks are several Unforgivables hit it. He twists to look at Harry, the sight taking his breath away; normally killing curse green eyes blazing gold like a feral animal, hand outstretched towards where the basilisk corpse is still repairing itself. Scales reform over still exposed muscle, burns and melted flesh untwists and blurs back to whole, blood trickles backwards like a river flowing the wrong way towards the source.

Harry opens his mouth to respond but is distracted by a stunner Dumbledore sends his way. He drags himself and Tom out of the way, hand dropping from where he had been directing his power at the basilisk. Harry doesn’t go for his wand, magic still discordant to normal magic and so Tom maintains a shield charm bubbling around them.

“Harry, don’t do this,” Dumbledore doesn’t try to attack again, tone pleading, “Necromancy is a slippery slope. What would your parents think?”

“I wouldn’t know, you got them killed!” Harry shouts back. His attention flitters between Dumbledore and the basilisk before settling on the great snake caught up in reverse death throes. His teeth are gritted in concentration and discomfort and Tom watches his back, knocking aside the next stunner Dumbledore tries to cast.

Grindelwald, furious, turns upon the resurrecting basilisk with extreme violence, but his spells slide off it like gasoline. Not even the Elder Wand in his hand allows his magic to stop the slick oil slide of flesh reclaiming bone.

Harry is still distracted with resurrecting the basilisk so Tom maintains his position between Harry and Dumbledore.

The old man is no longer trying to knock Harry out, instead looks alarmed to be confronted by Tom and his fury. “Harry,” Dumbledore says, weakly, ignoring Tom for now, “Let it die. Sometimes dead things shouldn’t be brought back. Dead is dead.”

Tom is aware of Harry stumbling slightly at his back, and he twists to see Harry. There’s something almost ethereal about him, from the way his black hair is windswept with specks of blood and ash in it to the gold death magic that almost glows in his iris. The flare of magic feels like sandpaper and rose thorns and victory and in that moment the basilisk - still missing about four ribs, a chunk of scales and muscle and part of it’s jaw - rears up with a furious hissing spitting snarl and lunges.

Grindelwald and Dumbledore just scatter .

Harry’s victorious grin is pure cheek. “Sometimes dead things don’t always stay dead.”

Tom can’t help but tug him closer and kiss those accursed words from his lips, “Go get Grindelwald. I’ll keep Dumbledore busy--”

Harry limps off, wand in hand and magic no longer sparking ominously. He shifts straight into an ink shadow grim that darts around a killing curse flung his way from a fuming Grindelwald. Several hit the half-resurrected basilisk and have no effect. Tom understands the furious parseltongue, although there’s something new underlying it, as if she’s speaking into a long tunnel. Like a ghost given corporeal form, he remembers Harry describing his less successful resurrections, and that describes the basilisk perfectly. It's hollow, half-there but it's still got some level of consciousness even though it's acting like it's heavily concussed.

Tom turns to where Dumbledore is standing. “Tom, Harry,” Albus appears to be trying to appeal to their better natures. Tom doesn’t have one and Harry’s lost his years ago. He falters at encountering Tom Riddle with murder in his gaze.

Murder in his gaze and blanket permission from Harry. Albus Dumbledore is his and Tom is going to enjoy this . Holly is warm in his hand, the phoenix feather humming. Maybe it senses that Tom is going to use it to murder the man whose phoenix it once belonged to. He hopes so. He hopes Dumbledore knows what feather cores his wand. He hopes it burns him.

“I always hope that this will be the last time we meet like this, Tom,” Albus says, holding out his oak wand carefully, “As always, you never cease to exceed my expectations."

"Still playing word games," Tom sneers. He is not an eleven year old boy with all his worldly possessions in one measly wardrobe. Setting it on fire doesn't intimidate him anymore. “You brought this on yourself. Don’t bother trying to stall,” he shrugs, “Your Order can’t apparate in and I’ve got people keeping them busy. Nobody can dive in to save you.”

Despair and quiet acceptance are written onto his features. Guilt will not save him now and Albus Dumbledore knows this. One failure too many. “I’m so sorry,” he says anyway, like an apology of all things will make a difference, “I have failed you. Both of you--”

“You think too highly of yourself,” Tom snarls, “This was inevitable. You had nothing to do with it. Bombarda !”

“You killed something in him, Tom,” Dumbledore doesn’t even have the gall to be angry. He just looks unbelievably sad . “Harry used to be such a brave boy, so good--” and you ruined that, goes unsaid.

Tom is good at ruining people, but he thinks now, his soul mutilated and his mind plagued by the spectral grim that haunts him, that he and Harry are each other’s ruin.

“No,” Tom corrects him, “I made him. And Harry? Harry’s perfect . He’s not your saviour, he’s not your martyr, he’s mine .” Harry is his in every way that counts and more. His old school friends flock to him, look to him in joy. His professed crimes of necromancy run rampant rumours around the Ministry and still they turn up to fight, complacent in the delusion that Harry is doing this for all the right reasons and that he’s an intrinsically good person.

Tom has seen Harry’s darkness, teased it open with a hot slick tongue and blood coated blades between ribs. He’s torn Harry open with ribs splayed and wrapped his hand around Harry’s heart.

And they still think he’s their hero.

He’s not. Harry Potter will not save any of them in this lifetime, but that doesn't matter too much because he's already saved Tom Riddle and that is, somehow, more relevant in the long run.

“You said I wasn’t a threat,” Tom smirks, content in his power, “How about now?”

Dumbledore’s pale blue eyes widen with unbidden sadness and knowing , like he can already see his fate.

Then they’re duelling.

*

Harry twists away from where Tom is taking far too much glee in taunting Dumbledore, almost stepping straight into a killing curse. He shifts into a grim, skidding underneath it and stepping out of the shift, yew wand ready.

“Cute form,” Grindelwald says, even while looking slightly freaked out. He’s given up on killing the undead basilisk, and instead his fiendfyre dragon blazed blue fire as it drops from the roof onto the basilisk, seemingly infuriated by the life in it’s should-be-kill. “You know they like to call grims a devil’s sacrifice?”

“Appropriate,” Harry shoots back, along with several nasty curses, “I got it from a monstrous spirit wolf in Norway.” His smile is twisted by his scars into something rough and raw and unfettered. Fenrir unchained.

The Dark Wizard doesn’t appear to know if he’s joking or not. He also doesn’t appear to care, raining spells down on Harry. "You'll die like the rest of your kind, baby Necromancer," Grindelwald sneers, "Your magic cannibalises itself eventually."

"Death comes for everyone eventually, but don't worry," Harry doesn't care, "I'll take you with me first." A bombarda, depulso and diffindo trip off his wand. Grindelwald knocks them aside with ease, sends back curses Harry doesn’t even recognise .

Another attempt to disarm misses and Harry has to fling himself away from a spell that splits itself into about seven, each one piercing the wall he had stood in front of with glistening shards of metal.

Grindelwald is winning. For as good as Harry had been at Defence, their experience is not balanced. Harry's blind side is a weak spot, easily exploited and another spell clips him. He hangs on through the same sheer dumb luck that likes to follow him around and the single determined fact that Harry is less than ten feet from the last Hallow.

He can feel it’s magic. The thestral tail hair and elder wood radiate the same disharmonic magic that radiates through Harry’s veins.

It’s his already, the rest is just details.

There is the sound of metal buckling. It startles Grindelwald and his next killing curse goes flying. Behind them the fiendfyre dragon throws itself into a set of stairs in an effort to rid itself of the king serpent. The dead basilisk has locked it’s coils around the Hebridean Black. With a ferocious hiss it’s head snaps forwards, argent fangs burying in the throat of the dragon. A second that lasts forever as the fire alights within the basilisk’s throat, illuminating skull and empty eye sockets with lit hellfire. It sparks like gunpowder cracking in its throat, poison leaking through once gleaming emerald scales now charred black.

WIth an unholy screech the life goes out of fiendfyre dragon as with a twist of it’s head, the basilisk brings the creature thudding down to the cold hard tiled floor. It sparks like flint and tinder, body curling into ash and embers. Black coals gleaming blue, then green and back to yellow as the fire dies.

The king snake thrashes for a moment, still burning out from the inside. It’s eyes burn and not just a gleaming yellow. It’s coils twist and as the dragon’s shape finally dissolves into ash on the wind, she rises up triumphant. The burns and fire damage look horrible, look like it’s still burning except in reverse as skin knits back together, gold eating away at the damage. It’s vocal cords are so ruined it’s triumphant hiss is more of a vibration that settles in Harry’s bones.

Grindelwald stumbles in alarm at seeing his fiendfyre choked out of existence and that is when Harry’s disarming charm slips through the transfigurations and the flames and the ice and rips the Elder Wand neatly out of Gellert's grip.

*

Dumbledore puts up a good fight. Tom will give him that. He barely has time to think of what spell to cast, let alone form the incantation and wand movement. There is a period he’s just breathing in the magic. He is nothing but a conduit.

To one side the undead basilisk; the best of his and Harry’s powers given physical form, bears the fiendfyre dragon to ash. The burns that had once hampered her are half-healed war wounds and it’s sightless yellow gaze is licked with leaf gold magic that Harry had sent pulsing through her form. Her shriek is unworldly; thunderbolt splitting the celestial river that burns inside her.

“Scared yet?” Tom asks Albus, just as with a red flash, Harry’s outrageously high powered disarming charm sends Grindelwald to his knees.

The Elder Wand lands neatly in Harry’s seeker-deft fingers, and there’s a certain finality to it. Maybe it’s in the way Harry’s eyes twist gold, just as Tom’s own are burning crimson, or maybe it’s symbol that bleeds hazily into Harry’s footsteps as he stalks towards the Dark Lord. Harry looks surprised, like he hadn’t expected the disarming charm to even hit, but then against Harry always had had a tendency to force too much power into them.

“Did you really think this would all end peacefully? You clearly haven't been playing very close attention, these are the seeds you've sown, Dumbledore,” he laughs in delight.

“No,” Albus sees it too; Grindelwald on his knees and Harry Potter, Hallows combined. The realisation of how this has played out; Harry and Tom against Albus and Gellert, Albus and Gellert fighting side by side hits him and his next shield is slow to form. The confringo leaves burns in his horrible taste in robes, firewhip wrapping into flesh before Dumbledore knocks the spell away.

It doesn’t matter. It’s too late, the damage is done.

Tom pauses in his casting. Dumbledore stands, all the fight seemingly drained out of him. His gaze is fixed on where Grindelwald kneels, seemingly in a state of shock. The Dark Wizard’s hand opens and closes over empty air, as if in disbelief that he’d lost the Elder Wand.

To a disarming charm of all things, Tom thinks fondly, only Harry .

“This,” Harry says, stalking forwards, “This was a long time coming, you know that, right? There was a prophecy, remember? Stupid thing, prophecies, yet you murdered my parents over this. Guess you kind of brought this on yourself, really.”

“Don’t,” Dumbledore begs from where he stands, wand help limply in his hand, “Not like this--”

Expelliarmus ,” Tom tries out the disarming charm for himself, sending the oak wand clattering off into the bowels of the station. A shifting in the shadows reveals the basilisk, circling them like a giant pet dog. If any of either Grindelwald’s acolytes or Tom’s Knights remain in the station itself after the fiendfyre dragon had finished its first rampage, the death eyes of the basilisk have forced the rest away. The DA are busy maintaining oddly specific wards at various cruxes and the Order are probably still outside with any aurors on the scene.

They’ve got plenty of time, Tom thinks, content, holding Albus Dumbledore at wand point.

“Harry,” Dumbledore barely appears to notice the loss of his wand, “I was wrong. This isn’t you…”

“Isn’t it?” Harry laughs. It sounds like resignation or maybe acceptance beaten half to death. “I thought you said this is what I was destined to do. Wasn’t it you who said it was fate-written? Prophecy bound? Don’t you want me to fulfill my destiny?”

Grindelwald laughs from where he’s kneeling, pushing himself back to his feet, “You’re soft , boy, death magic or not. You don’t have it in you to cast the killing curse.” He’s good, convincing but Tom doesn’t worry about Harry wavering.

“You say that like I don’t know my own abilities,” Harry rolls his eyes, “You’re right, I can’t cast a killing curse. But I’m perfectly capable of any other spell,” his sigh is dramatically put-upon, “Wizards, no sense of imagination,” and the Elder Wand flashes out.

Dumbledore’s face crumples, “NO!” he shouts in horror.

Accio ,” Harry says, simply and watches as Grindelwald’s chest cracks open. Ribs open like some twisted flower as he summons the man’s heart right out of his body. There are pieces of lung tissue still stuck to the pulmonary vessels, and the aorta gets severed on a piece of cracked sternum. It pulses in his grip, the electrical signals still conducting and for a moment it continues to beat in Harry’s grip as if still alive.

Grindelwald’s body crashes to the ground, dead.

“Your early birthday present,” Harry gestures with the heart, glancing at Tom, lips kicking up, and then falls, “Ugh, I always forget how disgusting this is.” He brightens, eyes a shade too-gold, too-cracked but Tom doesn’t care, his own burning as red as the blood and viscera clinging to Harry’s skin, “Professor, I think you might finally have won Gellert’s heart,” Harry tilts his head, almost cruel.

Dumbledore chokes.

Losing interest, Harry tilts the heart to roll out of his hand and land next to the pale blonde hair.

Harry can’t hide the blood on his hands now.

“I hope you enjoyed the show,” Tom says, softly to Dumbledore, “It’s curtain close now, you up for one last bow, old man?”

He isn’t. He falls to Avada Kedavra just as easily an anyone else. Tom is almost disappointed. He tilts his head to the side and looks down at where the man lies, so much less than he was in life.

*

The air smells like smoke and soot and something somebody’s left cooking for far too long. The basilisk’ hisses are like the rumble of approaching thunder circling. Tom hisses something back and Harry feels the ripple in his magic. It’s not dead, not entirely, he’d managed to save some shreds of it’s spirit and it obeys Tom sulkily, still obedient to Slytherin’s blood.

Grindelwald lies dead at Harry’s feet. There is no sense of victory, just a weary resignation and soft sort of triumph that steals over him slowly as he examines the wand in his grasp. But there is time to examine his prize later, and so he secretes it away on his person. It hums, warm and content in his pocket.

Pulling out yew wood he mumbles a whispered Expecto Patronum . It fails, and he tries to summon up images of warmth and happiness. The second time he whispers it with his parent’s faces pressed between pages of memory the stag appears. His patronus is the colour of unicorn blood spilling against the charred black walls of the station. It’s thin, deathly so, and something almost akin to feathers ripple across it as it bounds away to let his people know it’s over. Harry watches it go with a terrible sort of fondness .

He turns to Tom, stumbling slightly as wounds he had not been aware of in the heat of battle make themselves apparent. He’s aware of the Order appearing, late as usual, with the DA and Knights milling in the background, as well organised as ever. Dumbledore’s body lies behind the Dark Lord Ascendant; Harry must have missed his death between ripping out Grindelwald’s heart and the new thrum of power under his sternum from uniting the Hallows.

It doesn’t matter. Right now none of it matters; he can only look at where Tom stands, his eyes blazing with a horrible delight.

Harry can’t help but reach forward, cupping the other’s chin as he presses forward for a searing kiss. Teeth click together and it’s messy and bloody, Harry’s hand is still covered in viscera from Grindelwald’s heart but Tom just presses forwards fiercely, hands raking through Harry’s hair. Parseltongue falls off his lips and sends shivers down his spine.

“You know I can’t understand you, right?” he says breathlessly, pulling away slightly from kiss bitten lips. For a moment the desire in Tom’s eyes overwhelms him. The brown mahogany iris is almost eclipsed by dark pupils. Riddle looks barely human with blood streaked over half his face and the overwhelming emotion written onto his handsome features.

“It’s okay,” Tom says, touch almost gentle as he trails hot fingers down Harry’s neck and collar bone, “It’s not important.” He holds Harry like he’s precious and fragile, even as nails curl possessively and cruelly across soft skin. “You’re so vulnerable like this,” he croons, “You should kill more often, it’s a delight to see you unmade, my Harry.”

Harry feels the horcrux against his chest. It’s hoarfrost against the warmth of his heart beating against his ribs. It’s stars against a frostless sky. The pair of them are almost poetic, Harry thinks, monsters of each other’s making. “You forget,” he breathes, “You’re mine too.”

Tom’s fingers trace patterns through the blood drying sticky on Harry’s hands, before twisting suddenly to pluck the yew wand from Harry’s fingers almost tauntingly and Harry lets him, too exhausted to complain. “Can I have this back?” he teases, “Now you’ve got yourself a brand shiny new wand?”

“Does it even still work for you?”

“Morsmordre ,” Tom whispers. His mark erupts into the sky, a writhing misty green snake. “I think that’s a yes.”

Harry considers it for a moment before wrapping his fingers around Tom’s wand hand. His hands touch heated wood and amber and he doesn’t murmur a spell as much as send his magic up the cracked yew wood.

Another symbol joins Tom’s serpent hovering in the station. He doubts Tom would appreciate a grim eating the snake, or a lightning bolt cut across it - they just don’t suit his Dark Lord’s tastes, so he settles for the most universal symbol of death there is.

The snake twists until it’s wrapped around the skull, weaving through one of the eye sockets and emerging from the mouth like some kind of twisted gruesome tongue. Tom laughs in delight at the sight, “Oh, sweetheart,” he says, “Remind me to show you my Chamber some time.”

*

They tell the Ministry that the Dark Lord killed Albus Dumbledore, and Harry Potter killed Grindelwald. Harry is lorded their saviour and in true Ministry fashion they pretend they know nothing about his more dubious magical interests. Tom slides right back into partying political favours and behind the scenes criminal dealings with a charming smile and the power behind him to back him up.

Nobody picks up the phrasing. That’s the thing about prophecies, they’re just so vague ...

Harry isn't lying.

The Dark Lord murdered Dumbledore.

Just not the one they're all thinking of.

“What are you going to do? You’re their hero,” Hermione says, sitting in Grimmauld Place later that day after the chaos.

After. A preposition that doesn’t even begin to encompass the full scope of everything.

After the Ministry finally turned up. After wounds get seen to and the bodies are taken away and Tom secretes their new undead basilisk back into the abandoned London Underground tunnels. After fending of questions and aurors and the full realisation creeps over the Wizarding World of Great Britain that the war is over. Questions can wait, they decide, and certainly those rumours about Harry Potter’s new magical specialty. The Ministry party is loud and joyous and spills over into Diagon Alley before long. A very inebriated Draco Malfoy makes the foolish claim to the quality of the spirits and beverages within his manor, and it’s still not clear how that resulted in all the younger Knights and DA members in Harry's house looking for Sirius's various alcohol caches. Ron’s winning with his unusual knack for finding the stuff, but it’s Tonks of all people, unable to actually drink at the moment, who has found the most interesting stash of tequila in the troll’s leg umbrella stand.

Hermione steals away from it with Ron and Harry for a moment of peace and to clear her fuzzy mind. Ron’s gone to get her some water, she’s totally expecting him to return with whiskey and Harry’s already pulling out some nice crystal tumblers in clear preparation.

Loud joyous sounds of the DA and the Knights’ victory party is in full swing downstairs, and she had last seen Tom Riddle being forced to do shots of all things by a heavily bandaged Avery. She wrings her hands, nervously, “You’re their hero and Riddle’s the new D--” she stops. She can’t say it.

“Come on, Hermione,” Harry’s grin is like lightning in a storm, as he sets a glass down on the table in front of her, “You know every hero needs a villain to make it a proper story, right?”

She stares, lips pressed tightly together because things are stable at the moment and she’s loathe to change that. At this rate if she works hard enough she could even hit the Minister position before Riddle gets there, do damage control beforehand because she has no doubt he will get there, and Harry will be at his side.

Tom and Harry are always destined to break each other, but their destruction will be glorious.

She doesn’t ask into the deaths of Grindelwald and Dumbledore. Plausible deniability. She doesn’t want to know. Something inside her withers and dies, and another part of her becomes steely with resolve. No casualties, she reminds herself, none, compared to the decades this war had spanned already.

Hermione is, after all, the girl who had kept a reporter-turned-beetle in a jar for a month.

This war was always doomed to end in Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s deaths, and she suspects that her old Headmaster had known that.

"And what will Tom do,” she asks instead, “Now you've essentially banned him from taking over the Ministry?"

Harry's eyes gleam, "I hear there's an opening for Defence Against the Dark Arts professor that they're struggling to fill.” His tone turns slightly joking, “He put a curse on the position - it will kick out anyone else other than him after a year, him teaching for a few years should break it. He’ll get bored sooner or later but this will entertain him for now. Kingsley wants me in the aurors again, but I asked for some time to finish my research. It will be a few years still until either Tom or I work in the Ministry.”

“You think Hogwarts will survive Tom Riddle teaching Defence?” she asks, dubiously. She worries about what influence Riddle could have on impressionable minds.

“Hermione, do you remember us at eleven? I’m sure when it comes down to Tom Riddle versus a bunch of eleven year-old children, Tom won’t be the one to emerge victorious.”

She does find the image rather amusing. She remembers their adventures in smuggling a dragon and is inclined to agree with Harry. It’s a good plan, she must admit; the Defence post is a perfect fit - Riddle is still young, charming with honeyed superficial charm and glib words to give off a fantastic impression, and it aligns with his interests enough to keep him busy for now.

“And you go to research your magic with the Unspeakables for the next few years,” she concludes, head tilting, “Did they work? The Hallows? Did they help?” she barely dares ask, “The problem with your magic, the necromancy… did they fix it?”

Harry’s smile is broken glass, “Time will tell,” he says in an answer that is no answer at all.

*

Downstairs the party shows no signs of stopping. The last time Harry had passed through he’d encountered the younger Knights of Walpurgis - Bellatrix (who was unfortunately not dead), Rabastan, Avery and Crouch - in the middle of a drinking game with some members of the DA - Susan, Fred, Ginny and Terry. It seemed to involve a very dubious looking stack of firewhiskey bottles and levitation spells and he had seen Kreacher cast a despairing look at the mess.

Luna was dancing through the hallway, and Ron and Hermione had vanished towards one of the bedrooms about half an hour ago. Neville was ranting about the medical properties of some plant or other to Tonks who was staring wistfully at the alcohol, decidedly sober with the pregnancy. Remus was exchanging stories with George and Lee Jordan, and various people who had played Quidditch at one point or other were drunkenly trying to make a broomstick out of a mop and had only succeeded in lighting it on fire.

There’s business to do, matters to sort, funerals to attend, but they’d done their part, slipping away as the Ministry swarmed over the station. All stories corroborated, enough of the Ministry were currently drunk in Harry’s house to delay work for now.

Tom’s warm against him, and his lips taste of firewhiskey. “Still don’t want to reconsider letting me have an unbeatable wand?” he murmurs against Harry’s skin.

“Hmmm, no, you promised eternity, didn’t you? Forever is boring by yourself, surely--” his words get cut off, breath rushing out of him as his back hits a wall. His hands scramble for purchase, knocking over a pile of books as his fingers eventually find a hold in Tom’s hair.

“Keep it down!” someone shouts and Tom’s fingers wave lazily, wandless silencing charms muffling the sounds of the party downstairs. Without the warmth of the noise the shadows and darkness of Grimmauld Place feel cold and empty. Harry’s too dead and Tom’s forgotten how to be human, a piece of his soul still wrapped around Harry’s neck. Apart they’re nothing but together--

“You said eternality was fleeting.”

Without Tom, Harry is nothing. Empty. He presses closer until he can feel Tom’s heart beating through him, “I hate you,” he says, fingers trembling, “I hate what you did to me. I hate that you left , and yet I still couldn’t get you out of my system.”

He feels Tom’s smile against his neck,”Didn’t anyone ever tell you there is a fine line between love and hate, sweetheart?”

For someone who understands emotions as nothing more than tools of manipulation, Tom remains oddly fascinated by this quandary. Harry wonders if it’s not Harry’s own emotions he’s trying to divine but Tom’s own, as unrecognizable as they are as human emotions, so far soul shattered that they’re barely a thing.

Or maybe it’s just his last step in breaking Harry down completely. In binding them together until they can no longer tell which part of them came from themselves or the other, too entangled in each other to notice or care. The thought lights a monstrous, famined hunger Harry has no means of containing and no interesting in repressing.

“I want to rip you apart,” he breathes, “I want to turn you inside out. I want to ruin you, break you and watch you lie bleeding out onto the stones. I want to watch you burn, I want to see your horcruxes scattered and shattered and your soul mutilated but only…” he pauses to seek out Tom’s lips and claim them, trying to convey all that he cannot say, “Only if I’m the one to do it,” he breathes against him.

Harry doesn’t love Tom Riddle. Not in the way he loves Hermione and Ron as friends trusted to watch his back. Not in the way he loves Ginny with a quiet, soft and sweet caring companionship. He loves Tom like a forest fire; wild and all-consuming, he wants to devour Tom, to claim him, to mark him, break him .

“I don’t love,” Tom says, “You know that. But I want you. To own, bend and break. You’re mine. My necromancer, my Harry, mine to kill. Promise me--”

“I won’t let anyone kill me but you,” Harry says, like it’s their own twisted form of a love confession. Harry wonders if Albus and Gellert ever had this or if they never got past the fighting. He doesn’t care, Albus and Gellert are dead. They never had this; the world at their fingertips, the future clear and bright and theirs to make with what they will free of prophecy or prediction.

“Only I can kill you,” Tom whispers back, “And you are the only one who can kill me. My soul is yours.”

Fingers curl in the chain, tightening it until Harry can feel it digging into the scars, feel it twisting around his trachea. His fingers claw bloody scratches into Tom’s back, black pulsing his vision in time with the horcrux.

“Your soul is mine to break,” Harry tugs back, gasping in the air to breath, pupils blown. Tom drops the horcrux in favour of tracing fingers down bloody wounds from earlier that have opened up, tracing patterns of blood into Harry’s skin. “And I’m yours to kill,” Harry finishes their twisted vow, like some twisted reflection of their oath as school children, squabbling over a dead girl and a giant snake.

They have ruined each other, Harry thinks, and it would be almost tragic if it didn’t feel so right.