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Revenant

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June 30, 2005

 

Harry woke up each morning at 6 a.m. and listened to his alarm for exactly five minutes, then got out of bed in the dark flat and went about his routine by feel. It forced him to keep everything in its place, this brief daily dependence on the other four senses. And he liked the way he felt in the dark, with everything quiet save the faint whir of the occasional passing car beyond the walls’ brick and insulation. 

He filled the kettle and set it on the stove. He went to the bath and brushed his teeth. He used the toilet. He washed and dried his hands, then in the kitchen he opened the cabinet with the tea things and set them all out: the spoon, the cup and saucer. He heated a skillet and cracked an egg in it. Then the sun began to come up. 

In the dimness of the waxing light, he inevitably caught sight of his reflection in one of the half-dozen shiny surfaces and sighed.  

It wasn’t his face that bothered him. Not even his unmarred forehead, still a surprise all these years later. It was the look in his eyes that he didn’t like. There was something watchful there, as though someone else was looking out with him. He half worried that might be true, though there had been no other symptom. His thoughts weren’t irregular, and his dreams were unsurprising. His magic flowed through him more rapidly and powerfully than ever but it still felt like his.  

“Go away,” he told his face later, leaning into the mirror after he’d shaved. He thought he saw his expression shift for half a moment, but it couldn’t be. This wasn’t a wizarding space and the mirror, like everything else in it, was Muggle. Harry never even cast in the flat, too wary of the contagion of magic giving the place a sentience he didn’t want it to have. 

Harry’s phone rang and he looked at the screen out of habit before he answered, though he already knew who it would be. 

“Good morning, mate,” said Ron cheerfully. “We’re both on the lane.” 

“The line, he means,” said Hermione. “Ron, it’s the line, not the lane .” 

“That’s what I said,” Ron agreed. “How are you, Harry?” 

“I’m well,” Harry said, trying to inject some energy into his voice so that neither of them could accuse him of sounding “lifeless,” then in their alarm show up on his doorstep. They didn’t have time for that, no matter how it thrilled Harry when they came. “I’ve a thing later,” he added. 

“Oh, that’s nice,” Hermione said carefully. Harry tensed, anticipating a familiar commentary about Harry being taken advantage of. But she went on, and he relaxed again. “Ron and I were just planning to put together some baby furniture.” 

“Hermione found some lovely Muggle stuff, since…” Ron trailed off. 

“I remember something about that.” The warmth in Harry’s voice was less forced. It was a favorite Weasley tale, how the toddler-aged twins bewitched the Weasleys’ heirloom nursery furniture with their wild magic. The crib levitated out the windows if they were left open, and the dresser sang frightening lullabies. When Harry heard the story, he’d laughed until he cried. Now he was nearly smiling, though he stayed braced against the counter, staring determinedly at his steeping tea. 

“I mean, Ginny and I are all right and that was our nursery stuff too, but Hermione’s having her first, so…”  

Harry winced even before he heard Hermione land a sharp smack somewhere on Ron’s body, and Ron’s alarmed yelp. 

“It’s your first baby too,” Harry pointed out.  

“Thank you, Harry,” Hermione said tightly. “Ronald, I swear…”  

Much of the tension left Harry as he listened to their banter. It was far more pleasant than being asked to engage; he could happily have listened all day. But before long Hermione, laughing, addressed him again.  

“Sorry about that, Harry. Will you be at the Burrow come Sunday?”  

“I’ll try,” Harry said, which they all knew meant “no,” so a few half-hearted exchanges later the energy for the conversation had gone.  

“Bye, love,” said Hermione. “Take care of yourself.”  

Harry did take care of himself. He rubbed a Muggle product into his hair that worked better than any potion Ginny had ever tried. He practiced the standard things he might be called upon to say as he got dressed. He held his breath and closed his eyes for the first few steps outside the flat, and then he drew the Elder Wand to Apparate without effort. 

He stepped out of nothingness onto a blank beach, its sand grey and stony, with a hedge of steep cliffs beyond. He could see that there was a spreading slick of oil lit up in grisly relief by the mid-morning sun. A handful of wizards on brooms were casting containment spells while another small group stood on the beach to keep a net of wards stable. It was haphazardly done, but it would fool most Muggles. 

“Harry!” called Neville, loping toward him. The orange t-shirt Neville wore was a size too small, so that the screen-printed logo of “Wizards for Planet Earth” was stretched taut over his impressive pectorals. 

It always startled Harry to recall how stupidly fit Neville had become, if not instantly then approximately ten minutes after the war. 

“Nice shirt, Nev,” Harry said, clearing his throat, and Neville plucked at it self-consciously. 

“Oh, sorry, it’s an old one. We’re ‘Magical People for Planet Earth’ now. Gender neutral, y’know.” 

“Sure,” Harry said, managing a smile. 

“Thanks for coming, mate. Could you maybe have a look at...well, the water.” He looked sheepish, as though he was asking for a personal favor. “See what you can do?” 

Harry held back. He couldn’t show them how easy it was. No one needed to know more than they already did. He used the magic that was already at work because everyone preferred a collaboration to a solo act, and waded out into the water because the physical act of swimming was grounding.  

Harry felt sometimes like the Hallows’ magic would separate him from all the laws of nature for good. That he would rise unbound from gravity through the ether. But for an hour, in the bracing seawater, his magic half distracted by the task, he felt free, purposeful, capable. He fed some magic into the seabed when he thought no one would notice to clear the damage there from the insidious pollutants, and sped the growth of the younger, feebler corals. 

Then it was done, and the nightmare of discontent settled back over him like a fog. Harry shook congratulatory hands without feeling the others’ palms or hearing their voices. Except one. 

“Very well done, Harry,” murmured someone, louder and clearer than the rest. His hand flew to his forehead and for a terrible moment Harry thought he felt the familiar shape of his scar, but the instant passed. 

“Oh, I’m not in there,” said the voice, amused. Harry turned so fast he almost stumbled, and stared directly into Tom Riddle’s blue eyes. 

“Oh, Harry!” Neville called. “You haven’t met Tom properly. Harry, this is Tom Riddle III.” 

“The third,” said Harry faintly. Tom Riddle was smiling at him with the bland politeness of an ordinary stranger. There wasn’t so much as a knowing gleam in his eyes. 

“Yeah! A Muggleborn, Tom, and a top rate wizard. He’s on the Muggleborn Outreach Committee, y'know, Hermione’s thing.” 

“Ah.” Harry knew about “Hermione’s thing,” but made up an excuse every time she invited him to a dinner or a lecture or a speech at the Wizengamot. He could not have imagined that this would be a consequence of his absence. 

Harry studied “Tom Riddle III.” Oh, I’m not in there, he’d said, seeing Harry clutch his forehead. Harry wondered if there was any explanation beyond the obvious.  

Doubting it, he made a few flustered excuses to Neville and Apparated away.

 

****

 

When Harry died and decided to come back, he made a terrible, bleeding-heart mistake, and dragged the sickly little creature under the bench back with him. Dumbledore -- or whoever that had been, Harry had his doubts -- objected but didn’t intervene, and when Harry returned to the living world his arms were empty, his scar was gone, and Voldemort was incapacitated by agony. 

Harry was also the Master of Death, which wasn’t ideal. But being all-powerful made a truce easier to enforce, and Harry had never wanted to kill anyone. Not even Voldemort, who was slightly more reasonable with a Horcrux reabsorbed. 

Harry let him keep Nagini. Killing her didn’t appeal to Harry either. So Voldemort was immortal, and he was on house arrest, and since he hadn’t had a house of his own Harry told him he could choose a vacant wizarding residence. He should have been more specific, but since he wasn’t, Voldemort chose a pretentious mountaintop castle, and here they were.

Nagini was not the only snake. There were three curled in the doorway and a bright green python draped over an ornamental tree a few yards away. An adder passed between Harry’s feet with the nonchalance typical of its breed, casually lethal and not bothering with warnings.  

Snakes were nearly everywhere in the world and generally interested in Harry when he came upon them. So Harry was more or less accustomed to them, but Voldemort seemed to surround himself with particularly obnoxious serpents. 

“The speaker will not be pleased.” “When he returns he shall injure this one with his Human Power.” “A foul smell on this one.” 

“I can hear you,” Harry said eventually in Parseltongue, and the snakes hissed in a wordless exclamation. “Where is your master?” 

“Within,” said the adder. 

“Yes, within,” the others agreed. 

“Let him know I’m here, then?” 

While they were gone, Harry admired the view. A part of him found the luxury ludicrous for a war criminal, but then, given enough time, confinement of any kind would be torture.  

The doors swung open abruptly and nearly knocked Harry on his arse. He stumbled backward, rubbing the shoulder that had been struck by the edge of the door. Voldemort stood on the other side of the threshold looking unimpressed. 

“Jailor,” he sniffed. The snakes were all over him, winding around his ankles, one stretched across his shoulders. Inside the castle Harry saw the sinuous bulk of Nagini slide past. 

“Voldemort,” Harry said stiffly. 

“Do come in.” Voldemort turned and walked away without waiting for Harry to reply or react. He left the yawning doors open. Harry followed, and startled when the doors snapped closed behind him, scattering a few irritated snakes, too. 

The floor was dark grey marble with a green vein, of course. Otherwise the colors were house neutral: beige and dark gold, dark navy, white. The castle was medieval in its architecture and the furnishings seemed in keeping with the era. Overhead, a ceiling pitched three and a half stories high, soaring and ornate as a cathedral’s. 

“Don’t look so censorious, Jailor,” Voldemort drawled. “It isn’t as though I’m keeping this place on magical tax.” 

Harry was still mostly absorbed by studying the castle, which reminded him a bit of Hogwarts in its general style. When they’d come and let it, he’d only given it a cursory look, distracted still by the absurdity of the circumstances. But it was rather lovely. ““Magical tax?” he murmured absently. “I haven’t heard the term.”  

Harry collided with Voldemort, as he had come to a sudden stop while Harry continued to wander along, head craning. 

“Please, tell me you’re joking.” 

Harry was disoriented by the collision: all the hard angles of Voldemort’s body; the ruby-bright hue of his irises; the strength of the long fingers that gripped Harry’s shoulder a half moment to steady them both.  

“No, I’m not,” Harry said, stepping back deliberately and feeling a bit more like himself. “But that’s not what I’m here to talk about,” he added, though in fact he badly wanted to know what Voldemort was referencing.  

“Talk, then,” said Voldemort, waving Harry toward a pair of little chairs to either side of a small table laid for tea. It was tea for one, though, and Voldemort didn’t offer to share. 

“I need to see your wand,” Harry said. Voldemort reached into his robes without a moment’s hesitation and handed his wand to Harry. Having expected an argument, Harry blinked, then accepted it. The yew wand felt better in his hand than the Elder Wand; inquisitive, but not overtly demanding. Friendlier than it should have, Harry thought, a pair to his Holly wand or not. He had a past with its master it should really be considering.

Harry didn’t pretend to cast the spells, as he would have with anyone else. It didn’t hurt to remind Voldemort of the breadth of his abilities. Instead he just thought at the wand and it obediently listed its inventory of recently cast spells in descending order.  

“Satisfied, Jailor?” Voldemort asked, sardonic. He watched Harry over the rim of his teacup. Voldemort was a surreal sight, as pale and red-eyed as a nightmare, calmly drinking tea with his thighs crossed. There were small blue flowers hand-painted on the delicate porcelain. 

The wand hadn’t been used to Apparate, nor for a glamor or other spell to change the caster’s appearance. Before it was used to make a pot of tea, it had retrofitted bedroom curtains and repeatedly transfigured a rat into various inanimate objects, which was a surprisingly popular way for wizards to kill time. There were dozens of ordinary household spells and two for conjuring squirrel intestines, and at that point in the history Harry handed the wand back. He wasn’t exactly surprised that there had been nothing to see. He didn’t think it was possible for anyone to penetrate the wards around the castle, coming or going. 

“Perhaps you can explain,” Harry began, “how I met someone who called himself Tom Riddle off an African coast this morning. Doing community service. In an orange t-shirt.”  

Voldemort shrugged and sipped his tea, but he looked interested. Harry hadn’t expected candor, but nor did Legilimens interest him, under the circumstances. He rolled his eyes and rose to go. 

“It’s probably the Horcrux from my diary,” Voldemort said, and Harry struck his shin hard on the table in his startlement. The table looked small and unassuming, but it was hard as stone and firmly affixed to the floor. Harry’s leg throbbed and he winced, swearing under his breath. Voldemort snorted into his teacup. 

“What do you mean? I destroyed the diary!” 

“You did, but not the Horcrux. I felt it remove itself from the vessel, as none of the others had been able to do. I do think it would have taken it some time to recover from the trauma of being untethered. Quite disorienting. I should know.” 

Voldemort said all of this very calmly while Harry, who had reseated himself, scowled and rubbed his shin. 

“What is young Tom up to in Africa?” 

“Just visiting, apparently. Community service, like I said, with one of my mates.” Harry remembered another baffling detail, and met Voldemort’s eye for emphasis. “He’s on the Muggleborn Outreach Committee!” 

Voldemort wouldn’t know about Hermione’s thing, but Harry supposed that he could glean what he needed to from its title. 

“Oh, yes, I imagine he is.” Voldemort was nonchalant. 

“But he’s...I mean, why on earth…” 

“Honestly, Harry,” Voldemort snapped. Hearing Voldemort say his name made the hair on Harry’s arms stand on end. He sank back against the chair and tried not to think about why. “Don’t you know by now, I have no issue with Muggleborns, and never have? Would that be logical , considering that my father was a Muggle?” 

“I don’t expect you to be logical.” Harry got back to his feet. He didn’t have time for Voldemort’s moral ambiguity today. “I’m going to figure out what he’s up to, and who’s involved, and then I’m going to make sure he winds up in Azkaban.” Harry looked around, recalling sheepishly that his last experiment in vigilante justice hadn’t ended in Azkaban. 

Voldemort crossed his arms. “Yet here I am, serving my sentence for any crime of which you could hope to accuse him.” 

“No one knows that,” Harry snapped. It was true. He had brokered this deal with Voldemort without telling anyone and now no one knew whether Voldemort was alive or dead. They couldn’t; if they knew he was here they would have to know why he stayed, and he wasn’t intent on telling anyone why they had no reason to fear the most fearsome of dark lords. Harry wasn’t sure what would happen if his Master of Death status was widely known, but he was sure it wouldn’t go well for Harry, in the long run. 

Voldemort went on. “As though you, with your simpleton’s concept of justice, could bring yourself to punish two people for the same crime.” 

“But there aren’t two people -- the Horcrux is you!” 

“No,” Voldemort said shortly. “It’s quite outside my power and influence, wherever it is.” He looked over at the narrow doorway by the cold fireplace. It was filled with the foremost third of Nagini, who had chosen that moment to join them. “I have only one Horcrux now.” Nagini ducked her head under Voldemort’s chair so that she re-appeared between his ankles, glaring at Harry.  

Harry gazed back at her and sighed, watching the snake weave her head back and forth threateningly, and addressed Voldemort. It was easier to bluff while avoiding eye contact. “If I find out you’re lying, I know of an empty cell in Nurmengard.” 

Voldemort laughed. The sound was oddly pleasant. “Oh, Jailor,” he said then. “It’s so funny to pretend you could ever be cruel.”

 

****

 

Harry stopped at the public owl post in Diagon Alley to send Neville a note apologizing for leaving so suddenly after the cleanup. He included a carefully worded sentence regarding Tom Riddle “the third”: It was also pleasant to meet your new friend Tom; I’m curious how the two of you met?   

Neville was a very conscientious correspondent, so Harry was unsurprised when a little barn owl delivered a reply to Harry’s Muggle flat within a few hours. The bird seemed uncomfortable in the non-magical space, as they often were, and didn’t even wait for a treat before darting back out the open window. 

Harry skimmed Neville’s response, lingering on the information at the end. I met Tom through Luna, who met him through Ginny. Apparently they’ve been seeing one another, but they’re keeping it rather quiet.  

Ginny , Harry thought numbly.   

****  

Harry couldn’t say why he didn’t confront Ginny sooner. It was probably because the last time they had seen each other they had the row that was the culmination of all the other rows, and she had tried repeatedly to punch him in the face.  

Harry and Ginny had a turbulent romance over the course of four of their five post-Hogwarts years. After the war, Ginny spent another year at Hogwarts and Harry went directly into self-imposed exile. He called it a holiday -- or that’s what the Ministry and the Prophet called it -- but it was a tactical retreat. He could only control his magic reliably when he kept it underfed. Too much interaction with the latent magic of wizarding areas made things go awry. 

It was better when he and Ginny lived together. Harry woke tangled up with her and felt soothed. It was worth the passive-aggressive disapproval of most of the other Weasleys. Molly was old-fashioned her children looked to her for their attitude -- even, discouragingly, Ron. 

But Harry had never been able to tell Ginny what to do, nor had he wanted to. When she showed up at his flat one morning and announced she was packing his bags and they were going to move in together at 12 Grimmauld Place, he let her do it and followed her there. They christened the new mattress in the tower bedroom Harry hadn’t even known was there, goaded Kreacher into crowding the attic with the most sadistic pieces of furniture and decor, hung airy linen curtains, and unrolled bright woven rugs. Harry spent several months nurturing the cautious hope that everything would be alright, after all. 

Then Ginny joined the Holyhead Harpies, and when she was gone Harry’s depression hit new lows. His magic spiked and broke things while he slept. He set the basement kitchen alight with Fiendfyre when he burned his thumb on the hob, and if he stubbed his toe thunder would crack in every portrait’s landscape until the entire house seemed to recoil from him when he entered a room. 

So Harry began spending the time Ginny was absent in the Muggle flat. The fact he kept the flat enraged her. His refusal to “do something productive with his time” enraged her. He had never been able to tell anyone, not even Ginny, the reasons why. (Well, unless one counted Voldemort.) 

But between fights, their relationship was the only real intimacy Harry had ever had. They’d broken up twice and neither time could he find the energy, will, or confidence to hook up with anyone else. Casual dating in the wizarding world was out of the question, and while Harry could navigate the Muggle side as well as any wizard, he had no existing network. And when he hadn’t a friend in sight, there was still a paralyzing shyness, acquired in primary school, which he never totally outgrew.  

Ginny left Harry -- “for good this time” -- the previous summer. After the fight left her, she had seemed sad, but resolute. Harry would experience the wide range of breakup emotions, and drown missing her in firewhiskey, and listen to sad music and know the truth underlying every cliche of loneliness and heartbreak. But the very first thing he felt, when the door closed behind her, was relief. 

****

July 5, 2005 

Finally, Harry went to see Ginny. 

She had been on her off-season schedule for two weeks, which meant that she was living in the Tree House. The Weasley siblings built the Tree House as private accommodations when someone was visiting the burrow, but it had wounded Molly so deeply to think they wouldn’t prefer their old rooms that no one but Ginny ever used it. It stood far from the main house and halfway up a hillside in a cluster of trees, like a sentry. The Tree House was built around a large tree, and thus its name, but it was plumb, well-made, supported with stilts -- somehow less whimsical than the Burrow itself.  

Harry gave the Burrow a wide berth, hoping to go unnoticed. If Molly or Arthur saw him he would have to look into their disappointed faces and pretend he’d had a legitimate excuse for all those missed dinners.  

Ginny was sitting cross-legged on an adirondack chair on the massive porch that stretched the entire way around the Tree House. The outdoor space was where its occupants always seemed to spend most of their time in good weather. She was wearing an oversized shirt and no trousers, her freckled knees and lean calves and Quidditch-toned thighs as distracting as always. Her hair was longer than Harry remembered, her fringe appealingly overgrown and slightly in her eyes. She was glaring at Harry as he mounted and ascended the ladder. No one ever used it. The best thing about the Tree House was having an excuse to fly or levitate up. A couple spare brooms leaned against the trunk of the tree just in case. 

But Harry, of course, did things the non-magical way whenever he could. The Prophet called it his “odd eccentricity,” and his friends pretended not to notice. 

“Still pretending not to be the most powerful wizard around, eh?”  

His friends pretended not to notice, except Ginny. 

He ducked his head and studied her. Ginny was always easy to read. She was too impatient for games. “It’s nice to see you, Harry,” she said, smiling and wrapping her arms around her legs so she could easily prop her chin on her knee. Harry relaxed and smiled back, then remembered why he was there and rubbed the back of his neck, anxious again. 

“Ah, Gin. The other day I ran into someone calling himself Tom Riddle. The third.” 

She nodded, looking confused. “Tom, yeah. What about him?”  

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Tom.” 

Ginny rolled her eyes and rearranged her long legs, and Harry refused to get distracted. “Well, Harry, I do know Tom. He’s a big Harpies fan, and supports Luna’s thing.” 

“Luna’s thing?” 

Ginny glanced over her shoulder, then lowered her voice. “Yeah, you know about Luna’s thing. The, um…” Ginny trailed off and blushed. Harry snickered. Then Luna’s voice came floating through one of the Tree House’s open windows. 

“The Society for the Protection of Creatures Threatened by the Power of Disbelief.” 

“That,” Ginny confirmed, nodding. “Sorry, hon,” she said a bit louder and over her shoulder.  

Hon, Harry thought. Then he said, “Neville thought you were with Riddle.  

Harry realized Neville’s note could be read two very different ways as Luna joined them, wearing a fluffy green bathrobe with the Slytherin crest on its lapel. 

Seeing Harry’s startled stare, Luna smiled. “I can tell you’re surprised, Harry. Most people don’t realize that Slytherin has the very best bathrobes.” 

Ginny had her head tipped back, her hair a spill of dark red, the sun hitting her in just the right way. She smiled at Luna with an open fondness that dispelled any lingering doubt about what he’d interrupted. He tried to recall when Ginny had last directed that smile at him. Not in their last month together, maybe not even the last year.  

He swallowed and looked down. 

“Come have tea with us, Harry,” said Luna, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. The robe brushed his forearm and he had to admit — it was quite soft.  

“I think I’ll leave you to it. Just wanted to say hi to Gin.”  

Ginny arched a brow at him and looked amused. “He means he wanted to snoop around about Tom Riddle.”  

Luna perched on the arm of Ginny’s chair. “Oh, Tom is wonderful. He’s one of the few people to have seen the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, and he’s provided testimony for the first issue of the Society’s journal.”  

“Of course, yes,” Harry said faintly. So Tom Riddle “the third” was in Neville’s thing and Hermione’s thing and Luna’s thing and somehow Quidditch, too — which was, of course, Ginny’s thing. Harry might have been the teenage war hero with the most clout, but all the teenage war heroes had a healthy measure of it all their own. It was a good strategy, Harry thought grudgingly, to engage so many influential people in their individual causes.  

“Ginny, don’t you remember…”  

But it was obvious she didn’t. So he stopped and shook his head. “Never mind.” Riddle had done something to her. And Voldemort was probably in on it too. Harry gave the witches an awkward parting wave and went down the ladder, managing to get back to the apparition point without seeing the elder Weasleys.  

Harry paced around his little flat later and felt his magic nearby and turbulent. Even with the wand out of his hand and the stone in its distant secret hiding place and the cloak locked up at 12 Grimmauld Place, the union of the Hallows persisted. 

Sometimes Harry thought about destroying at least one of them. The wand seemed the likeliest choice, being the most obvious risk: one disarmament and he would hand the power to whomever had bested him. But Dumbledore had kept and maintained the Elder Wand. Harry thought of doing the same as the ultimate test, though he wasn’t performing very well so far.  

Missing Ginny was a habit he’d shaken, but it flared back to life after seeing her with Luna. It was a nonspecific jealousy. He didn’t envy either of them their particular person. He envied that they each had a person in the first place.  

**** 

When they were alone in the tent, Harry stalked by nightmares, the Locket intent on carving every hope and scrap of warm feeling bodily from their chests, Hermione and Harry sometimes huddled together under a blanket and put their arms around one another. 

It would have felt awkward to talk about it, then. They never talked about it later, either, except for one night just after the war when Ron was home with Molly, still fragile after losing Fred, and Hermione was still planning her trip to Australia. 

They were staying at 12 Grimmauld Place, which Hermione determined to be too valuable a piece of wizarding history for Harry to abandon. He plucked skeptically at a moth-eaten curtain cheerfully embroidered with bone saws when she made this declaration.  

“You can’t blame it for its former occupants’ bad taste,” she sniffed. 

That night when Harry woke, screaming himself hoarse from one of the less terrible nightmares he’d had, she wordlessly slid into bed with him. 

“I wish there was a closet here,” he muttered into the warm flannel over her her bony little shoulder. “I sleep best in tight spaces. Old habits.”  

Hermione knew enough about the Dursleys now to be neither shocked by the implications, nor to rush to comfort Harry about it, which usually had the opposite of its intended effect. She stroked his arm.  

“I’d think you’d hate tight spaces.”  

“You’d think.”  

But it wasn’t claustrophobia that made Harry hate the cupboard. It was the loneliness. The idea he’d had, off and on, that this time the door would never open, and he’d be forever left alone with no one but the spiders. 

**** 

July 6, 2005  

He went to Voldemort’s castle and the same snakes were there in a different arrangement. It was mid-afternoon in the summer, so they were sunning themselves and drowsy when he arrived.  

The adder raised its head and hissed a greeting that was difficult to translate, but meant roughly tell me of warm stones and hot prey.   

Harry said, “I’m fine, thanks. Your master is here? 

“Our Master is always here,” said the adder, and went through the doors. Harry had seen the same kind of magic let crups and kneazles come and go at will, but there was something amusing about a snake treated so explicitly as a pet.  

Voldemort opened the doors personally again, which Harry supposed was only natural since he was the only non-serpent in residence. Harry glanced at his face and amended the thought: mostly non-serpent.  

“You really should owl ahead to ensure you’re not interrupting,” Voldemort snapped, stepping back as though standing too near Harry was distasteful. Harry paused halfway through the doorway and frowned.  

“Do you want me to go?”  

Voldemort scowled. “Of course not. I must seize upon whatever meager amusement I’m offered, mustn’t I? Come in.”  

Harry followed Voldemort through the castle, this time past the two chairs and little table where he’d watched Voldemort drink tea. They continued into a large sunroom that was almost unpleasantly warm with refracted sunlight, and spilling over with books.  

The furniture here was less gothic-era and therefore appeared to be much more comfortable, consisting of an overstuffed loveseat and matching chair, and a round tufted ottoman. Crowding the remaining space were a variety of overgrown, but cheerfully flowering plants, one of which brushed its palm fronds suggestively against Harry’s forearm as he stepped past.  

“Sit anywhere,” said Voldemort, and took for himself the end of the loveseat which wasn’t covered in books and scrolls. Harry gingerly rearranged a few things on the ottoman so he could offload the chair, and perched there.  

“Why would he call himself Tom Riddle the third ?” Harry asked, because he had to start somewhere.  

Voldemort sighed. “Well, I’m the second, so I suppose he fancies himself the third? I don’t know, Jailor. What does the name he gave himself have to do with anything?”

Harry frowned, thinking that over. He naturally ran a bit warm, so sweat was already gathering under his collar. He noticed a pair of brightly colored snakes which he hadn’t seen before lazing under one of the plants.

“Ginny Weasley didn’t even recognize his name. She met him, too, and didn’t recognize his face. Could she be confunded?”  

“Unlikely. She lived with the memories much too long. You’d notice personality changes.” 

“That’s what I thought too,” murmured Harry, frowning. “But then…” 

Voldemort’s concerns lay elsewhere. “Jailor, the last time you were here I had the impression you don’t know the concept of magical tax. Since you are an adult and possess a functional level of intelligence, I’m sure I was mistaken, but please put my mind at ease.” 

Harry glared. “You were right the first time. I’ve no idea what you were talking about.”  

Voldemort put a hand to his head. “Merlin.” Then he wiggled his fingers against his temple. A slim volume floated from a pile and levitated slowly toward Harry, then drifted into his lap gently as a feather. 

Harry read the title aloud. “ Civics Made Simple: a Guide to the Great Big Wizarding World for Little Witches and Wizards.”  

Voldemort looked pleased with himself. “I thought it would be appropriate for your reading level. It’s my personal copy, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to do so here.”  

Harry rolled his eyes, but opened the book. 

****  

When Harry walked through the forest to die, he dropped the stone. He surrendered to Voldemort’s curse. He went into the place that looked like King’s Cross and spoke to the being that looked like Dumbledore. 

He was obediently ignoring the creature under the bench until the Dumbledore-looking being said: “You are the worthy possessor of the Hallows.”  

What a strange idea, that in not wanting them, he should win them. There was a long pause in the conversation he’d been having, all the information the Dumbledore-looking being had been delivering, but in the silence the pieces that had been coming together felt like they drifted back apart. Then the creature beneath the bench, which had fallen silent, made a noise that was a hiss, not a whimper or a gasp. 

Please,” it said, in stumbling Parseltongue as Harry imagined an infant might speak it. His heart sped up. 

“Harry,” murmured the being. Dumbledore, maybe. Harry knelt on the floor, which did not feel hard under his knees. It only felt like denser air, just solid enough to support his weight. He reached out to the thing, half-veiled in shadow and further obscured by a blur in Harry’s field of vision. Perhaps, he thought, in this place its body was his mind’s best estimation of what something that shouldn’t exist would look like, and half its features were beyond his imagination. The thought made him shudder, but he still didn’t hesitate. 

Harry’s hand darted out, seized the struggling thing, and he clutched it tightly to his chest with both arms. As soon as he had the creature, all sharp bones and dry skin, pressed against his heart, it went still. 

“Harry,” said Dumbledore’s voice, more sharply. “You may not be truly dead, here, but it is . If you manipulate death, then you will truly make yourself its master.”  

Harry got back to his feet. “I already am,” he said, and the light swelled from that point in the distance, beckoning. Harry walked into it. 

**** 

July 7, 2005  

The next morning when Hermione and Ron called, Harry was still in bed. He’d been lying awake thinking about all of the things he had read in Voldemort’s ridiculous children’s civics book. The magical tax bit had been the least shocking, somehow. 

Harry murmured “Hello,” listened to them chatter a moment, then interjected, “why didn’t anyone tell me about the old squire and the blood oath?”  

His friends fell quiet. Hermione answered eventually. “Well, Harry, I guess politics - on, um, that level - never really came up.” 

“How can one person four hundred years ago decide for all of us, forever who’s appointed to the Wizengamot?” 

“Because he did,” Ron said dubiously, as though Harry had asked why the sky was blue.

“Principles of collective magical conveyance are actually quite fascinating,” began Hermione. 

“Not really,” Ron cut in. “Besides, You know what my dad says about politics.” Harry could easily imagine Ron’s smile. “It’s easy to point out the bad stuff and much harder to come up with a way to fix it.”  

Harry grunted; he couldn’t argue with that. He strained to remember the bit of collective magical conveyance Hermione had forced down his throat when they were studying independently for their NEWTs, just after the war. But he didn’t know what he’d retained; at the time, he was constantly fatigued by the potions he took to dim the siren’s call of the Hallows.  

The answer rose to the surface of his mind with uncanny specificity. “But we could reset the principle with a rune-bound ritual, and come up with some reasonable parameters that would spread the power around a bit. The Muggles have plenty of models.” 

“You know who he sounds like,” Ron mused. 

“Tom, of course,” Hermione answered warmly. 

Harry hung up the phone.  

**** 

That evening, Harry made it out of his flat in his nicest Muggle clothes, and with his nicest, self-shrinking robes tucked into his pocket. He managed all of this without breaking out into a full body sweat, which was good because the delicate spells, like an effective hygiene spell, were nearly impossible for him now. 

He took a taxi, and then a bus because he was trying to conserve his Muggle money, which was such a hassle to convert. 

When there were functions like this one at the ministry, they opened the ceremonial entrance, which was just a normal staircase that looked like it led to the tube, kept densely spelled with Muggle-repelling magic. 

Harry started down the stairs, which transitioned to glossy marble halfway, hastily taking the robes out of their little charmed pouch as he went. They instantly unshrunk and he pulled them over his head. 

From the bottom of the staircase, the grand atrium of the Ministry was spread out before him, and he couldn’t avoid seeing the horrible, massive fountain they’d installed post-war. It depicted Harry and his friends standing on a pile of broken wands, their expressions uncharacteristically triumphant. 

Gazing up at the statue — particularly, Harry was somehow sure, at Harry’s part of it — was Tom Riddle III. 

Harry began to focus on settling his magic, since the last thing he needed was to slip up in the crowd of people he was about to join.  

He needn’t have bothered. It was calm. 

In fact, his magic felt downright ordinary. Or at least, at the level of dormant potential he remembered from the age of fifteen or so forward, when magic finally began to feel like a single integrated body of power and not a dozen perplexing and unrelated subjects. He knew he could call upon it even for an uncertain spell, but it lay obedient and still until bidden. 

Also, Harry and Tom Riddle III were still staring at one another. 

Cautiously, Harry walked forward. Tom Riddle watched him come, his head to one side, a pleased smile on one side of his mouth. Harry couldn’t decide whether the better word for him was “handsome” or “beautiful,” but he was certainly nicely attired in navy blue the same shade as his eyes, a darker, midnight blue shirt, and a cravat, freckled with some sort of silver pattern. Harry had only known the elderly to wear cravats, but Tom pulled this one off nicely. 

Tom, is it? Harry’s subconscious demanded scathingly. 

Harry’s magic acknowledged Tom’s, as it sometimes did, though with a bit more interest than it had ever shown in anyone but Voldemort. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Tom said, meeting Harry’s eye.  

Harry hastily checked, but he sensed no legilimency. “You do?” 

“You’d like to ask to walk in together, but you’re afraid of seeming too forward.” 

Harry ground his teeth. It was the sort of thing Voldemort would say, which made sense, really. He drew in a deep breath through his nose to steel himself and ignored the bait.  

“You’re right, as a matter of fact.” He offered Tom his arm and felt smug when he saw a bit of tension form in Tom’s jaw, before he relaxed back into his self-assured smile. 

“Thank you,” he said, slipping his hand over Harry’s elbow, and Harry immediately realized he’d made a grave mistake. Tom was much too close and sweet-smelling. Harry had a job to do, but he didn’t think he could push Tom up against a wall and...legilimize him in the Ministry atrium. 

“Harry, and...Tom!” Hermione’s voice grounded Harry enough that he could turn his head in her direction and paste on a smile, seizing the opportunity to get his arm untangled from Tom’s. Hermione wore a lovely blue dress, complemented by the new style of open robes that looked sort of like a kimono. At their relative heights, an embrace from Hermione always meant that her fluffy hair wound up pressed against the entire lower half of Harry’s face, so he happily braced himself for that, then inhaled the scent of her usual shampoo. 

Ron loomed up behind Hermione, and hugged Harry while Hermione exclaimed something along the lines of “it’s about time.”  

Ron met Harry’s eye after a fond but brief hug that was more of a clasp, and sighed. “I’m sorry, mate. She’s never going to let this go, even though I’ve said …”  

“Only I’ve been so eager to introduce the two of you,” Hermione was saying, seizing Harry’s hand and tugging until he looked over at her, and with her, Tom. She was standing next to Tom with her arm around his waist, one of the most surreal sights Harry had seen on either side of the mortal coil, and Tom was smiling down at her benignly while she chattered on. “And Harry turned down our invitations to everything , and poor Tom must have thought we were mad , and then Neville said…”  

“‘Lo, all,” called Neville himself, appearing with a shy smile that was incongruous with his thick golden hair, styled off of his forehead, and exquisitely tailored robes. On his arm was a witch that must have been mostly Veela, with big silver eyes and a waterfall of silky blond hair that Harry had thought reserved for Disney princesses. She dimpled sweetly at them.  

“This is Arabella Greengrass,” Neville added. “She’s my...well…”  

Now Arabella was blushing. “His girlfriend,” she said quietly. It was all very adorable and for some reason left Harry feeling annoyed.  

“Well, shall we?” asked Tom, his voice coming from a place much too near Harry’s ear, and then he was grasping Harry’s hand in his to tuck it through his elbow, a reversal of their positions a moment before. Harry looked up at him in disbelief, far too distracted and waiting for the magic to take advantage of it, but again...nothing.  

“I suppose we shall,” Harry muttered, and let Tom lead him into the chamber. 

**** 

July 8, 2005  

Harry’s phone rang even earlier than usual, and again he was not awake for it. He spent a moment frowning at the unexpected pleasure of having overslept, and then reached for his phone and answered it.  

“Harry, it’s just me,” said Hermione, whispering. “I know I shouldn’t have called, but I just couldn’t help it. Is he there with you?”  

Harry sat bolt upright, looking around in alarm. “Who?” He couldn’t see anything clearly, so he reached for his glasses and shoved them onto his face. Then Harry relaxed, because he appeared to be alone after all.  

“Tom, of course,” she said, laughing now. “I guess he isn’t, then. Merlin, Harry, don’t leave me in suspense. How did it go?”  

“The thing?” Harry rubbed his free hand through his hair. “Fine? You were there.”  

“I mean the date ,” she insisted. “I want to know how it went . How you feel .”  

Harry’s hand froze, still tangled in his sleep-tousled waves. “Hermione, that was not a date. I did not go on a date with Tom Riddle the third .”  

He thought back frantically, wondering how Hermione, the smartest person he had ever known, could be this gravely mistaken. It probably had to do with the way Tom Riddle III had kept putting his hand over Harry’s on the table when he leaned over to speak to him. Harry had meant to pull his hand away, but each time he couldn’t -- it was shock, of course, sticking him to the spot. She might have been misled, also, by the dancing. But Harry was a bad dancer, so it had been necessary for Tom to hold him rather close.  

“I have to go,” Harry muttered. 

Hermione gasped, reverting back to a whisper. “Oh, so he is there?” 

“No!” 

**** 

Harry apparated to Voldemort’s stupid luxury prison and banged on the door without waiting for the snakes to announce him. 

“Jailor,” said Voldemort, having calmly opened the doors and waited for Harry to stalk past him. “What a pleasant surprise.” 

Harry led the way to the sun room, and flopped down onto the chair, which had not been recovered in reading material after his last visit. In fact, the entire room was marginally tidier, and beneath the fronds of the friendly flowering palm Harry recalled from before, dozed a house elf that would make Kreacher seem youthful.  

“That’s Pimbly,” said Voldemort, taking his own seat. “He woke from hibernation this week.”  

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Hibernation?”  

“Yes. When a wizarding home is too long dormant, house elves conserve their energy and magic by resting while the home is empty. After it’s been occupied long enough, they become somewhat revived.”  

“Hmm,” Harry hummed, acknowledging that the explanation seemed to check out. Pimbly appeared nothing more or less than “somewhat revived,” curled up like a cat on the hard floor, blanketed by a stained linen napkin.  

“I daresay Pimbly’s presence will simplify things for you, Jailor. You won’t have to collect my food in those strange polymer devices and go to the trouble of shoving it through the floo.”  

“You mean grocery sacks,” Harry corrected automatically. He went grocery shopping for Voldemort on Tuesdays. He didn’t mind. He pictured Pimbly at a Tesco and snickered.  

Voldemort had returned to his book and didn’t look up.

“Tom Riddle III,” Harry said, by way of segue.  

“Mmm.” 

“He pretends not to know me. No one remembers him. Dumbledore told the Weasleys his name, and Ron and Hermione — they knew.”  

“And now they do not,” Voldemort guessed. He turned the page he’d just finished and Harry gritted his teeth.  

“This is important .” 

“It’s important to you ,” said Voldemort. “I couldn’t care less.”  

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Who else can I ask?”  

Voldemort shrugged and turned his next page.  

“If you help me, maybe I could help you.”  

Voldemort chuckled bitterly, but finally closed his book. He rested his hands on the cover and his fingertips drummed a light rhythm against the leather. His fingers were long and narrow, the nails pointed. “Cruel Jailor. What did you have in mind?”  

“You like books.”  

“I do.” Voldemort was openly amused.  

“I could get you more books.” Harry was thinking aloud. “Or let you into the Black library.”  

Voldemort’s eyes had taken on a particular gleam that Harry thought should alarm him, but that was not precisely his reaction, though the hair on his arms did stand on end. He slowly rubbed his forearms and continued his habit of not thinking about why.  

“Very well. You will grant me access to the Black library, and in return I shall assist you with my former Horcrux.” 

Harry frowned. “No, you shall assist me with the Horcrux and then I’ll let you in the library. And you have to actually help me, in good faith.”  

Voldemort’s eyes were gleaming again, the vertical pupil wide. “Agreed.”  

Harry had a bad feeling.  

Making a deal with death was a feature of the legends for good reason. Harry was held to his word by the Hallows and he’d learned that the hard way. He’d also vowed not to put himself in that position ever again, but Harry had never had very good control over his impulses.  

****  

Voldemort’s version of helping was to shoo Harry out of his castle with instructions to return the next day at 2:03 in the afternoon, and no explanation whatsoever. Harry went to his Muggle flat. His magic remained calm. He had no idea why.  

He had a thing — relocating some senile feral dragons — that afternoon. It was a welcome distraction, and comically reminiscent of the Triwizard Tournament, to race the fire-breathing creatures on his broom.  

When they were safely delivered to the preserve in Romania, Harry spent some time catching up with Charlie Weasley, still the shyest of his siblings. They sat at the edge of the corrall barrier and passed a flask of excellent fire whiskey back and forth as the sun set.  

“Seeing anyone special Harry?” Charlie winced as soon as he asked. “No, never mind. Either you are, and you’ll tell me if it comes up and you want me to know, or you’re not, which is fair.” He looked at Harry askance. “I get asked so often that it just comes out of my mouth now, too.”  

Harry laughed, then winced, too. He passed Charlie the flask and studied him as he drank. “So, Ginny and Luna.”  

Charlie handed back the flask, meeting Harry’s eye, assessing. Their fingers touched.  

“Yeah. You don’t seem upset about it?”  

Harry remembered the way Ginny and Luna were looking at each other and let the pleasure-pain of it crash over him in a wave. But then it passed. “I’m not...upset.”  

That was true. There were other words for his feelings. He swallowed the whiskey too fast then hastily handed it back. This time their fingers touched for longer.  

“I know my mother will hold out hope for you two until she’s buried in the crypt, but I don’t think you two were right for each other, honestly, Harry. Gin is…”  

Harry knew what Charlie was getting at, and he also thought he had better go. Drinking was a luxury the Hallows didn’t afford him.  

(The magic remained becalmed, and he couldn’t puzzle out why that would be. He was, cautiously, trying to enjoy it while it lasted.)  

“She’s great, and she’s also happier now,” Harry said, hoping he didn’t sound as bitter as he felt. He stood up to leave, and looking down at Charlie, passed him the flask. Their fingers tangled up a bit, Charlie blushing, not like Ron, where it started on the back of his neck and lit up his ears, but like Ginny, a delicate pink on the cheekbones.  

Harry pulled back, and Charlie looked down. He had messy hair for a Weasley. “Your mum just wants you to be happy, and she thinks there’s one specific way to be...that,” said Harry, reaching out to pat Charlie’s head, but he stopped himself. He wasn’t good at these things.  

“Yeah. See ya around, then, Harry.”  

****  

Harry received a very dignified eagle owl that evening at his flat. Harry, who would always have a soft spot for pretty owls, admired the bird while he detached the letter. It must have been instructed to wait for a response, because the owl flew into the flat when Harry stepped away and settled disdainfully on the back of Harry’s shabby sofa to wait. From there, it made pointed looks at Harry’s writing desk until he obediently sat down to read.  

Dear Harry, the letter began, in lovely handwriting that hadn’t changed much since it was being transmitted through a cursed, homicidal diary. I had a lovely evening with you. This note may seem forward, but I confess I haven’t the patience to be coy. I hope you will agree to have dinner with me tomorrow evening. If you do, please tell Sid, and he will communicate your acceptance to me. There is no need to inconvenience yourself with a written response. Hoping fervently to see you tomorrow at 8 pm in formal attire — TR, III   

Harry rolled his eyes so hard he felt a faint stab of pain in each one from the strain. His heart was also beating very fast. He looked at the eagle owl. It seemed disrespectful to call such a lovely creature “Sid.”  

“I suppose,” Harry began dubiously, “that you can tell him yes.”  

It was always hard to tell with animals, but the owl seemed to doubt the wisdom of Harry’s choice.  

But Harry felt resolved. After all, while not the ideal location for an interrogation, the Muggle flat would do. Apparently he could get Tom to come there voluntarily. Harry needed answers, and being out in public with Tom had been far too confusing for Harry to find the right moment for legilimency.  

Harry’s magic was beginning to feel restless; he had to take the potions that helped him sleep and blessedly didn’t seem incompatible with the Hallows’ energy, unlike so many other things.  

****  

When he arrived at the appointed time, Harry thought about admitting himself to the castle — Voldemort was expecting him, and he was on the lease, after all. But before he could decide, the doors opened from inside and a conscious Pimbly smiled up at him, revealing two blackened teeth. Pimbly also had alarming yellow eyes, and the overall effect was quite nightmarish.  

Harry smiled politely anyway. “I’m Harry Potter, here to see Voldemort.”  

Pimbly beamed — or at least, that’s how Harry interpreted his widening lips and wrinkled nose. “But of course, Master Harry, Pimbly will be showing you to where Master Voldemort is being.”  

Harry followed Pimbly not to the sunroom, but to an upstairs sitting room that jutted out over the main level, creating an even more dizzying view of the mountainscape through a pair of yawning glass-paneled doors. Many wizarding homes in the country had second story features like this, designed to allow someone to leave their bedroom on a broomstick. Muggles would be stymied by the sight of doors that opened into blue sky; a hazard to their eye.  

There was a large, curved, silver sofa facing the doors, and the sun poured onto it to illuminate a sedate Voldemort, as ever reading a book, and wearing his uniform of nondescript black robes.  

“Harry,” he said, warmly, standing up as Pimbly closed the door behind them. The sitting room was sparsely furnished aside from the sofa, so when Voldemort gestured for Harry to sit there, he had no real option but to do so.  

“You’re on time. Excellent.” Voldemort made an elegant little gesture toward his left. Pimbly appeared there with a tea set, but he was looking at Harry, not Voldemort.  

“Would Master Harry be liking his tea first?”  

Voldemort looked sharply at Harry. Harry shrugged, confused. “Whatever you prefer, Pimbly.”  

Harry wasn’t sure why Pimbly kept calling him “master,” since Kreacher only called Harry that, and not other wizards. But then, maybe Pimbly was simply better-mannered than Kreacher, which really wouldn’t be much of an achievement. Still, he asked.  

“Why does Pimbly call me ‘master’?”  

Voldemort, who had fixed his stare on the doorway, looked quickly at Harry and blinked. “Pimbly was hibernating for quite a long time.”  

Harry supposed that was an answer. Then he stopped thinking about it, because Pimbly’s squeaky voice came again from the doorway.  

“Masters Harry and Voldemort, the other master is being joining you,” said the elf. 

There were at least a dozen objections to that statement that Harry could think of, but he voiced none of them, because Tom Riddle was already walking into the room, as immaculately dressed as ever and taking in the scene before him with a mildly curious expression.  

“Harry,” he said, frowning a bit as he nodded to Harry, then his frown deepened and his eyes narrowed as he looked at Voldemort. “And...Voldemort, I presume.” 

Harry swung around to stare at Voldemort. “What is he doing here?”  

Voldemort was nonplussed. “Don’t be rude, Harry,” he said, standing up. “You did ask me to help you with Mr. Riddle, did you not?”  

It should not have been possible for Harry to feel betrayed by Voldemort, who was variously his prisoner, the murderer who’d orphaned him, and also the only person who had repeatedly tried to kill Harry as well. And yet.  

“You traitor ,” Harry hissed. He had a moment of panic over what Tom must think, then he remembered Tom was Voldemort too, and his head started to hurt.  

“Now, Harry,” said Voldemort. “Be reasonable. You shouldn’t make agreements at all if you won’t exercise sufficient care crafting their terms. Sit down.”  

Harry sat with an impulsive obedience that made him blush. Voldemort leaned back, crossed his left ankle over his right knee, then rested his arm across his thigh, totally at ease. Harry watched closely.  

“Tom Riddle III,” Voldemort said, as though deeply amused. “Please, sit.”  

The obvious place was at the end of the curved sofa opposite Voldemort, but it was rather close to Harry. Still, that’s where Tom sat. He rolled onto his left hip and leaned against his elbow over the tufted sofa back. With both of them angled toward him, Harry’s breath became unsteady.  

“Now, Harry, I’ll do what you’re too scrupulous to do,” said Voldemort. His red eyes were grave, then lit up a bit with the thrill of the incanting “ Imperio.  

Tom swayed slightly where he sat, but the spell struck too quickly for him to really see it coming. His lovely face relaxed in tranquility.  

“Tom,” Voldemort said calmly. “I need you to answer Harry’s questions honestly. Can you do that?”  

“Yes,” said Tom tightly, and Harry could see he was fighting the curse, because every moment or two his mouth briefly contorted as though he wanted to snarl. He looked at Harry, who fidgeted.  

“It’s not right,” Harry mumbled, and sank back against the sofa back. Voldemort sighed, put-upon.  

“I’ll ask, then. Tom, what is your purpose here today?”  

“I received an invitation from Lord Voldemort. A name I never said aloud.” His eyes narrowed the slightest amount on Voldemort’s face, and for a half moment his lip curled as though in disdain before the spell forced it slack.  

“And have we met before?”  

Harry couldn’t help it, he was interested. He watched Tom answer. 

“No.” 

“Do you know who I am?”  

“You’re...us.”  

“How do you know that?”  

“I can’t describe how. I’ve always known I was a Horcrux. But I forgot everything about my creator. You.”  

Harry saw the vestiges of panic on Tom’s face, confessing what must seem to him a terrible weakness. “Forgot everything?” Harry interjected, before he could think. “What do you mean?”  

“From what I can tell, I woke up with no memories almost seven years ago.”  

Harry felt a tingling sensation on the nape of his neck, and tried to rub it away.  

“Jailor,” said Voldemort. “Does that approximate date ring a bell?”  

“The end of the war.”  

Voldemort seemed pensive, but Harry didn’t know what significance the date really had. Except…  

“That’s when I put you here,” he murmured. “And the castle— it’s meant to be fidelius , but…” with the Hallows’ magic, Harry hadn’t truly cast a spell. He thought of spells, sometimes, as part of his formation of an intent, but the Hallows’ magic was a purer expression of will than ordinary magic. Its effects weren’t contained to those of a specifically-cast spell.  

“You’ve spent some time wanting no one to notice me. Perhaps the Hallows took you too seriously.”

Harry blinked. “You think I modified all my friends’ memories? My girlfriend’s memories?”  

Tom made an abbreviated sound of distress, or possibly malice. “Girlfriend?” he managed, but didn’t seem able to say anything else without drifting too far from the spirit of the curse. 

“Ex-girlfriend,” Harry clarified, warmed by the way Tom’s eyes softened, relieved. 

What is the matter with you?! demanded Harry’s subconscious. He didn’t have an answer so he pretended not to hear.  

“Now, Tom,” Voldemort continued, “why call yourself Tom Riddle III? Especially if, as you say, you were left with none of your memories?” 

“I didn’t know myself, but the people I was with knew me.” 

Harry and Voldemort exchanged a swift look.  

“Tom,” Harry said, and then the question he thought he was going to ask was pushed aside by something more persistent. “Have you been possessing Ginny?”  

“No,” Tom said, looking puzzled. “Should I be?”  

Harry felt weak with relief, slumping back against the sofa. His eyes fell closed, until he felt long fingers carding through his hair, sharp nails grazing his scalp. Startled, he found Voldemort looming close, expression still casual, as though stroking Harry’s head was something he did regularly. Harry couldn’t decide whether that was the strange part, or whether it was that Harry remained still and unprotesting under his touch.  

Before he could think about it too hard, Voldemort was saying, “Are we finished with Tom, then, Harry? The central issues are addressed, are they not? And prolonged Imperius is so stressful for one.”  

Harry blinked, letting his head fall to the side so that he could see. Tom did look tense around the jaw, his eyes hyper-focused on Harry. Harry nodded, and Voldemort terminated the spell without so much as reaching for his wand.  

That, too, was curious. Harry had not observed wandless curses -- except his own, of course -- not even from Voldemort.  

“Is that really necessary?” Tom murmured. At first Harry assumed he meant the Imperius , but then he saw that Tom’s eye was fixed not on Harry exactly, but on the crown of Harry’s head where Voldemort continued to slowly stroke his hair.  

“Harry asked me to help him with you,” was Voldemort’s non-answer. Tom made a huffing noise, and watched Harry’s throat when Harry swallowed. Harry did not say anything, and even if he was reluctant to admit to himself, let alone anyone else, that he was no longer objecting to Voldemort’s deliberate misinterpretation of the meaning of “help,” he was visibly hard and made no effort to conceal it.  

“I saw how he liked to hear you say Imperio ,” said Tom very quietly. He was unbuttoning his robes. 

Voldemort slid nearer Harry and turned him about so Harry’s back was to his chest, his legs half sprawled across the sofa. Voldemort kept petting him with one hand, and with the other arm held Harry, comfortably tight against his body, his long fingers curving around Harry’s ribs.  

“Not today,” chided Voldemort. “He isn’t ready.” Voldemort’s voice was close and tickling, which made Harry’s whole body hot, and then Voldemort turned his face into the side of Harry’s head, so Harry felt the touch of his forehead, the subtle protrusion around his nostrils, and his mouth and chin. Voldemort kissed him just behind his ear. Harry shivered, especially when he saw Tom finish shrugging out of his robes. He was wearing the traditional summer attire underneath —nothing —and his body was lean and white, almost hairless except for a thin black trail which led to a point between his legs Harry couldn’t bring himself to look at directly.  

He crawled toward Harry, putting his cool hands on Harry’s ankles where his jeans had ridden up, then quickly and efficiently removed Harry’s trainers and socks.  

“He blushes ,” Tom exclaimed in a whisper. Voldemort’s hand had left Harry’s head and was delving through the loose collar of his t-shirt so his nails could graze Harry’s nipple. Harry’s body arched, but he couldn’t move much, anchored where Voldemort held him firmly across the torso and by Tom’s grip on his calves.  

Harry had a moment of uncertainty. What was happening? He reached for his magic, which while volatile, had always protected him. But it was only a pleasant energy coursing through and over him, like the ocean current had the day he’d met Tom on the beach.  

“Don’t rush him,” snapped Tom. He smiled up at Harry as he got closer, his knees nudging Harry’s legs apart. Then he bent over Harry’s thighs and breathed a moist heat onto the place in his jeans where his captured cock strained, pulling the denim tight.  

“A big boy,” said Tom approvingly, stroking the outline of Harry’s cock with his sharp chin, hard enough to hurt, then nuzzling it with his nose, his cheek. Harry moaned and let his head fall back against Voldemort’s shoulder, suddenly sure he would come just from this.  

“No,” Voldemort said, looking down at him, his horrific face even worse this close. Too smooth; no lines; the muscles in his neck too visible. “Not yet.”  

Harry felt Tom’s hands on his fly, and broke eye contact with Voldemort to look down his own heaving chest. He saw Tom’s bent head, hair still neatly parted but his fringe starting to come loose and curl. Harry lifted his hips and Tom pulled his jeans and pants down in one tug, pausing to smirk at Harry’s cock, tight and bright red with excitement, and then he jerked the fabric the rest of the way down Harry’s legs and tossed it aside carelessly.  

All three of them went still, and for a moment Harry panicked. He almost struggled, shouted, protested, but then Voldemort’s hand was back on his head and Tom was lying bodily between his legs, and it was too late.  

“I want to fuck you,” Tom said, his forehead pressed into Harry’s chest. His hand was grasping Voldemort’s arm so he could steady himself, but if he or Voldemort cared, it wasn’t apparent. Harry still wore his t-shirt, rucked up to his waist, and now Tom’s hand dove under it so he could skate his fingertips up Harry’s ribs where he was terribly ticklish. Harry writhed helplessly, gasping, and in the process his cock ground against Tom’s stomach and the gasp became a moan.  

“There isn’t time,” Voldemort said absently. “Unless you settle for his mouth.”  

Harry, through the haze of lust and sensation, nearly did protest that, but his head and his body must have had different opinions because, again, he had to fight the urge to come just at the suggestion.  

Tom lifted his head, intrigued, and braced himself on the sofa back so he could put his other hand near Harry’s face, cradling it a half second. Then he eased two fingers over Harry’s lower lip. Harry felt a blurring of perspective, which he hadn’t experienced since his early accidents with mind magic when the Hallows were still beyond his control. He continued to gaze at Tom, overwhelmed by his skin, his touch. But when Harry’s jaw dropped open and Tom purred approvingly, rubbing the sharp part of Harry’s incisors firmly and then sliding his fingers deeper, Harry thought he could feel his tongue on his own hand, full and hot.  

“I can settle for that,” said Tom. His eyes flicked to Harry’s, bright blue and dizzyingly direct. “Do you want me to fuck your mouth, Harry? Would you like to gag on my cock?”  

Harry was effectively muted by Tom’s long fingers, but he could nod, and he did.  

Voldemort shifted to better support Harry as Tom’s fingers slid out of his mouth. Voldemort brushed Harry’s hair away from his forehead. “Don’t worry, Harry. He can’t last long.” His eye took Harry in hungrily and for a moment Harry was seeing himself through Voldemort’s eyes. He saw his own flushed face and red mouth, his bright, eager eyes. Then it was over. “Not when you look like that. But, would it make you feel better if Tom sucked your cock first?”  

Tom put his face back against Harry’s chest and sharply bit Harry’s right nipple through his T-shirt. Harry jerked and gasped again, not exactly in protest. Voldemort snaked a hand out, quick as a cobra, and grabbed Tom firmly by the hair.  

“Tom,” he said, voice low and dangerous. “Do not test me.”  

Their gazes locked for a long moment, Harry trembling between them. Then Tom’s eyes softened, and he looked down at Harry and smiled again.

“Is that what you’d like, Harry?” He slowly came nearer. Harry’s breath hitched. “Or would you rather I kissed you first?”  

Voldemort’s grip on Tom’s hair visibly tightened, but Tom didn’t flinch. Harry nodded again, though he no longer had any excuse for silence. Voldemort sighed. “Very well then.”  

He handed Harry into Tom’s arms, or that’s what it felt like to Harry, and then Voldemort was gone, several feet away and watching them. Harry kept his eyes open and locked on Voldemort as Tom leaned in, but then Tom’s mouth was on Harry’s and Harry couldn’t look elsewhere.  

It was a soft, sweet kiss; almost chaste. Except that Tom was thrusting his leaking cock against Harry’s thigh, even as he gently cradled Harry’s face. And then Tom rose to one knee, swung his other leg over Harry’s lap, and pushed him over the low sofa back so that Harry’s spine arched uncomfortably and Tom’s cock was suddenly at Harry’s eye level.  

Harry only had time to think that his mouth didn’t seem big enough, before he felt Voldemort move behind him. Bony fingers were at the corners of his mouth, prying him open for Tom.  

“Breathe through your nose,” Voldemort suggested. 

Harry did, breathing deeply of Tom, who smelled like Harry, but not quite. His cock was firm on Harry’s tongue, then blunt on his palate, and then too much, much too much. 

Harry gagged, and Tom gripped his hair and thrust deeper while Harry struggled and his eyes watered.

The soft fingertips of Voldemort’s magic pressed at his mind. “Don’t stop,” Voldemort advised, sounding surprised. “He wants it.” Voldemort’s cold hands gently clasped Harry’s neck. He rubbed firm circles on Harry’s throat with his thumbs while Tom began to draw back and thrust. Tom made pleased little grunts every time Harry hacked and tried to swallow, and Harry’s hips jerked helplessly. 

“Tom,” Voldemort said, when Harry’s throat and lungs were burning, and Tom withdrew a final time so the head of his cock lay over Harry’s tongue. Then Tom took himself in his own hand and jacked himself furiously. The rhythm was so fast the head of his cock felt like it was vibrating against Harry’s slack lower lip. Harry curled back the tip of his tongue and pressed it hard against the slit of Tom’s cock, and Tom swore and came. 

There was a lot, and it was bitter and warm and distasteful, but before Harry could spit, Voldemort, who had still been holding his neck, slid his hands up to Harry’s jaw and held his mouth firmly closed. 

Harry looked up at him. “Swallow,” ordered Voldemort, and Harry did, grimacing, just as Tom’s hand closed lazily over Harry’s cock. 

Tom had slid to his knees, his chest against Harry’s, his hips arched away from Harry’s to make space for his hand, which was moving boldly back and forth, just short of the right amount of pressure. 

Still, Harry hadn’t felt anything better in his whole life. He wondered if sex could cause combustion. They were wizards, after all. 

“There you are now,” said Voldemort, dragging a sharp fingernail over Harry’s lower lip. “Come for Tom."  

Tom wasn’t wanking Harry as Harry would have liked, and Tom’s come burned a painful trail down Harry’s sore throat, but he couldn’t do anything but come when Voldemort told him to. Harry came quietly, with a whimper, trembling against Tom. His hands had come up to clutch at Tom’s smooth back. He’d spilled over Tom’s fist, but mostly on his own chest.  

“So messy,” Tom sighed. He rolled half off of Harry and licked the white spatter of Harry’s come from his hand.  

“You can change here.” Voldemort was petting Harry again. Tom’s legs were heavy on Harry’s left thigh.  

“What?” Harry managed.  

“We have a reservation,” Tom chided affectionately. “We can’t miss it just because you’re fucked out.” 

“Don’t be crass,” Voldemort remarked, without venom. “Harry, Pimbly can show you where to go.” 

Harry cleared his throat, and then he winced. Tom and Voldemort both chuckled, and Harry, horrified, didn’t know whether he wanted to punch one of them or rub up against them. 

“I’ll, er, yes,” said Harry, and Pimbly appeared with a soft pop, beaming at them all without apparent concern for the fact two of them were naked and a considerable amount of residual come and sweat was drying on Harry’s t shirt. 

“Pimbly will be showing Master Harry to the bathing room.” 

“I’m not your master, Pimbly.” Harry reminded the elf. This time he was sure he didn’t imagine Voldemort’s strange tension at the subject, but he felt too boneless and relaxed to let himself worry. 

Pimbly padded quietly ahead of Harry, who wondered too late if it was wise to leave Tom and Voldemort alone in the same room. 

**** 

Harry retraced his steps some time later after an absurdly luxurious bath and donning the clothing that Pimbly brought him, which was high quality, if a bit posh, and exactly Harry’s size. Harry had never been comfortable with the idea of someone else dressing him, but he was especially lost as to what to do when an event was formal. When he let Kreacher choose, the selection ran toward the extremely old-fashioned— far too many frilled collars and bell sleeves.  

Now Harry wore charcoal slacks and a waistcoat and tie, quite Muggle considering the setting, and sleek black robes, open, since there didn’t seem to be a way to fasten them. The shirt was also black, and the tie was forest green with a brighter green stripe. Pimbly proudly held up a mirror and called Harry “master,” and this time Harry didn’t correct him. 

Tom had dressed also. His ensemble was black on black and his robes were over his arm. The dark fabric was a striking contrast against his ivory skin, and his tie was the same color blue as his eyes, only a shade different than the black of the rest of the ensemble yet noticeable nonetheless.  

Tom took Harry’s arm, a gesture that shouldn’t feel familiar, yet did. Then Tom led him into into the garden so they could Apparate. 

“Where’s Voldemort?” 

“Resting,” said Tom, and didn’t elaborate. 

Harry couldn’t quite bring himself to ask the question he wanted answered.  

Tom turned to face him, their hands gently clasped. “Shall I?” 

Tom didn’t wait for an answer, which was terrible side-along etiquette, but the journey was smooth. They arrived on what felt like an ocean cliffside at midnight, but without a sky. Instead, overhead there were a thousand dark stone stalactites furred with glowing lichen. Far below, water lapped gently, echoing everywhere, womb-like. 

“Table for two?”  

A goblin in a tuxedo stood behind them. Harry stared at Tom, who was nodding calmly, and also threading Harry’s arm back through his. Then they were walking after the goblin to a little table with a fine view of the water in the silver glow of the lichen, and Harry was unfolding a white linen napkin and laying it over his lap. 

“When I first heard about you,” Tom said, and poured dark red wine into Harry’s glass from a decanter so fragile Harry could barely see the glass in the dim light. “Back then, I thought you’d make a good political alliance. But then we met.”  

He smiled at Harry. Tom’s face was unnecessarily flattered by the quality of the light, and Harry found it hard to look directly at him. 

“But when I met you…well. You know.” 

Harry fidgeted with his napkin and studied his menu for something to do.  

“You like goblin cuisine, I’m sure.” 

Harry found the concept horrifying, in theory, but he was still trying to figure out how to say something more important, so he shrugged off the question instead of thinking about it. 

“Too often vegetarian cuisine is overlooked by those with simple tastes, but I find the delicacy of the flavors so pleasing.” 

“We fucked,” blurted Harry. His shrill voice carried in the chamber and a young witch seated near them dropped her fork and glared over at them. 

Tom didn’t seem embarrassed. Harry thought he was likely incapable of feeling that way. He smiled slyly. “Well, I fucked.” 

The witch made a choking noise and her companion, a much older wizard, looked censorious. “Gentlemen…” 

Tom turned to regard them over his shoulder and whatever his face looked like, it had the witch and wizard hastily gesturing for their bill and hurrying off. 

“Voldemort was there,” Harry added. He felt the toe of Tom’s shoe rub against his shin. “And he’s...you…” 

The waiter, who was also a goblin, appeared and noiselessly snarled at them while Tom placed their order. The work culture here seemed to be friendlier than at Gringotts, because Harry eventually realized that the goblin was smiling, not snarling. By the time he figured that out, the goblin was gone and Tom was nudging his wine glass toward his hand. 

“Try it. Goblin wine is a delicacy.” 

Harry sipped obediently, and then murmured a pleased exclamation at the taste, which was light and citrusy despite the dark color. It also created a pleasant tingle on his tongue that carried all the way to his belly. Tom’s leg was pressing firmly against Harry’s now under the table, which Harry didn’t recall being quite so narrow. 

“You don’t seem alarmed by Voldemort,” Harry said, unable to drop the subject when he’d made no progress. “But you knew who he was." 

“Yes. As a child I imagined myself just so. Fearsome, superhuman. Even the name. Voldemort .” He rolled his eyes, but there was a shadow there. Discomfort. “The magic of identity — soul — is quite...impressionable. It doesn’t shock me to see that was his fate, and could have been mine.”  

Then he took a quick pull from his wine glass and met Harry’s eye. “But you are bound to him, and he is, in a way, as I am. I am willing to tolerate him.” 

The waiter brought the first course, and Harry, pensive, looked at Tom. “Bound to him?” 

“Yes.” Seeing Harry’s face, his brows rose. “Oh, didn’t you know?” 

Harry recalled the thin, infantile creature at King’s Cross, and the way he’d returned without a scar. “I thought that was over.” 

“Oh, no,” said Tom comfortably. “Not until one of us is dead. And, being what you are…” 

Harry choked on the little gelatin daisy he’d just put in his mouth. Tom, unconcerned, touched his wand long enough to murmur a spell and Vanish the food lodged in Harry’s throat. Then Harry demanded, “What do you mean by one of us?”   

Tom sighed. “Oh, Harry. Don’t you see?” 

**** 

Harry returned to his flat, warded it triply with all the excessive magic at his disposal, and spent a week with his wand in a drawer, watching Muggle television and eating Muggle takeaway. 

The trouble with the Master of Death magic was that Harry would never understand it, and in his misunderstanding he got himself into situations like this . Accidentally bonded to not one but two men. Men who were not only murderers in general, but attempted murderers of Harry in particular. 

The magic was also calmer than it had ever been, which almost certainly had to do with the time he’d...spent...with Voldemort and Tom. 

Harry looked in the mirror each morning, seeking out his reflection as deliberately as he had previously avoided it. The longer he looked, the more certain he was that something was wrong, and the less he trusted himself to know. His reflection was the visual equivalent of a word said out loud so many times it lost its meaning. He couldn’t find anything he recognized in his own face. 

He dreamt of Tom and Voldemort, and woke furiously and frustratingly hard. He refused to wank, opting for cold showers instead. On the sixth morning of his solitude, he drifted into consciousness to find his left hand gently cupping his testicles, which was quite unlike Harry. He generally went directly to his cock. 

But it felt lovely, the weight of them in his hand, and also the silky, hairless bit of skin just where they attached to his body. 

“Oh, yes,” said Tom Riddle’s voice, as unwelcome and unexpected as it had been the day of their unfortunate reunion. Harry’s eyes had drifted closed, but now flew open. He hastily withdrew his questing hand and touched his forehead cautiously instead.  

“Yes, there I am,” said Tom. “I’ve been here from time to time, haven’t you realized?” 

Harry found his hand easing back toward the juncture of his thighs. He whimpered when his fingertips brushed his cock, then stroked up and down, feather-light. Designed to torment, of course. 

Harry realized his mistake when he’d asked whether Tom had possessed Ginny. He shouldn’t have made the question so specific. 

He let that eager presence take over, so completely he hardly felt the sensation in his fingers and palm, only in his cock. As if it was really Tom’s hand there. He reached for his arsehole with the other hand, something he’d only done a few times, and probed at his opening without breaching it. 

He heard a chuckle - Voldemort, not Tom. Knowing they were both with him meant it didn’t take long. Not with flashes of memory to press him on: Voldemort’s hands on his throat; Tom’s smug smile when he looked down his nose at Harry and bottomed out against his chin. 

Harry felt exhausted in the wake of his orgasm. Lithe, boneless, but deeply uneasy. Mournful. When Harry had decided not to kill anyone, he couldn’t have foreseen this. Magic he didn’t want, and two enemies forever in his head. 

“Shhh, Harry,” said Tom, feeding Harry his come off his fingers. Harry licked each one with thoughtless obedience, and Tom purred, satisfied. 

“Don’t be stubborn, Harry,” added Voldemort. “Come back.” 

**** 

Harry was stubborn for a few more days, actually, avoiding thinking about what happened every morning. It could just be fantasies. He’d heard they could be vivid.  

When he caved and ventured out, he had to dodge a dozen post owls stuck in a daze in the bounds of his wards, to get to 12 Grimmauld Place to use its library. And there he found Voldemort. 

“Harry,” Voldemort said, head bent over an enormous book.  “I thought I might see you here before I would see you at home.” He turned the page. 

“You...how…” 

Voldemort looked up from the book in his lap. “You did say I could have access to the library, if I helped you with Tom.” 

Harry collapsed onto the armchair opposite Voldemort’s. “He’s terrible.” 

Voldemort snorted. “I would be offended, if I didn’t tend to agree.” 

Harry rubbed his chin. He needed a shave. He couldn’t think of anything to say. When Voldemort was present, he felt less like an enemy and more like...well. 

“Are you here to read about bonds, or sex magic, or magical tax?” 

Harry leaned back in the chair. “Maybe I just want to talk about Quidditch.” It was offhand, easy, playful. Harry wasn’t sure who was more surprised — Harry or Voldemort. 

“Well, it will obviously surprise you to know that I can hold up my end of a conversation about anything ministry-sponsored, Quidditch included.” 

“The ministry sponsors Quidditch ?” 

“Of course. The ministry is quite involved in Quidditch. Why did you think Tom was showing an interest?” 

“I didn’t think about it. I was thinking about other things.” 

Voldemort cast a bemused glance at Harry’s crotch. “You were, were you?” 

Harry refused to blush  

“Then is that why….er, maybe I should read about bonds.” 

Voldemort snapped his fingers and Kreacher appeared, already mid-bow. “Master,” he croaked, sounding happier about it than he ever had when addressing Harry. 

“Fetch Master Harry what he needs,” said Voldemort, looking back at his own book. When the elf was gone, Harry studied Voldemort thoughtfully. 

“You seem content, sitting around with your books.” A tiny python peered briefly out of Voldemort’s sleeve, then darted back inside. “And your snakes.” 

“Hmm.” 

Harry crossed his legs at the ankle and studied his battered trainers. “Did you always want to take over the world?” 

Voldemort looked up at him them, his red eyes uncomfortably intent, but Harry met them anyway. Harry thought he might say, “only the wizarding world,” or maybe “only Britain.” 

Instead he said: “Yes.” 

Harry’s stomach clenched. You already knew that , he reminded himself. 

Voldemort sighed and looked back down at his book. “Yes. But fortunately for the world, I have the Master of Death as my Jailor, don’t I?” 

Kreacher came back with a few books, sparing Harry having to think up something to say to that. 

**** 

“Are you avoiding Tom?” 

Harry was incapable of screening Ron and Hermione’s calls, so even when he was shutting out the rest of the world, he spoke to them.  

“Yes,” Harry said. He could almost picture the knowing look Ron and Hermione would be exchanging. 

He was in his dark flat, even though his magic was still quiet. Probably because he and Voldemort shared the Black library for an hour the day before. 

“If you’re not interested, mate, you should just tell the bloke.” 

Harry imagined that any effort to talk to Tom would end with Tom’s cock in his mouth or his arse, which couldn’t possibly help matters. 

“We’re on your side, Harry,” said Hermione, “But it’s just that Tom is our friend too.” 

Harry almost hung up, then caught himself at the last moment. “Honestly. Your friend ?” 

“Well, yeah,” said Ron. “I mean, mum is knitting him a Christmas sweater."

This time Harry couldn’t help it. He hung up and tossed the phone across the room. 

****  

July 17, 2005 

That morning, in the dark, Harry could sense someone pressing more insistently than usual against the wards, and eventually he walked to the door and rested his forehead against it so he could hear her. 

“Harry, let me in.” 

He did, of course. 

Hermione looked at Harry with her lower lip between her teeth. “You look terrible.” She edged past him into the flat and looked around, her nose wrinkling at the sight of the takeaway containers on the table and the heap of dishes in the sink. Her fingers flexed against her thigh, and Harry knew they itched to draw her wand.  

“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled, very much not wanting to tell her she could use magic to clean up his flat, which was terrible, but also not very interested in getting his own wand out of good manners and then breaking half his plates. So he went to the pantry, took out an empty trash sack, and began putting things in it. Hermione ran some water in the sink, and when he looked over to tell her not to bother, she gave him a withering glare and calmly washed the plates and dried them by hand, half-filling the other half of the sink with hot, soapy water and piling the silverware there. 

“It’s like being at my parents’,” she said after a bit, determinedly cheerful. Harry’s heart was sore with love for her. He also felt sullied unfit for her, filled with all his impure thoughts of Tom and Voldemort, his secret-keeping, his death magic. They finished their respective tasks in silence. Harry tied off the remarkably full trash sack, and watched her rinse and dry her hands. She turned to lean against the counter and met his eye. 

“Is this about the Hallows?” 

There probably was a question that he could have anticipated less, but Harry couldn’t think of it. Hermione’s patient half-smile baffled him. 

“Harry,” she said gently. “Didn’t you think I would figure it out? I mean, we all knew about them. And I…” she blushed a bit. “Obviously I recognize the wand.” 

At its mention, there was a pulse of pleased energy from the direction of the locked desk drawer. The Elder Wand basked in its notoriety. 

“Hermione,” Harry said, not even sure what he was trying to say, but his tone was pleading. She walked over to him and took his hands, looking up into his eyes. 

“It’s alright, Harry. Your secrets have always been safe with me.” 

He tugged on her hands and searched her face. The idea that he had hurt her, muddied her perfect brain, was a fresh torment. “What do you remember of the war?” 

She looked surprised. “More than I’d like to,” she said. “What in particular, Harry?” 

“What do you remember of Voldemort?” 

Now she seemed confused, and Harry’s heart lurched - but then she said, “I remember that he was an ordinary person at first. That he had too much power, and too few people who cared. Dumbledore went about stopping him the wrong way. He brought out the worst in people and fed their darkness so that they would support him, but he never particularly cared about any cause but his own power, I don’t think. Harry…” 

“Do you,” Harry started, and swallowed. He squeezed her hands so tightly she made a small, startled noise. “Do you remember his face?” 

“No,” she said, softly. “No. I think…” she frowned. Harry’s guilt spiked. “I only remember him in the cowl. I guess I’d...rather not think of him? Harry, what’s this about? Are you…” she looked like she might cry. “Are you having nightmares again? I hate it when you lock yourself up here, all alone…”  

Harry let go of her hands so he could put his arms around her. 

“I’m not alone,” he assured her. She must have recognized the honesty in those words, because she relaxed a bit and nodded her head against his shoulder. 

“Okay. Alright. That’s good.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said, not sure if he felt better or worse. He just felt...more, too much. “I think it’s alright.” 

**** 

July 31, 2005

Harry was avoiding mirrors again. He’d found that the bond was easiest to control when he engaged in the determined fantasy that nothing was wrong. That he was alone in his head, and the Hallows would leave him alone if they were out of sight, and his friends were not deluded -- by a worldwide spell he’d accidentally cast -- into being friends with the young dark lord.  

It was also his twenty-fifth birthday. Once he had delighted in the contrast between his childhood birthdays and his adult ones. Instead of a prisoner at the Dursleys whose day passed without remark, he was a person whose friends planned increasingly elaborate celebrations with piles of gifts. But as Harry became less dependent on overt demonstrations of others’ love and affection, he grew deeply uncomfortable with everyone making a huge fuss. For one thing, there were the crowds, which even without the Hallows stuff, Harry was pretty sure he wouldn’t like. At Hogwarts he’d gotten used to being around a lot of people all the time, but his talent for it atrophied when it wasn’t part of his daily routine. His birthday became a source of immense pressure and, as a result, he dreaded it. 

It had been Ginny who’d caught on, of course. She steered her well-meaning family into small family dinners and a single, modest collective gift. It was the one Burrow dinner Harry hadn’t missed in eight years, and he couldn’t bring himself to reject the kindly-worded invitation he received from Molly earlier that week. 

Sometimes Ron and Hermione came by the flat beforehand to help ease his transition out the door. They’d caught onto his issue without him having to explain, a combination of Ron’s naturally observant nature and Hermione’s powers of deduction. So when someone knocked, thirty minutes before he planned to Apparate to the Burrow, Harry opened the door thoughtlessly.  

He hadn’t expected Tom Riddle III, but he probably should have. 

Tom looked uncharacteristically cautious. His hair was a bit mussed, and he glanced over his shoulder with a worried furrow in his brow that Harry desperately wanted to kiss. Harry bit his lip and tried to appear detached. 

“What do you want?”  

Tom looked at him. His face seemed older without its smirk. His jaw was terribly square, and the bad light cast a shadow on the indentation in the center of his chin, slightly too shallow to be called a dimple. Harry wanted to kiss that, too. 

“Harry.” Tom’s voice was rough. “You’re ignoring me.”

Harry felt Tom’s despair and longing as if it was in the air he breathed -- but of course that was only the bond. Still, it jarred Harry to know Tom could experience anything beyond scorn and callous amusement. Harry wanted to let him into the flat, but he still hesitated.  

“You’ve seen him ,” Tom said, scathing. He lashed out because he was hurt, in his own way, Harry supposed. To Tom, injured pride probably stung as badly as others’ deeper wounds. Pain was relative, and it was in Harry’s nature to ease it. 

So he said, “Just a couple of times. To read .”  

Tom snorted, still looking around the hall like something was going to leap out and bite him, then over Harry’s shoulder into the inside of the flat. “This place is disgusting,” he said, then narrows his eyes and curled his lip. “And I’m not saying that only because it’s Muggle .” 

“Not only because,” Harry echoed, amused.  

“It’s harder for me than it is for him,” Tom said, back to pleading. “It’s the bond, but also, it’s…” he gritted his teeth, a muscle jumping in his cheek. “It’s in my nature. I am...what I am.” 

“A Horcrux,” Harry hadn’t meant to say it out loud. The bond was very distracting.  

Tom stared. “No, Harry. Human .” 

Harry’s shoulders slumped. He held himself back another moment, but it seemed unforgivably stubborn to resist when it all, suddenly, seemed quite inevitable. So he opened the door for Tom. Tom brightened immediately at the gesture, his face relaxing into comfortable smugness. 

“There’s a smell, even,” he complained, brushing past Harry into the flat. Their fingers tangled together, and Tom’s thumb pressed against the back of Harry’s hand. Then they were apart once more, and Harry closed the door with a sigh, Tom’s drawl continuing behind him. “Do you think the cake will be chocolate? I really prefer Molly’s vanilla.” 

****  

The cake was chocolate. 

**** 

August 1, 2005 

“Good morning, Harry,” Hermione hissed on the other end of the phone. “I just wanted you to know how happy we are for you and Tom.” 

“I can’t really, um, talk.” 

Hermione tittered. “Oh, of course, you’re not alone. We’ll ring you later, then, Harry. Love you.” 

“You too. Bye.” 

Tom opened one eye. His hair was dark on Harry’s pillow, somehow managing to look tidy despite the early hour and what they’d been doing directly before they fell asleep. Harry had sat up to answer his phone, but he laid down again so they faced one another, and Tom stretched out a long leg and tucked his thigh between Harry’s under the rumpled sheet. 

Harry wasn’t sure what to say, so he said, “D’you want tea?” 

“I’m sure your tea is foul,” Tom said, closing his eye. “The only benefit of his place is that his tastes haven’t changed much since they were my tastes. His tea is quite good.” 

“So you go there?” Harry had wanted to kiss Tom’s forehead and his chin the day before, and he still wanted to. So he did, shyly, his eyes closed. Tom received his kisses without moving or making a sound. When Harry pulled back, Tom was looking at him, openly curious, and Harry thought he seemed pleased too. 

“I do go there. It’s best with you, of course, but his presence is better than nothing.”  

“Hmm.” Harry understood. Though in his case, it was better to be with both of them. Even in that moment, he felt the vague yearning of the bond, wishing to draw them together. Now that he recognized it for what it was, it was distinct from the Hallows’ magic. The Hallows were a tidal wave; chaos. The bond was a clear, direct command. 

“I don’t need tea yet,” said Tom, grabbing Harry’s arm and hauling him closer. Harry rolled half over him and Tom nipped his collarbone, then trailed a few licking kisses up Harry’s throat. They’d both discovered the night before how much Harry liked them. Harry pressed his rapidly hardening cock against Tom’s hip, which was frustratingly half-covered by a bit of the tangled sheet. 

Harry thrust against Tom a few times, and Tom grasped him tightly and rolled them both so that could lie over Harry instead. Harry would have argued on principle, but it still felt outstanding, so he wasn’t going to complain. This was how they’d come last night: together, frotting desperately in the dark while Tom bit places in Harry’s neck that were still wonderfully sore. This time Tom put most of his weight on Harry’s chest and reached under Harry’s jerking hips to grasp his arse, one finger sliding determinedly down the cleft. 

Harry gasped when Tom reached his pucker, then groaned when he felt the sudden slickness of conjured lube. 

“Tom, for fuck’s sake,” he said, voice strangled. “Ask a bloke.” But Tom had already buried a finger in Harry up to the second knuckle. 

“So tight,” Tom said into Harry’s ear, crooking the finger and pressing deeper, somehow continuing to grind his cock into Harry’s in a way that made certain Harry couldn’t bring himself to complain. He found Harry’s prostate, then, and Harry thought he might bite through his lower lip at the sensation. “Want to fuck you,” Tom growled, his voice muffled against Harry’s neck. 

Harry understood the sentiment. He settled one hand on Tom’s arse to press their bodies even harder together, and the thought of lining himself up between those taught muscles and slowly entering, while Tom struggled a bit, made him see stars and spill into the sweat-slippery space between their stomachs. 

While Harry was still jerking and keening, Tom put the hand that had been in his arse on his neck, and squeezed the bruised flesh there firmly. Harry thought he’d melt. When he went lax and still, Tom ground against him harder yet, almost painful on Harry’s softened cock, and came too.  

Then Tom was sliding down through the mess to sprawl between Harry’s legs and rest his cheek on Harry’s chest. Harry, a little stunned, stroked his head, then his back, and Tom murmured happily. 

It was… 

It was kind of nice. 

**** 

Of course, then the Aurors came for Tom. 

**** 

When Harry showed up at the castle, Voldemort was waiting for him. Harry sensed he didn’t need to say anything: Voldemort clearly knew what was going on.  

Voldemort led Harry to a dimly lit study Harry hadn’t seen before. Pimbly set out tea in silence, his ears pinned tightly back against his head. 

“Why this room?” Harry looked around. 

“It has everything we’ll need,” said Voldemort, whatever that meant, and seated himself in a green wingback chair. 

Harry was ready to focus on the matter at hand, which meant he started to pace and muttered, “ Three murders?”  

“Well, two of them were Muggles,” Voldemort reminded him, and rolled his eyes when Harry glared. He was leaning back with his elbows on his thighs and his fingers steepled. “All I mean,” he said with slow emphasis,” is that the Ministry has limited jurisdiction, so he’ll face a single charge.” 

“One life sentences versus three life sentences,” Harry growled. “It’s not like it makes a difference.” He dropped onto the ottoman of Voldemort’s chair so that, if nothing else, the bond could be soothed. Voldemort looked surprised, but obligingly reached out to stroke Harry’s cheek with his fingertips, resting his other hand lightly on Harry’s thigh.  

“I should leave him there to rot,” Harry muttered. 

“Won’t you?” Voldemort asked, brow raised. 

Harry huffed, leaning into his touch, and Voldemort hummed and carded his fingers through Harry’s hair instead. The rasp of his sharp nails on Harry’s scalp was surprisingly calming. 

“I don’t want to,” Harry admitted. He glanced at Voldemort through his eyelashes, but of course the bastard gave nothing away in his expression save polite interest. “I could keep him here with you.” 

“Young Tom is more patient than I am,” said Voldemort, and his nails raked Harry a bit harder in the next pass. Harry’s eyes fluttered closed. 

“He can be taught caution,” Voldemort added. “You’ll be happiest with both of us nearby. It’s a consequence of the bond.” 

Harry forced his eyes open, beginning to feel drowsy. Blinking, he leaned away from Voldemort’s hand, and his sense of disorientation abated. 

“Don’t you mind?” 

“What, the bond? No. It has its inconveniences, but it secures my immortality as nothing else could, and gives me access to the Master of Death.” 

“Access?” Harry’s eyes narrowed. 

Voldemort chuckled, his eyes going the shade of red Harry now recognized as an indicator of genuine amusement, and the closest Voldemort came to warmth. He slid his hand up Harry’s leg and squeezed. 

“What would you call it?” 

Harry glanced at Voldemort’s lap. His robes were heavy silk, and would have betrayed Voldemort if there was anything to reveal. “You don’t…?” Harry didn’t know anything about Voldemort’s sexual anatomy or preferences, except that his younger and more human incarnation had obvious proclivities and Harry assumed the elder, reptilian version would be similarly inclined. 

“I don’t, as I am,” Voldemort confirmed. “Not since I made Nagini my Horcrux.”  

Harry felt oddly disappointed, and with the bond open he inadvertently shared that with Voldemort, earning a sly smile. 

“I may not experience lust as you do, Jailor. But the aesthetics and the...element of power...do appeal.” He ran his palm over Harry’s hip and then leaned away to watch Harry with glittering eyes.  

“You could reabsorb Nagini’s Horcrux,” ventured Harry, blushing. He was imagining himself kneeling on the floor, and what Voldemort would look like without robes. Bluish pale and spidery, he thought, swallowing. All bones and sinew. 

“It’s my Horcrux, not Nagini’s. Grammar, Harry, honestly. It’s not exactly a lost art.” 

Harry tried to remember why he was there.

"Tom,” he said, reminding them both, and awkwardly removed himself from the ottoman. He couldn’t focus in such close proximity to Voldemort. Harry stumbled a bit in the process, avoiding Voldemort’s eye, but the bond thrummed unhelpfully with his lazy amusement anyway.  

“I could just go get him,” Harry suggested, aware it was a bad idea. Voldemort didn’t say anything, and Harry sighed. 

“He needs an acquittal, to preserve his political image,” Harry acknowledged the obvious. Taking away Tom’s budding influence and network would be like declawing a kneazle. Safer for everyone, but unforgivably cruel to the kneazle. Harry thought guiltily of Tom’s victims, but they were just faceless silhouettes in his mind’s eye, whereas he felt Tom’s absence as he might a missing limb. 

“Did you know,” Voldemort asked casually, “that I apprenticed three years with one of the best wizarding solicitors?”  

Harry stared at Voldemort in disbelief, crossing his arms. “No,” he said firmly. “Absolutely not.” 

“But Jailor,” Voldemort murmured. “I promise to be very good.”  

Harry hesitated. He wasn’t sure who to ask for help, honestly. Who could truly understand the...situation? 

“I made everyone forget about you well enough,” he muttered, feeling more ashamed by the idea the longer he thought about it. “I could do it again.” 

“No,” Voldemort said immediately. “You don’t understand the magic, and shouldn’t use it. You could irreparably damage someone’s mind, alter the course of the world, inadvertently cause a war. Not that I would mind,” he added, “except that I will find eternal life with you difficult enough without the added elements of your misery and self-loathing.”  

Harry thought that over, scuffing the toe of his trainer against the rug. “Oh,” he said eventually. “Yeah, reckon you’re right.”  

“Shall you approve my work release then, Jailor? Tom is a troublesome, impulsive boy. Who knows what he’ll say if he’s left too long without his solicitor’s advice.”  

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine. But just...don’t…” 

Voldemort stood and walked over to Harry, who waited for him with his head down. Then Voldemort lifted his chin with his forefinger, tipping it back until Harry was forced to look up into his eyes. 

“I did promise to be good,” Voldemort said, and kissed him, which without lips — which Voldemort didn’t have — or tongue — which Voldemort didn’t use — was a brief moment of cool pressure. Not unpleasant. 

“Go cry to your friends about your lover’s unjust incarceration. We need to mobilize the public.”  

Harry knew he stood at a precipice. He could surrender, now — leap and descend into an after — or he could walk backward from the ledge and remain in the safe familiarity of before. 

“All right,” Harry decided. “But I’m not calling him my ‘lover.’” He wrinkled his nose, thinking with an exhausted sort of fondness that the word “love” in any form had nothing to do with him and Tom. 

“The semantics are immaterial, Jailor.” Voldemort was sauntering toward the Floo. “I’ll Floo-call you with an update, so make yourself comfortable here.”  

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Did you bring me to this room assuming you’d be using the Floo?”  

Voldemort glanced over his shoulder as he tossed the powder. Backlit by the leaping flames, his smile was truly frightening. “Certainly not. You’re the master, here, Jailor.” He gave Harry a solemn parting wink, and was gone. Harry was strongly reminded of the day he’d released the boa at the zoo.  

He felt -- not regret, exactly. More like a quiet desire to be a better man than he was. He had stood at that precipice, but there had been only one decision he could make. A future in stasis in the Muggle flat, long after the world he’d been a part of, and all the people in it, left Harry behind. Or a future he couldn’t quite picture, but where at least he’d never be alone. 

It wasn’t in Harry to choose solitude. He would always think of it as a cupboard, and he was not that brave.