Tom is vaguely aware, in the same way one is aware they will miss work after they are in a serious accident, that he has been standing in the snow for too long. That he should pull his hood back up from where it has been tossed off by a petulant breeze, brush off the rims of his boots where the snow is slowly melting and slipping inside before hurrying back to Hogwarts in time to walk up with the other Hogsmeade students. He has what he has come for, it is time for him to leave. He could nearly hear Harry scolding him about how his hands were freakishly cold as is without unnecessary brooding in the snow, as he would slip his extra pair of gloves onto Tom’s hands.
He doesn’t do any of those things. Perhaps this way he can blame this bone-deep shaking on the cold, and not the blemish of his footprints as they wind themselves across the town of Little Hangleton which he had made the mistake of turning back to see. From his position of the hill, he can see their winding path, from the inkblot of the Gaunt shack where his uncle is no doubt still lying unconscious in, to their angry rampage along the village streets until at last, they reached it. Riddle manor.
Tom turns away at last as he continues to trudge over the hill’s crest and away from the village. He has a plan he needs to follow, he knows this, but everything hurts. This curse of his… surely it could not be true what that old bag Gaunt had said, but how could he judge himself on what he did not know?
He knows he’s changed this night. That who he used to be is nothing of but a lie.
Eventually, Tom stops his slow march as he feels unfamiliar and strong swirls of emotion continue to grow violently within him. It’s been a long time since he’s felt so… human. So weak. Yet he can’t walk endlessly forever, too much longer and his wracking body will make apparating impossible.
He stands shivering, head bowed so the soft snowfall makes a crown on hair. He can’t let his followers (friends as Harry would insist) see him like this. Shaking, wide-eyed and vulnerable. Yet he finds himself, inexplicably, not wanting to be on his own either. There’s a yearning within him to apparate himself (his will surely stronger even than the might of Hogwarts’ wards) straight to Harry. His stupid mysterious Harry, who would embarrassingly wrap him in blankets like he is some sort of child and shout at him for standing in the snow for too long. Who would listen to him when the world got too confusing and explain why people did what they did. Harry would understand. Harry could fix this.
He… he shouldn’t. Harry isn’t expecting him back from Hogmedes for another couple of hours yet, to arrive early would surely arouse suspicion. Harry would know in an instant, know of his weakness. Tom can’t bear it if Harry was to look at him like he knows he will, like a monster. A man without emotion.
Tom gives a disgusted snort at his own thoughts and abruptly spins in a circle with a loud crack, landing in a crouch in the woodlands between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. He cocks his head, keeping low as he listens to the soft disturbances of the woodland creatures fleeing from his arrival. Nothing heavier than a rabbit, so as hopes no student is witness to his arrival back from off campus.
Tom elegantly stands up, dusting his hands slightly before strolling out onto the silver path that winds its way towards the castle. The sun had long set, so the moonlight reveals that his path is clear to go towards Hogmedes (or Hogwarts) without impediment nor notice of his movements. It is as expected. Most students would have been taken back up to the castle already, while those who had permission to stay a couple hours longer would hardly return after their freedom had only just begun.
Tom is one of those students. He knows Black will be expecting him to meet up with him outside the antique bookshop so that they can join the other Slytherins for dinner. Slughorn will no doubt be holding council for his ‘slug club,’ for a half hour, after which the readily supplied wine Tom will encourage will take hold and Slughorn will draw the meeting to a close courting ‘fatigue.’ In his inebriated state, he will forget to escort the students back to the castle, leaving the rest of the night free for the various members to do as they please.
Tom knows this. It is the plan. His missing presence will be noticed if he does not return to them soon.
Yet he finds himself betrayed. His emotions winning a rare battle over his hardened logic as his feet instead begin hurrying towards the Hogwarts gate. His gait growing faster and faster beneath him until the once soft snow begins whipping angrily at his face.
By the time he bursts into the Slytherin room, startling the few who remain, he is breathing deeply and an unpleasant sweat had begun to mix with the melting snow.
“Tom?” a sleepy voice sounds from the corner of the room. He can feel something ache inside him as he drinks in the sight of Harry sleepily raising his head from where he is curled up reading in front of the fireplace.
“Back already? I thought you had that Slug club meeting…” Harry trails off as he catches sight of Tom shivering in the Slytherin entrance, his eyes going wide. No doubt Tom looks a mess. Face red, eyes wild, his hood flung back and the snow still dusting his clothes and hair.
Harry leaps to feet and rushes over, throwing his blanket over Tom’s shoulders as he begins ushering him across the room. Tom allows himself the comfort in sinking into the warmth of the blanket, still echoing with the heat of its previous owner. Just as they reach the stairs he feels Harry gently bring him to a halt as he turns to address the few middle levelled Slytherins who remain up at this hour.
“It’s long past curfew,” Harry hisses threateningly at the room, “I would hate Professor Slughorn to hear of the… disrespect this house has shown in his absence.”
After a chilling silence has passed, Harry quickly whisks Tom up the staircase and towards their room, out of the eyesight of his curious housemates. He can’t help but let out a soft smile. Of course, his reliable Harry would think to threaten them to silence, he knows how Tom would hate to lose face in the presence of rumours about his current less than presentable appearance.
Harry gently guides Tom into their dorm room, locking the door behind him. He gently sets Tom down on the bed as he pressed a worried palm against his cheek. Tom forces himself to look away. He did not deserve this gentleness. He had never needed it before Harry (never received it with anyone before Harry) and he deserved someone who could give him the reaction he wanted.
“What happened Tom?” Harry murmurs to him as he gently removes Tom’s snow-laden cloak. He opens his mouth a few times, unable to express this hurt and fear within him. Yet can’t, unable to lower himself in the eyes of the one person whose opinion he cares about. Instead, he simply says nothing, allowing Harry to guide him to the bathroom so he can rid himself of the rest of his soaked clothing.
By the time he returns back out again, he finds himself shaking uncontrollably despite the warm clothes on his back. Harry hurries back over, throwing the blanket back around Tom’s shoulders and sits him down on the edge of Tom’s bed. A hot chocolate is suddenly thrust into his hand (from where Harry got his endless supply of hot chocolate Tom will never know) and Tom reluctantly takes it, secure in the knowledge his housemates will not burst in to see this, as they will be no doubt be spending the nights in another ladies’ bed if their dates go to plan.
Seemingly secure in the knowledge that Tom will not freeze to death in his absence, Harry crosses back across the room to collect various blankets off the various beds in the room. He drags them all back over to wrap around Tom who, despite a prideful shame in his gut, can feel himself slowly warming as Harry sits gently beside him, his shoulder resting against his own as if to absorb the shivers himself.
They sit in silence for what may have been seconds, it may have been hours, but can only be measured by the time it took Tom to realize he is staring at the soft blue bottom of his now empty hot chocolate cup. He knows this cup. Its Harry’s favourite, the Christmas one with the reindeer (a stag as Harry would insist) chasing the snitch through the sky.
“What’s love, Harry?”
It is only by Harry’s startled intake of breath that Tom realizes that it was, in fact, him that said that, not simply a ghostly projection of his thoughts. Tom can feel that desperately confused bundle of emotions begin to rise within him again, growing greater and more desperate each moment Harry does not answer.
“That’s… not exactly an easy question to answer Tom,” Harry eventually says lowly and with great hesitance, “I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
Tom scoffs and uncomfortably shrugs, displacing a blanket that Harry hurriedly re-places back into position on his shoulder.
“Is it true what you said, when we got into that argument about Valentine’s day. That ‘what makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love’?”
“You remember that?” Harry gasps rather surprised.
Tom shoots him a deadpan glare. Of course, he remembers. He would never forget something Harry had told him.
“Of course you remember,” Harry breathes to himself with a slight roll of his eyes, “You never forget nor forgive.”
Harry readjusts slightly so he can study Tom’s face for a brief second before huddling back into his shivering side.
“I think it to be true, but they are not my words, so it is not up to me to argue for its case.”
“Who are they then,” Tom pleads a little desperately, one hand clasping at Harry’s shoulder so he can stare at his eyes in case of an ill truth, “I need to know the answer. Is love what makes us human.”
Harry sighs and dislodges the hand so as the pull the blankets tighter around Tom. “I heard the sometime… somewhere back home. I could not find the author even if I wanted too.”
Tom sighs in frenzied disappointment before turning desperately to Harry, “You say that Harry but how am I meant to know? What is love?”
“I can’t tell you the answer to that Tom,” Harry answers wryly his shoulder bumping slightly against Toms.
“Try,” he insists.
Tom begins impatiently scraping his nails against the side of the cup as Harry mules over his answer before catching sight of the sight of Tom’s nails scraping against the mug.
“Stop that Tom. You’ll scratch the paint again,” he scolds plucking the mug out of his hand as he goes to lean over and place it on the bedside table. It is quickly abandoned to the floor, however, when Harry catches sight of the new ring band on Tom’s finger.
“Tom… what’s this,” Harry murmurs as he threads his fingers between Toms to fiddle with the band of the black gemstone ring Tom has only faint recollections of taking. Harry flips his hand so that he reveals at the ugly rhinestone that adorns it.
“I… nothing really. Just picked it up from a shop while I was in Hogsmeade,” he states flippantly as Harry rips his hand away.
“Don’t lie to me. What is this.” he growls, his nails digging into Tom’s shoulders almost painfully as he glares at Tom with those dark, lost-to-time eyes. This Harry is so different from the one Tom has come to known, less centred, less caring for Tom. Nearly enough for Tom to fear him, if he decided to feel emotions such as fear.
None the less Tom feels himself caving under the combined pressure of Harry’s wild eyes and this weight that’s been threatening to pull him under this whole night. “…My family. It belongs to my family,” Tom rushes out as he turns away from Harry’s increasing anger and into the folds of the blankets, “they were horrible. Humans living like rats and rats living as humans. Yet both sides stains upon the earth.”
Tom tries not to sound bitter, to hide his crushed dreams from his expression. To keep the waver from his voice that betrays his disappointment at having to return to the orphanage once more.
He obviously isn’t as successful as he hopes as he can feel the startling feeling of thin arms wrapping around his shoulders. Tom stiffens, rather unsure at what to do with his arms pinned beneath blankets as they are.
“I… I should have realised. I don’t why I ever thought this must have been easy for you. I’m sorry for being a terrible friend,” Harry whispers against his neck and Tom has to turn away in fear of shuddering once again.
“You don’t understand Harry!” he gasps a little desperately, “Not only was my mother was a despicable, weak and spine-less mistake, but she’s also doomed me too.”
Tom wriggles his way out of Harry’s and swings his legs over the other side of the bed so he faces away. He can’t look at Harry for this, can’t look at the expression in his face when he realizes what Tom has been doomed to. He’s lost enough face as it is tonight. Letting Harry watch as he breaks him will not be added to the pile.
“Not only did my weak mother decide to pick a filthy muggle as my father… she had to use a love potion to do so,” he hisses in self-disgust.
“I DON’T NEED YOUR PITY,” Tom roars leaping from the bed and angrily stalking to the other side of the room, leaving a trail of blankets in his wake. He is left leaning heavily against a wooden desk, the palm of his hands digging into the edge of the desk and his nails scrapping small divots with his nerves. He stares resolutely at the wall, resisting the urge to turn around and watch Harry make that face he makes whenever he is thinking. The face where his eyebrows seem to dance as if un-deciding on which emotion to settle on conveying, while his lips curl nervously.
Tom chuckles bitterly before Harry could respond. “I know you heard Slughorn in potions. We made the very potion together did we not, and we both know that those conceived under amortentia will never be able to love.”
“You don’t need to hide from me Tom. This does not change anything. Not about you as a person and not about how I feel about you.” Harry reassures, placing a feather-light touch on his shoulder. Tom flinches away before reluctantly turning to face him. Harry’s emerald eyes are soft and reassuring in the way very few gems are. It hurts… Tom was expecting those sharpened diamond blades, and their shadows still cut in their place.
“I can’t love Harry,” Tom stressed as he searched wildly into Harry’s eyes, searching for something he couldn’t hope to be there. Understanding perhaps? Forgiveness? “…I will never be human.”
Harry sighs deeply before reaching his arms up to link them around Tom’s neck. He draws their faces closer and closer, until their foreheads are gently brushing and Tom can see nothing but the wide, earnest expanse of Harry’s eyes.
“Love can never be defined Tom, nor will it ever be contained or cut off. You are the rule Tom, not the exception, because ARE human and you CAN love. Every day I am amazed at how much love you unexpectedly contain. even when it comes to those friends of yours you insist are your followers. As long as you have a soul in your body, you have love to give. You are no monster, Tom Marvolo Riddle. Don’t ever, and I mean EVER, let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Tom can feel himself floundering slightly as the angry mess of emotions that had been poisoning him all night seem to vanish as Harry’s words sink into him. He opens his mouth, perhaps to protest, perhaps to sob thanks, but instead finds his words cut off by an insistent pressure against his lips. It’s not much, and not for long, but for those few seconds he can feel a thousand fireflies as they light up the sky, a snowstorm as it clears the land from the worries of the year and the warmth of a hot chocolate in a blue Christmas mug. Was this love? How was he to know?
Harry carefully pulls away and puts enough distance between him and Tom that he can easily search his face for a reaction
“Did you just kiss me?” Tom murmurs softly as he touches a distracted finger to his lips.
Harry seems to find whatever he sees acceptable, as he shoots Tom a smile and shuffles a little closer again.
“Was I not supposed to?”
“I don’t know… but could you do it again?”
Harry gives a delightful laugh and before Tom can think to take a breath he’s being tugged back into Harry’s arms. They clash together, far more teeth and clumsiness than the first time as they stumble back towards the bed.
Tom hits the bed first, the suddenness causing him to lose balance and tumble backwards, sending Harry crashing on top of him. Harry laughs hysterically at Tom’s exaggerated groans of pains as Harry flops his full weight on Tom. In revenge, Tom surges up in an attempt to bit Harry’s lips, only successful in nipping his chin, but nonetheless encouraging the continuation of their activities. For the most past, they keep it slow and innocent other than Harry’s trailing hands which seem determined to feed love to every part of Tom it can find.
After a couple minutes Harry eventually pulls back before flopping beside Tom as they both stare up at the canopy.
“That was nice,” Tom comments blandly and a little out of breath.
Harry gives a breathy chuckle as he bumps his shoulder with Toms.
“Only you Tom. Only you,” he giggles before sitting upright with a whine, “Come on I think it’s time for bed I’m exhausted and you need rest.”
Tom groans and tugs insistently at an arm he manages to snag before it has fully trailed off him. The arm simply gives him a light smack and attempts to drag Tom with it.
“Don’t worry I’m sleeping with you tonight.”
At this Tom bolts upright of his own accord to fix a shocked glance at his Harry. Already?
“Not like that Tom, god you’re such a prude sometimes,” Harry huffs as he manhandles a reluctant Tom under the covers, “I only meant that I’m too lazy to move to my bed and sue me if I don’t feel like sleeping by myself.”
Tom gives a secretly relieved smile (it’s a smirk to Harry he promises) as he settles under the blankets. No sooner has he stopped moving does a pair of arms snake around him and a chin rest on his shoulder.
“Besides I’m pretty sure you have hyperthermia so I need to act as a hot water bottle to stop you from freezing to death again seeing as you clearly can’t do that yourself.”
It isn’t long before Tom can feel himself relaxing into Harry’s embrace as begins to drift off. The tension and fear he has been wracked with seems to melt away until he is aware only of a cocoon of warmth. No thoughts of troubling pasts, no worries and the painful excuses and dealings with his followers come morning. Simply him, Harry and sleep.
“Did you kill them?” a soft voice whispers in his ear, so quiet that Tom would have thought it a dream if it were not for Harry’s sudden tension.
“Who?” he mumbles sleepily.
“Your father’s family. Did you kill them?”
Tom finds himself snapping his eyes open before sighing and shuffling around so he can face Harry.
“I… I was too weak,” he admits ashamedly, “I couldn’t do it. Didn’t even so much as knock on the door.”
Harry shifts under the covers and even in the darkness of the room, Harry can see the surprise in his face.
“You are not weak Tom. Not you, never you,” Harry murmurers before he turns his face away, his eyes getting that dark, far off look Tom could never decipher, “You are far braver than any Tom before you, and your bravery will save a nation.”
“You are always so dramatic Harry.”
“Well, why did you then? Why let them live?” he presses.
Tom shifts uncomfortably but reluctantly answers, careful to avoid Harry’s eyes as he does.
“They reminded me of you and me. I was looking in at a window and I saw them by the fireplace drinking… and they looked so content. It reminded me of how you always insist on sitting by the fire after dinner, to talk or to meditate or play games. I was angry, sure, but I couldn’t rip apart the glimpse of the future I once hope to have, even if I never can love.”
Harry rolls himself over as he props himself up onto one elbow, his fringe casting shadows across his face as he leans over Tom.
“I have an answer to your question; the one about what love is,” he announces causing Tom to raise a brow eagerly.
“Pray do tell then.”
“We,” Harry announces with a flourish, gesturing grandly with a free hand and causing him to half collapse across Tom’s chest.
“We? That’s not exactly a great definition. I can’t experience love Harry I just told you this Harry.”
“Of course you can’t. Love isn’t one-person Tom, no one can love by themselves. But together…” Harry trails off gazing down at Tom. Tom himself is struck with a sudden realization as he stares up into those killing green eyes that had so ironically given him life. He leans upwards to capture and share Harry’s next words even as they pass his lips.
“We are love.”