“Look, I’m sorry, all right?” Harry said, nearly jogging to keep up with Tom’s longer stride as they headed for the staircase with Lucius Malfoy following in their wake. Tom had demanded a Mark-enforced Oath from Lucius, making him swear not to tell anyone else about Tom and Harry without permission, then Tom had strode off without waiting for either of them. “I didn’t think they were going to storm the Manor,” Harry continued as he caught up to him, “I was hoping for the exact opposite effect, actually.”
“Yet you didn’t bother to check the letter for tracking spells? Or to put your own anti-tracking spell on the owl when you sent it back?” Tom asked, annoyance clear in his tone.
“I don’t know how to do that,” Harry grumbled.
Tom sent him a disbelieving look and muttered, “What are they even teaching at Hogwarts these days?” Then, louder, he said, “It’s Indagus Revelare to check for tracking spells, and Avem Obscuro to make your owl untraceable.”
“What about the wand movements?” Harry asked.
“You point it at the owl,” Tom said, his tone clearly conveying a silent ‘obviously’ at the end. “Memorize the spells and use them next time, or I’ll set the wards to block all your mail.”
Harry gritted his teeth together to keep from snapping back something sarcastic.
Tom, Harry, and Lucius descended the stairs to the ground floor in silence. When Tom turned right instead of continuing straight ahead towards the front entryway, it was somehow significant enough for Lucius to speak up and ask, “My Lord? Do you want me to send them away? Or,” he glanced not-so-subtly at Harry and said carefully, “bring them in?”
“Oh, we’ll be bringing them in,” Tom said, his tone nonchalant. “As soon as I arrange a place for them to stay.”
“Wait, really?” Harry asked.
“I imagine they won’t want to leave without you, so yes.” Tom turned another corner, and reached forward to open a door, only to find it locked.
Harry froze, remembering the tour Draco had given them when they’d first arrived. “That goes to the dungeon,” he said.
“Indeed,” Tom said. “I hope Bella won’t be too put out about giving up her room.” Tom waved his hand in a silent Alohomora, then turned the doorknob and opened the door. Harry jumped and immediately drew his wand, because right on the other side of the door stood a glassy-eyed Bellatrix Lestrange, waiting like something out of a horror movie.
The only signs of surprise Tom showed were a blink and a tightening of his grip on the doorknob.
“Bella,” he said warily. “What exactly are you doing?”
She gave him a creepy smile, tilting her head to the side and nearly losing her balance as her whole body swayed too. Tom quickly grabbed her by the shoulders before she could fall down the cellar stairs. “Oops,” she said, then she let out a piercing peal of laughter.
“Bella?” Tom repeated, sterner this time.
She looked up at him and pouted, then—to Harry’s supreme annoyance—leaned forward and rested her forehead casually against Tom’s chest. “Pretty Master said to lock myself in the dungeon and think about what I did,” she said dreamily, still apparently under the effects of his drunken Imperio. She giggled and continued in a stage-whisper, “You didn’t say I had to be in one of the cells.”
“Bella, look at me,” Tom said shortly, pushing her back to arm’s length. She did, and he made eye contact and said, “Finite,” before presumably going through her mind with Legilimency. After a brief moment, he steered her away from the cellar door and then closed it.
Bellatrix blinked a few times, then seemed to finally come back to full awareness. She caught sight of Harry, and her lip curled. “Oh no,” she simpered, “is bitty baby Potter going to the dungeon for time out?” She shot Harry a malicious grin, which was wiped off her face immediately when Tom sent a wordless hex at her. Her head snapped to the side as though she’d been smacked, and she looked back at Tom in shock.
“You will speak to him with respect or not at all,” Tom said tersely, and Harry didn’t even try to hide his pleased smirk.
Bellatrix pouted, but grumbled, “Yes, My Lord.”
He glared at her a moment longer, then seemed to realize something. “Have you slept at all?”
Bella blinked, seeming surprised that he’d asked. She folded her arms and cautiously replied, “The way you worded the command didn’t allow for sleep.”
Tom frowned, then said, “Give me your arm.”
Bellatrix rolled up her left sleeve and warily held out her arm. Tom pressed his palm flat against the Dark Mark and closed his eyes briefly. Bellatrix gasped and winced, then Tom released her. “I’ve activated the monitoring spells and put a partial block on your magic,” Tom said in a detached, clinical tone, as if his doing so wasn’t a remarkable feat of magic and control. “No Unforgivables. Nothing overtly destructive. Consider yourself on probation,” he said, his tone turning colder, “and consider yourself lucky, Bella, that Lord Voldemort is gracious enough to let you live after attempting to attack me.”
Bellatrix looked at the ground and said, “Forgive me, My Lord.”
“Go get some sleep,” Tom said dismissively. “And if you happen across any of Harry’s friends in the Manor, you are not to harm them, or touch them, or provoke them. Understood?”
“Yes, Master,” Bellatrix said, bowing briefly and then turning to leave. She glared slightly at Harry as she passed, but otherwise she behaved.
Once she was gone, Harry cleared his throat and said, “Can we go back to the part where you implied you were going to throw the Weasleys in the dungeon? Because I’m not okay with that at all.”
“I do intend to try civility first, but if they can’t be reasoned with then we need options. Hence the dungeon,” Tom said.
“We are not,” Harry said emphatically, “throwing them in the dungeon!” Tom opened his mouth to argue but Harry quickly continued, “Let’s just go talk to them and see what happens before we get in another stupid fight over nothing, all right?”
Tom stared at him for a moment before letting out a frustrated huff and saying, “Fine. Come on then,” he ordered, and strode back down the corridor towards the front door.
Harry followed, and so did Lucius, who kept sneaking curious, slightly disturbed looks at Harry. The two of them walked slower and consistently remained several feet behind Tom. It seemed like Lucius was deliberately keeping pace with Harry, which creeped him out.
“What?” Harry finally asked, annoyed by the scrutiny. “Did he leave a hickey again?”
Lucius blinked, looking even more shocked for a moment before schooling his expression and saying quietly, “People don’t speak to the Dark Lord the way you do, Potter. Not without earning themselves extreme suffering or death.”
“What’s so special about you, that he allows such liberties?”
“Maybe he just likes me better,” Harry said facetiously.
Lucius glared at him but he also stopped asking questions, so Harry considered it a victory.
Tom reached the front door first, and waited there for Harry and Lucius to catch up. A small, square mirror was set into the wall next to the door—it showed the outside gate, much like a Muggle security camera would, with images but no sound. It reminded Harry a bit of the two-way mirror Sirius had given him.
“Lucius,” Tom asked, not sounding amused in the slightest, “since when do four teenagers qualify as ‘a herd’?”
Harry stepped closer and peered at the mirror—Ron, Ginny, Fred, and George all stood outside the gate, looking anxious but determined. As Harry watched, they all spun around in reaction to something—a few seconds later, a very cross Remus Lupin strode into view, shouting and gesturing back the way he’d come from. Ginny crossed her arms and yelled something back, and none of the Weasleys budged.
“Come along,” Tom said, “before anyone else shows up.” He reached for the door but paused, and asked Harry, “Do you think I should bother with a glamour or not? Humor me—think it through,” he added when Harry gave him a questioning look.
“Er, well—Ginny’s going to recognize you like this. She’s the one your diary possessed,” he said, glaring briefly at Lucius. “And Ron knows your name, so they’re both going to recognize you at Hogwarts anyway. One of them might’ve told Fred and George your name, I don’t know. They’ll be bound by your identity spell, but any one of them could spread the word that Voldemort looks human again. So, I guess it just depends on how soon you want to reveal your makeover,” Harry said, teasing a bit before continuing more seriously, “although, they might be less terrified and more willing to believe our truce and cooperate with us if you look, well, human. So—no glamour?”
“Maybe I want them to be terrified,” Tom said mildly.
Harry shrugged. “It’s your face. Do what you want with it.”
Tom huffed a laugh, then decisively said, “Glamour. I don’t intend for the general public to know about my ‘makeover’ for quite a while.”
“Why bother asking my opinion then?”
“I was testing your strategic thinking.”
Harry frowned. “I suppose I failed the test, then.”
“Not entirely,” Tom said. “Your reasoning was sound. But you based your decision on your friends’ short-term comfort instead of what’s most prudent for you and I in the long run.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “The horror,” he said sarcastically. “How dare I?”
Tom chuckled, then took out his wand and cast a series of strong glamours to give him back the deathly white snake-like visage while Harry watched in fascination. Complex glamours that drastically changed one’s appearance tended to stand out and have that ‘uncanny valley’ effect where something just seemed uncomfortably wrong, but Tom’s glamours were almost perfect. If Harry hadn’t been particularly up close and personal with Voldemort’s serpentine look in the past, he might not have even realized the man was glamoured.
“How are you so good at that?” Harry blurted out. “I mean, glamours are usually a little bit—off—you know?”
Voldemort smiled, then said, “The anchor points of complex glamours are what make them look artificial—the interference between the magic of the glamour and the magic inherent in the person causes visual distortions at the places where the glamour is attached. I’ve anchored my glamours to the features that are already going to seem ‘off’ to observers, and paradoxically it lessens the effect.”
“So,” Harry said, “you anchored them to the apparent lack of nose, then?”
“You changed your eyes too,” Harry said, peering closely. “You made them a brighter red. Another anchor?”
Voldemort hummed quietly in agreement, then reached out to carefully remove the locket Horcrux from around Harry’s neck. “I’ll hang on to this for a while—it wouldn’t do to have it on display in front of them.”
Harry frowned, but didn’t protest as Tom hid the Horcrux away in a pocket of his robes.
Lucius suddenly cleared his throat and said, “My Lord, if I may ask—was this form always a glamour?”
“No, it was not,” Tom answered, but didn’t elaborate. “And I think we’ve wasted quite enough time dallying here,” he said, reaching for the door. Harry snuck another quick glance at the security mirror, where Remus appeared to still be arguing with the others and trying to order them to leave.
“Nobody’s going in the dungeon, all right?” Harry repeated.
“We’ll see,” Tom said, opening the door and stepping out. “Lucius, put up additional anti-Apparation wards outside the gate and down the entirety of the hedge path, in case anyone else is waiting out of sight.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Lucius said, raising his wand and complying.
“Is this really the best idea, us three just walking out there?” Harry asked as the three of them headed down the front walk towards the hedge-lined pathway to the main gate of the Manor.
“I have the utmost confidence in the wards I’ve placed here,” Tom said dismissively. “Uninvited visitors can’t physically cross the wards or send spells or projectiles through.”
Harry glanced at him and said, “All right, but overconfidence hasn’t always worked out for you in the past. Just saying.”
“Well, thank Merlin I have you to keep me grounded now,” Voldemort said sardonically.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry caught Malfoy giving him another of those stunned looks for how he spoke to Voldemort. He briefly considered pushing it further just to horrify Lucius, but he decided not to run out Tom’s patience for his friends’ sake—surely they were going to need it. Instead he pouted up at Tom and playfully teased, “Is that all I’m good for, then?”
Tom smirked and said, “Do you really want me to answer that in front of Lucius?”
Harry shrugged. “You could answer in Parseltongue.”
“Or I could just give you a thorough demonstration of all the things you’re good for, once we’ve dealt with this inconvenience,” he said, as the three of them arrived at the entrance to the ridiculously long hedge path.
“Sounds good to me,” Harry agreed. He snuck a sideways glance at Lucius and was amused to see the man blushing slightly.
The hedge path was a bit much, in Harry’s opinion. Though it did have a strategic advantage, making sure anyone who approached the Manor was corralled into a long narrow pathway that they couldn’t quickly escape if the master of the house decided to hex or capture them.
They stepped into the hedge path, and Voldemort waved his wand to conjure up an ominous fog to obscure their approach.
Harry laughed under his breath, and said, “You just have to have a dramatic entrance, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Voldemort said, a hint of a smile in his voice, “it’s the very first rule of Dark Lordship.”
Harry laughed again, Tom’s smile grew, and Lucius gave the two of them a somewhat awed look of dawning comprehension.
“You’re staring, Lucius,” Tom said after a moment, though his tone was neutral rather than annoyed and Harry could feel through their connection that Tom was in a much better mood.
Lucius quickly averted his eyes and said, "Apologies, My Lord."
Harry smiled and remembered at the last minute to put his glasses back on as they arrived at the gate.
Thanks to the swirling fog, Harry heard his visitors slightly before he saw them.
“—felt the anti-Apparition wards go up,” Remus was saying to a defiant-looking Ron and Ginny. “We have to go, now! This isn’t a game, or one of your little stunts at Hogwarts—he will kill us all!”
The fog began to dissipate and Voldemort stepped into view, one hand on Harry’s lower back guiding him forward as well. They stopped about a meter from the warded gate. Lucius remained in the background, visible but silent.
“Will I?” Voldemort asked, startling Lupin and all four Weasleys, who spun around to face him. He smirked at the fear and shock on their faces as they glanced between Voldemort and Harry, then he continued, “That would be quite an overreaction to this—” he paused, then said almost derisively, “—friendly visit.” Another pause. “Don’t you agree, Harry?”
“Oh, definitely,” Harry said, then cheekily added, “it would just look like you were overcompensating if you killed them or, say, threw them in the dungeon.”
Tom turned his head to glare at Harry, who just smiled in return.
“We’re leaving now,” Remus suddenly spoke up, his tone cautiously respectful as he addressed Voldemort directly. “The children insisted on making sure Harry was okay, and now that they’ve seen him—”
“But he’s not okay,” Ron interrupted, looking concerned and flabbergasted at the same time.
“Yeah, look at him,” Fred said.
George finished the thought with, “He’s smiling at You-Know-Who!”
Ginny remained silent for the moment, but fixed Harry with a piercing, uncertain stare.
“Guys, I’m all right, I promise,” Harry said, looking at each of them in turn. “I told you already that I’m fine, and I specifically said not to try to rescue me—”
“We thought it was code,” Ron said.
“What kind of code is just saying the opposite of what you mean?” Harry asked, amused.
“Regardless,” Remus interrupted in a biting tone that shut all of the teenagers up. He gave Harry a conflicted, concerned look, then he spoke directly to Voldemort again. “We’ll leave peacefully now. We didn’t come here to cause trouble or start anything.” He took hold of Ron and Ginny’s arms, since they were being the most obstinate, and he tried to steer them away from the gate. Neither of them allowed it, planting their feet and wrenching their arms free. Lupin growled in frustration and turned his efforts towards Fred and George instead.
“Where’s Hermione?” Ron demanded, fixing Harry with a worried but determined look.
“She’s back at the Manor,” Harry said, “she’s fine.”
Ron narrowed his eyes slightly and said, “I know how you look when you’re lying, Harry.”
“I’m not lying,” Harry said quickly. “She is fine now—there was an incident with a cursed book, but Se—Professor Snape healed her, and she’s going to be all right once she wakes up.”
Ron looked far from reassured by that explanation. “I want to see her,” he declared, crossing his arms. “I’m not leaving til I’ve seen that she’s okay.”
“Is that so?” Voldemort asked, his voice quiet but dangerous.
Ron glanced at him and paled slightly, but otherwise didn’t falter. “That’s so,” he replied, either very bravely or very stupidly, depending on the perspective.
“Ron,” Harry said, “she’s still going to be in a healing sleep for another hour or so—she won’t be able to tell you anything. Just trust me, she’ll be fine.”
“Trust you? That’s a good one—you Obliviated me and ran off to join You-Know-Who, and you want me to trust you now?”
“I didn’t join him,” Harry argued, feeling a flare of hurt and anger as the discussion took a similar turn to their previous argument, “we called a truce.”
“Amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?” Ron argued back.
Voldemort cut in, “It really doesn’t, which you would realize if you cooled your temper long enough to actually think it through.” He gave Ron an unimpressed look and added bluntly, “Stop upsetting Harry or I’ll make you regret it.”
Ron blinked, seemingly at a loss for how to respond to that. Ginny too was giving Voldemort a very odd and appraising look. Fred, George, and Lupin were arguing in low voices in the background, but suddenly one of the twins loudly said, “Oi!” and Harry glanced over at the commotion.
Lupin had fixed an antique brass key to Fred’s hand with a sticking charm, then he grabbed George’s hand and stuck it to the key on top of Fred’s before quickly withdrawing his own hand. “Lemon drops,” Lupin said, and the emergency Portkey activated, whisking the twins away. Lupin turned back to face the others, a bit winded after the scuffle. “As I said, we’re leaving.”
Ron and Ginny faced Lupin and drew their wands, casting shield charms around themselves. Behind them, Voldemort and Lucius reflexively drew their own wands, and in response to that, Lupin raised his. Harry, sensing an impending disaster, called out, “All right, everyone just calm down! Ron, Ginny, just go with Remus. Please.”
Ginny shook her head without turning around, maintaining her shield charm.
Ron did too, adding, “No can do, mate. Not until I see that Hermione’s okay.”
“She’s not going to leave with you Ron, even once she wakes up. You asked her to last time, and she chose to stay—there’s something important that she’s researching for us.”
Ron threw a quick glare over his shoulder at Harry and said, “Then she can tell me that herself.”
Harry sighed and turned his efforts on Lupin. “Remus,” he said, catching his eye. “That argument we had the other day? I stand by what I said. I’m fine here—you need to take Ron and Ginny and go home,” he said pointedly, not wanting to mention Tonks and the unborn baby in present company, but trying to get the point across nonetheless, “and don’t let them try this again,” he finished.
“You don’t really expect the Order to just leave you here with him indefinitely?” Remus asked quietly, his eyes flicking to Voldemort.
“I really do,” Harry said. “These days, with him is the safest place for me.”
Remus scoffed. “Forgive me if I find that hard to believe.”
Harry sighed, then turned his attention to Ginny instead.
“Gin? You’ve been strangely quiet,” he said, trailing off expectantly.
She glanced at Harry, turning just enough to see him while keeping Lupin in her peripheral vision. “I’d rather not have an audience for what I want to say to you, Harry.”
Harry’s eyebrows went up slightly, and Ron spluttered, “Ginny!”
She glared at Ron and said, “Get your mind out of the gutter. I meant closure-type stuff. Some questions. That’s all.”
Beside Harry, Voldemort absently moved closer to him and murmured, “This is the ex, then?”
“Er, yeah,” Harry awkwardly replied.
“And she’s also the one my diary possessed?”
“Interesting,” Voldemort said, before switching to Parseltongue and continuing, “Very interesting, that the two of you would be drawn to each other, having both hosted part of my soul.”
“Right,” Harry scoffed, then hissed in Parseltongue, “Yeah, make it all about you, if it makes you feel better.”
Voldemort didn’t respond to the jibe—he was too busy staring intently at Ginny, who had paled a bit under the scrutiny. She was turned sideways, keeping Lupin in her peripheral vision on one side and Harry and Voldemort on the other. Her attention seemed to be slightly more focused on Harry and Voldemort at the moment, as was Ron’s and Lupin’s—the three of them seemed wary and creeped-out, and the Parseltongue was probably only making things worse. Thankfully all of them had the sense not to interrupt.
“Exactly how sure are you, Harry, that you completely destroyed the diary Horcrux?” Voldemort asked, still using Parseltongue.
Harry’s head whipped to the side to stare at Voldemort. “What?” he asked, startled. Then he switched back to Parseltongue and said, “Why? Do you feel something? You think the Horcrux survived and, what, possessed her all this time? Or just clung on like the one in me?”
“Both are possible,” Voldemort hissed. “I don’t sense anything from her, but I never sensed the Horcrux in you either, so that doesn’t mean anything. It would be careless not to make sure.”
Harry looked away and focused on Ginny, waiting for her to meet his eyes before asking in Parseltongue, “Ginny? Can you understand us right now?”
Her brow furrowed, and in English she said, “If you’re talking to me, you’ll need to switch back to English, Harry.”
Harry relaxed a bit, but Voldemort laughed softly and hissed, “No Horcrux of mine would simply give himself up like that, Harry.”
“Worth a shot,” Harry hissed, shrugging.
Voldemort turned back towards their guests and looked at Ginny when he said, “What Harry meant to say was that I’ve graciously decided to allow yourself and Ron into the Manor for a short visit.” His eyes flicked to a very tense Lupin and he added, “Not you. Go home,” he said, echoing Harry.
Lupin straightened his shoulders and said, “I cannot in good conscience allow another two teenagers—”
Voldemort waved his wand and interrupted in a bored tone, “Imperio—go home and don’t worry about Harry or the Weasleys. They’ll be safe here.”
Lupin’s eyes unfocused, and then in a soft, dreamlike voice he said, “Yes, of course. They’re fine—I’ll just be going now,” then with a halfhearted wave, he turned and started walking down the long hedge path. Ron and Ginny watched him for a moment, then turned back towards the gate.
Harry crossed his arms and gave Voldemort a look. “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes. It’ll wear off in a few hours,” he said, unconcerned. “Lucius, the gate, if you would?”
“Yes, My Lord.” Lucius waved his wand in a few complicated motions, then addressed the Weasleys, “You may enter—simply walk through the gate.” He turned to Voldemort and said, “I’ve given them the lowest guest clearance.” There was a hint of a question in his tone, inviting Voldemort to instruct otherwise if he wasn’t pleased.
“That will do,” Voldemort said, then to Ron and Ginny he said, “Come along, then.”
Ron gulped, then approached the gate. He reached out a hand to open it, jumping when his hand passed through the gate as if it weren’t there. More confident now, he stepped through and Ginny followed him.
Voldemort twitched his wand and silently disarmed both of them, catching their wands in his free hand. “Just for insurance, I’ll be holding on to these until you leave,” he said, pocketing the wands. Neither Weasley looked pleased, but neither was foolish enough to argue with the Dark Lord so they simply nodded. Voldemort waved his wand again, and everything from Ron and Ginny’s pockets came zooming out before soaring into a basket that materialized and hovered in place near the gate. Harry caught glimpses of a few Wheezes products—the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, several fireworks, and some Decoy Detonators—all of which could’ve caused considerable chaos and landed his friends permanently on Tom’s shit-list if they’d used them.
Harry gave Ron and Ginny a stern look and said pointedly, “I’ll just remind you that I don’t need or want to be rescued, and it would be incredibly, unspeakably stupid to try it. All right?”
They gave him betrayed, disappointed looks, but nodded.
Voldemort gave Harry a questioning look, then glanced at the floating basket of contraband and said, “Something you’d like to share, Harry?”
“I just did,” Harry said, his tone conveying that he’d say no more on the matter.
Voldemort looked at him for a moment before accepting his answer. “Very well—we’ll just leave those items here for your friends to collect on their way out. Lucius, lead the way. You two, behind him,” Voldemort ordered Ron and Ginny. He and Harry followed last, keeping the guests/prisoners flanked on both sides as they headed up the hedge path towards the Manor.
The silence was tense and incredibly awkward.
After a moment, Harry cleared his throat and said, “So—you, er, tracked the owl you sent me, yeah?”
“Duh,” said Ron. “There’s a spell on the letter too. As soon as you said the password, it sent your location back to us.”
Harry rolled his eyes, then asked, “Why send it in the first place though? Why now?”
Ginny glanced over her shoulder at Harry and answered, “After Ron showed up Obliviated, Kreacher popped in and started wailing at Lupin—somebody destroyed that horrid portrait and Kreacher sort of had a meltdown over it.”
“Oh. Yeah, that was Se—Snape. It was pretty wicked,” Harry said, smiling at the memory. He didn’t have much pity for Kreacher, considering the way he’d betrayed Sirius.
“You mean idiotically reckless,” Voldemort muttered under his breath.
Ginny blinked and gave Harry an odd look, then continued, “Well anyway, that—along with the fact that Hermione had asked him for an Amortentia antidote—made Lupin think you might’ve needed some help. Hence the letter.”
“Right. And then you all just ignored everything I said in my reply and came rushing in, naturally.”
Ginny looked over her shoulder again, and Harry caught a shade of hurt in her eyes when she said, “I’ve got plenty of questions about what you said in your reply.”
Harry blinked, said, “That’s fair, I suppose,” then looked at the ground as they all continued walking in another awkward silence. They reached the end of the hedge path, then continued up the front walk to the Manor.
“Welcome to Malfoy Manor,” Lucius said when they reached the front door, holding it open for Ron and Ginny but giving them a rather snide look and adding, “I imagine it’s quite different from the standards to which you’re accustomed.”
“Oh absolutely,” Ginny said, glaring at him. “It’s a lot more infested with evil, for one thing.”
Lucius sniffed and replied, “As opposed to the more mundane vermin infestations with which you’re familiar?”
“Funny,” Ron spoke up, “I thought my pet rat was living with your lot these days.”
Lucius just sneered.
Harry felt a spark of anger at the mention of Wormtail. “Is he?” he quietly asked Voldemort as the two of them stepped inside the Manor behind the others.
“Wormtail? He’s not in the Manor at present. I sent him away on a mission before all of this started.”
“What mission?” Harry asked.
Voldemort blinked and looked disturbed for half a second before masking his expression and replying, “Ask me later,” with a pointed glance at the other three occupants of the entryway that seemed to imply ‘when we can speak freely’.
Harry raised an eyebrow because the two of them could speak freely whenever they wanted thanks to Parseltongue and their ability to enter a shared Mindscape, but he went along with it, simply saying, “All right.”
He glanced at Ginny, wondering whether Tom genuinely thought the diary Horcrux had been hiding in her all these years and that she could therefore understand Parseltongue.
Harry blushed slightly, remembering the pillow talk he and Ginny had shared after they’d slept together for the first time. She’d asked him to tell her a secret, something he’d never told anyone—when he’d hesitated, she told him to say it in Parseltongue. And the first secret that had popped into his head, the one that he’d told her in Parseltongue that night, was ‘I’ve always thought Tom Riddle was bloody gorgeous.’
Harry rubbed his palm over his face, mortified, wondering if she’d understood him. Or, well, if he had understood him. Harry couldn’t decide which would be worse—if Ginny had actually been possessed by Diary Tom all this time, or if she was herself but understood Parseltongue like Harry because she also contained a Horcrux—if Diary Tom himself had heard Harry call him gorgeous and had been dating Harry under false pretenses, or if Ginny had understood his Parseltongue confession but stayed with Harry despite his attraction to the man who’d possessed and almost killed her.
The group started walking down the hallway, and Harry followed along blindly. Voldemort nudged his elbow into Harry’s arm and sent him a pointed look in response to the emotions that must’ve leaked through their connection. “What is it?” Voldemort asked, looking perplexed about what could’ve made Harry feel so mortified all of a sudden.
Harry shook his head, and said, “Ask me later,” with an embarrassed smile.
Voldemort looked at him a moment longer, but nodded.
“My Lord? Are we receiving our guests upstairs or downstairs?” Lucius asked pointedly as they arrived at the juncture that would take them to the dungeon if they turned, or to the stairway if they continued straight ahead.
“Upstairs,” Harry said firmly.
Lucius glanced at him but waited for a response from Voldemort, who reached over and flicked Harry’s ear before echoing, “Upstairs. I believe Mr. Weasley wanted to visit Hermione?”
“Er, yes, please,” Ron said awkwardly.
“So do I,” Ginny said.
“Quit doing that,” Harry grumbled, rubbing at his earlobe even though it hadn’t really hurt.
“Quit being a brat,” Voldemort replied lightly.
“You know you like it,” Harry teased back, then he froze. Everyone, including Voldemort, had turned to stare at him in varying degrees of disbelief. “Er, I mean—” but he couldn’t think of anything to say.
Voldemort looked back at the others, then pointed towards the stairway and ordered, “Walk. Do you want to visit Hermione or not?”
Lucius cleared his throat and started walking towards the stairs. Ron and Ginny followed after giving Harry morbidly curious looks. He could feel Voldemort looking at him but Harry kept his eyes straight ahead as they walked—he had no desire to be silently scolded for getting too flirty in front of people who didn’t know their secret.
They arrived at the staircase and started to climb, at which point Ron suddenly blurted out, “All right, I have to ask—who is it, Harry?”
“Who’s what?” Harry asked.
“You said you’re dating someone else and it’s serious,” Ron continued, “so—?”
Harry scowled and interrupted, “That second letter was only supposed to be for Ginny.”
Ginny sniffed and said, “Yeah, well, I wasn’t alone when Pig got back. Ron snagged the envelope and read everything, and then Lupin heard us fighting over it so naturally he read both letters too. Fred and George eavesdropped with Extendable Ears while we all talked it over.”
Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Ginny, I’m sorry—”
“It’s Hermione, isn’t it?” Ron interrupted, his voice tight with restrained anger.
“What?” Harry asked.
“You and Hermione,” Ron said, more anger and jealousy leaking into his tone this time.
Harry almost laughed. “Ron, no! She’s like a sister to me, honestly. I’m not with Hermione.”
Ron’s shoulders noticeably un-tensed as he followed Lucius and Ginny onto the second floor landing, but he continued, “Then who is it? Not a lot of options around here, and you wouldn’t be calling it serious this soon with someone you’d only just met—” Ron stopped in his tracks and turned around to face Harry, who had just stepped onto the landing. Harry abruptly stopped too and Voldemort nearly ran into his back, placing a hand on Harry’s hip to steady himself. “No,” Ron said, staring at Harry’s face and looking abjectly horrified.
Oh great, Harry thought, here we go again.
“Ron,” Harry said, holding up a hand in a placating manner. But he probably ruined his protest by automatically leaning into Tom’s touch.
“No bloody way,” Ron said.
“Look, it’s not—”
“No, I—” Ron interrupted with an ugly broken-off laugh, “I actually kind of get it.”
Harry blinked. “You do?”
“Should’ve seen it coming, really. Should’ve realized all of that fighting and one-upping each other ever since first year was just misplaced sexual tension,” Ron said, looking nauseous.
Harry wrinkled his nose and said, “Ew. No. This is actually quite recent.”
Ron gave him a brief, considering look, before amending, “If you say so. But don’t even try to deny last year—you were bloody obsessed with him, following him around, couldn’t keep your eyes off him—”
“Wait,” Harry interrupted, with dawning suspicion.
“Can’t say I’m thrilled but I reckon I can live with it as long as you don’t snog in front of me,” he muttered.
“Harry, just stop playing dumb and admit that you’re shagging Draco bloody Malfoy.”
Harry choked, and so did Lucius. Ginny just stood there with her arms crossed, but she didn’t look the least bit surprised by Ron’s conclusion. Harry felt a wave of amusement coming through his connection to Tom, which he responded to with his own wave of annoyance.
“That’s not—” Harry started to protest, only to be interrupted by Voldemort.
“Not how you wanted your friends to find out, of course,” Tom said, subtly removing his hand from Harry’s hip and placing it on his shoulder instead in a showy, mock-consoling gesture. “But he did just say he can live with it,” he trailed off, his tone implying a silent ‘unlike when he knew about us’.
Harry turned his back to Ron and the others to face Voldemort. “What are you doing?” he demanded under his breath.
Voldemort tilted his head slightly, then replied in Parseltongue, “Helping you preserve your friendship with the Weasley boy, obviously.”
“By lying?” Harry hissed back. “He’ll just be even angrier when he finds out the truth. And who’s to say Draco would even go along with, what, fake-dating me?”
Voldemort shrugged one shoulder, somehow making it look elegant. “Just fake break up before term starts and no one will ever know you lied. And I don’t think you need to worry about Draco’s cooperation,” he added, smirking.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “And you’re totally fine with this? What if I have to kiss him or something to sell it?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Voldemort said, a bolt of anger and jealousy leaking through their connection. “Ron just said he didn’t want to see anything like that, and there’ll be no need to pretend in front of anyone else.”
Harry didn’t entirely manage to keep from smirking—he rather enjoyed Tom’s possessiveness. He switched back to English and murmured, “If you say so,” before turning back to the others with a contrived sheepish expression. “Right, well. We were trying to keep things quiet, with it being so new and all, but—all right, you caught me. It’s Draco.”
“Of course it is,” Ginny muttered.
“You don’t seem surprised,” Harry said curiously.
Ginny raised her eyebrows and said, “Malfoy’s been pulling your pigtails for years, and last year you were basically stalking him. I’m not surprised, Harry, just disappointed and a bit pissed off. Do me a favor and don’t snog him in front of me either.”
Harry blinked and looked away—apparently he was the only one surprised by the possibility of him dating Draco. He shook his head, thinking that he and Draco and maybe even Voldemort would all have a big laugh about this together after the fact.
Lucius cleared his throat, gave Harry an odd look, then addressed the group. “As enlightening as this has been, if you still want to visit your friend, you’ll stop wasting time and follow me.” He gave Harry another look that was almost a glare, then turned and swept down the corridor towards Tom’s rooms.
Ron and Ginny both glanced at Harry again, Ron shaking his head in something like resigned disbelief, then they turned and followed Lucius.
The group continued on in silence, and when they arrived at the door to Tom’s chambers, Lucius stepped aside and gestured for Ginny and Ron to do the same. Voldemort stepped forward to unlock the door with his touch and the Parseltongue password, then he opened it and stepped inside, telling the others, “Come along.”
Harry stuck close to Voldemort’s side, smiling a little while Ron and Ginny glanced around the extravagant room with wide eyes.
“Lucius,” Voldemort said, “keep a close eye on the wards in case anyone else approaches.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Lucius replied.
Voldemort glanced at Harry, then said, “You should go warn Draco about our guests—I’m aware of the animosity between the Malfoy and Weasley families, and I won’t suffer any childish fighting.”
“Right, yeah,” Harry said, picking up on the real message which was ‘go tell Draco to play along with our cover story’. “I’ll do that.”
Harry headed for Hermione’s door, throwing an uneasy look over his shoulder—Lucius stood near the door to the hall, his eyes open but glazed over a bit, evidently tuned into the wards. Voldemort had taken a seat in one of the ornate wingback chairs and he was intently watching Ginny, who was still glancing around the room and looking somewhat awed by the elegance of it. Ron had perched on the arm of one of the sofas with his arms crossed, and his eyes flicked up to meet Harry’s. Harry gave him an awkward smile that was halfheartedly returned, then he turned back to open Hermione’s door and quickly slip inside, closing it again behind him.
“There you are,” Draco said, glancing up at him from the chair beside Hermione’s bed. She was still unconscious. Draco had one of the sex magic books open in his lap, but he closed it and set it aside.
“Hey,” Harry greeted. “Any change?” he asked, nodding towards Hermione.
“Nope,” Draco said, glancing at the clock on the wall and adding, “it’s only been an hour and a half.”
Draco raised an eyebrow and said, “Have I mentioned how weird it is to hear you call him that?” Harry shrugged, and Draco continued, “He didn’t stay long—he just checked on Hermione, reminded me to reapply the Dittany every hour, and told me off a bit for being careless.”
“Speaking of being careless,” Harry said, taking a deep breath and saying in a rush, “I sort of replied to a letter from Ginny, and then Lupin and the Weasleys traced it and now Ron and Ginny are here to visit Hermione, and Tom told them that you and I are dating so Ron won’t shun me again for being with Voldemort, so…” he trailed off, nervously sticking his hands in his pockets.
Draco blinked, then stood and shrilly demanded, “What?”
“Look, I know that it’s awkward but can you just play along for a bit?”
Draco blinked again, then in a slow, deliberate tone reminiscent of Severus, he echoed, “You know that it’s awkward?” His expression was guarded, with hints of hurt and anger bleeding through.
This time Harry blinked, confused by the sudden change in tone. “Well, yeah—we’ve only been friendly for what, two days now?”
Draco narrowed his eyes suspiciously, seeming to search Harry’s expression for something. After a moment he asked, “Why exactly did the Dark Lord tell them that?”
Harry fidgeted a bit, and answered, “Well, Ron thought I was dating Hermione at first, and he got all jealous. I told him I wasn’t, and then he decided that the only other person here I would be with was you. Ron said he could live with it as long as he didn’t have to watch us snogging, so Tom just sort of ran with it… Last time I told Ron the truth he sort of told me to go to hell and stormed off.”
“Why does the Dark Lord care whether the Weasel’s mad at you?”
“Don’t call Ron that,” Harry said automatically. Then he smiled a bit and said, “I suppose Tom only cares because I care.”
Draco rolled his eyes and said, “How romantic—but why did Weasley think you’re dating someone here in the first place?” Draco asked, looking utterly confused.
Harry rubbed the back of his neck and said, “In that letter I sent, I sort of made it clear to Ginny that we wouldn’t be getting back together because I was with someone else and it was serious.”
“You idiot,” Draco muttered. “And the Dark Lord is okay with this?”
“He actually seems to think it’s hilarious.”
Draco’s expression closed off, and he said bitterly, “Of course he does—a perfect punishment for me just fell right into his lap.”
“Punishment?” Harry asked, a bit hurt by that. “I’m not that bad, am I?” he asked, forcing a smile.
Draco sighed, ran a hand over his face and mumbled, “No, just oblivious.”
“Nothing,” Draco said, stepping closer and giving him an appraising look. “Mess your hair up a bit.”
Harry raised an eyebrow at him but obliged, running his hand through his hair. He doubted that it looked much different from its usual disarray.
Draco eyed it critically before saying, “Good enough. Now bite your lip a few times so it’ll plump up,” he instructed, before doing the same to himself.
“Why, exactly?” Harry asked, fighting the urge to laugh.
Draco smirked and said, “Because if we really were secretly dating, and you came in here to tell me Weasley was fine with it as long as we don’t snog in front of him, the very first thing I would do,” he ran both hands through his own hair to tousle it, “is make it obvious that I’d just snogged you senseless.”
Harry laughed, but said, “Tom’s going to be miffed too, you know.”
“He brought this on himself,” Draco said in a belligerent tone that Harry was certain Draco wouldn’t have dared to use to Tom’s face.
“Well, still,” Harry said, somewhat apprehensively, “don’t do anything that’s going to end with you being tortured or me sleeping on the couch. All right?”
Draco shrugged and said, “We’ll see.”
“Draco,” Harry said, grabbing his arm as he tried to edge around Harry to open the door. “Seriously, don’t overplay it. They’ll know it’s fake if you go all Lavender-and-Ron on me.”
Draco’s face scrunched up in disgust. “Ugh, thanks so much for reminding me of that spectacle. I think I’m going to be sick.”
“How do you think I felt? I had to share a House with them. Nowhere in Gryffindor Tower was safe.”
Draco shuddered, then refocused and said, “Right. You want subtle, I can do subtle.”
Harry raised a dubious eyebrow.
Draco bristled slightly, then repeated, “I can do subtle, Harry,” while stepping closer to him and leaning in. Harry’s breath caught, but Draco stopped with their faces a few inches apart and he merely reached up and ran his fingers through Harry’s hair to tousle it further. He stepped back to admire his handiwork, and said, “That’s better.” He smirked at the blush coloring Harry’s cheeks, and added, “If you blush like that every time I touch you, we’ll convince them in no time.”
“Right,” Harry said, feeling his blush deepen as he looked away at the floor. Why now, of all times, did he have to notice that Draco was actually rather attractive? Not that Harry intended to do anything about it—it was just inconvenient and bloody distracting right at the moment.
“My father’s going to be horrified, you know,” Draco said, unbuttoning the top three buttons of his shirt and rumpling the material a bit.
“Nah, he knows it’s fake. He sort of walked in on me and Tom snogging,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Draco blinked and said, “So you’ve made up, then?”
“Mostly, I think. It’s complicated.”
Draco started to say something but was interrupted by the door opening to admit a rather peeved looking Voldemort, who demanded, “What is taking so long?” only to freeze at the disheveled appearance of both boys and the scant distance between them. He blinked, then shut the door behind him.
“Tom,” Harry said immediately, taking a step backwards, “it’s not what it looks like—”
“Oh?” Voldemort said in a scarily neutral tone. “Then you’ll have no objection to showing me, will you?” he said, stepping up into Harry’s space and grasping a fistful of hair to carefully but firmly tilt Harry’s head back and force eye contact.
“Go ahead,” Harry said, not even trying to look away.
Voldemort pushed into Harry’s mind with Legilimency, quickly reviewing the past few minutes before pulling out and releasing Harry. He turned towards Draco with a cruel laugh. “You thought you could make Lord Voldemort jealous, Draco?” He stepped closer to Draco and continued, “Harry has never thought about you that way. He’s never even looked twice at you. You’re about as much competition as a flobberworm.”
Draco’s expression tightened, but he merely said, “It was mostly meant to annoy Weasley, Sir.”
“Sure it was,” Voldemort said skeptically.
He opened the door, then took hold of both Harry and Draco by the arm and steered them back out into the sitting room. As expected, Ron’s face went a bit green as he noticed the freshly-snogged look of the two boys. Ginny crossed her arms and glared at Draco. Lucius blinked and did a double-take, seeming to abandon his ward watch for a moment.
“Clearly, Draco,” Voldemort scolded, letting go of Harry but continuing towards the door with Draco in tow, “your presence here is too much of a distraction. Do kindly excuse us while Harry entertains his guests,” he said, opening the door to the hallway and practically shoving Draco through it, then closing it behind him. Harry crossed his arms, and merely shrugged at the looks Ron and Ginny sent him. Voldemort turned to Malfoy Sr. and ordered, “Lucius, your arm.”
Lucius obediently rolled up his sleeve and held out his left arm. Voldemort pressed one of his long, pale fingers against the Mark. Harry wondered for a moment why Voldemort bothered with the show of asking for his followers’ arms when he could summon the Death Eaters with nothing but his own mind and magic—and after a moment of consideration, Harry answered his own question; it was a carefully constructed ruse to make him appear more vulnerable to his enemies. If the Order thought Voldemort could only call his followers by touching one of their Marks, they would think he was cut off from reinforcements if they encountered him by himself, and they would underestimate him, giving him an advantage.
Harry looked away from Voldemort and caught Ron’s eye instead, deciding to risk approaching him.
“All right?” Harry said quietly, perching next to Ron on the arm of the sofa. Ginny, seated on the opposite sofa, glanced briefly in their direction before looking away again.
Ron glanced at Harry, huffed a tiny laugh, then said under his breath, “Well, I’m all right. But you just got cock-blocked by You-Know-Who.”
Harry snuck a glance at Ron’s expression, unsure whether he was just joking around or trying to be cruel—Ron was smiling slightly as he met Harry’s eyes, so Harry let out a relieved laugh and said, “Yeah, that’s—actually weirder than you think.”
Ron shook his head, and said, “What even is your life, mate?”
Harry didn’t get a chance to answer—two heavy knocks sounded on the door, which Voldemort opened to admit Severus.
“Severus,” Voldemort greeted.
“My Lord,” Severus replied, bowing slightly to him and ignoring Lucius completely. He caught sight of Ron and Ginny, then looked curiously at Harry and asked in an almost teasing tone, “Potter, what fresh hell is this?”
“Have you been drinking?” Lucius interrupted, leaning closer to Severus and sniffing. Voldemort side-eyed Lucius disapprovingly, but Malfoy didn’t even notice.
Severus gave Lucius a disdainful look and answered, “Not that it’s any of your business, but I had a few drinks with Potter and our Lord earlier. More recently, I’ve been purging your library of cursed books, since you yourself seem incapable of keeping your guests safe.”
Lucius drew himself up to full height, seeming to puff up like one of the peacocks that roamed the Manor’s grounds, and demanded, “You’ve been destroying my private property? While drunk?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “I destroyed the curses, not the books themselves. And I’m not even remotely drunk, Lucius.”
Lucius raised a bleach-blond eyebrow and said, “Are you quite sure? Because I thought I heard that dreadful accent you started Hogwarts with starting to slip through—where is it you were born? Cokeworth?” He sneered as if the name left a bad taste on his tongue.
Severus just laughed, then said in his most condescending tone and his best Received Pronunciation, “Is that really the best you can do? I survived James Potter and his band of imbeciles—you’ll have to up your game if you think you can bully me.”
“Ah yes,” Lucius said, “I’ve heard such—entertaining—stories about yourself and James Potter.” He paused, then gestured between Severus and Harry and said, “Is that what this is, then? He stole your girlfriend, so now you’re stealing his son?”
Beside Harry, Ron whispered, “The hell?” Harry quickly hushed him.
Severus’ expression closed off and he said, “Worry about your own son, Lucius. He looked rather upset when I passed him in the hallway.”
Voldemort cleared his throat and finally interrupted, “Are you two quite finished?”
“He started it,” Severus deadpanned, causing Ron and Harry to both let out a snort of laughter.
Voldemort gave him a flat, unimpressed look. “I’m aware. Lucius, perhaps you should go check on Draco and remind him that I expect him to behave with the propriety and decorum befitting his station, and not like a randy teenager.”
“Of course, My Lord,” Lucius said, bowing. He gave Severus one last sneer before sweeping out the door and leaving Harry, Voldemort, and Severus alone with Ron and Ginny.
“All right,” Harry asked Severus as soon as the door closed, “what is with you two?”
Severus huffed a silent laugh, then said, “Oh, you know,” and waved his hand dismissively as he finally moved away from the door and took a few steps closer to the sofa Harry and Ron were perched on. “He still thinks I stole Draco’s glory last year, and that I’m a dirty half-blood traitor who can’t be trusted. The usual.”
“Of course,” Harry said, nodding faux-seriously before breaking composure and grinning at him instead. “Hey,” he said in a stage-whisper, “do you want to really horrify my friends?”
“As a rule, yes,” Severus replied, smirking slightly and waiting to see what Harry would propose.
Harry stood, then stepped closer to Severus and held open his arms. “Give us a hug?” Harry heard Ron spluttering behind him, and he smiled.
Severus rolled his eyes but obliged, accepting the hug from Harry and muttering, “Are you really this starved for affection, or do you just enjoy making a fool of me?”
“I’m not—” Harry started, but he was interrupted by Ron.
“Please tell me you’re not shagging him too,” Ron said, “there’s only so much I can take.”
Harry laughed, but Sev beat him to answering. “But of course, Mr. Weasley,” Severus said sarcastically over Harry’s shoulder, “it’s a regular orgy around here between Potter, myself, and the Dark Lord.”
“Bloody hell,” Ron said, blanching, “please Obliviate me again—I really don’t want that mental image. Malfoy’s bad enough.”
“Malfoy?” Severus asked as he pulled away from the hug.
“Yeah, er,” Harry said quickly, catching Sev’s eye and thinking really loudly about Tom’s lie and the reason for it, “Draco and I are dating, didn’t he tell you?”
Severus blinked, then raised an eyebrow as he stepped away and merely said, “Draco doesn’t confide in me much these days.”
Voldemort chose that moment to speak up, saying, “Severus, I did ask you here for a reason.”
“Of course, My Lord.”
“I want you to keep an eye on Harry’s friends while they visit Hermione.” Severus nodded his assent, and Voldemort continued, “Mr. Weasley can go ahead. I’d like a brief word with Miss Weasley.”
Ron seemed conflicted, glancing from Ginny to Voldemort to Harry to the door of Hermione’s room.
“It’s fine, Ron,” Harry said quietly, “I’ll be here too.”
Ron glanced over at Ginny once more—she nodded, and he finally said, “All right,” and followed Severus to Hermione’s door. He threw one last nervous look over his shoulder before allowing Severus to usher him out of the room.
Once the door closed behind them, Voldemort asked, “Harry, do you want to speak with her first, or shall I?”
Harry glanced at Ginny, who was making an admirable effort not to look nervous, then back at Voldemort. “I suppose you should,” he answered. “The outcome of your conversation is kind of going to determine mine.” If it turned out Ginny was possessed by Diary Tom all this time, Harry would be having a very different conversation than he would be having with the real Ginny.
“Harry, what’s he talking about?” Ginny asked.
“It’s fine,” Harry promised her, “he just wants to, er, check something.”
“My diary, Miss Weasley,” Voldemort said, walking across the room towards her.
She flinched, then stood up from the sofa and took a few steps backwards. “I don’t have it anymore. It’s gone,” she said.
“I know,” Voldemort said. “I’m aware that Harry destroyed the diary itself.”
“Then what do you want with me?”
“The memory within the diary, Miss Weasley,” he said continuing to match her backwards steps with intimidating, sure steps forward. “My understanding is that he came very close to draining your soul entirely—he was corporeal and solid enough to take away Harry’s wand.”
“Harry stopped him,” Ginny said, finally bumping into Harry as she kept trying to back away.
“Ginny, it’s all right,” Harry said quietly, putting his hands on Ginny’s shoulders. “I won’t let him hurt you. Just let him check.”
“Check what?” Ginny demanded again.
Voldemort stepped closer and said, “Whether or not the memory—which was already powerful enough to sustain a form outside of the diary—might’ve latched onto the soul it had been absorbing in order to survive.”
“No,” Ginny said, paling.
“Whether or not,” Voldemort repeated, “you still have something of mine, Miss Weasley.”
“I don’t,” Ginny said, “it’s gone—he’s gone!”
“Then there’s no harm in letting me make sure, is there?” Voldemort asked in a silky, calming tone.
Ginny did not seem reassured. “Harry, please,” she said turning to face him and reaching towards him.
“Don’t!” Voldemort snapped, and Ginny’s eyes widened as her hand involuntarily froze on its way to try to grab Harry’s wand out of his pocket.
Ginny huffed in frustration. Harry took a step back, frowned at her, and asked, “Why’d you do that?”
“If you’re not going to fight anymore,” she said, her tone quiet but full of fire, “then I will.”
“Yes, yes,” Voldemort said, sounding bored, “that’s very brave and noble and all that rot. But you’re only making this harder than it needs to be. Turn around,” he said, gesturing with his hand and using wandless magic to force her to face him.
“What are you going to do?” Ginny asked, defiantly looking up at Voldemort while he stepped right up into her space.
Voldemort reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear in a gesture of mock-intimacy. The sight of it did something funny to Harry’s stomach, and he couldn’t quite figure out whether he should find it kind of hot or be jealous. “First,” Voldemort said, “I’m going to see whether or not I can bring you into a mindscape with me.” He glanced over her head at Harry, and told him, “Keep your wand on her, just in case.”
“Harry!” Ginny protested.
Harry swallowed nervously, but drew his wand and did as Voldemort said. Voldemort reached up, holding Ginny’s head still with both hands, then he leaned forward to touch his forehead against hers, closing his eyes as he did. After only a moment he pulled away but didn’t let go of her, catching Harry’s eye and shaking his head. “She’s not a Horcrux,” he told Harry in Parseltongue, “but it’s still possible that the Horcrux could’ve temporarily hitched a ride in her and then secured himself somewhere safer.”
“I told you he was gone. Are we done here?” Ginny asked, looking up at him defiantly.
Voldemort chuckled. “No, Miss Weasley, that was the easy part. Now I’m going to take a look at your memories using Legilimency. I trust you’ve heard of it? Look at me—good girl,” he said, holding eye contact and diving into her mind. Harry watched uneasily, keeping his wand trained on Ginny even though it felt like a betrayal.
After a moment, Ginny jerked back in Voldemort’s grasp, and reached up to try to pry his hands off of her face. “Get out!” she cried, but Voldemort didn’t relent.
“Oh,” he said, “that’s very interesting.”
“Stop it,” she said. “Harry,” she called, louder, “make him stop!”
Harry stepped closer to the two of them and said, “Tom?” in a tone that was half question and half entreaty.
“Just another moment,” Voldemort murmured, keeping his eyes locked on Ginny’s.
Ginny huffed in frustration and her posture shifted slightly into something tense and defensive.
A moment later Voldemort laughed and said, “Nice try.” It sounded like he actually meant it, and without breaking eye contact he continued, “Intentionally showing a Legilimens memories that repulse them can be an effective way to kick them out,” he said, his Professor Riddle tone making a reappearance, “but you miscalculated when you assumed I’d be repulsed by that.”
“Pervert,” Ginny hissed at him.
“You’re the one who showed me Harry fucking you,” he said nonchalantly.
Harry gasped, “Ginny!”
“Sorry! I thought it would make him get out.”
Voldemort chuckled and asked, “Shall I translate what you told her in Parseltongue, Harry?”
Harry blushed and said, “I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Spoilsport,” Voldemort teased, still not breaking his visual or mental contact with Ginny.
Ginny started to lift one of her knees up, but before her foot even got an inch off the ground, Voldemort snapped, “Do it and I’ll send the pain directly to Harry through our connection. I won’t even feel it.” Ginny froze, then put her foot back on the floor.
“Do what?” Harry asked, slightly concerned. He nudged at the connection, and was answered with a wordless sense of smug reassurance that convinced him Tom had been bluffing.
“She intended to knee me in the bits,” Voldemort said, and Harry snorted out a laugh at the mental image of it.
“Will you please just get out of my head?” Ginny finally asked, her voice breaking slightly.
“If you would stop trying to fight me, this would be over much quicker.”
Ginny’s shoulders slumped and she seemed to finally give in. Voldemort leaned slightly closer to her, his gaze growing sharper and more intent.
After another few moments he finally released her mind, blinking and looking away. “Well,” he said, glancing at Harry, “that was certainly informative.”
“Let go of my face,” Ginny demanded in a small but frustrated voice.
“You’ll have to let go of me first,” Voldemort said, pointedly glancing at where her hands were clenched around his own. Ginny blinked, then pulled her hands away as if burned. Voldemort withdrew his hands, examining the tiny crescent-shaped indentations left by Ginny’s fingernails with a small frown.
Harry’s brain chose that moment to make things weird again by reminding him very loudly that he’d slept with both of these people who had just been touching each other and evidently leaving marks. Ginny chose that moment to turn around and throw her arms around Harry, hiding her face in the crook of his shoulder.
Harry hesitated, glanced at Voldemort, then returned the hug. “See? It’s all right,” he said quietly into Ginny’s ear. “He keeps his word.”
Ginny pulled out of the embrace, frowning and giving Harry a baffled but scrutinizing look. Apparently that had been the wrong way to try to reassure her. “What did he do to you?” she asked quietly.
“The better question,” Voldemort interrupted, “would be what did I do to you, Ginny.”
Ginny turned back around to face him. “I never said you could use my first name, Tom,” she said defiantly.
Harry held his breath, ready to jump in front of her if Voldemort tried to curse her, but to Harry’s surprise, Voldemort just laughed. “You’re very lucky, Ginny,” he said pointedly, “that I seem to have developed a soft spot for mouthy Gryffindors.” He smirked at Harry, then looked back at Ginny and continued, “As I was saying, my diary did quite a bit more than just possess you—as expected, there were several suppressed memories from when he took over. It was easy enough for me to break into them—I saw him setting the Basilisk loose, strangling roosters, theatrically faking his own demise while he retreated into your mind to fool Harry, that kind of thing,” he said, smirking.
“What?” Harry said, shocked. Did that mean—?
“He’s still in me?” Ginny demanded, paling.
“Not anymore,” Voldemort replied. “He survived, but at some point between you leaving the Chamber and leaving Hogwarts that year, he stashed himself away somewhere else and completely Obliviated your memory of it on his way out.”
“So he possessed someone else?” Ginny asked.
“No,” Voldemort said, surprisingly patiently, “that’s not how that kind of magic works. He would’ve needed another person to write in the diary to establish the connection with their soul before he could possess someone new.”
“Could he have possessed another diary and started over?” Harry asked.
“No, but he could’ve taken refuge in another object if it was something I was already particularly connected to,” he answered, giving Harry a pointed look.
“Oh,” Harry said. It would’ve had to have been one of the other Horcruxes. “And, er, would there have been something like that at Hogwarts for him to use?” he asked carefully.
“Indeed,” Voldemort said, looking very pleased with himself. “I believe I know exactly where to find my errant diary-self.” He glanced back at Ginny. “I discovered something else that you might find of interest,” he told her, trailing off expectantly.
“Are you going to tell me?” Ginny asked cautiously.
“I am. Lord Voldemort rewards those who help him, even if they’re less than enthusiastic about doing so.”
Harry muttered under his breath, “Please stop referring to yourself in the third person, it’s bloody weird.”
Voldemort glared at him for a moment before returning his attention to Ginny and asking, “Did you happen to have a noticeable increase in power after your encounter with my diary?”
Ginny blinked, then answered, “Actually, yes.”
Voldemort nodded. “You’re welcome. It seems my diary self accelerated the development of your magical core by several years—he had to, in order for an eleven-year-old to be of any use to him while he possessed you.”
Ginny bristled and said, “You’re trying to say I’m only powerful because of you?”
“Not at all. You would’ve always grown to be an exceptionally powerful witch—my diary just sped up the process for you. He increased your magical capacity as a first year to that of a fifth or sixth year—and seeing as it continued to develop at an accelerated rate, I daresay your magical core is already fully mature, which usually doesn’t happen until one’s mid to late twenties. Again, you’re welcome.”
Ginny remained stubbornly silent, apparently having no intention of saying even a perfunctory thank-you. Harry wasn’t surprised, but he was impressed with her bravery and her nerve to stand up to the man who’d been her nightmare for years.
“Well,” Voldemort said, after letting the silence hang ominously for a long moment. “It seems Miss Weasley is finished speaking with me, Harry. If you want to talk with her, go ahead,” he said, stepping forward and brushing past Ginny. He paused next to Harry and said in Parseltongue, “It might be wise to let me hold on to your wand for this conversation, in case she attempts to steal it again.”
Harry blinked, glanced at Ginny for a moment, then looked back at Voldemort and silently handed over his wand. Voldemort put one hand on Harry’s shoulder, letting it trail along his upper back as Voldemort stepped around and then away from him. He took a seat in one of the wingback chairs by the fireplace, giving Harry and Ginny a bit of distance if not privacy, casually twirling Harry’s wand between his long fingers as he looked on.
“What the hell was that?” Ginny demanded under her breath.
Harry shrugged, and said, “You did already try to steal it once.”
“So you hand it over to bloody Voldemort?”
Harry shot a frustrated look at her, and snapped, “I trust him with it—apparently I can’t say the same about you.”
Ginny’s eyebrows went up and she just stared at him in shock for a long moment. Finally she said, “I don’t think there’s much point in us talking, Harry. You’ve finally lost your mind for real this time—shacking up with Malfoy, saying you trust Voldemort—the Harry I know would never—”
“You don’t bloody know me!” Harry interrupted. Ginny took a step back at his outburst, and the flicker of fear in her expression sobered Harry enough to lower his volume. “That’s the thing, Ginny,” he continued, trying to reign in his anger, “you don’t know me. You know a bloody fairytale about the Boy Who Lived, and that’s who you’ve had a crush on since before I even knew I was famous.”
“That’s not fair. How could you say that?” Ginny demanded, her eyes flashing with hurt and betrayal.
And yeah, she had a point—they’d been friends since Harry’s fifth year, but still, “You said it yourself at Dumbledore’s funeral—you said the reason you liked me so much was because you knew I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t fighting Voldemort,” he said, redundantly gesturing towards the Dark Lord in question, who was avidly listening to their argument. “Well I’m not fighting him now, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not going to keep pretending to be some bloody legend I never wanted to be in the first place—not for you, or anyone else.”
“Harry,” she pleaded, “you can’t just quit. Dumbledore—”
Harry’s temper flared and he interrupted, “Dumbledore dropped me off on a fucking doorstep to live with muggle relatives who treated me like a house elf and told me every day what a worthless freak I was. I don’t owe Dumbledore anything!” Harry said viciously.
“What?” Ginny looked horrified. “Why didn’t you ever tell me it was that bad?”
Harry threw his arms up in frustration and said, “Because conversation didn’t seem to be what you wanted from me.”
Ginny stiffened and said defensively, “What’s that supposed to mean? We talked.”
“Barely. You just wanted to fool around all the time—” a hard slap to the face interrupted him.
“Don’t you dare try to shame me for—” Ginny started, her eyes blazing, but then she was interrupted by an invisible slap to her own face, which coincided with all of the pain in Harry’s cheek disappearing.
“Don’t you dare,” Voldemort said in his most chilling tone. “I warned you that there would be consequences for upsetting Harry.”
Harry turned his head to find that Voldemort had stood from his chair and still had Harry’s wand pointed at Ginny. His expression was furious.
“What was that?” Harry asked.
Voldemort met his eyes briefly and answered, “A Dark healing spell that removes pain and injury from one person and transfers it twofold to another person.”
Concerned, Harry looked back at Ginny, who was holding her hand to her cheek and looking stunned and betrayed and furious all at once. “Are you all right?” he asked her. He was actually rather relieved, because he just knew Voldemort’s first instinct would’ve been a Crucio, but evidently he’d restrained himself for Harry’s sake.
“Don’t bother pretending like you care,” Ginny said, blinking back tears. “We’re done.” She turned and stormed away towards the door to Hermione’s room.
“Ginny!” he called after her, but she ignored him. She fled into Hermione’s room and slammed the door behind her.
Harry sighed, ran both hands through his hair in frustration, and looked down at the floor. Voldemort crossed the room to stand in front of him, tracing the back of his hand gently down Harry’s previously-sore cheek. “Are you all right?” he asked quietly.
“It was just a slap,” Harry said, glancing up to meet his eyes. “Thank you for not Crucio’ing her.”
Voldemort nodded magnanimously, then said wryly, “After going through her mind and seeing exactly how feisty she is, I’m surprised she didn’t try to do worse to you.”
“She might’ve, if she’d had a wand. Her bat-bogey hex is legendary. But I could’ve handled it—you didn’t have to interfere,” Harry said mildly.
Voldemort glanced at him, seeming confused and slightly offended by the statement. “I defend what’s mine, Harry,” he said, in a tone that suggested he thought this should’ve been self-evident.
“Even when I’m being a hothead?”
Voldemort smirked and said, “Of course. Isn’t that your natural state?”
Harry shrugged, then asked, “What if I did something really stupid and whoever came after me had a legit reason?”
“Even then—so don’t abuse the privilege.”
“Wow. Ride or die, huh?”
“What?” Voldemort asked, his brow furrowing.
“Muggle expression. It means, like, we always have each other’s backs and we’re loyal no matter what, forever. Humor me and say it back?” Harry entreated, smiling.
Voldemort briefly rolled his eyes, then looked at Harry and very solemnly said, “Ride or die.”
Harry grinned, then leaned up to steal a kiss, throwing his arms around Tom’s neck as he pressed himself closer. One of Voldemort’s hands landed on Harry’s hip, and the other twined into his hair to tilt his head at a better angle to deepen the kiss.
“I believe,” Tom said in between kisses, “I owe you a demonstration.”
Harry pulled back only far enough to meet Voldemort’s eyes and ask incredulously, “Right now?” He glanced towards Hermione’s door and said, “But everyone’s—”
“Inside a room that’s soundproofed, just like ours,” Voldemort said, kissing him again and steering him backwards towards their own bedroom door. Harry smiled into the kiss when Tom said ‘ours’—only a few hours ago he’d been half-convinced that he would be kicked out, and some of that leftover desperation made its way into the kiss.
Harry reached up one hand to the back of Tom’s head, then abruptly pulled back from the kiss but left his hand where it was. “Oh, that’s weird,” he said, watching his fingertips trace along Voldemort’s scalp. At Tom’s questioning look, he elaborated, “I can feel your hair, but I can’t see it.”
Voldemort laughed and said, “Obviously. This is a glamour, not a transfiguration.”
“It’s weird,” Harry repeated, reaching up with his other hand and stretching out an index finger to touch Tom’s invisible nose.
“Stop that,” Voldemort said, gently knocking Harry’s finger aside after it made contact.
“I’m just getting even,” Harry said, grinning, “since you booped me on the nose when you were drunk.”
“I did no such thing,” Voldemort lied.
“Oh, my mistake,” Harry said sarcastically, “I must’ve imagined it then.”
“Must have,” Voldemort agreed in an airy tone, reaching down and hooking his fingers into the waistband of Harry’s jeans to tug him along while Tom slowly walked backwards towards their room.
Harry eagerly followed, and as soon as they were through the door a switch seemed to flip for both of them, turning the mood from merely heated to urgent. Tom waved a hand at the door to silently close and lock it, then he steered Harry towards the bed and pushed him backwards onto it. Grinning, Harry propped himself up on his elbows and eagerly leaned up to kiss Tom when he crawled on top of him.
Voldemort paused in the kiss, closing his eyes for a moment to concentrate—the snakelike glamour faded away, and Harry was once again looking at Tom Riddle’s gorgeous face. “There you are,” Harry teased, grinning at him.
Tom smirked back, then wordlessly and wandlessly banished all of their clothing to a pile on the floor. “There you are,” Tom echoed, quirking an eyebrow in amusement before trailing one hand down Harry’s chest, wandlessly infusing the touch with that same nerve-overloading pleasure spell he’d used before, the one he’d called a cousin of the Cruciatus.
Harry hissed in pleasure and then kissed him again. “You’ve really got to teach me that.”
“I’ll teach you everything,” Tom murmured before reclaiming Harry’s lips and wrapping a hand around his cock. “Later though—right now, I just—” he paused long enough to cast a lubrication and stretching spell on Harry, then continued, “need you.”
“Mmph, yes,” Harry moaned, thrusting up into the touch and then wrapping his legs around Tom’s waist to urge him closer. Tom let go of Harry’s cock, moving his hand down to carefully press two fingers inside him, making sure the stretching spell did its job. “It’s fine, come on,” Harry told him—he could feel that the spell had left him perfectly ready (he really, really loved magic), and neither he nor Tom were in the mood for foreplay.
Tom withdrew his fingers, murmured another hasty lubrication spell to coat his cock, then shifted forward and slowly but insistently pressed all the way inside Harry in one smooth glide. He muffled Harry’s moan with a kiss, then nipped at his earlobe and murmured, “Mine.”
“Yes,” Harry breathed as Tom started moving, pulling almost out before sliding back in and perfectly hitting Harry’s prostate. “Oh fuck—” Harry leaned up to steal another kiss, then murmured back, “Yours, Tom. All yours.”
“Do you have any idea,” Tom said on his next thrust, “how infuriating it was,” another thrust, this time with a light nip to Harry’s neck, “to see other people putting their hands all over you?”
“What?” Harry asked, somewhat breathlessly as Tom nailed his prostate again. His fingernails raked into Tom’s back a bit, eliciting a hiss-turned-moan from Tom before he answered.
“Ginny’s memories. Draco mussing up your hair. Hugging bloody Severus.”
Harry laughed, but another hard thrust from Tom turned it into a moan. “I don’t—mmph—don’t want any of them. Just you.”
“Just me,” Tom echoed, somehow making it sound like an order and a question at the same time.
“Just you,” Harry repeated, before adding rather possessively, “and you’re just mine.” Harry pulled him down into a kiss as Tom’s thrusts sped up and started to lose their rhythm.
“Only yours,” Tom affirmed breathlessly.
Harry raked his fingernails down Tom’s back again while clenching around his cock and that was it—two more erratic thrusts and Tom came deep inside Harry, biting his shoulder to muffle his shout.
Tom didn’t pull out right away, instead staying propped over Harry while he caught his breath, his forehead resting against Harry’s shoulder. Harry gave him a moment, then pointedly nudged his very insistent erection up against Tom’s stomach. “Not to be needy or anything, but..?” Harry said, trailing off. Tom was usually conscientious about making sure Harry came first and was never left unsatisfied.
Tom chuckled, raising his head to meet Harry’s eyes and then press a brief kiss to his lips. “I didn’t forget about you, Harry.”
“You sure?” Harry teased, pressing up against him again. “You barely touched me.”
“All part of the plan,” Tom said playfully, finally pulling out.
Tom smirked and then quickly rolled the two of them over so that he was on his back and Harry was above him now between his spread legs.
“Oh,” Harry said, surprised momentarily like he always was whenever Tom wanted to bottom. “Right. I like this plan. It’s an excellent plan. Genius, really.”
Tom silenced him with a brief kiss, then said, “Stop rambling and fuck me.”
“Gladly, My Lord,” Harry said in his best imitation of the silky, sexy tone that Tom liked to use with him.
He leaned down for another kiss, teasingly nudging his cock against Tom’s oversensitive one. Tom hissed and reached down between their bodies, using the wandless lubrication and stretching spell on himself before gripping Harry’s cock and guiding it into position.
“You sure you’re ready?” Harry asked, slightly concerned.
“The spell took care of it,” Tom replied impatiently.
He locked eyes with Tom as he pressed forward, gently at first, biting his lip at the exquisite squeeze of that welcoming heat around him. When he met almost no resistance, he pushed in the rest of the way in one firm thrust, forcing a choked-off moan out of Tom.
“All right?” Harry asked, pulling out halfway and catching Tom’s lips in another kiss.
“Yes,” Tom said, grabbing Harry’s hips and impatiently tugging him forward again. Harry gave in and thrust back in hard—he had been on the edge for far too long now to take it slow, and Tom had repeatedly told and showed Harry that he liked it a little rough. “Yes,” Tom repeated, though this time it was more of a moan. His grip on Harry’s hips tightened as he pushed him back slightly then sharply tugged him forward again, trying to set a faster pace.
Harry grinned, reaching one hand down to pry one of Tom’s away from his hip. “Let me drive, you bloody control freak,” he said fondly, lacing their fingers together and pressing Tom’s hand to the mattress beside his head.
“Then stop holding back—I know you’re close.” He clenched around Harry to emphasize his point.
“Fuck,” Harry breathed, squeezing Tom’s hand tighter as he drew back before slamming back in, hard and fast and relentless. Tom’s cock was hard again, and through their link Harry registered that Tom seemed both pleased and surprised that he’d managed it again this soon. Tom wrapped his legs around Harry and tilted his hips just enough that Harry hit his prostate with every thrust.
“Harry,” Tom murmured, squeezing his hand tighter, “look at me.”
Harry locked eyes with him, and Tom did something with Legilimency and their link and then suddenly Harry could feel everything. He was inside of Tom and he was Tom and he felt every sensation and every spark of pleasure from both of their bodies, an endless feedback loop of fuck-yes-harder-mine, and only moments later it was over, their orgasms wrenched from them simultaneously.
Harry collapsed forward, leaning his forehead against Tom’s and stealing breathless kisses while they both recovered. The physical feedback loop had ended but their mental link was still wide open, and something warm and possessive and fond sparkled into Harry’s mind like sunlight.
Unsurprisingly, Tom composed himself first. “No one else,” he said quietly, intently, “could ever make you feel all of that,” he said, reaching up with his free hand to brush a lock of hair out of Harry’s face. His other hand was still entwined with Harry’s, and Harry hadn’t pulled out of him yet.
Harry leaned back just far enough to meet Tom’s intense gaze. “I don’t want anyone else. Even if they could do that.” He nudged at their connection, and behind the warmth and possessiveness exuding from Tom, there was a very real very sharp spike of jealousy, and fear of both losing Harry and losing himself to his feelings for Harry. Tom noticed the intrusion immediately and started to mentally pull away, but Harry threw a wave of reassurance and love at him, smiling sadly when Tom’s response to the love was akin to a slightly overwhelmed mental question mark. “You’re mine, remember?” Harry said before Tom had a chance to over-think it.
“Well,” Tom said, giving Harry a half smile, “at least this—obsession—is mutual,” he said, lingering over the word he’d chosen to describe the love Harry had flung at him. Apparently Tom still didn’t recognize it for what it was.
Harry figured ‘obsession’ was close enough, and he grinned and said, “Ride or die.”
Tom chuckled, and said it back. “Ride or die.”
Harry saw a brief flash of light in the corner of his eye, and turned towards the window. “What was that?” he asked, thinking Tom had cast a spell.
“Hmm?” Tom said, still relaxed and sated from the sex.
Harry finally pulled out and rolled off of Tom, laying beside him on the bed. “Thought I saw spell light.”
Tom sat up, immediately on guard. “Where?”
“By the window, but I guess it was nothing—Tom?”
Tom stood, completely naked, and walked cautiously to the window with his wand in hand. He stood there for a moment before saying, “Nothing’s breached the wards, and I don’t see anyth—oh.” A flash of light from outside softly illuminated his face in first blue then purple before disappearing.
“What?” Harry demanded, climbing out of bed and standing at Tom’s side.
Another light lit the sky up in a burst of orange at the same time Tom answered, “It appears to be fireworks.”
“Oh,” Harry said, relieved. He laughed when a familiar Catherine Wheel whirled past their window before hitting a turret and exploding into several smaller fireworks, bright and spectacular even in broad daylight. “Er, that stuff you confiscated from Ron and Ginny? Some of that was fireworks. Fred and George invented these while they were at Hogwarts. They can be spelled to detonate on a timer.”
“Impressive,” Tom said as a dragon of green and gold sparks soared past. A cadre of flying pigs swooped by next, and Tom raised an eyebrow and added, “if a bit unusual.”
Harry smirked, and said, “If you want to see unusual, try a few spells to get rid of them.”
Tom looked at him, reaching up to trace a finger along the corner of Harry’s smile. “I don’t trust that smirk. I think I’d rather order Lucius to do it.”
Harry stepped closer and turned towards the window, leaning his back against Tom’s chest and reaching back to pull Tom’s arms around him in a loose hug. Tom chuckled and indulged him, holding him close and resting his chin on top of Harry’s head when Harry leaned back against him. They watched the fireworks in silence for a few minutes, and it was almost romantic until one of the sparklers spelling out POO floated by.
Harry snorted out a laugh, and Tom sarcastically commented, “Charming.”
After another moment of enjoying the fireworks, Harry asked, “Should I be thanking you for not trashing Fred and George’s shop, or was it just a coincidence that it’s the only shop in Diagon Alley that’s not a ghost town right now?”
“It’s no coincidence—they’re very talented, ambitious, and inventive wizards, and I’d intended to try to recruit them at some point.”
“Er, sorry, but I don’t think that would’ve worked out.”
Tom made a noncommittal noise and said, “I can be very persuasive.”
“I bet,” Harry said, his tone darkening.
Tom kissed Harry’s neck and added, “I wasn’t talking about torture—believe it or not, I don’t want unwilling followers. They would just be liabilities.”
“Draco?” Harry said pointedly.
“Was an exception,” Tom said firmly, “in many ways. I’ve never made a habit of Marking students who are still at Hogwarts. Besides, he wasn't entirely unwilling.” Tom went silent for a moment, and another few fireworks exploded before he said in a reminiscent tone, “I traded in favors, initially, when I was first starting out and still using the name Tom Riddle… I spread the word in certain circles that if anyone needed assistance with anything Dark or less-than-legal, they could request my services in return for an equivalent favor.”
“And the favor was joining you?” Harry asked.
“No,” Tom said, slightly impatiently, “the favor would be an introduction, or a rare book, or a custom potion, or an alibi, or a donation of Galleons, or simply being somewhere I told them to be at a very specific moment. They didn’t know exactly who they were working with—I kept it up for a while even after I got established, presenting myself as a recruiter for the Dark Lord, rather than the Dark Lord himself.” He paused, then added, “A few of the really clever ones figured it out, though… Severus did.”
Harry’s eyebrows went up. “What favor did you do for him?”
“You’ll have to ask him that,” Tom said wryly. “Myself and,” he paused, “the other person involved—” he said finally, frowning a bit as if it wasn’t what he’d meant to say, “both took an Oath never to speak of the details with anyone except Severus.”
Harry considered it for a moment, then said, “I don’t think I will. If he wanted me to know, he’d tell me.” Harry still got chills whenever he remembered Sev’s furious reaction to Harry’s invasion of his privacy via Pensieve in fifth year.
Tom shrugged, but said, “He seems to be somewhat willing to open up to you, judging by this morning’s revelations. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.”
“I’m not in the habit of taking advantage of people I care about,” Harry said, frowning.
“Yes, I know,” Tom said, lightly nipping at Harry’s ear. “I never said to use the information against him. It’s just something you would be interested to know, but which I, unfortunately, can’t tell you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Harry said, still reluctant to dig into Severus’ business unless Sev brought it up first.
Another blue and purple firework went off, and Tom abandoned Harry’s ear to press kisses against his neck instead. Harry tilted his head to give him better access for a moment, before turning his head to catch Tom’s lips with his own. It was an awkward angle, but Tom indulged him before pulling back.
“This has forced our hand, you know,” Tom said, glancing back towards the window while Harry caught his breath.
“What, the fireworks?”
“No,” Tom said, drawing it out a bit in an unamused tone. “I was referring to you replying to that letter and bringing Order members right to our doorstep.”
“I already said sorry,” Harry mumbled, but Tom ignored it.
“We’ll have to announce the truce today, as soon as possible—it’s important to control the narrative with these sorts of things. It won’t be to our benefit if Lupin or your Weasleys leak the information to the public before we announce it.”
“I thought, well,” Harry said awkwardly, remembering Tom’s temper, “you told all of the Death Eaters and then some of them, er, ran away—”
Tom shook his head, catching on to where Harry was going with this. “They can’t tell anyone about the truce or the change of plans—I began that meeting by invoking a secrecy Oath through their Dark Marks.”
“How does that work, anyway?” Harry asked. “You can just force them into an Oath?”
“Their consent is required,” Tom said, “but if I have to, I can make the Mark burn until they give it. Most of them are smart enough to realize that my request for an Oath should be considered an order.”
“That’s kind of fucked up,” Harry said.
Tom hummed in agreement, then said, “Effective though.”
Harry went quiet for a moment, then asked, “So how are we going to do the announcement?”
Tom finally pulled his arms away from their embrace of Harry and then stepped away, wandlessly summoning his clothes and starting to dress. “I’ll floo our Imperioused Minister, and have him set up an emergency press conference at the Ministry. Simple as that.” He summoned Harry’s clothes and tossed them to him, returning his wand as well.
“Right, we’ll just go end a war and make history, simple as that,” Harry said, somewhat flippantly. “What day is it anyway? I’ve lost track ever since, you know.” He started pulling on his clothes as well.
Tom quirked an eyebrow at him, then answered, “It’s August the fourth.”
“A date which will live in infamy,” Harry intoned dramatically.
Tom smirked and said, “I heard that speech live on the radio, you know.”
Harry raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment, asking instead, “So what day was it when we, you know, got together?”
Tom glanced off to the side, thinking it over as he buttoned up his shirt. “I believe Grindelwald captured us late on August first, so to my best estimation, it would’ve been August second.”
“All right, we’ll go with that,” Harry said, buttoning his jeans and walking shirtless over to Tom. “August the second. Just so you know, I’ll be expecting the best anniversary gift in history,” he said, leaning up to kiss Tom. “No pressure.”
Tom smiled, kissed him again, and said, “Challenge accepted.”
Harry took it as a good sign that Tom didn’t show the slightest bit of doubt or surprise at Harry’s presumption that they would still be together in a year. It gave him the courage to ask once again, “So, er—are you going to tell me what all of that was about this morning?”
Tom’s smile faded into a more serious expression, and he studied Harry’s eyes for a moment before looking away. He sat down on the edge of the bed and patted the spot next to him. Instead of sitting next to him, Harry straddled him and sat in his lap, facing him. Tom’s expression flickered briefly, a split-second’s twitch towards a frown, but Harry felt it like a slap.
“Er, sorry,” Harry said, embarrassed, starting to move off of him, but then Tom backtracked and put both hands on Harry’s hips to keep him in his lap.
“I’m not accustomed to this,” Tom said, looking in the vicinity of Harry’s shoulder rather than his eyes, as if he needed that tiny bit of distance, “this—constant intimacy, or the intensity of this—obsession,” he’d paused again, hesitating over the word like he knew it wasn’t quite the right one but it was the closest he could get. Harry still wasn’t brave enough to enlighten him. “Most of the time it feels,” he paused, letting out an ironic laugh, “unnaturally natural, being this way with you. But sometimes the logical part of my mind steps back for perspective on the situation and it—raises concerns.”
Harry thought that was a rather roundabout way of saying ‘It scares me how much I care about you,’ but Tom was trying, so he decided he’d allow it.
“I’m not used to it either,” Harry said softly, “but I suppose it’s different for me. My whole life, I’ve always wanted someone to—” he bit back the word ‘love’ just in time, “to care about me. Protect me. Want me. And now that I have it, I can’t handle the thought of ever losing this.” He reached up to brush a lock of Tom’s hair out of his face, and Tom’s eyes flicked up to meet Harry’s as he continued, “So if you need some space or whatever, just tell me and I’ll try to back off a little, but please don’t ever shut me out like that again.”
Tom maintained eye contact and nodded, before leaning up to meet Harry’s lips in a kiss that felt like a promise.
When he pulled away, he said, “I had a rather unsettling dream last night. I think it might’ve been a memory that I’d managed to salvage during the Obliviation.”
Harry blinked, concerned, and asked, “What was it?”
“I was tied to a chair in a room with stone walls and floor. I felt—powerless—so I think my magic was already bound as well. There was silver spell light, and someone was speaking out of sight, but I couldn’t make out the words. Rather useless, really.”
Harry leaned forward to wrap his arms around Tom, resting his head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. Was I there?”
“I’m not sure,” Tom said, his hands sliding from Harry’s hips to his back, returning the embrace. “It was a very brief glimpse of whatever happened.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Harry said into Tom’s shoulder, trying to be reassuring.
Tom hummed in agreement, then added, “Or I’ll just hunt down Grindelwald and torture it out of him.”
That surprised a laugh out of Harry, and even though he felt like he was expected to object, he said, “Yeah, I suppose that’s always an option.”
Tom pulled away just far enough to kiss Harry again, before suddenly standing up with Harry still in his lap.
“Whoa,” Harry said, instinctively wrapping his legs around Tom’s waist and tightening his arms around him. Tom turned around, leaning down to deposit Harry on the bed. “Okay, that was hot,” Harry said. Also unfair since he probably couldn’t pick Tom up, but he decided not to voice that thought.
Tom chuckled and waved a hand, silently sending Harry’s green tee shirt flying towards him from its place on the floor. “Put your shirt on,” Tom said, turning towards the bureau mirror to make sure he was presentable. “We have a press conference to plan.” He stepped closer to the dresser where Harry’s bag was still laying, and asked, “Actually, do you have anything more formal to wear?” as he started rifling through the bag.
Harry had just pulled the tee shirt on, and he felt a slight stab of annoyance at Tom going through his things uninvited, but he shoved it down and answered, “There’s an outfit from Bill’s wedding in there somewhere.”
“Hmm,” Tom said, “this Undetectable Extension Charm is impressive.”
“That’s all Hermione. She did a rush job on mine and Ron’s bags, but I think her beaded bag is the biggest—she’s toting around an entire library in there, along with all of the supplies we thought we’d be needing on the run.”
Tom pulled something out of the bag with a curious expression. “Is this an Invisibility Cloak?”
Harry stood without any conscious thought and strode over to Tom, grabbing it out of his hands and holding it possessively to his chest. “Yes, and it was my dad’s so I’d rather you didn’t touch it.”
Tom stared at him for a moment—just long enough for Harry to realize that he probably looked like a child clutching his favorite toy because he didn’t want to share—then Tom blinked and simply said, “Understood.”
There was a sudden buzzing noise, and the Snitch that Dumbledore had given Harry flew up out of his open bag to hover between him and Tom.
“Was that your father’s as well?” Tom asked, pointedly not making any move to catch it.
“No,” Harry said, feeling foolish about his outburst, but not quite enough to apologize. “This is the Snitch that Dumbledore left me in his will. It’s the one I caught in my very first game.”
“Snitches have flesh memories,” Tom said. “Was anything hidden inside of it?”
Harry shrugged, “It wouldn’t open. See?” He reached out to catch the Snitch, holding it in his hand for a moment while absolutely nothing happened. Harry shrugged and said, “Maybe there’s nothing in it, and he was just being sentimental.”
Tom gave him a pointed look and said, “You didn’t catch it with your hand, remember? You almost choked on it—I was watching through Quirrell’s eyes.”
“Oh,” Harry said, glancing at the Snitch, then at Tom, then back at the Snitch. “Er, all right,” he said, lifting the Snitch and carefully placing it inside his mouth. He let it sit on his tongue for a moment before spitting it back into his hand and disappointedly saying, “Nothing hap—oh.” When he looked at the Snitch he realized that a tiny line of writing had appeared, and Harry read it out loud for Tom’s benefit. “I open at the close… What does that mean?”
Tom stared intently at the golden ball. “If Dumbledore intended for you to sacrifice yourself eventually, I imagine it means ‘the close’ of your life.” He eyed the Snitch speculatively then glanced up at Harry, drew his wand, and suggested, “Perhaps we can trick it into opening?”
Harry closed his hand around it and said, “Maybe we shouldn’t—I mean, if he meant for us both to die, maybe what’s in here is the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb. I don’t really want to take the chance.”
Tom raised an eyebrow and said, “That would hardly be Dumbledore’s style. Besides, I would have to personally be the one to kill you in order to destroy the Horcrux. He wouldn’t want to blow you up before I had the chance.”
Harry looked dubiously from Tom to the Snitch clutched in his own hand. “If you’re sure,” he said, trailing off questioningly.
“I’m sure enough to give it a try.”
“All right,” Harry finally agreed. He realized he was still clutching the Invisibility Cloak in his other hand, and he stashed it back in his bag, then asked, “So, er, how do we do this?”
“There might be a verbal key of some sort, or it might be enchanted to respond to your mental state—either way, it has to think that you think you’re about to die.” Tom raised his wand in a threatening manner, then nodded towards the Snitch.
“Okay,” Harry said, glancing at Tom again before holding the Snitch up close to his face. “Erm—oh no, Voldemort’s going to kill me,” he said. He tried to sound scared but it came out sounding flat and half-sarcastic.
“That was pathetic. Try it again,” Tom said, waving his wand at Harry’s feet and sticking them to the floor. Harry frowned at him, but Tom just said, “Stay very, very still, and try it again.” After a pointed look, Tom raised his wand and said, “Avada—” while a green light started to gather at the tip of Tom’s wand.
Harry’s eyes went wide, but he lifted the Snitch again and quickly told it, “I’m going to die.”
“—Kedavra!” Tom finished, redirecting his wand at the last second so the spell flew several feet wide of Harry and hit a pillow instead. The pillow exploded. The Snitch remained sealed.
“Well,” Harry said dryly, as pillow feathers rained down on him. “That was fun. Unstick me now, will you?”
Tom waved his wand to cancel the sticking spell, and said, “Apparently you have to genuinely believe it, not just say it. And you,” he paused, seeming both pleased and slightly puzzled, “trust me too much for us to trick the enchantment.”
Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair and asked cautiously, “You don’t think you could make me believe it for two seconds to get that thing open?”
“I’m sure I could,” Tom said, his tone slipping into something darkly promising and cold, a tone Harry knew usually preceded a round of the Cruciatus or worse. “But,” he continued after a poignant pause, his tone warming again, “whatever’s in there wouldn’t be worth it.”
Harry smiled slightly and brushed a few feathers off of his shoulder. “You say the sweetest things,” he teased.
Tom smiled back, flicking his wand to Vanish the mess of feathers and the ruined fabric of the pillow. “Hang onto that Snitch,” he instructed. “It’s likely that Dumbledore left you some sort of weapon inside there—it might come in handy if you end up in genuine danger, and with the way you attract trouble—”
“Excuse you?” Harry interrupted, “Ninety percent of my ‘trouble’ ends up being your fault.”
“All the same,” Tom said, “keep it close.”
“All right, fine,” he said, shoving the Snitch into his pocket. He hesitated a moment then carefully asked, “Couldn’t you just break through whatever spell Dumbledore put on the Snitch?”
Tom raised an eyebrow and said, “I doubt it would be that simple. If it contains a weapon or anything of value then it’s likely that he specifically enchanted it against me, but I’ll run some tests on it later. Right now,” he said, lifting his wand and reapplying his glamours, “we have a press conference to arrange.”