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The Mirror of Eidrokcuf

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Harry woke up to a wand in his face as unfamiliar hands roughly pulled him to his feet.


“What—?” his groggy mind struggled to catch up to what was happening. Someone was dragging him down a hallway, but he didn’t know who or why. And where the hell was he?


He struggled against the unknown person.


“Cooperate, Potter, or I will stun you again.” Harry didn’t recognize the voice, but it sounded distorted, as if it had been magically disguised.


“Who are you? Where are you taking me?” Harry demanded, trying to pull away. He reached for his wand, only to realize he didn’t have it.


“Incarcerous,” the person snapped, and Harry found himself bound by thick ropes, then unceremoniously levitated down the hallway towards a lone black door at the end.


“What do you want with me?” Harry asked, craning his neck to look at the person behind him. The figure seemed male, but whoever it was had pulled the hood of his black robes up to hide his face. There was also an unnatural darkness magically concealing the person’s face.


Harry’s scar was aching like mad—meaning Voldemort was either close by or exceptionally angry, and Harry started to ask his captor if he was a Death Eater; but just then Harry realized there was something metal around his own neck—he could feel it whenever he moved his head. “What is that? What’s on me?” Harry demanded.


“Your roommate will explain everything, Potter,” the figure said. Even with the magical distortion, Harry could hear the sneer in the man’s voice.


“What? Did you hurt my friends? Are they here too?” The last thing Harry remembered was deciding with Ron and Hermione to hide out at Grimmauld Place for the time being.


“Your little friends are fine,” his captor said, sounding bored. They reached the door, which opened on its own, and the hooded figure shoved Harry inside. “You have twenty-four hours, starting now,” the hooded figure announced, then he vanished Harry’s bindings and dropped him to his feet. Harry spun around to confront him, but the door slammed in Harry’s face.


“Hey!” Harry yelled, pounding on the door as his scar gave a particularly nasty throb. “Let me out of here!”


The confusion in Harry’s mind was quickly giving way to anger—he had no idea where he was, or how he had ended up here, and the only person he’d encountered had just locked him in a room with no answers. His scar being on fire didn’t help things, either.


“Don’t bother, Potter,” came a voice from somewhere behind him. A very familiar voice.


Harry froze. Oh please no, he thought desperately as he turned around.


Harry’s green eyes met and locked with the red pair gazing at him from across the small room.


“You,” Harry breathed in shock and anger.


“Me,” Lord Voldemort answered coolly.


A thrill of fear joined Harry’s maelstrom of emotions—he was locked in a room with Voldemort and he was surely about to die. Harry clamped down on the fear, shoving it away—he would not cower, he would fight and die with as much dignity as possible.


“So this is your doing?” Harry accused, glancing around at the small, unremarkable room. It was entirely empty except for a mirror that didn’t seem to reflect anything at all. The door Harry had just come through had no doorknob on this side.


“I see you remain as dense as ever, Potter.”


Harry’s wand was missing and there was nothing around to use as a weapon—except, perhaps he could break that mirror and use a shard of glass to defend himself. Not that it would do any good against Voldemort’s wand, whenever he decided to draw it. But it would be better than doing nothing and waiting for death.


“Yeah?” Harry retorted, edging slowly towards the mirror, keeping his eyes on his enemy. “How so?” If Harry could keep him talking, keep him distracted, maybe his daft plan would actually work.


Voldemort studied Harry for a second, then glanced at the mirror and back at Harry with a hint of amusement in his red eyes. “That mirror is protected by unbreakable and permanent-sticking charms,” he said, as if commenting on the weather.


Harry blinked, but didn’t bother to play dumb about his intentions. “Why should I believe you?”


“Don’t believe me.” Voldemort suggested. “Break your hand.”


Harry stared. Why would Voldemort warn him instead of just letting Harry hurt himself trying? Maybe it was reverse psychology? Maybe there was nothing odd about the mirror at all. Or maybe Voldemort was counting on Harry not believing him—maybe he wanted Harry to touch the mirror because it had something much worse than an unbreakable charm on it.


It was clearly no ordinary mirror—Harry was standing a few feet away from it, yet it didn’t show his reflection, or any reflection at all. The glass that should have been reflective was instead a shiny yet translucent substance that resembled frosted glass and reflected nothing.


Harry finally decided that the last thing he should do in this situation was trust Voldemort, so he gave up on subtlety and walked right up to the mirror—keeping a wary eye on the Dark Lord—and rammed his elbow into the glass as hard as he could.


Really bad idea.


“Damn it,” he shouted, cradling his throbbing elbow and letting out a pained hiss when, at the same instant, a quick but intense shock of pain came from the metal object around Harry’s neck. The mirror remained unharmed.


A short exhalation that might’ve been a laugh came from Voldemort’s side of the room, and Harry glared at him.


“Finally given up on trying to kill me, have you?” Harry taunted, having no other outlet for his anger. “Realized that inanimate objects have a better chance of succeeding than you do?”


Voldemort’s expression darkened and quite suddenly he crossed the space between them and shoved Harry against the wall. Harry’s eyes widened, but he was long past the point of letting Voldemort intimidate him; Harry grabbed the front of Voldemort’s robes and tried to push him away.


Voldemort kept him pinned and hissed, “If you think I am responsible for this, you’re a bigger imbecile than I thought.”


“What?” Harry was unnerved by the physical proximity, but didn’t look away; why hadn’t Voldemort just Crucio’d him? In fact, Harry hadn’t seen Voldemort draw his wand once, despite Harry’s provocations.


“Use your eyes, Potter.”


Harry’s brows furrowed and he finally pulled his eyes away from Voldemort’s deadly gaze. Harry’s grip on the front of the Dark Lord’s robes had tugged them down enough to expose his neck…which was adorned with a thin silver collar, for lack of a better word.


Harry stared at it, then detached one of his hands from Voldemort’s robes to feel his own neck. Harry’s eyes widened as he realized that the object on his neck had to be a similar device.


“What are these?” Harry asked.


“Haven’t you realized?”


“Obviously not, if I’m asking you,” Harry snapped.


Voldemort snarled and slammed Harry’s back against the wall before releasing him and stalking away. “Of course you—pathetically repressed wizard that you are—wouldn’t even notice your magic locked away from you.” He paced furiously across the room. “You wouldn’t notice that all of your power was suddenly inaccessible, making you little better than a common Squib,” Voldemort sneered.


Harry stared. He didn’t feel any different, and he almost opened his mouth to ask Voldemort how he could tell, but then he remembered that Voldemort was a master of wandless magic. Even if Voldemort was—inexplicably—without his wand at the moment, he still could have tortured Harry quite effectively without it…usually.


Harry’s eyes widened as the implication finally dawned on him.


“You’re a prisoner here too, aren’t you?” Harry asked.


Voldemort’s attention snapped back to Harry, and Harry barely resisted crying out as his scar seemed to split open. “Very good, Potter,” he taunted, taking his fury at the situation out on Harry. “You took ten minutes to make the most obvious of deductions. I must have damaged your brain when I gave you that scar.”


Harry didn’t rise to it—he was too busy wondering who the hell was powerful (and suicidal ) enough to capture Lord Voldemort and fit him with a magic-repressing collar, and why that person would’ve locked the two of them up together, magic-less. Maybe their captor was hoping Harry and Voldemort would just get it over with and kill each other with their bare hands.


“Yeah, well, speaking of my scar—can you try to calm down? You’re splitting my head open here.”


Voldemort gave him an inscrutable look. “Has anyone told you why we’ve been brought here, Potter?”


“No, the one that threw me in here said my roommate would explain. I guess that’s you.” Harry’s scar seared, and he said, “Ow! Seriously, calm down!”


“Calm down?” Voldemort hissed, and slipped into Parseltongue in his rage. “ ‘Calm down’ you say, when I have been humiliated and disrespected by some coward who hides his face and DARES to restrain MY magic?


Setting my scar on fire isn’t going to solve anything!” Harry hissed back, clutching his head.


Voldemort’s eyes riveted to him, and his rage seemed slightly dimmed. “It’s true, then—you really do speak it,” he said contemplatively.


Harry wondered whether he should’ve kept that tidbit to himself, but before he could respond, an ominous, distorted voice boomed out from the strange, blank mirror.


“YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH!” it commanded at a Howler-level volume. The voice was stilted, artificial sounding, and creepy as hell.


Harry jumped in surprise, but the mirror shouting out commands didn’t seem to be news to Voldemort.


Voldemort snarled at the mirror, obstinately refusing to switch languages. “I will speak however I wish, you—” he proceeded to string together several colorful insults that had Harry raising his eyebrows, “And when I am free of this collar, I will make you regret every second of your pathetic existence.”


The metal collar around Voldemort’s neck emitted a sudden buzzing noise and a flash of light, and the Dark Lord hissed in pain. Harry’s scar burned as well.


“YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH! ACKNOWLEDGE!” the mirror boomed.


Voldemort hissed under his breath and looked ready to attack the mirror, unbreakable charm or not, so Harry quickly shouted, “Okay—acknowledged! We’ll speak English.”


Voldemort threw a displeased look at Harry, but Harry merely raised his eyebrows at Voldemort and glanced pointedly at the mirror.


“Acknowledged,” Voldemort spat bitterly.


“YOU WILL EXPLAIN THE CONDITIONS TO HARRY POTTER.”


Harry’s scar gave the worst throb yet as Voldemort glared at the mirror in silence.


“YOU WILL EXPLAIN THE CONDITIONS! ACKNOWLEDGE!”


“You will lie at my feet, broken and bleeding,” Voldemort snarled in fury, “and you will beg for the mercy of death when I regain my magic and tear apart every cell of your being! Acknowledge!” he roared at it.


For a split second, Harry appreciated the fact that Voldemort’s rage was rather impressive when it was directed at someone else for a change. Then the collar shocked Voldemort again, much longer and harder than the first time, sending him to his knees; Harry’s collar did nothing, but Voldemort’s pain made Harry felt like his head was being turned inside out, and he also sank to the floor in agony. Both wizards were out of breath when the collar finally relented.


“YOU WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THE COMMAND.”


Voldemort’s fury flared up and he opened his mouth to argue, but Harry shouted, “Stop it! This isn’t helping anything—just do what it says!”


Voldemort caught his eyes and stared at him. Harry understood very well the satisfaction of resisting on principle, but in this situation it didn’t seem to get them anywhere. And his head was killing him—between the pain from the shock collar and Voldemort’s fury frying Harry’s scar, it was almost unbearable.


Voldemort stared at him for so long that Harry worried the collar would shock him for the silence, then the Dark Lord finally muttered, “Acknowledged,” and the mirror went silent.


Voldemort moved from his rather undignified kneeling position, getting back to his feet. He tilted his head and watched Harry, who chose to remain on the floor, resting his back against the wall.


After a long moment of silence, Voldemort spoke again, much calmer now. “I wonder, Potter, whether you will prefer the mirror’s punishment to what is expected of us.”


Harry swallowed, and tried not to look too nervous. “What is expected of us?”


“Something utterly pointless that is, without a doubt, meant to humiliate and degrade us both.”


That certainly didn’t sound good.


“Specifically…” Harry prompted.


Voldemort watched Harry for another silent moment before continuing.


“I have been told that these magic-inhibiting collars will be removed and you and I will be released unharmed, on one condition.” He paused and looked away from Harry. “I have been instructed to—with or without your consent—” Voldemort paused again, and Harry’s scar gave a severely unpleasant twinge, “—have sex with you within the next twenty-four hours. Or else we both die.”


Harry’s jaw dropped and his brain stuttered to a halt.


What?” he shouted.


This had to be a joke, and a bad one at that. Him and Voldemort, have sex? What kind of deranged lunatic would demand such a thing? And…wait…


“With or without my consent?” Harry repeated, horrified, as the meaning sunk in. “They ordered you to—to rape me?”


“If you resist, yes.” Voldemort answered, still not looking at him. “But that would make things more difficult, because the instructions also specified that we must both…” he paused, and Harry’s scar throbbed, “…achieve orgasm, for it to count.”


Harry laughed humorlessly. “Well that’s great. Might as well just kill us now, right?”


Voldemort met Harry’s eyes and leveled him with a glare. “I have no intention of dying here.”


Harry gulped as Voldemort took a predatory step towards him.


“But—you won’t die,” Harry blurted, panic kicking in and causing him to reveal information he normally wouldn’t. “You have your—your Horcruxes,” Harry said, switching to Parseltongue at the last minute—Voldemort would surely be furious if Harry revealed that secret to their captors.


Voldemort, far from being reassured, grew even angrier at the mention of them. After a momentary flare of surprise that Harry knew about them, his eyes hardened and he hissed back, “They have two of them! Maybe more. I cannot rely on my Horcruxes when their safety has been so severely compromised!


Both collars flared to life and briefly shocked the wizards.


“YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH!” the mirror thundered.


Harry glared at the mirror, and made a quick decision—he knew it would cost him his advantage in the war, but at the moment he had more pressing concerns. Like not getting raped.


Harry braced himself for a shock, and launched back into his Parseltongue plea, “I destroyed the diary years ago. Dumbledore destroyed the ring. We thought we had the locket but it was a fake. The others are Nagini, Hufflepuff’s cup, and something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s, right? At least one of those has to be safe, somewhere out there! You don’t have to go along with this—you won’t actually die.


As expected, the collar gave Harry a severe shock that sent him to his hands and knees, and the mirror bellowed, “YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH! ACKNOWLEDGE!”


“Fine!” Harry shouted at it, lifting his head to find Voldemort giving him a strange look. Part of that look was fury at the confirmation that that two pieces of his soul were destroyed and a third was missing; there was also a significant amount of shock that Harry not only knew but had willingly divulged this information.


Harry’s scar seared, and he wondered whether Voldemort would attack him in a rage.


But after a very long moment, Voldemort simply hissed back, “I cannot know for certain whether the locket still exists, or whether Ravenclaw’s object remains safe. Our captors have Nagini and the cup, and I will not sacrifice them merely for the sake of our dignity.”


Voldemort’s collar came to life and briefly shocked him, but he barely flinched this time. Perhaps he was building up a resistance. Perhaps Harry could as well.


“YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH!”


“Do you understand, Potter?” Voldemort asked in an oddly civil tone.


Harry sighed, breaking eye contact. “Yes.”


There went Harry’s only chance at convincing Voldemort to join him in defying their captors.


After a very tense silence, Voldemort said, “I would much rather not have to force you. The thought of it repulses me. But I refuse to die here, Potter.”


Harry glanced at him, surprised. “Er—thanks, I guess.” As far as rape threats went, that one was almost considerate.


He wasn’t sure what would be better in the end. He could cooperate, and hopefully keep this from being any more traumatic than it had to be. Or, he could fight and preserve a shred of dignity by knowing that he did not willingly submit to having sex with his parents’ murderer. But…wasn’t there actually more dignity in walking into the inevitable with his head held high, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming? And of course, Harry wasn’t the only one being forced into this—cooperating would make it easier on both of them.


Harry studied Voldemort out of the corner of his eye; the Dark Lord was clearly infuriated about this situation, and yet, he seemed to have resigned himself to it—he was even being civil to Harry about it. Merlin help him for even thinking it, but maybe just this once Harry should follow Voldemort’s example…at least until he slipped back into Psychotic Dark Lord Mode.


Harry glanced around the bare room and said, “So do we get a bed, or do they expect us to do it on the floor?”


At Harry’s comment, the mirror spoke up. “DO YOU ACCEPT THE CONDITIONS?”


Harry glared at it. “Do we have any other choice?”


“YOU CAN CHOOSE TO DIE.”


Harry briefly glanced at Voldemort, but as the Dark Lord had already made his opinion on the matter perfectly clear, Harry answered for both of them.


“We accept the conditions,” Harry told the mirror.


“DO YOU REQUIRE A BED?”


Harry almost laughed. “Er—yes?”


A bed materialized on the other side of the room, facing the mirror.


Harry blinked and thought fast. “Er—you want us both to get off, right? Well I’m into some pretty kinky stuff, so I’ll also be needing my wand, and, er, a big snake and a golden cup, if you happen to have any of those laying around.”


The mirror didn’t respond, nor did anything else materialize in the room.


Harry shrugged after a moment. “Worth a try.”


“Idiot,” Voldemort muttered.


Harry rounded on him. “I didn’t hear you suggesting anything!”


“What exactly did you plan to do if it returned your wand? Your magic is bound by that collar, and having a wand won’t change that! The only way out of here is to do as they say.”


“How do you know they’ll keep their word?”


“The one who brought me here swore an Unbreakable Vow to me. My magic being bound didn’t matter, the Vow only used his. He swore to remove these collars and release us both if I fulfilled his request of…bedding you.”


“Why would he go to all this trouble for that?” Harry asked.


“He refused to say. Believe me, I asked.”


Harry puzzled over this for a moment. “And he swore an Unbreakable Vow that only bound him?”


“He is only bound to release us if I comply with his conditions to the letter,” Voldemort explained, impatience creeping into his tone. “If I do, he cannot go back on his word.”


Harry nodded, crossing his arms and looking at the floor.


“You’re welcome, by the way,” Harry said after a moment.


Voldemort narrowed his eyes at him. “What, precisely, am I supposed to have thanked you for?”


“Trying to get your belongings back,” Harry said pointedly.


Voldemort scoffed. “It was a stupid attempt.”


“The point is, I tried,” Harry snapped. “But don’t worry, I won’t bother in the future.”


“You only wanted them so you could destroy them, didn’t you? Tell the truth!” he snapped, just as Tom Riddle had in Dumbledore’s memory.


Voldemort's attempt at wandless magic resulted in a quick shock from the metal collar, and he hissed in frustration.


Harry just looked at him. “That wouldn’t have worked on me anyway.”


Voldemort’s eyes seemed to zero in on Harry, and there was a vaguely hungry look in them as he said, “Yes…I had almost forgotten about your resistance to the Imperius Curse…It’s very impressive.”


Harry was about to mumble an awkward thanks when Voldemort continued.


“…especially for someone who can’t master even the most basic principles of mind magic.” And, there’s the insult.


Harry glared. “You can thank Snape for that. And I doubt Occlumency would do much good anyway; you don’t have to use Legilimency, you’re just always in my head.”


“Am I?” Voldemort asked in a silky voice, the barest of smirks twitching at his lips.


Harry’s brow furrowed for a second, then his eyebrows shot up. “No way—don’t do that—don’t flirt with me. This situation is weird enough already.”


“You’re the one who said I’m always in your head,” Voldemort argued, still smirking a little.


“Because you are—it’s a fact,” Harry said, pointing at his scar and trying to stop his cheeks from reddening. “I don’t want you there—and I certainly don’t enjoy watching you torture people, or being in your snake’s head when she attacks somebody!”


All traces of humor fled Voldemort’s face and his eyes snapped back to Harry. “You what?”


Harry looked back at him suspiciously. “You know all of that already.” Their mental link had allowed Voldemort to send Harry false images that resulted in Sirius’ death, after all. Why on earth did he seem surprised?


“You have seen through Nagini’s eyes?”


“Yes,” Harry answered cautiously. “What’s the big deal? I see through your eyes all the time, and you were possessing Nagini when she attacked Arthur Weasley, and—”


I wasn’t possessing her.” Voldemort hissed in Parseltongue. He stared at Harry for a very long moment, deep in some very disturbing thoughts if his expression was anything to go by.


“Come here, Harry,” Voldemort said, stretching out an arm.


Harry blinked; Voldemort’s abrupt switch to using Harry’s first name threw him off a little. “Are we—er, getting started already?” he asked nervously.


Voldemort didn’t elaborate, he just beckoned and repeated, “Come here.”


Harry narrowed his eyes a little in suspicion, but complied.


As soon as he was within reach, Voldemort seized Harry by the arm and dragged him uncomfortably close. Harry tried to take a step back, but Voldemort’s other hand held the back of Harry’s neck.


“What are you—?”


“Be quiet, and don’t struggle,” was all the warning Harry got before Voldemort leaned in and pressed his forehead to Harry’s.


Harry gasped as his scar seared painfully, and suddenly he wasn’t in that tiny room anymore—he was standing in a replication of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but it was empty except for himself and Voldemort and there was something off and slightly hazy about their surroundings. And they weren’t standing in that awkward embrace anymore; they were standing about five feet apart facing each other.


Voldemort looked at him strangely. “It worked,” he said, almost to himself. He seemed to be caught somewhere between being satisfied and being horrified.


“What worked?” Harry asked.


This was a vision, it had to be, but it felt remarkably real—and he was in control of himself for once, instead of seeing through Voldemort’s eyes or wandering around with the confused urgency of a dream.


“How are you doing this? I thought our magic was bound—?”


“It is,” Voldemort interrupted. “But the soul has its own separate kind of magic. The collar couldn’t prevent me from mentally communicating with Nagini, because she is nearby and shares part of my soul; my Horcruxes are connected to each other as well as to me. It was Nagini who told me our captors have her and the cup—the mirror only told me that they had something ‘very precious’ of mine; they might not even understand just how precious.”


“Too bad Nagini couldn’t tell you how to get out of here,” Harry said distractedly.


“Harry,” Voldemort said quietly to bring back his attention. “You feel my emotions. You can speak Parseltongue. You see through my eyes…Oddities that I always ascribed to the scar I gave you—surviving the Killing Curse was unprecedented, and I believed our connection was merely a side-effect of that… But…if you’ve seen through my Horcrux’s eyes…”


Harry’s eyes widened as he thought understood what Voldemort was getting at. “You’re not saying that—that I’m…” Harry trailed off, horrified.


Voldemort nodded, stepping closer, and that hungry gleam was back in his eyes. “You are my seventh Horcrux.”


“No,” Harry said, backing away. “No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong!” Harry shouted. “Let me out of here!”


“You must calm down first; our captors cannot suspect—”


Calm down?” Harry had an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu, thinking of Voldemort’s earlier tantrums. “Calm down, when I just learned I’ve had a piece of your soul inside me all along?”


Voldemort grabbed Harry’s shoulders and forced him to face him. “You will calm down, and you will be grateful that you are now under the protection of the most powerful wizard in the world!”


Grateful?” Harry nearly shrieked. “Grateful to be a possession of my parents’ murderer? No fucking thank you!”


Voldemort snarled, grabbed the front of Harry’s robes, and threw him down on one of the house tables before Harry even knew what hit him. Voldemort leaned over him, their faces only inches apart.


“Do you think I am pleased to realize I’ve been trying for years to kill a part of my own soul? Do you think that, having dozens of more talented and loyal wizards at my command, I would ever have chosen you as a human Horcrux?” Harry struggled to sit up but Voldemort pushed him flat on his back and pinned him there. “I am not happy about this either, but there are more important issues at hand, and both of our lives are at stake. So you will calm down, so we can return to our bodies before whoever is watching through that mirror gets suspicious.”


Harry stared defiantly into the red eyes above him, wanting nothing more than to keep fighting, because fighting Voldemort was familiar. It made sense. Cooperating with him against an unknown enemy, and being told he was now under Lord Voldemort’s protection, and knowing he had to have sex with him soon was all just too much to handle.


Nevertheless, Harry closed his eyes and took a series of deep breaths, trying very hard to reign in his emotions. After a moment, Voldemort released him and stood, moving away. Harry took the opportunity to scoot off the edge of the house table and stand.


Harry glanced over at Voldemort to find him not-so-patiently waiting for Harry to get himself together. His arms were crossed, and his red eyes were pinned to Harry’s face.


“I’m fine,” Harry muttered, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Voldemort frowned slightly at the lie, and Harry amended, “I’m calm. For now.”


Voldemort accepted this with a nod, and said, “Good. We will return now—come here.”


Harry approached him, and resisted the urge to pull away when Voldemort pulled him into the same close embrace with their foreheads touching.


But they didn’t return right away.


“When we return,” Voldemort said casually, as though the two of them stood around like this all the time, “I am going to kiss you. You will not fight me.”


What?


There went Harry’s calm state.


“Time passes slower in here than in the real world, but we’ve left our bodies standing still in an awkward position for far too long to do otherwise. Remember we’re being watched, Harry—we mustn’t let our captors realize that we can communicate this way. We cannot let them know that you are my Horcrux, especially since I never formally solidified the bond and you lack the proper protective enchantments. Now come,” Voldemort said, dragging Harry’s consciousness out of the vision and back into his body before he had a chance to protest or ask questions.


Harry gasped at the strange abruptness of being thrust back into his body after the vision. He resisted the urge to pull free from Voldemort’s grasp; Voldemort acted unfazed, like nothing odd had happened, and was already saying something in that silky voice that made Harry suspect that his words were more for whoever was watching than for Harry.


“I’m not happy about this either, Harry, but you must understand that we have no choice,” he said, stroking a white finger down Harry’s face. “But it doesn’t have to be awful.” The finger slid beneath Harry’s chin and tilted his face up. “There’s no reason we can’t—” he leaned in, and Harry closed his eyes and tried not to panic “—enjoy this,” he whispered against Harry’s lips.


And then the world stopped because Voldemort was kissing him and…damn it…it wasn’t entirely disgusting. Thin lips moved against Harry’s with gentle yet insistent pressure while long fingers threaded through his hair; Harry just stood there frozen in shock, until he felt Voldemort’s hand squeeze the back of his neck and Harry figured he was supposed to kiss back. Harry mentally shook off the weirdness, stopped thinking, and just felt his way through it. His scar was tingling pleasantly, but he had barely started to respond when Voldemort pulled back and the tingling stopped.


“You see, Harry?” he asked in that silky voice.


But when Harry opened his eyes and met the red pair in front of him, Voldemort’s expression didn’t quite match his voice. His eyes narrowed slightly, wordlessly seeming to ask whether Harry felt that too.


“Yeah,” Harry said, answering the verbal question along with the nonverbal. “That…wasn’t awful.”


“Of course it wasn’t. Lord Voldemort is not awful at anything.”


It slipped out before Harry could stop it. “Except killing infants.”


Voldemort’s eyes flashed, and his hand went from resting on the back of Harry’s neck to gripping a handful of Harry’s hair and tilting his head back almost painfully. The other hand traced a fingernail threateningly along Harry’s exposed neck.


“Harry,” he said, still using that silky voice but letting the dangerous undertone bleed through just enough to make Harry shiver, “if you want it rough, just ask. You don’t have to keep provoking my anger.”


“Wh—what?” Harry spluttered, his face flushing. “I wasn’t—”


Voldemort chuckled under his breath and released Harry, stepping around him towards the bed.


“Regardless,” he said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and starting to undo the topmost buttons of his outer robes, “the sooner we do this, the sooner we’ll be free. So, shall we?”


Harry swallowed, then caught his eye and nodded. Harry screwed up his courage and approached, stopping in front of the Dark Lord and standing there awkwardly; Voldemort’s unwavering stare made Harry feel like he was already naked.


“You, er, think they’re going to watch?” Harry asked, glancing uneasily at the mirror.


“Probably. Shall we give them a show, my Horcrux?” he asked, hissing the last two words in Parseltongue.


Harry blushed; he’d only done this a few times before, and never with a man (a bloody Dark Lord for that matter) or with a psychotic mirror watching him—he didn’t know what kind of show he could possibly put on when he was nervous as hell about the whole thing. “Er—I guess, if—if you want,” Harry answered awkwardly.


Voldemort raised a hairless brow. “That wasn’t very convincing—you’ll have to do better than that, Harry.”


The challenge in Voldemort’s voice and eyes pushed every button Harry had; he narrowed his eyes at the Dark Lord, then gathered up every ounce of bravery and confidence he’d ever possessed and shoved it to the surface. He forced his body to relax, then threw back his shoulders in what he hoped was a confident stance.


“Sorry,” he said, sounding anything but. “I meant—” he dropped into Voldemort’s lap, resting his hands on Voldemort’s shoulders and bravely leaning in close “—yes, my Lord, let’s give them a show.”


Harry licked his lips, then flicked his eyes up to meet Voldemort’s, quirking his own brows up briefly. Voldemort’s lips curled into a smile, and his hands moved up Harry’s thighs and came to rest on his hips.


Am I your Lord?” he asked in that silky tone.


Harry imitated the tone, answering, “You are tonight.”


“Well, in that case…”


Voldemort leaned in and closed the distance between their lips, once again igniting that amazing tingling in Harry’s scar. Distantly, Harry realized one of Voldemort’s hands was undoing the buttons to his robes, then his shirt, and exploring the skin beneath without removing either garment. It was entirely too easy for Harry to lose himself in the sensations of those hands and lips, and even a sudden painful scar twinge didn’t faze him.


But Voldemort suddenly pulled back, looking horrorstruck.


“Nagini,” he breathed.


Harry frowned, irritated and already missing the feeling of those thin lips against his.


“No, I’m Harry.”


Didn’t you feel that?” Voldemort hissed in Parseltongue. “She called out to me—she was in pain and terrified, and now I cannot contact her.


So she’s—dead?


The only answer Harry got was the raging fire in his scar.


“YOU WILL SPEAK ENGLISH!” The mirror blared out.


“You will die!” Voldemort replied, managing to sound smug and pissed off at the same time. “You have broken your vow.”


“THAT IS FALSE!”


“You swore to release us unharmed if I complied with your request within twenty-four hours. That time is not up, and the snake you just killed held part of my soul—meaning, you have attacked a part of me and broken your vow!”


Harry wanted to believe that, since it would mean the end of his captivity, as well as one less Horcrux to deal with…but…shouldn’t the Unbreakable Vow have taken effect instantly?


“IT IS UNHARMED.”


“Stop lying and drop dead,” Voldemort snarled.


“IT IS UNHARMED.”


Harry looked back and forth between the mirror and Voldemort, then quietly asked, “Can you really tell if it’s lying? With the—you know,” he glanced at the collar.


Voldemort’s eyes returned to Harry’s and he replied with a tiny shake of his head that could’ve passed as an irritated twitch.


“Can you—contact—the other?” Harry murmured, although he had no idea how one went about talking with a cup.


Voldemort gave a nearly imperceptible nod, then flicked his eyes quickly from the mirror to Harry’s eyes to Harry’s lips, then back to Harry’s eyes, tilting his head expectantly.
Somehow, Harry understood that to mean cover me so the mirror won’t realize what I’m doing.


Harry blinked and leaned in, suddenly nervous again—every other time, it had been Voldemort who had initiated this—and although it shouldn’t matter at this point, it hit him really hard that he was about to kiss Voldemort.


Voldemort seemed to catch the gist of Harry’s sudden reluctance, and leaned forward, muttering, “Ridiculous brat.”


But Harry’s hands on Voldemort’s shoulders stopped him, holding him back. I can do this, damn it, Harry thought. Then he shoved the Dark Lord backwards onto the bed, following him down and capturing his lips, welcoming the exquisite tingling in his scar at the contact. Bloody amazing, Harry thought, immediately followed by what the hell is wrong with me?


He thought he felt Voldemort smirk against his lips, but then the Dark Lord closed his eyes and stilled as he entered into mental communication with the cup Horcrux. It felt weird, but Harry kept kissing his unresponsive lips, hoping that the mirror wouldn’t notice anything amiss.


Seconds later, Voldemort’s eyes shot open and he gasped against Harry’s lips.


Harry started to back off, startled, but Voldemort seized his robes and pulled him back into a kiss…and—Harry’s scar turned inside out—back into the mindscape that looked like Hogwarts’ Great Hall.


Harry stood there, dazed, as Voldemort released him and started pacing.


“What happened?”


“They moved it,” Voldemort spat, sounding offended and shocked in equal measure.


“What?”


“There were two parts of my soul in the cup! Nagini is alive, but she is no longer a Horcrux.”


“You can do that?”


“Apparently,” Voldemort snapped. Then he abruptly stopped pacing and glared at Harry, who blinked in surprise at the sudden raw hostility. “This is your doing,” he accused.


“What? How could I—?” Harry backed away slowly as Voldemort advanced towards him.


“Instead of destroying them, you’re trying to put them back together, back into me to make me mortal!”


“No, I—”


“And that mirror’s ridiculous demand—it reeks of Dumbledore’s precious belief in love,” he sneered, ignoring Harry’s protests and matching his backwards steps. Harry’s back hit the wall and Voldemort’s hands seized his shoulders to pin him there. “Is this the best you can do? Trying to defeat me by making me love you? I will never love you, Potter, Horcrux or not.”


“I don’t want you to love me!” Harry shouted, ignoring the twinge of hurt that he absolutely should not be feeling. “Sex isn’t the same as love anyway, especially when it’s not by choice. And I didn’t do this—I’ve been in here with you the whole time! I don’t know how to move Horcruxes—I barely know how to destroy them.”


“You’re working with whoever is behind the mirror!”


“No I’m not! And if I was going to deliberately lock myself in a room with you, I would sure as hell come up with a better plan than shagging you to death!”


Voldemort’s eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to argue, but Harry didn’t give him the chance.


“Stop it—stop lashing out! You know I’m not lying to you!” Harry boldly lifted a hand to rest against Voldemort’s cheek, stroking his thumb across a sharp cheekbone in what he hoped was a soothing way.


Voldemort blinked, then looked into Harry’s eyes and through them.


“There is no audience here to fool, Potter,” he said.


“I know,” Harry said, not removing his hand and not looking away.


Voldemort stared directly into Harry’s eyes for a moment longer before calming, the paranoid gleam leaving his eyes.


“You should know, Harry, that although being my Horcrux gives you certain liberties, I will not tolerate treachery.”


“You’re talking as if I’m suddenly on your side now.”


“You are mine. My Horcrux.” One of Voldemort’s hands found its way to the back of Harry’s neck.


“I’m also me. And the ‘Chosen One’, remember? That’s not going to change.”


“Chosen because I chose you,” Voldemort mused, his intent gaze never leaving Harry’s face.


Harry swallowed. “Yeah—well,” he stammered, growing uncomfortable under Voldemort’s attention.


It was one thing when they were faking it for whoever was behind that mirror, but here, in the privacy of this mindscape, when their interactions were real, it was almost too much to be under that touch and that stare.


Harry let his hand slide down Voldemort’s cheek to his shoulder instead, and nervously cast about for a change of subject. “Er—what were you saying earlier, about solidifying enchantments, or…?”


Voldemort either didn’t get the hint or deliberately ignored it—instead of removing his hand, he began massaging the back of Harry’s neck as he replied, “Horcruxes require a final, simple ritual to solidify the bond between the soul fragment and its container—yours was never finalized, which explains why your scar causes you pain.”


“Could you fix that?” Harry asked, without really thinking. Then he caught himself. “Er—wait—what does the ritual involve? I won’t agree to human sacrifices or any such rubbish.”


Voldemort’s eyes softened a bit in amusement. “None of that. It’s not a spell per se, but there’s an incantation to focus the soul’s energy. It merely requires physical contact and a strong intimate attachment between the original soul and the object; the stronger the attachment, the stronger the Horcrux…why do you think I went to such lengths to find objects from the Founders?”


Harry risked a glance back up at Voldemort’s eyes. Dumbledore had attributed the choice of Founders’ relics to Voldemort’s massive ego and sense of superiority—and perhaps that was part of it, but…


“Because Hogwarts was home,” Harry answered without hesitation—it was true for him too, after all.


“Precisely.”

Voldemort’s hand snaked up to Harry’s cheek now, his thumb moving slowly across Harry’s lower lip.


“Er—when you say intimate attachment…?”


The last thing Harry wanted to think about was Voldemort doing naughty things to Nagini and a handful of inanimate objects.


Voldemort seemed to read Harry’s thoughts, and narrowed his eyes a bit at the implication.


Emotional intimacy—although, the act we are already sworn to should help solidify the bond as well.”


“Right,” Harry said nervously. “Speaking of that—shouldn’t we be getting back?”


Voldemort made a wordless noise of agreement and brought his face closer to Harry’s. He caught Harry’s eyes and looked for a moment like he was about to ask something, but decided against it.


“Let us return, then,” he said, touching his forehead to Harry’s and pulling them back into reality.


Harry jolted back into awareness with a gasp as Voldemort rolled both of them over, so he was on top now, and captured Harry’s lips. Harry gave into the sensations and kissed back eagerly as his scar thrummed with pleasure at the contact.


It was so much easier here, when Harry had the excuse of being forced into this, and of ‘performing’ for whoever was behind that mirror—he didn’t have to think about the fact that he was enjoying snogging Voldemort way more than he should be, or wonder how many different ways the world would crucify him if they knew about any of this.


Then a horrible, bone-chilling mood-killing thought occurred to him, and he froze. Voldemort kept kissing him but Harry ignored it.


If anyone knew about this…if anyone saw… Perhaps Harry had trusted Voldemort much too quickly—while improbable, it was entirely possible that Voldemort could’ve put that collar on himself and made up everything else. Maybe he was recording all of this somehow to destroy Harry’s image and credibility? Harry could see the headline now: The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Be-The-Dark-Lord’s-Fuck-Toy-And-LIKED-It.


“Harry?” Voldemort paused after a few seconds of unresponsiveness, and pulled back slightly, trying to catch his eye.


Harry avoided his eyes but didn’t let go of his train of thought. He wanted to be sure before he threw any accusations around—if he was right, then there would likely be a fight, and if he was wrong then he would look really stupid.


Would Voldemort really put himself through being shocked and ordered around by a mirror, just to trick Harry into this? Somehow, Harry doubted it—Voldemort was too much of a narcissist to humiliate himself just to gain an enemy’s trust. And, even more obviously, wouldn’t he have stopped the charade after realizing Harry was a Horcrux?


“Harry.”


Harry finally met his eyes.


“Is there a problem?” Voldemort asked coolly, probably perfectly aware of what was bothering Harry, thanks to their connection.


“Yeah,” Harry said. Voldemort’s eyes narrowed in annoyance, but Harry continued, “You’re wearing too many clothes.”


Voldemort blinked, then relaxed and replied, “As are you. Perhaps we should rectify that.” One long-fingered hand trailed down Harry’s bare chest and started unfastening his trousers. “And for the record, I also would have come up with a better plan than ‘shagging you to death’.”


“Good to know,” Harry mumbled, embarrassed by his momentary foolishness. But he couldn’t honestly be expected to instantly undo years’ worth of seeing Voldemort as the enemy and start trusting him instead after a little bit of snogging


Harry propped himself up on his elbows, shrugging one arm at a time out of his undone robes and his unbuttoned shirt, leaving them trapped where they were underneath him on the bed. Voldemort tugged at Harry’s trousers, and Harry lifted his hips to make it easier to pull them off.


“Er, your turn?” Harry said, feeling self-conscious in only his underwear and a magic-restricting collar under a fully robed Lord Voldemort.


“Of course.” Voldemort sat back and efficiently removed his robes, then the form fitting black shirt he wore underneath, then he briefly shifted off of Harry and stood beside the bed long enough to remove his trousers. Harry stared at the expanse of pale skin on display, surprised by the difference between the Voldemort in front of him and the emaciated, skeletal nightmare that had emerged from the cauldron in fourth year.


“You’re, er, fit,” Harry babbled, then immediately blushed and wanted to smack himself.


Voldemort smirked, climbing back on the bed over Harry. “You’re hardly an eyesore yourself.”


Something over Harry’s shoulder caught Voldemort’s eye, and he reached past Harry to retrieve a vial of lube, half-concealed beneath their pillows.


“Shall we?” Voldemort asked, his tone nonchalant but his eyes locked intently on Harry’s and seemingly much more concerned with his answer than earlier.


Harry gulped, but gathered up his Gryffindor courage and forced himself to nod. Voldemort slipped his fingers underneath the waistband of Harry’s boxers and had just begun to lower them, when another searing pain shot through Harry’s scar, and Voldemort froze and hissed.


“What—?” Harry asked, but Voldemort swooped down over him and pressed their foreheads together again, pulling them into the mindscape for a third time. Harry had a split second to notice that they were both fully dressed in comfortable robes here, and in the empty, slightly hazy Great Hall again.


“Fucking FUCK!” Voldemort shouted, furiously pacing in front of the house tables, while Harry leaned against one of them and tried to stay out of his way. Harry also failed to hold back a shocked giggle at hearing such an outburst from the Dark Lord. At the noise, Voldemort’s eyes riveted to Harry, whose amusement instantly fell away at the murderous look Voldemort threw him.


“What is it?” Harry asked, cautiously.


“They moved them again!”


“Moved them where?”


“I don’t know—the Horcruxes don’t even know! They’re not in the cup any longer. They’re, they’re sluggish, not responding to me.” Voldemort stopped pacing and strode right up to Harry, his eyes full of barely-restrained fury and panic. “We have to get out of here. Now. Before they destroy the Horcruxes or somehow hide them away.”


Voldemort put his hands on Harry’s shoulders, and despite his mouth suddenly going dry, Harry nodded and managed to say, “Okay. Okay—just…” he trailed off, looking awkwardly at the floor. One of Voldemort’s long fingers gently traced up Harry’s neck to his chin, tipping his face back up and forcing eye contact.


“Harry?”


“I’ve never done this before—I mean, I’ve had sex, but only with girls so far. I’m bi, but I’ve never had anyone, er, inside of me,” Harry trailed off for a moment, his face flaming with embarrassment at having to tell his (former?) mortal enemy these things. He looked down at the floor only to have Voldemort tilt his chin up again. “So just, er, be gentle? Please?” Harry closed his eyes then, unable to bear the eye contact anymore.


After what felt like an interminable moment, Voldemort whispered, “Harry,” and waited for Harry’s eyes to open, for green to meet red before continuing. “I told you, you’re under my protection now. I won’t hurt you.”


Harry dared to relax, dared to trust, and when Voldemort leaned in to press his forehead to Harry’s to return them to reality, Harry dared to press forward that extra inch and steal a real kiss from the Dark Lord. Voldemort paused, leaving them in the mindscape where there was no one to perform for and no need to lie, and then he kissed back. He deepened the tentative kiss Harry had started, sliding his tongue into Harry’s mouth and his long fingers into Harry’s messy hair. “Harry,” he whispered, nearly slipping into Parseltongue, before collecting himself and pulling both of them back into reality.


Harry opened his eyes, disoriented for a few seconds. Voldemort was staring at him with an intensity that he couldn’t quite decipher. Had he gone too far? What the hell was he thinking, just kissing the Dark Lord like that, when they didn’t have to, when it was just them and no one forcing it? But…but Voldemort had kissed him back and whispered his name like it meant something, and Harry felt a little bit of warmth where before there had only been panic.


He caught Voldemort’s eye and said, “I’m ready.”


Voldemort nodded, leaning down to kiss Harry again while he unceremoniously pulled down Harry’s underwear and then removed his own. Their cocks brushed together and they both hissed, breaking the kiss as Harry’s scar buzzed with pleasure. Harry glanced down between them, feeling a bit unreal. That was Voldemort’s hard cock touching Harry’s own. He was going to have sex with Voldemort. Holy fuck.


Voldemort’s hand reached between them, slick with the lube he must’ve opened while Harry was distracted. His long fingers wrapped around both of their erections and stroked them together. Harry’s eyes fluttered shut in pleasure, and Voldemort caught his lips with his own.


After a moment, Voldemort pulled away slightly and glanced over his shoulder at the infernal mirror.


“Mirror?” He called, not waiting for a response before continuing. “Repeat the stipulations for our safe release and the return of our magic and my possessions, if you would be so kind.”


Harry blinked, missing the wet warmth of Voldemort’s lips on his, and not liking the sudden pause. Boldly, he reached down and wrapped his hand around Voldemort’s which was still wrapped around both their cocks. He squeezed slightly, but Voldemort gave him a look that clearly said to wait.


The mirror deigned to respond after a moment. “LORD VOLDEMORT WILL HAVE PENETRATIVE SEX WITH HARRY POTTER WITHIN 24 HOURS OF HIS ARRIVAL, WITH OR WITHOUT HIS CONSENT, AND BOTH MUST ACHIEVE ORGASM.”


Harry’s face went red, mostly from being subjected to such clinical sex terminology being boomed at him from a psychotic mirror.


“Acknowledged,” Voldemort said in a bored voice, before the mirror had a chance to get cranky. “Any other stipulations? Any fine print? Does the position matter, or duration? Do we have to come at the same time?”


There was a pause. “NO.”


“Stop talking to it,” Harry muttered, embarrassed.


Voldemort leaned back down, reaching past Harry for the vial of lube again, pouring more in his hand before stroking their cocks together again. He shifted his weight to his knees, used his clean hand to guide one of Harry’s down to take over the stroking, then removed his slicked-up hand from between them, leaning down to kiss Harry before he could ask any questions. He leaned on one forearm, which rested on the mattress near Harry’s head, dry fingers carding through dark hair while Harry stroked the two of them with increasing confidence. Voldemort’s tongue was incredibly distracting, so it took a minute for Harry to pause and ask, “What are you d—?”


Voldemort interrupted, sitting back a bit and again calling, “Mirror? Just to be absolutely clear, position doesn’t matter?”


A pause. “IT DOES NOT.”


Harry gave Voldemort a questioning look, but Voldemort didn’t answer in any way, just kept staring at him with that intense look for another moment before addressing the mirror again.


“So then it doesn’t matter which of us does the penetrating, correct?”


Harry blinked.


“THAT IS CORRECT.”


“Well then,” Voldemort said, and shifted just enough that Harry could see past his shoulder to where his slicked-up hand was moving behind him, and had apparently been working his own arse open for the past few minutes.


“Holy fuck,” Harry breathed.


Voldemort grinned, and Harry could only imagine what his own expression must’ve looked like because he had never even considered this way as a possibility. This was the Dark Lord Voldemort, for fuck’s sake, and he was going to let Harry—Harry cut off a moan and squeezed the base of his cock to stop himself from coming just at the thought of it.


Voldemort shifted, moving out from between Harry’s legs to straddle him instead, while Harry just laid there and watched, still half in shock. Voldemort reached down, nudging Harry’s hand away and wrapping his own hand around Harry’s cock instead. He leaned down, lips next to Harry’s ear, and whispered in Parseltongue, “If I’m ever inside you in that way, Harry, it will be because you want me there, not because some faceless coward demands it.


“Voldemort,” Harry whispered, but words failed him and he tilted his head to steal a kiss that, despite the audience, felt more real than any before it. Voldemort deepened the kiss, adjusted his grip on Harry’s cock, and then finally, slowly, pressed back and started to sink down onto it.


Harry moaned against the Dark Lord’s lips, overwhelmed by the tight slick warmth that was engulfing him inch by inch until he was fully inside. Voldemort stilled, seated on Harry’s hips, with his Horcrux’s cock buried inside him as deep as it could go. Harry’s hands wandered, smoothing over Voldemort’s thighs, his sides, grasping, gently urging him to move. “A moment, Harry,” Voldemort said, a bit breathless. He caught Harry’s hands, stilling them and breaking their kiss, then resting his forehead against Harry’s—directly against his scar.


Voldemort pulled them into the mindscape, but this time they were positioned as they were in reality—Harry beneath Voldemort, inside of him—and they were not in the Great Hall, but rather on a dark green bed in what looked like a Slytherin dorm room. And there was one other very visible difference that became obvious when Voldemort leaned slightly back.


“Oh,” Harry said, surprised. “Er, Voldemort?” he asked, uncertainly.


Red eyes narrowed at him, and Voldemort said, “Don’t you dare forget who I am while you’re inside me, brat.” He grasped Harry’s hair a bit rougher than he had before, but then paused when he caught sight of his own hand. “Oh…”


“Yeah oh,” Harry said. “You look like Tom Riddle right now.” An older, maybe 30 or 40 year old Tom Riddle rather than the one Harry met in the diary, and still with Voldemort’s red eyes, but unmistakably Tom Riddle.


Voldemort hissed slightly at the name that he hated, but his grip on Harry’s hair loosened and he started to stroke it almost absentmindedly while staring off somewhere to the left. “Earlier, the Horcruxes felt like they were drifting,” he murmured, still stroking Harry’s hair. Voldemort closed his eyes, and Harry took the opportunity to run his eyes over Tom Riddle’s naked, amazing body. Harry’s hands wandered, smoothing up Voldemort’s thighs before daring to grasp his cock and give it a firm stroke. Voldemort’s eyes snapped open and he said, “Stop that.” Harry blushed and jerked his hand away as if burned, but Voldemort gave him a look and clarified, “I meant stop for now. I’m trying to contact the others. You’re…incredibly distracting.”


“Sorry,” Harry muttered, keeping his hands away from Voldemort and fighting the urge to thrust up into the tight welcoming heat of him. Keeping still for this long was absolute torture.


Voldemort’s brow furrowed, and after another moment he shook his head with a rueful, bitter smile and opened his eyes.


“Find them?” Harry asked.


“You’re looking at them,” Voldemort snapped. “They’ve returned to me.”


Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “And you didn’t, you know, feel them come back? When it happened?”


“I’ve been very, very distracted, Harry. Perhaps you’ve noticed.” Voldemort punctuated that with an ungodly roll of his hips that had Harry gasping his name again. “Besides, such a thing shouldn’t be possible.”


“Then how?”


“I’ll figure it out later. Right now we need to anchor the Horcrux in you properly, and finalize the bond.”


“Don’t we need our magic back to do that?” Harry asked.


“Not for this part. This part is down to…connection. Intimacy. It’s all done within and between the souls. The protective enchantments will have to wait though.”


“This feels—oh god—pretty intimate,” Harry said, gasping as Voldemort idly rolled his hips again, lifting up slightly before sinking back down on Harry’s cock. “Don’t you already feel connected to me though? Isn’t that why you chose me that night, when there was another baby who fit the prophecy? Because I reminded you of yourself? That’s what Dumbledore thought.”


“Ugh, Potter—I’ll thank you not to mention that name while you’re fucking me.”


“Sorry,” Harry said, but he was holding back a laugh that turned into a choked-off moan when Voldemort clenched around his cock before rolling his hips again.


“And I don’t think discussing the night I tried to murder you is going to help here.”


“Fine,” Harry said, “then…just, tell me something real. Tell me why you’ve been so patient with me…why you decided to do this,” Harry thrust up a bit to make it clear what he meant, “with me inside you instead of the other way around.”


Voldemort just looked at him for a moment before answering, “Because the idea of forcing you—of being forced to force you—was completely disgusting and infuriating.”


Harry paused. “Yeah, I er, got that impression. My scar was on fire every time you mentioned it… and technically we’re still both being forced into this no matter who goes where, but… you’d implied that you would if you had to,” Harry added, quieter and unsure whether he should bring it up.


“I refuse to bow to death.” he said quietly. “And even with the Horcruxes, if this body died and I had to spend more years as a formless spirit before I could return—every day of that was agony. There aren’t many things I wouldn’t do to avoid that fate.” There was a long silence, as Voldemort stroked Harry’s hair and searched for his next words. “But I…I don’t think I would’ve been able to follow through with it, physically—the idea of rape sickens me. But people will believe any threat that comes from a monster,” Voldemort said quietly.


“I don’t see you as a monster. I haven’t for a while now, actually. Dum--I mean, that person I’m not supposed to mention,” Harry said, smiling a little and internally cheering when Voldemort huffs a small laugh in return, “he showed me some memories, about you, when you were younger. I think he regretted it, because it made me see you as a person, made me sympathize with you, and he could tell.”


“What memories?”


“A few of you growing up at the orphanage. When you found out about Hogwarts. A few from school. Some about your parents. A few about trying to make Horcruxes.”


“And what was his point in doing this?”


Harry shrugged as well as he could while laying down and having a Dark Lord lazily riding his cock as they talked. “Know your enemy, I guess? And he was trying to confirm how many Horcruxes you made, and what they are.”


Voldemort glanced down and caught Harry’s eye. “Six—intentional ones, anyway. My diary, Slytherin’s Locket, the Gaunt family ring, Ravenclaw’s Diadem, Hufflepuff’s Cup, and Nagini.”


“Oh,” Harry said, blindsided that Voldemort just casually told him. “So you didn’t get ahold of anything from Gryffindor?” he said, meaning it as a joke.


“I did, eventually,” Voldemort said pointedly, smirking at him. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to Harry’s lips.


“Right,” Harry said into the kiss. “You know, the hat wanted to put me in Slytherin.”


Voldemort pulled back and just looked at him. “Of course it did,” he said after a moment, with a faint fond smile.


Harry smiled back, then said, “Er, we’ve been in here longer than usual. I know you said time passes slower, but, is this okay?”


“Out there I’m adjusting to your cock up my arse, Harry, it’s fine if we seem to be sitting still longer than usual.”


“Right,” Harry said, blushing even as he feels himself get a tiny bit harder at the words. “So, er, are we bonded yet? The Horcrux, I mean.”


“There’s an incantation to do. But the most important part is that the Horcrux feel like an anchor for the main soul. Something that’s part of me—something I can’t help returning to.”


“And do I feel that way to you?”


Voldemort gave him another long look, then leaned down and pressed his forehead to Harry’s scar again. This time they didn’t leave the mindscape—this time, Voldemort started murmuring the incantation, something long and melodious that Harry didn’t even try to pay attention to. He let the sound of Voldemort’s voice wash over him and closed his eyes, embracing their closeness—physically and mentally they were as close as two people could possibly be right now. Harry’s scar jolted with a sudden burst of pleasure that seemed to vibrate and extend out through his entire body and into Voldemort as well before dissipating and leaving them both a little breathless.


“Was—was that?” Harry asked, involuntarily thrusting up into Voldemort, his cock harder than ever after that display.


“Yes,” Voldemort hissed, capturing Harry’s lips in another desperate kiss, “it worked. You’ll still feel what I feel, but the scar won’t hurt you anymore.”


Voldemort clenched around Harry’s length, then slowly raised himself up before dropping back down onto Harry’s cock. Harry’s hands flew up to clutch at Voldemort’s hips as he moaned, “Oh my god yes please do that forever,” in one breathy jumble.


Voldemort smiled against Harry’s lips. “We should return now.”


“Do we have to? I hate that pervy mirror.”


“I’m going to take great pleasure in destroying it and whoever is behind all of this. I’ll even let you help.”


“Oh I definitely want in on that,” Harry agreed, and Voldemort kissed him again, before pausing and pulling back.


“I’m not going to look like this out there,” Voldemort warned, Tom Riddle’s features wearing a cautious expression.


“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’m fine with both, er, either,” Harry babbled.


“Both,” Voldemort mused, “now there’s an idea.”


Before Harry could even ask, Voldemort pulled them out of the mindscape and back into reality, where his pale and serpentine form nuzzled his face against Harry’s while scratching his nails lightly down Harry’s chest. He planted his hands on Harry’s shoulders, using that as leverage to lift up and slowly start riding Harry’s cock. He leaned back down, hips still rising and falling, and gave Harry a filthy kiss while pulling them back into the mindscape. Voldemort leaned back again, and now he was wearing Tom Riddle’s face while riding Harry, his perfect hair in disarray and his kiss-swollen lips smirking down at his Horcrux.


“Oh,” Harry said, awestruck. “Yes.” He reached for Tom Riddle’s cock, and this time instead of pushing him away, Voldemort bucked forward into Harry’s grip, the mindscape shuddering around them. Harry blinked and they were back in the real world. Now, Harry reached for Voldemort’s thick, bluish-white cock and the Dark Lord thrust into his grip again, repeating themselves like a mirror, like déjà vu. “What happened?” Harry whispered.


“My concentration’s a bit…divided at the moment,” Voldemort admitted, riding Harry’s cock a bit faster now while Harry kept a slow, almost lazy rhythm of stroking Voldemort’s. “If my magic weren’t bound,” he muttered, expression shifting from bliss to annoyance.


“It’s fine,” Harry interrupted, cutting him off before he could work himself into another strop. “Here’s fine. Stay with me.”


Voldemort caught his eye, nodded, then leaned back down to kiss him, clenching around Harry’s dick as he did.


“Fuck,” Harry muttered against Voldemort’s mouth, “I’m so close.”


Voldemort smirked against Harry’s lips, and said, “Then come for me, Harry,” while raising his hips until Harry’s cock nearly popped out before sinking back down hard and fast, then doing it again. “Come, my Horcrux,” he whispered, switching to Parseltongue at the end.


Harry moaned, thrusting up to meet Voldemort’s undulations, but it wasn’t enough—he needed to move, needed to do more than just lay here. “Vold—oh fuck,” Harry breathed, as a particularly well-timed roll of the hips almost sent him over. “I need,” he abandoned his grip on Voldemort’s cock to place both hands on the Dark Lord’s pale hips. Harry tried to roll them both over but had no leverage in this position. “Roll us over, please, I need to—” he trailed off, unsure how to explain exactly what he needed.


Voldemort caught his eye and paused a moment, giving him another of those intense, searching looks. Then, carefully, without letting Harry slip out of him, Voldemort rolled them over so he was on his back with Harry above him, Voldemort’s legs spread with Harry between them, his knees pulled up and bracketing Harry’s sides. Their eyes never left each other’s, faces close and breathing each other’s air.


“Go on,” Voldemort said, after a still, silent moment where the two of them simply adjusted to the change, “but do try to control yourself… I’ve never exactly been on this side of things either,” he admitted.


Harry blinked. “Really?” He pulled back slowly, carefully easing out halfway before gently sliding back in.


Voldemort held in a moan, turning it into a scoff instead. “Who do you imagine I would have allowed this privilege? Or did you think I had regular orgies with the Death Eaters?”


“Gross,” Harry said, but it was half-hearted. He was stuck on the fact that he was the first one to ever be inside Voldemort in such a way—probably the only one who ever would.


He pulled out most of the way then slid back in, a little faster this time. “This okay?”


Voldemort nodded, but said, “Shift the angle—yessss, there,” he sighed, eyes drifting closed as Harry managed to hit his prostate.


Harry made a mental note of the angle and made sure to hit it every time he thrust back in, speeding up as he raced towards completion. He pressed himself closer to Voldemort, their chests heaving against each other, lips catching in uncoordinated, sloppy kisses.


“Come on,” Voldemort hissed, his hands on Harry’s hips urging him on. “Come inside me, Harry, make me take it, make me yours.”


“Fuck,” Harry choked out, because somehow that was exactly what he needed—why he’d needed to be on top. Somewhere in his mind—despite the new understanding between the two of them—some part of him still framed this as another struggle with Voldemort, and he couldn’t surrender, couldn’t let himself go, couldn’t give in to this man unless he had the upper hand, so to speak. And he realized, even through the haze of approaching orgasm, that Voldemort probably felt the same, but had given Harry what he needed anyway.


His thrusts became harder, more erratic as his hips lost the rhythm. Voldemort’s hands slid around to Harry’s arse, clutching him, urging him on. Harry thrust in one, two, three more times before pressing in as far as he could go and spilling inside Voldemort, hissing “Mine,” against the Dark Lord’s lips.


Everything dissolved into a moment of bliss as Harry came. When he recovered he was still buried inside of Voldemort, their foreheads pressed together and Voldemort’s hands stroking up and down Harry’s sides as they both caught their breath. Harry shifted and pulled back far enough to meet Voldemort’s eyes.


“Hi,” Harry said, stupidly, then grinned.


Voldemort huffed a quiet laugh. “I thought for a moment that I actually had shagged you to death.”


“Sorry to disappoint,” Harry said, and when he shifted his weight and started to pull out, something brushed against his stomach and he glanced down. Voldemort was still hard. “Oh…you didn’t?”


“There’s still time,” Voldemort murmured, taking one of Harry’s hands and guiding it to his cock, then pulling him down for a kiss as Harry’s cock slipped out of him.


Harry stroked him, a bit embarrassed that he had come before making sure Voldemort did. Voldemort, who had—surprisingly selflessly—volunteered to bottom so that Harry’s first experience with it wouldn’t be tarnished by being forced into it—never mind that it had also been Voldemort’s first experience with it. Voldemort, with whom he shared a soul, and a mindscape, and a lot more in common than he had realized. Voldemort, who had promised to protect him from now on, who was looking at him right now like Harry was everything.


“Harder,” Voldemort murmured against his lips, wrapping his own hand around Harry’s to force his grip tighter.


“Actually, wait,” Harry said. “I want—” he paused, as the sudden realization hit him with the force of a Bludger. He gasped in a breath, and said, “I want you inside me.”


Voldemort’s breath caught, and he stilled. “Harry,” he whispered, pulling him closer and then into the Slytherin bedroom mindscape, and then abruptly pulling back.


“I mean it,” Harry said to the severe look Voldemort (who once again looked like Tom Riddle within the mindscape) was giving him.


“Did you miss the part where I bottomed so that your first experience with it wouldn’t be under duress?”


“No, I got that,” Harry said, smiling. “Thank you. It was very selfless of you—almost Gryffindor-ish, actually.”


Voldemort rolled his eyes, but said, “Well, the Sorting Hat did consider it before deciding I was inevitably Slytherin.”


“No way,” Harry said, his jaw dropping. “You’re just fucking with me, right?”


“Not at the moment,” Voldemort said, smirking.


“You were almost a Gryffindor? You? The bloody Dark Lord?”


“Hardly. I said the hat considered it. Very briefly. Forget I mentioned it.”


“I mean I guess you are pretty bold, and reckless, and protective of what you consider yours,” Harry mused.


“I said stop,” Voldemort said, tilting Harry’s chin up with a long finger and making him meet his eyes.


Harry leaned in and kissed him. For a moment, they both simply fell into it, enjoying the closeness, the feel of one another, the connection between them that had expanded beyond anything they’d ever thought it could be. Harry ran both hands through Tom Riddle’s soft, dark hair, enjoying the novelty of Voldemort having hair for a moment. Eventually, Harry broke the kiss.


“I mean it,” Harry said, looking directly into Voldemort’s eyes. “I want you inside me. I want you to have me that way. This is—I don’t know what’s going to happen, after… Even if whoever has us keeps their word and returns our magic and lets us go, who’s to say they don’t have something worse planned?” Harry paused for a moment, his hands still in Riddle’s hair, carding gently through it. “But I want to enjoy what we can right now, while we have the chance.”


Voldemort looked at him for a long moment, then said, “If you’re sure.”


“I’m sure,” Harry answered immediately. “So come on then,” he said, smiling down at Voldemort, “make me take it,” he whispered, throwing Voldemort’s words back at him, “make me yours.”


Voldemort surged forward to kiss him, launching them back out of the mindscape. “You’re already mine,” Voldemort nearly growled in between kisses.


“Prove it,” Harry breathed, and then Voldemort was on him.


He flipped them back over so Harry was underneath him, and then moved down his body in a flurry of kisses and caresses that left Harry breathless and with the beginnings of another erection already. Voldemort trailed kisses down Harry’s chest, his abdomen, edging closer to his cock before taking it into his mouth all at once and sucking hard. Harry nearly choked on a moan, glancing down to watch Voldemort’s head bobbing as he swallowed Harry’s cock, and just like that he was hard again.


After a few glorious moments, Voldemort pulled off of Harry’s cock and nudged his legs apart, pushing his knees up towards his chest. Harry blushed but watched eagerly as Voldemort glanced up briefly to meet Harry’s eyes before plunging down and—holy fuck—pressing his hot tongue against and then into Harry’s hole. Harry’s entire body spasmed in pleasure, but unfortunately it made him flinch away from that delicious wet pressure.


Voldemort caught his eye again, one hand pressing down on Harry’s hip to help keep him still. “Is this okay?”


“Yes, fuck yes,” Harry gasped. “You just surprised me.”


Voldemort hummed and then dove back in, licking past Harry’s rim, stretching him and getting him wet. Harry couldn’t hold back a loud, shameless moan. He knew that they were probably being watched by their captors through that damned mirror, which is why he’d at least tried to keep his composure before, but there was no helping it now.


“God, yes,” Harry breathed, “more.”


Voldemort pulled away and Harry actually whined, but Voldemort was back soon enough, this time with the vial of lube, carefully slicking up two of those long white fingers. He leaned down and pressed his tongue back into Harry’s hole, giving him one more lingering lick before pulling away and easing in a slick finger instead.


Harry bit his lip and tried not to tense up. It didn’t hurt, but it felt weird having a finger swirling around in there, prodding deep inside him. At least, it felt weird until Voldemort found his prostate, and then it just felt fucking amazing. “Oh fuck, right there,” Harry babbled, jolting up into Voldemort’s touch.


“Patience, Harry,” Voldemort murmured, brushing a teasing kiss against the head of Harry’s cock.


“Don’t tease, that’s evil,” Harry said. Voldemort smirked and traced his tongue feather-light over the slit in Harry’s cock. “Evil,” Harry repeated, but it came out as a moan.


Voldemort shrugged. “Dark Lord,” he said, but this time when he leaned down, he took half of Harry’s cock into his mouth at the same time that he eased a second finger into Harry’s tight hole.


“Oh fuck ohfuckohfuck,” Harry babbled, nearly overwhelmed by all the sensations—the warm suction over his cock, the prod of one finger against his prostate while a second gently stretched his rim and sunk inside, scissoring alongside the first. As Harry relaxed into it, Voldemort pulled off of his cock, licking his lips and glancing up at Harry.


“That’s it,” he encouraged, voice gone a little rough but still silky and enticing, “let me in, Harry.” He slid his fingers in and out of Harry, who was relaxed and open for it now, who wanted more.


As if reading Harry’s thoughts, Voldemort added a third finger, his face ducking down to nuzzle against Harry’s cock.


“Please,” Harry breathed, hips jerking as Voldemort’s fingers prodded his prostate again.


“Please what?” Voldemort said, sitting up and leaning over Harry to kiss him, his fingers still working Harry open.


“Take me,” he said, grabbing Voldemort’s face and pulling him down into a deep, filthy kiss. “I’m ready. I want you inside me. Show me I’m yours.”


Voldemort moaned into their kiss, and Harry felt his fingers retreat. He had two seconds to hate the feeling of emptiness left behind, and then something bigger and hotter was pressing against his hole.


“Mine, Harry,” Voldemort murmured against his lips, pressing forward until that tight ring of muscle relaxed and let him through. He slid inside, slowly, gently, claiming his Horcrux—this amazing boy, his only equal—claiming his body as well as his soul. “Always mine,” he whispered, pausing once he was fully inside Harry’s body.


“Yours,” Harry hissed back, adjusting to the fullness, blinking back tears not from pain but from the raw intensity of the moment. This didn’t feel like just sex—this felt like the whole world was shifting off its axis into something new and beautiful and terrifying.


Voldemort pressed a gentle kiss to his lips, then pulled them back into the Slytherin dorm room mindscape. Tom Riddle’s face looked positively beautiful with flushed cheeks and hair in disarray, muscles tense as he forced himself to stay still for Harry to adjust. “Harry,” he murmured.


“I’m not going to last long,” Harry admitted. “This is—it’s amazing. It’s too much.”


“I know,” Voldemort said, easing out just slightly before gently pushing back in. “Neither will I. That’s why we need to talk now. We need a plan.”


Harry huffed out a laugh, then moaned when Voldemort gave him another slow, careful thrust. “The plan,” Harry said, “is we finish this, we get our magic back, and we fight our way out.”


“That’s what you call a plan?” Voldemort said, raising Tom Riddle’s aristocratic eyebrow into a look of disdain mixed with concern. “How are you still alive?”


“Probably because of your Horcrux,” Harry said, knowing it to be true even though the thought had only just occurred to him. “What’s your plan, then?”


“How skilled are you at wandless magic?”


Harry shifted, feeling self-conscious. “I mean, nowhere near as good as you, but I can manage a few spells.”


“No one’s as good as me,” Voldemort said, waving it off.


Harry snorted. “Or as humble.”


Voldemort ignored that. “We need to plan for if these collars come off right away, or if they don’t and someone approaches us, or if no one approaches us and we’re left alone with the mirror, or—”


“What if we can get the collars on whoever brought us here?”


“Yes, good. If someone approaches us when the collars are off, I’ll subdue them wandlessly, and you put the collars on them.”


“What if there are more than two people and they all have wands?”


Voldemort’s eyes narrow. “Don’t underestimate me, Harry.” He punctuates it with a sharp thrust, less gentle than before.


“Fuck, I’m not. Take it easy,” Harry snapped.


Voldemort’s expression softened, and he smoothed a hand down Harry’s face in apology, tracing over his scar. He carefully pulled out almost all the way, then slowly pressed back in, making sure to hit Harry’s prostate.


Harry tilted his head and caught Voldemort’s lips with his own, slowly getting used to the cock moving in and out of him. “I’m just saying,” Harry said, minding his tone, “there are too many variables to plan ahead. We just need to be ready to react to whatever they throw at us. Just, go with it.”


Voldemort didn’t look happy with the plan to not make a plan, but he didn’t argue. “I suppose we should get on with it then.” He gave Harry a long, searching look. “We probably won’t have time to safely come back to the mindscape once we finish and the shit hits the fan, so to speak,” he said, with a hint of a smirk. The novelty of Voldemort using such a Muggle expression startled a laugh out of Harry. “So,” Voldemort continued, “if there’s anything you need to ask, or to tell me,” he trailed off, his expression sobering as he stilled to let Harry concentrate.


Harry met his eyes, and was quiet for a moment. “I want to say thank you, for—for treating me kindly. For not forcing me into anything…And, I guess, I know if we both make it out of this, it’s not going to miraculously fix everything—the war, our politics—we still have a lot of shit to work out. I’m not going to join the Death Eaters and I’m not okay with you and your followers terrorizing everyone. But I’m also not sure I can trust the Order anymore…Dumbledore had to know, he had to have figured out that I’m a Horcrux, but he still had me hunting them—I would’ve had to die too, to defeat you. Could he really have—all this time—been planning to sacrifice me?” Harry’s voice broke and he finally paused for a breath.


“Harry,” Voldemort said, tracing his hand along Harry’s jaw.


“Did he really not care about me at all?”


“Dumbledore,” Voldemort said, Tom Riddle’s lips twisting into distaste as he said the name, “had a long history of manipulating students into doing his dirty work for him. Especially in regards to fighting Dark Lords.”


“What do you mean?” Harry asked, thinking that maybe his parents had been manipulated and sent into the crossfire as well.


“When I was still at Hogwarts, he tried to get me of all people to challenge Grindelwald because he couldn’t bear to fight his former lover.”


Harry choked. “Former lover?”


“Oh yes. It explained a lot about how he treated me, once I found out… I reminded him of Grindelwald—my power, my personality, my attitude towards Muggles. He saw the similarities and wrote me off the day he met me…and then he had the gall to try to manipulate me into fighting his battles.”


Harry just shook his head—that was too much to process on top of everything else. He mentally backtracked to the start of the conversation, and said, “Well…So, er, was there anything you wanted to ask me, or tell me while we’re here?”


Voldemort’s expression softened a little, and he said, “I suppose I should thank you for taking care of my Horcrux, even though you didn’t know you had it. For working with me in this instead of fighting me. For…showing me affection and understanding—I’m not sure you realize how rare that is for me, Harry.” He brushed a lock of hair out of Harry’s face and leaned down to kiss him, before continuing. “I know this experience won’t miraculously fix everything,” he says, using Harry’s phrase back at him, “but you are mine now, Harry Potter, and I protect what is mine.”


Harry’s eyes teared up at the unexpected outpouring of devotion from someone who had wanted to kill him less than 24 hours ago. “We can sort it all out, find a way to make it work. We will,” Harry insisted, feeling like—even though this was crazy, this was his parents’ murderer for fuck’s sake—this was what he’d always wanted, deep down. A true, intense connection. To be protected, cared for. To belong.


“We will,” Voldemort agreed, leaning down to kiss Harry again, deep and full of meaning and sending Harry’s scar into a frenzy of buzzing pleasure. “When we go back out there, you’ll need to come first—since you already did once, as soon as I come we’ll have fulfilled the requirements, and we need to be ready for whatever happens,” he said, stroking Harry’s erection, which had flagged when the discussion got upsetting. Voldemort coaxed him back to full hardness, then asked, “Are you ready?”


“Ready,” Harry whispered back. He closed his eyes, and Voldemort sent them out of the mindscape, back into reality.


Harry’s eyes flicked up to Voldemort’s for a moment, and then they were kissing again. Voldemort shifted, pulling halfway out before easing back into Harry’s tight heat. Harry swallowed a moan around Voldemort’s tongue, clenching around the exquisite hardness that was filling him up. “All right?” Voldemort murmured.


“Perfect,” Harry gasped. “Come on, more,” he said, hands reaching for Voldemort’s hips and urging him to move. Voldemort obliged, pulling out almost all the way before sliding back in, harder and faster than before. “Fuck, yes, like that,” Harry moaned, wrapping his legs around Voldemort and shifting his hips to meet the thrust.


Voldemort picked up the pace and hit Harry’s prostate with every thrust, breathless gasps of “Yesss, Harry,” falling from his lips.


It didn’t take long at all for Harry to reach for his own cock and murmur, “I’m close.”


Voldemort nudged Harry’s hand away and replaced it with his own. “Go on,” he said, stroking Harry in time with his thrusts, “Come for me, Harry.”


Harry bit his lip, trying and failing to hold back a moan as he came, spilling between them and splashing both of their stomachs with his release.


Voldemort slowed his pace, waiting until Harry recovered from the post-orgasmic bliss that Voldemort could feel echoed back at him through their bond. “Back with us?” he asked, teasing a bit.


Harry grinned. “Shut up, you’re brilliant at this,” he said, then blushed. “Are you, er, close?”


Voldemort nodded solemnly. “Are you ready?”


Harry’s expression shifted into something more serious, more suited for preparing for battle—which, for all they knew, they could be. “Whenever you are.”


Voldemort nodded again, then leaned down to capture Harry’s lips in another intense kiss as he sped up his thrusts. Harry was tighter now after his own orgasm, and it wasn’t going to take long at all.


“Come on,” Harry whispered against his lips, “fill me up—show me I’m yours.”


On the next thrust, Harry clenched hard around him, and that was it. “Mine, Harry,” Voldemort whispered before claiming Harry’s mouth again as he spilled inside him. Everything whited out in bliss—his nerve endings, his mind, his soul, the connection between him and Harry—and for a moment he was inside Harry, and yet he was Harry, and then he was only himself and he was breaking apart and violently becoming whole again.


There was a loud metallic ringing and a surge of magic, and then a long moment of blurry confusion before he returned to awareness.


“—n you hear me? Wake up, Voldemort—come on!”


“Harry?” he mumbled, blinking as his vision cleared, and his eyes met Harry’s extremely worried, extremely green pair hovering above him.


“Oh thank fuck,” Harry sighed, shoulders sagging in relief. He was leaning over Voldemort, both of them still naked.


“What happened?” Voldemort asked, reaching up to brush a lock of Harry’s hair out of his face, but when his hand came into view he paused. “Oh.” It was exactly as it had been in their mindscape, after the two soul shards had returned to him. He’d regained the appearance of Tom Riddle in reality now as well as in the mindscape.


“Yeah, oh,” Harry said, grabbing Voldemort’s now-very-human hand and pressing a kiss to the back of it. “That happened, and you were really out of it for a few minutes, and er, the collars disappeared. No one’s talked or come in here yet.”


“Hmm.” So there would be no using the collars against their captors. But on the bright side—Voldemort stretched out his free hand, and both wandlessly and wordlessly summoned his and Harry’s clothes from the floor. It worked, but took more effort than it should have. “Get dressed,” he told Harry, gently easing the boy off of his lap so he could do the same.


Are you all right?” Harry asked in Parseltongue, eyeing the mirror but not worried about retribution now that the collars were gone.


Exhausted,” Voldemort hissed back. “A huge amount of my magic is tied up in stabilizing whatever caused this,” he gestured vaguely to indicate the appearance change. He paused a moment, then reached over to place his hand over Harry’s, and closed his eyes for a brief moment. Whatever he was doing made Harry’s scar tingle, but before Harry could ask, Voldemort opened his eyes and told him, “Your Horcrux is still there, unharmed.”


“Good,” Harry said.


The two of them pulled their shirts back on, then stood to put on their underwear and trousers, then their robes. Voldemort kept a wary eye on the mirror, but asked Harry, “Is the door still locked?”


“Oh, er. I don’t know.”


Voldemort gave him an incredulous look. “You didn’t check?”


“You were hurt! I wasn’t just going to run off,” Harry said.


Voldemort shook his head, muttering something along the lines of “Bloody Gryffindors,” but then a third voice joined in.


“I really can’t decide if you two are adorable or disgusting,” the voice said, a hint of an accent coming through.


Harry and Voldemort both whipped around to stare at the mirror, which was no longer obscured and instead acted as a window, showing a different room and an older man with truly hideous spiky white-blonde hair standing in front of a very familiar portrait.


“Grindelwald,” Voldemort snarled at the man.


At the same time, Harry focused on the portrait and demanded, “Dumbledore?”


“Oh good,” Grindelwald said, “we all know each other.”


“Gellert, play nice,” Dumbledore’s portrait said. “We owe them an explanation.”


“Damn right you do,” Harry shouted, but Voldemort’s hand on his shoulder cut off his rant before it could start.


Harry,” he hissed in Parseltongue, “don’t mention that you’re a Horcrux. Grindelwald still might not know.”


Not bloody likely. If Dumbledore knew, and they set this up together—”


Even so, admit nothing.”


Fine,” Harry snapped, crossing his arms and biting his tongue, looking away from Voldemort and back at the mirror.


“Oh, are you finished?” Grindelwald said. “Done rudely excluding everyone else from the conversation?” Clearly, Harry decided, Grindelwald had been the one speaking to them through the mirror, demanding that they speak English and acknowledge his orders.


Voldemort tilted his head slightly and gave Grindelwald a cold and positively murderous look. “I am going to have so much fun tearing you to pieces,” he said, the softly spoken threat giving Harry chills.


“I look forward to seeing you try,” Grindelwald replied, his voice just as chilling, his mismatched eyes locked intently on Voldemort.


“If the Dark Lords could all settle down,” Harry interjected, “I believe Dumbledore was about to explain himself?”


“Harry, my boy—” Dumbledore’s portrait started.


“I am not your boy,” Harry snarled at him.


The portrait sighed, and seemed to twinkle sadly at him. “I suppose I deserve that… And in the interest of full disclosure, you and Tom deserve to know that Gellert knows about the Horcruxes. He knows, as you both do now, Harry, that you’re one of them.”


God damn it,” Voldemort hissed in Parseltongue.


“Oops,” Grindelwald said, covering his mouth for a moment before grinning. “It was ever so amusing watching you two pretend not to know after you figured it out.”


Harry looked to Voldemort, raising an eyebrow. “Still admit nothing?” he asked dryly.


Voldemort rolled his eyes and made an annoyed ‘go ahead’ gesture towards the mirror, but then interjected his own question. “Where is Nagini? And the cup?”


“Dropped them both off on your Malfoy’s doorstep, safe and sound,” Grindelwald answered, sounding bored.


Voldemort gritted his teeth in annoyance, but accepted the answer before turning his attention to the portrait. “Dumbledore. What was the point of all of this?”


Dumbledore’s portrait gave Voldemort a long look, then turned to Harry, then stared somewhere between the two as he started to speak. “To put it simply, I decided that despite the astronomical odds against it working out, I would rather save the two of you than destroy you.”


“So,” Harry said, his voice threatening to break and betray him, “you really did mean for me to die after I destroyed all the Horcruxes, then?”


“It seemed unavoidable, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “The more Tom split his soul, the more irrational and unstable he became. Reasoning with him seemed impossible, so the only other option was to destroy him, all of him.”


“I’m right here,” Voldemort muttered irritably.


“And you’re looking better than you have in ages, Tom,” Dumbledore acknowledged. “How are you feeling?”


“Oh, you know,” he said faux-casually, “betrayed. Violated. Murderous.”


“Protective of Harry? Affectionate? Connected to him?”


“Obviously,” Voldemort bit out.


Dumbledore smiled. “Then there’s hope for us all—I think the two of you have a lot to discuss still, about the war, about the future. But you’ve always been resourceful, Tom, and I don’t doubt your ability to make yourself a new identity, and to find a better way to change the world. Harry’s heart is his biggest strength, and I hope he will guide you down a better path.”


“That’s noble and all,” Harry interrupted, “second chances are great. But can we talk about the part where you ordered him to rape me if I didn’t go along with this? Because I’m angry about the whole fuck-or-die thing, but I’m especially angry about that part.”


Dumbledore’s face fell and he looked away. “I didn’t entirely agree with the method, or with the wording of the demand,” he started. Harry could almost sense a but it was for the greater good coming, and if he said it, Harry was going to scream.


“But,” Grindelwald interrupted, “you’re a fucking portrait, and I’m the one who had to do all of the work.” He shot an unrepentant smirk at Voldemort and Harry. “Albus was so determined to fix you, Tom Marvolo Riddle. So set on putting a few pieces of your soul back together. Do you know how fucking hard it is to move a Horcrux without destroying it? Or to get it to return to the original soul?”


Voldemort sniffed haughtily. “I never intended to return them, so no.”


Grindelwald sneered. “You call yourself a Dark Lord, bah! You’re a child playing with forces he doesn’t understand. The sheer depravity of splitting the soul—a true Dark Lord understands the inherent laws of magic and the forces of the universe instead of breaking them all for the sake of proving you can…but I digress. To undo the damage you did, Albus and I had to invent a ritual, combining blood magic and soul magic and sex magic—all very illegal, mind you. None of it would work unless you and the boy had sex. And once I started working on moving the Horcruxes, there was a limited amount of time to get them back into you, so,” Grindelwald shrugged, “you needed an incentive and a strict time frame.”


Harry stared at him in disbelief, and repeated, “We needed incentive?” before glancing to Voldemort. “We’re going to kill him, right?” Harry asked in Parseltongue.


Definitely going to kill him, and then burn the portrait,” Voldemort hissed back.


“Also,” Grindelwald continued as if they hadn’t spoken, “clearly I was wrong, but I thought the boy wouldn’t want to have sex with the whole,” he sneered and gestured vaguely at Voldemort, “freaky snake-face thing you had going on before. Thought you would have to force him.”


“You know what?” Harry snapped, “You don’t have much room to talk. You look like the lovechild of Mad-Eye Moody and Guy Fieri.”


Voldemort side-eyed Harry and asked, “Who’s Guy Fieri?”


“A muggle. With,” Harry gestured towards Grindelwald, “terrible hair.”


“Ah.”


“I mean,” Harry said, turning his attention back to Grindelwald, “did a Dark spell go horribly wrong, or do you look that way on purpose?”


“Harry,” Dumbledore interceded, wearing his best disappointed-professor look.


Harry scoffed and crossed his arms, muttering “Yours started it. I’m just defending mine.”


From the corner of his eye, Harry caught an inordinately pleased look on Voldemort’s face before it was hidden behind a deliberately blank expression. Harry wondered whether anyone had ever actually spoken up to defend Tom Riddle before.


Voldemort cleared his throat and said, “As delightful as this little chat has been, Harry and I have places to be. Return our wands.”


Grindelwald tsked and said, “Ask nicely.”


“It wasn’t a request.”


“Ah, but you see, I’m not inclined to help you speed up the locator spell that you thought I didn’t notice you doing on us through the mirror. Much trickier to do nonverbally and without a wand, isn’t it?”


Dumbledore cleared his throat before Voldemort and Grindelwald could get into it again, and said, “Your wands will be returned and the door unsealed when Gellert and I have had sufficient time to relocate and cover our tracks. You’re not the only one I’ve arranged a second chance for, Tom.”


“So,” Harry said, “you, what? Broke him out of Nurmengard from beyond the grave?” Harry was still extremely angry with Dumbledore for manipulating and lying to him, but he still had to admit that that was very badass.


Dumbledore just smiled mysteriously and said, “Something like that.”


Voldemort scoffed and glared at Grindelwald. “And we’re supposed to believe that you’re just going to retire into obscurity and trust that you won’t attack us again?”


“Believe whatever you want,” Grindelwald said lightly. “But I have no plans to interfere further with either of you. I wouldn’t even have done this if it hadn’t been, let’s say, a condition of my release.” He shot an annoyed look at Dumbledore’s portrait, who simply smiled back at him.


Voldemort clearly didn’t believe him, but he let the topic go, and instead he asked, “Is this mirror necessary for you to return our wands?”


“No, I’ll portkey them into the room, but as Albus said—”


Whatever Grindelwald was going to say was interrupted by Voldemort blasting an overpowered wandless spell at the mirror, tearing through the Unbreakable Charm and shattering it to pieces.


Harry flinched and raised his arm to shield his face from flying glass shards, but he needn’t have bothered—Voldemort had also raised a wandless Protego around the two of them.


“That was,” Harry started, caught between finishing the sentence with a fucking hot display of power or alternately really stupid since we could’ve got more information out of them, and settled instead on, “something I rather wanted to do.”


“Yes, well,” Voldemort said, not sounding sorry at all, “I couldn’t stand listening to them another second. And it was incredibly cathartic.”


Harry shook his head, then casually walked back over to sit on the edge of the bed. He sighed and said, “So…we’re still stuck in here for who-knows-how-long until they give our wands back. How ever will we pass the time?”


Voldemort looked at him and smirked, taking a step closer. “That wasn’t subtle at all.”


Harry smirked back. “Wasn’t trying to be.”


“Hmm,” Voldemort approached the bed, stopping in front of Harry and stepping between his legs when Harry spread them to allow him closer. Voldemort reached out, tipping Harry’s chin up with one finger. “You know, Harry, between our soul connection and having my magic back now, I could really,” he leaned down to steal a kiss, “thoroughly,” another kiss, “blow your mind.”


“Mmm,” Harry said into the kiss. “I don’t know,” Harry teased, kissing him again and remembering how brilliant and earth-shattering it had felt even without magic. “I think you should prove it.”


Voldemort smiled, pushed Harry backwards onto the bed, and proved it.

 

Chapter Text


“Okay,” Harry said, nearly collapsing back onto the bed beside Voldemort and trying to catch his breath, “you win. You proved it—twice. My mind is completely blown.”


Voldemort smiled and propped himself on his side to lean over Harry. “I win?”


Harry glanced at him, involuntarily smiling back—any smile on Tom Riddle’s gorgeous face was contagious and possibly also lethal. “Not like, everything,” Harry said, gesturing vaguely at the room and the rest of the world beyond it. “Just this,” Harry said, gesturing again at only the two of them. “You win at sex.”


Voldemort laughed. “I hope you realize I’m going to quote you on that in my autobiography—it might even be the title… Harry Potter Says I Win At Sex: The Secret Life of Lord Voldemort.”


“Oh god, that’s terrible. Sounds like Rita Skeeter wrote it.”


“Careful, you sound bitter, Harry,” he teased. “Although, she has been rather a nuisance to you, hasn’t she? Shall I kill her for you?” Voldemort asked, no longer teasing, still idly stroking his fingers through Harry’s bangs and staring at his scar.


A chill ran down Harry’s spine, effectively killing the afterglow. “No! And don’t just casually offer to kill people for me—I don’t want that. I’m never going to want that.”


Voldemort hummed noncommittally, still playing with Harry’s hair.


“Although,” Harry said after a moment, “if you felt like ruining her career, I wouldn’t object.”


“Duly noted,” Voldemort said, the hints of another smile twitching at his lips. He laid down, flat on his back beside Harry, and said, “Come here.”


Harry turned onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow next to Voldemort, mirroring their position from a moment ago. “Round three? Or are we going to cuddle a bit first?” Harry asked, smiling.


“Technically it would be round five,” Voldemort said, tugging Harry over until he rested his head on Voldemort’s chest. For a moment they just laid there, Voldemort running his fingers through Harry’s hair, Harry listening to Voldemort’s heartbeat, and their soul bond thrumming contentedly between them.


Neither of them mentioned the wands.


It had been rather unmissable, when their wands were finally portkeyed into the room. It was in the middle of Round 1 (which was technically Round 3) and despite being buried inside of Harry at the time, Voldemort immediately sensed the magic of the portkey when it appeared with its cargo. He didn’t mention it to Harry.


For his part, Harry noticed during Round 2 (which was technically Round 4). Despite being blissfully distracted and surprised by Voldemort’s desire to have Harry inside him again, and despite Harry’s atrocious eyesight, it was impossible not to see the entire bloody nightstand that hadn’t been there before, innocently sitting by the door with their wands and some kind of book on top of it. He didn’t mention it to Voldemort.


Harry closed his eyes and sighed, and finally said out loud what they were both feeling. “I don’t want to leave here yet.” He had the irrational fear that if they left the room, this would all turn out to be a crazy dream and Voldemort would still be trying to kill him and Harry would still be on a hopeless Horcrux hunt.


“I know.”


“I don’t want to go back to the rest of the world, and I don’t even want to think about all the shit we’re going to have to sort out with each other.”


Voldemort pressed a kiss to Harry’s forehead. “It’s not a discussion we should put off.”


Harry shifted, hiding his face in the curve of Voldemort’s neck. “We’re going to end up arguing. I don’t want to argue right now.” Harry kissed Voldemort’s neck and traced a hand slowly up his chest.


“Harry. Stop trying to distract me.”


Harry sighed. “Fine.”


“Let’s just try to make it quick and painless… Give me three conditions that are absolutely non-negotiable for you. Go.”


Harry sighed again. “Fine… Stop attacking Muggles and Muggleborns, stop encouraging that Pureblood supremacy bullshit, and you’re not allowed to make any more Horcruxes.”


“Hmm.”


“Really? That’s all you’ve got to say, is hmm?”


“I asked for non-negotiables. Were you expecting me to try to negotiate?”


“Well, yeah.”


“Well, surprise,” he said dryly. “I’ll accept your non-negotiables if you agree to mine. First, you’ll allow me to put the full range of Horcrux protective spells on you, and you’ll live with me for the foreseeable future. Second, you’ll assist me with a political takeover and massive overhaul of the Ministry, the details of which we’ll decide together. Third, you’re going to finish your magical education at Hogwarts, and then continue it further with me as your personal instructor.”


“Those don’t sound too bad,” Harry said cautiously.


“Yes, clearly you’re getting the better deal here. You’re only asking me to disavow the main selling-point for most of my followers.”


“And you’re okay with that?”


Voldemort was silent for a moment, still absently stroking Harry’s hair. “The thing about politics, about gathering a following, is that you have to play to your base and give the people who are willing to support you what they want, even if it doesn’t align perfectly with your own beliefs.”


“Are you going to try to tell me you secretly love Muggles? Because I’m not that stupid.”


“Merlin, no. I detest them and that’s not going to change. But the ‘Pureblood supremacy bullshit’ was more of an acquiescence to my followers than something I truly believe.”


“It would be pretty hypocritical of you,” Harry muttered.


“You know about my father, then?”


“I also know you killed him, and your grandparents.”


“And I’ll never regret that. But back to the point, yes, I’m a half-blood and I’m the most powerful wizard alive. Clearly blood status isn’t what matters—magic is what matters.”


“So you wouldn’t have a problem with my friend Hermione, then? She’s Muggleborn and she’s the most brilliant witch in our year.”


“Am I to meet your friends already? Are we quite there yet?” Voldemort asked lightly.


“Maybe. Don’t dodge the question.”


“Magic is might,” Voldemort murmured. “I’ll be respectful to your friends as long as they show me the same courtesy.”


“And what are you going to do about your Death Eaters?”


“Their orders are about to drastically change. Those who can’t or won’t adapt will not survive, it’s as simple as that.”


Harry was silent for a moment, wondering if he should argue on principle against the implied murder, but he finally just said, “All right.”


“So you accept my conditions?” Voldemort asked, then winced. “Let me rephrase that, I sounded like that infernal mirror.”


Harry laughed and blurted, “Acknowledged!”


“Stop it. Do you agree to my three non-negotiable requests?”


“Yes, if you agree to mine.”


“All right then. I think it’s customary to seal agreements like this with a kiss.”


“I think you’re full of it,” Harry said, but he smiled and leaned up to kiss him anyway. Harry’s scar still tingled pleasantly whenever they kissed, so he took his time, deepening the kiss and running his hands through Voldemort’s hair. Voldemort’s hands slid up Harry’s sides, slowly, before cradling his face and gently breaking the kiss.


“Let’s take care of the Horcrux protective enchantments,” Voldemort suggested.


“You don’t want, like, an actual Oath for our agreement?” Harry asked.


“That would be rather stupid, wouldn’t it? Wizard’s Oaths and Unbreakable Vows severely punish anyone who breaks them. And with our connection, if one of us is punished so is the other.”


“Right,” Harry said, feeling foolish for having asked. “So, we just—trust each other's word?”


“The concept is as foreign to me as I imagine it is for you. But I’m sure we’ll manage somehow. Now, the protective enchantments?”


Harry sighed, and stole one more brief kiss before shifting over and laying back down beside Voldemort. “Fine. What do I have to do?”


Voldemort sat up and wordlessly summoned his wand from across the room. “Nothing. You just lay there and look pretty,” he said, throwing a wink at Harry.


Harry laughed. “You’re terrible.”


Voldemort tilted his head in acknowledgement, then started applying the spells, briefly explaining each of them to Harry as he performed them. There was one to make him more resistant to spell damage as well as physical damage, and one that would sense danger and draw from his magic to automatically protect him if attacked while unconscious. Voldemort also added one that would strengthen their mental connection and make it possible for Harry to bring the two of them into a mindscape if he wanted, and another that would allow them to draw from each other’s magic in case of emergencies. He also set up mental barriers to protect Harry from outside Legilimency attacks, since Harry had never gotten the hang of it himself.


He insisted on fixing Harry’s vision too, citing his reliance on glasses as a liability to Harry and to the Horcrux. “But it’ll draw attention if I suddenly stop wearing my glasses,” Harry griped, but he allowed Voldemort to carry on. Voldemort simply tapped Harry’s glasses with his wand and turned the lenses to regular, clear glass. “Great,” Harry said, “you’ve turned me into a douchebag who wears fake glasses.”


Voldemort smirked and put the finishing touches on the final spell, then lowered his wand. “All done. You’re probably the most protected Horcrux to ever exist.”


“So, what, if someone hexes me it’ll just bounce off?”


“Not exactly. Most spells or curses meant to seriously harm you will be absorbed and dissipated by the protective enchantments. Minor spells and spells without harmful intent can still affect you. And obviously you should stay away from Basilisk venom, Dementors, and Fiendfyre.”


“I’d say ‘no problem’ but I’ve already had run-ins with all of those, so,” Harry shrugged. “I’ll try.”


Voldemort said nothing, but set his wand aside on the mattress and laid back down next to Harry. After a moment, he said, “Shall we see to your people first, or mine?”


“What do you mean by see to?”


“They’re going to demand an explanation from you, surely?”


“Explanation for what?”


“For us, you idiot.”


“Well, they won’t know who you really are, so we’ll just make up a story. Use a fake name and say you saved me from a horde of Death Eaters, and then we started a whirlwind romance or whatever.”


“No.”


“No?”


“I won’t be starting over from scratch with a false identity. I’m not throwing away everything I’ve built and everything I am.”


“But Dumbledore said—”


“Dumbledore can go hang. Preferably over a bonfire.”


“You said we’re taking over the Ministry though? You mean for us to do that as Voldemort and Harry Potter? How’s that supposed to work?”


“Technically I already have control of the Ministry. Scrimgeour’s successor is an imbecile, and under the Imperius on top of that. But it won’t be sustainable—the grip I have on the Ministry now is based on confusion and fear—it was a shadow takeover, and eventually there will be dissent and rebellions. I intend for the two of us to announce an end to the war, use our alliance to legitimately gain political and public favor, and make ourselves indispensible to the wellbeing of the Magical world.”


“Sounds exhausting,” Harry said.


“You’re exhausting.”


Harry yawned. “Back at you. Think it’s safe to sleep here?” He stretched out beside Voldemort, shifting to get more comfortable. He rested his head on Voldemort’s shoulder.


“Probably not. We really shouldn’t have stayed this long—theoretically, Grindelwald could come back at any moment, or he could portkey something horrible into the room with us since he knows exactly where we are.”


“Okay, nope, let’s go. Like now.” Harry reluctantly stood up and looked around for his clothes. He grabbed them off the floor and started to dress, while Voldemort showed off by wandlessly summoning his own clothes again.


“And where will we be going first? You never answered me,” Voldemort said, somehow fully dressed already while Harry had only managed to get one leg into his trousers.


“I reckon my friends will be easier to convince than your followers…You seriously want to carry on as yourself? That’s going to make this, like, an impossible sell. Ron and Hermione are going to think I’m Imperiused or on a love potion or something.”


“If it doesn’t go well, we can always Obliviate them.”


“I’d really rather not.”


“Then be persuasive.” Voldemort headed for the door, pausing to examine the book on the nightstand beside Harry’s wand. He cast a series of silent spells at it before seeming to decide it wasn’t dangerous, then he cautiously opened the cover.


“What is it?” Harry asked, dressed now and coming to stand at Voldemort’s side.


Voldemort flipped through the first few pages, brows furrowing as he read through hand-written pages full of runes, diagrams, and complicated arithmancy equations that Harry couldn’t ever hope to understand.


“I think it’s the ritual they invented for us…but this is impossible. It’s ridiculous—the leaps in logic are so drastic they’re practically madness. These specific spells shouldn’t interact that way—it’s not how these types of magic work.” He went on in a similar vein, grumbling under his breath about how so-and-so’s-theorem should negate the effect of the principle of whatever, especially when combined with the law of something-or-other—Harry didn’t bother paying close attention since it all went right over his head.


Harry peered at the page for a moment, then admitted, “I have no clue what we’re looking at.”


Voldemort just shook his head and closed the book before tucking it into a pocket of his robes. “I have no clue how it even worked,” he said, and was clearly furious about it.


“You’ll figure it out,” Harry said, taking one of Voldemort’s hands in his own to get his attention. “Don’t get all stroppy right before we go to meet my friends,” he teased, reaching a hand up to Voldemort’s neck to guide him down into a kiss.


Voldemort kissed him back hungrily, pressing Harry back against the door and running his hands through his hair. Harry returned the favor, finding himself a little bit obsessed with Voldemort’s hair now that he had hair. After much too short of a moment, Voldemort broke the kiss and took a step back. “We really should be going.”


“All right,” Harry said. “Can we Apparate out, or are there wards up?”


Voldemort closed his eyes for a second, reaching out with his magic. “We can Apparate. Show me where we’re going and I’ll side-along you.”


“Show you?”


“Picture it clearly in your mind,” Voldemort said, tipping Harry’s chin up and forcing eye contact.


“Oh. Right.” Harry envisioned Grimmauld Place as clearly as he could, and said, “It’s under a Fidelus, so I probably have to tell you too. It’s Number 12 Grimmauld Place. My godfather Sirius left it to me, and the Order was using it as headquarters but they’ve cleared out ever since Snape, you know, picked a side. He had access to it so it’s not exactly secure, but it was the best hiding place we could think of yesterday.”


Voldemort blinked and stared at him with a half-surprised half-perplexed expression.


“What?” Harry asked, realizing that he’d been rambling a bit.


“You trust much too easily,” Voldemort murmured, shaking his head.


“I really don’t,” Harry replied. “Not usually. But I trust that you’re not going to hurt me. And you want me to stick around and cooperate with your plans, so I trust that you’re not going to do anything stupid like hurt my friends. And I would be very annoyed if you sent Death Eaters trampling around what’s technically my house, so,” Harry shrugged.


Voldemort smiled, “How Slytherin of you.”


Harry just shrugged again. “Come on, Apparate us before I lose my nerve. I hate side-alonging.”


“Very well.” Voldemort stepped closer and took Harry’s arm, took one last brief look at the room that had been their temporary prison, then Disapparated.


They reappeared on the front lawn of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and Harry swayed on his feet. Voldemort reached out to steady him with both hands on his shoulders.


“I hate travelling like that,” Harry muttered.


“Then you’ll have to practice Apparating yourself, won’t you?” Voldemort said absently, letting go of Harry and starting for the front door, beckoning for Harry to follow. “We shouldn’t linger outside. Who is likely to be in the house?”


“It was just me, Hermione, and Ron, last I knew. Oh, and Kreacher, the house-elf,” Harry said, “but technically anybody in the Order could show up if they wanted.”


“Hm. Let’s hope they don’t.”


“Let me go first,” Harry said, opening the door. He remembered too late to warn about the fake-ghost of Dumbledore—it was swirling up in front of them, and Voldemort’s wand was out in seconds, but Harry put a hand on his arm and said, “Don’t. It’s just there to scare off Snape if he drops by.” Harry looked at the ghost-Dumbledore, and said, “I didn’t kill you,” then, as it started to disintegrate, Harry muttered, “but I’ve lost all desire to avenge your death, that’s for sure.”


“Who’s there?” came Hermione’s voice from the next room.


“It’s Harry,” he called.


Hermione didn’t let her guard down so quickly, and asked, “What was the name of the three-headed dog we had to sneak past?”


“Fluffy,” Harry answered, smiling at the memory.


“Oh thank god,” Hermione said—she was still in the other room but her voice was moving closer. “Where have you been? We got Kreacher talking and figured out where the locket is, and—oh, er, hello,” Hermione came into view in the doorway and realized that Harry wasn’t alone.


Harry could feel the sudden tension through his bond with Voldemort—something primal and panicked that had started to pound like a heartbeat at the mention of the locket, an undercurrent of where is it must protect it so few left find it find it WHERE that had Harry reaching out to preemptively put a hand on Voldemort’s wand arm, both to discourage him from drawing it and to try to calm him down.


It seemed to help, because Voldemort collected himself enough to offer a polite, “You’re Hermione, I presume?”


“I am. And you are?” Hermione asked, eyeing Voldemort warily.


Harry quickly jumped in with, “Er, that’s kind of a long story. But it’s fine, I trust him. He’s…an ally.” And then, because the urgency overflowing from Voldemort’s side of the bond was getting unbearable, Harry added, “Where’s the locket?”


“That’s sort of a long story too,” Hermione said, still watching Voldemort cautiously. She was clearly unsure of how much to say in front of him. “But the, er, High Inquisitor has it,” she said obliquely.


“Umbridge?” Harry groaned. “How? Why?”


“Dolores Umbridge? From the Ministry?” Voldemort asked.


“Yeah. Merlin, I hate that sadistic toad,” Harry muttered, his tone vicious.


Voldemort raised an eyebrow at the outburst. “Dare I ask?”


Harry held up his hand, squeezing it into a fist so the I must not tell lies scar stood out. “She’s pure evil. And when she was at Hogwarts, she liked to make me write lines." 

 

Voldemort peered at Harry’s hand, then his eyes widened slightly and he seized it in his own hands, examining it closer with his eyes and his magic. “Is this from a blood quill?” Voldemort asked, his tone deadly.


“Yep.”


“I am going to disembowel her.”


“No, we talked about this,” Harry chided, but his tone was light, almost teasing.


“You said no more casual murder offers. Disembowelment isn’t murder.”


Harry was about to argue, but Hermione cut in with a slightly alarmed, “I’d really like to know who your friend is now, Harry.”


Harry glanced at Hermione, then back at Voldemort. He lowered his voice and said, “Maybe I should tell them alone? You could go get the locket, and by the time you’re back we can all be on the same page and talk things out a bit more.”


“If you think that would be best,” Voldemort said quietly, glancing Hermione’s way for a brief moment, then squeezing Harry’s hand again before letting go and stepping backwards towards the door. “I’ll return shortly.” He seemed reluctant to actually leave, lingering by the door and not breaking eye contact with Harry.


“No disembowelment,” Harry teased, but he was also suddenly reluctant to be separated from Voldemort.


“No promises,” Voldemort teased back. Then he remembered their audience, sent a polite nod towards Hermione, and stepped outside. Seconds later Harry heard the crack of Disapparation, and he felt surprisingly empty without Voldemort there.


“Harry, who was that and where have you been?” Hermione asked, finally approaching him and throwing her arms around him. “We woke up and you were just gone! We were this close to going out and searching for you.”


Harry hugged her back, and said, “It really is a long story. Where’s Ron? I don’t want to tell it twice.”


“We’ve been sleeping in shifts since you disappeared yesterday. I’ll wake him up.” She patted him on the shoulder, then headed up the stairs to fetch Ron.


Harry went in the kitchen and started making tea because it was the polite thing to do, and also because if he timed his reveals right he’d get to watch his friends do spit-takes.


He had three cups of tea ready by the time Hermione reappeared with Ron—he’d considered making a fourth in case Voldemort returned, but decided not to since he didn’t know how he took his tea.


Ron rubbed his eyes and eagerly grabbed his cup of tea, lightly punching Harry on the shoulder. “Where’ve you been, you git?”


Harry forced a smile, realizing that he had no idea how to even begin. “Let’s go in the sitting room, and I’ll explain.”


There were two loveseats and an uncomfortable-looking wingback chair placed around the fireplace in the sitting room. Ron and Hermione took one loveseat, and Harry took the other, wishing that Voldemort was sharing it with him. “Well, er,” Harry began.


“Spit it out, mate,” Ron said, lifting his teacup to his lips.


“Okay, I’m trying. There’s so much, I don’t know what to even start with…Okay, er—first off, I guess, is that Grindelwald escaped from Nurmengard.”


Spit-take number one. “What?” Ron said, wiping his mouth. “Seriously? Do we have to fight two Dark Lords now?”


“Not exactly,” Harry hedged.


Hermione was giving him a more serious look, “Harry, that wizard with you, was that him?”


“Grindelwald? No.”


“What wizard?” Ron asked, glancing around. “Is someone else here?”


“No, look, I’ll get to that part,” Harry said. “Er, so I don’t know how exactly he got a hold of me—there’s a bit of a blank spot in my memory—but I woke up and Grindelwald locked me into this room. I didn’t know he was Grindelwald though, not until the end.” Harry paused for a moment, realizing that if he told the story chronologically he was going to give his friends heart attacks. He wished Voldemort were there—he would know how best to tell the story to make Ron and Hermione understand. “So, er, Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s portrait came up with this really terrible fucked-up plan to try to stop Voldemort and end the war.”


Ron looked confused, and Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s portrait?” she repeated skeptically.


“Apparently they were former lovers,” Harry offered, just as Ron took another sip of tea. Spit-take number two.


“Ronald,” Hermione scolded, waving her wand to clean up the mess.


“I can’t help it! It’s his fault,” he said, gesturing at Harry, who was trying to hold back a grin. Ron pointedly set his tea down on the side table.


“Anyway,” Harry said, “er, their plan involved locking me and Voldemort in a room together wearing magic-repressing collars, and, well,” Harry trailed off, unable to say the rest when his friends were already shocked and horrified by just that much.


“Oh, Harry,” Hermione whispered.


“So,” Ron asked cautiously, “did you kill him?”


“No,” Harry said, “but the war’s over. Or it will be soon.”


Hermione’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”


“Well, while we were locked up, we realized that,” Harry hesitated, genuinely worried about how they would take this next part, “apparently, when Voldemort tried to kill me as a baby, he accidentally made me a Horcrux.”


Hermione gasped, and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. Ron’s face paled. Neither of them said anything.


Harry forced a wobbly smile and said, “Say something?”


“I don’t know what to say,” Hermione whispered.


“I’m still me,” Harry said, almost desperately. “I’ve always been me, there’s just,” he trailed off.


“A piece of You-Know-Who’s soul inside you,” Ron supplied, still looking shell-shocked.


Harry nodded. “Yeah.”


“Harry,” Hermione said, catching his eye, “We’ll always be your friends, no matter what. You know that, right?”


“Of course,” Harry said, pretending like he hadn’t just been terrified that they would abandon him. “Thank you. I don’t deserve you two.”


“Of course you do,” Hermione said, then she asked, “So, how did V-Voldemort react?”


“He did a complete one-eighty and said I’m under his protection now. He’s not going to kill me, or hurt anyone I care about. We’re going to announce a truce or something like that, soon.”


Hermione’s face was pale and she didn’t say anything, but Harry guessed that she had just realized who her mystery guest had been.


“Bloody hell,” Ron said.


“And, er, there’s more—it kind of, gets worse,” Harry said, forcing the words out before he could change his mind about sharing this part. “Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s plan—they invented some kind of insane experimental ritual to put two of Voldemort’s other Horcruxes back into his main soul. It made him more stable, more human.” Harry couldn’t bear to look at his friends anymore—he didn’t want to see their reactions to this so he laced his hands together in his lap and stared at them instead. “But, er, we didn’t know about any of that until it was all over. We didn’t know who had captured us or why. We were just locked in a room together without our magic and told that we had 24 hours to have sex with each other or else we would both die.”


Silence.


Harry still didn’t dare to look up, so he rambled on, “So, obviously we did, and I doubt you want the details but it was as consensual as it could be, under the circumstances. We decided to make the best of it, and it was actually bloody amazing, and, er, we talked through a lot of things in this shared mindscape where Grindelwald couldn’t spy on us. Once Grindelwald let us go, Voldemort fixed my Horcrux so my scar won’t hurt anymore, and we’re going to call off the war and take over the Ministry together instead. So…that’s where we are now,” Harry finished lamely, finally daring to glance up at his friends.


Ron looked horrorstruck. Hermione looked ready to cry, and as soon as Harry’s eyes met hers, she launched herself across the space between them and pulled him into a fierce hug. “I am so sorry, Harry,” she said into his shoulder. “Are you okay?”


“I’m fine,” he said quietly. “I mean, we were both forced into it, it’s not like—” he trailed off and cleared his throat. “It could’ve been a lot worse,” he said.


Hermione just hugged him tighter.


Ron cleared his throat, and said, “Did you just say you’re going to take over the Ministry with You-Know-Who?”


“Yeah, but it’s not as bad as it sounds,” Harry said, grateful for the change of subject. “He’s going to stop all the blood-purity rot, and he’s going to get rid of any Death Eaters who won’t adapt to the changes.”


“Oh, well that’s all right, then,” Ron muttered sarcastically. “You realize how crazy this all sounds, yeah?”


“Believe me, I know,” Harry said. “But he’ll be back before long, and he can probably explain better—”


“Back? What do you mean, back? He was here?” Ron demanded, his voice going up a few octaves.


Hermione finally let go of Harry, patting his arms before giving him some space. She sat back down next to Ron and answered for him, “He was with Harry when he came back. I didn’t know who he was then, but I met him for a moment. He was—polite, but still rather scary. He looked human, and he seemed, well, very fond of Harry,” she said, blushing a bit.


“Merlin,” Ron said. “You brought You-Know-Who here, to the Order’s base, where your Muggleborn friend is hiding? Have you completely lost your mind?”


“He’s not going to hurt us,” Harry argued, but he was interrupted by the front door opening, and the fake Dumbledore ghost howling to life again.


Ron and Hermione both froze.


“I didn’t kill you,” Voldemort’s voice said clearly, carrying from the other room. The ghost went silent, and Voldemort added, “Not directly, anyway.”


Harry stood and went to the doorway that connected the sitting room to the entrance hall, and called out, “Who is it?”


He could hear the smirk in Voldemort’s voice when he replied, “You know who.”


Ron and Hermione glanced at each other, then at Harry. “Did he just make a pun?” Ron asked, looking faint.


Harry ignored them, and called, “Prove it.”


“Shall I describe what I did the last time you told me to prove it, Harry?”


Harry choked and tried not to blush. “Nope! No need,” he called, then told his friends, “that’s definitely him. Stay here a minute.”


Harry ignored the whispered bickering that started up between his friends, and he stepped out into the entryway. A wave of relief and rightness hit him once he was close to Voldemort again. Voldemort met him halfway across the room and pulled him into a hug that sent their soul bond into a fit of happy buzzing.


“That was quick,” Harry said. “Did you get it?”


Voldemort leaned back just far enough to pull the locket out from where it was hidden beneath his shirt. He took the locket off and put it around Harry’s neck instead. It felt warm, and seemed to have a quiet, distant heartbeat of its own. “Don’t worry, I told it to play nice,” Voldemort said.


Harry raised an eyebrow. “So it’s not going to try to possess me or my friends like the diary did?”


“Not at all. It’s more or less hibernating right now.”


Harry hummed, then asked, “What did you do to Umbridge?”


Voldemort smirked. “Nothing drastic—I merely set her to writing some lines,” he said, faux-innocently.


Harry laughed. “Perfect.”


“Except hers are appearing on her face instead of her hand.”


“What do they say?”


“I am only alive due to Harry Potter’s mercy, which I do not deserve.”


“Sounds about right,” Harry said, and he was leaning in to kiss Voldemort when the Dark Lord’s eyes flicked to the side. Harry followed his glance, and saw Ron and Hermione silently lurking in the doorway. Harry paused, and took a half step back. “Oh, er,” he realized he never really did a proper introduction last time, and awkwardly said, “These are my best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Ron, Hermione, this is Voldemort.”


“Pleasure to meet you,” Voldemort said, pulling out the old Tom Riddle charisma. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”


“Can’t really say the same,” Ron piped up, to Hermione’s visible horror. “But Harry seems to think you’ve changed, so…” he trailed off, seeming to lose his nerve at that point.


“A lot of things have changed,” Voldemort allowed, before turning his attention back to Harry. “As a matter of fact, while I was at the Ministry, I cancelled several of the more drastic plans that were about to go into effect. Left the place in a bit of an uproar. There’ll be a Death Eater meeting tomorrow night to give them their new orders. You and I should have at least a general outline of a plan by then.”


Harry nodded, then yawned and leaned forward to rest his head on Voldemort’s shoulder. “Tired,” he mumbled.


Voldemort stroked his fingers through Harry’s hair for a moment, then said, “Let’s go to bed, then. Where are the bedrooms?”


“Upstairs,” Harry said, fighting back another yawn, “We can use Sirius’s, his name’s on the door.” Voldemort nudged Harry until he started moving towards the stairs. He grabbed one of Voldemort’s hands, leading him along. “Night guys,” Harry told Ron and Hermione as he passed, “please don’t freak out and call the Order, or anything.”


“We won’t,” Hermione promised, glancing from Harry to Voldemort.


“I’ll be warding his room to within an inch of its life,” Voldemort warned them, “so don’t try to disturb us unless there’s an emergency.”


Hermione and Ron both nodded, paling slightly.


“Also, I require a Wizard’s Oath from both of you, swearing that you won’t tell anyone else what Harry has told you tonight about the two of us, and that you won’t otherwise sabotage our safety or our plans.”


“Is that really necessary?” Harry asked, then yawned again.


“Yes. I don’t trust them as you do. I’ve only just met them. Humor me, and be our bonder?”


“Fine,” Harry said. “Come on, guys.”


Voldemort extended a hand, and Ron and Hermione very reluctantly stretched out theirs as well, placing them on top of Voldemort’s palm. Harry placed his wand on their joined hands while Voldemort said, “Do you swear not to repeat any information Harry told you tonight about the events that transpired to bring us together, unless he or I give you express permission to do so? And do you swear not to intentionally sabotage our safety or our future plans?”


“I swear,” Hermione said.


“I swear,” Ron muttered.


Strings of light swirled around their hands, then disappeared.


“Much appreciated,” Voldemort said, pulling his arm away and placing it around Harry’s shoulders instead, ushering him towards the stairs. “We’ll see you tomorrow, then.”


Harry leaned into Voldemort’s touch, yawned again, and said, “Night, guys.”


Harry and Voldemort were halfway up the stairs when Harry heard Ron mutter to Hermione, “You saw that, right? They’re acting like bloody newlyweds.”


Harry chuckled, and squeezed Voldemort’s hand. “I think that went well,” he said, through another yawn.


“I suppose,” Voldemort said, ushering Harry into Sirius’s room. He stopped just inside the doorway, staring in partially-concealed horror at the posters of cars and Muggle swimsuit models, and the Gryffindor banner. “Charming,” he said sarcastically, then closed the door and started applying every non-lethal privacy and defensive ward he knew.


Harry set his glasses on the nightstand, then flopped down onto the bed and fell asleep in seconds.


Voldemort finished the wards, and then sat on the edge of the bed, looking at Harry. He took out his wand and transfigured Harry’s clothes into comfortable pajamas—Slytherin green to match his eyes, of course—and then levitated him carefully in order to pull down the comforter and blankets Harry hadn’t bothered to get under. He set Harry back down, transfigured his own clothes into black silk pajamas, then climbed into bed beside Harry, wrapping one arm around the boy and pulling the blankets back up over both of them. Voldemort’s hand automatically clutched the locket, holding it securely where it rested over Harry’s heart. Finally he closed his eyes and allowed himself to sleep.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Harry woke first, wrapped up in Voldemort’s arms and in the strongest sense of warmth and safety he’d ever experienced. He opened his eyes and was startled for a second by the fact that he could see clearly right away, without putting on his glasses, but then he remembered that Voldemort had fixed his eyesight.

At some point in the night, Harry and Voldemort had turned towards each other and curled into an embrace, their legs tangled and their foreheads pressed together. Harry leaned back far enough to get a look at Voldemort’s sleeping, unguarded expression—he looked younger, deceptively innocent, and stunningly beautiful. One of his hands was clutched around the locket Harry still wore. Harry decided to try to get up without waking him, so he carefully slipped the chain of the locket off of his own neck, and let it settle in the space between them. Harry started to slowly pull away, but then Voldemort’s breathing changed and his eyes blinked open to meet Harry’s.


“Harry,” he murmured.


Harry smiled, and said, “Good morning.”


Harry closed the distance between them and started a slow, lazy kiss that escalated into slow, lazy handjobs that escalated into a shedding of clothes and a whispered lubrication spell and slow, lazy morning sex.


“Oh yes, right there,” Harry moaned as Voldemort’s fingers moved inside him and brushed his prostate.


Voldemort smiled against Harry’s lips, added a third finger, and repeated the motion. “Ready?”


“I’ve been ready, come on,” Harry pleaded, shifting his hips and wrapping his legs around Voldemort.


“So impatient,” he teased, but he withdrew his fingers and moved closer, lining his erection up with Harry’s entrance. He leaned down over Harry and pressed a kiss to his lips as he slid inside, swallowing the boy’s delicious moans.


“Fuck,” Harry breathed, loving the stretch, the fullness, the feeling of Voldemort inside him and all around him—he was already addicted to this.


Voldemort stayed still for a moment, doing nothing but kissing Harry deeply and letting him adjust. After a moment, he said “All right?”


“Yes, move,” Harry said, his hands coming up to run through Voldemort’s hair as he pulled him into another kiss.


Voldemort smiled into the kiss, then pulled out and thrust back in, slowly, gently, like they had all the time in the world. He ran his hand down Harry’s side, fingertips tingling with wandless magic that sent a buzz of pleasure through his entire body.


Harry jolted and broke the kiss to breathe, “What was that? Do it again.”


“Interestingly enough, it’s a cousin of the Cruciatus,” Voldemort said casually in a professorly tone, despite being balls-deep inside of Harry, “except instead of sending pain signals to every nerve ending in the body, it sends pleasure.”


“You have to teach me that,” Harry said, kissing him again and shifting his hips to meet Voldemort’s slow thrusts. “Later though—just keep doing it now.”


“So demanding,” Voldemort murmured, but he complied, sending another jolt of magic through Harry’s body. He did it again, this time coordinating it with his cock hitting Harry’s prostate, and that was it for Harry—he hissed Voldemort’s name and came with his cock untouched.


A few more thrusts, and then Voldemort was spilling inside of Harry, his mouth latched onto his neck, kissing him there and marking him (again). He pulled back slightly to rest his forehead against Harry’s for a moment, then leaned in for a kiss, both of them sated and smiling against each other’s lips as they caught their breath.


Very good morning,” Harry corrected his earlier statement.


“Indeed.”


Harry kissed Voldemort again, then pulled away and started to climb out of bed. Voldemort didn’t make any move to follow, idly stroking the locket that had ended up back around his own neck while he watched Harry get dressed.


“Do you like French Toast?” Harry asked.


“What?” Voldemort was a bit distracted by the curve of Harry’s arse as he bent over to retrieve a stray sock from the floor.


“French Toast. Do you like it?”


“Yes. Why?”


“Because I’m going to go make some for breakfast,” Harry said, putting his glasses on out of habit and glancing over his shoulder as he headed for the door. “So don’t fall back asleep.”


Voldemort didn’t reply but sent him the kind of smile that almost made Harry turn around and jump back into bed with him for another round. Harry valiantly resisted the urge, and smiled back before closing the door behind him.


Harry made sure to keep quiet going down the stairs, unsure whether Ron and Hermione would still be asleep. It turned out they had both spent the night in the sitting room, each stretching out on one of the loveseats. After he found them, Harry snuck back into the kitchen, careful to stay quiet as he cooked enough French Toast for four people to feast on. He wondered whether Kreacher would pop out and have a conniption about Harry cooking his own food, but either the House Elf didn’t notice or just didn’t care.


Harry was plating the food when Ron and Hermione wandered in, rubbing the sleep from their eyes and heading straight for the teapot. Harry flinched when he saw the movement in his peripheral vision—anytime he cooked, years of conditioning had him still half-expecting Aunt Petunia to whack him with a spatula for inevitably messing the food up with his freakishness. Harry pushed those thoughts away and forced a smile for his friends.


“Just in time,” Harry said, setting down plates for both of them, then starting to make a third. Ron wasted no time digging into his, but Hermione was waiting for Harry to join them. She blinked when Harry simply set the third plate down at the table and started on a fourth.


“Oh, right,” she said under her breath.


“Hmm?” Ron asked. “This is delicious,” he told Harry through a mouthful of food.


“Is he coming down for breakfast, then?” Hermione asked, and Ron paused as he remembered their newest addition.


Voldemort, with impeccable timing, stepped through the doorway and said, “He is, in fact,” causing Ron to jump. “Good morning to both of you.” They both mumbled back awkward polite greetings and became very interested in their plates. Voldemort passed Harry on his way to the table, ghosting his fingertips along the back of Harry’s neck as he walked by. “And a very good morning to you, Harry.”


Harry blushed as he brought his own plate and cup of tea to the table, sitting down at the same time as Voldemort. “Not at the table,” he muttered, taking a sip of tea.


Voldemort smirked, and hissed in Parseltongue, “How about on top of the table, as soon as they leave?”


Harry choked on his tea.


“Ha!” Ron said, pointing at Harry, “That’s karma for yesterday, making me spit out my tea.”


“I have no idea what you’re on about,” Harry said, playing innocent.


Hermione shook her head with a fond smile and started on her French Toast. Voldemort’s eyes glanced back and forth between the three of them, and a few surprisingly un-awkward moments passed with everyone just enjoying their breakfast.


Harry cleared his throat. “So—we’re supposed to agree on a plan by tonight, then?” he asked, deliberately bringing it up in front of Ron and Hermione so he could get their input.


Voldemort glanced towards Ron and Hermione then back at Harry, and he decided not to argue against their inclusion. “We don’t have to figure everything out right away, obviously. We just need something to spin to the Death Eaters so they won’t riot.”


“Just tell them you have me Imperiused,” Harry suggested, taking another bite of his food.


Voldemort shook his head. “Too many people know you can resist it.” He was quiet for a moment, then suggested, “We could always tell them the truth—or a version of it, anyway.”


“What, that we bonded over our fuck-or-die trauma?”


Voldemort raised an eyebrow, and glanced towards Ron and Hermione who were awkwardly looking anywhere else.


Harry shrugged and said, “I don’t keep secrets from them. I did tell them everything—well, not in detail, but everything important.”


Voldemort seemed skeptical, and asked in Parseltongue, “They know you’re my Horcrux?”


Harry deliberately answered in English, “Yes, they know I’m your Horcrux.”


And they know who took us and why?”


“Yes, they know Dumbledore’s portrait and Grindelwald took us for a ritual to fix your soul.”


And my intention for us to take over the Ministry together?”


“Yes, they know we’re going Bonnie and Clyde on the Ministry of Magic.”


Voldemort rolled his eyes, somehow making it look elegant. He seemed to understand the reference even though Ron looked a bit lost. “What,” Voldemort said, “is the point of having our own private language if you’re just going to translate everything I say?”


Harry smirked, and hissed in Parseltongue, “Well, it’s pretty hot in the bedroom, so there’s that.”


Voldemort chuckled, and said in English, “I agree, it is pretty hot in the bedroom,” turning Harry’s strategy against him and smirking when everyone else blushed. “And I find myself very glad I insisted on a Wizard’s Oath—I didn’t actually think you’d tell them everything.”


Harry shrugged and said, “Yeah, well. Anyway—plans. We were going to make them?”


“As I was saying,” Voldemort said pointedly, “we could tell them part of the truth. That we’ve agreed on a truce and that you’re my…I think consort would be the appropriate term.”


Harry wrinkled his nose. “I don’t like that—sounds too much like escort. How about co-Lord?” he asked, with a defiant smirk.


Voldemort quirked an eyebrow. “You’re presumptuous this morning. What’s gotten into you?”


“Besides you?”


Ron choked, and Hermione finally spoke up. “Harry, we love you, but please stop talking about your sex life at the table.”


Harry blushed, and sputtered, “No, I just meant the Horcrux, not—anything else.”


Hermione pointedly glanced at the hickey on Harry’s neck, then gave him a dubious look and went back to her French Toast.


Harry desperately cast around for a change of subject, and blurted out the first thing that popped into his head, asking Voldemort, “Are we going to have to get married?”


Three sets of eyes stared at Harry in shock, and then Voldemort just started laughing.


“Oh, that’s nice,” Harry muttered.


“Why on earth would we have to get married?” Voldemort asked, still chuckling.


“I don’t know—isn’t that what they did in the old days, when rival countries or families made peace treaties? The heirs got married to seal the truce?”


“These aren’t ‘the old days,’ and we’ll be the ones making the rules. We don’t have to do anything.”


“All right, I was just asking. Stop laughing at me.”


“Oh, Harry,” Voldemort cooed, teasing him, “was that your way of dropping a hint? Do you want me to propose?”


“No, shut up,” Harry grumbled, but Voldemort ignored him and continued the charade.


Voldemort pulled the locket out from his robes, taking it off of his neck and saying, “I don’t have a ring, but,” he placed the locket around Harry’s neck and knelt on the floor by Harry’s chair, grasping one of Harry’s hands, “Harry James Potter,” he said in a solemn tone, despite visibly holding back laughter, “keeper of my soul—will you marry me?”


“Fuck off,” Harry muttered, but an involuntary grin spread across his face.


Voldemort heaved a melodramatic sigh, but then he broke into a grin as well, “How will I ever recover from this devastating rejection?”


“I don’t know, go take over the world or something,” Harry said flippantly, taking a bite of his food and pretending to ignore Voldemort.


“I might just do that,” Voldemort said, finally standing and running an affectionate hand through Harry’s hair before casually returning to his seat as though joke marriage proposals from the Dark Lord were an everyday thing.


Ron looked traumatized as he leaned over and whispered in Hermione’s ear, “What just happened?” but Hermione just shook her head, looking bewildered and reluctantly charmed.


After a few moments, Voldemort said, “I’m not going to tell the Death Eaters you’re my co-Lord. First of all, they’d never go for it, and secondly you’d need to come up with an appropriately impressive name, and there just isn’t time for that right now.” He smirked a little, and Harry rolled his eyes.


“Because that’s the priority, an impressive name.”


“However,” Voldemort continued, as if Harry hadn’t spoken, “I am going to tell them that we are allies now, that the war is over, and that I will be pursuing my goals primarily through politics instead of overt violence from now on. I’m also going to make sure they know that I will personally eviscerate anyone who tries to harm you—don’t argue, Harry, I’m not budging on that,” he said, as Harry started to protest.


“My hero,” Harry drawled sarcastically.


Voldemort smirked, and reached over to steal a bite of French Toast off of Harry’s plate with his fork.


“Stop that,” Harry said, his mood darkening. “Eat your own.”


“Yours tastes better,” Voldemort said playfully, reaching over again.


“Too bad.” Harry shifted his plate farther away and curled his arm closer around it.


Voldemort raised an eyebrow and nodded towards Harry’s arm, “Do you even realize you’ve been doing that through the entire meal? Your etiquette needs work.”


“Doing what?” Harry glared as Voldemort casually tried to get his fork past Harry to steal another bite. Harry blocked him again and said, “Quit it.”


“You’re guarding your plate like there’s still a ration on,” Voldemort answered, his tone lightly teasing. “Quit hoarding the food, brat, you’re not going to starve.”


Harry snapped and saw red, because he had in fact been nearly starved for most of his childhood, and didn’t appreciate the thoughtless reminder from the man who was the reason he’d been sent to the Dursleys in the first place.


Harry stood up so fast his chair fell over backwards, and he shouted, “No thanks to you!” In one motion he swiped his own plate and Voldemort’s off the table where they crashed against the wall and shattered. Voldemort, Hermione, and Ron were all frozen to the spot in shock as Harry stormed out of the kitchen and stomped up the stairs before slamming the door to whatever room he’d chosen to lock himself in this time.


After what felt like ages, Voldemort blinked, and mused out loud, “I’ve killed people for less than that.”


Ron awkwardly piped up with, “Er—thank you, for not.”


Voldemort’s attention snapped to Ron and Hermione, and he demanded, “You’re his friends—what the hell was that about?”


“Well,” Hermione awkwardly began, “It’s really not our place to tell you.” At Voldemort’s glare, she quickly continued, “But Harry was—not well-treated by his relatives. He would never really talk to us about it, but he was always noticeably skinnier and jumpier after the summers were over, when he came back to Hogwarts.”


“I see,” Voldemort said, silently fuming at the implications. “And did you share your concerns with anyone?”


“He always said not to worry about it,” Ron said, fidgeting uncomfortably.


“He did, but I went to McGonagall a few times,” Hermione admitted, “and I even brought it up to Dumbledore once, but he said that Harry had to stay with his relatives to—” she grimaced apologetically, “to protect him from you.”


Ron gave Hermione a forced half-smile and confided, “I actually brought it up with Mum and Dad a bunch of times, asked if he could come live with us—I mean, those Muggles had bars on his windows—but they said Dumbledore knew best.”


“So, Harry’s Muggle relatives starved and imprisoned him?” Voldemort said, his tone absolutely murderous.


“Please don’t run off and kill them,” Hermione said, sensing the danger in the air. “Harry would feel guilty and blame himself, and he would resent you for it.”


“Resent me? For taking revenge on his abusers? What sense does that make?” Voldemort fumed.


“I think he’s tried to put it behind him—he’s of age now, so he never has to see them again. I think he’s forgiven them, or tried to anyway. You might’ve noticed that he’s got a pretty big capacity for forgiveness,” Hermione said pointedly, looking Voldemort in the eye even though he still rather terrified her.


“I don’t think he’s forgiven me,” Voldemort said, startled into honesty by the girl’s nerve. “We’ve simply avoided talking about it… And besides, this outburst proves that he already resents me, so why should I not go ahead and rid the world of that filth?”


“Because Harry thinks you can be better than that,” Hermione said.


“Then he should learn not to have unreasonable expectations,” Voldemort said, and stood.


Ron and Hermione stood as well, slightly panicked, but Voldemort headed not for the front door, but for the stairway.


“Erm, V-Voldemort?” Hermione hesitantly called. The Dark Lord paused, and she continued, “It’s best to let him cool down a while before trying to talk to him. Otherwise his temper just keeps going like Fiendfyre.”


Voldemort closed his eyes and mentally prodded at his connection with Harry, which immediately rebuked him with a wall of anger that had him flinching as he opened his eyes again.


“Fine,” he conceded, turning and heading for the front door instead.


“Erm?” Ron started, but trailed off nervously.


“I’m not going after Harry’s relatives,” Voldemort answered the unspoken question. “I’m going to speak to a few of my Death Eaters about the change in plans. They deserve to know before I tell the rest of them tonight.”


“We’ll, er, see you later, then?” Hermione asked cautiously.


Voldemort nodded, then—after another cautious prod at Harry’s side of their bond, which was still roaring in anger—he turned and walked out the front door.


He apparated directly into his chambers at Malfoy Manor, pleased to see Nagini sleeping at the foot of his bed, curled protectively around the golden cup that was no longer a Horcrux but was still a priceless Founder’s relic. He decided not to wake her, and quietly left his room and made his way to the dining room that he often used for meetings.


He sat at the head of the table, silently debating which of his Death Eaters he should speak with first.


Finally he decided, and summoned a bottle of Firewhiskey and two tumblers from Malfoy’s kitchen before closing his eyes and reaching out through the magic that connected him to his followers’ Dark Marks. A few moments later, there was a crack of apparition, and Voldemort opened his eyes.


Severus Snape stood near the other end of the table, staring at his master’s changed appearance with well-concealed but still evident shock. “My Lord?” he finally said.


“Severus,” Voldemort replied, pouring a glass of whiskey for each of them. “Sit. Have a drink.” He slid one of the glasses to the seat at his right.


Severus hesitated, but finally stepped closer and took the offered seat. He curled his hand around the glass of whiskey, but didn’t drink it just yet. After a long, rather awkward moment, he said, “You’re looking well.”


Voldemort raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you implying there was something wrong with how I looked before?” He took a drink of his own whiskey and tried not to laugh as Severus immediately tried to backtrack.


“Not at all, My Lord, I only meant that you look very different than when I last saw you. It suits you.” Severus picked up his glass, apparently deciding that drinking was safer than talking.


“Relax,” Voldemort said, finishing his whiskey and sitting the empty glass down. “I’m just fucking with you, as Harry would say.”


Severus choked on the drink he’d just taken. “My Lord?”


Voldemort sighed, and said, “Things have changed quite drastically, Severus. It seems that Dumbledore,” he injected as much contempt as possible into the name, “had one last posthumous trick up his sleeve. A last-ditch all-or-nothing attempt to end the war and settle things between Harry and I.” He went quiet for a moment, then said, “Well? Aren’t you going to ask? Or were you already aware of this little plot?” he asked, his tone growing considerably colder.


“Of course I wasn’t, My Lord. But you’re calling him Harry and not speaking of him in the past tense—I’m assuming things were settled?”


Voldemort nodded. “More or less. He’s rather cross with me at the moment, though.” He poured himself another drink and topped up Severus’s, then asked, “What do you know of his Muggle relatives?”


Something in Severus’s expression shuttered, and Voldemort knew he was getting close to sensitive topics. He had, after all, killed the woman Severus loved and had asked him to spare. “I knew his mother’s sister. She was the worst kind of Muggle—jealous and small-minded and afraid of magic. From what I heard, she ended up marrying an idiotic brute not dissimilar to my father.”


“And these are the people Dumbledore left Harry with?”


“Blood protections,” Severus said.


“He was starved. Locked up. Probably abused.”


Severus blinked. “I—wasn’t aware.”


Voldemort hummed. “Dumbledore was. And he sent him back anyway, year after year. Just like I was sent back to an underfunded Muggle orphanage in the middle of the London blitz.”


“My Lord?”


“Oh, am I oversharing? Too bad. I want you to understand, Severus, because I know damn well that ever since I killed the Potters you’ve only been on your own side. Not Dumbledore’s. Not mine.”


“My Lord, I—”


“Don’t,” Voldemort snapped, interrupting him, “lie to me right now, Severus. I won’t take it well.” Severus went silent, and Voldemort continued, “Harry’s side and my side are now the same—I hope you realize that opposing us would be both futile and monumentally stupid. Now, there will be a meeting tonight, and I’ll inform all of the Death Eaters of the change in plans. I’m telling you first.” He paused to let that sink in. “The war is over. Harry Potter is under my protection now. All future Death Eater operations will be as covert as possible, and Harry and I are going to gradually take over the Ministry by means of politics and public opinion. There will be no more sanctioned discrimination or violence towards Muggleborns—all of those plans, the Muggleborn registry, excluding them from Hogwarts, the Snatchers, all of that is scrapped. Harry rather insisted,” he finished, with a slightly bitter smile.


Severus’s jaw actually dropped, and Voldemort privately felt proud to have made such a controlled man lose his composure. After a very long moment of silent gaping, Severus recovered and said carefully, sounding stunned but resigned, “You found out, then. You know what the boy is.”


“He is my Horcrux,” Voldemort said, and Severus closed his eyes in something like relief. Voldemort’s tone chilled as he continued, “And I’m very interested in how you knew about that, and why you didn’t inform me immediately.”


“Dumbledore’s suspicions about the connection between you and the boy were confirmed in Potter’s fifth year. Dumbledore told me that the boy was a Horcrux and that he would have to die to defeat you. He made me swear an Oath never to speak of it to anyone who didn’t already know.” Snape glanced at Voldemort, a hint of nervousness in his expression. “He instructed me to teach Potter Occlumency, but instead of helping him close his mind to the connection between you, I made sure the lessons failed and opened his mind further—I hoped that you would recognize what he was and keep him safe. I—I hoped that the child Lily died to protect wouldn’t have to die too… Dumbledore never meant for you to know what he is.”


“I fully intend to keep him safe,” Voldemort said. He gazed at Severus in silence for a long moment before continuing quietly, “I gave her three chances to step aside, Severus—that’s more than I’ve ever offered anyone who stood in my way. She refused to stop protecting him.”


Severus looked away at the ground with a sharp exhalation, and said, “I would expect nothing less of her.”


Voldemort politely glanced away while Severus regained his composure. They had never actually talked about it before.


After a long moment, Voldemort said, “Evidently death changed Dumbledore’s perspective on the whole situation. He personally made sure that I found out what Harry is.”


Severus glanced up, intrigued yet cautious. “Dumbledore? How?”


“His portrait and Gellert Grindelwald locked Harry and I in a room with magic-repressing collars on, and told us if we didn’t have sex with each other we’d both be killed.”


Severus’s eyes snapped up to meet Voldemort’s. “What?”


“It was part of a ritual they invented to make some of my Horcruxes return to my main soul.”


“Dumbledore’s portrait and Gellert Grindelwald?”


“Yes. They’ll be dealt with,” Voldemort said decisively.


Severus stared at the table in silence for a long moment, then threw back the rest of his whiskey and slid his glass forward for a refill, which Voldemort provided with a chuckle.


“I suppose I should start sending out the Muggleborns’ Hogwarts letters, then,” Severus said, carefully navigating back to a less volatile topic.


“Of course,” Voldemort said, “Headmaster. Congratulations on the promotion.”


Severus laughed softly. “You’re the one who gave me the job.”


“Yes, and you’re going to return the favor.”


“My Lord?”


“Harry will be returning to Hogwarts next month. I have no intention of leaving him unguarded. I want the Defense Against the Dark Arts job.”


“Of course, My Lord,” Severus said, then mused aloud, “I’m going to get so many Howlers from parents.”


Voldemort smirked, but said, “They won’t immediately know it’s me. I’ll go by my birth name—very few people are aware of it. Professor Tom Marvolo Riddle, at your service,” he said, with a slight bow and a flourish of a hand gesture.


“Does this mean I can call you Tom at staff meetings?”


“Only if you’re feeling very brave,” Voldemort said, then the humor left his eyes as he continued very seriously, “You might still get a few Howlers, though… After everything that’s happened, Harry and I are together now—obviously we’ll be discreet at Hogwarts but even so, these things have a way of inevitably getting out.”


Severus considered this a moment, his expression curiously blank, then he suggested, “There might be a way around the student/teacher scandal. Loathe as I am to give Potter any special treatment, we could always exempt him from the Defense class but still let him take the NEWT. He could instead be an assistant professor for Defense—your coworker instead of your student—and then no one could say you were in an unfair position of power over him.”


“I knew there was a reason I kept you around,” Voldemort said, picking up his drink and clinking it against Severus’s. “Make it happen.”


“Right away, My Lord,” Severus said, recognizing the dismissal. He finished his drink, then slightly unsteadily made his way towards the fireplace.


“Severus,” Voldemort called, and he paused. “The exact circumstances that led to my alliance with Harry are not to become common knowledge. Nor is the fact that he’s my Horcrux, or the fact that I even have Horcruxes. If you tell anyone, I will know, and there will be severe consequences. Understood?” he asked, his tone deadly as his magic reached out through Severus’s Dark Mark and activated a variation of a Wizard’s Oath mixed with a monitoring spell that he’d implemented into the Mark’s magic when he’d invented it.


“Understood, My Lord,” Severus said, shivering as he felt the Oath take effect.


“Good. Go,” he said, and Severus flooed back to Hogwarts.


Voldemort swirled the whiskey around in his glass, and wondered whether Harry had calmed down yet or if he was still angry at him. He wondered whether Harry would be angry that he hadn’t told him about the plan to accompany him to Hogwarts—Voldemort had wanted it to be a surprise, though, and he hoped Harry didn’t stay cross with him or it would turn out to be an unpleasant rather than a pleasant surprise.


He sighed, then called his next Death Eaters, and had another drink as he waited for them to appear. It didn’t take long, since they were already in the Manor.


“Lucius, Draco, Bellatrix,” he greeted, when the three of them walked in. There were a few more Death Eaters who counted among his inner circle, but he didn’t feel obligated to include them on this particular occasion. Bellatrix was one of his most loyal and his best battle strategist, and Lucius, despite his fall from grace, was still his go-to person for political strategy and inside information on the Ministry. And while Draco wasn’t part of the inner circle at all and was in fact rather tragically bad at being a Death Eater, Voldemort thought his reaction would be amusing, so he’d invited him along.


After a moment of shock at his changed appearance and at the half-empty bottle of Firewhisky in front of him, they all murmured, “My Lord,” and bowed respectfully, although Bellatrix put more flourish than necessary into her curtsey, and she couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of him.


Voldemort had no desire to chit-chat or open up with any of them, so he got right to the point. “Things have changed rather drastically—I’ve made an alliance with Harry Potter, and the war is effectively over. We will continue with political machinations, but there will be no more attacks or sanctioned discrimination against Muggleborns. There will be no more sanctioned attacks on Muggles. The previously-planned media smear campaign against Harry will not proceed. Harry Potter is now mine, and anyone who attempts to harm him will be killed as slowly and painfully as possible. I don’t expect you to like these orders, but I expect you to follow them. Understood?”


There was a moment of stunned silence—Draco blinked and looked shocked, Lucius looked slightly ill, and Bellatrix looked downright betrayed. To everyone’s surprise, she drew her wand and pointed it at Voldemort.


“Bella!” Lucius hissed, looking horrified. Draco’s eyes widened and he backed away a few steps, putting distance between himself and his deranged aunt.


Voldemort merely tilted his head and gave her a bored, disappointed look. “Really?”


“You’re not our Lord,” she said, “He would never betray our cause like this. You’re just a pretty imposter,” she snarled, and started to cast.


Voldemort was faster, hitting her with a Crucio before she could manage a spell. He stood and stalked over to where she writhed on the ground, ignoring the two Malfoys who backed farther away. He lifted the spell and leaned over Bellatrix, wordlessly making her Dark Mark sear painfully. “I give you the honor of being among the first to know of our new plans,” he said, his tone icy, “and you dare to attack me?” She whimpered, and he hit her with another Crucio before finally letting her catch her breath. “If you ever raise your wand at me again, I will kill you on the spot. Understood, Bellatrix?”


“Yes Master. I’m sorry My Lord,” she whimpered.


“Good. Now this one’s for Harry—he rather hates you for killing his godfather,” Voldemort said, hitting her with another Crucio, and letting it go on a bit longer than before. “Get up,” he spat when he finally released her. She struggled to her feet, and he said, “Now get out of my sight.” He cast a wordless Imperio on her and added, “Go lock yourself in the dungeons and think about what you’ve done.”


She fled the room unsteadily, and Voldemort remembered that Lucius and Draco were still there.


“Are either of you going to question my identity?” he asked in a mocking but deadly tone.


“No, My Lord,” they said in unison, Draco shaking his head for emphasis.


“Good,” Voldemort said, turning his back to them and returning to his seat. He poured himself another glass of whiskey. “Lucius, you may go. Draco, come here and have a drink with me.” Draco paled a bit, and Lucius hesitated until Voldemort added, “I merely wish to gossip about Harry—you can both stop looking so terrified.”


“Of course, My Lord,” Lucius said. He bowed, and left the room.


Draco cautiously approached the table. Voldemort conjured a new glass and poured him some whiskey, motioning for him to sit in the seat at his right.


“Thank you, My Lord,” Draco said, accepting the whiskey and downing it all at once like a shot.


Voldemort raised an eyebrow. “Rough day?”


Draco recognized the sarcasm for what it was, and instead of answering directly, he said, “I apologize for my aunt’s behavior, My Lord.”


“Don’t apologize on her behalf unless you’re willing to take responsibility for her actions,” Voldemort said mildly, “which would include taking her punishment. I don’t think you really want that, do you?”


“No, My Lord.”


Voldemort poured more whiskey into Draco’s glass and then his own, and said, “You’ll need to break that habit before September. It would be rather awkward if you called me that in class.”


“In class?”


Voldemort smiled. “You’re looking at the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Aren’t you going to congratulate me?”


“Congratulations, My L—er, Sir.”


Voldemort nodded at him, and raised his own glass in his direction before drinking. “There’s one other thing,” he said, and waited until Draco looked up at him. “When I said Harry is mine now, I meant in every possible way.” Draco blushed, and Voldemort continued, “Now, your Occlumency has improved since the last time I looked in your mind, but I’m well aware of your silly rivalry with Harry, and of your hopeless crush that fuels it. I’m offering my friendly advice, as your professor, to get over it at once.”


“Sir, I—” Draco’s blush had overtaken his entire face.


“Don’t bother denying it. Just don’t make yourself a nuisance to him this year. Maybe now that we’re all on the same side, he might accept your friendship if you offered again.” Voldemort actually rather doubted it, but he found it amusing to give the boy false hope. “But do take care not to offer anything more than friendship. Have a good night, Draco,” Voldemort said, standing and taking a step away. He paused, put his hand on Draco’s shoulder and leaned close to his ear. “And just so you know, he’s every bit as good in bed as you’ve always fantasized.” With that self-indulgently petty parting shot, he clapped Draco on the shoulder, took a few steps away and disapparated.

 


Disapparating after drinking was not, perhaps, his best idea.


He carefully untangled himself from the bush beside the doorstep of Number 12 Grimmauld Place and stood up with as much dignity as he could manage, hoping that no one had witnessed that.


He entered the house, told the Dumbleghost that he didn’t kill it, and then reached out with his magic to sense who else was in the house. Harry, Ron, Hermione, a house elf—no one else, but there were hints of another magical signature. Someone else had been there recently, but they’d already left.


Harry came to the doorway, looking less than thrilled to see him. He was, however, the only one who could reliably verify Voldemort’s identity. Harry glanced at him and hissed in Parseltongue, “Where did you run off to, then?


Voldemort hissed back, “I needed to have a discussion with a few of my Death Eaters.”


“And?” Harry asked, switching back to English.


“Are you still mad at me?” Voldemort blurted out before he could stop himself. Damn. He probably shouldn’t have had those last few glasses of Firewhiskey.


Harry’s eyebrows went up. “Have you been drinking?” He gestured towards his scar and said, “The bond’s all—fuzzy.”


“So what if I have,” Voldemort said flippantly, then demanded, “Answer the question.”


Harry flinched slightly at the magic in the command, and his mouth opened involuntarily but then he snapped it closed again as he shook off the compulsion and then nearly shouted, “Don’t wandlessly Imperio me when you’re drunk, you lunatic!”


“I’m not drunk,” Voldemort argued.


“Whatever. I’m not mad at you—I’m mad at Remus at the moment—but if you keep this up I’m sure I’ll get there again.”


“Who’s Remus? Do I need to kill them?”


“No! Merlin, go sleep it off or something,” Harry snapped.


“Come with me?” Voldemort said with a suggestive smirk.


“You’re drunk.”


“Not that drunk,” he argued, stepping closer to Harry.


“Drunk enough,” Harry said, but he allowed Voldemort to pull him into brief, sloppy kiss.


“Who’s drunk?” Ron asked, walking into the room, “Oh Merlin—my eyes!” he wailed.


Hermione followed him into the room and smacked him on the arm, “Shut up, Ronald.”


Harry pulled back and broke the kiss, putting his hand on Voldemort’s chest when he tried to chase his lips.


“Hey,” Voldemort said, a smile spreading across his face, “I have a surprise for you.”


“I’m afraid to ask,” Harry said.


“It’s a good surprise,” Voldemort assured him, then said, “I’m going with you to Hogwarts this year.”


Harry blinked, trying to make sense of that. “What, like 21 Jump Street?”


Hermione burst out laughing, while Ron looked confused and Voldemort looked annoyed at Harry’s lack of excitement.


“Harry,” he tried again, “I’m going to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”


Harry’s eyebrows went up, along with Ron’s and Hermione’s.


“Seriously?” Harry asked.


Voldemort nodded solemnly, then stretched out a long finger to boop Harry on the nose as he said, “Yep.” After a moment he seemed to realize what he’d just done, then he frowned and admitted, “I might be slightly drunk.”


“You don’t say,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.


“Should we be hiding or something?” Ron asked Hermione under his breath.


“I think we’re fine, Ronald,” she said, rolling her eyes. She then told Harry and Voldemort, “I’ll go make some coffee.” She headed for the kitchen and Ron followed.


“So,” Harry asked, nudging Voldemort towards one of the loveseats and sitting down beside him, “it went that badly with the Death Eaters, then?”


“Not really,” Voldemort said. “It’s just that Severus is more tolerable after he gets a few drinks in him, but he won’t drink unless everyone around him does too—it’s one of his paranoid quirks. Although after he left, Bellatrix called me ‘a pretty imposter’ and tried to attack me, so I Crucio’d her.”


Harry laughed, then tried to disguise it as a cough.


“It’s not funny,” Voldemort said.


“It’s a little bit funny,” Harry insisted.


“Yes, all right. I can show you the memory, if you’d like to watch her scream,” he offered, smiling at Harry.


“Maybe later,” Harry said diplomatically, unnerved by the thought of a torture memory being offered like a gift.


Voldemort frowned, studying Harry’s expression. “I’ve upset you again.”


“I just—I don’t enjoy torture and murder and all of that. I don’t want to see it.”


“But she killed someone you cared about.”


“So did you,” Harry said, his tone deliberately mild.


Voldemort looked down at the ground, brow furrowed, then said, “I don’t think it’s possible to Crucio myself.”


“I don’t want you to! Aren’t you listening?” Harry grabbed his hand and waited for him to make eye contact again before continuing. “Look, I don’t want to talk about all of that yet. For now let’s just focus on the future instead of the past, okay?”


“All right,” Voldemort murmured, squeezing Harry’s hand. His eyes seemed a little less glassy, like he was starting to sober up a bit.


“So. Hogwarts,” Harry said, grasping for a change of subject. “Is this all a really elaborate excuse to act out a student/teacher fantasy that you have, or is this part of our takeover plan?”


“Actually, you won’t be my student. You’ll be assistant professor for Defense, but you’ll still take the NEWT and attend your other classes as usual. Severus thought it would minimize the outrage once people find out about us. Coworkers, instead of student and teacher.”


“You told Snape we’re together?” Harry said, horrified. Then he raised a dubious eyebrow and asked, “And Snape—who hates my guts—suggested giving me special treatment?”


“Well, he’s doing it for his own benefit too. He doesn’t want to deal with Howlers from scandalized parents.”


“Why would he get the Howlers?”


“Because he’s Headmaster now.”


“What? No way! McGonagall was next in line.”


“She’s a Dumbledore loyalist. She’s lucky to keep the job she has.”


“Still though—Snape’s going to try to expel me for breathing wrong or something.”


“No he will not,” Voldemort said with finality.


“If you say so.”


Hermione reappeared in the doorway, carrying a large silver tray with four cups of coffee, a decanter of creamer, sugar cubes, and various flavorings. “Here we are,” she said, setting the tray onto the coffee table, and mixing up a cup for herself. Ron showed up a moment later, carrying a tin of biscuits, and he sat down beside Hermione on the loveseat. They both kept stealing glances at Harry and seemed to be waiting for something.


Voldemort leaned forward to make his own coffee—Harry watched and made a mental note: creamer, no sugar. Harry put creamer, mocha, and several sugar cubes into his own, and started to take a drink when Voldemort’s hand on his arm stopped him.


“What?” Harry asked.


Voldemort waved his wand over the coffee, checking Harry’s and then his own for any kind of potions, poisons, or spells. Nothing. “Just checking. Your friends are acting dodgy.”


“They are not,” Harry said, glancing towards them only to catch a flash of guilt in Hermione’s expression. “Guys?” he asked, a sinking feeling settling in his stomach.


“I’m just nervous,” Hermione said, looking at the ground and sounding embarrassed. “I’m not quite used to being in the same room as the Dark Lord, is all.”


“She’s lying,” Voldemort said, casually leaning back on the loveseat and draping his arm around Harry to pull him closer to his side.


Harry frowned and looked back and forth between Ron and Hermione. “Please tell me you two didn’t do something stupid.”


Ron shifted in his seat and parroted back, “We didn’t do something stupid.”


“Lying,” Voldemort declared. “Badly,” he added, sounding mildly amused.


“What did you do?” Harry demanded.


Hermione bit her lip and finally said, “Okay, don’t get angry—I slipped a note in Remus’s pocket asking him to come back and bring the antidote to Amortentia.”


Harry blinked. “Amortentia,” he repeated flatly. Voldemort laughed silently; he was sitting pressed so close to Harry’s side that Harry felt him laughing. “Hermione, you took an Oath—why would you risk doing that?”


“I didn’t tell Remus anything about the two of you, and I’m not trying to sabotage you, I’m trying to help you! Harry, honestly,” she said, a pleading expression on her face as she leaned forward, “you went missing, then showed up again with—with him, and you’re all over each other and saying the war is over…You’re both acting like you’re on a love potion. And I’ve been dreading the moment that it wears off and you remember who you are to each other.”


Harry scoffed, and Voldemort actually laughed out loud and said, “Miss Granger,” in a very professor-ish tone, “What do you know about children who were conceived using love potions?”


Hermione’s jaw dropped, and she shrieked, “You got Harry pregnant?”


“What?” Harry asked, shooting an alarmed glance at Voldemort, who, damn him, was laughing again. “Could that happen?” Harry asked, “With, you know, two wizards?”


“It could,” Voldemort said, “but never by accident. There’s a very complicated ritual and a potion regimen that would have to be completed first.”


“Huh,” Harry said mildly, and Hermione gave him an odd look.


“As I was saying,” Voldemort resumed, “children conceived under the influence of love potions are unable to love. They’re also immune to love potions themselves,” he said pointedly, then for Ron and Hermione’s benefit he said, “My mother used love potions and enchantments on my father. In his right mind, he wanted nothing to do with her.”


Hermione was quiet for a moment, then carefully said, “I’ve never read anything actually proving that the children were incapable of love—it’s a rather impossible thing to prove. It seems more like old superstition mixed with victim-blaming than any kind of fact.”


Voldemort casually swept his hand in front of himself, and said in a dry tone, “Behold, your empirical evidence.”


Hermione seemed dubious, and Ron chose the worst possible time to speak up. “Even if you’re immune and just acting besotted, Harry could still be on a love potion,” Ron argued, giving the Dark Lord a suspicious look.


“I would never,” Voldemort hissed, almost lapsing into Parseltongue as he drew his wand.


Harry grabbed Voldemort’s wrist, grateful for his Seeker’s reflexes. “Don’t!”


“He implied that I would—”


“I heard,” Harry interrupted. “But he doesn’t know—I guess I did leave something out after all.” Harry sighed, and glanced at his friends’ nervous faces. “Grindelwald had told him to rape me if I resisted—my consent didn’t matter for the ritual. He could’ve jumped me the second I was thrown in that room, and had his magic back in five minutes. But he didn’t,” Harry said pointedly when his friends’ faces paled, “and he wouldn’t have. He was patient, and decent, and he explained everything—and that was before he even knew I was a Horcrux. He wouldn’t hurt me like that, and he wouldn’t give me love potions.”


“Harry,” Hermione said cautiously, “What if he’s controlling you with the Horcrux somehow?”


“I’m not,” Voldemort cut in irritably, speaking to Harry rather than the others. “This Horcrux spent 16 years clinging to your soul without the proper anchors and enchantments—by now it’s entwined so closely with your own soul, I doubt it would act against you even if I tried to make it. Which I would not,” he said pointedly, glaring at Hermione and Ron.


Any response they might’ve offered was cut off by the tapping of an owl at the window.


“I’ll just,” Hermione said, starting to stand.


“No,” Voldemort said, a twitch of his wand forcing her back into her seat and keeping Ron in his as well. “Harry can get it. I don’t trust you two not to send out a SOS letter.”


“We took an Oath,” Hermione reminded him.


“Which you’ve already found a way around by sneaking notes to an Order member and asking for something guaranteed to make him suspicious, under the guise of helping Harry.”


Harry got up and said, “I told you she’s clever,” before walking over to the window, glancing over his shoulder a few times to keep an eye on the tense situation. Harry opened the window, and a fluffy brown owl perched on the sill and held out a package tied to its leg, then waited as he opened it.


Inside the package was a bottle of pale blue potion, and a note.


‘Hermione,’ the note read, ‘I’m not even going to ask. I’m not able to return just yet, but please let me know if you need further help. One swallow of the antidote should suffice, and this bottle contains about six doses. Yours, R.L.’


Harry debated for a moment whether he should send a reply or an apology for losing his temper with Remus earlier, but he wasn’t actually sorry for anything he’d said, and he thought it might seem suspicious so he just sent the owl off without a response.


Harry brought the potion and the letter and sat back down beside Voldemort, handing both to him.


Voldemort quickly read the letter, then handed it over to Hermione while he examined the potion and cast a few preliminary identification spells on it.


“So,” Harry said awkwardly, “we both take a dose and prove that we’re not on a love potion, yeah?”


“No,” Voldemort said, still examining the potion. “Not without verification of what this potion is.”


“Remus isn’t going to send us poison, he was one of my dad’s best friends,” Harry argued.


“Even so, I’d rather have an expert’s word for it first.”


“An expert?”


“I called for Severus though the Mark. He’ll be here shortly.”


“You what?” Harry protested. Snape was one of the last people he wanted to see right now.


Voldemort raised an eyebrow. “You said he already had access to this house.”


“Yeah, but that Dumbledore ghost is there specifically to keep Snape away—supposedly the Order set up other spells to keep him out too.”


“Could be amusing then,” Voldemort said, unconcerned.


As if on cue, the front door opened, and the Dumbleghost swirled to life again with a rush of wind and a grating, gravelly voice saying, “Severus Snape...you murdered me. Traitor!”


“I did what you make me swear,” Snape’s voice replied, “and I’ll never forgive you for it.” Silence followed.


After a moment, Voldemort called out, “In here, Severus.”


Snape appeared in the doorway, his expression cautious. He paused when he saw that Harry, Hermione, and Ron were present. Harry watched Snape’s face as the man remained silent, and Harry realized that Snape didn’t know what to say or even how to address Voldemort since he didn’t know how much of the truth Ron and Hermione knew. Voldemort seemed amused to let him struggle, and Harry wasn’t inclined to help him either.


Finally, Snape said simply, “You required my assistance?”


“Yes,” Voldemort said, tossing the bottle of blue potion to Snape. “Tell me what this is.”


Snape caught the bottle and frowned, then took out his wand and cast several diagnostic and identifying spells on the potion to reveal its ingredients. Then he opened the bottle and sniffed it. Finally he concluded, “It’s an antidote developed specifically to counter Amortentia, but it’s strong enough to nullify any kind of love potion.” Snape put the lid back on the bottle and stepped forward to hand it back to Voldemort, curiously looking back and forth between Harry and Voldemort.


“All right then,” Voldemort said, then opened the bottle. “How much is needed?”


“A mouthful should suffice,” Snape said, still wearing an odd expression.


Voldemort opened the bottle, glanced at Harry, then took a drink directly from the bottle. He swallowed it, blinked, then handed the bottle over to Harry, saying, “I feel no different.”


Harry stared down at the bottle, then looked at Voldemort and took a drink as well. It tasted, oddly enough, like cotton candy. He waited for a moment, then declared, “Same,” sitting the bottle down on the table. “Told you guys we weren’t on a love potion.”


“Severus,” Voldemort called—Snape had started backing slowly towards the door as soon as Voldemort drank the antidote. “Do you happen to have a Sobering Solution with you?”


“Coincidentally, I do,” Severus said, a hint of amusement creeping into his tone.


“Well give it here,” Voldemort snapped. Severus hurried back across the room to comply. Voldemort downed the potion, then blinked a few times as it took effect and cleared the rest of the alcohol out of his system. He scowled at Hermione and Ron, then told Harry quietly, “We are going to talk about your outburst at breakfast at some point.”


“Yeah, okay,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.


Voldemort accepted this and stood. “I see no reason to postpone the meeting with the Death Eaters until tonight. I’ll tell them now and get it over with.” He noted the slightly surprised look on Severus’s face and realized he’d given up the game of keeping the man on his toes about how much to reveal. He didn’t much care either—it wasn’t as entertaining when he was completely sober.


“Oh, all right,” Harry said uncertainly, standing up to follow.


“No,” Voldemort said. “Your presence is not required.”


“But—”


“Bellatrix tried to attack me. Me. I’m not having you in a room full of the bottom ranks who don’t possess a fraction of her intelligence or loyalty.”


“And what if they try to attack you too?”


“I believe I’ve told you before not to doubt me.”


“I’m not doubting you, I’m worried about you, you berk!”


Severus, Hermione, and Ron all held their breath—but instead of anger, Voldemort reacted with a fondly exasperated smile. “Don’t be,” he said, running a hand through Harry’s hair, “brat.”


“Easy for you to say,” Harry mumbled, but he didn’t protest when Voldemort pulled him forward into a brief kiss.


Yes,” Voldemort hissed in Parseltongue, “It is easy for me to say, because the Dark Mark prevents any Death Eater from directly harming me. If they try, their curse rebounds onto them instead. It’s not something I advertise though,” he said, glancing towards Severus, who, along with Ron, looked slightly ill after witnessing the kiss. “Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, or deter traitors from revealing themselves.”


“Of course not,” Harry said, feeling a bit less nervous.


Voldemort stepped back, then took out his wand and cast a series of glamours on himself, transforming his appearance back into the white-skinned serpentine form.


Harry raised an eyebrow and stepped forward, closing the distance between them again. “What, you don’t want to be called a pretty imposter again?” Harry teased in Parseltongue.


Voldemort chuckled, and merely said, “Brat.”


Harry smirked and surprised the others by leaning in to kiss Voldemort again, before pulling away and murmuring, “Your brat.” He caught Voldemort’s eye as he stepped back and said quietly, “Come home safe.”


“Of course.” Voldemort started for the door, and Severus seemed to waver a moment in uncertainty before following him. “No, Severus,” Voldemort said without turning around. “Stay here and keep an eye on Harry’s friends until I return. They took a Wizard’s Oath but they’ve already proved to be a bit of a nuisance.”


“Yes, My Lord.”


“Oi,” Harry snapped.


“Keep them in line then,” Voldemort told Harry over his shoulder, as he reached the door. He paused a moment, then called from the other room, “By the way, Harry, I told Severus everything. And I do mean everything.”


“You what?” Harry yelled, annoyed and shocked.


“Bye!” Voldemort called, clearly amused. The front door closed, then a crack of apparition followed his departure.


“That absolute berk,” Harry muttered, walking back over to where everyone was gathered and throwing himself back down on the empty loveseat.


Snape raised a critical eyebrow at him and said, “You told your friends, didn’t you, Potter? Why should he not do the same?”


“Oh, you’re his friend, are you?” Harry snapped. “I thought you were just around to fetch potions and lick his boots.”


“Mind your impudent tongue, Potter.”


“Why should I? He rather likes my impudent tongue,” Harry snarked back.


Snape’s face colored but before he could respond, Ron stood up from the loveseat and said, “That’s it, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.”


“Ron,” Hermione said, fussing around him as he started for the door. “We can’t help him out of this if we don’t stick around,” she told him, trying to be quiet, but Harry and Snape both heard.


“I don’t need helped out of anything,” Harry said, his temper rising.


“See!” Ron said, gesturing at Harry. “He’s perfectly happy betraying everyone and bending over for You-Know-Who!”


“I’m not betraying anyone—we’re ending the war!” Harry shouted. “And don’t throw ‘bending over’ at me like it’s something to be ashamed of—maybe you should try it sometime, if you can manage to pull the stick out of your arse first.”


Ron drew his wand and took a step towards Harry, who responded in kind. Hermione threw an arm across Ron’s chest, trying to hold him back. “Stop this right now!” she pleaded, but Ron ignored her.


“You’re fucking the monster who started a war and killed your parents! Who tried to kill you too! If you’re really not under a spell or a love potion, if you’re actually choosing this, then you’re betraying everyone who died trying to stop him!”


Harry raised his wand, and only the fact that Hermione was in the way stopped him from casting.


“Enough!” Snape finally yelled. “Expelliarmus!” Both Harry and Ron’s wands flew into Snape’s waiting hand. “All of you sit down and stop behaving like children!”


No one sat down. Harry jerked his head towards the door and told Ron, “Just get out. If you’re going to be a stroppy little shit like you were in fourth year, I don’t want you around.”


“Sit down, Weasley,” Snape interrupted. “The Dark Lord will deal with this when he returns.”


“Fuck that,” Ron muttered. “Go to hell, Harry, and take your new boyfriend with you. Come on, Hermione.”


He started towards the doorway and Hermione followed only long enough to step in front of him, with her wand raised and tears in her eyes.


“Hermione, what—?” Ron said.


“I’m sorry, Ron.” She lifted her wand and said, “Obliviate!”


Harry watched in shock as Ron’s expression unfocused, and a tear slipped down Hermione’s face.


“What happened?” Ron mumbled after a moment.


Hermione forced an unconvincing, tearful smile and said, “Harry snuck away in the middle of the night, and when he came back you got in a fight. You decided to go back to the Burrow until school starts.”


“Oh,” Ron said, frowning. “Are you coming with me?”


Hermione shook her head. “No, Ron. I’m not.”


Ron frowned harder, shot a confused but annoyed look at Harry and Snape, then turned towards the door. “I’ll be off then,” he said.


“Stupify,” said Snape, and Ron keeled over. Hermione caught him, and awkwardly lowered him to the floor.


“Professor!” Hermione snapped.


“It’s Headmaster now, Miss Granger,” Snape corrected, smirking when her eyebrows went up. “And I’ll not risk my own skin by letting him walk out without knowing for sure what you’ve done to his memory.”


“Wake him up and check him, then,” Hermione suggested.


“No. I shall check your mind instead.”


“So you can Obliviate me too?” she asked, her tone turning defensive.


“You better not,” Harry interjected.


“I am only going to look,” Snape stressed. “Now, you can make this quicker and easier on yourself by concentrating on the memory. Look in my eyes,” he said, and waited for Hermione to comply before saying, “Legilimens.”


It was strange to watch—from Harry’s perspective, it looked like Hermione and Snape were having a staring contest with blank expressions on their faces. Harry wondered if that was how he and Voldemort looked when they went into their mindscape. It only lasted a few moments, then they both blinked and came back to awareness.


“You removed his knowledge of Horcruxes as well as everything Potter told him about his experience with the Dark Lord,” Snape said, sounding reluctantly impressed.


Hermione nervously crossed her arms. “He might’ve told the Order about Horcruxes if he thought it would help, especially if he thinks he’s fallen out with Harry again.” For a moment, it looked like Hermione might cry again, but she pulled herself together.


“Miss Granger,” Snape said quietly, “it pains me to say this, but you truly could do much better than Mr. Weasley.”


Hermione stiffened and said, “I don’t recall asking your opinion.” She promptly snatched Ron and Harry’s wands out of Snape’s hand, then turned away and pointed her own wand at Ron. “Ennervate!”


Ron sat up and mumbled, “Wha’ happened?”


“You were just on your way home, Ron. Here, use the Floo,” she said, discreetly putting his wand into his pocket and steering him towards the fireplace.


“What did I fight with Harry about?” Ron asked her, still disoriented and not seeming to notice Harry and Snape in the room this time.


“Don’t worry about it, Ron. I’m sure you’ll both be over it by the time school starts.”


“Okay then,” he said, stepping into the fireplace. He threw down a handful of Floo powder and said, “The Burrow!” then disappeared in a swirl of flames.


Hermione’s shoulders sagged the moment he was gone, and without looking at Harry or Snape, she said, “I’ll be upstairs.” She shoved Harry’s wand back into his hands as she passed him on her way out of the room.


Harry sat back down on the loveseat, covered his face with both hands, and let out a frustrated groan.


“Never a dull moment with you, Potter,” Snape commented, but with a lack of his usual malice.


“You know what, Snape? I would love to have a dull, boring, regular year. Just once. I might actually kill for it, who knows?”


“Who would you kill?” Snape asked, in an odd tone.


Harry lowered his hands from his face and gave Snape a curious look. “I don’t know, it’s a figure of speech…I didn’t mean Voldemort, if that’s what you’re asking.”


“Right,” Snape said, “it seems that ship has definitely sailed.” Snape was quiet for a moment, then said, “Potter, there are certain memories Dumbledore made me swear to show you. He said to wait until the Dark Lord started acting unusually protective of his possessions, and I think now rather qualifies.”


“Okay,” Harry said cautiously.


“The exact circumstances Dumbledore specified are unlikely to happen now, but all the same he made me swear.”


“Okay,” Harry repeated. “So, do you have a Pensieve, or..?”


Snape raised an eyebrow and said, “These aren’t memories that I would extract and leave lying around unless I was literally on my death bed. I’ll show you through Legilimency.”


“I was afraid you’d say that,” Harry muttered. “And just so you know, Voldemort put up shields in my mind against Legilimency attacks.”


“I won’t be attacking your mind.” Snape walked over and sat on the other end of the loveseat from Harry, then had the audacity to smirk. “It won’t be nearly as unpleasant as our Occlumency lessons.”


Harry narrowed his eyes and said, “So you did sabotage those on purpose?”


“Yes, but not for the reason you think… You know what you are to him, correct? You know what caused your mental connection?”


Harry nodded.


“I need verbal confirmation, Potter—I’m forbidden from discussing it explicitly with anyone who doesn’t already know.”


“I’m his Horcrux,” Harry said.


“Yes. And are you aware of what that meant for Dumbledore’s plans?”


Harry swallowed. “He meant for me to sacrifice myself, after I destroyed the other Horcruxes.”


“Indeed,” Snape said quietly. “I tried to prevent that, by opening your mind to the connection between yourself and the Dark Lord. I thought that if he realized, if he knew what you were, then he would protect you instead of killing you.”


“Well,” Harry said awkwardly, “you were right. Just took us a bit longer to get there. But… you’ve always hated me. I don’t understand why—why you even care,” Harry trailed off, daring a glance up to briefly meet Snape’s eyes.


Snape held the eye contact, an indecipherable look on his face. “Because Lily died to protect you, and I can’t let that be in vain.”


Harry’s eyebrows went up, and he said, “Since when do you care about my mum?”


Snape twitched and said, “Let’s just get this over with. Legilimens,” he said, and when their minds linked, instead of diving into Harry’s, he deliberately pulled Harry into his own memories…


Snape’s childhood meeting with Lily and Petunia… telling Lily about Hogwarts, about the Dementors…dropping a tree branch on Petunia with a flare of accidental magic when she insulted him… Lily and Snape on the Hogwarts train, and James Potter being an arrogant bully…Lily being sorted into Gryffindor and Snape into Slytherin, but the two of them remaining best friends anyway…an older Lily and Snape arguing over Snape’s other friends and Dark Magic, “They’re evil, Sev. I don’t understand how you can be friends with them.” …Snape’s jealousy and resentment of James Potter, and his suspicion towards the Marauders…James and Sirius tormenting Snape, and Snape calling Lily a Mudblood in anger…Snape trying to apologize and Lily refusing him…Snape begging Dumbledore to protect Lily after Snape had told the prophecy to Voldemort, and Snape agreeing to turn spy…Snape’s crippling grief over her death, his demand that Dumbledore never tell anyone that Snape had sworn to protect Harry…Snape complaining about Harry to Dumbledore, comparing him to his father…Snape containing the curse in Dumbledore’s hand from the Gaunt ring…Dumbledore asking Snape to kill him to spare Draco, and Snape reluctantly agreeing…Dumbledore discussing the connection between Harry and Voldemort again, and telling Snape when to tell Harry the truth…Snape’s fury at Dumbledore’s manipulations, “I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter—”… Snape’s doe Patronus… “After all this time?” ”Always.”…


Snapping back into reality was jarring, and it took Harry a few moments to realize that he was sitting on a sofa next to a drained-looking Severus Snape, and that Harry’s eyes were watering. Harry reached up to brush away the tears before they could spill, and he ended up knocking his glasses off his face and onto the floor. Harry watched them fall, then looked at Snape for two seconds before launching himself across the sofa and throwing his arms around the startled man.


“Potter! Stop this at once,” Snape said, although his voice wavered for a moment and he was clearly even more affected by the painful memories than Harry.


Harry shook his head, which was pressed to Snape’s chest, and said, “Don’t call me that anymore. I’m not like my dad was. Call me Harry.”


Harry,” Snape said emphatically, “get off of me, before the Dark Lord returns and grossly misinterprets this.”


Harry laughed, but sniffled and sat up, releasing Snape—no, Severus. Harry had seen the man’s most personal memories, he knew now how much he had lost and sacrificed, how much he’d been manipulated and lied to by Dumbledore just like Harry was, and how much he’d done to protect Harry despite resenting him—Harry wasn’t going to keep calling him by his last name.


“So why don’t you want anyone to know the best of you,” Harry asked, repeating Dumbledore’s words and daring to add at the end, “Sev?”


“Don’t!” Severus snapped, glaring at Harry and standing up abruptly. He put half the room between them before continuing. “Don’t you dare presume to call me that, Potter. We’re not suddenly friends,” he sneered the word, “just because Dumbledore made me vow to show you memories that I would’ve rather taken to the grave.”


“We could be friends,” Harry said cautiously, thinking that somehow this—suddenly trying to befriend Severus Snape—was stranger than the entire ordeal with Voldemort and the mirror.


“No,” Severus snarled, “we cannot. Because I never stopped loving Lily, and you’re fucking the man who murdered her!”


Harry flinched and looked at the ground.


“We’ve proven that you’re not on a love potion,” Severus continued. “Is he forcing you through the Horcrux? Is he threatening you? Did he bind you to him in some other way?”


“No,” Harry said quietly, “he’s not forcing me.”


“Then explain this, Potter, because I don’t understand!”


“I don’t know how to explain it,” Harry said, his voice rising, “and I don’t owe you an explanation either! I thought you wanted this—you said you wanted him to protect me.”


“I imagined it rather more platonically,” Severus snapped.


Harry threw his arms up and said, “I don’t know what you want me to say! We’re connected.”


“By the Horcrux.”


“By more than that!”


Severus looked directly at Harry for the first time since fleeing the sofa. “Harry,” he said, his tone still agitated but trying harder now to be patient, “any affection he shows you is proportional to how useful you are to him. That’s how he operates. The Dark Lord is not capable of love.”


“He says that too—that he can’t love,” Harry argued, “he believes it, even. But he obviously cares about me now—”


“You’re deluding yourself,” Severus interrupted, shaking his head.


“I’m not saying he loves me, I’m just saying you don’t know him like I do.”


“I’ve known him longer than you’ve been alive.”


“I’m part of him,” Harry argued.


“You’re a hopeless bloody idiot is what you are,” Severus said, and stomped out of the room.


“He ordered you to stay here!” Harry called after him—yes, Severus was being a right arsehole, but Harry didn’t want him to get himself tortured for disobeying a direct order.


“I’m well aware of my orders, Potter!” Severus yelled back from the front entryway, causing Walburga’s portrait to wake up and start shrieking about Mudbloods and traitors besmirching her home. Severus screamed back at her, “SHUT UP YOU IGNORANT FUCKING HAG!”


There was a flare of fiery light, and Harry ran over to the doorway. He peered around the corner and saw Severus directing a beam of Fiendfyre directly at the portrait, which melted as Walburga screamed. The fire tried to spread past the portrait, but Severus kept it contained, and then wrenched his wand sharply downward, ending the spell and breathing heavily as the flames disappeared. The portrait was now nothing but a charred and blackened stain, with streaks of its melted metal frame creeping down the wall like condensation.


“Whoa,” Harry said, impressed and a little bit terrified. “About time someone shut her up,” he added lightly.


Severus glanced up and caught Harry’s eye by accident, and then Harry started laughing. To his surprise, Snape did as well, although much more reservedly. It was a bit jarring—Harry didn’t think he’d ever even seen the man smile before. They didn’t manage to stop until a minute later when the front door opened behind Harry, who drew his wand and spun around.


“Oh, you’re back,” Harry said. He put away his wand, still grinning.


Voldemort, who was no longer wearing the snakelike glamour, did not look amused in the slightest. As soon as the Dumbledore ghost started to materialize, Voldemort slashed his wand and silently dismantled the spell altogether, seemingly with no effort or thought put into it.


“Glad someone’s having fun,” Voldemort muttered, about to storm past Harry and Severus, who had managed to compose themselves. But then he stopped and did a double-take at the charred portrait remains. “Severus,” he said, his voice deadly. “Did you cast Fiendfyre while in the presence of my Horcrux?”


Severus bowed his head, suddenly pale, and said, “Apologies, My Lord.”


Voldemort growled and raised his wand. “Cru—”


“Don’t!” Harry said, grabbing Voldemort’s wrist and forcing his wand down.


Voldemort’s free hand grabbed Harry by the throat and shoved him backwards against the wall. “Don’t ever,” he snarled, “challenge me in front of my followers.” He released Harry, snatched the locket Horcrux from around his neck, then commanded Severus, “Get out.”


Without waiting for a response, Voldemort swept further into the house in a swirl of black robes, leaving a stunned Harry alone again with a relieved but still wary Severus.


“You shouldn’t have done that,” Severus said quietly.


Harry shrugged. “I’ve been told I have a saving-people thing,” he tried to say casually. It stung a bit, having Voldemort take back the locket when Harry had been wearing it ever since that silly fake proposal at breakfast—Harry knew the proposal hadn’t meant anything and that Voldemort had been joking, but it still hurt to have him take the locket away again in a fit of anger.


Severus headed for the door, but paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Harry,” he said quietly, “give him some time to calm down before you tell him about Weasley leaving—and make sure to tell him right away that I verified that the boy was properly Obliviated.”


“Careful, Sev,” Harry said, smiling a bit, “people might think you actually care.”


Severus scoffed, and without another word he swept out the front door and disapparated.


Harry sighed, and headed back into the sitting room, where he found Voldemort sitting in the wingback chair next to the fireplace, with his arms crossed and a scowl twisting his handsome face.


“Is there anything you’d like to tell me, Harry?” Voldemort asked, his tone cold. “It seems like I’ve missed quite a bit of excitement.”


“Well, a bit, yeah,” Harry said, nervously running a hand through his hair. There would be no waiting for him to calm down, not now that he’d asked directly. Harry tried to stall, asking, “Do you want some tea, or—?”


“I want you to tell me why the Weasley boy and your house-elf are both gone, and why Severus saw fit to cast Fiendfyre in the entryway.”


Harry sat down on the loveseat, and bought himself a few more seconds by retrieving his glasses from where they’d fallen earlier and putting them back on. “Well, there was this awful portrait of Sirius’s insane old mum—really loud noises would wake her up and she’d start screaming insults and slurs—there was a permanent sticking charm on the portrait, and nobody could ever figure out a way to get rid of her. So, Severus was in a bit of a mood and the portrait went off, so, he got rid of it,” Harry said, shrugging. “I was clear in the other room when he did it—I wasn’t in any danger,” Harry added.


Voldemort’s expression darkened. “Fiendfyre is a very dark, very complicated spell—it’s nearly sentient once it’s cast, and it’s extremely difficult to extinguish. If it had gotten away from him, even for a second, it wouldn’t have mattered what room you were in—it could’ve burned down the entire house in minutes.”


Harry swallowed, unsure what to say to that. Voldemort saved him the trouble of responding.


“And what of your friend? And the elf? Where are they?” he asked.


“I don’t know about Kreacher—he’s probably back at Hogwarts. I’d ordered him to work there most of the time, and only pop in here occasionally to keep the place decent. And Ron—we had a bit of a disagreement, and, er—Severus made sure he was properly Obliviated,” Harry parroted, making sure to lead with that, “and then I sent him home. He doesn’t remember anything I told him about us, and he doesn’t even remember what Horcruxes are. So, he’s not a threat or anything.”


Voldemort’s red eyes flashed in annoyance. “I would’ve liked to verify that for myself.”


“Ask Hermione—she cast the Obliviate. Severus used Legilimency on her to verify it.”


“I will. I can’t say I trust Severus’s judgment much at the moment,” he said. He stood and headed for the stairs, muttering “Fiendfyre, honestly,” under his breath.


Harry followed Voldemort upstairs where they found Hermione, unsurprisingly, in the library. She was sitting in an ancient looking armchair reading the Beedle the Bard book.


“Oh, hello,” she greeted them, lowering the book, but not before Voldemort caught sight of the triangular symbol on the cover.


“What are you reading?” he asked.


“It’s just a collection of wizarding children’s stories,” Hermione answered. “Dumbledore left it to me in his will, for some unfathomable reason.”


“That’s Grindelwald’s symbol on the cover.”


“Yes,” Hermione said. “We were a bit confused about why that’s there, but I suppose it makes more sense now, knowing their history.”


“What else did he leave you?” Voldemort asked, taking the empty armchair next to Hermione’s.


There were no more chairs nearby so Harry stood behind Voldemort’s, casually leaning there and folding his arms on top of it. “He left me the Snitch from my first Quiddich game, and he gave Ron this clicky light thing.”


“Deluminator,” Hermione chimed in. “That’s what he called it.”


“Right, that,” Harry said.


“And what did it do?” Voldemort asked.


“It…deluminated?” Harry said.


Voldemort let out a short exhalation that might’ve been a scoff or a laugh.


“It captured all of the light in the area and contained it,” Hermione elaborated. “And then it released it all back to where it came from.”


“He also tried to give me the Sword of Gryffindor, but the Ministry said it wasn’t his to give away.”


“Interesting,” Voldemort said, and went quiet for a moment before pursuing his original intention. “Miss Granger,” he said politely, “I’m aware of your other friend’s departure, and I’d like to take a look at your memory of Obliviating him, just to make sure nothing was missed.”


“Professor Snape already did that,” Hermione said carefully.


“I don’t trust his judgment at the moment,” Voldemort said coolly.


Hermione raised an eyebrow, and Harry chimed in, “Se—er, Snape got rid of Walburga—with Fiendfyre.”


“Fiendfyre!” Hermione cried, sounding scandalized. “He could’ve killed us all.”


Voldemort glanced up at Harry and swept a hand towards Hermione in a silent ‘see?’ gesture. Harry just rolled his eyes.


“May I look at the memory, Miss Granger?”


Hermione looked at him for a moment, fully aware that his asking was a formality and that he could and probably would just do what he wanted regardless. “You can call me Hermione,” she said. “And yes, go ahead.”


She made eye contact without being prompted, and Voldemort whispered, “Legilimens.”


Both of their expressions went blank, and a few moments later Hermione blinked several times and Voldemort leaned back in his chair. “Very impressive for a first attempt,” he told her. “It would’ve been better to implant a false memory of the argument you told him he had with Harry, but otherwise, well done.”


“Thank you,” Hermione said, looking away shyly.


“You have a natural aptitude for mind magic, Hermione. If you’re interested, and of course if you don’t become a problem for myself or Harry, I might be persuaded to teach you more of it.”


Hermione dared to meet Voldemort’s eyes again, and nodded. “I’ll consider it. Thank you for offering.”


Voldemort nodded magnanimously, and Harry rolled his eyes at the haughty manner.


“So, anyway,” Harry said, unceremoniously walking around the front of the chair and plopping himself down sideways in Voldemort’s lap, causing Hermione’s eyebrows to skyrocket. “How’d the meeting go?”


“Terribly,” Voldemort muttered, absently wrapping an arm around Harry’s waist. “After I made the announcement, about half of the Death Eaters rioted and started a pathetic attempt at a revolt. A fourth of them fled like fucking cowards, and a fourth of them fought beside me to defeat the rebels.”


“By defeat, you mean?”


“They’re dead,” Voldemort said bluntly.


“Ah,” Harry said. Hermione listened without commenting.


“I do hope you’re happy,” Voldemort muttered.


Harry carefully said, “Well, the ones who were only with you for the blood supremacy and Muggle torture couldn’t have really been all that useful, right?”


“That’s not the point—infighting makes us look weak, and it makes me look like an ineffective leader.”


“Who’s going to hear about it? The ones who ran away can’t exactly take the story to the Daily Prophet without admitting that they were at a Death Eater meeting too.”


“Harry,” Voldemort sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation.


Harry, who’d been staring unashamedly at Voldemort’s face as they spoke, suddenly blurted out, “Does it feel weird, having a nose again?”


Voldemort stilled and stared at Harry. Hermione snorted and burst into giggles.


“I’m sorry,” she said through the laughter, looking horrified with herself but still unable to stop laughing.


Harry grinned, and even Voldemort chuckled after a moment.


When Hermione finally got herself under control, Voldemort said, “It does feel a bit strange, actually,” which set everyone off again. Harry pressed his face against Voldemort’s shoulder as he laughed.


“This is so surreal,” Hermione said, when they quieted again. “I mean, if I didn’t know better, I would think you two have been together for years.” Voldemort said nothing, just ran his fingers through Harry’s hair. Hermione hesitantly asked, “Are…are you quite sure that the ritual isn’t still affecting you both somehow? Like, encouraging affection or proximity, or anything like that?”


“Hermione,” Harry started, exasperated.


“The thought did occur to me,” Voldemort interrupted, “but I’ve checked both of us for lingering spells or compulsions, and there’s nothing.”


“So, then,” Hermione said carefully, “it’s possible that you’re latching onto each other so tightly in order to cope with the trauma of being forced into a situation you couldn’t control?”


“What?” Harry said.


“Miss Granger,” Voldemort said coldly, “if I want a Mind Healer, I’ll seek one out. And in the meantime I’ll thank you to keep your speculations to yourself.”


Voldemort nudged Harry until he moved off his lap and stood up, and then Voldemort stood as well.


Hermione glanced up at him, then back at the floor. “I’m sorry if I overstepped.”


“See that you don’t do it again,” Voldemort ordered, then he swept towards the door dramatically while Harry rolled his eyes at the display. Voldemort paused in the doorway, turning around to add, “Both of you should start packing your belongings—we’re relocating tonight.”


“To where?” Harry asked.


“Malfoy Manor.”


Harry groaned. “Why?”


“It’s only for a month until we all go to Hogwarts,” Voldemort said.


“Okay, but why?” Harry repeated.


“Because too many people can just waltz in here whenever they please—it’s not secure, and it annoys me immensely. I personally reinforced the wards of Malfoy Manor, and only the family and myself have free reign—other Death Eaters can’t randomly pop in at any moment.”


Hermione quietly said, “I don’t imagine I’ll be welcome there, considering my blood status.”


“You’re welcome there if I say you are.” This, surprisingly, came from Voldemort rather than Harry, but Hermione still smiled a little and nodded her head in thanks.


Harry glanced back and forth between the two of them and grinned. “I knew you two would get along,” he said.


Voldemort raised an eyebrow and simply repeated, “Pack your things,” before leaving the room.


“Why on earth did you think we would get along?” Hermione asked once he was gone.


“Because you’re both huge nerds,” Harry said fondly. “You should’ve heard him earlier, going on about how our ritual didn’t make sense because of so-and-so’s magical theory of whatever—”


“He knows the specifics of the ritual?”


“Grindelwald left us a book, but Voldemort kept saying it shouldn’t be possible for it to work the way it did.”


“Harry, can you convince him to let me see the book?”


“I can ask,” Harry said, idly scratching the back of his neck. “But no promises. He’s kind of touchy about the whole thing.”


Hermione huffed a laugh. “I imagine that’s an understatement.”


“A bit, yeah.” Harry smiled, then after a moment said, “Aren’t you going to pack?”


Hermione held up her magically-extended beaded bag. “I have everything I need.”


“Feel free to stuff some of these books in there, if you want,” Harry said, gesturing vaguely at the rest of the library. “They’re not doing anybody any good here.”


“Oh, I intend to,” Hermione said, smiling.


“Right, then. I’ll just,” Harry edged towards the door, waiting to see if Hermione wanted to talk about anything else.


“Okay,” she said, turning back to her book. “Come find me when it’s time to go.”


“All right, see you.”


Harry ducked out of the library and headed back downstairs, looking for Voldemort but going off of a gut feeling rather than logic or a thorough search of the house. The feeling led Harry to the kitchen, where he found Voldemort leaning against the counter while he sipped a cup of coffee and stared at the chair that Harry had knocked over at breakfast. It was still laying on the floor, although the mess of broken plates and food had been Vanished at some point.


Harry leaned against the doorway, then sheepishly said, “Hey.”


Voldemort glanced up sharply, apparently not having heard his approach. “Harry.”


“Erm, sorry,” Harry said, nodding towards the toppled chair, “about earlier.”


“As am I,” Voldemort said quietly. “I wasn’t being intentionally cruel. Your friends told me their suspicions about your relatives,” he said, meeting Harry’s eyes and waiting for his response.


Harry looked away at the ground and then decided to just get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid. “The Dursleys hated me, and they hated magic, and they hated anything that wasn’t normal. They made me live in the cupboard under the stairs until I was eleven. I had to cook and clean for them, but I never did it good enough and got punished by being smacked around or locked up without food.” Harry paused and took a deep breath—he’d never actually told anyone any of this before, and it was excruciating. “My cousin and his friends teased me and beat me up whenever they could catch me. I never had any friends or knew anything about magic until Hogwarts. And,” he hesitated, then continued, “they lied about how my parents died. They told me they died in a car accident because they were driving drunk,” Harry’s voice broke and he covered his mouth with his hand, trying to regain his composure. A few tears escaped, but no noise did—one of the first things Harry had learned as a child was how to cry silently.


He was pulled forward against a warm, firm chest—he hadn’t even noticed Voldemort crossing the room, but he put his arms around Harry, one hand running through his hair before guiding Harry’s head to rest against Voldemort’s chest. Harry threw his arms around him, holding on tight as if it would help him hold himself together.


After a long moment, Voldemort spoke. “You never should’ve had to experience that, Harry—and I regret that my actions made it possible.” Harry didn’t know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything, and Voldemort continued. “No one is ever going to treat you that way again…And—with your permission, of course—nothing would please me more than to find your relatives and make them suffer as you did.”


Harry, to his shame, actually considered it for a moment. “No,” he finally said into Voldemort’s shoulder. “It wouldn’t change anything, and it wouldn’t make me feel better in the end.”


Voldemort sighed, but said, “I’ll respect your wishes in this—but do tell me immediately if you change your mind,” and the eagerness in his voice in that last part made Harry laugh a little.


“Yes, My Lord,” Harry teased, trying to lighten the mood a bit.


Voldemort pressed a kiss to the top of Harry’s head. “I rather like it when you call me that.”


“I’ll keep that in mind.”


They both went quiet and just stood there for a long moment, locked in an embrace, their bond thrumming between them.


“Do you need to pack your things?” Voldemort finally asked, not letting go of Harry.


“Hermione has all of our clothes and supplies and stuff.”


“We should be going then.”


“I guess,” Harry said, but he made no move to step away from the embrace, and neither did Voldemort. “Not right this second, though.”


“Not right this second,” Voldemort agreed, and pressed another kiss to Harry’s forehead, content to stand there and hold Harry for however long he needed.


Several minutes later, Harry loosened his grip and slid his hands down Voldemort’s back as he leaned away slightly. Voldemort did the same, but kept his hands on Harry’s waist as he looked into his eyes.


“All right now?” he asked.


Harry nodded, seeming embarrassed. “Yeah. Thanks.”


“Any time,” Voldemort murmured, surprised to find that he meant it.


Harry forced a half-smile, then took one of Voldemort’s hands and led him towards the doorway. He stopped on the way to stand his toppled chair back up, pushing it back under the table.


They left the kitchen and headed back towards the front of the house. When they reached the stairway, Harry squeezed Voldemort’s hand before pulling away and heading upstairs. “I’ll go get Hermione,” he said. Voldemort nodded and continued on.


Harry went back up to the library, where Hermione was carefully placing a stack of books one at a time into the beaded bag. “Hey,” he said, leaning in the doorway, “time to go.”


“Oh, all right.” She quickly shoved the rest of the books into the beaded bag before closing it and following Harry out of the room.


“Hey, do you happen to know where Kreacher went?” Harry asked halfway down the stairs.


“I haven’t seen him since he told us about the locket,” she said. “Why?”


“Voldemort was asking—he got a little paranoid at first when he got back and Ron and Kreacher were both gone.”


Hermione said nothing, but it was a very loud silence.


“Are—are you alright?” Harry ventured after a moment. “I mean, after Ron—”


“I don’t want to talk about it,” Hermione said shortly.


“Okay,” Harry said, backing off.


They reached the foot of the stairs in silence, and found Voldemort waiting for them in the sitting room.


“Ready?” he asked.


“As we’ll ever be, I suppose,” Harry said. “Honestly, it had to be Malfoy Manor,” he grumbled.


“How are we getting there?” Hermione asked.


“Apparation. I’ll be side-alonging the two of you.”


Harry groaned again. “Great.”


“Hush, brat,” Voldemort said, but without malice. “Come along.”


He headed for the front door, holding it open for Harry and Hermione. Once outside, he glanced around for anything amiss, then hooked his right arm around Harry’s and offered his left to Hermione, who hesitantly took it.


Harry glanced over at the rather trampled-upon and half-destroyed bush next to the doorstep, and said, “What happened to that bush?”


“Never you mind,” Voldemort said.


He ignored Harry’s raised eyebrow, gathered his magic, and turned on the spot, apparating the three of them away.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are those peacocks?” Harry asked, staring in amused disbelief as the birds strutted across front lawn of Malfoy Manor. Night was falling, and the white peacocks stood out even more starkly in the gloom of dusk.


“Yes, yes they are,” Voldemort said in a resigned tone, leading Harry and Hermione up the front path. He had Apparated them to the outside gate in order to key them both into the wards on their way in.


The manor was huge and imposing but also beautiful—it was nearly a castle, with tall towers and a truly ridiculous number of elegant windows set into the stone walls. It looked entirely too big for a family of three, no matter how wealthy.


“It’s lovely,” Hermione said quietly.


“I suppose,” Harry said, a bit reluctant to compliment anything of Malfoy’s.


Halfway up the path, Voldemort said, “Harry, you’ll be staying with me. Hermione, you can have the guest room in my suite, or I can arrange your own private suite if you would prefer.”


Hermione thought it over for a moment, then said, “I’d rather stick close to you two for now, if you don’t mind.”


“That’s probably for the best,” Voldemort said. “It wouldn’t do to run into Bellatrix on your own.”


“Wait,” Harry blurted out, “that bitch is here?”


Voldemort side-eyed him and said, “She’s Narcissa’s sister. Just avoid her and don’t pick any fights—she’s very useful and I’d rather not lose her unnecessarily.”


“You’re telling me not to pick a fight?” Harry demanded. “She’s the one who taunts me about Sirius’s death every time she sees me!”


Voldemort paused a moment, then said, “I suppose I can send her off on a bogus mission.”


“Ta ever so.”


“But not tonight—if I have to endure any more drama after the day I’ve had, I swear I’m going to snap.”


“So then I probably shouldn’t pick a fight with Malfoy either?” Harry asked, only halfway joking.


“Do try to refrain,” Voldemort said dryly.


They arrived at the front door, which opened to reveal Lucius and Draco waiting to greet them. Voldemort stepped through the door, leading Harry and Hermione inside and then closing the door with a wave of his hand.


“My Lord,” Lucius said, bowing.


“Professor,” Draco said, with a hint of a smirk. Harry’s eyebrows went up, and he felt a stab of annoyance that Draco was evidently already in the loop about the Hogwarts plan.


Lucius shot a horrified look at Draco for the apparent breach of etiquette, which made Voldemort smirk as well.

“Lucius, Draco,” he greeted. “As you probably noticed, I’ve keyed Harry Potter and Hermione Granger into the wards.” Draco eyed them both curiously, and Lucius didn’t quite scowl but his expression became slightly more pinched. “They are to be treated as honored guests, and no harm is to come to them. Understood?”


“Yes, My Lord.”


“Yes, Sir.”


“Where is Bellatrix?” Voldemort asked.


Lucius hesitated. “I believe she’s still in the dungeons.”


“Oh, right,” Voldemort said under his breath. He’d forgotten about sending her there. There was a reason that he didn’t drink often. “Leave her there for now.”


“My Lord, if I may,” Lucius said hesitantly, “there have been some—developments—since today’s meeting,” he trailed off, waiting to see if Voldemort seemed receptive to a discussion.


“Fine,” Voldemort said, sounding less than pleased. “Draco, give Harry and Hermione a tour of the Manor while your father updates me. And all of you had better behave civilly,” he added, looking pointedly at Harry and Draco.


Draco nodded respectfully, while Harry rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, dear.”


Lucius looked scandalized and snapped, “Show some respect, Potter!”


“Lucius,” Voldemort said coldly, “if I object to the way Harry speaks to me, I will tell him myself.”


Lucius bowed his head and said, “Yes, My Lord.”


“That means mind your own business,” Harry chimed in, giving Lucius an insincere smile.


Lucius gritted his teeth and held back whatever retort he was clearly itching to throw at Harry.


“The update, Lucius?” Voldemort said pointedly. “Shall we go to the dining hall?”


“Yes, My Lord,” Lucius said, and tore his glare away from Harry.


Harry caught Voldemort’s eye and said, “Try not to snap.”


“Yes, dear,” Voldemort deadpanned, then he turned to lead a very gobsmacked Lucius towards the dining hall.


Harry watched until they were out of sight, then turned back around to face Hermione and Draco.


“What?” Harry said to the looks they were both giving him—Hermione’s was fond and knowing but still slightly concerned, Draco’s was surprised and calculating but quickly hidden behind an impassive mask. “Thought we were going on a tour?” Harry said pointedly, catching Draco’s eye.


Draco nodded, then said, “Right. Potter, Granger, follow me.”


Draco led them all along the ground floor, keeping up an unnerving mask of detached professionalism and pointing out the sitting room, the smaller dining room, the grand dining hall (they very quietly walked past its closed door, as Voldemort and Lucius were holding their briefing there), the swimming pool, the door that led down to the cellar and the dungeons, the music room, the conservatory, and the guest library. Harry and Hermione remained mostly silent, only offering up an occasional awkward “Oh,” or “That’s nice,” while Draco continued to play tour guide without any sneering or name-calling at all—it was quite frankly unnatural.


When they ended up outside the library, Hermione finally asked, “May I take a look around the library?”


Draco raised an eyebrow as if to mock her predictability, but he only said, “Certainly,” and held the door open for her. She gave him a slightly suspicious look, but went inside.


“Are any of these books cursed?” she asked over her shoulder.


“Of course not,” Draco said. “We keep the cursed ones in the private library upstairs.” He let the door close behind her, leaving Draco and Harry alone in the hallway.


Harry started to follow after Hermione, but Draco caught his arm and gave him a very serious look. “Can we talk? Privately?”


Harry glanced down at Draco’s hand on his arm, then raised his eyebrows and said, “Can you stop acting like a pod person?”


“Like a what?”


“You’re suddenly like a—a Stepford Wife or something.”


“That made even less sense.”


Harry tugged his arm free from Draco’s grip and vaguely waved a hand at him. “You’re being all polite and professional, and it’s creeping me out. You’re supposed to be an annoying git, not a robot.”


Draco’s mask finally cracked, and he gave Harry a severely raised eyebrow and a hint of a sneer. “It’s called good manners, Potter, but I wouldn’t expect you to—” Draco cut himself off, took a breath, and forced his expression back into something polite and neutral. “What I meant to say was—”


“No,” Harry interrupted.


Draco snapped again and demanded, “What do you mean ‘no’?”


“I mean stop trying to suck up to me, or whatever you’re doing. I’m not buying it and you don’t mean it, so why are you even bothering?”


“If you really must know, Potter, I was told to not be a nuisance to you. Forgive me ever so much for trying to be civil,” Draco said sarcastically.


“Since when do you ever just do what you’re told?” Harry asked, part of him actually enjoying the argument.


“Since the Dark Lord personally fucking ordered it!”


Harry blinked. “Oh.”


Draco scoffed and mockingly echoed, “Oh.”


Harry laughed, which seemed to confuse Draco. “Okay, well, what you were doing before with the whole 'civility' bollocks—that was a nuisance. Just be your usual annoying self—oddly enough, I like that better,” Harry said, giving Draco half an awkward smile.


Draco gave him a strange look, then finally said, “If the Dark Lord kills me for getting shirty with you, I will be haunting you, Potter. Just so you’re aware.” He offset the severe tone by offering a faint smile.


“I’m pretty sure you’d haunt me regardless,” Harry said, absently tugging at the neck of his own shirt—it was buttoned all the way up, and it was uncomfortable and nearly too tight. He undid the top two buttons without thinking, and heard a resulting gasp from Draco.


“What the hell, Potter?”


“Oh, er—” Harry started, remembering too late that he’d buttoned his shirt up all the way specifically to hide the massive hickey at the base of his neck, which Voldemort had given him that morning.


“Merlin,” Draco muttered, staring at the hickey, “I thought he was just winding me up.”


“What?”


Draco blinked and seized Harry’s arm again, steering him towards a door across from the library. “In there. Now.”


Harry was too startled to protest, and he found himself shoved inside a broom cupboard with Draco Malfoy—although given that this was Malfoy Manor, it was a very large and elegant broom cupboard without a single cobweb or spider in sight. Draco tapped his wand on the doorknob to lock it and then cast a privacy spell before turning to face Harry, still looking pale and disturbed.


“Okay then,” Draco said, sounding a bit shaky. “I was going to ask if we could start over and try to be friends—I had a whole speech planned out, but as usual you’ve gone and ruined it for me.”


“I did not,” Harry argued, wondering whether he should draw his wand. “What are you on about?”


“Look, Potter,” Draco said urgently, “I can get you out of here—I know all the ways around the wards, and my father still has a few safe houses that no one besides us knows about. He’d never find you there.”


“Who?”


“The Dark Lord,” Draco said, gesturing towards the enormous hickey on Harry’s neck. “I was trying to be delicate, but if he’s been, well, hurting you, or forcing you to—you know—” he trailed off awkwardly, then met Harry’s eyes and repeated, “I can get you out of here.”


Harry’s eyebrows went up, and he said, “That’s suspiciously nice of you, but I’m not a prisoner and I promise I’m fine. He’s not forcing me to do anything. So let’s just forget this entire conversation, all right?”


“Not a chance. I meant what I said about starting over,” Draco said stubbornly.


Harry blinked and gave Draco a bewildered look. “Where’s this coming from, anyway? You’ve always hated me.”


“No I haven’t,” Draco said, so quietly that Harry almost missed it. Before Harry could pounce on that comment, Draco continued in a louder, falsely confident voice, “It’s just self preservation, Potter. Things have been changing dramatically around here, and I wouldn’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort,” he paused, smiled a little self-depreciatingly, and said, “Maybe you could help me there.”


Draco held out his hand to shake Harry’s, mirroring that first day on the train.


Harry looked at it, then smiled slightly and said, “I think you can probably tell who the wrong sort are for yourself by now…but all right.”


He took Malfoy’s hand and they shook.


A blinding grin spread across Draco’s face before he caught himself and schooled his features into something more neutral. “All right,” Draco echoed. After a moment, he finally let go of Harry’s hand and said, “Now what?”


Harry smirked and said, “Now we get out of this broom cupboard before somebody finds us and gets the wrong idea.”


Draco blushed a bit and said, “Right. Wouldn’t want that.” He unlocked the door and took down the privacy spells. He was reaching to open the door when Harry’s hand on his wrist stopped him.


“Erm, Draco?” Harry said uncertainly, trying out his first name. It felt a bit weird to call him that, but Harry supposed he would get used to it eventually.


Draco swallowed before looking up to meet Harry’s eyes somewhat apprehensively. “Yes, Harry?”


“Just—thanks. For trying to help. I don’t need it, but I appreciate it all the same.”


“Of course,” Draco said, looking away at the ground and almost reluctantly pulling his wrist free from Harry’s grip. “Offer’s open, if anything changes.”


“Okay,” Harry said, and this time he let Draco open the door.


Draco cautiously looked both ways down the corridor before stepping out and telling Harry, “It’s clear.”


Harry followed him out into the deserted corridor, pulling the door shut behind him. Draco lingered outside the closed door to the library and Harry stood beside him, leaning slightly against the wall. After a moment, Harry said, “So, you do realize that being my friend means you have to be nice to Hermione, right?”


Harry was fully prepared for some kind of biting, sarcastic comment, but Draco merely shrugged and said, “Granger’s not so bad, I suppose.”


Harry’s eyebrows went up but he agreed, “She’s not bad at all. She’s brilliant.”


“I’m brilliant too, you know,” Draco said with a sniff.


“It’s not a competition,” Harry said, smiling a little.


“Everything’s a competition, Potter,” Draco said, giving him a disbelieving look.


“It’s Harry,” he reminded him, nudging Draco’s arm with his elbow.


“It’s still Potter when you’re being an idiot,” Draco teased. “Speaking of idiots—why isn’t the Weasel with you?”


Harry glared and said, “Don’t talk about Ron like that.” Draco held up his hands in mock surrender, and Harry continued, “We had a bit of a disagreement, is all.”


“Over?”


“Over the fact that me sleeping with Voldemort apparently means I’m betraying my parents’ memory and the rest of the world.”


Draco blinked. “Oh.”


Harry gave him a sharp look and said, “Are you going to be weird about it too? You already assumed that he’s fucking me—or am I suddenly a traitor once you find out it’s consensual?”


“I didn’t say that,” Draco interjected, quickly continuing when Harry opened his mouth to argue, “and I wasn’t thinking it either. It’s just…I don’t know, it’s surprising.”


Harry nodded, calming down quickly at the lack of judgment in Draco’s tone, then he said, “Can’t argue with that, I suppose.”


After a few moments of not-quite-comfortable silence, Draco asked, “How did this happen, anyway—the two of you?”


“Well,” Harry said, “long story short, we were trapped together in a life-or-death situation and we had to, er, cooperate to get out of it. Things just sort of—happened—from there.”


Draco gave him an unimpressed look. “Riveting. Truly a tale to tell the grandchildren. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so,” he added, seeming to close off a bit.


Harry bit his lip and considered for a moment—he was sure Voldemort didn’t want any more people than necessary to know what happened. Even so, as strange as it was to suddenly think of Draco tentatively as a friend after years of animosity, Harry had already decided to give it a serious go and he didn’t want to ruin it before it even began. And this was definitely the kind of major life event that one didn’t conceal from one’s friends—especially since Draco had just offered to more or less risk his life to help Harry escape from what Draco had thought was imprisonment and abuse.


“I’ll tell you,” Harry finally said, “but only if you’ll take a Wizard’s Oath first, and promise not to tell anyone else or to use the information against me or Voldemort.”


Draco raised an eyebrow. “That’s surprisingly Slytherin of you.”


Harry smirked at him. “Oh, didn’t you know? The Sorting Hat almost put me in Slytherin.”


Draco’s jaw dropped. “You’re lying.”


“I’m not. And it’s rude to call your friends liars, you know.”


Draco rolled his eyes. “Fine, I take it back. In the interest of being a good friend and all.”


Harry smiled and so did Draco, but then a voice from down the hall interrupted.


“This is adorable,” Voldemort said dryly, “should I come back later?”


Draco froze and his smile faded into a guarded expression. Harry’s smile stayed put as he turned to see Voldemort casually leaning against the wall where another corridor intersected the one they’d been chatting in.


“Nah,” Harry said, “get over here. We were just about to braid each other’s hair and make friendship bracelets. You can join in.”


Voldemort smirked, but uncrossed his arms and started towards them, pausing when he got close enough to notice Harry’s unbuttoned shirt collar and the hickey on his neck. He glanced at it pointedly, then his eyes roved over the rest of Harry’s neck, and he asked in a strange tone, “No other bruises?”


“Hmm?” Harry’s brow furrowed, then he realized Voldemort was referring to his temper tantrum earlier when he’d grabbed Harry by the neck and shoved him against a wall. “Oh, no. I’m all right,” Harry assured him, finally placing the tone in Voldemort’s voice as guilt, which was something he’d never heard or expected to hear from the man. Harry smiled and said, “I’ll forgive you if you kiss it better.” He tilted his head, offering up his neck.


Voldemort smiled slightly but still looked contrite as he stepped closer and leaned down to kiss Harry’s throat, whispering a healing spell against his skin that made the hickey vanish, and also dispelled a slight soreness that Harry hadn’t even noticed until it was gone. Voldemort kissed his way up Harry’s neck before capturing his lips.


Harry pulled back after a moment and said, “Erm, I think we’re traumatizing Draco.”


Draco blinked and finally looked away, his cheeks bright red and his expression something odd that Harry couldn’t quite interpret.


“Nonsense,” Voldemort said, possessively kissing Harry again, “I think he’s rather enjoying the show.”


Harry blushed and pulled back, putting a hand on Voldemort’s chest to keep him from leaning in again. “I think I’ve had enough of putting on shows, if it’s all the same to you.” Draco’s eyebrows went up when Harry glanced over and accidentally made eye contact. “Long story,” Harry muttered to Draco, whose face was still extremely red.


“Right,” Draco said awkwardly, edging away towards the library door. “I’ll just, er, see if Granger needs any help with the books.”


“Stay close to her,” Voldemort ordered him, “and show her to my rooms whenever she’s finished with the library.”


“Yes, Sir,” Draco said, practically fleeing into the library.


Once the door closed behind Draco, Harry asked, “Why does he get away with calling you Sir when everyone else is all Master and My Lord?”


“I told him to get out of the habit of saying My Lord so he doesn’t blurt it out during class at Hogwarts.”


Harry laughed. “That would be kind of hilarious, actually—‘Turn to page 138,’ ‘Yes, My Lord!’ and then everyone panics.”


“Your sense of humor is concerning.” Voldemort stepped back, casually linked his arm with Harry’s, and said, “Walk with me. It appears that Draco didn’t finish the tour.”


“We only did the first floor,” Harry said, leaning into Voldemort’s side as they walked down the corridor. “Hermione got distracted by the library, and then Draco cornered me and asked if we could start over as friends, so we’re giving that a try.”


“Splendid,” Voldemort said, and Harry couldn’t quite tell if he was being sarcastic or not.


They walked in silence for a moment, climbing a set of elegant marble stairs that seemed to curve upward forever. Voldemort steered Harry onto the top floor landing and into a long unlit corridor, the outside wall of which seemed to be more window than wall. There was a domed glass roof that let in the moonlight and created the illusion of walking outside under the stars, and the floor was mosaic of tiny tiles in varying shades of green. The glass corridor provided a beautiful and—dare Harry say it—romantic view of the sky and the sprawling grounds of the Manor.


“Speaking of names,” Voldemort finally said, even though they hadn’t been for several minutes now.


“Yeah?” Harry prompted, after a few too many beats of silence.


“I’ll be going by my birth name at Hogwarts,” Voldemort said quietly. “You should probably start calling me Tom, so we’ll both have plenty of time to get used to it.”


Harry stared at him. “All right…Tom…but I’m pretty sure the entire Order knows that name. Dumbledore wasn’t shy about throwing it around, especially after the incident with the journal in my second year.”


Voldemort—er, Tom dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “I created a spell, not unlike a blend between the Fidelus and a Taboo, which will keep those who can connect my birth name with my chosen name from communicating that information in any way with anyone else. It’s already in effect.”


“Is it also going to prevent them from attacking you, even if they can’t explain why they did it?”


“No, but that’s its own deterrent. They wouldn’t be able to justify to the Aurors why they attacked an apparently innocent Hogwarts professor, and they’d likely end up in Azkaban for it.”


“Some people would probably still take that risk,” Harry said uncomfortably.


Tom hummed noncommittally before saying, “You would, undoubtedly, if we were still fighting each other.”


“Well, yeah,” Harry said. “But we’re not.”


“And we’re going to make that clear to the world, well before term starts. Your very public truce with Lord Voldemort should deter the Order and its supporters from doing anything too drastic.”


“Maybe. Or maybe the public will just turn on me again, call me a traitor, and attack both of us.”


“Not if we spin the story the right way.”


“Which is?” Harry prompted.


“Everyone loves a redemption arc, Harry,” Tom said, smirking. “We tell them that we share a mysterious connection, and that since my return you’ve brought me back from the brink of insanity and shown me the error of my ways, and now I’m dedicated to making reparations for the harm that I’ve caused.”


Harry snorted and said, “No one’s going to buy that.”


“They might be more inclined to if we give them a different villain to focus on—if we tell them how Dumbledore repeatedly sent both of us back to dangerous, abusive environments, and how he manipulated multiple students into life-threatening conflicts with Dark Lords over the years.”


Harry thought ‘villain’ was perhaps a bit harsh, but decided not to argue it. “I think Rita Skeeter has a head start on us there,” Harry said, remembering the preview he’d seen in the Prophet about her upcoming book. “She wrote some kind of exposé/biography about him, and the preview didn’t seem too flattering.”


“Perfect,” Tom said. “Maybe we can arrange an interview in time for her to add a few chapters before it goes to print.”


Harry nodded, but after a moment he said, “We won’t be able to say very much about your past, or she’ll figure out that Voldemort and Tom Riddle are the same person.”


“Believe it or not, Harry, I do have some experience with keeping secrets and manipulating people.” Harry rolled his eyes at that, and Tom dropped the sarcastic tone and continued, “Besides, I don’t intend for it to stay a secret forever.”


“So we take over the Ministry, and then what? You take out a full-page advert in the Prophet that says, ‘Surprise, everyone, Voldemort’s been teaching your kids at Hogwarts’?” Harry said, laughing under his breath.


Tom smiled despite himself and said, “I’d envisioned something a bit more dramatic and impressive, but I suppose I could do it your way if the thought of it amuses you so much.”


Harry smiled and said, “You know, you’re awfully indulgent for a big bad Dark Lord.”


“Are you complaining?” Tom asked, quirking an eyebrow.


“Nope. Not at all,” Harry said, playfully bumping his shoulder into Tom’s as they walked down the seemingly endless moonlit corridor.


Tom smiled, bumped him back and said, “Good.” Tom glanced over his shoulder, casually cast a handful of privacy spells, then gently took both of Harry’s hands in his own and walked backwards until Tom’s back was pressed against the wall of windows. “Beautiful view, isn’t it?” he said, his own eyes never leaving Harry’s.


“It is,” Harry agreed, not breaking eye contact.


Tom gave him a smile, which fell away when he traced his fingers along Harry’s throat, the gentleness a deliberate contrast with the moment of violence earlier that night. “Allow me to indulge you a bit more?” Tom asked, stealing a brief kiss before gently pushing Harry backwards a step and sinking to his knees.


“Oh,” Harry said, surprised and almost instantly hard. “Er—we’re out in the open,” he said hesitantly, looking over his shoulder while Tom played with the button of Harry’s trousers.


“I put up privacy and silencing spells,” Tom said, stroking a teasing finger down the outline of Harry’s erection through his trousers. “No one else can enter this corridor right now.”


“Oh,” he said again, still stunned and extremely turned on by the sight of Lord Voldemort on his knees for Harry.


“Is that a yes?” Tom asked.


“It’s a hell yes,” Harry breathed—no way was he going to turn down what seemed to be an apology blowjob.


Tom smirked and undid Harry’s trousers, tugging them down just enough to get at Harry’s cock. He wrapped his lips around just the tip of it, swirling his tongue against the head, his eyes crinkling in amusement at the breathy moan he elicited from Harry.


Harry found himself unable to look away as Tom closed his eyes and started to take him deeper. Harry clenched both his hands at his sides and tried to think of Quiddich statistics so he wouldn’t embarrass himself by coming immediately. When Harry’s cock hit the back of Tom’s throat, Tom choked and pulled back just slightly with a frustrated growl that sent the most delicious vibrations along Harry’s cock.


“Come on,” Harry breathed, after Tom seemed to recover—the stillness was torture. Tom looked up at Harry, locking eyes and smirking as best as he could with a mouthful of cock. Then Tom showed mercy and pushed forward again and again, taking Harry incrementally deeper each time before pulling back. It took Harry a stupidly long time to realize that Tom was determined to deep-throat him, and that epiphany had Harry breathing, “Oh, fuck,” and involuntarily tangling a hand in Tom’s hair. He kept his touch light and didn’t pull Tom’s hair, just carded his hands through it as Tom sucked him. Tom hummed around him, sending more of those exquisite vibrations along Harry’s cock.


“Fuck, Voldemort,” Harry gasped, his hands tightening slightly in his hair.


Tom moaned around him again but then pulled off completely, licked his lips, and glanced up at Harry. “You’re supposed to be calling me Tom now,” he said, his voice rough.


“But you hate that name.”


“Maybe I won’t anymore if I hear you moaning it enough,” Tom said, smirking and taking Harry in his mouth again, this time—finally—taking him in all the way to the root, his nose pressed up against Harry’s groin.


“Oh, fuck,” Harry gasped, “Vol—Tom, fuck!”


Tom pulled back about halfway and glanced up at Harry until he caught his eye, then very deliberately wrapped his hands around Harry’s hands where they were combing through Tom’s hair. Once Harry got the hint and tightened his grip, Tom’s hands slid around to grasp Harry’s arse and then pulled him forward, encouraging him to fuck Tom’s mouth.


“Tom,” Harry breathed, thrusting forward once, twice, before pausing when he noticed Tom’s eyes watering slightly while he attempted to keep his throat relaxed. Harry started to pull out, but Tom’s hands on his arse stopped him and Tom sent a glare up at him. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Harry said. Tom rolled his eyes and smacked Harry’s arse, sending a mild stinging hex through the touch. “Ow, damn it,” Harry said, involuntarily jerking forward and choking Tom with his cock again. “Fine,” Harry said, when Tom managed to relax his throat again. “But you stop me if it’s too much.”


Tom rolled his eyes again, as if to say ‘obviously,’ and then gripped Harry’s arse and urged him forward again.


Harry very carefully thrust forward into the wet heat of Tom’s mouth, pulling back and then pressing in again, almost losing it each time his cock pushed past the back of Tom’s throat. Harry closed his eyes at the fluttering, clenching sensations of Tom’s throat working around him.


The window behind Tom was fogging up from Harry’s hot, frantic breaths and the heat of both their bodies.


“Tom, god, you feel amazing,” Harry said, clenching his hands tighter in Tom’s hair and pulling him forward at the same time Harry thrust in again. Tom moaned around him, encouraging the roughness. Tom’s breath hit Harry’s skin in quick pants every time his nose pressed flush against Harry’s groin, and his red eyes locked with Harry’s, goading him on with a smug but wrecked expression. “Tom,” Harry gasped, his thrusts getting shorter and more erratic, “Tom, I’m gonna—”


Tom moaned around him and pulled him forward roughly one more time, his hands clenching Harry’s arse as Harry’s hands clenched in Tom’s hair. Harry came with a strangled shout, spilling down Tom’s throat and slapping one hand against the fogged-up window to catch his balance when he nearly toppled over forwards.


Harry stayed there for a long moment, trying to catch his breath. Tom kept his grip on Harry’s arse but allowed Harry’s softening cock to slip free from his mouth before leaning his forehead against Harry’s hip and trying to catch his own breath.


“That,” Harry finally murmured, straightening up and looking down adoringly at Tom’s flushed face, “was bloody amazing.”


Tom looked up into Harry’s eyes and smiled, casually pressing a brief kiss to Harry’s cock. “I know,” he said, his voice a bit raspy after the rough treatment of his throat.


Harry huffed a laugh, gently carding his fingers through Tom’s hair which was usually so perfect and impeccable but was now a sexy disheveled mess. Harry somewhat reluctantly tucked his cock back into his trousers before sinking to his own knees and pulling Tom into a deep kiss, chasing the taste of himself on Tom’s tongue.


“Whatever you want, after that,” Harry murmured against his lips, reaching for Tom’s belt to unfasten it, “just tell me.”


Tom’s hand closed over Harry’s. “No need,” Tom said, kissing Harry again.


“You got off just from getting me off?” Harry asked, a little bit awed.


“Yes and no,” Tom said, smiling. He traced a finger over Harry’s scar and explained, “I opened up our connection physically, just the one way—I could feel what you felt.”


Harry blinked. “You felt yourself sucking me off?”


Tom smirked. “Amazing, wasn’t it?”


Harry laughed and playfully smacked Tom on the chest before kissing him again. “You’re such a smug, narcissistic—”


“Extremely talented,” Tom interrupted, in between kisses.


“—extremely talented,” Harry admitted, kissing Tom again before losing his train of thought. “Where was I going with this?”


Tom chucked and said, “I think you were making the point that I’m amazing.”


“Yeah, all right. You’re amazing,” Harry said, kissing him again and trying not to grin.


Tom cast a cleaning spell over himself to get rid of the sticky mess in his pants, then waved his wand and conjured an oversized chaise lounge behind Harry. He stood, helping Harry to his feet as well, and then both of them laid down on the chaise, with Tom on his back and Harry on his side cuddled up against Tom.


Tom stared at the fogged up section of window in front of them. The view of the stars was distorted there except through the handprint Harry had left. Harry noticed the focus of Tom’s gaze and laughed, “Fogged the window right up, didn’t we?”


“Indeed. How scandalous,” Tom teased. He pulled out his wand again and waved it silently at the window.


Nothing seemed to happen, and Harry asked after a moment, “What was that?”


“Hmm?” Tom said.


“Don’t play dumb, what’d you do?”


Tom pressed a brief kiss to Harry’s lips, then said, “Your handprint will never fade away. Any time that window fogs over, it’ll be right there. Not even house-elf magic can get rid of it.”


Harry blinked, swallowed back his first two overly-sentimental responses, and instead teased, “Show off,” snuggling closer into Tom’s side. Tom wrapped an arm around Harry, and for a long moment they laid there quietly while the fog slowly cleared from the window.


Finally Harry couldn’t take the too-full silence anymore. “So, what did Malfoy have to tell you that was so urgent?”


“Apparently something was stolen from the Department of Mysteries,” Tom said, absently running his fingers through Harry’s hair.


“What was it?”


“Somehow no one knows exactly what was stolen, only that something was.”


“That’s a bit useless, isn’t it?” Harry said. “When did it happen?”


“Last week, but Lucius only found out tonight.”


“How is that urgent? Or even relevant?”


Tom hummed and said, “I like to keep as close an eye as possible on the Department of Mysteries.”


“Because of the prophecy?” Harry asked hesitantly.


“Among other things.”


“You know that it smashed that day,” Harry said, aware that this was another one of those awkward difficult things they were going to have to talk about eventually. Harry decided that ‘eventually’ might as well be now. “But—I know what it said,” he whispered. Tom’s hand paused in Harry’s hair, and Harry held his breath for the three seconds it took for Tom’s hand to resume its motion.


After another moment that felt endless, Tom whispered back, “It doesn’t matter.”


Harry flinched and sat up, pulling out of Tom’s embrace. “Don’t you dare—don’t just say that it doesn’t matter when it’s the whole reason you went after me, the reason you killed my parents,” Harry said, his voice breaking for a second at the end.


Tom sat up as well and reached for Harry’s hand. “Harry—”


Harry pulled his hand away and turned to stare at the floor. “It said one of us has to kill the other,” he interrupted. “It said that you would mark me as your equal, and I would ‘have power the Dark Lord knows not’ whatever the hell that means. And then it said ‘neither can live while the other survives.’”


Tom was silent for a moment, then he said, “All we have to do is ignore it going forward, and it’ll never be fulfilled.”


Harry let out a noise that was half-laugh and half-sob. “Yeah, that’s a great fucking idea! You couldn’t have thought of that seventeen years ago?” he said, his voice rising into a shout as he stood up and glared at Tom through watery eyes.


“Harry—” Tom said, scrambling up from the chaise lounge and grabbing Harry’s wrist when he started to storm away.


“Don’t!” Harry said, trying to pull away again. His composure was thoroughly lost, and he couldn’t stand the thought of breaking down in front of anyone right now, especially Voldemort.


“Harry, stop it,” Tom said, managing to grab Harry’s other arm and pulling him against his own chest.


Harry shoved at him, but only struggled for a few more seconds before giving in and hiding his face against Tom’s chest, finally letting his tears fall. He felt Tom’s arms wrap more tightly around him as Harry let a few silent sobs escape, overcome with grief and anger and the goddamned irony of it all.


Tom held Harry close until the sobs turned to muffled sniffles, then he brought one hand up to gently brush through Harry’s hair again. “I know that it doesn’t make this any better,” he said softly, “and I truly hate to admit that Dumbledore was right, but—I was incredibly unstable. I’d split my soul far too many times and my mind was paying the price.” Harry sniffled against Tom’s chest but didn’t speak. “I became—fixated—very easily on things, on people, on grand visions of plans that didn’t hold up to logic…on prophecies that I should never have lent even the slightest credence to.”


“Dumbledore said the prophecy was self-fulfilling, because you chose to act on it,” Harry said quietly, his head still leaning against Tom’s chest.


“I see that now, and I should’ve known better then.”


Harry sniffled again, and said, “Are you allergic to the actual words ‘I’m sorry’?”


“Dwelling too much on remorse can be dangerous for one’s Horcruxes,” Tom said mildly, still carding his fingers through Harry’s hair.


“Implying that it does exist to dwell on?” Harry asked quietly.


Tom didn’t reply, but he pressed a kiss to Harry’s forehead.


After another long, silent moment, Harry reached up to dry his eyes. He turned to look out the windows, not quite ready to face Tom just yet, but the night sky that had looked so beautiful earlier just seemed cold and distant now so he closed his eyes.


“Harry?” Tom said cautiously, “May I ask how you managed to view the prophecy before it shattered? You were never out of sight of my Death Eaters for more than a few moments at a time after you took it.”


“I didn’t,” Harry muttered. “But Dumbledore was there when the prophecy was originally made—he showed me his Pensieve memory of it.”


“What.” Tom said it so flatly that it wasn’t even a question anymore.


“What?”


“So all you really have is Dumbledore’s incredibly dubious word that the memory he showed you was the actual prophecy and not his own manipulative fabrication?”


“Well…yes,” Harry said.


“Harry.”


“In my defense, I never had any reason to doubt him until recently.”


“Show me the memory?” Tom asked, and Harry finally looked up and met his eyes.


“Go ahead,” Harry whispered, concentrating on the memory.


Tom whispered, “Legilimens,” more out of courtesy than necessity, and then he pulled the memory forward.


As one, he and Harry watched Dumbledore’s Pensieve prophecy as the ghostly Sibyll Trelawney spoke. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies.”


Tom immediately played the memory back again, and then twice more, almost making Harry dizzy from it.


“So what’s the verdict?” Harry asked after a moment. “Is the memory real, or did he lie about that too?”


A frustrated sigh escaped Tom. “Inconclusive. If it’s an altered or fabricated memory, it’s the best one I’ve ever seen—completely seamless. But Dumbledore was a master Legilimens, so that’s entirely possible.”


“What, so we’ll never know if that’s the real prophecy?”


Tom gave him a humorless smile. “Good thing we’re choosing to ignore it. Supposing that it were the true prophecy, however, I would argue a bit with your interpretation.”


“Oh?”


Tom nudged Harry towards the chaise lounge, and they sat back down beside each other while Tom elaborated, “I don’t think the ‘must’ in that line necessarily means that one of us is required to kill the other—I think it’s simply stating that we’re the only ones who would even be capable—no one else would be able to defeat us. So theoretically, if one of us were to be killed, it would have to be done by the other one. Also, having spent thirteen horrendous years clinging to existence as a formless spirit, I can tell you that there is a vast difference between living and just surviving… And the prophecy seems to imply that we’re so tangled together we can’t truly live without each other—neither can fully live if the other is only surviving.”


“That’s…possible, I suppose,” Harry said, thinking that Tom’s reinterpretation was romantic in a twisted way.


“Or,” Tom continued, “there’s the possibility that ‘The Other’ is referring to a third person and not to one of us.”


“So…one of us has to be killed by this Other because otherwise, them surviving threatens both of us? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. And who would The Other be, anyway?”


“The other Dark Lord, perhaps?” Tom suggested solemnly.


“Grindelwald. Shit. Okay, if that’s true, do you think Dumbledore would’ve told him the prophecy? Is that why they forced that ritual on us? Because if he’s acting on the prophecy, it doesn’t matter whether we try to ignore it or not.”


“I don’t know, Harry,” Tom said, suddenly sounding exhausted and on edge. “Don’t jump to conclusions. If he’s involved in the prophecy and Dumbledore did tell him, it seems like Grindelwald is choosing to ignore it too—he said he had no plans to interfere with us again, unless he was lying. But the ritual ultimately only made us stronger—if he wanted to kill us he shouldn’t have let us go.”


“But that’s the thing,” Harry said carefully. “What if there really was more to the ritual that we don’t know about? I don’t remember anything before he threw me in that room with you, and I have no idea how he caught me. Last thing I remember was going to sleep at Grimmauld Place with my friends after we decided to hide there. What about you?”


“I don’t remember how he captured me either. I was here at the Manor beforehand, and I can just barely remember receiving a summons request from someone’s Dark Mark, but I don’t recall whose. That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in that room—obviously we’ve both been Obliviated.”


“It can be undone, right?” Harry asked nervously.


“Not easily, and not without an extremely high risk of damaging the mind and memory even further.”


“Of course,” Harry said with a sigh. “Well, all right,” he turned his head and made eye contact with Tom. “I trust you. Go ahead.”


Tom flinched back as if he’d been slapped. “Absolutely not! I just said that it’s almost guaranteed to damage your mind even more.”


“I understand that, but we need to know what he did to us. It doesn’t matter if I get a little more damaged in the process,” Harry said self-depreciatingly.


“It fucking does matter!” Tom snapped, making Harry flinch back this time. Then something occurred to Tom that he hadn’t cared about when it happened, but which sent his blood cold now to recall it. “Back in that room when you tried at first to convince me to just ignore the mirror’s demands, you said I wouldn’t die because of my Horcruxes—but you would’ve died, Harry!”


“I know,” Harry said quietly, awkwardly looking at the floor.


“Do you really care so little about your own life?” Tom demanded, sounding both angry and perplexed at the possibility.


Harry shrugged, and said, “After everything with the Dursleys and then, well, you—I never really believed I’d actually live to adulthood, so I’m still always waiting for the other shoe to drop, to be honest.”


Tom huffed out a frustrated breath, then took Harry’s chin in his hand and gently turned Harry’s face towards his own. “You are going to live forever along with me,” he said, his tone firm but affectionate, “so start getting used to that, and stop acting like you’re disposable.”


Harry swallowed, meeting Tom’s eyes and nervously asking, “Forever?”


Tom nodded. “Properly-enchanted Horcruxes are inherently almost indestructible. Permanence is rather the point.”


“Oh,” Harry said, stunned, “I didn’t realize… I guess I hadn’t thought it through all the way.”


“Clearly.” Tom leaned forward and briefly kissed him, then said with finality, “And seeing as neither of us want you to spend eternity with permanent damage to your mind, I will not be retrieving those memories.”


“All right,” Harry conceded, staring at Tom in something like awe. “You really do care about me, don’t you?”


“More than I’ve ever cared for anyone,” Tom confessed quietly. Then, in response to Harry’s pleasantly surprised grin, he quirked a smile and added, “Believe me, it’s strange for me as well.”


Harry replied, “Strange as it is, I’m quite fond of you too,” and then kissed him deeply. Some distant logical corner of his mind reminded Harry again that this man had killed Harry’s parents, and had been trying until two days ago to kill Harry as well. A different, much louder segment of his mind was positively buzzing with happiness and the certainty that Tom cared about him, wanted him, would protect him—all of the things that Harry had craved but had been denied his entire life—and it was overwhelming in the best way. “We really should get back,” Harry said, when he finally pulled his lips away from Tom’s. “We’ve left Draco and Hermione alone together for way too long—he’s probably annoyed her into turning him back into a ferret by now.”


Tom chuckled and said, “If you insist.” He made no move to stand, however, and he took Harry’s hand in his. “One more thing, first.”


Harry turned to meet Tom’s eyes. “Yeah?”


Tom took a breath, then said, “I am sorry, Harry, for being violent with you earlier.”


“It’s fine,” Harry said, looking down and trying to wave it off.


“It’s not fine,” Tom insisted. “It was—” Tom paused and continued in a quieter, more hesitant tone, “for a moment it was like I’d lost control and reverted to the way I was before the ritual—that madness and destructiveness—” he trailed off again, and Harry felt something leak through their mental connection—a flash of worry and guilt, and confusion over feeling the guilt because it was so unfamiliar that Tom didn’t even recognize the emotion.


“You didn’t hurt me,” Harry quickly assured him, “not really. It’s fine.”


“Stop saying it's fine—I never should have raised a hand to you. It won’t happen again, I swear it,” he said with finality.


Harry just looked at him for a moment, then quietly said, “All right. I believe you.”


Tom squeezed Harry’s hand. “All right,” he echoed. After a moment he added, “I do hope you understand it was a rather extreme situation—I’d returned from that clusterfuck of a meeting where over half of my followers either turned on me or fled, only to find that another follower had idiotically used Fiendfyre in the presence of two of my three remaining Horcruxes and endangered them while I was away—being stopped from punishing him was just the last straw.”


“I did pick up on that, yes.” Harry sighed, and then tried to lighten the mood by teasing, “You just had to go and ruin a perfectly good apology by making excuses.”


“Explanations are not the same as excuses. And I was actually getting around to making the point that if this truce is to be believed and if our future plans are to have any chance of succeeding, you absolutely cannot challenge my authority like that in public and especially not in front of the Death Eaters. We must be perceived as equals—you can’t appear to be under my control, and I can’t appear to be tamed—or neither side will respect either of us.”


“Yeah, well, I would have to be being controlled to stand by and let you torture someone.”


“And Lord Voldemort would have to have completely lost his edge to let someone interrupt a spell by grabbing his wand arm without punishing them severely as an example to others. So you see my dilemma, if a repeat of tonight’s incident were to happen in the public eye.” He traced a finger along Harry’s jaw, softly tilting his face towards his own. “Please don’t ever put me in that position.”


“Then don’t put me in a position where I have to choose between doing what’s right or preserving some public image. Because I already know what choice I’d make. Do you?”


“Of course I do,” Tom said, leaning forward and giving Harry a brief kiss as his answer. Both were quiet for a long moment, and then Tom said, “Enough of this. Let’s go rescue your friends from each other, shall we?”


“I suppose we should,” Harry said.


They stood up, and instead of letting go of Harry’s hand, Tom laced their fingers together as they walked side-by-side once more down the moonlit corridor.


They went down one flight of stairs, but Tom steered them onto the second floor landing instead of continuing down. Harry caught his eye and quirked an eyebrow in a wordless question.


“My rooms are this way,” Tom answered.


Harry shrugged, and said, “If Hermione had her way, she’d stay in the library all night. They’re probably still down there.”


“Perhaps, but Draco knows how much I hate to be kept waiting. I imagine they’ve been outside my door for a while now.”


Harry side-eyed him and said, “Normally I’d suggest betting on it, but you’ve probably got some kind of proximity ward on your door, don’t you?”


Tom smirked. “Perhaps,” he repeated.


Harry laughed softly as they turned a corner and found Hermione and Draco sitting in wingback armchairs outside a massive ornate wooden door that blocked off the rest of the corridor. A round table piled high with a stack of books stood between the two chairs, and Draco and Hermione each had a book open in their laps.


“Here’s something,” Hermione said, leaning closer to her book while Draco leaned forward and tried to read it upside down. “Amora’s Principle, it states that—”


“You don’t have to read it out loud to me, Granger, just move that disaster you call hair out of the way and I can read it myself.”


Harry frowned at the words, but he also recognized the same lighter, friendlier teasing tone Draco had used with him earlier.


“Berk,” Hermione said, also in a tone that was more teasing than angry. She swept her hair back from where it was falling in a curtain around the book and pulled it into a messy bun instead.


“Bint,” Draco replied, leaning closer to try to read the book in her lap.


“Charming,” Tom said, announcing his and Harry’s presence.


Draco and Hermione both jumped and looked up.


“There you are,” Hermione said, her tone just this side of scolding.


“Yeah,” Harry said, “we, er, lost track of the time.”


Almost in unison, Hermione and Draco glanced from Harry’s rumpled clothes to Tom’s ruffled hair to their still-clasped hands, and they both raised an eyebrow.


“Clearly,” Draco said dryly. Then, to Harry’s utter shock, Draco glanced sideways at Hermione and they exchanged a look before looking back at Harry.


Harry’s eyebrows went up. “What was that?” he asked, gesturing vaguely between the two of them.


Hermione gave him an innocent look, and Draco merely raised a questioning eyebrow.


Tom let go of Harry’s hand and headed for the door, glancing at the books on the table as he passed and casually chiming in, “I believe that’s called flirting, Harry. Or perhaps there’s another reason they’ve gathered all those books on sex magic.”


Draco spluttered, “It was not flirting!” at the same time Hermione blushed and said, “You’re well aware of the reason.”


Tom glanced over his shoulder at the two of them and raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t seem angry at their cheek or their lack of deference. Harry was starting to think Tom secretly liked it when people talked to him normally instead of cowering in fear or constantly trying to win his favor—probably only certain people though, and Harry was glad that he and his friends seemed to count among them for the time being.


“Well I’m not aware of the reason,” Draco said, glancing between Harry and Tom. “She’s unable to tell me, apparently because of an Oath. Care to enlighten me?” he asked Harry.


“It’s, er, to do with how we ended up together,” Harry told Draco, then he glanced at Tom and asked, “Are you going to be cross if I tell him?”


Tom kept his expression blank, but Harry was getting better at reading those and this was definitely an annoyed kind of blankness. In Parseltongue, Tom said, “The story won’t make sense unless you tell him that I have Horcruxes and that you’re one of them. Every person who knows of them becomes a liability, and Draco’s loyalty to me is questionable at best—he only joined me because his father expected it of him and he didn’t think he had a choice.”


Harry hissed back, “Then let me win him over for you. I’ll make him swear a Wizard’s Oath about the Horcruxes. And if we have to, we can always Obliviate him like Ron,” Harry added, a twinge of sadness hitting him at the thought.


Tom was unmoved. He switched back to English and said, “I allowed you to tell your best friends, and one of them turned on you—and by extension me—within a day. Why should your school nemesis be given the same trust and the same opportunity to betray us?”


“Ron’s problem was with the fact that we’re together, it wasn’t about how we got there or our, er, connection. And anyway, Draco’s not my nemesis anymore—I’m starting to think all that animosity might’ve just been because we knew deep down we were supposed to be friends but we didn’t know how to fix it, so we fought,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to smile at Draco but faltering when Draco blinked and briefly looked devastated before composing his expression back into a blank mask. Hermione gave Draco a sympathetic look and awkwardly patted his arm. Harry gave him a worried look but Draco avoided his eyes. Harry turned back towards Tom, even more determined now to tell Draco the full story and not exclude him. “Please?” Harry said, biting his lip before glancing up at Tom with wide, earnest eyes and adding, “My Lord?”


For a moment Harry was sure Tom would be furious with him for attempting such a blatant manipulation, especially in front of other people—his expression didn’t change and he simply stared at Harry for what felt like ages. Finally Tom growled under his breath before pointing a stern finger at Harry and saying, “This is the last time. You’re not telling anyone else after him.”


Harry broke into a grin and quickly agreed, “All right.”


“And I’ll be the one to determine the wording of the Wizard’s Oath while you serve as bonder.”


“All right.”


“If he betrays us, I’m never letting you live it down,” Tom continued.


“All right.”


“And stop looking so pleased with yourself, it’s nauseating.”


“All right,” Harry said, trying to wrangle his smile back into a neutral expression.


“Stop saying ‘all right’!”


“Okay,” Harry said, grinning again.


Tom rolled his eyes and turned in exasperation to open the door to his chambers. He pressed his hand flat against it and hissed "Open," in Parseltongue. “Get inside, all of you. We’re not having this conversation in the hallway.”


Tom had barely stepped through the massive doorway when a loud hiss of “Master!” sounded and Nagini launched herself at Tom, wrapping herself around his chest in a snake’s version of a hug. Harry paused in the doorway and Draco and Hermione stayed even farther back, both frightened by the sight of the giant snake.


Nagini,” Tom half-scolded, even as he stroked her scales and put an arm underneath her to better support her weight.


I was worried when the Old One sent me back without you,” Nagini hissed, eye-to-eye with Tom.


I’m fine,” Tom told her. “Better than fine, as you can see.”


Nagini flicked her tongue out, then ducked her head and said, “The Old One took away the gift you gave me—I couldn’t stop him, Master. I’m sorry.”


Tom stroked her head, and she leaned into the touch like a cat. “It’s fine, Nagini. It was returned to me. No harm done.”


Feel empty now,” Nagini hissed sullenly, winding more tightly around Tom.


I can’t give it back to you. It must remain with me, or else I’ll become…unstable…again.”


Nagini lifted her head to meet Tom’s eyes again, and after a moment she said, “You brought guests…or are they snacks?”


Harry chimed in from the doorway, “Definitely not snacks.”


Nagini’s head swiveled and she pinned her unnerving stare on him. “Another Speaker?” she asked, flicking her tongue out again. “He smells like you, Master.”


Harry blushed while Tom explained, “This is Harry Potter. He’s not an enemy anymore. He is now my…mate—I suppose, is the term you’d use. He also carries a part of my soul. You are never to harm him, or to allow anyone else to harm him if you can prevent it.”


Yes, Master,” Nagini hissed, her intense stare never leaving Harry.


Harry rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and added, “I’d also appreciate it if you don’t bite my friends. You’re kind of making them nervous,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Hermione and Draco, both pale and clutching their wands at their sides.


Harry turned back around as Nagini’s posture shifted into something agitated and offended—she straightened up as much as she could while wrapped around Tom, and lifted her head higher to look down at Harry as she replied, “I am not doing anything to them! It is not my fault they are scared and Speechless. Silly humans, always afraid of me just for existing, pointing their wands at me when I’ve done nothing wrong.”


Harry felt a pang in his chest—he could sympathize with that a little too well. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel that way—I used to live with some particularly awful Muggles who treated me like that for being a Wizard.”


Nagini tilted her head and studied Harry for a moment, before declaring, “I will accept your apology, Harry Potter. Now tell your friends to stop stinking of fear so badly—it’s making me nauseous.”


Harry smiled, and finally noticed Tom glancing back and forth between Nagini and Harry with a small, fond smile.


“She likes you,” Tom told him.


“Really? That’s not the impression I got,” Harry said.


“If she disliked you, she’d have made it abundantly clear.”


“If you say so,” Harry said, then looked over his shoulder again. “Guys, put your wands away. She’s not going to attack anyone, and you’re hurting her feelings acting like she’s a monster or something.”


“Potter, I’ve literally seen that snake eat someone,” Draco said.


Harry’s eyebrows went up, and he turned back to Tom for confirmation. Tom merely shrugged as though it were inconsequential. Harry looked back at Draco and said, “Well, that’s disturbing. But Tom’s not going to let her hurt any of us, right?” he directed the last bit at Tom.


“Your friends are safe here, Harry,” Tom answered, carrying Nagini further into the suite and calling over his shoulder, “I believe I told you all to get in here.”


Tom crossed the sitting room and disappeared behind one of the doors set into the right-hand wall. Hermione and Draco finally followed Harry into the room and the door closed on its own behind them. With the excitement over for the moment, Harry took a second to look around the room—it was like a cross between the Slytherin common room and Grimmauld Place, with dark woods, shades of green, and ornate, expensive furniture. The enormous sitting room had three sofas and two chairs positioned around the fireplace, bookshelves along the wall on either side of the door they’d entered through, enormous windows with floor-to-ceiling curtains on the outward-facing wall, and three ornate doors set into each of the walls on the left and right sides of the sitting room.


Hermione stepped closer to Harry and asked pointedly, “So, you’re calling him Tom now?”


Harry shrugged. “He asked me to, so that we’ll both get used to it. I can’t exactly keep calling him Voldemort once we get to Hogwarts.” Harry caught the speculative looks Hermione and Draco were giving him, and added, “You two probably shouldn’t push your luck though, not unless he says it’s okay.”


“Unless I say what’s okay?” Tom asked, reentering the room without Nagini and closing the door behind him.


Harry glanced over at him and said, “Them calling you Tom too.”


Tom gave the three of them a severely raised eyebrow and archly said, “I suppose I can tolerate it, if they must. But,” he said sternly, catching Draco’s eye in particular, “never in front of any Death Eaters, or I’ll Crucio you on the spot.”


“Of course, Sir—er, Tom,” Draco said nervously.


Harry gave Tom a half-smile, pleased that Tom was making allowances for his friends, but also annoyed that he felt the need to save face by tacking on torture threats.


Tom nodded curtly, then said, “Come here and take your Oath, Draco, so we can get this over with.”


Draco bit his lip nervously, then composed himself and walked over to Tom, taking his outstretched hand.


“Harry?” Tom said, nodding towards their hands.


“Right,” Harry said, taking out his wand and resting it on their clasped hands.


“Draco, do you swear never to reveal what we are about to tell you regarding Harry’s connection to me or the events that brought us together unless Harry or I give you express permission to disclose it?”


“I swear,” Draco said.


“And do you swear never to intentionally sabotage our safety or our future plans, directly or indirectly?”


“I swear.”


A string of light swirled around their joined hands before disappearing.


Tom let go and stepped away, taking a seat on one of the smaller sofas and beckoning for Harry to join him. Harry sat next to Tom and leaned back against his chest when Tom wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Sit down, Draco. Hermione, you’re welcome to listen as well.”


Draco sat on the longer sofa that was perpendicular to the two smaller ones, in the corner closest to Harry and Tom. Hermione took a seat at the opposite end of Draco, and said, “Thank you. I might’ve missed something the first time in my shock,” she said lightly, giving them a half smile.


“Right,” Harry said, launching right into it and hoping it would be easier to get through the second time around. “So, Grindelwald escaped from prison, and he and Dumbledore’s portrait invented this crazy ritual to repair Tom’s soul—he, er, made too many Horcruxes. Do you know what those are?” Harry asked. Draco shook his head, and Harry continued, “Horcruxes are objects that contain part of someone’s soul, so they can come back to life if they’re killed.”


Draco glanced at Tom and paled. “How many is too many?” he dared to ask.


“Don’t worry about it,” Tom said coldly. “The ritual reincorporated two of them with my main soul, but I have more.”


“Anyway,” Harry cut in, “we didn’t actually know who captured us or why until the very end—he’d Obliviated us, and we still don’t know how he managed to catch us in the first place.”


“You’re telling it all out of order,” Tom complained.


“You tell it then,” Harry griped.


“Fine... I woke up alone in a bare room, with a magic-repressing collar sealed around my neck and the ropes of an Incarcerous binding me. There was a distorted magical mirror on the wall, which spoke to me and told me that it held two of my most precious possessions hostage. It said Harry Potter would soon be brought to me, and I would be released unharmed on the condition that I have sex with Harry within 24 hours of his arrival, whether he consented or not. Naturally I declined, very vehemently, earning myself a rather excruciating shock from the collar. Then a Wizard with his face and voice magically distorted came into the room and made a one-sided Unbreakable Vow swearing that if I fulfilled the mirror’s conditions he would release Harry and I unharmed, but if I failed to comply then we would both be killed. He refused to answer any of my questions about his identity or motives. He undid the Incarcerous and told me to choose wisely, then he left the room. I attempted to break the mirror to use a shard of it as a weapon, but it was unbreakable and it shouted at me before shocking me through the collar. The man returned shortly thereafter with Harry in tow.”


Draco and Hermione both watched Tom avidly as he told the tale. Harry stared at his knees, more uncomfortable than he’d expected to be hearing Tom recount his experience, especially in such detail. He tapped a finger rapidly against his leg as he listened, feeling anxious and trapped and simultaneously telling himself there was no reason to feel that way.


Tom ran his fingers through Harry’s hair, unable to keep the affection out of his tone as he continued. “Harry Potter, with his magic bound but still as brave and defiant as always. He tried, as I had, to break the mirror for a weapon, and he was convinced that I was responsible for his capture until he realized we were wearing the same type of magic-repressing collar.”


“You’re taking forever,” Harry interjected, still staring at his lap. “Are you really going to do a play-by-play of every detail?”


Tom glanced at Harry, still playing with his hair. “I was going to tastefully skip over the sex."


Agitated, Harry’s foot started twitching against the floor and it seemed like the air was a little thicker and less breathable than it was supposed to be. “Can we tastefully skip over everything except the main points? I don’t—this is—” Harry searched for words to explain his discomfort but came up empty, and finally just sighed and said, “please?”


Tom carefully took Harry’s chin in his hand and turned his face towards him to make eye contact. Harry threw everything he was feeling at their mental connection, which, combined with the gentle Legilimancy Tom was using definitely got the message across. Tom winced slightly, then murmured, “Of course, Harry,” and pressed a brief kiss to his forehead before turning back to the others. His hand stayed in Harry’s hair, stroking through it slowly, comfortingly. “After that, I explained the situation and the conditions to Harry and we agreed to cooperate to survive. As we spoke, I realized that when Harry was an infant I had inadvertently made him into my Horcrux—and I told him that as such, he would be under my protection from then on. We…complied with our captor’s demands…and in the process, two of my other Horcruxes were returned to my main soul. Afterwards, we learned that that was the entire purpose of our capture—Dumbledore and Grindelwald invented a ritual that partially repaired my soul, and they intended for Harry to, I don’t know, turn me ‘good’ with love or something,” he finished dismissively.


Hermione’s expression turned thoughtful, and she said to Tom, “Well, you have to admit, it does seem to be working.”


Draco tensed up and shot a horrified, worried look first at Hermione and then at Tom, clearly expecting him to lash out and punish her.


Tom merely rolled his eyes and said testily, “I have to admit nothing of the sort.”


Draco’s eyebrows went up, but after a moment he relaxed and quietly but boldly told Hermione, “I think you’re right, Granger. Three days ago he would’ve Crucio’d you for saying that.”


“And you as well,” Tom told Draco, “for talking about me as though I can’t hear you.”


Draco immediately bowed his head and said, “Sorry, Sir.”


“I rather think it’s past your bedtime, so perhaps you should run along before I get the urge to remind you exactly who it is that you’re speaking to so flippantly.” Tom’s tone was cold and threatening, but when Harry prodded at their connection he only felt mild annoyance coming from Tom.


Draco paled and said, “Yes, My Lord,” and Tom pointedly didn’t correct him.


“You’re dismissed, Draco,” Tom said.


Draco nodded and stood up, repeating, “Yes, My Lord.” He glanced briefly at Harry and then Hermione, and added a quiet, formal, “Good night, Potter, Granger,” before heading for the door.


“Night, Draco,” Harry called after him. Draco glanced back and gave Harry a tense smile just before the door closed behind him. As soon as he was gone, Harry nudged Tom in the ribs with an elbow and said, “Will you stop threatening Unforgivables every time someone annoys you?”


“Probably not.”


“Well, try,” Harry said. Then he yawned.


“Yes, dear,” Tom teased, then he stood and said, “Hermione, there’s a guest bedroom behind the door on the left,” he said, nodding towards the far wall. “Help yourself to the books, and if you want anything to eat or drink just call for a house-elf. You’re not a prisoner here, but I would advise against wandering the halls by yourself—ask a house-elf to fetch Draco to escort you if you want to leave my rooms for any reason.”


Hermione nodded and said, “All right. Thank you,” she hesitated a fraction of a second, then added, “Tom.”


“You’re most welcome,” he said, offering a hand to Harry to pull him to his feet.


“Harry?” Hermione asked as Harry stood. “Would you help me carry the library books in from the hallway?”


“Er, sure,” Harry said, glancing at Tom only to find an amused, knowing look on his face.


“Whenever the two of you finish your top-secret discussion, Harry, my room is the one in the middle,” he said, nodding towards the door next to the one he’d taken Nagini through earlier, and on the opposite wall from Hermione’s guest room.


Hermione looked embarrassed, and said, “I didn’t mean anything by it—I just want to catch up with Harry for a moment.”


“It’s fine, Hermione, Harry,” Tom said, squeezing Harry’s hand and stepping away, headed for his room. “Don’t linger in the hallway,” he said, before closing the bedroom door behind him.


Hermione sighed, and said, “I suppose that’s what I get for trying to be sneaky in front of a Slytherin.”


Harry followed her to the main door, and said, “It’s fine, he wasn’t actually annoyed with you—he thought it was kind of cute, how obvious you were.”


“Oh, thanks,” Hermione huffed, before giving Harry a curious look as the two of them stepped out into the hallway. “So, you’re still feeling his emotions? What about the visions?”


“Just flashes of what he’s feeling, here and there, and usually only when I poke at the connection on purpose,” Harry said. “It doesn’t hurt my scar anymore though, and I haven’t had any visions since all of this started.”

He followed Hermione to the round table and helped her gather up the books.


“Your scar doesn’t react to him anymore?” she asked, sounding puzzled.


“No, it does,” Harry said, “just usually in a good way now. It sort of—tingles—sometimes, when we’re, well,” he trailed off awkwardly, but Hermione caught the gist of it.


“Right,” she said, looking amused. “Well that’s an improvement, at least.”


They each picked up a stack of the sex magic books, and took them back into Tom’s suite.


“He said the room on the left, on this wall, yeah?” Hermione asked, heading for that door.


“Yeah.”


Hermione opened the door to reveal a guest room with an attached bathroom and an extraordinarily comfortable-looking bed. “Oh, this is lovely,” Hermione said, setting her stack of books down on a desk in the corner. Harry followed suit, closing the door behind him. Hermione took out her beaded bag and dug through it until she pulled out Harry’s bag with all of the clothes he’d packed, then she unshrunk it for him. “Here’s this back,” she said, “since it seems like we’ll be here for a while.”


“Thanks,” Harry said, taking his bag and sitting it by the door so he wouldn’t forget it. Then he jokingly said, “So, did you want to have a top-secret conversation?”


Hermione smiled and said, “Mainly I wanted to know whether you’d asked him to let me see the book with the ritual.”


“Oh, no, I haven’t yet. Sorry. I will though.”


“No rush,” she said, indicating the stacks of sex magic books. “I’ve got plenty of background research to keep me busy.”


Harry tried very hard not to blush. “You might want to read up on blood magic and soul magic too. Grindelwald said the ritual used all three.”


Hermione’s eyebrows went up, then she sighed. “Of course—it couldn’t just be one type of obscure illegal magic, it had to be three.”


She sat down on the edge of the bed, patting the spot beside her for Harry to join her.


“Well, at least we know there are probably plenty of books on obscure illegal magic here,” Harry said lightly as he sat down.


“True,” Hermione said, giving Harry a pointed look and adding, “And I’m sure Malfoy would be happy to show you that private library he mentioned.”


“Oh, yeah—we’re kind of friends now?” Harry said awkwardly.


“Are you asking me or telling me?” Hermione asked, amused.


“Telling,” Harry said, casting a quick Muffliato before continuing. “He shoved me in a broom cupboard and offered to help me run away from Voldemort—he thought I was being kept as a sex slave or something.”


Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “What made him think that?”


“He saw that hickey and panicked, I guess.”


“That’s a bit of a drastic jump in logic,” Hermione said.


Harry shrugged. “It’s what Severus thought at first too—everyone keeps assuming that Tom’s forcing me or controlling me somehow. It’s insulting, really.” Hermione looked thoughtful but didn’t say anything, so Harry said, “Anyway, you and Draco seemed to be getting along. How did that happen?”


“Well, we talked for a while after he ran into the library to hide from your PDA. Turns out we share a mutual concern over the whole you-and-Tom thing,” she said, smirking when Harry rolled his eyes at her. “He eventually apologized for how he’d treated me in the past. And, I sort of—figured out something that he never intended to tell anyone, and I promised to keep his secret,” she gave Harry a warning look and headed off his question by adding, “Even from you, Harry. It’s personal. It’s his decision whether or not to tell you.”


“All right,” Harry conceded.


“Don’t get all obsessive and start stalking him again to try to figure it out,” she said firmly.


“I won’t!” he said. “But for the record, I was right last year,” he grumbled.


Hermione rolled her eyes. “Well, for the record, since when do you call Professor Snape by his first name? Yes, I noticed,” she said to Harry’s deer-in-the-headlights expression.


“Er, well. We sort of talked about some personal things as well. He—god, Hermione, we misjudged him so badly.”


Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “What about—you know. Dumbledore?” she asked awkwardly.


“Dumbledore planned for Severus to kill him—he was already dying from the curse in his hand. Voldemort had ordered Draco to kill Dumbledore, and Severus got pressured into making an Unbreakable Vow to Draco’s mum to finish his task if Draco couldn’t do it. Dumbledore knew about all of this—he didn’t want Draco to become a murderer, and at the same time he wanted Severus to earn Voldemort’s trust.”


“That’s terrible,” Hermione said quietly.


Harry nodded, and simply said, “Yep.”


Hermione gave him a calculating look, and said, “There’s more, isn’t there?”


“There is. But it’s personal,” he said. “He’d be furious if I told anyone.”


Hermione nodded. “Of course. Whatever the reason, I’m glad you can get along with him now.”


“I wouldn’t count on that—he acted like I was toxic when I hugged him.”


Hermione’s expression was priceless. “You hugged Professor Snape?”


“Cried on him a bit too. He wasn’t pleased.”


“Jesus Christ, Harry,” Hermione said, shaking her head.


Harry just laughed, and Hermione finally cracked a smile too. She leaned against his side and rested her head on his shoulder. They were both quiet for a long moment before Harry worked up the nerve to say, “Speaking of friendships—” but something in his tone gave away his intention, and he felt Hermione immediately tense up against him.


“I still don’t want to talk about it,” she said.


Harry sighed, but pressed on, “Look, Ron will come around—”


“No he won’t!” Hermione shouted, standing and putting some distance between her and Harry. “He can’t—I took that chance away from him when I Obliviated him. He can’t get over something he can’t even remember.”


“We can tell him again,” Harry said carefully.


Hermione scoffed, looking tearful, “Because that went so well the first time.” She ran a hand through her wild hair, then said, “I shouldn’t have done it—I just, I panicked, Harry. I thought it was the only way to keep him safe—I thought Snape or Voldemort would do worse to him—and now I’ve messed everything up,” she trailed off as the tears broke loose.


Harry stood and pulled her into a hug. “Shhh, Hermione, it’ll all be fine. We’ll fix this, somehow, all right?”


She shook her head, clinging tightly to Harry with her face pressed into his shoulder. “He’ll never forgive me—and he shouldn’t, either.”


“He’ll understand—he’ll forgive you,” Harry said, before adding in a lighter tone, “I mean, it takes him a stupidly long time sometimes, but he always comes around in the end.” A sharp, surprised laugh escaped in between Hermione’s sobs. After a moment, Harry switched back to a serious tone and said again, “It’s going to be all right.” Hermione sniffled but didn’t argue this time, so Harry counted it as a win.


After a moment, Hermione slowly extracted herself from the hug and said, “You should probably go before Voldemort assumes we’re plotting to overthrow him or something.” She’d managed to stop crying, and she wiped at her eyes.


“Yeah, probably,” Harry said. “But I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”


She forced a smile, said, “I’m all right now, Harry. Just needed to let it all out, I suppose.”


Harry knew that feeling well. He nodded and said, “Well, if you need me, I’ll just be clear across that massive posh living room,” he said, and they both smiled a little. “The middle door.”


“I’m definitely never going to risk interrupting whatever the two of you might be doing in there, but thanks,” she said, smiling.


“Oh come on, we’re not that bad,” Harry said, blushing slightly.


“You absolutely are,” Hermione teased. “So go on, don’t let me keep you,” she said, shooing him towards the door.


Harry went, but paused in the doorway and turned back. He caught her eye and reminded her, “Hey—war’s over,” in a cheerful tone, hoping that would help her through this rough patch—the thought that everything they’ve been through would be worth it in the end.


“War’s over,” she affirmed, smiling.


“Night, Hermione.”


“Goodnight, Harry.”


He grabbed his bag off the floor and slipped out the door, closing it behind him. He crossed the living room but paused, sitting on the arm of one of the sofas and staring idly at the fireplace. Harry wanted to reconcile with Ron, especially for Hermione’s sake—he imagined Ron would forgive her, but he might never forgive Harry. Which was still bullshit, in Harry’s opinion, and he wasn’t eager to have the same fight all over again. Still, he made up his mind that he was going to tell Ron the truth again—maybe with a few omissions this time—and he was going to at least save Ron and Hermione’s friendship.


With that decided, he was able to relax a bit. He yawned again as he stood and headed for Tom’s room. He knocked twice out of courtesy, opening the door when Tom called, “Come in.”


Tom was sitting up in bed, reading through the ritual journal with a slight frown creasing his face.


“Hey,” Harry said, toeing his shoes off and leaving them by the door.


“You don’t have to knock,” Tom said, his eyes still fixed on the journal, “this is your room too now.”


“Moving in together after two days? What would the papers say?” Harry teased. He set his bag down on top of a dresser, digging out a pair of pajama pants and quickly changing into them, trading his button-up shirt for a soft tee shirt. When he turned back around, Tom was unabashedly staring. “Enjoying the view?”


“Most definitely.”


Harry laid down next to Tom, resting his head on Tom’s shoulder and glancing at the indecipherable journal pages. “You know,” Harry said casually, “Hermione’s really great at research, and puzzles, and literally every kind of magic she’s ever encountered.”


“Fascinating,” Tom drawled. “Coincidentally, so am I.”


“I know, but she could help. Two heads are better than one, and all.”


“Not when one of them can’t be trusted,” Tom said, turning the page.


Harry bristled, and said, “We can trust her.”


“No, you can trust her,” Tom said pointedly, before sighing and tossing the journal onto the nightstand. “Something is missing—there must be another factor that ties this mess together and makes it all work. They’ve left out that detail on purpose, the bastards,” he grumbled.


“I have this friend who’s great with details,” Harry started, already waiting for Tom to shoot him down again.


Instead, Tom sighed and said, “If, in the future, she manages to earn my trust, I might possibly let her look at the journal.”


Harry lifted his head up from Tom’s shoulder to meet his eyes. “Really?”


“Possibly,” Tom repeated, turning his face towards Harry. “I’m not promising anything. I don’t trust easily.”


“But you trust me,” Harry murmured, half a question. Then he yawned again.


Tom gave him a crooked smile. “So it seems.”


Harry smiled back, then impulsively reached up and traced a finger from Tom’s forehead down his nose and over his lips and chin. Tom quirked an eyebrow at him, but Harry just stared for a moment more before shaking his head slightly and murmuring, “Lord Voldemort."


Tom waited for him to elaborate, finally prompting, “Yes?” when the silence stretched on too long.


“Nothing,” Harry said, meeting Tom’s eyes and thinking about their past, their future, the way they've suddenly rearranged their entire lives around each other. “Just—we’ve both lost our minds, haven’t we?”


“Perhaps,” Tom said, not looking away. After a moment, he leaned in and pressed a kiss to Harry’s lips, then murmured, “Go to sleep, Harry.”


Harry snuggled closer, mumbling, “Night, Tom,” and throwing an arm around him.


Tom smiled into Harry’s hair and murmured back, “Goodnight, Harry,” before casting a wandless Nox and letting himself drift to sleep in Harry’s embrace.

 

 

Chapter Text

For the second day in a row, Lord Voldemort woke to the sight of Harry Potter laying next to him. Tom’s eyes traced over Harry’s sleeping form and he resisted the urge to pull the boy closer, not wanting to wake him just yet. Tom’s dreams had been disturbing—he’d been trapped in a cold stone room that looked nothing like the room he and Harry had been imprisoned in and yet it had felt similar, with an atmosphere of powerlessness and desperation. He’d been tied to a chair, and the room was lit with the glow of a mysterious silvery light, and someone was speaking behind him but he couldn’t make out the words. Just before he’d woken up, the dream had changed and he was no longer in the stone room but rather a dark forest, and he’d looked down to find himself holding his own bloody heart in his hands—suddenly Harry was there and Tom frantically told him that they had to fix this, had to put it back before it destroyed him, but Harry was unconcerned and said ‘it’s okay, Tom,’ and he smiled and reached out to take the heart.


The dream itself had been disquieting and annoyingly on-the-nose near the end—evidently his subconscious had grown lazy—but there was a sense of distance to the first part of it that made Tom question whether the dream was even his or if it might’ve been one of Harry’s leaking through their connection.


Harry slept on peacefully though, and Tom chose not to disturb him. The boy needed his rest after what he’d been through over the past few days. He needed rest, and apparently he also needed someone to convince him that he deserved to live and be happy and have the things that he wanted.


Voldemort knew without question that he would be the one to give Harry whatever he needed—his obsession with Harry Potter was as intense as ever, it had only reversed its direction. He found it unnerving at best and absolutely terrifying at worst, how quickly he had become so affectionate and protective towards Harry. Tom rationalized that a large part of it was because of the Horcrux and their connection, and perhaps there was some merit to Hermione’s suggestion of bonding through shared adversity (he refused to call it trauma), and then of course the myriad similarities between their lives and personalities.


But none of those things accounted for him experiencing that unprecedented guilt yesterday—Lord Voldemort did not feel guilt—he did not question or regret his actions because he always did precisely as he meant to do, and anyone who got harmed because of it simply shouldn’t have gotten in his way. Yesterday though… yesterday self-recrimination had drowned out every argument he tried to use to justify his moment of violence towards Harry. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t even left bruises, or that he’d done much worse to him in the past, or that the boy should’ve expected it—Tom was haunted by the handful of seconds when he’d felt that old instability and violence and he’d wanted to squeeze, to crush whatever dared to defy Lord Voldemort. The impulse had faded almost immediately, and he’d made sure to hide his growing horror with himself as he’d fled the room with the locket Horcrux.


It was a momentary lapse, he insisted—a complete fluke brought on by an extreme situation, and it was never going to happen again. He was not unstable, he told himself. He was in control. He was not the kind of monster that manhandled someone who had been abused in the past. He was not a danger to Harry.


He was also not quite ready to face him this morning, which he realized as Harry shifted in his sleep and started to stir. Before Harry could fully wake, Tom whispered, “Dormiensus,” a mild sleep spell that would gently nudge Harry back to sleep but which wouldn’t force him to stay that way. It was not cowardice, Tom told himself as he climbed out of bed and dressed—it was being a merciful Lord, because Harry needed to rest. It was completely unrelated to the fact that Tom needed a moment alone to regroup.


At times he’d been nearly overwhelmed by the onslaught of intense emotion over the past two days—both Harry’s emotions and his own, some of which he’d never felt before or at least never this strongly. The guilt, most notably, was new. As was the intense, obsessive affection he felt for Harry. He’d meant it when he told Harry he cared for him more than he’d ever cared for anyone—he’d just failed to mention that there had only been a handful of people throughout his entire life that he’d actually cared about beyond their usefulness to him, but even those rare few instances paled in comparison to what he felt for Harry.


He’d told the boy things he’d never told anyone; he’d rearranged his entire world-domination plan to make it palatable for Harry; he’d literally killed half of his followers because they’d rioted and rejected said plan; he’d let his guard down around Harry and shown him genuine affection; he’d felt actual guilt for grabbing Harry’s throat and then practically demanded that Harry fuck Tom’s throat in recompense; he’d arranged himself a job at Hogwarts in order to stay close to Harry while they set their political schemes in motion, and to top it all off he was letting people call him Tom again… Maybe they really had both lost their minds, as Harry had suggested.


“Unacceptable,” Tom muttered. The ritual was responsible for this madness and excess sentiment—it had to be. He needed a bit of distance to sort himself out, needed to get out of Harry’s orbit just for a little while, needed to research what the hell was going on with his emotions. He grabbed the ritual journal off the nightstand and shoved it into his robes, inside a pocket charmed so that only he could put things in it or take them out. From the same pocket, he removed the locket Horcrux and leaned down to carefully place it around Harry’s neck as he slept. It wouldn’t do to have the boy wake up and think he’d been abandoned, after all.


Tom straightened up and simply looked at Harry for a moment before drawing his wand. He silently cast every detection spell in his vast repertoire, thoroughly checking first Harry and then himself once again for any kind of compulsions, enchantments, love potions, or any other mind-altering spells, potions, or curses. Just like the other five times he’d run through this routine (always at moments when Harry was somehow distracted so he wouldn’t ask questions), there was absolutely nothing magical currently influencing either of them. It made no sense. He put his wand away and then brushed a lock of hair out of Harry’s face before turning and quietly heading for the door.


He was reaching for the doorknob when the sound of shifting fabric and then a yawn made him pause and look over his shoulder. Harry was waking again, one arm blindly searching across the empty mattress.


“Voldemort?” Harry murmured sleepily as he opened his eyes. He noticed the locket around his neck and reached up to rest a hand over it, smiling slightly. Then he sat up and caught sight of Tom by the door, and asked mildly, “Sneaking out on me?”


Tom tensed and said, “I was unaware that I needed your permission to leave my own room.” It came out quite a bit harsher than he’d intended, judging by Harry’s taken-aback expression.


Harry blinked, then sarcastically said, “Good morning to you too,” before clumsily prodding at their mental connection and attempting to get a read on Tom’s emotions.


Tom slammed up his Occlumency barriers to block the connection, then sent a glare at Harry and snapped, “Stay out of my head!”


Harry flinched, his expression a mixture of surprise and annoyance and concern. “Tom—?“


But Voldemort ignored him and stormed out of the room, not quite slamming the door (such behavior was beneath a Dark Lord) but shutting it a bit harder than necessary.


Harry was left staring at the door, wondering what the hell he’d done wrong. He threw the sheets off of himself and swung his legs out of bed, intending to chase after Tom and demand an explanation for this newest snit, but the tapping of an owl at the window caught his attention. He would’ve just ignored it, if not for the fact that it was Pigwidgeon. Harry sighed, then stood and went to open the window—it was probably best to let Tom cool off a while anyway.


“Hey, Pig,” Harry said, petting the tiny owl with one hand while he took the letter with the other. “I don’t have any treats, sorry.” Pig gave him an unconcerned hoot before flapping his wings and excitedly flying around the room. “Don’t take off, I reckon they’ll want a reply.”


Harry attempted to open the letter only to be repelled each time by something like a shield charm. He could hold the envelope, but when he tried in any way to open it his fingers glanced off of some kind of force field.


“How the hell do I open this thing?” Harry muttered, grabbing his wand. “Alohomora,” he tried, feeling silly when nothing happened. “Er…Revelio!”


This time a line of tiny writing appeared: Mr. Moony informs you that the key to the letter is the same as the Map.


Harry smiled, tapped his wand on the envelope and said, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”


When he tried to open the envelope this time, he succeeded and pulled out the letter inside. He’d been expecting it to be from Remus, but the handwriting was completely different. He didn’t immediately recognize it, so his eyes skipped down to the signature—Love, Ginny.


Harry felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Ginny. He hadn’t even thought about Ginny since all of this started. Hadn’t once thought about whether he was somehow betraying her by being with Tom. True, he’d broken things off with her—to protect her, yes, but also secretly because dating her had felt rather too much like living someone else’s life and he knew deep down that they weren’t right for each other—but despite that, he’d known that she was expecting him to come back to her. And she’d signed the damn letter with ‘love.’


Guiltily, Harry dragged his eyes back up to the beginning of the letter and started to read.


Harry--What the actual fuck is going on???


Harry laughed in spite of himself, but quickly kept reading.


 I know you’re on a secret mission that you can’t tell anyone about, but Lupin came back from talking to you looking like someone stepped on his tail, and then Ron showed back up at the Burrow and he’s been Obliviated! The Order said that despite the safety risks (Dad and Lupin put a ton of concealing spells on Pig, don’t worry, nobody should be able to intercept him) someone had to reach out, and they thought you’d be more likely to reply if it came from me… I miss you so much, Harry, and it kills me thinking that you’re out there somewhere in danger and I can’t do anything to help. Please let me know you’re okay—and, if you can, tell me what happened with Ron. He says he had a fight with you at Grimmauld but he can’t remember what about, and he said that Snape was there (are you okay? Did Snape Obliviate him?) but he can’t tell us anything else about what happened or what you’ve been doing on the run. Ron’s really worried about Hermione—is she all right? Please write back, Harry, even if it’s just a “I’m okay.” I really miss you, and hope to see you again soon. Stay safe.
Love, Ginny 


Harry sat down on the edge of the bed, staring at his feet.


God, but this was awkward. He couldn’t let Ginny keep thinking he was waiting for her too, but he couldn’t bloody well tell her the truth, especially not when the entire Order was guaranteed to read his reply. He could be vague—and he could let her and the others know that the war was over, at least, and that he’d see Ron and Ginny again at Hogwarts if not sooner—Merlin, he was going to teach at Hogwarts. Was he going to have to teach his friends? Teach Ginny? He and Tom hadn’t really discussed the particulars of that arrangement, but Harry had assumed he’d be taking a few of the younger years and kind of sitting in on his own year because while Tom wouldn’t technically be his professor and wouldn’t be responsible for any of his grades, Harry still needed to know the material for NEWTs.


Harry shook his head and focused back on the present—he needed to write back before the Order tried to track him down and stage a rescue or something. There was a desk in the corner of Tom’s room, and Harry sat down at it and opened drawers until he found some blank parchment and a quill.

He wondered for half a second whether he should check with Tom first, but then he considered this morning’s strop and muttered, “If he doesn’t need permission to leave, I sure as hell don’t need permission to write a letter.”


He dipped the quill in ink, then wrote:


 Ginny (and the Order),


 I’m okay, I promise. So is Hermione…. I’m sending two pages, and The Order can read the first one, but the second one is just for you Ginny, all right? I don’t really know where to start, but things have changed a lot over the past 3 days. There’s going to be a public announcement soon (not sure yet when or where) that the war is over. I recently ended up in a crazy life-or-death situation along with Voldemort, and we had to work together to survive it. Yes there’s quite a bit more to it that that, and no I will not be giving details. All I’ll say is that it has to do with our connection, and that he has no intention of killing me anymore. We’ve agreed on a truce, and he’s going to stop with the violence and the blood-purity rubbish. I’m not sure how much he’d want me to say, so let’s leave it at that for now.


About Ron… There were some details about my involvement with Voldemort that he just couldn’t handle. He tried, I think, and he stuck around because he thought he and Hermione could talk me out of it or something. But in the end we had to Obliviate him to protect him and to protect our “secret mission” as you called it… Ron, if you’re reading this, I want to talk. I don’t want to lose our friendship over this. Hermione misses you too, and she’s still upset about the Obliviation. We’ll see you soon, and I hope we can all get past this.


 Yes, Snape was at Grimmauld too, briefly. He’s actually been on my side this entire time, strange as that seems. His reasons aren’t mine to share, but I trust him now and the Order shouldn’t consider him an enemy. Dumbledore’s death was not murder, it was pre-arranged by Dumbledore himself—he was already dying from a slow-acting curse, and he’d basically ordered Snape to kill him when the time came.


 Anyway, all of this has probably been a shock, but I hope you all can relax a bit knowing that the war is over and Hermione and I are safe. And we’ll be back to Hogwarts in September too, with a bit of a surprise. Please don’t try to track me down and rescue me—I don’t need it, first of all, and also Voldemort has become extremely protective of me. It wouldn’t be pretty.


 Hope you’re all well,
 Harry. 


He set down his quill, read over the letter again, and decided that it would do. He hoped that the letter would give the Order enough information to keep them from doing anything stupid until the official truce announcement was made, and until Harry had a chance to check in with the Weasleys and Lupin and the others in person. And he’d been careful to avoid stating outright that Hermione was the one who Obliviated Ron—Harry was willing to take the fall for that if it would help Ron and Hermione patch things up.


Harry picked up a second page, sighed, and started writing the harder letter. After several false starts—which were wadded up and fretfully Incendioed—he ended up settling on:


Ginny,


 I miss you too, and I hope that you’re staying safe… I wouldn’t normally put this kind of thing in a letter, but I also don’t want to spring it on you at Hogwarts. The thing is, I will always care about you, but we won’t be getting back together. I’m seeing someone else now and it’s serious. Again, I’m really sorry to tell you this through a letter but I don’t want to lead you on. I’ll understand if you hate me, but I hope we can stay friends.


 See you at Hogwarts,
 Harry 


Harry sighed and set down the quill, thinking that surely there was a better way to do this, but he wasn’t about to ask Hermione or Draco—or, god forbid, Tom—to help him with it. It would simply have to do.


Harry sealed the two letters into an envelope with Ginny’s name on it. “All right, Pig,” he called, and the tiny owl flew over to land on the desk, eagerly sticking his leg out. Harry attached the letter, and said, “I hope those concealment charms on you are still active, because I have no idea how to do them. Be careful.” Pig hooted at him once, then took flight and swooped back out the window.


Harry rested his elbows on the desk and put his face in his hands, wishing for another well-timed distraction so he could avoid the hurt and confusion from how Tom had snapped at him and blocked off their connection. “I didn’t even do anything,” Harry grumbled into his hands. But then again, this was Voldemort he was dealing with—all of the unexpected tenderness and affection had lulled Harry into nearly forgetting how unpredictable and volatile the man could be.


He sighed again and stood up, walking to the dresser and grabbing a change of clothes out of his bag on top of it. He had been too tired last night to even think of unpacking his bag into one of the dresser drawers, but after this morning’s display Harry deliberately left his clothes in his bag—if he got relegated to a guest room then at least getting his belongings wouldn’t be a drawn-out embarrassing ordeal. He ignored the pang in his chest at the thought of Tom sending him away, and he quickly got dressed. He put on jeans, a dark green tee-shirt, and a grey hoodie, and then headed out into the sitting room.


He opened the door to the sight of Draco and Hermione anxiously sitting at a small breakfast table near one of the enormous windows. Nagini sat coiled in an armchair not far away, apparently guarding them. All three of them turned to look at Harry, and Hermione and Draco both stood and walked towards him wearing relieved expressions. Harry moved forwards too and they met in the middle of the room.


“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, throwing her arms around him while Draco awkwardly stood next to them. “Are you all right? He was in such a foul mood when he left, and he warded your room so we couldn’t go in—”


“I’m fine,” Harry said, hugging her back and giving Draco a small smile. “He just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”


“He what?” Draco asked, confused.


Hermione let go of Harry and chimed in to explain, “It’s a Muggle expression. It means he was in a bad mood for no apparent reason.”


Draco quirked an eyebrow and said, “That’s normal for him, from what I’ve seen.”


Harry shrugged, “Before, maybe. He’s been different since the ritual. But maybe that’s wearing off or something.”


Hermione patted him on the shoulder and said, “Come on, have some breakfast,” nudging him towards the table.


“And call the snake off, would you?” Draco interjected. “I think he told her to guard us—she’s just been sitting there staring the whole time.”


Harry glanced at Nagini, who was indeed staring silently at the three of them from her chair. “Good morning, Nagini,” he hissed, stepping closer to her.


Harry Potter,” she greeted. “What did you do to upset Master?”


I honestly don’t know. He started snapping at me as soon as I woke up, and then he stormed out.


Nagini tilted her head and studied him for a moment. “Master has a temper. Doesn’t always make sense.”


Harry laughed. “I’ve noticed.” He paused, catching the concerned looks from Draco and Hermione, and he wondered whether laughing in Parseltongue sounded especially creepy. “Did he tell you not to let us leave?”


Nagini shook her head slightly and said, “He only asked me to watch them until either you or he returned, and not to let them cause trouble.”


We won’t be causing any trouble—you don’t have to keep watching them if you don’t want to.


Nagini rolled her eyes. ”Yes, Harry Potter, I am aware that I have free will.” Harry laughed, and on impulse he reached out to pet her on the head. She leaned into the touch for a moment before pulling away and slithering from the chair to the floor. “Silly humans,” Nagini hissed as she went back to the door next to Tom’s, which opened on its own for her when she pressed against it and hissed, “Open.” She slithered into the other room, and pushed the door shut with her tail.


Harry turned back towards the small table, where Draco and Hermione were already seated across from each other, watching him cautiously. Harry took the spot that gave him the view out the window.


“I take it we’re not prisoners, then?” Draco said, feigning nonchalance. It was clear to everyone that Nagini unnerved him.


“Nope,” Harry said. He chuckled, then added, “I didn’t know snakes could be so sarcastic. She’s brilliant. I wish you two could talk with her.”


“You could translate for us sometime,” Hermione suggested, taking a bite of the eggs that had appeared on her plate.


“I’ll pass,” Draco muttered. Louder, he said, “Have some breakfast, Harry,” and he tapped his wand on an odd square tile affixed to the center of the table. A second later, a plate of French Toast appeared in front of Harry along with a large dish of treacle tart.


Harry grinned and told Draco, “Those are my favorites.”


“I know,” Draco said. He blushed when both Harry and Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “I mean,” he blustered, “your table manners are so atrocious, Potter, that it’s difficult not to notice what you eat even from across the Great Hall.”


Harry snorted at the attempted deflection, then nudged Draco’s elbow with his own and teased, “Stalker.”


Draco scoffed, and said, “Oh, you’re one to talk!”


“Boys,” Hermione said, her scolding tone somewhat defeated by the smile she couldn’t quite hold back, “No fighting at the table.”


“Fighting? Us?” Harry said, faux-incredulously.


“How dare you suggest something so preposterous?” Draco added, feigning offense.


Hermione smiled and rolled her eyes, then went back to eating her eggs. Harry dug into his French Toast, and Draco was eating what looked like crepes.


“So, er,” Harry said awkwardly after a moment. “Did Voldemort say anything when he left?”


“He wasn’t thrilled that I’d invited Draco in,” Hermione said. “Even though I’d intended to go to the library, and he was very clear last night about me having a chaperone.”


“He muttered something about being overrun by insolent brats,” Draco added, looking slightly offended.


Harry’s heart sank. “Right. Nothing else?”


“Not to us—he talked to the snake and then walked out,” Draco said.


Harry sighed, absently playing with the chain of the locket Horcrux. Hermione noticed and said, “He left you the locket though—that’s a good sign, right?”


Harry shrugged, and Draco asked curiously, “Locket?”


“Slytherin’s locket,” Harry said, pulling it out from under his shirt so Draco could see it. “Family heirloom,” he said, shooting a pointed look at Hermione, who seemed to understand his silent message not to reveal that the locket was a Horcrux. He didn’t want to risk angering Voldemort any further by spilling his secrets—and he didn’t want to risk Draco being punished or even Obliviated for knowing too much about a Horcrux either.


Draco eyed the locket and started to reach for it before pulling his hand back sharply as if burned when he was within a few inches of it. “It feels really Dark,” he said, looking wary.


Harry huffed a laugh. “What did you expect?”


“Doesn’t it bother you?” Draco asked.


Harry shook his head and tucked the locket back underneath his shirt. “It just feels warm to me. Like Tom’s magic.” He ignored the look Draco and Hermione exchanged, and picked his fork back up and forced himself to finish his breakfast.


They split the treacle tart among the three of them, at Harry’s insistence. Once they’d finished eating, Draco tapped twice on the tile in the center of the table, and all of the dirty plates disappeared, presumably back to the kitchens for the house-elves to clean.
Harry left the table and flopped down on one of the huge sofas by the fireplace, with Draco sitting on his left and Hermione his right.


“All right,” Hermione said in a no-nonsense tone, “out with it. Stop moping and tell us what happened.”


“I told you,” Harry said, waving his hand in frustration. “He was in a shitty mood, and he snapped at me and blocked off the connection and left.”


“You didn’t mention that he blocked the connection,” Hermione said, sounding concerned. “Harry, tell me exactly what was said.”


Harry raised an eyebrow at her, but complied, telling her what happened as close to word-for-word as he could remember. “I woke up and asked if he was sneaking out on me, since he was dressed and at the door. He got pissy and said he didn’t need my permission to leave his own room. And I said, well good morning to you too, and I tried to use the connection to see what he was actually feeling because sometimes he exaggerates the whole Dark Lord act when he’s not really as angry as he seems. But then he shut me out hard with Occlumency and said to stay out of his head, and then he stormed off.” Harry sighed, then glanced at Hermione and made a regal little ‘go on’ gesture with his finger, waiting for her analysis.


Draco laughed under his breath, and when Harry glanced at him and raised an eyebrow, Draco said, “Nothing, just,” he imitated the hand gesture, “you’re starting to pick up his mannerisms.”


Harry frowned and looked back at Hermione, who said, “Harry, I think he might just need some space.” Harry and Draco both gave her a dubious look, but she went on, “No, really. You’ve both been through so much over the past few days, and there’s a lot to process. I mean, doesn’t the connection ever feel sort of, you know, stifling?”


“So now I’m stifling him?” Harry said, not amused.


Hermione threw her hands up. “I don’t know—I’m just guessing. But has he ever been in an actual relationship before?” she asked, looking from Harry to Draco.


Draco laughed and said, “How would I know? He doesn’t talk about his love life at Death Eater meetings.”


“We haven’t really had the ex talk yet,” Harry added dryly.


“Okay, well,” Hermione said, “if this is all new to him, then he’s not used to talking things out with a partner as an equal—he’s used to being on his own, and being in control, and putting on ‘the Dark Lord act’ whenever he doesn’t want to deal with something. And it probably does feel stifling to not even have the privacy of your own mind and your own emotions to process everything that’s changed in the past few days.”


“Yeah, I can imagine that last bit,” Harry said bitterly.


Instead of taking offense, Hermione patted his knee and said, “I know, Harry.”


“If anybody should be having fits over their mental privacy, it’s me—he’s the bloody Legilimens. But you don’t see me trying to shut him out,” he vented. Harry leaned back against the sofa and let out a long sigh, one hand reaching up again for the locket, clutching it through his shirt like a talisman. “Am I completely crazy for wanting this to work?”


“Probably,” Draco said, but when Harry glared at him, Draco smiled and squeezed his shoulder in a reassuring way. “But if it makes you feel better, ever since the Dark Lord told us about the truce, he’s acted like an actual human person instead of an insane nightmare.”


“Are you sure you’re not just fooled by the pretty face?” Harry joked.


“Don’t call him pretty—he Crucio’d Aunt Bella for that,” Draco said, only half-teasing.


“Thought he Crucio’d her for trying to attack him?”


“There was that too,” Draco admitted.


Harry’s lips twitched in a half smile, then he turned to Hermione. “What about you? Think I’ve gone mad?”


Hermione sighed. “I think there’s a lot going on that we still don’t know about, and the best way to get to the truth is to research that ritual.”


Harry smiled humorlessly, chose not to call her out on the non-answer, and said, “I suppose we should head to the library then.” Harry stood up, but Hermione grabbed his hand before he got far.


“Harry, I’m here for you, and I’ll do whatever I can to help,” she said, “but I’m not just going to tell you whatever you want to hear. Not with this.”


Harry squeezed her hand, and said, “All right. I do appreciate the honesty, Hermione.”


Hermione smiled, then asked, “Library?”


“Library,” Harry confirmed. “We need whatever we can find on blood magic and soul magic.”


Draco chimed in, “We might as well go straight to the private library, then. Father wouldn’t leave anything like that downstairs.” He stood up to follow Harry and Hermione, and caught Harry’s eye to ask, “Was there more than one ritual, then?”


“Nope. Just one really complicated ritual that shouldn’t be possible, according to Tom.”


Draco raised an eyebrow. “And you think the three of us can make sense of something that the Dark Lord deemed impossible?”


Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. But we have to try.”


Draco nodded and said, “All right. But for the record, I’d rather be playing Quiddich.”


Harry smirked and said, “We could, later. I wouldn’t mind beating you in a Seeker’s match.”


“You’re on, Potter.” Draco reached the door first, and held it open for Harry and Hermione, closing it carefully behind them as they all stepped into the hallway.


The private library was on the third floor, on the opposite end of the manor from the corridor Harry and Tom had christened the night before. When they reached the top of the stairs, Harry’s eyes flicked briefly towards the entrance to the glass corridor, but he quickly looked away. He didn’t want to think about that—about the truly amazing blowjob, or the oddly romantic gesture of preserving Harry’s handprint on the window—because after how waspish and closed-off Tom had been this morning, it made Harry second guess himself too much. It made him question whether Tom had meant any of his promises or confessions, and whether he regretted anything they’d done together, and whether he resented Harry for the fact that Tom was stuck with him. And last night hadn’t been perfect either, no matter how Harry preferred to dwell on the happy moments—they had argued more than once, and Harry had broken down and cried into Tom’s shoulder at one point. Merlin, was this going to be his life now? An emotional roller-coaster ride where he constantly second-guessed everything?


Harry followed Draco and Hermione blindly as they chatted with each other on the way to the private library, not taking in a word of what they were saying. Draco opened the door to the library—another of those massive dark wooden doors carved with elaborate designs—and then pompously announced in his tour guide voice, “Here we are, the much coveted private Malfoy library, where one can—oh,” he abruptly went silent, an embarrassed expression taking over his face as he continued in a much more subdued tone, “Apologies, My Lord.”


Harry looked up so quickly that he almost strained his neck. Yes, there was Tom with a pile of books in his arms, on his way out of the library.


“I told you to stop calling me that,” Tom said in a neutral tone. Was he still angry? He didn’t sound angry, but part of that might’ve just been Harry’s wishful thinking. He didn’t dare prod at the connection after how Tom had reacted that morning.


“Sorry, Sir,” Draco said. “We can come back later. We didn’t mean to interrupt—”


“I was on my way out,” Tom said dismissively, stepping around Draco towards the door. He paused, and for a moment his eyes locked with Harry’s.


Harry’s breath caught and he was embarrassingly relieved just to be acknowledged. Instead of poking at the connection again or yelling or demanding answers for that morning, he just awkwardly said, “Tom.”


Tom stared back at him silently, expression blank, then he replied, “Harry.”


By the time Harry worked up the nerve to say anything else Tom was already turning to leave, and Harry closed his mouth again, both frustrated and embarrassed as Tom left the room and shut the door behind him.


Draco and Hermione both audibly let out breaths they’d been holding, and Draco said, “Well, that was the most awkward moment I’ve ever had the discomfort of witnessing.”


Hermione elbowed Draco and gave him a sharp look, then she turned to Harry and asked, “Did he say anything through your connection?”


“Nope,” Harry said, crossing his arms and staring at the floor. “Not a word.”


Draco spoke up again, asking, “Did either of you happen to notice which books he took? Might be a clue to what’s put him in that mood.”


“Wasn’t looking,” Harry muttered.


“I was,” Hermione said, “but the way he was carrying them hid the titles.”


“Of course,” Draco complained. “And he probably took all of the ones we were coming for.”


“We should still have a look around,” Hermione said, walking to the nearest bookshelf and glancing over the titles. She threw Draco a look over her shoulder and asked, “Were you serious about having cursed books in here?”


“Yes, but there’s a spell, hang on,” Draco muttered an incantation and several books scattered throughout the shelves lit up with a green glowing light around them. “That identifies all of the harmful ones. Don’t touch them.”


“That’s convenient,” Hermione said, looking impressed. Draco preened a bit.


Harry, who was only halfway paying attention to them, finally found his nerve again and said, “You know what, this is stupid.” He started for the door, thinking that Tom couldn’t have gotten that far away—he could find him, talk to him, sort out whatever the hell had gone wrong.


“Hold on,” Draco said, grabbing Harry’s arm.


“Space, Harry,” Hermione reminded him, though she didn’t look away from the bookshelves.


“This is stupid!” Harry repeated. “Ignoring each other, and worrying about space—if something’s wrong, we need to talk about it and fix it, not waste time playing games.”


Draco scoffed and said, “No, ‘stupid’ would be charging after the Dark Lord and bothering him when he wants to be left alone.”


Harry scowled and tugged his arm free. “Maybe for you it would be.”


Draco scowled back. “Right, I forgot, all of the rules are different for The Chosen One,” he said, sneering the title and crossing his arms.


“Don’t call me that,” Harry said.


Draco opened his mouth to retort, but a pained shriek from across the room distracted them both.


“Harry!” Hermione called a second later.


Harry and Draco both rushed to her side—she was cradling her right hand, which had a deep horrid gash lengthwise across the palm. Blood dripped down to the floor, where a book lay forgotten at her feet.


“What happened?” Harry asked. He pulled off his hoodie then wadded it up and pressed it firmly against the wound to help stop the bleeding. “Here, keep pressure on it,” he said.


“Cursed book,” she said, hissing in pain as she used her good hand to hold the sweater to the cut. “It feels like the blood in my hand is burning.”


“Why did you touch a cursed book?” Draco demanded.


“It wasn’t lit up!” Hermione snapped. “Do you have a nurse or a Healer here?”


“This isn’t Hogwarts,” Draco said shortly. He took out his wand, nudged the sweater aside for a moment, then cast, “Episkey,” at the wound, but absolutely nothing happened.


“Okay,” Hermione through gritted teeth, “do you happen to know the counter curse?”


“Of course not,” Draco said, peering at the book on the floor with a look one would usually reserve for road-kill. “That thing looks ancient—and it should’ve lit up if it was cursed.”


Draco waved his wand and cast the curse-revealing spell on it again, but nothing happened.


“Clearly your spell is flawed,” Hermione snapped, “and if you haven’t noticed, I’m bleeding rather badly!”


“Draco, quit mucking about and just call Tom,” Harry interrupted, nodding towards Draco’s left arm.


Draco gave him an incredulous look and said, “You don’t summon the Dark Lord unless he's asked you to for a specific reason.”


“He can fix whatever this curse is,” Harry insisted. “Call him.”


“You call him,” Draco said, gesturing towards Harry’s scar.


Harry glared, then closed his eyes and reached for the mental connection. Still blocked. He gathered up all of his concern and slowly-growing panic over Hermione’s injury, then threw the emotion at the connection as hard as he could. It hit an invisible wall and didn’t go through—Harry wasn’t sure whether Tom would’ve even felt Harry trying. He sighed in frustration, and said, “He’s still blocking me out. Just fucking call him.”


“Potter, he Crucios people for summoning him unasked!”


“Guys, this really hurts,” Hermione said faintly, “and it’s spreading.”


Harry glanced at Hermione’s hand—the cut was slowly creeping past her wrist and further up her arm, peeking out from behind the sweatshirt she kept pressed against her palm. The blood that flowed from the wound hissed like acid when it dripped to the floor.

Harry turned back to Draco and snapped, “Tell him I forced you,” then he grabbed Draco’s wand out of his hand and stepped in close.


“Potter!” Draco protested as Harry grabbed Draco’s wrist to hold him still, then pressed Draco’s own wand against his left forearm, making a guess at where the Mark was beneath his sleeve.


“How does this work?” Harry asked.

Hermione’s pained hisses and choked off whimpers were getting louder.


Draco glanced at Hermione uneasily and then pulled his arm away from Harry just long enough to roll up his sleeve and expose the Mark. “Fine,” he said anxiously, “give me back my wand and I’ll do it.” Harry handed Draco his wand, and watched him close his eyes and press the tip of it to the Mark. A tense moment passed, then another, and another, and nothing happened. Finally Draco shook his head and said, “He must be ignoring it.”


“Harry?” Hermione said faintly, “I don’t—” she swayed on her feet and Harry darted forward to catch her and gently lower her into an armchair. He pressed his sweatshirt more firmly against the spreading wound, and put Hermione’s other hand on top of it as she blinked a few times.


“Keep pressure on it, as best as you can,” he reminded her, and she absently nodded and clenched the sweater tighter in her good hand. Harry straightened back up and ran a hand through his hair as he paced in front of her chair. “Fuck,” he muttered, then turned to Draco and asked, “Can’t we call a House Elf or something?”


Draco shook his head, “After the incident with Dobby, Father made the rules for the Elves extremely restrictive—they aren’t allowed to heal people, transport people, leave the house, or take messages to people without direct orders from either Father or the Dark Lord.”


“Fuck,” Harry swore again. “Wait, what was that spell Severus used to heal you last year? Vulnerus something?”


“I don’t remember,” Draco said, throwing his arms up in agitation and shooting a concerned look at Hermione, “I was half-conscious and bleeding to death at the time!”


Harry abruptly stopped pacing. “Call Severus,” he said.


“What?”


“Through the Mark. Call him!”


“We can’t summon each other—only the Dark Lord can do that.”


“Well we have to try something!” Harry shouted. He grabbed Draco’s left arm again and lifted it up. “It’s like a Protean Charm, right?” Maybe if he pretended he was sending a message through the DA coins, he could make this work. “Hold still, I’m going to try something.”

He ignored Draco’s incredulous expression and leaned down to press his scar directly against the Dark Mark. He closed his eyes and reached out like he was reaching out to the connection with Tom, focusing instead on the Mark. He gasped when he actually linked into something—it felt like a net of magic and it was astounding, but Harry didn’t linger. He reached out and felt around for one specific Wizard—when he found the thread connected to Severus Snape, he mentally grabbed it and pulled, while simultaneously broadcasting the thought ‘Hermione’s been cursed in the Malfoy private library, I need you to heal her.’


A few seconds later there was a crack of Apparation somewhere behind him. Harry dropped the connection and released Draco’s arm, ignoring the astonished look Draco was giving him, then he spun around to face the new arrival.


Severus stood there, giving Harry an astounded and horrified look reminiscent of the one he’d worn when he’d rushed in to save Draco from Harry’s Sectumsempra. It only lasted for a second, and then Severus visibly set aside this newest impossibility for the moment and focused instead on the task at hand. He strode over to Hermione, carefully pulled the bloody wadded up sweatshirt away from the wound, and began casting diagnostic spells. She had finally passed out, either from the pain or from a progression of the curse.


“How did this happen?” Severus demanded.


“She touched a cursed book,” Harry said, pointing to where it lay on the floor. “Please, Sev, whatever you can do…”


Severus stepped away from Hermione and cautiously approached the book, casting diagnostic spells on it as well. After he got what he needed, he cast some kind of containment field made of light around the book.


Draco said, “I cast Nocere Revelaro on the entire library, and that book didn’t light up.”


“It wouldn’t, you imbecile,” Severus snapped. “That spell only reveals what’s harmful to the caster. This curse targets anyone who isn’t Pureblood who touches the book.”


Draco blinked, then paled and asked in a small voice, “Is she going to be all right?”


“If you shut up and let me work,” Severus said, kneeling beside Hermione’s chair then holding his wand above the wound and casting a series of spells. One of the spells made Hermione’s body seize up for a moment before drawing an ugly swirl of black smoke out of the wound and incinerating it in the air with a piercing shriek.


Harry hung back beside Draco, extremely worried but not wanting to get in Severus’s way. The wound on Hermione’s arm stopped spreading, and then, after a few moments of Severus’s attentions, it stopped bleeding and started to heal.


“I swear I thought the spell would show everything,” Draco said quietly. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”


“I know,” Harry said. “It’s not your fault.”


“Then why do I always end up hurting people?” Draco muttered, more to himself than to Harry.


“It was an accident, Draco,” Harry said, not even thinking about it before grabbing Draco’s hand and squeezing it reassuringly the same way he would’ve done if it were Hermione who was upset.


Severus’s caustic voice cut in with, “I do believe I asked for silence,” as he continued to cast spells over Hermione. Her arm and hand appeared fully healed, save for a red raw-looking stripe of re-grown skin.


Harry rolled his eyes but went quiet, relieved that Hermione seemed okay. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Draco was blushing. Odd, Harry thought, for Draco to get that embarrassed over such a slight reprimand from Snape. Surely he was used to worse? Unless—oh, right.


“Er, sorry,” Harry murmured, squeezing Draco’s hand slightly to indicate what he was talking about. “Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” he rambled, starting to pull his hand away.


“It’s fine,” Draco said quickly, squeezing back and not letting him.


Severus finally stood and said, “She’ll be all right after a few hours of rest, and Dittany will reduce the scarring. That was an incredibly nasty curse.” Severus finally turned around and immediately noticed Harry and Draco’s linked hands. Severus raised an eyebrow, gave Draco what appeared to be a warning look, then demanded, “Explain.”


“It’s nothing,” Draco said quickly, reluctantly pulling his hand free and blushing again.


Harry shrugged and told Severus, “We’re friends now.”


“Friends?” Severus said dubiously, giving Draco another look for some reason. “It is rather too late to take my previous advice, Draco,” Severus said cryptically. “It would be—detrimental—to appear quite that close to Potter. Especially in the Dark Lord’s presence.”


“I’m well aware,” Draco said meaningfully.


Harry’s brow furrowed as he looked back and forth between Severus and Draco. “Er—you two can stop talking in code or whatever you’re doing. Both of you know about me being with Tom now, and about the ritual. Oh, and that I’m a Horcrux.”


“You told him?” Draco asked incredulously.


“Potter, you imbecile,” Severus said at the same time.


Harry held up a hand towards each of them and said, “Hush, or you’re going to wake Hermione.”


“She’s in an induced slumber to promote recovery,” Severus said. “She won’t wake for at least two hours. It’s very fortunate that you called me so quickly.” He paused and gave Harry a piercing look. “Speaking of which—how on earth did you manage to use the Dark Mark?”


Harry shrugged, and said, “I put Draco’s Mark against my scar and reached out like I was trying to talk to Tom, and then I treated it like I was sending a message through a Protean charm.”


Severus looked equally shocked and impressed. “The Mark is no mere Protean charm—it’s a much more complex variation that the Dark Lord created himself. It’s supposed to be impossible for anyone except him to contact or summon the Death Eaters through it.”


Harry shrugged again. “Well, I do have a bit of his soul, so,” he trailed off. “Anyway, thank you,” he told Severus, “for helping her. Tom’s in a snit and he’s been shutting me out, and he ignored it when Draco tried to summon him—”


Severus immediately turned on Draco and demanded, “You what?”


Draco crossed his arms and said, “Potter made me.”


Severus scoffed. “Oh, what did he do, bat his eyelashes at you?”


Whatever Draco was about to reply was interrupted by the library door banging open to reveal a furious looking Lucius Malfoy.


“What is the meaning of this?” Lucius demanded. His wand was in his hand but not pointed at anyone just yet. “First the wards tell me someone’s been severely injured,” he noticed the unconscious Hermione and the blood on the chair and the floor around her, and his lip curled at the sight, “And then you,” he said directly to Severus, “come tearing through the wards uninvited rather than Apparating at the gate like a civilized person!”


“I was summoned,” Severus said coolly. “The Mark let me through the wards, per protocol.”


“The ward register doesn’t show that He summoned you,” Lucius said, sneering, “but by all means, continue lying to my face. That is, after all, your signature talent.”


Severus’s expression tightened but his voice remained calm. “Your ward register might be confused. It was an unconventional summons, but a summons all the same.”


Lucius clearly didn’t believe him. “Perhaps we should call the Dark Lord here to verify that.”


Severus waved his hand in a ‘go ahead’ motion. “Apparently he’s not in the best mood today, but if you’re feeling brave enough to waste his time, I certainly won’t stop you.”


Harry looked between the two men nervously, hoping that Lucius wouldn’t call Sev’s bluff.


Lucius gave Severus a long cold stare before saying, “You know, even after you killed the old fool, Bellatrix still questions your loyalty. She has the most interesting things to say,” he trailed off expectantly.


“Last I heard, Bellatrix was locked in the dungeon for disrespecting the Dark Lord,” Severus said dryly. “And you are, of course, referring to the occasion when I fulfilled an Unbreakable Vow to save your son’s life? My godson’s life?”


Lucius sneered again and said, “I’ve come to regret that appointment very much.”


Severus casually lifted a hand to examine his fingernails and said in a bored tone, “That’s tragic, Lucius, really.”


Harry couldn’t hold back a snort of laughter at that, but he tried to disguise it as a cough.


“You know what, Snape?” Lucius snarled “I don’t care that you’re somehow the Dark Lord’s favorite right now. Clean up the mess that Mudblood made and get out of my house.”


Harry opened his mouth to tell Malfoy Sr. where to shove it, but to his surprise, Severus got there first.


“Do not,” Severus said in an icy tone, “use that word in my presence.”


“Don’t tell me how to speak in my own home!” Lucius raised his wand and so did Severus.


Draco’s shoulder nudged against Harry’s, and when he caught his eye he anxiously motioned for the two of them to step back a bit. Harry was reluctant, but Draco nudged him backwards and stood slightly in front of him. They both sidled over far enough to stand in front of Hermione in case spells started flying.


Someone cleared their throat from the doorway.


“One of you better explain what’s going on,” Tom said in a deadly tone, “immediately.”


Harry’s eyes riveted to where Tom leaned against the doorframe in a deceptively casual manner. The connection was still blocked off, so instead of feeling the usual tingle of relief at being close to him, Harry just felt his own nerves and anger.


“My Lord,” Lucius promptly jumped in, “Snape claims he was summoned here. The wards allowed him to Apparate in but they didn’t register a summons.”


Tom tilted his head slightly and glanced at Severus, and then back to Lucius. “I didn’t summon him,” Tom said softly, “but I certainly felt something disturb the Mark’s magic.”


“It was me,” Harry said, looking defiantly at Tom.


Tom finally turned to look at Harry, his expression blank. Even without the connection open, Harry could tell that this was a furious-because-I-feel-threatened blankness.


“Lucius, out,” Tom ordered.


Lucius blinked, the triumphant look vanishing from his face. “My Lord?”


“I said get out!”


Lucius scrambled to obey, his expression furious once his back was to Tom. He didn’t shut the door behind him, but Tom waved his hand and closed it, then threw a few privacy and silencing spells at it for good measure.


“What,” Tom said, stepping closer to Harry, “do you mean, it was you?”


Harry crossed his arms and didn’t reply.


“Do not,” Tom said tersely, “test my patience right now. Answer me.”


“Why should I?” Harry finally snapped. “You’ve ignored me all morning.”


“And that gives you the right to tamper with complicated Dark magic and commandeer my followers?”


“Hermione could’ve died!” Harry shouted, taking a step towards Tom. “She touched a cursed book, and I couldn’t even call you for help because you’re blocking me out!”


Tom’s expression didn’t change, but he peered around Harry at Hermione’s unconscious form. “Is she all right?” Tom asked.


Harry blinked, surprised that Tom cared. In a much calmer voice, Harry answered, “Yeah, thanks to Severus. But it was bad—the cut kept growing and she said her blood felt like it was burning.”


Tom glanced over towards Severus and asked, “Which curse was it?”


Severus nodded respectfully and said, “My Lord, it was a combination of a Blood Searing Curse and a Cutting Curse, activated by touch and designed to only target those who aren’t Pureblood.”


Tom gave Draco a very unimpressed look. “Draco, I believe I asked you to chaperone Miss Granger—to keep her safe and out of trouble while she is a guest here. And instead, you allowed her to pick up a cursed object?”


Draco paled and looked at the floor. “I’m sorry, My Lord.”


“It wasn’t his fault!” Harry cut in, his temper flaring again. “He did a spell to identify the cursed books, it just didn’t show all of them.”


“Oh,” Tom said in a falsely cheery voice that dripped with derision, “so then it wasn’t carelessness on his part, just incompetence. I’ll adjust his punishment accordingly.”


Draco paled even more, but Harry pointedly stepped between him and Voldemort.

“Harry, don’t,” Draco said under his breath, but Harry ignored it.


Harry gave Tom a furious look and said, “You blocked off our connection and then you ignored it when I made Draco call you through the Mark—Hermione suffered longer than she had to because of that. What kind of punishment does that earn you?”


Tom’s eyes narrowed and he took another step closer to Harry. “I am not,” he nearly hissed, “at your beck and call to clean up your messes. Don’t you dare presume to act as though I am.”


Harry took a step forward too, leaving only an arm’s length between them. “Don’t you dare say all the things you said last night and then shut me out for no reason!” Harry snapped back.


“My reasons are not your concern.”


Harry scoffed. “Beg pardon, but they very much are.”


Tom tilted his head slightly, then looked directly into Harry’s eyes and pressed in a bit with Legilimency.


Harry squeezed his eyes shut and reached for the Occlumency barriers Tom himself had created in Harry’s mind. “Stay out of my head,” Harry snapped, petulantly throwing Tom’s words from that morning back at him. He opened his eyes again but made sure to look at Tom’s shoulder instead of his face. “Just fucking ask me what you want to know.”


“Why does it bother you so much that I closed the connection?” Tom asked quietly.


Harry scoffed and said, “Besides the fact that Hermione might’ve died because I couldn’t contact you?” He paused, and when he continued it was in a much softer tone. “It feels like I’m missing a limb when I can’t feel you,” he confessed. He looked up into Tom’s eyes, tacitly giving him permission to check his mind for veracity. Tom did, but only for the briefest of moments before retreating and simply meeting Harry’s gaze.


With a nearly imperceptible sigh, Tom closed his eyes and then reopened their mental connection—not intruding, not prodding, just removing the barrier he’d placed between them.


Harry sighed in relief and swayed forwards towards Tom. He reached out, but Tom deftly side-stepped and instead went to Hermione’s side while Harry pulled himself together. “Thank you,” Harry said quietly after a moment. He finally glanced over and absently noticed the incredulous expressions both Severus and Draco wore after witnessing the argument.


Tom didn’t reply, instead saying, “She would recover more comfortably in her bed, I’m sure.” He lifted his wand and started the movement for a levitation spell, but he paused, seeming to sense something. He turned and asked Severus, “You used Essentia Instaurabus?”


“Yes, My Lord,” Severus answered, finally snapping out of his shock.


“Right,” Tom said, putting his wand away and instead bending down to carefully pick Hermione up in a bridal carry. Apparently sensing Harry’s concern over whatever that spell meant, Tom glanced at him and explained, “Essentia Instaurabus is a healing spell that puts someone into a magically induced sleep and continuously draws on their magical core until they’re completely healed. It’s inadvisable to use unnecessary magic on or around her until she wakes—it can disrupt the healing process.” Tom carried Hermione towards the door, and Harry hurried ahead of him to open it. “Come along, all of you,” he said over his shoulder, and Draco and Severus fell in line behind Tom and Harry.


“Draco?” Severus asked quietly. “Do you still have any of the Dittany salve I made for you?”


“Yes, Sir,” Draco answered just as quietly.


“Go and fetch it,” Severus instructed.


Draco nodded, and split away from the group.


“Bring it to my rooms,” Tom called after him.


“Yes, Sir,” Draco said again before turning a corner.


Tom, Harry, and Severus continued on, with Tom carrying Hermione in the lead and Harry and Severus following behind him.

They were silent until they descended the marble stairs to the second floor, then Tom suddenly asked, “What did it feel like, Severus, when Harry called for you? Was it different than when I call?”


Severus was quiet for a moment, then he replied, “When you call, the Mark burns. When Harry did, it was more like the buzz of an electrical shock.”


Harry blinked, then said, “I’m sorry—I didn’t know it would hurt you.”


Severus gave him an odd look, then said, “Don’t be stupid. It was only for a moment, and I’ve endured much worse than a little shock.”


“I know. I’m still sorry,” Harry said, meeting Severus’ eyes and trying to project his sincerity. Severus held the eye contact for a moment before simply nodding and looking away.


The three of them turned a corner and arrived in the corridor leading to Tom’s rooms. Tom approached the door, carefully shifted Hermione in his arms, then leaned the back of one of his hands against the door and hissed, “Open,” in Parseltongue. Then he prompted, “Harry?”


Harry opened the door, muttering, “Am I your doorman now?”


Tom sniped back, “Would you rather I drop her?” Then before Harry could get angry he quickly continued, “You’re the only other person authorized to open this door from the outside. If Severus tried, even after I’d unlocked it, the doorknob wouldn’t turn for him.”


“Oh,” Harry said, holding the door open for first Tom and then Severus to step through.


As Severus passed, he caught Harry’s eye and gave him a very pointed warning look, silently mouthing ‘Mind your tongue.’


Harry shook his head slightly, then confidently mouthed back, ‘It’s fine.’


Severus rolled his eyes skyward and continued walking past. Harry imagined Sev was cursing the day he’d sworn to protect such a headstrong brat—or maybe he was asking Lily’s spirit to give him the patience to go on. That second thought sobered Harry’s mood considerably, and as he closed the door he decided to make an effort to be more mature and patient while he tried to sort things out with Tom.


Harry glanced to the left—Hermione’s door was open and Tom was already tucking her carefully into her bed. Severus lingered in the doorway of the bedroom, and Harry walked over to stand next to him.


“You said she’ll sleep for two hours?” Harry asked.


“At least. She should wake fully recovered,” Severus replied.


“Thank you,” Harry said sincerely. “Really, Sev, I owe you.”


“No you don’t,” Severus said quietly. “I was only doing my duty.”


“Well, still, I’m extremely grateful. I’ll—I dunno—buy you an apothecary or something.”


Severus stared.


“Or not an apothecary,” Harry continued awkwardly, “if you want something else.”


Severus shook his head as though to clear it, then said in an odd tone, “Your father made me that exact same offer once.”


Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Why?”


“I think he thought owning a business would keep me from joining the Death Eaters.”


“I thought you hated each other, though.”


“We did. Mostly. It was complicated,” Severus said brusquely, looking away and folding his arms to signal an end to the conversation.


Tom was standing next to Hermione’s bed, his head tilted and his curious eyes fixed intently on Severus. “So many things you’ve managed to hide from me, Severus.” Evidently he’d gotten much more out of the brief exchange than Harry had. “I’ve never found anything other than hatred for James Potter in your mind.”


“Hatred is easy, and uncomplicated,” Severus replied quietly, sounding resigned to having been caught out, “and a very effective Occlumentic shield to hide other feelings behind.”


“Other feelings?” Harry asked, his eyebrows going up again.


Severus remained tellingly silent.


“You should tell him,” Tom suggested. “He gets furious when things are kept from him—he completely wrecked Dumbledore’s office once.”


Harry’s brow furrowed, because he didn’t remember telling Tom about that. Maybe it had leaked through their connection when it happened? Or maybe Tom had glimpsed it on one of his Legilimency dives into Harry’s mind?


“This hardly seems the appropriate time,” Severus said, waving a hand towards where Hermione slept, “and it’s a rather long story.”


“You said we’ve got at least two hours before Hermione wakes up,” Harry said, nervously running a hand through his hair.


Severus glanced at him and then quickly looked away, snapping, “Stop messing up your hair like that!”


Harry froze. “Oh, er, sorry.” He remembered how his dad had done that in the Pensieve memory, and while it wasn’t exactly the same gesture, apparently it was close enough to bother Severus. “I could, er, lose the glasses too. I mean, Tom fixed my eyesight so I don’t really need them anymore.” He took his glasses off, folded them closed, and hooked them over the neck of his tee-shirt.


“You what?” Severus said, looking back at Tom. “That’s an incredibly risky procedure that is only supposed to be attempted by specialist Healers.”


“You didn’t tell me it was that risky,” Harry said, glancing at Tom.


“It isn’t risky when I perform it,” Tom replied. “I’ve done it several times as a favor to supporters who couldn’t afford a specialist Healer. I could do the spell in my sleep.”


Harry stared at Tom for a moment longer before accepting his answer and turning back to Severus. “So why did my dad never fix his eyes? I know he could’ve afforded it.”


“One of the possible consequences of failure is permanent blindness,” Severus said. “He didn’t consider it worth the risk.”


Harry’s eyebrows went up. “I probably wouldn’t have either.”


Tom repeated, “There was no risk, Harry.” Then he walked towards the doorway, and Harry and Severus both moved aside so he could pass. Tom walked across the huge living room and picked up one of the wingback chairs by the fireplace, manually carrying it back to Hermione’s room and placing it next to her bed. Then he went back for the second one and brought it as well. Tom tilted his head suddenly, seeming to hear something no one else did. “Draco’s here,” he said, a mere moment before two loud knocks sounded on the door. Right—the proximity wards. “Let him in.”


Harry went over to the main door and opened it to admit Draco, who held up a jar of greenish salve with Severus’ spiky handwriting on the label. “Come on,” Harry said, closing the door. “She’s in here.”


He led Draco into Hermione’s room, past Severus who asked, “I trust you remember how to apply the salve?”


“Yes, Sir,” Draco said.


Harry’s stomach sank as he abruptly realized, “I never apologized for that, did I?”


Draco looked uncomfortable as he took a seat in the chair closes to Hermione and rolled up the sleeve of her injured arm. “Don’t worry about it, it’s in the past,” Draco told Harry.


Harry ignored that, sat down in the second chair, and said, “I am sorry, Draco. I didn’t know exactly what that spell would do, and if I had known then I never would’ve used it.”


Draco kept his eyes fixed on the jar of salve as he opened it. “Well I was about to throw a Crucio at you, so I think we’re even.”


“Would it have worked though?” Harry asked quietly.


Draco paused, and finally looked at Harry—albeit at his feet. “I’ve cast Unforgivables before, Potter.”


“But you have to mean them,” Harry said. “You told me you never really hated me.”


Draco scoffed and turned his attention back to the salve, gathering some on his fingers before carefully applying it to the reddened stripe of skin on Hermione’s hand and wrist. “Whatever. Apology accepted, as long as you’ll shut up about it.”


Harry smiled and said, “I think I can manage that.”


“While we’re at it,” Draco said, “sorry for stomping on your face on the train last year. I was—under a lot of stress at the time.”


“I know,” Harry said, patting Draco’s shoulder. “It’s forgiven.”


“Harry?” Tom said from the doorway. “We have a conversation to finish with Severus.”


“Oh, right,” Harry said, standing up.


“I’d like to stay until she wakes up, if that’s all right,” Draco said, glancing from Harry to Tom.


“Yeah,” Harry agreed right away.


“If you must,” Tom added.


Draco nodded to both of them and said, “Thank you,” before turning back and resuming his task of applying the salve to Hermione’s wrist. There was still a shadow of guilt in his expression as he did.


Harry headed for the door and Tom pulled it closed, casting a soundproofing spell between the two rooms.


“You aren’t to punish him for this,” Harry said immediately. “It wasn’t his fault to begin with, and he’s already punishing himself enough.”


Tom’s eyebrows went up, but then he schooled his expression and said coolly, “You aren’t to tell me how to discipline my followers.”


“Let me rephrase it then,” Harry said, “I know you’re not bat-shit insane anymore and so do they,” he said, gesturing vaguely from Severus to the closed door that hid Draco. “So handing Crucios out like candy isn’t going to increase anyone’s loyalty.”


“You know,” Tom said in a chilly tone, “for someone who insists I’m not insane, you certainly make a point of explaining the obvious rather often. As one would do for an insane person.”


“Well, sorry,” Harry said, “but you haven’t exactly made a lot of sense today.” He paused for a moment, then gathered his courage and asked in a rush, “What was that about, this morning?”


Tom met his eyes in silence for a moment before answering, “Not something I care to discuss in company.”


Harry glanced at Severus, who was sitting across the room at the breakfast table and watching the two of them with a cautious, curious expression. “Let Severus leave, then,” Harry suggested.


“No. I, for one, want to hear about the torrid affair with your father that he managed to hide from me for over twenty years.”


“I object to that description,” Severus spoke up.


“Then by all means, set the record straight,” Tom said, before smirking and adding, “figuratively, of course.”


Severus gave Tom a flat look, then tapped the tile in the center of the table with his wand. A bottle of Firewhisky and three whisky glasses appeared. “This conversation will require alcohol.”


“Naturally,” Tom said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder and guiding him to the table. They both sat down and Harry mourned the loss of contact when Tom pulled his hand back.


Severus opened the whisky bottle and poured each of them a generous glass. Tom slid one of the glasses to Harry and claimed one for himself. Severus took the third.


Tom drank first—it was the unwritten rule, of course, that Severus never would. Harry followed Tom’s lead, blinking a bit at the burn as the whiskey went down. Severus finally took a drink, then cleared his throat.


“So,” Severus said, in a tone that made it clear he wanted to be literally anywhere else, “you’ve both stumbled across the memory of the incident right after my OWLs, in which Potter Sr. dangled me upside down and threatened to take off my pants in front of a crowd.” Harry guiltily looked down at his drink and Severus continued, “Lily came to my defense, and to my eternal shame I lashed out and used a slur that she never entirely forgave me for.” Severus paused, perhaps to gather his thoughts, or perhaps just for dramatic effect. “What you don’t know, is that a few days after that incident, Lily went to Potter and told him all about my abusive home life, hoping that it would make him leave me alone.” Harry’s jaw dropped, because if he were Severus he would’ve been furious at her. Severus noticed Harry’s expression, nodded in his direction, and said, “Quite,” making Harry wonder if Sev had used Legilimency on him, or if his expression was simply projecting his feelings that obviously. “I still think spite was at least part of her motivation, but that’s irrelevant now. Potter—James,” he corrected, noticing how Harry kept twitching as if answering to his surname, “found me waiting for Lily outside the Gryffindor common room late that night, and he apologized, tried to be friendly to me. I didn’t believe a word of it and hexed him in the face before leaving—then I ran into Lily and she told me what she’d done. We argued,” Severus said, hesitating a moment before continuing, “and ended up shouting about some rather private things in the hallway, which James overheard because naturally he had followed me.”


Harry was dying to know what Sev meant by ‘rather private things’ but he didn’t quite dare to ask. Tom, however, had no such compunctions and asked “What private things?”


Severus uneasily glanced between Tom and Harry before staring back down at his glass and answering, “The fact that Lily and I were each other’s first.” Harry blushed and took a drink while Severus kept talking. “I’d expected James to be a complete arse about it, but instead he suggested that we take a Wizard’s Oath not to reveal each other’s secrets while we all still lived, and he offered up a secret of his own.”


“What was his secret?” Harry asked. “Or can you even tell me?”


“I can—we phrased the Oath in such a way that if one of us died, the others would only be bound to keep each other’s secrets. And as they’re both gone, I can speak freely,” Severus said, his tone clearly conveying that he wished it were otherwise. “James was bisexual,” he said, rather anticlimactically.


Harry blinked—yet another thing he had in common with his father. But, “Was he ashamed of it, or what?”


Sev waved a hand and elaborated, “No, but it was a bigger deal back then, especially for Purebloods. There was the expectation to marry and carry on the line, and male pregnancies have always been riskier and more complicated, so Pureblood families rather frowned upon their heirs turning out queer. Certain families still do.”


“What happened after the three of you made the Oath?” Tom asked, taking another drink.


Sev took a drink as well, then said, “Well, James seemed to grow a conscience overnight, and he made it his mission to befriend me and make up for everything he’d done. We became…very close,” Severus said pointedly. “He eventually convinced Lily to give me another chance, and then I convinced her to give him a chance—one thing led to another, and the three of us were together in secret for most of Sixth Year. It was,” he paused, took a deep breath, “the best year of my life. Probably the only time I was truly happy.”


Tom took another sip of whisky and stared at Severus with a fascinated expression. “I never saw even the barest hint of that in your mind, yet I can hear that you’re speaking the truth.”


Severus picked up his glass and raised it to Tom before drinking. “As I said, I hid it behind the memory of years of genuine hatred for James.”


“Fascinating,” Tom said, seeming to reevaluate his understanding of Occlumency—and of Severus himself—on the spot.


“What happened though?” Harry asked, feeling—as he had after Sev had shared his memories back at Grimmauld Place—once again like his entire perception of Severus Snape had been turned upside down.


Severus’ expression tightened, and he glanced at Tom before saying, “Our Seventh Year was when the war really ramped up. Choices had to be made, loyalties declared.”


“But,” Harry said, feeling wrong-footed and confused, “if you all loved each other, why would you—”


Severus sneered and interrupted, “Assuming it was all my fault, Potter?”


“I meant plural ‘you,’ the three of you, why would you pick different sides?” Harry asked.


“There was outside interference,” Sev said tersely. “Misinformation. Misunderstandings. I don’t care to go into detail.” He threw back the rest of his whiskey and stood.


“Did you, though?” Tom asked before Sev could walk away. “Love both of them?”


Sev froze, and the air in the room seemed to chill a few degrees as well. There was silence for a long moment, then Severus said, “That’s not something I care to discuss with the man who killed them.”


Unfazed, Tom continued, “I only wonder because you didn’t ask me to spare him. Just her.”


“Only because I knew you would flat-out refuse, especially after the Brighton incident—”


Tom’s mood darkened instantly and he interrupted, “We do not speak of the Brighton incident!” and Severus gave him a hint of a spiteful smirk.


“Well now I have to know,” Harry said.


“It was the third time your father defied me, and that’s all I’m saying on the matter,” Tom said curtly, folding his arms.


Harry turned a hopeful look towards Severus, but Sev merely said, “I’m forbidden from revealing the details, but it was truly Marauder worthy.”


Harry grinned, then gave Tom a half-teasing, half-pleading look and said, “Come on, Tom, tell me. I promise not to laugh…much.”


Tom shot a glare at Harry, then finished the rest of his whisky and slammed the glass down, standing abruptly. “I think not,” he said. “Have fun bonding with your honorary step-parent at my expense. I have better things to do,” he said coldly, heading for the door to the hallway.


“Tom, wait,” Harry called, but Tom ignored him and left, unabashedly slamming the door in his wake. Harry let out an exaggerated groan and buried his head in his arms on the table. “Damn it! I thought we were doing better,” he complained, “we were at least talking.”


“Trouble in paradise?” Severus asked sarcastically.


“Obviously,” Harry said. “He didn’t shut me out again this time, but I still have no clue what I did to upset him this morning. Hermione thinks he just needs space, but,” Harry trailed off, shrugging.


Severus was silent for a moment before drawling, “And I suppose you want advice from your ‘honorary step-parent’?”


Harry looked up hopefully. “Yes, please.”


Severus sighed, then sat back down at the table and said, “Fine. Tell me what happened.”


Harry repeated the summary he’d given Hermione and Draco, then asked Sev, “So? What do you think?”


Severus looked shocked, and he wasn’t even bothering to hide it very well. “Speaking from personal experience,” he said, after a long moment, “I think that what I’ve witnessed and what you’ve told me seems remarkably like what happens when someone who has always despised love as a weakness realizes that they’re falling rather irreversibly into it.”


Harry blinked. “What?”


Severus twitched his head and said, “I grew up listening to my mother claiming to love my father, even when he hit her, and hit me, and beat her nearly to death a few times before finally following through. I swore I would never give someone that kind of power over me. Then there was Lily—but Lily was safe, and kind, and good, she wasn’t anything like my father. But James was…dangerous. He had already hurt me and humiliated me repeatedly when we were nothing to each other—when we became friends and then more, and when I realized what I felt for him, I took a huge step back. I was distant, even cruel, trying to push him away to protect myself. Obviously it didn’t work, but—what you described happening between yourself and the Dark Lord sounds remarkably similar.”


“But,” Harry said, his heart pounding and his stomach swooping as though he’d just done a Wronski Feint, “you said he can’t love. He said he can’t love.”


“And I’m sure he wants to believe that, particularly when love is a such an unacceptable weakness.”


“But it’s not,” Harry argued.


“And yet it hurts, and it changes your priorities, and it can change the way you think and behave, and it gives someone else control and power over you—”


“What if I tell him first?” Harry interrupted. “So he’ll know he has the same power over me?”


Severus went silent and stared at Harry. “You’re joking, right?”


Harry shook his head, reached for the Firewhisky and poured himself another drink. “I know this is crazy, and I haven’t forgotten everything awful that he’s done, and I know it’s only been three days, but—” Harry trailed off, not wanting to say the actual words out loud yet—he wanted the first time he said it out loud to be to Tom himself—but he’d said quite enough for Sev to get the drift.


“Fuck’s sake, Harry,” Severus said, then took a long drink straight from the bottle.


Harry quickly finished his own glass to keep things fair. He coughed a bit after, then said, “It’s not like I wanted this to happen. Really it’s all Dumbledore’s fault, him and Grindelwald and their stupid fuck-or-die plan.”


“Yes, well,” Severus said, “their stupid fuck-or-die plan might’ve saved the world, if it’s somehow given the Dark Lord the capacity for empathy and love.”


Harry stared down at his empty glass. “Does that mean it’s not real, then, if he only feels that way because of the ritual? He told me his mum used a love potion on his dad, so he was born unable to love.”


Severus raised an eyebrow at the mention of love potions. “That particular assumption has been a matter of controversy for many years—the modern thinking is that it’s a combination of nature and nurture: children known to have been conceived under love potions statistically have a lower-than-normal capacity for empathy—when you add to that the inevitably toxic home life that results from one parent essentially raping the other and holding them prisoner with a potion, the combination tends to produce psychopaths at worst, and a legacy of domestic violence at best. It’s not that they’re unable to love, it’s that they never learned how.”


Harry tilted his glass and watched the few remaining drops of whisky slide from side to side. “Tom’s mum stopped giving his dad the potion after she was pregnant. She must’ve thought that he’d grown to actually love her, but he left first chance he got. She died giving birth to Tom.”


“Well,” Severus said somberly, “it’s no wonder he thinks love is a harbinger of doom.”


Harry glanced up to meet Sev’s eyes. “So what do I do?”


Severus looked at him for a long moment, then said, “I would advise against telling him how you feel just yet. Obviously he’s not ready to acknowledge his own feelings, let alone yours. But don’t let him push you away either—he’s going to keep distancing himself. Don’t allow it.”


“Is that how my dad worked things out with you?” Harry asked cautiously.


Severus took another drink from the bottle, then set it down and said decisively, “If you don’t mind, Harry, I’m well past my yearly quota for emotional sharing. Forgive me for not wanting to rip open even more old wounds.”


“Right, sorry,” Harry mumbled. “Wait—why’d you say so much about my dad in the first place when I said thank you?”


Severus sent a wary look towards Hermione’s closed door, then said, “I’ve dealt with a variation of that Muggleborn-targeting curse before…and I was nearly too late the first time.”


“My mum?” Harry guessed.


Severus nodded. “Seeing it again brought old memories too close to the surface, and I made the mistake of saying too much and piquing the Dark Lord’s curiosity.”


Harry was quiet for a moment before saying, “I’m glad you told me.”


Severus nodded, then stood and said, “I’m going to go check on my patient,” gesturing towards Hermione’s door.


“All right.” Harry stood as well, nodded towards the door to the hallway and said, “I’m going to go not let Tom distance himself.” Then, on impulse, he stepped forward and pulled Severus into a hug.


Severus tensed up, then said, “Stop doing that, Potter. It’s years too late for me to be any kind of a parent to you.”


“Just let me have this, Sev,” Harry said, not letting go.


Severus sighed, but finally lifted his arms to hug Harry back briefly. “There, now let go.”


Harry did, grinning despite Severus’ prickly attitude. Severus turned and swept towards the door to Hermione’s room.


“Go easy on Draco, will you?” Harry called after him. “He’s blaming himself for Hermione getting hurt.”


“Don’t tell me how to deal with my godson,” Severus replied, but there was a lack of any real bite to it, so Harry chose to take that as a good sign. Severus ducked into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.


Harry took a deep breath, then headed for the main door. He opened it, stepped into the hallway, then immediately froze.


Tom was sitting at the round table in the hallway, bent over a worn-looking book. Harry took a cautious step towards him—he had thought he would have more time to mentally prepare.


“So, er,” Harry said eloquently, “this is your ‘better things to do’?”


Tom didn’t deign to look up from his book. “I’m researching our Obliviation problem, so yes, it is.”


“Any luck?” Harry asked, sitting down in the other chair.


Still without looking up, Tom reached over for a different open book, and spun it around to face Harry. “Left hand page, second paragraph,” Tom said shortly.


Harry peered down at the paragraph and read aloud, “While Obliviation is irreversible without causing debilitating damage to the mind, a sufficiently skilled Legilimens or Occlumens can resist Oblivation at the moment of casting by deliberately burying certain memories in the subconscious. These protected memories will surface at a later date, usually through dreams, déjà vu, or moments of unexplained knowledge during which the Wizard knows information without knowing how or why he is so certain of its validity.”


“Must you read out loud like a Neanderthal?” Tom sniped, still not looking away from his own tome.


“I don’t think Neanderthals had books. Or language, for that matter,” Harry said, reminding himself not to let Tom get under his skin, not to let him push him away.


Tom slammed his book closed and Harry winced. Apparently being a smart-arse was the wrong move.


Without a word, Tom stood and started to walk away. “Fuck,” Harry muttered. He scrambled to follow Tom, jogging a bit to catch up and frantically wondering what the hell he was supposed to do. He stepped in front of Tom, blocking his path, and made a split-second decision. “Fine,” Harry said, “we’ll do this your way.” Then he dropped to his knees in front of Tom.


Tom froze, looking properly shocked, then he demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?”


“Apologizing,” Harry said simply. “I still don’t know what the hell I did wrong, but whatever it was that upset you so much, I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you?”


He reached for the button of Tom’s trousers, but Tom seized his hand and stared down at him. Harry chanced a look up, and was relieved to see Tom’s expression softening. Harry made a bid for the trouser button with his other hand, but Tom captured that one too. Then he sighed and pulled Harry to his feet. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Harry,” he said, sounding tired and a bit guilty and impossibly fond.


Harry immediately took the opportunity to glomp onto Tom in a tight hug, relishing the closeness and the happy buzzing of their connection that always started up when they touched. Then Tom wrapped his arms around Harry to return the hug, and the connection didn’t just buzz, it sang.


Harry sighed, letting out a breath he felt like he’d been holding all morning, and said, “This is better than fighting, isn’t it? Better than space. Just—us, together. The rest doesn’t matter.”


Tom looked down at him, brushing a lock of hair out of Harry’s face. “You’re barely making sense.”


“It only has to make sense to us,” Harry said, a bit of desperation in his tone as he tried to say more than what he was saying without saying anything that Tom wasn’t ready to hear. He wasn’t quite sure that he succeeded, but since Tom was leaning down to kiss him, Harry counted it as a win.


When their lips met, it felt like coming home to Hogwarts after a summer of hell, like casting a Patronus for the first time, like real food after three days locked in his cupboard, like the first time flying with nothing beneath him but shadows and Dark magic—they both pulled back at the same moment, realizing that their memories and emotions had begun to blur through their connection without either of them consciously intending it.


“That was unexpected,” Tom said cautiously.


Harry nodded his head and leaned in again. “It was us. It was perfect.” He kissed Tom, longer and deeper this time, burying both hands in Tom’s impeccable hair.


Far too late, he heard the footsteps approaching from around the corner, followed by a choked-off noise of surprise.


Harry reluctantly pulled away from Tom and turned around to find a rather shocked Lucius Malfoy staring at the two of them.


“Lucius,” Tom said coldly.


“My Lord,” Lucius said uncertainly, “sorry to…interrupt.”


“Explains a lot, doesn’t it?” Harry asked cheekily.


Tom flicked Harry’s ear and said, “Behave,” then bluntly asked Lucius, “What do you want?”


Lucius cleared his throat, and a hint of annoyance crept into his expression when he said, “I was hoping that someone—perhaps Mr. Potter here—could explain why there is a herd of Weasleys outside my front gate demanding entry.”


Harry blinked, remembered the letter, then glanced guiltily at Tom and said, “Oops?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“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.”


“That’s nice.”


“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?”


“Precisely.”


“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?”


“Yep.”


“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.


“Ron, w—?”


“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.”


“Where’s Sev?”


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.”


“What?”


“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 that 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.”


“Check what?”


“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.


“What plan?”


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.


“Okay.”


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.”


“Even better.”


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.


Nothing happened.


“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.”