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What He Grows To Be

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He was floating in the fog of numbness, his mind an empty, shell-shocked place incapable of rational thoughts. There were faded and fleeting images of destruction, of blood and death, of people and the universe itself falling to his feet, victims to his hopeless rage, but even they didn’t evoke a reaction. He didn’t know what they were. He couldn’t focus. The world was gone, so maybe he was gone, too. It certainly felt like it.

A soft voice started to break into the vacant space. At first, Tom ignored it. It was too quiet to truly shake the stupor surrounding him, and he had no desire to react.

But something kept happening. The voice grew more urgent, calling him by name, repeating it louder and louder, and the more it spoke, the more familiar it sounded. Finally, its volume gained a recognisable shape, and the ripples of cognizance tore through Tom’s blank mind, shattering the nothingness.

Slowly, painfully so, he became aware of his surroundings. The room — Harry’s room, he had come here himself, yes, where else would he be…

Harry.

Harry, dead. Dead. Motionless, with his eyes empty and unbearably indifferent, ignoring him, leaving him for good.

In an instant, the air was gone again, and Tom drew in a sharp, desperate breath, clutching his head, a howl of fury blocking his throat.

“Tom!” Someone’s hands grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him lightly. “Tom, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”

…What?

No. This had to be an illusion. Harry could no longer speak, could he? He was gone. Tom had seen that. He checked his heartbeat and there was nothing there, nothing but silence.

“Tom!”

But the voice was so familiar. It sounded real, and the touch was also real, there was no denying it.

Warily, Tom raised his head, and then he forgot all about the lack of oxygen. Harry was looking at him, his green eyes wide and worried, his lips parted, with the air flowing in and out.

Alive. He looked alive.

“What happened?” Harry’s voice was desperate. His hands kept sliding over Tom’s shoulders to his back restlessly, going up to his head and obviously searching for invisible injuries. “Did someone curse you? Are you hurt?”

Tom blinked at him, uncomprehending. What was… Was Harry a ghost? But if so, where was the body? And his hands felt so warm, like they always did. Like nothing was wrong, like the last minutes — or was it hours? — hadn’t happened.

“But it’s impossible,” he whispered, and Harry leaned closer.

“What’s impossible?” he asked urgently. “What’s going on?”

“You died.”

Harry recoiled, his mouth falling open. A strange sort of understanding flashed in his eyes before he lowered them, shaking his head.

“I was just unconscious,” he said, still without looking up. “I’m sorry you witnessed it.” Then his gaze flew back to Tom. “Was it all that happened? You weren’t hurt, were you? Because you were unresponsive. I’ve never seen you in such state before.”

Tom shook his head, refusing to accept it. Such things didn’t happen. Those who died couldn’t come back.

“You died,” he said again, his voice hoarse and shaken. “I saw it. I felt it. You were dead.”

Harry took his hand and gently put it to his neck, to the vibrating pulse point.

It was moving. His heart was beating.

A muffled, terrible sound escaped Tom’s lips, and then he fell into Harry’s embrace, his lips and his nose pressing against his neck, frantic to keep sensing his pulse, the proof of life vibrating in him.

“Tom,” Harry whispered, his own lips buried in Tom’s hair and his voice subdued. “I’m sorry. This was never supposed to happen, I don’t understand it myself, not entirely. I think I just fell and hit my head. It still hurts like hell.”

His head? Tom had nearly broken through his temples in an attempt to capture his fleeing mind, of course his head hurt. It still didn’t explain anything.

But right now, he didn’t want to bother with explanations. His world narrowed down to a quiet, steady pulsing, and he concentrated on it, breathing the smell of Harry’s skin in greedily.

Alive. He was alive. Still alive, still his. It was everything he needed to know.

Time slowed again. Harry’s heartbeat, his warmth and his scent were the only pillars holding this new world, and Tom didn’t care about anything else.

When he looked up after what seemed like eternity, he found himself lying on Harry’s bed, still entwined with him. Harry’s hands were rubbing soothing patterns into his back. The daylight was gone, so it had to be at least after six. He’d lost hours.

“All right?” Harry whispered hoarsely. “I can bring you a calming draught if you want.”

“No!” Tom’s grip immediately tightened in panic. “You won’t leave me!”

“I wasn’t going to. We can go together. What do you think?”

Tom considered this but then he shook his head again.

“I don’t want it,” he muttered. “I don’t want to go anywhere.”

“That’s fine, too,” Harry heaved a sigh, continuing his gentle movements. “Are you ready to talk?”

He wasn’t sure. His thoughts were still too slow and the panic refused to dissipate completely, leaving him feeling vulnerable and unlike himself.

“You were dead,” Tom’s knuckles whitened as he clenched Harry’s ridiculous shirt in his fist. “I tried to bring you back but I failed.”

“If I were dead then, I wouldn’t be alive now,” Harry pointed out.

“I’m not crazy!”

“Of course you aren’t, but you were frightened, Tom. It must have been a shock to find me like this.”

These words made sense. Could he really have worked himself up into such a state that he imagined Harry dead? Was it possible?

It had to be, considering that Harry was lying here and that his heart was beating. Tom could still taste it on his lips.

A tight, terrible knot in his chest finally loosened, and Tom pressed his mouth back to Harry’s throat, counting his pulse again. He wanted to lick it, to absorb its warmth, but even with the mess reigning in his head, he understood that he couldn’t. Maybe later, when Harry was sleeping.

“How could this have happened?” he asked quietly. “You said you fell.”

There was a pause.

“I was clumsy,” Harry said lightly. “I didn’t watch where I was going and I must have stumbled. Cracked my head against the windowsill.”   

A windowsill. He had nearly lost Harry because of a windowsill.

Hot, blind rage stirred up again, and Tom pulled back, staring.

This was unacceptable. All of this. Other people could fall to their death, or kill themselves, or get killed by someone, but not Harry, never Harry, never again. There had to be a solution, something he could use to protect him. Honestly, he should have thought of it much sooner.  

“I’m going to make you immortal,” he blurted out, and Harry froze. He didn’t laugh, at least, so it wasn’t the worst reaction. “Yes,” Tom continued more confidently. “I will make you immortal. I’ll do research and I’ll find a way. You’ll have to stay safe until then.”

Harry shook his head so violently that Tom let out a distressed noise, reaching out for him.

“Don’t move too much!” he hissed. “You might have a concussion. Be still.”

“No immortality,” Harry told him, and the harshness of his voice was so unusual that Tom frowned. “Promise me that you won’t research this topic, Tom. There is nothing good to be found there.”

“I don’t need it to be good, I need it to be effective. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Harry’s gaze softened again and he brushed his fingers against Tom’s cheek.

“Nothing will happen to me,” he whispered. “I swear to you. And when you are twenty, I will tell you what I know about immortality. Deal?” 

Tom scoffed. What could Harry possibly know about this topic?

But the way he was looking at him… after what happened, he couldn’t refuse. Even if he wasn’t going to keep his word.

“All right,” Tom nodded. “I promise.”

Harry smiled, relieved and beautiful, and a surge of adoration that hit him was so powerful that Tom’s heart jerked in his chest, trying to break through it and jump into Harry’s.

He wanted something. He wanted something he couldn’t define yet — he craved it, even. He…

Suddenly remembering what he’d done today, Tom straightened. A gleeful current of satisfaction ran through his body as he took out a ring from his pocket.

“What is it?” Harry peered at him curiously but Tom didn’t reply. Taking Harry’s hand in his, he slipped a ring on his finger, watching how it immediately took on a required size. Harry’s eyes widened.

“Wow,” he said, lifting his hand to take a better look. “It looks amazing. And expensive. Is it for me?”

“Of course it’s for you. I’m not a Gryffindor, or have you forgotten?” Tom took Harry’s hand in his again, marvelling at how exquisite the ring looked on it. The lion was garish and loud, but Harry would definitely like it. Good thing that Charlus hadn’t bought a ring with the symbol of his girlfriend’s House because it would be harder to explain it.

“Tom, I don’t know what to say.” Harry looked awe-struck and Tom drank in his expression. A dark and primal sense of triumph reared its head in him at the sight of Harry wearing something he had procured, looking happy and pleased because of him.

“Where did you get it?”

“I was saving money,” Tom replied. “I made arrangements with several people from my House. Since they owed me favours, it helped to speed the process up.”

“But it must cost a fortune.”

“You got me an expensive gift, too. And besides, I wanted you to have it. It’s a family gift.”

He meant the Potters but he knew Harry would understand it differently.

Just as he’d thought, Harry’s eyes went bright, and the smile that shone on his face was so touched and excited that Tom found himself mesmerised.

“Thank you,” Harry said, stretching his fingers and looking at the ring again. “I will always treasure it. It means more than I could ever explain.” Then he pulled Tom into his arms, his embrace familiar and warm, and Tom curled up on his chest, content with listening to the steady heartbeat.

Immortality. He would have to look into it. Maybe Hogwarts library had something. He would have to go to the Restricted Section, such books were likely to be deeply hidden, but he had time. Whatever madness had happened to him today, it wasn’t real. Harry was alive and well, and Tom was warned now. Death was an enemy and he would fight it until he defeated it. Harry would live forever, whether he wanted it or not, and the sooner the better.

In an hour, Harry finally persuaded him to get out of the bed. They had a brief supper, with Tom watching every Harry’s movement like a hawk, and then they were back to the bedroom. Harry looked pale and tired despite having spent hours lying down, so maybe he did have a concussion. Tomorrow morning, Tom would go to their lab to prepare the potions, but today, he wouldn’t leave Harry’s side, not for a second.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. Harry was already falling asleep, unable to keep his eyes open.

“Good,” he muttered. “Just a little strange. As if I’m here and not here at once. I don’t know how to describe it.”

Tom tensed and Harry squinted at him.

“It’s all right,” he repeated. “I’m sure I’ll feel fine in the morning. I told you I’m not going anywhere and that’s a promise I intend to keep. Tell me about your day.”

“I already told you about it.”

“Tell me again. You sounded happy. I like seeing you happy.”

A wave of aching tenderness made Tom shiver from its unusual warmth, and he pushed himself closer to Harry, taking his hand with the ring.

“I will talk but you will sleep,” he ordered. “You have to regain your strength after that ridiculous fall.”

Harry murmured something in agreement, closing his eyes again, and Tom adjusted his position.

“I met my friends in Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. They didn’t want ice cream because of the weather but I ate some.”

“’Course you did. You have an enormous sweet tooth.”  

“Sleep,” Tom commanded sternly. Harry fell silent. “We talked about homework and holidays. I helped them with Charms because they are all abysmal at it. Then I took a walk with one of them. He got himself a girlfriend recently. He’s the one I made a deal with: I retrieved a letter from her for him and he helped me obtain the ring.”

“It’s a beautiful ring,” Harry sighed. “It reminds me of home. I can imagine what Ron and Hermione would say. They’d think it was too pompous but they wouldn’t mind me wearing it just for the thrill of witnessing Malfoy’s reaction. Me and this very pureblood ring…”

“Your home is with me,” Tom hissed, infuriated. If these Ron and Hermione ever came back, he would make it his priority to get rid of them.

“It is now,” Harry agreed, and just like that, the thick tension left him. Tom relaxed again, stroking the ring in satisfaction.

He resumed talking, inventing more and more new details, and soon, Harry was sleeping soundly, his face calm and innocent. Wordlessly, Tom watched him, and all his attempts to identify the strange flutter in his chest led to nothing.

Harry was his, he knew that much. And his things had to live forever. Tom couldn’t have been the only one to think about immortality, but he had an advantage that others didn’t: he was better than them. He was smart and he had a myriad of potential connections with the darkest families of Britain. When he proved his power, everyone would fall over themselves, trying to gain favour with him. They would give him access to the darkest books, and at least one of them had to have the information he needed.

Tom’s eyes fell on the photos standing near Harry’s bed. His friends, a group of people, and his parents. Fleamont Potter seemed happy, holding the long-haired woman. A Muggle or a Muggle-born? Could the pictures of Muggles move if they were depicted with the wizards? And how could Harry keep this picture, how could he treasure it when he knew that his parents had abandoned him, leaving him with abusive Muggle relatives?

Harry had a soft heart, Tom knew it well. But there was also a note of steel about him that left Tom wary.

Harry wouldn’t be pleased if he learned the truth about Charlus. He might attempt to give him away again and this was something Tom couldn’t allow. He doubted Harry would suspect him in any way even if he heard about the murder, but it was better to keep him away from the newspapers for as long as he could. Later, Harry would forget the details about Tom’s visit to Diagon Alley, so he wouldn’t connect the dots even if some news reached him.

For now, he had to hide, but with time, he would get rid of his mask. He just had to wait until Harry was truly incapable of leaving him, until the thoughts of his other home didn’t even cross his mind. Then he would be safe to be who he was.

Tom brushed a strand of hair from Harry’s forehead, revealing his faded scar. The warmth radiating off his skin was so inviting that Tom pressed his lips to it, then dropped another kiss lower, on Harry’s closed eyelids. 

Alive and warm and his. Just as he wanted it.

Carefully, Tom crawled under Harry’s arm and put it around his waist, entwining their fingers together. Then he let himself fall asleep.

 

***

In the morning, Tom was the first to wake up. After checking Harry’s pulse and making sure he was breathing, he came downstairs and retrieved the newspaper dropped next to their door. Charlus’ murder made the front page and Tom basked in the knowledge that he was the one to make it happen. With a smirk, he studied the photos of Charlus’ distraught parents. The screaming and wailing woman made his smirk widen but the man made him pause.

He resembled the person on Harry’s photo but he appeared to be much older. Interesting. Was it the forced breakup with his lover that made him age so quickly? It served him right. Tom would have liked nothing better than to devise some new torture for him, such as locking him in the room with a fresh body of his son and driving him mad, but dreams had to stay dreams for now. He was limited in what he could do.

Disposing of the newspaper, Tom made breakfast. Then he went upstairs to wake Harry up.

 

***

For the next two days, everything was going well. Tom monitored how Harry ate, how he rested and how he slept. He was always nearby, watching so that nothing happened to him, but on the third day, he woke up alone. Harry wasn’t in bed any longer and his side was cold.

He must have woken up first, that’s all. It wasn’t surprising, considering that Tom had spent the majority of the night staring at him and watching him breathe. He fell asleep only in about five in the morning, so he must have overslept and missed Harry leaving.

Still, his heart began to pound at a sickening rate, and Tom nearly fell from the bed in his haste to get downstairs.

Harry was there. He was there but something was wrong, and a cold sensation of terror kicked into Tom’s stomach, knocking the air right out of his lungs.

“What’s wrong?” he blurted out, dropping next to where Harry was sitting and grabbing his face. “Harry!”

Harry’s skin was grey and his gaze was unseeing. The only visible sign of life was his moving chest and Tom latched onto this one constant, trying to absorb the certainty of it to quench his fear.

“What’s wrong!” he demanded again. His voice became high-pitched but he barely noticed it. “Answer me!”

Harry flinched, raising his head, and the light of rationality returned to his eyes, making Tom nearly collapse from relief.

“Tom?” Harry asked hoarsely. “Sorry, I didn’t realise you woke up.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked for the third time, somewhat more calmly. “Do I need to get someone?”

“No. No, it’s all right,” Harry rubbed his reddened eyes with shaking hands. “I’ve learned bad news, that’s all.”

Bad news?

Oh. Was all of this just because of Charlus Potter?

The terror retreated to its sleeping place and Tom relaxed. His lips twitched in a smile but at the last moment, he managed to hold it off.

It’s not like Harry had even known this insignificant boy. This couldn’t be such a tragedy to him. Maybe he thought it was — he was vulnerable like this, but it wasn’t real, so it couldn’t last long.

“What kind of bad news?” Tom asked, putting the required amount of concern into his voice. Harry clutched his hand like it was his only anchor to reality and Tom basked in a quick flash of triumph this knowledge brought to him.

“Someone I know… someone I hoped to know was murdered. I never talked to him myself but I thought… I expected… I loved him. I loved what he was supposed to—” Harry stopped talking, shaking his head, and Tom frowned when he saw the frustrated tears crawling down his cheeks.

Harry was being irrational. How could he love someone he had never met? The only person who was with him and who he was allowed to love was Tom. It was unfortunate that he hadn’t caught up on it yet.

“How do you know this person was murdered?” Tom asked.

“I went to buy you a surprise breakfast. Two women were talking. I didn’t even look at the newspapers these last days, so I had no idea he—” Harry pursed his lips, and Tom watched, fascinated, as more tears fell. An unlikely duet of dissatisfaction and pleasure battled for dominance somewhere in his stomach, and no matter how long the fight lasted, none of them won.

Tom disliked seeing Harry upset. Perhaps even hated it. At the same time, he couldn’t deny that the sight of his tears was beautiful, ethereally so, and that the feeling they evoked in him wasn’t altogether distasteful. 

He supposed it depended on a reason. Harry had no right to cry for Charlus Potter, a boy he didn’t know, a boy who was never worthy of him. Would he cry for his father, too, when he died?

No matter. Tom would be there to support and comfort him.

He reached out for Harry, hugging him, and a smile did touch his lips when Harry sagged, almost melting in his arms.

“He was killed near the Diagon Alley,” Harry whispered. “On the same day you went there.”

Tom’s heart stopped. The blood roared in his ears, the sound of it deafening, paralysing him to the bones. His body suddenly felt like it weighted a ton, but then Harry continued, and the terror was miraculously lifted off him.

“I don’t want you to go somewhere without me for a while. At Hogwarts, if you go to Hogsmeade, make sure you are with someone — professors or your friends. Anyone. Do you promise me?”

“Of course,” Tom purred, putting his head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry didn’t suspect him. Harry thought Tom himself might be in danger. His voice had a grim note of a real suspicion and Tom would love to know what he was thinking, who he was suspecting, but regretfully, asking these questions was too dangerous. He doubted Harry would think about his involvement but no curiosity was worth this risk.

“The war might be coming sooner than I expected,” Harry murmured, burying his face in Tom’s shoulder. “It could have started differently this time. I could have changed something fundamental and now…”

“You’ll be all right,” Tom said when Harry didn’t continue, hoping he didn’t sound too patronising. “I’ll make sure of it. I will make you happy.”

Harry laughed shakily but didn’t protest.

They stayed like this for a while, and Tom felt better than he had in days.

Harry would be well soon, and eventually, he would understand and accept Tom’s gift. And then all masks would fall.

 

***

 

When time to return to Hogwarts came, Tom felt strangely reluctant. Parting with Harry had never appealed to him, but doing it now crossed the verge of uncomfortable and entered the area of being absolutely intolerable. That was how he found himself standing frozen on the platform, clutching Harry’s hand in his and unable to let go.

“Everything will be fine,” Harry told him, as if reading his thoughts. “Focus on your studies, enjoy the time with your friends. We will see each other soon enough.”

“Six months isn’t soon enough,” Tom said petulantly.

“Time will fly when you are in Hogwarts. It always does.”

“Not to me.”

Harry sighed, threw a quick look around them and pulled Tom closer to him.

“What are you worried about?” he asked. “Is this about what happened? I’m fine, you know I am.”

Tom didn’t want to reply to him — he looked weak as it was, but the words still escaped him before he could hold them back, “What if it happens again?”

“What if I manage to fall and repeatedly crack my head?” Harry chuckled, ruffling his hair, and Tom wanted to be annoyed at him for making him look untidy but couldn’t. “Even I’m not that clumsy. I’ll be fine.”

Tom bit his lip, dropping his gaze to his feet.

Harry was right and he was being ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as when he’d thought Harry was dead when he was just unconscious. But that sight still felt so achingly real… Tom shuddered, trying to force the unwanted images out of his head, and Harry squeezed his shoulders.

“You know that I love you, don’t you?” he asked. Tom nodded. He had doubts about how far this love could stretch but he knew Harry loved him. He had to. “That means I want you to be happy. And with how you reacted when you thought I died… I understand that I’m also important to you. Maybe even very important.”

Tom flushed but said nothing, and Harry’s gaze caressed him like he was seeing right through him.

“I never want you to be miserable,” Harry whispered. “And if I have to stay alive for that, I will. I swear to you that nothing will happen to me. If you don’t trust me to take care of myself for me, trust me that I will do that for you.”

Tom exhaled sharply and before he knew it, he was clinging to Harry pathetically, trying to absorb every part of him into himself.

“I’ll hold you to this promise,” he murmured. Harry hadn’t gotten over Charlus’ death yet, not completely, but Tom hoped that between writing to him and the students coming for lessons, Harry wouldn’t have time to wallow in depression. “And you will reply to my letters as soon as you get them.”

“I’m sure that your demon bird will leave me with no choice anyway, so don’t worry, it won’t be a problem.”

Tom let himself enjoy the embrace for a while longer before finally pulling back, tracking every shift on Harry’s face obsessively.

He had to wait just for several years. He would know how to make Harry immortal then and there would never be a reason to worry. The world would belong to them and they would rule it together, side by side. Harry would have forgotten Charlus’ name by then, and ideally, he would have reclaimed the Potters’ fortune.

Time was his biggest ally.  

 

Fifteen minutes later, Tom was sitting in the compartment with Avery, Black, Lestrange, and Mulciber, observing them joke and act stupid with cold eyes.

“Gryffindor and Ravenclaw are the new enemies!” Lestrange said excitedly. “The Aurors think Amber Steins, Potter’s girlfriend, has something to do with his death because his parents claim he went to meet her. Steins’ family refuses to comment, though.”

“Steins’ family is a disgrace,” Mulciber grimaced, chewing on a sugar quill. “They would benefit from the alliance with Potters, so I don’t think they were involved.”

“Steins’ mother has extremist views about the purebloods, so maybe she was against her daughter dating an heir of a traditionally pureblood family.”

“Tom, what do you think about it?” Black turned to face him.

“Yes, what do you think?” Lestrange seconded. “You did hear about Potter’s murder, didn’t you?”

Tom put down the book he was pretending to read, sending them a mysterious smile.  

“I did,” he replied casually. “I dare say I know more about it than you or the Prophet. Or the Steins.”

The compartment was immersed into a long silence as four pairs of eyes stared at him, obviously trying to figure out what he meant. If Tom had to bet, he would pick Black as someone who would come to the correct conclusion fastest. He was relatively intelligent and outspoken enough to voice his guesses.

Just as he’d thought, Black was the first to talk.

“Are you saying you had something to do with it?” he asked carefully. Lestrange’s eyes widened in shock and excitement, and even Mulciber and Avery looked awed.

“I’m not saying anything,” Tom replied, but his smile grew wider and Avery let out a quiet gasp.

“Will you tell us?” he implored.

“Don’t be an idiot, of course he won’t,” Black said, staring at Tom speculatively. Tom met his gaze, holding it.

“I trust that your theories won’t reach other students,” he uttered after a moment, and was treated to four identical nods.

He couldn’t trust them yet, neither to keep quiet nor to notice and escape manipulation of adults who might want to extract information from them. Instead, he would give them a few veiled hints and see what happened. If anyone questioned him because of this conversation, he would have to pretend being a fool that wanted to look intimidating and secretive. But Tom had a feeling that his allies would keep their word.

This would be a test, and if they failed it, they would have to face the consequences.

 

***

He had warned Black, Mulciber, Lestrange, and Avery against sharing his careful hint with students, but he had deliberately omitted their families. This very night, Apophis brought him the letter Black tried to send to his parents, and Tom took care to get it out of the envelope without damaging it.

Tom has indicated that he might be the one behind Potter’s murder,’ Black had written. ‘I’m inclined to believe him. I also think that this murder has something to do with his guardian. Many assume that Harry Potter isn’t related to the Potters and merely shares the last name with them but I think differently. There is some story there, and physical resemblance is something to consider, too.

Tom is obsessed with his guardian. I observed them together on the platform and I was left with the impression that he has deep feelings for him. He would kill for him, I don’t doubt it.

You may think that Harry Potter is the mastermind behind Potter’s murder but I don’t consider this a valid option. He didn’t strike me as anyone but a typical Gryffindor in those brief moments I watched him. Tom, on the other hand, is something else. You would be very pleased to meet him. His influence is already growing — everyone has noticed how Lestrange, Avery, and Mulciber follow his every word even more intensely than before, and everyone is intrigued. None of them will know what Tom has done but they will still know he’s done something.’

Satisfied, Tom re-packed the letter and nodded at Apophis, indicating that it could be passed back to Black’s owl. Then he returned to the room, hiding a smirk at how the Slytherins immediately fell silent, staring at him with avid curiosity.

He had missed Hogwarts. He missed being in the centre of attention of so many people. He missed the feeling of power that came only with the ability to control and affect someone so thoroughly, so completely. In a way, it was almost as enticing as that short moment of euphoria he’d felt when killing Charlus. Pity it didn’t last. Maybe if he prolonged the murder next time, it would be more entertaining.

That night, Tom went to bed holding the locket in his hand. He thought about Charlus’ face as he realised he was dying, about the small but fascinating spasms that were rolling through his body, about his pathetic, weak whimpering. Still, when he fell asleep, Harry was the only thing he dreamed of.

 

***

“He’s teaching Marlissa. She loves him to death, mother told me she wants to have even more lessons with him! Can you imagine Marlissa wanting to study anything? This Harry Potter must be a miracle-worker.”

“Excuse me?” Tom, who had been forced to listen to this inane conversation due to its close proximity, perked up. The girls looked at him and their eyes grew predictably round.

“Tom!” one of them exclaimed in delight. “We were just discussing your guardian.”

What an idiot. As if he hadn’t heard them mention Harry’s name already.

“What about him?” Tom put on one of his disarming smiles, knowing what effect it was supposed to produce. The girl — Hannah, he recognised her now, immediately smiled back, as if unable to help herself.

“He is teaching my younger sister Marlissa magic,” she explained. “When you recommended him as a tutor, many families booked his services. Marlissa barely got a place and now he’s the only thing she’s talking about! He’s a truly good teacher if he managed to hold her attention for more than a minute.”

Tom’s smile stayed on his face only due to the sheer force of his will. A dark, ominous shape began to form somewhere above his heart, making his magic thrum in disgust.   

He forgot. How could he have forgotten? Harry had taken on students just like he’d planned. It seemed like a good idea initially, but Tom had failed to consider one simple fact: he wasn’t there to supervise them. Now he was stuck in Hogwarts while Harry entertained some other children, sharing his knowledge, limited as it was, his unique patience, his kindness and humour. How many students did he even have? Why hadn’t he spoken of them in his letters?

“You are so lucky to have him as your guardian,” Hannah sighed dreamily. “I wish I could study with him, too.”

“Oh?” Tom continued to smile, even though his lips began to hurt from the effort. “Are you dissatisfied with the level of teaching Hogwarts provides?”

“Well, not exactly, but it’s much more exciting to be studying with a tutor, don’t you think? Marlissa told me he’s charming and that he always lets her stay after lessons for a while.”

Tom clenched his hands into fists under the table, and maybe his face finally revealed some of his true emotions because Hannah suddenly pulled back, looking wary.

“I’m glad your sister is enjoying her lessons,” Tom said pleasantly, and Hannah’s posture relaxed again. She opened her mouth to say something but Tom already turned away, determined to ignore her.

He was being irrational. Of course Harry was working with students — this was the only way he could earn money without doing something humiliating. And of course Harry, being who he was, took his job seriously and entertained these worthless little worms even after the lessons ended. Tom couldn’t begrudge him that.

But the shadow continued to expand, slowly sucking out every positive feeling he had, leaving him with bitter, poisonous void.

It wasn’t acceptable, he saw it now. This work could only ever be a short-term solution, so Tom would have to come up with another one soon. Harry was strange: he was simultaneously the most social and antisocial person Tom had ever seen. He seemed perfectly content with staying home with him, spending the majority of the years this way, but if they went out and encountered someone, Harry laughed, chatted, and refused to shut up to finally end the boring conversation. If he had a chance, like he did now, he would probably surround himself with many more people and he would dedicate his attention to each of them, leaving Tom with the scraps.

Tom had to take this chance from him, then. He would either find Harry some other job or he would start making money himself, and the moment it happened, he would be getting rid of all the potential threats. Harry’s social side had to be subdued and preferably eliminated because Tom hated it, and what he hated was to be destroyed.  

A potion that would leave him temporarily mute? Harry wouldn’t be talking to others in such state, would he? But no, too risky. Harry would figure this one out soon. Making him an outcast and ruining his reputation could work, but this would affect Tom’s reputation in turn and he couldn’t let it happen.

Imperio was a good charm but there was frustratingly little information on it. Applying it was too dangerous, which made it useless.

The enlarged trunk really seemed to be the only effective idea so far.

Tom stabbed a piece of pie on his plate viciously, glaring daggers at it.

He would clearly have to brainstorm some more. Maybe he would try researching mind control magic — it was a fascinating branch of study. It had to offer at least several ideas.

He needed to get into the Restricted Section for two reasons now, and the sooner he found access, the better.

 

***

 

Slowly, the winter ended, turning into spring and then summer. Charlus’ murder remained unsolved, and whatever careful reservations Tom had about it vanished.

He had planned everything perfectly. He couldn’t get caught.

His research into immortality and mind magic was standing still: he had found a way to break into the Restricted Section but he didn’t know how to touch the books he needed. The detection charms showed that each tome he was interested in was soaked in dark protective magic, and his knowledge simply failed to suffice to counter it.

When Tom understood it, he was furious. The following nights, the nightmares about Harry’s dead, empty eyes haunted him, making him wake up panting and wet from the cold sweat. Every time after it, he escaped to the Owlerly to send Harry a letter, and he stayed there until the morning, until Apophis returned with the reply.

I’m safe. Everything is fine. Please don’t worry about me. 

He could breathe only after these three simple lines, and he went to the Great Hall for breakfast knowing that Harry was going to send another letter soon, a longer and detailed one. These short reassurances were only for the nights, but Tom waited for them just as urgently, with dread and anticipation. And he opened these night envelopes with shaking hands, unable to calm down until he saw Harry’s handwriting and until the world around him gained shapes again.

Pathetic, yes, sadly so, but he didn’t care. He needed these letters, and he would continue getting them until he learned everything there was to learn about immortality.

When Hogwarts finally ended and Tom returned home, he refused to stay in his own bedroom. The nights spent with Harry next to him were the first ones in what felt like forever that he spent peacefully, secure in the warm hands wrapped around him protectively or in the breathing body he himself was holding.  

Two weeks after the start of summer holidays, Harry whisked him to Providenciales, an island surrounded by the ocean, and Tom was in love with it the moment he saw it. He and Harry had toured across different countries many times before but they had never stayed at a place like this, where the only thing they could do was to laze around.

The beach was white and inviting, the water had the colour Tom would have never believed was real, and most importantly, Harry seemed focused only on him. His face was alight with happiness, as if this was the holiday he had always dreamt of, and he kept fussing over Tom, rubbing a strange thing he called sunscreen into his skin.

“How is that supposed to help?” Tom asked. He tried to keep his voice steady but his insides got entangled in some strange dance, his heart fluttering with every touch Harry bestowed on his shoulders.

“It will block the sun,” Harry explained, working on his arms now, enthusiastic and still delightfully cheerful. “You might get burns otherwise. And you are so pale, it’ll be immediately obvious. You don’t want to walk around with red shapeless spots all over you, do you?”   

Tom’s brain was too focused on the physical contact to pay attention to the words. Clearing his throat, he murmured, “I’m not shapeless,” unsure if it was the right thing to say or if he’d heard something wrong. Harry paused before breaking into laughter.

“You are ridiculous, not shapeless,” he agreed, and Tom finally snapped back to conversation.

“I’m not ridiculous!”

“You are sometimes. A little bit. Like now, when you’re drifting off and trying to pretend you understood what I said, or when you try to make your speeches.”

“My speeches aren’t ridiculous either, stop saying that!”

Harry laughed again and Tom growled at him, even though his lips stretched themselves into a foolish smile.

“There, all done,” Harry pulled back and Tom immediately felt the loss of the contact. Before he had a chance to think, he jumped to his feet and snatched the vial from Harry’s hands.

“My turn,” he told him. “You need the sunscreen, too. After all, you don’t want to be…” Tom waved his hand vaguely, having no idea how to finish the sentence, and Harry dared to tilt his head in fake confusion.

“I don’t want to be what?” he asked innocently, and Tom snarled.

“Shapeless!” he spat. Ignoring the burst of Harry’s continued laughter, he began to spread the salve across his back, carefully mirroring his movements.

Harry had a much tanner skin than he did. It was mostly smooth but two thin scars marred the otherwise perfect picture. Tom leaned closer, studying them.

He had never seen these ones before. He knew of five scars — he turned them into a study, observing them for hours at a time, sometimes tracing their contours with his fingertips when Harry slept. There were two of them on his forearm: one looked like it was caused by a knife, another one resembled a bite of some animal, possibly a snake. A strangely-shaped scar distorted the skin on his right hand, like someone tried to bleach it, and there was one thick line on his left ankle — left by a dog, according to Harry. The scar on his forehead was the fifth and most fascinating, but these ones on his back? This was the first time he was seeing them, and a venomous mixture of greed and possessiveness stirred inside.

Tom wanted to dig his fingers into these scars, to condemn them for hiding from him for so long. He wanted to bite into them, leaving his own mark with his teeth, putting a claim over the one left by whomever had gotten to Harry’s skin first. He’d wanted to do the same to the scars he’d seen, too, but eventually, he managed to make his peace with them. These two were different — they had been hidden from him, as if they didn’t know they belonged to him, just like Harry belonged to him, regardless of who actually hurt him to put them there.

Mesmerised, Tom bent even closer, breathing against Harry’s golden skin, but the misty haze clouding his head was scattered when Harry suddenly jerked with a startled yelp.

“That tickles!” he complained. “You are supposed to put the sunscreen on, not breathe on me!”

A heated flush exploded all over his face and Tom ducked his head, suddenly embarrassed.

“You didn’t tell me about these two scars,” he murmured. “I wanted to see them better.”

“Oh, those?” Harry relaxed again, letting out a little sigh of contentment when Tom resumed rubbing the salve, or whatever it was, into his neck. “Honestly, I completely forgot about them. They are the most recent ones but the circumstances in which I got them weren’t all that memorable. These were simple fights.”

Tom stopped.

“Simple fights?” he repeated. “As opposed to what?”

“Er…” Harry shrugged somewhat guiltily. “As opposed to bigger fights? It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s in the past.”

“I can’t imagine you fighting another wizard seriously. What spells could you even use against them, Expelliarmus?”

Harry froze under his hands and Tom’s jaw dropped.

“Are you out of your mind?” he hissed. “Did you truly use a disarming charm when fighting for your life?”

“Well, the situation was complex—”

“You were left with scars! You could have died! I was only joking — I know for a fact you know more spells. How could you choose the most harmless of them?”

“I didn’t know the spells I do now back then,” Harry pointed out, still facing away from him even though Tom’s hands didn’t move. “And the intent behind any spell is essential, Tom. I didn’t want to hurt or kill anyone. I was defending myself. Taking someone’s wand seemed like the best solution.”

Tom closed his eyes, trying to breathe through his nose slowly and to soothe the outrage swirling in his blood.

Harry was a fool. How many times had he almost died? How close had Tom come to losing him without even knowing him? And how many times could it happen again?

Harry had never shared the whole story of his past. Tom didn’t know who or why he’d been fighting, how long ago it was, where he used to live and why he returned. He knew nothing, and that included any enemies Harry might have. What if they came for him? What if they came and Harry, foolish and kind-hearted Harry, refused to defend himself again?

Tom realised he was hyperventilating too late. Panic was already taking its firm hold over him, conquering his self-control and locking it away, putting it in a place Tom could see but couldn’t access. All thoughts evaporated, replaced by the mindless images of Harry dead, Harry tortured, Harry lying on that floor with his eyes open and Tom being unable to reach him…

Suddenly, he was pulled flush against a familiar chest, with his ear forcibly pressed to the sounds of a heartbeat. The terror receded, throwing the key to control back to him, and the air started flowing into his lungs again, grounding him.

“All right?” Harry asked quietly. Tom nodded silently, counting each of his heartbeats. “Sorry. I don’t know how this conversation went so wrong so quickly. But I want you to know that the past doesn’t matter, Tom. At least my past doesn’t. It’s left behind now and I’m never going to get it back again. People from this past, the friends, the enemies… they are all gone. We will never meet again, at least not in the way we did before.”

“You aren’t making any sense,” Tom uttered, still refusing to open his eyes.

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry repeated. “But I will be safe. Like I promised you.”

A few more years and Tom would love for Harry’s enemies to come. He would meet them with all deadly hospitality he was capable of.

“What do you think about swimming?”

The change of topic was so abrupt that Tom looked up, frowning.

“What?”

The next second, Harry lifted him off the ground and moved towards the water determinedly, and it was so shocking that at first, all Tom could do was gape at him.

“You can’t carry me like this for everyone to see!” he hissed finally. “I’m not a child!”

“You absolutely are.”

“No!”

“You are twelve. You are a child.”

“I’m not a child!” Tom yelled. Several people they were passing giggled and he sent them a scathing glare. “Put me down, I’m not going to be swimming like this!”

Harry ignored him, plunging them both into water, and Tom let out an undignified sound, gripping his neck tightly.

“It’s cold!” he complained sullenly, but brightened when Harry dropped a quick kiss on the top of his head.

“If you swim, it won’t be cold for long,” he promised. Tom didn’t enjoy the water much but sometimes it was worth it. Letting go of Harry, he circled him, observing the underwater floor with interest. Before he could see anything of note there, though, he was splashed with water. Blinking, Tom turned and stared at Harry only to get another splash right in his face.

“Stop that!” he snapped, shaking his head rapidly to get his hair dryer, but Harry just moved around him with a cunning grin on his lips. He was obviously planning to do the exact same thing again, it didn’t take a genius to figure it out.

“And who is a child here?” Tom scowled, crossing his arms together. “This is a stupid game, I’m not playing it.”

However, when the next splash came, he quickly dodged it and then sent a similar one at Harry. The amount of water he got in return was obviously magically induced because it covered him wholly and for a moment, Tom couldn’t see anything.

“Now that is just cheating!” he protested when the final drops of water fell away, revealing the world to him again. Before Harry could make another move, Tom threw himself at him, trying to push him underwater. He smugly noted the openly surprised look on Harry’s face as he went down, but a second later, he emerged back up, spitting the water right into Tom’s face.

Spitting water. Into his face.

No one dared to do something like this to him. No one even considered it. If anyone from Hogwarts saw this, they wouldn’t believe it — he was never a subject of jokes or silly tricks the others liked to play because he knew how to present and hold himself. He was better than this meaningless fun, Harry had do know it.

Of course he did, but since when did Harry ever pay attention to it? He was like a big child sometimes. Maybe Tom had to indulge him a bit.

When a wave of water came at him again, Tom quickly conjured a small barrier, and the monstrosity of wetness was beaten back at Harry. The force of the blow was hard enough to make him waver, and before he could regain his balance, Tom sent the water crashing into him from four sides at once, successfully locking him inside.

Harry was coughing when he emerged, but his eyes shone with childish excitement. 

“Muggles will see!” he whispered, but Tom just grinned ferally, his own excitement making his senses sharpen.

If Harry wanted war, he would get it.

 

***

 

The days on this holiday-island were running so quickly that Tom could barely keep track of them. Not that he needed to. He and Harry didn’t have to rush anywhere, so they kept spending time on the beach, swimming, reading, and building Hogwarts from the wet sand.

Initially, Tom had been sceptical. Harry seemed intent on recreating every stereotype about the childhood he hadn’t gotten to live out, and Tom didn’t feel up to participating in it. Besides, it was embarrassing — no one their age did such things anymore. It was impossible to imagine Black or Lestrange building sand castles, and Tom was better than them.

But as he watched Harry construct the first layers, an expression of open delight on his face, something in him felt compelled to join him. Probably the same part that admired how easily Harry went against the society, how he ignored the strange looks he was getting from filthy Muggles, how he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, a true, wilful Gryffindor at heart. 

So despite all reservations, Tom joined him, and in ten minutes, he forgot about everyone’s scrutiny either. Everything he did with Harry was filled with a sort of glimmering magic he wasn’t sure existed. When they were separated, sometimes, he couldn’t believe it was real. He forgot its taste — the only thing that stayed with him was the memory of how exquisite and incredible it felt. But as soon as they reunited and started doing something together, its familiar freshness began to flow through his pores again, making him hopelessly, helplessly addicted to it.

Creating Hogwarts in particular, just the two of them, meant something. It meant a lot. Harry treated the task as a Gryffindor would, focusing on the building’s physical attributes and optimistically hoping it wouldn’t collapse, while Tom had to be the one to understand how to make its inner parts hold.

It was growing daily, becoming more detailed and impressive. Harry charmed it every time they left so that it wouldn’t get ruined by some ill-wishers or by a curious animal. However, the charms were lifted when they returned, so when an idiotic small child stepped right onto the Slytherin dungeon with a happy giggle, there was nothing to save it, and Tom was too consumed by the task to react timely.

He stared at the dent in the part he’d been working on so meticulously before slowly turning to the child. It was a boy who couldn’t be older than three, and he clapped happily at the sight of Tom’s face, as if glad to see him.

“Oh,” Harry muttered. His hand clenched Tom’s shoulder briefly, like he sensed the growing storm and wanted to calm it, and then he crawled closer to the child, smiling at him.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Harry. What’s your name?”

The boy blabbered something Tom didn’t understand, waving his hands frantically.  To his annoyance, Harry didn’t seem deterred.

“Yes,” he agreed. “It’s a beautiful castle, isn’t it? Would you like to help us build it?”

Tom’s lips parted in shock before he snapped his jaw shut, narrowing his eyes at Harry.

He couldn’t mean it. This was their castle. The intruders weren’t welcome, and this little revolting creature had just destroyed a huge part of Tom’s work. Did it mean nothing to him?

Harry glanced at him suddenly and a shadow of strange understanding ran across his face. Turning his attention back to the boy, he sent him another smile.

“Let’s go find your parents, shall we?” he asked. The boy was a complete idiot who couldn’t understand a word but like every other person in this world, he understood one thing: Harry was friendly. Still babbling, he readily took Harry’s hand, and Tom watched them as they left, his chest heavy and cold.

A minute later, Harry came back and immediately focused on the ruined dungeons.  

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll redo it quickly,” he assured him, but Tom’s lips curled in disgust.

“How could you have offered him to join us?” he asked darkly. “Was the fact that he broke our work not enough for you?”

“He didn’t break it, he just stepped on one part out of many. We can correct it.”

Tom was silent.

“Don’t sulk, my little love,” Harry sing-songed, and all thoughts about the boy promptly left Tom’s head. A surprised heat flooded his cheeks and he tried to snort but failed miserably. Harry, sensing how his mood improved, smiled and pinched his nose lightly.

“That’s much better,” he said, and while Tom finally managed a scowl, he couldn’t help but acknowledge that tension seeped out of his body as quickly as it had filled it. “He’s just a kid, he didn’t do it on purpose. If anything, it’s our fault — we shouldn’t forget about our surroundings.”

Tom nodded distractedly, barely listening.

My little love. Harry had never called him this before. It was said jokingly but the words themselves… Tom liked them. He wanted to hear them one more time.

A pleasant humming rang in his ears as he worked on restoring the dungeons, with Harry by his side. No children distracted them again and in the end, Tom decided that this was one of his favourite days this summer.

He hoped Harry would say the same words again soon.

 

***

 

The next day, the annoying child was back, this time with his elder sister. She chatted with Harry briefly and when she wanted to leave, the child clang to Harry’s leg, drooling and cooing.

“I could watch him for you a bit if you want to go for a swim,” Harry offered, and Tom clenched his fists, infuriated. The young woman agreed hastily and left, and Tom stared at the child, wanting nothing more than to drown him.

“Come play with us,” Harry told him, already moulding something that looked like a cake out of sand. The boy observed him before mimicking his movements, and Tom had the strongest urge to stomp on what they were building and wrap his hands around the child’s neck.

Building anything from the sand was their thing, his and Harry’s. How could Harry let the intruders into their world so easily? Did he see nothing wrong with it?

“Tom, come on,” Harry called, and he sounded genuine, but it only worsened Tom’s already darkening mood.

He didn’t want to join them. He wanted to join Harry and for the boy to be gone.

On the other hand, Harry had gifted him a wonderful holiday. Maybe he deserved to spend several hours in someone else’s company for a change — provided that Tom could be there to supervise it.

But only today. Harry was treading on a thin ice and Tom would hate to see it break.

 

***

 

The boy wasn’t gone tomorrow. He wasn’t gone the day after tomorrow either — on the contrary, he stuck to Harry like glue, listening to his every word and refusing to leave him alone.

The contempt and anger that were slowly boiling in Tom reached their critical point. He tried dragging Harry to another spot on the beach but they inevitably returned to finish their castle, and right away, they were ambushed. Harry was too friendly to turn the girl and her nightmare of a brother down, so what had to be their holiday grew into something infuriating and exhausting. Despite the signs of displeasure Tom was sending Harry, they went ignored. Well, mostly ignored — Harry saw them but instead of obeying, he stubbornly tried to drag Tom into playing together with him and the boy.

“Hawy?” the boy asked Tom, looking at him with wide, confused eyes. Harry was dressing himself in the blue beach changing stall, hidden behind a heavy metal door. The boy’s sister was swimming again, too content to leave her burden on others, so he and Tom were all alone.

“Hawy?” the boy repeated urgently, and Tom sneered at him. How he hated this little waste of space. He had stolen four days from him and Harry and he was clearly set on stealing even more. Unless…

Tom glanced around quickly. No one was in the immediate vicinity. Harry was bound to come out any moment now, but what Tom wanted to do wouldn’t take more than several seconds. He just had to be as quiet as possible.

Taking the child’s hand, Tom led him to the empty changing stall and nodded at it.

“Harry,” he whispered into his ear, leaning close enough so that his voice wouldn’t carry to where Harry was changing.

“Hawy?” the boy sent him a questioning look and Tom nodded encouragingly. As he thought, the boy reached for the stall, grabbing its side awkwardly to keep his balance and peek inside, but before he could do it, Tom slammed the door shut, breaking four of his fingers.

The child wailed instantly. Knowing Harry would come running in a second, Tom dropped to his knees, grabbing the boy’s hand and examining it.

“Don’t cry,” he cooed. “The doctors will make it stop hurting quickly.”

The boy was too stupid to understand Tom was at fault so he leaned into him, still shrieking from pain.

“What happened?” Harry jumped out of the stall, just as Tom had predicted, and ran towards them.

“He was looking for you,” Tom explained, contorting his face in a sympathetic grimace. “He wanted to go inside the stall but the burst of wind shut the door and hit his fingers.”

Harry took a look at the boy’s hand and then he glanced at Tom. His eyes went from concerned to deadly, and the change was so abrupt that Tom almost recoiled.

He had never seen Harry look like this. With such a gaze, he didn’t even resemble himself — he had turned into a terrifying and unfamiliar creature.

“The wind had to be really strong to break his bones,” Harry said, and his voice was as cold as his eyes.

“Yes,” Tom replied carefully. Everything inside his chest was vibrating, screaming danger. “These doors are very heavy.”

Harry continued to stare. Without a word, he took out his wand and murmured a spell Tom didn’t know. The child’s crying subsided.

“He will have to go to the hospital,” Harry said. “I can lessen the pain temporarily but I can’t heal his hand. I doubt he’ll be back to the beach soon.”

“Such a pity,” Tom uttered, tilting his head in mocking regret.

“Is it?” Harry sent him the last piercing stare before focusing on the boy.

He didn’t speak to Tom again that day. They returned to their rented room in silence. They ate in silence, too, and when they went to sleep, Harry turned away from him. Tom was left alone in the dark, breathing through his gritted teeth, angry and scared simultaneously.

Harry couldn’t know he was to blame. He could suspect him, fine, Tom’s version wasn’t really believable, but to know it’s him with such certainty that he dared to shut him out? To ignore him, to not even wish him good night?

Tom opened his mouth to say something but the words died before they could slip out. What could he say?

I don’t like you ignoring me. I haven’t done anything.

You aren’t being fair. It’s not my fault.

Nothing seemed appropriate. Worse, nothing seemed realistic.

How could Harry know? Why didn’t he give him the benefit of the doubt? And why was that useless, worthless boy so important to him that he chose him over Tom?

The silence was growing intolerable. Harry wasn’t sleeping yet, Tom knew it, he knew how his breathing was supposed to sound, and yet he still refused to say anything, to even turn to him.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but at some point, he finally had enough. Biting his lip, Tom shifted closer and wrapped his hands around Harry, pressing to his back. He waited, his palms growing sweatier the longer Harry didn’t react, the thoughts of unwanted, forgotten, unloved raising from their graves to remind him of their existence. But finally, Harry released a breath and clenched one of Tom’s hands in his, still without turning, and a powerful surge of relief washed the corpses of his insecurities back to their tombs, making Tom shudder, feeling more at ease.

It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. He was obviously forgiven. Now only if he could make Harry understand that he couldn’t just dedicate his attention to others and not expect Tom to do something about it... Harry was smart but sometimes he made the most serious and stupid mistakes. They had spent years together and he still didn’t know that their world was only big enough for two people?

No, he knew. He had to know. And yet he kept trying to change the rules and make unnecessary additions. When would he stop being so stubborn?   

Tom didn’t say it aloud, and Harry said nothing as well.

Soon, they both fell asleep.

***

 

The next morning, Harry acted like nothing happened. He was cheerful and attentive as always, and most importantly, he was Tom’s again. They went back to the beach and they finished their castle.

The boy hadn’t returned and no one else bothered them again.

 

***

 

Their summer ended on a high note and after that, time resumed its running. Hogwarts was breathing with possibilities and Tom grabbed them all, working tirelessly on establishing and slowly growing his empire.

He was adored by representatives of all Houses, including pure-bloods, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns. All teachers thought the world of him — everyone but Dumbledore, but Tom couldn’t care less about his opinion.

“Why do you spend more time with Muggle-borns than with anyone else?” Avery asked once jealously. Tom glanced above the book he was reading.

“Are you feeling neglected?” he drawled. Avery dropped his gaze in embarrassment but then he stood his ground.

“I’m just saying, you seem to prefer their company. Why is that?”

Tom snapped his book shut abruptly enough to make Avery flinch.

He enjoyed the control he had over his closest allies but having to waste his time on soothing their insecurities was tiresome. He wanted to finish the chapter and then compose a letter to Harry, not stay here and talk to Avery. But what he said to him would quickly spread among everyone else, so it was the chance he had to use to avoid talking more later.

How Slytherin of you,’ Harry’s imagined voice whispered teasingly. Tom ignored it. Harry always had a habit of popping up in his mind, whether he wanted it or not.

“I would assume it’s obvious but as always, you keep on being slow and disappointing me,” he said aloud. Avery flushed, hunching his shoulders. He wasn’t a particularly submissive follower and his ego wasn’t fragile, but these days, in Tom’s presence, he always faded into a bleating shadow. It was as amusing as it was boring because while it undoubtedly injected a stream of power into Tom’s veins, it made their conversations tediously one-sided.

“The pure-bloods who are loyal to our cause, such as yourself, already know my stance and my goals. They also know what I am capable of. Muggle-borns are disposable but their loyalty is a useful cover. They are the shields that will fall first.”

Harry’s sniggering face surfaced in his mind again, his lips forming the words, ‘Not one of your speeches again!’, and Tom huffed, waving the image away.

Avery looked fascinated. That was yet another proof that Harry was wrong.

“But why do you—” Avery started.

“I already told you this before, true loyalty isn’t something that is born overnight. I’ll convert these Muggle-borns to my side and they will spread their new beliefs among others of their kind. As of now, very few people don’t support me, Avery, which means that whatever I decide to do in the future, I will have allies in the majority of Hogwarts population. And you, as well as everyone who’s made it into my inner circle, will reap the benefits along with me.”

Truth to be told, Tom wasn’t thrilled with how many efforts he had to waste. Siding solely with pure-bloods and continuing Slytherin’s real legacy by using force would have been quicker, but Harry was an important factor that he couldn’t disregard. Making peace with Muggle-borns was all for him, and Tom hoped he would appreciate it.    

Avery nodded, looking intoxicated with his blown pupils and flushed cheeks, and Tom couldn’t help but wonder if this was from the promise of power or infatuation. Lestrange’s crush was more than enough, Tom didn’t need to deal with another one.

With such a big head, it’s a wonder your legs are still functional,’ Harry snickered, and if Tom could, he would have glared at him.

He had no time for this. He had to finish the book Black had brought to him from his family library soon and to start another one if this one proved to be insufficient. Immortality seemed to be the topic that even wizards tended to avoid, and Tom was getting more and more frustrated.

Something had to be written on this topic. At least one other person had to have devised a ritual allowing him or her to become immortal.

If not… Tom would come up with something himself. Harry wasn’t allowed to die, and he would find a solution no matter the cost, no matter the time and the sacrifice.

 

***

 

When winter holidays and Tom’s thirteenth birthday approached, his desire to see Harry had turned into a living, breathing being that struggled somewhere within his ribcage, demanding to be let out. The more he stalled it, the more vicious it got, clawing at his insides and leaving huge wounds open.

Tom didn’t like losing control but the less days before their meeting remained, the shakier he felt. He couldn’t explain it properly — he didn’t know why it felt worse than even the last time, why the anticipation and longing grew into obsession so intense, it was driving him absolutely crazy. A few days before the holidays, and he could barely concentrate on anything else. His closest Slytherins began to send him funny looks but Tom was unable to care.

He wanted to see Harry. He wanted to talk to him and hear his voice, not just stare at his handwriting, memorising every curve of every letter. He wanted to touch him and hold him and inhale his scent and never let him go again, and why did this week have to be so endless?

Whatever others thought about it, they didn’t risk voicing their opinions, so their looks were the only display of disobedience. Harry was a restricted topic that no one dared to raise — Tom preferred it this way. He didn’t want his name uttered as if it were just an empty, meaningless sound. Harry deserved more than that, no matter how commonly he was called.

Tom knew what he would give him this Christmas. He knew what he would take from him, too.

 

***

 

The first days upon his return were bliss. On Christmas night, when Harry was sleeping, exhausted after the hours they spent on decorations, cooking, and customary reading, Tom took out his gift from his trunk. It was a photo of himself, the one he demanded Black to take at Hogwarts. He’d chosen each detail very carefully: he wore the robes he and Harry had bought, with his wand in one hand and the book with the potential clues on immortality in another one. The wand symbolised their connection physically — the magic itself thought they were made for each other, linking them together.      The book was the embodiment of what they would become, even if Harry wouldn’t catch the reference yet. But giving this picture to him was only a half of the plan. Another involved the place where he was going to put it.

Quietly, Tom took the three photographs that had been decorating Harry’s bedside table for years now. Resentment was the only feeling he had for the people portrayed there. They had their chance to be with Harry but their time had passed. There was no place for them in his new life with Tom. Harry had to accept it. If he couldn’t make this decision himself, Tom would make it for him.

Placing his photo in the freed space, Tom carried the old ones to his room and after brief hesitation, threw them to the bottom of his trunk. He would have liked to destroy them but he had to consider other options, too. If Harry reacted negatively…

He wouldn’t dwell on this possibility. But he would still have a way to backtrack if it came to it.

Pleased with himself, Tom returned to Harry’s room and crawled into bed with him. Even a year later, Harry was still wearing his ring, and a warm glow of pride lit Tom’s chest at the sight.

Each Christmas they spent together had to be better than the previous one. He would do anything to ensure it.

Throwing a possessive hand over Harry’s waist, Tom let the sleep take him, already anticipating the morning.

 

***

 

When he opened his eyes, Harry wasn’t in bed any longer. He was still nearby, though, kneeling next to the bedside table and staring at Tom’s gift silently.

In the harsh morning light, the idea he’d nourished suddenly stopped looking as smart as he’d believed it to be. He knew Harry wouldn’t be overly happy, not at first, but he also didn’t expect this hateful blankness on his face.

What he did wasn’t all that wrong. Harry was clinging to the past that would never return to him. It wasn’t right.  

“Merry Christmas,” Tom told him. Harry flinched, as if torn from the deepest layer of his mind, before turning his head to look at him.

“Tom,” he said quietly. “Merry Christmas.”

Silence fell between them. Then Harry stood up, climbed up the bed again and took Tom’s hands in his.

“There is a conversation I wanted to have with you for a while,” he murmured. “Ever since our summer holiday.”

Not this again! That topic was closed, wasn’t it? Tom had made a rushed decision and paid for it by spending the rest of the day ignored. Why was Harry bringing it up?

“I know that you are possessive of me,” Harry told him, staring at him intently, and for some reason, Tom felt uncomfortable. He didn’t like where this conversation was going. “I understand the reasons for it. We have a very similar background, and just like you, I struggled with insecurity.”

“I’m not—” Tom started the protest automatically but Harry leaned forward and pressed his fingers to his lips.

“Please, let me finish.”

Tom obeyed, too distracted by the unexpected flare of warmth at his mouth.

“I was afraid to lose those I cared about, too. I thought for sure that they couldn’t love me as much as I loved them. Despite our similarities, Tom, you and I are still very different in many respects, but I think that you feel something close to what I did then. I won’t pretend I understand all thoughts rolling in your head, but I know you are afraid to lose me. What happened last year must have increased this fear tenfold. So… I do understand it. Yet there are boundaries you cannot cross.”

Tom tensed, the hostility blooming in his blood so abruptly that he barely stopped himself from lashing out. Harry, as if sensing it, framed his face with his hands, pressing his cold fingers into Tom’s temples, cooling him down in an instant.

“Even if you try to remove all physical reminders of my past, it won’t go away. The life I had before you will always hold a place in my heart and I will always miss people that I left behind. I will always love them.”

Bristling, Tom tried to pull away, and only after a moment he realised that his lips formed a hissing ‘no’ that he kept repeating in an enraged whisper, ignoring how Harry’s eyes widened in anxiety.

“Tom.” Harry shook him, and even though he wasn’t forceful, it worked. Tom shut up, glaring at him. “The fact that I love someone other than you doesn’t mean that I love you less or that you have any reason to feel threatened. You are the most important person in my life. No one will take this from you. People I have known before, people I might grow to care for in the future — they might hold an important part of me but you will still have more. You will always have more.”

For all his words, Harry didn’t understand. He didn’t understand a thing. Tom didn’t want more, he wanted everything. He wouldn’t agree to anything less, it wasn’t an option.

Probably reading the now-silent rebellion in his eyes, Harry bit his upper lip and lowered his head. When he looked up again, his face was lit with fresh determination.

“I want you to imagine something,” he told Tom. “Imagine that something happened to me. If there was—”

Tom drew in a harsh breath, shaking his head violently. The memories of Harry and death, two concepts that weren’t supposed to ever go together, crashed into his mind at full speed, shattering the sanity residing there. The world dived into a thick blackness, with nothing but white noise filling his ears for a while. He was saved from it only when Harry pulled him close in a practised motion, pressing Tom’s fingers to his neck. The familiar beating of the pulse helped clear the fog and Tom sighed, ashamed of his continuous lack of control.

“Okay, bad idea,” Harry said wryly, and despite the fact that his heart was still pounding, Tom let out a chuckle. Harry didn’t think of the consequences often. “Just imagine that you and I have been separated for whatever reason. I’m no longer a part of your life. Would you still miss me? Or would you destroy the memories of me and go on with your life as if I never existed?”

“Don’t be an idiot, of course I would—” Tom stopped talking when he realised what Harry was doing.

Oh.

He couldn’t relate to the abstract love Harry felt for some abstract people. He couldn’t put himself into his place no matter how hard he tried at times. But he knew himself very well, so he could easily tell what he’d do if Harry’s scenario came to life.

He would never forget him. He would keep the memories forever, or until the moment he found a way to bring Harry back to him. If anyone tried to take them from him by force, Tom would obliterate them, whether it would be Dumbledore, the whole Black family, or the Devil himself.

Was this what Harry was feeling now?

A foreign sensation stepped into him, a stranger in his own body. Tom didn’t know what it was or what caused it, but he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all.

“There is another way you can look at it,” Harry told him quietly. “If I still love those people even though I haven’t seen them in years, if I haven’t even known some of them personally, like my parents, then you can be absolutely certain I will never stop loving you, and that I’ll cherish you and the memories of you no matter how many decades pass. Treat those photos you have taken as evidence of my unconditional love for you, not as something that threatens it.”

The feeling intensified and suddenly, Tom couldn’t look Harry in the eye. He still failed to identify the feeling that was slowly ravaging him from inside, the feeling that was a mixture of frustration, a bewildering desire to hide somewhere, and something else, even stranger.

He didn’t think he would but he understood where Harry was coming from. A little bit. His gift now seemed like a mockery, not a manifestation of his desire to convey to Harry that Tom was his only family, the only one who would never leave him.

Not saying a word, Tom left the bed and walked out of the room. A part of him protested against his vague, half-formed decision, but Tom refused to listen to it. He was acting on the impulse that he couldn’t define but which was strong enough to push him forward.

His hands felt numb when he pulled the discarded photos from his trunk. His legs moved reluctantly when he returned to Harry, silently offering his past back.

Tom wasn’t sure he could stand seeing Harry replace his photo with these other ones. He might want to hold himself under control but he couldn’t say the same about his magic. With everything concerning Harry, it refused to obey him — it was already coiling tightly under his skin, ready to strike.

But Harry didn’t replace him. Harry stared at him with pride, with so much love that Tom’s head began to spin, and then he took the old photos and brought them towards the window, putting them on the windowsill.

“They’ll stand here, all right?” Harry asked him. “And yours will stand near my bed, so it would be the first thing I see as I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see as I go to sleep at night.”

A blinding joy enveloped him, filling him with happiness so bright, he felt weightless. With a genuine, brilliant smile, Tom pressed against Harry’s chest, soaking up his love and warmth. Harry hugged him back just as tightly, rocking them both. In a while, Tom pulled back, and before Harry could say anything, he placed a kiss on his right cheek, then on his left one. He wanted to kiss him on the lips, too, something in him suddenly craving it with intense, frightening urgency, but Harry got a weird look on his face and Tom had to limit himself by kissing his chin.

“Merry Christmas,” he said. Harry ran his fingers through Tom’s hair, smiling.

“Merry Christmas,” he echoed.    

 

***

 

In the months that followed, Tom had made great leaps in the area of mind magic. He found both Legilimency and Occlumency riveting, though they were not what he had actually wanted to research. Immortality remained an unreachable dream as of now, and it was increasingly infuriating. The world was being slowly but steadily threatened by a wizard who called himself Grindelwald, and while Tom thought it was interesting and potentially enlightening, he would have preferred to avoid having to worry about Harry.

Many families knew where their house was situated. The lessons Harry was still giving made him much more popular than Tom would have liked, which turned him into a possible target. Harry was idealistic. Tom had no way of knowing whether he was blabbering about Muggle-borns and equality to his students, and on some nights, this thought didn’t let him sleep.

Grindelwald was killing off his opposition. In the eyes of society, Harry wasn’t notable in any way, but Tom was. In fact, Tom expected Grindelwald to grow interested in him sooner or later because of his status as a Slytherin heir, and while he would love to turn it into a careful but captivating game, he wasn’t willing to risk Harry in the process.

Harry was undeniably his weakness and he had to either make him immortal or get rid of Grindelwald. The former seemed likelier than the latter, but both were out of reach and it was maddening. It was even more maddening that he was stuck in Hogwarts.

When summer holidays finally came, Tom took his time pestering Harry with questions and watching his reactions. Harry didn’t seem interested or concerned about Grindelwald at all — in fact, he grimaced and threw a quick, “Forget about him. He won’t last long.”

Tom was mystified. Even someone as calm as Black was concerned, torn between his parents’ conflicting beliefs. On the one hand, they were more interested in waiting and seeing what Tom would be able to offer them with time, but on the other one, Grindelwald was advancing and demanding loyalty, answering with death in case he was denied. He was an interesting case study of what a ruler should not be like, and Tom was looking forward to opposing him in years. He didn’t doubt that Grindelwald would be insulted by his inclusion policies, but by that time, at the pace he was moving, Grindelwald would have more enemies than allies.

It was all a part of a still-distant future, at least in Tom’s view. Harry evidently thought differently.

“You can’t rule with fear and aggression,” Harry told him grimly. “A Dark Lord who wants to make everyone grovel and kiss his feet is going to be inevitably defeated. There are people who can stop Grindelwald, and eventually, they will act.”

“I hope you don’t mean Dumbledore,” Tom spat. So many people were blinded by this man that he couldn’t stomach it.

Harry smiled mysteriously but didn’t say anything.

Like the war with Grindelwald wasn’t enough, Harry took to visiting London and helping Muggles who had felt the impact of their own battles. He brought clothes, food, and even money, and he insisted on taking Tom with him.

“The war is getting closer,” he was saying. “Soon, all these people might have nothing left. I want to do what I can to make these times at least a little easier for them. Cardiff and Plymouth have already been bombed, and it’s only the beginning. Our people attack Italian and German families who live in London, even those who are innocent. This shouldn’t be happening, Tom, and if I’m here, I’m not going to stand aside.”

The more Harry talked, the more worried he made Tom feel.

“You cannot help Muggles,” he insisted. Muggles would forget about peaceful times when Tom’s reign began, and Harry’d better get used to it. “They can be dangerous.” They were also not worth it but he wasn’t going to say that.

“Don’t you feel anything when you help others?” Harry stared at him, something imploring in his eyes. “When you see all these destroyed homes, all these people who are desperate even for some bits of food or comfort? You know what it is to live in poverty. You lived through it yourself.”

Tom sighed. He could lie, he did it often enough to fool Harry, but recently, some of the masks he was wearing began to feel heavy.

“I feel something when I see you happy from helping others,” he offered. Harry’s face changed from hopeful to confused to touched, and then he gave Tom one of his small, pleased smiles.

“Good,” he said decisively. “Then you wouldn’t mind helping me more.”

They spent a good chunk of summer going to Muggle cities and offering assistance. If anyone he knew saw Tom like this, they would think he had gone mad. The only comfort was that wizarding community wasn’t big and chances of meeting someone in these Muggle areas were practically non-existent.

The day Tom saw what impact the bombs left, he’d had enough.

“You can’t go to London or other Muggle cities when I’m at Hogwarts,” he told Harry sternly, and was treated to a tired gaze.

“The war might only get worse at that point,” Harry noted. “I’m going to be busy with my students, but when I can, I’m going to help.”

“No,” the familiar hiss of magic slid down him, lighting the fire under the cauldron of panic and madness he usually tried to keep in a dormant state. “Not without me there.”  

“Tom—”

“If you insist on going, you will ask me to accompany you even if you have to take me from Hogwarts for a few days. But you won’t be going alone.”

Harry sighed heavily, but as Tom continued to stare at him in silent demand, he caved.

“All right,” he said. “I promise.”

For Harry’s own sake, it had better not be a lie.

 

***

 

This year at Hogwarts, they were allowed to pick several additional subjects as electives. Tom chose Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, and Divinations. He was sceptical about the latter but his interest in knowing the future was too strong to not at least try it.

The first lesson fell on the ninth of September. Arley Rivers, their professor, was a cheerful round man who didn’t fit Tom’s idea of what a medium should look like in the slightest. Still, he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“What does he do with his predictions, eat them?” Lestrange whispered with a snort. Tom sent him a long look and Lestrange’s shoulders slumped before he murmured an apology. How amusing. Tom was sure that if he asked him to explain why he was apologising, Lestrange wouldn’t be able to tell him.

“Divinations are often overrated,” Professor Rivers was telling them eagerly. “Two-thirds of you are likely to stop being interested in the subject within two weeks. That’s all right, you won’t be completely wrong. You either have a gift of Seeing or you don’t, you can’t learn it. However, there are some common signs that can help you to interpret some things. Today, we’ll start with drawings.”

With a flick of his wand, he spread pieces of parchment around the class along with what looked like Muggle pencils and crayons. Lestrange let out a disgusted noise but shut up again when Tom glowered at him.

This year was the last one when he was still expanding and strengthening the foundations of his future kingdom. It meant that he had to maintain good relationships with as many people as possible, even if they were useless. Next autumn, he would finally start acting and fulfilling his promises — slowly, gradually, but effectively. His plans were vague at this point because Tom depended on the circumstances like Grindelwald’s activity, but all in all, he knew what he wanted to do. By the time he graduated from Hogwarts, he would be sought out by every representative of the Ministry, with the whole world of opportunities opening before him. 

“Draw whatever you want. Anything you want,” Professor Rivers informed them. “Black or white, coloured or bland — you decide. You have forty minutes for that. After you’re finished, we’ll be analysing what you created and making conclusions.”

This didn’t sound like what should be taught at Divinations at all, and if the man was a Muggle, Tom would be convinced he’s a fraud. As it was, he took the pencil, absently drawing the first lines.

He wasn’t sure what he was going to draw. Only when Harry’s eyes stared at him from the paper, Tom realised his mind worked in very predictable ways.

Of course he had drawn Harry. Who else would it be?

With a sigh, he continued, carefully depicting the unruly hair, the edge of the scar, and the small dimples that appeared only when Harry smiled. When he was finished, there were still about twenty minutes left, so Tom pulled the coloured pencils closer. Harry could never be bland, not even on the pictures. He needed to colours life into him.

The eyes were the most difficult part. No shade of green was vibrant enough, so in the end, Tom mixed several of them together. The result wasn’t perfect but it was the best he could do.

“Time’s up!” Professor Rivers announced. “Let’s see what you’ve come up with.”

He moved to the first pair, critically surveying the pictures they’d drawn.

“Is that a cake?” he asked. “Well, I would think its meaning is obvious. You’re going to eat one today during supper.”

This time, when Lestrange cackled, Tom didn’t stop him. Really, that was the man’s prediction? How boring. This lesson was an absolute waste of time.

Without much interest, Tom waited until Professor Rivers approached him. When it finally happened and the man took a look at his portrait, the indulgent smile suddenly slipped off his face.

“Merlin,” he said quietly. His skin suddenly became very white and the chuckle he forced out sounded nervous. “That is impressive no doubt. Spooky but impressive. Tell me, boy, did you experience clinical death?”

Tom never asked teachers to repeat their questions but he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out, “Excuse me?” Clinical death? Where did it come from?

“There is war going on,” Professor Rivers said, staring at him with narrowed, intense eyes. “Has it touched you personally? Have you had a close brush with death?”

Lestrange stiffened next to him, the protective magic emanating from him in strong waves, but Tom was too concentrated on the professor to calm him down.

“No,” he replied. “I have never experienced something like this.”

Rivers’ eyes hardened.

“This,” he said flatly, pointing at the drawing, “is death.”

Tom had believed the man to be a liar. Now he understood he was simply crazy.

“This,” he mimicked Rivers, “is my guardian.”

“Stop lying to me. This cannot be a real man, he cannot exist.”

Tom had never been in a situation like this. Teachers had never been hostile to him so openly, not even Dumbledore, and they had never been delusional to this extent. What could he even reply?

“I assure you, he exists,” his tone was icy. “I have been living with him for five years.”

Rivers’ brows furrowed angrily, like Tom’s answers were personally offensive to him.

“Stop lying to me, boy!” he raised his voice. “I know what I see and I know this is a dead man. Do you want me to take points from you?”

“How dare you speak to him like this!” Lestrange screeched, jumping from his seat. Tom really needed to do something about his impulsive and explosive behaviour. “Do you even know who he is?”

Rivers didn’t look at him.

“Tom is telling the truth, sir,” Amanda Levington, a Hufflepuff, raised her hand hesitantly. “Harry Potter is a tutor of my younger brother.”

If anything, Rivers looked even more infuriated.

“Well, then he is dead right now!” he barked, and suddenly, what seemed merely annoying turned into something much worse. Tom felt himself tensing, a cold chill shooting down his spine and making his muscles lock.

“That’s a lie,” he said, as calmly as he could manage. If something were to ever happen to Harry, he would feel it.

He hadn’t felt it last time, though.

But Harry wasn’t dead last time. He was all right, it was Tom’s imagination that made him imagine what wasn’t there.

“I don’t tell lies!” Rivers made a step towards him, looking so terrified that Tom could only guess at the reasons behind it. “He is dead, there are no doubts here. Even if he was alive before, he isn’t now.”

The room darkened. A rush of numb fear that swept through it left it bitterly cold and Tom shivered, burning holes in Rivers with his glare but not really seeing him. The memories took him to that cursed day when he thought Harry had died, and the old madness was already waiting for him to descend there, sharpening its claws, getting ready to pierce him with them, all dark and trembling with anticipation.  

No. It didn’t matter what this man was saying, it wasn’t true, he knew it wasn’t. He had exchanged letters with Harry just two days ago…

But anything could have happened. Anything.

“…exactly so.” Rivers’ voice was coming from afar. “You can check for yourself, I have no reason to lie to you. Gift or no Gift, my intuition is never wrong, and I’m telling you that the person you’ve depicted is in the land of the dead.” 

Whatever anchors Tom had been trying to hold on to broke. His magic lashed towards Rivers, wrapping him in a tight, deadly lock, and as soon as the man fell silent, his eyes suddenly wide and bewildered, Tom smiled.

He was good at wandless magic, he had always been good at it, but he had never felt as powerful as he did now, when rage was licking his nerve endings greedily, turning him into a wrathful ball of pure energy. Other students and thoughts about his reputation had disappeared: Tom was the only person left in the world, he and the man across him, the man who dared to speak the forbidden words so freely, as if they were nothing. 

He felt how his magic coiled around Rivers’ wrist, seeped through his skin and bones, and then became heated, burning his hand from inside. Rivers let out a yell, frantically waving his wand and murmuring incantations, but Tom ignored him, focusing on fuelling his powers further, targeting both arms this time. Finally, Rivers screamed, dropping his wand, and Tom slowly dragged his magic up, almost seeing how muscles and tendons curled in pain before withering. Excitement clouded his head, subduing the rage, which, in turn, hid his terror.

This felt good. This felt incredible. His magic was at Rivers’ throat now, slowly swelling there and choking him, but then someone else brushed against him and Tom flinched back to reality.

It was Lestrange. He was staring at him in awe and fear, and he was clenching his hand, probably in an attempt to shake the murderous haze off him.

It worked.

Tom looked at Rivers with new eyes, noticing that he had collapsed to his knees and was pressing his shaking, blackened hands to his chest.

He had attacked his professor. Would it have consequences? The class around him seemed impressed but they would be unable to cover for him. And Rivers was alive enough to tell on him.

These thoughts were automatic and they didn’t bring any concern for himself. The thoughts about Harry, on the other hand, made Tom bite the inside of his cheek so hard that he tasted blood.

He needed to check it. Not that he believed this madman, he was a fraud and a liar, but rationality was never Tom’s strong side when it came to Harry. He had to know. He had to make sure.

Without saying a word, he left the class, obeying the sane part of him that kept insisting that he couldn’t run, not when everyone was staring, not now, control yourself.   

Tom didn’t remember how he got to Dippet’s office. He didn’t remember how he asked to see Harry but he did hear how Dumbledore, who was also there, refused him.

“We may contact him by post,” he was saying. “You have to understand, Tom, that we cannot make the exceptions. The wartime is challenging to all of us and we have to take measures to—”

What a surprise. Dumbledore hated him, he always hated him, and he never called him by his last name, probably resenting the fact that Tom could claim such an important title or wanting to remind him of his Muggle beginnings or whatever else was spinning in his head. Tom didn’t care, not this time. Refusal wasn’t the answer he was going to take.

Careful.

Yes. He had to be careful. Especially with Dippet present. 

“Do you trust the reliability of your professors, Headmaster?” he asked, attempting to keep his voice even. 

“Absolutely,” Dippet frowned in concern. “What happened, Tom? Can you tell us?”

Unlike Dumbledore, Dippet used his first name because he actually liked him. Tom could use it. He had to use it.

“Professor Rivers has predicted that my guardian is dead.” Thankfully, Tom’s words sounded calm, much calmer than he felt. “With all respect to school policies, I need to make sure he is all right.”  

Dippet and Dumbledore exchanged a long look.

“From what we know, Mr. Potter isn’t involved in the war, neither in Muggle nor in a magical kind of it,” Dippet said. “Are there reasons to suspect—”

“He has been helping Muggle communities. He could take trips to London. He could fall and break his neck,” Tom snapped, and this time, there was an unmistakable edge in his words. His magic was trying to burst forward again and he barely managed to keep it leashed. “If you have any trust in your Divinations professor, you will let me contact Harry. Immediately.”

“The Muggle part of South London was bombed two days ago,” Dippet told Dumbledore speculatively, and Tom’s forced calmness shattered. His shoulders went ridged, his face shifted to a wild expression that probably made him look rabid.

“I need to see him!” he snarled. “Get him to see me! Get him here, right now!”

Each word rang with compulsion but he couldn’t care less. Infuriatingly, Dippet and Dumbledore weren’t overly affected, and before Tom could rage further, Dippet murmured something under his breath. Waves of calming magic moved towards Tom but he shook his head viciously, scattering them.

“Get him here!” he bellowed, and Dippet quickly said, “All right, Tom, all right. Please, stay calm. I’ll contact Mr. Potter. Albus, would you go to Professor Rivers?”

Dumbledore didn’t look particularly willing but he didn’t protest either. He walked out of the office and Dippet left, too, after throwing some meaningless comforting words at him. Tom remained waiting, staring strictly ahead, focusing on his breathing. In. Out. Again. Again. Again.     

He still hadn’t found a way to achieve immortality. He could shield his mind, he could read the memories of others so smoothly that they had never even noticed it, his compulsion charms got abnormally strong, even if they still didn’t work on powerful wizards… but he had no idea how to make Harry immortal, and if Rivers was right, if Harry was dead…

It couldn’t happen again, it couldn’t. Seeing him dead once — not dead, unconscious, but still dead, Tom couldn’t forget about it just because it wasn’t true, — that was more than enough. He couldn’t possibly be forced to go through this again.

The urge to listen to Harry’s pulse as a part of their small ritual had never been this strong. The more time passed, the worse he felt, and by the time the door finally opened, he was panting.

“Tom.”

This voice… this voice could belong only to one person. Tom would know it anywhere.

He whirled around, staring, and the stark suffocating terror dissolved at the sight of Harry. Standing from the armchair, he jumped into the arms that were already open for him, and the current of warmth that ran through him was so vivid that a tremor shook his body.

Safe. Harry was safe. Rivers was a liar, after all. A talentless, pathetic liar, and oh, how he would pay.

Some conversation must have taken place but Tom didn’t listen to it. It didn’t even register. He did react to Harry raising his voice, though, and when it happened, his focus returned full force.

“…blame him now! It’s not his fault!”

“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore sounded like he was choosing his words very carefully, “you misunderstand me. I’m not blaming Tom for asking us to contact you. Such requests are understandable and we do our best to help our distressed students feel better, especially at a time like this. But Tom has gone much further in the display of his fury than could ever be acceptable. Headmaster Dippet is currently at the hospital wing with Professor Rivers. He is helping to assess his condition. The nerve damage in his arms might never be healed.”

“Nerve damage?” Harry echoed, confused now. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

Tom’s back stiffened, and without turning, he knew Dumbledore noticed.

“After hearing Professor Rivers’ prediction, Tom attacked him.” Dumbledore spoke so gravely that Tom fought the instinct to curse him. Harry didn’t need to hear the details. “Would you like to see a memory of it?”

Harry was silent, and each beat of this silence put another rock in Tom’s stomach. It felt heavy and uncomfortable, and when Harry finally said, “Yes,” Tom raised his head.

“Don’t,” he asked quietly. The words tasted bitter. Unusual. He had never asked for something like this, but right now, he’d give a lot for Harry to listen to him and just walk out of this office. Tom had seen him. Tom had learned that he’s fine — he could let him go now, for a while, at least.

Harry looked at him intently. Then his hand squeezed the back of Tom’s neck.

“Everything will be fine,” he whispered. “I’m with you, no matter what.”

Tom blinked, and the next moment, Harry was already standing next to Dumbledore, watching him pull the vial with a silver memory. In another minute, he was gone, and Tom was left with Dumbledore, waiting for the inevitable results. But the thought of them didn’t worry him as much as before. Not after Harry’s promise.

Harry made a lot of promises.

I’m not giving you up. No matter what.

I love you. That won’t change.

I’m raising you. You can see it as my long-term ambition.

You are the most important person in my life. No one will take this from you.

They might hold an important part of me but you will still have more. You will always have more.

And now the new one. I’m with you, no matter what.

Harry gave him his love and devotion willingly, and Tom was never giving them back. He had each of Harry’s promises memorised, collected together and treasured. And he would use them as his weapon if needed.

Harry would have to accept all of his actions no matter what. Even if he hated them. So what if he’d gone too far with Rivers? The fraud deserved it. Tom would do it again in a heartbeat.

Dumbledore was looking at him and Tom stared back defiantly.

He will never give me up,’ he thought, and his lips stretched in an unpleasant smile. ‘He will be mine no matter what you show him.’   

He couldn’t be sure if Dumbledore ever used Legilimency, but out of curiosity, Tom lowered his shields, pulling a string of memories to the front of his mind. Each contained Harry: their holidays, their adventures to search for ingredients that they later used for cooking, the nights they spent together, in one bed, regardless of the fact that Tom was too old for it already.

He didn’t sense any invasion but Dumbledore’s face suddenly changed, became scrunched, as if he was extremely distressed. He must have seen it, then. How often did he visit Tom’s mind? Tom had an excellent protection now, but what about before? In the previous years?

Had Dumbledore seen the murder of Charlus Potter?

The idea was sobering and Tom shut off the access to his mind again. This was the moment Harry chose to return: he stumbled out of the memory awkwardly, nearly crashing into Dumbledore’s table. Tom straightened, his eyes zeroing in on Harry’s face, trying to read his emotions.

Harry was pale. His brows kept trembling slightly, like he wasn’t sure how to position them — this spoke of turmoil. Slowly, Harry raised his chin and turned to Dumbledore.

“Tom’s reaction was extreme. I agree,” he said emotionlessly. Tom’s heart sank, skipped a frightened beat, but Harry continued, “However, he was provoked,” and calmness spread through him in a comforting wave.

Just like he’d thought, Harry was on his side. Harry kept his promises. He wouldn’t betray him.

“Would you mind if we talked privately, Mr. Potter?” Dumbledore asked. Tom opened his mouth to protest but Harry pulled out his wand and waved it before any sound went outside. The magic shifted, forming an invisible barrier and leaving Tom seething.

He wanted to break these charms. He needed to hear what was being discussed. Dumbledore had such a way of twisting everything — Harry had no idea how to deal with him.

Carefully, Tom pushed his own magic forward, testing the barrier. It was surprisingly thick. He didn’t think Harry was capable of conjuring something this strong. Still, Tom’s magic was stronger. He pressed, pushed, and plucked, and finally, the bits of phrases started to slip out.

“…on him. He was traumatised, you can’t possibly…”

“…not acceptable. Psychopathic tendencies… deceive you… see it…”

“…know him… on his side. I won’t let you… still a child.”

Tom intensified his efforts, suddenly desperate to hear more.

“…things he did. Has it ever occurred to you that you might not know everything about his…”

“I know more than you can imagine. More than you will ever be able to imagine. It doesn’t change the fact that… was completely inappropriate. He was goading Tom.”

“…hardly an excuse.”

“…had enough of seers predicting my death. Tom doesn’t need to hear it either. I agree that… talk to him.”

“…supervise him more. I’ve heard you are a… teaching at Hogwarts? Your recommendations…”

“…expect this. I’ll think about it.”

“…Mr. Potter. Maybe a female figure…”

“…doubt it. But I will consider it.”

The barrier disappeared abruptly and Tom reeled back from the suddenness of it. Harry nodded at Dumbledore stiffly and then took Tom’s hand, walking towards the door.

As soon as they were alone, Harry exhaled, and the tension seeped out of him.

“What a day,” he said dryly. Tom nodded, hesitant about the approach he should choose. The conversation with Dumbledore was concerning but Harry seemed to hold on well. He also didn’t look angry or disappointed — on the contrary, he appeared almost relaxed now that they were away from Dippet’s office.

“I don’t approve of what you did,” Harry said, but his strict words were belied by a comforting hand he lay on Tom’s shoulder. “This was scary and unwarranted. No matter what that man said, these were just words. You can’t let the words affect you.”

“I know,” Tom grimaced. Harry was right. He’d made a mistake. Rivers deserved retribution but not such an overt one. This was a clear misstep.

“But I also understand that it wasn’t calculated. You were angry and you didn’t think. It happens. And whatever Dumbledore says, I know you weren’t in the right state of mind. You couldn’t control it. Actually, I can relate to it. I blew up my… not-really-aunt once.”

Tom’s jaw dropped open.

“You did?” he asked incredulously. “How? Why? When?”

Harry laughed, and just like that, the remaining particles of unease vanished. Tom smiled involuntarily, charmed by how carefree Harry sounded.

“That’s quite a long story,” Harry told him. Tom didn’t mind. He could listen to him forever.

 

***

 

The incident with Rivers had dual consequences. On the one hand, even those who were sceptical about entering Tom’s alliance before now seemed awed by him, flocking to his side. On the other hand, the teachers were conflicted. Their scrutiny intensified and Tom couldn’t get revenge on Rivers no matter how covert it was. He would be suspected automatically, which was not what he wanted.

He chose a subtle and less effective approach of not dropping Divinations. Rivers seemed spooked to even look at him, angry at his embarrassment and his damaged hands but also fearful and wary. Tom supposed it was rather pathetic for an adult teacher to fall victim to a third-year student, but he was always special, so it wasn’t surprising.    

His letters to Harry increased in quantity for a while, his need for reassurance of his well-being growing. October passed peacefully, but in November, something changed. 

Harry’s letters became awkward. Awkward in the sense that it seemed like he wanted to say something but had no idea how to do that. So he wrote pages upon pages of meaningless chatter, approaching some revelation but then moving away from it again.

Tom was curious. This curiosity was of a greyer shade, ready to grow into displeasure if the reasons for Harry’s behaviour turned out to be something Tom wouldn’t like. Whatever it was, he hoped it was connected to him. Maybe Harry had some surprise for him — another gift or something similar that he didn’t want to spoil sooner than necessary.

When Christmas holidays came, Tom was burning with anticipation. As always, Harry was already waiting for him when the train arrived, but this time, instead of crashing into him as he usually did, Tom jerked him close. He wasn’t taller than Harry yet but he was growing rapidly, so he could control their hugs to a bigger extent now.

Harry let out a surprised noise before laughing and putting his hands around Tom’s back, leaning into him.

“Missed home already?” he teased.

“Missed you,” Tom said, and Harry’s eyes softened, green and bright and loving. Then a spark of realisation and uncertainty shadowed them.

“Oh,” he uttered, pulling back and clearing his throat. “I completely forgot to— Tom, this is Beth.”

For the first time, a tall, dark-haired woman came into his focus. Tom slowly turned to her, staring, and only endless self-control allowed him to keep his face blank.

 “She is my—” Harry gestured almost helplessly and the woman gave him a wide, warm smile.

“Girlfriend,” she finished. “Honestly, Harry, no need to stress so much over the labels. Hi, Tom,” Beth offered her hand to him. Tom waited until the embarrassed flush hit her cheeks before finally accepting it.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said neutrally. The blood in his veins had turned into ice somewhere between ‘this is Beth’ and ‘girlfriend’. The shock was too overwhelming, muddling his thoughts to the point where he knew he couldn’t make a rational decision as to how to react. Harry. He had to think about Harry.

But was Harry thinking about him? Bringing this… being to meet him? Starting dating her without ever saying a word? Was this his surprise, the one Tom had been waiting for?

“I wanted to tell you sooner but I thought it’s better to do that in person,” Harry told him, smiling sheepishly. “Let’s go home. Beth is living with us for now, so I hope you’ll get to know each other better.”

Could Harry be this idiotic? Or was it a joke? What in the world made him think that Tom would tolerate the presence of this abhorrent creature in their house?

“I hope we’ll become friends,” Beth said, and her smile was indeed hopeful. The kind of smile Tom would have loved to remove, and not with magic but with his bare hands.

He didn’t reply to her, giving his hand to Harry for side-apparition instead.    

This wouldn’t end well for any of them. How could Harry think that such betrayal was acceptable? That Tom wouldn’t do anything about it? It was like he was doing it on purpose.

With a loud snap, he and Harry disapparated, and for a short moment, there were just the two of them again, like it should have been from the start.

Then they arrived and Tom saw Beth reappearing at the exact same time.

His fingers were already twitching with murder.    

 

***

 

“Before you voice what is undoubtedly your disapproval, let me speak,” Harry told him quickly. Beth went to the kitchen, allegedly to prepare some tea, while Harry helped him get his truck upstairs.

Tom nodded at him silently. The ice inside him wasn’t melting — no, it was getting thicker, and every part of his body started feeling cold as well.

“Beth is a Squib,” Harry said. “She’s moved into the area recently and we met on the street, pretty much by accident. She’s nice — no, she’s lovely. She really is. I never consciously realised how lonely I am now that you’re at Hogwarts, so I enjoyed finally making a friend.”

“A friend?” Tom asked emotionlessly. He kept himself entirely still. He could feel blood draining from his face slowly, trying to reach the frozen places around his heart and melt them, as if it was possible in this situation.

“Well, a little more than that now,” Harry admitted. His face flushed, and Tom would have loved to kiss even more redness into it if given a chance. Harry looked ethereal when he blushed, so beautiful and endearingly naïve, but the thought of it being caused by Beth, this woman with no rights, no claims on him… this was maddening. His insides burned from cold, deadly fury.

Harry was watching him now, his gaze assessing.

“I understand that you may have reservations about it,” he said, more softly this time. “But I hoped our last conversation about people in my life and my feelings for you made some difference. This thing with Beth, it’s not serious. Not yet. But I like her and I think we might build something. Consider this a test run. Let’s spend the holidays together, all three of us. I’d like you to make an effort to know her. If you are still uncomfortable with her presence after that, I’ll take it into account. All right?”

He would take it into account. What did it mean? That he would kick Beth out and never see her again? Because this was the only outcome Tom could ever be comfortable with.

No matter. This wouldn’t last, he wouldn’t let it. But maybe he had to wait before striking. For Harry.

“All right,” Tom echoed. He smiled, thinking about how lovely Beth would look if she was missing everything but a torso with a head, and Harry smiled back at him, obviously relieved.

“Thank you,” he murmured, touching Tom’s face briefly. “This means a lot to me. But you still mean more.”

Tom nodded, and smiled again.

More wasn’t enough. He wanted everything. And he wouldn’t settle for anything less.

 

***

 

 

The fact that the next several days were amusing was the only thing that prevented Tom from acting on what he actually felt.

Beth was dancing around him, ready to do whatever he wanted just to get his approval. Harry was constantly nervous, looking at Tom questioningly without even realising it whenever he was interacting with her. Beth was pathetic, Harry was endearing, and Tom let the amusement compensate for the fact that he was forced to sleep in his own bed, that he had to tolerate the presence of a stranger, that he couldn’t spend as much time with Harry as he was supposed to.

However, the amusement shattered on the fifth day, when Harry apparently decided Tom was fine with his parody of a relationship. Laughing at some inept joke Beth said, Harry leaned forward and kissed her, and suddenly, Tom was full of bile. It poisoned everything in him, making the need to spew his rage so powerful that he almost choked on it clenching his fists in impotent fury. For a second, torn between fury and envy, he couldn’t speak, or breathe, or even think. But then the outer layer of anger broke apart and confident, deadly calmness flooded him instead.

Beth had to go. He had been willing to wait before, to give Harry an opportunity to get rid of her himself, but if he insisted on being so difficult, Tom had no other choice but to take matters into his own hands.

All he needed to do was to plan and be smart about it.

 

***

Magic was out. Poison was boring because he had already used it on Charlus, not to mention that a sudden death at home would be suspicious. No, everything had to look like an accident, something that had happened outside, something that Tom couldn’t be connected to.

Muggle weapon was the best choice, really. It would serve two goals at once: eliminate Beth from Harry’s life and turn Harry against Muggles, at least to an extent.

Gutting her with a knife personally would probably feel incredible. Tom’s heart sped up at the very idea of it: doing something this intimate, breaking through Beth’s skin literally, twisting the knife and feeling how her organs tear… the excitement that came with these images was so powerful that his hands began to tickle, and Tom flexed his fingers, trying to get rid of the sensation.

He’d never done something like this before. Destroying a person in such a close way had to bring amazing euphoria, euphoria much more intense than that brief one he’d experienced when killing Charlus. But regretfully, he couldn’t do it himself this time. Too risky. His alibi had to be impeccable. It meant that he had to find—

Tom’s train of thoughts collapsed when someone jumped on him from behind and tackled him into the snow. Hissing in annoyance, he jerked around, the wand he couldn’t use jumping into his hand, but before he could see his attacker, he got even more snow into his face. Ironically, it made him relax. Only one person could have the audacity to do something like this, and it was the only person he could never harm.

“I thought you grew out of this,” Tom commented, wiping his eyes and ducking when the next snowball flew in his direction. “Honestly, must you always—”

Harry’s snowball caught him this time and Tom huffed, backing away and taking a fighting stance.

“You’ll never be too old for snow-fighting with me,” Harry declared. His skin seemed almost translucent today. He glowed with bright, infectious happiness, and Tom stared at him, transfixed. Only another snowball shook the haze off him.

“I was talking about you, not me,” he replied, constructing a snowball of his own and sending it in Harry’s direction swiftly. Harry ducked, smooth and efficient. “You could play Quidditch with such reflexes,” Tom grunted. That was why he hated these games: he could best Harry only with magic or by playing extremely dirty.

“I did,” Harry told him cheekily, ducking again and then again, when Tom sent a surprise snowball at him. “You seemed deep in thought. Something on your mind?”

“A gift. Don’t give me that look, it’s not for you. It’s for me.”

“You are giving yourself presents for Christmas now?” Harry snorted with laughter. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Oh, shut up!” Tom lunged at him, and they both fell into the snow. The mirth between them was so palpable that Tom wanted to close his eyes and just bask in it. These were his favourite moments. He could sacrifice anyone and anything to preserve them and get more of them.

And he would.

He would, and Harry would never know.   

 

***

 

The war had brought a lot of worries for Tom. Right now, though, it played to his advantage.

Many impoverished people filled the streets. Some merely hoped for a job. Others were also interested in finding a job, but based on the desperate glint in their eyes, they didn’t care what it entailed.

Arming himself with the wand, Tom walked through the worst Muggle streets, taking careful glimpses into the memories of those around him. If Harry knew he was in this district, he would have a heart attack — another reason why he’d never learn about it.

Tom discarded some options right away. Some would have to be checked in the end, if he failed to find a perfect fit.

After almost an hour of walking, Tom finally stumbled across it. It was a man with a hungry look — he didn’t appear unstable but there was a certain aura of danger coming from him. For a Muggle, he wasn’t all that bad, and as his memories showed, he wouldn’t mind doing a dirty job.

“I’ll give you 120 pounds up front,” Tom told him. He and Harry still didn’t have an abundance of money — there was enough but it couldn’t come close to the fortune Potters possessed. Unfortunately, Potters seemed to drop off the face of the earth, so Tom had no idea what they were doing or if they were even alive at this point.

The money they did have was kept in disarray, so Tom could always take as much as he needed. This time, though, he didn’t have to do even that — Beth, the fool, had given him twenty galleons for Christmas with a conspiratorial wink, as if he wasn’t supposed to tell Harry about it. These galleons had quickly turned into 60 pounds, so he had the first part of the payment covered. The second part came from his own supply.

After this conversation, he would never have to see this man again. All tracks will be covered.  

“Beth Logan,” Tom said coldly. “I will give you her photo and her typical schedule. I don’t care how you kill her but it has to be effective. Take whatever money you find on her — it has to look like a robbery. No mistakes. You must do it in February, not sooner. If you lie to me and try to escape with the money, you will regret it.”

While Tom wore a hoodie, he knew his voice betrayed his age. He had to use some persuasion tactics mixed with compulsion. He had never tried long-term non-verbal compulsion before, so he was curious as to whether it would work.

“Look here,” he murmured, opening his palm. When the man obeyed, Tom conjured a small, decorative knife. He knew it wouldn’t hold its form for long but even a minute was enough. The man’s eyes bulged in shock and fear and he backed away, suddenly going white in the face. Tom waited for a moment, savouring this reaction, before vanishing the knife and hiding his hands in the pockets.

“If you lie, I will know,” he repeated. “I will expect the results from the first to fifteenth of February. The woman might be walking with a man. If so, walk away. Do not touch him. He mustn’t see what happens and he is not to be harmed in any way. Understood?”

The man nodded shakily.

“Good,” Tom smiled. This was perfect. No one would be able to suspect him or link him to this crime. Muggle authorities had nothing to do with the world of wizards, and Harry would never figure out that Beth’s death wasn’t as simple as it appeared.

He could hardly wait.

 

***

 

Tom spent the last day of holidays with Harry and Beth. It wasn’t a bad day — he treated it as a curious rarity that would never repeat itself again, so he managed to enjoy himself. By the end of it, both Harry and Beth were grinning foolishly, pretending like they all were a family. Tom didn’t break their delusions — he watched Muggle movies with them, cooked with them, and even agreed to build a snowman together. Normally, he wouldn’t allow anyone but Harry to see him doing such undignified things, but Beth had an end-date, so her opinion was in no way important.  

On King’s Cross, Harry clang to him, like he was unwilling to let go, and Tom clang right back.

“It was great meeting you,” Beth told him, with an uncertain but genuine smile. “I hope you enjoy your time at Hogwarts. Going there is a privilege that most students don’t appreciate properly.”

“I assure you, I’m not among them,” Tom said.

“I know,” Beth reached out to clap him on his shoulder and Tom found it hard to keep himself from grimacing. He hoped no one saw a Squib touch him so freely. “I hope you liked these holidays as much as I did. If you don’t mind, maybe we could spend summer vacation together, too?”

“Beth,” Harry interrupted her suddenly, a clear warning in his voice. Tom raised his eyebrows at this, intrigued.

Harry didn’t really like Beth. He liked the idea of her, that much was obvious, but he had never been anything but cordial to her before.

“Right, sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself,” Beth backed away, but Tom put his charming smile back on.

“Not at all,” he said. “I would love to spend summer together.”

“Really?” Beth brightened. Harry, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes.

“You would?” he asked sceptically.

Damn. Why did he have to show perceptiveness now?

“Yes,” Tom looked him right in the eyes. “Beth is wonderful. I don’t mind spending time with her.”

Harry didn’t look convinced but Beth puffed up with pride.

“I’ll see you in summer,” Tom added, throwing one last lingering look at Harry. Then he moved towards the train.

Harry might doubt him all he wanted. He would still never figure out the truth, not with how thoroughly Tom had planned everything. And the summer would belong just to them, like it always did. Like it always would.   

 

***

 

January crawled forward, but it was doing it so slowly that Tom was getting more and more restless. Harry’s letters were innocent and careless, and it didn’t help matters. To distract himself, Tom delved into his schoolwork and politics, and soon, it began to help. The first week of February arrived quickly, after all, and more and more, he drifted off to the thoughts of Harry’s reaction. Would he be upset? Angry? Worried? Would he fall apart and require Tom’s help in putting him back together?

His answer came on February 13.

Tom was just getting ready to leave the Great Hall when Slughorn approached him with a small crease in his forehead.

“Tom, your guardian has arrived,” he said, concern lacing his voice. “He’s waiting for you outside. He says it’s urgent, asked to see you.”

Tom’s heart froze before jumping in glee and excitement.

Harry was here. He was here. Did he come to share the news personally? Was everything done, was Beth dead?

“Thank you, professor,” Tom replied belatedly. Why was Harry waiting outside? Away from Dumbledore’s prying eyes?

There wasn’t time to think — anticipation was thrumming through his veins, sending an occasional tremor through his body.

Harry was waiting not far from the entrance. He was the same — all the same, but his eyes…

Tom stopped.

Harry’s eyes were ice-cold. Foreign. No trace of warmth or love there.

He knew. He knew. He knew.

Excitement vanished like smoke, changing into terror.

He couldn’t. Harry couldn’t know. What had happened? Had Tom made a mistake somewhere? Had that poor excuse of a human being he paid messed something up?

Slowly, Tom resumed walking, trying to ignore how his limbs trembled. Harry’s expression matched his eyes. It was just as cold and stony. And suddenly, Tom’s panic dissipated, giving way to defiance and certainty.    

Harry loved him more than anything. Tom didn’t doubt it now. He loved him enough to forgive him, no matter what he’d done. Before, there was a chance of Harry giving up on him, but not now. It was too late. Harry had given him promises and Tom was going to make him keep them.

Maybe it was time to let one of his masks slip.

He raised his chin, staring at Harry challengingly. Then he crossed the final distance between them and curled his lips in a smile.  

“Harry,” he drawled. “What an unexpected surprise.”

Harry didn’t smile back. But he would, eventually. Tom would make him.

And then everything would be like it’d been before.