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What He Grows To Be

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When he opened his eyes, only blankness greeted him. He was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing, and if he weren’t aware of his own eyes blinking, he would have thought that this was a part of a strange, unpleasant dream.

With a frown, Tom sat up, studying the room around him slowly.

No, his initial impression was incorrect. He wasn’t in the middle of nowhere. He was at home — or at least this place looked like home. Right now, it seemed like a hurricane had been raging inside: the table was overturned, the books from the shelves were scattered on the floor, and even the furniture was all in the wrong places, as if someone had been throwing it around aimlessly.

And yet, he felt nothing at the sight.

That was where the confusion came from: he wasn’t surrounded by the blankness, he was filled with it. Even now, looking at the destroyed living room, he felt no stirring of anxiety or concern.

It wasn’t a bad feeling. In fact, it felt strangely comfortable.

Tom stood up, his frown deepening when his muscles ached at the movement. What had he been doing to tire himself like this? His body felt exhausted, and he suspected that the physical sensation of emptiness in his chest was supposed to worry him more than it did. What was happening?

Testing his legs warily, Tom walked towards the kitchen. A bright green cup caught his attention, and for a moment, something inside him lurched violently. A terrible mangled wound opened right underneath the emptiness, sending doses of shocked pain through his blood. Tom sucked in a breath and swayed on his feet, grabbing the counter in a half-blind attempt to steady himself, but the next second, everything was suddenly gone. The strands of his magic entwined, hiding the wound and numbing every emotion that tried to burst outside, neutralising them before they could do any damage.

The vacuum returned, serene and calming. It was extremely tempting to let himself dissolve in it, but something in Tom rebelled against the idea.

If he’d suspected that something wasn’t right before, now he was certain of it. His own magic was trying to trick him — was it protecting him from his memories? Was it even possible?

Unsure how to proceed, Tom let his eyes wander. They stopped at the lonely bottle of butterbeer that stood on the counter, glimmering softly under the preservation spell, and once again, his brows furrowed.

He didn’t like this drink. It was too sweet, too sickening. So what was it doing here? Had he brought it for someone?

Ridiculous. Whom would he bother bringing anything for when there was no one he could possibly—

Harry!

Tom stilled as the foreign name breathed itself into existence, spreading through his head in a persistent echo.

Harry. Harry. Harry.

The magic trembled in him in a desperate effort to keep itself wrapped around something. Around memories — it had to be.

Something had happened. Something bad, so bad that it must have broken his mind to the extent where his magic snapped into protective mode, trying to shield him and give him time to regroup.

That was why he was feeling so exhausted. He was practically drained — a huge volume of his magic was focused on keeping something buried and blocking his emotions.

Tom despised mysteries.

He closed his eyes, reaching for the cluster of magic he could feel roiling deep inside his chest. It flared upon his first conscious touch, as if scaring him away, too set on continuing its frantic crusade.

“That’s enough,” Tom growled. He threw the remaining part of his magic at this cluster, shattering it and ripping the misleading camouflage away.

The moment he did, his memories flowed free, crashing into him with a force of tsunami. His legs buckled again, and this time, he couldn’t stop himself from falling.

Harry. Harry. Harry. Harry.

Grindelwald. Charlus Potter, creating problems for him even from his grave.

Harry.

Harry dead. Harry killing himself. But then coming alive again, wrapping Tom in an embrace, kissing him, whispering words of comfort.

Harry sharing a secret with him. Harry being a time traveller — a time traveller who knew a version of Tom in his first universe. Who came here because he needed to prevent Tom from joining Voldemort, a wizard whose rise Tom had apparently contributed to.

Most images of the memories he’d seen were blurry: Tom hadn’t had time to really concentrate on them. His thoughts were consumed by the opportunity that had fallen straight into his hands, so he planned, plotted, and calculated, seeing the future they could share instead of the past he had nothing to do with.

He succeeded. Harry became his just as he became Harry’s. But then—

Then Harry left.

He left him. He left. He left. And Tom failed to stop him. His magic failed, his mind failed, his power failed. Harry left with his things, and he said— he said—

I’m going to leave you. I’m going to a place where you will never find me. And I’m not going to come back.

I’m not going to come back.

I’m not going to come back.

Pain exploded in his temples. Jolts of horror and despair shook his body so hard that Tom accidentally crashed his head into the counter: the dull sound was deafening, but for some reason, the ache didn’t follow. Another kind of hurt was quickly spreading, squelching every other sensation and leaving its boiling traces all over his insides. Tom let out a strangled sound, pushing his head into his knees, his magic whirling around him in helpless circles.

One moment of clarity. He just needed one moment of clarity. Maybe it would help, maybe he would be able to think, not just shiver here like some frightened, abandoned animal…

But no matter how hard Tom clung to rationality, nothing worked. His heart was hammering, his lungs were working chaotically, and before he knew it, the images of the kitchen began to blur into one dark spot. It grew and grew and grew until it swallowed him, and then there was only oblivion.

 

***

 

When he woke up, his head felt empty. His magic had clearly tried to alleviate the damage again because for a moment, Tom couldn’t remember a thing. It didn’t last long, though: his energy supplies hadn’t recovered yet, so he managed to shake off the self-inflicted blackout within ten seconds.

He remembered. He remembered.

But he still had no idea what to do.

Wild, raw, Tom looked around the kitchen. His eyes stopped at Apophis, who was sitting on the table, staring at him with his piercing gaze. There was a letter in his claws, and a fierce hope flared in Tom, pushing the cloud of darkness away.

Without a word, he lurched forward, colliding with the edge of the table and nearly overturning it in the process. Apophis screeched indignantly, but before he could move, Tom grabbed him by the throat, pulling him up and tearing the letter from his claws forcibly. His hands were shaking so badly that he nearly dropped it — the lines were jumping, making it impossible to read them.

Tom released Apophis, ignoring the way he recoiled from him, and grabbed the letter with both of his hands. The text became steadier, and as soon as it did, his hopes crashed down, giving way to a familiar nausea.

The handwriting was too elegant and practiced to be Harry’s. It wasn’t his letter. It was meaningless.

Still, his eyes skipped over the lines.

Dear Tom,

I’m sorry to bother you, I know you hate receiving letters (for the most part), but I had to ascertain that you are fine. No one has seen you since the day before yesterday. Is everything all right? Where are you?

Big changes are coming, Tom. There is a tremendous number of people who would like to meet you. The sooner you do, the faster we can push our plans along. It’s starting, I can feel it.

To victory!

Lois Lestrange

With a furious hiss, Tom tore the letter to pieces. His body was vibrating. It felt too hot, it felt too cold — it was too much.

He just needed to think. If he came up with a plan, the suffocating panic would retreat — he knew it would. If he could think of anything that could help him, anything at all…

A letter. Birds like owls could find the addressee no matter where they were located.

Apophis could find Harry. All Tom needed was to follow.

The long-awaited relief brought a burst of dizziness with it. For the first time in what felt like weeks, Tom managed to breathe in without choking on air, so he laughed, wildly and unabashedly.

He had to write a letter, place a tracking spell on Apophis, and this nightmare would end. He would see Harry and things would start making sense again. They would talk, Tom would explain everything one more time, and Harry would understand. He had to. The bond wasn’t created to hurt him, it was for his own good. For both of them, for their future together.

He had failed to find appropriate words before, but he wouldn’t repeat this mistake. Everything would be fine. In a week already, they’d be able to leave these terrible days behind.

The thought was deeply comforting. It calmed his heart, soothed his nausea, lightened his mind, and Tom inhaled again, feeling how the tremors slowly retreated.

Parchment. He needed some parchment now.

It was difficult to find anything in the mess he’d made. Tom spent almost ten minutes before he found the paper, and then he stood with it, staring at it blankly, wondering why he hadn’t used a simple summoning spell.

Maybe his head wasn’t clear enough yet. Maybe there was still something wrong with him.

But it didn’t matter. He would see Harry soon. Harry would make it all right.

Tom grabbed a quill and wrote, “Harry.” Stopped.

Every word was shaky. His hand already felt sore.

Gritting his teeth, he tried to continue.   

You misunderstood. I can explain. I wanted

The quill fell from his fingers. They were trembling again, bursting with the need to voice everything Tom had failed to say but being completely useless in their eagerness. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t produce another word, so with a frustrated growl, Tom threw the quill away.

Two and a half sentences would suffice. It’s not like he was going to rely on the letter anyway — he was planning on talking to Harry. He just had to find him first.

The surroundings continued to blur around the edges, fuelling the light-headedness that wreaked havoc in his mind. Stumbling, Tom returned to Apophis, thrusting the semblance of a letter at him.

“Take it to Harry,” he ordered. “Be quick.”

For a moment, he thought Apophis wouldn’t obey. The way he stared, contemplative and wary, was enough for the anger to start humming somewhere in Tom’s body, feeding on magic that rolled restlessly under his skin.

If Apophis refused… if he dared to refuse…

Whatever expression he had, it must have been convincing. Apophis made a low sound, grabbed the letter, and dived into the window so fast that Tom barely managed to throw a tracking spell after him. He released his breath only afterwards, leaning against the table and closing his eyes.

Harry would be found. He would be found any minute now. The spell would make Tom feel Apophis’ arrival to his destination, and then he would simply apparate there. He would see Harry, he would explain, and everything would be fine again.

Very soon, these thoughts turned into a soothing echo. They kept washing over his mind from all sides, over and over again, and his sense of reality faded. Tom was floating between the worlds, caught in a web of dreams that bordered on hallucinations. He had no idea how much time had passed when his magic suddenly buzzed in a warning.

Apophis found Harry.

His eyes flew wide open, and the next moment, Tom was gone.

 

***

 

He landed in the middle of a meadow. It was surrounded by the trees from three sides; the fourth ended with a small stream. There was nothing else in the vicinity, and from the place itself, it didn’t look like a town or a village could be located nearby.

And yet his magic had brought him here. It couldn’t have failed.

Hesitantly, Tom made several steps forward, looking at the yellow grass and dying flowers. Inch by inch, he explored the meadow, both physically and with his magic.

Nothing. No trace of life other than a little sparkle indicating that Apophis was here somewhere.

His heart shrank, already flinching away from the upcoming onslaught of pain. Shaking his head resolutely, Tom decided to cover the meadow again, but before he could move, he saw Apophis. He materialised out of thin air and immediately flew up, either missing or deliberately ignoring him. Tom’s attempt at a letter was gone, and Apophis wasn’t carrying any response either.

Slowly, Tom’s eyes moved to the place from where his bird had appeared. He still saw nothing, yet his stomach seized in a preparatory way.

Harry was here. He was right behind this invisible wall. If Tom could break it…

White noise filled his ears. His gaze was fixed on the spot ahead, and Tom moved, directing every drop of magic in him against it. He could practically see the ocean of energy rushing forwards, glimmering in the weak sunlight, fuelled by the obsessive conviction that this nightmare would be over in the next ten seconds. Harry was here, Tom had found him — now he only had to get to him. The wall was a physical obstacle, meaning that he could overpass it.

It was nothing. He could do it.

But the magic flew through the space unobstructed. It made a wide circle around the meadow before returning to Tom, melding seamlessly into his body.

There was no wall.

Of course there was no wall. He’d just covered every inch of this cursed place and he hadn’t stumbled upon anything. How had he not realised this sooner? What was wrong with his head?

The thought sent a trickle of concern down his bloodstream, but it quickly drowned in a more horrifying understanding.

Harry might be here, but there was no way to get to him. Whatever magic he had used, it hid him away from the rest of the world. He could spend decades and centuries here, and he’d be close and yet forever out of reach. Tom could be standing just an inch away and he’d never even know it. Never see or touch or smell him again, not unless the spell was broken.

Whatever remnants of sanity still clung to him vaporised. Darkness descended, and Tom screamed his rage. He lunged at the no-wall, fell right through it, and ended up on the grass. His fingers dug into the ground under it, destroying everything on their way. The world around him spun again, and his magic broke away, speedily coating the grass and the flowers in the layers of scorched blackness.

Toxic bile stirred in his stomach. Then it rushed to his throat, filled his mouth, and Tom lost himself to these physical sensations, his mind slipping far, far away.

 

***

 

When he opened his eyes again, it was nearly dawn. The first rays of redness touched the tops of the trees, slipping towards the stream. Tom stared blankly. The next thing he knew, he was already standing near the water, peering into it to see his reflection.

He looked dirty. His chin was bloodied. His hair was a complete mess, even worse than Ha—

Harry.

Awareness flooded back, but this time, instead of blind horror and grief, Tom felt an entirely foreign fear.

He was going crazy. His magic was out of control — if it kept giving him these self-induced temporary mind wipes, things truly had to be bad. Tom wasn’t sure he’d ever read about magic being able to do that.

He had to get to Harry. But he also had to regain control over himself.

Shaking on his feet, Tom turned around, gazing at the meadow again. The ground where he’d fallen was all black — the energy he’d let out must have been incredibly toxic to poison everything in the vicinity.

But Harry was there. He was there. For now, it would have to be enough. There was no spell Tom couldn’t crack, and sooner or later, he would do it. He just had to get better first.

He was terribly cold. Weakness continued to gnaw on his every bone; his magic was too chaotic to listen properly, but Tom still tried to focus and apparate home. The air swirled around him, and then he crashed into the floor of their living room. His head span, so he tried not to move to let the dizziness pass.

But the longer he remained motionless, the worse it got. Something else was wrong with him now — something red was dripping on the carpet. Blood? Had he splinched himself during his apparition?

The pain was present, but it was distant. Shaking his head to clear the fog in it, Tom began to climb the stairs. He wasn’t sure where he was going until he entered the room and a rush of Harry-concentrated air greeted him, brushing against his face gently. The relief that followed was so sweet that Tom staggered under its impact, closing his eyes and breathing in greedily.

Harry’s bedroom. This was where he could get better. If any part of Harry was nearby, it would help. Tom would spend every hour here, soaking in his scent, and if it started to fade at some point, he’d find a way to dissect it, shape it, and store it. It would have to suffice until he found the way to bring everything back.

His thoughts turned sluggish. More blood splattered, so Tom muttered a spell. It didn’t close the wound, but the blood slowed down. Good. Harry would hate to see his floor ruined. What if he refused to come back because of this? Tom would have to make sure everything looked perfect.

But first, he needed sleep. Maybe this would help him to feel better.

He managed to make his way towards the bed, collapsed into it, and crawled under the blanket, snuggling into it until he was surrounded by it — by Harry’s scent — completely. His body was shivering, the darkness steadily spreading, dragging him back into unconsciousness.

But as long as he had this smell, this piece of comfort, he wasn’t afraid to succumb to it. He wasn’t sure why he felt like this — he was Harry’s protector, wasn’t he? So why did he want Harry’s protection right now?

Confusion kept gaining volume, and the darkness used it eagerly. A moment later, Tom felt a new lurching sensation, and then he was falling, falling, falling.

 

***

 

He wasn’t alone.

Even without opening his eyes, Tom could feel it. Someone else was in the room with him. He knew this bed, he knew the smell, and so his mind immediately jumped to the only possible conclusion.

“Harry?” Tom murmured. There was silence, and then someone released a shaky breath.

“No. It’s me,” an alien voice rasped. Alertness and hostility chased the sleepiness away, and Tom sat up, turning to glare at his unwanted guest.

Lestrange. Sitting in Harry’s chair, next to Harry’s bed, in Harry’s room. Uninvited, intrusive, offensive.

“Stand up,” Tom snapped. “Who gave you permission to sit there?”

Lestrange jumped from the chair like scalded. His eyes were very wide. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, and Tom would have commented on it if he cared.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded instead. “I didn’t summon you.”

To his surprise, Lestrange didn’t drop his gaze like he usually would. His eyes flashed with something that would have been indignation in any worthier human being.

“You should have!” he exclaimed. Apparently, his newfound bravery didn’t affect his voice because it was trembling. “You nearly died! Thanks Salazar I found you when I did! If I hadn’t come here, you would have either bled out, coughed your lungs out, or died from dehydration!”

That gave Tom pause. Dehydration? Bleeding out? When had that happened?

The memories sparkled to the surface as if they’d been waiting for this very question. The violent storm of magic he released as soon as Harry disappeared, the inability to recall a thing; nearly breaking Apophis’ neck and following his trail. The meadow where Harry had to be hiding, the realisation that it was impossible to destroy the magic protecting him; the breakdown and the unfortunate apparition.  

When was the last time he drank or ate anything? In between the repeated bouts of unconsciousness, Tom couldn’t even tell how many days had passed. He must have been surviving on magic alone all this time — no wonder he felt so crazed and helpless.

He was stronger now. His head was relatively clear, so whatever Lestrange had done, it worked.

Not that he needed it. He was immoral now, wasn’t he? So Lestrange’s actions were completely unwarranted. Tom would have been fine either way.

The reluctant appreciation shattered, re-transforming into hostility. Tom adjusted the blanket and closed his eyes briefly when a new wave of Harry’s scent tickled his nostrils.

“Why did you come?” he asked frostily. Lestrange, probably sensing the change in him, shifted uncomfortably.

“Everyone’s been wondering where you’ve gone,” he explained. He was biting his lips now, and Tom felt the strangest impulse to cut them off. It’d be funny to watch Lestrange fumble for words and bleat for mercy. “Ever since you’ve defeated Grindelwald, the entire country is in the uproar. Everyone wants to see you and talk to you.” The more he spoke, the more excited his voice became. “You did it, Tom! You did it! They all want your attention now! You can ask for a meeting with anyone, and I mean it, anyone. We could start with—”

Lestrange stopped suddenly. His confidence faltered, and when he continued, he sounded more subdued.

“We keep telling everyone that you are busy with someone else, but I decided to try to find you. You didn’t respond to my letter. I found it concerning. I know I overstepped my boundaries, but you have to understand— I mean, I hope you understand that… What happened?”

Tom measured him with a silent stare. He didn’t feel like talking. Lestrange’s rambling didn’t deserve a response anyway.

Carefully, he left the bed, testing his limbs. Everything seemed in order. There was no wound on his hand, so Lestrange must have fixed it. A terrible gnawing sensation still lurked in him somewhere, threatening to overwhelm him, but now that he wasn’t sick, Tom felt in control of it.

Mostly.

“Professor Potter hasn’t been attending lessons,” Lestrange said hesitantly. “Is there a connection? Did you… Did you have a fight?”

Tension flooded him instantly, and the gnawing feeling intensified.

“None of your business,” Tom said shortly. “Wait in the living room. Come up here in ten minutes. I’ll have a task for you.”

More hesitation, but then Lestrange nodded. When he left, Tom waited a little before following. However, he froze at the threshold.

He didn’t want to walk out of Harry’s room. He wanted to stay here, in the comfort of his smell, until he resolved this whole situation.

But he needed clothes and food — he couldn’t allow himself to regress back into that shattered state again. A few minutes, and he could return.

Tom stepped into the corridor. The air felt stale there, lacking something so vital that it might just as well be absent. His lungs burned, and before he knew it, Tom was back in the room, near the bed, clutching at Harry’s blanket helplessly and burying his face in it.

He wasn’t all right. He still wasn’t all right. His sense of gravity was gone — he was stuck in a free fall, unable to think about anything other than his intense, maddening, all-consuming need for Harry.  

Where had he gone wrong? How had he miscalculated so badly?

He didn’t need clothes. He’d order Lestrange to bring something to eat and then he would start devising ways of countering whatever spell Harry had used to hide himself from him.

The panic finally loosened its grip. Tom forced himself to release the blanket. But its absence felt like a loss, so he quickly grabbed it again and wrapped it around himself, shuddering in relief when the threatening cloud of grief retreated. 

This way, enveloped in Harry’s scent and warmth, he could start thinking again.

 

***

 

Muggle-repelling charms transformed in a manner that affected other wizards.

Invisibility spell vastly expanded.

Fidelius charm.

Tom stared at the list he’d composed, trying to understand if he was missing something. Unlikely. He knew all there was to know about charms and spells that could hide things — he’d researched it relentlessly for his future political projects.  There was no chance of Harry holding some secret knowledge.

Unless it came from the future. And he still hadn’t re-watched the memories, so he had no way of knowing if Harry arrived from some supremely developed world.

The thought unsettled him. His heart sped up, and Tom pressed his hand to his chest absent-mindedly, trying to rub the uncomfortable stinging away.

“Do you need anything?” a meek voice asked. Tom threw a curt glance at Lestrange, who was sitting at the newly conjured table with a quill of his own.

“No,” he said. “Unless you’ve come up with any worthy ideas.”

“I’m not sure there is anything I could say that you haven’t thought of already,” Lestrange admitted. It was pathetic but honest, so Tom just grunted.

He expected their conversation to end here, but Lestrange cleared his throat nervously.

“I do have some suggestions,” he uttered warily. “I’m not sure you’ll like them, but if you want to hear them…”

For a moment, Tom kept staring at his piece of parchment. Transformed Muggle-repelling charms were an impossibility. Wizards couldn’t hide from each other like this. Invisibility spell was too simple and it was easy to bypass it while Fidelius required Harry to put his absolute trust in someone. The only semi-bond Harry had was with Dumbledore, and Tom doubted he would come to him for help. If he did, the situation was hopeless anyway. Dumbledore wouldn’t tell Tom anything, and even if he died, there was no guarantee he’d been the one to cast the spell.

There was nothing he could do and nothing he could lose. Not at this point.

“Tell me,” Tom said. Lestrange didn’t comply immediately, and he tightened his grip around the quill. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t sound good, he was sure of that.

“I don’t want to offend you,” Lestrange spoke finally. His voice was already resigned, like he knew how Tom was going to react and how he would be the one to bear the impact. “But have you really thought everything through? Even if you succeed... If you fought and Potter doesn’t want to be found, he won’t react kindly to you barging in. This will only make things worse.” 

A muscle twitched in Tom’s jaw. Logical or not, Lestrange’s words were offensive, and they lit up a torch of rage in him — rage that had been waiting for a new spark. It started building up rapidly, unfurling and licking every part it could reach, pushed forward by the image of him finding a way to get to Harry yet facing another rejection.

He wasn’t sure he’d survive it. Not again.

“Get out,” Tom hissed. The liquid fury scorched the backs of his eyes. It pulsed under his skin, ready to burst through and set the world on fire. “Get out. Now.”

Lestrange backed away. He looked forlorn but unsurprised, and this was even more offensive because Tom wasn’t predictable. He wasn’t.

“There might be another way,” Lestrange tried to say. He didn’t leave, so the explosion brewing in Tom’s chest still had its target. “Wherever he is, he won’t stay there forever. He’ll go out. Maybe you could wait for him in the places that you know he’s going to visit sooner or later—”

This one had potential, but Tom was too far gone to consider it. The need to destroy something blocked every avenue of rational thought — his magic bubbled with the powerful need for eruption, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Lestrange shut the door exactly the moment it snapped. The room shook under its influence, and only the knowledge that he couldn’t let himself destroy Harry’s room made Tom turn abruptly, directing all the poisonous energy at the window.

The glass shattered. Most of the shards flew outside, but the whirlwind of magic carried some of them into the room, thrusting them in Tom’s direction. They tore into his skin, and surprisingly, the pain was sharp enough to calm him down. The violent pounding of the fury abated, letting his body deflate, and Tom lowered himself to the floor, pressing his hands to his bleeding face.

At this very moment, he felt like he could hold on. Maybe not for long, definitely not forever, but at least for a little while, up until he figured out what to do.

Pain could help.

 

***

 

Fifteen days after Harry was gone, Tom sent him a letter. Then he sat in Harry’s room, wrapped in his blanket, staring through his window. A list with more ideas was lying on the bed nearby, but he felt no strength to pick it up.

He waited, his nails scratching his skin soothingly.

 

***

 

Seventeen days after Harry was gone, Tom sent another letter. It sounded more desperate than the other one, and waiting for a reply was harder. Still, he sat near the window until Apophis returned, carrying nothing.

That night, scratching didn’t help.

 

***

 

Twenty days after Harry was gone, Lestrange tried to talk to him.

“People are still waiting for your appearance,” he pleaded. “It’s been almost a month, you have to see them. You have to return to school.”

Tom was studying the pattern of superficial wounds on his skin absent-mindedly, saying nothing. He wasn’t in the mood to talk.

“If you made an effort, if you started doing what you’ve been planning to, maybe Potter would return,” Lestrange blurted out. “Instead of sitting here like a recluse, you could—”

Tom jerked his head. A surge of potent magic gleefully crashed into Lestrange, throwing him out of the room.

After that, things were quiet.

Apophis didn’t return.

 

***

 

On the twenty-fourth day, it occurred to Tom that Harry was feeling every wound his body sustained. The realisation was belated, but with the numbness that conquered his mind, he didn’t feel surprised.

It changed things. It changed everything. His ignored letters didn’t mean that he couldn’t contact Harry — he could. His ritual had ensured this. Harry might dismiss what he wrote, might stay hidden in his meadow forever, but he would notice if Tom was wounded. This would hurt him just as much. Whether he wanted or not, he’d be thinking about Tom in those moments, and this, this was all he could ask for.

Tom grabbed his wand, pointing it at his hand. Muttering a slicing spell, he carved, ‘I need you,’ watching how blood began to pool in the cuts.

If he tried hard enough, he could almost imagine that this was Harry’s blood. That Harry was here, with him.

 

***

 

In the morning, Tom healed his hand. What felt like salvation yesterday was the glaring proof of his embarrassing weakness now, and even he wasn’t gone far enough to keep it.

But the moment the cuts disappeared, his imagined link with Harry snapped. The shock of it spread through him in a reversing wave, and Tom dived for his wand again before he could think about it, pointing it at his palm shakily.

This time, he made a simple cut. Then he sat on Harry’s bed, pressing his bleeding hand to his chest, rocking back and forth.

 

***

 

He would have liked to go to the meadow. Spending his days in Harry’s room was comforting, but if he could sit in close physical proximity to the real him, even without being able to see him…

But every time Tom tried to step out of the room, panic hit him anew, settling in his legs as a heavy weight and paralyzing them. He didn’t know why — he just knew that he had to stay inside. So he did, and the meadow remained a distant dream he wasn’t sure he could ever achieve.

 

***

 

Three more times, he woke up with no memories. Fighting his self-imposed memory blocks was frustrating, but at least it took time. Tom had too much of it lately.

He didn’t mind spending it on something that wasn’t devastation.

 

***

 

By the fortieth day, he was sick of himself. His hands turned into a scarred mess, and his only entertainment was looking at them and thinking that somewhere, Harry had to be seeing the same marks.

He was waiting. He didn’t know what for, but he was waiting, so he kept himself confined to this room, unable to walk out.  

 

***

 

One morning, Tom woke up from the sharp sting of pain. Frowning, he looked down and froze.

A thin deep cut was spreading on his finger, as if he’d nearly chopped it off with a knife. It wasn’t his, which meant that it could only be Harry’s.

A strange sensation rose in his chest, warming him after eons of cold. Tom stared in fascination.

Harry was doing something out there — he was doing it right now. Probably cooking. Listening to old music, singing along quietly, cutting the ever-present vegetables in the green apron that Tom had given him a few years ago. His finger slipping and getting under the knife; Harry hissing in pain, squinting at the cut and muttering a half-hearted curse.

Now he was probably moving around the kitchen, looking for bandage. Harry had strange ideas about healing — he often resorted to Muggle methods even when he could easily use magic.

The fog of apathy that was filling Tom’s mind began to disperse. His lips twitched in a smile — a sensation so forgotten that it almost startled him. Awareness flickered, and he finally felt like waking up.

What was he doing, sitting here like a pathetic wreck? Why wasn’t he acting on his plans? Harry might be set on ignoring his letters, but it wouldn’t last indefinitely. And if he wasn’t replying, Tom just had to find new ways of contacting him — something other than carving words into his skin.

He stood up, filled with sudden resolution. His muscles wailed from the disuse, so Tom kicked his legs a few times, frowning when they still refused to obey him immediately.

What was that Lestrange had said? Harry wouldn’t be staying in one place all day long. He’d go out. Which places would he visit? What was the likeliest location where Tom could wait for him?

The answer flared even before he had a chance to think about it fully.

Charlus Potter. A nuisance that wouldn’t fade away no matter how many years passed since Tom had killed him.

Harry had strong ideas about family. It didn’t matter that he never knew Charlus Potter personally — he would still mourn his death.

Harry would come to his grave to pay respects. And that’s exactly where Tom would find him.

 

***

 

Leaving Harry’s room for the first time felt strange. Tom’s heart clenched in the anticipation of panic, but it didn’t come, so after brief hesitation, he continued to walk.

Lestrange was sleeping in the living room, drooling on the pillow. At least it wasn’t one from their house — whatever things Lestrange was using, they were either new or conjured. Tom wasn’t about to let him sully his and Harry’s home. It was already bad enough that Lestrange decided to stay here and that Tom had been too weak to order him to leave.

Not anymore. It might have taken him one more cut on his finger, but he was finally wide awake. This time, he hoped it would be for good.

The morning winter sun was bleak, and yet Tom still found it blinding. Shielding his eyes, he visualised a detailed picture of the purebloods’ graveyard and apparated there.

The place was vast and sombre. Only some people were around — they were too far to look at him closely, but Tom lowered his gaze, studying the clothes he was wearing.

It was the same home outfit he’d put on a few weeks ago. He hadn’t bothered to change it or to take a coat, even though the air was chilly.

So maybe he hadn’t waken up completely yet. It was still a start.

Pressing his fingers to his cut, Tom tried to concentrate. He didn’t need his wand for a simple search spell, so after a second, his feet moved, carrying him towards the grave he needed. His head was empty of thoughts up until he found what he’d been looking for, and then they rushed forward, overturning one another.

The grave looked over-decorated. Flowers, toys, even wreaths were embracing it from all sides — the whole thing looked Muggle, and it was absolutely distasteful.

Tom crouched, looking through decorations slowly. He wasn’t sure what he was doing, exactly — the logical thing was to find a hiding spot and wait for Harry there, but something about this clutter kept drawing his attention. There was something familiar here, something that he recognised even without seeing it. What could it—

Tom halted. The thoughts stopped, dwindling down to their previous frozen state.

A ring was glistening in the dim sunlight, half-hidden among the lemon-like flowers. The lion on it was sleeping, and the gold kept catching the sun, which made the ring itself almost invisible in all this yellow.

Harry’s ring. The one Tom had brought him.

Nausea stirred up so violently that Tom jerked forward, pressing his fist to his mouth. He didn’t know what shook him so much, the fact that Harry had already been here and he was too late or that Harry had gotten rid of his gift like this, as if it was irrelevant. Unwanted.

Like Tom himself.

Tom recoiled from the grave. As he scrambled to his feet, nausea continued to crawl up: it filled every gap it could find, infecting it with its churning heaviness. Without thinking, Tom reached and grabbed the ring, and then he apparated away, as far from the terrible realisation as he could.

It followed him.

When his vision cleared a bit, Tom saw that he was back in Harry’s room, but this time, instead of soothing him, it only triggered him further.

Harry rejected him. Harry rejected him again.

It wasn’t an actual rejection, not really — of course Harry would want to give his supposed relative what was stolen from him, and yet it felt and tasted the same.

Harry didn’t care about his letters. He didn’t care that Tom had destroyed his arms repeatedly over the last several weeks. Harry didn’t care that he had carved the words of need into his skin time and time again — but he cared about the boy he never knew to the extent of leaving Tom’s gift with him.

It was irrational. A tiny part that fought the approaching madness tried to push this understanding into his mind, but the veil of hopelessness was already closing in on him, and Tom was rapidly drowning.

Harry truly didn’t want him. Didn’t need him. More than a month had passed and he didn’t change his mind.

I hate you.

The words cut him sharper than any spell, and Tom cringed away from the pain, doubling over and curling around himself.  

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

Harry hated him. His worst nightmare had become his reality.

The world around him flared, flickered, exploded in million sparks, twisted and melted into new unrecognisable shapes. The sounds were muted, like they were coming from underwater — or perhaps there were no sounds, just the constant ringing that wouldn’t leave his head no matter how tightly he squeezed it.

Tom snarled under his breath, jerking in a new direction, but this didn’t help. The pressure in his temples was intensifying, and the lights around him kept shifting in their brightness, bursting and dimming and flaring again until his eyes began to hurt.

Something was wrong with him. Something was wrong. He couldn’t focus. This time, it wasn’t just panic choking him — it was worse. Something large and ugly was slowly stretching itself inside him, not simply crushing the air out of his lungs but making him forget what breathing was even supposed to be like. His grasp on his own identity was slipping, and this had to be madness, didn’t it? This was how it must feel like.

A part of him ached, and only after he concentrated, he determined that it was his eyes. They were burning. Was he crying? No. No, he couldn’t — he wasn’t alone. Lestrange was supposed to be around. Lestrange, a no one, a nothing, but all he had at this moment because the person he wanted, the person he would give anything in the world to see was gone.

The lights trembled again before suddenly dropping to shadows. Tom reached out for this approaching darkness blindly, pathetically grateful for the chance to taste the oblivion, but then he heard it. Two beloved, forbidden words.

“Harry Potter...”

The shock at hearing this name seared through his every nerve ending, bursting through the shadows and chasing them away. The icy stream of clarity flowed into his mind, and for a short moment, Tom regained the ability to see.

He was still in the room. He hadn’t escaped, despite his attempts — and he was right, Lestrange was here, too. He kept saying something worriedly, waving his hands a lot, and it was clear that he was the one who had snatched his opportunity to forget.

“Shut up,” Tom gasped. His voice was so hoarse, he could hardly identify it as his own. Was he even speaking? Lestrange fell silent, so he must be.

Heaving, Tom tried to get up. How had he ended up on his knees? He couldn’t remember.

“Shut up,” he rasped again. “Don’t say his name. Don’t you ever say his name. It’s forbidden, you are not— worthy of it. It’s my right. Only I have this right, do you understand?”

“Y-yes,” Lestrange stammered. His wide-eyed look sent a jolt of vindictive pleasure through Tom’s blood, but right after that, the world began to glimmer. The madness returned, unfolding in his brain and making him jerk aimlessly, and he was suddenly terrified of losing his mind. He could barely feel his body or understand what it was doing. His consciousness wandered away, but this time, the separation was pure agony.

Harry. Harry, gone. Gone from this world as if he’d never existed, with no trace of him but the ring — he might as well be hiding in another universe because there was no way Tom could reach him. All he had was the meadow and the stream, and he had no idea what lay beyond them. 

The thoughts exploded in his head, pouring pain into every crevice. Tom dropped back onto his knees. He felt like writhing under the impact of this strange, piercing ache — it was everywhere, it was hot, it was unbearable, and all he wanted was for it to stop. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think — he needed a break. Just a short break from it all.

“Kill me,” something that must have been his lips pushed out. “You haven’t tried this spell yet, have you? Do it now.”

Lestrange’s panicked voice said words that Tom didn’t understand. The pain was getting heavier, twisting his bones just as it was ruining his mind, and this couldn’t go on. He couldn’t take it anymore.

With the last efforts, Tom tried to concentrate. The room swam into focus again.

“Come on,” he hissed at Lestrange. “Stop being such a coward.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about!” Lestrange cried out. Fat tears were sliding down his face slowly. “You are not yourself!”

“Nothing will happen to me, you fool! Now do it — or I will do it to you, and unlike me, you’ll never walk out of this room again.”

Lestrange’s body shook as he raised his wand, but then he immediately dropped his hand.

“I can’t,” he begged. His voice trembled, too. “Don’t make me, I can’t do it. Don’t you understand? I love—”

Tom laughed — a high laughter that was too hysterical to belong to him.

“That’s why you’re nothing,” he wheezed. His vision slipped away, with bursts of deliriousness replacing it. “That’s why you can never be him. He’s strong. Under all his weaknesses, he’s strong. You’re an insect. A small insignificant thing that can’t even—”

 “Avada Kedavra!” Lestrange screamed. His words were uneven sobs, but there was green, and then there was peace, and Tom was smiling.  

 

***

 

The emptiness was calm. Healing. He swam through it shapelessly, absorbing the peace and the quiet. He didn’t remember who he was or what he was doing here, but he felt content, and that was all that mattered.

Gradually, though, the peace transformed. It became erratic, colder, and the more time he spent in it, the heavier he felt. Soon, the first glimpses of reality flickered, and with that, Tom woke up.

He was lying in Harry’s bed. It was dark outside, and someone was snivelling from the floor, letting out a myriad of pathetic sounds.

With a frown, Tom sat up, glancing downwards. Lestrange was half-lying there, hiding his face in his hands, crying with such ugly sobs that it instantly sent a surge of irritation through Tom’s head.

“Shut up,” he said curtly. “And don’t stain the floor with your drool. Better yet, get out of here. I’m not in the mood to tolerate you.”

There was a yelp. Then Lestrange was facing the bed, staring at him with the horror that Tom would have found funny if depression didn’t start to sink its hooks into him again.

His reprieve was over. He returned to the real world again. The world where Harry was missing and hating him, and where Lestrange was the only thing willing to keep his company.

“This can’t be,” Lestrange stammered. His eyes were bulging out, shocked and awed at the same time. “You are… You’re supposed to be dead. I killed— You made me kill you! You…”

“Yes, I know. I was there,” Tom snapped at him. He could feel the weight of Harry’s ring in his pocket. The pain purred, slowly travelling up his veins, eager to infuse him with familiar dread and hopelessness. “As you can see, I’m unkillable. So get out. Don’t tell the others yet.”

Lestrange continued to stare. His watery eyes grew misty before warming to a colour of such intense longing and infatuation, Tom’s heart swelled in response, reminding him of his own feelings.

He probably looked at Harry the exact same way. Longing. Infatuated. Enamoured. Content to spend hours just staring, studying his every feature and committing them all to memory.

But memory was fickle. At this point already, it was failing him — he couldn’t recall the exact brightness of Harry’s eyes, the exact width of his smiles. What details would disappear next? What would he have left?

“Get out,” Tom repeated quietly. “I won’t order you again.”

It finally shook Lestrange out of his trance. He jumped up, nodding furiously and wiping the frozen tears off his face.

“I won’t tell,” he swore. It sounded like an oath. “But when you allow it, I will — I will inform everyone how powerful and how magnificent you are. You—”

“Lestrange—”

“You didn’t let me finish before, but I, I have to.” Either Tom had lost his grasp or Lestrange had gotten bolder because contrary to his orders, he stepped closer. His eyes were shining with such fierce devotion that it bordered on worship — Tom could practically taste the magic of it. “I love you. Don’t you see, Tom? I do. And I know that you love… him, but he’s not here. He’s not here — I am. Isn’t it worth something? Didn’t I prove that I would do anything you asked of me? If you gave me a chance, we could do anything! I would never abandon you and I would never make you go through what you did. If you only—”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Tom said apathetically. He wanted to laugh, but the hollowness was conquering his mind again, leaving only devastation behind. All he managed was to quirk his lips in the smallest of smiles. “Because I would never feel anything for you. I don’t care if you live or die. You can be politically useful. This is where my interest in you ends. Do you still want to stay with me?”

Uncertainty, hurt, and determination warred on Lestrange’s face. Tom waited for the outcome, distantly surprised at his own patience, and when determination won, he almost did laugh. The situation felt surreal — he was sitting in Harry’s empty room, wasting minutes on someone who was only somewhat amusing, and laughter was suddenly choking him, trying to burst through his throat. Light-headedness returned with full force, and Tom swayed back, too detached from his own body to resist.

“I do,” Lestrange said. He probably thought he looked earnest, but all Tom could see was hope and despair. “I stayed with you through the worst. I will always stay — I will never give up on you. That’s what love is.”

And all at once, it was no longer amusing. Tom stiffened as something vital was ripped right out of his gut, leaving a hole swarming with anxiety and pain.

I will never give up on you. That’s what love is. 

Tom could relate to this definition. But if this was indeed love, then Harry loved him no longer. He was gone. He wasn’t returning.

A clammy tentacle wrapped itself around his heart, squashing the life out of it. Tom hunched his shoulders before giving Lestrange a long stare.

“I’ll tell you something,” he rasped. His voice was too low, but he thought it sounded comprehensible. “I’ll tell you something, and then you will leave, and we will never have this conversation again. You don’t know me. Even after this last month, you don’t know me. You never will. You and I live on the opposite planes of existence and our paths are never going to cross. Do you know why?”

There was a pause; then Lestrange shook his head. His lips trembled, and this pathetic image embodied him to his core.

“Because you are a follower,” Tom said. He would have liked to be more present, to choose sharper words, but his tongue moved without his conscious permission. “You are weak. You need someone to lead you. Your devotion might be absolute, but it alone doesn’t make you remarkable. You are ready to kiss my feet, and that’s not what I want. At the same time, if you tried being rebellious, I would squash you under my boot without giving you time to even register it. Whatever you do, I will never be satisfied. I will never feel pleased with you and you will never be enough.”

He must have had some impact because Lestrange stepped back. He hugged himself, hiding from the truth, and Tom’s own pain flared brighter in the recognition of the posture.  

He did the same thing. He did it again and again, but it never helped because Harry never returned.

It was time to end this.

“To me, you are no more than a dog,” Tom concluded. His voice was coming from afar. “And I need neither your sloppy affections nor your attempts at rebellion. So go. Do your duty. Don’t come back until I summon you. I might reward your loyalty later, but since I have just done it already, I might also punish you for overstepping your boundaries. I never want to hear what you told me again. Is that understood?”

Lestrange opened his mouth to say something, but no sound came out. He looked devastated, and Tom wished dearly it could alleviate his own devastation.  

It didn’t.

Still without saying a word, Lestrange turned around. His shoulders were shaking. He apparated with a pop, and Tom pressed his knees to his chest, curling on Harry’s bed.

Alone again. Alone for as long as Harry stayed gone.

The silence was getting increasingly oppressive. It pushed against his mind, then against his body, grinding him into the surface of the bed until taking a breath turned into a vicious struggle.

He didn’t know what to do. He simply… he didn’t know what to do. He could survive the fact that Harry had returned his ring, but only if he could have something else instead — anything else. Anything to make the situation at least a little more bearable.

But there was nothing. And if Harry didn’t react to the fact that Tom had died, that someone had killed him, then he didn’t care at all.

The pain at this thought was sharp, visceral, merciless in its domineering onslaught. His breathing tumbled into raspy choked sounds, and Tom pressed his forehead against his knees, trying to make himself stop.

It didn’t work. It got worse. A hateful liquid filled his eyes, and then it burned his face, flowing down and leaving its hot traces. His chest continued to heave, and what had been a liberating void only ten minutes ago was now filled with whispered accusations and mocking laughter.

What did he do wrong? What did he do so wrong that it warranted this? Maybe he should have approached the ritual more carefully, but it was what Harry wanted, too! They were both safe now, bound to be together forever — Harry promised he would never leave him, so he would never need anyone else anyway. Why did he react like this? How could he stop loving Tom for something like this? He forgave him for Charlus, but he couldn’t forgive the ritual? It didn’t make sense!

The walls were closing over his head, slowly but surely. Tom wanted to look up, to make sure that there was nothing there, but his mind kept crying out, so all he could do was lie here and tremble. Madness hissed at him, and Tom dug his nails into his arm violently, pushing them in until the skin broke.

He had to stay conscious. He had to stay conscious because if he didn’t, he couldn’t know what would happen to him. Maybe he would wake up mad. Maybe the voices would overtake him. Maybe he wouldn’t remember not only Harry, but also himself. Maybe…

Something bright and radiant flared up in the room. The blinding light broke even under Tom’s eyelids and he jerked his head up, shocked and disoriented.

A dragon. A familiar silvery dragon, with its huge wings and a peculiar mouth tilted in a perpetual smile.  

It stopped several inches from the bed. Tom could sense its electric warmth, the energy it was radiating. He would have reached forwards to touch it if he didn’t feel frozen under the force of his stupor.

Was he hallucinating? Or was the dragon really here? It was a Patronus. Harry’s Patronus. Tom wouldn’t imagine it, would he? If his imagination was so vivid, he would have conjured up Harry himself, not this.

Hesitation kept blooming when the dragon suddenly opened its mouth. Then it spoke in Harry’s voice — annoyed, frustrated, but undeniably Harry’s.

Stop that.

Just two words. With them, the dragon disappeared, leaving Tom to stare at where it had just been.

Harry’s Patronus. He’d seen Harry’s Patronus. He’d heard Harry’s voice.

Harry sent a message to him. Harry told him to stop.

Slowly, Tom’s eyes travelled to his bleeding hand, lingering there. Was this what Harry had asked? For him not to hurt himself again?

He was probably angry at having to suffer the same wounds. And at having died, too.

But it didn’t matter. Harry sent him a message. He sent a message, he sent his voice, and even though it was only two words, they lit Tom up from the inside. They injected him with such a dizzying dose of joy that it rushed through every edge of his mind like a lightning, breaking through the darkness and poison. Madness retreated far behind, and Tom stood up, unable to shake a stupid, painfully wide grin off his face.  

He’d heard Harry’s voice.

With fuel like this, he felt powerful. Energised. Ready for the biggest accomplishments.

A quieter part of him tried to whisper that this burst of happiness wouldn’t last. Time would pass, Harry wouldn’t return, and his voice would become a memory again, knocking Tom back down.

Strangely, the doubts didn’t hurt him. Tom continued to grin, allowing the rapture to thaw every frozen bit of his body.

Harry cared. At least to a small extent. Tom didn’t have the power to control anything here, but for some reason, he was certain that this wasn’t the end.

No, it was the beginning. Harry would contact him again, he believed it with all his heart.

And he knew what he needed to do.

 

***

 

First, he took a bath. Cleaning spells were never fully effective, and a sense of water on his skin brought a small stir of forgotten delight. Tom allowed himself to enjoy it for twenty minutes before he finally climbed out and put on some fresh clothes.

The next step entailed treating his new self-inflicted wound properly — the way Harry would. It would take longer and it would be Muggle-like, but it was the link Tom wanted to feel.

From the moment of that terrible night years ago, when Harry nearly died in his arms after slashing his own throat, he had studied all he could about healing. This wasn’t a branch of magic that came naturally to him, but the sheer force of his power compensated for the lack of innate talent. He’d achieved amazing things — things he was certain would impress even Dumbledore because unlike Tom, the old man had no personal motivation to expand the range of his abilities.

But now… now healing the damage wasn’t the goal. The bond with Harry was. So Tom brewed the salves, took Muggle bandages, and carefully treated his arm, ignoring the dull stings of pain. At this point, they were barely noticeable.

The next stage was more difficult. He had to eat.

His stomach was shut down, just like his throat, so Tom wasn’t sure he would succeed from the first try. But if he wanted to get to the final step, he needed to restore his energy supplies, and doing it through magic didn’t feel authentic after the gift he’d gotten today.

He settled on cooking some mashed potatoes. The yellowish mass on his plate looked dead and unappetizing, but at least it was warm. Tom put a small fork of it into his mouth. His stomach rumbled warningly, and as it twisted into an even tighter knot, Tom swallowed.

It tasted dead, too. He could practically feel how the small mashed ball travelled down in an excruciatingly slow way, trying to reach its destination. When it did, Tom tried another fork, but his throat refused to work. All of a sudden, the simple process of swallowing turned into an unpassable obstacle, and Tom nearly spat the potato back onto the plate in an unexpected burst of panic.

At the same time, panic was joined by a more familiar rage. He wouldn’t let some stupid body rebellion steal his time. He needed to respond to Harry. And to do that, he needed to have his full strength.

Summoning a butterbeer, Tom took a sip, harshly washing the food down. He kept repeating this process up until he managed to lock the potato in his stomach. Something was brewing there menacingly, but it wasn’t his concern anymore — he did what he’d set out to do. Harry would be proud of him.

Now he could finally reply.

Leaving the dirty plate on the table, Tom returned to Harry’s room, wrapped the Harry-smelling blanket around himself, and raised his wand. Concentrated.

Happiness seemed like a distant and forgotten concept, but the events that evoked it were startlingly clear in his mind. Tom thought about the kiss. He thought of how frozen and unresponsive Harry was at first and how he finally kissed him back — hesitantly, slowly, and so sweetly that Tom’s vision went momentarily white from the ecstatic joy of it. Each careful, gentle movement was burned in his memory, and he relived every moment now, allowing them to fill his mind with longing and desire.

Expecto Patronum,” he muttered. A pathetic sparkle exploded in the air, followed by nothing.

With a grimace, he tried again.

Learning Harry’s secret after realising Harry had learned his; seeing the possibility of completing his ritual… The outcome of it was something Tom never wanted to consider, but the isolated memory could work well.

Expecto Patronum.”

This time, there wasn’t even a spark. His mind was suddenly blank, empty of any other happy moments, and the despondency grew like a dark could, cutting him away from the daylight.

The daylight. The sun. Maybe most of his memories were poisoned by the present now, but the brilliance of Harry’s Patronus was still vivid. It was warm and caring and all-encompassing — it was a symbol of love, and Tom latched onto it with his entire being.

Expecto Patronum.”

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing!

His heart began to drop when a silvery shape lurched towards the ceiling — the same dragon as Harry’s, maybe a little dimmer. It made several circles around the room and settled, looking at him with its pale eyes.

It worked! It actually worked!

Tom smiled, unable to contain his giddiness.

“It worked,” he repeated aloud, his voice so soft that it was barely audible. He hadn’t lost his ability to summon a Patronus. Harry would appreciate it… wouldn’t he?

It was time to send a message, yet his mouth went suddenly dry.

What could he say? Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

Tom’s lips parted, but no sound came out. The dragon titled its head in a mute question.

“I— I wasn’t sure your Patronus would remain unchanged,” Tom stammered before flushing, mortified at his inability to speak clearly. “I thought it would be different,” he added hastily, and as soon as the words were out, he cringed.

Gods, he’d only made it worse. He was hopeless. His mind truly had to be in ruins if this was all he managed to say.

The dragon snorted before dissipating, carrying the message to the recipient it knew all too well. Tom’s knees felt too weak to let him walk, so he sat right on the floor, staring at the opposite wall and waiting.

Perhaps Harry would reply today. If he could get just one more answer, even if it was really short again… Tom shivered, pulling the blanket tighter around himself.

He was expecting to keep vigil for hours, hoping he wouldn’t fall asleep, but barely five minutes passed when a far brighter Patronus illuminated the room.

Tom jumped like electrocuted. His eyes were instantly glued to this ethereal shape, prepared to devour it, to devour every word it conveyed.

“Why would it be different?” Harry’s voice asked. It wasn’t annoyed this time — just mild. Neutral. And yet every bland syllable breathed so much exhilaration in Tom that he shook with it, feeling high and grounded at once.

It felt too wonderful to be real. To hear Harry speak to him — it meant so little just two months ago, but now it was the biggest reward Tom could imagine getting.

Hesitantly, he raised his wand. He hoped he had enough magic to conjure another Patronus, but he couldn’t be certain, especially not when the words he wanted to say were already trying to choke him.

One effort. Just one more effort. Harry was talking to him — it was enough to power a dozen of Patronuses.

Expecto Patronum,” Tom whispered. The dragon slithered forwards from the tip of his wand. It was smaller this time, its outlines barely visible, but it still waited for a message, so he hurried to give it.

“Because you hate me,” he said, forcefully pushing each hurtful word out. “I assumed your magic hates me, too.”

His tongue wanted to add something else, but the Patronus glimmered and faded from view before it got its chance. Tom’s brows furrowed in consternation.

Had it gone to Harry or had it been too weak and simply disappeared into nowhere, taking Tom’s message with it? There was no chance to find out — not unless Harry replied.  

The waiting began again. This time, Tom couldn’t sit still: he kept roaming around the room, tense and strangely nervous.

Not knowing whether Harry got his message was worse than simply waiting for a reply. He would have checked, but there was no way he’d be able to trick his mind into feeling happy enough. Not now, when it was ravaged by anxiety and uncertainty.

An hour passed. Then two. After the third one, Tom took a deep breath and finally made himself stop.

It wasn’t ideal, of course it wasn’t — but it wasn’t the opposite of ideal either. What he had today was more than what had been available to him yesterday. When he went to bed this night, he would be able to recall Harry’s voice with perfect clarity. He’d be able to savour its undertones, its lilts, its contradictory soft gruffness — most of all, he’d allow himself to sink into the warm realisation of the fact that Harry’s Patronus still reflected him. Whatever emotions he was experiencing, however strong his hatred was, it wasn’t the only thing he felt.

Today, he could live on this. Perhaps he could even live tomorrow and the day after.

With another deep inhale, Tom straightened his shoulders. He put the blanket onto the bed very carefully, as if it was something fragile. Then he walked out of the room, pleased with how his heart didn’t even accelerate. The panic was kept at bay by the blinding light of Harry’s Patronus Tom kept imagining. If he tried hard enough, he could almost see it wrapped around him, protecting and comforting him.  

He changed the bandages on his wound, made himself a vegetable salad, and washed the dishes. After a small inner fight, he turned on the radio and listened to several Christmas songs. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible either. He could almost imagine Harry sitting nearby, sipping cocoa and moving his head with music, smirking whenever Tom rolled his eyes at him.

Tom’s mood was lighter. When he finally went to sleep, he was almost proud of himself.    

He hoped Harry would be, too.

 

***

 

In the morning, he was greeted by Apophis. It’d been a while since Tom had seen him, so he frowned, unsure whether he should be relieved or annoyed.

“Where were you?” he asked. A yawn distorted his words, and Tom shook his head to get rid of the drowsiness. Apophis replied with some offended sound before dropping a letter on his stomach.

“What is that supposed to mean? Did Lestrange send it? I swear, if you went to stay with that idiot—” Tom’s words stumbled into a gasp when he saw the handwriting.

The handwriting. The most unique and the most loveable handwriting that only one person had.

There was a steady roaring in his ears, but Tom barely noticed it. He clutched the letter in his hands, afraid to blink and to move his eyes off it because… what if he was wrong? What if he blinked, and when he looked again, the handwriting would be completely different?

Before this could happen, he pushed his face into the parchment, shuddering when a wave of familiar scent washed over him in a dizzying wave.

Sawdust. Turmeric. A subtle trace of lilacs. Safety. The exact combination he’d smelled a million times in their home; the same scent he got from his Amortentia, when it hit him with an earth-shattering realisation that was astonishing and expected simultaneously.

He had always known that he wanted Harry to be his. He just hadn’t realised on how many levels he wanted it.

And now this scent covered the letter, sending his heart skittering and turning his breaths erratic. Tom strengthened his grip on it. His thoughts were already racing forwards in their obsessive quest to determine how many lines the letter had, how many ink stains were present; where Harry had pressed too hard on the quill, what he could be thinking in that moment…  

Tom hissed at himself. The sound was loud enough to pull him from the depth of his mind — even Apophis jumped back, staring at him suspiciously.

It wasn’t the time. He would consume every little detail about this message later. Right now, he needed to read it, for better or for worse — to read and to survive it.

The tips of his fingers felt numb. A thick mist descended on the surrounding world, with the letter being the only thing Tom could still see clearly. Taking a long, shuddery breath, he let his eyes touch the first lines.

Tom. I don’t hate you. I don’t think I could.

But it doesn’t change anything.  

You have no respect for me. You betrayed me in so many different ways at once that I wouldn’t know where to start addressing them all. What you did shows how far we are from being able to understand each other. I still had hope, I had it for years, but you have gone too far. This isn’t something I can accept.

I don’t know what I’m feeling right now. You challenged my worst expectations of you and I feel lost. I’m no longer certain what was real. Did you even perform that ritual because you wanted me? Or did you want my immortality? You always say one thing and mean another, and at this point, I’m not sure which is what. I’m not sure if you started this whole thing because you wanted to protect me or to protect yourself. I’m not sure if you even see me as an actual person.

You forced me into something that had to be given willingly. And I might have understood it if it happened at any other point of time. I might have recovered if I spent enough time thinking about it and trying to justify your actions. But the moment you chose? You learned that you killed not only my relative but my father, that you took all my hopes of meeting him some day — and I forgave you. I was willing to give you a chance and to try to resolve everything. Instead of showing — not even gratitude, but at least some basic humanity and comprehension, you violated my trust again.

Was it worth it? Do you enjoy being immortal? Does the idea of my fidelity make you happy even when you don’t have a chance to see it for yourself? The fact that I cannot belong to others doesn’t mean that I’m going to belong to you, Tom. If anything, you ensured this.

But being hurt by you doesn’t mean that I want to see you hurt, too. So stop destroying yourself. You wanted to be in politics — do that. Make the world a better place. Show me that I wasn’t wrong entirely and that my love for you has brought at least something good into the lives of others. Maybe one day, it’ll be enough.

Harry    

For minutes, Tom stared at the letter. He read it again, reached the end, went back to the beginning, and kept repeating this process until he memorised each word, felt its burn scorched across his brain.

He felt… stunned. Exhilarated. Crushed. Incredulous.

Hurt, happy, and angry. So very angry.

It was a horrible letter. It gave him hope and it was Harry’s, but the assumptions in it were so outrageous that Tom would never believe Harry could think that if he wasn’t holding the proof in his hands.

Immortality? Harry suggested that he’d done the ritual because of immortality? What was even— it made no sense! Why would he think that? And what was that about killing his father? Was this who Charlus was — some direct relative, a grandfather?

Inconvenient. Perhaps it explained Harry’s state a little better. He should have paid more attention to those memories.

Immortality, though… If Harry wasn’t certain of something this basic, then Tom had ruined far more than he’d believed. And he had to correct it. Whatever it took.

His fingers spasmed, itching to start writing. Tom stopped himself only by pouring every bit of self-control he had left into his own body.

He wouldn’t rush his reply, not this time. He’d think before he wrote his letter because he needed to express too much, and there was always a chance that Harry would stop reading at any point. Every line had to be meaningful.

Tom forced his fingers to loosen. Putting the letter on the pillow with utmost care, he summoned his clothes, put them on, and apparated into the woods he and Harry used to frequent.

There, surrounded by the trees and taking a directionless walk, he began to think.

 

***

 

Harry,

It was never about immortality. It was always about you.

You know what your life means to me. You must — you yourself have made it a bargaining chip to control me. If your safety wasn’t the primary motivation in everything that I do, why would you rely on it in your rewards and punishments system?

What I said was true. I developed my plan almost immediately after your first ‘practical demonstration’ to me. I wanted to keep you safe. How can you doubt it? Why would I be interested in immortality so strongly in the first place if you weren’t involved? I’m strong enough to keep myself safe. Unlike you, I’m not self-destructive, so I wouldn’t be that concerned about protecting myself.  

I didn’t know about your father. I admit, my focus wasn’t sharp when I was watching the memories you had shared. I also admit that even if I had known, it wouldn’t have changed anything because I wanted to complete that ritual. I don’t regret my idea, but perhaps I regret doing it the way I did.

I do respect you. I do. I respect you more than anyone. Sometimes I want the future with you so badly that the present loses its significance and I stop being able to think clearly. I need you — I don’t think you can imagine the extent of it. And I need you to be only mine, to know that you will never have a chance to seek any meaningful connection with someone else. It is important to me. You promised that no one else would be as vital as me, so why are you so against me ensuring this? I don’t understand. Yes, I did it without your explicit permission, but why are you so angry? Is it a matter of principle? How could you leave over it?

I’m not at school. I haven’t left our home for the most part, so I’m not sure I can re-enter the world of politics and pretend that it matters to me — it doesn’t, not without you.

Tell me that you’ll come back. You have to. If I’m going to change the world for the better, I need you by my side.

Tom

 

***

 

Maybe he’d overdone his letter a little bit. He shouldn’t have said some of the things he had, he shouldn’t have been that pushy.

On the other hand, Harry liked honesty. He could appreciate it.

During the two days he spent waiting for a reply, Tom changed his clothes, ate, and even went for short walks. He went to bed with Harry’s letter in his hands, relentlessly re-reading the last passage, the last sentence in particular.

Maybe one day, it’ll be enough.

A small hope made a nest for itself in his chest, sending encouraging bursts of optimism whenever panic started to close in. His shaky stability quickly grew to depend on it, so Tom managed to hold on without resorting to mutilating his healing hand.  

He wasn’t living yet, but he was also not merely surviving. It was a progress.

He hoped the future would bring more.

 

***

 

Tom,

The second half of your letter is terrible. I can’t believe you wrote that and thought there was nothing wrong with it. You really don’t learn from your mistakes.

You cannot talk about respecting me when in the same passage you accuse me of overreacting. I don’t think you get it, so I’m going to keep explaining until you do. If you respect a person, it means that you respect them as a whole. You respect their thoughts. You respect their reactions. You don’t try to invalidate them and make them about you — you listen to what they say and you think about it.

You said you wanted to ensure my love for you and that I shouldn’t mind because I’ve promised you’ll always be my priority. So let me ask you this: if I promised that you’ll be my priority, why did you feel the need to ensure this? Were my words not enough? Was your trust in me that weak? You can’t say you respect me when you feel like this. It’s the opposite of respect.

Also, ‘meaningful connection’? Meaningful connections don’t have to be romantic, Tom. I survived my first life because of friendship, not romance. We already talked about it, and I don’t know what other words I can use to make you understand. Me loving someone in addition to loving you wouldn’t make my love for you lesser.

Your obsession with fidelity is ridiculous, how can you not see it? If you waited until the graduation and I agreed to take our relationship to another stage, I would have been faithful to you. I’m not a betrayer. However, if I chose against it, then you wouldn’t have benefited from my enforced fidelity anyway because I wouldn’t be with you. I might have no other romantic options now, but why would you think it matters this much? I can still make friends. I can still be on my own — I’ve never been big on romance in the first place. So is this about pettiness? Or is this about your lack of trust in me and your short-sightedness? By doing what you did, you tried to force me to be with you — you took my choices for this exact reason. So how is this respectful?  

You aren’t self-destructive, really? Then was this last month about?

I won’t make you any promises. You tried to be honest in your letter, disastrous as it was, so I’ll return the favour. Right now, I’m almost at peace. I’m trying to heal myself. I’m not going to come back until I believe that you’ve changed, and I’ll believe it only if it actually happens because you won’t be able to lie to me again. I won’t trust words alone. I won’t trust your fake perfection. If I see that you finally managed to overstep your selfishness and your immaturity, I might consider returning, whenever that happens. Until then? Not a chance.

Watch those memories. Don’t contact me until you do. Watch them and tell me again that you don’t understand why I despise being controlled.

 

 

***

 

Tom stood before the Pensieve, watching the images in it swirl in vague spots of colour. He would have preferred to write a response to Harry, to argue and to justify himself, to plead and implore if he had to… but doing this instead wasn’t a bad alternative. Having a specific plan of actions, even a short-term one, satisfied the starving gap in him: for now, he was content to follow Harry’s preferences. It wasn’t logical, but he felt like he was doing something right, and it soothed his ache as a healing balm.

Watching Harry’s past, seeing his first life... Tom had a very vague recollection of it — he’d caught only the glimpses that he deemed most vital at the time. Distaste and curiosity were now entwining in his chest, fighting for dominance.

On the one hand, he didn’t like the idea of Harry having a life that didn’t have him in it. Everything in him rebelled against this idea, hissed at the threat of seeing it.

On the other hand, it was something only Harry knew. No other person in this universe was aware of his secret, and if Tom received a chance to witness it, he would never be strong enough to refuse.

And Harry wanted him to see it. This was everything he needed to know.

With a deep breath, Tom bent towards the liquid surface, allowing it to engulf him.

After a blink, he saw himself standing in a meagre garden. The sun was shining so mercilessly that he squinted automatically before realising it couldn’t affect him much. Still, he could almost sense the cloying heat that would have tried to seep through his clothes if he’d actually been present in this place.

A quiet sigh caught his attention. Tom turned his head and frowned. A small boy was crouching on the ground, digging holes and planting something in them. Layers of sweat were glistening on his face and neck, but for some reason, he refused to take off his long-sleeved shirt. It was so baggy that it looked absurd on his thin form, so Tom looked away, studying the house instead.

Where was Harry? This was his memory, so he was supposed to be nearby. Was he watching this boy? The last time, Tom had lost his interest very quickly, so he couldn’t tell what was supposed to happen and where Harry was supposed to come from.

The boy sighed again. He stood up, stretching his legs, and then he looked up at the sun, squinting against its harsh brightness. Green eyes flickered behind the idiotic glasses, and Tom’s heart dropped to his feet.

He knew these eyes. He knew this face. It was much softer, round with childish simplicity, but the familiarity of it hit him with the speed of a lightning.  

Harry. His Harry. How old was he? Tom would say at least seven based on the seriousness and tiredness of his expression, but physically, he looked smaller. What was he doing here in this heat? Was he this obsessed with gardening? Adult Harry enjoyed it, too, but Tom had never noticed any passionate fervency in him — not the one required for working in this kind of weather.

A car screeched to a halt all of a sudden. A massive man stormed out, his face distorted in a mask of worry and anger.  

“Go inside, boy!” he barked. “Inside, now!”

Harry blinked at him owlishly. His face was flushed, his eyes almost glassy, and even though decades separated them, Tom could instantly tell he was unwell.

Something dark gathered under his skin. The feeling intensified when the man reached Harry and grabbed him by his wrist, pulling him in the direction of the house so easily, as if he weighed nothing.

“Have I done something wrong?” Harry wondered. He sounded small but not bewildered, like there was nothing surprising about being manhandled like this.

Cold rage began to boil in Tom’s blood, fuelling his already furious magic. He would have let it snap if he didn’t know it was useless — he couldn’t do anything to protect Harry now. He could only watch, seething with absolute hatred.

“Petunia!” the man yelled as soon as he entered the house. “Mr. Bowman is going to pay us a visit in ten minutes, he’s already on his way here!”

“What?” a thin blonde woman came running from one of the rooms, waving her hand with painted nails frantically. “But he was supposed to arrive tomorrow!”

“He changed his mind and his wretched secretary didn’t warn me!” the man opened the door to a small cupboard under the stairs and pushed Harry inside. Harry stumbled, hitting his hand, and the small pained noise he let out made Tom growl. He blindly followed him inside before even realising it, his magic spreading in a powerful protective cloud. Only when the door slammed shut and the muffled voices started to argue about something did he come to his senses again.

A memory. He was useless in a memory.    

“…if he makes noise!” the woman was saying.

“He won’t,” the man promised. “If he does, we’ll think of something.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen, Vernon! Does Mr. Bowman even know you have a nephew?”

“I’m telling you, the boy won’t make any noises! Boy!” A fist crashed into the door. “Be quiet from now on. I don’t want to hear you make a peep until your aunt comes to let you out! Is that understood?”

Harry rolled his eyes, mouthing something in a way that could only be mocking. But his voice was clear when he replied, “Yes, uncle Vernon.”

The voices retreated. Harry flopped down on a very narrow bed, staring at the dark ceiling with a wondrous smile that was absolutely inappropriate in a situation like this.

“Technically, a guest is coming for my birthday,” he murmured. His voice was barely audible, but Tom’s ears had long been trained to catch the smallest sounds Harry made. “This is not my guest and he’s not coming for me, but technically… this is a correct sentence.” A frown creased his forehead suddenly, dimming his smile a little. “Or should it be “on”, not “for”? Or maybe even “during.” That’s a new word but I think I used it right.”

For a moment, there was silence. Then Harry turned on his side, with a content smile lighting his face.

“The chores ended early,” he pointed out. “No more heat today. A guest that’s not mine but still a guest. No Dudley to make noise. Even a breakfast was nice. It’s a good birthday!”

Still smiling, he closed his eyes.

Tom’s skin crawled. The heavy weight of this tiny dark space was pressing against him with almost physical intensity, and if this was real — oh, if only this scene was real. If only he could grab Harry and get him out of here. Then he’d come back for his relatives, and for his non-existent guest, and for this Dudley, whomever he was.

A familiar heady sensation began to fill him, creating small islands of darkness in the gaps that bared themselves only in moments such as this. Violence accumulated under his fingertips, preparing for an explosion. It was inevitable even despite being useless — Tom learned to recognise the signs. Nothing he thought or felt could stop this rush of longing to hurt and maim, but all of a sudden, Harry opened his eyes again, and the deadly hissing in Tom’s mind came to an abrupt end.

Harry didn’t look upset. His expression was still pleased, and some of its light shot right through Tom’s darkness, dissipating it until it resembled a pale shadow.  

This had never happened. He had never stopped. Not when he felt like this.

Except once, with Grindelwald. The moment Harry stood up, Tom’s rage lost its lethality, and he fired a disarming spell instead of a killing curse.

The memory shifted. In a blink of a second, the abysmal cupboard with Harry’s small shape was gone, but before he could be pulled into a new moment, Tom withdrew entirely, stepping away from the Pensieve.

Chaotic thoughts danced in his head, and his fury grew before retreating and flaring again.

He’d always known Harry didn’t come from a good home. He’d never asked for details: first because he didn’t want to know about the life that didn’t include him, later because he genuinely doubted he could handle hearing something terrible. Sometimes, at night, his imagination pushed horrifying images into his mind, and each of them had left him shaking in rage. But somehow, he had never imagined this.

This kind of abuse was… quiet. Quiet and soulless. A clearly unwanted child being treated like an animal that outstayed its welcome, turned into a servant and hidden away when more important people came for a visit. The life went on, and no one ever wondered if something wasn’t right because the signs were too small to pay attention to them.

Feeling strangely wrung out, Tom took the armchair, threw his head back, and closed his eyes, trying not to remember the images he’d seen.

That Harry’s family was abysmal wasn’t a surprise. But his reactions unsettled Tom more than the neglect and casual cruelty he’d witnessed.

It was like Harry had consciously replaced the grim background of his everyday life with brightness. He had to realise the injustice of how he was being treated — his covert defiance proved it. And yet instead of allowing it to poison him, like Tom had, Harry made up reasons to be happy about.

This was incomprehensible. This made Tom feel unworthy for reasons he couldn’t fully wrap his mind around.

Before he could think about this longer, he stood back up and approached the Pensieve again. The second memory was already waiting for him, and as he let it touch him, he was instantly sucked inside.

Harry was a little older this time. He was wearing something that looked like an awful school uniform that didn’t fit him at all: it was large and baggy — he was almost drowning in it. His glasses were held together by a tape, and his hair was pulled back enough to reveal his scar. Contrary to the adult version Tom knew, this Harry seemed proud of it, baring it for everyone to see.

A small involuntary smile touched Tom’s lips. He watched Harry fidget, looking at the big clock in an obvious impatience. This place was a school library of a sort, but it was almost empty, with only some other students roaming inside. For whatever reason, they gave Harry a wide berth.

A new child entered and Harry instantly perked up.

“Good morning, Tony!” he called, waving his hand. “I’m here!”

The boy walked towards him in a purposeful stride. Harry’s excited smile widened. He opened his mouth to say something else, but the next second, Tony’s small fist crashed into his face, knocking the already broken glasses off his nose. Harry recoiled with a pained cry, and Tom jumped from the shock of this. His brief surprise instantly melted into a fury so intense, his vision went black for a while.

When he finally regained his ability to see, Tony was walking away from Harry towards a group of other children who were waiting at the entrance. Their leader, a huge boy with very small eyes, high-fived him and offered him some big toy Tom couldn’t distinguish from his place. Tony beamed at him happily.

The leader muttered something and then jogged towards Harry with a satisfied smirk on his lips.  

“See that?” he hissed. “Even new kids won’t be friends with you! Everyone can see what a freak you are!”

“Everyone can see the number of your toys and the size of your brain,” Harry retorted. He straightened now, glaring at the boy despite the blood trickling down his nose. “So they’ll befriend you and laugh at you behind your back.”

“Shut up!” the boy ordered loudly, a flush colouring his face bright red. Harry smirked, his eyes flashing with self-destructive defiance Tom knew all too well.

“Poor Dudley,” he mocked. “Too stupid to make friends by himself and needing his toys to do all the work for him.”

With a roar, Dudley pushed him against the shelf. Harry crashed into it, losing his glasses once again.

“I have a lot of friends! You won’t have friends at all because I won’t let you!” Dudley announced furiously.

By the time Harry finally managed to retrieve his glasses, he was alone. The challenge on his face died down. His shoulders sagged, his lower lip trembled, and then he burst into tears with despondency that made Tom’s heart stop.

This was… no, he couldn’t watch this. He couldn’t. It was too much. It was like a model of hell designed specifically to torture him — watching Harry suffer and being unable to stop it, seeing others hurt him and finding himself incapable of even making his presence known.

Not waiting for the end of the memory, Tom fled. Then he fled the room with the Pensieve, entering his own bedroom for the first time in months and hiding behind the door as if it could shield him from what he’d seen.

He didn’t know how Harry picked these memories. There had to be a reason for why he’d chosen this one in particular, and no matter how hard Tom tried not to let the realisation break through his mental barriers, it was hopeless. Awareness was flooding him in huge overwhelming waves, leaving him no chance at denial.

The red face of that child distorted in its ugly expression, the controlling words, the very act of chasing away every person who wanted to befriend Harry… It reminded Tom of himself.

He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to believe that Harry could honestly compare him to that little entitled monster.

But Harry had. That’s why he’d included this memory.

And now Tom had to understand how to deal with it.

 

***

 

He wasn’t like Harry’s relative. He just wasn’t.

Tom found himself standing in Harry’s meadow, right where his hidden house was located. Such physical closeness soothed the distress that was rapidly rising in his body, so Tom cleared some snow, conjured a small chair, and sat down on it, shivering against the chilly wind.

Whomever that boy was, he hated Harry. He stopped him from having friends because of this hate. Tom’s actions, on the other hand, were dictated by love. Probably.

His mind winced under the new onslaught of uncertainty, and a frustrated sound escaped his throat.

The comparison Harry wanted him to see was too stark, almost crude, but it worked — and Tom hated it. Because while the circumstances and the levels of sophistication in his plans and the actions of that… Muggle… obviously differed, their essence bore a striking resemblance.

They both didn’t want Harry to have anyone significant in his life. They both took actions to ensure it.

And Harry cried. Tom could still hear the sound of it — it kept echoing in his ears, making his adrenaline spike in a powerful urge to do something, anything, to make it stop.

Harry hadn’t cried after the ritual. But he left, which was just as awful. And, by his own admission, he was hurt.

He’d made a mistake.

The blow from this comprehension was strong enough to make Tom slide down his chair, dropping right into the fresh snow onto his knees.

He made a mistake. He was wrong. He’d acted like Harry’s childhood nemesis and now Harry hated—

No, no. Harry said he didn’t hate him. But he despised him, and he wasn’t going to come back because Tom had poisoned their life the exact same way Dudley had.

He was no better than some Muggle.

The half-forgotten sensation of nausea filled his stomach, pouring acid into his mouth. Bitter magic began to flow out in uncontrollable bursts, and Tom bent his head, trying to breathe through his nose.

He’d been fighting this knowledge from the moment he escaped the memory, but he couldn’t keep doing it indefinitely. He wasn’t sure he understood it all — at least one part of him continued to feel at a loss. It was unable to come to terms with the idea that someone who had admitted to loving him above all could still want other people. But other parts were being crushed by the weight of the parallels he had witnessed, and the more of them flattened, the more panicky Tom felt.  

Something had changed. Something had shifted. Harry’s last letter, its accusations and reasoning had seemed perplexing half an hour ago, but now they suddenly began to make sense. Tom couldn’t put it into words, and the gap in logic was quickly filled with terror. Because if he was wrong… it meant that…

A Patronus appeared right in front of him, seemingly from nowhere. Tom blinked at it stupidly, shivering when another gust of icy wind hit him.

“Stop destroying my future garden,” Harry’s voice said. It sound half-annoyed, half-concerned. “Why are you here? What happened?”

Confused, Tom looked around and spotted dark marks scorched in the ground. His magic had melted parts of the snow and poisoned the grass again. He should have directed it elsewhere — Harry liked gardens. He couldn’t and wouldn’t take it from him.

He had to reply. He had to admit— he had to say that—

Tom raised his hand, hoping to concentrate but already knowing he wouldn’t be able to do it. Right now, conjuring a Patronus was an impossibility. No happy memories or fantasies would help.

Expecto Patronum,” he said hoarsely. Like he’d expected, there was nothing, not even a spark.

He felt drained. The truth kept sinking in, and it was ugly enough to turn everything it touched into ash. In this state, he wasn’t certain that even a levitation spell would work.

He had no paper, no Apophis, nothing to send his message to Harry. All he had was himself.

Slowly, Tom stood up, turning to face the emptiness where he knew Harry’s harbour had to be hidden.

“You were right,” he said blankly, staring at the invisible shapes. “You were right to—”

The last word froze on his tongue. He tried to push it through, but it refused to move. No matter how true the thought was, something in Tom wanted to deny it with vehemence, and voicing it meant confirming it.

“I think I understand,” he said instead. “Not entirely. But I do.”

Only the moan of the wind answered him.

He had no idea if Harry had heard him, but this was the best he could do. Turning away, Tom stumbled towards the trees, unsure where he was walking but knowing he had to get out.

He was wrong. Harry was right. And this wasn’t something Tom knew how to even approach.

He could lie and feign repentance; he could pretend and manipulate. But how on earth could he genuinely earn forgiveness? How would he even start? And how could he prove it was authentic this time when it had never been before?

The wind kept on howling. Tom continued to walk.

 

***

 

When he finally managed to apparate home, his mood didn’t improve. Desolation was eating him alive; every cell of his body shivered from cold and from something else, something that pierced far more than a surface.

Even if he couldn’t talk to Harry now, he could still write. Perhaps this would help.

Bringing the fireplace to life, Tom sat at the table near it and took his quill. His hand began to move even before he consciously commanded it.

I understand some things now, he wrote. But I don’t know what to do with them.

His hand stopped. Tom stared at the lines, and to his frustration, his mind went entirely blank.

No, writing wouldn’t help. He had no idea what else to say, how to express and explain the chaos that Harry’s memories had sowed in him.

But perhaps he could talk about Muggles? This was easy. The words were already on the tip of his tongue because this wasn’t something he had to apologise for.

Tom turned over the parchment and lowered the quill again.

There are things I don’t understand, he wrote this time. How can you be… you?

This required elaboration. And maybe the words wouldn’t be enough, after all, but he had to try.

Accusations usually worked best.

How can you be kind? How can you love Muggles? What they did to you cannot be ignored. You might have done everything to not let them shape who you are, but their influence cannot be erased entirely. They hurt you. It means you will always remain hurt by them.

Then again, accusations worked on other people, never on Harry. It wouldn’t be wise to continue them.

Tom watched the parchment for a while, wondering. Then he resumed writing.

I would never dismiss it, not if I was in your place, but especially not when it was you in it. Hypothetically, how angry would you be if I hunted down the relatives of your uncle and made sure he is never born? I’m not talking about murder. But there are many other things I could do that would bring the same outcome.

Although perhaps it is pointless of me to ask because I know what you are going to say. ‘They are all different. Every group has bad people.’ That might be true, but it still doesn’t help me to understand you. If you don’t hate them, it’s one thing. But you go out of your way to help them. You made me worry about you incessantly when I was stuck in Hogwarts knowing that you were out there, doing ridiculous heroic things. And it was over this? The very kind of people who hurt you? What made you choose them when you could concentrate on the wizards?

Muggles mistreated you. They mistreated me, too. How many children like us are there now, were there at the time of your first existence? Are you less concerned about them because they remind you of you? Is that why you choose to protect the kind that abused you over the kind that resembles you — because of your self-loathing? Is it even possible for me to make you see how unique and how important you are?

I can’t stand the idea of you being hurt. Not even if it happened a long time ago. I want — no, I need to do something about it. What can I do?

The thoughts quietened. Tom put the quill away, re-reading what he’d written as his heartbeat kept echoing in his ears dully.

He wasn’t going to send this letter. Not yet — Harry had told him not to contact him until he watched all the memories. Tom had technically broken this demand already by coming to the meadow, but he didn’t want to risk it further.

He wouldn’t give Harry a possibility to accuse him of not respecting him. Never again.

 

***

 

Tom forced himself to return to the Pensieve two days later. He hadn’t made much progress other than developing a cough and proving how pitiful he was — his mind was still in a numb disarray, his body was failing. He couldn’t even control his magic properly when he felt distressed, and when had that happened? He used to be stronger. He used to be more resilient.

Harry hadn’t sent him anything, so Tom still wasn’t sure whether he’d heard him at the meadow. The best chance to find out was to send another letter, and to do that, he had to finish watching the memories.

The Pensieve gleamed in a way that would have been beautiful if it wasn’t so threatening. With a grimace, Tom bent down, and the misleadingly peaceful surface instantly rushed at him.

To his deepest relief, the next three scenes were fairly neutral, even though some moments still managed to send bolts of protective anger through his numbness. He watched Harry shiver under the thin blanket in a strange shack, with a bewildering dreamy smile on his face; he saw a giant named Hagrid pay a visit to him. It felt surreal to realise that Tom knew this man as a boy, had frequently seen him in Harry’s office. But it also explained why Harry had singled him out, and Tom smiled in satisfaction before he could stop himself.

Harry’s breathless enthusiasm at seeing the world of magic for the first time resembled his own. His happiness was infectious: Tom still carried the warm glow from it as he entered the next memory, where Harry met his future — past — best friends.

Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were entirely unremarkable. Tom tried to see someone strong, someone worthy of Harry and his friendship, but he couldn’t find anything even when he forced himself to watch them objectively. The boy was an idiot with a low self-esteem; the girl was a know-it-all with an inflated ego. They were merely the first people Harry had met, and if Tom had been there, he was certain that they wouldn’t be his competition.

Annoyance at himself instantly clashed with his distaste over being forced to watch a friendship he could never touch. Biting the corner of his lip, Tom waited for the memory to pass, preferring to focus his whole attention on Harry.

How Harry kept managing to remain so light was a mystery to him. It wasn’t comprehensible. Watching him now, in a train, surrounded by other wizards, Tom doubted he would have been able to tell what kind of home Harry had come from if he didn’t already know the truth. The signs were there, but they were minuscule. Cheap inappropriate clothes. An unabashed delight at having someone spend time with him, listen to his thoughts and ideas. The way Harry closed his eyes and opened them again repeatedly, as if he was waiting for the happy images to disappear. 

Tom recognised it because Harry was his and because he knew him. Other people didn’t, including his new friends. Would they ever know? Would he ever tell them? Knowing Harry… he wouldn’t. And if he would, he’d never be generous with details.

With a sigh, Tom leaned against the door, and that’s when the memory flickered again.

Harry’s first school year passed in a rush. The images were chaotic, like Harry had been hesitating what he should and shouldn’t include. All Tom understood was that Dumbledore was still a meddlesome fool, Harry was known by everyone in a way that wasn’t about him at all, and Voldemort was plotting something through a stammering professor who wasn’t fit to teach.

He wished he remembered more about Voldemort from when he first watched the memories. Right now, all Tom could recall was that he was a powerful wizard who’d made more Horcruxes than any sane person ever would. He targeted Harry because of a ridiculous prophecy and was responsible for him becoming an orphan.

Frankly, with all Voldemort’s stupidity and insanity, Tom had no idea why any version of him would want to ally himself with a man like this. He’d seen himself only briefly in Harry’s memories, and apparently, he was already half-dead by the time Harry killed him — in his second year no less. It was embarrassing. What could have motivated him to become a follower instead of a leader? In this life, he’d never felt any desire to join Grindelwald, so what had made that Tom Slytherin follow Voldemort? He was powerful. How more powerful could Voldemort be?

On second thought, didn’t Voldemort speak Parseltongue? What did that mean? Were they relatives in some way? Tom really hoped he hadn’t magically transferred his abilities to some other wizard out of misplaced loyalty. And why would he be loyal to anyone in the first place? If that version of him didn’t have Harry, then it had no one at all. The next person deserving his loyalty was Tom himself, not some abomination with a strange name. 

His thoughts screeched to a halt when the memory darkened, with Quirrell stepping forwards.

“Well?” he spat impatiently. “What do you see?”

Harry was pale with his fear, and yet he still raised his chin proudly.

“I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore,” he stated. “I — I’ve won the house cup for Gryffindor.”

Tom cringed at such an obvious lie, and his magic twitched anxiously in an impulse to wrap itself around Harry and protect him from the possible consequences.

“He lies,” a high voice hissed. Idiot Quirrell just blinked, so the voice repeated itself. “He lies!”

Silently, Tom watched how Harry remained rooted to a spot, how he still held himself with bravado he clearly didn’t feel. His green eyes were huge and terrified, and if Tom had a chance to materialise there for even a second, he would have torn both Quirrell and his owner apart.

Voldemort’s disfigured face glared at Harry, and Tom almost made a wary step back.

This wasn’t a man. This was a creature that couldn’t use its own powers properly. Was this truly the future of anyone who’d made several Horcruxes? This ugly shell? Was this what he had almost condemned himself to?

Tom watched the rest of the memory silently, moving when Harry did and stopping with him. He knew it was useless, but standing nearby still gave him a degree of satisfaction, some false certainty that this way, Harry wouldn’t be too hurt.

Harry… he was magnificent. There was deadliness in this child version of him that Tom recognised very well. He had it himself, and he had caught glimpses of it within his Harry, too.

His Harry could kill when he wanted to. The way he’d attacked Grindelwald was breathtaking — Tom only wished he could have seen it all from the beginning. And how he threw himself at Quirrell now was equally captivating: his face was alight with grim determination, his speed surprisingly lethal for a child his age.

No matter how old Harry was, he was blinding. And he might feel the need to kill very rarely and for a different reason, but this was still something that united him and Tom — when pushed, they were both ready to do anything to get their way.

Harry would never agree with this, but a warm light still took residence in Tom’s chest, giving him a small hope. He might have ruined many things, but Harry was still talking to him. Harry was still giving him a chance.

Their future would still come — for them as partners, for them together. This was all he could imagine ever wanting.

The memories rushed forwards again. Harry’s second year was accompanied by more violence — it seemed to haunt him like a ghost, seeing something so irresistible about him that it simply couldn’t stop.  

Then Harry found a faded diary with a smudged “T. M. Riddle” marring its first page, and Tom’s heart skipped a beat.  

The first time, he’d paid loose attention to what was coming. He’d assumed that he would be a frequent figure in Harry’s life, not someone who died the same year they met — this allowed him to focus on his plans and dismiss the rest. Now he had a chance to witness everything anew.

This time, he wouldn’t look away.

 

***

 

Talking through a diary was an interesting idea. Tom wasn’t sure what kind of magic this was, but now that he’d seen it, he could figure it out. He and Harry would be able to have immediate conversations instead of relying on letters or Patronuses.

Then again, considering what this diary had led to, perhaps this wasn’t a good idea. The last thing Tom wanted was to add himself into Harry’s collection of negative associations in one more way.

He didn’t see how Harry had managed to get into the Chamber of Secrets. One moment, he was staring at the bloody inscription on the wall; the next one, he was standing in an entirely new vast space. Tom still had no idea where it was located or how to access it.

His heart sank in disappointment, but when the full implications hit him, it stopped entirely.

Harry had excluded this memory on purpose. He didn’t trust Tom with the knowledge of where the Chamber was. He showed him the core events but not the details because his trust and his faith were already gone by that point.

And the ritual made it even worse.   

An uncomfortable itchy heat began to radiate from Tom’s chest. The sensation was entirely unfamiliar, so he pressed his palm against it, confused and hoping to squash it down.

He couldn’t name it, but it felt a little like shame. He’d never experienced it to this extent before, and it was never mixed with this kind of almost desperate hurt.

He’d been trying. For years, he’d been trying to be someone Harry would approve of. The craving, the longing for his acceptance stayed his hand so many times that now Tom couldn’t count them all — he even allowed that scum Morfin to blackmail him, no matter how maddeningly outrageous the whole situation was, simply because he refused to risk Harry finding out.

He’d made mistakes, but they were minimal in comparison to what he would have done if he hadn’t been trying. And yet Harry still didn’t trust him.

The shame began to curl away, giving way to dejection. Loneliness suddenly felt sharp and uncompromising, and Tom wrapped his hands around himself, watching how Harry’s head snapped up.      

“She won’t wake,” a voice said. It was soft but cold, so it took a moment for Tom to recognise it. His eyes quickly moved towards one of the pillars, and something in him shuddered from what he saw.

It was like watching his reflection in someone else’s dream. Something was wrong with the boy he was looking at, and it wasn’t just about the fact that his physical contours were blurred, as if he was being held together by magic alone.

No, he was simply different. He didn’t have the splendour Tom prided himself on. He was thinner and hollow-cheeked; his clothes, while neat, came from some cheap store Tom would have never stepped into. He was but a shadow with empty vicious eyes and greed that swarmed around him in a cloud — greed Tom wasn’t sure he could relate to.

He longed for things. He longed for Harry. But even from here, he could read the shallowness and the arrogance written all over his twin’s face, and he didn’t like it one bit.

This wasn’t him. This was Tom Riddle. Someone he could have been.

“Are you a ghost?” Harry asked. He was staring at Riddle with such earnestness, like he trusted him entirely and couldn’t see what a hollow shell he was. This was the first time Tom would disappoint him — the first in a long line of failures and betrayals.

“No,” Tom murmured to himself, shaking his head briefly. He couldn’t keep blurring himself and Riddle — that way madness lied. Despite some superficial similarities, they were completely different people. He might have let Harry down, too, but their story was different. This abomination was dead and could never touch it.

“A memory,” Riddle replied. His voice was quiet, but its sinister and bitter undertones were as loud as shouting. “Preserved in a diary for fifty years.”

Tom’s brows furrowed. What? A memory? That must have been some ritual. Why would he condemn himself to this kind of existence? To give Voldemort more power? Maybe Voldemort had managed to subdue his will and make him into a brainless soldier somehow. This was more plausible than any version of him feeling such loyalty to some monster that he would follow him blindly and sacrifice his life force for him.

How did one become a memory in the first place? Even Tom with his knowledge about all possible forms of dark arts couldn’t figure it out.

Riddle burst into an animated, mostly one-sided conversation, and several minutes later, Tom had to admit that listening to his own voice was surprisingly challenging. Riddle’s arrogance was distorting his words; his excitement over successfully breaking an 11-year-old girl was embarrassing — Tom had felt less enthusiastic when he killed Charlus, and that happened back when he was a child himself. His first impression had been accurate: Riddle was worlds away from him. He was stupid, and Tom would have never believed it if he wasn’t witnessing it with his own eyes.   

“I have been waiting for you to appear since we arrived here,” Riddle said pleasantly. His eyes were fixed on Harry in an intense, hungry way — and well, they did have something in common, after all. “I knew you’d come. I have many questions for you, Harry Potter.”

“Like what?” Harry spat angrily. He didn’t look intimidated in the slightest — his anger and righteousness made him appear taller, and his blazing eyes were furious enough to stop anyone in their tracks.

“How is it that you, a skinny boy with no extraordinary magical talent, managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time?” Riddle wondered. The pleasant notes were disappearing again under the piles of bitterness and odd envy. “How did you escape with nothing but a scar while Lord Voldemort’s powers were destroyed?”

By the end of it, a red gleam entered his eyes. It looked unnatural enough for Tom to make an instinctive step towards Harry.

This was unnerving. Magic was one thing, but what would turn his eyes — Riddle’s eyes — red? Humans couldn’t do that, it went against all laws of nature. Unless… Unless Riddle wasn’t human.

If so, what was he?

“Why do you care how I escaped?” Harry asked slowly. His own gaze was narrowed in a dawning realisation that Tom couldn’t decipher. Did Harry have a theory? How could he — he was only twelve. “Voldemort was after your time.”

Riddle smirked at him, looking almost giddy, and Tom had to amend his opinion. This impostor wasn’t simply stupid, he was crazy. He grew excited over irrelevant things and reacted inappropriately to every logical question Harry asked.

“Voldemort,” he uttered, “is my past, present, and future, Harry Potter.”

Pulling a wand out of his pocket, he slashed the air with it, writing three rapid words.

Tom Marvolo Riddle

Tom studied them, his stare lingering on “Marvolo.” Something about it stood out. Something was strangely familiar.

Before he could follow the clues, Riddle waved the wand again, rearranging the letters. The syllables shifted and clung to each other briefly before assuming their designated places.

I Am Lord Voldemort

His mind went utterly blank. Time stopped. The existence of the world lost its meaning. Tom stared at these words, re-reading them again, and again, and again.

I Am Lord Voldemort.

Tom Riddle. Voldemort. 

He was Voldemort.

He was Voldemort. All this time, he was watching himself, and he didn’t even realise this.

The bottom dropped out of his stomach. Tom recoiled from the damning words so violently that he lost his balance and collapsed onto the wet floor. His body didn’t feel the impact — it couldn’t, he didn’t even have it here, but it still burned, it still groaned and shuddered, as if the weight of his mind and his feelings was too much for it to bear.

“It can’t be,” he tried to speak. No words reached his ears, so he did it again. “It’s not possible. I’m not him.”

Still nothing.

Acid burned at the back of his throat. His stomach contorted in pained shock, and then the terrible screaming something filled his ears, crawling in them until it was the only sound they could perceive. It was violent and shredding — it echoed in his very bones.

He was Voldemort. All along, he was Voldemort. He’d killed Harry’s parents. He tried to kill Harry. He made so many Horcruxes that he had gone insane, losing his mind along with his powers, losing the respect of his followers, leaving only fear in its place.

He wasn’t the right hand of Harry’s nemesis. He was his nemesis. Harry had spent his entire first life hating and fearing him — he had single-handedly ruined Harry’s existence so thoroughly that Harry was forced to escape into the past. To accept guardianship over someone who tortured and destroyed him.

An icy fist closed around his lungs, clawing and squeezing the remains of air out of them. Tom gasped, his body jerking in odd abrupt movements that he had no control over. The next second, the contours of the Chamber of Secrets faded, melting back into Harry’s bedroom. The phantoms of the past were gone — they stayed trapped in the Pensieve, but their terrible echoes remained with Tom. They latched onto his mind with hungry vengeance, throwing an image after an image of the pictures he had seen when he was first watching Harry’s memories.  

It didn’t matter then. Those pictures were just that — the images of a monster he didn’t know and had no direct relationship with. But recalling them now and putting his own face onto them…

His mind rebelled. Tom pressed his hands to his ears, trying to silence the screaming, but it kept getting louder. It hurled accusations and mockeries, painted every crime he committed, every time he hurt Harry and raised his wand against him.

There was no silencing something like this. The only thing Tom could do was outcry it, so he screamed, too.

He found that he couldn’t stop.

 

***

 

That night, he added just one sentence to his letter.

Why would you love me?

 

***

 

The sleep didn’t come. The desire to tear into his skin and shred it until physical pain remained the only sensation was strong, but every time Tom raised his wand or his hands, he stopped.

He wanted to hurt himself. He didn’t want to hurt Harry.

It was easier before. In Harry’s absence, for a long time, he’d been putting his own hurt above everything, even above Harry himself; he’d marred his skin without care, wanting, needing acknowledgement.

But he couldn’t do it now. The thought of leaving even a small scratch on Harry made him sick.

That cursed ritual.

Tom managed to stay physically intact throughout the night, yet he spent it curled into a tight ball, shaking under the pressure of ache and grief and emotions he couldn’t identify. They were so many of them — they were crowding his chest, interfering with his heart, making him feel like he was about to explode with them.

When the morning came and nothing changed, Tom made himself get up. He cooked breakfast, then stared at it silently, knowing that he could never eat it without vomiting it back.

He needed… something. Something comforting. Harry wouldn’t return; Harry’s blanket and things no longer produced the same soothing effect, so it had to be something new.     

If he could capture Harry’s Patronus into some vial… if he could consume the letters Harry had written him…

The letters. He still had the letters. They were the last thing he’d gotten from Harry — they had his personality, his handwriting; they had a whole part of him because Tom could easily trace the story of their creation. From the pressure Harry had applied to a quill in different instances, it was evident where he hesitated, where he took a break, where he got anxious or passionate. It was the closest thing to him Tom had in his possession now.

Without thinking further, he returned to the bedroom and grabbed the last letter. His eyes immediately zeroed in on three specific half-lines.

…I’m going to keep explaining until you do.

…I’ve promised you’ll always be my priority.

…I might consider returning.

A promise of future communication.

The use of future tense.

Future possibility.

This was evidence. Whatever Tom was, Harry didn’t give up on him. Harry still loved him. He might still return.

Tom closed his eyes, nuzzling into the letter, and finally, for the first time in hours, the ache lessened. The sick feeling grew dimmer, too, and he felt solid and grounded again. When he pulled back, his gaze dropped to another passage.

Watch those memories. Don’t contact me until you do.

Tom pressed his lips to these lines, trying to breathe them in, feeling how their rough surface scratched his mouth.

Permission to contact Harry. He still had it. He was simply supposed to meet Harry’s condition.

That meant that he had to return to the Pensieve. The sooner he was done, the closer to Harry he could feel again.

Carefully, Tom folded the letter and put it in his pocket. If things got bad again, he could always touch it and remind himself of the future.

The memories weren’t a punishment. They were a chance to improve things.

Tom couldn’t really be certain, but he preferred to cling to this notion.

This made things easier at least to a small degree.

 

***

 

He chose to return to the start of the memory. Silently, he watched his shadow speak with Harry, lingered on how it hissed the words of self-admiration and hung onto its useless pride.

“I fashioned myself a new name,” Riddle boasted breathlessly, “a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!”

“You are not,” Harry said quietly. Despite his age, his resolution was steely, and if Tom had to choose whom he admired more at this moment... it wouldn’t even be a competition.

“Not what?” Riddle snapped. Insecurity and rage were twisting his ghostly face — it was a pitiful display. If the words of a 12-year-old boy had the power to affect him, then he had not only failed at greatness, he was also a failure of a sorcerer.   

“Sorry to disappoint you and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore,” Harry said hotly. “Everyone says so!”

The reasoning was… like that of a child. Even though his stomach was clenched into a tight knot, Tom smiled a little, suddenly overcome with a rush of gentleness and fondness for this particular version of Harry.

He was trusting. He was pure in a way that even his Harry wasn’t — he didn’t see death and destruction yet; he was not betrayed by Dumbledore.

He was not betrayed by Tom.                             

The smile disappeared, leaving Tom hollow.

When Dumbledore’s phoenix burst into the Chamber, carrying the Sorting Hat, Riddle laughed, and Tom laughed with him — only his laughter was hysterical because all pieces in his head suddenly clicked into one clear picture.

Dumbledore. Of course. Of course it was Dumbledore’s plan all along, how did he not see this from the start?

Harry hadn’t sneaked into the Chamber secretly — Dumbledore allowed him to. Dumbledore was likely watching him even now, invisible, waiting for the outcome.

Harry was a Horcrux, and Horcruxes could be destroyed with basilisk’s venom.

This was a test. Dumbledore wanted to see if he could get rid of the Horcrux inside Harry without necessarily killing him. The Hat was here to give Harry the Sword — with his mindless bravery, it was not a surprise that he could pull it out. The phoenix was here to decrease the chances of Harry dying and to heal him after he was stabbed.

Clever. And enraging. Because for Dumbledore, Harry was a game piece. For Tom, he was the world.

He would have let Voldemort live for a thousand of years. He would have allowed him to destroy this universe until nothing was left if it meant he could keep Harry safe. Dumbledore would never prioritise one over a billion, and for that, Tom hated him.

“Kill him,” Riddle hissed. The words sent a jolt of automatic panic through him, and Tom moved between Harry and the basilisk before he could think rationally about it.

The snake was magnificent, there was no denying it. Even the first time, when he’d been distracted to the point of ignorance, he stopped to watch it because it was breath-taking in every way.  

There was only one drawback. It wanted to kill Harry, and it meant that Tom would see it destroyed.

Harry broke into a run with his eyes shut. He managed to half-cross the room when he tripped and crashed down, his chin colliding with the cold stone. The sound of it launched Tom into immediate action again before he could stop his stupid feet.

Feeling this protective for such an extended period of time was exhausting. His heart kept hammering relentlessly and his hands were itching with magic, needing to pour it somewhere to protect Harry and to make sure he never got hurt again. How could anyone live in such a state?

The basilisk roared from pain when Dumbledore’s phoenix attacked it. Its tail whipped across the floor, approaching Harry with deadly speed, and Tom’s heart stopped. It stumbled forwards again only when Harry ducked, crouching, dirty and bloodied but with determination still burning brightly on his face. He was beautiful and desperate, and Tom would have cradled him in his arms if he could touch him.

A gust of wind sent the Hat right in Harry’s face. He grabbed it, put it onto his head, and threw himself to the side when the basilisk’s tail snapped forward again, almost crushing him into nothingness.

This was all strategic. It wasn’t a coincidence that the phoenix appeared immediately after Harry pledged his loyalty to Dumbledore. This was training — training in blind devotion, in recklessness, in self-sacrifice. And Harry had no idea.

At least this Harry didn’t. The adult version knew everything yet he still seemed to hold deep respect for Dumbledore.

Perhaps some training was too ingrained to ever fade from one’s core. This explained… almost everything about Harry. If Tom got another chance to make things right, he would dedicate himself entirely to removing these suicidal ideas from his head once and for all.

Harry pulled out the Sword from the Hat. He spent only a second on contemplating it — the next one, he was already standing and pointing it at the basilisk.  

Nothing about this picture was palatable. The sword was too heavy for a child his size: Harry was struggling with it, and the basilisk kept thrashing, hitting everything in sight. How he survived was a matter of miracle. If he had died… If he’d died, this would be it. Tom would never be the person he was now. He would be limited to a memory in his own diary, to a ruin incapable of human thought. He would never get his second chance, and the life as he knew it would never exist.

Terror that rolled through him could only be rivalled by the sheer horror of witnessing the basilisk’s fang separate itself from its mouth and plunge into Harry’s arm. Static electricity burned somewhere above his elbow in a phantom sensation of pain Harry had to be experiencing. It wasn’t real, but Tom’s breathing still quickened, and his fingers wrapped around his arm convulsively.

He couldn’t tell if the fang fell out because Harry had aimed his Sword there or if it was Dumbledore again. Either way, Harry was dying, and even though Tom knew he’d survive, watching this was no less excruciating.

“Fawkes,” Harry murmured hoarsely. His eyes were fluttering shut in an image that came straight from Tom’s worst nightmares. “You were fantastic, Fawkes.”

Giving praise to an impervious bird when life was bleeding out of him. Harry was insane. He was the Harry — his Harry. It was no wonder that an overwhelming longing for him had been and was going to be Tom’s undoing in every life he lived.

“You’re dead, Harry Potter,” Riddle crowed, and Tom turned to face him with a snarl.

He hated this version of himself. Hated him. It was just a shard of him, dull and shallow, and if this underwhelming thing was ever his future, he would have preferred death. 

Riddle wasn’t a powerful wizard. Even now, when faced with a dying wandless boy, he was too wary of making his own move. He let the basilisk be his weapon; he was watching Harry die and not intervening because he was intimidated.

Though perhaps it made sense. Maybe even Riddle could see Harry’s brilliance despite his narrow-mindedness — maybe, beneath the hatred and the fear, he was fascinated. Tom knew he would be.

Harry might not have much power, and he certainly didn’t at the age of twelve, but he still managed something no other wizard had tried. He’d defeated a giant basilisk with a sword; his agility was almost otherworldly as he twisted, crouched, and ducked from the heavy blows.

This was worthy of admiration. Even Riddle couldn’t be that blind so as to miss it.

When the phoenix healed Harry, Riddle didn’t cry out in alarm or anger like Tom might have expected him to. Instead, his face shifted between different conflicting expressions, and his eyes regained the hungry glint Tom found intimately familiar.

“It makes no difference,” Riddle spoke confidently, with only the tiniest twitch of uncertainty underneath. “In fact, I prefer it this way. Just you and me, Harry Potter... you and me.”

The surprising jealousy raised its ugly head, making Tom tense. He didn’t know in what way his shadow meant these words — he didn’t like to think about it either. But it didn’t matter because there would never be such thing as Riddle and Harry, not until Harry came back to the past and gave the real Tom a chance at rebirth.

Without answering, Harry stabbed the diary with the fang, his eyes glistening with fevered hatred. Even Riddle’s piercing scream didn’t shake Tom the way this look had. He barely heard a sound through the sudden roaring in his ears, the sudden realisation that this was Harry’s first and last meeting with an actual Tom Riddle. Voldemort was a monstrosity with a face Tom refused to claim, but physically, Riddle was him.

How did Harry feel, watching him grow up? Had he ever looked at him and seen Riddle from the Chamber of Secrets? How could the feeling of love prevail over the feeling of hatred the 12-year-old Harry was currently wearing?

Tom turned away, unable to keep looking. His throat was dry, and as his knees started to shake, threatening to buckle right under him, he thrust his hand into his pocket, gripping the letter there.

In some other world, this moment had been Riddle’s end. But it wouldn’t be his.

He could do better. He would do better.

He’d finish watching these memories, he’d complete his letter to Harry, and then he’d start working. Harry would never look at him like he had at Riddle. In years, the memories of the Chamber of Secrets would fade; Riddle would become a shadow of a shadow, and Tom’s image would outshine him. It would take precedence in Harry’s mind.

This determination washed away the worms of doubts and self-hatred. When the new wave of memories swept him along, Tom felt prepared to face them.   

 

***

 

Harry’s third year at Hogwarts had very few details. Tom wasn’t sure if he found it frustrating or relieving. A part of him wanted to know everything there was to know about Harry. This part didn’t want to sate itself with just a few scenes — it needed every second.

Another part wasn’t sure he could handle this. Not when the universe seemed to conspire against Harry and invent more and more ways of hurting him.

There was a scene with the dementors, with Harry’s Patronus, a magnificent stag that made Tom twitch from jealousy and wistfulness. It was one thing to know that at some point, Harry loved someone else so much that even his magic reflected it; it was another matter entirely to witness it with his own eyes.

He wished he could have been there for Harry. To protect him and cherish him, and be the focus of his world even in this first life. Being a silent observer was intolerable.

The memories from that year ended before they even started properly. Tom had only a vague idea of what must have happened when the pictures changed again, growing darker.

Cloaked wizards roaming and shooting random spells at the screaming crowd. A big glittering skull with a serpent sliding out of its mouth. There was a certain charm to it — Tom supposed a design like this might have appealed to him once, but as he looked at it now, the only thing he could imagine was Harry scoffing and rolling his eyes, muttering, ‘Pretentious. Could you be any tackier?’ 

It was difficult to look at this symbol in a way that wasn’t shaped by Harry, so Tom found himself scoffing, too, before he could consciously register it.

A strange-looking goblet came next. It spat a piece of parchment with Harry’s name on it, and the silence that filled the Great Hall was so disapproving that it made Tom bristle.

He had no idea what was happening — Harry had really failed at building logical links between his memories, but whatever it was, this younger version of him was clueless. Harry’s pale face was horrified, his body frozen, and when he finally turned to his friends, he emanated such a desperate urgency that Tom reached for him instinctively, meaningless words of comfort no one would hear rolling on his tongue.

“I didn’t put my name in,” Harry said quietly. “You know I didn’t.”

Granger and Weasley didn’t reply — they just continued to stare. Granger, at least, appeared genuinely shocked, but Weasley’s astonishment was quickly becoming resentful, and Tom wanted to throttle him then and there.

Anyone who knew Harry could tell that he wasn’t involved. He was an embodiment of earnestness, and if Weasley couldn’t see that, then he didn’t deserve to call himself Harry’s friend. Tom would believe him instantly and—

And it wouldn’t change much. Weasley might have been an unworthy friend, but he certainly hadn’t made as many mistakes as Tom did.

Harry wouldn’t feel the need to flee from Weasley. Harry wouldn’t harm himself to teach Weasley a lesson.

His righteous indignation shrank into a tangled mass of guilt and self-hatred. Tom lowered his head, watching the events with the corner of his eye.

In a minute, he had to admit that his curiosity was piqued. The Triwizard Tournament was a fascinating concept — Tom had never imagined that he’d be able to watch one after all the stories he’d heard about it. He would have loved to become a living witness… but only if Harry wasn’t one of its participants. The whole idea was preposterous.

“We must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the tournament,” a man he didn’t know said. Another idiot beamed at these words.

“Well, Barty knows the rule book back to front!” he added in a clear excitement.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tom snapped. He didn’t notice how his hands had curled into fists.

The situation was absurd. Magical contracts weren’t formed like this! If Harry didn’t want to compete, no one could make him, not when he never consented and it wasn’t even his handwriting on the paper. At least one of these adult wizards had to have enough brain matter to realise this.

“How this situation arose, we do not know,” Dumbledore said at last, and everyone fell silent. “It seems to me, however, that we have no choice but to accept it. Both Cedric and Harry have been chosen to compete in the Tournament. This, therefore, they will do.”

The rage that whirled up in Tom this time was blinding. For a moment, he could see only redness: it swallowed everyone in the room, even Harry, hissing and twisting like a living being.

Dumbledore. Dumbledore had to be the one to have put Harry’s name into the goblet. This was one of his games again. Tom might despise him, but he wasn’t going to deny that the old man was smart. Smart enough to understand how magical binding worked and to protect Harry if he wanted to.

But he didn’t want it. He wanted Harry to compete.

No one asked Harry what he wanted. No one consulted him. No one cared about his opinion or feelings. And maybe Tom wasn’t meant to connect this scene to his own behaviour, but the guilt still crashed into his wall of rage, shattering it to pieces.

Harry hadn’t even known what was coming when he was sharing these memories… yet the parallels in them were too obvious for Tom to be able to ignore them.

With this tournament, Harry had been dragged into a magical ritual he wanted no part of. Someone involved him without bothering to ask him about his wishes. And now Harry was standing here, among people who decided his fate, looking small, pale, and silent, knowing that whatever he said, it wasn’t going to make any difference because no one cared.

The sick feeling intensified, twisting Tom’s stomach in even harder knots. A strange hopelessness settled in him heavily, and he squeezed Harry’s letter again, trying to stay calm.

He didn’t understand why it felt like this. Why his own actions seemed so right but the similar actions of others looked so wrong. He couldn’t find any major flaws in his plans, but watching others treat Harry like this, dragging him into something he never wanted… it made him angry. His magic flared protectively yet uncertainly, as if it was unsure whom it should go after first, Tom or everyone else.

Watch those memories. Watch them and tell me again that you don’t understand why I despise being controlled.

Harry had written these words to him, so Tom couldn’t convince himself that this was all in his head, that the parallels didn’t exist. Directly or indirectly, Harry compared him to other people who used and manipulated him — this was real. This was how he felt. This was how Tom made him feel.

The itch to scratch his skin was turning into a burning necessity. Tom clenched his fists, pressing his thumbs into his phalanxes until it hurt.

If he could have gone back in time himself… would he have changed anything?

He wouldn’t have killed Charlus. That was one thing Tom knew with certainty. He disliked Harry’s father on principle and because of the stag-like Patronus, but he wouldn’t have erased him from existence when it mattered so much to Harry.

With everything else… Tom didn’t know. His opinion kept changing, going from “yes” to “no” to “maybe.”

The pale, lost Harry disappeared, and the next thing Tom saw was the skies. He was flying somewhere, floating without being able to control it. Harry was dashing forwards on his broom: a familiar excitement shone in his eyes, but unlike he did it usually, he stopped flying up almost immediately and directed his broom down. Towards…

A dragon. Of course, how could he have forgotten? He remembered this from his first time watching these memories, but right now, the impact was stronger. Harry kept approaching the dragon… approaching… approaching… still approaching!

Tom’s eyes flew wide open. He balked, trying to stop himself and this suicidal idiot, but this was a memory, so he had no choice but to follow. Harry dived right before the dragon, jerking to the side, then changing his direction and passing the creature by again.

When I was fourteen, I had to fight a dragon for a prize, Harry had told him. Tom wondered about it often, but he had never, ever imagined this. This was the first challenge of the Tournament? It was ridiculous! Why would anyone need to provoke a dragon and what skills other than recklessness and idiocy did this demonstrate? Being stealthy or cunning had nothing to do with it because the dragon was witnessing everything from the start. Enraging it and making it give chase was something only an incompetent fool could come up with.

When Tom became the Minister, he could organise the rebirth of the Triwizard Tournament. But his tasks would be clever. Harry would enjoy watching them.

The vague dream melted when he felt himself being jerked forwards again. Tom had never thought about how reliving a memory in the sky could feel like, and now that he’d learned, he wished to unlearn it. The feeling was terrible: unlike on the ground, he had no control over his body here. He was being pulled in whatever direction Harry went, and very quickly, it became hellishly frustrating.

“Come on,” Harry hissed, swerving above the dragon. “Come on, come and get me. Up you get now!”

The dragon spread its huge wings in a threatening manner. Tom flinched. He knew nothing could hurt him in a memory, and Harry obviously survived it, too, but being here was still unbearable. To have no control—

Control. As always, this was where his newly masochistic mind went.

This strange floating state — was this how Harry felt mentally? Like a toy flung from side to side by stronger forces?

Tom shut his eyes, trying to drown the invasive images in the darkness. There was noise in his head that had nothing to do with the dragon. It quietened down in what seemed like an eternity, and when he finally looked up again, he found himself in a new place. Underwater.

This, at least, was more entertaining, although his body still flowed after Harry with no mind of its own. Watching this lake, or river, or whatever it was, was fascinating. Why had he never thought of exploring the Great Lake or one of the oceans he and Harry had visited? The things they could find there…

“You take your own hostage,” a merman told Harry. His voice was strange, an echo of human speech. “Leave the others.”

“No way!” Harry growled furiously. If someone could shout underwater and behave like a noble fool, of course it would be him. Tom wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

Exasperation and fondness danced in his chest as he watched Harry guard and then save more people than he had to. If this was someone else, Tom would have scoffed at their brainlessness, but this was Harry, and so his harshness automatically melted into a deep, overwhelming affection.  

Focusing on Harry and not himself felt peaceful. Maybe if Tom imagined himself as an indifferent observer who wasn’t meant to see any parallels, he could cope with it easier. Watching the rest of the memories could be much more enjoyable if he managed to distance himself from them. He always had a perfect — almost perfect — control over his mind. How difficult would this be?

Encouraged, Tom kept his gaze fixed on Harry, trying to turn the stifled groans of his rusty conscience off.

It worked up until the graveyard, meaning that not at all.

 

***

 

Harry was tied to a headstone. He looked shell-shocked and scared — unacceptably scared, yet Tom couldn’t keep his focus on him at all.

He was watching himself — his other self. And no matter how many times he repeated that he and Voldemort were completely separate entities, an ugly, sickening feeling was boiling in the pit of his stomach, threatening to overwhelm him.

Knowing it was him sharing a body with some other ridiculous wizard had already been disturbing. Seeing this? This wasn’t just distressing, this was horrifying.

Voldemort was a thing. A small, twisted, ugly thing that reminded Tom of the monsters Harry had occasionally brought to DADA lessons. It was distorted and hairless, with flat face, red eyes, and a colour of rawness that shouldn’t exist in the world.

This was a stump, not a human. Definitely not a powerful wizard. For Tom to ever turn into this?

The sick feeling burned stronger, cramping his stomach. Heaving, Tom turned away, staring in another direction unseeingly. He blinked hard in an attempt to chase away the surreal images he’d just seen, but predictably, it didn’t work. Even without seeing anything, he could hear it. The thing was letting out sharp and eager breaths. It couldn’t do it properly, so every inhale and exhale was accompanied by a quiet raucous sound that made Tom shudder.

“This isn’t me,” he said aloud. His own voice was shaky, and this terrified him even more. “This isn’t me,” he repeated insistently, trying to infuse his words with hardness.

Nothing. He could barely hear himself.

Something sharp skittered under his skin, some hot, itchy sensation that made Tom want to crawl out of his body or to scratch it clean until nothing could remind him of the abomination that was currently being dropped into a cauldron. The fact that it could even fit there, that it could live inside the potion without drowning…

The horror of it was too much. Tom staggered to the headstone blindly, seeking Harry, needing some semblance of comfort, but the panic kept driving his heart forwards because one look and he knew immediately that this wasn’t his Harry. Not yet. He was too young — Tom couldn’t deceive his mind even for a blissful minute.

He panted, clutching the letter and trying to keep himself together. A few more minutes. Just a few more minutes…

Everything quietened down. A surge of steam billowed from the cauldron, and then a man stepped out from behind it.

Voldemort had a body now. He was no longer a thing, but he still wasn’t human. He never would be.

This form was more familiar because Tom remembered his first round of watching these memories. The sickness retreated, and even though his body continued to shake, he was finally able to concentrate.

He watched Voldemort summon his followers and question them. He watched some of them writhe in pain, and all he could sense was disgust, helplessness, and uncertainty. None of these people wanted to be here. Perhaps some of them were more optimistic than others, but it wasn’t respect and admiration that held them right now — it was fear. A basic, primary fear of a creature that had power over them and could use it for their destruction.

Voldemort was a fool. He kept talking, talking, and talking some more, and he didn’t pay any attention to the poorly disguised revulsion in the eyes of his own followers. These wizards believed in purebloods and their supremacy. They supported the eradication of not only Muggles, which Tom could understand, but also of Muggle-borns and some of the half-bloods. So why would Voldemort think they would faithfully follow a creature? The moment he became subhuman, he lost any chance at commanding genuine respect among these people.

“Use my Death Eater to ensure that the boy won the tournament,” Voldemort was saying, his strange hissing voice spreading throughout the graveyard. “That he touched the Triwizard Cup first — the cup which my Death Eater had turned into a Portkey, which would bring him here, beyond the reach of Dumbledore’s help and protection, and into my waiting arms. And here he is… the boy you all believed had been my downfall.”

Voldemort turned to face Harry, studying him with cold eyes.

Crucio!” he spat viciously, and it jolted Tom from his spot.

“No!” he shouted. He threw a futile arm forward, already knowing it wouldn’t stop anything, and the next moment, Harry’s scream tore through the graveyard. It was piercing and high-pitched, and it was the most horrible sound Tom had ever heard. Without thinking, he dropped to his knees next to Harry, trying to take hold of him again and again and howling in rage when this didn’t work.

He didn’t want to see this! He never wanted to hear Harry scream again — he’d die before he allowed anyone to hurt him like this, and if he could step into this memory, if he could put his hands on Voldemort…

Harry fell silent, slumping in the ropes. A choked sob left Tom’s mouth, and he closed his eyes, shaking his head until the memory faded.

He couldn’t watch it any longer. He needed to take a break. He needed to do something else or he’d go crazy.

The first time, he hadn’t even recognised Harry’s scream as Harry’s. He thought Voldemort was torturing one of the Death Eaters again. But it was Harry, his Harry, screaming and twisting under the Cruciatus.    

Tom sat on Harry’s bed, pushing his head between his knees in a motion that had become wearily familiar.

He had to breathe. This was in the past now — Harry was safe. Harry was locked away in a house no one could find, not even him, secure and unharmed.

Tom had never thought that the knowledge of Harry hiding could bring such an intense relief to him.

His heart was still pounding violently, but slowly, his breathing began to stabilise. Tom murmured the lines from the letters aloud, letting their meaning calm him further.

Everything was fine. It was just a memory. It wasn’t him torturing Harry — not the real him. He would never do that. He’d do everything to keep Harry safe.

But he’d still hurt him. He drugged him. He bound him in a way far more permanent than the ropes holding him at the graveyard. Did Harry feel the same helplessness? Was that why he looked so small and so quiet? Back then, Tom couldn’t understand his expression, but it was startlingly similar to the one the 14-year-old Harry was wearing.

Another muted sound slipped out. Tom laughed hoarsely, rocking back and forth, not daring to look up.

He didn’t know how much time he spent sitting in this spot. When he finally got up, his muscles ached with soreness.

He headed straight towards his and Harry’s potion-making laboratory. No matter how many distractions he could succeed in finding, he’d never fall asleep without hearing Harry’s screams again.

He wouldn’t survive this, not tonight.

There had to be at least one Dreamless Sleep Potion left.

 

***

 

In the morning, the most intense emotions calmed down. Tom studied the Pensieve dispassionately before turning to his letter. He could hold his hands steady now, so after short hesitation, he sat down and picked up the quill.

Why did you never tell me?, he wrote. His hand wavered, and a drop of black ink stained the paper. Frowning, Tom removed it with a spell.

The words were there — an abundance of words striving to escape and drown Harry in rebukes, sorrow, and regrets, but Tom couldn’t let them take control. He had to think carefully because if he made the situation worse, he’d never be able to forgive himself.

You should have told me sooner. Maybe it could have changed things for us; if I had known about your reservations, I would have tried harder. It never occurred to me that I had to work to persuade you that I’m not him because I never even knew about his existence. If I had known—

I’m not him. I might have done things that made you think otherwise, but I’m not him and I would never become him. Do you believe this? Do you believe me?

With a frustrated snarl, Tom threw the quill aside, rising to his feet and turning to face the Pensieve.

His letter was abysmal. It was too chaotic and uneven to make sense, and he sounded far more pathetic than he would have preferred. Later, after he was done with the memories, it would be better to rewrite everything and project a more confident version of himself because he couldn’t send this draft to Harry. He wasn’t certain he would even be willing to re-read it himself.

Taking a deep breath, Tom stepped towards the torture bowl, bending down to touch the liquid memories.

He watched four years of Harry’s school life. Three more years were left, then a few more that happened after Voldemort was defeated. And afterwards, they would end — he would finally have his peace to finalise the letter and think. Plan. Strategize. But until then…

Until then, he had to endure what Harry already had.

Tom managed one last grimace before the powerful current swept him away.

 

***

 

 

Returning to the graveyard only to see Harry hit with Cruciatus the second time was instantly overwhelming. The contents of his stomach jumped to his throat, and Tom had to turn away with a gasp. His own muscles were screaming in pain, even though he’d never felt the impact of this spell personally. One second. Two seconds. Three. Harry didn’t stop screaming, and Tom’s heart was beating more and more frantically.

“Stop this,” he whispered, staring at a random gravestone blindly. “Stop this. Stop this!”

By the time the screaming ceased, he was panting once again. Jolts of adrenaline were shooting through his body, and his mouth was so dry that Tom couldn’t move his tongue.

“A little break,” Voldemort said. The excitement in his words sent a rush of genuine hatred through Tom’s blood. “A little pause. That hurt, didn’t it, Harry? You don’t want me to do that again, do you?”

How long was this going to last? Maybe he could skip this memory? Because anything would be better than watching it.

For a moment, Tom was tempted. His mind immediately began to relax in relief, and a small light of hopefulness breathed strength back into him, stopping the uncontrollable trembling. But before he could escape the memory, he saw Harry’s pale, beautiful face. Still alive. Still ferocious.

Harry survived this when he was 14. Tom was older. He wasn’t the one experiencing this — he was a mere observer. If Harry wanted him to see this, then he would.

Gritting his teeth so hard that his cheekbones hurt, Tom faced Voldemort fully.

He would watch. He would force himself to watch it no matter what. 

“Answer me! Imperio!” Voldemort snapped. Harry’s features went slack, and Tom winced in guilty recognition.

…He’d used this spell on Harry when he ordered him to kiss him. He’d tried to erase his will and he planned to use Obliviate later to make certain that Harry remembered nothing. It seemed right when he did that — he just wanted to get a taste of something he coveted so deeply, knowing he wouldn’t get it any other way for years to come. It was just one kiss. One simple kiss that he grew tired of fantasising about.

But in the context of this? Now, it suddenly seemed like a crime. A coercion of the worst kind. How could Harry have reacted so mildly? Knowing Tom had used the exact same spell on him Voldemort had, seeing them as one, knowing his worst nightmare might still come true.

If Tom could get out of his skin and escape from himself, he would have done it without thinking twice.

“I won’t!” Harry barked suddenly. His voice was so loud and so defiant that Tom froze along with Voldemort.

Harry had shaken the spell off even this time, when he was a child himself. This meant…

This meant a lot. Harry was likely far more powerful than he himself realised, than Tom ever allowed himself to see.

Or he was just so damn stubborn that no magic could force him to bow down.

Crucio!” Voldemort hissed. Tom jerked violently, but Harry flung himself away from the curse, and the blissful relief rushed through his heart.

Harry didn’t scream. This time, he didn’t allow himself to be attacked.

Among trepidation, grief, fear, and anger, admiration flickered. It shone with increasing brightness, and a strange new feeling emerged in Tom’s chest.

He always thought that he respected and valued Harry. But what he was experiencing now went far beyond that.

It was awe. A regard so high, Tom was fairly sure he’d never felt it for anyone else before.

Harry could do things that he genuinely couldn’t. He’d never be able to shake off the Imperio — granted, he hadn’t tried, but the knowledge was there, warning him to never put himself into a situation like this because he wouldn’t get out of it. And no matter how tirelessly he practised, he still wasn’t as fast and agile as Harry had been even in fourteen. By the time he finished snapping ten necks of his opponents, Harry would have snapped at least fifteen.

This should have made Tom feel discouraged, but instead, a surge of dizzying longing and appreciation shot through him. He stared at Harry with what he knew was greed and fascination, fixed to a spot and unable to look away.

“Come out, Harry,” Voldemort called silkily. “Come out and play, then. It will be quick; it might even be painless. I would not know — I have never died…”

“Pretentious,” Tom grumbled, crossing his hands against his chest. His voice came out resembling Harry’s — the idea of it warmed him.

Harry jumped from behind the headstone. Once again, he moved like a lightning, his speed so instantaneous that even Voldemort blinked in surprised confusion. He reacted quickly by raising his wand, but Harry was still first.

Expelliarmus!” he shouted.

Voldemort’s “Avada Kedavra” came a second late, and Tom laughed at this, suddenly delirious.

If even Voldemort was slower than Harry, despite having decades of experience, then this just proved what Tom had already figured out: Harry was entirely unique. He was not merely someone perfect — he was worthy. He had been worthy in fourteen and he was even more so now, and Tom couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else in the upcoming centuries of his life.

The killing curse moved faster than the disarming one, so they met in mid-air. As the connection sparkled to life, Tom belatedly realised what a colossal idiot Harry had been.

Expelliarmus. He had used Expelliarmus against Voldemort. And ridiculously, somehow, it worked. Harry had to be the luckiest person alive — or, alternatively, Voldemort had to be the most foolish one. Tom hadn’t decided which of these options was correct, but he also wasn’t sure deciding was possible in the first place.  

Harry would be the death of him one day. Expelliarmus, of all things! He could have used literally anything else, but he went for a spell that would never protect him under normal circumstances. If Tom didn’t need a wand to attack with his magic, Voldemort didn’t need it either.  

They would have to talk about this… at some point. When the world started moving again.

The scene ended eventually. Tom carried the revelations from it into another memory, holding them close and letting them take roots in his mind.

He would write about it all in his letter. He would be honest, and Harry would appreciate it.   

They would start everything anew.

 

***

 

Harry’s fifth year was adventurous, to say the least. Predictably, some memories made Tom want to curse someone, but many of them were surprising neutral.

He loved watching Harry teach others. His inexperience was obvious, and his knowledge was clearly limited, but the potential he had was enormous. This young version resembled his Harry only vaguely, yet some glimpses were so vivid that Tom’s breath caught every time from the sudden bursts of recognition.   

Harry had selected mostly happy moments from this year, but apart from the crazed professor who kept scarring his hand, there was another shadow lurking in the background. Dumbledore.

He was playing a game. Tom didn’t know the details, but he assumed it had something to do with the Horcruxes. Dumbledore was avoiding Harry, refusing to look at him, and then he ordered him to have Occlumency lessons. He knew a lot — he just wasn’t saying it, treating everyone else like idiots who were good enough to push around but not do much of anything else.

How bad Harry was at Occlumency was almost astonishing after the impressive physical displays Tom had witnessed. Harry had told him once that this wasn’t the branch of magic he enjoyed, but for him to fail so spectacularly was a sight Tom didn’t like. It made Harry and his secrets vulnerable. It also made Tom’s secrets vulnerable to the mental attack of someone like Dumbledore because if he ever decided to look into Harry’s head...

This couldn’t be allowed. If Harry came back — no, when he came back, Tom would teach him. And he would be far more patient and efficient that the idiot Dumbledore had selected.

The dreams and hopes took him far away, into the world where things were right again. But the memories continued, and reluctantly, Tom focused on them.

Watching the Ministry of the future was almost as fascinating as seeing Harry attempt to use Crucio on someone. The latter reaffirmed what Tom already knew: if Harry loved someone, he loved them fiercely. He would break what he viewed as morality to defend those he cared for. The Ministry, on the other hand, provided such a wealth of new information that the parts of Tom’s mind that had remained mostly quiet for the last month began to buzz.

There were many interesting departments and things in them. Tom carefully committed them to his memory as the ideas for a new redesigned Ministry started to swirl in his head.

Harry’s recollections were a gift in many ways. They weren’t merely a key to understanding him, they shared insights that would help Tom bring and improve innovations no one in his time was thinking of. He could regain the trust of the followers he might have lost in the time of his absence and convince those who hadn’t joined him yet of how much they could gain.

The idea of it woke more dormant parts of Tom up. The first stirring of enthusiasm was almost startling because by now, he’d forgotten how it felt like.

He could do so much. Harry wouldn’t be disappointed.

The sixth year started quietly — Tom would have missed it if he wasn’t trying to pay close attention. The colours seemed to have gone duller, and he couldn’t say if this was his impression or if Harry’s world had indeed darkened. Dumbledore remained a fixed threat, and the more he worked on Harry, the angrier Tom became.

He couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that someone could know Harry yet still wish him death. Dumbledore’s so-called noble motivations didn’t matter — it was Harry’s life he was preparing to sacrifice without bothering to ask and without explaining anything.

If Tom could get to him…

The darker turn of his thoughts stopped abruptly when he recognised the ugly grey setting Dumbledore and Harry had brought him into.

The orphanage. That wretched orphanage that Tom would have loved to erase from his mind for good.

Of course, the lessons Dumbledore was giving Harry. Tom had misunderstood them completely the first time, but now things made far more sense.

When he’d watched his mother and got a glimpse of his father, he felt nothing. He didn’t know these people and he had no interest in their pathetic excuse of a life. He didn’t know why Harry even showed him those memories — they were a waste of time. But the orphanage…

Tom wasn’t sure he wanted to see it again. Not now that he was actively watching.

The 11-year-old version of him was as pathetic as his deranged parents. He was thin and hostile, bristling at the intrusion and gesticulating wildly. Was that what he could have become in several years if Harry hadn’t come for him? This Tom was more of a starved animal than a respectable human being. The sight was unsettling.    

“My name is Professor Dumbledore,” Dumbledore said. Despite his pleasant smile, his words were laced with wariness. “And I work at a school called Hogwarts. I have come to offer you a place at my school — your new school, if you would like to come.”

A look of fury crossed his copy’s face as he jumped up, glaring.

“You can’t kid me!” he exclaimed. “The asylum, that’s where you’re from, isn’t it? ‘Professor,’ yes, of course — well, I’m not going, see? That old cat’s the one who should be in the asylum! I never did anything to little Amy Benson or Dennis Bishop, and you can ask them, they’ll tell you!”

Tom cringed from the obviousness and roughness of Riddle’s approach, barely fighting the urge to groan. Had he truly been so stupid? Even when he was eight, he wasn’t so confrontational with Harry, though he still made his share of missteps. Behaving like this with Dumbledore, of all people…

When the wardrobe burst into flames from Dumbledore’s wand, Riddle jumped to his feet with a shocked, angry cry, and Tom found himself echoing the sentiment.

Riddle’s things were burning. His things were burning. The only things he ever had — and Dumbledore thought this was an acceptable way of introducing a child to the wizarding world?

Fury and disbelief buzzed lowly in his blood, fuelling his angry magic. Tom kept staring at the wardrobe even after the flames disappeared, and for a while, he stopped registering what Dumbledore and his copy were speaking of.

Harry had chosen a different approach. When Tom asked for proof, Harry conjured a toy — it was sweet and gentle, and Tom loved it. Dumbledore could portray himself as a paragon of morality all he wanted, it didn’t change his real worm-infested nature. Riddle might not have made the best first impression, but he didn’t deserve to think he’d lost everything he possessed. Harry knew both Riddle and Voldemort; Harry suffered from them directly, and yet he still showed him kindness and patience.

A new onslaught of affection and warmth washed over him. Tom sighed deeply, brushing his fingertips against Harry’s letter and basking in the promises it implied.

He always felt grateful for Harry taking him in, no matter how reluctant this feeling had been at first. But now that he knew the circumstances, this gratitude grew in size, to a point where it almost felt unbearable because of the strong urge to express it.

When Tom looked up, the orphanage faded away, and a new scene started.

Overall, Harry’s memories about his sixth year were few in number. Tom wasn’t certain what he’d been doing all this year or if he wanted to hide something.

When he saw Dumbledore’s funeral but not his death, it only convinced him further. Harry had been selective. For whatever reason, he didn’t want to share some of his memories, and Tom didn’t want to think about the reasons for it.

Maybe later. Right now, he wasn’t sure he could handle knowing what Harry had deemed too risky to show him and why.  

 

***

 

Later, when he stopped the current of memories, he added a few more passages into his letter.

I’m glad that you were the one to come for me. If it had been Dumbledore, everything would be different. I’m not sure if I ever told you how happy the thought of you choosing me above all other children had made me — I don’t recall if we ever discussed it. But I want you to know, I never stopped feeling grateful. I may not have recognised this feeling for what it was from the start, but it was always a part of me — whenever I looked or thought about you, it was there.

You changed my life. You took care of me when killing me was a smarter and more logical choice. I will appreciate this always. And I cannot promise much because sometimes I’m not sure if I’m doing something because I feel so or because you want me to feel so, but I can promise that I will try not to disappoint you. You will not regret your decision.

Unless you already do.

The last line wasn’t planned, and Tom stared at it blankly as his heart began to contract unpleasantly.

Did Harry regret his decision? After all, Tom had killed his father. Beth deserved to die, Tom refused to budge on this, but killing Charlus had truly hurt Harry. And the ritual made him feel as disrespected as he had been in his first life.

The uncomfortable sensation began to burn. Tom rubbed his chest, then looked at the Pensieve.

He could finish watching all the memories today. He didn’t have many of them left. But his mind resisted, shuddering from what he was going to see there. 

Tomorrow. That’s when he’d finish watching and that’s when he’d send a letter to Harry.

Until then, he would find a Christmas tree and decorate it. He’d make himself hot chocolate, turn on the music, and sit on the couch in the living room, pretending that Harry was with him and enjoying the silence between them.

The idea was fragile but hopeful. It subdued the desolation that was trying to eat a hole through his chest and replaced it with cautious optimism.

Caressing the letter with the promises, Tom stood up and walked out of Harry’s bedroom.

 

***

 

The memories of Harry’s seventh started with him discussing the Horcruxes with his friends. Their conversation could undoubtedly be riveting, but the second Tom’s eyes fell on Harry, the breath was knocked out straight from his lungs.

This was his Harry. The Harry he knew. He looked the same, he gestured the same, he sounded the same — they were the same person.

His feet were moving before Tom realised it. In a blink, he was standing right in front of Harry, his hands hovering over the face he couldn’t touch.

It was really him. If there were any differences, they were minuscule and they would be gone in several months. This was the age when Harry became the Master of Death.

It meant that all along, he was physically 17. He was 33 now and he hadn’t aged a day.

Tom blinked, floored by his realisation.

Harry hadn’t been aging… and he’d never noticed it. Looking at Harry’s youthful face now and attributing 33 years to it seemed absolutely laughable, but it had never felt strange to Tom throughout the years. Harry was just Harry. Someone he used to think he knew better than himself.

What did other people think? They weren’t as biased as Tom in this regard, so they had to have noticed something. His followers never said anything, so were they that blind and stupid or did they worry about his reaction?

Chuckling, Tom took another step closer to this phantom Harry, watching his every move longingly. If he couldn’t see the real him for some time, at least he had these memories. This image would suffice. And then Harry would return, and he wouldn’t need it anymore.

Maybe it wouldn’t happen right away, but soon. In the future. Harry’s letters implied so.

 

***

 

It took Tom watching almost all the memories from that year to come to another stunning and embarrassingly belated realisation.

Harry had a part of his soul inside. An actual, real part of his soul. Months ago, Tom had forcibly removed this thought from his mind — he refused to dwell on the fact that someone could have had such a connection with Harry. But it wasn’t just someone, was it? It was him. Harry carried his soul inside.

His chest compressed. The air froze in his lungs, and a bright, powerful elation exploded in his veins, sending floods of possessive excitement through his blood.

Harry was his not just in this life — he was his back when Tom didn’t technically exist. He was always his, always destined to be with him, for their souls and lives to be connected.

For a while, a giddy feeling overtook him. Tom floated on the waves of complete, utter bliss, but not even a minute passed before those waves turned into dry sand. He crashed into it full-force as another realisation dawned.

Harry hadn’t chosen him. Not in the first life, not in their current one. Voldemort’s soul had latched onto him by itself, attaching itself to him like a greedy parasite; Tom had forced Harry into a bond through lies and omissions. They might be connected for all eternity, but Harry had never said “yes” to him.

The understanding of this was like a bucket of ice-cold water. Tom stepped back, shivering when he recalled Harry’s expression.

Harry had been afraid of him. And he didn’t even realise it on time, too drunk on the feeling of his triumph.

The letter in his pocket was a solid weight, but somehow, it seemed to move farther away, taking its promises of the future into a fog Tom couldn’t enter.

Maybe… if this was so important to Harry, maybe he would be willing to sever the bond. But it was impossible — he himself had made sure that it was unbreakable. He and Harry would belong to one another forever.

If you waited until the graduation and I agreed to take our relationship to another stage, I would have been faithful to you, Harry had written. I’m not a betrayer. However, if I chose against it, then you wouldn’t have benefited from my enforced fidelity anyway because I wouldn’t be with you.

After these words, the guarantee of fidelity seemed pale and almost irrelevant.

Tom hugged himself, watching the memories even as the helplessness began to encroach on every area of his mind. Was there even a point in trying to write an explanation? Would Harry listen to him?

Harry had promised. He promised that everything wasn’t over. That there was still a chance to fix it.

Swallowing a lump in his throat, Tom forced himself to concentrate on what was happening.

Harry was a leader, this much was obvious. He was quiet and reserved, almost fading into the background of Granger’s sharp intelligence and Weasley’s brashness, but in every situation, he remained a beacon holding everyone together.

Tom watched the Horcruxes hunt, the robbery and the kidnapping. He watched how the Hogwarts battle began and how Harry unknowingly collected the Hallows. Everything was mostly bearable up until they reached the memories of Snape, Harry’s inept teacher, and Dumbledore’s grim silhouette overshadowed the world.

“So the boy…the boy must die?” Snape asked. He was talking calmly, but Tom thought his voice was trembling.

“And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus,” Dumbledore replied. He, on the contrary, sounded calm, almost peaceful. “That is essential.”

A long silence followed.

“I thought… all those years... that we were protecting him for her. For Lily,” Snape whispered. If not for these words, Tom might have felt a degree of sympathy for his increasingly devastated expression, but what he’d heard made him bristle.

For Lily. This lovesick fool had been protecting Harry as a tribute to his long-dead friend.  

Did anyone protect him for himself? Granger and Weasley seemed to be the exceptions, but they had other motivations, too. How could no one prioritise Harry? It made no sense. It was enraging.

“We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength,” Dumbledore said. His eyes were shut as if in pain, but Tom wasn’t going to buy it. Not when every spoken word was lighting an even bigger flame of fury in him. “Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth. Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort.”

An involuntarily growl escaped his throat. Tom tensed, his magic rising up in a deadly storm, ready to follow on his anger.

“You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?” Snape exclaimed. He sounded almost as horrified, but he lacked one essential thing: a willingness to do something about his feelings.

If Tom had been there… oh, but the events would have taken an entirely different turn. He would have stricken Dumbledore down right where he was standing. He would have stomped on him until even a smear wouldn’t be left.  

This man was a monster. A puppeteer who seemed to love playing God more than even Tom did. He built an entire complex game around Harry as a central piece, and now, when it was time, he was sending him to his death.

No, not just sending him. Expecting him to go to his death willingly. Because Harry was Harry, and this noble fool would sacrifice himself in an instant if it meant protecting someone else.

The picture changed to the Forbidden Forest, and the rage quickly bled into irrational, horrified fear.

Tom had watched Harry suffer in numerous ways during this week. Some of it was intolerable, but at least Harry still looked physically different there. Now? This was the Harry he knew, down to the slightest creases in his forehead. And he couldn’t watch him die — he couldn’t.

“I was, it seems… mistaken,” Voldemort said slowly.

“You weren’t.”

Harry’s voice was loud. He stepped into the clearing, holding his head high like a typical suicidal Gryffindor he was.

Voldemort stared. There were different emotions in his eyes, and among the expected astonishment and wariness, Tom could distinguish an undeniable admiration.

Voldemort couldn’t wrap his mind around the mystery of Harry. He wanted to kill him because he was obsessed with a prophecy and with maintaining his reputation, tarnished as it had become, but if given a chance... Who knew what he would have done.

Others were shouting something, but Harry and Voldemort only had eyes for each other.

“Harry Potter,” he finally uttered, quiet and grave. “The Boy Who Lived.”

Harry didn’t move. He didn’t look away either, proud and seemingly unafraid, but Tom knew him well — too well to believe the surface.

He saw the signs. He saw how Harry’s shoulders were vibrating slightly, like they always did when he wanted to retreat but forced himself to keep standing. He saw the paleness and the irregular breathing — Harry kept exhaling, his body twitching slightly several times, and then inhaling again.

He didn’t want to die. If Tom could be there, if he could shield him, tell him that his life was more important than the lives of those Voldemort would have killed—

Avada Kedavra,” Voldemort uttered. The words were barely audible, but they still sent a current of shock through Tom’s body.

Once again, without thinking, he reacted. His legs threw him forwards, moving on their own volition: he reached Harry a moment before the green light got to him. It passed right through, as if he wasn’t standing there, and when he heard a soft thud behind his back, the adrenaline and the strength evaporated. Tom stumbled, wheezing, refusing to turn around and see what he knew he would.

Harry couldn’t be dead. Not for an hour, not for a minute, not even in a memory — he just couldn’t be dead. If Tom didn’t look…

But the picture trembled and faded. When the bright mist replaced it, Tom breathed a sigh of relief. His tension bled out, and then he saw Harry again: he was robed, looking around curiously.  

The worst was over. This was the last time Harry was threatened like this — from now on, everything was going to improve.

The situation was still unspeakable: Harry was still technically dead, even though he was exploring the hinges of the afterlife, and he still had a fight ahead. But he would not be harmed, and Tom grinned, overcome with a sudden rush of joy and hopefulness.

His ordeal was almost over. Soon, he would have all information Harry had wanted to show him. He survived the worst of it, and as soon as he was free, he would express everything he’d seen, felt, and learned.

Harry would see that they still had a chance. Tom would prove it to him.

With his new attitude, the rest of the memories flickered by quickly. He watched the confrontation with Voldemort, Harry’s stubborn insistence on not killing and using the disarming spell instead; he watched the start of peace and the tragedies it brought. Some of Harry’s memories were cut off too abruptly — Tom still hadn’t figured out a specific reason for it, but at this point, he hardly cared.

A little more, and Harry’s first world would disintegrate. He would travel back into the past, and everything would be fine. They would…

Tom’s thoughts came to an abrupt halt. He had been watching Weasley die and Granger break down, with Harry trying to comfort her. Now she left; Harry remained alone. He climbed into the armchair, his face twisting strangely... and he cried.

It wasn’t as explosive and bitter as in his childhood, after being betrayed by a friend he thought he’d made. This crying was broken, hopeless, and awkward, like Harry wasn’t used to doing it but knew no other way to express his feelings.  

Watching his pain at losing that boy Cedric, then his godfather, had been difficult. Tom couldn’t care less about those people, but the expression of utter heartbreak on Harry’s face had pierced his heart. This, though… this was worse.

His first thought was to flee. He didn’t want to watch Harry’s breakdown; he didn’t even know why this memory was here. Seeing it was almost harder than witnessing the forest scene — there was no reason to stay and torture himself, it’s not like he would learn any crucial information.

His second instinct was to comfort. For a second, these two impulses fought against each other, and to Tom’s astonishment, the latter one won.

He understood that what he was doing was fruitless, but he still approached Harry, crouching nearby.

“Everything will be all right,” he murmured soothingly. The words were empty and unheard — they certainly couldn’t stop the crying, but he tried anyway. “I’ll fix it for you,” he promised. “You don’t have to worry. I’ll make sure he’s born again, and then you can have your friend back.”

A part of him rebelled against the idea, but it was surprisingly small. Tom had seen enough of Weasley to arrive at one conclusion: he wasn’t a threat. He was a simple-minded fool. Like Lestrange, he was no better than a dog, so Tom didn’t mind Harry communicating with him, especially if this was so important to him.

“You’ll see him again,” he cooed, his hands trying to brush Harry’s hair relentlessly. “I promise. I can have my people stalk his grandparents and parents. They’ll keep them safe and make certain that they produce children together. Would you like that?”

Of course, Harry didn’t reply. His body continued to shake.  

Tom sat by his side, increasingly helpless. His tongue kept pushing comforting gibberish forwards, and when the scene finally faded, a deep relief rushed through him. He got up, fully prepared to finish the memories.

There were just two of them left. He saw Harry brooding, clearly making his decision. Then he saw him making the trip through the decades, his face grim, solemn, but with a shadow of small hope that sent Tom’s heart rate skittering.

You abandoned your old life, people in it, and came back here for me. For me alone. That means I’m the reason for your existence. And if so, you are most definitely mine.

He’d said this to Harry after watching his memories for the first time. Back then, he understood only the surface — maybe not even that, considering how he missed the glaring fact that he was Voldemort, not simply his right hand whose help Harry needed. But now that he knew the truth in its entirety… the sentiment only grew stronger.

He was the reason for Harry’s second life. Not a sole reason — Harry obviously cared about seeing people like Granger and Weasley, but he was the essence. The foundation of changes Harry wanted to achieve.

If he helped him… if he helped, Harry would appreciate it. Harry would feel compelled to come back.

When the memories ended, Tom emerged from them with a bright smile.

 

***

 

Tom took a long shower. Then he sat in front of his — their — Christmas tree, sipping cocoa and watching the snow fall. He felt almost serene when he stood up, entered Harry’s room, and picked up his quill to finish his letter.

First, though, he re-read what he’d already written. The temptation to remove some content was strong, but Tom fought it, choosing to elaborate on several points instead. This was what he’d created under the impact of his first emotions, and Harry deserved to see the authentic version, not the edited one.

After expanding several passages, Tom focused on the present events. His hand didn’t hesitate as he wrote:

I would change a lot of things if I could. Losing you is not something I want to ever experience again. I have a plan. Would you be interested in watching it unfold?

I also have a question that might not seem important to you, but it is to me. In your duels with Voldemort and others, I noticed that you chose not to use the killing curse even when you had every right to do it. Yours and others’ lives depended on it and yet you still opted for Expelliarmus. Then I thought about Grindelwald. Our situation became reversed: I used Expelliarmus, you used the killing curse. Why? What changed? Was it only because of me or were you fuelled by the anger you’ve been accumulating all these years? You would certainly be entitled to it.

I’m glad that you shared these memories because I feel like I’ve never known you as well as I do now. I’ve learned. I promise you that I’ve learned. I can’t explain or justify everything I did: what made sense then seems incomprehensible now. I can only say that I never did any of it to hurt you. That’s the thing that separates me from all those people in your past: to them, you were expandable. To me, you are the most important person.

I love you. Does it matter to you? 

Writing these three words left a strange taste in his mouth. It was not the same as speaking them, so the impact wasn’t as strong, but Tom still hesitated, suddenly nervous.

Did these words reflect everything he was feeling? Were they appropriate? Did he have the right to voice them — better yet, did he love Harry?

He wasn’t sure this word described the storm of emotions always raging in his chest and mind, this tangled ball of greed, worship, and longing. But people used this expression; Harry used it, too, and every time he did, Tom felt dizzy with happiness.

Whether what he felt was love or not, Harry would understand. This was what mattered most.

Determined now, Tom leaned closer and crafted the last two lines.    

If I change, will you come back?

Tom

He sealed the letter before he could re-read it and change his mind. Summoning Apophis took several hours, but finally, the rebellious bird joined him, giving him a mistrustful glare.

“All right, I’m sorry,” Tom said, rolling his eyes. “I shouldn’t have been quite that harsh. Would you like a treat? I made that atrocious sandwich you like.”

Apophis cocked his head, clearly interested. Before his curiosity waned, Tom brought the meat sandwich from the kitchen, putting it on the windowsill. Apophis chucked it all down in seconds, and when he looked up again, he seemed satisfied.

“Good,” Tom told him. “Now take it to Harry. Try to be quick.”

The ridiculous bird had the gall to roll its own eyes at him before taking off. Tom watched it go, and when it disappeared from view, he slowly turned to his wardrobe.

It was time to pay a visit to his followers. To make sure Lestrange didn’t botch things up and that everything was still fine.

Dressing didn’t bring him as much pleasure as it used to, but Tom still did it painstakingly. When he was pleased with his appearance, he went downstairs to stroke the Christmas tree, smiling at the glistening toys that decorated it. Harry liked to call it a tree of hope, and there was no reason why Tom shouldn’t continue the tradition.

He closed his eyes briefly, tightening his fingers around the branches.

He hoped he and Harry would spend their next Christmas together. He hoped their separation wouldn’t last long. He hoped Harry would forgive him and be there when he completed his sixth year at Hogwarts.

The wishes departed quietly. Tom reopened his eyes, looked at the tree for some more.

Then he apparated away.

 

***

 

Dippet was the first person he visited.

“You have to understand,” Tom was saying quietly, “this wasn’t easy for me. Killing another human being is something I never thought I would experience. I know Grindelwald deserved it... But it’s still difficult to reconcile with the fact that I’ve become a murderer.”

“It’s completely natural, Tom,” Dippet assured him, his big eyes glistening sympathetically. “Frankly, I would have been more disturbed have you felt nothing.”

Tom lowered his head modestly. He knew he was being observed from the corner — Dumbledore was standing there, in half-shadows, watching him with a serious, all-knowing look.

Tom was brimming with hatred at the mere thought of him, so he was careful not to glance in that direction.

“Still, missing lessons without warning us isn’t the wisest of your decisions,” Dippet added. “Mr. Potter could have at least told us—”

“I have reasons to believe that Mr. Potter is no longer sharing residence with Mr. Slytherin,” Dumbledore interjected. “Isn’t that right, Tom?”

Tom’s head snapped to him involuntarily. If he could kill with a look, not with his magic, he would have destroyed Dumbledore right where he was standing, down to his every last cell. He wouldn’t leave even a trace: for being a meddling fool, for wanting to slaughter Harry in the future that would never happen, for this specific moment, and for everything else.

“It’s a temporary arrangement,” Tom said coldly. Dumbledore hummed.

“Is it? It’s not the impression I got.”

Instantly, his hackles were raised. Tom’s lips twisted in the beginnings of a snarl, and his magic hissed in agitation.

Harry had gone to Dumbledore, seeking his help? Harry accepted shelter from him — a man who only ever used him in his own purposes? Or was it a game and Dumbledore was pretending to know things he wasn’t a part of?

If Dippet wasn’t in the room…

But he was, so Tom took a deep breath and moved his lips in a smile.

“The situation with Grindelwald hit Harry hard,” he said mildly. “He needs time to recover.”

Dippet began to frown.

“If Mr. Potter has problems with what you did—”

“No!” Tom snapped instantly. He might lie, but he would never let anyone entertain anything other than positive thoughts about Harry. “It’s not his fault. There were other issues at play. He’ll come back. Eventually.”

His skin crawled as Dumbledore’s gaze got sharper, but Tom steadily ignored it.

So what if Harry had appealed to Dumbledore and he assisted him in his escape? He’d already considered it before, it wasn’t that surprising. All it meant was that Harry’s self-worth was abysmal, and that Tom would have to invest a lot of efforts into changing it.

“I feel much better now,” he stated more calmly. “If it’s possible, I would like to resume my education after the winter holidays. Would that be all right?”

“Of course,” Dippet nodded eagerly. “I’ll inform professors and they’ll send the homework to you. We’ll figure something out.”

Tilting his head again in gratitude, Tom stood up, still resolutely not looking at Dumbledore.

One mission accomplished. Now he had to meet with his most loyal supporters.

 

***

 

His appearance in the common room had an effect of an erupted bomb. Some Slytherins cheered; others burst into excited greetings. Black and Mulciber stepped closer, and Lestrange stared at him with a hesitant small smile. His eyes were alight with joy, so apparently he still learned nothing.

“I apologise for my extended absence,” Tom said when things quietened down. He knew not everyone welcomed him: there were several Grindelwald supporters who couldn’t be pleased with the outcome. Still, they were the minority. For everyone else, he was a hero.

Another thing he and Harry had in common. Neither of them deserved their titles. Harry deserved it now since he was the one to have killed Grindelwald, but no one knew about it — they never would.

Tom would have to make up for it.

“I won’t stay long,” he added. “I had to speak with the headmaster and I wanted to answer the questions you might have. I’ll be back indefinitely after the holidays.”

“What about the interviews?” Black asked. He spoke quietly, but with the silence in the room, everyone still heard him. “And what about Avery?”

Avery? What about…

Oh. He had died protecting Harry. This had completely slipped his mind.

Masking his annoyance, Tom schooled his face. He made sure his voice held emotions when he said, “I believe I have already told you this, but for those who didn’t hear… Avery has fallen in the fight against Grindelwald. I didn’t witness it personally — unfortunately, I came to assist him too late. By that time, he was already dead.”

“And Mr. Potter?” someone asked. “What happened to him? They told us he won’t be back.”

The name sliced through Tom violently. He barely managed to keep control over his face.

“He’ll come back,” he replied shortly. “But not for a while. What I’m going to say next is highly confidential, so I would appreciate it if all of you retreated to your rooms. I need to speak with Black, Mulciber, and Lestrange. I assure you that they’ll answer the questions you might have later.”  

There was a displeased grumbling that stopped when Lestrange turned to glare at someone. Reluctantly, the students left, and Tom allowed himself a quick amused grin.

One alleged kill, and they were following his orders like mindless sheep. As if he couldn’t take Black, Mulciber, and Lestrange to talk elsewhere instead of making half of the House leave.

When the room emptied, Tom relaxed a little, gazing at his three closest allies. Now that Avery was gone, he would have to find the fourth one. Or maybe he could simply distribute some of the tasks he’d been responsible for between Black, Mulciber, and Lestrange. But first…

“One rule comes into effect immediately,” Tom stated flatly. “No one is to speak Harry’s name. I don’t care how you do it, but I expect you to stop these discussions among others. I don’t want to have to answer questions about him.”

“It will be done,” Lestrange promised smoothly.

“Good. Now, does any of you have something you’d like to ask?”

“The interviews,” Black suggested. He still sounded bleak, likely from the talks about Avery, but life was beginning to return to his face. “The reporters won’t leave. They are dying to speak with you.”

“I’ll arrange it in the nearest future,” Tom agreed. Without Harry, even the most exciting tasks lost their spark, but he retained some small seeds of enthusiasm. Spinning the story the way he wanted could be interesting.

“Did you truly kill Grindelwald with a slicing hex?” Mulciber wondered. Unlike Black, he was vibrating with exhilaration.

“No,” Tom said, a new smile touching his lips. “Obviously, I didn’t.”

“I knew it! It was the killing curse, wasn’t it? You finally got a chance to use it on a human!”

Tom continued to smile, neither confirming nor denying anything.

“Are you really coming back?” Lestrange asked. “After the holidays?”

“Yes. I need to resume my studies. You told me some people wanted to talk to me: I give you permission to organise these meetings. But make sure they’ll be worth my time.”

Lestrange beamed at him, pathetically overjoyed at being given a personal order. Apparently, Tom likening him to a lapdog wasn’t an insult to him — he seemed to double down on the similarities.

“Can you tell us more about that fight?” Mulciber insisted. “The real version this time?”

Tom shrugged. Pulling out his wand, he put on the sound-muffling protection and took his place in his favourite armchair.

Then he began to lie.

 

***

 

Back home, he summoned Apophis, and once again, he had to wait for a while before he arrived. What surprised Tom was a small Gryffindor-coloured ribbon tied to one of his legs.

“What is this atrocity?” he asked, bewildered. When he reached to touch it, Apophis jumped away with a displeased sound.

That was… strange. Then again…

“Are you living with Harry?”

Apophis just stared, but Tom didn’t need a direct answer. What he’d briefly suspected before suddenly gained a very clear shape, and he broke into his first genuine grin in hours.

Apophis hated pretty much everyone. He wasn’t overly fond of Harry either, but if he were to warm up to someone, it would be him. Only Harry would be bold enough to put a Gryffindor ribbon on his bird, and he was the only person Apophis would have allowed so close.

Tom generally preferred for Apophis to always stay in the vicinity, but if he was living with Harry…

It made him happy. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt like a living part of him was keeping Harry company.

Harry hadn’t replied to his letter yet, but if he hadn’t kicked Apophis out, if he put that ribbon on him… it was good. More than good.

His grin widened further, and Tom stroked the dark feathers appreciatively. Impulsively, he pressed his wand to the ribbon and watched it turn green.

“No Gryffindors in this house at the moment,” he announced. Apophis looked like he was on the verge of complaining in annoyance, so with a huff, Tom gave him the letter he’d composed.

“Take it to Limus Filhous from the Daily Prophet,” he said. “Wait for a reply. Don’t peck him even if he’s annoying.”

Apophis pretended to ignore him until Tom gave him a treat. Then, with an expression of doing him a huge favour, he hopped up and flew right through the window.

Among all the reporters, Filhous was the one Tom evaluated the highest. He was serious and thorough, and he worked only with significant topics. He’d already written some articles on Grindelwald, so chances were, he’d come running the second Tom crooked his finger.

As he was waiting for a reply, he relocated to the living room, content with observing the Christmas tree. If he squinted hard enough, he could almost trick himself into believing that the huge pillow on the sofa was Harry, and that they were sitting side by side in a comfortable silence.

Time flew by quickly when he allowed himself to believe it.

 

***

 

Like Tom had predicted, Filhous reacted to his offer of an interview with contained but palpable excitement. They agreed on January 2, and Tom dedicated himself to crafting a Christmas gift for Harry.

There was only one thing he could think of giving.

He titled the parchment, “Plan for the Future,” and then he spent the entire day filling it with details, carefully thinking of each one and having imagined mental conversations with Harry about them.

Dear Harry,

I’m going to be interviewed by the Daily Prophet in nine days. The reporter will be asking questions about Grindelwald, but I also intend to start introducing my goals to him and the rest of wizarding population. You know what I want: one day, I’m going to be a Minister for Magic. I’ll be sharing a limited number of details with others, but I want you to know everything that I’m planning.

At least half of my plans have transformed in the last month. You said you wanted me to change and that you won’t come back until I prove it to you with my actions. If I manage to achieve all the outlined objectives, will it count as “overstepping my immaturity”? It’s just a draft, but I thought you’d want to see it.

I’m not even remotely interested in 70% of these points. See? I’m not lying. But I also don’t feel particularly averse to them, and your approval means more to me than the possible disapproval of my friends.

Not friends. Followers. Since you like my honesty… this is how I truly see them. I don’t consider them friends. I called them that mostly for your sake. In reality, I just see them as useful, and I don’t care what they feel or what happens to them. If they dislike the direction of my plan, I’ll change their minds or cut them off. But I want to hear your opinion.

  1. Eradicating the idea of pureblood supremacy. I’ve been working on it for several years now, and I can say that most people have been swayed. They know I’m the heir of Slytherin and I’ve been feeding them claims of how Slytherin’s words have been widely misinterpreted. That he saw Muggles as a threat instead of Muggle-borns and that “pure wizards” meant those who chose to terminate all contacts with them, never letting their filth touch them. I told everyone that I have Slytherin’s books in my possession on the matter written in Parseltongue. They believed me. I might have to show them these books at some point, so perhaps I’ll have to create them myself, but I’m sure I’ll work everything out. I’ll make a point by bringing at least one half-blood and one Muggle-born into my inner circle. I think Muggle-borns are annoying, but I concede that many of them are powerful enough to be worthy. I’ll have to explain why they keep interacting with their Muggle families (I assume you wouldn’t want me to Obliviate them all), and I already have a vague idea. Perhaps I could present them as spies? Spying on what Muggles are doing and thinking could be made into an important mission that the Muggle-borns would be responsible for. What do you think? Is it feasible?
  2. Reuniting old pureblood feuding families. I believe this is something that might interest you, with how involved you were in the arguments between Weasley and Malfoy. I have no personal interest in this, but it could be entertaining to see what I could do to ensure peaceful relations between them and similar people. Perhaps assigning them on the same tasks, forcing them to work as partners, and rewarding their success? I could also look into the marriages I could help organise. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that your friend is still born, but the Weasleys have enough members to marry some of them off. Doesn’t Weasley & Malfoy union sound like fun?
  3. Increasing school funding. Riddle was a fool, but he didn’t deserve to go to Hogwarts in hand-me-downs, with second-hand books and tools. Even your idiotYour Weasley didn’t deserve to use a wand that wasn’t his either. I think the goal of making certain that every young wizard has the ability to buy completely new things + extra books is very achievable.
  4. Investing in Quidditch safety. I’m so bored with this idea already, especially now that I finally don’t have to worry about you falling to your death. But if this is something you’d be interested in, I could do it. More players will join in, and I’m sure most idiots in this country will welcome anything that brings more Quidditch into their lives.
  5. Resurrecting the practice of Triwizard Tournament and making it safe, entertaining for everyone, and more relatable. I’m not sure how much you’ll enjoy this one, but I thought this could be a good idea. The tournament you took part in was abysmal and it left you only with bad memories. Perhaps making new and better ones could help? You could supply the ideas for challenges or we could brainstorm together. This would be beneficial for Britain and for my reputation, and it could help you to build positive associations with this kind of competition.
  6. Attaching a light curse and an alarm spell to words like “Mudbloods”. Voldemort did a curious thing with his name. He could detect people who spoke it. What if we did a similar thing, only with slurs? I suppose this must appeal to your noble sensibilities. Of course, first we would have to make these words a crime, but in a few years, I imagine it’ll be possible.
  7. Making wolfsbane potion free for every registered werewolf. Partly, this could benefit creatures like that professor of yours; partly, this could stimulate the research. If the cure is found, it’ll protect wizards from the curse of lycanthropy (and it will boost my reputation even further).
  8. Helping house elves get better treatment? (??) This seems absurd to me, but Granger was passionate about it, and from your memories, I didn’t understand what you thought. Is this something you’d like me to do? I wouldn’t risk introducing such a crazy project at the start of my career, but maybe later?

You came here because you wanted the world to change. I will change it for you. I promise.

Tom

More ideas roiled in his head, but the letter was getting long already, so Tom discarded them for a while. He wrapped his plan in an envelope made of bright celebratory paper, adding some decorations manually. Grindelwald’s wand obeyed him very reluctantly, probably because it recognised Harry as its master. But it was safer: if someone tried to accuse him of doing magic out of school, Tom could always claim that it was one of the visiting neighbours, and his own wand would remain clean.

He couldn’t wait for Harry to get his plan. It was as good of a gift as he could think of. Would Harry also send him something? If not for Christmas, then for his birthday, at least?

Tom tried not to get his hopes up, but the small yet persistent warmth kept this fire burning.

 

***

 

He spent the day of Christmas lying on the sofa and listening to music, watching the tree mindlessly. At midday, he re-watched some of Harry’s nicer memories, content to stand nearby and observe him.

When that ended, he dag out all letters he and Harry had ever exchanged and began to read them. The hole that refused to heal as long as Harry was gone filled with an old sense of his presence, and Tom gladly took this temporary reprieve.

He dozed off around seven, and when he woke up, Apophis was sitting on the back of the sofa, staring at him.

“What are—” Tom started to murmur sleepily, but then his eyes widened.

Apophis was holding a letter. A letter that could come only from Harry.

Excitement and rapture flooded him so rapidly, Tom could drown in them. He grabbed the letter with such eagerness that he almost tore it, and then his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t hold it straight.

Growling silently at himself, he closed his eyes, putting up the Occlumency shields. The most extreme emotions still tried to break through, but the initial dizzying rush abated, so Tom opened his eyes again, giving the letter a longing look.

Harry wouldn’t have written him something terrible on Christmas, would he? Even if he was still angry and hurt, he wouldn’t send a letter with accusations on this day. And not so close to his birthday, too.

Tom tried to take at least small breaths but found himself holding them. Anxiety started to distort hope and joy, so he dived into the letter, his eyes flying over the chunks of text to get a sense of the tone and meaning Harry’s words contained.

Dear Tom,

For days, I had no idea how I should react to your letter. I kept looking through it to make sure I haven’t made it up and you actually said all those things. At first, I suspected that you might have asked someone else for help with it, but I know you too well to seriously consider the idea of you opening up to anyone like this.

Believing that you wrote this is overwhelming. I can’t think of another word. When I shared those memories, I expected at least some reaction, some response that would show me that you understand, that you’ll never want to be Voldemort. The fact that you ignored it, drugged me, and performed your ritual was not just sickening, it was crushing. Because if you didn’t understand anything even then…But now you did. You did, didn’t you? I want to believe this so badly.

And I do. I believe you, I have to. The plan you sent me for Christmas has persuaded me. It was so… endearing, I guess. Full of huffing indignation and posturing only you’re capable of, but so earnest that I smiled like a fool.

Smiling is a luxury these days. I don’t think I did it even once before seeing your gift.

I’m relieved you re-watched the memories and understood what I was trying to say, but I can’t help regretting that you did it only now. You still betrayed my trust, and when you learned the truth, I wasn’t there to comfort you or guide you through it. Some parts of your letter broke my heart. I wish I could have been there.

I still want to. Even now, I want to come home to you more than anything in the world. But at least this once, I have to stick to what I promised myself. Me leaving you was selfish: you manipulating and using my immortality like this was hurtful on such a personal level that I couldn’t cope with it then. Throughout the years, even through the worst we experienced, I thought I could count on your loyalty to me. What you did made me doubt that. You wouldn’t want to know the thoughts I had during those first terrible days.

So yes, my departure was selfish. But me choosing to stay gone, at least for a while, is not for me. It’s for you.

What you and I have isn’t healthy. All the mistakes you’ve made are my failures, too. I knew what I was coming into, and I still allowed myself to be blindsided. I took the wrong approach too many times, and I cannot change it now. People died. It’s your fault, but it also feels like mine. So at this point, all I can do is let you go and see what you might become without my direct influence.

Your plan gave me hope. But I’m afraid to believe in its permanence, no matter how happy I am just from looking at it and knowing that right now, this is what you want to do. Time will pass, and you might change your mind. You might choose another path, and this has to be your choice. You have to understand what kind of person you want to be for you, not for me. And when it happens… when it happens, you and I will meet again.

I’m very aware of how well you can lie. For the first months, you’ll be trying to correspond to the image you think I want to see. But sooner or later, your real wants and needs will take over, and it might be incompatible with what I’m willing to accept. After months, years of separation, you’ll be able to sort out your priorities based on what you want as a person, not as a potential perfect partner for me. Your thoughts will become clearer and your emotions will cool down. Then we’ll see.

I don’t want you to pretend for me. You’d never be happy this way, and it means that I wouldn’t be happy, too. You’d be doing things behind my back and I’d never be able to trust you fully. So from this moment on, there are no rules. Do what you feel you must, become who you want to become. If you really need my input on any of these goals you’ve outlined, I’ll be happy to provide it, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there. But I’m still going to address some points in the next letter (this one is getting too long already).

To answer the first part of your questions: I chose to help Muggles because they are the most vulnerable during the war. Wizards have ways of protecting themselves, Muggles don’t. They needed help more. I’m not sure this is something you’ll understand, though. Don’t take it as a criticism — I’m grateful that you accompanied me on many of these trips, but I know you would have never chosen to do it by yourself, so this might sound confusing to you.

As for Muggles being the ones to hurt me — just because you can predict my answer doesn’t make it less truthful. Wizards hurt me, too. Technically, it all started with Voldemort for me, and I’m sure you don’t feel like I have to hate everything related to him or my own kind. If I clung to hatred for Voldemort in particular, I would have never come to love you, and this, I think, is something you should be able to understand very well.  

I appreciate you specifying that you wouldn’t want to kill my uncle’s relatives. That’s very thoughtful of you. (Can you hear my sarcasm? Because this is how it should sound like.) And no, I don’t want you to interfere in the life I knew. People who should be born must be born. My uncle disliked me specifically, and since I won’t be born, it’s not going to be a problem.

I’m not… I can’t say that I don’t care about other magical children abused in their homes. Of course I do. But you need to understand that abuse is happening in both Muggle and wizarding households. Perhaps one of your future policies should target this problem?

My hand is about to fall off, so I’m going to stop here. I’ll send another letter soon.  

Merry Christmas, Tom.

Harry

After reaching the last line in his mad rush to get as much information as possible, Tom returned to the start of the letter and began to read it anew, this time slower. When he finished again, he leaned back, trying to compose his thoughts.

They were a mess. He wasn’t sure what to feel. Harry gave him hope with one hand but took some of it away with another.

On the one side, he had a promise that they’d see each other again. He had Harry’s willingness to believe him. Harry admitted Tom had made him smile, and he expressed the desire to come home, be nearby, and comfort him.

But on the other side, there were no words about loving him now. Harry indicated he might stay gone for years. Harry sounded… weary and cynical, like he wanted to talk to Tom but wasn’t sure he should bother.

Harry was giving him the freedom of actions — freedom Tom didn’t want if it meant being separated.

The system of punishments and rewards suddenly seemed desirable. Tom curled onto his side, nurturing the feeling of bitter nostalgia that spread through him like fire.

“It’s all right,” he murmured to himself. Harry said he’d send him another letter — he would answer the remaining questions there. He would comment on Tom’s plan. He’d give him something more to dissect, analyse, and dwell on; more promises to gain… but also more possibilities of disappointment.

The contradictory impressions didn’t wane even with time. Tom found that he couldn’t re-read the letter again, not without knowing what the next one would say.

Years. Harry had mentioned years.

He couldn’t possibly survive for that long. Months, he understood. But years?

When he managed to fall into an uneven sleep, it was a blessing. However, the dreams he had were about a bleak, never-ending future filled with meaningless pursuits and solitude.  

Even reality was better.

 

***

 

Once again, Tom found his mind drifting through the existence half-absently. He couldn’t concentrate on anything, not until Harry told him something else. Even one line would suffice.

But the days came and went with nothing. On his birthday, he woke up so early that the darkness still reigned outside. He made himself tasteless breakfast and stretched before the Christmas tree, keeping his spot warm with magic. In another room, there was an endless clutter — different owls kept arriving with letters and gifts, dropping them into a pile and grabbing their treats. Tom had prepared them in advance to avoid getting bothered or jumping every time another bird entered the house with a letter. There was only one letter he wanted to get, and he didn’t need any additional distractions.

By seven p.m., the noises dwindled down. Tom checked the room, grabbed the book from the pile of gifts, and returned to the tree. The title was promising, but no matter how much he tried to read, he kept raising his head, looking at the window Apophis tended to favour.

Would Harry truly ignore his birthday? He couldn’t. He promised to send one more letter — and what day suited this purpose better than the combination of Tom’s birthday and the New Year?

A dark, unsettling feeling began to sizzle in his blood. Tom shifted to his back, but it didn’t abate: slowly, it shaped desolation so bitter that he felt sick with it.

When it was nine, his treacherous eyes began to burn, and that was the exact moment Apophis chose to tumble inside. He was carrying a letter and a larger package, and Tom’s heart almost leapt right out of his chest.

“Give it to me,” he demanded, his voice rough and hoarse from the lengthy disuse. Apophis grumbled something, jumping towards him and dropping both the letter and the package onto his lap.

Tom snatched the letter even before it fell, tearing it open, not caring that he was damaging the Christmas-themed envelope. The second his eyes bore into the words, the world lost its physical presence.

Dear Tom,

The second part of that letter, as I promised. I wanted to think carefully before I wrote it, but then I decided, what the hell? So if I’m rambling too much, that’s why. Some of the things you said were more upsetting than others to me, and I want to talk about them first.

I love you. I thought I’ve said it enough times for you to believe it, but since it didn’t register or you forgot, let me try again. I love you. More than anyone in this life and I think more than anyone in my previous one. You asked me why, but this isn’t something I can explain with logic. It’s just what I feel. I think I started to love you when I saw how much you needed me. Back when you broke that vase and tried to piece it together again… the way you looked at me, the way you tried to appear defiant but seemed scared instead — it moved me. It helped me separate you from Tom Riddle and Voldemort for the first time, and I’ve never associated you with any of them again.

There were glimpses sometimes. Sometimes I got terrified because several things you did came too close to what they would have done. But you were still different, and I never loved you less, not even in these moments of doubt. Just because I left doesn’t mean I stopped loving you. I’ll never do it — I won’t stop.

You never told me you loved me before. Seeing it in your letter… it surprised me almost as much as your plan did. And then it made me happy — so happy that I’m not certain I deserve feeling like that. I can’t say I’m surprised by the fact that you do love me, but I never expected you to actually say it (or, well, write it). That’s also one of my reasons. You loved me, and it made me love you even more. In retrospect, I understand this is where everything went wrong. Being loved with such fervency and dedication was heady, it drove me to blindness and reluctance to do anything to threaten it. I was ready to forgive you for the things that shouldn’t be forgivable because I didn’t want to lose this kind of feeling. Selfish, isn’t it? But it’s too late for regrets.

And more about regrets: I don’t regret my decision to come into this world and raise you. A lot of things happened, and if I could go back again, I would change them, but loving you was not a mistake and I don’t want you to ever doubt it.

Two months ago, I wasn’t sure whether or not you cared about hurting me. Today, I believe you do. And yes, it changes things — maybe not as much as you would like, but it does.

I have never told you about where I came from because I didn’t want it to affect your choices. I never wanted to burden you with this, not unless I absolutely had to. Maybe I was wrong. And maybe it was about being afraid that you might see                                                                                                                                                      Voldemort as someone to admire, not a soulless monster he was. I don’t know. But again, it’s too late for regrets and what ifs.

To be honest, I have no idea why I used the killing curse on Grindelwald. It was an instinct. I couldn’t see you threatened, and I knew that even one mistake could be lethal. Why did you use Expelliarmus? I wondered about this. It was more surprising than me choosing another spell.

Of course I want to see what you can achieve. I’m going to read your interview, this one and every one of them that will follow. You know it matters to me. About your goals, let’s see.

1) No pureblood supremacy: how could I say no to that? You not being a secret hypocrite is already a good start. Making Muggle-borns allegedly spy on Muggles, though? How is that supposed to work?

2) Reuniting pureblood feuding families: I can't imagine how you'd do it, but I'd enjoy listening about your attempts. Sounds like fun.

3) Increasing school funding: agreed. Tell me more.

4) Investing in Quidditch safety: that's... very unusual. How would you do that, exactly? You don’t know a thing about Quidditch.

5) Triwizard Tournament: it already sounds like a pitch, did you do that on purpose? I've never considered this before, and to be frank, I think your ideas of fair challenges will differ a lot from mine... but it could be something good if it's done right. Let's talk about it when it becomes more possible — you still have Hogwarts to finish.  And Tom... the way you keep including me into each of these plans, it means a lot to me. Whether any of them comes to pass or not, it means a lot.

6) Cursing words like “Mudbloods”: that's surprisingly noble of you. Maybe not all Voldemort's ideas were that bad. But again, let's discuss it when you get a chance to make these changes.

7) Wolfsbane potion: I can't believe you thought of this when I ignored this problem for all these years. Feeling like your morals surpass mine is a novel experience. Just the fact that it occurred to you... I appreciate it, Tom. I think it would be great.

8) Elves: well... I think we should leave something for Hermione to do when she gets here. But improving their treatment? Yes, that would be nice. 

I still keep re-reading your letter and your list every day. I won’t lie if I say that this is one of the best gifts you’ve ever given me. I hope you will enjoy mine as well — I know you went for the letter as soon as Apophis got inside, so you have no idea what’s in the package. It’s something that should help you through the moments of doubts and uncertainty. This is the promise I can give you, one that I won’t break.

You loving me matters, Tom, of course it does. It’s everything. But asking me if you changing means I’ll come back… Do you mean “change” or “pretend to change”? Because this time, I’m not going to cave in. If I sense that we can genuinely work out our differences and follow at least some common goals, then yes, I’ll come back. Right now, I’m optimistic. But I don’t know how long your resolve is going to last. You might roll your eyes and berate me all you want for this, but I’m also not convinced you won’t be drawn to someone else. If we don’t see each other for a while, my presence will start fading from your life, and I’m not sure you’ll want it again with the same intensity. We’ll see, I guess (and if you are drawn to someone else, I’ll be very interested in seeing what they think about your idiotic ritual. I’d say “serves you right,” but you aren’t the one who’ll have to suffer the consequences, so…).  

Happy birthday, Tom. I hope you’ll find the path that makes you happy, wherever it leads to. I hope I’ll be able to share this happiness with you.

Your Harry

When his eyes slid over the last words, Tom leaned back, sitting in complete silence. His heart was beating quickly, and every beat sent a rush of exhilaration and joy through his body.

The first message had been a prelude. He could see it now. This one? It was a love letter, from the first word to the last. It wasn’t all perfect, and Harry deserved more than being berated for doubting his devotion, but it was still amazing — Tom felt so high on it that he was certain he could fly without the broom right now.

Harry was giving him a chance. He might have doubts or be downright mistrustful — it didn’t matter because he was giving him a chance. Tom wouldn’t lose it.

The package was lying nearby, and he grabbed it, too, feeling a new wave of excitement. What could Harry have given him to help him “through the moments of doubts and uncertainty”? He didn’t have the faintest idea.

Inside the yellow paper (why yellow? Harry preferred green), there was a small box made of black wood. It looked a little rough, like it was handmade. Intrigued, Tom opened its lid carefully, peering inside, and his eyes widened.

There was a moving photo of him and Harry. It was one of the last they’d taken before the start of the school year — Harry was blinking sleepily into the camera, smiling his open shining smile, and Tom was nestling in his arms, his lips stretched in a content smirk. Their hands and legs were entwined, so it was difficult to determine which limbs belonged to whom. The happiness was so palpable that Tom could almost breathe it in — he remembered everything about that moment, down to the taste of sunlight streaming through the windows and Harry’s scent, warm from sleep and painfully familiar.

But most importantly, there was a cloud of Harry’s magic around the photo. What did it mean? Had Harry charmed it somehow?

Tom stroked Harry’s smiling face gently, and suddenly, a low thrum of magic spread through the box. Then it spoke in Harry’s voice, each syllable so clear, as if he was standing fingertips away: “I love you. Listen to this for as many times as you need until you stop doubting it. Whether I’m there or not, whether I’m angry or not, I love you. I told you it wouldn’t change and it won’t. I love you, Tom.”

Heat flooded his veins instantly. Tom trembled, staring at the speaking box with his mouth open, and as his heart soared somewhere far above the mortal realm, a happy, silly sound escaped his throat. 

He touched the photo again, and Harry repeated his words obligingly. He kept doing it for minutes, hours, years — however long Tom spent sitting on the floor, activating the box again and again.

Impossibly later, he turned the lights off, leaving only the Christmas tree glowing. Cradling Harry’s gift in his hands, Tom curled on the couch, burying deeper into the blanket and caressing the photo repeatedly.   

I love you, Tom. I love you, Tom.

I love you.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face, and for the first time in forever, the nightmares didn’t wake him.