Actions

Work Header

All the Things We Could Be

Chapter Text

The very first thing that Harry became aware of was a killer headache. It was all consuming.

Harry, he thought he might have heard a voice call to him. Harry, it repeated, but Harry was too far gone to listen to anything it may have had to say.

Harry was fairly experienced with headaches, given the link to Voldemort that he had in the Horcrux that was apparently embedded in his mind. Over the years he’d had plenty of Voldemort throwing a tantrum headaches. But this was the worst he’d ever felt. It was far more intense, like the only thing he’d ever known and would know again was pain.

After some time though, it began to dull slightly, enough anyway that Harry became aware of the feeling of something hard and sharp digging into his back. He rolled over with a groan, blindly feeling for the—

A branch it felt like.

A branch?

It was then he managed to pry open his eyes to see that he was lying under a canopy of trees, their branches scraggly shadows against a grey dusky sky.

So, still in the forbidden forest then.

And also not dead.

?

The memories of it all came flooding back to him in an instant, and Harry found that he was almost disappointed.

To clarify, he was disappointed about the apparently not being dead thing. Which a part of Harry knew was wrong to be disappointed about. Probably.

But then, the last thing he remembered was walking to the forest, ready to face his death, and Voldemort firing the killing curse at his chest.

So, he had every right to be a bit less than thrilled at yet another twist ending, instead of just an actual, finite ending.

Because he remembered so clearly seeking comfort from his family through the resurrection stone as he walked to the forest to face his death.

He remembered losing the stone.

Then a flash of green.

And he remembered doing nothing to stop it.

He should be dead. He was supposed to be dead.

He was so tired. Tired of the war. Tired of Voldemort. Tired of the Death Eaters. Tired of the bullshit ministry. Tired of the schemes that Dumbledore left behind for Harry to piece together in the midst of running for his life. Tired of not knowing who to trust.

He was supposed to rest now. Sacrifice himself to leave Voldemort mortal, and to allow him to be killed finitely. To allow the war to end. To allow everyone he loved, whoever of them was left, to have some peace.

And for him to have some peace, somewhere, Harry wasn’t sure where precisely, but somewhere, with everyone else who hadn’t made it.

So, wait, he—he couldn’t not be dead, could he?

He had to be dead. This had to be death.

But the forest floor was hard and uneven, and the sky was a depressing shade of deep grey. And more than anything, Harry’s head hurt in a way which didn’t feel like any kind of afterlife he’d ever been promised.

It was quiet though. Which was also strange, considering the battle that was going on not too far away, and death eaters that had been surrounding him the moment he’d been killed.

At that realization, Harry abruptly sat up. And then he immediately gripped his head as it throbbed, and the world swam around him. But once everything settled enough for Harry to focus on his surroundings, he realized they were completely devoid of death eaters.

Voldemort wouldn’t have left his body in the forest, would he? After chasing after Harry for so long, he couldn’t have possibly abandoned his corpse so casually, could he? Especially without being absolutely certain he was dead.

Even if Voldemort had decided to be apathetic towards Harry in his victory, he could imagine that at least one of the death eaters, likely Bellatrix, would have asked to “play” (i.e. mutilate) his corpse, and been granted the opportunity. But as Harry continued to take inventory, he found that he was relatively unharmed besides the headache, very much not dead, and it appeared, very much alone.

As a matter of habit, Harry reached into his pocket to feel for his wand, but found that there was not one. He felt along the forest floor around him. Still no wand.

Well, it hadn’t been his wand anyway—it was Draco’s. Maybe Narcissa had taken it back for her son.

But being without a wand, when presumably he would have to leave the forest and walk onto the battlefield that Hogwarts had become, wasn’t exactly ideal. He may not be dead right now, but he would be dead the second he stepped out of the forbidden forest, surely.

He wished he were stronger, better versed in physical combat at least, if not in the sense of the ability to do at least a few essential spells wandlessly. Although that was asking for not just him to have been a better student, but also just absurdly powerful.

But none the less, he suddenly felt like he’d squandered his education. His first few years at school he had been so immature, so childish. And well, he was a child. But at the same time, by the time it occurred to him that maybe it would have been literally lifesaving if he’d worked just a little bit harder at learning magic, the world had gone so far to shit he had no hope of making a real change to the course he was on academically.

And he had to work with what he had, and picked up things from Hermione when he could, and pray in the end it would all be enough.

And it had, admittedly, gotten him pretty far.

But then, the end had come, and here he was.

He was surprised that he couldn’t see the glow of the battles magic and Hogwarts crumbling wards illuminating the evening sky. Instead, the sky only continued to darken, and Harry was still sitting on the forest floor.

And Harry had no way of knowing if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe both.

He could probably most optimistically hope it was at least both.

Harry had never before felt like the forbidden forest was anything like a sanctuary or a safe haven. But for a moment he considered just sitting there until someone eventually found him. It may take hours or even days, but surely either the Voldemort would win the war and capture the castle, and someone would be sent around to deal with the dead, and either arrest or execute the survivors. Or, the light would win, and someone would come searching for Harry’s body, and would instead find him very much alive. And then, whoever it was that found him, whoever was still alive—perhaps Ron and Hermione, maybe another Weasley, or an older member of the Order of the Phoenix, or Hagrid—would embrace him, and they would cry, and mourn, and then together they would return to the ruins of the castle to begin to piece together an after.

But then, almost inevitably, Harry couldn’t do that. He couldn’t sit on the sidelines and wait. He’d been groomed his whole life to be a savior, and when needed a sacrifice. So he would get up. Even though he would be no help in battle without a wand, even though he wasn’t and never had been equipped to handle the expectations that were put upon him, even though it was so clearly a death sentence, well, it hadn’t stopped him before. He would get up and move ahead.

Harry Potter was the Boy Who Lived, after all.

Although it felt now more like he was the Boy Who Wouldn’t Die.

But never mind, because it was nearly dark, and this forest still contained monsters that would happily kill him with all the ease and even less tact and grace than the most disturbed Death Eater.

So, Harry stood up, and to the best of his memory, he made his way in the direction of the castle.

*

Tom Riddle was out past curfew, ignoring his prefect duties, and was instead sitting alone by the lake.

His fifth year had just started, and he had been a little surprised to have been chosen to be Slytherin’s prefect. Slughorn of course would have thought he was the obvious choice for the nomination, but that meddling Dumbledore Tom was sure would have somehow found a reason to choose someone, anyone else.

Not that there was anyone else more suited than Tom. He was at the top of not just his house, but his class. And there was no one more… respected by any student than him. He was adored by all of Slytherin and most of Ravenclaw. And the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs that were intimated by him knew at least to scatter as he walked through the halls. And all the professors doted on him, because Tom was, frankly, a genius. And professors love geniuses.

There were of course a few exceptions, namely in Dumbledore, but adversity, Tom chose to believe, was only an indicator of the importance of his power, and his cause.

And while prefect was hardly the level of power that Tom was striving for, he enjoyed the freedom of it none the less.

He picked up a stone and skipped it across the lake, waving his wand at it on the third skip and causing it to explode with a small pop.

He enjoyed the quiet of the late evening. It was still only mid-September, and the sun in Scotland still set rather late. It was now only nine o’clock at night, but students were already restricted to their common rooms after eight o’clock unless they were a prefect or had permission and supervision of a professor. It was a stricter curfew policy than it used to be, but there was a war going on, so accommodations had been made for the sake of insuring student safety.

But Tom felt that the war seemed so far from Hogwarts, and tonight, here, with the moonlight reflecting off the lake and the world completely still, the world couldn’t have seemed more at peace.

It was, admittedly, a bit boring though. And Tom was starting to get bored.

But he had plans for this year to hopefully make things more interesting. He’d been researching his heritage since arriving at Hogwarts and at the end of last year, he’d made a breakthrough. Unfortunately, he’d been forced back to that dreadful orphanage, and he’d had to leave Hogwarts and the secrets and answers it held behind for several impossibly long months. But now that he was back, he was ready to stop playing ringleader to a band of thugs and really start to cultivate something more meaningful and begin to claim what was his.

And it was at that moment, Tom heard a loud crack came from the direction of the edge of the forest.

Immediately, Tom stood up and spun around. He drew his wand, but not for defense but instead to cast a disillusionment charm and silently watch as a figure emerged from the forest.

“Bloody forest,” he heard the person, a man it would seem, curse. “Wouldn’t be surprised if the war had ended in the time it took me to find my way out.” 

Tom, although he wasn’t quite sure why, felt the left side of his mouth turn up just slightly into a smirk.

This was a student, it seemed was likely— since the voice wasn’t like any Professor Tom knew— stumbling out of a misadventure. Well, this could be at least a little entertaining. He had only been a prefect for a couple of weeks, but he was already enjoying disciplining students.

Some people, mainly Dumbledore, might argue that it was not really a prefect’s duty to discipline, only to report problems to higher authorities and deduct house points. But Tom found that it was not too much of a challenge to blur some lines. Tom wasn’t opposed to outright breaking rules, of course, but there was something even more satisfying, he found, in a blurred line.

There was another crunching sound and then a thud as the person stumbled and fell in the darkness.

Tom felt surer in his guess now. It had to be a student, or at least someone who wasn’t supposed to be there. Anyone else would surely have used at least a Lumos charm to navigate in the darkness without fear of the light exposing them.

“Who goes there?” Tom called out, cancelling the disillusionment charm.

The figure, who had been in the process of trying to pull themselves up from the ground, froze.

“Speak!” he commanded. “Identify yourself!”

The figure, though, remained frozen and said nothing.

Reluctantly, not at all pleased to make the concession, Tom cast a Lumos charm, and the light spread out between them.

Kneeling on the ground, his hands held out slightly in front of him—hands open, no wand in sight, Tom noted— was a teenage boy. Maybe about Tom’s age or a little older. He couldn’t have been in his year, because while Tom didn’t care to spend too much time paying attention to those that were less than him, he knew the importance and power that could come with knowing people—even if sometimes you chose to pretend you didn’t. But this boy could have been a six or seventh year, they sometimes tended to be more reclusive, too focused on their studies, to cross Tom’s path in a way that got them slotted into an inventory of “peers” in his brain. But still, Tom would think he would recognize most upper years by face, at least. But maybe this person was a particularly unexceptional mudblood Tom had immediately forgotten about every time they crossed paths. Perhaps he was a Ravenclaw that lived in a nook in the library or a Hufflepuff that never left the safety of his common room outside of classes.

But then, what would such a person be doing in the forest after curfew, alone?

Tom prepared to speak again, if only to ask what house he belonged to so he could begin deducting points, when he was caught off guard by the look of surprise that morphed into something more akin to horror on the other boy’s face.

His eyes, in fact, were wide in a way that was almost comical—and, Tom noticed then, they were a bright green. The shade was rather unusual, and Tom found himself unsure of his previous premises for a for a second. He was sure that he would have remembered those eyes if he had seen them even only once.

And then, the more he looked at the stranger, the more he was sure he would have remembered him if he’d seen him. He wasn’t stunningly attractive, visually—he had a nice jaw line and those strange eyes, but his hair was wild and unkempt, and so was the rest of him. His stature wasn’t unaverage, but also not particularly impressive. His clothes were torn and ragged, and it looked like whatever he’d gotten into in the forest hadn’t been a leisurely stroll. He wasn’t wearing a school uniform or robes, but rather what looked more like clothes that might have belonged to a muggle workman—denim trousers and a button-less cotton short sleeve shirt. But what captivated Tom was, well, he wasn’t quite sure how to describe it. It was, perhaps, an aura. That word to Tom had always felt was more like a muggle bastardization of magic than one with actual magical reality, but the… energy that seemed to be coming off the boy was overwhelming, and almost a little intoxicating.

And Tom was fascinated by it, but he also didn’t like it one bit.

But Tom was surer than ever now— he would have remembered this person, had they met before.

He would have remembered if only so much as to make sure to neutralize a potential threat.

But then, whether or not he knew the boy became irrelevant, because finally he spoke.

“T-Tom?” he asked, disbelieving. “Tom Riddle?”

So, Tom didn’t know the other boy, but it would seem he knew him. Tom didn’t have any time to find this curious or consider the implications though, because in an instant, suddenly the boy was up and running, and before Tom could even register it, was tackling him to the ground.

Tom had not expecting the possibility of such a muggle defense and was not at all prepared for it.

But now, the stranger was kneeling over him, one hand pinning his arms over his head, and the other hand holding Tom’s wand, HIS wand, to his throat.

“What have you done?” the stranger cried; his voice was anguished in a way that Tom had never before known. “What have you done? What happened?”

“Release me!” Tom snarled.

“I’ll kill you, Tom, I should kill you right now!”

Tom was startled. He had enemies who might wish harm upon him, sure, but mostly it all fell within the parameters of school yard feuds, which Tom felt himself above. Whatever this was though was invigorating.

“Then why don’t you?” Tom took the chance and called the strangers bluff. He didn’t, though, anticipate what the stranger would say next.

“Why didn’t you kill me?” the stranger cried. “Why couldn’t you kill me?”

The night was dark now, but Tom thought he might has seen the glimmer of tears in the strangers eyes.

And Tom, for another moment, felt unsure. He didn’t like feeling unsure—it was a very rare feeling for him. He prided himself in knowing most things.

“Why would I want to kill you,” Tom finally asked, his voice coming out quieter than he’d hoped, “When I have never seen you before in my life?”

And in that moment, the strangers ruthlessness seemed to dissipate significantly.

“What?”

“Can you let me go?” Tom asked. “And give me my wand back?” He didn’t know who this stranger was, but it would seem now at least that he probably wasn’t an actual threat.

The stranger did neither thing, though, and in fact didn’t seem to be really paying attention at all to him in that moment. Which Tom found infuriating.

“How old are you?” the stranger asked.

That was a strange question that Tom didn’t see as at all helpful. But the stranger was holding his own wand to his throat, and Tom had been wanting something interesting to happen (although he regretted wishing for now), so he answered.

“I will be sixteen in December.”

The stranger finally let go of Tom and sat back, and while Tom could just barely make out his face in the moonlight, he could tell that the look on it was strange and indiscernible even without the shadow of dusk. But then, the wand was no longer at Tom’s throat. Instead the stranger was now twiddling it between his fingers absentmindedly.

And Tom, for some reason, did not take the opportunity to fight back. Instead, he continued to study the other boy in the moonlight.

“What’s the date today?” the stranger asked.

“September 12th.”

“September 12th?” the stranger repeated back, and Tom watched as his brow furrowed.

“And the war?”

“Grindelwald was in France, last I heard. As if it matters,” Tom said.

“Grindelwald?” the stranger asked, and now it was Tom who furrowed his brow. “Grindelwald?” he said again, this time more softly, but some kind of understanding seemed to settle over his face.

And then at that moment, the stranger cried out and gripped his head, rolling off of Tom and collapsing onto the ground beside him.

And Tom wasn’t sure what to do. He did find himself sitting up and reaching over to where his wand now lay abandoned on the ground beside the now writhing stranger.

Eventually the stranger stopped writhing and lay on the ground panting.

“Are you finished?” Tom asked, eventually.

“Merlin, I hope so,” the increasingly strange boy groaned.

And what a strange way to respond that was, Tom thought. None the less, he took the opportunity, now that he had his wand back in hand, to stand up, brush the dirt off his robes, lift his chin slightly in a way that people tend to think looked arrogant and intimidating, and point his wand at the stranger.

“I think that it’s best I take you back to the castle, and to the headmaster.”

And then, to Tom’s horror, the stranger, still lying on the ground, ragged and hunched slightly in on himself and coated in dirt, looked up at Tom and scoffed.

Tom had not been scoffed at in a very long time. Perhaps last by another child at the orphanage, when he was still very young and hadn’t yet been able to teach the older boys who tried to bully him a series of rather brutal lessons, but almost never at Hogwarts. He’d worked rather hard to make sure no one here thought of him as someone to scoff at.

But if Tom wasn’t already starting to feel his blood boil, then the other boy smiled. Smiled!

Alright, Tom thought as he considered it, it wasn’t quite a smile. More of a smirk. But that’s exactly what made it so unforgivable. It was condescending. It made Tom feel like that child he once was, that child who knew nothing of magic, nothing of who he was and what he was entitled to.

“Don’t look at me like that!” Tom hissed. “Get up!”

And the look was immediately wiped off the strangers face, although he did not move.

“Who the hell even are you, anyway?” Tom asked, brusquely reaching over and physically pulling the stranger up.

The stranger yanked himself away, stumbling backwards, as if stung. He also didn’t answer the question.

“I asked for your name,” Tom said again, increasingly frustrated.

Still though the stranger said nothing.

“Ten points from—” he started, but then remembered he didn’t know where to take the points from.

“Is this really the way you earned respect,” the stranger muttered under his breath. “By throwing temper tantrums?”

Tom was floored.

But the stranger was right, it was not.

So he sent a hex flying at the stranger.

Which the stranger dove out of the way and avoided with annoyingly cat like reflexes—the same reflexes that had been able to literally get the jump on Tom and tackle him to the ground.

But the stranger didn’t even have a wand, so Tom knew he clearly had the upper hand and he tried again. And for the second time, the stranger rolled out of the way.

A third one, and a fourth one, each viler than the last.

“Could you stop it?” the stranger shouted, diving once again. “For once, Tom, for Merlin’s sake!” At that comment Tom ceased fire, but kept his wand pointed at the other boy menacingly. The stranger sighed. “I bet Dumbledore would be thrilled to hear you were skiving off your prefect duties and attacked a trespasser who you know doesn’t even have a wand, I might add.”

There were secrets and subtlety that that comment alluded to in that a stranger should not have known, Tom immediately knew, but could only just begun to piece together what that might mean. But it hit Tom in a personal way that Tom didn’t like at all, particularly from someone that was a stranger to him. But none the less, he lowered his wand and the other boy dropped to the ground in a squat.

“I’m just so tired,” he whispered.

Why? Tom wanted to ask but couldn’t. But there were so many things he wanted to ask—or extract. He’d hoped to start working on Legilimency more this year, and that desire only deepened in this moment.

But right now, there was only so much information it would be suitable to ask about.

“Tell me your name, house, and year, and I’ll gladly turn you in to the correct person and be done with you.”

The stranger looked up.

“Um,” he said. “I think just the headmaster would probably be best. Or if he’s not available, Dumbledore, I guess.”

Tom closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Do you not have one?” Tom said.

The stranger stood up and sighed.

“I guess I don’t,” the stranger said, leaving Tom absolutely no clarity at all.

“You don’t have a name?”

“Oh,” the stranger said. “I have a name.”

It dawned on Tom what the stranger meant.

“You aren’t a student here.”

“Not currently, no.”

“Then who the hell are you?” Tom said, drawing his wand again.

The stranger only sighed though, in response to have a wand turned back on him.

“I’m Harry,” he said.

Harry. That name felt familiar, somehow.

“Harry…?” Tom asked.

“Just Harry.”

And in that moment, Tom realized that he could probably be stuck in this conversation forever, and only ever feel more idiotic and undignified as he continued in circles with the stranger. And Harry had been right in one aspect, Dumbledore would probably scrutinize this situation for anything that could be grounds for some kind of punishment if it ran awry. 

So, with swish of his robes, Tom turned away from the stranger and began to walk back up the hill to the castle.

“Follow me,” he said. “And if you don’t come willingly, I’ll take that as just cause to make you.”

From behind him he heard another sigh, but then footsteps followed after him.

Chapter Text

Harry was beginning to reconsider the whole not currently being dead thing.

Because this had to have been some kind of dream that his last few firing neurons were piecing together and drawing out over the final seconds of his life. Or this was some kind of strange version of the afterlife that no one had ever considered.

It would make sense, wouldn’t it? That the afterlife was not actually getting to be reunited with his family in some utopian village in the clouds, but rather was being sent on some strange redemption arc. Except this redemption arc meant, apparently, going back in time to stop the man who had shaped Harry’s from ever becoming the monster he turned into.

Presumably.

Or something.

At least that’s what Harry had been able to work out so far, in the midst of the shock of staring a young Tom Riddle in the face.

But the thing was, Harry didn’t particularly want anything to do with Voldemort—or Tom Riddle—anymore. So if that’s what some deity was shooting for by sending him back here, Harry was going to certainly try at least to opt out.

Because then of course there was already the fact that when Harry could have ended it all, nearly instantly, and he hadn’t.

He had had Voldemort’s own wand to the teenage-version-of-him’s throat and yet he hadn’t cast a single spell, none the less a fatal one. He could have. He could have in an instant committed some kind of murder suicide type of thing and left this world free of them both.

And gotten to see if this time it finally stuck.

But he hadn’t.

And Harry wasn’t quite sure why, but his gut feeling was that because this world didn’t feel like it was his. And the boy that had been lying on the ground beneath him didn’t feel like the man that had killed his parents and been in one way or another responsible for the deaths of others that he cared for.

Something impossible had happened to him, in finding himself here. Harry had a history of impossible things, but this was the most impossible thing that he could have never imagined—and well, it was horribly destabilizing.

Because if Harry could die and find himself fallen back in time, what other rules weren't in play?

And while there were more helpful thoughts and theories he could probably have, right now his primary hang-up, perhaps selfishly, was that if he had to go back in time, why to, what was this… 1940-something? If anything could have happened to him, why this? If he had to go back to redeem something, why Tom? Wouldn’t it have been fairer for him to be in an afterlife where he got to go back and get to know his parents at school, at the very least? If the apparent rules of the universe were in fact that upon death you had to travel back in time to complete some kind of time travel adventure, Harry would rather have gotten to be a Marauder, have maybe gotten to stop Peter Pettigrew from betraying his parents, and would maybe have saved them and changed the life of his future self forever.

And he could have never became that boy who lived. And then someone else would have been responsible for tracking down the Horcruxes and killing Voldemort the first time.

And that was selfish, but that would have been the future he’d have wanted to create for himself.

But that was another thing, wasn’t it? All those people had lived life as it had already happened. And Harry wasn’t sure that creating a future where those things didn’t happen would really erase it from having ever happening at all. And anyway, from what he knew about his experience with time travel, it tended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, either Harry’s efforts to change anything would be futile, or he was in some completely other place, that was separate and irrelevant to everything he knew.

Of course, if all of this was the way it worked, in the current moment anyway it seemed, frankly, incredibly stupid and pointless. The kind of meddling and hellish quest of an afterlife that Dumbledore would have thought up if he were God.

Harry certainly hoped Dumbledore wasn’t God.

In this moment, Harry kind of hoped there wasn’t a God at all and there was some other reason for him to now be following a fifteen-year-old (“I’ll be sixteen in December,” what a cliché thing for a fifteen year old to say, and coming from the mouth of a future dark lord!) Tom Riddle up to Hogwarts.

Not that Harry had any idea what should happen when he got there.

He was of age, almost eighteen in only another month or so, so he probably shouldn’t be at Hogwarts at all, not anymore.

Frankly he could turn on his heel right now and go to Hogsmeade, see if he could find some way back to London, and build a life for himself from nothing.

But what would that life look like?

All Harry had known for the longest time was the war, and any idea of after that seemed to be unfolding itself before him as he’d gone along. If they’d won the war, he probably would have married Ginny, had some kids, raised them with Ron and Hermione and their children in a little village somewhere. He’d have become an Auror or gotten some other ministry job. It would have been a very nice life.

And it was then that it occurred to Harry then that perhaps he should have been mourning.

He should have been longing for a way back.

Maybe it would hit him later.

They reached the castle and Tom held open the door, gesturing for Harry to walk through. It seemed too polite a thing for Voldemort to ever consider doing, unless as a manipulation.

But then, this Tom Riddle wasn’t Voldemort quite yet, was he? This Tom Riddle was perhaps still trying to mimic Pureblood civics and grace. Maybe this Tom Riddle hadn’t yet fully gotten off yet on the feeling of having others bow below him and kiss his feet. This Tom Riddle wasn’t quite yet depraved.

Once inside, Tom quickly took back the lead. “This way,” he said, walking swiftly in the direction of the headmasters office.

Harry found that the statue that guarded the Headmasters office was still in place, which he realized felt comforting in its familiarity. However, Tom appeared to whisper the name of potions ingredient, rather than a muggle candy, and Harry remembered again that Dumbledore was not yet headmaster and this was not the Hogwarts he knew.

But then, Harry probably shouldn’t have been too worried about Dumbledore’s absence, because as they walked up the stairs and into the office, the first thing Harry saw was that across from the man Harry recognized from his portrait to be Headmaster Dippet, was Albus Dumbledore, chewing on a licorice straw.

“Tom,” Dippet said as they walked into the office. “What brings you here at such a late hour?”

“I found a visitor,” Tom said, stepping aside so Harry could be seen by the men in the room. “Wandering the school grounds while doing my rounds. He calls himself Harry, I’m not sure if anyone is expecting him.”

Dippet looked at Harry in a very McGonagall like way, a pair of half moon glasses falling further down the bridge of his nose. Curious, if not slightly hardened eyes, peered at him over the lenses.

And it was now, Harry realized, that he needed to say something. And that something would probably have to be a lie. And hopefully a lie he didn’t find himself too trapped in or tripping over later.

“No one is expecting me, I don’t think,” Harry said, reluctantly. “I, uh, you see,” he floundered, trying to make it not look like he was floundering, but only floundering more. “I, uh,” then it hit him. “I lost everything in the war, Hogwarts was the only place I could think to come.”

That was true, in a way. Wrong war, similar results.

“Ah,” Headmaster Dippet said, “I see.” Then he glanced at Dumbledore.

“How old are you, my dear boy?” Dumbledore asked.

“Seventeen,” Harry said. Because he was. And he certainly didn’t want to be younger, but he doubted he could get away with being older.

“Ah,” he said. “And when is your birthday?”

“July 31st,” Harry said, because that was also the truth. He did leave off the year, not particularly wanting to cock up the math though from his best guess of what the year was.

Harry watched as Dumbledore glanced back at Dippet and they shared another look. When they both turned back to face them, Dumbledore had a twinkle in his eye that Harry knew well, but in this particular circumstance made Harry’s stomach feel suddenly a bit sour.

“Then, you are looking to enroll, to finish your education,” Dippet said, not quite given the space for Harry to confirm or deny.

“Um,” Harry said.

“Oh, don’t be shy, my boy,” Dumbledore said, rising from his chair and ushering Harry over, “Come have a seat!”

Harry glanced at Tom, who was still standing in the back of the room, seemingly not interested in excusing himself until he was asked to leave.

Harry sighed as he walked forward and sat down in the seat Dumbledore had previously been occupying.

“What is your name?” Dippet asked.

“Er, it’s Harry, um, Evans.”

Evans wasn’t a well known wizarding name of course, but it wasn’t essentially categorically a muggle one either, even if he was borrowing it in this care from a muggleborn. And while it wasn’t his name, it at least didn’t not belong to him entirely. It was too dangerous to use an old magical name like Potter or Black though, whatever Potters and Blacks where alive right now might ask questions, Harry imagined. Questions that Harry didn’t have a good answer to.

“Late arrivals like you aren’t uncommon right now, unfortunately,” Dippet began, “Although most do owl first,” he added, and Dumbledore chucked.

“Enrollment in Hogwarts used to be fairly strict, you see. You started upon invitation at eleven, and then seven years later you’d graduate from Hogwarts. Enrollments otherwise were only accepted under very specific circumstances and very rarely,” Dippet explained. “But, given the war, more families have been moving around, although no one seems to know quite where to go, it would seem. Some flee to the continent or America, and some families from the continent or America are fleeing here. British Wizarding families that were previously pursuing other paths of education are now seeking out the safety and structure of Hogwarts for their children. And then students families sometimes face tragedy and they pull their children for the year. And so, given the circumstances, we’ve worked with the board of governors to implement new policies for enrollment in war time.”

“Um,” Harry repeated again. Well, that was convenient for him, he supposed. But the thing was, Harry still wasn’t sure, as he sat in the headmasters office next to a much younger Dumbledore with Tom’s presence looming in the back of the room, he really wanted to go to Hogwarts again.

Were there things he could learn? Definitely. Would be it be the easiest option to starting a new life here? Probably.

But he didn’t want a life here. He didn’t want any of this.

Dippet continued on though, clearly not able to pick up on Harry’s internal distress.

“But I’ll have you know Mr. Evans,” he said brusquely, “That we have decided that all students will be placed into courses based on entrance exams, at the discrepancy of the department head. We don’t care what year or equivalent year you think you were; you must be able to demonstrate proficiency to Hogwarts high standards in order to gain entry into a course and be placed in a year, do you understand?”

“Uh,” Harry said.

“Yes or no, child?” Dippet said.

“Yeah, I get it, I just—” but Harry was cut off.

“So, we’ve had professors for every subject create tests for this circumstance, and those tests will allow a professor to place you into a class. Then, based on your placements, we can decide on your year. If there are inconsistencies in year levels for your placements, you may choose to not take classes that you’re scoring at a lower level at to focus your strengths in other areas, or you may be able to work with a professor to undertake some additional individualized study to catch you up, if the professor agrees.”

“Right, okay—” Harry said, but was once again cut off.

“Students at OWL level must be enrolled in at least seven courses, and at least five courses at NEWT level, although obviously you may choose not to sit all the NEWT exams if you don’t feel they would be relevant to your career goals. Do you understand?”

Harry, feeling very overwhelmed and now fairly defeated, just nodded.

“Excellent, now, are you familiar with Hogwarts course offerings?” Harry nodded again. “Can the Ministry of Magic verify any OWL certifications?” Harry shook his head. His OWLs were taken fifty years in the future, regretfully. If that future still existed at all. “What courses would you be most interested in pursuing?”

This was the time, Harry knew, to say that he was sorry for wasting everyone’s time but he really did not want to go to school, actually.

But, for some reason, he instead started to list the classes he’d taken sixth year and was at least half decent at.

“I, erm—defense,” he began, although he wasn’t entirely sure why his mouth was moving and didn’t feel entirely in control of it. Defense was the obvious choice at least though—at this point he could probably pass a Newt today. “Charms, Transfiguration,” he added next. He had missed out on formal study seventh year, but he’d learned some more useful spells from Hermione the past year on the run. “Um, Care of Magical Creatures,” hopefully that course was currently offered, he knew it was a newer addition to Hogwarts curriculum, but in terms of Hogwarts history, newer usually meant two or three hundred years, not fifty.

Harry counted up on his hands. He was at four—Dippet had said five? “And um, Herbology.” He wasn’t great at that, never finding it very interesting, but it had historically been a slightly easier Acceptable than other courses. He could hopefully test in at seventh year level.

Because certainly if he was going back to Hogwarts, apparently, he at least definitely was not going to retake sixth year. He just hoped his disastrous sixth year education under Umbridge wasn’t too much of a detriment.

But then, maybe he’d take the entrance exams and all the professors would decide he was fully competent and could leave Hogwarts and just take any NEWTs he wanted in the spring. And then would maybe give him enough money for a train ticket to London from Hogsmeade station and a new wand when he got there.

But the thing was, Harry had never been that good at magic. He wasn’t bad—he had his strengths. But he wasn’t like Hermione, or as much as he hated it, probably Draco. And certainly not like Tom-fucking-Riddle (who was still leering by the doorway, by the way), if the rumors were true.

Wait? What is even happening? The back of his mind screamed at him as Harry suddenly found himself buying into yet another path that was being laid out in front of him.

Go back to Hogwarts, sure. With Tom Riddle, why not? Build a new life on a web of lies and hope maybe someday for real rest—well, what were the other options?

And that was it, wasn’t it? There weren’t other options. Harry had always had the weight of the Wizarding World on his shoulders, and a path that was more or less laid out before he was even born, in a way, considering the prophecy. He’d never really been faced with the opportunity to make a non-obvious decision. There were decisions that were hard because he wished he didn’t have to make them, but there was almost always only one real option, none the less. And here, now, given the opportunity to theoretically do anything, in a universe where there were definitively no rules, he was once again having his life laid out before him by a headmaster while Tom Riddle waited in the wings.

Of course he could, at any time now, say, “I’m sorry, I’m not actually interested in enrolling.” But, what would he do then? Who would he be then?

Hogwarts was his home, and no one had yet mentioned an open defense post that they were so desperate to fill that they’d take a seventeen-year-old with no certifications or verifiable personal history at all.

So, student it was, inevitably. Harry hadn’t ever had any kind of wizard ID as a kid in the 90’s, and it appeared here in the 1940’s they still thought it was fine to trust people when they told you who they were—in spite of the existence of Polyjuice.

Although Harry supposed that everyone knew who he was in his first life.

No one knew who he was here.

And with that realization, something lifted off of him.

He could be anyone here. Harry… Evans could be anyone here.

“What about potions?” Dumbledore asked, drawing Harry back to the matters at hand. “If you’re aiming to take five courses at a sixth- or seventh-year level, it’s best to have a backup up test, in case you need to you can drop your lowest placement. Some professors are more willing to work out more individualized plans of study than others, particularly if a student shows promise, even if they are not currently quite up to par.”

“Er,” Harry said, and remembered now that Slughorn was the current potions teacher, not Snape. Harry was never brilliant at potions, but he did better with Slughorn. Admittedly that was mostly because of Snape’s textbook, but, nevertheless, maybe he still remembered some tricks. And he did imagine if he could get anyone to go out of his way to do him a favor like extra potions lessons, it would probably be Slughorn, which is what Dumbledore seemed to be hinting at. “Okay.”

“I should also note that at the end of the year, in addition to any NEWTs you may want to pursue if you qualify, you will also be allowed to sit any OWLs you may wish to earn, if you do not yet have any similar qualifications issued by other schools or state governments,” Dippet announced. “However, our board of governors and the ministry have decided that if it seems you will be likely to succeed, you are welcome to pursue a NEWT without an OWL or equivalent certification.”

“Er, great, thanks.”

“I’ll send a note out to the heads of departments and arrange a schedule for your examinations tomorrow. Expect it to be delivered at breakfast. Since tomorrow is a Sunday, we can hopefully get you placed and into classes on Monday.”

At that information, Harry closed his eyes for a second and drew in a slow breath.

He really couldn’t have any time to rest, could be?

No time at all to recover from literally dying and then winding up spat up somewhere else across space and time, then. But well, that was hardly new though for Harry. Always on to being caught up in the next crisis.

But at the very least, he usually though he at least had a brief period of relaxation in the summer before beginning to have to work to dismantle whatever plot would be laid out for him over the next school year.

But he would presumably get to sleep soon though, if only just for tonight. Right?

It was then though that Dumbledore cut again, further delaying that dream.

“Harry, my dear boy,” he said, “I’m sure you’ve had a long journey, but to save you the trouble and stress tomorrow, if you’d like to take your placement exam for transfiguration right now, I could administer it as Head of Transfiguration,” Dumbledore said, looking mischievous. Harry had long given up trying to determine what that look in the professors eyes meant, but now knowing now that it apparently meant having a decades long war planned out like a chess game, he was not unconcerned.

“I, uh,” Harry said.

“It’s entirely a practical exam, and I assure you it won’t take more than a few minutes.”

Harry glanced back at Riddle, who was still standing silently in the back of the room.

“If you are not feeling up to it, do not worry, but I just wanted to offer. If you do exceptionally terribly, I’ll offer you a retake tomorrow.”

“No, it’s just,” Harry said, not really looking for an excuse, but just not sure what to say. He felt like there was something he was forgetting. Then he remembered, “I, just, er, don’t have a wand. I, uh, will probably need to get a new one.”

“Oh dear!” Dumbledore said. “Perhaps tomorrow morning before your placement exams, I can take us to a trip to Olivander’s in London. We can’t have you start school without a wand! We can get the rest of your supplies as well. And don’t worry about the cost if you can’t afford it, we have a small fund set up for students facing great hardship or without access to other funds.”

Dumbledore glanced back at Tom, and Harry did as well. Tom’s eyes narrowed under their scrutiny.

“I, uh, that would be great, professor, er, thanks.”

“But,” Dumbledore said, his eyes shining again as he looked back at Harry, “Just for the fun of it, why don’t we see if you can borrow one of ours. Wands are so personal, of course, but just if by chance, ay? Tom, would you mind lending Harry your wand? It will be quick, I promise.”

Harry looked at Tom, who looked like he absolutely did not want to do that. Then he looked back at Dumbledore, who had that scheming look in his eye again that made Harry question if Harry’s occlumency shields were up to par after-all, or if Dumbledore was in fact God.

“Go on Tom, I’m sure Harry would like to get some rest tonight, best to do this quickly,” Dumbledore encouraged.

Tom opened his mouth for a second, as if to argue, but then with a deep breath, Tom reluctantly handed Harry the wand.

Harry had to only slightly tug it a little to free it from the other wizards hand.

“Excellent, now give it a wave then and try something out!” Dumbledore encouraged.

But Harry, although he’d never cast a spell with Voldemort’s wand before, suspected that it would work just fine.

And with a wave, some friendly looking sparks shot out.

“Excellent!” Dumbledore said, “We’ll proceed then. So, Harry, what, in your opinion is one of the most useful transfiguration that you are able to perform?”

Harry thought for a couple seconds, the fear that this was some kind of trick question washing over him for a second, before almost inevitably he just decided to go with the first spell that came to mind.

Aguamenti,” he said, pointing his wand upwards so that the stream of water shot out like a fountain and splattered onto the floor.

“Ah!” Dumbledore said with a smile. “Yes, very practical. Any human, muggle or wizard, will die without water.”

Harry cut off the stream of water and quickly cast a drying spell on the floor.

“Also good for putting out fires,” Harry mumbled. “Most of the time, anyway.”

“Yes, that as well!” Dumbledore said with a laugh, although Harry didn’t feel like his failed attempt to put out fiendfyre was funny. But neither this Dumbledore or the last had known about that, he supposed. Dumbledore continued, “And how are you with vanishing?”

Harry felt some relief, although he hadn’t realized he’d been feeling anxious at the exam until it dissipated, because he was actually pretty decent at vanishing. He’d vanished an entire iguana during his OWL. Not as impressive as Hermione’s kitten, but still a solid feat.

“Um,” Harry said, looking around. There wasn’t anything living in the room that wasn’t a human, and if there had been Harry supposed it wouldn’t have been very kind to vanish Dippet’s familiar.

Since he couldn’t think of anything that would be particularly hard to vanish, he went with his second-best bet—something that would be humorous.

So he vanished the strange, ornate velvet fedora type hat that was on top of Dumbledore’s head.

Dumbledore clearly felt it go and reached up to rub his bare head, chuckling.

“Very good, Harry,” he said, looking amused. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to go hat shopping, and now you’ve given me one!”

Harry had to fight now to roll his eyes because Dumbledore apparently had never really changed, and he couldn’t help but glance over at Tom. The other boy though, of course, looked entirely unimpressed.

And an instinctual feeling went through Harry, seeing how bored Tom looked.

Not because the magic he was doing was impressive and Tom should have been impressed. But because Tom probably had every right to be bored by Harry’s ability. And that was so frustrating. Because Harry was older than Tom was now. And then there was the fact that Harry was, or at least would have been, a war hero. Harry had seen things, done things that Tom couldn’t even yet dream of.

And yet here Harry was, proving that he was at best, perfectly average, if even that.

And in an instant, Harry found himself wishing once again that he was better at magic. He wished he had Hermione’s dictionary like brain of spells and careful and often flawless practice of magic, at the least. Or more so, he once again wished he was infinitely powerful. He wished that maybe he was the greatest wizard who ever lived. He wished he knew a spell that would wipe that look right off Tom’s face.

And so, it would seem that while he didn’t want to kill Tom, apparently, he certainly wanted to put him in his place.

But then, these desires mattered little, because the fact of the matter was that while Harry wasn’t bad at magic, per say, he was average to maybe slightly above average at most things, and then a little bit exceptional at Defense and flying. He was better at some things than he maybe should have been at his age under formal education because he had to be, but inevitably he worse at others because of the occasional gaps and incompetencies in his education over the years.

And from what he’d heard, Tom was a prodigy at everything. Except probably flying, at least on a broom, anyway. But flying wasn’t a course Harry could take at NEWT level anyway. And so whatever  magic Harry could think to do now was going to be ordinary and boring to the future dark lord.

“Okay now Harry, one last question—if you could pick a spell to perform as a party trick, what would you choose?”

Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

Harry hadn’t done magic for the fun of it in he couldn’t remember how long. He had memories, of course, wonderful memories of times when magic was splendid rather than essential to prolonging the lives of himself and everyone he cared about.

Back when even dueling was supposed to be more like a fun sport than real training, wasn’t it? Unless you were a trained Auror. But at the school level it was a hobby. Although, Harry supposed that even in by second year his life was already so thoroughly wound up in more complicated things that even dueling lessons became highly charged.

But that train of thought brought a memory to his mind. A memory that would surely be of interest to Tom Riddle.

And because of Tom, and the look on his face, and because Harry’s policy on use of magic had always been a first thought, best thought kind of thing, Harry cast a spell that later he may have wished he’d given a second thought.

Serpensortia,” Harry whispered. And for a brief moment, a look of surprise passed Tom’s face and Harry grinned.

But then, Tom scoffed as he looked at the python that had appeared in the middle of the room and Harry’s face fell.

Harry thought about telling Tom to fuck off, but it was Dumbledore, who must have noticed the Tom at Harry’s attention, who spoke.

“Is something the matter, Tom?” he asked, glancing back and forth between Harry and Tom, the look in his eyes a bit harder now, more calculating.

“Oh, I just don’t think it’s a very interesting party trick, is all. The shock value is all in the thing being conjured, not in the difficulty of the magic.”

And Harry could have just shrugged it off. He could have been the bigger person. He could have proven himself by proving that he had nothing to prove. But Harry, frankly had always been a little bit hot-headed, wasn’t he? Maybe it was something he would work on this time around.

But inevitably not now, because Harry met Tom’s eyes with a sharp glare.

Tom was right. It was a second-year spell. But—

“The snake, admittedly, isn’t really the party trick,” Harry said.

And now, Harry wasn’t sure, admittedly, if he even had the talent anymore. The talent was a result of the Horcrux, after all and if he’d been killed, the horcrux could have been as well. It couldn’t have survived the journey across the universe, could it have?

And so, if only to know if there was anything exceptional about him left, he spoke to the snake.

Tom over there thinksss you’re not very interesssting.”

In the moment after those words left his mouth, nothing happened physically, but it felt like some kind of massive weight had fallen and left the room trembling in the depth of the silence.

He doesssn’t? Why not?” the snake asked. She seemed to be a fairly young snake, which was good. Snake were often haughty enough, but the young ones were at least naïve enough to manipulate. “I am beautiful.”

I know, it’sss sssuch a ssshame. I think you are, of courssse. I think you’re very beautiful. Tom doesssn’t think beauty is enough though. He wantsss you to be ssssomething elssse. Maybe sssomething even darker.”

The snake didn’t say anything but hissed softly as she slithered over to Tom.

Do you care to apologissse, Tom?” Harry asked, still in parseltongue.

Tom though, didn’t respond in Parseltongue.

“It’s—” he stammered. “It’s not possible.”

Harry only shrugged though and quickly vanished the snake.

He had to admit that he enjoyed the look of disbelief on Tom’s face.

But then he turned back to Dumbledore and Dippet and his pride and confidence was shattered a bit.

Dippet’s expression was flat, while Dumbledore’s remained calculating.

And in that moment, Harry had realized just how deeply he’d branded himself.

So much for being able to be anyone.

“Some would say that is a dark talent you have there, Evans,” Dippet said after a moment.

Yes, they would. Which Harry knew. And yet, he’d made his bed. He’d let Tom get a rise out of him. He’d been immature and foolish. Even when though it was dangerous. Even though it left him open and vulnerable.

Maybe he did need another year at Hogwarts after all.

“Just because it was a trait of Slytherin doesn’t mean it’s dark magic,” Harry said, glancing over at Dumbledore.

Dumbledore watched Harry for a second, as if trying to look inside him. And that was when Harry realized he probably was. He was glad, at that moment, that he’d (although not without great struggle) learned a passing amount of occlumency. He’d have to work on it more though, he supposed. It would be an essential skill in this new life of secrets.

“Very right you are, Harry,” Dumbledore said, a smile spreading across his face, although it didn’t reach his eyes. “And to think,” Dumbledore said, casting a glance over at Tom, whose face had gone completely unreadable—but clearly the young future dark lord was stewing. “A student with such a rare talent come to study at Hogwarts. You may just be the last Parselmouth in Britain, Harry Evans, if not the world.”

And it was then Harry realized, with a wave of cool dread rushing through him, that perhaps Tom had not yet bragged about his ability, as Harry had just done.

Dumbledore knew, Harry knew that Tom had told him when he went to visit Tom at the orphanage to invite him to Hogwarts. But apparently, Dumbledore had kept Tom’s secret, and Tom so far had kept it too. A possibility that had not at all occurred to Harry.

But it was a secret that Tom had likely kept good reason—to avoid the inevitable irrevocable reputation that would come with it. The reputation that Harry would now have to live with.

And damnit, why couldn’t he ever just fly under the radar? Here he was, in a brand-new existence and he was still determined, apparently, to make himself into some kind of legend in a way that could only ever crush him.

“Well Harry,” Dumbledore said, carrying on casually. “Given your age and your performance, I’d be happy to have you join my seventh years in transfiguration. I’m sure you’ll do just fine. If that is alright with you, of course.”

Harry had to shake himself before he could respond.

“Er, yes sir,” he said. “I mean, I would be honored.”

“Excellent, now there is just one more thing we’ll have to do before we can get you settled in for the night,” Dumbledore said, before glancing back at Dippet.

“Ah, yes,” Dippet said. “First best you give Mr. Riddle his wand back before he combusts though.” Harry looked down to the wand that was still gripped in his hand and held it out to Tom, who did look absolutely murderous. Tom snatched it back quickly.

Dippet nodded and continued. “Right then, we’re going to have to sort you Mr. Evans, although I imagine I know where you’ll be going.”

And at that, Harry felt his stomach drop, because he knew exactly what that meant, but it hadn’t occurred to him as something to even consider needing to worry about. But before he could think, Dippet was dropping the sorting hat on top of his head.

Oh, fascinating,” the hat said into Harry’s mind.

“Wait, slow down, okay,” Harry said to the hat.

“Oh no, Mr. Potter, is it? I do think the Headmaster is quite right. I took your opinion into consideration the first time around, but ahh,” the hat continued, “Things are very different this time, aren’t they? I would bet your best predictions so far are fairly accurate. But then, what would I know, I’m just a hat.”

But!” Harry said at the same moment the hat proclaimed—

“SLYTHERIN!”

Harry snatched the hat off his head.

“Wait, I really think there has been a misunderstanding!”

“Don’t worry, dear boy,” Dumbledore said, taking the hat from Harry with one hand and patting him on the back with the other. “Many a great wizard has come from Slytherin, don’t let any rumors you might here deter you. And, well, now you can keep an eye on Tom for me, won’t you?”

Harry could have screamed. Instead he glanced back at Tom, who was glaring at both of them.

It wasn’t as cold though as it could have been, Harry realized. Not nearly as withering and disturbing as the glare he would one day cast from snake-like eyes.

And the more he looked at Tom, the more he remembered that Tom was just a child.

He was just a child who was trying hard to act indifferent and above it all and get people to take him seriously, just like any other fifteen-year-old.

“Tom’s the prefect, I believe,” Harry said defeatedly.

Dumbledore laughed.

“Right you are my boy,” he said. “And I’m sure he’d be honored to escort you back to the Slytherin dorms and help get you settled in.”

“Gladly,” Tom’s cold voice rang out in the room.

“Put him in the seventh-year boy dorm,” Dippet chimed in. “I believe there’s a bed from when Walters left with his family to Canada earlier this week.

“We’ve been trying to leave the bed’s in place for a few days, it seems vanishing all evidence of their peers existence immediately from the school can be hard on the psyche of the students,” Dippet said as if a privileged aside just to Harry, although Harry wasn’t sure why exactly he needed that information. Then he turned and looked across the room to Tom, “If the house elves have gotten rid of it already, I’m sure one of you can transfigure something or find a bed in another years dorm, and then let Professor Slughorn know in the morning. And, Mr. Evans, if you don’t pass your other placement exams at the seventh-year level, we may have to move you anyway.”

“Of course,” Tom said. “I’ll make sure to introduce Harry to Slughorn at breakfast either way.

“That would be excellent, Tom,” Dippet said. “I’ll make an announcement at dinner tomorrow, although I imagine news of a newcomer will have spread long before then anyway.”

And announcement at dinner? God, Harry could live him whole life without having his name called out in the Great Hall ever again.

But Harry, as had been the theme of the night, didn’t have a chance to voice any concern, because before he knew it, Dippet was ushering him and Tom off.

“Goodnight, boys!” Dumbledore called out as Tom turned towards the stairs.

“Goodnight Professor, Headmaster,” Tom called, turning back towards the two men and offering a slight bow of his head. And then without another word, he descended the stairs.

Looking back at Dumbledore one last time, Harry reluctantly turned and followed.

Chapter Text

Tom felt like his blood had turned to ice.

It had happened the second that the stranger, who called himself Harry, although who knows if that was even his real name, spoke Parseltongue.

That was his talent. There were supposed to be no, NO, other Parseltongues alive to anyone’s knowledge. Except Tom. And Tom was the heir of Slytherin. His pathetic mother had left him nothing in this life when she died, except for her lineage. And it was his birthright.

And then, out of nowhere comes this Harry Evans, conjuring up a snake and trying to turn a snake against him. Him! As a party trick!

And even worse, Harry had spoken to Tom as if he knew that Tom could understand.

But that couldn’t be. No one except Dumbledore knew. After Dumbledore’s reaction all those years ago on the very day Tom learned magic was real, Tom knew it was best to keep his ability a secret for the time being until he knew it would be appreciated. He thought, maybe this year, as he started to tighten his bonds among his “friends,” he might begin to reveal it to some as a sign of trust to further bond them to him. That was the real power of secrets, the ways in which they tied people together.

But he had feared the backlash of “light” wizarding families if they knew before he was undeniable. He feared that his reputation, that he’d worked so hard to keep spotless so far, would be ruined.

But then Harry spoke to a snake right before their very eyes.

And Dumbledore and Dippet did nothing.

When at eleven years old Tom, who at that point had spent his entire life surrounded by muggles who had tried to beat it into him that he was nothing, told Dumbledore that he defended himself against his tormentors and could talk to snakes, the Professor spent the next four years watching him as if he was Grindelwald under Polyjuice. But Harry pulled Parseltongue out of his pocket like it was a Chocolate Frog card, and they sorted Harry, placed him into a seventh year class preforming what were at best fourth year spells (maybe if they had been non-verbal Tom would have been mildly impressed, but they hadn’t been even that), and sent him on his merry way.

Tom knew, objectively, that the reason why the person that Tom had caught trespassing, who had attacked Tom while spouting nonsense, was now enrolled as a student without anything more than a name and a vague backstory and dark talents probably wasn’t because Dippet and Dumbledore were completely incompetent. Not that that he, personally, respected them much more than if they were. But annoyingly, while Dumbledore kept his skill quiet, he was probably one of the most powerful wizards in Britain. And Dippet was, well probably only slightly more competent than more wizards as ancient as he was were… but that was still to say fairly capable.

And inevitably, there was something going on behind the scenes that verified “Harry” to some degree as who he claimed he was. Dippet had given the reductive version at the beginning of the year to respond to student and staff concerns about the safety of Hogwarts—something about new wards and staff training. But knowing what he knew about magic, especially the “light” magic wizards like Dumbledore and Dippet used exclusively, it was often vague and obtuse in a way that made it easily fallible to someone who truly meant ill intent. The wards Dippet was referring to probably screened for things like “a malicious intent against the sanctity of Hogwarts,” as if that meant anything at all to someone who wasn’t the villain of a muggle children’s mystery book.

And Harry had known things he shouldn’t have. He had known who Tom was when they’d never met. He’d threatened to kill him. He’d said such strange things that Tom couldn’t make sense of.

No, Harry Evans had secrets, big ones.

And Tom was going to find out what they were.

It would inevitably be no use asking him outright though, to explain himself, because Tom knew it would only be a lie.

No, Tom would have to be smarter, more careful than that if he wanted to get to the bottom of this.

“So, Evans,” Tom said as he led Harry down to the Slytherin dorms. “Where are you from?”

“Um, Surrey, I guess,” Harry answered. “That’s where I grew up anyway. I was born in Godric’s Hollow though.”

“Ah,” Tom said, noting that Harry mustn’t have been a mudblood then if he was born in a magical village. Although Tom supposed he already knew that, since apparently, they were related, although if perhaps only by a shared ten times great grandfather. “A bit ironic, don’t you not think, a Slytherin like yourself born in the same village as Gryffindor himself?”

“I’ve only been Slytherin for about ten minutes,” Harry pointed out.

Why Harry seemed to resent being a Slytherin so much was another question that Tom wanted an answer to, but more so felt like a piece to the puzzle. It was evidence that Harry didn’t belong here, and he knew it.

“With a talent like the one you have, I can’t imagine that you’re entirely surprised by the outcome,” Tom retorted.

“Do you think every single one of Slytherin’s ancestors has ended up in Slytherin house? He was born a thousand years ago, that’s thousands of ancestors, Riddle. Realistically, probably a significant percentage of all wizarding families have a tiny bit of Slytherin in them, not even just the Pureblood Slytherin legacy families.”

Tom scoffed. Sure, perhaps, but having a drop of a founders blood was surely not the same as being an heir. There were some bloodlines that were more direct than others—that had kept the bloodlines tight so as to make sure it wasn’t too tainted. And who was this Harry to try and claim otherwise?

But Tom knew arguing with this near stranger about such things would likely only reveal some of his own hard earned and carefully kept secrets.

“So why haven’t you been studying at Hogwarts previously?” Tom asked instead, still playing casual and pleasant.

Harry turned though to glance at Tom, and it looked as if he was looking straight through him.

“I upset some a Dark Wizard, got myself on something like a hitlist, myself and some friends have been on the run for about a year,” Harry said casually, and Tom stopped in his tracks. “Don’t worry, that’s all over now, they won’t come looking for me anymore.”

Tom turned back to Harry and narrowed his eyes.

“That can’t be true. You’re lying,” Tom said.

Harry shrugged.

“You don’t have to believe me,” he said. “And I don’t have to tell you the truth either, by the way. That’s not how this works.”

Tom held his glare on Harry for another second before he turned back around and started walking again, his pace quick enough that he hoped Harry had to run after him.

Maybe he would even trip and fall.

It was a petty thought, Tom knew, but he was completely infuriated.

“So, Evans, I’m not familiar with that name. Are you related to anyone at Hogwarts?”

“Maybe,” Harry said. “Not sure. Evans is a muggle name, my…” Harry paused like he was trying to remember the own facts of his life in a way that Tom was sure meant he was lying. “Father was muggle born. My mother was a from a pureblood family.”

So he was a half-blood. Like Tom.

Except no-one was supposed to be like Tom.

He was the true heir—he had to be. He was going to find the Chamber this year and prove it. This Harry was an imposter. He had to be.

But never mind that, never mind.

“Oh, which one?”

“None of your business.” Harry said.

Tom blinked slowly and repressed the urge to hex the other wizard.

“Don’t act so insulted. I don’t see why I’m telling you all this to begin with, earlier I couldn’t speak up to save my life and now I’m telling you of all people all this shite.”

“Some people think I’m trustworthy,” Tom said, allowing the corner of his mouth to curl up slightly into the smallest of proud smiles. “I’m… easy to talk to.”

Harry snorted. “Maybe after a few minutes under the Cruciatus,” he muttered, and Tom’s smile dropped.

“I don’t think unforgivables are a joking matter, Evans.”

“I wasn’t joking at all, Riddle,” Harry said. “And I know how serious the unforgivables are far more than you do.”

What did that mean?

It seemed then though that Harry had managed to effectively shut down the interrogative small talk that Tom had been inflicting. Whether on purpose or a happy accident, Tom didn’t know.

They arrived at the entrance to the common room, and Tom gave the password, purposefully not telling Harry how the password system worked. Which again, was petty, but Tom would inevitably have to wait much longer before he could really have his way with Harry Evans. When he had sorted out some truths and developed a plan.

In this meantime, making the other boys life as hard as possible would simply have to do.

As they walked into the common room, Tom watched as all the eyes in the room subtly turned to see who had entered. He watched as they lingered upon seeing the poorly dressed stranger with Tom.

It was Avery who approached them first.

“Good evening Riddle, how were your rounds?”

“Boring,” Tom said, because while Harry was the most interesting (and infuriating) thing to happen in a while, he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he had Tom’s interest. Or cause him to put more of a guard up, because currently even though Tom didn’t trust a single thing he said, he was at least talking with Tom in a way that Tom hoped would lead to some slip ups that would lead to some answers. “I picked up a new housemate, it would seem,” he continued, looking in Harry’s direction.

“A new housemate?” Lucretia Black said, suddenly appearing. A seventh year, she was rather tall for a girl and in her heeled shoes she looked down over Tom and Avery—who likely still had a few more inches to growth in the next several years—in a way that Tom despised. “And no one bothered to tell the Head Girl?”

“I only found him wandering out of the forest about an hour ago, and you wouldn’t believe how… welcoming Dippet and Dumbledore have become,” Tom said, giving Avery a look that he hoped communicated his distrust of this Harry character.

“Well,” Walburga arrived, following shortly after Lucretia as tended to be the case with the cousins. “Aren’t you going to introduce him?”

Walburga did not tower in the way that her cousin did, but she was far worse. Lucretia was fairly capable and sensible. Walburga on the other hand seemed to live in an entirely other world where the only thing that matter above all else was keeping up appearances. Which Tom might have been able to respect, if it weren’t for the fact that her constant policing of pureblood customs and traditions often involved calling attention to his occasional gaps in knowledge and slips that were a result of his muggle upbringing that he worked so hard to have everyone forget.

“This is Harry Evans” Tom said dryly.

Tom watched as Harry looked at the small crowd that had assembled and smiled.

“Lucretia Black,” Lucretia introduced herself. “I’m Head Girl, if that wasn’t mentioned to you yet. And this is my cousin Walburga, she’s also in seventh year. And that’s Charles Avery, he’s a fifth year like Tom.”

“Nice to meet you all,” Harry said.

“So where are you from?” Lucretia asked Harry and Tom only half listened as Harry went through most of the same details as he’d given Tom moments ago. Except he didn’t mention the whole “being on the run” thing this time.

“So, what do you parents do?” Walburga asked.

“They actually are both dead, they died when I was a baby.”

At that Tom looked up.

“How?” Avery asked immediately. He did sometimes lack tact in that way, but Tom could appreciate his bluntness at the same time. It was useful from time to time, for example in moments like this.

“They were murdered,” Harry said, and Tom realized he was looking exactly at him, his eyes hard. “I don’t really like to talk about it much.”

“Well that’s awful,” Lucretia said, very diplomatically. “I apologize on behalf of Avery for his nosiness.”

“So you’re an orphan like Tom, then,” Walburga said, and Tom wanted to curse her.

Harry only shrugged though.

Avery looked like he was about to say something else, but whether it was another tactless question or to complain about Lucretia, he would never know, because Harry spoke up instead.

“I, uh,” Harry said, ever so ineloquently, as he often seemed to, “Would you mind if I excused myself for tonight? I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time in the future to get acquainted.”

“Oh, yes, of course, you must be exhausted! And it is getting rather late,” Lucretia said. “Tom, was a bed prepared for him?”

“The headmaster recommended he sleep in Walters’ old bed in the seventh-year dorm, if it hasn’t been removed yet?”

“I am not sure,” Lucretia said, “Adrian!” she called out across the common room to Adrian Higgs, a seventh year Slytherin who was sitting over by the fire reading a book. He looked up from his book and over at Lucretia.

“Is Walters’ bed still in your dorm?”

“It was this morning,” Adrian responded. “As if we’re mourning him like he’s died instead of having  gone to Montreal.”

“You know the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs practically throw a wake for everyone of the house that leaves, like it’s always so tragic,” Avery said.

“And when that mudblood’s father got himself blown up in the muggle war, you’d think the minister was assassinated or something,” Walburga said.

Meanwhile, Tom, who had been subtly refusing to take his eyes off of Harry, watched as his new housemate cringed.

Muggle sympathizer then? He did say his father was a mudblood. Beliefs like that though could be easily used against you in Slytherin house though, and Tom wasn’t unprepared to use that card if he had to.

“Hush,” Lucretia said. Lucretia wasn’t quite at blood traitor levels in her diplomacy, but she seemed to believe that muggles weren’t abominations that were disgraces to humanity much less than most of Slytherin did. She was a Black though, and until she actually went off and married a mudblood, she was untouchable in ways that a no one like Harry wouldn’t be. “Would you mind taking our new housemate to the dorm, Adrian?”

Adrian shrugged and rose from his armchair.

“I was going to head up soon anyway, I suppose.”

“Thank you,” Lucretia said. “This is Harry Evans, by the way.”

Adrian nodded at Harry. “Adrian Higgs,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you.”

They shook hands, and then as suddenly as Harry had entered into his life that evening, he disappeared, following Adrian back to the seventh-year boys dorm.

Once Harry was gone, Lucretia and Walburga soon enough went back to doing whatever it was they did—which tonight was gossiping with some other Slytherin girls, it would seem.

It was then that Tom nodded at Avery and they went and took up their usual nook in the corner of the room by the house library.

They were quickly joined by the rest of Tom’s gang of friends, who had held back during the conversation with Harry and the girls, but now out of the woodwork they came.

“Another newcomer,” Gideon Nott said.

“The first in Slytherin this year,” Edmund Mulciber pointed out.

“It is only the 12th of September,” Emmett Rosier pointed out dryly.

“I meant we didn’t have one last year either,” Mulciber defended. “Only people leaving.”

“I wonder if he’s any good at Quidditch,” Nott said, “We could use a decent player. You know our team is in rough shape when they made Crocket the sodding captain.”

Tom cleared his throat and all eyes turned to him.

“I want you all to keep a close eye on Harry Evans,” he said quietly.

Avery looked as if he was going to ask a question, but Tom shot him a glance.

“Is there anything we should be looking out for?” Romulus Lestrange asked instead.

“Nothing Evans does or says is not highly suspicious,” Tom replied. “I want to know everything, no matter how insignificant you think it is.”

Lestrange nodded, “Alright,” he whispered.

The others nodded solemnly, and Tom sat back in his chair. He’d have Harry Evan’s expelled, or worse, by Yule if he had any say.

*

Harry lay awake staring up at the canopy of his bed. The room was dark, but he knew the curtains where green instead of red.

And he could hear the lake lapping up against the walls of the dungeon.

He didn’t know why these were the things that were suddenly feeling most wrong to him out of all the ridiculous things that had happened to him that night. This was his first time sleeping in a Hogwarts dorm in a year, but still, if anything should have been comfortingly familiar, it shouldn’t have been Hogwarts, even if the dorms were the wrong ones.

But none the less, out of everything that should feel so completely and entirely wrong in his… he still wasn’t sure if life was the right word—existence right now, the thing that was currently keeping him up was the strangeness of the Slytherin dungeons.

But then, now that he had some time alone with his thoughts, realization after realization kept crashing down on him. But with everyone, he found himself just feeling more and more done.

He probably needed to sleep. But he couldn’t.

All he could do is replay the evening over again and again in his mind.

He still didn’t know what he was doing there. He didn’t know why he was saying most of the things he said or doing the things he did. Maybe he was so entirely overwhelmed and delirious that he had lost the ability to make any decisions at all.

But what he did know was that he couldn’t lie there anymore, in that green clad bed. He’d been laying there for hours now, hoping to fall asleep and wake up somewhere else and realize this was all a bad dream. But he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t think.

And more than anything, in the back of his frazzled mind there lived a kind of anxiety—one where he felt like he had to make some kind of decision, but he didn’t know on what exactly and didn’t feel remotely qualified none-the-less.

With a groan, Harry sat up in bed, pulling open and curtains and swinging his feet over the edge of the bed. The rest of the Slytherin seventh years had slowly trickled up to bed over the course of the past several hours—although it didn’t seem like there was very many of them—there were only four beds in the room, and one was Harry’s. Maybe the balance of boys to girls was wildly off, but in Harry’s year there were usually twelve to fifteen students per year, per house.

But the Hogwarts he was from was fifty years in the future, and even with casualties of the war, the wizarding population had surely continued to increase somewhat from what it was now. And it seemed that in this time, Hogwarts was not seen as safe as it would come to be in the next wizarding war. But then again, this war wasn’t just a wizarding war. The muggles were at war too. And Harry hadn’t admittedly ever learned much in his History of Magic classes, but he knew that the effect the muggle war had had on the wizarding war wasn’t non-existent.

But sitting here, thinking more about all he didn’t know and all he couldn’t even fathom while he slept in a room of strangers wasn’t going to help, so Harry got out of bed and made his way back out of the seventh-year dorm room and towards the common room. Harry wasn’t sure what, exactly, it was he intended to do, or even where he was going, but so far he’d lived his life in accordance to a pretty much strictly follow-your-gut philosophy. And while it hadn’t always worked out for him (in fact, it had notably gotten Sirius and Cedric and probably several other people killed), it was what, none the less, the only way he knew.

Harry made his way out to the common room to find it quiet. Most of the main lights had been put out, but there were still some candles left burning around providing a dim glow. Harry still didn’t have a wand, so he couldn’t exactly do much about it—Wizards didn’t think to keep matchbooks around, inevitably.

But never mind, Harry thought to himself as he flopped down on a sofa, picking his feet up so they rested on top of the armrest. For a second he imagined someone coming to scream at him, a portrait with a voice like the one the young Walburga he had met tonight would come to have in a few decades screaming at him for having his feet on the furniture. But then, when silence continued, he found himself chuckling to himself as the improperness of, well, Harry himself, in the juxtaposition of the air of properness and tradition that Slytherin house always had about it, right down to it’s common room with it’s apparently stiff, ornate furniture.

The other seventh year Harry had been introduced to, Adrian, had, fairly reluctantly, loaned him a pair of pajama bottoms, but he was still wearing the same t-shirt that he’d been wearing for he didn’t know how long. Hermione had of course kept some changes of clothes in that brilliant bag of hers, but eventually it just became easier for Harry to scourgify his clothes most days.

But none the less, he didn’t exactly feel like he belonged in this common room, in this war-torn fifty year out of place t-shirt and his slightly too big borrowed pajamas and his bare feet and messy hair. Gryffindor’s common room still had a bit of antiquity to it, of course, like everything did at Hogwarts, but the Gryffindor’s common room was old in a way that was worn in and cozy. The Slytherin common room looked like the kind of place that was designed to have women in petticoats sitting around drinking tea.

“But I suppose Slytherin wouldn’t need comfortable furniture anyway,” Harry whispered aloud to himself, shaking his head. “As if a Slytherin has ever lounged in their life. It’s too hard with the sticks of blood supremacy and inbreeding up their asses.”

“Depends on the Slytherin, I would think,” a voice answered him, and Harry startled. “Although if the rumors are true though, I have heard that some students do certainly get up to… inbreeding on them occasionally.”

Harry sprung up from the couch with a grimace and looked in the direction the voice was coming from to see a boy sitting across the room in a large armchair that looked out into what usually was the lake but in the night was just a slightly shimmering dark void behind a sheet of glass. Harry took a few steps closer to the boy— couldn’t really make out his features too well in the darkness, but he appeared to have dark hair and his face was turned away from Harry.

“Oh, I—er, didn’t know someone was still down here,” Harry said.

The other boy shrugged.

“Don’t suppose it matters either way, although I would be careful with opinions like that in this house,” he said. “You’re the new student, aren’t you?”

“I, uh, yeah,” Harry replied. “I’m Harry,” he said.

“Just Harry?” the other boy asked.

“Preferably.”

“Hm,” the boy replied. “Well, I’m Alphie, then, if we’re going to be so informal.”

“Alphie?” Harry repeated.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Harry said awkwardly, making his way over to where the boy was sat. “Nice to meet you Alphie,” he said, sticking out his hand.

Alphie looked at it for a moment before rising from his seat and grasping it.

“Nice to meet you Harry.”

Harry took a better look at the other boy now, face to face. He had dark curly hair and those aristocratic high cheek bones in a way that Harry assumed meant he had a fairly decent chance of being from a Pureblood family. Harry didn’t have much hope of appropriately remembering family trees to have a firm idea of which one. Harry would guess a Black, but he’d already met two of those, including the younger, at least evidently slightly saner version of Sirius’s mother. Lucretia on the other hand sounded familiar, but Harry couldn’t quite place what he knew about her future.

He tried to remember the family tree and what Sirius had told him of it, but that was so long ago now. So much other more pressing information had pushed most of his memories of Sirius out as he forgot to hold on to them while focusing on fighting for his life and the lives of everyone else he loved that was still left, and everyone they loved.

But this boy did remind him a little bit of Sirius, no matter how closely they were actually related. And while Harry probably should have been more cautious, another part of him was glad to maybe have the beginnings of a friend.

He hadn’t been so alone in a long time. Harry’s life may have been more of a game and a symbol than an actual life, but one of the best things about it was that as soon as he started Hogwarts, he had found that he was never again alone. There were always friends and mentors around, ready to help whether or not they were any more prepared for the fight than Harry himself was.

“Nice to meet you too, mate,” Harry said.

“Why, you are quite casual, aren’t you?” Alphie said with a sly smile.

“I, er, I mean—” Harry stammered.

“And eloquent too, I see? Whatever are you doing in Slytherin?”

And with that, Harry collapsed down into a nearby armchair with a sigh.

“Honestly beats me,” he groaned.

“Surely you must have an idea?” Alphie said, sitting back down in his armchair, but this time turning to face Harry.

“I’d do well, here, I’ve been told,” Harry said. “And some of the traits fit, but probably only in the way that when you provide a list of like twelve bloody adjectives, everyone is bound to see themselves as at least a couple. But ‘resourceful’ and ‘determined’ here, at your service,” Harry mock saluted, then he shook his head. “Sorry, I, well, I’m not really sure anymore when the last time I slept technically was at this point, so I’m a bit delirious.”

Alphie laughed and it was nice to hear one that sounded so genuine, “I think resourcefulness and determination are two very valuable traits,” he said with a kind of glimmer in his eye that Harry recognized as dangerous, but that somehow didn’t feel threatening.

“I should probably tape my mouth shut for at least a week,” Harry continued. “But instead I’ll tell Tom bloody Riddle my life’s story, apparently.”

Alphie laughed again.

“Well to think, what would Riddle be doing right now if he wasn’t obsessing about you?” he said. “You should have seen him and his gang the second you left the room holding some sort of emergency meeting.”

Harry scoffed. It was strange to think of an older student looking down on Tom’s early attempt to establish himself as a dark lord so patronizingly, as if he was merely a younger student overheard complaining about the OWLs by a someone preparing for their NEWTs. But none the less he didn’t like hearing that Tom was already fixated on him in way that caused him to not have any of the discretion he might otherwise value.

“Obsessing?” Harry said. “As if that will stop him, Tom Riddle can cause a whole hell of a lot of damage while still being thoroughly obsessed with me, I’m sure.”

The first-time round, Tom Riddle had successfully brought himself back to life, started a war, and killed dozens of people, all while being fairly obsessed with Harry. If Tom had determined that Harry was some kind of puzzle that needed to be solved or enemy that needed to be disposed of, or what not, he would surely be able to do so on top of whatever schemes he already had planned for this year.

“Hm,” Alphie said and the same moment Harry put together some pieces he hadn’t yet remembered and said, “Fuck.”

Tom was due to open the chamber this year, wasn’t he? And well, if Harry were going to have any kind of mission in this new existence, is would probably be to stop that from happening.

Or, even if it wasn’t, it’s not like there was going to be a single part of Harry that could sit idly by and do nothing to stop the Myrtle’s death and the petrification of other innocent students because of Tom’s daddy issues and muggle hating that led to him cling to the idea of being a Founders heir.

And so Harry supposed he’d have to start crafting his own plan. Even if it wouldn’t change the future. Or even if it would. Or even if he would fail. Or whatever.

“Yes?” Alphie asked, in response to Harry’s probably yet again very out of character for a Slytherin trying to make a first impression outburst.

“Oh,” Harry said. “Nothing.”

Alphie raised his eyebrows.

“’I’m just probably going to have to spend some time in the library and study really hard this year, I just realized, is all.”

“Ah,” Alphie said. “Well, if you need any help, I’d be happy to.”

Harry nodded, although he didn’t exactly know what kind of help anyone could give him. But he’d killed the basilisk once, and at twelve and basically on accident, so surely, he could do it again, right?

And he probably had some time. How fast could Tom find the chamber, anyway?

“If you’d like to start, there is a small library over there,” Alphie said. “Although, they are less interesting and more excellent at boring someone to sleep. But it looks like that might not be a bad thing for you either.”

Sleep. Merlin, he could use some of that.

“Right,” Harry said. “Okay.”

“Might I recommend Herpetology through the Ages? You’d think that it would tell you about the history of dragons, but then it’s actually mostly about the uses of lizard hearts and the nervous system of Runespoors.”

“Actually, that might be helpful,” Harry said.

With a flick of his wand and a muttered spell, a book came flying across the room to Alphie.

“Here you go,” Alphie said, catching the book and handing it to Harry.

Harry took the thick and dusty tome from the other boy, brushing off the cover.

“Well, I’m going to head up to bed,” Alphie said. “Have a goodnight, Harry.”

“Goodnight, Alphie,” Harry said in response, already opening the book and flipping straight to the index of the book to look for “basilisk.”

“Good luck,” Alphie called back as he disappeared back towards the dorms. Harry flipped to the right page.

A basilisk is a giant serpent, known for it’s deadly gaze that is also capable of petrification and venomous fangs. Basilisks were first bread by Herpo the Foul by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad…

Alphie was right in the end it seemed though, because after getting only halfway through the first page of the entry on basilisk, Harry was asleep.

Chapter Text

“Evans,” a voice called. “Harry Evans,” it repeated.

Harry woke up with a start and looked around in confusion at the strange surroundings, trying to place where he was.

Then he remembered.

“Are you one of those very studious types, then?” the voice that had spoken to him asked, as Harry turned to see the other Black girl from yesterday, the ones that wasn’t Sirius’s mom, what was her name? Lucia? No, Lucretia. “I should let you know that as head girl, it is technically my responsibility to watch out for students wellbeing,” she said with a polite smile. “But I don’t actually care if you want to run around with your nose in a book all year, but I would recommend that there are probably better things to study than basilisks,” she said, looking down at the book that lay open on Harry’s lap.

Of course at the exact moment that Lucretia said this, Tom Riddle walked into the common room and immediately froze in his tracks.

Harry looked down at the book he’d been reading and quickly shut it.

“Ah, I was actually hoping it would put me to sleep, that was the point,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck, which was stiff from sleeping hunched over in an armchair. “Alphie recommended it to me.”

“Alphie?” Lucretia said, looking confused. “You mean my cousin Alphard?”

“Oh, so he is another Black, then,” Harry said.

Lucretia was still looking at Harry like he had sprouted a second head, but Harry assumed it was the informality. People in this time, at least Slytherins, certainly, seemed to be very into emotional distance.

Harry looked over Lucretia’s shoulder again to see that Tom had disappeared, and Harry considered for a moment just going and tracking down Gryffindor’s sword and killing the Basilisk that afternoon so that he didn’t have to worry about Tom anymore. Inevitably, though, that wouldn’t be the smartest idea. Tom now though, also inevitably, would be even more suspicious of Harry than he already was.

And also also inevitably, Harry would always have to worry about Tom. There was no guarantee that offing the basilisk would stop Tom’s reign of terror. It might just make it even worse, somehow.

And in all honesty, Harry wished he didn’t have to go fight a basilisk at all to deter Tom’s plans.

Maybe there’s a potion he would give the other boy, something that would alter his personality or focus him on something else in the way love potions cause a person to fixate on a certain person.

God, Harry had so much research to do this year.

But first he had to go get his wand back and take a bunch of exams to enroll in classes. Which was just brilliant and exactly what he was hoping to do after being shot back in time after dying and having gotten all of a few hours of sleep hunched over in a chair as means of recovery.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Harry said with a polite smile, standing up from his chair. “I should go get ready, Dumbledore said he’d take me to London this morning to get a new wand before my placement exams, so I think I should head down to breakfast.”

“Oh of course,” Lucretia said, stepping aside. “Yes, just let me know if you need anything.”

And with that, Harry went on his way.

*

Harry Evans was definitely a major threat, Tom knew now.

For all the reasons previously identified, but now also because it was quite possible that Harry Evans knew about the chamber and was going to try and find and open it as well.

Because there was no way he was just coincidentally up half the night reading about basilisks.

No, that would have been too big of a coincidence. He was definitely not just reading a random old book to fall asleep. And the concept that Alphard Black had anything to do with it was also highly suspicious. Because second to Harry Evans, Alphard Black was the most suspicious person Tom had ever met. Tom hadn’t particularly ever cared much before, because there was no particular thing that Alphard did that made him suspicious, and certainly nothing that was a threat to Tom. And he wasn’t in Tom’s year, being a year older, so he hadn’t spent very much time around him. But none the less, he was just generally a bit off—in the kind of way he’d imagine someone under the Imperious might be on a good day, and maybe more similar to what an Inferius under Polyjuice to look like a normal boy might have been like on an off one.

But again, Tom had never cared, because Alphard was a Black, and most of the Black’s were all a bit off or otherwise just kind of troublingly annoying in one way or another.

But no, if Harry Evans had been up last night with Alphard of all people, that was highly and inexcusably suspicious.

Which further complicated things, but also only further confirmed Tom in his current plan.

Because Tom had spent a fair portion of his night lying in bed trying to think about how to deal with the problem that was Harry Evans.

A part of him had admittedly considered just cutting straight to the chase, walking down the hall to the seventh-year boys dorm room, and murdering Harry in his sleep.

Although Harry hadn’t been sleeping there, apparently. He’d been in the common room conspiring with Alphard Black and studying Basilisks—because he apparently wasted no time in getting up to no good.

If the circumstances were very different, Tom could have perhaps admired it, in a way. But just because Tom was curious, didn’t mean he cared to see the full extent of what Harry Evans may have been capable of.

Which is why killing him in cold blood had not been entirely off the table.

But none the less, the chances of him being caught were far too high. Dumbledore would definitely suspect him and making sure that Tom faced retribution for killing another student he imagined was a hill that Dumbledore would fight and die on.

So, the murder of Harry Evans was on hold, until he could make sure that there was no way he could be blamed for it.

But the more that he thought about it, the more it became apparent that if he wanted Harry Evans to face any kind of reckoning and get away with any way he was a perpetrator of, he could not be Evans enemy.

And if he were going to learn anything about who Evans actually was and his plans, his best bet was to get them straight from the other boys mouth.

Especially if he was also trying to open the chamber. And perhaps knew more than Tom already did.

Which was an infuriating idea, but not impossible.

Tom wasn’t sure that anything was impossible when it came to Harry Evans.

Which is why as Harry made his way towards the dorms after chatting with Lucretia, he immediately intercepted the other boy.

“Evans,” he called out and Harry stopped dead in his tracks.

“Riddle,” Harry said, spinning around slowly to look at Tom.

“I promised that I would introduce you to Slughorn before breakfast, did I not?” he asked. “Also, I know Dumbledore mentioned a run to Diagon Alley for school supplies, but you really can’t go on wearing the clothes you were wearing yesterday, can you? I’m sure I can find you a spare pair of trousers and a shirt for you to borrow.”

“Er,” Harry said. “It’s really okay. I—uh, well I don’t have a wand, but I can just as someone to cast a scouring charm on my clothes, that would be more than enough. It’s not a school day, so it’s not like I need to be wearing robes or anything.”

Tom closed his eyes for a long second, making sure to carefully maintain his composure.

“I insist,” he said. “Really.”

“I—” Harry said, but after a moment seemed to resign himself. “Sure, fine. Thanks.”

Tom smiled tightly and led Harry to the fifth-year boys dorm room where he carefully unlocked his trunk and pulled out a spare set of clothes.

“I can spell the clothes to resize, if necessary,” Tom said. “Although even though you’re a few years older than me, you aren’t too much larger.”

Harry didn’t take the bait on Tom’s underhanded pseudo-insult, and instead just smiled politely and excused himself to the bathroom to go change.

Once Harry had left Tom fought to repress an audible groan.

Evans was completely insufferable! Everything about him was intolerable.

Quickly enough though, Harry returned, dressed in the trousers and shirt Tom had given him. He was also now wearing what must have been his shoes (looking at them know, they were rather strange—not like any shoes that Tom had ever seen before—a strange canvas material without any laces in sight).

“Looks like they fit well enough,” Tom said, trying his best to imitate jovialness. “Well, we best get you down to Slughorn and then we’ll go and see if we can find Dumbledore at breakfast. It sounds like you’ll have quiet a busy day today!”

Harry didn’t say anything immediately in response to this though, and Tom turned to see that Harry was looking at him with his eyebrows raised.

“Yes?” Tom asked.

Harry rolled his eyes. “You can dial it back a bit, Riddle. You aren’t fooling me, and while usually I’d be happy to let you waste the energy pretending to be the golden boy, it’s kind of creeping me out.”

“Creeping you out?” Tom repeated the strange phrase.

“Uh, like, it’s disconcerting,” Harry said.

And in an instant, Tom’s polite smile fell.

Harry certainly was continuing to be… unexpected and unpredictable.

“I don’t see what you mean,” Tom said coldly. “Professor Slughorn is probably in his office, I’ll take you.”

What on earth gave Evans the right, the ability, to see through Tom’s persona so easily? Tom had worked so hard to develop his reputation, and he won’t allow Evans to try and dismantle it, none the less brush it aside.

“Cheers,” Harry said, and Tom closed his eyes and drew in a steadying breath.

He could not kill Harry Evans.

Not yet.

*

Slughorn had not changed very much in the fifty years between now and when Harry had met him, it would seem.

Harry was, if anything, worried that the man might be slightly cooler to him, since Slughorn didn’t know him as the son of one of his most promising Slug Club members.

But then it seemed Tom’s endorsement of him was more than enough to put a twinkle into the man’s eyes as he seemed to size up Harry for his potions potential—as if he could discern such things simply from looking at him.

Harry being a Slytherin probably helped as well.

Why on earth Tom was currently continuing to insist on being so polite to him—especially in the face of Harry continuously doing things he knew insulted the future Dark Lord in ways that probably had Tom wanting to crucio him—Harry didn’t know.

He imagined it had something to do with this Tom valuing whatever reputation he had here. Which probably made sense.

Harry was so tired of reputations and maintaining them and the ways that they stuck even if you changed though and was having a hard time grasping how anyone could find such things desirable. But then again, his head had never fully stopped aching, and Harry hoped that eventually he would somehow settle in and relax enough to feel a bit less like he was stumbling through a fever dream blurting out whatever came into his head.

But in this case, it seems that Tom’s very prim and proper introduction of Harry to the Slytherin head of house had played in Harry’s best interest. He’d probably need to warn the professor somehow, someday to make sure to not to tell Riddle about horcruxes, and to do that he needed the man to trust him.

Of course, in order for the man to really trust him, he probably would also need to be good at potions. But he could only tackle on thing at a time.  

And add it to his list of things he needed to study. Was this what had Hermione so stressed out all the time—the never-ending list of things that would be helpful or even necessary to learn?

“Oh, this is such excellent news!” Slughorn said eagerly to Harry, putting a hand around Harry’s back and ushering him further into the classroom. “Slytherin’s numbers have taken an especially hard hit in the war, I’m glad to have another student here to represent our house! And of course I’ll arrange for your exam this afternoon—I’ll happily administer it myself. We can even do it right now, if you wish.”

What was with professors being so eager to do everything absolutely immediately?

“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied. “But Dumbledore said he’d take me to get school supplies this morning. I, eh, need to get a new wand as well before I can take any of my exams.”

“Oh dear, no wand you say?” Slughorn said. “Well that obviously won’t do! If Dumbledore hadn’t already offered, I would take you myself,” Slughorn said, puffing up a bit. “You have used a wand before though, I presume, or are you a newcomer to formal magic practice?”

“Oh, no, I got my wand when I was eleven and have had my schooling,” Harry said. “My wand was damaged by a blasting curse though, in an attack, and I haven’t had to chance to get a new one since, so I’ve been borrowing a few different ones. The last one I was using seems to have gotten lost though—I think it’s true owner might have reclaimed it.”

Slughorn looked shocked, and Harry glanced over at Tom just in time to catch his eyes widen for the briefest of moments before he narrowed them.

“I should get Harry to Dumbledore so that Evans can get his supplies sorted,” Tom said coolly.

“Oh, yes, quite urgent that is,” Slughorn said. “I hope you find a new wand that suits you as much as the first one did. Wands can be so picky.”

Harry smiled politely, although he knew that the Holly and Phoenix feather wand was waiting for him, undamaged, at Olivander’s.

“Thank you, sir,” he said.

“Make sure to eat some breakfast before you go, and I’ll check in with the Headmaster and the other department heads to get your exam schedule sorted for this afternoon. Stop by my office again when you return.”

“Yes sir.”

“And Tom, you wouldn’t mind helping Mr. Evans out while he learns to navigate the school, would you? Take him around to his exams this afternoon?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Tom said, that disconcerting polite smile of his warping his face yet again. “The castle can be so tricky.”

“Wonderful, Tom,” Slughorn said. “Five points to Slytherin for such excellent house spirit and camaraderie!”

Harry almost protested the awarding of Slytherin house points instinctively, before he remembered that he was a Slytherin now.

That still felt so impossibly wrong. He wasn’t sure any amount of sleep was going to make that idea settle into his head.

Harry could not remember ever being awarded points for “house spirit” in his time—that was the kind of bullshit thing that would have caused a full-on civil war between Slytherin and Gryffindor at the accusations of favoritism from professors and unfairness. But then, maybe house relations were different in this time. Or, maybe Slytherins had been doing things like this the whole time, and Harry had just previously never been in the room.

“Thank you, sir, especially since becoming prefect, I want to take my responsibilities to our house seriously,” Tom said, and Harry couldn’t help but think suck up. Tom continued, “Come along Harry,” he said, in a way that definitely felt and was undoubtedly intended to be patronizing.

But none the less, Harry went along, following Tom out of Slughorn’s offices and in the direction of the great hall.

*

Harry wasn’t quite sure how he felt about this Dumbledore.

Last night upon Harry’s arrival, Dumbledore had been, well, pretty much like Harry had always known him to be.

Which was strange, because in his past life Dumbledore had known almost everything about Harry and was protecting his life with a rather elaborate plan to end a war to stop a genocidal maniac.

But this Dumbledore knew nothing about Harry Evans. Harry Evans was not the Boy Who Lived. He was not a savior, or anyone’s golden boy. And even if in this new world the circumstances of Harry’s life were still miraculous, Dumbledore shouldn’t have known anything about them.

But yet he was acting a bit like he did.

But, well, Harry certainly hoped he didn’t. Or at least that whatever he thought he knew was just a hunch. That actually seemed quite possible. The first time around, Dumbledore hadn’t really known exactly how everything would work out—at least certainly because he couldn’t of expected this. It was more-so some kind of faith. Harry hoped, anyway.

But now, as he stood in the headmasters office in front of the fireplace, Harry couldn’t help but be skeptical and curious of the man.

“So, Mr. Evans,” Dumbledore said as they stood in the Headmasters office. Dumbledore had found him as soon as he and Tom had entered the Great Hall and whisked him off. Which was unfortunate, because it meant Harry had missed breakfast, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. But on the other hand, it meant he didn’t have to go sit down with Tom at the Slytherin table. Which Harry was not ready for. “I figured it best to go by floo to Diagon Alley. Side-along aspiration can be no fun and we’d have to walk nearly all the way to Hogsmeade to leave Hogwarts anti-Apparition wards,” he explained.

Harry still, even after all this time, didn’t really love any means of wizard transportation, besides flying, in all honesty.

“I can apparate, sir,” Harry said without too much thought. Because while side-along apparition was a nightmare, apparating himself was probably the least disorienting method of wizard transit for Harry. “I mean, just so you know. But I guess, yeah, with the wards…” Harry trailed off, still not really sure what the point of most of what he was saying really was.

“Oh, do you have a license?” Dumbledore asked.

“Oh,” Harry said, because he’d never gotten around to taking his test because his birthday came too late for the test at the end of sixth year, and then, well, there hadn’t been a seventh year for him. And he certainly couldn’t go to the ministry for his test being Undesirable No. 1 and all. And then of course, this was 1940-something. So none of that mattered now anyway. “I, uh, haven’t had the opportunity to take the test yet, but I’ve practiced a lot.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore said. “Well, no mind, we’ll be taking floo today anyway, and there will be a ministry representative coming to administer apparition tests at the end of the month for those students who turned seventeen over the summer like yourself.”

And that’s when it occurred to Harry that where he was now, his birthday was only a month and a half ago, instead of only a month away. Which meant Harry was… ah…his brain was too foggy to do the math but something like ten months younger than he had been.

Which for a second was a little frustrating, but then just as quickly felt meaningless.

“Ah,” Harry said. “Great.”

“You’ve taken floo before, yes?” Dumbledore asked, holding out a small sack of floo powder. Harry nodded and took a small handful. “Great, well, we are going to Diagon Alley, and do make sure to speak clearly my boy.”

Harry did not intend to make the same mistake he’d made at twelve again, no matter how exhausted he was.

And so, Harry stepped into the fireplace, tossed down the powder, and said his destination.

He still ended up stumbling out of the floo portal into Diagon Alley, but at least he didn’t completely fall down.

Dumbledore, of course, came stepping out after him very gracefully.

And Harry was reminded that there were some skills that he’d like to acquire that he inevitably could not learn from a book. And that was a frustrating reminder, because where the hell was he supposed to practice or find the time to practice not looking like an idiot after taking any floo or portkeys? Maybe the room of requirement would offer help.

And that’s when Harry remembered that, and that Tom was supposed to find the room—this year, maybe? Or had he already? Or was it next year? Harry couldn’t remember.

But never mind, because Dumbledore was now a few steps in front of him, heading out towards the busy streets of Diagon Alley, and was currently paused and looking back at Harry.

“Come along, Mr. Evans. I’d like to make sure we get back by lunch, so you have some time to relax before your exams.”

And along Harry went.

*

Dumbledore had flown in, out of nowhere, the second that Tom had entered the Great Hall with Harry and had taken the other boy away before Tom had even had a chance of coming up with another interrogation strategy after they’d left Slughorn’s office.  

Tom had concerns about Harry and Dumbledore spending time together. Not because Tom had any evidence that would make it seem like they were likely to be allies to one another, but because he mistrusted them both nearly equally.

And also, he was annoyed at Harry leaving so soon because he knew that as much as the other boy drove him crazy, he none the less would be his only real source of answers. Tom didn’t feel like any book he could read, or any other person would have any real answers about who this Harry Evans really was.

Well, no one except maybe one student, who was currently sat at the end of the Slytherin table, alone, reading a book.

And so, with nothing else to do right this second, Tom walked over and sat down across the table from him.

“Good morning, Black,” Tom said politely.

Alphard Black looked up from his book and sighed.

“Good morning, Riddle,” he said, looking back down at his book before he’d even finished the greeting. “And no, I don’t know anything about Harry Evans, but please help yourself to some eggs.”

Tom tried his best to suppress the desire to huff indignantly, because the thing Harry had said about him throwing temper tantrums to get his way was still seared into his brain. And anyway, this is how Alphard always was—such a know it all while also being completely uninterested in just about everything and everyone that wasn’t a book.

“What makes you think I care at all about Evans?” Tom asked.

Alphard offered Tom a only blank stare.

“I have just been helping Mr. Evans get situated,” Tom justified, sitting back on the bench and placing some sausages onto his plate. “It’s my duty as prefect, after all, and I do feel a bit responsible for him, since I’m the only person he knows here. But I heard that you and him had had a bit of a chat last night and I just wanted to check in to make sure everything was alright. He’s been a bit unhappy about being sorted into Slytherin, and I don’t know how well he’ll fit in—especially considering he’s only a half-blood.”

Spreading Harry’s blood status around wasn’t exactly the highest level of strategy to make his life miserable, but this was Slytherin after all, so it would likely be effective.

Alphard though only snorted.

“Ah,” Alphard said, apparently making no efforts to hide his slight amusement and skepticism. And Tom was furious. If Tom had known how well Alphard saw through him and how little respect for him that he had, he’d have paid more attention to the older boy far sooner. But then a chilling thought crossed his mind—did other upper years think of him in such a patronizing way?

Alphard continued though, “Well, if that’s the case, I don’t think you need to worry then, because I believe he now knows two people here now, at the very least including myself. Which is great progress for his first twelve hours at Hogwarts.”

Now it was Tom’s turn to be skeptical. Because Alphard Black had never had a friend in his life. Alphard Black was, well, a Black. He was supposed to have been deeply skeptical of anyone without pure blood. He was supposed to be arrogant and cold and dark. And as much as he’d seen out of the other boy in his five years at Hogwarts, Alphard had been those things. But yet, whatever had happened with Harry last night that had overridden all off those things.

And that was deeply alarming.

“Just knowing you, though, in your case doesn’t seem to often equate to friendship,” Tom pointed out.

“Oh, so, you and Harry are friends, then?” Alphard retorted.

Tom drew in a sharp breath. Because no, he did not have friends, and if he did Harry Evans was not one of them.

“As you’ve pointed out, I’ve only known him for twelve hours, so friendship might be a little premature, but I do feel the need to watch out for him, as a prefect, surely you understand.”

“Ah,” Alphard said again. “He is a rather likable… fellow,” Alphard said, clearly struggling to come up with an appropriate word, clearly not at all used to speaking of others fondly, and in Tom’s judgement still failing a bit. “Isn’t he? I’m sure I’d be happy to have him as a friend. As would many.”

Tom narrowed his eyes at that. Because that hadn’t yet occurred to him as a possibility yet, that perhaps Harry Evans could grow to be someone who was… popular. And not in just the slightly notorious way that Tom was but in that absolutely sickening star Quidditch player kind of way.

But Tom supposed that was fitting for someone like Harry. All too fitting.

And it gave Tom some things to think about.

“Well, I think I’ve disrupted you from your reading long enough, Black,” Tom said, standing up from the table and leaving his food nearly untouched. “Pleasure speaking to you.”

Alphard offered Tom an expression that was very ambivalent and that Tom didn’t like at all, and only nodded before Tom walked off.

He had some time while Harry was in London, and he might as well make good use of it. He still had a chamber to find and a title to claim, after all.

No number of friends would be able to protect Harry from the rightful heir of Slytherin.

*

“It’s very curious,” Ollivander said, as Harry stood in his shop after trying dozens of wands.

It was the last place they’d went, rather annoyingly. Dumbledore already had gotten Harry a new trunk, some school robes, plus a set of pajamas and shoes that were made out of a stiff leather that Harry knew were going to be hell to break in—but then maybe there was a spell for that— in addition to all the basic school supplies required of a NEWT level student. He hadn’t gotten any books yet, because his classes weren’t confirmed, but Dumbledore said he’d owl for them once everything was confirmed and he could borrow class copies for the first couple days.

But Harry was so ready to have his wand back though. And it was driving him crazy how long it was taking for Ollivander to find the right one now that they were finally in the wand shop.

Harry wasn’t sure why it was going like this. The first time around the reason why Ollivander had avoided the brother wand to Voldemort’s is because it was the brother wand to Voldemort. Now Harry’s Phoenix feather wand was just the brother wand to Tom Riddle’s, a brooding teenager.

Future Dark Lord, maybe. But then maybe not if Harry had any power at all in this world. And Ollivander certainly had no reason to know any of that.

But so far, Harry didn’t seem to have a lot of power in this world. Decause here he was, trying wand after wand because he couldn’t simply suggest, “Hey, I believe there’s a holly and Phoenix feather wand back there somewhere, yeah?”

“What did you say your previous wand was, again?” Ollivander asked after Harry had blown up another shelf.

Harry, though, hadn’t. Because it seemed like a challenging lie.

“Erm, I’m not quite sure,” Harry said, although he knew immediately that was kind of ridiculous. “I mean, it was a hand-me-down. It might have been, um, hawthorn? We weren’t entire sure. It was rather worn.”

“Ah,” Ollivander said. “Well that would perhaps explain why you appear to be so finicky with the wands—using a wand not truly suited to you for so long.”

“Er, yeah,” Harry said, happily taking the excuse. “I’m really excited to have a wand that suits me now.”

“Say, Mr. Evans, I don’t believe that last night I was able to get the full story of your magical history,” Dumbledore said. “Where did you receive your education prior to arriving to Hogwarts?”

Harry tried not to visibly gulp. He wasn’t prepared for this. A part of him knew that he’d have to come up with a lie, but he was hoping he’d be able to work on his story once his head was clearer and he had more time to think through all the details.

“I, uh,” Harry stammered.

“Try this one, boy,” Ollivander said, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief when he saw, lying in the box, was his Holly and Phoenix feather wand.

Quickly he reached out and grabbed it, and the wand felt warm in his hand. With a wave and a muttered spell, birds shot out of the tip.

“Ah!” Ollivander said. “How curious!”

“How so?” Dumbledore said, continuing to be frankly nosier than Harry had ever known him to openly be. Maybe his nosiness had mellowed—or at least grown more calculating—with age.

“That is a holly and Phoenix feather wand, the Phoenix feather coming from your very familiar,” Ollivander said, turning to Dumbledore. “And I sold it’s brother wand to another student just a few years ago.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore said, turning towards Harry. “It is curious for my Fawkes to have only donated two feathers, and for the wands they became to both find owners so soon.”

“It’s Tom, isn’t it?” Harry said, as if he didn’t already know. He was just because he was too exhausted for Dumbledore’s and Ollivander’s vague wonder and curiosity bit. “The other student.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore said. “Although, I don’t suppose we should be surprised given to how you took to his wand yesterday.”

“No,” Harry said, absentminded stroking his wand. “I don’t suppose it is.”

“You know,” Ollivander said. “It is said that holly wands often choose owners who will go onto engage in a dangerous or spiritual quest.”

Harry pursed his lips. He had already had his dangerous and spiritual quest, thank you very much.

“And yew wands are often wielded by those with a tendency to powerful dark magic, and yet one of the most fearless and protective witches I knew yielded her yew wand in against some of the vilest dark wizards I’ve ever known,” Harry said, thinking of Ginny.

No one had ever even considered saying anything about the stereotypes of her wands wood, because anyone who had met her would have known it was ridiculous.

And she also would have hexed them.

But in a clever, Gryffindor-ish way—not maliciously, of course.

For a moment, Harry found himself smiling, thinking of his friend and well, girlfriend, or well, ex-girlfriend was probably more accurate now.

Because he’d likely never see her again.

And she would probably would never know what happened to him.

And then, that was finally when it hit him. All of it. Everything.

Everything... everyone... he’d left behind.

He’d decided that time was meaningless. He’d accepted that whatever happened after Harry had died was out of his control. He’d accepted that others he had left behind had probably also died and would continue to die before some kind of resolution.

He’d accepted that he’d volunteered himself to die. This was an unexpected outcome, but no matter what, he’d expected that he’d never get to see any loved ones that were still alive again for a great while, if he ever saw them at all.

But that had felt so abstract in the face of everything being ripped from him in the most unimaginable way.

But now…

He wondered how many had been left to mourn him. Because he knew there had to have still been many, including some that he cared about the most. Like Ginny, and Hermione, and Ron, and the rest of the Weasley’s, and Neville, and Luna, and all the professors who’d helped teach him, and all of the Order members who’d protected him.

And even if they won, even if no one else was lost, they would mourn him. And they likely wouldn’t even have a body to bury—assuming Harry took his with him.

His leaving would hurt them. He wished it wouldn’t. He wished he hadn’t meant much to any of them. And maybe, as Harry had walked to his death, that’s what he’d believed. He’d believed that they were better off without him. Which they were, as long as the horcrux was in his mind keeping Voldemort alive.

But as he thought about it now, he remembered how it had felt when he’d lost Sirius. A man he hadn’t really known but had represented all kinds of hope for him. A hope that Harry knew he represented for many wizards, even ones he hardly knew. And then he imagined everyone he loved feeling that kind of pain, and Harry… he couldn’t—he couldn’t—

“Come along, my dear boy,” Dumbledore was saying gently, and there was a hand on his back guiding him out of Ollivander’s shop.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, as he realized he a few tears were streaming down his cheeks. “I don’t know—” Harry tried to say, but the lie felt too tired to even fully leave his lips.

“You’ve been through quite a lot, before you found your way to Hogwarts, haven’t you?” Dumbledore said.

Harry had to stop crying. He couldn’t do this. Not like this, not here.

“I just—I just want some peace, sir,” Harry found himself whispering after he wiped the tears from his eyes and took a steadying breath.

Although what he thankfully didn’t say though was that he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Deterring Tom Riddle from his path of devastation was going to take a lot of work and would be yet another uphill battle. Harry didn’t get rest, even in death.

“Let’s get you back to Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said. “Let you have some time to yourself before your exams this afternoon.”

Harry nodded.

If he could just get a minute… well it wouldn’t be enough, but it would be something.

He was just so tired.

Chapter Text

Harry made it back to the castle and headed down to the Slytherin dorms only to realize that he didn’t know the password.

And now, all of the options of what to do did occur to Harry. He knew he could go back to Slughorn’s office and ask him. Or he could go to the Great Hall or the library and see if he could find a Slytherin to help him out. He could even go find the room of requirement and go take a nap there.

But Harry was exhausted, physically and emotionally. So instead, Harry sunk down against the wall where down next to the door should have been, if only he knew the password to make it appear. He let his head fell back against the cold stone wall. It felt nice.

He was so tired. He just wanted to rest.

Preferably forever, but even just for a minute.

Harry closed his eyes.

And then the next thing Harry knew someone was shaking his shoulder and calling his name.

“Harry,” the voice said. “Harry.”

Harry opened his eyes to see Alphard Black knelt down in front of him.

“Alphie?” Harry said. His head still swam with sleep.

“Why are you sleeping in the hallway?”

“Mm,” Harry said, his eyes falling shut again as he struggled to keep them open. “Don’t know the password.”

“Ah,” he heard Alphie say. “Well, come on, I can let you in. Harry?” Alphie said again, clearly checking to see if Harry was still awake as his head fell back against the wall again with what probably sounded like a painful knock, although Harry could hardly care.

“Yeah?” Harry murmured; his eyes still closed.

He heard Alphie sigh.

“Come on,” he said, and then hands were pulling him away from the wall, and arm slid around his back. “Get up,” he said, tugging on Harry. Harry very reluctantly pressed himself up from the ground with the help of Alphie.

“The password this week is pestle. It will change next Saturday night. Next weeks password is posted Saturday night on the wall next to the entrance. Usually something potions related, because Professor Slughorn picks them. Make sure to check it when you come in for the night. Did you hear that Harry? Harry?” Alphie said, readjusting his grip on Harry, causing Harry’s body to lurch.

“Pestle,” Harry said. “Got it.”

And then they were walking, and Harry realized the door had appeared. He managed to let his eyes fall open just enough so that he could hazily see ahead of himself through his eyelashes as he walked through the entrance into the common room. He could see some other students in the room, and that they all turned to look at them, but Harry couldn’t bring himself to care that he was being lugged along like a drunkard.

The walk across the common room felt long, and the walk to the 7th years boys dorms even longer.

“Which bed is yours?” Alphie asked.

“Mm,” Harry thought, because he couldn’t really remember. “The one the closest to the door.”

“Okay,” Alphie said and promptly let Harry go. Not expecting it and having been letting Alphie support a fair deal of his weight, Harry immediately collapsed onto the ground. Before he hit the cold stone floor though, something caught him. Then Harry realized he was floating, drifting up and towards the bed.

It felt so lovely to be weightless, his body limp in the air.

“Levitation charm?” Harry said as his body drifted gently down onto the mattress.

“I would have just taken you from the hallway that way, but we already got enough looks with our entry. If I came through floating your unconscious body, well, I do already have a bit of a reputation, but some things are just a little too strange and not worth the gossip.”

“Mm,” Harry hummed, rolling over onto his side and shifting his pillow out from under his head so he was instead clutching it to his chest.

“What time do you need to wake up?” Alphie asked. “You’re going to take exams today, right?”

Harry groaned and pulled managed to find the energy to reach into his pocket and pull out the piece of parchment that Dumbledore had given him. He held it out and felt Alphie take it.

“Okay, you have two hours. I’ll come back and wake you up, okay?”

Harry thought about saying it wasn’t necessary, but honestly, he was too tired and needed to not sleep through his exams. So instead he just said nothing.

And anyway, that was nice of Alphie. Why was Alphie being so nice to him?

But then his mind began to whirl.

Slytherin’s weren’t supposed to be like Gryffindors, and even still the only reason he’d made friends so quickly in Gryffindor was because he was Harry Potter, more or less and despite his best efforts at the time. If he hadn’t run into the Weasley’s on the way to platform 9 and 3/4 ‘s, because he didn’t know how to get onto the platform, if he hadn’t have introduced himself to Ron as Harry Potter and bought a cartful of candy, would he have made friends so quickly? Being Harry Potter had always been a hell of a first impression, and even if not in the sense of fame, people trusted him quickly.

It had taken much longer for Hermione, Neville, other Gryffindors to really solidify friendships. In fact, Hermione had to be attacked by a troll for Ron to basically stop bullying her.

Harry wondered if they would both survive the war. Or had the already? How did that work. But then he supposed there was no reason not to believe there were an infinite number of Ron’s and an infinite number of Hermione’s were living every version of their life at every stage of it down to the second in the rough equivalent of right this very second. But he hoped that the Ron and Hermione from his timeline ended up having a good life together. Unless their timeline ended when he left it. God, it was all so fucked up. He wanted to think they got to go on without him. He wondered if they got married and had a beautiful wedding at the burrow. He wondered if it would be peaceful, not like Bill and Fleur’s.

He’d never get to know now.

He was dead. He was dead but he wasn’t.

And he needed to sleep but he couldn’t.

Harry pressed his face in the pillow and shouted as loud as he could.

When he was finished, a soft, concerned sounding voice asked, “Harry?”

“What do you do when everything you knew is gone?” Harry asked aloud.

There was only silence for a long moment. Harry assumed that perhaps Alphie had left. Or at least didn’t know what to say. Harry had probably successfully pushed the line too far.

Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. Harry opened his eyes and looked up to see that Alphie was crouching down in front of him.

“I think that then you’re in a position where there is so much new to learn,” he said. “When you’re ready.”

Harry let out a long sigh.

“Please sleep Harry,” Alphie said, patting Harry’s shoulder as he stood up.

And then with that permission, somehow, Harry did.

*

“Harry,” a voice said. “Harry,” it said again, and Harry opened his eyes to see Alphie. He was sitting across the room on the floor, next to the door to the dorm room. His legs were stretched out and he had a book on his lap.

“Mm,” Harry groaned, rolling over onto his back and blinking up at the ceiling. “Have you been sitting there the whole time, just watching me sleep?”

“I wasn’t watching you sleep; I was reading a book. And I wasn’t here the whole time, I had to go get the book,” Alphie said. “And I’m not Riddle, Harry. I’m hardly so obsessed with you.”

Harry scoffed.

“Thanks for the reassurance, mate,” he said. “Although not so much that reminder.”

Alphie laughed. “He’s probably plotting your death, you know.”

Harry sighed. “I’m aware. I’m working on it.”

“You should get up and get to your exams. Slughorn is up first.”

Harry groaned while he stretched and rubbed his eyes.

“I don’t want to take five exams. I want to sleep forever.”

“Forever is quite a long time,” Alphie said. “You’d get bored of everything, even sleeping, I’m sure.”

“Nah,” Harry said, sitting up. “I think I could sleep forever if given the chance.”

Alphie just looked at him though, his eyebrows raising as he looked down Harry’s body. Harry immediately looked down at himself. He supposed his clothes were a bit wrinkly.   

“Stand up,” Alphie said, and Harry hoped off the bed. “Hold still for a second,” he said, drawing his wand and Harry felt a sort of breeze rush under his clothes. “That’s better. You were unpresentable. Don’t you know anti-wrinkle charms?”

“These are Tom’s, actually,” Harry said. “Probably removed the charm before he loaned them to me this morning just in spite of me,” Harry shrugged and Alphie rolled his eyes. “Also, how are you so good at non-verbal magic?”

Alphie shrugged. “Just comes easily to me, I guess. I think it’s because I’m so lazy, to be quite honest.”

Harry laughed.

“Can you help me get better at it?” Harry said. “I’ve only ever been able to do non-verbal magic if the spells are really easy and I’m trying really hard, or if the situation is too dire for verbal incantations.”

Alphie shrugged.

“We can work together sometime, if you’d like,” he said. “But I should get you to Slughorn’s office so you can take you exam. We don’t want to risk you being stuck back in 6th year with me.”

Harry sighed.

“Alright,” he said. “You know, I probably should have at least tried to study or something.”

Alphie laughed.

“Well, too late now.”

*

Tom had come back from the library to wait in the common room for Harry to return.

He’d told Slughorn that he’d help Harry navigate the castle for his entrance exams, and Tom certainly intended to keep that promise. Especially if it meant if he got to see if Harry actually had any talent or if he was a disgrace to the Slytherin line.

So he was sitting in his usual armchair when Harry walked into the common room from the dorms, Alphard Black walking along side him. And they were laughing.

And Tom immediately narrowed his eyes.

It was Alphard that caught him staring at them first, and he looked at Harry and nodded in Tom’s direction while making a face that Tom didn’t like at all. At the gesture, Harry looked over and caught Tom’s eye.

Tom held the eye contact, because he wasn’t a coward, and instead he smiled and stood up.

“Evans,” Tom said as he stood up and walked over to meet the pair in the middle of the room. “There you are. I’m here to escort you to your exams.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “I think I’ll be fine, thanks.”

“Yes,” Alphard said. “I can take him.”

Tom narrowed his eyes again as he turned to Alphard.

“No, I insist, I promised Slughorn, didn’t I Evans, that I would help Harry navigate the castle until he adjusted, yes? As a prefect, it’s my duty.”

“There are four other prefects in Slytherin, plus Lucretia as Head Girl, Riddle” Alphard said. “I’m sure you must have other things to do, you’ve provided quite enough assistance to Harry and I’m sure he’s grateful.”

Tom though just kept smiling, although he knew that it was in a way Harry would be creeped out by.

“But you aren’t one of those prefects, are you?” Tom said dryly.

“I’m assuming no,” Harry cut in. “But he’s my friend, which means I don’t need to your pity anymore, do I?”  

The idea that Tom pitied Harry Evans was humorous, but Tom couldn’t imagine that Harry thought that Tom actually pitied him. They were both just playing their game. Harry was just as must of a manipulator as he was, Tom knew that had to be true.

Because even now, every time he let Harry out of his sight it seemed he grew closer to Black. How Harry was managing to fool Black into some kind of loyalty, Tom didn’t know. But it simply wouldn’t do. No, Tom couldn’t allow it.

“I do not pity you,” Tom said coolly. “But I still must insist.”

Tom watched as Harry closed his eyes and exhaled.

“Fine, whatever,” he said. “I’ll see you later Alphie.”

Alphard smiled sympathetically and Tom wanted to curse him. It was just days ago where Tom would not have been able to even imagine what any kind of emotion looked like on that boys face, on now suddenly, for Harry Evans, Alphard was at least doing some kind of impression of a normal boy.

“Don’t forget your schedule,” Alphard said, pulling a piece of parchment out of his pocket and handing it to Harry.

“Thanks,” Harry said. “Hey, will you save a seat for me at dinner?”

The interaction disgusted Tom, and he watched as Alphard smiled at Harry in response. It looked strange and wrong on his face, just as wrong as Harry accused Tom’s smile of looking, but Harry didn’t seem to know any better or care.

“Alright. Good luck Harry.”

“If you’re ready,” Tom said, imitating patience. “Which exam do you have first?”

“Back to Slughorn again,” Harry said.

“Wonderful,” Tom said. “Follow me if you please.”

And at that, Tom walked off towards the door of the common room.

He didn’t have to look back to know that Harry was following.

He loved that.

*

“I’m going to have you brew just one potion,” Slughorn announced excitedly as Harry sat at a potions bench in his classroom. Tom was sulking in the back of the classroom, pretending to read a book as he waited for Harry to take his exam. He was very clearly spying though; Harry could feel that his gaze was not on his text but fixedly on Harry. He’d insisted it would just be easier for him to stay and work on his reading here, rather than leaving and returning. And Slughorn had awarded him a house point for his commitment. “It is a very challenging potion, I’ve never had a student brew it with much success,” he said.

The words were familiar, and Harry had a slightly sinking feeling he knew what the potion would be.

Sinking, because he’d either not remember the notes that were written in the margins of that textbook, or because he would, and he’d lead Slughorn to believe he was far more proficient in potions than he actually was.

“I’d like you to brew Draught of the Living Death,” Slughorn announced.

He would lose either way.

“Have you brewed this potion before?” Slughorn asked.

Harry nodded.

“Did you have much success?”

Harry shrugged.

“Well, no worries Mr. Evans, you of course will be given the instructions and all the materials you’ll need. And don’t worry if the result is not highly potent, I mostly care to observe your overall skill with the materials.”

“Right,” Harry said. “I’ll do my best sir.”

With a wave of Slughorn’s wand, a cauldron and a textbook appeared on the worktop in front of Harry.

“Ingredients are in the cabinets over there,” Slughorn said, pointing to the row of cabinets across the room. “You have an hour.”

With a deep breath, Harry picked up the textbook. It looked to be an older addition than the one that Snape and Harry would use in the future. He opened the book and scanned the table of contents, before flipping to the Draught of the Living death.

Then he went over to get the ingredients, filing through the various draws and shelves and collecting the necessary jars and vials before returning them to his worktop.

And Harry set to work.

He remembered that Snape did not provide any notes for most of the beginning of the recipe, which meant Harry had to just be careful and not screw it up on his own. He could successfully follow instructions. That’s all that potions were, at the basic level, successfully followed instructions. He of course had no idea how a master could have the instinct or patience or theoretical knowledge to try improving upon recipes, or to even go as far as inventing potions.

But he could follow instructions.

Slughorn coughed as he observed Harry.

And Harry realized that of course the moment he’d been reassuring himself of his ability to succeed was at the same moment he’d misread the measurements on the side of the beaker that he was measuring the Infusion of Wormwood in.

The recipe called for fluid ounces, and the beaker he had was labeled in milliliters.

It’s okay. This was only the first step. He had an hour. He could start again.  

Harry vanished the contents of his cauldron and hoped that the trace of a vanishing spell didn’t somehow affect this potion. He knew some were so finicky, and that was why cauldrons were often scrubbed by hand.

Or at least that’s what Snape had told him in detentions all those years.

But then, maybe he had been lying.

That was possible.

Harry picked up his cauldron and took it over to the sink basin, filling it with water and rinsing it out, before carefully drying it with a cloth.

Then he started again. He could do this.

*

“Do you have a silver dagger, sir?” Harry asked.

Tom was regretting his decision to watch Harry though his exams.

Because frankly, watching someone else brew a potion was so incredibly boring.

And Tom, admittedly, had never brewed Draught of the Living Death himself, so he couldn’t tell really tell whether or not Harry was any good at it.

“The recipe doesn’t call for a dagger,” Slughorn said.

“I, er, know, but there’s a trick to Sopophorous beans that I’d like to try,” Harry said.

Slughorn looked at Harry with curiosity before he went over to his desk and removed a small silver dagger from his drawer and handed it to Harry. Harry carefully crushed the beans with the dagger before adding them to the cauldron.

And then both Harry and Slughorn were quiet again while Harry continued to work, and Tom went back to being bored. He cast a quick tempus charm and found that an hour had nearly passed, so surely Harry would either finish or fail to complete the task.

But then, after far too long for Tom’s liking, Harry announced that he was finished.

“I’m done, sir,” he said.

“Excellent work, Mr. Evans! But the true test of course will be in the potions potency. Tom, would you like to come watch?”

Tom looked up, hoping his boredom was showing well on his face.

“Alright,” he said, carefully placing his book down and going over to the worktop.

When Tom arrived, Slughorn pulled out a small leaf.

“Ready?” he asked.

Harry nodded and the leaf was dropped into the potion, where it immediately changed from deep green to brown, withering like a fallen leave in autumn.

“Very good, Mr. Evans!” Slughorn exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “Not as up to par as what a potions master may be able to produce, but one of the strongest brews I’ve ever seen from a student. The crushing of to Sopophorous beans with the dagger and the adding of the additional bean, where did you get such an idea? It certainly helped with potency.”

Tom stood very still as he watched the interaction.

He was not at all pleased with the news.

“I have to admit that those were tricks I learned from a former potions master who I learned this potion from,” Harry said. “And I think I missed one of his tips, that’s why it didn’t turn out as strongly as it could have. I couldn’t remember everything. The last time I brewed it the leaf we tested nearly disintegrated.”

“Ah, well, none the less a good teacher can often be what makes a strong student. It’s very rare for a student to have the talent and work ethic to reach genius on their own. I’d be happy to have you join my seventh years,” Slughorn said and Tom narrowed his eyes as Harry smiled at the professor. “Say,” Slughorn continued. “What is the name of the potions master you learned under?”

“Oh,” Harry said, pausing. “Um… I don’t remember right now, it would seem.”

Tom frowned. Likely story.

“You don’t remember a teacher you had presumably only within the past few years?” he asked, hoping to catch Harry in his lie. Because clearly, he was hiding something.

Harry looked at Tom in surprise, his eyes wide. It was one of the best looks he’d since on Harry’s face since he’d met him—those bright eyes wide and aware he’d caught himself in a trap.

“Oh,” Harry said. “No, you must have misunderstood—I’d found a used potions book that had, er, been gifted to a potions master upon passing his exams, at least that’s what the inscription said. And he’d gone on to write some notes in the margins that I’d tested out myself. He’d written his name inside the cover, but I don’t remember what it was.”

“Ah,” Slughorn had said. “Well, that only demonstrated more talent on your part!”

Tom didn’t see how.

“Or luck,” he said softly.

Slughorn and Harry ignored him though.

“Albus sent me a note that you’d still be needing books once your year was determined. I have some extra copies around that I can give you in class. You’ll get your full timetable once everything has been sorted, but my seventh-year potions is on Monday afternoons. If you have time an evening this week, I’d also like to schedule some time just to catch you up on the first couple lessons we’ve had this year, but you can let me know what works for you tomorrow after class. I know you have other exams to get to, so I won’t keep you now though. But I look forward to seeing you tomorrow!”

“Thank you, professor,” Harry said politely.

“And I’ll see you, Tom, in our prefects meeting this evening,” Slughorn called out as Tom and Harry made their way out of the room.

“Yes sir,” Tom said, stopping and turning to look back at Slughorn.

“And thank you for being so kind to Mr. Evans here, you’ve really gone above and beyond in making him comfortable,” Slughorn said. Harry made a slight coughing sound and Tom couldn’t help himself anymore when that familiar rage at Harry’s display of skepticism that rose inside of him. Hidden from Slughorn’s view behind the rows of worktops, Tom quickly sent a mild stinging hex at Harry. He’d love to have done so much worse, this was, Tom knew, so immature in comparison. But still, Harry made a small sort of grunting sound that made Tom feel a bit tingly with delight. Frustratingly though, Harry otherwise he maintained his composure. “Five points to Slytherin.”

“Thank you, sir, I look forward to our meeting this evening,” Tom said, before turning on his heel and exiting the classroom with haste.

He heard the quick footprints echo on the stone floor at Harry came rushing after him.

“You hexed me!” he called out, although his voice was hushed with the scandal of the claim, once they were out of the classroom.

“I wouldn’t do such a thing,” Tom said without stopping, and in fact further quickening his pace.

He only paused when he felt a like he’d been stung in the rear. Quite a bit more strongly than the hex he’d sent Harry.

Then Tom immediately turned around.

“You hexed me,” he said coldly.

Harry looked aghast, although it was clearly only mock.

“I would do no such thing!” he said.

Tom narrowed his eyes.

“What exam do you have next?” he asked instead of dwelling. He would not give Harry Evans the satisfaction of seeing him upset.

That was a mantra he found himself repeating far to frequently.

“Charms,” Harry said.

“Wonderful,” he said turning his back to Harry. “That will be this way then. Do try to keep up.”

“I might recommend slowing down,” Harry said, his voice was colder now in a way that Tom had never heard before. It still had an air of casualness that it so often did, but there was an underlying tone of seriousness now and Tom felt the shift as if Harry had suddenly started speaking in Parseltongue. Either way though, it caused Tom to immediately freeze and an involuntary chill ran down his spine. “It’s bad form to turn your back to someone you don’t trust.”

Tom spun on his heel to look back at Harry.

He hated giving Harry the satisfaction.

But worst of all, Harry had a point. Which was infuriating.

“Are you coming or not?” he asked.

Harry nodded as he caught up to Tom.

And this time as they started walking, he fell into step at Tom’s side as they made their way to the Charms classroom.

*

The rest of Harry’s exams had gone fine. He’d been perfectly adequate at charms. His non-verbal spells still appeared to be pretty minimal, but he’d unleashed a redactor curse that had blasted a cabinet to pieces and had resulted in Tom having to duck under a desk, and Harry yet again seemed to prove himself to be quite a powerful wizard to Tom’s great irritation.

Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology had both been written exams, which had been horrifically boring for Tom to sit though, and he had actually that time taken to reading his book instead of watching Harry from behind it. Harry’s results on both of those tests were a bit more lack luster, apparently, which Tom felt was a relief.

Ultimately though, he’d done well enough in Care of Magical Creatures to get invited to seventh year, because apparently, he had a surprising amount of knowledge on dragons and thestrals, even though he’d missed more basic questions on flobberworms.

For Herbology, he’d apparently only gotten about a fifty percent, and the professor had said that he could join seventh year, but he would need to put in a lot of work to keep up—especially since a lot of the exams relied on cumulative knowledge from past years.

Harry though had, to Tom’s surprise, said that he’d like to try, and since he’d be taking six courses, he could drop if he didn’t score well enough on the first few essays and exams. Which was a strange turn from how Harry had been yesterday evening when he seemed to struggle to list off just five classes he was interested in and Dumbledore had had to talk him into taking the potions exam as a backup.

It was also strange that someone as powerful a wizard as Harry seemed to be proving himself to be was taking such, well, easy courses like Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology, and that he was worst at them. While Tom himself still taking Herbology because it was a foundational subject, he found it impossibly easy and therefore rather boring. And he’d decided not to study for an OWL in Care of Magical Creatures, which seemed pointless. Tom would rather study only the creatures that interested him in his own time. And in addition, Tom studying Ancient Runes and Arithmancy, which much more challenging courses that were far more foundational. And courses that Harry apparently had no knowledge of. And Tom was also taking History of Magic, a course that Tom also saw as essential to his present and future goals, although often dull under Professor Bins. Another course Harry was apparently entirely uninterested or not at all proficient at.

But none the less they were now they were in Harry’s last exam of the day. It was late afternoon now and Tom was growing a bit hungry. He’d not eaten breakfast and worked in the library through lunch, so he was ready for dinner.

Hopefully Harry’s defense exam would be rather quick.

A part of Tom hoped that Harry would have completely no skill at it and Professor Merrythought would flunk him quickly. Although Tom had a slightly sinking feeling at this point that that was probably not going to be the case.

“Well,” Professor Merrythought said to Harry, “My placement exam is actual quite easy. Or perhaps not easy, but to the point. It’s a duel, you see.”

Harry nodded and Tom couldn’t read any particular emotion on his face as he glanced up over the top of the textbook that he was pretending to read.

“Usually I’d have you duel me, but since you appear to have a minder with you here today, why don’t we use him instead,” Merrythought said while looking over at Tom. Tom looked up, admittedly a bit surprised, although not displeased with the suggestion. He’d been so bored, and that stinging curse earlier had been such child’s play. And if a professor was willing to sanction a duel between himself and Harry and give Tom an opportunity to show Harry some real power, Tom was happy at the opportunity. “Student’s aren’t usually a match for me anyway, I end up embarrassing them horribly, which is quite fun for me, of course, but a bit stressful for them,” the professor finished cheerfully.

“Er,” Harry said, “Why don’t we let Tom work on his homework? I’d hate for him to fall behind on his studies on my account.”

Tom however put down his book and stood up from the desk he’d been sitting at.

“I don’t mind,” he said.

Harry looked at Tom with a cautious, appraising, slightly worried look that Tom thought looked delicious on him. Much better than most of his other idiotic faces.

“I, uh,” Harry said. “Well, I guess it won’t take too long.”

Oh, Tom thought, no it won’t take long at all.

“Do you know the rules of dueling, Mr. Evans?” Professor Merrythought asked.

“I’ve learned them, yeah, I haven’t er, had a lot of practice with formal dueling though, so if I’m a bit rusty, you’ll have to forgive me.”

“That’s alright,” Merrythought said. “I care more about your knowledge of spells and strategy in their use.”

Harry nodded.

“Okay, why don’t we start, say, roughly ten paces apart,” Merrythought said, clearing desks out of the way with a wave of her wand and then transfiguring one into a dueling platform. “You’re aiming to just disarm your opponent, not a surrender. Any spells that cause any lasting damage are off limits. Now, start with a bow.”

Harry took his position on one end of the platform and Tom stood at the other end, carefully drawing his own wand.

“Are you ready Mr. Riddle?” Merrythought asked, turning to him. Tom nodded. He was definitely ready. “Okay, then on my call,” she said and then paused, before announcing, “Duel!”

It happened so quickly.

For a second Tom watched Harry, to see his first move. He expected Harry to be quick to the start, very instinctive. Nothing Tom couldn’t easily block with a shield, but he wanted to be prepared for whatever juvenile hex would inevitably come out of Harry’s mouth.

But when Harry didn’t fire at Tom right off the bat, Tom fired his first spell—another stinging hex.

There were, of course, worse things he wanted to do to Harry Evans, but a teacher was watching after all. So, he’d start off easy to just have a little fun, and show Harry a more powerful, and non-verbal, spell.

But then in the only moments that it took Tom to go through the motions of performing the spell, Harry sidestepped where Tom’s hex would have hit and cast as spell at him.

And Tom, still in the midst of performing his hex and caught entirely off guard, didn’t even have an opportunity to react or cast a defense.

And then Tom’s wand was flying out of his hand while Tom was blasted backwards. And as Tom flew backwards through the air, the world seemed to move in slow motion, and he saw Harry cast another spell, a summoning charm, and Tom’s wand flew from where it had fallen and into Harry’s hand.

And Tom crashed in the classroom door and fell to the floor.

“Oh dear! Are you alright Tom?” he heard Merrythought call out, hurrying over to Tom.

Tom, even though he wasn’t quite sure yet, responded immediately.

“I’m fine,” he said as he watched Harry approached more slowly. Then, both Harry and Merrythought were peering down over him. Tom quickly made to get himself more upright, although he was still disoriented, and he knew looked graceless as he scurried on the floor.

“Don’t overcomplicate things, Tom,” Harry said softly, holding Tom’s wand out to him.

Tom froze, his eyes wide as he looked up at the other boy.

And in that moment, he’d never felt more powerless, more humiliated in his entire life. And Tom realized that Harry looked like Tom had always hoped he would look. So effortless and unbothered in his power. Casual and humble, but only because there was no need to boast in the undeniability of power and success. And Tom worked so hard, he’d spent his entire life working so hard to earn this kind of stature, and here Harry Evans was, standing over him, wearing Tom’s clothes which looked impeccable in a way they shouldn’t have after a duel, his hair mussed but only because it always was and it suited him, and his eyes ever bright and boring into Tom like he was trying to see Tom’s very soul.

And he’d beaten him. How? How was Harry Evans so perfectly and effortlessly Tom’s foil? It felt more and more with every passing second like Harry Evans was made to be his undoing. And now Tom could hardly think straight as he felt too many things all at once.

And then Merrythought cheerfully laughed.

“Well, I suppose that’s what I get for pairing a seventh year against a fifth year!” she chuckled. “Tom, would you like me to be your second?” she asked.

Tom said nothing though. He couldn’t process what had happened. It was too much. He wasn’t prepared for this. How had he let himself be so unprepared for this? How had all of his hard work left him still so unprepared for this? He was on track to be the greatest wizard of his generation. He was acknowledged to be something of a prodigy. And yet—

Harry Evans didn’t seem to care.

Harry Evans had beaten him less than five seconds into a duel. Harry Evans had blasted him across the room with the most powerful disarming charm Tom had ever seen and captured his wand five seconds into a duel.

Don’t overcomplicate things, Tom,” Harry had told him.

And Merrythought had laughed.

Enough.

Tom snatched his wand back and hurriedly stood up.

“Do as you wish,” Tom said in response, “I should get back to my reading.”

“Are you completely alright, Mr. Riddle? I can have Mr. Evans escort you to the infirmary before returning to finish up his exam, if you need.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Tom said, walking back over to the desk and sitting down, purposefully not rubbing his sore back like he wanted to. “Don’t mind me, please continue.”

If Harry was going to disgrace him, then Tom’s revenge might as well start with Professor Merrythought destroying him.

Because Tom would have revenge. He was still trying to process what had happened, but that was a conclusion that it didn’t take Tom very long to come to.

He would have his revenge. He would prove himself to Harry Evans. Harry Evans would know his power if it was the last thing Tom did.

But right now he had a book to pretend to read as he really watched as Harry and Merrythought quickly got to the point and took their positions and started to duel.

And for a while, it was slow. Merrythought was clearly going easy on Harry and testing him. Harry wasn’t really casting many spells, he was mostly just dodging and throwing up shields and continuing to fire disarming charms every once in a while, when he had a good shot. It would seem that shield charms were a spell that Harry was proficient at non-verbally, although they seemed to be more powerful when he said the incantation. But none the less, it was very defensive dueling.

Which Tom thought was completely boring.

But then, it was Tom’s jump to the offense that had allowed Harry to completely humiliate him.

But it was then, suddenly, just as Tom stopped paying as close attention, that the room filled with smoke, and all hell broke loose.

Tom couldn’t see what was going on. He couldn’t see who had cast the smokescreen charm. But he could tell the dueling platform and formal dueling rules were being abandoned as the duel seemed to travel deeper into the classroom, farther away so that Tom couldn’t make much out through the thick layer of smoke and he choked, burying his face in the crook of his arm.

He could hear crashing noises and saw occasional flashes of light. And then he heard a loud yell, from Harry it must have been, before everything went still and quiet.

When the smoke cleared, Professor Merrythought and Harry stood in the center of the room, and Merrythought was shaking Harry’s hand.

“Well done, Mr. Evans,” she said. “Very well done. Are you interested in becoming an Auror?” she asked casually, giving no hint to the winner or what had just occurred.

“I used to be,” Harry said, scratching the back of his neck. “I’m not quite sure anymore, but defense has always been my best subject.”

“Well, I’m sure if you’re interested in a career in magical law enforcement, your NEWT scores will not stop you. I’d be happy to have you join my seventh years. You might be able to teach them a thing or two.”

Harry smiled.

“I used to lead a defense club with some of my friends, I enjoy teaching a lot.”

“Ah,” Merrythought said. “Well, I do grow old, perhaps in a few years there may be a position for you here.”

Harry only just kept smiling politely.

Tom frowned. The idea of Harry Evans becoming a professor at Hogwarts immediately made him sick. Particularly the defense professor. That was a highly coveted position. Many a wizard vied for the role of Defense professor at Hogwarts.

And it was a roll that Tom had considered for himself. He had not planned for it yet, there were still too many mysteries and moving parts in his future. But it had existed in his mind as sort of a back up plan or a way to kill time while still having access to Hogwarts library and all it’s other secrets and knowledge post-graduation. And he’d assumed that out of anyone, he would be the most qualified person for the job. He’d be undeniable, given his talent and test scores.

And of course here comes Harry Evans, falling into place and ruining everything Tom had been working for without even appearing to try.

Again and again and again, in such rapid succession it was impossible. It had to be impossible. Harry Evans could not be a normal boy. He could not be who he claimed to be. There had to be something inside of him, behind his façade, something dark. Something that Tom would expose.

“But, you still have plenty of time to make decisions about your future,” Merrythought continued. “We’ll start with getting you through your NEWTs.”

“Thank you very much, professor,” Harry said.

“Well,” Merrythought said, looking at a large old grandfather clock that stood in the corner of her classroom. “It appears it’s almost time for dinner. We should all head to the Great Hall, don’t you think? Mr. Riddle, you’re welcome to run on ahead if you’d like, I’d be happy to escort Mr. Evans.”

“I,” Tom said, wanting to protest. But this was a professor, not Alphard Black. Tom may have been a prefect, but Professor Merrythought was the head of Ravenclaw. So, Tom nodded. “I’ll see you in the Great Hall, Evans,” Tom said as he collected his books and reluctantly made his way out of the classroom.

When Tom exited the classroom though, instead of continuing to the Great Hall, Tom cast a listening charm to increase the sensitivity of his hearing and knelt down besides the door, pressing his ear to it.

The conversation inside was distant and muffled sounding, but Tom could make most of it out.

“You’ve fought,” Merrythought said. “In battle, haven’t you?”

Tom couldn’t hear Harry’s response. Tom assumed that was because he was being inarticulate and avoiding answering.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to tell me,” Merrythought said. “But please, I know the trauma that can come with that, and if you ever need to talk to someone, do feel free to come to me.”

“Thank you, professor,” Harry said.

“Well, we best get going,” Merrythought said, and Tom heard footsteps approaching the door and he quickly got up and hurried away, hiding in a nook in the wall a bit further away down the fall and casting a disillusionment charm over himself as the classroom door opened and Harry and the professor walked out.

“That club you mentioned running,” she said. “Is that something you’d be interested in leading here?” she asked. “I think a lot of students would be interested, especially considering the times. I’d happily sponsor the program.”

“I’ll have to think about it, professor,” Harry said. “I have a lot to work on already, and I don’t really know a lot of students yet besides a few in Slytherin. I don’t know if they’d trust me to do such a thing.”

“I can’t imagine that would be an issue,” the professor said. “But you can think on it and let me know if a few weeks after you’ve settled in, alright? Clubs and student extracurricular activities won’t start until early October, anyway.”

“Yes professor,” Harry said. “Thank you.”

After that, they either must have fallen silent or walked too far out of ear shot for Tom to hear anymore.

Tom canceled the disillusionment charm and stepped out from the shadows.

Harry Evans continued to astound him. And even worse, it seemed increasingly that he was going to fool everyone else into thinking of him as some sort of beloved golden boy.

Tom knew better though, and he knew now more than ever.

That simply wouldn’t do.

Chapter Text

Harry did notice when Tom, who had left the Defense classroom before him, entered the Great Hall after him at dinner that evening.

And as he caught sight of the other boy out of the corner of his eye, it occurred to him that perhaps he should care about what Tom was up to. Because it probably wasn’t something like that he had gotten caught up helping a lost first year.

But then maybe it was. This Tom was still whole, and only as insane as any fairly traumatized teenager would probably be, and he was also so, so young.

Comparatively.

But then Harry realized that, at least in this moment, he really didn’t really care either way what Tom was up to. Because he was sitting across from Alphie, and there was so much food on the table, and he was starving, and Lucretia was beside him and serving as a pretty pleasant barrier between himself and the rest of the Slytherin house, and well, it almost kind of felt normal.

Familiar enough to be comforting, but different enough to not remind him of everything he had lost.

And because Tom was late, it meant he couldn’t insist upon sitting next to or even within ear shot of Harry, and instead he sat a ways down the table at the seat his friends had saved him.

For a second, Harry imagined Tom scolding them for not working harder to stalk Harry and ensuring they were seated as close him as possible. He could imagine Tom, slightly puffed up and haughty and very tired looking like Hermione could when she was scolding him and Ron.

“So, you’re officially a seventh year then?” Alphie said after Harry had recounted his day to him.

“I don’t know about officially, I haven’t spoken to Dippet yet or anything, but looks like it.”

“Ah,” Alphie said. “Is it terribly rude of me to say a part of me was hoping you’d fail and end up back in sixth year with me? It would have been nice to have someone interesting in my classes with me.”

“Is that a way of you implying that you think your current year mates aren’t up to your standards?” the boy that was sitting next to Alphie interjected. “Winston Crockett, by the way,” the boy said, reaching his hand across the table and offering it to Harry. Harry wasn’t thrilled at the apparent eavesdropping and interruption, but still took the other boys hand to be polite. “My friends call me Winky.”

“You mean your mother calls you Winky, Crockett,” Higgs, the seventh year Harry had met earlier and who was now sitting to the other side of Winky, said.

Winky ignored him.

“I’m also the captain of the Quidditch team, do you play? Try outs start this week.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He did miss Quidditch, but he hadn’t really thought about whether playing, or if even revealing that he played, would be helpful in this time. He was trying to lie low, he hardly needed to be a star seeker. But while he’d been a good player, perhaps his skill might not get the same notoriety at seventeen as it had when he was eleven. But then, he had hardly put that kind of level of thought or strategy into any other decision he’d made here, so why start now? He loved Quidditch a lot, and why should he have to give it up just to focus on what—Tom? “I’ve played a bit, yeah.”

Harry looked over at Alphie who was smiling while he shook his head as if he recognized this was some kind of quintessentially and humorously Harry response.

“Oh!” Winky said, lighting up. “What position?”

“I’ve always been a seeker,” Harry said.

Winky smile faltered a bit.

“Ah, well, Mulciber’s been playing seeker these past couple seasons, but since there’s been so much turn over the past few years, lots of alternates playing positions that just needed to be filled, you know, so I’m having everyone re-try out to make sure everyone is in their right spot. So you never know, you may beat Mulciber out for the position. He’d also make a fine beater.”

“What about Mulciber?” a familiar voice interrupted, and Harry spun around to see that Tom was standing behind him.

“We were just talking about Quidditch, Riddle,” Winky said. “Are you interested in trying out for my team?”

Tom sneered.

“I am quite alright, thanks,” Tom said. “Are you going to try out for the team, Evans?”

Harry shrugged and was careful not to roll his eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe. What brings you to this end of the table?”

“Lestrange wanted to see if there was any treacle tart down here. They usually have it on Sundays, but he couldn’t find any. I volunteered to go ask around.”

“Of course you did,” Alphie said dryly. “And we don’t have any, must have been out today. I heard the muggles have been rationing because of that war for years, must have finally caught up to us as well. We’ve got some lovely prunes though, if you’d like,” he said, holding up a bowl.

Tom looked at the prunes distastefully and opened his mouth like he was going to say something in response to that, but at that moment, Dippet’s voice came booming out over the Great Hall.

“Good evening! May I please have everyone’s attention for a moment of your time?”

“Go sit down, Tom,” Lucretia said softly, shooing Tom back down to his seat. Tom sent Alphie a glare before he complied.

“Thank you, as we go into our third week of term, I have a few announcements I’d like to make,” the headmaster announced and then went into a review of when student activities for the year would begin. Harry stopped listening as he caught Alphie placing a slice of treacle tart onto his plate.

“What did you do?” Harry mouthed.

Alphie rolled his eyes and shrugged. “Eat up,” he mouthed back.

“And for one final announcement, I’d like you all to take a moment to welcome a new student to Hogwarts. Harry Evans will be joining the seventh year Slytherin class starting this week. Mr. Evans, would you stand up for a moment please?”

Harry felt his face flush at the call out and he hurriedly stood up. A hushed murmur ran though the room, although Harry couldn’t imagine why. Perhaps even with the turnover in enrollment Hogwarts had been experiencing, a new student was still exciting.

“If everyone could please offer Mr. Evans a warm welcome should you encounter him around Hogwarts. You may be seated, Mr. Evans.”

Harry quickly sat down.

“Please enjoy the rest of your meal, and remember curfew remains at eight o’clock, with the exception of prefects,” Dippet finished, before he left the podium and returned to his seat.

“Oh dear,” Lucretia said turning towards Harry and chuckling slightly, offering him a slightly sympathetic look.

“What?” Harry asked.

“I had a suspicion this might be the case, but you never know in situations like this,” Lucretia continued vaguely.

“What?” Harry repeated, growing impatient while feeling like he’d missed something obvious and massive.

“But then you stood up all nervous and red behind the ears and it was absolutely adorable, and you’ve sealed you fate,” she continued on, shaking her head with an amused smile on her face.

“What?” Harry said again.

“What my cousin is alluding to,” Alphie said. “Is that it seems you might be popular among the girls, especially some of the lower year ones.”

“What?” Harry exclaimed.

He knew that in his past life some girls had occasionally had, typically completely unearned, crushes on him because of who he was. But that was all the Boy Who Lived effect, Harry was under no allusions about his appearance. He wasn’t bad looking, probably. But he was, well, pretty average. Some good features, some less that desirable ones, coming together to be more or less underwhelming. He wasn’t some kind of heart throb. “Why?” he asked, genuinely confused.

“Well,” Lucretia said, giving Harry a once over that left him feeling terribly uncomfortable. “You’ve got quite an air of mystery about you,” she said, as if that meant anything at all. “You’re all new and interesting. And you also seem a bit rugged and capable while also still being very personable and charismatic, from what I can tell so far.”

“What?” Harry asked again, because well, what? “And every girl in the room could tell this in the four seconds I was standing up?”

“Oh, no,” Lucretia said. “They’ve probably been watching you since you arrived, when you thought no one was paying attention, taking spotting’s of you back to their friends and gossiping about the new boy.”

“What?” Harry asked the now tired question. “Girls do that?”

“Everyone does that, Harry,” Alphie cut in. “Although sometimes with different motivations than Lucretia implies.”

Harry looked down at his plate and scratched the back of his neck.

“But I’ve barely been around any other students,” he tried to argue. “I was in London this morning, and then in my dorm room asleep, and then getting dragged around to different classes for my tests.”

“I didn’t say that anyone’s conclusions were founded on a large sample of data,” Lucretia said. “I’m just telling you to be careful, because about a hundred hearts at least are probably yours for the breaking.”

“But I don’t want anyone’s heart!” Harry said looking around the table, a slightly panicked expression on his face. Lucretia’s brow furrowed and Alphie looked slightly amused. “I mean,” Harry clarified. “I don’t want to date right now. I’m not really looking for a relationship.”

From slightly down the table a sort of brief gasping screech of a noise of indignation could be heard.

“What do you mean you’re not looking for a relationship?” Walburga Black suddenly cut in, as if she’d been summoned, peering around Lucretia from where she’s been sitting on the other side of her. “It’s seventh year, surely you’d like to have arrangements settled for your marriage by the end of the year?”

“No?” Harry said immediately. Walburga made the same gasping noise as before and clutched her chest like she was having some kind of heart attack. “I mean, I just got out of a relationship,” Harry said. “To a girl I’d known my who life. I’m not quite ready to dive back into a relationship.”

That at least brought an awkward silence.

“Oh,” Lucretia said softly, eventually speaking up. “I’m so sorry.”

But Walburga still did not seem to understand.

“What do you mean you got out of a relationship?” she said. “Marriage is an arrangement and a commitment to family,” she said. “You don’t end a courtship over teenage whims.”

“Um,” Harry said, realizing that they seemed to have two fairly different world views.

“You must remember that Harry is a half-blood, my dear sister,” Alphie cut in, thankfully. “He does not have a thirteen-year-old cousin that he’s been arranged to be married to since before he’d even started puberty like you do.”

Walburga though only made another slightly strangled noise. “All the need to be even more careful with his arrangements! He can’t help the mistakes of his parents, but the least he could do is not squander any more blood.”

“She was actually a pureblood,” Harry said, just interesting in ending this conversation. “For what it’s worth.”

This didn’t seem to satisfy Walburga though, although it did slightly distract her.

Because Walburga, for all her immediate misgivings, seemed to still be fairly intelligent and quick.

“Was?” she asked, noisily.

And, “Oh,” was all Harry could immediately say in response.

Because Ginny didn’t have to be dead, technically. She could have just been someone that Harry had left behind. In a way, she was. Someone wasn’t dead just because you could never see them again, even though it may hurt as much or more. But people ask less questions about the dead. At least he hoped that it would mean Walburga would let his engagement status drop.

And so, “She’s not with us,” he said.

Which was probably truer than anything else he could say. Truer than death.

And thankfully, that finally seemed to shut Walburga up.

An awkward silence followed.

And then—

“Finish your tart, Harry,” Alphie said softly and Harry looked down at his plate.

“Treacle tart is my favorite,” he said a bit wistfully, picking up his fork and cutting off a bite. “It was one of the first real sweets I ever had as a kid.”

“Oh, you’re definitely going to be a real heart breaker, Harry Evans,” Lucretia said.

Harry had no idea how that was at all related, but when he looked up at Alphie for insight, the other boy just shrugged and loaded another slice of tart onto his plate.

*

Of course Harry wanted to play Quidditch, Tom thought as he made his way to the prefects meeting.

He’d been slightly agitated when he arrived at dinner to find that he couldn’t be seated further from Harry.

Not that Harry was his ideal dinner partner, but well, how was Tom supposed to keep tabs on Harry when he was ten people down the table, surrounded by the idiots he called friends?

Okay, they weren’t all idiots. But they tended to care about things Tom didn’t care about. Like Quidditch. And girls. And pranking Gryffindors.

Although he supposed he didn’t mind the last thing, if they were clever enough to actually be amusing. But nothing his “friends” came up with ever was, and Tom was hardly going to waste the energy helping them brainstorm.

But almost inevitably, it felt the more he thought about it, Harry would be the type to be distracted by silly games when there were bigger and more important things to be concerned about.

But well, if Harry wanted to play Quidditch then Tom wasn’t going to try and stop him. The more time he spent on a broomstick the less time he would be spending looking for the chamber, and the less time he’d overall spend annoying Tom.

He’d also spend less time with Alphard Black as well, if he were playing Quidditch. Which was a nice side effect. Black had never even been to a Quidditch match in his life as far as Tom knew. Tom had never been at one himself, of course, but he’d seen the other boy occasionally in the library during them. He wasn’t hard to miss him when he was the only student besides Tom there while the rest of the school was out in the stands watching their peers hit balls at each other.

Speaking of, if Harry played Quidditch, well, maybe an accident would happen. Quidditch was a fairly dangerous sport. No one had died or vanished without a trace particularly recently, but that only meant that they were due for a mishap.

And while Tom would like to do terrible things to Harry Evans himself, he was quite busy, maybe that was one thing he could let go.

He could see it now, Harry in Slytherin team robes, with matching green eyes wide had he fell to his death from such great heights.

“Everyone, come in and have a seat,” Dumbledore was calling as Tom made his way into the classroom that the prefect’s meeting was held in. Tom took a seat near Abraxas Malfoy, Slytherin’s seventh year prefect. Tom didn’t have any particular feelings about Abraxas. He was smart, and his family was wealthy and old and properly inbred. But even if they were not particularly friends, he, unlike other the other Slytherin prefects in fifth and sixth year, was at least tolerable.

Tom couldn’t even understand how Emmaline Selwyn was named the other fifth year prefect, actually. No one else in his year was remotely as clever as he was, of course, but she was probably the least clever girl in his year. To his knowledge, her grades were fine, but everyone in Slytherin’s were with few exceptions. Slytherin’s tended to have the kind of families that would not accept failure, of course.

They would apparently accept mediocracy though, at least in Emmaline. As was well demonstrated by the girl, who was the most boring witch Tom had ever met, aside from perhaps some Hufflepuffs. But he tried very hard to avoid meeting those.

So when she sat down on the other side of Tom after she walked into the meeting, nearly late, he wasn’t exactly thrilled. He scooched himself in his chair subtly over slightly, crossing his legs as he did so.

“It looks as if we have everyone,” Slughorn said. “Can I have everyone’s attention, if you please, I’d like for our head boy to call the meeting to an order.”

On the other hand, Tom understood exactly why Ignatius Prewett was head boy. He knew because he couldn’t describe it without being accused of being too caught up in Slytherin prejudices against Gryffindor. Because nothing was wrong with Ignatius Prewett except the fact that everything was wrong with him, in Tom’s eyes.

Ignatius smiled as he stood up and took Slughorn’s place at the center of the classroom.

“Thank you, sir,” Prewett said. “Good evening everyone, I’d like to call this meeting to an order,” Prewitt said, still with his annoying Gryffindor smile. Ignatius was the kind of textbook Gryffindor favorite, the kind of student that could do no wrong in any professors eyes, and that smile had a lot to do with it. “First on our agenda this evening is a review of the concern over safety at Hogwarts that have arisen so far this year and the changes that faculty have made as a result. This portion of the meeting will be led by Professor Dumbledore.”

“Thank you, Mr. Prewett,” Dumbledore said. “Now, of course I wish we had a slightly lighter topic to start the meeting off on, but unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve heard, dark things have been happening in both our world and the muggle world. However, we have been careful to implement changes to our policies and protections in order to ensure we maintain the sanctity and safety of Hogwarts, and I wanted to take some time to brief you all, as prefects, on what exactly this all means.

“I know the headmaster addressed some concerns at the welcome feast earlier this month,” Dumbledore continued. “But we have continued to hear additional concerns from students and their families. If any students come to you with concerns about the safety of themselves or other students, please reassure them that over the summer we had a team of ministry officials inspect and reinforce the protective charms that protect Hogwarts.

“As you know, many of these charms are as old as Hogwarts, and they have all been cast by incredibly powerful witches and wizards—some were even cast by our founders a millennia ago. On top of these protective measures, our staff are all incredibly talented in their fields and prepared for further defense of the castle and all who reside here, should a situation arise where that becomes necessary,” Dumbledore continued. “However, I want to reiterate that we do not expect that to be necessary. If students have continued concerns, please have them direct those concerns to their heads of house. Any questions?” Dumbledore finished.

For a moment, it was quiet. Some students seemed placated, however, others quietly glanced at each other, as if daring one another to speak up.

Finally, Abraxas raised his hand.

“I have heard,” he said, before pausing as if carefully choosing the correct word, “Concerns from some students about certain rumors that some staff members at Hogwarts may have ties to Grindelwald. How should we address those concerns, sir?” Malfoy’s face was intent, challenging, as he looked at Dumbledore.

For a half a second, something passed over Dumbledore’s face, before it regained its usual composure.

This was a problem for Tom. Not that for a moment Dumbledore’s ever-present twinkle was broken, that he enjoyed, but because he didn’t know what Malfoy was talking about.

He had not heard such rumors.

It was not unusual over the course of Hogwarts history, per se, for a professor to not be as light as its headmaster usually was. But Tom could not immediately think of any professor he knew of that had any dark allegiances. Even Slughorn, while a Slytherin and their head of house, did not remotely seem the type to go as far as to follow to a dark lord. Slughorn was intelligent, but it was not difficult to sense his air of cowardice.

More infuriatingly, it sounded like Malfoy was alluding to the kind of rumor that spread among pureblood families, particularly the kind that might have been labeled as dark. And while Tom did not have  pureblood family to hear such rumors from, the point of his group of pureblood friends was to have an in for such information.

And what was the point of them, if they had not told him of whatever this was about?

Tom hated not knowing things. He hated it more than almost anything else, maybe even more than he hated dimwitted people, maybe even more than he hated muggles.

Knowledge was power, and ignorance was not bliss, but a dangerous, vulnerable place to be.

He’d have rectify this gap in his knowledge as soon as possible. He’d ask Malfoy, afterwards, what exactly he’d been referring to. And then go let his “friends” know how disappointed he was and what exactly his expectations were if they continued to want to ride on the coattails of his power and talent.

And oh, that could be fun.

“Again, Mr. Malfoy, our staff are fully prepared to protect Hogwarts and all the students who reside here whatever the cost, but I would also remind students that rumors are only that,” Dumbledore repeated, not really at all answering the question.

And then, perhaps inspired by seeing that flash of a look of something that maybe could have been akin to fear on Dumbledore’s face when it seemed that Abraxas had caught him off guard and in a trap that he had no way out of except evasion, Tom raised his hand.

“You and the headmaster have mentioned these protective charms and wards on many occasions. But you never speak much about exactly what these magicks are and what they are guarding against. Are you able to elaborate more on what exactly these protections entail?” Tom said, pausing a moment before adding. “You see, it concerns me when I caught a trespasser wandering on school grounds just a couple nights ago during my rounds. I would think that these kinds of protections would ward against the ability of anyone to walk onto Hogwarts grounds without as much as sending an alert to the Headmaster.”

Dumbledore, however, looked nonplussed this time, and instead just smiled politely at Tom.

“Thank you for the feedback, Mr. Riddle,” Dumbledore said, still not answering the question. “I’ll speak with some of the other staff and the headmaster to see if we can perhaps turn this into a learning experience. However, you must understand that the protections of some of these wards lie in their secrecy. Knowledge is power, as I’m sure you know as well as anyone Tom.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. He hated how Dumbledore did that sometimes—pulled things out of his mind, said things that couldn’t have possibly be coincidence. He really needed to work on Occlumency.

“So we can continue to expect that if someone came to Hogwarts that may intend harm, they’ll be welcomed onto the grounds and into the castle?” Tom pressed.

“Hogwarts has always been designed to be a refuge for magic and those seeking to learn. If Hogwarts disallowed students to seek refuge within it’s walls, it would be a great pity,” Dumbledore said with a sense of finality.

And it was a good answer, in all honesty. And Tom hated that.

“If there are no more questions,” Dumbledore said, and Tom couldn’t come up with a retort before Dumbledore was moving on, inviting Lucretia up to give a report on the schedule of student activities and what years would be allowed to participate in what activities.

From there the meeting dragged on, relatively uninteresting, for about another hour.

Tom only half paid attention. He’d already learned more than he expected to know from this meeting, and he needed to continue to investigate. His interest was not in the timetable for the chess club.

Finally though, the meeting came to an end. When Ignatius dismissed the meeting, Tom stood up slowly, smoothing out his robes casually while watching Malfoy, waiting for the other boy to stand to leave. When Malfoy did, Tom left with him, keeping in step at his side as they exited the room, as if there had been some agreement between them to walk back to the common room together.

Annoyingly though, Emmaline followed them as well. And Tom couldn’t think of a way to lose her. He didn’t want to wait, to have to catch Malfoy at another time. It had to be now, when it would just be conversation among peers.

And then, when they got to the information that required more discretion, they could find someplace more private to continue the conversation, and Emmaline would continue on her way.

Malfoy said nothing and Tom didn’t either until they’d gotten far out of the classroom and away from the small crowd of other prefects. Emmaline still lagged slightly behind them, inevitably also heading back to the common room.

“Dumbledore does know how to carry on, doesn’t he?” Tom said finally said, casually, as they took the stairs down to the dungeons.

Malfoy scoffed.

“Certainly,” he said.

“I think it was you two actually,” Emmaline said, working her way between Tom and Abraxas. Tom narrowed his eyes, turning to glare at girl, “Who caused that conversation to drag on.”

Tom decided to ignore her.

“He and Dippet both have been so evasive around the castles security, haven’t they?” Tom continued.

“It’s hardly unexpected,” Malfoy responded.

“I suppose not,” Tom said.

“As if you’re entitled to know anything about it because you think yourselves clever,” Emmaline muttered.

Malfoy and Tom both ignored this said and for a few moments they continued in silence.

“So,” Tom said, deciding on the best way to phrase his question so as to get the information he desired.

“Yes, Riddle?”

Do you think Grindelwald will come to Hogwarts?”

Malfoy stopped and turned to Tom. He looked irritated. Emmaline stopped with them, still standing besides them and watching on as the two boys faced off.

“Why would I tell you that?” he asked.

It was not the response Tom was expecting. Tom tried carefully to keep his face passive, although he was slightly stunned by the older boys hostile demeanor. He glanced over at Emmaline, infuriated that she was still here as well.

“I was just making conversation, Malfoy,” he said. Malfoy at first said nothing, and instead turned away from Tom and continued walking in the direction of the common room. Tom followed. Emmaline did not. “I was merely—”

Abraxas cut him off.

“If this was information you were worthy of, Riddle, you would already know,” he said coldly. He barely even paused to look back at Tom as he said it, leaving Tom standing stunned and frozen, as he turned a corner down the winding staircase an disappeared from view.

And as Tom continued to stand motionless, that one word echoed in his head.

He wasn’t worthy?

He wasn’t worthy?

Tom was worthy. He knew it.

He was worth more than Malfoy would ever be, if only he knew. Malfoy was nothing, his life would be ordinary. And one day, he would bow at Tom’s feet or spend his life in hiding.

And he’d show him. No one would doubt him anymore.

He could do nothing to undo the sins of his parents. But he could redeem his mother’s. He would claim Slytherin’s chamber as Heir, and he would be the greatest wizard to ever live.

He just needed to keep working.

But he wasn’t just any student, any half-blood. And he could prove it. He could show them all.

Tom turned around, heading not back to the common room but instead to the library. It was closed, and past curfew, but if Tom didn’t have a way around all of that, then well, perhaps Malfoy would have been right about him.

As he turned though, he saw Emmaline was still standing slightly further up the stairs, watching him.

He ignored her, brushing past her without a word.

He just needed to find the chamber.

*

“You really need to get some sleep,” Alphie said. He was sitting by the fire in an armchair, reading a book. Harry was stretched out on a sofa across from him. They were the last people in the common room at the end of the night, and it had grown fairly late for a school night.

Harry wasn’t tired though. He knew he needed sleep, but perhaps his nap earlier had thrown him off.

So instead, Harry had gotten Alphie to lend him his textbooks, so that he could go through them and make sure the curriculum of now wasn’t too different now than it was in fifty years and his sixth-year education wasn’t actually irrelevant.

That was the primary reason he was combing through Alphie textbooks one after another, anyway. The other reason, although it felt more futile, was to make sure he didn’t know things he shouldn’t. Harry hardly wanted to accidently take credit for a spell because he did something that hadn’t been invented yet. He didn’t remotely have the magical background to get away with that kind of lie. He knew almost nothing about spell creation.

He knew he’d have to be careful with Snape’s spells. He’d already brought back enough from the Half-Blood Prince’s textbook annotations in his Potions exam today. But at least he hoped he wouldn’t find himself in an instance where he’d need to resort to a levicorpus. And he assumed that if he ever needed to use a sectumsemptra he’d have bigger things to answer for than his lies. But others, like Langlock and Muffilato were helpful for the more general mischief that Harry had a feeling he wouldn’t be able to entirely avoid, try as he might. He was the son of a Marauder, after all.  

But so far, it seemed that many of the sixth-year textbooks were the same as the ones he had used in his sixth year, down to the edition. And the ones that were slightly different editions didn’t seem to be vastly different. There were only a few books he didn’t recognize at all, but the content wasn’t anything too unfamiliar. He hoped they were just professor’s preferences to cover similar information to what Harry had studied. And he hoped that the same would go for his seventh-year textbooks when he got a hold of them and that any changes that lay within them were mostly just clarifications in the footnotes.

Not that he would really know, though, because of course it’s not like there was an appendix at the back of the books detailing information that would come to be included in future editions.

“I could say the same for you,” Harry said to Alphie.

Alphie waved a hand dismissively.

“I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac. You’re the one that’s been walking around dead on your feet since I met you.”

Harry shrugged, “I’m sure I’ll catch up on sleep eventually. I’m not tired right now.”

“Mmhmm,” Alphie said. “If you insist. But if you fall asleep on that sofa, I’m not going to carry you up to bed and tuck you in again.”

“Fine,” Harry said. “I wouldn’t mind. The dorm rooms are weird.”

“How so?” Alphie asked, furrowing his brow slightly.

“I don’t know, I mean, they’re fine. It’s just weird sleeping in a room with strangers. I haven’t even met two of them yet.”

“Ah,” Alphie said in response. “Well, just so you know, the seventh-year boys are Adrian Higgs, Abraxas Malfoy, Torrance Burke, and now you.”

“Malfoy?” Harry said, surprised to hear the name. Harry hadn’t met many people yet, of course, but it seemed so far that he was either a bit to early or too late for most of the parents and grandparents of people he knew. He didn’t know much about Abraxas though, except that he believed he was dead in his time. And that assumption was really only as a process of elimination though, because if he wasn’t, Harry surely would have heard of him, and yet he hadn’t.

“Mhm,” Alphie nodded before continuing. “Malfoy and Burke are from prominent pureblood families. Higgs blood status is a bit murkier; I believe his father or grandfather is a half-blood, thus the muggle name. He’s the most likely to be indifferent to you, and maybe even warm up over time. Burke will probably openly demonstrate distain for you that isn’t likely to go away. Malfoy’s a bit more of a draw. He’ll probably have a level of distain similar to Burke to start, but if you prove yourself to be a powerful wizard, he might be slightly swayed. Malfoy’s are notoriously sort of kiss-asses, and he isn’t likely to make an enemy of someone he believes could hold some kind of power someday. Unless you make yourself into a definitive enemy.”

Harry snorted. Sounded about right.

“Very encouraging,” Harry said. “I’m going to have to learn some more protective charms to spell my bed, so no one tries to murder me in my sleep.”

“I thought that would have already been a part of your plan, considering Riddle can easily enter your rooms at any time.”

“Don’t remind me,” Harry said with a sigh. “What do you think I should do about him?” he decided to ask, because he couldn’t see a reason not to.

Alphie shrugged.

“Graduate and move very far away would be the easiest thing, I imagine,” Alphie said, but then paused. “But really I think all you’d need to do to drive him thorough insane they make him up a bed in St. Mungo’s is to keep treating him like an annoying kid brother.”

Harry supposed he could do that, although he wasn’t sure what that would do for the future. But then Harry knew that Voldemort’s insanity wasn’t that kind that needed treatment at Mungo’s, but rather that was worthy of a fate worse than Azkaban, so perhaps that wasn’t a good idea afterall.

“What do people think of him?” Harry asked. “What’s his reputation?”

Alphie shut the book that was open in his lap and looked pensive.

“Well, he’s smart, handsome, and can be charming if properly motivated—he’s very politician-like, I think is a good way to describe it. But he’s very poor, which is a hard thing to be in Slytherin,” Alphie said. “And the problem with his demeanor, I think, is that while some people will happily buy into it, if you see through it, well, I guess it’s easy to look down on him. He’s not always as skillful as he thinks himself to be, in a lot of ways,” he continued.

“He’s got a handful of professors and most of the students in his year or younger to not question him as a model student and quite brilliant, especially now that he’s a prefect. But, a lot of the older students don’t think quite as highly of him. Sure, he’s book smart, but if he’s particularly powerful, he’s never done too much to show it yet. Most of the upper years in Slytherin at least seem to find him a bit pretentious, especially for a half-blood with nothing to his name.”

Harry furrowed his brow as he considered this. At a kind of basic, instinctual level, Harry had never really understood how Tom could hate muggles so much without coming to hate the wizards that would hate him nearly as much because of his blood status. Harry himself knew that while the Dursley’s could be awful, he also knew how awful people like the Malfoy’s and Lestrange’s could be just as well once he was introduced to the wizarding world just as well. But of course, he hadn’t interrogated it very much, because nowhere in the defeat Voldemort strategy had there ever been point out the ironies in his ideological beliefs in hopes he’d realize how foolish he’d been and apologize.

Harry had assumed, though, that perhaps this was because Tom had won them over very early on and proven himself as worthy among Pureblood families.

But if that wasn’t the case, it didn’t make sense.

But then, Voldemort’s Death Eaters were still servants that he eliminated at whim if they proved themselves to be no longer loyal.

And maybe was both the answer to the riddle and the root of what Harry could never understand Voldemort—he wanted to be better than everyone. There was a bit of a caste system to it, based on blood and magic status, but he wanted to be at the top of it. He wanted to be better than everything and everyone, even death.

But at least personally, Harry couldn’t understand that. Because Harry knew how lonely and alienating it was, to be the person who did things no one else could. He needed friends, he needed family, he needed mentors. It was why he sat here with Alphie late into the night. Why he’d decided to take all the classes he’d tested into instead of dropping one. Why, ultimately, he’d ended up back at Hogwarts instead of running off the London to carve a life for himself alone to begin with.

If Alphie was willing to sit with him, Harry was happy to have a friend. And the same for the rest of it. If someone was willing to have him, he was happy to not have to face the world alone.

“So people know his blood status?” Harry asked. Harry had never been very clear on how successfully Voldemort had hidden that throughout his life. Harry knew it as he eventually knew all of the Dark Lords biography, and he told those who needed to know—it had seemed so trivial that he had no idea if it was actually a secret, or just something Voldemort coerced, or maybe even literally cursed, into secrecy.

“Well, he has always been insistent that he’s a half-blood, as far as I know,” Alphie said. “Everyone in Slytherin always assumed that he’s muggleborn, of course—Riddle isn’t exactly a pureblood name, unless maybe he was American or something, I guess, but that seems unlikely. I think most of Slytherin still doesn’t buy it, to be honest. He’s never told anyone who his parents were, or at least not been open about it. I’m not even sure if he even knows, though.”

Harry knew though that Tom did know, or would know very, very soon who his parents were.

And as he thought about it, a part of Harry wished he could just sit Tom down and tell him that a lot of the things that mattered to him a lot right now would be more liberating if he worked on letting them go instead of obsessing on revenge. But Tom was already more stubborn and driven than most people. And then that was surely only compounded by the fact that he was fifteen years old. You can’t expect to tell a fifteen-year-old that they’re being irrational, and that they’ll understand when they’re older, and expect a good response. Harry was only just beginning to stop being a complete idiot by fifteen, and still he made a lot of really dumb and ill-informed decisions. And he was still, even now at almost eighteen, probably, or actually almost definitely, still a bit of an idiot.

At least considering every single barely thought through, mostly instinctive, decision he’d made since he’d,0p woken up here last night.

“It’s strange sometimes, to remember that we’re all still basically children,” Harry said softly in the quiet room.

“You are of age, aren’t you?” Alphie asked, pragmatically.

“Yeah,” Harry said, considering whether or not to try and elaborate a bit more on what he was trying to get at, but at that moment, the door to the common room swung open with a creak and Harry and Alphie both froze as they looked to see who it was that was coming back at this hour.

An impossibly familiar dark-haired boy stood in the doorway.

Of course it was Tom Riddle.

Upon seeing Harry and Alphie, Tom immediately froze.

For a moment, they all just stared at each other. And then it was Tom who spoke first.

“What are you two doing here?” he asked.

Harry looked at Alphie, as if trying to silently communicate to confirm their cover story.

Alphie just gave Harry a strange look.

“Reading,” Alphie answered, holding up his book. Ah, the truth did make sense in this case, Harry supposed. “What are you doing getting back five hours after curfew?”

“Prefect business,” Tom replied tersely.

“Prefect rounds usually end by ten or eleven at the latest,” Alphie argued.

“What are you still doing up?” Tom responded, apparently clearly having been up to no good and not having prepared a good enough lie himself so instead resorting to deflection. “There are classes in the morning.”

“Last time I checked, Hogwarts implements a curfew, but it doesn’t implement a bedtime. Harry and I can stay up as late as we’d like.”

“Well, as a prefect, I am supposed to look out for the wellbeing of students, and if you make a habit of staying up well into the night, I’ll have to report my concerns to Professor Slughorn.”

“Well isn’t that considerate of you,” Alphie said. “Although I’ll have you know I’ve doing this for years, and none of the other prefects have ever been bothered.”

Harry had to admit, he did enjoy watching Alphie square off with Tom. It reminded him a bit of Ron—although Alphie wasn’t really anything like Ron. Or maybe it was a bit more like how Harry imagined Sirius would have been as a student. Harry only knew the man after over a decade in Azkaban, but he could only imagine how spirited he would have been in his youth. Alphie did seem smarter and more bookish than either Ron or Sirius though. He seemed more like Hermione in that sense. His wit was like hers as well.

It was no wonder he got on with Alphie so quickly.

Or maybe he was just projecting because he missed, well, everyone.

Tom seemed to internally fume for a few moments before he simply said, “If you insist. I want to make sure I don’t fall asleep in my porridge at breakfast tomorrow though, so I’ll be going to bed.”

“Have a goodnight,” Alphie said politely.

Tom stormed off towards to dormitories.

“Well, that was fun,” Alphie said. “To think I’d barely had the opportunity to speak to Tom Riddle before you arrived. What a waste all that time had been. My life was so boring back then.”

“You mean up until about a day ago?”

“Precisely,” he said. “You should still go to bed though.”

“Why should I go to bed and you get to stay up? I’m the older one, shouldn’t I be lecturing you about the importance of sleep?”

Alphie rolled his eyes.

“Go to sleep Harry.”

Harry sighed.

“Fine,” he said. “But I don’t promise I’ll sleep.”

Alphie though just shook his head.

“Goodnight Harry,” he said.

Harry stood up from the sofa and sighed again, this time louder.

“Goodnight Alphie.”

*

Harry’s first school day at Hogwarts went relatively well—at least in the sense that is was very quiet. Which was good, because Harry had not slept very well last night when he’d finally gotten to sleep. He didn’t know why he was having such a hard time sleeping, maybe it was some kind of lingering PTSD from his old nightmares and general fear for his life…

….Actually it was probably that.

But he’d gotten up in the morning and had breakfast with Alphie. Slughorn had had the books he told Harry he’d get for him delivered to the table along with a copy of the syllabus, and so after breakfast he’d gone to the library to figure out where he was behind and what he’d need to work on.

The only class he had on Mondays was Potions in the afternoon, though, so he had had plenty of time to start catching up that morning.

He hadn’t actually gotten much sleep last night, or really any, infuriatingly. He’d ended up reading another book Alphie had loaned him, not a schoolbook which Alphie did need most of the time, but a book on curse breaking, which Harry didn’t have any immediate use for, but was very interesting.

Potions itself was fine—they were not brewing a potion that day, rather thankfully, and instead Slughorn just gave a lecture to prepare them for a not yet identified but “especially challenging” potion they’d be brewing next week.

But, based on the ingredients that Slughorn was describing the properties of in great detail, Harry had a feeling it was Polyjuice. Which he wasn’t thrilled about.

Another thing about his first day was that Harry also hadn’t really met any other students, which he wasn’t sure what to make of. It seemed that particularly with the lowered enrollment, all NEWT level classes at least were with all houses. Harry was curious to meet students in other houses, but when he’d come into Potions, Slughorn had said that they would have an odd number of students in the class now so he could sit at an empty work bench in the back of the room, so he hadn’t even gotten to introduce himself to a potential potions partner.

He did recognize a couple students, mostly the seventh year Slytherins, he’d met so far. None of them acknowledged him though, except for Lucretia, who had offered a smile and hello before going to sit at her workbench at the front of the class.

He still knew no one outside of Slytherin though. A couple students had asked questions during the lecture, and Harry tried to note the names that Slughorn called out when he called on them, but he knew he was forgetting most of them.

It seemed that even if Harry were interesting to the lower years, his fellow seventh years were more ambivalent about a newcomer.

When class ended, everyone packed up their supplies and left, some students chatting among themselves, others rushing off to probably meet up with others.

Harry quietly picked up his stack of books, including the book on curse breaking that he’d borrowed from Alphie that he was still working on. It was a dense book, written in an older version of English that was challenging for Harry to parse through. He’d barely made it through the preface last night. He started to make his way towards the Great Hall for dinner, unconsciously using the quiet of the walk to think through his impending loneliness and his options to stop it.

Harry was glad for Alphie, he realized that he was going to find himself feeling rather lonely if he didn’t befriend some of his year mates. He had Charms and Herbology tomorrow, that would be more opportunities to meet people. And maybe he should try out for Quidditch. And consider taking Professor Merrythought up on her suggestion of starting a defense club.

Because it seemed like while there was definitely a possibility that he could live a quiet life here at Hogwarts in this last year, be happy to have stumbled upon Alphie’s friendship, being pleasant but distant to everyone else, he realized that would be terribly lonely.

And he hadn’t thought about it too hard before, although he supposed he knew it. His peers, the one’s that kept to themselves, that had less of a reputation, that weren’t as “popular,” he knew they were lonelier. And perhaps they weren’t unhappy that way. Some people liked to have lots of time with themselves.

But Harry was not like that.

And he could not have it both ways, it became clearer the more he thought about what his life could be like in this new world. If he wanted no one to know him, then he’d be alone. And if he wanted to not be alone, people would have to know him.

And Harry was still having a hard time thinking long term about this new life. It was too hard to imagine growing old at all, none the less here. It was too hard to imagine what might happen if he died again. It was too hard to think about if there was, perhaps, a way back to a world if not the same at least more familiar.

But Harry knew deep down and unquestioningly, that if he was going to survive here, he couldn’t be alone. It was a nice idea, perhaps a romantic one, to be some kind of mysterious bachelor who bounced around life at his whims, popping in and out of others lives and leaving little trace whenever he moved on.

But there was no part of Harry that could be that person and be happy.

And maybe Harry wasn’t supposed to be happy. Maybe this was some kind of personal hell.

But he didn’t know what assuming that would accomplish, so he’d move forward the only way he knew how, and he’d take what came and sort it all out as he went.

Thinking about it all made his head hurt.

Literally.

Harry paused to reach up and rub his head. When his hand brushed over his scar, he found it stung.

And then he pulled his hand away and it was stained with blood.

“Evans,” he heard a voice say, but Harry couldn’t focus on it. He spun around dizzily to see Tom Riddle. “How was your first day of classes?” he asked.

“Fine,” Harry managed to grit out before the pain compounded. He couldn’t describe it, but it felt a bit like his brain was trying to slam itself out of his head.

He fell to his knees. The pain was indescribable. Worse than the pain from any tantrum that Voldemort had thrown, worse than any use of Legilimency on his mind.

And Harry could barely think, but the part of him that was could only wonder why?

“Evans?” he heard Tom say.

Harry fell from his knees onto his side, still clutching his head. He could feel the sticky-slick of blood under his hand and he let out a groan.

“Harry?” a voice said.

Harry, though, was gone. At that moment he’d slipped away— the world around him turning to black.

Then, Harry was floating.

Then, from somewhere Harry couldn’t see in the vastness of nothing and nowhere he now seemed to be, came a whispered voice.

Harry Potter,” it said. And then it, or something or someone else, let out a high pitched and unending scream.

*

When Tom had seen Harry on his way to the Great Hall for dinner, he had of course decided to take the opportunity to check up on him.

Tom had been in his own classes all day, having a tight schedule, and hadn’t seen the other boy all day.

But now he found himself kneeling besides one Harry Evan as he writhed on the floor, bleeding from a strange jagged headwound.

And now, Tom had idly thought earlier about the idea of Harry Evans dying in an accident, but now as the other boy’s body stopped struggling and went limp on the floor in front of him, Tom felt very differently.

And Tom, frankly, wasn’t sure what to do.

But he was a prefect, so he had to do something, didn’t he?

And this was Harry.

But before he could decide, he heard the loud footfalls of someone running across stone. He turned and looked up to see that Alphard Black was sprinting down the hallway towards them.

Because of course he was.

“What happened?” Alphard asked as he arrived at where Tom was knelt over Harry’s body.

“His head is bleeding, and he collapsed,” Tom said, and then, finally coming to his senses, “I need to get him to the infirmary.”

“I’ll take him,” Alphard said, drawing his wand.

“I’m the prefect,” Tom said, although it sounded too petulant to his own ears.

“If you want to help, run ahead and let Madame Vale and let her know there’s a student in need of a nurse,” Alphard said, sounding irritated.

“Oh my,” a gasp came from behind them, and Tom turned to see Lucretia standing behind them, her hands covering her mouth in shock.

“What happened, Alphard?” she asked as she rushed over, and Tom found himself being brushed to the side.

“We need to get him to the infirmary,” Alphard said. Lucretia nodded, and pulled off her robes, quickly transfiguring them into a stretcher. Alphard gently levitated Harry’s body onto the stretcher, and then levitated the stretcher as he stood up.

Tom could only watch as it unfolded. He felt so helpless, watching them so efficiently spring into action while Tom had been so stunned and shaken. Tom didn’t want to ever be the kind of person that felt stunned and shaken and helpless. But yet, he found himself looking down at his hands to see them trembling. He quickly balled them into fists and quickly stood up from where he still knelt on the ground.

It was too late though, because as quickly as they came, both Blacks had rushed off in the direction on the infirmary, Harry’s unconscious body floating along ahead of them.

And Tom stood alone in the empty hallway.

He looked down at the ground where Harry had been a moment before and then back down the hallway where Alphard and Lucretia had disappeared with him.

On the floor where a couple potions books that Harry must have been carrying.

Carefully, Tom picked them up and inspected them. There were two potions books, but also a book on curse breaking. Tom opened that one.

Property of Cygnus Black” was scrawled in the cover.

He tucked them under his arm and followed in the direction of the infirmary.

*

Harry woke up to find himself in the infirmary.

It was such a familiar place for him to wake up disoriented, for the first few minutes it did not even occur to him that he wasn’t just another day in his life in 1990’s Hogwarts.

In fact, he didn’t remember where and when he really was at all until he rolled over to see a Alphie Black sitting in the bed next to his reading a book.

“Ah good,” he said, turning to look at Harry. “You’re awake.”

Not exactly the concerned and relieved greeting he was used to from the friends he’d found waiting at his bedside over the years.

“I’m not sure if how unconcerned you seem is a good sign or an insult,” Harry said.

“Well, you’re still alive, clearly, aren’t you? What’s there to be worried about now?”

Harry personally, as the memory of what happened that caused him to wind up here wove itself back together in his mind, had a lot to be worried about.

“Well, I guess I could have like cancer or something,” Harry said, because he didn’t know if he should, or if he even could, tell Alphard even a dialed back version of what had happened.

And all the things it could mean that Harry couldn’t even begin to imagine, none the less figure out even how to figure out.

“I assume that’s some kind of muggle disease,” Alphie said.

Harry made a small noise in his throat to confirm, but as the overwhelm of it all settled in, he couldn’t bring himself to continue the banter.

“Shouldn’t you be in the dorms?” Harry asked instead. “What time is it? You must be cutting curfew.”

“It’s only half nine, you were only out for a few hours. I imagine the sleep could only do you good,” Alphie said. “And Dippet said I could stay.”

“Dippet was here?” Harry asked, now wondering what had happened after he had lost consciousness.

“And Dumbledore,” Alphie said. “Thankfully I think, because Madame Vale was just about ready to send you to St. Mungos and probably put the castle into lock down, with your bleeding cursed scar and everything, and Dippet was about to sign off on it, but then Dumbledore came in and pulled them aside and had some kind of hushed conversation and then Madame Vale looked at you with these really pitying eyes and that was kind of that.”

“Wait, what?” Harry said, not understanding, well, any of that. He could imagine perhaps Dumbledore had told them something along the lines of whatever it was exactly Dumbledore thought he understood about Harry’s past, but was hardly more than conjecture on his part.

“Well, we brought you in unconscious with this bleeding cursed gauge in your head, and she assumed you must have been attacked,” Alphie said.

“What do you mean, cursed?”

“That thing,” Alphie said, “On your head? I hadn’t asked about it yet, because I’m polite like that and you seemed insecure about it and all, hiding it with your hair so no one can see it most of the time. I only saw it when you lay down and your hair falls off your head. But surely you know that you have this giant jaded scar on your forehead?”

Harry reached up to put a hand on his forehead. It was covered with a bandage.

He in all honesty hadn’t thought much about his scar since arriving. It just, well, didn’t seem particularly pressing or relevant here.

It seemed now that those were very wrong assumptions though.

But the thing was, it’s not even like he was purposefully trying to hide it. Of course, it’s not like he wanted questions, it probably would have made sense for him to keep it hidden, but well, it’s not like he had any kind of hair gel to style his hair off his forehead right now anyway. And he didn’t know when he’d be in a position where he had money again and could think about buying things like that. But he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to spend a ton of time staring in the mirror and contemplating his appearance anyway, so he hadn’t really considered it.

His head had hurt when he’d gotten here, but he’d assumed that was just a side effect of dying. It hadn’t occurred to him that it might be a something else. That maybe the Horcrux was still in his head. Or it wasn’t, and when it had been ripped out damage had been done.

 “Yeah, but what do you mean cursed?” Harry repeated.

“Madame Vale ran some tests,” Alphie said, “And said there are traces of dark magic. But because it was bleeding, I think she thought you must have been attacked, cursed by someone within Hogwarts. I think Dumbledore must have told her and Dippet that it isn’t a new scar though, he must have noticed it when he was with you earlier. Then they asked me what happened, and I told them that you collapsed, and that Riddle had found you.”

“And Dumbledore didn’t think that it was possible Tom had attacked me?” Harry asked.

“Oh no,” Alphie said. “Tom showed up right about then, and Dumbledore questioned him. His story seemed in line, he was just stalking you and you happened to collapse, unrelated to any action of his. Did Tom attack you?”

“Oh, no, I was just curious,” Harry said.

“He brought you books back, by the way,” Alphie said, gesturing to the small stack of books on the table besides the bed. Harry turned and picked them up.

“The book you leant me isn’t here,” Harry said.

“Huh,” Alphie said. “Curious.”

“I’d barely started it,” Harry said.

“Even more curious,” Alphie said.

Harry looked up at his friend.

“Why?” Harry asked.

“That book belonged to my many times great grandfather, Cygnus Black. He was very brilliant, very eccentric, quite a bit mad, and died very young. He left notes in the margins. I thought you’d find them interesting. I imagine Tom will too, although he might not have the discretion that I’d expect from you.”

At the implication of Alphie’s words, Harry closed his eyes and let out a groan.

“Don’t worry,” Alphie said. “I have other books for you to borrow that are far more interesting. That one I think he read towards the end of his life; I mostly gave it to you for the book not the notes—they’re mostly incomprehensible.”

But Harry knew you didn’t need to really understand margin scribblings to end up nearly killing a classmate with the knowledge held there.

He knew history tended to repeat itself, but how was that far when Harry was now living in what once was history?

“I’ll get him to give me the book back,” Harry said, reassuring himself probably more than Alphie.

“I’m sure you will,” Alphie said. “After he’s finished with it.”

Harry let out another groan.

“Perhaps now would be a good time for me to go find Madame Vale and see if she can get you some dreamless sleep.”

Harry just sunk down in his bed with a sigh.

*

Tom had missed dinner by the time he’d left the infirmary and had instead started his prefect rounds.

He had followed Harry and the Blacks to the infirmary, lagging behind as he’d started flipping through Black’s book and made it there just in time to be questioned by a suspicious Dumbledore who seemed to be ruling out his suspicion that Harry’s state was Tom’s fault.

Tom though had been deemed innocent though, and Dippet and Dumbledore had left, ushering Tom with them. Alphard for some reason had been given permission to spend the night with Harry. He’d given some plea about how disorienting it would be for Harry to wake up in the infirmary all alone that Dippet and Dumbledore had bought into.

So Tom had left, making a point to return Harry’s textbooks first though, although he kept the book on curse breaking, having carefully stuck the more ancient text into his robes before entering the infirmary.

And now, instead of patrolling, Tom was sitting in a window up on the fourth floor of the castle that overlooked the lake while he had started reading the book.

“Riddle,” a soft voice said suddenly, and Tom did his best not to startle. He looked up quickly though to see none other than Emmaline Selwyn walking down the hall towards him. “I’ve come to relieve you from your rounds,” she said. “I see you’ve been taking them very seriously.”

“Ah,” Tom said, closing the book quickly and standing up. “Thank you.”

“Any trouble this evening?” she asked.

“No,” Tom said harshly, which was true considering he hadn’t seen a student since starting his rounds—although he hadn’t been looking. “I’ll see you around, Selwyn.”

As Tom turned on his heel to go back to the Slytherin dorms so he could continue with his reading, Emmaline called out.

“Tom,” she said. “About what you were talking about with Malfoy earlier— I think I may have some information that you may find… desirable.”

At that Tom froze and then turned around slowly.

He’d nearly forgotten in the chaos of the evening and the excitement of his new book.

“What is the price for such information?” he asked cautiously, trying to appear mostly uninterested.

“Hm,” she said, seeming to seriously think about it. “Well, I wasn’t going to ask for anything, but since you offered,” she said with a glint in her eye that Tom didn’t like.

It seemed that despite her previously documented misgivings, Emmaline Selwyn was still definitely a Slytherin.

Tom glared at her in response.

“I think I just like the idea of you owing me a favor,” she said with a smile.

“And how would you know that I’d keep my word in such a thing?” Tom asked. Because Tom didn’t intend on keeping any promise he made to Emmaline, but he had to imagine now that she knew that. Unless she really was so naïve after all, but Tom had a sinking feeling he’d be foolish to hope.

“I suppose there are oaths and contracts we could make, but I think they’d be redundant.”

“Why?” Tom said, his voice dangerous. “And I’m sure I there are other sources I can turn to for such information.”

“Because,” she said. “There are many things that you don’t know, Tom Riddle, and will never unless someone tells you. So much knowledge among Wizards in not carried through books that you can purchase at Flourish and Blotts. It’s passed down orally, kept in diaries and rare texts that all other editions of are long since gone. And if you can’t prove yourself trustworthy in certain circles, you will fall behind and be forgotten. You will never learn the secrets and magicks that make or break you as a wizard,” she said, her tone serious in a way that Tom found beyond unsettling. “And your friends may not be as loyal to you as you think. You can’t expect to so openly resent people and for them to not grow to resent you back, don’t you think?”

Tom narrowed his eyes. He did not like these things she said at all, mostly because they carried a weight of absolute truth that he found deeply unnerving.

But it was because of how unsettled this whole ordeal was, Tom’s decision was made.

“Fine,” he said. “I accept the terms. Now, what do you have to tell me?”

“Have you ever read The Tales of Beetle the Bard?” she asked.

“That’s a children’s book isn’t it?” he asked. “I believe I may have skimmed it once. I don’t have much interest in fairy tales.”

“It’s not all fiction,” Emmaline said. “Do you remember ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’?”

“Are you going to give me a riddle to send me on a scavenger hunt, or are you just going to tell me?” he asked impatiently.

“I’ll take that as a no, then,” she said. “Well, you should read it,” she said matter-of-factly. “And Gellert Grindelwald has the Elder wand. That’s a fact, not a rumor, to those in the know. But there are other rumors, that I’ll give you a taste of, about Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Rumors about a relationship that once existed between them, and bonds that tie them together. Some say that he’s unable to fight against Grindelwald because of it, others say he’s the only wizard powerful enough to stand a chance of defeating him. I don’t know the truth; these are only bits of things pieced together and passed over whispers and letters now turned to ash. But that’s what you don’t know, and what Malfoy would not tell you,” she finished, flicking a speck of lint off her robes and adjusting her collar.

Immediately, Tom had questions, but he knew Emmaline wouldn’t answer them. He’d piece together what it all actually meant—and what the Elder wand was—later

“Thank you,” he said instead. “That’s very helpful.”

Emmaline smiled.

“It’s no problem at all,” she said. “When I decide what I’d like from you, I’ll be sure to let you know. Perhaps we could make this an ongoing agreement, if you find that there is more you need to know later on.”

“I’m sure I’d be happy to accommodate any request that you make,” he said through gritted teeth encased in a polite smile. “But I doubt your services will be necessary moving forwards.”

Emmaline just continued to smile at him though. Tom resented it. The things he could do to wipe that smile off her face.

“I think it would do you well to not write people off just because they don’t meet the image you have in your mind of what makes a person valuable,” she said. “That kind of thinking is the kind of thing that makes a person susceptible to a downfall.”

“Goodnight, Selwyn,” Tom said, turning away from the girl and back towards the direction of the dorms.

“There’s a copy of Tales of Beetle the Bard in the house library!” she called out after him.

Tom said nothing and continued on his way.

He had so much reading to do.