Riddle was a brilliant man; even Dumbledore would admit to that. So when his spy was able to return to him with the required information he played it safe. It was very late when he and Peter approached the Potter home. All the lights were out, and they were all probably sleeping, secure inside their secret. As it was, the two were able to quietly enter the home and proceed upstairs after a quick sweep of the ground floor, and James and Lily were placed under spells to prevent them from waking. He was there to deal with his prophesied foe, not indiscriminately kill fellow magicals.
The children were in the nursery. He almost smiled when he saw that one of them, the one with green eyes, had escaped his crib and was halfway to the next room. Such a pity a child had to die. “Peter, wait in the hall and keep watch. This will only take a moment.”
“Yes, my lord,” was the response, and Peter slipped back through the door.
Tom took a moment to close the door and looked back at the children. Twins, he understood. Since only the green-eyed child was actually awake it was to him he spoke quietly. “I don’t know which of you it is. I don’t condone killing children, but I cannot afford to have either of you lying in wait for the day when you’ll kill me. There is too much of importance I must accomplish. For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”
He lifted his wand, aimed, and spoke the fatal words.
He was not expecting the killing curse to rebound off the child’s forehead and rip free his soul. A few endless seconds later his body hit the floor with a thud and disintegrated, followed immediately by the clatter of his wand. The child had been knocked into the next room.
Peter arrived moments later and looked around, fear etching his features. He started when the ceiling started to crack and white dust began to rain down, and quickly snatched up Riddle’s wand, then fled.
And Tom, after a soundless snarl, followed him in spirit form, wanting to know where the little rat was taking his most prized possession. At least he was not exactly dead, even if his body was.
Albus shot awake when an alarm went off and rushed to clothe himself and fetch a number of items before hastening off to Godric’s Hollow. When he arrived the house was quiet, though he noted the roof seemed to be somewhat in disrepair. He shook his head and ran inside and up the stairs, pausing at the master bedroom, and waking James and Lily when it became apparent they were under a spell. They grabbed robes and wands and followed him to the nursery.
“Edward,” cried Lily as she rushed over to one of the cribs and began spelling debris away. James moved to help her and little Edward was soon safe in his mother’s arms, being fussed over as she dabbed at the blood on his face.
“Where is Harry?” James asked breathlessly, looking around and using his wand to vanish yet more debris as Albus used magic to shore up the ceiling. James was frantic when Harry was nowhere to be seen, but was quickly calmed when Albus pointed into the play room.
Harry was sleeping curled up next to some of the twins’ toys. James rushed in to pick him up and look him over quickly, then managed to almost smile. “He escapes every so often. It’s not the first time we’ve found him there when he should be in his crib.”
Albus nodded and smiled, then turned his attention to the set of adult-sized robes on the floor. “It appears that Voldemort was here. The alarm informed me of a death, and I think we can easily conclude who.”
Lily looked up. “Why didn’t we hear anything?”
“You were spelled asleep, my dear. It is obvious that Peter has betrayed you and must be found. But aside from that, judging by the amount of residual magic in this room, Voldemort came and attempted to kill the twins, and something went wrong.”
James shifted Harry in his arms and frowned. “Don’t think I don’t remember what that prophecy said, Albus. You said death, but is he really gone? And the only one in here was Edward, so. . . .”
Albus gave a mild shrug. “It appears, yes, that Edward has vanquished Voldemort. However, we have no way of knowing exactly what happened. Voldemort could have attempted to cast on Harry from this room. There is a clear line of sight.”
“No,” James denied. “It’s Edward who’s bleeding.”
“Albus, I can’t heal this,” Lily said into the silence. “It’s resisting my attempts.” And then she burst into hysterical tears, causing Edward to cry also.
James placed Harry in a crib and moved to wrap his arms around his wife. “Lily, it’s okay, we’re safe. It’s over. We’re fine, the boys are fine, there’s no need to cry.”
Albus mentally rolled his eyes; James never had been all that good at understanding people. “Why don’t we all go to Hogwarts so that Poppy can look everyone over. It may be that this atmosphere is tainted enough to prevent proper healing. And I’m sure you could both do with a night at the castle.”
Poppy was able to heal Edward’s wound with a bit of effort, much to the relief of a puffy-eyed Lily. Scans turned up nothing of particular interest, even for Harry, though Poppy was mildly concerned that the child had not awoken during any of the excitement. It was brushed off given everything else that had happened and easily forgotten.
Peter was tracked down several days later and immediately stunned from three sides. When questioned he tearfully admitted a number of things, such as how he had been recruited by Voldemort, unable to resist the man’s force of personality, and had willingly shared the Secret after gaining a promise that James, Sirius, and Remus would not be harmed.
Lily was particularly affronted by that, stepping up to slap Peter before James could get hold of her. Peter just sneered weakly at her and accused her of being a bad influence on his best friend. That time James was ready and kept her corralled within his arms.
“Albus, I think there’s something we should tell you.”
He gazed at James expectantly.
“I hesitate to do so, because, well . . . because. Peter is an animagus. If he’s sent to Azkaban. . . .”
“I see,” he said, absently casting a quick spell on Pettigrew. “I suggest that you and Sirius take care of some overdue paperwork, then, and pay any fines as necessary.”
James flushed and nodded.
Harry was a very quiet child. He was withdrawn, almost never spoke, and he showed no signs of accidental magic, unlike his brother. James eventually came to the conclusion that Harry was a squib, and that it would be best if he was raised as a muggle.
Lily, of course, had a few things to say about that. “I don’t care if he’s a squib. He’s my son. And you’re proposing we ship him off and forget about him?”
“Lily, my angel, you must consider this logically. A magical education is closed to him. Even if he can learn about this world, it will be of little use. He would be far better off learning how to make his way in the muggle world, and not be here to suffer from envy and jealousy. Or do you think we should raise a child who will be lost here, and who cannot get any position of meaning? Would you have him be a stock boy? Work on the Knight Bus? Even clerical positions require magic.”
She huffed and shook her head. “So you think he’ll be resentful, no matter what we do? Do you have that little faith in our abilities?”
“It’s not that. Think about how much you suffered for being different and how cruel people can be. And think about how people react to squibs. There are plenty out there who still believe the proper thing to do is quietly arrange an accident, even if the child in question isn’t part of their family.”
Lily sighed, unable to refute that. The magical world could be barbaric.
“We could place him with your sister. That’s the only family either of us has left,” James suggested.
“Are you insane? She hates anything magical!”
“And he’s a squib. If she knows that she’ll probably treat him well. And, if by some slim chance he does get a Hogwarts letter, we’ll bring him back to us.”
“He might surprise you,” she insisted. “Surely we can wait longer before making such a major decision.”
James shrugged. “He’s already had many opportunities. Not even when he’s been startled does anything happen. Edward has been showing magic for a year now, at right about the same age I did. Look, I’m not suggesting we abandon him. He’d be going to family and we would pay for his expenses. And when he’s old enough we will pay for additional muggle schooling and give him money to start his life with. He would also be old enough then, an adult, to decide if he wished to be a squib in the magical world or simply live as a muggle.”
“I want more time,” she said stubbornly.
“All right,” he said placatingly.
“And what does Albus have to say about this? Have you even mentioned it?”
“Not yet. It wouldn’t be proper to say anything until we’d discussed it.”
Lily set her hands on her hips and glared. “Well, that’s nice. And since we’re discussing Harry, how about I point out that you’ve already been ignoring him? Strangely, you never seem to have time for him. Is it because he’s a disappointment to you? Is that it?”
James went faintly pink. “I wasn’t aware I had been.”
She stormed out of the room to go find Harry and spend time with him.
A year later he had still shown no signs of magic, not even a hint, and Lily had come to the conclusion that James would never treat him the same as Edward. And it appeared that Harry was aware of the differences already. While he would come to her when he wanted something he would never go to James. He also had a tendency to avoid Remus and Sirius, but she could not bring herself to find that surprising.
Sirius was raised in a Dark pure-blood family, so his views on squibs were not a shock. And Remus, dear Remus, had such a weak spine. It was one of the things she intensely disliked about him. He was so obnoxiously grateful for the acceptance of James and Sirius that he refused to make waves, just like in school. She would have a full time job just keeping their level of influence down. She did not need a cocky, cruel son. James might have mellowed out, but. . . .
Albus was so disinterested in the whole matter it shocked her. He had vaguely mumbled something about some incident a century or so ago about how trauma had rendered one unfortunate girl unable to use her magic, then glanced at Harry and pronounced it was possible the boy was a squib. After that his eyes always seemed to pass over her son as though he was invisible.
In the end she decided that Harry would be better off with her sister, if only to prevent the menfolk from turning him into a bitter, resentful person. The magical world knew about the night that Voldemort had been defeated and it was already a struggle out in public what with how ridiculously people acted, squealing and shrieking any time Edward so much as was glimpsed.
She sat down with Harry one day, her heart heavy, and tried to explain. “Honey, I know you’re not really old enough to understand just yet, but there’s something I need to tell you. You’re going to live with my sister, your Aunt Petunia.” She paused for a reaction and received nothing, which made her shiver. “You know how your dad and I can make things happen? Edward can, too? It’s because you can’t that I’ve agreed to this. I want you to live a normal life, Harry, and you can’t do that here. People will treat you differently.”
She blinked when he nodded slowly, then sighed.
“You already see that, don’t you. I’m so sorry, love. I’ve written out a very long letter already which will explain things better that you can read when you’re older. And I’ll be writing so you know I’ve not forgotten you and that I love you.”
Two days later, on a Saturday morning, she brought Harry to her sister, barely holding back the tears. Petunia answered the door, the polite smile on her face immediately disappearing. “Lily.”
“Petunia. This is Harry. Harry, sweet, this is your Aunt Petunia.”
Harry gave a little nod and looked down the hallway.
“Come in,” Petunia said and stepped out of the way. “The sitting room is just through that door.” Once they were inside she asked, “And do you have time for tea?”
Lily choked slightly and shook her head; she couldn’t bear the idea of sitting there and pretending she wasn’t about to give up her little boy. “Harry is very well mannered and quiet,” she said rather inanely.
“And he’s not like you.”
“No,” she confirmed, even though she had already explained everything the day previous.
“Fine. Well, let’s not draw this out. I have the conditional custody papers and he’ll be enrolled in school with my Dudley come the end of the summer. If things change you may be sure I’ll let you know.”
Lily nodded and slipped off the sofa to kneel in front of her son so she could hug him fiercely. “I love you so much, Harry. You behave for your aunt, okay? And I want to hear good reports about school.” She started crying again as she kissed his forehead. After another squeeze she got up and raced off.
Harry looked at his aunt curiously, knowing that she thought magic was freakish, and wondered if her opinion could be changed. What his parents did not know, and he had never bothered to tell them, was that he struggled daily due to that night so long ago. He was not yet old enough to properly understand the results of that confrontation, but he knew he was different—just not in the way they had assumed.
Even though his parents were always happy to see demonstrations of Edward’s magic, something in him prevented the desire to do likewise. Each day he spent most of his waking time assimilating knowledge not his own, which was far more interesting than listening to his father babble about things, or suffer being treated like a fragile piece of glass. Oh, he loved his mother, but she did tend to act as though he might break at any moment. He did not feel quite the same about his dad, as that man frequently forgot about him.
“Well, Harry, I’ll show you to your room.”
He blinked and turned wide eyes on his aunt, then nodded. “Yes, please,” he said quietly.
Petunia got up and headed through the hallway door, leading him up the staircase. She started pointing at doorways, explaining what they were, eventually ending up pointing at the door to the right of the staircase, on the same wall. “That will be your room. Come along.”
The window therein faced the street. “I’ll have Vernon bring up your things when he gets home.” Petunia turned to face him and asked, “Were you given any chores by your parents?”
Harry shook his head, but said, “I liked the garden.”
Two years later Harry was accustomed to living in the muggle world and not seeing magic performed around him constantly. Petunia seemed to be quite pleased with his affection for plants and they would spend time together gardening, though he could not do nearly as much as she could. He was only just seven, after all. He neglected to mention he was encouraging her flowers in ways she would not approve of.
And she must hold some fondness for him as she had told Dudley to keep an eye out for him at school and around the neighborhood because Harry wasn’t as “robust”. Dudley was so chuffed by his mother’s words that he did his best to make sure nobody picked on his smaller cousin. Unfortunately, it made the both of them a bit unpopular.
Vernon, however, looked at Harry every day with disdain and suspicion, so in some respects Harry was living the same life, just with the roles switched around a bit. His uncle was also displeased that Dudley was sticking up for Harry. Vernon felt it was improper, and did not think his son should be so kind to the “freak”, nor would he listen to Petunia telling him to stop talking that way.
Harry’s mother wrote every so often, but her letters were short and generally vague. The older he got the more he felt she had no idea what to say, and mentions of magic were stringently avoided, perhaps to stave off any bad reactions on his part to having been excluded from that life. She never visited, either, and never explained why, but was always free with praise for his accomplishments in school. His father never wrote.
Things changed when Vernon got the shock of his life on Bonfire Night. Dudley performed accidental magic when one of the fireworks they were playing with went off funny and startled the boy. Vernon bellowed in anger and disbelief, Petunia shrieked, and Dudley thought it was funny once he had calmed down. Harry simply thought it was interesting that his aunt had produced a magical child for no apparent reason.
After that Vernon was even more vocal, frequently blaming Harry for the freakishness of his son, and took to being a bit rough with the both of them as Petunia looked on in consternation. However, when her husband went so far as to backhand Dudley the next time he displayed accidental magic, she phoned a solicitor.
In less than a week she had chucked Vernon out of the house and petitioned for divorce on the grounds of “unreasonable behavior”. Harry came to learn that her parents had left her quite a bit of money and paid for the house, so she felt justified in evicting him, and Vernon seemed to be happy to get away from freakish behavior. By April Petunia was single again with custody of her son.
It was only then that Harry decided to level with his aunt. They were puttering in the garden when he asked softly, “Have you ever seen Diagon Alley?”
She said nothing for some time, seemingly intent on waging war against weeds, then nodded. “Yes, when Lily went the first time.”
“I wonder where other places are like that.”
He looked up and shrugged. “You don’t seem to be so upset that Dudley has magic.”
Petunia sighed and sat back on her heels, brushing the dirt from her hands. “He’s my son, and I love him. I won’t be like Vernon. How can I be when my parents were so supportive of Lily. It could have been me.”
Harry opened his mouth and thought better of it, closing it again quickly.
She seemed to understand what he hadn’t said. “I know. I was very unkind to my sister. Sometimes, Harry, I think you’re too old for how young you are.” She gave him a piercing look. “Why are you interested in other places like Diagon Alley?”
He bit his lip, wondering if it was a mistake to talk, then said, “Because, aunt, if you were seen there with Dudley it might get back to my parents. How would they react knowing you have a magical son, when they left me here because none of you were?”
“You’re worried they’d take you away and put you who knows where?”
“I’m not sure what to say,” she admitted. “Does it bother you that Dudley has magic and you don’t?”
He shot a funny smile at her. “Nobody ever asked me, you know? They just thought I was a squib because I never did anything like Edward did. But I like it here. Mum treated me like your fine china and dad just ignored me. I never got the same kind of attention that Edward did, and that hurt. You treat me the same as you do Dudley.”
Petunia’s eyes widened slowly. “Harry, can you do magic?”
“So far as I know, yes.”
“Why—no, never mind. I know why, since you’ve been here. You’re a very smart boy. But why not around your parents? Why did you let them think you’re a squib?”
“I wasn’t sure back then,” he said simply. “And after I realized I could, I decided not to say anything. I didn’t want to go back to that house, just to see my dad suddenly decide I was worth knowing again. And mum never writes about magic. She talks about anything but. I know she cares about me, but she’s got her hands full keeping dad and his friends in line.” He shook his head. “I can’t get over the idea that everything would change again, and knowing I still wouldn’t be treated the same by my dad or his friends, because I’m not the special one.”
Petunia sighed again and reached over to briefly clasp his shoulder. “You know it’ll change when your letter arrives. You can’t avoid that. And they will take you back.”
He shrugged. “I try not to think about it. I read that letter mum wrote for when I was older, and I get why she brought me here, but I think she gave in too early. I don’t hate them, aunt, I just don’t want to go back.”
Having finally become strong enough, and having paid Lucius Malfoy a visit, Tom was back in a corporeal body. He had been somewhat upset so many years ago once he realized what his diary had become, but it proved to be handy in the end. Otherwise, he would not have lived that night, and he would not now be once more alive.
He knew from his occasional wanderings in spirit form exactly where that child lived, and decided to visit. Invisibly, of course. Years of pondering the mystery of the prophecy had also brought to mind a number of interpretations, one of which was backed up by certain information he had stumbled over quite unexpectedly.
He was surprised to see just how mature the boy was for his age. He was also shocked to see the child conversing one day with a snake while a woman and another boy looked on in fascination; he couldn’t remember their names. How on Earth was the boy favored enough to—
“He says he’ll help keep pests out of the garden, so long as we remember he’s around and try not to step on him.”
The woman stared at the snake for a minute, then nodded. “All right, Harry. Please tell him thank you.”
“That is so cool,” the other boy said. “I wish I could do that.”
Harry relayed the message, then said, “Maybe there’s different kinds?”
“Like other animals?”
Harry nodded, then shrugged to convey his ignorance. “Maybe some wizards can talk to birds or dogs or cats?”
The woman sighed. “I’m not sure how we could find out. I think you’re right, Harry, that we shouldn’t be seen in Diagon Alley.”
And why not? For that matter, why was the child here and not with his parents? He resolved to get one of them alone soon and find out, obliviating them afterward. He was given that opportunity a bare five minutes later, when the woman sent the children in to wash up. Her mind was completely unprotected, and bore ripe fruit. Ten minutes later he was away, to contemplate.
A week later he returned, this time as a snake. The other snake there only gave him passing attention, making mention of the deal he had made with the humans before ignoring him. That suited Tom just fine, as while he had no intention of actually catching vermin, he could speak with the boy without raising too much suspicion.
“You nest here?” he asked that morning as the child was weeding.
“The other nestling is your sibling?”
Harry shook his head and replied, “No, he’s my cousin,” and proceeded to explain what Tom already knew.
“Then why do you nest here?”
Harry seemed not to find it strange to be telling a snake details of his life, and readily did so. “I wish sometimes that my mother had just forgotten about me. I’m sure my father already has.”
Were he truly a snake he would not wonder about the strength of a mother’s love. Thus, he nudged the child again.
“She cried when she left me here,” Harry confided. “She barely writes. Each time I think it must be the last. I don’t want to go back there. I understand why my mother allowed me to come here, but I don’t agree, and I don’t want anything to do with my father.”
“You speak, though. You are magical.”
Harry shrugged. “So is Dudley.”
Tom paused to think for a while, absently flicking his tongue about, then said, “If you could become someone else, would you?”
“That would require another magic user, wouldn’t it? And then someone would know. They’d try to send me back.”
“Not necessarily,” he argued. “Do you remember what happened that night?”
“The night that changed everything,” Harry replied. “Yes.”
Tom raised his head in mild surprise. Everything? “Oh?”
“A man came. I wonder what would have happened if I had already made it into the play room. Maybe he would have gone after Edward first? But then, if things were meant to happen, Edward would be dead and I’d be treated like a little prince.”
“Would that be bad?”
Harry shrugged again. “Maybe. I’m happy being treated the same as Dudley. I might not feel that way if I were still there and it was Edward in my place, but that’s not how it is. I just know that Edward is being treated so well for something he didn’t do.”
“Why did you not tell them?”
“I couldn’t. There was too much stuff in my head. Talking was hard to do, an effort. I think I got some of the man’s mind.”
It was a good thing that snakes cannot gawk or gape. “I see. So you remember that night.”
The boy chucked another handful of weeds into a basket. “The man apologized before he tried to kill me. It wasn’t until much later that I was old enough to understand what he’d said. Aunt Petunia thinks I’m very bright, but I never told her just what’s in my head. Some of it doesn’t help much with muggle stuff, anyway.” Harry turned to face him directly, a strange look on his face. “Are you that man? Or his emissary?”
“I am a snake.”
The boy frowned at him. “James and Sirius are animagi. Why can’t the man be one? Why can’t you be him?”
“And if I were?”
“I’d like to know why you tried to kill me.”
Several hours later the garden was looking immaculate and Tom had learned through careful questioning that the child had knowledge far beyond his years, and even contained information learned only by those who had studied the Dark Arts. In other words, from his own mind to the child’s, a transfer of knowledge, causing the boy to become withdrawn from the outside world as his body tried to cope and adapt to and assimilate the ‘gift’.
“There was a prophecy,” he eventually stated. “It led me to believe, when I heard it, that you, your brother, or one other child might be my downfall. So I took steps to prevent that from happening.”
“What was it? And why do you speak to me now? Do you plan to try to kill me again?”
Tom paused a moment, then said, “During my exile I had much time to ponder the issue. I think perhaps I was meant to make the attempt, but it is not me who should fear you. I believe my prophesied part in all this is done. So no, I speak to you to clear the matter up, and to assure you I have no intent to try a second time for your death.”
Harry was quiet for some time, idly playing with blades of grass and staring at the sky. “Exile?”
“I lost my body that night, but I have regained it. I shall return to my original plan of action, while keeping an eye out for whoever the real danger is. To you, I mean.”
“I admit, I feel somewhat responsible. I am displeased at having been a plaything for Fate, but whereas I had no choice in that, I do in this. I did try to kill you. Therefore, I shall keep an eye out for the real danger to you.”
“And you’re a dark lord?”
He attempted to glare at the child, and failed. “I am. That does not mean I am devoid of emotion, or a code of conduct. Were I a lesser man I would try to kill you again simply because I failed the first time and was shamed.”
To his great surprise the boy giggled. “How can a snake sound so prim?” Harry asked, then giggled some more.