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The Story of a Soul and a Struggle for Control

Chapter Text

Tom knew the story. He knew all the events that had transpired to bring him to this point, even the ones that had happened when he was just a baby, too small to remember.

True, his grandfather had never sat down and told him how it happened from the very beginning, like a bedtime story, his grandfather wasn't the type. Tom had been forced to scavenge for information like a beggar, picking up crumb after crumb until all the events leading up to his servitude fit together to form one big picture.

It had started with his mother, who had abandoned her duties.

As a witch, and Marvolo's daughter, she should have been waiting for her father when he returned from prison with a warm meal and a subservient attitude. Instead, Tom's grandfather had returned to find the cottage coated with a thick layer of dust, and a note telling him she had run off with some muggle filth.

As a child, whenever Tom would hear Marvolo's venom-laced curses of Merope's memory, he would secretly wish that he too could abandon his duties and run away. He couldn't, though. He would never be able to escape from Marvolo. And besides, it was his duty to help purge the world of muggle vermin.

He was lucky to be alive, of course, even if it was a life of slavery. After all, Marvolo's initial plan had been to kill Tom. This was because Tom was the result of a sexual union between a pure-blooded witch and a muggle, and therefore a despicable abomination that was unworthy of life.

At least, that was what Marvolo liked to tell Tom. Personally, Tom thought it was because he was a physical manifestation of the fact that he had been defied and betrayed by his daughter.

During the initial plans to kill Tom, Marvolo had another issue to contend with- the death of the Slytherin line. His son Morfin was in Azkaban, and likely to die there, and his daughter Merope was also dead, her only descendant a filthy half-blood. This made Marvolo the last pureblood descendant of Salazar Slytherin, and as such it was his duty to make sure the Slytherin blood lived on.

Therefore, around the same time that Marvolo had learned of Tom's existence, he had begun researching methods to immortality.

His ancestors had many personal journals and manuscripts they had managed to keep hidden and safe from the Ministry's censorship of all things Dark Arts, and among those journals Marvolo began to discover the secrets of soul magic.

The journals had contained information about becoming immortal, but the method they named had one drawback- they would not bring the youth back into Marvolo's deteriorating old body, nor would they strengthen his weak magic. It was better than nothing, of course, and Marvolo set out to create a Horcrux. It was only symbolic, he decided, that the death to tear his soul would be the death of his grandson- Tom.

This next point in the story was the one that Tom liked to think about least. Marvolo had come for Tom to kill him, but as he grabbed hold of the baby by the hair, he felt a flash of pain shoot up his arm. The fact that at the age of a year Tom was able to use magic to defend himself was very impressive, magically speaking. Marvolo realized just how incredibly powerful Tom was, and didn't want that to go to waste. So instead of killing him, Marvolo cursed Tom.

Like Horcruxes, this spell was soul magic. Like Horcruxes, this spell also required the ripping of the soul. Unlike Horcruxes, though, the torn soul was not placed in a physical vessel. No, the piece of soul was bound to another soul.

It had been invented by a male Gaunt named Morpheus some century ago when his wife had made an attempt to kill him. One day she had had enough of the beatings and humiliation and had run at him from behind with a knife. Her murder attempt had failed, but Morpheus had learned the lesson and created the spell which tied a shard of his soul to his wife's.

It served a double purpose: first, as long as the wife was alive the husband could not die, making it impossible for the wife to kill the husband, and second, if the wife was of an especially meek and underdeveloped personality, the piece of the husband's soul inside could take control of her body and do as he wished with it.

An added bonus of the spell was that the two souls bound together could hear each others thoughts. So Morpheus's wife was completely unable to even plan an escape from her husband without him knowing about it and thwarting her.

For generations, the spell was simply used by Gaunt males to subdue their wives which was, in Marvolo's opinion, dreadfully uncreative and wasteful. Marvolo himself tied his soul to his grandson's. Thus, he could insure the continuation of his life and thus the continuation of the Slytherin line. In addition, he could use Tom's body, and therefore his incredibly powerful magic, to do with as he wished.

Suddenly, Marvolo had power. And Tom, at an age so tender he could not even remember it, became a slave.

Sometimes, Tom wished that Marvolo had just killed him that night and spared him this life of servitude. He only wished it very briefly, though, because the piece of Marvolo's soul inside him could read his thoughts and didn't like it at all when Tom thought that. And Tom didn't like it when Marvolo decided he had to be punished. He also stopped wishing for death because, though he constantly yearned to be free, Tom liked living.

He liked practicing magic in the secret of his little room in the orphanage. He also liked tormenting all the muggle children around him.

At first, he had struggled very hard when Marvolo took control of his body and began using Tom's own magic to hurt the other muggle children. He had cried and screamed inside his head, where only Marvolo could hear him, and he walked around feeling sick for hours when it was over.

Eventually, though, Tom learned through Marvolo's careful tutelage that they weren't really children like him. They were filthy animals that needed to be punished for soiling the world with their presence. Once Tom realized what a great service he was doing to the world by subjugating muggles and putting them in their place, he began taking pride in it. He felt an important sense of duty whenever he used his magic to root them to their place and make them hurt. But that didn't mean he stopped hating his grandfather.

Then came Hogwarts.

Tom loved Hogwarts with every fiber of his being. He loved the huge hall with all the good filling food. He loved the twisting corridors and secret passageways, full of mysteries to be uncovered, he loved the enormous library, containing more books than he could possibly read in a lifetime. More than anything else, though, he adored the magic classes.

Tom had always taken to magic like a fish to water. It came to him with an ease and a grace that was unmatched by any of the Hogwarts children, and it was his greatest source of pleasure.

There were other things in Hogwarts, though. Things that, in Marvolo's opinion, were far more important than turning hedgehogs into pincushions (even if that was a fourth-year spell and Tom had managed it within his first three months at Hogwarts). Things like mudbloods. Tom had never met or even seen a mudblood, but his grandfather was quick to teach him that they were just as bad as muggles. In the small bubble of the Slytherin house, where everyone believed the same thing, it was shockingly easy to remain ignorant. It was not until Tom's fifth year at Hogwarts that Tom even became aware of the fact that mudbloods were capable of having intelligent conversations, and being friendly and compassionate and all sorts of wonderful things that Marvolo had always attributed to wizards only.

Tom's fifth year. It had probably been the most pivotal and most traumatic period of Tom's life, and it could be attributed to two things happening.

The first was that Tom was beginning to gain strength, and had started to wrestle control of his body back from Marvolo. In general, when the soul-binding spell had been used, the torn soul would not be able to take control of its host's body unless the person the soul had attached itself to had an especially weak and submissive personality. Marvolo had tied his soul to Tom's when he was just a baby, and Tom was far too young at that point to have any kind of mental strength and personality of his own. It was no problem for Marvolo to enslave Tom's body.

Over the years, though, Tom had begun to become his own person. And it was during his fifth year at Hogwarts that he had managed to wrestle control of his body away from his grandfather for the very first time. The attempt had left him exhausted and weak, and Marvolo had soon seized control again, but Tom had been victorious, if only for a few moments. The age of fifteen is generally one of the least likely ages for a person to begin developing a strong and confident personality. Most people at that age are guided by social pressure and cripplingly insecure about their worth. Tom, though, was a brilliant prodigy and he knew it, and he had grown up hating his grandfather with every fiber of his being. He will to be free was iron in its determination, and he had never been stronger in his confidence or resolve. And for a few short moments, he had succeeded in breaking free.

What a tragic mistake.

Marvolo panicked once he realized that Tom was beginning to become stronger than him, and quickly took steps to insure that Tom's soul was permanently and irrevocably weakened. Tom, still not completely stronger than his grandfather, and weakened further through the fight with him, could do nothing to stop it.

He watched, trapped inside his own body, helpless, as Marvolo used Tom's body to kill, and then split Tom's soul and moved the splinter into a journal, creating a Horcrux.

And then he did it again. And again. And again.

As far as Marvolo was concerned, the Horcruxes served a dual purpose: they not only weakened Tom's soul to an extent to which it was too weak to fight Marvolo, they also guaranteed Tom's immortality, and therefore Marvolo's as well. As long as Tom's soul remained in the land of the living, so would Marvolo's.

By the time Marvolo felt safe enough in his control over Tom's body to stop creating Horcruxes, Tom's soul was split in six, and was mangled beyond recognition. Weakened, battered, and utterly powerless against his grandfather.

As time went by, Tom's hatred for his grandfather only grew, and he eventually also grew disillusioned with the concepts of blood purity Marvolo preached.

But he was weak, and Marvolo was strong, and as the decades passed, Tom began to think he would remain Marvolo's slave for all of eternity.

Until Harry Potter came along.

Chapter Text

Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts was not off to an auspicious start. It started with him getting his nose broken by Draco Malfoy, the git, and continued to get worse upon discovering that Snape was to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Therefore, receiving a note telling him to proceed to the Headmaster's office after the welcoming feast, provided him with a much needed distraction.

What could Dumbledore possibly want with him so early in the year? Optimistically, Harry hoped that this meant the Headmaster was finally ready to include him in the loop when it came to the fight with Voldemort.

He reached the gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster's office and glanced down at the note he had received. What was the password? Ah. "Skiving Snackboxes." It was good to see that Fred and George's legacy was not yet forgotten.

The gargoyle leaped aside and Harry climbed the moving staircase and knocked on the door. Dumbledore summoned him in and motioned him to take a seat.

"Good evening, Sir." Harry greeted him, carefully avoiding the eyes of the portraits of previous headmasters that adorned the walls. The last time Harry had seen them they had witnessed him throwing a frightful tantrum and trashing the Headmaster's office.

"Good evening, Harry. You must be wondering what I could possibly have to discuss with you so early in the year."

Harry nodded mutely.

Dumbledore leaned forward on the desk, staring earnestly at Harry. "I'm afraid I've come across some disturbing information. Nothing to be too concerned about, but there are some precautions that need to be taken."

"What kind of information?" Harry asked, half expecting to be told that he was too young to know.

"Apparently, the stunt with the Department of Mysteries wasn't the only way that Voldemort had planned to utilize your connection with him. Severus was not given the exact details, but he believes that Voldemort was looking for ways to curse you through your mental connection. He'd been hoping to use it as a way around the protection spells in Hogwarts that are keeping you safe.

"However, as you yourself recently testified, he has begun using Occlumency to keep you out. Whatever he experienced while possessing you in the Ministry scared him enough that he deemed his mental connection with you to be not worth the risk."

Dumbledore had told Harry that it was his love for Sirius that had hurt Voldemort and caused him to flee. Was that why Voldemort was afraid of his connection to Harry?

For a moment, Harry debated telling Dumbledore that he wasn't sure it was his love that had driven Voldemort out. At the time, through the searing pain, Harry had been sure he had heard a voice calling out "Harry!" and then, fainter, something garbled that might have contained the word "help". Then came the sensation of terror from Voldemort, and at the time, in his groggy state, Harry had been sure that it was the voice he had heard that caused the terror.

But no. After Harry's head had cleared from the pain he had come to the conclusion that the voice had to have just been his imagination. After all, neither Voldemort nor Dumbledore had spoken. There was no need to worry Dumbledore needlessly with hallucinations he had experienced while under terrible pain and stress.

So Harry nodded his assent, indicating Dumbledore should continue. Dumbledore smiled at him slightly and then said "Since, thanks to you, the original plan had been discarded, Voldemort has moved on to something thing else. Severus has discovered that Voldemort has tasked- he has tasked- well, a certain Death Eater with the mission of getting past the protections Hogwarts offers thus allowing him to kill you. We anticipate that he will try something along the lines of food laced with mind-altering potions, or perhaps cursing some possession of yours."

Harry frowned. "Wouldn't he have to get past the Hogwarts protections in the first place in order to spike my food or curse my stuff?"

"Well, Harry, you must remember that some Death Eaters have children here at Hogwarts."

If Harry hadn't been convinced before that Draco Malfoy was working for Voldemort, he definitely was now.

He narrowed his eyes, and Dumbledore patted his hand reassuringly. "Now, as for the idea of spiking your food- the food the House Elves provide does not leave their sight at any time, so as to avoid any incidents of pranking or love potions, so you need not start carrying your own flask around a la Alastor Moody."

Harry grinned.

"As for bringing you in contact with cursed objects, Hogwarts does have built in alarms that should alert me to the casting of dark magic, but if there is one thing I've learned during all my years as a teacher, it is to never estimate the creativity of a student when trying to circumvent the rules. I feel there is still reasonable need to worry. Therefore, I am giving you this."

Dumbledore reached into his desk and pulled out a heavy book bound in black leather. "Secrets of the Darkest Arts." Harry read aloud from the cover.

"Harry, the magic described in this book is vile. It is so dark, that I felt compelled to remove it even from the library's Restricted Section and keep it safely locked in my own office. I would never give this book to someone whose intentions I wasn't sure were pure, because in the wrong hands this book can do terrible damage.

"Unfortunately, I believe that if Voldemort is to attempt anything on you, it will be a curse or a ritual described in this book. This book should give you the knowledge necessary to recognize and avoid any dangerous objects that fall into your hands. Therefore I feel it necessary to give this book to you, with the strict understanding that other than Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, no one is to touch this book or even know of its existence."

"I'll keep it hidden under every single disguise and privacy spell I know." Harry promised. And he knew a great many thanks to his attempts to hide the DA from Umbridge the year before.

"Wonderful. And Harry- I know you are not the most, well, studiously inclined teen in this school-" Harry blushed. "-but I trust you understand the importance of familiarizing yourself with the detection spells in this book until you are proficient in them to the highest degree?"

Harry nodded solemnly.

"In that case, my boy, I shall bid you goodnight. Oh- and Harry? I think you will find the chapter on Horcruxes particularly interesting."

And with that parting remark, Dumbledore motioned Harry out the door.

It was three in the morning when Harry finally finished reading the chapter on compulsion and mind-control spells and rituals, and felt satisfied with his understanding and ability to cast the detection spells that would reveal anything untoward. Of course, Harry had no way of knowing for sure that he had cast the spells correctly without trying it on a cursed object, but he was about as sure as he could be given the circumstances.

Satisfied, Harry now turned his attention the the chapter on Horcruxes. The one that Professor Dumbledore had hinted was important in some way.

Forty minutes later found Harry staring at the book in his lap with wide eyes, nausea whirling in his stomach. He had finally, thank Merlin, reached the end of the chapter, and just on time since he didn't think he could stomach reading a single page more of such horrific rituals. There, at the bottom of the last page of the chapter, was a handwritten note in spindly writing that Harry recognized as Dumbledore's.


Harry hurriedly threw the book into his bedside drawer and hurled every locking and disguise spell he knew at it. He wanted no additional knowledge of what was written in that book. Besides, he had a lot to think about.

Nearly four months had passed since the night in which Harry had first opened 'Secrets of the Darkest Arts' and Christmas time was upon them. Harry had developed the habit of throwing every single complex detection spell he knew at anything he found even remotely suspicious. At first, his behavior was viewed as overly paranoid by his house-mates, and had sparked the rumor that he was apprenticing with Mad-Eye Moody, but Harry figured he was better safe than sorry. Besides, Harry had stopped caring what people thought of him last year.

His caution had payed off twice since the beginning of the year. The first time, his spells had detected love potion in a chocolate frog offered to him by Romilda Vane. The second and more serious time the detection spells came in handy had been when Katy Bell had attempted to present Harry with a necklace on the road back from Hogsmeade. The standard spells Harry had become accustomed to casting had revealed a very nasty curse, and in the ensuing investigation it had been discovered that Katy had been placed under the Imperius curse while at The Three Broomsticks.

After that, Harry felt far more justified in using the detection spells he had learned on all the objects around him, though he still tried to do it unobtrusively in order to avoid the paranoia jokes.

As for the information about Horcruxes, Harry had tried to bring the subject up with Dumbledore. The Headmaster had implied that he had some ideas as to what the objects that had been made into Horcruxes could be, but seemed oddly determined that Harry should figure it out for himself via memories Dumbledore occasionally decided to share with him, rather than simply telling Harry outright.

Harry had found the memory of Tom Riddle as a little boy especially fascinating. The memory gave the impression that Tom Riddle had been a merciless psychopath even at the tender age of ten, convinced of his own superiority over muggles and sadistic to the extreme.

Harry had found that extremely curious, as it did not mesh at all with his own impression of Tom Riddle. When Harry had met Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets, the boy had gone on about his duty to the wizarding world to wipe out the mudbloods, but he hadn't seemed especially convinced in what he was saying. In fact, his stubborn insistence that he had truly meant to kill his victims and that all the petrifications had been mistakes, had given Harry the impression that he didn't believe what he himself was saying.

And then there was the fact that he had been unable to cast the Killing Curse at Harry, and was forced to ask the basilisk to kill Harry for him. At the time he had claimed that the only reason the spell didn't work was because he was using Harry's wand, which refused to act against its master, and that he was perfectly capable of summoning up the hatred to cast the spell, but it had seemed as if he were reassuring himself just as much as he was Harry.

Lastly, the thing that had done the most to convince Harry that Tom Riddle used to be a human capable of empathy was that he had been unable to watch as Harry died. He had had his back turned to Harry, and was shaking in what Harry suspected were silent sobs, which is what had allowed Harry to get his hands on the fang and stab the diary without being stopped by Riddle.

All in all, Harry's impression at the time had been that Tom Riddle had been a decent enough human being at some point, or, at least, not a complete monster, but had been brainwashed, probably by his peers in Slytherin house. At some point something had to have made him into the evil megalomaniac he became, but at sixteen, Harry felt that Riddle had not yet reached the point of no return. Harry had actually felt bad about destroying the diary, but he had had no choice if he wanted to save Ginny. Besides, he had told himself later, he had just destroyed a memory. It wasn't like he had killed an actual person.

Still, he had always regretfully thought that with a bit of time and effort Tom Riddle could have been brought around to the light side. The memory Dumbledore had showed him of Riddle at the age of ten seemed to contradict that, though. There was sadism and arrogance in the ten-year-old Riddle that Dumbledore had met that Harry had never encountered in the version of him at the age of sixteen.

When Harry brought up this curious point with Dumbledore that headmaster had seemed puzzled. Dumbledore claimed that Riddle had always been unemotional and cold, and that his memory of Riddle at the age of sixteen did not collaborate with Harry's. He had seemed very intrigued by Harry's description of Tom's uncertainty when talking about his duty to wipe out the mudbloods, as well as Harry's theory that the he had petrified his victims on purpose because he lacked the stomach to kill them.

One of the things Harry appreciated about Dumbledore was the fact that he was treated seriously. Dumbledore had not scoffed at his theories or dismissed them outright, though he did say that they completely contradicted his own impression of Riddle. Rather, he had discussed the matter with Harry at length, though at the end of the evening he had to admit that he had no solution to the mystery of the two different versions of Riddle.

Since that meeting, Dumbledore had shown Harry a few more memories, ending in the modified memory of Professor Slughorn. Harry had been given the mission of obtaining the uncensored memory from Slughorn as Dumbledore hoped that it would confirm his speculations that Voldemort had split his soul in seven.

The last time Harry was in Hogsmeade he had bought a rather expensive bottle of whiskey to give the old professor as a Christmas gift in the hopes of softening him up as well as hopefully getting him drunk enough to spill something. On Christmas morning, however, Harry's plans were derailed by a rather unusual gift he had received that had served in driving all thoughts of Horcruxes from Harry's mind for a while.

In addition to the expected presents from Hagrid, Ron, Hermione and Mrs. Weasley, Harry had received quite a few presents from fans and admirers. The experience of receiving heart-shaped cards and expensive chocolates was a new one to Harry, though considering the fallout of being declared The Chosen One by the Daily Prophet, he supposed it wasn't that surprising. He was viewed as a macho hero nowadays, at least for the time being.

Among the unusually large pile of presents, the one that stood out most was a large mirror, taller than Harry himself and ornately carved. The card that had come with it had read: 'Harry, Happy Christmas! -a secret admirer'.

Ron had laughed himself silly at the note before heading downstairs with a box of chocolates chortling "Secret admirer!". Once he was gone, Harry had the dorm room to himself, and he took the opportunity to cast his usual detection charms at the stash he had obtained. One of the boxes of chocolates was laced with love potion, and one, which Harry suspected was from Fred and George, contained a spell that as far as Harry could tell would have caused his nose to grow to about five times its normal size. Last was the mirror, and Harry gasped in shock as a sickly orange light shone from the mirror, indicating something far less innocent than a love potion.

Running to his dresser and taking great care not to brush against the mirror in the process, Harry grabbed 'Secrets of the Darkest Arts' and began paging through it. After shooting a few more spells at it, and searching the index in the back, Harry was pretty sure that he had figured out Voldemort's plan. The Gemina Speculis ritual.

It was a method devised for cursing an enemy protected by powerful protective enchantments. If the desired object of the curse resided in a place which, like Hogwarts, had protective measures in place to detect dark and cursed artifacts, the ritual worked as a way around that. The name Gemina Speculis was Latin for twin mirrors, and it was developed on the basis of a set of mirrors of the sort Sirius had gifted Harry last Christmas. Harry's throat tightened for a moment at the reminder.

Apparently, twin mirrors had been the standard method of quick communication before the development of the much cheaper floo powder caused paired mirrors to fall out of fashion. The runes that were carved on both mirrors transmitted sound as well as visuals from one mirror to another, but with some subtle tweaking, it could be used to transmit something far more sinister.

The idea was that a dark curse would be placed on one of the mirrors. The second mirror would be completely curse free, and thus would be easy to get past any protective enchantments. On the night of the full moon, if the right ritual was performed, the curse would be transmitted between mirrors. Then, the second mirror would also be cursed and the next person to touch it would die. Harry had to give it to Malfoy, or Voldemort, or whoever had come up with an idea- it was a brilliant way around Dumbledore's protections.

Fortunately for Harry, the ritual had to be performed under the full moon, so he was in no danger in the near future. Just in case, Harry flipped to the beginning of the chapter and reread it, to make sure the mirror posed no immediate threat to him or his roommates. Coming across the instructions for performing the ritual, Harry frowned.

In order for the connection between the mirrors to be strong enough for the curse to pass through, communication between the two mirrors had to be activated three days in advance. Theoretically, Voldemort would have to open the mirrors and allow visuals and sounds to pass between them three days before the full moon.

First, that meant that Voldemort would be seeing everything in his dorm room for three days, which was a very creepy thought, but Harry ignored it in favor of a more important question- how did Voldemort expect Harry not to notice when his mirror suddenly changed from showing him his own reflection to showing Voldemort's side of the connection? Perhaps Harry had been wrong about the ritual Voldemort was planning on using?

A quick examination gave Harry his answer- some of the runes along the edge of the mirror, meant to connect it to its partner, had been sanded off.

Voldemort was planning on using the ritual and activating the mirrors three days in advance. To get around the problem of Harry seeing through his mirror he had removed the runes that would have allowed Harry to see what was happening on Voldemort's side. With those runes gone, only Voldemort could see Harry, and not the other way around.

Then, Harry had a brilliant idea. He could use Sirius's mirror as a reference to figure out which runes were missing and re-carve them. That would allow Harry to see what was happening on Voldemort's side of things, effectively letting him spy on the dark side. And the fact that Voldemort himself had given Harry the perfect spying tool was the best part of it!

The only problem that remained was how to carve those runes on his own mirror without Voldemort noticing. After all, for all Harry knew, Voldemort could be spying on him from the mirror right now without him knowing. He nervously pushed Secrets of the Darkest Arts behind him, so it wouldn't be visible from the mirror upon realizing that. For the plan to work it was vital that Voldemort not realize what Harry was doing, which was a tricky requirement, considering Harry had no way of knowing if or when he was being spied on.

Harry could be clever when necessary, though, and he soon thought of a solution. According to the charms syllabus, the sixth year students were scheduled to learn glamour and illusion spells in two months, so why couldn't Harry study ahead a bit? He would cast a spell to make it look as if there was no one there or as if he were sleeping, so if Voldemort ever checked to see what was going on he wouldn't see anything to raise his suspicions, and that way Harry could use the mirror to spy on Voldemort. He might very well reveal valuable information in front of the mirror without suspecting that Harry was on to him. It was certainly worth a try.

Of course, Harry could always just go to Dumbledore and tell him what he knew, and allow him to do the spying instead of Harry, but he didn't want to give Dumbledore an opportunity to keep information from him. Considering his role in the war, Harry thought he deserved to know what was going on, and resolutely decided to keep this new information to himself.

If he gleaned any important information, Harry resolved, he would tell Dumbledore he had gotten it in a vision. The mirror would remain his little secret.

It was past midnight, and Harry was still awake in his bed. He had mastered the illusion spell with one week to spare before the full moon, and had immediately cast it on his bed to make it look like he had gone to sleep. Now, he was free to cast a spell on the mirror to prevent anyone from touching it, without Voldemort being any the wiser. It wouldn't do for one of his roommates to accidentally touch the mirror after the ritual was cast and get cursed.

Then came the next part of the plan: copying the runes from Sirius's mirror to Harry's so as to allow Harry to see what was going on on Voldemort's side.

Unfortunately, Harry had smashed the mirror in a fit of anger and pain last summer after Sirius's death. The pieces were still stored in his trunk, and Harry was glad he had pulled the mirror out soon enough that the pieces of the mirror were not yet ground to dust. All that remained was the tedious job of piecing shards back together.

Harry dearly hoped he could get it done in time for the full moon, so that he could spy on the ritual and make sure Voldemort was fooled by his deception.

Getting absorbed in his work, Harry lost track of time, and it was three in the morning when he let out a whoop of triumph, only to quickly quiet down when Ron let out a big snore and stirred a bit. He had completed the puzzle and had pieced Sirius's mirror back together.

Taking painstaking care, Harry knelt before the mirror and used his wand to carve out the runes on the frame of it as they were seen on Sirius's mirror. Forty minutes and an aching arm later, and the work was complete. Tentatively, nervously, Harry straightened up and glanced at the mirror to see what it reflected. It was no longer reflecting the sixth year Gryffindor dormitory.

It was slightly dark, but as Harry squinted at the image in front of him and recognized the chair and the patterned curtain at the window. He had had a vision of Voldemort and Rookwood in this room last year. It had worked!

Harry looked longingly over at Ron's bed, wishing that he could share his accomplishment with his best friend. But Harry could hardly tell Ron without telling Hermione, and Hermione would insist on telling Dumbledore. Harry was afraid that if Dumbledore knew he would confiscate the mirror from Harry, and he would be in the dark once more.

For now, the mirror would have to be only his to see. Positioning the mirror so that it was at the foot of his bed, and covered by the hangings of the four-poster, Harry gave it one last look before falling asleep. He truly felt as if he had accomplished something big, something important.

Harry figured he had about a week or two to still use the mirror for spying on Voldemort. One week until the full moon, upon which Voldemort would perform the ritual to transfer the curse to his mirror, and then he would only have a few days before Voldemort got suspicious about the fact that Harry had not yet touched the mirror and gotten cursed, and figured out that Harry knew and was spying on him.

Unfortunately, the room reflected in the mirror didn't seem to be in use very often, and it wasn't until the night of the full moon that Harry gleaned any important information.

Harry knew that Voldemort was sure to appear that night to perform the ritual, and he was prepared. He had cast the illusion spell that would made it look to Voldemort as if he were sleeping peacefully in his bed, when was actually sitting crossed legged on it, watching the mirror eagerly.

When Voldemort entered the room Harry smugly noticed that he was levitating a tray behind him on which were placed the horn of a manticore and the fang of a werewolf, two key ingredients in the required ritual. For once Harry had correctly anticipated Voldemort's plan before it was too late.

The tray also held a knife, which Harry knew would be used to cut Voldemort, since he needed to smear his blood on the rim of the mirror. He looked forward to seeing Voldemort cause himself unnecessary pain.

The man who fashioned himself the Dark Lord approached the mirror and smiled hideously, a look of arrogant smugness on his face. Harry's own face split into a smug grin at his deception.

Suddenly, a frown replaced the grin on Voldemort's face. He clutched at his head as if in agony and began to writhe. A tremor passed through his body, wracking his emaciated frame, and then subsided. Harry watched in shock as Voldemort straightened out and frowned at the mirror.

He looked different. not physically- his thin pail frame remained the same, as did the lipless mouth and flat nose. But he was wearing an expression Harry had never seen before. Voldemort always exuded an aura of malevolence and cruelty, so why did the face staring at Harry from the mirror look so sad? For a moment he seemed to Harry to look more like the victim of a terrible disease than a monster.

Then Voldemort straightened, and a look of flinty determination entered his eyes. He raised his wand and began incanting familiar words, waving his wand in complex patterns. Slowly, a dark shadow began to seep from the frame surrounding Voldemort. It seemed as if Voldemort was drawing the curse out of the mirror, though Harry couldn't fathom why he would do such a thing.

It looked like a very taxing process. Voldemort's whole body was tensed as if in pain, and little beads of sweat were gathering at his temples and trickling down his face. By the end of the process his arms were trembling with exertion, and his shoulders slumped with undeniable relief when with a last tug, the dark shadow of the spell disconnected from the mirror, hovering around his figure like a malevolent cloud.

The Dark Lord gulped, but then stared at the mirror, and, face wearing a flinty look of determination, pointed the wand at himself. The darkness had gathered itself at the tip of the yew wand, and with a jerk of the wand, shot out at Voldemort, engulfing his body and causing him to cry out.

Harry jumped out of his seat in shock, and stared at the floor, on which Voldemort's prone body was slumped. He wasn't dead- was he? No, that would be too good to be true. And besides, why would Voldemort kill himself? The thought was ridiculous.

Sure enough, a moment later a shudder wracked Voldemort's body for the second time that night, and the man leaped to his feet. The gentle look was now gone from his features, his mouth contorted in a snarl, eyes narrowed with malice.

When he spoke, Harry jumped, thinking he was addressing him and had somehow found out what he had done, but he wasn't even looking at the mirror when he snarled: "How dare you, you insolent boy?! I would torture you for this if I didn't need your body in a few hours! What in Salazar's name were you hoping to accomplish?"

There was a pause, and Harry wondered who he was expecting an answer from. Then he scoffed, as if hearing some ridiculous reply.

"Hoping for another thirteen years of reprieve, eh? You Idiot boy! what happened to your body that night at the Potter's was a reaction to a Killing Curse gone wrong, it doesn't happen every time you try to kill this body! You would have known this if you'd bothered paying any attention while I was learning about Horcurxes!"

There was another pause, then mocking laughter. "Well, your refusal to read 'that despicable book'" the last three words were said in a mocking tone of imitation- "was your downfall, you stupid child. Maybe you could have taken advantage of the first time you've managed to overpower me in months to do something a little more useful than cursing your own body. You should know that it is invincible against such a juvenile murder attempt. What caused you to suddenly try again now, after all this time?" there was a pause, then- "Answer me, boy!"

Then, Voldemort's red gaze turned to the mirror and he smiled cruelly in realization. "Oh, did you not like the plans I had for your precious boyfriend? What is it that makes you so protective of that little brat?!"

He paused again, listening for the answer. Then he laughed the familiar cold, high-pitched laugh that had haunted Harry in his dreams for years.

"NO ONE hates me as much as you do, Tom, not even your precious Harry Potter."

He approached the mirror, and stroked it, smiling. "It would do you well to stop entertaining these ridiculous fantasies of him freeing you from me. The only way I can pass on is if your own soul will also pass on to the afterlife, and I think I've made that task significantly impossible to accomplish. Potter will never be able to find all the little Horcurxes I made for you, never mind destroy them. And even if he did, your soul would die along with mine, so you'd never be able to enjoy your freedom."

He laughed the high-pitched, cold laugh again, and smirked at the mirror. "I will reapply the curse on the mirror tomorrow. Harry Potter will die next month, rather than this. Do you feel pleased now, Tom? Accomplished?"

He smiled cruelly into the mirror and left the room.

Harry remained on the dormitory floor, transfixed to the spot in shock.

Chapter Text

"Right, here was my first thought:" Harry told Ron and Hermione. They were sitting in a deserted corner of the common room, and Harry had just filled them in on the events of last night. "Voldemort has multiple personalities. It explains everything! Think about it: The evil one said that he can't die unless the other dies, and that's why he made the Horcruxes. Seven, if Dumbledore's right, which he usually is. It also explains why my impression of Tom Riddle from the diary was of an alright guy who was brainwashed by the dark side but was actually becoming disillusioned with it, and Dumbledore remembered him as always being this cruel psychopath. We'd met different personalities! And that's why there were so many lucky coincidences with the basilisk only petrifying students instead of killing them- the Tom personality kept on taking over from the Voldemort personality at the last moment and conjuring water, or summoning a camera."

Ron was nodding thoughtfully along with Harry, but Hermione was frowning. "Harry, I'm not sure that's how Multiple Personality Disorder works. Mind you, I don't know much about it, but I've never heard about one personality speaking out loud to a different one. And also- didn't Voldemort say 'he'll never destroy all the horcruxes I made for you'? Not us, but you. If they're both the same person doesn't that strike you as a little strange?"

"Well," Harry replied thoughtfully, "It might have been 'us' and not you, I'm not completely sure about the wording, I don't have an eidetic memory. Still, I'm pretty sure it was 'you'. So what do you think that means? That Voldemort isn't another personality but some kind of being that's possessing Tom?" Harry had considered this possibility too.

Hermione shrugged. "I've never head of any possession like the one you're describing either. Usually possession takes up a lot of energy and is only possible for around half an hour at most. And if the host is possessed for too long he'll eventually die. From what you're describing, this being has been controlling Tom Riddle since he was at least ten years old, it just doesn't make sense."

"Have you heard of anything like that, Ron?" Harry asked. He didn't doubt Hermione's extensive knowledge of magic, but sometimes Ron, having grown up in the wizarding world, knew of things that he and Hermione didn't. Not all the fact of the wizarding world were contained in Hogwarts Library.

The redhead crinkled his forehead, but finally shook his head. "Nothing relevant."

"Face it, Harry," Hermione said, "we're out of our depth here. You need to tell Dumbledore about this."

"Of course I'm going to tell Dumbledore about it." Harry replied irritably, "I can't in good conscience keep it quiet if Dumbledore might be able to save him. It's why I fessed up to you- there's no justification for keeping it a secret anymore."

Hermione gripped his hand briefly. "Don't worry, Harry. Dumbledore will know what to do. We'll save him." Ron nodded fiercely along with her.

"I certainly hope so." Harry replied grimly.

The scene he had witnessed in the mirror tortured him, it had kept him up all night. He had thought his connection with Voldemort was bad enough, but to be trapped by him- helpless as your body was used to commit heinous actions, to share a mind with him for years and years... It was unthinkable.

Harry silently vowed that whether Dumbledore could help or not, he would dedicate himself to freeing Tom.

Dumbledore had listened very solemnly to Harry's story. Then, he had requested Harry give him his memory of the incident so as to have the exact wording. Then, he had sat for a very long time with his fingers clasped, deep in thought.

Finally, he turned to Harry. "And what are your thoughts on this, Harry?"

"We have to help him." Harry replied, "Only, we'd first need to know exactly how he was being controlled by Voldemort, wouldn't we? And Hermione said it couldn't be regular possession."

Dumbledore smiled. "Miss Granger is a very knowledgeable young lady. Quite remarkably so."

"But you know more than her, don't you Sir? If there's anyone who would know what's going on, it would be you. So do you, Sir? Do you know how to fix it?" Harry asked desperately.

Dumbledore was silent for a moment, and then suddenly stood up, startling Harry.

"Stay right here, Harry, I will be back momentarily."

With that, he stood and, taking a key out of his robe pocket, opened one of the many cabinets in his office. Gripping the edges of the cabinet he pulled, and Harry stared as the opening became larger and larger until Dumbledore could step comfortably into it and close the door behind him.

He emerged from the cabinet a few minutes later, levitating two large boxes in front of him. "Thank you for waiting Harry, I had to retrieve these from my private quarters, and I'm afraid it took me a while to remember where I had stashed them."

The boxes were gently deposited on the desk, and Dumbledore gestured for Harry to open them and look inside. They were filled with books.

Harry read some of the titles. The Confounding Case of Curtis Cunningham and his Coughing Cauldron. Violet's Pet Unicorn. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The Dragon, the Banshee, and the Vanishing Cabinet.

"They're children's books." Harry said incredulously.

Dumbledore smiled. "Indeed. My mother kept all the books she read to me and my siblings during our childhood out of nostalgia. When I cleared out our old house I found them and kept them for much the same reasons. Here, you take this box, and I'll search through the other one. We're looking for a volume titled 'Stories of the Brothers Grimmig- The Complete and Uncensored Treasury.'"

If it had been anyone else, Harry would have demanded to know what children's stories had to do with freeing Tom Riddle, but he knew Dumbledore well enough to know there was no point in trying to get an explanation before Dumbledore was ready to give it. Instead, Harry pulled the box towards him and began rifling through it.

Moments later, Dumbledore emitted a small noise of triumph and pulled out a black tome with silver letter in the title, and a picture of a little girl talking to what looked like a hag on the cover.

"This is a collection of classic children's tales from the century in which I was born. Eventually, it fell out of favor. Some of the stories here are quite dark and violent, and parents began to feel that the morals imparted in the stories weren't worth the potential trauma and bad dreams they would cause their children. If I remember correctly, Aberforth crawled in to my parents beds for months after being told the story of 'The Boy Who Cried Werewolf ' complaining about dreams of being ripped to shreds, so they weren't entirely wrong.

"The story I'm interested in tonight is 'The Maiden and the Sorceress'." He flipped the book open to the appropriate page and began reading.

Many years ago, there lived a great and powerful sorceress who was renowned for her knowledge of all fields of magic, and greatly respected for it. She was not satisfied, though, with her power, and sought out more. Thus, she came to make a deal with death himself.

The sorceress served death himself and did his bidding, wreaking ruin and misery on all those around her. Tearing children from their parents' arms and young brides from their lovers far before their time. In return, death promised not to touch her, or allow her soul to leave this realm.

Many brave knights attempted to defeat her, but she simply laughed off their killing curses, and pulled their swords out of her chest before slaying their bearers with them. A great reward was offered to the one who would manage to free the land from the sorceress's reign, but no knight could conquer the witch when death itself was on her side.

Finally, a poor but clever farm boy took on the challenge. He enchanted a hut in the woods so that one who entered it would not be able to leave it again. Using trickery and illusions, the farm boy lured the sorceress into the hut, where she was trapped, never able to leave.

So, the people of the land were finally free of the evil witch, and the farm boy was rewarded handsomely.

The now rich boy grew into a man, and the man fell in love with a fair maiden who lived near his house. Attempting to impress the maiden, the man told her the story of his defeat of the evil sorceress. The maiden, who had a soft and kind heart, was appalled to hear of the conditions in which the sorceress was being kept. Denied food and water, but unable to die, the sorceress lay powerless in her prison enduring the agonies of starvation but unable to ever find release from her torment.

The maiden's kind heart went out to the evil witch, unable to stand the suffering even of one who deserved it. The next day, she set out with food and water to the hut in which the sorceress was imprisoned.

Upon realizing the purpose for which the maiden had come to her, the sorceress thanked her most profusely. With tears in her eyes, she reached out her hand to the maiden, expressing a desire to touch the women who had eased her torment and shown her such kindness when she was alone in the world. Touched, the maiden held out her hand to the sorceress, but the second her skin touched that of the witch, the witch enacted a terrible curse to bind the maiden's soul to hers.

The sorceress's spirit entered the maiden's body, leaving her own body in the hut to rot.

Having taken control of a new body, the evil sorceress sought out the man who entrapped her, seeking revenge. Upon finding him, it soon became apparent to her that there was nothing more she needed to do to break his spirit, for there was no torture she could inflict greater than the pain of seeing his beloved trapped in her own body, helplessly enslaved to a cruel mistress.

The sorceress took great delight in forcing the maiden to commit evil deeds in her name, spreading carnage and misery among the people, before returning to the man who loved her to boast gleefully of her heinous actions. The man was greatly pained by these visits and each time vowed to put an end to the horrors that were being inflicted on the people of his land, but each time he would stare into the beloved face of the girl he had given his heart to, his courage would fail him, and he could not bring himself to harm her.

One day, though, the maiden's despair grew so great, and her anger so strong, that in her passion she managed to wrestle control of her body for a few precious seconds, during which she begged her lover to kill her and put and end to her misery and that of all those around her.

The pleas of his love gave the man a newfound courage, and with fresh determination, he stabbed his sword through the heart of the girl he loved.

The sorceress looked shocked for a moment at the sight of the sword piercing her breast, but then simply laughed and pulled the sword back out. She would not die, for she had tied the maiden's soul to her own, and as long as Death refused to claim her own soul, the maiden's soul would not be able to pass on either.

Upon realizing this, the man was at first filled with despair, but he soon became filled with a fresh determination to free his beloved of the sorceress once and for all. Using all his extensive knowledge of magic, the man designed a ritual of the darkest and foulest magic.

Since the sorceress's soul refused to move on as it should in death, the man designed a ritual that would instead tear the soul apart, destroying it completely.

Challenging her to a duel on a remote island, the man confronted her, and lured her to the necessary location. Speaking the last few words, and shedding his blood in the appropriate place, the man completed the ritual, unleashing dark powers upon the sorceress of which he himself had little understanding.

With agony in his heart, the man watched as the darkness ripped the sorceress's soul apart, and with it the soul of his love leaving behind only an empty body.

The man had deemed the sacrifice of his beloved's soul to be worthwhile if it freed her of the evil sorceress and freed the land of her tyranny, but he did not fully understand the dark powers which he had unleashed. Out of the portal which he had opened emerged the first dementor, who immediately claimed the man's soul, making him the first victim of many.

The island on which they were first released remains the territory of the dementors to this very day. Some say the island was named after that very wizard who lost his soul there. Others say the name Azkaban is the last word of the curse the wizard spoke to destroy the two women's souls. All agree that it remains a stark warning for all witches and wizards dabbling in soul magic.

Dumbledore closed the book and looked at Harry pensively over his half-moon spectacles. "This is an interesting story, Harry, is it not? There are so many intriguing similarities between the situation of the maiden and the situation we believe Tom is in. A connection of sorts between souls, a type of possession which is impossible according to all current knowledge of magic, and the seemingly insurmountable problem of a soul that refuses to move on."

"Well yes," stammered Harry, "but isn't it- I mean- it's just a children's story."

Dumbledore smiled down at Harry. "I have often found that in the wizarding world, there are more to these fanciful little tales than meets the eye." His eyes rested for a moment on the ring he wore on his blackened hand. "I will admit that I myself never gave this story much credit as anything more than a warning against naivety and the dangers of showing compassion to those who don't deserve it. However, the parallels between the magic in this story and the magic you heard Voldemort describe are too great to be discounted.

"Often, children's books contain descriptions of magic that is, as far as we know, impossible even to wizards. These stories are very old, though, and perhaps sometimes, a feat of magic described in them which we might consider imaginary, is simply magic that has been lost to the ages."

"So, you think the story might actually true?" Harry asked, trying to grasp what Dumbledore was getting at.

"Perhaps not the story itself, Harry, but I daresay it is quite possible that the feats of magic described in it are."

This settled it for Harry, who had a deep trust for Dumbledore's judgement. "So, what's the plan?" He asked, eager to act.

"If the possession in the story exists, then perhaps the ritual described in it exists as well. We must find the ritual described in the story. If such a ritual does exist it is far more safe and likely to succeed in defeating Voldemort than a horcrux hunt with nothing to guide us but memories and our own intuition.

"I think I shall begin by contacting Xenophilius Lovegood. A few years ago he sent me a letter regarding rumors he had heard of Gellert Grindelwald's wand which he hoped I would be able to confirm or deny. I won't go in to the context now, but that letter gives me good cause to think that Xeno too has an interest in ancient stories that others believe to be merely fiction. He may have some knowledge or contacts which could prove to be of assistance."

"So, we're trying to find the ritual the wizard killed the sorceress with?" Harry's teeth clenched in anger. "But what about Tom? According to the story that ritual will kill him too."

Dumbledore placed his hand gently over Harry's, as if aware of just how fast Harry's pulse was beating with frustration and anger, and was trying to calm it. "My boy, I could tell you that if you look hard enough, you may find versions of this story in which the innocent girl survived through the power of love, but that would be giving you false hope. That change to the end of the story was made in an attempt to give the story a happier ending and to make it more suitable for young children. It pains me, but I'm afraid I know of no way to free Tom riddle from whatever power is possessing him."

"So you're just going to let him die?!" Harry could feel the horror of the situation and the unfairness of it all rear up in him, making his teeth clench and his eyes hurt. "He's suffering, and I saw how hard it was for him to fight, and he still did to save my life, and you're not even going to try to help him?"

His misery began morphing into anger, born from the helplessness he was felling, and Harry was fully prepared to unleash it on the only other person in the room. The person that he had been sure would have all the answers, would be able to fix everything and was instead sitting before him empty handed, offering no solution and no comfort. He was fully prepared to unleash his fury and frustration on Dumbledore, until he looked at his mentor and saw the look on his face. He looked broken.

"Harry, you must think me a cold man, to simply condemn Tom to death. You have a right to despise me, I have failed so many under my charge."

Harry automatically opened his mouth to protest such harsh self-judgement, but Dumbledore held up a blackened hand to stop him.

"I have reached a point in my life, Harry, in which the future ahead of me is short, very short, and in times like these one begins to look back upon their lives. I have made so many mistakes, Harry. I admitted to you only last summer that I had made a mistake in regards to my treatment of you. And there are other mistakes, ones that if you knew you would not look upon me with the sympathy I see in your face now.

"This new horrible discovery, you must believe that it is devastating to me. If our deductions are correct then there has been a student subjected to horrific dark magic from the first time I laid eyes on him and for the next seven years when he was under my care, and I knew nothing and did nothing. And in retrospect, I realize how my arrogance blinded me. The fact that for so long all the victims were petrified instead of killed goes far beyond what one might call a coincidence, and it should have been the first clue that all was not as it seemed to me. But I had an image of the boy in my head of the situation, and was too prideful to reconsider it many years later when it seems I was finally being vindicated. I was closer to the truth of Tom than any other teacher at Hogwarts, and yet I still managed to miss it completely.

"You must understand, though, Harry, that I cannot allow my grief over the mistakes I have made to make me question my judgement. The Order of the Phoenix depends on me, as does a very big portion of Wizarding Britain. My knowledge of Voldemort gives me a unique insight into his psychology and an unparalleled ability to predict his actions. This, coupled with- forgive me- my high intelligence and talent with magic, makes me the most qualified man to protect this country and I will do my duty to it. I cannot begin to question myself because of past mistakes, and I cannot allow myself to be distracted by looking for a solution for Tom that probably doesn't exist when I could be working to stop Voldemort."

At this point, Dumbledore's hand came to rest on Harry's in a comforting gesture as he smiled sadly.

"I know, Harry, that when you came up here it was with the hopes that I would be able to save another one of Voldemort's innocent victims, but while I may not be able to help in that regard, the information you have given me was not useless. The fact that there may be more truth to the tale of The Maiden and the Sorceress than I previously suspected has opened up a new avenue for me to explore in regards to defeating Voldemort. And from the short glimpse we've had into the real Tom Riddle's character, I believe that would make him happy and perhaps give him some peace. I am sorry that that is the only comfort I can offer you."

There was nothing Harry could really say to that. The faster Dumbledore found a way to defeat Voldemort, the more people would be saved, and it would be irresponsible of him to search for a solution for Tom that probably didn't exist when he could be working on looking for Horcruxes, or the soul-destroying ritual. Still, Harry was not Dumbledore, and did not have his responsibilities- he could search for a solution independently and bring it up again if he found something. "Alright, Sir." He told the Headmaster, nodding his head. "I understand."

Dumbledore clapped his hands together. "Excellent! In that case, you may go on to enjoy the wonderful feast in the Great Hall, and I shall set up a meeting with Xenophilius Lovegood to see if I can determine whether The Tale of the Three Brothers is the only children's story he has taken an interest in. Oh, and Harry, one more thing."

Harry, who had gotten up to leave, paused.

"Regarding your initial decision not to inform me of the mirror." Dumbeldore gave Harry a look filled with disappointment, and Harry flinched guiltily. "It appears that the scars caused by my decision not to include you last year are not yet completely healed. Despite this, I implore you not to keep any information that could be important from me in the future, and I, in return, will endeavor to do the same. In the spirit of proving myself to you, I will allow you to keep the mirror in your room. My only condition is that you report anything you hear, of even the slightest significance to me."

Here, Dumbledore gave Harry a stern look. Harry was too relieved at this new liberty he had been given to be very intimidated, but he gave Dumbledore a solemn nod nevertheless.

Dumbledore beamed. "Excellent! In that case, Harry, I shall see you at dinner tonight. Goodbye!"

Harry returned the greeting and left the office. While riding down the spiraling staircase, Harry thought again about his self-appointed mission to save Tom Riddle. The first step would be to find out more about the version of the story in which the girl survived.

It was funny, Harry thought, that Dumbledore, who was always such a strong believer in the power of love, would be so quick to discount the tale in which the wizard had saved the girl through the power of love. Perhaps it was because he knew that unlike Harry, or the girl in the story, Tom Riddle did not have anyone who loved him.

The next morning, after Harry had eaten his breakfast, he walked towards Ravenclaw table.

"Hello, Harry Potter." said Luna genially as Harry approached her.

"Hey Luna, can I sit next to you? There's something I want to ask you."

"Go ahead." Luna indicated freely with her hand at the empty space next to her. "There's always a lot of room next to where I sit, because people don't like sitting next to me. I think that it's because I'm weird and it makes them uncomfortable."

"Err... Maybe." said Harry neutrally. He had never quite figured out how to respond to Luna's shockingly honest pronouncements. "So I wanted to ask you about a kid's story you might have heard of. It's about this evil witch who possesses this girl, and the wizard who was in love with the girl ends up defeating her. It's called, er, The Girl, no- The Maiden-"

"The Maiden and the Sorceress, yes." Luna said helpfully.

"It was just, this might seem a bit strange to you-" Harry suddenly remembered who he was talking to and relaxed a bit, Luna wouldn't judge him for his odd questions. "Anyways, I heard the story recently, and in the story the wizard performs this ritual that destroys the soul of the Sorceress, but it also does the same to the girl she possessed. I heard there was a version where the wizard manages to save the girl, and I was wondering if you knew it."

"Of course." Luna said helpfully. "It's an older version of the same story. The power that the man called up in the ritual was the power to destroy souls, it's the same power demetors possess. Some say it's more powerful than death. After all, death can only force the soul from the body and on, but it cannot destroy the soul. Some have said the name of the power is Evil, other maintain that it is Hate."

"Yeah, but-" Harry felt bad about interrupting, but he was anxious to hear how the maiden was spared "Where does the part where he saves the girl come in?"

"Very soon. The power, whatever you wish to call it, forces the intertwined souls from the maiden's body, where it proceeded to rip them apart from each other. The next step would have been to completely consume them, but at that point, the man entered the maelstrom and cupped his hands around the girl's soul. Of course, physical barriers are no match for the power he had called, but the love he had for the girl was. His love for the girl formed a barrier around her soul, the offered far more protection than his mere hands could. The girl's soul was protected, and remained safe in his hands, but the wizard's soul was not, and he was destroyed along with the sorceress."

"How could the wizard cup his hands around a soul?" Harry asked, bewildered, but then he suddenly remembered the dementor attack on the lake in his third year, how he had seen the dementors leaning over Sirius, and how he had seen a minuscule ball of light being pulled out of Sirius's body before his Patronus had intervened. He immediately felt foolish for asking the question.

But Luna merely smiled. "It is a rather fanciful story, isn't it? The power of love, the ability to attach two souls, the power to destroy them? But sometimes, the most powerful magics are the ones that sound most fanciful. Dementors employ the most powerful dark magic- soul magic, and everyone knows that the most powerful light magics is that of love. Some wizards and witches would scoff at these childish sounding notions, it's probably the reason the other version of the story is more well-known. But then, some wizards and witches would also scoff at the notion of a Crumple-Horned Snorkak. We must make our own judgements."

Harry tactfully ignored the last sentence, and thanked Luna for the information.

It was interesting, he thought, that Dumbledore had claimed that the story in which the girl survived was merely a more kid-friendly version of the story that attempted to give it a happy ending. After all, the ending Luna described in which the girl survived but the wizard died was hardly any happier than the version Dumbledore had told him.

It was possible, of course, that it was an innocent mistake. Dumbledore might have known there was an alternate ending to the story, but not how the ending actually went, and had made his own assumptions. Was it possible, though, that the deception was intentional? All those closest to Harry knew of his 'saving-people thing' as Hermione had called it. Was Dumbledore trying to prevent Harry from getting any ideas regarding self-sacrifice?

If so, he had failed.

Whenever Marvolo walked past the mirror he intended to use to curse Harry, Tom could feel his lip curling into a snarl. The man was extremely displeased that Tom had managed to push back his plans, and, Tom suspected, slightly nervous. It had been a very long time since Tom had succeeded in wrestling control from Marvolo for such an extended amount of time, and the man was probably puzzled by his sudden ability. Not that Tom would deign to actually look into his mind to confirm this.

While the connection between their souls allowed Tom and Marvolo free access to each other's thoughts, listening in to what Marvolo was thinking took effort and concentration that Tom refused to invest. Therefore, if Marvolo ever wanted to tell Tom something, just thinking it would not suffice, since Tom would not be paying attention, he would have to say it out loud. This had the double benefit of being the only bit of control Tom could exert over Marvolo and driving Marvolo dotty with annoyance as well. Marvolo could only communicate with Tom when they were alone, for fear of someone thinking he was talking to himself, and it gave Tom pleasure to think he was able to limit Marvolo's actions.

Marvolo must have been listening to Tom at that instance, because the next minute an ugly smirk graced his face. "You can feel pleased with yourself all you want, boy, but you've simply delayed my plans by a month. I look forward to seeing your savior dying in agony in that much time. And I look forward even more to seeing how pathetically heartbroken you will be once it happens."

Disgusted, Tom send the mental equivalent of a strong kick in his grandfather's direction. To his utter shock, the shove actually managed to dislodge Marvolo, and Tom suddenly found himself in control of his own body for the second time that month.

He had not planned for this. He had not expected his habitual mental struggle that was intended to give Marvolo a hard time rather than expected to do any good to actually work. Still, he could sense that he had merely caught the old man by surprise, and that he would soon regain his bearings and wrestle the control back from Tom.

Having no plan in mind, Tom simply cast about for the best way to rebel against his grandfather.

"Muggles are smarter than wizards," he declared, relishing the fact that it was Dark Lord Voldemort's own lips forming these blasphemous words, "and Salazar Slytherin was a creepy pedophile who spied on little girl's toilets!"

He cast about for more outrageous things to say, and his eyes fell on the enchanted mirror which reflected Harry Potter's dorm room and bed. "Oh, and Harry Potter is the sexiest wizard to ever grace the halls of Hogwar-"

At that moment, Marvolo gave a big push, and Tom lost control of his body once more.

With a snarl of rage, Marvolo pulled out his wand. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure than causing you some pain, boy. But since I'm stuck in this body along with you, how about we visit the dungeons, and decide which muggle should feel my Cruciatus in your stead?"

Three hundred miles away, Harry Potter's grin of flattered amusement morphed into shocked horror as he watched Voldemort spin around and walk away in the mirror.

Chapter Text

Harry eagerly approached the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's office and gave it the password, excitement thrumming in his chest. Over the last fortnight, the Headmaster had been gone from Hogwarts, and not a single member of the staff had any idea where he had disappeared to or when to expect him back.

Then, a mere day after he had finally returned Harry had received a missive requesting his presence in Dumbledore's office that very evening. It was a good sign, as far as Harry was concerned. He was quite eager to learn what Dumbledore had discovered during his absence.

His enthusiasm lasted right up until the moment in which he stepped into the office and saw, sitting in front of Dumbledore with a scowl upon his face, Harry's least favorite teacher- Severus Snape. When Snape caught sight of him, he jumped to his feet, an ugly scowl crossing his face.

"What is he doing here?" Harry and Snape both demanded at the same time, turning to Dumbledore.

"I hardly need to explain my actions to you, Potter." Snape sniffed, giving Harry a nasty look. He turned to Dumbledore. "It was my understanding that we would be discussing matters of some... delicacy. I daresay the subject matter might be too sensitive to discuss around someone as inept at protecting his mind as Potter is."

"Harry is here by my invitation, Severus." Dumbledore replied with a smile on his face, though there was a sternness beneath the lightly spoken words. "Please trust me to have considered this already. Now, please take a seat. You too, Harry. We have much to discuss."

Snape obeyed, though the tightness in his mouth showed that he was far from happy with the proceedings. Harry sat down, keeping his eyes on Snape's greasy head, amusing himself with attempting to explode it with the power of his mind.

"Excellent!" Dumbledore declared jovially once they were both seated. "Now, new information has come to light, and you both will have very important roles in the following proceedings. More important, perhaps, than you expect even now. I will need you two to work together, for the sake of the wizarding world. Are you prepared to do that?"

Harry nodded solemnly, and Snape too gave a stiff jerk of his head.

"Very well. In that case, let me explain where we now stand. Harry, you will be pleased to hear that I have located instructions to perform the ritual we had discussed."

"Ritual?" Snape questioned, his lips pursed so tightly together that the word was almost intelligible. It was as if it were physically painful for him to admit to any ignorance in front of Harry.

"Harry has recently given me some information which lead me to believe that a ritual might exist that could bypass Voldemort's safeguards against immortality." Dumbledore replied. "I have spent the past two weeks searching for anyone who might have information on how to perform it, and yesterday, I finally managed to find a lead.

"He was an old hermit, well known in the local village for being eccentric, and perhaps slightly dotty, but with a propensity for collecting precisely the sort of information I was interested in. It took quite a while to locate his house, and even longer to bypass the protections he had placed around it to prevent any unwanted guests from approaching. This beauty-" he rolled up the sleeve of his healthy arm to reveal a large blue and purple bruise covering half of it- "I received courtesy of his pet Hippogriff. Rather short tempered beast, much like its owner."

"Get on with it." Snape growled impatiently. Harry wondered if he was always so rude to Dumbledore or if it was just his own presence that was making Snape more foul-humored than usual.

"Very well." said Dumbledore, a bit more coolly than before. "The long and short of it is that while it cost me my wand, I managed to obtain the instructions for the ritual."

With a flourish, he whipped out a piece of parchment from on top of the tottering pile on his desk and presented it to Harry and Severus.

Harry leaned forward eagerly to read it, but slumped back a moment later in disappointment. It was written in Ancient Runes.

Snape picked the parchment up deftly and perused it. "It's dark," he said, looking up at Dumbledore "very dark." He seemed to be communicating something with his eyes to the Headmaster. Something he wasn't willing to discuss in front of Harry.

"So dark, in fact," said Dumbledore softly, "that it requires a human sacrifice."

Snape glanced sharply at Dumbledore, and then inclined his head slightly. An understanding seemed to pass between them that was all too easy for Harry to understand.

"You plan on being the sacrifice." Harry said slowly, gazing at Dumbledore incredulously.

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Severus has agreed to do the honors. But Harry, what you need to understand is-"

"No!" Harry interrupted him with a shout, jumping to his feet, "No way! Are you mad? Are you both mad?!"

He turned to Snape. "You can't do it! You know the war is doomed without him! Please, Sir!" he said, addressing Dumbledore again, "I'll do it instead. It should be me according to the prophecy. Or better yet- we can kidnap Bellatrix Lestrange and use her instead! We'd be doing the world a favor! Or Fenrir Greyback-"

"Harry!" Dumbledore raised his voice over Harry's protests, "I am going to die anyways!"

That stopped Harry short in his tracks. "What?"

Dumbledore held out his blackened hand, presenting it to Harry. "The curse will eventually spread to the rest of my body. It can only be held at bay for so long." He said gently.

Harry felt himself fall into his seat with a thump. "So... You're going to die?"

"As surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year's league." Dumbledore told him.

Snape looked up. "You already used that-"

"Yes, thank you, Severus." Dumbledore said, cutting him off. "Harry, do you understand now?"

Harry did understand, even if he wished he didn't. "If you're going to die anyways, you want it to be helpful in some way in the fight against Voldemort."

"Yes." Dumbledore said. "And Severus being the one to kill me will hopefully buy Voldemort's complete trust, finally. Which is why it is extremely important that Voldemort not find out that my death was planned. In any other situation, I would not risk telling you this for fear of Voldemort discovering it. It is essential to the plan, though, that you be aware of this."

"Why, Sir? Am I also part of the plan?"

"Indeed you are, Harry," Dumbledore beamed, as though he had not just shaken Harry's world and destroyed his hopes for winning the war. "You see, Severus cannot be the one to perform the ritual. While I certainly hope the ritual works, and I believe it is worth trying, I do not have complete trust in its success. Our source was not, after all, a well-known one, nor has it ever been established as trustworthy.

"We cannot risk Severus performing the ritual, since if it doesn't work, his actions will arouse Voldemort's suspicions and ruin the trust in him we've put so much work into establishing. Therefore, while Severus will be the one to kill me, you will need to be the one to collect my blood and use it in the ritual. Are you prepared to do that?"

The thought of collecting blood from Dumbledore's cooling body made Harry queasy, but he understood the importance of the task, and it far outweighed his own personal inclinations. Anyways, being the one to perform the ritual would make his plan to save Tom Riddle much easier. He nodded seriously, to show Dumbledore that he was prepared for the task.

"Excellent! In that case, I believe we are done for tonight. Harry, I will arrange a meeting with you soon during which we shall go over the ritual and make sure you know exactly what needs to be done. Goodnight Harry, Severus."

Harry left the office with Snape after wishing the headmaster a good night in return, and stepped onto the moving spiral staircase alongside Snape. Snape glared at him, obviously displeased with the need to involve his most hated student with the delicate and risky plan. He opened his mouth to speak, and Harry almost groaned. After the monumental shock of the evening's revelation he was longing for peace and quiet, and had no patience for Snape's insults and provocations.

All Snape said, though, was: "I wish to make it absolutely clear, Potter, that the information you received this evening will go no farther. Not to Miss Granger, not to Mr. Weasley, and not to anyone else who you might be misguided enough to think has any business knowing. The Headmaster wishes to involve you in some very delicate matters, and it is his prerogative, but I will be damned if I allow such risky and potentially damaging information about me to go any further."

Harry nodded, trying to assume an expression of obedience and respect. After six years of trying to kill Snape with his glares, arranging his face into a cowed expression was a struggle. But Harry did understand Snape's fear- if Voldemort discovered that Snape had known Dumbledore was dying and hadn't informed him, Snape would be as good as dead. Also, Harry didn't want to give Snape a reason to try to gauge his intentions by reading his mind.

"I won't tell anyone, Sir." He said calmly and seriously. Lying to Snape was much easier than lying to Ron and Hermione.

In the following weeks, Dumbledore instructed Harry on the intricacies of the ritual and made sure Harry could perform it perfectly. Each Latin phrase was memorized and practiced and tested by Dumbledore so often that Harry began to hear the words in his sleep.

Once Dumbledore was confident in Harry's ability to perform the ritual flawlessly, he decided it was time to act. And that was when Harry realized that the time had come to have a talk with Ron and Hermione.

He had approached them in the common room, and asked them to follow him to the boys' dormitory. They looked at each other, then followed him wordlessly. As they reached the room, Ron and Hermione sat on his bed, and looked at him expectantly as he stood in front of them.

It was only then that Harry noticed a strange sort of tension between the two of them, and realized that with all his worrying about the ritual, destroying Voldemort, and saving Tom Riddle, he had failed to keep up with the events occurring between his two best friends. Was Ron still with Lavender? Harry surprised himself with the discovery that he didn't know. Was the strange look that passed between Ron and Hermione one of resentment? Or one of mutual understanding?

"Harry, is everything alright?" Hermione prompted.

"Oh, er, yeah." he replied, deciding to ponder the Ron and Hermione question later. Or, perhaps, not at all. "It's just that Dumbledore told me that the plan is to do the ritual tomorrow."

Harry quickly glanced at the mirror by his bed to ensure that no one was listening from the other side. Then, for good measure, he cast a Muffliato. "Dumbledore thinks he knows where another Horcrux is, and he wants to go get it tomorrow. Snape is going to give us two hours to find the Horcrux before he tells Malfoy the we've left the school. We're pretty sure that Malfoy will pass the message on to Voldemort, and we're hoping that the lure of having both me and Dumbledore outside the protections of Hogwarts will be enough to get Voldemort to come to the location Snape will give. We've already set up everything for the ritual there, so once Voldemort comes the only thing left will be to perform the ritual that will hopefully get rid of him."

"I don't understand why you have to perform the ritual right after you go looking for the Horcrux." Hermione protested. "You're giving yourself a very constrictive time limit to get the Horcrux, not to mention whatever obstacles might be placed in your way could seriously tire you out. Don't you want to be well rested and alert when you finally perform the ritual?"

Good old Hermione, always so sensible. "It's because of Dumbledore. He's afraid that the defenses around the Horcrux will be very dangerous, so he doesn't want me to deal with them alone. He's afraid that the defenses will weaken him so much that, well-"

Harry paused. He wasn't sure how to break the news to his friends. "The ritual we're going to do requires a human sacrifice, and Dumbledore doesn't want to die before we have a chance to complete the ritual, so we're doing it right after we deal with the Horcrux. In case- in case whatever it is guarding the Horcrux doesn't leave him with much time to live."

"No!" Ron had jumped to his feet, face white with shock. Hermione had covered her mouth with her hands and looked close to tears.

"Harry, you can't let him-"

"Dumbledore was already fatally injured getting the last Horcrux." Harry told them dully, having by now resigned himself to these facts. "He's going to die soon anyways, there's nothing we can do. All this ritual will do is allow him to leave on his own terms, hopefully taking Voldemort along with him."

"That's- that's horrible." Hermione whispered. Her voice wobbled, but to Harry's relief she did not break into tears. "Harry, you won't have to- Well, will you have to be the one to do it?"

"No," Harry assured her, "I don't think I could be capable of it. That's Snape's job. This way, in case anything goes wrong with the ritual, Snape will still have an in with the Death Eaters. Dumbledore doesn't completely trust the source of this ritual. That's why we're still looking for Horcruxes, and that's why he's putting Snape in a position that if the ritual doesn't work he'll gain Voldemort's trust."

"And if the ritual does work?" Asked Ron.

"If it does work, then it's my job to testify in front of the Wizengamot that Snape did what he did with Dumbledore's permission. And if-" this was why he needed to let them in on the plan "if something goes wrong and I don't make it, you need to be the ones to make sure Snape doesn't go to jail for killing Dumbledore."

"Harry," Ron said slowly, "is there any reason to expect you not to make it back to us tomorrow?"

Harry gulped. "No, no reason. It's just good to have a backup plan for these sorts of things, you know? Can't have innocent people going to Azkaban. One Sirius is enough, don't you think?"

Hermione and Ron exchanged a look.

"Harry," Hermione said slowly, as if approaching a timid animal who would snarl at her and run away at any second, "we know that it's hard for you to see someone in distress and not try to help them. We also know that you must be feeling really bad about the whole Tom Riddle situation and how Dumbledore wasn't able to come up with a way to save him. But if you're thinking of doing something- something foolhardy-"

"I'm not thinking anything!" Harry yelped before she could finish talking, doth protesting too much.

"Well that's certainly true." Ron said, grinning, "But seriously, Harry. Your er, self destructive tendency to run off into danger out of a sense of duty is- is harmful to- damn it, how did you phrase it Hermione? You'd said it really well."

A horrible realization dawned on Harry. "You planned this in advance! You planned this whole conversation and prepared what you were going to say! What is this- some kind of intervention?"

"Don't be melodramatic, Harry." Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "You were the one who initiated this conversation. It's just that as your long time friends we know you well enough to, well, anticipate the sort of things you might do, and we may have discussed it between us. We do worry about you."

"Yes," Ron chimed in, "and this just seemed like a good opportunity to tell you some of the things that are on our minds. And let you know that if you are planning something stupid there are many reasons why you shouldn't do it."

"What kind of thing do you think I'm planning?" Harry asked nervously.

"Oh, I don't know exactly." Ron replied, "Only when you were talking about how Dumbledore said nothing could be done to save Tom Riddle you got that- that look in your eyes, and I suddenly had a vision of you jumping on Death and trying to stick your wand up his nose when he came for Voldemort. Or- or something like that." It would have been offensive if it weren't so accurate.

That put a wrench in Harry's plans. He had wanted to use this opportunity to say goodbye to Ron and Hermione and let them know how much their friendship had meant to him. If he tried to do any of that now, they'd know that they were right about him planning to sacrifice himself tomorrow and would try to stop him. Perhaps, instead, he should write goodbye letters and leave them for his friends to find once he was gone? Oh Merlin, Hermione was right, he was being melodramatic.

"Look," Harry finally said testily, "I'm not planning anything, but thanks for worrying about me."

"Oh, because that's convincing." Hermione said sarcastically, "because you always give us warning before you do stupidly brave-"

"Fine!" Harry said, rolling his eyes, "You know what? Hermione, you're an annoying know-it-all. Ron, I'm better than you because your family's poor. There. Now I have to come back tomorrow so I can apologize for the horrible things I've just said. Are you happy now?"

Ron gaped at Harry for a few moments before looking to Hermione for guidance. Hermione frowned at Harry suspiciously, but finally her lips twitched and she nodded.

"Thank you!" Harry exclaimed, throwing his hands up. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm off to take a shower. I'll see you later."

"Bye, Harry." Hermione said, giving him a hug, "Good luck tomorrow!"

"Yeah," Ron said, giving Harry a pat on the back, "and don't forget to apologize once you get back tomorrow."

Hermione and Ron would have been happy had they known that their conversation had caused Harry to second guess himself. When the equation had just been his life against Tom Riddle's, the answer had been obvious, but Harry had not quite taken his two best friends into account.

Harry's death would break their hearts, and the cruelty of deliberately doing that to them chilled Harry. Tom, on the other hand, would probably not be missed. At least not by anyone except for Harry himself. Not by anyone who knew and loved him.

But that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? With all the hardships Harry had undergone in his life, he had also received the huge treasure of true friendship and love. Tom had probably never had that. Tom was perpetually lonely, trapped inside his own head, unable to interact with anyone in the world save for the demon that possessed him. And yet, despite all that, despite the horror of such a situation, he remained brave and strong and defiant.

Tom deserved a chance to live, if anyone ever did, and that was why twenty four hours later, found Harry just as set on his previous path as before.

He was breathing heavily, his pants echoing in the damp cave, as he grabbed onto Dumbledore's thin and trembling arm. "Come on, Sir, just a little bit longer. We still have the ritual ahead of us."

"I can't." Dumbledore gasped, voice still raw from earlier tears, "Harry- you need to apparate us."

"Right." Harry muttered, half to himself, and gripping Dumbledore's cold arm as hard as he could, he concentrated, and turned.

To Harry's relief, once the darkness dissipated and the feeling of compression abated, he found himself and Dumbledore as expected, in a deserted field a few kilometers away from Hogsmeade. Snape was already waiting there, as was Draco Malfoy, looking even paler than usual.

Before Harry had a chance to catch his breath, Snape had already disarmed and bound Dumbledore. Harry let out an obligatory outraged exclamation of "Traitor!" and sent a halfhearted petrification spell at Snape, which Snape deflected back at Harry with ease. The red spell hit Harry, and caused him to freeze in place. Harry had cast a weak spell deliberately so that it would wear off in time for Harry's part in the evening. For the moment, though, he was unable to move.

"Go on, Draco." Snape drawled, sounding for all the world as if he were bored. "Once this is over with I will call the Dark Lord so that he may deal with Potter once and for all."

Draco raised his wand to point at Dumbledore, but even in the dim lighting of the moonlight it was obvious that his wand arm was shaking.

"Draco." Dumbledore said, "You don't have to do this. It's not too late."

Malfoy's mouth twisted uncontrollably, and for a horrible moment Harry thought he was going to cry. "That's not true!" he snarled, "I have to! I don't have a choice!"

"Severus." Dumbledore's whisper was soft but firm. "Severus, don't let him kill me. Please, Severus."

"Very well, Albus." Snape snarled, pushing Malfoy aside. "I won't. Avada Kedavra!"

There was a rushing sound and a flash of green light, and Dumbledore crumpled to the floor.

A genuine cry of anguish tore itself from Harry's throat. The knowledge of what had been coming had not made the death of his mentor any easier to watch.

Harry's sob must have signaled to Snape that the petrification spell on him was wearing off, because he pulled back his left sleeve and pressed his finger to the ugly tattoo on his forearm.

Pain exploded in Harry's head as he felt a rush of triumph that was not his own. Dimly, beyond the pain, he heard Snape say: "The Dark Lord is coming. Your role here is done, Draco, you may leave if you wish." Malfoy took one look around him, and scampered off in the direction of Hogsmeade.

The pain in Harry's head doubled as a crack split the air and the tall and menacing form of Voldemort appeared in front of them. His gaze fell on Dumbledore's bound and lifeless body, slumped on the ground, and a high shrill cackle of triumph emerged from his mouth.

As Voldemort reveled in his triumph, Harry felt the last of the spell binding him dissipate, and grabbed his wand, preparing to send a severing curse at Dumbledore's cooling body. As horrifying as it was, Dumbledore's blood was an essential part of the ritual.

As if sensing the movement, Voldemort turned to Harry at last, an ugly smile on his lipless mouth.

Just as Harry slashed his wand through the air, a familiar shiver traveled through Voldemort's body. Suddenly, the man who turned towards Harry was no longer the same man he had been mere seconds ago, and Harry felt himself freeze as wide red eyes locked with his own.

It must have been mere moments later, though it felt like far longer, that Tom Riddle wrenched his gaze away from Harry, and, before Harry could gather his senses, turned around and disapparated.

"No!" Harry cried, grabbing onto empty air just a moment too late. Tom's good intentions had come at the worst possible time. The idiot thought that he was saving Harry when, in fact, Harry should have been the one saving him right now.

"Potter!" Snape growled, rounding on Harry, "He-"

"I know, I know!" Harry snarled, batting his arm away "I'm working on it!"

He closed his eyes and focused on the pain in his scar, until he could feel the cold, the fear, and the steely determination that was being experienced on the other side of the connection.

I need to be there. Harry thought. Bring me to where he is.

He focused on the cold, and the wet spray of water he could feel coming from Tom through his scar, and most of all he focused on the feeling on Tom's presence. He disapparated.

As the feeling of being sucked into a straw began to lift, Harry was suddenly pounded by a wave of skin-piercing cold. He could feel himself being pummeled from all directions, and for a terrifying moment wondered if apparating with no destination had been a horrible mistake and now he was stuck in some sort of limbo. At that moment, he opened his mouth, and the saltwater that rushed into it made him realize that he was in the middle of the ocean.

Desperately kicking, Harry tried to keep his head above water long enough to determine the direction Tom had gone. A great black outline some meters away caught his eye. Land.

It took some exhausting minutes of fighting against the waves, and by the time Harry had reached it, his hand around his wand felt numb, but he finally managed to pull himself onto the rocky ledge. Making his arm stop shaking long enough to cast a drying and warming charm at himself was a challenge, but when he finally succeeded, Harry scrambled to his feet and took in his surroundings.

He was on an island, but apart for the small strip Harry himself had climbed up on, all the land was surrounded by a wall so tall Harry could not see the top of it. Directly in front of him stood an iron gate- it appeared to be the only way onto the island. As Harry approached, he thought he could hear a sound being carried on the wind. Was it just his imagination, influenced by the frightening surroundings and the recent images of Dumbledore's death, or was it really the sound of screams of anguish?

Harry reached the gate and tentatively pushed at it. It opened with ease. As Harry crept in, a deep rattling sound emerged from up ahead, and the moon and the stars were swallowed up by darkness. As a feeling of overwhelming despair slammed into Harry, he finally realized where Voldemort had led him to.

He was in Azkaban.

A flick of Tom's wand had the gates of Azkaban flying open. They were never locked. The mere prospect of an escaped prisoner getting as far as the gates to the prison without being intercepted was considered ridiculous.

As Tom entered the stony courtyard, the gates slammed shut behind him. His steps wavered for a moment as Marvolo gave an especially strong push, but he managed to remain in control of his body, though he could feel himself weakening. He was still just one seventh of a soul struggling against Marvolo's complete one.

The fact that he had managed to maintain control for this long was incredible in and of itself. He had not questioned it, or even thought about it for too long for fear of Marvolo listening in on him and discovering it, but he had felt himself gradually becoming stronger for the past few years. Once he had noticed it, he couldn't help his natural defiance- he had begun to think of ways out.

Since he was scared to think of it for more than a split second at a time, it had taken a while for the plan to form, but the fact that he was becoming stronger than he had been in decades had given him enough hope to slowly but surely work on it- seconds at a time.

Now that the moment had come, Tom's first chance in seventy years to escape this life, the strength of his determination helped him maintain control for the next critical few moments.

Then, a rattling sound of breath being drawn emerged from deeper within Azkaban, and a swarm of dementors began to emerge from within the dark.

With the last of his strength, Tom threw his wand as far as it would go, and fell to his knees.

Marvolo had seized control again, but it didn't matter anymore. In the dark, there was no way for him to find the wand again before the dementors were upon them.

Already, a cold and rotted hand had seized his chin, and was tilting his head back. The dementor's putrid breath stung his face, and then it breathed in, and something more than air was pulled along with it.

Tom was being split in one thousand directions. The dementor was pulling at his soul from one end, and his Horcruxes, keeping him anchored to this word were pulling from another. It was pain beyond imagining, but it was also triumph.

There was only one power in the world strong enough to sever the ties between Horcruxes. When dementors kissed, they consumed the soul, shredding it into pieces and reducing it to nothingness. And Tom knew that if they could tear at the very fabric that kept a soul together, they could tear the bonds that chained him to his Horcruxes. And, most importantly, they could tear at the bonds that chained Tom to Marvolo.

Tom could feel Marvolo's rage and terror pounding into his mind, but the glee at knowing it would be the last of his grandfather's emotions he would ever sense overshadowed it. And moments later, the agony of being torn apart overwhelmed everything else, until with a wrench and a jerk something essential snapped, and Tom could no longer sense Marvolo.

He was free, finally and completely. He had never known euphoria such as this before. Even the dementor gripping him paused, repelled by the joy that at that moment could not be stifled. Tom was finally his own person, capable of making his own decisions and controlling his own body. Suddenly, Tom realized that he didn't want to die.

He had already made his peace with the fact that there was only one way for him to ever be free of Marvolo. To Tom, the knowledge that Voldemort would die along with him was victory enough. But now that he felt his eyelids flutter and his breath come in short pants with no one to fight him over his own body for the first time since he was sixteen, Tom realized he was not quite as resigned to dying as he had thought.

Still, it was hopeless. His wand was still lost somewhere in the dark, and as the dementor that gripped his chin took in another rattling breath, the anguished cries of tortured muggles began to ring in his ears.

The pain was beginning to build again. The very fabric of his being was being rent apart. The pain grew, reminiscent of the pain of creating a Horcrux only a hundred times more intense. There was a high cold laughter in his head, there were screams, and flashes of green light, and just before there was nothing, there was the faint sound of hooves.

It was stupid of Harry, and risky. What if Voldemort's soul had survived along with Tom's? But Harry couldn't help himself. The thought that after all that Tom had been through, all the things he had endured, his life would meet its end in the most horrible way imaginable made Harry's heart hurt. He had to try, if there was even the slightest chance of Tom surviving.

When Harry had finally reached Tom, it had already seemed as if it were too late. He was on his knees, a dementor leaning over him, his soul being pulled from his mouth. It had been a strange and morbid sight- two intertwined beings, one pulsing dully, and one bright and thin, fluttering frantically as they were pulled towards the gaping cavern of the dementor's mouth. Then, for a split second, The dull glow disappeared, and only the bright light remained, struggling against the pull of the dementor.

Harry knew instinctively, without needing to think, that that was Tom's soul- still intact, but not for much longer. He knew that this was his one change to save Tom. He thought of Ron and Hermione, and he thought of the moment earlier that night, when he had locked eyes with Tom. He thought of what he was trying to save, and with more determination than he had ever felt before he had shouted: "Expecto Patronum!"

Harry watched with awe as a magnificent being of pure light galloped forward, and approached the dementor at lightning speed. It charged straight at the dementor and then, ever so gently, it took the glowing ball of light that was Tom's soul in its mouth.

The dementor screeched with rage, but the beast simply turned around and touched its mouth, bearing the precious cargo to the pale, lipless mouth of Tom's body.

The body glowed a brilliant white that illuminated its surroundings. A moment later the light ceased and the patronus disappeared, seemingly absorbed into Tom's skin, and Harry leaned over the limp, pale, body, ignoring the fleeing dementors.

"Tom?" He asked, shaking the body gently, "Tom, are you there? Please wake up!"

The terrible thought that perhaps he had been wrong snaked into Harry's mind. Perhaps he had been too late, and Tom's soul had already been destroyed. Perhaps all he had seen was a figment of his imagination, caused by wishful thinking. He shook the body more insistently.

And beautifully, miraculously, the pale eyelids fluttered for a second before opening.

"Harry Potter?" The inquiry was soft and tired, but there was a tinge of drunken euphoria to the words.

"You're Tom Riddle, aren't you?" Harry asked, hardly daring to believe that it was truly over, "It's only you now, isn't it? The other one- Voldemort, he's gone, right?"

Tom's lipless mouth relaxed into a smile that, despite his twisted features was radiant.

"I'm free." He sat up then, suddenly. "How did you know, Harry? How did you know he wasn't me? Did you see me? Did you understand?"

"I-" said Harry, beginning to answer, but Tom cut him off, muttering in a hysterical voice, that sounded like it a mix between a laugh and a sob.

"Did you realize, back then with the Philosopher's Stone that it was I who made Quirrell unable to use his magic, forcing him to use his hands? Did you notice, back at the graveyard, how when our wands connected and the golden thread formed, it was I who helped you push the beads of light away from yourself and back towards my wand? Did you realize then that he wasn't me?"

His eyes were searching Harry's frantically, imploringly, but before Harry had the chance to answer, they rolled back in his head, and Tom slumped into a dead faint. Looking down at the prone body, Harry came to the conclusion that it was a miracle he had managed to stay coherent that long. After Harry himself had been attacked by dementors back in his third year, it had taken him hours to regain his consciousness, and he hadn't come as close to being kissed as Tom just had.

Harry cast the levitation spell on Tom's body and gently guided it back across the island and towards the gate. Then, going back, Harry spend a quarter of an hour searching for Tom's discarded wand before finding it on the ground and placing it gently in Tom's robe pocket.

Upon exiting the gate, and thereby the anti-apparation spells, he grabbed tight hold of Tom's arm and turned, apparating to the only place he could think of. He landed inside his room at number 4, Privet Drive with a crack, and tensed for a few long painful moments, waiting to see if the sound has aroused any of the sleeping inhabitants of the house.

After a few minutes of silence, Harry felt safe to move.

He placed Tom as gently as he could on his narrow bed, and sat down at the foot of it, trying desperately to decide what to do. Could he tell people the truth of what had really happened to Tom? Would anyone believe him? Maybe they would think Voldemort had Confunded him, like they had when Harry had told Fudge that Sirius was innocent. Fudge had insisted that Harry was confused and that Sirius be kissed despite Harry's vehement protests. He couldn't risk the same thing happening to Tom. Not now, after all this time, not when he was finally free. Coming to a decision, Harry got up pried up the loose floorboard. There were some scraps of parchment and broken quills still down there, in his secret hiding place, and Harry scribbled down a quick note: "Tom, I've taken you somewhere the wizarding world will never think to look. This is the house of my muggle relatives. Please don't make any noise, they don't know you're here, and would be very unhappy if they found out. I'll tell everyone that you're dead, I'll make sure no one will look for you. From this moment on, you're free. Run away from here, and make a life for yourself. I wish you all the luck in the world. Yours, Harry Potter."

Harry placed the note in the most obvious place he could find, and then gathered the last of his strength and apparated for the fourth time that night. He landed, panting, at the gates of Hogwarts.


Chapter Text

The gates of Hogwarts were locked, and without Dumbledore there along with him to open the gates, Harry found himself stuck outside. He tapped his wand to the gate, the magical equivalent of knocking, and waited for a member of staff to come along.

He had hardly been waiting a few moments when a flustered McGonagall came right at him, flanked closely by Tonks.

"Potter?" She gasped when she saw him. "Is that you? Oh, thank Merlin you're alright!" She clutched at her chest, the wrinkles on her face standing out more vividly than usual.

"Not so fast, Minerva," Tonks said firmly, pointing her wand at Harry. "What color hair was I wearing when you first saw me?"

"Tonks!" Harry groaned, "That was two years ago! How am I supposed to remember something like that?"

"Well, it was a while ago." Tonks conceded. "But if you were Ginny you would have remembered it, it was the exact same style as Myron Wagtail, that hunk from the Weird Sisters. Never mind. Tell me how I'd made sure your family wouldn't be there that night."

"Oh!" said Harry grinning, "You wrote them a letter saying they had won a contest for best-kept lawn or something."

"One of my most brilliant ideas," Tonks said, lowering her wand. "Are you alright, Harry?"

"Yeah." Harry said, suddenly serious again, "But listen, there's something I need to tell you- about what happened tonight."

"Harry," Tonks said gently, "we already know."

McGonagall gave a choked sob.

"You- you do?" Harry asked incredulously, "What do you know?"

"We know that Dumbledore is dead," Tonks told him solemnly.

"How do you know already?" Harry asked, "Did Snape tell you?"

"Harry, do you know where Snape is?" Tonks asked urgently. "He's gone missing, and some people have been saying-"

"He wouldn't!" Minerva declared fiercely. "Dumbledore trusted Severus. I refuse to believe that he could have been the one to- to-" she couldn't seem to bring herself to say the words 'kill Dumbledore'.

"Snape's not a traitor," Harry assured her. "But wait, if he's missing, how did you know what happened?"

"It was Fawkes," Tonks told him. "He appeared in Grimmauld Place and began making a huge racket. Remus tried to calm him down, and Fawkes transported him to the- the body. Kingsley called in law enforcement. He's at the scene with a few more Aurors at the moment, and we were just going over there."

"We had searched all around the school for you, Potter," McGonagall said, sounding upset. "I knew that you had gone out with Dumbledore tonight, and everyone worried when we couldn't find you. And then we discovered that Severus is missing, and, well, we feared the worse. Where were you?"

"I'm sorry I made everyone worry," Harry replied, "but there wasn't really time for me do anything like leave a note as it was all happening. Voldemort was there, you see, and I followed him."

"Voldemort?" McGonagall asked faintly.

"YOU FOLLOWED HIM?" Tonks demanded angrily, "Harry, of all the stupid, irresponsible- What were you thinking? Was it some sort of attempt at revenge? How did you get away?"

"What? No! You don't understand." Harry said, trying to explain himself, "Voldemort- he's dead."

"What do you mean, he's dead?!" McGonagall demanded incredulously.

"Well, he was kissed by a dementor," Harry explained, cringing as the disbelieving look on her face.

"Potter, perhaps you had better come with us to the crime scene." McGonagall said finally, "You can help the Aurors figure out what happened there. And while you're at it they can check you over for spell damage and the like."

This Harry quickly acquiesced to, as it gave him more time to concoct a believable story of what had happened earlier that night. 

Upon leaving the gates of Hogwarts, McGonagall grabbed Harry's arm in a tight grip and apparated to the place in which Dumbledore had died earlier that night. Upon arriving, it took a few moments for the people milling about the place to notice the new arrivals, but then someone shouted "Potter!", and suddenly Harry was swarmed by people, saying his name and asking him questions.

"Alright, everyone," Came Kingsley's deep and authoritative voice above the crowd, "we can't make sense of anything when you're all shouting at him simultaneously. Let me talk to him."

The crowd parted before him, and Harry met Kingsley's eye and grinned in greeting.

"Hello, Mr. Potter," Kingsley said politely, a gentle reminder to Harry not to show too much familiarity around people who didn't know that Kingsley was part of the Order. "Would you be willing to tell us what you know about what happened here tonight?"

Harry nodded, suddenly nervous upon noticing that among the people listening to him were Minister Scrimgeour and Auror Dawlish, neither of whom was particularly fond of Harry. He reminded himself that he could show no hesitation or uncertainty while telling his story, or else he would not be believed.

"This was all planned in advance," Harry told the crowd. "Dumbledore had found a ritual that he thought might be the key to defeating Voldemort. If you cast a revealing charm, you'll be able to find the runes he carved here in advance for the ritual. We'd made them invisible so that Voldemort wouldn't know what we were planning. Dumbledore was cursed over the summer, and he didn't tell anyone, but he was dying, and he didn't have much longer to live. He planned it so that his death would be a part of the ritual to defeat Voldemort. And Snape was the one who told Voldemort that Dumbledore and I would be here, outside of the protections of Hogwarts. It was a trap, and Voldemort fell for it and came."

Whispers and muttering ran through the crowd at Harry's revelations, but Harry ignored them. He was exhausted and just wanted to finish telling his story so that he could go to sleep. Really, in the end, it didn't matter now if anyone believed him or not, Harry had not yet lied about any of the events that evening, and they would find no evidence to disprove his story.

He continued. "Then I started to perform the ritual, but Voldemort must have realized it was a trap because he apparated away before it was done. It must have had some effect on him, though, what we'd already done, because he was acting very strange and disoriented. I followed him to where he had gone, and I found myself right outside Azkaban. When I managed to reach the shore and get into the prison, he had already thrown his wand away and was being kissed by a dementor. So, he's gone."

There was stunned silence at his pronouncement.

"Potter," Scrimgeour growled, "are you claiming that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead?"

"Yes, I am." Harry stared around at the unfriendly faces surrounding him. "Can everyone stop looking at me like I'm crazy? I'm the one who insisted all along that he was back, even when nobody else wanted to believe it! Why would I make this up?"

"Well, it is just a bit anticlimactic." Tonks pointed out. "I always imagined that if Voldemort died it would be in the middle of a huge battle scene."

"It's not that." Kingsley corrected gently. "Harry, you must understand that last time he was defeated it was immediately obvious that something had happened. People all over started coming out of trances. We got dozens of frantic firecalls from people saying they had been Imperiused and only just came back to themselves. Nothing like that has happened this time around."

"But you're forgetting that this time around Voldemort wasn't the one to Imperius all these people. He can hardly go around the Ministry with his snake face casting the Imperius left and right, especially not last year when he was hiding the fact that he was back. He's had his Death Eaters do all the dirty work, now that he's in hiding." Harry retorted. "So as long as the Death Eaters are still alive, no one will become un-Imperiused. But he really is dead."

"There's one very simple way to verify Potter's story," Scrimgeour growled. "We need to send someone to Azkaban to try and retrieve the body. I will have it examined by experts to determine if it is genuine or not."

"There won't be a body," Harry said quickly.

That certainly raised a few eyebrows. If they hadn't been inclined to disbelieve his story then, they certainly were now.

"I wish I could help you with finding the body, I really do!" Harry lied passionately, "But the minute he was kissed, his body just started crumbling away, like ashes!"

"Ashes?" Even kind Kingsley couldn't help looking a little doubtful.

"That's ridiculous!" Dawlish interjected, "The boy is obviously making up stories again."

"Shut it, Dawlish," Tonks growled. But then, turning back to Harry she said: "Seriously, though, Harry. Is this because of what I said about your story not being dramatic enough?"

Harry rolled his eyes. He knew it wasn't a very good story, but it was all he had had time to come up with on the spot. And besides- "I don't see why that's so difficult to believe. I mean, this body wasn't the one he was born in, it was a magically crafted one he made for himself in a really dark ritual. Isn't it possible it was tied somehow to his soul, and the second that was gone the body was no longer held together magically?"

"I suppose so." Kingsley sighed. "But your story would be much easier to confirm if there was a body. The lack of evidence adds a dimension of uncertainty that is quite unfortunate." He concluded in a disapproving voice as if it was Harry's fault that there wasn't a body (which it was, but Kinsley had no way of knowing that).

"Look," Harry sighed. "I know it's not what you were expecting, but why would I lie to you about this? I was the one who insisted he was back when no one else wanted to believe it, and took all the dirt everyone threw at me because it was important to me that people would know the truth. Why would I suddenly make up a story just to make people happy?"

"It's not about that," Kingsley replied. "You've never given anyone a reason to doubt your integrity. But it is possible that Voldemort somehow managed to trick you into thinking you saw something you didn't."

"I don't see what purpose making me think he was dead would serve, since next time he felt angry I would immediately know it wasn't true." Harry tapped his scar. "But you know what? It doesn't matter." He suddenly felt very tired. "Last time the truth eventually came out, and it will this time as well. As soon and the Death Eaters realize that he's gone and that they'd cast their lot on the wrong side, they'll all come running back to the Ministry again, claiming Imperius."

"Very well." McGonagall sighed. "I will take Potter back to the school. He's been through quite a lot tonight, including participating in a ritual and witnessing of the Headmaster's death at the very least."

"Alright." Scrimgeour growled, "But before you leave, Potter, do you have any idea where Severus Snape might be?"

Harry shrugged noncommittally. "Maybe he went looking for me. Maybe he's hiding because he's afraid of being accused of killing Dumbledore. Send him a Patronus or something."

With that, he followed McGonagall back to the school.


Harry was pummeled awake the next morning by Ron hitting him with a pillow.

"You're alive, you pillock!" Ron shouted, jumping on the bed. Harry groaned, and tried to turn over and catch a few more minutes of sleep.

"I'm going to get Hermione!" Ron said, ignoring Harry's moans of protest. "I'll be back in five minutes!"

Fifteen minutes later found Ron re-entering the dormitory with Hermione, a large bruise on his forehead, and cursing the staircase to the girl's dorms energetically.

"What happened, Harry? Did it work? The Daily Prophet will only arrive at seven, and that's still an hour and a half away." Hermione said quickly, and sat down on his bed, staring at him with bated breath.

"You woke me up at five a.m.?" Harry shouted at Ron accusingly.

Dean gave a big snore and began to stir. Harry quickly cast a Muffliato.

"Not five." Ron said, "Five thirty. Besides, if everything has gone according to plan, both Dumbledore and Voldemort died last night. Did you really expect me to calmly wait for you to wake up to find out what happened?"

"Honestly, I expected you to be up and waiting for me when I got back to the dorm," Harry replied.

"Nah, I knew I'd go crazy with worry, just sitting around waiting for you. I had Neville knock me out with a spell."

"Enough of this!" Hermione declared, "We have more important things to discuss. Harry, what happened last night?"

Staring at the earnest expression on Ron's freckled face, and Hermione's finger, around which she was twirling her frizzy hair, the way she always did when she was tense, Harry knew he could tell them the truth. They had believed him about Sirius, they had stood by him when no one had believed him about Voldemort being back, and they would understand his decision now to withhold the full truth about Voldemort.

So Harry told them everything. They listened solemnly to the story of what happened in the cave, and the suffering Dumbledore subjected himself to in order to get to the Horcrux. Then, a new tenseness settled into the air when Harry began talking about the ritual. When Harry told them about Riddle taking control from Voldemort and apparating away, Hermione gave a little gasp, and Ron's freckles stood out vividly against his pale face.

Not wanting to keep them in unnecessary agony, Harry quickly told them about managing to follow Voldemort to Azkaban. And when Harry got to the part when he had realized that Voldemort's soul had been consumed by a dementor, and Riddle's soul was about to follow, though it hadn't quite yet, Hermione already realized where the story was going.

"Oh, Harry, you saved him, didn't you?"

Harry nodded. "I cast a patronus."

"What?!" Ron squawked, "But what if it wasn't Riddle you saved, but You-Know-Who? What if he was faking being eaten by a dementor? What if you did save Riddle, but You-Know-Who's still in there too somehow?"

"Ron," Harry sighed, "they're souls. You can't fake or pretend these kinds of things with souls, it just- I can't explain it, but trust me on this: If you had been there too, you would have also known immediately that Voldemort's soul was already eaten by a dementor, and Riddle's wasn't. Just- trust me."

Ron didn't look completely reassured, but he did nod and allow Harry to continue his story.

Telling them about the half-delirious confessions out of Riddle's mouth after he had been saved seemed to reassure Ron, and by the time Harry told them about lying to the Ministry, both Ron and Hermione were nodding along with him.

"Definitely don't tell them anything they don't need to know," Hermione said, very wisely in Harry's opinion. "They certainly haven't proven themselves to be trustworthy, or capable of good judgment."

"Exactly!" Harry exclaimed, feeling happier with his decision now that he had Hermione's approval.

"You probably did the right thing," Ron conceded as well, "but keep an eye on that mirror of yours, won't you, just to make sure there are no suspicious activities happening on the other side."

"Alright." Harry agreed easily. He had been planning on doing that anyway. "Besides, even if I did end up saving Voldemort, I left him at the Dursleys'. So if Voldemort ends up killing them, aat least one good thing would have come out of this whole situation. "

The joke was in bad taste, but both Ron and Hermione laughed. It was a testament to just how much they hated the Dursleys.

Their conversation was interrupted by Seamus waking up, and the three of them moved downstairs to the common room. Harry adamantly refused to go down to breakfast. He knew that as soon as the Daily Prophet arrived, announcing Dumbledore's death, he would be mobbed with questions, stares, and whispers. Hermione and Ron volunteered to go down and get food to bring up to Harry, and Harry was left alone to try and build a house out of Exploding Snap cards.

He was just considering going back to his dormitory to check if there was anything to see in the mirror, when Hermione and Ron returned, McGonagall in tow.

"Professor?" Harry asked, startled for a moment.

"Come with me please, Potter." She requested. "Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley have my permission to come along as well since I'm aware that you'll tell them everything anyway."

Professor McGonagall didn't lead them to her office, surprisingly, but rather to Dumbledore's office. With a jolt, Harry realized that the Headmaster's office was now hers.

After sitting them down and offering them tea, McGonagall finally explained what the meeting was about. "Potter, you'll be happy to know that I have made contact with Professor Snape and he has confirmed your story up until the point of you apparating away after He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

"What about after that?" Harry demanded, "Didn't he feel anything when Voldemort was-"

"He told me that he felt a pain in his arm, but that his Dark Mark did not fade the way it did the last time He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was defeated."

That actually made sense. Harry didn't know how the Dark Mark worked but it was quite possible that the fact that Tom Riddle's body hadn't been destroyed the night before meant that the Dark Mark was still active, even if the spirit of Voldemort was gone. Harry couldn't explain that to McGonagall, though, so he said nothing.

Professor McGonagall sighed. "Potter, the Daily Prophet will be arriving within the next hour. Ideally, I would like to make a preemptive statement to the students before they have a chance to read whatever hogwash the Prophet tries to feed them. My problem is that right now I cannot state with full confidence that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named really is dead."

Harry shrugged. "I'm sorry, Professor. If I had any proof I'd love to give it to you."

"But you don't." McGonagall stated shortly, "So this is what I'm going to do instead. I will ask you to think very carefully about the events of last night. Examine every moment of the evening since you left Hogwarts and test yourself to see if there is any moment in which your memory is unclear or blurry. If you can think of no such instance throughout the whole night, and if you can state to me with certainty, knowing that my word and integrity is dependent on it, that you were not Confunded last night and the events you saw really did occur, then I will make the announcement to the school. Can you do that?"

Harry made a show of thinking hard, to show her that he was taking her seriously. When he felt that a sufficient amount of time had passed to lend the necessary gravity to his statement he said: "Yes, I'm sure."

"Very well, then." McGonagall said briskly, "I will trust your word, Potter. See you three at breakfast." With that, they were dismissed.

They parted ways after leaving the Headmaster's office. Ron and Hermione went down to breakfast, while Harry headed back to Gryffindor tower to hide in his bed until some of the drama blew over.

Hermione and Ron returned to the dormitory some twenty minutes later bearing pieces of toast and a copy of the Daily Prophet.

"How bad is it?" Harry asked, eyeing the newspaper warily.

"Not too bad," Ron said comfortingly.

"They dedicated the majority of the front page article to Dumbledore's death," Hermione explained. "It mostly talks about how they found the- the b-body, and how the Aurors found no evidence of foul play. Only towards the end, they mention that you witnessed it and repeat your story. There were some, well, aspersions cast on the state of your sanity. But, Harry, everyone knows better than to believe that drivel, especially after last year when they bullied you all year and you turned out to be right!"


Everyone, as it turned out, did not know better. When Harry gathered the courage to come down for lunch a few hours later, he was greeted by jeers and taunting remarks. Mostly, but not exclusively, from the Slytherin table.

The members of Dumbledore's army, though, seemed to take Harry's side. After they had all crowded around him to confirm that the Daily Prophet had quoted him correctly and that he did in fact claim that Voldemort was dead, he received many pats on the back and smiles from the whole gang. Susan Bones even burst into tears and gave Harry a long hug.

The chaos surrounding Harry caused by both his supporters and detractors soon gave Harry a headache, and finally, Neville suggested that they all move to the Room of Requirement to get some quiet and privacy. Once there, Harry repeated to them in more detail the same story he had told the Aurors, and while not everyone seemed completely convinced, they all listened thoughtfully, which Harry found quite comforting.

The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging around and drinking butterbeer that had been supplied by Dobby. Dobby had popped in to see Harry and had promptly begun bowling into Harry's robes. Knowing how much the elf had idolized the late Headmaster, Harry had done his best to comfort him. That turned out to only be half the issue though. Dobby was also crying out of happiness and relief that Harry was no longer in danger from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And then out of guilt because he felt he was a bad elf for being happy so soon after Dumbledore's death.

After having spent a few minutes being comforted by Harry and various members of Dumbledore's Army, receiving a few dozen hugs from both Susan and Hannah, and wiping his nose on Justin Finch-Fletchley's monogrammed handkerchief, Dobby had finally calmed. Soon he was taking pleasure in getting Hannah the chocolate cookies she liked and refilling the butterbeer whenever it ran low.

When it was finally time for dinner, Harry felt bolstered by his friends' support and ready to venture back into the Great Hall and deal with the rest of the school. Upon entering, Harry was surprised but not displeased to find that the Slytherin table was completely quiet. There were no jeers or catcalls directed at Harry, and Malfoy seemed to be avoiding his eye. A quiet murmur of whispers rose from the tables as Harry walked through the hall and sat at Gryffindor table. Harry could feel the pressure of dozens of eyes staring at him.

"Dennis!" Harry called out to Collin Creevey's younger brother who was sitting across the table from him, "Did something happen? Everyone seems more, er- quiet."

"Didn't you hear?" Dennis asked excitedly. "Astrid's uncle works for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement." He gestured at a tiny first-year Ravenclaw with pigtails. "And he told her that the Department communicated with the dementors to figure out what happened last night, and one of the dementors claims that it ate the soul of You-Know-Who!"

"You're not serious?" Harry asked, not daring to believe his luck.

"Yeah! And no-one's stupid enough to believe that the dementor was just lying for attention, so now everyone's thinking that you were probably telling the truth."

"So it's not enough that Harry, who stuck to his word all of last year despite being denounced and slandered and ended up being proven right, tells them it happened, but the second a dementor confirms it, suddenly it must be true?" Hermione muttered angrily.

"Eh, let it go, Hermione." Ron said placatingly, piling peas onto his plate, "Now at least Harry knows who his real friends are. I'm just glad-" here he glanced around to make sure no one was listening and cast a Muffliato,"I'm just glad the dementor didn't say anything about him getting up and walking away after the kiss, or about there being two souls."

"Well," Hermione replied reasonably, "it's not like dementors can speak English. It's hard enough for the magical translator to get simple messages across, let alone long, elaborate explanations."

"How do dementors communicate with people?" Harry asked curiously, only to regret it moments later when Hermione launched into a complicated explanation involving arithmancy, ancient runes and magical linguistics.

Ron made a long-suffering face behind Hermione's back, and Harry had to keep himself from laughing. In that moment of peace, Harry thought that the reality of Voldemort being dead was finally beginning to set in, and let himself revel in the relief. A moment later, though, he recalled the pale, sunken face of Tom Riddle as Harry had left him, weak and vulnerable, at the Dursleys, and the light-hearted moment was gone.


The next morning's edition of the Daily Prophet contained a statement from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement asserting that they had been able to confirm Harry's story of Voldemort's demise. It also contained three accounts from people who had come forward over the past 24 hour period claiming they had been Imperiused. There was a betting pool going on at the Gryffindor table over how long it would take Malfoy's father to pretend to 'wake up' from the Imperius back in Azkaban, and another pool over how long it would take for him to be exonerated of all crimes.

Stil, there was a general aura of glee in the air, which only intensified as McGonagall allowed them to have the day off in celebration. Several students had obviously paid a visit to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes over the Christmas break, to the effect of a brilliant fireworks display over the Quidditch pitch, contributed to by students of all houses.

Two days later was Dumbledore's funeral, which occurred in Hogwarts. It was attended by quite an eclectic mix of people, which was a testament to Dumbledore's character. Harry had spotted at the funeral Tom, from the leaky cauldron, the barman from The Hog's Head, who Harry didn't know the name of, a vampire, two hags, a mysterious group of people who were all wearing yellow caps, the Minister of Magic, and, much to Harry's fury, Dolores Umbridge. Even the merpeople from the lake came to pay their respects, as did the centaurs from the Forbidden Forest.

Harry found the stuffy and self-important speeches that were made at the funeral distasteful. They sounded like they were written by a person who had read Dumbledore's resumé, rather than actually having met the man himself. Still, there was a lot of mention of the fact that he had fallen while fighting evil and protecting his students, and Harry knew that if there was one thing Dumbledore would want to be remembered by it would be that. Dumbledore would have been happy had he been able to see all the people gathered there for him, celebrating his contribution to the ending of the war, and the thought gave Harry comfort.


The last few weeks of term passed in a blissful haze of relief and celebration, punctuated only by brief bouts of worry about Tom Riddle that Harry was prone to. Every so often, Harry would take a peek at the enchanted mirror in his bedroom to see if he could catch a glimpse of Riddle.

The view in the mirror had changed the very first day after Voldemort was gone, leading Harry to think that it had been moved from wherever Voldemort's previous headquarters had been to storage in Tom Riddle's new place of residence. Since all the mirror showed now was a plain, whitewashed wall, it didn't give Harry much to go on. He tried to push all the unanswered questions to the back of his mind, but they would still pop up occasionally in random moments, such as during the written charms exam at the end of the year.

It was upon leaving this exam, the last one before summer vacation, that Harry was approached by Snape for the first time since the night Dumbledore died.

Having a private conversation with Snape was the last thing Harry wanted to do at the moment when his well-earned vacation finally started, but he hadn't had much choice. He had been walking behind Hermione and Ron, the first of which was analyzing every single question they had been asked while the latter groaned about not wanting to think about it when Snape had appeared from behind them with a terse: "Potter. A word?"

Harry had barely had time to send a desperate look at his friends before he was being dragged into Snape's office and the door locked behind him. Moments later, a small buzzing sound that Harry recognized as the result of a Muffliato spell, ensured that their conversation was private.

"Professor Dumbledore told me something before he died." Snape began unceremoniously. "Perhaps I should have approached you sooner, but I was- unsure" his lip curled at this admittance "about the relevance of this information. However, I have decided to pass it along to you. Sit down, Potter."

Harry complied reluctantly, not liking the idea of Snape towering over him more than he already was.

Snape began pacing up and down in front of Harry, a thoughtful frown on his lips. "Professor Dumbledore had a theory that he told me about before his death. It was unconfirmed, but considering everything else he was right about- well, it would not be wise to discount it. He believed that the night the Dark Lord came for your m- for your parents and then failed to kill you, the killing curse that reflected back at him did more than destroy his body. According to Albus, the Dark Lord's soul, which was already unstable and torn due to rituals he underwent in his youth, was torn up so that a part of it separated from the whole. That piece attached itself to you."

Snape stopped here as if to examine Harry's reaction, but Harry was too surprised to give him anything, so Snape continued his monologue.

"This theory would explain the unique connection that existed between the two of you- the fact that you could sense his emotions, and the visions you received through his eyes. I think it quite likely that this theory is correct. Now, the question that remains is what are the ramifications, if any, of this theory, considering the Dark Lord's encounter with a dementor last month. I do not believe that the part of the Dark Lord that resides in you can harm you once he is gone, but it would not hurt to be cautious. If you feel any pains in your scar, if you have any visions, even if you have a strange dream that you think might be reminiscent of a vision, you must come to me at once. I will make myself available to you even during summer vacation, should the need arise. I trust you understand that this concession of my own privacy and personal time is not to be abused?"

Harry bit back a sarcastic retort about how much he wanted to spend time with Snape over the summer, and simply nodded.

"Very well. In that case, Potter, get out of my sight. I hope not to see you again until September first."

Harry scampered off to find Ron and Hermione.


"So what are you going to do about all this, Harry, now that you know?" Hermione asked curiously after Harry finished telling her and Ron about his meeting with Snape.

"He doesn't have to do anything!" Ron interjected before Harry had a chance to answer, "You-Know-Who's gone, and good riddance too, and I don't think that bit of him in Harry has any power over him. If it did, it would have already tried to possess him, like the Diary Horcrux did to Ginny. Harry's alright."

"So, what?" Hermione snapped, "He just wanders around with a bit of Voldemort in him for the rest of his life? What if this is the first step to having Voldemort possess him like he did to Tom Riddle? We still don't know exactly how he was controlling Riddle, or how it came about, do we really want to take a chance by on Harry's safety?"

Harry's heart fell into his stomach. The thought hadn't occurred to him.

"Nonsense!" Ron argued back, "Clearly what Dumbledore was talking about was Harry being accidentally made into a Horcrux. That's not the same thing as being possessed by an evil spirit of some kind, which is what happened to Tom Riddle."

"We'd never established for sure that that was what had happened to Riddle!" Hermione argued back, her voice becoming shrill, as it always did when she was angry. "It was just a theory. In fact, considering that it was getting kissed by a dementor that freed Riddle, I'm inclined to think that there was more soul magic involved than Dumbledore first suspected! We never knew for sure how this whole thing worked. Do you really want to risk being wrong?"

"Actually, Hermione makes a good point." Harry interrupted before Ron could reply. Ron shot him a betrayed look. "I don't think she's right about the whole me being in danger thing." Harry quickly amended, placating his friend. "I agree with Ron that if it was going to possess me I would have known about it by now. But she's right about the fact that we never really knew what the circumstances were that allowed Voldemort to control Tom Riddle. And if we really want to be sure everything's alright, we need to go to the only person who does know."

"You want to ask Tom Riddle?" Hermione asked.

Harry nodded.

"It does make the most sense." Hermione agreed.

"And that way you can keep an eye on him," Ron added. "I know you said that souls can't lie and that you're sure that You-Know-Who got eaten and Riddle didn't, but it couldn't hurt to check in and make sure he isn't up to anything nefarious."

Harry shrugged at that. He was convinced that there was nothing to worry about and that anyone who had seen the two souls would be just as certain as he was, but since they were reaching a conclusion he was happy with he saw no point in arguing. For weeks he had caught himself looking at the mirror in his room wistfully, hoping to catch a glimpse of Riddle. Having an excuse to investigate Riddle's strange situation further and satisfy his curiosity regarding the circumstances that had led to his entrapment, as well as his curiosity about the man himself, was just what Harry wanted.

"We've decided, then?" He asked, "I go ask Riddle what he knows about this whole mess?"

Hermione's frizzy hair bounced as she nodded her agreement. "Yes."

"So, how do we find Riddle?" Ron asked.

Both he and Harry turned to look at Hermione.

She rolled her eyes despairingly. "Honestly, you two are useless without me."

Chapter Text

Late on the night of July thirtieth, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were sitting on Ron's bed up in The Burrow and packing a bag for Harry for the next day.

This summer was, by far, the best summer of Harry's life. With the threat of Voldemort gone for good, the Order had determined that there was no need for Harry to maintain the protections around his aunt's house. He had gone straight from the train to The Burrow, much to his joy.

Harry had spent the past month playing Quidditch with the Weasleys, taking long walks with Ron and Hermione up to Luna's house, helping Mrs. Weasley around the house, and generally doing whatever he pleased. In his spare time, he holed up in Ron's room along with Ron and Hermione and planned their search for Riddle.

Hermione, with her vast knowledge of magic, came up very quickly with two different methods of tracking him down, but both involved Harry performing magic in the last place Riddle was known to have been- the Dursley's house. For obvious reasons they had decided that Harry should be the one to track down Riddle, and since Harry was underaged and could not yet perform magic, they were waiting until his birthday.

The wait was almost over now, and they were preparing for the next day.

"Harry, I'm wrapping these knarl quills in a jumper for you," Hermione said, brandishing the pointy objects. "because they're fairly delicate, and you don't want them breaking. Also, in case you get cold and need a jumper."

"Hermione, it's the end of July!" Ron exclaimed incredulously, "In what situation would Harry need a jumper?"

"We don't know where Riddle is hiding," Hermione insisted, "it could be in Antartica for all we know."

Harry personally doubted that but said nothing.

"Now, Harry," Hermione continued, "Remember that the quills and the potion in the green flask are for the backup plan in case you can't find something with Riddle's DNA. The potion in the red flask is in case you do, and the silver flask has tea, in case you want it. And don't forget that the first potion you only drink after you've said the incantation, but the second potion you need to drink before-" She was interrupted by the beeping of Harry's wristwatch.

"Merlin!" she exclaimed, "Is it midnight already? Happy birthday, Harry!"

"Go on," Ron declared, grinning, "cast your first legal spell outside of Hogwarts!"

Harry raised his wand and sent a multi-colored firework into the ceiling in celebration. Ron whooped, and Harry laughed.

"You know," Harry said thoughtfully, "I could go to the Dursleys right now to look for him, no one said I had to wait until tomorrow."

"No way, mate!" Ron rebuffed him immediately, "You need to be going to sleep now, so you won't be exhausted at your party tomorrow. You know how hard mum's worked on planning it!"

Harry sheepishly admitted that it was true, and went to bed soon after. He wouldn't want to be ungrateful to Mrs. Weasley, especially considering all the effort she had gone through to make him feel like a part of the family. Finding Riddle could wait for a few hours. And Harry was completely sure that he would find him. It seemed impossible to Harry that someone who's fate was so closely tied with his own could just vanish suddenly from his life, never to be seen again. Harry had saved Riddle's life. He carried a piece of Riddle's soul, for Merlin's sake! (Though that might actually be a piece of Voldemort's soul, Harry wasn't completely sure which it was). Harry was probably the first person to ever find out that Riddle was a separate person from Voldemort. It just didn't make any sense for Harry not to find him tomorrow. Besides, he had Hermione's brilliance on his side. Nothing could go wrong.

With that comforting thought, Harry finally fell asleep.

By the time the celebrations of Harry's birthday were over the next day, afternoon was already turning into evening. The celebrations had been too extravagant for Harry's taste, who was used to a miserable time at the Dursleys, but he was very touched by the effort everyone had gone through for him.

The morning had begun with a breakfast that included all of Harry's favorite foods, including treacle tart for dessert, and continued on to the party, which was attended by almost the whole Order, as well as Neville, Luna, and a good portion of Dumbledore's army. After the gift giving ceremony, and a rousing game of Quidditch (for which Ron insisted that Luna provide the commentary) the twins and Ginny convinced the younger crowd, including Tonks and Remus to play a game called 'Spin the Bottle'. Once they had explained the rules of the game, Harry had realized that it was one more of their machinations to force Remus and Tonks to reveal their feelings for each other.

Ginny had discovered that Tonks had feeling for Remus earlier that summer, or so she said. When Harry had asked her how she knew, she had only smiled and said: "A woman's intuition." Ever since then, she had been inviting Tonks over with various excuses whenever Remus happened to be visiting. The twins had joined in on the fun, and contributed to the match-making efforts by inventing a new product, ostensibly for their shop, called "Swooning Sweets", which caused you to faint, only to wake up upon being kissed on the lips.

They had spent a good portion of the summer trying to sneak it into Tonks's food, and when she proved to be too clever for them into Remus's. The contrived game they now suggested was certainly their latest strategy.

The game did indeed result in a kiss between Remus and Tonks, as well as one between Harry and Luna and, most horrifyingly, between the two Weasley twins, which served them right for their ridiculous matchmaking plans. Though it was quite satisfying to see Remus's bright red blush after the (disappointingly closed-mouth) kiss, Harry had a feeling it would take more than that to make them into a couple.

Then came the birthday dinner. Mrs Weasley had outdone herself with vast quantities of food, and they had all eaten more than was probably clever. By the time everyone headed home and Harry was finally ready to leave on his mission, Ron was lying on his stomach on the bed and groaning that he would never be able to eat a pie again in his life.

"Hermione, you're the smart one," he moaned, "Why didn't you stop me after the third piece of pie? I think I'm dying!"

Hermione pursed her lips. "I told you that you'd give yourself a stomachache if you kept eating, and you told me to stop nagging." She turned away from Ron and towards Harry, giving him the bag she had packed the night before.

"Harry, you'll be alright?"

Harry grinned at her. "I'll be fine."

"And you'll remember which potion is for-"

"I'll remember everything." Harry said, trying to be patient though he was eager to be off.

"Good luck, then!" she declared, and Harry apparated away.

He landed in his old room, at number 4, Privet Drive, with a crack. He had considered apparating a little outside the house and sneaking in so as not to startle his family with the noise of his sudden appearance, but then decided he didn't care enough about them to give them the consideration.

"Vernon!" Petunia's frightened voice called from the hall, beyond the door. "Vernon, did you hear that?!"

"I heard it! From the boy's room!" Vernon's booming voice called back.

"Oh, Vernon!" Petunia sounded like she was on the verge of tears. Harry had to stifle a snicker at the melodrama. Quietly he crept towards the door and put his ear to it, to try to catch a bit of the conversation between his aunt and uncle which had now taken on a quieter tone.

"-the third time this week you've heard a noise from that room." His aunt was saying. "And this time, I heard it too. Vernon, we can't ignore it forever. Whatever m-mag- whatever abnormal thing he left in there, we're best off just taking it all out and throwing it away. Or better yet, burning it. Then it'll all be over with and we can stop jumping at every sound from there."

"We've already discussed this, Petunia," Vernon's stern voice replied. "I'm not touching anything that's in there. The door remains locked, and we just don't need to think about it. Whatever is in there can just stay there for all eternity. I'm not letting it into the rest of the house."

Harry rolled his eyes, but was cheered at the thought that no one from his family had gone into the room. It increased his chances of finding some physical remnant of Riddle's presence. He amused himself with the thought of casting a spell to create a noise in the room every so often, just to give Uncle Vernon a jolt, but judging by Aunt Petunia's remark about it being the third time that week he'd heard a noise, Uncle Vernon's paranoia was doing his work for him.

Snickering slightly, Harry turned to the bed he had left Riddle in, preparing for a search for hairs. He started in surprise. Riddle had set the bed after sleeping in it, and on the pillow he had placed the scroll on which Harry had left his message. There was more writing at the end of the scroll that was not in Harry's hand.


It's hard to know how to start writing , because I don't think the words exist that can convey just how grateful I am for what you've done for me. You've given me my life and a chance to be happy. Though I know I can never repay that kind of debt, I'd still like to do what I can.

At the bottom of the page I've drawn a circle on which I've cast a charm. Tapping on it with your wand will give you an image of a hideout of mine. That should be enough to allow you to apparate there. I'd like you to come to me if there's anything at all that I can do for you. You can come any time of day, rain or shine, and I'll be happy for the opportunity to assist you (I won't pretend that I wouldn't also welcome the opportunity to question you about how you knew that I was innocent and a separate person from Voldemort). I only ask that you don't pass the information on, and destroy this parchment once you're done. I'd rather no one find out where I'm hiding. Since you saved my life I doubt you intend to turn me in to the ministry, but I'm in a vulnerable enough position just leaving this parchment lying here in plain sight, so I would appreciate your help in the matter.

Whether or not you decide to contact me, and whether or not we ever see each other again, I will always be grateful to you. I wish you all the best.


Tom Riddle

Well, it certainly seemed that the search for Tom Riddle would be easier than they had anticipated. Harry grinned and tapped the parchment with his wand.

A few minutes and one burnt piece of parchment later found Harry at the entrance to a little cottage surrounded by grass and the occasional tree. He walked to the front door, and took a deep, bracing breath before knocking.

There was a crash from the inside, an exclamation, and then the sound of running footsteps. A few seconds later the door opened to reveal a panting Tom Riddle.

Harry had only seen Riddle once in real life and a few other times in various memories, but he wasn't going to forget the man's appearance in a hurry. He was slightly surprised by it, though, as he had been expecting the snakelike and hairless visage of Voldemort.

"You came!" Riddle exclaimed, beaming at Harry.

The sight of such a happy expression on his face took Harry aback. Whenever Riddle smiled in one of the memories that Dumbledore had shown him it had been more of a sneer than the wide grin he was sporting currently.

"Yeah, hi." Harry said quickly, embarrassed at having stared rather more than was probably polite.

"Come in." Riddle gestured inside, and after a very slight hesitation, Harry did.

"Would you like anything to eat or drink?" Riddle asked politely. Harry thanked Riddle, but declined.

After they were both seated in a well-lit kitchen painted a cheerful yellow, Riddle turned to Harry and said: "I have so many questions for you!"

"So do I!" Harry said enthusiastically, glad for the opening. "That's actually why I came here."

"Oh, well then, you should definitely go first." Riddle said earnestly, gesturing at Harry.

Harry, though, was uncomfortable with the idea of barging into Riddle's house and questioning him about Horcruxes and possession with no warning, and insisted that Riddle go first.

It didn't take much persuading for Riddle to relent, though, and his eyes were shining with wild curiosity when he asked Harry: "Why did you save me? When you saw me getting kissed by a dementor, you should have been celebrating the blight that was Voldemort being removed from the world, how did you know that I was in there too?"

Harry was happy to explain, and launched into a description of the morning he first got the mirror, how he figured out what it was and how to use it to spy on Voldemort, and about the first evening when he saw Tom wrestling control from Voldemort for long enough to keep from casting the lethal spell. He decided not to tell Riddle about the second time he had managed to spy on his interactions with Voldemort. The prospect of recounting it was embarrassing, and it wasn't really necessary to the story.

Riddle nodded along thoughtfully, and smiled slightly when Harry was finished. "When Lucius first told Him about his son Draco's latest plan involving the mirror, I personally thought it would end up being a pathetic failure like the rest of the poor boy's plans. Giving Harry Potter a means to spy on Voldemort, though, even I didn't think it would end up backfiring so spectacularly!"

Harry smirked at that. "I should have known that it was originally Malfoy's plan. I told Ron and Hermione that it was him that cursed Katie Bell, but they didn't believe me that he was a Death Eater until Dumbledore himself confirmed it."

"Yes, the cursed necklace." Riddle nodded. "It was meant to go to Dumbledore. So was your mirror, as a matter of fact. But Marvolo thought Dumbledore would know enough about dark magic to recognize it right away, so he had Draco send it to you instead."

"Marvolo?" Harry asked, puzzled.

"That was his- Voldemort's real name." Riddle explained shortly.

"Wasn't that your grandfather's name?" Harry prodded, trying to understand.

"Yes, he was my grandfather." Riddle replied. "How did you know his name?"

Harry explained about his lessons with Dumbledore and the memory the Headmaster had shown him.

"But why would he bother showing you an old memory of my dysfunctional family from before I was even born?" Riddle frowned.

"He was teaching me about the Horcruxes." Harry told him. "Your grandfather was wearing a ring on his finger- one with a black stone on it, and Dumbledore told me it was a Horcrux."

"It was." Riddle replied faintly, looking dazed. "I never thought that Dumbledore knew about the Horcruxes."

"Yeah, he did. Which actually brings me to a really important question I wanted to ask you." Harry answered eagerly. "It has to do with the Horcruxes. I wanted to ask how Voldemort- or Marvolo, I guess, managed to take control of you in the first place. I know it's probably dark magic and maybe normally you wouldn't want to talk about it, but the thing is that Dumbledore thought, and Snape thinks too, that Voldemort accidentally made me into a Horcrux, and I was afraid that it might somehow allow him to gain control of me, like he'd done to you."

"You think," Riddle murmured incredulously, "You think you're Horcrux?"

"Well, I don't know for sure," Harry said tentatively. "But it does make sense. The fact that I can speak to snakes, and how I could see through his eyes sometimes, and sense his emotions. According to Snape, Dumbledore's theory was that his soul was so torn up by the time he'd killed my parents, that when the Killing Curse reflected back at him, it caused a part of it to break off and attach itself to me."

Riddle was staring at him wide eyed. "Yes," he finally said. "It does explain quite a lot. You, being a Horcrux. Yes."

"So," Harry said nervously, "Do you think he'll be able to possess me somehow? Or do to me what he did to you?"

"The Horcruxes were made from my soul, not his." Riddle replied, frowning thoughtfully as he stared at Harry's forehead. "So you have nothing to fear on that front."

He reached out his hand towards Harry's scar. "May I?"

Harry nodded, and braced himself for the expected pain, but it never came. Instead, there was a sweeping sensation throughout his body, as if something within him was rushing to converge at the scar, was yearning to unite with the warm presence that was pressed up against the scar. For a beautiful moment, Harry felt utterly content, as if he had reached home after years of searching for it.

Then, Tom withdrew his hand. "I think you are my Horcrux, Harry." He said softly. He met Harry's eyes and winced. "I hope the thought doesn't distress you."

"Not at all!" Harry assured him. "I was only worried about Voldemort controlling me. But if you say that's not an option..."

"It definitely isn't." Tom said firmly. "Creating Horcruxes was his way of weakening my soul to ensure his control over me. The magic he used to connect himself to me was different, though both rituals are based on soul magic. There should be no way for him to reach you through it, he truly is dead and gone. Still, I would like to reabsorb the Horcrux. I've already reabsorbed the rest of them, and it would be nice to have a whole soul."

"Oh, alright." Harry swallowed. "Is there anything I should do?"

Tom shook his head. "I don't want to do it just yet. Soul magic is a tricky thing, and I don't know what kind of effects living inside another person would have on the Horcrux. I want to make sure the Horcrux hasn't attached itself to your soul in a way that would cause you harm if I were to try and separate it from you."

"That's possible?" Harry gaped.

"I don't know." Tom admitted, "I don't think so, but I'd like to be sure. Are you alright with me waiting a bit before I do it?"

"Of course." Harry replied, "Take all the time you need."

"Will do." Tom smiled. "Now, I believe you wanted to know about the magic Marvolo used to control me?"

"If you don't want to talk about it, I completely understand." Harry said hurriedly.

Tom shook his head. "That's alright, I don't mind telling you. Actually, I think it'll be nice to have someone else know after all these years. Someone other than him, I mean."

Harry nodded encouragingly.

"It's a concept that's very similar to Horcruxes." Tom explained. "He tore up his soul with murder and separated a piece of it, but instead of attaching it to an object, like you would with a Horcrux, he attached it to another soul- my soul. It's not magic that's usually intended for immortality, all it did was let him control my body whenever he wanted. He did it when I was very young, and babies as well as little children are too weak to fight against an attack like that. As I grew older, though, I became more powerful, and almost succeeded in throwing off his influence, so he forced me to tear my soul up to make Horcruxes, which made me weak enough that he was able to control me again. It also made me immortal, which meant that he was immortal too. After making that first Horcrux, he controlled me full time. Since then I've only been in control of my body for a few minutes at a time when I managed to fight him off for a bit."

"I can't imagine what that must have been like." Harry said solemnly, fighting back a shudder at the thought.

"It was awful at first." Tom replied frankly. "That first year that he took control was the worst. I was so helpless, and I couldn't do anything but watch as he started gathering the lowest scum in Hogwarts around him, and gaining power. And that summer-" he gulped "he went to the house where my father lived and killed my father and grandparents using my body and my magic."

This seemed to Harry like something very personal to talk about, especially since he was basically a stranger, but it was as if a dam had opened, and now that Riddle had begun to talk, it all came spilling out. Harry realized that this was probably the first time Riddle had even been able to talk about what he had experienced, and that he was the only person in the world Riddle could tell it to. Therefore, he tried his hardest to be a good listener to Riddle, as he described the horrible scene.

"He killed my grandfather first." Riddle continued. "And my grandmother just sat there, frozen in horror, too shocked to move, and he killed her too. And then last, he killed my father. That was the death he used to make the second Horcrux. I tried to fight him, I really did, but he was more powerful than me.

"Sometimes I think that the reason I didn't manage to overcome him was because a little part of me wanted him to succeed in killing my father. I was so angry at him, for so many years. For abandoning me to Marvolo's mercies, for abandoning my mother, for tainting me with the blood that made me dirty, that made Marvolo hate me. I can't help thinking that if I'd wanted to enough I could have stopped him. But I didn't."

Harry, wanting desperately to offer comfort, but having no idea how, reached out tentatively to pat Riddle on the back. The unexpected touch made Riddle startle, and he seemed to pull himself out of his reverie and straighten. "It wasn't so bad after that." he told Harry. "After he made the second Horcrux, a big part of my soul was gone. I could just withdraw into darkness and lose consciousness for days at a time, sometimes even weeks. After our time at Hogwarts ended, I stopped even trying to force myself into consciousness. I would let myself drift for months at a time, and by the time he made the third Horcrux I was almost like a regular Horcrux- mostly unaware. After that most of my memories are of him making the other Horcruxes. Other than those, it's all mostly a blur. And, of course, the moment we died, that definitely brought me into awareness."

"So you were mostly unconscious for years and years, and you suddenly became aware decades later at the moment you got hit with a Killing Curse and became a floating spirit?" Harry asked, trying to imagine what it must have been like.

"Basically." Tom nodded. "It was a bit distressing, but I'd mostly stopped caring about what happened to me at that point. I was just glad he couldn't use my magic to harm people anymore."

Harry nodded, but then brought up a point that was puzzling him. "So if you weren't really aware of what was happening around you since decades ago, how did you know to break the curse on the mirror that time I saw you?"

Tom shook his head. "That was before he got his body back two years ago. I definitely felt it when we got shoved back into a body, and instead of just drifting back out, I remained fully conscious. By the time he gave you your wand with back and you started to duel, I was actively trying to get back to the nothingness from before. I was sure he was going to kill you horribly, and I really didn't want to see it. But I couldn't drift off and lose consciousness anymore, it just wouldn't work.

"My theory is that it happened because one of my Horcruxes that had since been destroyed. After its destruction it must have rejoined me and made me stronger, so that when I finally had a body I couldn't go back to the half-life I was experiencing before. I know I was suddenly stronger than I'd been, because I was able to wrestle control away from Marvolo on occasion since then, as you know. I hadn't been able to do that for decades."

"I know the Horcrux you're talking about!" Harry exclaimed excitedly, "The diary, right?"

Tom nodded.

"That's actually a big relief to hear." Harry told him. "I was feeling a bit guilty about killing him-you. I did because I thought you were going to kill me, but I felt bad about it. But if I hadn't done that, you wouldn't have been able to take control back and get rid of your grandfather. He'd have still been alive, and you'd have been stuck in limbo forever. I guess I made the right choice."

Tom shook his head incredulously. "I can't believe you felt bad about killing me. I would have killed me without batting an eyelid if I were you, I was horrible."

Harry blushed. "You weren't all that bad."

Tom raised his eyebrows. "As I recall, at that age I still bought into all the pure-blood-superiority nonsense that Marvolo had been drilling into me ever since I was little. Are you telling me that I didn't go around trying to kill muggleborns and blood traitors?"

"You did," Harry replied, "but you just weren't all that good at it."

Tom laughed. "Did I constantly take the basilisk out just to where there was a conveniently placed puddle of water or mirror and then pretend to be dismayed when the person was only petrified instead of killed?"

Harry nodded.

"Yes, I supposed I was never quite meant for the pure blood lifestyle that my grandfather had intended for me. It's really no wonder he eventually decided to take over my body and do it himself." Tom sighed.

"It's probably for the best." Harry said casually. "If you'd been what he wanted you to be, I probably wouldn't have liked you all that much."

Tom's lips twitched. "I don't like this theoretical me much either. So it probably is for the best."

Harry crept back into Ron's room late that night after a long and fascinating conversation with Riddle. He opened the door to find Hermione and Ron speaking quietly to each other, looking rather intimate. Hermione's head was in Ron's lap, and his hand was brushing through her hair, but she sprang up the moment Harry walked into the room.

"Harry! You're back! How did it go? Did you find him?"

"Great." Harry grinned, "It went great. We're meeting again tomorrow."

"So did he tell you how he got possessed by You-Know-Who? Are you in danger of it happening to you?" Ron asked.

"He told me, and it's fine. There's no chance of it happening to me. The Horcrux in me is from Tom's soul. Marvolo didn't technically make any Horcruxes."

"Marvolo?" Hermione interrupted.

"Wait, isn't that his grandfather?" Ron asked.

"Yes, it turns out that Voldemort was his grandfather." Harry explained.

"You've lost me." Ron said, shaking his head, "How could You-Know-Who be his own grandfather?"

"Maybe you should start from the beginning, Harry." Hermione said gently.

That seemed sensible to Harry. He began by telling them about arriving at the Dursley's to find Riddle's note. Both Ron and Hermione had been curious to read it, but Harry had destroyed it as requested by Riddle, and so could only tell them what he had remembered it saying in vague terms. He then went on to tell them about his conversation with Riddle, and Riddle's explanation of what had happened to him.

"What is he like?" Hermione asked, after Harry finished telling them about how Riddle had already reabsorbed the rest of his Horcruxes, and planned to do the same with the one in Harry.

"He's great." Harry replied. "Really stable and cheerful for someone who's gone through what he has. I hadn't expected him to be so friendly."

"I'd really liked to meet him." Hermione said, "Did he say it was alright for you to tell us where he's staying?"

"Actually, I forgot to ask him." Harry said apologetically.

"What? But we want to meet him too!" said Ron.

"The only reason we didn't come with you in the first place was because we didn't want him to feel threatened by having a bunch of strangers approaching him while he's in hiding." Hermione reminded him reproachfully.

"I'm sorry!" Harry said, "The conversation just went in different directions. I got sidetracked."

"What were you talking about for so long?" Ron asked. "You were gone for hours."

"Oh, loads of things." Harry said eagerly. "Mostly Hogwarts. He's really smart- you'll love him, Hermione- and he's amazing at magic. He was developing his own spells when he was only in fourth year! Marvolo only really took over for him after the Chamber of Secrets debacle, before that he'd just occasionally take over for a few minutes to force Tom to do this or that, so until then Tom was the one in control most of the time, and he spent loads of time exploring the castle. He discovered some places even the Marauders didn't know about! He even knew the Room of Requirement! Tomorrow when I come over, I'm going to bring the Marauder's Map along. He said he might be able to add some of the places he knows about to the map."

"Well," said Hermione, "while you're there tomorrow, don't forget to ask him for permission to tell us where he is. Ideally, if he says yes, you can come back and get us right away. Then we can come and meet him too, and I'd be able to watch him when he enchants the map. I'd love to know more how it works, but the charms are a bit too advanced for me."

"Actually, we already have plans for tomorrow." Harry admitted. "But maybe he can show you the day after."

"What are you doing tomorrow?" Ron demanded.

"I'm not sure yet." Harry admitted. "I'd asked him what he was planning to do with himself now that he's finally free, and he told me that he made a whole list of things he's always wanted to do and hasn't been able to. Some of them have to do with the muggle world, like going to the cinema, so I told him he might need my help. The muggle world is very different from the way it was fifty years ago, it might be difficult for him to navigate on his own."

Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Do you really think that's necessary? Navigating the muggle world isn't that difficult, and I get the impression that he's a reasonably intelligent person."

"Hermione, he doesn't even know what a computer is." Harry said seriously. "What if he goes to the library to read all the books he missed, and doesn't have any idea what the computers are, and starts arousing suspicions? Or what if goes to watch a movie where one of the characters plays a video game? Who will explain it to him?"

Hermione's lips twitched, but she only said. "Alright, then. I suppose he needs you. And if he says he's alright with meeting us, we'll join you too. It wouldn't hurt Ron to learn more about the muggle world, either."

"Hey! I know a lot about the muggle world!" Ron objected. "Did I even tell you about the time I used a fellytone?"

Chapter Text

Harry eagerly scanned Tom's bucket list to see what was on their agenda. Then he scanned it again, feeling slightly puzzled.

"Why are these lines here all blurred out?" He asked, pointing at some items that were completely illegible.

Tom blushed. "I wrote that list before I knew that anyone other than me would be reading it. Some of the items on there are a bit personal. I blurred out some things I wanted to keep to myself."

Harry nodded. "That's fine. I did have a question though, about the first item on your list: You want to go to the moon?"

Tom's eyes lit up. "Yes! It was so exciting when they announced in the Daily Prophet that muggles had gone to the moon! Marvolo hadn't believed it, of course, most pureblood wizards didn't. They couldn't let themselves believe that the muggles accomplished something they couldn't. Everyone was ranting about how it was faked, but I just knew it was real, and I've always wanted to go."

Harry hated to deflate Tom's enthusiasm, but there was nothing for it. "I'm sorry, Tom, I don't think that's something we can do."

"I know that booking a trip up there is probably very expensive," Tom said. "But I actually have a lot of money. Donations from the richest families in the magical community for the 'war effort'. I'd be happy to pay for your ticket too, so you mustn't worry about it."

Harry shook his head. "It's not a matter of expense. I just don't think the muggles send people up there anymore."

Tom's face fell. "Really? Why not?"

Harry shrugged. "I think it was just a very expensive project, and aside from some good publicity for their scientists they didn't get much out of it. I'm not sure, though."

"Are you sure they don't send people up there anymore?" Tom wheedled hopefully.

"Pretty sure. If you like, though, I can ask Hermione just in case."

Tom nodded. "Please do."

"I can ask her now." Harry ventured. "She and Ron would actually really like to meet you, and you don't need to worry about them ever giving away your hideout to the Ministry. I could quickly go and bring them over."

"They know about... about everything?" Tom asked cautiously.

Harry nodded. "I told them about everything I saw in the mirror. They know you're not really the same person as Voldemort. And after I- I helped you with the dementors I told them about that too, and they agreed that I did the right thing. No one else knows, but I completely trust Ron and Hermione."

"You did more than 'help me with the dementors', Harry." Tom said seriously. "You saved my life."

"I don't think about it like that." Harry protested. "I don't want you to think that you owe me anything."

"I do, though." Tom insisted. When Harry opened his mouth to argue he held up his hand to silence him. "I know you don't think I need to pay you back somehow, but I want to. If it makes you feel any better, whatever I do for you won't be out of a sense of obligation, it will be because I genuinely want to do something for you. I just hope you'll come to me if you think of anything I can help you with."

"You can give me permission to introduce you to Hermione and Ron, and we'll call it even." Harry said hopefully.

Tom laughed. "Nice try. They're welcome to come, but that's hardly calling it even in my book."

Harry stuck out a tongue at him before going to get his friends.

A few minutes later, and he was back, Ron and Hermione in tow.

"Tom, I'd like you to meet Ron and Hermione. Ron, Hermione, this is Tom." Harry introduced them eagerly, hopeful that they would all take to each other. Then, he paused, a thought suddenly occurring to him. "Is it alright that I called you Tom?" he asked Riddle. When it had just been the two of them they hadn't needed to address each other by name.

Tom laughed. "Yes, of course it is. Nice to meet you Ron, Hermione."

He reached out his hand, and Ron shook it. Hermione, on the other hand, ignored his hand and went in for a hug.

Harry blinked at her, startled. Hermione wasn't a big hugger. At least not like Lavender and Parvati, who hugged each other every time they met, even if they'd seen each other a few minutes earlier. Hermione wasn't like that, though.

Tom looked taken aback, but returned the embrace awkwardly, and when Hermione pulled back and smiled cheerily at him, Harry realized that it was her way of showing Tom that she didn't view him as Voldemort but as a new friend. Bless her heart.

"Tom, Harry told me you were interested in space travel. I was thinking that we could go to the local library by my house. They have a few computers there, we could both research the issue and you'll learn how to use a computer at the same time, it's a very valuable skill. Also, since we'll already be at the library, I've compiled a list of must-read books that have been published in the past fifty years."

Ron groaned. "We're on vacation. Don't we have enough of the library at school? Must we visit there in our free time?"

Hermione smiled at him. "You'll enjoy this more than the school library. We'll get you some comic books to read."

"Comic books?" Ron sounded intrigued. "I suppose I might enjoy a book if it were funny. A short one, though!" He cautioned her.

Hermione ignored him in favor of fishing in her pocket to dig out a long roll of parchment and handing it to Tom.

"The Chronicles of Narnia," Tom read out loud. "To Kill a Mockingbird, The Phantom Tollbooth, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest..." His eyes scanned down the list, and then he looked back up at Hermione. "Can I get a comic book too?"

Hermione sighed. "A comic book isn't quite what you think it is. But maybe you'll enjoy them too."

Tom shrugged in easy acceptance, and then turned to Harry. "What about you, Harry? Are there any books you recommend?"

Harry had never been much of a reader, but he hated to disappoint Tom, so he wracked his brain for a book he had liked in his pre-Hogwarts days. After a bit of a think, it came to him: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Harry declared triumphantly.

"That is a good one." Hermione said approvingly. "And I can see why it would appeal to you especially, Harry."

"Why would it appeal to Harry especially?" Tom asked curiously.

"Why don't you read the book and find out?" Hermione replied.

"I will." Tom said. "In fact, Harry, I'll read that book first of all the ones on the list." He then shot an apologetic look at Hermione. "No offense to your taste in books, Hermione, your comment just had me curious."

Hermione glanced at Harry, and then gave Tom a warm little smile. "None taken."


Hermione and Tom had ended up getting on like a house on fire, just as Harry had suspected they would. In fact, during some evenings, when Tom would choose to spend his time with his nose stuck in a book Hermione had recommended to him rather than play Exploding Snap with Harry, Harry felt that they got along too well.

Tom had also won Ron over by taking him and Harry outside one day and showing them how to fly without brooms. Soon it felt as if Tom had always been part of their little group.

Harry and Tom were on their own, though, today. Tom had finally deemed it safe to reabsorb the Horcrux in Harry, and Ron and Hermione hadn't wanted to get in the way.

Since it was just the two of them, Harry felt it safe to broach a subject that had been bothering him, but that he had not yet had the courage to ask about.

"Tom." he said softly, as Tom sat down on the couch across from him in preparation for the process. "I wanted to ask you something."

Tom turned his attention to Harry and gestured for him to continue.

"When you were still doing research about the soul magic to make sure it was safe to reabsorb the Horcruxes, I was paging through one of the books you had laying around. There was a section that talked about reabsorbing Horcruxes, and it said that it was incredibly painful. It even said that it was possible for the pain to kill you!"

Tom smiled at him. "Harry, I-"

"Wait!" Harry interrupted quickly, "I wasn't done. Let me finish before you decided what your answer will be. The thing is, Tom, that I'm worried about you. I'm worried about you dying, or even just enduring unnecessary pain. And it got me thinking: is having a whole soul really necessary? I don't mind having a bit of your soul in me, I really don't! And just think, if you leave the Horcrux where it is, you won't have to worry about dying as long as I'm around. It's really the safest option. You should consider it."

Tom had waited slightly impatiently during Harry's rant, and when he was sure Harry was done immediately launched into his own speech: "Harry, I really appreciate your worry for me, but it's unnecessary. I know what the book says, I've read it too, but reabsorbing the Horcruxes wasn't like that for me at all. I think that it's because my Horcruxes weren't made willingly, that it somehow made my soul more connected to the Horcruxes than they would generally be. When I reabsorbed the other Horcruxes it didn't hurt at all. It felt like- like completeness. Like suddenly finding something long lost. I'm looking forward to reabsorbing this last Horcrux."

He smiled at Harry gently. "I'm glad you don't mind playing host to that little bit of me, but I don't value immortality half as much as I do finally being complete after all these years."

"Oh," Harry said, deflating. "In that case, I guess reabsorbing the Horcrux is for the best." He could admit to himself that he was slightly disappointed. The shared piece of soul between him and Tom had been a tangible proof of the connection between them. Tom's life had been intertwined with Harry's since he was only one year old. Harry had saved Tom, and Tom had, in his own way, saved Harry. The Horcrux in him was a manifestation of that, proof that Tom was more than just a stranger he had only truly met a few weeks ago. If they no longer shared a soul, would Harry have no more claim to Tom than Ron or Hermione did? He hated the thought.

Still, he could hardly resent Tom wanting to have a whole soul. "Let's do this. What do you need me to do?"

"I held the other Horcruxes when I absorbed them. I think it might be helpful if I were touching your scar. Would you mind?"

Harry swallowed and nodded, allowing Tom to take one of his hands in his own and place his other hand gently over his scar. Tom closed his eyes, frowning in concentration, and Harry let his eyes fall closed as well.

There was a great rushing sensation within him, a pulling, a yearning. Harry realized that the bit of soul in him longed desperately to reunite with Tom, and with a breath of wistful nostalgia, Harry let it go and return to its proper place. There was a great swooping sensation throughout his body, and for a moment he felt like he was flying- or falling, he wasn't sure which. Then it was over and he was left feeling strangely empty.

His eyes opened and met Tom's wide startled ones.


Tom opened his eyes. Harry's green eyes opened a second later, and Tom met them, trying to adjust to the way the world had suddenly changed around him.

The Tom that had closed his eyes, sans Horcrux, was not the same Tom who opened his eyes, with a complete soul. What he had just experienced was nothing like the re-absorption of the other Horcruxes. The other Horcruxes had resided in empty, lifeless vessels. They had returned to him happily. This Horcrux, however, had spent almost two decades nestled up against another soul. It had experienced love and friendship, and all the things Tom had always wished for and had never had.

It was like trying to fit a puzzle piece back into place only to find that it didn't quite fit anymore, and Tom closed his eyes again, trying to reorient himself.

"Tom?" Harry asked worriedly, when Tom had been silent for too long.

Tom found it difficult to meet his eyes. He felt like he was suddenly looking at Harry in a different light.

He had fancied Harry before, of course. The heroic boy who had saved his life. The brave soul who had stood up to Voldemort defiantly when more powerful wizards had quailed. It would have been stupid to deny he had had feelings for Harry before this.

Now, though, there was no longer a flutter of nervous excitement at being in Harry's presence. Rather, there was a deep sense of certainty. Harry was no longer the dashing teenager who had entered his life and made it so much better, he was now someone that Tom knew as well as he knew himself. A permanent fixture in his life. However aware or unaware the soul that resided in Harry had been, it carried with it the knowledge of who Harry was and that he was the person for Tom.

"Tom?" Harry asked again, when Tom forgot to answer, "Is everything alright?"

Tom nodded. "Yes, everything's fine."

He had been nervous before at the prospect of revealing his feelings to Harry. He had debated between trying to give a hint, and just letting it go and hoping his feelings went away on their own. That was no longer an option.

Tom had pursuing to do, and he needed a plan.


"Where did you meet this friend of yours, again?" Mrs. Weasley asked Harry for the nth time that day.

"Tom used to live in my neighborhood." Harry replied again, as patiently as he could. "We would play together when I was younger, but his parents moved away a few months after we met. I didn't even know he was a wizard until we ran into each other again just now."

"And he knew that you were a wizard because they told him about Harry Potter when he was in Beauxbatons?" Mrs. Weasley asked, repeating the story Harry had told her, and thus proving that she had been listening the first ten times he had gone over this with her.

Harry nodded.

Mrs. Weasley sniffed. "If he's such a good friend of yours, I don't understand why he never bothered to contact you once he realized who you were. What kind of friend doesn't offer his support at times of hardship such as those you went through?"

"He was afraid that I wouldn't remember him." Harry explained. "And would think he was just a random bloke trying to get connections through the 'famous Harry Potter'."

"Ridiculous." Mrs. Weasley said, "Anyone would be thrilled to get contacted by an old mate they hadn't seen in a while. That sounds like an excuse. What it seems like to me, is that he's a fair-weather friend who only wants to be associated with you now that there's no risk involved in being around you, and you're the brave hero who killed You-Know-Who."

"A lot of people are insecure at that age." Harry replied, sighing. If Mrs. Weasley was so suspicious of Tom after being told such an innocent backstory, how would she react if she ever learned the truth?

Mrs. Weasley softened. "I don't mean to discourage you, Harry dear, I just want to make sure you give your friendship to people who are worthy of you. Now that you're no longer a leper in the wizarding community, do you know how many owls I got from 'old friends' I hadn't spoken to in ages, who wanted to meet and catch up? And inevitably, halfway into the conversation, they'd slip in a casual: 'By the way, I hear your children are close friends with Harry Potter. What is that like? Is it true that he's filthy rich?'. Not everyone is like that, of course, but you need to exert your judgement carefully sometimes."

"Can't you at least give him a chance?" Harry asked, "All I'm asking is that you wait until you meet him before making a judgement."

Neville and Luna as well as a good portion of the Order were coming over for lunch, as had become a Sunday tradition in the past month. This was the first meeting to which Tom was invited.

"I'll tell you what." Mrs. Weasley said, relenting a bit. "I'll observe him this afternoon before making any judgements. If I see that he's nice to Luna, he has my stamp of approval."

"Luna?" Harry asked, "Why Luna?"

"Because, Harry, he'll obviously make an effort to be nice to all your friends. This is the first time he's meeting everyone, and he'll naturally try to be nice and make a good first impression. And usually, it's very simple to be polite and friendly to everyone for a couple of hours. Luna, though, is an odd girl. Some people will find it natural to treat her condescendingly, or roll their eyes at her. If he can be kind and respectful to her when she says something outlandish without sharing a secret smirk with everyone else behind her back once she turns away, then I can know that he's a good sort."

Harry had seen Zacharias Smith smirk at Luna condescendingly with a superior little quirk to his eyebrow too often not to know what Mrs. Weasley was talking about. "Alright, then." Harry said. "Just hold off judgement until this afternoon, and you'll see."

"I will." Mrs. Weasley promised. "And don't you go warning him now that he needs to make sure to be nice to Luna! No insider knowledge! Either he does it on his own, or he doesn't."

"I promise." Harry said solemnly. Then, after a few seconds of silent contemplation he asked: "Do people really come up to you and ask you how rich I am?"

"Harry, dear, that's one of the least outlandish questions I get asked. Do you know that the other day Mrs. Fawcett asked me if it was true that you were the heir of Gryffindor?"

"The heir of Gryffindor? What's that? It's not anything like the heir of Slytherin, is it?"

Mrs. Weasley rolled her eyes. "Apparently it means that you inherited a huge secret vault at the very bottom of Gringotts filled with piles of money, mysterious artifacts and journals containing magical knowledge lost to the ages. Honestly! Where some people get their ideas I will never know..."


Tom had, of course, been perfectly charming from the moment he stepped foot on Weasley property. He greeted Ron and Hermione warmly, introduced himself to Mrs. Weasley politely and offered to help with meal preparations, and had been friendly, engaging, and pleasant to everyone he was introduced to. Charisma practically seeped out of his pores. His most charming behavior, though, was reserved for Harry.

Despite meeting new people and getting into animated conversations with them, he never left Harry's side. He engaged Harry in conversation whenever he fell silent for too long, and spoke to him in a manner that was so warm and engaging it bordered on flirtatious.

"This has definitely been the best summer of my life." Tom was saying to Luna and Neville, as he flashed Harry a significant grin. Harry wasn't sure how much of a compliment to him this was, considering it was the first summer of his life without Voldemort latched onto his soul like a parasite, but Tom seemed to expect him to take it as a compliment. "Have you done anything interesting this summer?" Tom continued, turning to Harry's friends, as Harry wondered what message Tom had tried to convey to him.

"Well," said Luna "Daddy took me to Sweden for two weeks to hunt for crumple-horned snorkaks. It was quite fun, even though we didn't manage to catch any."

"Crumple-horned snorkaks?" Tom asked curiously, "What kind of animal are they? I've never heard of them."

"The reason you've never heard of them is because they don't exist." Hermione said firmly.

"Of course they do!" Luna replied indignantly. "Tom, crumple-horned snorkaks are omnivorous semi-aquatic creatures, rather like the platypus, only their fur is green, and they have a yellow horn that, while normally crumpled, straightens out when they're trying to attract a mate. They're really fascinating creatures."

"They sound like it." Tom replied, sounding slightly bemused. "So why does Hermione believe that they don't exist?"

"Because she's close-minded." said Luna harshly.

"No, I'm not!" Hermione said indignantly, "It's because there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any such animal exists!"

"Well, there has to be some evidence." Tom replied reasonably, "I'm sure Luna didn't imagine a crumple-horned snorkak one day and decided that they must exist. There must be some basis for her belief. Maybe footprints that don't match any other local animal's, or some sightings from far away? You might disagree with Luna about her interpretation of whatever findings there are and think there's a different explanation for them, but there must be some evidence to support the existence of crumple-horned snorkaks. Luna wouldn't just make it up out of whole cloth, would she?"

"Wouldn't she?" asked Hermione, raising an eyebrow.

"Would you?" asked Tom, surprised, turning to Luna.

Luna smiled mysteriously. "Wouldn't I?"

Tom considered her for a moment, trying to discern if she was serious. "So say I've just thought of a creature that's called a pot-bellied snuffer. It's huge, walks on two legs, and is covered in yellow feathers, and it only eats rhubarb. Would you now say: That must exist?"

Luna smiled. "Don't be silly, Tom. There no such thing as a pot-bellied snuffer. What you just described is an obsk."

Tom laughed uproariously. "Very well, Luna. It's awfully hard to argue with that logic."


As the night became late and the various Order members began to disperse, Tom yawned and declared that it was time for him too to go home.

"Are you okay to apparate?" Harry asked worriedly.

"I'm fine." Tom replied reassuringly, "I only had two butterbeers with the meal, and that was over an hour ago."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked, "Because if not, you don't need to take the Knight Bus. It's no trouble if you want to spend the night."

Tom smiled. "Honestly, Harry, butterbeer is barely alcoholic. I'll be perfectly safe."

"Alright, then." Harry conceded. "Come, I'll walk you out."

Once they had left the gathering behind, Tom broached another subject. "Your comment about butterbeer reminded me- one of the items on my bucket list that we haven't yet done is going to a muggle pub. We should do that some time next week."

"That sounds fun." Harry said enthusiastically. "Dudley had a fake ID, and he always went with friends. They seemed to like it."

"Shall we go on Tuesday?" Tom asked innocently.

"Ron and Hermione have a date on Tuesday evening." Harry reminded him. "Ron already made a reservation in that fancy new restaurant off Diagon Alley. Do you mind going-"

"We could go without them." Tom said quickly, "Unless-"

"-just the two of us?"

"-you want to wait for them?"

"I'm fine with going without them, if you don't want to wait." Harry said in what he hoped was a casual voice.

"Yeah, it's probably for the best not to have a drunk Ron in a muggle area." Tom replied immediately.

"Alright then." Harry smiled.

Tom smiled back. "It's a-"

"Get down!" Harry suddenly whispered harshly, pulling Tom down behind a bush and crouching low.

"Harry?" Tom whispered worriedly, "What is it?"

Harry put his finger to his lips, and gestured with his head. Tonks and Lupin were walking down the dirt path from The Borrow on which Tom and Harry had been standing a moment earlier. It sounded like they were in the middle of a heated conversation.

"Tell me, Harry," Tom whispered sharply in Harry's ear, "whenever you hear two people talking is your first instinct just to hide and eavesdrop on them?"

"Shh!" Harry replied.

"-you need to stop bringing it up." Lupin was saying. "I've made my decision. I refuse to make you an outcast like me, to condemn you to the scorn of society!"

"That's the most condescending thing I've heard in my life!" Tonks replied indignantly. "Do you think I can't make my own decisions? That I don't know what's best for me? You're not being gallant, Remus, you're being an arse!"

Remus sighed. "It's not that I think you can't make your own decisions, you know that's not true. But you've never experienced what it's like to be hated blindly by half the people around you. You've never been refused service at a store, or had someone cross the street to the other side when they see you approaching. I love you too much to want that for you."

"You... You love me?" All the anger was gone from Tonks' voice.

When Remus replied, he sounded puzzled. "I thought that was obvious."

Tonks shook her head. "At first I thought you had feelings for me, but then you were so resistant to the idea of a relationship that I began to think that maybe it was just physical attraction on your side and the whole werewolf explanation was your way of letting me down easy."

"Dora, that's so far from the truth-" Remus sounded pained.

"Remus," Tonks interrupted him, "I don't care about 'the scorn of society' or if some bastard refuses me service. I love you too. The offense or annoyance that idiots like them will cause can hardly compare with the happiness that being with a man as wonderful as you will give me." She smiled slightly. "I believe I'm my mother's daughter in that regard. So if you love me too-"

"I do." Remus replied, leaning towards her.

They began to kiss, at which point Harry began to muster up enough shame to consider looking away. Just as he had determined that he probably should, though, they broke apart. Tonks whispered something in Remus's ear and in response he wrapped his arms around her. A moment later they vanished with a crack.

"Wow!" Harry exclaimed gleefully, the moment they had vanished.

Tom shook his head. "I can't believe we invaded their privacy like that. That was way too personal a conversation to overhear."

"I didn't know the conversation would go like that!" Harry said defensively, "I just wanted to get some insight into what was keeping them from acting on their obvious attraction. I had no idea it would get so intense!"

Tom was insistent. "It was still wrong. We shouldn't have listened to them. Besides, now I have dirt all over my clothes. And you have a leaf in your hair." He plucked if out deftly.

"If you regret staying to listen so much," Harry said grumpily, "how come you're smiling like a loon?"

Tom looked down, but the smile didn't leave his face. "It's just really nice to see;" he admitted, "how despite all the circumstances which on paper would make it seem like there was no chance for them, they still managed to become a couple. I think they'll be very happy."

"So do I." Replied Harry contentedly.


Three days later Harry had occasion to think back on that conversation and realize the hidden meaning in Tom's words.

It started the night before, when they had gone to a nearby muggle pub together.

It was getting rather late when Tom shook Harry's arm. "Harry!" Tom's voice was worried. "Harry, I can't find my wand!"

Harry tore his eyes from the television screen where a football game was being broadcast. He wasn't sure who he was rooting for, but he was having fun cheering along with all the other people in the pub whenever a goal was scored.

Tom was searching the table for his wand, and coming up empty. Harry tried to think where the wand could be, but found he was feeling too happy and light to think about a problem as complicated as that.

He tried to spur his sluggish brain into action. "Maybe you left your wand at home." He finally suggested.

Tom considered that for a moment. Then he frowned. "No, I definitely had it. I used it to confund the waitress into selling us alcohol, remember?"

"Oh, right." Harry got up to help Tom look for the wand, and found that the floor was feeling far less steady than it normally did.

"I found the wand!" He announced. "It's in your back pocket!" An old memory came into his head and he giggled. "I'm glad you didn't blow your buttocks off." he told Tom, laughing to himself.

Tom frowned. "I can't believe I didn't notice it was in my back pocket. I think I might be drunk." He contemplated the notion for a second and then laughed. "I'm drunk! I've never been drunk before."

"I think I'm drunk too." Harry confided in a whisper.

"You're definitely drunk." Tom told him, and laughed again.

Having come to this conclusion, it was decided that they would have to take the Knight Bus home.

After som wild waving of their wand arms, some fumbling with money (Stan Shunpike had to help them count out the sickles), and one nauseating bus ride later, they were finally deposited outside of Tom's house.

"What do we do now?" Harry asked, stumbling dizzily into the house, "I'm too happy to go to sleep!"

"Maybe have a drink of water?" Tom suggested responsibly, "We don't want to get dehydrated."

That was when Harry had a wonderful, marvelous, brilliant idea. "I know what we should do!" He exclaimed, "We should play spin the bottle!"

Tom frowned. "I don't know that game."

"I'll explain it to you!" Harry offered generously, "It's very easy. You sit in a circle, and put a bottle in the middle. When your turn comes you have to spin the bottle, and when it stops spinning you have to kiss the person it's pointed at."

Tom looked puzzled. "But there's just two of us playing. Wouldn't that mean-"

"Tom," Harry interrupted, "it has nothing to do with math. It's really a very simple game. You must be really drunk if you're having trouble understanding it. Here, let's start playing, and you'll pick it up as we go."

Tom frowned for a second, but then shrugged. "I suppose I am quite drunk." He admitted finally. "Alright, I'll get a bottle."

Tom insisted that Harry go first, since he understood the game better, and Harry spun the bottle. When it stopped spinning it was pointing some fifty degrees to Tom's left.

"Sometimes it doesn't point directly at a person," Harry explained, "and then you need to see who's the closest person to where it's pointing. In our case, that's you. That means you have to kiss me. Or do I need to kiss you? I can't rememb- Mphh!"

He was suddenly being kissed by Tom quite fiercely. A moment later, Tom's tongue was in his mouth and his hands were on Harry's arse, and Harry forgot all about the game.


Harry woke up the next morning with a pounding headache and a horrible taste in his mouth. He was lying on the carpet in Tom's living room. Tom was lying on his stomach beside Harry, and Harry took a moment to admire how handsome he was, even with his face half smushed into the carpet.

Tom must have sensed Harry's eyes on him, because a moment later he stretched, and his eyes opened.

Immediately, his eyes closed again, and he let out a low groan. Harry, knowing exactly how he was feeling, conjured up a glass of water and handed it to Tom.

"Thanks." Tom said gratefully, taking the glass from Harry and gulping it down. A moment later he paused, and his eyes focused on Harry. "I kissed you last night!" He exclaimed, and smacked himself on the forehead. "I can't believe I kissed you last night! This is terrible!"

"Look," said Harry, trying to disguise his hurt, "if you don't have feelings for me that's fine, we'll just-"

"It's not that!" Tom said irritably, "It's just- I had a plan."

"A plan?" Harry asked.

"To woo you!" Tom explained. "It was a great plan. It involved flirting and me being charming and romantic and gallantly winning you over. It did not involve drunkenly kissing you while my breath probably smelled like beer!"

"I don't mind." Harry said quickly.

"You don't?" Tom asked hopefully.

Harry shook his head, and then winced at the pain.

"I'm glad." Tom replied softly. "Because this-" he gestured between them- "is too important to me to mess up."

"It's important to me too." Said Harry happily.

And that was that.

Chapter Text

Elias breathed a sigh of relief as the hat called out: "Slytherin!"

Quickly rushing to the correct table he sat down at the nearest vacant seat, trying not to draw any attention towards himself. To his right sat two girls who he thought were probably in their second or third year. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, and Elias tried to listen in unobtrusively.

He didn't know much about Hogwarts, and was therefore eager to get the lay of the land and gain any new information that he could. The only thing he had been told in advance regarding his new school was that he was expected to be in Slytherin and if he was not the consequences would be dire. He had not even known how he was supposed to get into Slytherin until the hat had begun to sing mere minutes ago. Any time he had tried to ask his parents about it, he was told Don't ask questions.

"Who do you think the new person sitting at the staff table is?" asked the girl sitting closest to Elias. "There, talking to Professor Potter."

Elias looked towards the staff table, where two men sitting to the left of Professor McGonagal were conversing excitedly, their dark heads close together.

"I don't know." Her friend replied, glancing in the same direction as Elias. "It is odd. As far as I know there are no vacancies for him to fill. Maybe he's teaching a new elective?"

"Well," concluded the first girl, shrugging, "we'll find out soon enough. Professor Potter seems to like him, so he can't be too bad."

"Shh, it's my sister's turn now!"

The girl in pigtails that was walking up to the stool was promptly sorted into Slytherin, and Elias clapped along with the rest of the house as she sat down next to them.

After the sorting was over, the girl introduced herself as Greta and Elias fell into easy conversation with her as well as some of the other first-years that were sitting nearby. The feast was almost unbelievably abundant and delicious, and Elias's happiness could only be topped by the eager conversation with the children around him regarding which classes they were looking forward to the most.

Once the feast was over, the headmistress stood up. It only took a small clearing of her throat for all the students to fall silent and look to her expectantly.

"Good evening, students. Hogwarts is happy to welcome you to another year of learning and hard work. Before you all head off to your dormitories and go to sleep, I would like to make a quick announcement: We have a new addition to our staff this year. Professor Riddle will teach a new subject, Magical Theory, to the first two years of students. From the third year and on he will teach the elective of 'spell crafting' to those interested. Professor Riddle has written some of the leading books on magical theory and is also famous for having discovered the seven uses of moon rocks in potions. We are very lucky to have him here.

"In addition to his teaching, Professor Riddle will take on the new role of being in charge of students' wellbeing. Students are encouraged to come to him with social troubles or any other problems they may have. Over the coming weekend, all first year students are to report to him for a basic health checkup. The times of your appointments will be posted in your common rooms. Please don't be late. Thank you."

Professor McGonagal sat back down, and as Elias got out of his seat to follow the prefect to the common room, he observed to Greta that she seemed rather strict.

Greta nodded fervently. "According to my sister, she has a well deserved reputation for being strict, but she's fair, too. She doesn't favor her own house."

Elias was pleased to have such a good source of knowledge regarding the school, and they discussed the Hogwarts staff all the way down to the common room.


Elias arrived panting at the door to Professor Riddle's office with only ten seconds to spare before his appointment; he had gotten lost on the way.

He knocked on the door and was told to enter.

In his first class with Professor Riddle two days before, Elias had gotten the impression that Professor Riddle was very nice. This opinion was confirmed when the Professor offered him a chocolate frog once Elias sat down. Elias eagerly accepted, and was in the process of unwrapping the squirming creature when Professor Riddle spoke.

"How are you enjoying Hogwarts so far, Elias?"

"It's good." Elias replied, focused mostly on his chocolate.

The Professor smiled and then proceeded to let Elias eat his chocolate in peace, as he launched into an explanation of what they would be doing today. "Do you have any questions for me before we begin?"

"Yeah," replied Elias nervously, suddenly uncomfortable with the thought of being examined. "How come we're having these checkups? If any of us are sick, couldn't we just go to the hospital wing? Why do we need to be examined in advance?"

Professor Riddle leaned back in his chair, and closes his eyes thoughtfully for a moment. "There are two reasons I insisted on these checkups as part of my new job. The first is that some students suffer from problems or maladies that they are embarrassed or uncomfortable about, and would rather get along on their own than bring it to the attention of Madam Midgen. The second is that some students may be suffering from a compulsion or spell to keep them from speaking about whatever their problems are."

Elias felt his heart rate increase. Professor Riddle met his eyes and gave him a sad little smile. "I once knew a boy who had an evil spirit controlling his soul when he came to school. He couldn't tell anyone about it, because the spirit kept him from doing anything it didn't like. The kind of magic required to detect that sort of thing requires extensive knowledge of the dark arts that I'm afraid Madam Midgen simply doesn't have."

"Were you able to help him?" Elias asked, fascinated.

Professor Riddle nodded his head. "Eventually. But perhaps something might have been done sooner, and a lot of heartache and pain prevented if there had been a person at Hogwarts to do what I'm doing now. Are you ready to begin?"

Elias nodded with fascination as Professor Riddle waved his wand and different lights began swirling all around him. Elias didn't know what they meant, but Professor Riddle was examining them thoughtfully.

"You're slightly underweight." He told Elias with a small frown. "And you need more vitamin D. It's nothing a few nutrient potions won't take care of. I'll send you with a note to Madam Midgen; she'll take care of it."

Elias nodded shyly.

Professor Riddle smiled at him. "I'm happy to tell you that there is no dark magic affecting you. Only compulsion spells left to check for, and then you're free to go."

The professor went back to waving his wand and examining the results, nodding at them approvingly, until he came across something that made him frown. "I've come across a tongue tying jinx, Elias. Did you know that you had one cast on you?"

Elias nodded nervously, afraid of saying anything.

"I see." said Professor Riddle.

He waved his wand and summoned a chair to right in front of Elias and sat down on it. He bent over so that he was at eye level with Elias, and began speaking softly.

"Elias, look into my eyes, please. There, just like that. I know you can't talk about who it is that cast the jinx and what they were trying to prevent you from telling anyone. I don't want you to struggle against the curse, you'll just hurt yourself. Instead, please just concentrate, and think about the person who cast it and why. Try to recollect the moment you were cursed."

It was a easy to cast his mind back to the day he had been cursed, it had barely been two weeks since it had happened. His mind drifted to the image of his father towering over him speaking angrily. He always sounded angry when he spoke.

"And once you get into Slytherin, and you will get into Slytherin, or you won't like the consequences, I don't want you to go blabbing to any of your little friends about our private family affairs, got that? It's nobody's damn business what spells I use in my own home or how I choose to discipline my child. So if I find out that you've gone bitching and whining to any of your teachers about how your daddy uses dark magic, there'll be a mountain of Crucios just waiting for you when you get home. By the time I'm done with you they'll need to book a permanent bed for you in St. Mungo's right next to the Longbottoms. Got it?"

Elias had no idea who the Longbottoms were, but he was frightened. He nodded forcefully, trying to look as obedient as possible.

His father eyed him suspiciously for a moment, before declaring: "I'm not taking any chances with a disobedient little brat like you."

The next thing Elias knew, his father's wand was pointed at his face and his mouth was burning up. It felt like fire was sliding down his throat. He wanted to scream, but found that he couldn't make a sound. Eyes blurred with tears, he looked to his mother for assistance, but she was paging disinterestedly through the Daily Prophet, paying no attention to her husband or her son.

Elias wrenched his eyes away from Professor Riddle's with a great effort. To his shame, he could feel tears filling his eyes.

Nervously, he chanced a short glance at Professor Riddle to see if he'd noticed. There was a look of such sorrow on the Professor's face that Elias was sure if he met his eyes he'd start crying in earnest. So instead he looked down a his lap wondering what would come next.


Two months later

Elias knocked on Professor Riddle's door. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Elias, hello. How was your session with the mind healer?"

Professor Riddle had been the one who insisted on Elias seeing a mind healer. He had arranged the appointments as well as making sure that his studies would not suffer as a result of his missing some classes while he went to St. Mungo's. Professor Riddle had arranged private lessons for Elias with older students to make up for missed classes, and got him extensions on homework assignments if Elias felt he hadn't enough time to complete them. Sometimes it happened, since Elias had less free time than his peers between his tutoring sessions and his meetings with the mind healer, Mr. Grey.

Elias grimaced. "Mr. Grey is nice, but the meetings are unpleasant. He always asks about things I don't want to think about. I suppose the meetings have been helpful, though. I've been... dealing better with, well, certain things, ever since I started them."

"I'm glad to hear things are improving for you," said Professor Riddle, smiling softly. "I'm afraid it was too much to hope for it to be a completely painless process, but I believe you will persevere. I admire you very much, you know."

Elias blushed.

"You must be wondering why I called you here," Professor Riddle changed the subject upon seeing Elias's discomfort. "I just got word- the trial has concluded. Your parents were sentenced to Azkaban. Your father has received a life sentence, and your mother was sentenced to ten years. Even after she is released she will be forbidden from seeing or contacting you without your consent."

Elias shrugged dully. "She probably wouldn't have any interest in seeing me even if I did give my permission."

Professor Riddle frowned, but did not contradict him. "How are you feeling about this?"

"Mostly relieved," Elias admitted, "but also a bit nervous. Do you know what will be done with me now? Will I be sent to an orphanage?"

Professor Riddle examined Elias solemnly for a moment before answering. "That is an option. However, there's another possibility for your placement which depends on you."

"What's the possibility?" Elias asked.

Professor Riddle ignored the question and instead asked him: "Tell me; what do you think of Professor Potter?"

The non-sequitur was puzzling, but Elias answered enthusiastically that he liked Professor Potter very much. "He knows so many spells! And it's not just the theory, he's been in real life-threatening situations and always won! Greta says that one time, he killed a Hungarian Horntail using just a wand. And Richard told me that he's friends with the mermaids at the bottom of the lake. And when he was only twelve, he saved the life of Ginny Weasley. The Ginny Weasley from the Holyhead Harpies! And I heard a fifth year says that one time a Basilisk bit him, and it died! He's really awesome! Also-" this a little more shyly, "Once I got one of my essays about hexes completely wrong and mixed up the theories, and instead of giving me detention, he stayed with me after class and explained it to me until I understood. And he was really nice and patient about it."

Elias suddenly realized that he was talking an awful lot, and shut his mouth quickly. He didn't want Professor Riddle to think that he liked Professor Potter more than him. Professor Riddle had been the best thing that had ever happened to Elias, and he was the kindest person Elias had ever met. Elias didn't want him to think that he didn't appreciate him just because, unlike Professor Potter, Professor Riddle had never faced down Voldemort and lived to tell the tale.

He looked up nervously at Professor Riddle, and was relieved to see that he was smiling. "Professor Potter is pretty amazing, isn't he?" he said contentedly. "And handsome, too."

Elias nods hesitantly, even though it never occured to him before to think of his Professor in those terms.

"Well-" Professor Riddle clapped his hands "-I'm glad you feel that way. You see, my husband and I are looking to adopt."

The end.