Tom was perfectly capable of being patient. After all, there was no rush during the warm, lazy days of the early summer holidays. Although he didn’t understand it, he could accept that other people were soft enough to be distracted by their family’s love after being away from them for months. Granted, Harry hadn’t ever talked much about his relatives other than mentioning that he’d lived with his aunt and uncle ever since his parents had been killed in the huge ministry explosion a year after his birth, but it wasn’t as though Tom talked about his family situation either. Too much of it was public knowledge already and he was happy to glare people into submission if they had the gall to bring it up.
Still, a week had passed since the end of their second year at Hogwarts and Harry had neither contacted him first nor returned the letter Tom sent him. Tom was slowly reaching the end of his patience. It was one thing for Harry to quit communicating with his other friends—Tom would’ve preferred that—but with Tom? After all the effort Harry had gone through to become Tom’s friend, it would be madness for him to ditch him now. Utter madness, Tom thought to himself, scowling. Harry wouldn’t just abandon him.
Three weeks into the summer holidays, after Tom had even sent a second missive (bearing only a sentence ordering Harry to write back, but still Tom felt like he had suddenly become Pansy Parkinson), Harry was still out of contact. It called for drastic measures.
“I’m borrowing Marvolo’s wand,” Tom called out, opening the storage closet and lifting it out of the mug of wands of his Gaunt ancestors. All those who hadn’t had their wands snapped after being sentenced to life in Azkaban, anyway. There had been plenty of those. Tom came by his anger honestly, he’d found. His mother’s wand was long lost to history after the car crash that had killed his parents and barely left him alive, but his grandfather’s worked well enough for him. “And I’ll be gone for the day.”
“Don’t get caught,” came his uncle’s gruff voice from the kitchen, where he was drinking coffee straight from the pot. As Tom passed by him to the front door, Morfin raised an eyebrow. “You’re going out like that?”
“Unfortunately,” Tom replied.
His scowl must have passed Morfin’s inspection, because the man only huffed, “I assume you’re not going out to carry on the fine traditions of our ancestors, even if you’re taking my father’s wand.”
“I have better things to do than concern myself with our family,” Tom drawled, slipping on his shoes. They were laced and rubberless, but they passed for muggle shoes for the casual glance. He refused to transfigure them into sneakers. It was bad enough that he was wearing jeans. Tom hadn't dressed in muggle clothes since he’d started Hogwarts, but there were still a couple pairs of jeans and a printed t-shirt at the very bottom of his trunk, along with a pouch of money he'd gathered from various foster parents. He hadn’t wanted to keep any of it, but he’d been uncertain of how long his situation with Morfin would last when he’d come to live with him at the beginning of last summer. And now he was all set to venture out into the muggle world for the first time since he’d left it. Tom wasn’t looking forward to it, but needs must.
“Brat,” Morfin replied. “You need money?”
“I have my own.” He patted his pocket. He didn’t anticipate needing any, but Tom wanted to be prepared for all possibilities. A part of him also hoped that one of the possibilities would be a bakery near Harry’s home. Wizarding pastries just weren’t the same. “I don’t know when I’ll be back, so if you plan to do horrible things on the couch again, do it during the next hour.”
“Will you get over it already, it was one fucking time.” Morfin waved his wand and the pot of coffee began slowly refilling. “You were supposed to be gone all day.”
“I’m never going to get over it,” Tom said, grimacing in remembered horror. “It was Snape.”
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Morfin said with an easy wave of his hand. “But maybe you already do. This about the Potter kid?”
“Have you been snooping through my letters?” The things Tom would do if Morfin had even touched—
“No, just something Severus said a month back, that the two of you were close. Pillow talk, you know.”
Tom made every attempt to ignore his uncle’s words, but he still blurted out, “No, I don’t know. I don’t plan to ever know.”
“At least he’s not a mudblood,” Morfin said with a put-upon sigh. “You could do worse.”
“I could kill you,” Tom muttered, rubbing his thumb over Marvolo’s wand.
“You could try.” Morfin pointed his wand at him and Tom’s shoulders hitched, but the only thing the spell did was straighten out the wrinkles in his clothes.
Stupid, so stupid, Tom thought to himself. When was he going to get over it?
Morfin had never cast a spell at him in anger, nor ever hurt him otherwise, but a part of Tom just wouldn’t stop thinking that maybe one day he would. A life spent in foster care hadn’t left him with much trust for adults who had power over him, and the beginning of his first year in Slytherin had taught him just how easily magicals could hurt one another. Slytherin house could bear with halfbloods who carried pureblood names, though not happily, but someone like Tom Riddle, who had been thought a mudblood in those early months? It had been unacceptable. Tom had fought back, but with so few spells under his belt and his wandless magic not fast enough against multiple attackers, he hadn’t been good enough.
The first time he’d been hexed outside the Slytherin dorms, he’d been forced to allow a Gryffindor yearmate to walk him to the hospital wing. Tom had told him to go away very firmly, but Harry hadn’t left his side. And then he’d been as bad as a leech, loudly protective of Tom against anything his yearmates said in public and not very casually staying in the library with him in the evenings to make sure he was alright. Tom had some luck with getting rid of the two Gryffindor friends Harry had made on the train, who hadn’t exactly understood Harry’s insistent friendship with someone who didn’t want him there, but never for very long.
And then, like any proper leech, Harry dug under his skin and just never left. Through thick and thin, he’d stayed, even when Tom discovered his ability to speak to snakes was more special than he’d realized and proved that he had more prominent wizarding roots than anyone who dared to insult him. When word got out, an uncle he’d never known he had wrote to say he’d take Tom in.
If Tom hadn’t been able to get rid of Harry back then, then Harry wasn’t allowed to get rid of him now. The very thought of it was unacceptable.
Outside, Tom opened the shed to the side of the house and dug out one of the three flying carpets inside. This one had only been collecting dust for a few years unlike the oldest carpet, which by all accounts had been in the Gaunt family for five centuries. It still stunned him sometimes that he came from somewhere, that he wasn’t just a kid whose parents were two names on his foster care paperwork with a check to mark them deceased. He was a part of something. The Gaunts weren’t a filthy rich family like the Malfoys, but they had a house in Hogsmeade and enough money to live comfortably. Morfin’s co-ownership of the Hog’s Head with Aberforth wasn’t very illustrious, but it paid all their bills and his uncle seemed to actually enjoy it.
The shed housed their two owls: Morfin’s barn owl and Tom’s great horned owl. Hedda was a fierce bird with sharp yellow eyes, gifted to him by Morfin on the day Tom moved in with him. Neither of them had very much experience with either giving or receiving presents, and it had shown, but it meant something to Tom that Morfin had even tried.
He’d expected to hate him, to use him in order to get away from the muggle world and then leave at the first possibility, but Morfin hadn’t been cruel, nor had he been cold.
Morfin hadn’t known what to do with him, but on that first day he’d said, “There isn’t much left of us Gaunts anymore. Never thought that was a bad thing. My dad wasn’t a good man back when he was alive, but it’s not like his dad was any better, and it’s better to not even speak of my mum. I left as soon as I turned seventeen and so did Merope. We were never close, but I looked for her when a few years passed and I hadn’t seen her. I hoped maybe she went abroad, that she was happy out there somewhere.”
“She died,” Tom had said, unable to even look at the man. “They both did and you didn’t even try to find me.”
“I didn’t know you existed,” Morfin had told him, sighing. “Would’ve taken you in if I had. I wasn’t all that great back then—not that I am now—but I would’ve tried. You can have it now if you want it. The Gaunt name, the ring. I think I still have the locket somewhere in the attic. You’ll like it, it’s very Slytherin-themed.”
“Even though I’m a halfblood?” Tom had asked. Hope was such a foolish emotion, and yet he’d been unable to squash it down. He’d blamed it on being only twelve years old. (At thirteen, Tom now knew that moving in with Morfin was the best decision he could’ve made under those circumstances, even if the man had done his best to traumatize him by starting a thing with Tom’s head of house.)
“Even though you’re a halfblood,” Morfin had confirmed, and his tone hadn’t changed on the last word. “You’re it, you know, the last of the Gaunt line. I can’t have kids, so when I’m gone, it’ll just be you. You can do whatever you want with the name. Drag it through the mud for all I care. Marry a muggle like Merope.” His grimace was deep, but he sounded sincere. “I used to care a lot about that kind of shit, but I’d like to say I’ve grown some as a person. Only half of it was out of spite for my dad. Still, break it to me gently if you do decide to marry a muggle.”
Tom had told him he never planned to talk to a muggle again, let alone fall in love with one, but here he was placing a blank letter with the name Harry Potter on the front into his owl’s pouch and climbing onto his flying carpet. He hoped Harry’s aunt and uncle were at least subtle in their muggleness.
“Follow that owl,” Tom told it, settling into the most comfortable pose he could manage as the carpet took off. It was better than being on a broom, but only barely.
Dust kept lifting from the broom and causing him to sneeze, but the carpet was resistant to every cleaning spell he tried on it. Its invisibility feature shielded him from muggle eyes, but the warming options left a lot to be desired. Tom spent the next hour trying to read the book he’d brought with him and practicing some of the spells he’d learned from his third year reading material. He was already the best in their year—to Hermione Granger’s everlasting frustration and Tom’s smugness—but he wanted to really wow Professor McGonagall next year. By the time an hour passed, Tom grew worried about how far away Harry lived. The carpet would last fine and his owl was tireless, but he was going to yell at Harry the entire time if the journey took five hours or something.
Thankfully, at around three hours in, Hedda swooped down and Tom directed the carpet to follow her. The clouds thinned as they neared the ground in a residential neighborhood. Tom watched to see which house his owl landed on, then landed himself under the cover of a copse of trees near a small playground. He rolled up the carpet and left it leaning against a tree. It would be invisible to any muggles and any wizard who was stupid enough to live in such a muggle neighborhood would be an easy target for the carpet’s innate protections.
Slipping his wand into his pocket, Tom set out for Harry’s home. A glance at the street sign and the housing numbers told him it was number four on Privet Drive. It was all very muggle, all identical homes and flower beds in the front yards and not a hint of originality. It reminded him of one of his foster care placements, and it wasn’t a very good memory.
Number four was clean and tidy from the outside, its windows and siding glimmering under the summer sun. It was a nice enough place, Tom supposed, though he couldn’t imagine it being able to compete with Hogwarts. Or with Tom himself. Was this Privet Drive really what Harry preferred to give his attention to?
Tom forced his expression into something neutral moved to ring the doorbell. This close, he could hear a man’s muffled yell from somewhere inside the house. “There’s another one of those dratted owls! Give me the letter, you great ugly bird!”
Tom jammed his finger into the doorbell. This was Harry’s family, he reminded himself. Regular people loved their family instead of looking at them with wariness as they took their time getting used to the idea of living with their uncle. And these people raised Harry into the irritating, amazing Gryffindor who Tom called his friend. They could be forgiven for any rudeness just based on that. Resolving to buy some nicer owl treats for Hedda next time, Tom tried to keep an open mind.
The door was opened by a tall, thin woman who bore nearly no resemblance to Harry, though Tom remembered Harry once saying that he was related to his relatives through his aunt.
“Can I help you?” the aunt asked, looking him over. “Are you here for Dudley, dear?”
“No, ma’am,” Tom said with his very best smile. “I’m here to visit Harry. I don’t know if he’s told you about me, but I’m Tom Riddle. We attend school together.”
The aunt’s lips pinched at that. “Harry wasn’t given permission to have guests over today.”
“I apologize for the surprise visit,” Tom said, still making an effort to be pleasant. It would’ve been so much easier had Harry given him even his relatives’ last names, but Harry had always been so tight-lipped about his family. Maybe he’d only been trying to not bring up the subject because of Tom’s own family issues, but still. It would be yet another thing he’d complain to Harry about once he finally laid eyes on his friend. “It’s only that I haven’t heard from Harry since the end of term and I thought—”
“If you haven’t heard from him, then he doesn’t want to see you,” the aunt interrupted. “The boy has always been rude that way. He doesn’t have the right attitude for friendships.”
That… sounded completely unlike the Harry Potter who Tom had gotten to know. In fact, it sounded so much unlike him that it described Tom himself. Tom had always found it easy to discard friendships and ignore people he didn’t need anymore. But Harry had been a protective little burr on his side during their first year, and he’d sent letters every single week during the summer afterward as Tom navigated living with Morfin, and their friendship had grown stronger than ever during their second year at Hogwarts. For Merlin’s sake, Harry had promised to write to him as soon as he got home. Tom was uncomfortable with the thought of Harry deciding to sever their friendship, but he knew that if it came to that, Harry would’ve been upfront with that as he was with everything else.
But if the aunt had a different perception of his friend, then Tom wasn’t going to stand here and argue with her. He’d just lean on a nice lie of, “I understand, but we were assigned to work on a summer project together. I only need a few hours with him to finish the part we have to do together.” A few hours now, and then the next time he visited Privet Drive, he could meet Harry on that playground instead of having to deal with Harry’s weird aunt. “We won’t be a bother, I promise.” When the aunt took a moment to think it over instead of immediately agreeing, Tom added, “I could always ask the professors for another partner, but there would have to be meetings with both our heads of houses and such first.”
“You won’t be using any magic?” the aunt asked, but she stepped aside and opened the door further.
“No, it’s only bookwork.” Once inside, Tom glanced around long enough to pick out a feature to compliment. There are so many photographs in the living room that either the aunt or the uncle have to have pride in them. “You have a beautiful home. Are you a photographer?”
A hint of pleasure entered the aunt’s eyes. “I’m only an amateur, although I’m encouraging my dear Dudley to develop his photographer’s eye.”
“With a teacher like you, he’ll be a pro,” Tom assured her. “I especially like the one—” a hesitation, just a slight one, because he’d been about to say with the whole family until he realized not a single one of these were a shot of the whole family. None of them included a dark-haired boy of any age, though he saw twenty-some of a portly blond kid. “—of you in China,” he finished.
“We took a trip over the winter holidays,” the aunt said and began to go into the story behind the photo of the two smiling adults and one pouting child. Just the one.
Perhaps Harry had an aversion to photographs that Tom had never heard of, but he found it odd that Harry had never mentioned his family going off on vacation a few months back. During their first year, Tom hadn’t yet cared enough to ask why Harry had stuck behind for the holidays (and a part of him had wondered if the Gryffindor had stayed just to irritate him to death), and last year Harry had only said that his family had encouraged him to stay at Hogwarts because some aunt on Harry’s uncle’s side of the family was having some sort of health issue and they wouldn’t be able to give him a good Christmas. Tom had been so focused on keeping his selfish happiness contained that he hadn’t really paid attention to Harry’s excuse, only to the fact that his friend was staying with him in the castle.
They didn’t interact much in the morning, since Tom was an early riser and Harry the type to rush into the great hall and grab a bagel before running to class, but Tom tried to remember if he’d ever seen Harry receive any mail from his relatives. He must have, Tom thought, but he couldn’t summon a memory. It had never mattered what mail Harry did or didn’t receive. Harry had a beautiful snowy owl. Didn’t that mean he’d bought it in order to owl his family while he was at school?
Tom nodded along and ahh’d as the aunt described the Great Wall. He’d only spent a few minutes in her company and wanted to leave it immediately. Did Harry feel the same way? His aunt didn’t seem to know him at all. Maybe they didn’t get along.
As they climbed the stairs, they met the portly-red faced man from the photographs. Harry’s uncle looked much less pleased here than in China, but the scowl on his face seemed to be a more natural expression than the smile.
“Bloody owls,” he was muttering. “Er, hello. Dudley’s new friend, are you?”
“No, he’s one of Harry’s lot,” the aunt said, smiling thinly. “The boy forgot to tell us about a group project the two of them had been assigned.”
“You can’t get it done when he goes back to school?” the uncle asked, his tone lacking any attempts at friendliness now that he knew Tom wasn’t one of this Dudley’s friends.
Harry’s cousin, Tom assumed. He was really starting to dislike Harry’s relatives. Maybe not all muggles were horrid creatures (maybe), but neither Tom’s foster families nor Harry’s relatives were examples of sainthood. Or even general decency.
“No, there won’t be any time later. But we’ll be very quiet, sir,” Tom said, just trying to get to Harry already. Morfin’s wand felt heavy against his thigh and Tom itched to just point it at these muggles and get what he wanted that way, but he knew Harry wouldn’t approve. He was always going on about how Tom had to give people a chance to prove themselves better.
“See that you do,” the uncle said and headed downstairs.
The aunt reached the end of the hall and reached for the door that Tom could only see the edges of from behind her. Metallic sounds rang through the hallway and settled in Tom’s chest.
“Aunt Petunia?” came Harry’s voice.
“You have a visitor,” the aunt said, her voice colder than Tom had yet heard it. Even when he’d revealed that he was Harry’s friend from Hogwarts, Petunia’s attitude had cooled but not to that level. “He may stay for two hours. I expect you to have your summer project finished by then.” To Tom, she added, “He doesn’t have my Dudley’s brains, so don’t expect too much from him.”
Before Tom could say a single thing, Petunia turned to leave and Harry was finally in his sight. Harry, his best friend, the only person in this house who mattered to Tom, sat cross-legged in the middle of his bed. Harry’s bedroom was plain, its only contents a bed with a thin, ratty blanket that Tom could see a hole in even from the doorway, and a dresser and desk, the wood worn and scratched. Hedwig’s cage sat on the desk, while the owl herself was perched on Harry’s thigh while Harry petted her soft white feathers.
“Tom?” Harry’s eyes were open wide behind his large circular glasses. A piece of tape over the middle kept the two halves of the glasses together. They hadn’t been like that three weeks ago.
Tom tore his attention from Harry’s glasses and ratty muggle clothes to the only window in the room. There were bars across the window that didn’t seem far apart enough to stick a wrist through, though Harry must have managed because the window was open enough for a breeze to enter the room. The door that Tom hadn’t seen from behind Petunia was clear to him now. The three locks that only opened from the outside were even worse now that Tom could see them.
Down the hall, Petunia knocked on another door and said with a voice sweet as honey, “Dudley, would you like a snack?”
“I don’t understand,” Tom said, but he did. A loud, cold fury began to build in him, the kind he’d once had only for his own circumstances. He hadn’t felt it for over a year, but it flooded through him like an old friend.
Harry scrambled down from his bed while Hedwig flew onto the top of Harry’s chair with a quiet sound. “I don’t, either! What are you doing here, Tom? I’m sorry I haven’t replied, but you didn’t need to come, really, I was going to answer.”
“Of course I had to come,” Tom said, Harry’s words rattling through his ears. What was he doing here? Tom hadn’t had to come? “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”
“Nothing’s going on,” Harry replied.
Tom knew that mulish set to Harry’s jaw, but he didn’t give a flying mandrake about Harry’s pride. He cared—and he admitted it, alright, he cared, he cared so much it hurt—about the way those clothes hung off Harry’s thin frame. Harry had always been thin, but he’d lost weight recently. Behind all that caginess, there was so much unhappiness in Harry’s expression. Much more than Tom could’ve guessed that Harry could hold. He’d seen Harry unhappy before—at the way the Slytherins used to treat Tom, at the way Snape hated him because of some history he had with Harry’s late father, at the way most of Hogwarts celebrated Halloween while Harry mourned his parents—but never to this extent.
“This isn’t nothing,” Tom said, carefully enunciating each word to try to get it through Harry’s head. “You aren’t nothing. You can’t be treated like this. I won’t allow it.”
“It’s not that bad,” Harry had the gall to try, but he deflated at Tom’s glare. “It could be worse? Look, it’s only until I turn seventeen and I can move out. I can’t do anything until then. I asked McGonagall about wizarding foster care options, and she said that there weren’t many and they were for very extreme circumstances.”
“Did you explain your extreme circumstances?” Tom asked. “Did you explain the fact that they abuse you?”
“They—” Harry stopped. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Tom was going to murder someone for the fact that Harry hadn’t been able to deny Tom’s words. Fortunately, there were three people in this very house that he could release his anger on. He’d brought Marvolo’s wand to show Harry how easy it was to circumvent the trace, maybe to show off a little, but this was a much better use of his magic.
Trying to look less murderous only because he didn’t want Harry to decide Tom was angry at him, Tom said, “I do. It’s ‘Professor McGonagall, you are a fucking idiot for not following through to make sure that a student asking about foster care options doesn’t need your immediate aid’ and I will say it to her. I don’t care if she gives me bad marks for a year. We’re going to fix this.”
“But Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon will just lie like they did last time in grade school. They’re good at it, they know what to say—”
A few drops of veritaserum and that problem would work itself out, or, “If I murder them, you can’t be sent back to them.”
Harry grabbed wand Tom’s hand and threaded their fingers together. “You can’t do that.”
Tom looked down at their joined hands. Harry had been a bit clingy at the start of their second year, hadn’t he? Tom had only noticed because he wasn’t used to people touching him affectionately, but Harry had gradually returned to normal levels of touching as September wore on. He’d gotten his fill of the human contact he hadn’t gotten over the summer, Tom realized. Murder was too good for these people. Tom used Harry’s hold to pull him into a hug, holding Harry more loosely than Harry held him while he checked his friend for bruises.
“Stop lifting my shirt,” Harry muttered into Tom’s shoulder.
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
“Is that a lie?”
“Right side.” Harry held on tightly for another moment before extracting himself from the hug, though he still gripped Tom’s hand like he was prepared for Tom to set fiendfyre to the house at any moment. “It’s only three months out of the year. I can take it.”
“Stop being a martyr!” Tom said, glaring into Harry’s stupid, determined green eyes. “You wouldn’t let me get hurt, so why do you think you’re allowed to get hurt yourself?”
“It’s not the same,” Harry said, weakly. “They’re my family.”
“Morfin’s my family and I would turn him into a toad and step on him if he tried to hit me.” And he didn’t want to talk about it because that part of his life was over and done with, but, “My foster placements weren’t good, but I only got hit once, and I made him fall down the stairs with my magic for it. He spent a month in the hospital.”
“Good,” Harry said, squeezing Tom’s hand. “He deserved it. But I don’t have anywhere to go. You can’t just ask your uncle to take me in.”
“He’ll do it,” Tom quickly said, now that Harry was finally giving in a little. “Morfin isn’t horrible. And he knows what it’s like. He’d kill your relatives before making you go back.” Taking hold of the opportunity, Tom looked around. “Where’s your trunk?”
“It’s downstairs.” But Harry wasn’t moving, just looking around the room like he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t look anything like the person he was at Hogwarts, but he was still Tom’s best friend. He was the only person Tom would do this for.
“Come on,” Tom said, gently, trying to break Harry out of the mood. A memory of Harry pulling him out of the way of Avery’s tripping jinx flashed through his mind. Harry had been so angry afterward, yelling at Avery about how stupid he was. A week later, Tom had gotten his revenge and Avery still looked at him with barely hidden fear, but until then Harry had been furious. He wasn’t now. Harry didn’t treat himself the way he treated Tom, but Tom would make him learn better. This wasn’t acceptable. “We’ll get your things and we’ll leave. I won’t even murder them.” Yet. “Do you want anything from your wardrobe?”
Harry shook his head. “It just has the clothes I don’t wear at Hogwarts.” Swallowing, he said, “I don’t want to leave and then just be sent back here again. It would be even worse than staying.”
“I won’t let anyone do that,” Tom promised. He’d spent so long feeling powerless, but he wasn’t anymore. He had an uncle who let him do what he wanted and gave him more in allowance than Tom could spend. He had a best friend and he had acquaintances in every Slytherin in his year who he’d cursed or awed into submission. And he had his magic. “We’ll find a way out if anyone tries. You trust me, right?”
Harry nodded. “I do. Are you sure? Really sure?”
“Yes,” Tom said, simply. If he had Harry’s trust, just enough of it to get him out of here, he’d make sure to prove that Harry wasn’t wrong to trust him. Anyone else—except maybe Morfin sometimes—would be stupid to trust him, but this was Harry.
This time, when Tom pulled him toward the hallway, Harry followed him. They didn’t run into either Petunia or Vernon as they made their way downstairs, which Tom considered a good thing as he didn’t need the test of his control. Morfin wouldn’t care if he murdered a couple muggles, but Harry and the ministry probably would.
“It’s all in here,” Harry said, pointing at a forgettable little door that led to a closet area under the staircase. For some reason, he looked even more nervous about it than anything else, holding Tom’s hand tightly as his gaze rested on the door. “Aunt Petunia doesn’t like me having my school things.”
There were too many locks in this house, Tom thought as he saw the padlock attached to the cupboard door. The padlock was there in addition to a simpler sliding lock. The sliding lock was older, the metal scratched in a way that hinted at it having been there for a long time, and something gnawed at Tom about it. There wasn’t any need for a sliding lock on a closet space, especially on the outside. There was no boggart that the muggles needed to keep inside, no house elves to keep in there. There was just Harry, whose own bedroom had the same exact system, just newer.
“Alohomora,” Tom murmured. Harry still had his wand hand, but Marvolo’s wand still carried out his wishes from his left hand. Tom unlatched the padlock and dropped it with a thud onto the floor, then slid the sliding lock up and to the right. He felt sick as he imagined how many times Harry’s aunt or uncle had done this in his place. It must’ve been used for punishment, Tom thought. He slid his wand back in his pocket and helped Harry drag out Harry’s school trunk. Harry went to close the door before Tom could look inside.
“What are you doing?” came the aunt’s shriek, which distracted Harry long enough for Tom to open the door again to see what Harry hadn’t wanted him to see.
The reason the trunk had been so close to the entrance of the closet was because it had been shoved up against a small, dusty cot. There was a blanket that moths wouldn’t even eat atop it and a small pillow, along with a few papers and broken toys sticking out from under the cot.
“Petunia, what did they—”
Tom pointed his hand at them and pushed harder than he ever had in his life because he’d never been so livid. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have his wand in his hand or that it wasn’t his wand hand. What good was magic if it didn’t listen to him right now? A wave of pressure without sound swept through the home and caught Petunia and Vernon in it, lifting them up and smacking them against the wall directly behind them with a bang. When they tried to yell, it came out garbled, and Tom could almost make out phantom fingers against their throats. It was a pity they hadn’t been standing across from the large living room windows; Tom was so angry he would’ve relished seeing them break through the glass.
“How long did they keep you in there?” Tom spit out, unable to keep any of his rage out of his voice. Not anymore, not when… He needed to hear Harry say that it was only for a night, only sometimes, and then they’d just send Harry back to his room, which at least wasn’t a dark little cupboard under the stairs.
“Until I was eleven.”
It took Tom a moment to realize it was his own hands that were starting to shake. “And still you’re protecting them?” He whipped his head around to watch as Harry’s aunt and uncle struggled against their invisible bonds. Their faces were turning red, and they were making the best types of choking sounds. “They’re filth. They don’t deserve to exist, let alone ever touch you, do you hear me—”
“If they die, it’s gonna be because I kill them, alright?” Harry said. “Let them go.”
Tom searched Harry’s face for signs that his friend was just placating him, but he did as Harry asked. Vernon and Petunia fell to the floor, and when they scrambled up they didn’t try to plead their case. The two huddled together, staring at them with wide, terrified eyes that Tom wanted to stab his wand through.
“We’ll come back when you’re less traumatized?” Tom asked. And then these people would get what they really deserved.
Harry glanced at his relatives, but he turned back to Tom and said, “I just want to get out of here.”
“And don’t come back,” said Vernon, because he was a walking murder advertisement. “We didn’t want you in the first place, didn’t we, Pet?”
“Not in the slightest,” Petunia sneered. She sounded terrified, but there was defiance in her eyes, and she still said, “But my sister had to go and die and no one else would take you in—”
“Because my dad died in the same explosion,” Harry replied in all but a yell. “It was all because of an Unspeakable experiment that wasn’t even their faults. Sixty-two people died and so many people lost someone, but all you could ever think was that it left you with me. I don’t know why you couldn’t just love me.”
“How do you honestly expect us to be able to love a freak like you?”
Harry broke his grip on one of Tom’s hands and reached for the wand in Tom’s pocket, interrupting Petunia as he pointed it at her.
“You wouldn’t dare—” Vernon blustered.
“Petrificus Totalus,” Harry yelled, casting it twice.
Vernon and Petunia fell to the ground. It wasn’t the spell Tom would have chosen. He hoped they at least broke something in the fall. Before he could offer Harry some advice, a thudding sound erupted from somewhere upstairs and the pudgy blond boy from the photographs appeared at the top of the stairs.
“You’re not allowed to use magic!” he yelled, pointing down at Harry. “I’m going to tell Mum and Dad on you.”
“You can join them if you wish,” Tom said, tilting his head toward Vernon and Petunia’s limp forms. The rage in his voice must have been enough of a warning because Dudley took the stairs two at a time as he ran down to stop next to his parents. His betrayed look wasn’t nearly as satisfying as cursing him would have been. “They’ll wake up eventually. Most likely, anyway, depending on how much magic Harry put into his spell.”
“No more than to keep them down for a day or two,” Harry said. “Give them some water or something if they look thirsty.”
“You’re leaving?” Dudley asked. “I mean— of course you are. Get out and don’t come back.”
“The only way I’ll come back is if I get dragged here kicking and screaming. And if I do, you’ll be the ones who’ll regret it,” Harry replied, a darkness in his voice that Tom was thrilled to hear. This was loads better than the lost, hurt boy back in Harry’s room. And if it took all summer for Harry to be okay again, Tom would stick around to make sure of it. Or all their lives. That would be alright too. Harry said one last spell, this one to float their trunk into the air, before handing the wand back to Tom, who made it unnoticeable to muggles. “Come on.”
Harry walked fast, pulling them out of the house. He only waited for Hedwig to follow them out before slamming the door behind them. Tom guided him toward the park. He stayed close to Harry, still holding Harry’s hand with his right hand. He didn’t plan to let him go anytime soon unless Harry really wanted him to.
“Wicked,” Harry said when he saw the flying carpet, but without his usual enthusiasm. As they settled onto it and followed Hedwig and Hedda back home, Harry muttered, “I can’t believe I did that.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t do more,” Tom replied, huddling closer to him because of the faulty warming charms. There wasn’t much room on the carpet either, what with two people and a trunk. “I would have, you know.”
“I know,” Harry said. He was still for a few long moments before he relaxed into Tom’s side, resting his head against Tom’s shoulder, their backs to the trunk. He gazed out into the darkening sky and said, “What was that magical constellation you thought was cool again?”
Tom let him have his distraction, but he let himself have his own, wrapping his arm around Harry and relishing in the warmth. Nothing he said about the constellation was information that Harry hadn’t heard from Professor Sinistra—Tom didn’t have much interest in doing additional research into astronomy—but Harry listened as he talked all the same. Tom moved on to talking about the planets when he ran out of constellations, and by the time he’d reached the Jupiter section of his mental notes, Harry was sleeping quietly at his side. Tom hoped the rest would help with the dark circles under Harry’s eyes, even if it wouldn’t solve all his other problems.
Hogsmeade crept up on him, the flight back seeming so much shorter than the flight to Harry’s house. Tom guided the carpet down toward his house, which he could easily recognize as one of the ones on the edge of the town furthest from Hogwarts.
Morfin was on the porch, leaning against the railings with a bottle of butterbeer in his hand as he watched their descent.
Tom settled the carpet onto the grass in front of the porch. Quietly, so as not to wake Harry, he told Morfin, “This is Harry. He’s staying forever.”
Morfin set his bottle on the railing and stepped down to meet them. He crouched down in front of them, his dark eyes taking in everything. He had to see what Tom did, because if he didn’t, Tom would bash him over the head with it.
“You’re sure about this?” Morfin asked, his voice just as quiet.
Tom’s hold tightened the slightest bit, but Harry didn’t wake, still in a deep slumber. “They had locks on his door, and they didn’t feed him, and it’s not alright, and I’m keeping him because even you can do better.”
Morfin huffed quietly, but his lips turned up. “Next time you decide to bring someone into the family, give me some warning.”
“At least he’s not a muggle?” Tom’s heart was beating just a little too loudly.
Morfin reached toward him slowly, giving him the opportunity to duck away if Tom didn’t want him to ruffle his hair. Tom allowed it just this once.
“I’ll get things figured out,” Morfin said, his large hand carding through Tom’s hair. “He seems like a good kid, and I figure you’ll give me hell otherwise.”
“I will,” Tom said with a warning look, but Morfin only looked at him with an expression too soft for his usually gruff uncle’s face.
Morfin patted Tom’s hair a final time and then tapped the carpet to get it moving again. “He can share your room until I clear out the guest room. I’ll floo call Severus in the morning. He knows what to do about these kinds of things, legally speaking.”
“Illegally speaking, I’m going to murder his relatives one day,” Tom said, just daring Morfin to argue.
“Prepare a good alibi first,” Morfin advised, pushing the carpet toward the house.
It curled to fit through the doorway, shifting them a bit. Harry mumbled something against Tom’s shoulder in response, but Tom didn’t catch his exact words. He found himself yawning as well. There were heavy footsteps behind them and strong arms that guided them off the hovering carpet and under the bedcovers. These weren’t ratty, hole-ridden ones, and Tom supposed he could thank Morfin for it sometime.
“I need to curse McGonagall too,” Tom mumbled instead.
“That might be a tad harder,” came Morfin’s voice. But it was warm, and Harry was next to him, and it was so easy to just fall asleep.