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There’s an odd stillness to the hall. It comes in the empty seats, the missing students, in the odd Slytherin with parents with certain names clutching their arm and the armed guard that escort them through the gates. It comes in the open knowledge that there is a Dark Lord rising.

Have you seen him, the whispers ask, he’s like a snake with red eyes and white skin and he’ll suck out your soul if you say his true name.

Ron wants to scoff at those rumours, but the truth is despite everything he can’t get the name past his lips. His parents kick him out of meetings when the Order comes around, citing he’s too young. He is, he knows he is, but the truth of the matter is that if he’s being kicked out for being too young, then there should be someone beside him who is younger and there just isn’t .

Not anymore. Ginny is dead and Harry is gone, long assumed dead, and Ron skulks through the empty rooms of an escaped prisoner alone. There are certain things in people’s lives that change people. Breaking through a rockfall at thirteen and stumbling through into a chamber containing the corpse of a dead basilisk, a bloodied sword and the dead body of his little sister is one of those things.

Hermione drops down next to him, Neville on his other side and he greets them, feeling slightly less alone now he’s no longer at home or Order Headquarters among the ghosts. He tunes most of the mindless babble out, filtering for the important facts regarding the so called Lord’s rise to power.

(Somewhere Cedric Diggory’s skeleton lies in a graveyard and elsewhere there are pieces of a smashed prophecy orb, unheard until the end. As much as things change, some things just don’t.)

“I’m still hoping Dumbledore makes Snape the new Defence teacher,” Ron says, as Hermione goes through the change in staffing, “That way we’ll finally be rid of him.” Neville looks almost thrilled at the result and Hermione just hits him with her dessert spoon.

“There’s nobody up there,” she says, “Maybe Dumbledore’s doing it himself?” she sounds oddly helpful.

“No way,” Ron says, stuffing a spoon of crumble into his mouth, “He taught Transfiguration, didn’t ‘e?”

“He took down Grindelwald, though,” Hermione says, “And they say he duelled Voldemort to a standstill at the Ministry last summer.”

Ron shudders at the name.

(Neither of them had been at the Ministry, because they’d been too busy overthrowing Umbridge to worry about what had been going on outside Hogwarts’ walls.)

“Shh,” Neville says, “He’s going to tell us now.”

Dumbledore doesn’t even have to clap to get the hall to fall silent. Everyone is paying attention to him already as spoons drop and faces turn as he steps up to the podium. “Welcome back,” he says with a smile that is as grim as it is kind. “These are indeed trying times but it warms my heart to see everyone here.”

Ron will give the old man one thing, he does still know how to hold a crowd.

“I promise,” Dumbledore says, “That while under my roof I will do my utmost to keep the politics of the outside world out of your education. You are safe within this school. Outside it I cannot say the same.”

“Safe?” a Hufflepuff whispers, “Like Cedric Diggory was safe ? Like Ginny Weasley was safe ?”

Ron flinches.

If Dumbledore hears he makes no sign of it, “Once again,” he says, cheerfully, “I must ask that you take note of Mr Filch’s list of Forbidden Items, which has expanded to include any product bought from Fred or George Weasley.” There are a chorus of groans accompanying this, “And please refrain from entering the Forbidden Forest. It is the Forbidden Forest for a reason.” There is a slight tittering of weak laughs. “I am also… pleased-- ” he doesn’t sound pleased, “To inform you that our Defence post has once again been filled. He appears to be a bit late--”

The door to the Great Hall slams open and every single student jumps, spinning around.

“Ah,” Dumbledore says, brightly, “May I introduce Tom Riddle, your new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.”

Ron’s heart skips a beat.

Tom Riddle.

The Tom Riddle? No, that’s not possible, he thinks, and the figure at the doorway isn’t white-skinned or red-eyed, in fact Ron would almost mistake him for a Hogwarts’ student himself except--

The new arrival just has a presence that demands to be focussed on.

He's teaching? Dumbledore let him?

“The politician ?” a Ravenclaw whispers, but someone shakes their head, the name unfamiliar, strange to most except those who know who he really is except--

This young man - boy, practically - is clearly not. Dumbledore would never, especially after that little speech. Looking at their new teacher as he steps into the hall with the utmost confidence and grace Ron hates him instantly.

Tom Riddle is perfect. Lethal stride, confidence in every line of his body. His dark hair is neatly brushed through with a slight flick even this new staff member for all his perfect poise can't sort. His face is handsome, elegant, lips thin and a cruel look about them. He looks no older than a sixth year, and whispers break out.

“Nice of you to join us, To--” the headmaster chokes. Actually stumbles through saying the new arrival’s name and the hall just kind of stops when their gazes slide past Tom Riddle to the person nobody noticed before.

He's shorter than Riddle, hair just as black but scattered and windswept. His gaze is ducked, so Ron doesn't notice at first, not until he's near enough to see the green eyes streaked unnaturally with gold and the lightning bolt scar across his forehead.

Dumbledore’s eyes stay fixed on Harry Potter for a long moment before tearing free to look at Riddle. Riddle just smirks, continuing his walk up to the staff table. Halfway up Harry peels off, and if he can feel the stares he makes no note of it, coming to a slow halt by Ron and Neville.

Harry is older. That’s the first thing Ron thinks about and he’s an idiot, of course Harry’s older. It’s been over three years.

But he’s still thin, his eyes still too-green, hair too-messy and there’s a roughness in him now that reminds Ron of an alley cat or of a near-starved wolf. A desperation. There is a pale pink scar curling up Harry’s cheek, more across his collarbone and eyes that dart around marking out escape routes and always aware of where Riddle is at all times.

Ron hasn't seen his best friend in three years. He’d thought Harry was dead. In his head he had planned what he’d do had Harry been alive, if he ever saw him again. They range from punching him to hexing him to accusations over Ginny's death.

None of them involved him silently moving, offering up space on the bench for Harry to slip into. The whole hall is watching, but only Ron is close enough to see the tired eyes, the tense posture, the relief present when a space is offered up to him. Harry doesn't smile at him. He doesn't say anything. He ignores the world around him, right up until he doesn't, head snapping up to the staff table.

“Lovely to be here, Professor,” Riddle says, smiling charmingly around at the hall, “I’m looking forward to this year. I’m sure it will be…” he takes his time picking a word, “Enlightening,” he settles on. Riddle is standing there, smirking, and Harry's gaze meets Riddle's for a moment, holding it steadily. There is no fear in them, Ron observes, no deference, just a blank, odd kind of understanding he can’t explain before Harry turns away, an odd burning anger and obedience hidden in his movements and expression.

And suddenly Ron knows without a doubt who Tom Riddle is, what he did, and why Dumbledore let him teach this year, even if the name hadn’t already given most of it away already.

Ron's never hoped more for the curse on the Defence position to work before.

*

Harry knows full well what Stockholm Syndrome is. He knows he has probably got it in spades. He had been twelve, he hadn’t been stupid.

Survival is a game Harry had almost forgotten how to play wearing red and gold and eating a full meal every night. Tom Riddle is another game, a new, terrifying, life-threatening game that he has to learn how to play all over again.

For all his near death experiences in his short life he’s never come as close yet far away as he has in the past three years. For someone whose worst fear is Death, Tom walks side by side with it, it oozes off him, clings to him like the Dark Magic he loves so. Harry knows more than a bit has rubbed off on him; there’s really nothing to be done about that. He’s already wasted too much energy fighting and protesting it. Tom is Death walking and therefore Harry follows in Death’s shadow; it’s only appropriate, all things considered.

Even the certainty that Tom can’t take that last step to ridding himself of Harry doesn’t guarantee anything. Tom skirts the edge of the death, and therefore Harry must too.

As much as he disliked the Dursley’s he always felt strangely grateful to them because the not-quite-Dark Lord honestly wasn’t much worse than growing up with them had been.

Tom Riddle is not Voldemort, no matter what one such as Albus Dumbledore might be inclined to tell him. Voldemort had been a wraith, a mad man, and mad men do not care for the life and lies of a twelve-year old boy, only for his death. Tom Riddle had also been a wraith, and now he is less of one, but he is neither mad nor quite a man no matter how many murders he has under his belt and he does not want Harry dead.

Tom Riddle is not Voldemort, no matter what Tom himself will tell Harry. Voldemort is a name, a title he has carved out for himself for someone else to use. It’s tarnished and has lost the shiny newness Tom is still under the illusion it holds. Tom knows better now. Harry knows better now.

No, Tom Riddle is not Voldemort, and that makes him all the more terrifying, yet all the more human and that’s all Harry needs to find a foothold and stay standing.

Don’t get him wrong - it wasn’t nice . Tom isn’t nice. Harry knows what the Cruciatus feels like. Extensively. He knows and has experienced Tom’s wrath first hand. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Yet he’s alive, still breathing (no matter how close he’ll stray Tom won’t cross that line into Death, can’t won’t Harry’s not sure what the line is, but he knows it’s Not An Option). He’s also had something akin to a Hogwarts education. Not a full one, and it’s oddly extensive in certain areas and non-existant in others, but it’s indisputable that slipping into the sixth year classroom he knows the material. He won’t stand out.

Except, of course, in all the ways that count.

Ron is pale next to him. They haven’t spoken. Harry hasn’t really spoken to anyone, and Minerva McGonagall squints at him, probably wondering how he’d even found the class given he has no timetable and most people are still convinced he’s dead.

“I’m afraid,” she says, and to her credit her voice only wavers a little bit, “Mr Potter, being dead does not excuse the fact that I require at least an Exceeds Expe--” she stops talking when he silently holds out the parchment envelope. It’s got the official Ministry stamp on it.

Wizards really are idiots, Harry thinks, and then wants to hit himself for sounding like Tom. ‘James Evans’ is not even inventive, but it’s his signature and they’re his OWL grades no matter how dubiously Tom and him obtained them.

“I see,” Minerva looks impressed. Harry wonders if she’d be less impressed if she knew the consequence of not achieving perfect grades with Tom around. “I’ll sort out your schedule,” she says, “For now, you and Mr Weasley should have similar classes, and Miss Granger for Arithmancy and Runes. I’ll send up an Owl Order catalogue for your textbooks--” she peers at the book on his desk, “Well,” she says, “For a newer edition than a copy that looks fifty years old.”

She drops the envelope back on his desk and proceeds to teaching. Gazes pin themselves to him and Harry flips open his book, checking the title, finding the page and grabbing a notebook. Notes are already sprawled out there.

There isn’t much else to do, caged in with a moody teenager.

Or, maybe caged is the wrong word, neither was trapped. Well, Harry was trapped, Tom certainly wasn’t. Not at least in the way most people would think.

“So you’re alive,” Malfoy sneers as he follows Ron and Hermione to lunch. Draco steps out sideways to block the corridor, his two goons flanking him. Harry eyes them up, unafraid. Not much scares him nowadays. His boggart had been a Dementor for months the first time Tom and he had run into one. The day he realised his value to others was weighed less by the person he was and more by the soul entanglements he held, it changed to a small, innocuous black book with a burning hole through it.

Ironically it’s the same thing Tom’s turns into.

(That’s all they are. Voldemort wants Harry dead because he’s an enemy and Tom dead because he’s a horcrux. Dumbledore wants Harry dead because he’s a horcrux and Tom dead because he’s an enemy.)

(They’re too alike for their own good, even before being forced to spend so long in each other’s company).

“Surprise,” Harry’s voice is oddly flat, “I can’t die.”

He’s so used to Riddle, to Tom’s snort and dry ‘funny’ so he can throw something equally dry and witty back; it throws him a little when Draco just swaggers forwards. “Did you think it made you special? Running away and getting dragged back by some low-life politician? A no-name mudblood pushing through policies on the sly? What were you, his pet ?”

Why yes , Harry thinks, sort of. Then something else occurs to him and his head tilts to one side, “You don’t know who he is, do you?” he says and no, he realises, they don’t. Ron does from the way he bristles, Hermione too clearly, and of course Dumbledore does, McGonagall suspects of course she was at school when he was a prefect and Hagrid but--

It’s not a common thing. And Tom had kept a low profile because the last thing he had wanted was to be dragged back to his main part sooner than he wanted.

(As it was when the inevitable dragging happened it worked out all the worst for everyone involved, except perhaps Harry who had only been present for the aftermath, for the near dead Tom and the wounds bleeding ink and the boy he’d barely managed to keep in one piece.)

(Turns out Voldemort can’t even work with himself.)

“Of course,” Malfoy blinks, “He’s a small time politician. Got some connection, made a few choice moves… oh, and he’s highly wanted by the Dark Lord. Probably top of his list before you showed your face - stupid move, you should have stayed hidden, kept that scarred forehead of yours under whatever rock you had found and-- HEY!”

During his monologue Malfoy had been gesturing emphatically, stalking forwards until he is well within Harry’s personal space, and he’d probably been about to shove Harry backwards in a mockery of their old fights except Harry’s hand - reflexes even better than his previous Seeker-skills had been - snatches out, grabbing Malfoy’s wrist.

His left wrist. And underneath Malfoy’s robe Harry can feel the Dark Mark there burn at the touch of his magic.

Malfoy snatches his hand back, and Harry lets him, watching at he stumbles away. “You know what I think, Malfoy?” Harry asks, softly, “I think that I will mean more to the Dark Lord than you ever will. You’re nothing to him. An inconsequential speck on his boot, a conveniently way to get back at Daddy for fucking up and getting caught. Do you think he’d waiting with bated breath for you to succeed?” Harry scoffs, “Of course not. He’s got bigger things to worry about and the day you inevitably fail? Well, then he’ll send in someone far more competent than you ever will be.”

Draco’ grows gradually redder throughout Harry’s words. He grabs for his wand, expression turning ugly and that’s when surprisingly Ron moves, stepping between Harry and Draco.

“Back off, Malfoy,” Ron says, and he reminds Harry of one of his older brothers.

Harry’s not afraid of Draco Malfoy. He’d almost been looking forward to the fight, someone other than Tom for a change and after three years their arguments are old and the outcome expected. This had been new, exciting and adrenaline rushing through him. He rocks back on his heels, and he can’t help but look smug as Malfoy fumes.

“He’ll kill you!” Draco blusters, “You and your new guardian, Potter, you’re both dead . Do you hear me?”

“Bugger off, Malfoy,” Ron snaps again, and Malfoy does, whirling around with a robe twirl that would make Snape proud. Hermione sidesteps him as he strides off down the corridor, looking mildly reproachfully at Harry.

“You shouldn’t have antagonised him,” she says, “You know he’s been marked .”

Harry shrugs. He knows. He also knows that if some misfortune befalls him from Malfoy’s direction then at least Tom will make his end fucking miserable .

Hermione stares at him, eyes darting around and then she takes a small step forwards, “I’m glad you’re alive,” she says. She looks like she wants to hug him.

“I’m glad you’re not petrified,” he says, because that had long been his last memory of her.

She looks conflicted, nodding and then glancing at Ron and - oh, Harry realises, can see the problem. He clears his throat, “Ron,” he says, turning to his other best friend. The lanky ginger looks even more unsure about how to approach this than Hermione, “Listen,” Harry says, searching for the words. His social skills have only gone downhill spending so much time around Tom, and Tom doesn’t do anything vaguely resembling apologies, “About Ginny--”

Ron freezes, and he’s so pale Harry can’t even see his freckles. Hermione squeaks and then shoves a hand in front of her mouth to stifle herself.

“I’m sorry,” he says, because what else can he say. It’s all he can do and it means nothing, but his friend appears to take comfort from those words, from knowing what happened to his best friend and sister while he remained trapped on one side of the rock fall.

Ron broke through to find nothing.

It’s always the not knowing that kills them.

In his head his scar there is a piece of Tom Riddle that is buried under his skin, in his very soul. It echoes through his magic, practically purrs in proximity to Riddle and it wraps tendrils of power around his throat, under his collar and chokes him to silence and Harry’s still trapped.

He never did escape the Chamber. Not really.

“Least you’re not dead too,” Ron says, gruffly, “And Riddle, well, he’ll get what’s coming to him, right?”

“Yes,” Harry says, a snake in a lion’s fur and like a true Slytherin he’s lying through his teeth.

*

Albus Dumbledore stands in front of a dead boy.

Harry is older, gaunter but there’s still that same stubborn Gryffindor strength he’d seen in the boy of eleven who had once again faced his enemy. The boy won’t meet Albus’ gaze; there is no chance to slip in and read any surface thoughts to give him an idea about what the boy is thinking. No doubt Tom taught the boy Occlumency anyway.

No doubt Tom taught the boy a lot of things. He can only dread what.

Yet at his core it is still Harry Potter standing there.

“Take a seat,” he says, feeling his age, “Lemon drop?”

“No, thank you,” Harry politely declines. Dumbledore eyes him with silent horror. The boy is quiet. Polite. From what he’s heard about the boy’s first week back he’s been a dream student. Slipped right back into Hogwarts’ ranks like he never even left except - oh, no, the signs are plain to see. He’s spent three years under Tom’s influence and although he hides it well this is not the twelve year old boy who raced so recklessly into the Chamber all those years ago to save his best friend’s sister. “I imagine you’d like to know what happened?” Harry says, into the silence, “With the chamber?”

“I’m so sorry,” Albus feels the need to say, “My boy, I thought you were dead. We searched, I tried to track you down but we had no idea --”

Just a dead basilisk and the cold body of a little girl.

Merlin, he hadn’t even known Tom Riddle was involved beyond his own suspicions. It wasn’t until he heard the name whispered about in political circles that he began to ruminate on what actually occurred.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you much. I believe you’ve hypothesised most of the events accurately already. Tom spoke with you this summer.”

Spoke. Albus supposes that’s one word for it. Harry reaches out to where the ring sits lifeless and drained on his desk, deft Seeker-fingers playing with it. With the dark hair and polite, aloof manner there is a moment Albus sees only Tom Riddle, sitting before him.

The boy speaks parseltongue , he thinks, followed by no no no please because that would be too much. Too horrifying to even consider, and it hadn’t been a problem, Harry had been dead except now he’s not--

“You’re lucky he saved you,” Harry’s green eyes flash to Dumbledore’s arm, to where the Withering Curse had been set on taking his life. He’d been so foolish. A foolish old man, filled with too many regrets. A foolish old man who had seen not a horcrux but the resurrection stone, and had reached for the past all too eagerly.

It had bitten at him like ice and fire and pain. He’d stumbled from the ruins of the shack, fully prepared to tear his way out and apparate to Severus’ side. The Potion’s genius would have something, anything--

He’s missing moments between putting it on his finger and the moment he comes back to himself, on his knees at the feet of a young, handsome school-aged version of Tom Riddle smirking over him. The ring glints between long pale fingers, the same way it glints between Harry’s now. The curse to his arm is shattered and Dumbledore lives. His wand lies metres from him, no doubt disarmed by Tom, and he tries not to think of the implications of that now, especially as he can tell already the Elder Wand is no longer as effective as it once had been.

“What do you want, Tom?” he’d asked, still somewhat convinced he was dreaming.

“Just an interview. For a job.”

“You already had one. I turned you away.”

“I’m afraid you haven’t interviewed me yet.”

And he had thrown the ring down and it landed, black stone gleaming as it sunk into the soft grass at Dumbledore’s feet.

Their interview had been a farce. Much like this interview with Harry is. The boy has nothing to say to him. Any trust Dumbledore had cultivated doesn’t exist anymore. He can already see the underlying loyalty to Tom Riddle, no matter how much the boy tries to hide it.

“There’s not really much to say,” Harry ponders, examining the ring that has sat on his desk since the moment he had offered Tom a job, “I followed Ginny down to the Chamber with Ron and Lockhart. Lockhart tried to obliviate us, but he was using Ron’s broken wand and the spell rebounded. There was a rockfall so I went on ahead. I found a dying Ginny and Tom in the Chamber. He set the basilisk on me. I killed it, but I became injured in the fight. Tom decided I was more use to him alive than dead. He left the school, using the pipes the basilisk had used. He took me with him.”

“I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” Dumbledore says, “I should never have left the school, Harry.”

There are only so many times Dumbledore can apologise. For leaving him. For believing him dead. For not searching harder, longer, further--

“I’ll bring you a present,” Riddle had told him at their farce of an interview, “You let me work here and I’ll let you have something in the fight against my insane other half. Don’t be mistaken - it’s still mine - but while I’m here--”

Albus had thought Riddle was talking about a Horcrux. Another one, technically, since the ring was already sitting on the desk between them.

He had never, would never have even considered that Tom Riddle would stride into the Great Hall followed by the shadow of Harry Potter, still alive, still breathing, still living--

He doesn’t think living is the right word for the quiet, shade of a person that Harry has been. He eats, he responds to questions politely, he exists but--

He won’t answer any questions about his three years spent with a sociopath. Albus has barely seen the two interact beyond some pointed looks and glances.

There’s more going on here, and he suspects that the newly resurrected Lord Voldemort doesn’t agree with the policies and actions of his youngest soul piece. Albus’ suspicions are usually correct as well.

“Tom Riddle is not a good person, Harry,” he says, but he thinks the boy knows that, “And you can be forgiven for what one needs to do in these sorts of situations to keep themselves alive and well--”

“I think we should talk about something else, Professor,” Harry’s tone is sharp as he leans back, keeping hold of the ring. Dumbledore suspects he won’t get it back which means - damn, that’s all of the three hallows those two have now between them. “There’s nothing I can tell you about the past three years you need to know that you don’t already.”

Dumbledore smiles. He won’t push. Not now. The boy needs time to work things through on his own, and being among other people will be the best cure he can think of for spending extended periods of time in Tom Riddle’s presence. “Of course, Harry. Allow me at least to escort you down to dinner. I’m impressed with your OWL results - Minerva let me know of course. How are you finding your NEWT classes?”

He accompanies Harry down to dinner. Power moves are important, especially now and the whole school is still looking at Harry with curious glances. Except one.

Riddle’s glare carries across the hall. Dumbledore can feel it burning him, much like the ring’s curse almost burnt him. He meets the boy’s gaze for a moment, and surprisingly the boy doesn’t hold it, eyes flickering sideways oddly. Odd because Tom doesn’t back down. Odd because Tom detests him, hates him, what could be more important than--

Harry Potter sits down by his friends for dinner, giving his cursory scan of the hall, eyes flickering to where Tom sits and then relaxing.

Ah, Dumbledore thinks, pondering this new development. It’s not unexpected, at least not on Harry’s side. He can’t quite hide this newfound loyalty to Tom.

But Tom can’t quite hide his either.

Chapter Text

“So what was it like?” Hermione asks, a lion at heart as she braves the big question. It takes them a week to do it as it is, “What happened?”

He talks. He owes them this much at least. He probably owes Ron’s parents part of this story as well but they will get their chance. He tells them what he tells Dumbledore and then he goes into further detail. It’s been three years though. There is a lot to say. There is a lot that can’t be said.

“Tom was weak for ages,” he says, “After being trapped in the diary - even after he--” drained Ginny “--after he got out, he was still weak. Insubstantial. He wasn’t real in the right sense of it. So he spent a lot of time trying to sort that. And he… after Voldemort came back he found Tom. I think - I think Tom thought they were the same, that they’d work together except-- it didn’t work like that. Voldemort’s insane. He tried to kill Tom, didn’t want a hor-- memory from his school days running around ruining his reputation. He was going to put Tom back in the diary and lock him up. It threw Tom’s plans sideways and put our ideas into alignment. So we started looking for… for things to help defeat him.”

“So what, you’re on the same side now? Then why didn’t he go to Dumbledore? Why didn’t you? Why did you stay ?” Ron asks, like it was some sort of betrayal that Harry calls him ‘Tom’ and talks almost happily about their years together.

“My escape attempts number at 16,” Harry says, plainly. He counted. There wasn’t much else to do. “Some went a lot better than others. I actually made it to my aunt’s house - Tom wasn’t expecting me to go there, he knew I hated the place and I figured the blood wards would stop him dragging me back. But I ran into some Dementors some Ministry hag had sent out after Sirius Black and almost got my soul sucked out and--” he shrugs, helplessly.

“And now?” Hermione asks, “Why are you with him now? Yes, you’re at Hogwarts, but he’s still-- you’re still--”

“Things changed,” Harry shrugged, “We… it’s complicated. There’s a prophecy, there’s all kinds of magic involved at about five different levels that ties us together. And Voldemort, since he’s Tom just… fifty years down the line. Tom isn’t like Voldemort.”

“He killed Ginny,” Ron says, shaking his head, “Harry, I--I know you’ve-- I know you had to put up with the bastard, but he killed my baby sister. I can’t forgive that. I can’t.”

“I know,” Harry says.

“He killed your parents too,” Hermione says, “You seem to have forgotten that.”

Harry shrugs, because explaining that Tom didn’t but Voldemort did feels a bit like splitting hairs especially given how tied up they all are.

*

Harry arrives early for Defence Against the Dark Arts. The title still amuses him given who is teaching it now. He slips in and perches on one of the desks. “Any luck?” he asks, perched on a desk in Tom’s classroom. Tom’s personality is splashed all over the wall; drab, practical with a touch macabre, but all so charming and neat it’s hard to spot.

There’s a pile of books threatening to topple over on his desk. Tom stalks towards them, lips curling in a familiar sneer, “Not even in the Restricted Section,” he says, “I suspect the old man removed the pertinent books which makes this whole endeavour far more frustrating.”

Harry shrugs. They both know this endeavor is really the only thing keeping them alive. Dumbledore, at least, won’t kill them. Not outright, at any rate, and certainly not before he finds out more information of which he is still woefully lacking. The man is clever, and certainly he knows too much already if he is aware of the ring and it’s location, but all he knows is suspect and guesswork. The less they confirm the better.

He takes up a book, leafing through it. It’s not Dark Arts but it’s borderline. Historical Rituals dating back to medieval times. He sighs, “Leave me a pile then,” he says, “There has to be something.”

Tom doesn’t reply. He looks tense. Harry wonders why - it had been his idea to come here. Maybe it’s because of the precarious situation they are in, or maybe it’s just Dumbledore, getting on his nerves.

“You can spend the lesson doing it,” Tom says, shortly, “It’s not worth me re-teaching you shielding charms a first year can learn.”

“I’m sure the sixth years know a little more than that. They somehow managed to pass their OWLs.”

Tom looks doubtful. He’s been oddly distant too, lately. He hasn’t threatened Harry in over 72 hours. “Dumbledore spoke to you,” he says. It’s not a question, “Was it educational?”

Harry plays with the Gaunt Ring on his fingers, empty of soul and nothing more than a normal ring now, “Not for him,” he says.

Tom’s eyes narrow, “Good,” he hisses, and it’s almost Parseltongue, “Keep it that way.” There is the hint of a threat there and Harry nods, shakily, glad Tom’s back to normal.

Harry’s a survivor. He made it ten years with the Dursley’s. He made it three years with Tom. Tom’s questionably better than the Dursley’s, and at least for now their interests align.

Because no matter how close they both skirt with Death it remains the one thing they both want to avoid, soul twisted as they both are.

“Now,” Tom straightens, mask falling into place, just in time for the classroom door to open and Susan Bones to poke her head in, “Come in,” he says, “Find a seat.”

The Hufflepuff girl is staring at Harry as she does so, scurrying in and followed by the rest of the NEWT class. Malfoy sneers at the pair, and Ron looks distinctly unhappy. More than a few students do a double-take at where Harry sits by the front. Riddle gestures and Harry takes only a moment before he grabs a pile of the books from the desk, depositing them on the floor around him as he goes to work. He catches Riddle’s sneer at his uncouth behavior from the corner of his eye and ignores it. He takes the little victories nowadays. He lets Tom’s voice fade into the background as he starts reading. He’s only vaguely aware of Riddle charming his yearmates. All it takes it a smile, really. It’s superficial, like crocodile tears and Harry wonders if there is such thing as a crocodile smile.

“It appears your span of Defence teachers has been atrocious. We’ll start from the beginning and work up. You have an awful lot to cover in the time period so I expect your very best. From all of you.”

“And Potter?” Malfoy speaks out, and Harry looks up from his parchment notes at the sound of his name, “Is he exempt from lessons or something?”

Tom barely moves. It’s just one step forwards and Harry already has a shield charm hovering in place to deflect the disarming charm that sails towards him. Malfoy doesn’t and his wand goes flying. Tom’s smile is bordering cruel, “You can join Potter in independent study when you can keep hold of your wand, Malfoy.”

There are laughs around the class at Malfoy’s humiliation as Tom throws the wand back. Harry holds the shield in case Tom’s feeling vengeful and then goes back to his discarded notes on the effect of the moon on soul rituals.

Tom is not a nice teacher. Harry’s got the scars to prove it. He is, however, an effective teacher. Harry’s vaguely aware that the class makes it through most of the first year material in one lesson. He packs up the pile of books, leaving the ones he has paged through in a separate pile from those he has. His notes get shoved unceremoniously in his bag and he makes to leave--

Cold hands close around his wrist. “Anything ?” Riddle hisses.

“No,” he says, slipping into the snake tongue to speak back to him, “There’s been nothing about horcruxes in any of them. You know what we need to do ,” he tries to tug his arm free and fails as Tom’s hand curls tighter. There’s the odd sort of resonance in the back of his mind and he tries to avoid looking Tom in the eyes.

“I do,” Tom says, in English this time, “But not yet. We keep going.”

“Can I have my hand back?” Harry asks.

“Why?” Tom arches one perfect eyebrow, “Have you forgotten who you belong to, Harry?”

He doesn’t say anything, just stands there, patiently, in the storm of Tom’s magic until he eventually lets go.

“Go,” Tom says, “I’ve got first years to terrorise.”

“Don’t kill anyone,” Harry tells him, slightly too loudly because Malfoy and Bones, slow to leave, jump and look alarmed.

“For you,” Tom sounds almost fond.

*

It’s three months after Tom gets out of the diary. He feels only marginally better than he did initially, and he doesn’t sleep for long, still convinced he’s going to slip back into it’s pages when he’s not paying attention. The house is quiet - no footsteps of the twelve - thirteen now, he thinks - year-old boy pacing or Harry’s inane chatter and insults.

Tom gives the boy five hours after his latest bout of insubordination and failed escape attempt. Tom still can’t even place the moment the boy located some Floo Powder - he’s resourceful if nothing else.

Harry’s motionless and silent when Tom opens the door to his room. The boy’s eyes are blank, unreceptive to the change in light. Tom’s lip curls up in a self-satisfied smirk, he should have done this earlier. He cancels the curse and the reaction is just as entertaining. Harry flinches, eyes clenched closed and letting out a harsh gasp as each of his senses returns.

Imagine that for fifty years, Harry, he wants to tell the disobedient thirteen year old, would you have coped? Would you have survived?

He cards his fingers through Harry’s messy black hair, the boy flinching from him, and then stilling under his touch, as if unwilling to anger him further, “Good boy,” he purrs, quietly, “Come. I’ve made dinner.”

It takes the boy a while to follow, but he does, green eyes glaring but impertinent mouth no longer sniping off rude comments at him. The boy even makes it most of the way through dinner--

“Why don’t you just kill me?” he asks, “Let me starve. Leave me under that curse?”

Tom takes a moment, putting his fork down and folding his napkin with refined grace, “Because,” he says, “You are far too precious to me, my dear Harry.”

He sees the boy’s anger bubbling under the surface, can see the wrath written in those green eyes, “Tell the truth ,” Harry unconsciously echoes something Tom said himself once, to a similarly enigmatic male and it’s the horror of being compared to Dumbledore that startles Tom enough to answer.

“We’re connected,” he says, “I can’t kill you without damaging the connection. I need you alive. For now.” The unsaid words hang there. Harry will die as soon as he is no longer useful. As soon as Tom can fix this mess his older counterpart has gotten into. He will give the boy no more information - certainly not about horcruxes - he has no doubt the boy will throw himself out of the nearest window should he realise what he is.

“Then let me leave,” Harry snaps, “Let me go back to school, let me see my friends--” he stops because Tom is laughing. Despite the humour in his voice, his dark eyes are emotionless.

Tom tilts his head to one side, watching the younger boy, “You think me foolish enough to let you go running back to Dumbledore’s arms? No, he would never let you return to me. I have need of you, Harry.”

The boy splutters, “B-but my school work! Hogwarts! How long can you keep me here, it’s already August!”

Tom just gestures around him at the books he’s already begun to collect. “There is plenty of material here. I can teach you what you don’t understand - no doubt I will do a better job than ghosts and teachers whose only successful spell is an obliviate.”

He can see Harry fuming. Tom will not budge though, not on this. Harry is his. His horcrux, his soul, as small a fragment as it is.

“You were a pathetic teacher,” Harry insults him. Crude and Gryffindor, Tom thinks, he’ll have to train him out of that. “You spent the year in the back of Quirrell's head and all you could do was stutter and whimper at the heels of greater wizards.”

Tom’s on his feet, because he’s tired of playing Harry’s game of insults, “Watch your tongue,” he chides, “My older self is wrecked and a parasite because you made him that way--

He did it to himself ,” Harry hisses in Parseltongue.

“Because you and your filthy mudblood mother tore him from his body,” Tom snarls, “She must have done something, some trickery, there is no way a one year old infant could defeat him. And you and your filthy mother’s blood will restore him to his former glory and it will be magnificent .” He slips in and out of Parseltongue as he speaks, the words easy on the ear.

“He’s insane,” Harry looks alarmed, “ You’re insane--”

“Harry--” the boy is trying his patience.

“I’ve seen him. I’ve seen you , Riddle, he won’t listen to reason. He’ll tear right through you. Through me.” The boy’s eyes are wide, and Tom catches them, breaking into the boy’s mind with ease. Defences are non-existent and he tugs forwards the memories of Quirrel and the wraith in the back of the man’s head--

A slight churning in his stomach and Harry’s right, he is pathetic only to brutally squash the thought. His purpose is to regain a body and rejoin his main soul. Together they have great plans, brilliant plans, they will reshape the world and this boy will bow--

He needs to be taught, Tom thinks, grabbing the boy by his wrist and dragging him back to his room, cruelly. Harry protests, but he is a small, lanky thirteen year old and there is little weight behind him. Tom deposits him back in his room almost cruelly. He observes the sprawled form of the boy. Truly pathetic, he thinks, if only he could kill him but--

No, he thinks, he needs his horcrux intact. At least until he figures out how to transfer it to a better vessel. Then he can dispose of the boy. “Once I find Voldemort, he’ll do what he wishes with you. But until then--” he lifts up his wand - Harry’s wand, really, but it is his now - and wide-green eyes look up at him in horror at what is coming.

“Tom, no, Tom Tom please--

Torpeo .”

The words cut off into a keening noise that ends quickly, the boy slamming his eyes closed as his breathing quickens. Tom leaves him to a black void of pure, unending numbness and time around him standing still.

Tom has other things to worry about.

*

It’s two years since he got out of the diary when Tom wakes in pain and Harry wakes screaming. He’s no longer insubstantial; he’s practically human, mostly alive if not for the fact he bleeds ink. Harry’s miraculously still alive despite his various insubordinations and Tom’s reluctant to admit he’s grown fond of his strange curio he’d picked up.

His horcrux. Or rather, his brother horcrux, given Tom’s own status.

That link is what has them both stirring with pain as their main soul regains his body. They both feel his fierce joy, they both see the graveyard and the masked faces looking at them. The body is still cooling tied to a headstone. His success is a palpable thing that wakes Harry screaming and Tom quietly, his eyes gleaming.

It’s time.

“He’ll kill you,” Harry says, “Tom, he’ll kill you, please don’t go, don’t take me to him, he’ll kill me, he’ll kill you, Tom --” It’s been Tom for over a year now. Rarely Riddle - he’s almost proud of how easily he’s coaxed the boy into trusting him.

He easily entangles himself from the younger boy. Tom’s still oddly frozen at sixteen, still yet to solve that problem, but Harry is older now, fourteen, almost fifteen but still as scrawny and thin like a wolf in mid-winter. “Don’t fight him, Harry,” Tom scolds, “If your parents hadn’t fought, if your weak-willed mother had just stood aside more people would have lived.”

“Fighting for what you believe is what makes it worth it,” Harry argues back, still so passionate even after everything. He’s convincing, he’s got good points but Tom has a plan, a purpose. He’d failed to track down Voldemort as a spirit despite all attempts, but now he knows where he is he will waste no time.

“Be good,” he says, “And no running off now.”

Harry flinches, stilling as Tom pulls out his wand. Holly and phoenix feather, Harry’s technically, and he’s found himself a replacement, a Gregorovitch of aspen and heartstring, but it’s not the same and so he takes the phoenix feather wand as complete and utter proof that he has Harry. He has a fellow horcrux and has kept him safe and alive and is moulding him slowly and stubbornly. Voldemort will grant Tom a more stable existence and he may even let Tom keep Harry as a prize--

He leaves Harry waiting for him, like a dog waiting for it’s master to return. The boy is ever so receptive nowadays, defences long since chipped away. Whatever stubborn, Gryffindor fire had kept the boy fighting him for so long is barely a simmering coal now. He’s been muzzled and tamed, bites back only with the occasionally sharp word or glare.

The graveyard is cold. Tom lurks in the shadows, observing for a period of time. The Death Eaters - names clearly snapped out loud which is just plain clumsy, he thinks, bow and scrape as Voldemort walks amongst them. He dismisses them slowly, and still Tom waits. Revealing himself to all his Marked servants is a foolish idea.

There’s a soft presence and a hiss and he stills as a snake appears. She’s beautiful . You smell like Master,” she tells him, “You smell like ussss .”

She’s a horcrux, Tom thinks, mentally counting as a thrill races through him. Does this mean he actually did it? Had he managed to make seven horcruxes?

Eight, he realises suddenly, Voldemort doesn’t know about Harry--

“Who’s there?” Voldemort is aware of him, the snake slithering towards him.

“We are, ” she answers, and Tom takes a step into the light.

His first reaction is, vainly, horror. Voldemort looks awful. White skinned and red eyed with slit pupils and features that are so waxy and distorted Tom is pretty sure his future self has lost his nose. The man is tall and ethereal, like a skeleton given flesh. The horror fades because yes, he has always been handsome, it had benefited him greatly, but beauty was a minor sacrifice for power. Lucifer had been beautiful once, too, after all, before he fell.

He can see Voldemort’s own features twist with shock, horror and paranoia. His lipless mouth curls in either disgust or anger, it’s hard to read the emotions on that twisted face so, so different to Tom’s own. “The diary,” he says, eventually, “Lucius’ foolish venture that led to the death of Potter and that girl. The school closure.”

Tom acknowledges him with a nod of his head. His main soul is correct of course - he usually is. “I tried to find you,” he says, “Unsuccessfully. You were considered dead by most and I was weak and only half-present.”

“Not dead,” Voldemort says, “A wraith. A shadow. A spirit without anchor. I wandered for years but now I am reborn. Would you like to hear my plans now I am fleshed once more?”

Tom’s eyes gleam because oh would he ever.

*

The whole pureblood and muggleborn thing is bullshit. Tom knows this, being a half-blood from himself. But magical people are small-minded and it had long been a worry with vanishing traditions, old fear of witch burnings and the growing presence and irritating nature of muggles that had led to the fear and worry of the increasing number of muggleborns. The conflict was centuries old, ever changing, and Voldemort had latched onto it with an ease to build a power base. With one political declaration he had achieved the loyalty of a third of the magical population.

It had never been a long-term solution. He had known that.

Voldemort, Tom thinks, doesn’t. Not anymore. Magic is power, he knows this, and Voldemort has delved so deeply into magics that Tom has only started to look at that. Now he stands there, in front of Tom, ghostly skin illuminated by the fire of the Riddle Manor as he explains his plans.

In Voldemort’s eyes he is supreme. He is magical superiority. He is perfection, he is more than human and immortal on top of that and nobody can compare. He has dived so deep into magic that his roots no longer exist in his mind.

Tom is still dabbling and so he can still see the hypocrisy of it all, watching the Dark Lord in his muggle father’s manor explaining how he plans to redefine the magical world.

“But the muggleborns make up a third of new magical blood,” he finally points out, reluctantly, “Especially after the last war. The ratio of pureblood to muggleborns and half-bloods changed from 10:1 to 3:1 practically overnight. Another eradication will see a further drop - they’re magical, they need to be inducted into our world and they need to stay or the purebloods will breed themselves out.”

Voldemort’s red eyes watch him, cautiously, “So you would prioritise magic over blood .”

Tom feels like he’s said the wrong thing but keeps going. “Magic is might,” Tom says, confidently, “Muggles are filth. Like our father, they fear what they don’t understand. You remember the bombings. You remember seeing the wake of their atomic bombs. The Statute will only protect us for so long, the muggleborn population will soon outnumber the purebloods, they must be made aware of the differences, educated--”

“No.”

He barely realises Voldemort has spoken at first. He frowns, “Yes,” he says, “They are our link, our protection and our risk--”

“No,” Voldemort’s red eyes fly open, “Muggles are filth. Muggleborns are lesser, the magic in their veins a mistake. If we are to restore magic to its rightful place, then all beings lesser should be on their knees. As it must be.”

“As it must be-- we’re halfblood ,” Tom stares, “We need the fresh blood, but we can’t maintain our society with the current risk that--”

“We will maintain it, boy, we will rule it or there will be no magical world left by the time we are finished with it. I forget. You are young. Idealistic. Our goals get refined, redirected--”

“To eradicating muggleborns--?”

“To eradicating those unworthy.”

Tom looks at his older self. He’s ugly, he thinks, and he’s not just referring to the pale skin and lack of hair. He’s not human anymore. His ideals are ugly, hypocritical things that make a mockery of things he’s read went on in Germany during the Second Muggle World War. Racial supremacy, he knows, is not the way to go.

He feels slightly sick, realises for the first time what Harry had meant when he described how far Lord Voldemort had fallen.

Even his ideals had not stood up to the passing of time and the thrill of too much magic in his veins. Logic no longer exists to Voldemort. He panders to those who trail behind him, and he slaughters his way through millions.

“You look like you have doubts, little horcrux,” Voldemort can sense his uncertainty. Of course he can, Tom can’t shield his mind from a part of himself, “Do you not trust me? Your own self?”

Tom hesitates. Stupid, he thinks, chides himself because he’s here to work with himself. “No doubt we will work something out,” he says, lightly, “There must be a reason, and I will see in time I imagine--” he stops because Voldemort is choking.

No, he’s laughing, Tom realises. An airless hissing thing.

“I will explain it to you,” Voldemort says, “Once we have sorted out the matter of your safety.”

“And stability,” he adds.

Voldemort wavs a hand, “That shall not be a problem,” he dismisses, and Tom pauses, because something about that-- “The diary - do you still have it?” he asks.

“No,” Tom says, and it’s more in horror than an actual answer to the question, “Why? What purpose do you have of it, I do not need it. I am here to help you --”

“Don’t be foolish,” Voldemort sneers, “You are my horcrux. You have only one purpose - to keep me alive. To keep yourself alive. This--” he gestures at Tom, “Clearly an error in the ritual, but then again I was young and foolish. You are young and foolish and so desperately naive. It doesn’t matter. It can be rectified and I can claim Harry Potter died by hand.”

Harry’s not dead, Tom thinks, but he just--

Keeps quiet.

“I will retrieve something else,” Voldemort decides, pondering, and he’s thinking about what he wants to use as a new horcrux container Tom realises.

“No,” he says. Declares. “I will not go back there.”

Voldemort looks displeased. “Of course you will,” he says, “You are my horcrux and you will listen to me.”

“I can’t go back there,” Tom’s voice edges on panic, “I won’t--” he’s grown too used to life, to feeling, oh god help him he won’t--

Voldemort ire is the only warning he gets, and he grabs Harry’s wand and fires off a disarming charm--

It hits the stunning spell and Tom goes blind. He blinks, trying to see clearly and he hears Voldemort’s furious hiss and--

He’s not blind, he realise with some relief, but there is a giant golden light spewing forth from his wand--

From Harry’s wand. From the holly and phoenix feather against the yew and phoenix feather and--

Brother wands, he thinks, he had known that, known the wand had felt familiar to him, but this - the wands won’t cast against each other. It’s ironic, he thinks, it’s cosmic fucking irony that Voldemort’s wand will not kill Harry’s, will not kill him--

You are mine , Voldemort whispers in his head, don’t fight, little horcrux, we are one and the same and we want the same things .

He struggles to hold onto his wand as Voldemort shoves his presence into Tom’s head. He’s a fiery fiendfyre basilisk tearing through, leaving ashes in its wake as it marks him, claims him, and Tom can feel himself fading, losing substance. He’s a diary, notebook and ink and a soul fragment a little larger than it should be and that’s all he’ll be by the end of this. It’s what he should be--

NO.

Panic seizes him. Fear, primal and mostly instinctive and the gold is building up. He hears Voldemort’s shriek of rage and Tom’s got second to act, tearing his wand away and shattering the gold. Voldemort stumbles backwards from the force of it and Tom spins away. For a moment he thinks he’s going to be trapped. That there are ward up, that Voldemort will catch him in a spell--

Air displaces with a crack and he feels Voldemort’s fury like that fiery basilisk before distance rips Voldemort from his mind. The ground meets him as he apparates into being by his safehouse. His head feels like it’s splitting open, like venom bleeding through his head and the diary hovers in his mind, blank pages stretching on forever like his future oh god his future--

He’s just a notebook, just a diary, just an item a thing and he can’t go back there, he can’t he can’t he can’t --

He’s sick. Retching. If he’d been seconds slower he’d have been forced back into his paper prison. Harry was right, he thinks, Voldemort will never have an equal. He will never stand for another part of himself even if that part had wanted to work with him--

He doesn’t. Voldemort’s ideals are so twisted. So far strayed from their original path. He can’t even recognise himself in those red eyes.

Tom Riddle is dead. At least he achieved that goal.

His vision is spotty. He’s shaking and he’s not felt like this since the diary was first created. He closes his eyes, pressing his face to the cold wet grass.

He wakes to sharp mercurial green eyes and a thin face and “So I guess your plan didn’t quite work out the way you wanted it to,” drawled at him in a tone Harry almost definitely stole from him and--

Well, it turns out his little pet hasn’t lost his fire after all.

Tom thinks he may need to re-evaluate their plans.

Chapter Text

“That’s a lot of wrackspurts,” a dreamy voice interrupts him, “You’re swarmed by them.”

Harry whirls around from where he had been sitting on a window ledge staring out across the grounds. He’d been so happy to be going back to Hogwarts. In his foolish dreams he had assumed this would be easy. Tom gets the Defence job, Harry slips right back in, the magnificent library has an answer squirrelled away to solving their soul entanglement problem and then they--

They what? Ride off happily into the sunset? Live happily ever after? Harry wants to laugh, how naive was he?

They’d have had better luck searching abroad for the information they need. Except abroad runs the risk of Voldemort and his Death Eaters coming after them - at least here they’re relatively safe.

“Wrackspurts?” he asks, stupidly, looking at the girl. She’s wearing the most hideous pair of glasses Harry has ever seen. They’re pink and purple and swirl together in a blurring pattern. The world through them must look distorted and colour-schemed, he wonders how they help her at all. As he stares she slips them off, revealing blue eyes and long blonde hair.

“Oh yes, definitely an infestation,” she says, and then makes a weird hand motion near his head. Harry ducks away, staring at the girl as she continues sweeping her fingers through the air.

“Errr… thanks,” he says. He still has no idea what she’s doing.

“You’re welcome, Harry Potter,” she says, dropping her hands. There are bangles of beads on her slim wrists and her necklace is made of butterbeer corks. He just kind of takes it all in. “You must be awfully lonely,” she says.

The observation is both startling in its accuracy and cold bluntness. “A bit,” he admits, “I’m sorry, who are you--?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not used to introducing myself to people, everyone just calls me Loony so I guess they knew my name already. I’m Luna. Lovegood.”

“Cool,” Harry says, “Look, it’s nice to meet you, Luna, I should probably go--”

“Oh no,” she steps back, eyes wide, “I disturbed you, I should go. I’m sorry--”

Harry instantly feels bad, “It’s okay,” he says, “You’re right. I was lonely. How-how did you know?”

“I’d be lonely too, spending so long without human contact.”

“I had human contact,” he protests, “I had Tom.”

But Luna’s gaze is oddly piercing.

*

Ron sits curled up over the Map the twins had given him, watching the names ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Tom Riddle’ overlapping as they move around Riddle’s office in conversation before settling next to each other. “I don’t get it,” he says, and it’s not bitter, it’s just confused and helpless, “Harry got kidnapped by the guy who murdered Ginny and they’re - what? Friends now?”

Hermione decides it’s probably time to explain to Ron about Stockholm Syndrome. Harry’s got it in spades and her friend is self-aware enough to know he’s got it, to know that his odd reliance on Professor Riddle is not right. He’s been trying. He hangs around with Ron and Hermione, he speaks to Neville and a couple of others in their year, Katie Bell has even cajoled him back onto the Quidditch Team that she’s captaining. He got OWL results that rivalled Hermione’s, he’s well up to date in his studies, exceeding them even in a few odd niche spots. He’s fine .

She knows ‘fine’ does not actually have any meaning when used to describe mental health. But ‘fine’ does actually appear to describe Harry. He’s alive and despite all intents and purposes--

Professor Riddle appears less like a kidnapper, and more like an older student who has taken a younger one under his wing. The older student in question is cruel, sniping but Harry can stand on his own two feet against him. She’s caught them walking down the corridors arguing about political liberties of goblins of all things, as dangerous as she knows Professor Riddle to be, he doesn’t present to her that way.

Dumbledore wouldn’t have let him teach at the school if he were dangerous, she reassures herself, and goes back to observing them.

Ron takes her explanations in his stride. If Harry notices Ron’s odd apathetic pity when he gazes at him he doesn’t say anything. Today Harry is once again curled up in the front of their Defence classroom, paging through tomes so old the pages are cracking. They’re dark arts too, Hermione can see detailed pictures of mutilation and torture on the pages. Thankfully Harry’s not taking notes, just skimming through with a desperation that hounds a lot of his movements nowadays.

She gets distracted by where Ron’s meant to be non-verbally cursing her and she’s meant to be non-verbally using the counter-curse. Professor Riddle is better than all their previous teachers combined but he’s ruthless. Ruthless and efficient and a lot of students are falling behind. He covers months worth of material in a day to make up for their bad run of previous teachers. He’s started to input things from their sixth year syllabus just to give those ahead something to do while everyone else catches up.

He’s looking frustrated as the class tries to hex each other silly. “What’s the point?” Malfoy sneers, still probably sore about Harry’s exclusion and his own embarrassment at a seemingly muggle-born Professor’s hands. “We already know the spell, why do we have to do it silently?” He scorn may have something to do with the fact he has thus far failed a non-verbal spell and Riddle had taken ten points for trying to use a muffling charm to hide his whispered incantations.

“Enough,” Riddle doesn’t even shout, his tone is just icy calm and the whole class pause in what they’re doing to watch, “Mayhaps a demonstration is in order to show you what advantage non-verbal and a wide spell repertoire provide. Harry?”

Harry’s head snaps up, glasses falling off the end of his nose and he blinks “Tom?” he asks, then appears to realise the class is still in session, “Professor Riddle,” he says instead, and there is a sneer in the words though it is subtle.

“We’re demonstrating a duel to your year mates,” Professor Riddle’s smile is not nice and Harry’s reaction-

His reaction is to grab his wand, banish his piles of books and notes to the side and promptly throw himself behind Riddle’s desk. A couple of people start to snigger but the laughter stops as the desk Riddle sends about five curses in quick succession towards the desk. They bounce off a shield and several more get flung back. Students fling themselves to the side of the classroom and it’s just as well because that’s about when the desk catches fire and gets banished towards Riddle.

The pair are so fast . Hermione can’t even begin to keep track of what spells they cast. Most miss - are just beams of coloured lights - a few she can recognise only because of the effect they have on the surroundings. A glaceo turns the floor to ice. A charm she knows has some effect to gravity sends three chairs flying towards the ceiling. The conservation of movement the pair have somehow perfected has them turning one spell and wand-wave into another seamlessly. The words spoken are not spells, just Harry sidestepping--

“A little more warning, next time,” he sounds pissed off.

“Hmm, no, I think your shield work could be a little faster,” Professor Riddle hums, “You’ve failed to deflect the past few curses.”

“Wasn’t trying to deflect them,” Harry shrugs, and a web of spells shimmers into view in front of him and Hermione has time to see Riddle’s eyes widen in surprise and then the web discards it’s collected spells right back at Riddle.

He dodges, but it’s a close thing and he’s helpless to avoid the disarming charm that tears his wand from his grip.

There is slow silence in the classroom. Nobody knows whether to clap or what. Riddle eyes Harry and his lip quirks slightly, “So that’s what - 19:8?”

“17:8. That time you shoved me off a cliff doesn’t… doesn’t count. Neither does that time you had me fighting blind.”

Riddle just clicks his tongue, “Now that’s a good idea for the next class,” he ponders.

“Sure, why don’t you have them fighting with their non-dominant hand too, I bet that will go down brilliantly ,” Harry looks slightly murderous as he flings Riddle’s wand back at him.

"I could give you detention, Harry,” Riddle warns.

Hermione looks at her friend. She tries to remember him as she had last seen him - so small, wide-green eyes and such a kind heart - she can't picture him. All she can see now is the young man before her with twisted loyalties and still hunted and haunted and yet still standing strong.

Harry just laughs, pacing back to his notes and books, “You wouldn’t want to deal with the paperwork.”

Yes, Hermione thinks, Harry is doing just fine.

*

Before Ron knows it, it’s already November. Tom Riddle is still teaching and Harry acts like he’s never left.

Except he had. He had left and Tom Riddle was still teaching and Ron doesn’t know what to do. He sees Harry and Riddle talking together, dark heads bowed in the corridor. He sees Dumbledore eyeing up his Defence teaching with a deeply thoughtful blue gaze that is impossible to read. Hermione talks about Riddle like he’s a god with blushes like it’s Lockhart all over again.

Ron hates him. He hates Riddle’s smug face. But most of all, he hates that the bastard got away with what he did - murdered Ginny and waltzed out intact.

He’d thought Harry may at least be on his side; but his best friend returned to him is distracted. He’s got dark shadows under his eyes, a constant twitch and spends the time he is with Ron and Hermione paging through textbooks. The times he isn’t with them - well, Ron doesn’t want to consider where he is. Riddle had killed Harry’s parents - yet he treats the teenager like they’re old friends.

“Hermione told me about Stockholm Syndrome,” Ron brings up when Hermione herself isn’t around. The dormitories are quiet and Harry stills at that, looking around as if for a distraction but Neville is in the greenhouses and Dean and Seamus were playing Exploding Snap in the Common Room, “And I know that spending all that time with him - you did what you had to - I just wanted to say I’m still your friend. I always will be, but, Harry… he murdered Ginny. He’s evil, and I can’t forgive that he killed my sister.”

Now it’s out. It’s sitting there in the open and he wants to see what Harry does.

“I’m not asking you to,” Harry shrugs, his voice oddly dead and gaze shuttered, “But evil, Ron? Yes, Tom is a sociopath. He’s got a moral compass that doesn’t point north, but evil? Evil isn’t a thing, it’s a human concept. What two people determine as good and evil will vary, Ron. Being a sociopath doesn’t make Tom evil, it just means he doesn’t feel guilty about it afterwards.

Ron feels seconds away from punching him. “He’s a murderer , Harry. He’s already killed once. He’ll do it again. He can’t be trusted.”

“I know,” Harry says, looking oddly blank, oddly resigned, “I know what he’s done already, just to get where he is, but he’s only sixteen. Well-- seventeen, he started aging when--” he stops talking, and gives Ron an odd look, like he’s considering his friend. “Voldemort’s got a lot more blood on his hands than Tom does.”

“And you?” Ron has to ask, “Do you have blood on your hands?”

His friend doesn’t respond.

“Harry-- have you--”

Harry shakes his head, helplessly, but Ron can’t tell if it’s a denial or not.

“My dad died last year,” he blurts out, just to change the subject, “He was doing something for Dumbledore in the Ministry and got attacked by a blinking great snake.”

Harry flinches, “I’m sorry - I had no idea--”

“No, and it’s not your fault, but the point is sometimes people die. And sometimes you can prevent that.”

Harry’s looking more guarded now, “And what; Tom Riddle deserves to die?”

Ron doesn’t have to say it, Harry already has.

He sits on his bed, looking helplessly at Ron. His lips are twisted and it’s almost a smile except it’s not. No smile can look that hopeless or scornful. “Do I deserve to die?” he asks, and Ron just kind of gapes because he can’t see the link. Harry sighs, “Tom will have my head for telling you this,” he says, “But I can’t-I need to tell someone. Because if you want Tom dead then you and your family of all people deserve to see him dead. I know how you feel - I still want Voldemort dead for killing my parents and I didn’t even know them. Ginny was your sister and I get that but-- if Tom dies then I die.”

“No,” Ron says, a denial, “There must be a way; your lives being tied like that is ridiculous.”

“It should be,” Harry says, ‘But we - Tom tried something early on after I pushed him through a window--” his smile grows more genuine as Ron cheers, “You know I’m connected to Voldemort, right? Well Tom is too. He’s a memory that was trapped in a diary - well, he was, he got out and my blood and some other - uh - items linked to Voldemort helped to bind him to reality, but it binds us to him. Voldemort dies, we die. We die, Voldemort can be killed. I die, Tom dies. Tom dies, I die.”

Ron has never heard Harry sound so desolate. He shakes his head, “So break the connection,” he says, like it’s obvious. It can’t be, he knows this. If it were obvious, Harry would have done something by now.

“The problem with the connection is that it’s soul-deep,” Harry says, like it’s a death sentence. It is, in some ways. Ron knows about soul-magic - the bits he’s allowed to know. It’s highly illegal and highly dark magic. Nobody will look into it because to fail is to lose yourself. There is a reason the Dementor’s Kiss is a fate worse than death.

Ron feels sick. Harry’s soul-bound to Tom Riddle and Voldemort. And there are two of the monster, two versions of the Dark Lord and he’s heard from Order meetings what Lord Voldemort looks like now; all scaly and white-skinned and red-eyed.

“So what,” he reasons, because if he was forced to pick between a seventeen-year old Tom Riddle who is relatively sane and reasonable and a 70-odd-year Lord Voldemort who is half-mad and on a murder-spree--

Yeah, he thinks he’d pick the younger one too.

“So you work with Riddle to break your connection,” he says, “And then you kill Voldemort?”

Harry nods.

“How about Dumbledore?” Ron asks, “Have you told him? That’s why you’re at Hogwarts, right? To get help.” He thinks he’s got it, except Harry looks shifty.

“We’re here to look up a solution, yes, and Voldemort wants us dead,” Harry won’t meet his eyes, “But if Dumbledore knew we were soul-bound and that we were Voldemort’s Horcruxes then he’d kill us. Except he’d be nice about it. He send us off to die like sacrificial lambs with a pat on the back, a smile and he’d call us heroes. It would be all for the greater good .” For a moment Harry’s sneer reminds Ron of Riddle.

Harry’s terrified, he thinks, Merlin , Harry is petrified. Harry has a death sentence hanging over his head, of course he is scared. And it’s not even of the evil teenager he’s been hanging out with for the past three years - it’s of Dumbledore and his good misguided intentions.

His best friend’s life sucks, he thinks. He grows up with magic-hating muggles, has two measly years of Hogwarts with everyone alternating hating him and adoring him and people trying to kill him only to be kidnapped by a teenage Dark Lord. And as if that wasn’t enough he was now fated to die in this war he hadn’t even chosen to be part of.

“I know it’s the noble, or brave and Gryffindor thing to do. To sacrifice myself to the cause but Ron - I’m sixteen. I’m tired. I’ve been in too many cages to just throw my life away. A sacrifice only means something if it’s for a good cause and apart from you, Hermione, Neville and your family - all I’ve got is Tom.”

“This is fucked up,” he says, because there is no other way to describe it. And he hates this, he does, Riddle murdered Ginny, but right now, ‘I won’t tell Dumbledore,” he says, “Not if he-- he let Ginny die. Hogwarts was meant to be safe and he left .”

“Thank you,” Harry’s relief is palpable and he looks so young, Ron thinks. His friend had always looks scrawny and underfed, and while he looks less underfed (Riddle was apparently good for some things) he still looked like a ragged half-feral wolf.

“If I can help,” he says, because he thinks Harry could use any and all help he could right now, “I’m here. You’re my friend. Riddle can burn, but you can’t, okay?”

It’s not a promise, but it’s close, because even Ron can see judging from Harry’s expression the hopelessness of the situation. But there’s still a stubborn determination in those green eyes to keep fighting and as long as that light is there, then, well, Ron is on his side.

“There is actually something you can do,” Harry says, carefully, “We need to distract Dumbledore for long enough to get some books we need from his office.”

“I think I can help with that.”

*

It goes without a hitch. Dumbledore should really choose less predictable passwords, Harry thinks, as ‘Acid Pops’ gets them through after only about ten sweets.

“Fool,” Tom mutters.

“Why did we even have to guess?” Harry snaps, “You’re a Professor, you should know the password!”

“And you’re the one who has been up to his office,” Tom responds.

“McGonagall took me - I didn’t get to hear the password. He hasn’t invited you back up here, has he?”

Tom fumes, but he hides it well, “He keeps ambushing me in the corridors where I can’t curse him,” he admits as they push open the office door. Fawkes is sitting on his perch and both Tom and Harry freeze at seeing the phoenix that had feathered both their wands. A black eye regards them and then just blinks, crooning slightly.

The noise is musical. It’s beautiful and perfect and--

Tom flinches. Harry just feels unbearably sad and can’t work out why.

It’s interrupted by a hiss of triumph from Tom, spotting the bookshelf, “Yes,” he hisses, “I see them, get to work transfiguring replacements--”

“He’ll notice eventually,” Harry says.

“Better make it a good transfiguration then.”

Fawkes makes no further noise and Dumbledore does not appear. They make it out with the books under their arms and the gargoyle steps back into place and that is when Harry turns and almost walks smack bang into Luna Lovegood.

“Hello, Harry. Are you looking for Grey Wombles too?”

“I’m sorry?” he says, his default response apparently for dealing with Luna.

“Oh,” Luna says, looking downcast, “I guess not.” She spots the books in Tom’s hand and raises one blonde eyebrow, “Does Dumbledore know you’re borrowing his books without permission?”

“Luna, you can’t tell anyone we were here,” he hisses. Tom snarls, stalking closer and Harry steps between them, “I’ll deal with her--”

“We should just obliviate her--”

“I won’t say anything,” Luna says, and then, in that oddly astute blunt observation that had so alarmed and endured her to Harry before she tilts her head at them and announces, “You just want to become whole, right?”

Tom stiffens. “How does she--”

“My mother used to experiment with magic,” the girl continues, nodding her head at the books in their hands, “I recognise the titles. I was there when it went wrong. When she died. I don’t want the same thing to happen again.”

Tom eyes her like he’s debating between a curse or a memory charm. Harry just takes Luna’s hand gently, “Luna, what was your mother doing?”

Luna won’t meet his gaze, but stares instead at the books, then seems to decide something, reaching out to trace Harry’s scar with her finger. He tenses and he hears Tom’s hiss, yanking Harry away. “I’ll find her notes,” Luna promises suddenly, “If it will help, Harry, I’ll give them to you. They might be helpful, they might not be.”

“We’ll take them,” Tom snaps, “Lovegood, right?”

“I’ll get Daddy to owl them to you,” she says.

“Luna, thank you,” Harry says, emphatically.

“Of course,” she says, “That’s what friends do, right?” her head tilts again and her earrings dangling make her look like a rather odd bird, “I get lonely too, sometimes.”

*

Tom ponders over how old he is. He’d been sixteen when he made the diary. An unaging piece of Lord Voldemort’s soul.

He’d been sixteen when he had dragged Harry, kicking and screaming into bleeding for him. Harry had been thirteen and there had been whispers of an escaped convict out for his head but Tom and Harry as so far removed from society, scrounging around in the shadows of Knockturn and in a safehouse that Tom forged with their magic and blood. The escaped convict won’t find anybody; Harry is dead to the world and Tom is dead to his soul.

His horcrux. His fingers play over Harry’s hair, permanently messy. Harry’s dozing, half-asleep in Tom’s office, his notes and theories written up for Tom to make into some sort of sense. He can feel his soul in Harry. His soul; well, technically it was Voldemort’s soul, but Tom had been an idiot in using Harry’s blood when the boy already held his soul and he’d managed to bind himself to Harry.

Irreversibly, but somehow he didn’t mind being bound to the boy. It had been an inconvenience at first, sure, but now--

He needs Harry to get through this. Harry needs him just as much. Tom won’t admit it, can’t admit to anyone just how much he needs the boy and his foolish, reckless but bright and original plans and ideas. Harry is, after all, the only thing that stops him walking right into the same traps and mistakes that Lord Voldemort did.

He wants to laugh at the irony.

Harry Potter keeps him human.

He keeps him Tom .

And as much as he hates that common, muggle name, it’s far better than the tarnished broken one Lord Voldemort has become.

Maybe Tom is seventeen. He’d absorbed the ring horcrux in the summer, it had been enough to start him aging again because he’d since noticed his sudden need to shave. The locket was still elusive; RAB still an unknown factor.

He’d need all of them for what they had planned. He’d need to absorb another one - that was easy, Harry had tracked the diadem down like some kind of horcrux detector - Harry himself was off limits given the blood ties already complicating the magic binding them. It left the cup, the missing locket and the snake.

And of course, Voldemort himself.

Where Harry sits curled up next to him the boy shifts, making tiny sounds in his sleep. Tom wants to reach out to pet him, but stills his hand. He’s far too attached, he thinks, despondently. They’re far too wrapped up through blood and souls and magic; it’s a mess. There are times he thinks it would have been easier to just leave the boy in the Chamber to die.

But then where would Tom be? Trapped back in the diary while Lord Voldemort reigned unchallenged.

No, he needs Harry.

And they need a solution. They might have it, he thinks, paging through what little Lovegood had given them. A queer girl, with eyes that saw far too much, but who may have provided them with their solution.

Tom pulls out several pages of Harry’s notes and lays them side-by-side with the soul magic Pandora Lovegood had been dabbling in before she died.

A smile curls over his face, contentment bubbling within him. Yes, this could work.

This could fix everything.

*

It’s four months since Voldemort rose again. It’s been four months and Harry is dying. He’s drowning and a part of him wants to relax because this has to happen eventually, right, he thinks with horror.

The water is cold. Harry's mouth opens, throat closing to stop himself from choking as hands hold him under wrapping cruelly around his throat. He thrashes; a writhing, fighting thing. He’ll always fight - Tom should know that by now.

His panic forces magic up to the tips of his fingers and another desperate thrash sends Tom stumbling backwards. Harry emerges from the water choking for air. Tom’s brown eyes are glacial  as he stumbles back towards him. “Why fight?” Tom snarls, “You wanted this. You have no choice, little horcrux. It’s prophecy written.”

The water churns in a maelstrom around them as Harry lunges for Tom. His weight bears the older boy down and under the water.

The water is cold. Harry can taste salt.

Nails claw into him and the older, stronger boy knocks him off successfully. Rocks slide underfoot.

There is no locket. Just Tom and Harry fighting next to a cave full of inferi that reeks of dark magic and a locket that isn’t the one that Tom put part of his soul into.

Harry wants to be sick. He’s aware of the thrumming connection between him and Tom. It runs between him and Voldemort too. Voldemort who had all but declared Harry’s death to the world behind only that of Albus Dumbledore and the remnant of a soul stuck in a diary.

Stuck no more, Tom slips as stones shift underneath him.

They’re as mad as each other, a potion of horrors running through their veins and making Harry want to claw his own skin off. He’s a monster. Tom’s a monster and they need to die, he thinks, but he doesn’t want to die.

“He’ll kill us both,” Harry tells him, soaked to the bone and shivering, and madness running between them, magnified by the way their souls echo. “Tom, we’re as good as dead. But maybe Dumbledore--”

Tom’s laugh is the shattering of glass on rocks, the crash of waves on the shore. A twisted broken thing; “Dumbledore will kill me. He’ll stab a basilisk fang into my beating heart. And you? Why, Harry, haven't you realised yet? You’re his Golden Boy. His Chosen One. You’re not his lion, you’re his lamb.”

“Sacrificial lamb,” Harry whispers, horror in his heart and death in his soul. He was born to die, he thinks, there’s a prophecy he doesn't know and his soul is entangled with someone he can never escape, not even in this cold northern England shore. “No,” he shakes his head, “No--”

“No?” Tom mocks, “Here I thought Gryffindor's hero would be the first to lay down his life to save the world.”

Harry is the one to laugh this time, because there’s no way out. There never was and he’s deluding himself in thinking there is. He’s in this now, whether he likes it or not. To the death. “I'd rather death wasn't an option,” he says, because death means he’s lost. It means his life has never meant anything. It means he’s just a chess piece in this giant war between Dumbledore and Voldemort. “There’s always another way,” he insists, “There must be. Death can't be answer for either of us.”

Tom’s eyes gleam. He looks half-drowned as they stand there, salt water lapping at them, madness in their minds and sin carved in their soul, “We're worth more than that,” Tom agrees, “We could do amazing things, you and I, great things. We’ll turn their world upside down and make them love it,” he promises, “We’ll tear it all down and build it anew.”

Tom’s insane, Harry thinks, but as something in his chest thumps and the water washes around him the fifteen year old doesn’t think he’s in any position to judge. His captor steps forwards, reaching out and his cool damp fingers cup Harry’s jaw, thumb brushing over Harry’s eyelashes.

“Voldemort will die,” he says, “Even if we’re part of him we will survive without him. I will not be condemned to eternity in a notebook. And I will not let you be condemned to being any pawn of Dumbledore’s. You’re mine. My horcrux, bound to me by blood, the only one I need.”

“We survive,” Harry vows, and judging by the way Tom’s head tilts he too feels the wash of magic binding them together in that moment, standing knee deep in salt water as the sun sets.

Chapter Text

He looks just like James.

It’s the first thing Sirius says to his godson and he regrets those words with everything he has. Because they’re fundamentally a lie.

Harry resembles James in the way of his dark messy hair and lean, bony figure, but that’s where the resemblance stops. James had never looked like a skittish rabbit seconds from bolting for the hole. James never looked around with distrustful green eyes like someone is going to curse him when he turns his back. James never had such a fucking jaded view on the actions of people around him.

Harry’s like a feral wolf; sure it looks handsome enough, but under the thick coat it’s ragged with ribs showing and a snarled mouth full of fangs that with one wrong step it will whirl around and bite whether you were friend or foe.

“You look just like James,” Sirius lies, and Harry looks so unimpressed and frustrated by those words he regrets them on principle even if it hadn’t been a lie at its core.

Sirius has never hated Dumbledore more in that moment for allowing this to happen. To allow Harry to slip through their fingers, vanish into the cracks. This should never have happened. Sirius should have been there for him, should have been looking after him--

A series of mysterious petrifications. A message scrawled in blood. A man addled out of his wits. A rock fall. A boy crying over the cold body of his sister. A dead basilisk crushed with rubble. A chamber that lies open but empty. A heir that had no possible method of continuing his crusade.

Dumbledore gives them the scattered pieces that he knows. It’s very, very little. Pettigrew slips through Sirius’ fingers, Sirius slips through the Dementor’s grasp and both run and run and run and--

Grimmauld Place is cold and uninviting but at least this way helping the Order he’s doing something. As much as he can do for a criminal on the run.

He’d broken out of Azkaban after twelve years to find his godson missing, presumed dead and Hogwarts undergoing an enquiry. It was potentially going to close even, which had made hunting the rat down interesting.

And his godson had been dead .

Harry, sweet little baby Harry, Lily and James’ boy, Harry was dead. Dead dead dead dead.

Pettigrew runs and Sirius runs and Voldemort rises and Diggory’s body is found after three weeks tied to a gravestone and somewhere in the Ministry a prophecy smashes unheard (nobody is quite sure who attempted to break in, only that the Department of Mysteries gets destroyed and Voldemort and Dumbledore duel in front of everyone).

Sirius feels like he’s missed his cue somewhere, because he keeps going, because Harry is dead and he keeps going and--

“Harry’s alive,” Dumbledore tells the Order, face pale and hands shaking. One hand has a thick bandage on it. “He’s spent the last three years with a teenage version of the Dark Lord.”

“The Dark Lord?” Moody squints but it’s hard to tell given his face and eyes are already so twisted in expression.

Dumbledore’s expression only wavers for an instance, “I believe,” he says, theories in his head that Sirius can only dream of, “That an… image… a copy of sorts of the Dark Lord as a teenager exists. He was responsible for Ginny Weasley’s death and the petrifications. He was responsible for the kidnapping of Harry Potter.”

He’s alive ?” Molly Weasley clutches her chest, looking how Sirius feels. Like he’s been punched. Harry is alive. Harry is alive and Sirius didn’t even look --

“He’s at Hogwarts,” Albus says, “Along with Tom Riddle. Tom is teaching. I--” he pauses, mostly to let the shouting that starts up die down, “I,” he starts again, “Have decided to let him. I do not believe he is on Voldemort’s side.”

“Bullshit,” Moody snaps, “You just said he is the Dark Lord.”

“There’s a fifty year difference,” Vance points out.

“Riddle was capable of murder at fifteen,” McGonagall says, “He’s already got blood on his hands, Merlin, Albus, why did you think this was a good idea?”

Albus strokes his beard, “I owed him a life debt,” he admits, again having to pause for the shocked cries to die down, “And he also brought us Harry Potter, alive and…” he stops, swallowing the end of the sentence.

Well? Sirius wants to ask, is he well?

“I figured he could stay for Christmas,” Albus says, slowly, “If we can get him out from under Tom--”

“I--” Sirius’ voice is weaker and quieter than he intends, “I’d like to meet him,” he says. Snape sneers and Molly Weasley looks a bit disapproving. He ignores them, “He’s my godson,” he says, “I-- he can stay here. I-I’d like that.”

Albus smiles, eyes twinkling like that had been his plan from the start, “Good,” he claps his hands together, “Then it’s settled.”

*

“You look just like James,” is the first thing Sirius Black says to him.

“I thought you wanted to kill me,” says Harry, who has never had anything about his parents’ deaths explained to him in any detail beyond ‘they were murdered by a Dark Wizard’. Tom can only tell him about events prior to 1943. Harry can only tell him what pitiful scraps of knowledge he knows which are few and far between.

He feels fury. He should know this. He should have been told this man was his godfather. He should have been told about Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black and James Potter.

Even now, back at school for three months, Dumbledore still only springs the information on him only when needed. It’s okay, Harry had been expecting this, had been almost amused by how Hermione corners him and Dumbledore appears looking merry and cheerful as ever.

“I had thought,” he says, with a grandfatherly air, “That you might like to spend the holidays with your godfather.”

“My godfather is a wanted criminal,” Harry wants to make sure they’re talking about the same godfather.

Turns out they are.

He doesn’t get to tell Tom where he’s going as Hermione drags him onto the Express. It’s okay, Harry had been expecting this, had forewarned Tom who had his own Christmas plans. Harry feels a bit uneasy - he’s used to Tom being around to watch his back - but he will be fine. The Order cling to him like glue. Ron appears, looking wryly at the faux-seventh year Hufflepuff with bright pink hair. “Hi, Tonks.”

“Wotcher,” the disguised Order member says.

Sirius is--

Well.

Sirius is wonderful. He is everything Harry had wished would happen to him as a child. Someone to look after him, someone who knew his parents, someone to take him away from it all, someone to love him --

And Sirius does. Harry can see it when the man looks at him. Sirius cares. Even Remus, the elusive grey-haired werewolf who walks around like there is glass under his feet looks at him with genuine care. It’s a new feeling - Harry is so used to Tom’s possessive nature that unselfish care and compassion throw him. He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, for their terms and conditions to come through.

They don’t.

It’s a breath of fresh air, as sour and poisonous as the air is with all the unsaid secrets and bad blood covered up with smiles and laughter.

He’s not allowed in Order meetings. He skulks around like he’s not there. Dumbledore tries to engage him with jokes and random curios of information Harry either already knows or doesn’t find interesting. The old man even introduces him to a fat, balding man named Horace Slughorn and some part of Harry just chills when Dumbledore leaves them together.

Slughorn treats Harry like a treasure, but not something useful and valuable, like a trinket he wants to put on a shelf and then just admire from time to time. Harry plays his word games, and something in the mask Harry wears must throw the man because he looks slightly horror-struck as Dumbledore reappears.

“I can’t,” Slughorn snaps at Dumbledore, “He’s--” he waves a hand at Harry, unable to even find the words, “I’ve heard who you’ve got teaching at Hogwarts. You know enough, surely, I can’t, I won’t, I gave you what you asked for--”

“Horace--”

“Horcruxes, Dumbledore, plural -- I can’t--”

Harry doesn’t flinch but it’s a close thing. His jaw clenches and he must move a bit too sharply or put his glass down with a little too much force because both Dumbledore and Slughorn spin to look at him and Slughorn uses the distraction to bolt.

Coward, Harry thinks, but sensible. He should warn Tom, not that he needs to. Slughorn is far beneath them right now.

“Harry,” Dumbledore stares, “Do you know--”

“What is a horcrux?” he asks, wide-eyed and innocent and Dumbledore falters and loses his nerve. He knows then, Harry thinks, he knows, he just doesn’t know how many --

He leaves the room then, taking the stairs two at a time until he reaches the third floor landing. He pauses to listen to the sounds of Order members appearing for a meeting, of Sirius singing a cheerful song about Hippogriffs to his pet in one of the attic rooms. Harry’s fingers trace a plaque on the door and he glances downstairs wondering how the fuck the Order missed this--

Regulus Arcturus Black .

Perfect, he thinks, shoving the door open.

*

“Why don’t you just kill me?” Harry shudders, cold sweat clinging to his forehead as a hollow desolation falls over him and Tom. The dementor is gone but it’s effects still linger. There is ice creeping up the wall and they need to move, they can’t stay here.

Hopelessness wells up in Tom and he squashes it down brutally. He feels sick. He can’t produce a patronus and Harry might well be able to, but he’s never been taught. “If it comes back, the incantation is Expecto Patronum ,” he instructs, “ Expecto Patronum and a happy memory.”

“A happy memory ,” Harry laughs hysterically, and Tom’s patience is short.

Yes ,” he hisses in Parseltongue, grabbing Harry by his shoulders. “I won’t kill you. You’re mine ,” he promises, viciously, smoothing Harry’s sweat-slicked hair back and pressing his fingers cruelly into the lightning bolt scar there. Harry’s gasp of pain is more of a moan and his green eyes flash. His fingers claw at Tom’s robes, both pushing him away and pulling him in.

“I’m not,” Harry spits back, “I’m not a possession.”

“But you are,” Tom breathes, taking in the still-defiant image of the boy before him, “We have a connection, you and I.”

“Just because you used my blood to make you fully corporeal,” Harry snaps, “Unwillingly--”

“Oh, no, sweetheart, this connection isn’t just blood. It’s soul-deep.”

He can see Harry doesn’t understand the impact of that. He hasn’t been raised in the wizarding world - he doesn’t know how important souls are . No, Harry had been raised like him, among filthy muggles ignorant of his heritage.

“I’ll kill you,” Harry whispers.

“You can’t,” it’s a fact, “You won’t,” also a fact.

The boy’s sigh is shaky, a silent agreement as Tom tugs him closer, pale hands cupping Harry’s cheek, thumbing the boy’s lashes sooty against his cheek.

“We’re born to greater things,” Tom whispers, “You and I, so alike, born fifty years apart - oh, fate definitely went wrong with that one. So alike - half-bloods raised among muggles that hate us, fear us for what we could do, both with so much power at our fingertips, you just need to acknowledge it, sweetheart.”

There is a chill in his heart. The dementor is coming back. They need to move.

“I’m nothing like you,” Harry half-heartedly pulls away.

Tom keeps it simple, “You wish they were dead, don’t you. The muggles who raised you. Who dared to hurt you. Who put you down and locked you in a cupboard. You dream about it, don’t you?”

Green eyes widen, “No!” is the expected denial, but Tom just waits. The boy will dig his own hole, “No, I mean… they didn’t… it wasn’t abuse, they just didn’t like me. I was a waste of space, they fed me and kept me alive… it wasn’t… I didn’t… I don’t--

“It’s okay,” he says, softly, kindly, “You don’t need to justify yourself. Not to me.”

Harry’s shaking. It’s hard to tell what’s the dementor and what is the effect his words are having.

“It’s okay,” he croons, “You’re perfect, you’re mine and nobody shall touch you again ,” he slips into parseltongue and Harry goes practically boneless against him. Tom presses his nose against Harry’s cold neck, feeling the quick beating pulse there. Then he pulls away sharply, leaving Harry flailing a bit.

“The dementor is coming,” he says, “We need to go.” He holds out his hand, a facsimile of choice.

Harry hesitates, still so defiant, eyes still burning with resentment and anger and good , Tom thinks, it’d be no fun if he broke the boy down completely.

But still he reaches out and takes Tom’s hand like he is both Harry’s salvation and damnation.

Together they run.

*

The woman crawls through the damp putrid water of the Chamber towards him, pawing at his robes like a mongrel dog. Tom kicks her away, uncaring about how she ends up sprawled in the dirt. In his hand is a gold cup.

The woman might yet be useful, he considers, taking her in. She had been beautiful once, but was now ragged with sallow skin and premature wrinkles. She’s thin and scrawny, barely the faintest trace of plump fat left over to even hint at how Tom had found her. Her hair was wild and dark and her eyes full of madness and gasoline that Azkaban had lit on fire. She gazes up at him in adoration.

She’s boring, and Tom loses interest quickly. Her use, he thinks, has run out. He has all he needs from her, holding Hufflepuff’s cup to the light.

“My Lord,” she pleads, “You said--”

“Quiet,” he snaps. Even her voice is irritating. Harry had somehow never managed to be this irritating in all his time in Tom’s presence. Her jaw clicks shut so hard it sounds like she snapped a tooth.

Tom doesn’t care.

“Did you have a good Christma-- Is that Bellatrix Lestrange ?”

He turns as Harry appears at the far end of the Chamber. He glances over his shoulder, because this place is not the secret it once was, but there are no shadows following them. Even then, Tom trusts Harry to have evaded any tails.

“It was, yes,” he says, “She’s naught more than a mindless animal now.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Harry asks, as Bellatrix looks at Tom with mixed blankness and pure longing.

“Love Potion and Imperius Curse,” Tom hums, and Harry looks torn between intrigue and alarm, “Don’t panic,” he says.

“You made her fall in love with you?” Harry’s nose wrinkles in disgust.

“More like infatuation,” Tom corrects, “Why? Jealous ?”

Harry barely reacts. Tom’s disappointed - at times he forgets he kidnapped Harry just before the proper teenage years hit and that Harry alternates between oblivious to some aspects of social life and just weirdly factual having found knowledge from books instead. He’s pretty sure this didn’t go over Harry’s head, but that the younger boy just genuinely doesn’t understand Tom’s point.

“She’s just a means to an ends,” Tom shrugs, “She’s mad but strong, the imperio is only so useful. The love potion gives her no reason to fight it.” He holds out the cup to show Harry, “Besides, her usefulness has come to an end. And she did have her uses. It appears she has-uh- proclivities for Lord Voldemort.”

Harry’s gaze is blank for a long moment before he places what Tom means and his expression wrinkles in disgust, “That’s foul,” he says.

“That’s me you’re talking about,” Tom chides, darkly amused.

“Would you want to have sex with that monster?” Harry asks. Tom arches his neck, because point, but then again he had never claimed Lestrange’s sanity, and Harry was right. Her obsession with Lord Voldemort was downright disturbing, right down to the interesting rituals she had clearly done--

“I’m not that narcissistic.”

“Here,” Harry moves on, clearly put-off by where Bellatrix is currently trying to kiss Tom’s shoe. Tom tries unsuccessfully to toe her off, he clearly overdid the Love Potion. Harry sniggers as he holds out his hand, a chain sliding through his fingers until Tom can see the emerald studded locket dangling from his fist. It shimmers in the eerie green light of the chamber, home against after so many years. “Guess what I found in the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black?”

Tom doesn’t need to touch it to know it’s the horcrux they’d thought misplaced. A shudder runs through him and he knows Harry can hear it too; a high pitch tinnitus just out of range of sound but he can feel it in his bones all the same. In his robes the cup grows warm and Harry’s scar looks inflamed and Tom can taste ink on his tongue--

Four of them in such close vicinity of each other--

“Tom ,” he hears an echo of Voldemort in his head and slams up his mental shields. This is not a good idea.

Harry is wincing in pain, taking a step or two away from Tom and shaking his head, “We have a problem, though,” he adds, and Tom wonders just what could make his day worse. Then Harry speaks, “Dumbledore knows.”

Crucio .”

Harry flinches but it’s Bellatrix who screams. Harry stiffens, gaze fixed on the cold stone snake hewed walls. Tom amuses himself by observing Bellatrix writhing on the ground, only to continue to look at him in adoration the moment he lifts the curse. Such a fickle thing, love, he thinks, all he would need would be to stop giving it to her and she’d be right back to spewing filthy hate about his blood, about his betrayal of her lord, about--

“How much?” Tom asks, his tone one of that who is is distinctly unimpressed. Harry won’t meet his gaze, not quite afraid that Tom’s wrath might fall on him, but still not entirely sure of himself.

“Slughorn refused to give him a number. Damn near got run over by a car he left the house so quickly. I asked Dumbledore what a horcrux was and he couldn’t even answer me.”

“He’ll notice the books missing soon enough,” Tom ponders, “Or not, I’m pretty sure he’s got others but we’ll have to manage.”

“Already?”

“Soon,” his gaze drops down to Lestrange, “Want to finish with her?” he asks, kicking her off him again.

“Just give her back to the dementors,” Harry sounds disgusted, and Tom sighs. There are some things even he can’t train Harry into.

“She’s a murderer. She tortured your friend Longbottom’s parents into insanity. She has killed and pillaged and you won’t torture her back, won’t even end her life with a mercy she doesn’t deserve? You know the words.”

He feels more than sees Harry turn away, and Tom sighs.

“She’s still going to die, you know,” he adds, uselessly, because Harry has lines he won’t cross, but Tom can see he’s breaking. The lines are already so far pushed back they just need a little shove more--

“Avada Kedavra --”

But not today.

*

“Stop looking so down,” Riddle chides when he enters the room, magic curling around him as he walks. Harry is curled up on the floor, shaking slightly from the after-effects of the cruciatus but still diligently working his way through the textbook Riddle had thrown his way. “Hogwarts isn’t even open.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asks, hand cramping as he drops the quill, flexing his fingers. “It’s September, surely the new school year has started?”

Riddle looks oddly saddened by this supposed triumph, “It’s October,” he corrects, “And they closed it to investigate into any other potentially murderous monsters hiding within its walls. Also I hear a maniac has broken out of Azkaban although no reasons cited appear valid.” At Harry’s curious look he elaborates, “He was a supporter of my future self, but they’re torn between on him trying to kill you or look for his missing-presumed-dead Lord.”

“But everyone thinks I’m dead,” Harry says, and Riddle looks at him as if he’s stupid, “What’s Azkaban anyway,” he adds.

“A prison,” Riddle sounds like he’s clearly done with answering Harry’s endless questions, “It’s filled with dementors which drive all the prisoners insane, Black clearly doesn’t understand you’re dead.” And then, before Harry can ask, adds, “Dementors are cloaked ammortal beings that eat souls.”

Harry flinches, “Souls? You mean--seriously-- souls are a thing?”

Riddle is looking at him strangely now, “Yes,” he says, “Souls or spirit or mind, call it what you will. Wizards are three parts: body, soul and magic.”

Is that why you think muggles are lesser, Harry wants to ask, because they’re only two parts, instead of three, but he doesn’t want to have that cyclical conversation again, “What happens if it eats your soul?” he asks, wrinkling his nose a bit.

“You’re empty,” Riddle says, abruptly, “A husk, a shell with nothing living inside, nobody home.” His tone sounds grave and Harry thinks he sounds almost scared.

“Is that what you were?” Harry asks, “Just a soul and no body? Or did you have magic too?”

Riddle looks approving almost of the question, “Magic,” he says, and then tilts his head, “A bit of soul,” he admits, more to himself than to Harry, “And now this body built from Ginny Weasley’s soul and magic. But the connection between this body and I - it’s weak. If it snaps the body will fall apart and I’ll be--” he doesn’t finish the sentence, just looks expectantly at Harry. This is, after all, not the first time they’ve done this, but it’s the first time he’s given Harry an explanation.

Harry very purposely doesn’t move.

Riddle’s dark brown eyes grow ruddy in colour, “Don’t be obstinate, Harry,” he purrs, all sleek terrifying charm today.

“Ask nicely,” he says back, just as sickly sweet, proud of himself for not lashing out, for not losing his temper, for staying calm and holding onto control in this situation where he sits sprawled at the feet unarmed against his captor--

Riddle isn’t in the mood for playing games, “I need more blood,” he snaps out, and takes it. Without warning or permission he reaches out, dragging Harry to his feet by one thin wrist. Harry sways there, about to pull away when his holly wand in Riddle’s hand slices a cut across his wrist.

He hisses in pain but lets no further sound escape him as Riddle clamps his hand over the wound like a leech and just holds on. Harry can feel the drain, the dizziness hits him and his vision blacks and then he’s on the ground, Riddle looming over him, his hand bloody from where he had been holding Harry’s wound. The older boy looks more substantial, skin less pale, colour more present, his very self, very soul more sustainable and permanent even as he continues to maintain his struggle to exist without an object tied to him.

Harry wonders where the diary is. He suspects it’s gone, destroyed, because if it was still here and Riddle tied to it then he could end up back in it and he’s seen the look in Riddle’s eyes when he realised that was a possibility.

No, the diary was gone, which was why Riddle was so weak. Maybe if he kept it he’d be more permanent.

“The girl was weak,” Riddle sneers. Harry wraps the edge of his t-shirt over the cut on his arm knowing from experience Riddle won’t heal it. “Not magically developed enough to even sustain me--”

“Ginny wasn’t weak,” Harry snaps, “She didn’t do anything and you killed her .”

Riddle scoffs, because they’ve had this argument before. “She was a foolish eleven-year old girl who trusted a stranger with her soul. It’s not my fault she practically gave me the damn thing.” Harry bristles at his tone, at how scornful Tom is of Ginny’s unwilling sacrifice, “Don’t look at me like that,” Riddle chides, “You barely paid her a glance. Five sentences you spoke to her across the whole year. I had to hear about each word you said in excruciating detail,” his eye roll and sneer is accompanied by Harry lunging for him, to shut him up, to stop him from talking--

He actually catches Riddle off-guard and manages to close his hand over his wand before Riddle is backhanding him to the floor. The wand goes flying off and Harry scrambles for it desperately--

Riddle’s magic closes around his throat and he can’t breath he can’t breath and his wand is right there and--

Magic knocks into him sending him flying. Seconds later Riddle has fingers digging into his neck, wand in hand and Harry pinned beneath him, “Don’t be stupid,” he says, “You know I’m right. Ginny was weak and the weak die. It’s dog eat dog, Harry. Survival of the fittest is one of nature’s oldest laws, you know this. You and I - we’re survivors. We rise above it and come out stronger. We thrive .”

Harry’s fingers scrabble weakly at Riddle’s hand around his throat. There is blood smeared there. His blood. Both from his arm and from Riddle’s hand. It’s sticky, he thinks, tasting it against his lips, “But are you happy?” he asks, and wants to hit himself. What a stupid question. “So you survive,” he elaborates, “You come through the orphanage, you overcome enemies trying to kill you and then what? What do you have when you’ve won the fight with so much blood on your hands?”

Riddle doesn’t look like he understands. “Then you win,” he says, like it’s obvious, grip slacking slightly so Harry can breath, “You rule. Happiness is a perception, not a fact. It’s not concrete - it’s fleeting and insubstantial. Just like this ‘ love’ you claim saved you. What does happiness and love get you against someone who wins?”

Harry can practically hear the quotation marks around the word ‘love’. “Respect,” he says, “Power earned not power won - you’d be the better man - a good man.”

Riddle scoffs, “You might be a good man if you refuse to kill a murderer, but what does being the good man get you when the murderer kills his daughter? He could have stopped it. Could have done one morally reprehensible act to save possibly countless others.” His lips curl in a sneer, “But a moment of weakness and it’s too late. His happiness and love is no use then - it’s a weakness.”

Harry shakes his head, “I don’t believe that,” he says, “I won’t.”

The Slytherin sighs from where he’s still got Harry in his bloody grip, “You will,” he says, “You know already the fallacy of the human condition. I believe you termed it ‘life isn’t fair’. Because the truth is that good men do not always win; but the powerful? The powerful do.”

“And the innocents?” Harry asks, feeling his pulse beat beat beating against Riddle’s lax grip, “The children, those who have done nothing--”

“The Ginny Weasley’s?” Riddle’s lip curls in a mocking smile, “Innocents die, of course.”

*

Horcruxes.

Plural .

Dumbledore feels sick. He watches what must be Voldemort’s youngest soul piece walk around his school.

He’d been so blind.

He should have turned Tom away the second he laid eyes on him, but the ring was oddly hollow and empty and what did he even do - absorb it? Destroy it? What are his motivations - is he working for Voldemort or should Dumbledore believe the teenaged Dark Lord in that he’s really wanted dead?

The yuletide holidays end and the corridors refill themselves with bustling students. There is a tense atmosphere underlying everything as each new newspaper arrives with another war crime, another atrocity committed--

The Ministry’s rock solid foundations are crumbling. Dumbledore can see it. And in the heart of his school he catches glimpses of Tom Riddle and Harry Potter, dark heads bowed together so close he can’t tell them apart. Conversations are feverous and there’s a desperation to the pair he can’t place. Tom continues to teach to a standard higher than most of his previous teachers in the past two decades and Harry continues to slide through school like he’s never been away but--

“What’s a horcrux?” Harry had asked with wide-eyes and fingers clenched tightly around his glass and he won’t meet Dumbledore’s gaze.

The boy knows.

Harry knows --

There is a way, he thinks, the smallest chance but it requires so many things to fall into place and they’re just not. It’s the thinnest of hopes, it requires Voldemort himself to do it, or maybe Tom and it’s never going to happen.

Dumbledore mourns. The boy must die, he thinks, and it’s with an odd detachment and a terrible, cruel horror. Tom and Harry must both die for Voldemort to fall.

Slughorn won’t respond to his correspondence. Albus has no way to determine how many more horcruxes he must track down, let alone which one Tom emerged from. He can’t have been the ring - he’d been orchestrating the chamber opening after all. No, he’s another, unknown. That leaves the ring, the snake, the locket and cup he sees in memories belonging to those whose life Voldemort had touched--

Tom’s in one of them, he thinks, but he can’t understand the hissed conversation between Morfin and his nephew. Harry could translate, but Harry is so entangled with Tom Riddle that Albus doesn’t think he could separate the two if he wanted to.

He’s tempted to just leave them to it. They have some kind of plan. He should trust them, trust Harry because to trust is better than to murder just to be sure--

But as much as he trusts Harry, he distrusts Tom Riddle, and he knows exactly what Tom Riddle could become.

He stood aside once and did nothing.

He refuses to make the same mistake twice (even though he thinks he already has).

*

“No duelling in the hallways, Mr Peters, five points from Slytherin. Miss Urquhart if I catch you with your wand out I will take points from Hufflepuff too, do not react to Mr Peter’s immature bullying.”

The Seventh Years don’t quite know what to make of Tom; he looks like he should be learning amongst them and in many respects he should. He hadn’t even graduated yet and he’s pretty sure Dumbledore realises this now, but he also knows he still holds a full set of Outstandings in his OWLs.

“Tell me,” says Aurora Sinistra who doesn’t know that Tom’s an imperfect copy of the Dark Lord in his youth, “I heard some Ravenclaws whispering about finding your school records, but they’re dated fifty years ago.”

“I age well,” he says with a smile and easy charm and the staff laugh, although Severus looks pinched and McGonagall looks vaguely sick. Hagrid, the idiotic half-giant, wasn’t even there, mostly because every time he looked at Tom he looked like he wanted to ring Tom’s neck. Tom flips another page of his book idly, waiting for this staff meeting to start. He thinks, maybe, in another life he would have enjoyed a career in teaching, but certain issues to do with his impending mortality have a way of throwing idle things such as careers and staff social events to the wayside.

God, no wonder Harry had once had an abyssal grasp of magical theory at twelve, Voldemort had clearly had it out for Harry’s education. The fact Harry had such a good grasp of spells as it was in hindsight was impressive, even more so considering the amount of pure raw power Harry shoved into his spells. Tom thumbs at a scar on his wrist from where an overpowered disarming charm had thrown Tom into a bookcase.

“You look amazing for seventy,” Minerva says dryly to him, drawing him out of his thoughts, “If you asked me I wouldn’t have said a day over sixteen.”

“I try to aim for seventeen,” he jokes back, tone completely flat, “My father attended Hogwarts, no doubt they tracked down his records,” he addresses to Sinistra, no matter how much he hates having to use that lie.

Minerva’s lips thin disapprovingly and Sinistra looks a bit taken aback by his tone. Tom misses Harry’s snark and biting response.

“Are we all here?” Dumbledore appears, grinning widely. He pats Tom on the shoulder on his way past, just to raise Tom’s ire probably and Tom forces himself not to react. “Lemon drop, anyone?”

Tom is going to curse those fucking lemon drops.

His attentions drops back to his book as Dumbledore asks for updates following the beginning of the new term. He zones back in to give a short and brief update that he’s manages to get all the years up to the correct stage of their curriculum and that they’ve had a truly awful run of teachers thus far although he supposes the werewolf was passable, where on earth was Dumbledore getting his teachers--

“We ran out rather quickly, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore sighs, “The position is cursed, I’m afraid, it’s why our standard contract is only a year long. The curse kicks them out at the end. Wild, untethered magic I’ve been unable to track it down and reverse it.”

Tom’s fingers twitch because Harry hadn’t mentioned his job position was cursed -- But instead he smiles thinly, as if it’s a joke, “Who on earth would want to curse a teaching position?” he asks, puzzled.

Dumbledore’s stupid blue-eyes twinkle and Tom’s heart just plummets.

Of course, he thinks, well at least the curse may just bypass him altogether given it would be his own magic lashing out. He might yet get away. Dumbledore is still twinkling at him, so he throws his own barb back, “Harry enjoyed spending the holidays with his godfather, thank you for sorting something while I was busy.”

The twinkle died rather abruptly. Good, Tom thinks viciously, Harry is his. He’s always delighted in stealing other people’s treasures, after all.

Chapter Text

Gold and black and white plated walls run at eerie angles. Doors spin and gold time trinkles out of hourglasses and curtains whisper in his ear.

Harry hates the Department of Mysteries as much as he loves it. It calls to him, coos sweet nothings in his ears and he’s been more attuned to magic since Tom plucked his holly wand for his own for a year and a half and forced him to go without. The whole Department sings to him and Tom is bemused as he follows Harry through the maze and out into a room filled with white orbs.

“Well at least you’re useful for something,” Tom sniffs, “Pick up the prophecy too while you’re at it, will you?”

Harry sighs, starting down the rows as the pair search for the right one. The orbs here date back centuries, wispy figures detailing the strands of fate as the sisters weave.

Nobody’s perfect, Harry thinks, and there are plenty of crimes worse than breaking into the Department of Mysteries. Like murder, for one, but Tom doesn’t really consider murder a crime no matter how much Harry argues against it. Tom doesn’t care about people as people; he sees them as commodities and objects. It’s all Harry can do to persuade him of their usefulness.

“Here,” Tom finds it first, lifting up his wand. Harry lets a lumos light his own as he approaches so he can read the inscription.

“You could probably pick it up,” Harry says.

Tom looks at him like he’s an idiot. It’s his favourite expression, “It says ‘the Dark Lord Voldemort’,” he reads out, “As you have so clearly told me I am not him. Unless,” he pauses, lip curling, “You want me to be.”

Harry realises his point and feels stupid. Tom is right of course, and no matter what he threatens he will never be Voldemort now. “What happens if you touch it?” he asks.

“Something horrible, I’m sure.”

Harry swallows the lump in his throat. It can’t, he imagine, be worse than that potion in that cave that he and Tom had gulped down between them in between what is most definitely the worst fight they had and culminated in Tom pushing Harry off the cliff. He still has a rather nasty pink curling scar on his cheek from that whole incident.

He can see Tom remembers it to, because there is hesitancy in his eyes as Harry reaches out, as if he wants to knock Harry’s hand away. But his fingers touch cool glass and he pulls it back, unharmed.

“He was right,” a harsh cackling voice laughs out, “I shouldn’t have doubted my lord.”

The Prophecy almost slips through Harry’s clammy hands and Tom shifts partially in the way of his view to where the masked men and women stalk forwards towards them. The one who spoke plucks her skeletal white bone mask off her face revealing mad eyes and wild black hair. Harry recognises her from the Prophet’s report on the Azkaban breakout.

“Hush, Bella,” a man sneers and his voice is so familiar it sends a jolt down Harry’s spine. Malfoy, he thinks in horror, taking a step back.

Harry can’t see Tom’s face but he knows the older boy is probably just amused by this, “Ah,” he says, pleasantly, “A trap, I presume. You are his…” he pauses for a moment, “Death Eaters?” he asks, clicking his tongue, “Shame he went with that - I did so prefer the Knights.”

Malfoy flinches, behind the mask. It was he, after all, who is responsible directly for Tom standing where he now stands; right next to Harry Potter.

“You dare befoul his deeds?” Bellatrix screeches.

“I scorn every idiotic decision he made after seventeen,” only Tom can sound so offended but utterly disgusted at the same time, “But, well, can’t blame him,” and smug too, Harry can’t forget Tom’s ego, “He didn’t, after all, have me .”

He moves then. Tom spins to face Harry, grabbing the orb from Harry’s hand and flinging it into the air. Bellatrix lets out a shriek, darting forwards to catch it and Malfoy shouts out “ ACCIO ,” with a panic that belays his terror at losing it.

Tom doesn’t turn, instead pointing his wand to the Death Eater behind Harry and sending a curse his way that sends the man shrieking and crying to the ground as bits of his skin start shrivelling and regrowing into himself.

Harry, wand already raised from where Tom had been blocking their view, flings out a wide-spread banishing charm that picks up about a hundred round smoky balls and flings them straight towards where Malfoy and Bellatrix stand.

Including the prophecy orb.

Glass shatters around the Death Eaters, white figures appearing, trapped memory speaking as Bellatrix continues to lung for an orb and Malfoy reaches out, the pair knocking into each other and--

Harry stays long enough to see it shatter, to see the woman with bug-like spectacles appear and add her voice to the echoes, and then he’s following Tom. The older boy is already by the door, and Harry topples through, sprinting like the hounds of hell are after him and Tom shouts out “ Colloportus ” to seal it. There’s a moment of silence while they stand there, unmoving, chests heaving.

“Did it break?” Tom asks.

“Of course it fucking broke, you chucked it at Lucius Malfoy’s head,” Harry bites back, then chews on his lip for a bit, “You sure we shouldn’t have kept it? Listened to what it said?”

“Why?” Tom shrugs, “It’s my future past. It’s your present past. And besides - I’m trying not to make the same mistakes Voldemort did, and if he put his trust into a prophecy it’s clearly a bad idea.”

The door shakes with the force of spell fire. It looks like some Death Eaters have now started to try and kill them.

“He’s not going to stop, is he?” Harry asks, because while this was an expected trap, they’ve spent the past year hounded across the country.

“Of course I won’t,” Tom answers, “We’re going to need to find sanctuary.” He pauses as Harry looks at him, because the word means the same to both of them. They’re both orphans even if Tom is one by chance and poor decisions rather than an actual stated fact. Sanctuary means the same thing to them that home does.

Hogwarts.

“We’re going to need a way in,” Tom says.

Harry has almost expected Tom to argue. He shrugs. “We’ll find one. Worst case scenario; I run to Dumbledore pretending to have escaped from you.” Tom looks like that idea quite appeals to him since it probably involves him avoiding Dumbledore.

Another slam of the door and a crack as it starts to splinter jolts them into moving.

The Slytherin grins at him, “Shall we?” he asks, offering his arm like he’s taking Harry out on some sort of date, and Harry wants to laugh hysterically. Some date, going out to destroy a prophecy that was in control of their lives, destroyed or not.

“Sure,” he says, taking Tom’s arm and the portkey watch that sits on it, “Why the hell not?”

And something yanks behind his naval and whisks him away.

*

Albus Dumbledore stumbles over the wards Tom’s set up on the Gaunt Shack two months later and just like that they’ve got their opportunity.

*

Sitting at the Great Hall for breakfast, Harry can see the headline, some Skeeter trash on the newspaper Hermione is reading. He catches a line or two debating if Harry is the victim of kidnap by what might be the most unimpressive enemy called ‘Tom’ or if he’s been in secret training organised by Dumbledore, and then Hermione is snatching it away, blushing, “It’s all rubbish,” she says.

“Is it?” he asks, head tilting to the side and eyes green bright. “Tell me, what are they saying about me?”

Hermione doesn’t answer but Neville sitting next to Ron does, “Nothing interesting,” he says, “That you killed Ginny and ran off to enact your Dark Lord plans, that You-Know-Who kidnapped you and Riddle and that you only just escaped--”

“Surprisingly accurate,” Harry hums.

“They’re mostly just confused,” Ron says through a mouthful of food, “Nobody knows anything and Skeeter won’t dare sneak around here lest Hermione catch her in a jar again.”

“A jar?”

Hermione hides her face in her hair, “It’s a long story; I’ll tell you on the way to Hogsmeade--”

“She was dating Viktor Krum and Skeeter found out about it,” Neville says, quailing a bit at Hermione’s glare and standing quickly, “Oh look, there’s Luna, I’ll meet you guys in the Three Broomsticks, okay?”

The path to Hogsmeade is filled with students eager to get out of the castle. Harry enjoys it - he’s never been to Hogsmeade before - previous trips had been spent using the empty castle to try and figure out where Lord Voldemort had hidden the bloody diadem - but now Tom was busy. Harry spots him keeping count of who is leaving, the Slytherin carrying a bundle of parchment like he’s either about to start a massive research project or some kind of long haul library session.

For the first time in a long time Harry has time to simply be himself.

He barely knows what to do when he’s just left to his own devices. He trails behind Ron and Hermione as they give him a tour of the small wizarding village, and he laughs and smiles and wonders if this is what he’s missed out on.

Instead it’s dusty libraries, blood on his hands and Tom Tom Tom --

The older boy has carved a place in Harry’s life and soul but Harry thinks that if they somehow get this to work he may just be able to peel away all that is Tom to find just Harry underneath--

“Where’s your kidnapper, Potter?” Malfoy sneers, making sure to get in his way as they happen to pass him on the street. Students and villagers alike pause to not-so-subtly listen in. “Did he let you off your leash ?”

And Harry’s scar prickles and that had been a stupid thought because Tom’s in his soul , he’s never going to be rid of the other boy. They’ve been bound by a prophecy since before Harry was born, he never stood a fucking chance.

“At least I don’t wear a collar or brand,” Harry says, and Draco flinches, hand scrambling at his wrist.

“It was foolish to leave the castle. The Dark Lord will kill you,” Draco says, with no hesitation despite his witnesses, “You and that no-named Riddle both.”

“He can’t,” Harry says, like it’s fact, and maybe, he thinks, it is. His scar prickles and behind his shitty mental shields that are as good as useless against a piece of his own soul he becomes aware of foreign emotion twisting against his thoughts.

And Draco is looking too smug, but it’s not triumphant, it’s scared and desperate and he’s still pawing at his arm and in Harry’s head he hears Voldemort’s cruel, high pitched laugh.

“Bring me the boy and my wayward belonging,” Voldemort tells his followers, marked and masked and Draco’s eyes widen as he lifts his hand towards Harry, wand raised--

And in another world it’s kill Albus Dumbledore but here it’s bring me Tom Riddle because Voldemort has always been his own worst enemy and Harry reaches out through his blood link to Tom, hitting the older boy’s shields and clawing at it, feeling the gaps and sliding through because Tom can’t keep him out as much as he can’t keep Voldemort out.

And for a moment he’s Tom, old dusty books and parchment and a creaking, ruined house that looks like a wild animal has gotten in and there is blood bottled in jars and animal parts and his aspen wand tracing out crackling runes and he feels Tom’s alarm, tastes ink on his tongue and at the back of his throat and--

Then he’s standing in Hogsmeade, Malfoy staring at him and Ron and Hermione asking him if he’s okay and his scar is bleeding and his fingers close over his holly wood wand and a shield charm appears, seconds before the world cracks and explodes around them.

Screams ring out and wisps of black smoke evaporate off the Death Eaters apparating in. Malfoy shoots a curse at Harry but he’s already moving. Pain drops Malfoy to the ground, screaming and Harry barely flinches. Ron knocks Crabbe over with a flipendo and Hermione keeps it simple and petrifies Goyle.

Malfoy is still screaming as Harry paces over to him, dropping into a crouch next to him and releasing the spell. The blonde gasps for breath, chest heaving and eyes bloodshot as he looks up at Harry with terror in his eyes. Harry swallows a lump in his throat, “You don’t have to do this,” he says, calmly, pushing away his nerves and guilt, “We both know you’re better than this.”

“You don’t understand,” Draco makes an attempt to sit up, arms trembling, “The Dark Lord - he’ll kill me. He’ll kill my family, you don’t understand, your family is dead . He just wants Riddle, you don’t even like the guy he kidnapped you for Merlin’s sake, why are you fighting for him?”

Harry wonders how to explain the blood and soul magic and the golden strings of fate like nooses around their necks. How to explain how much he hates Tom, but how without Tom he’d be nothing. Tom is his salvation and destruction, his absolution and devastation. Harry is nothing without Tom; he’s a broken abused orphan who is the world’s chew toy, but Tom is even less without Harry; he’s a white-skinned red eyed genocidal monster.

Harry wants to laugh because it’s completely and utterly fucked up. His wry smirk must convey that because Malfoy looks at him like he should, like Harry is crazy, and he probably is. “We’re soulmates,” he says, “Fate bound. This was always meant to happen.”

It wasn’t. In another world Ginny lives, soul scarred but alive and Harry continues to fight until they can be soul scarred together with Tom Riddle’s fingerprints on their heart, but Ginny Weasley did not survive the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter fights for his own freedom now, no longer caring about others (he’s spent so much of his life trapped, it’s irony at its finest that Tom is the one offering his freedom from his destiny).

“You’re insane,” Malfoy says.

“Be good,” Harry says, “Sleep tight. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt. In fact, you won’t feel much of anything. Torpeo.”

Malfoy screams.

*

“Death Eater attack on Hogsmeade ,” the werewolf patronus says in Tonks’ voice as it lopes into Grimmauld. Sirius takes a moment to contemplate the shape, then look at Moony before the words hit him.

“You can’t go!” Remus catches him as he makes towards the doorstep to apparate, “Sirius, you’re still wanted--”

“Harry’s there,” he snaps, and the force of the words has Remus rocking back, “I’ve failed to be there for him for years , I can’t fail him now.”

Shacklebolt just looks disapproving but says nothing. Moody barks out CONSTANT VIGILANCE like it’s going out of fashion and Sirius twists away after the Order, space compressing around him before spitting him out in the middle of spell fire and panicking students.

He can see Remus leap over to help Tonks evacuate the students. Death Eaters are everywhere he turns. He throws out some shields and goes about taking down the first miserable bastard who decides Sirius Black makes a good target.

He leaves the first chained up and hanging upside down from a nearby building. The second he sends tripping face first into a stunner by tying the idiot’s bootlaces together.

He’s on the third, trying to weave his way around several unblockable dark curses that would probably turn his intestines to mush. He stumbles, ducking a curse and when he looks up someone else has darted across, slicing a curse towards the Death Eater. The man drops to his knees, screaming and clawing at his face, fingers digging into his eyes.

Sirius ends it with a stunner before the man can actually gorge his eyes out, freezing in in surprise and recognition as Harry turns around, green eyes blazing, “Have you seen Tom?”

“Why on earth would I have seen that piece of--” Sirius censors himself, “Was that a Dark curse?” he asks.

“He’ll be fine,” Harry says, blase, “His physical health is fine.”

That says nothing for his mental health, Sirius thinks. He knows what that curse does.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asks, curious. There’s a pause while Sirius casts a shield against some more Death Eaters. Harry appears unbothered, but then he’s got some kind of shield web picking up spells like christmas lights in the air in front of him.

“I’m with the Order, come on, we need to get you out of here.”

“I need to--” Harry pauses, “I need to find Ron and Hermione,” he says, and Sirius frowns, because is Harry really going to play the hero now?

“After you’re safe--” he argues and at that moment Harry releases his shield. It crashes into about three Death Eaters hitting them with such a potent mix of dark curses that had mostly originated from them to begin with that they all go flying backwards in a tangled, messy, bloody heap.

“I seem to be doing just fine,” Harry says, and darts away, slithering under Sirius’ grip as he tries to grab onto his wayward godson. Sirius sighs and goes after him, falling into the fray.

Hogsmeade is chaos whirling around him, black cloaks and screams and laughing jeering masks. Sirius curses any Death Eater he sees, trying to keep one eye on Harry who--

Doesn’t really need it.

The boy dances through the spell fire like it’s not even there. His wand dances out throwing flames to engulf spells aimed at him, another flick and it’s tearing a Death Eater across the ground in some kind of spell that affects gravity. He stops only once and it’s to stand protectively in front of some third-year students so they can vanish into the Hogs Head where Aberforth is constructing some pretty impressive wards.

Sirius nods to him on the way past, and Aberforth looks darkly at where Harry has managed to find the centre of the trouble near the path to the Shrieking Shack and is heading straight for it.

It’s not, he realises with horror, Ron and Hermione. Harry is a fucking liar; Sirius can see Ron and Hermione and they’re fighting with some year mates to great success.

They’re doing fine. It’s not them.

It’s Tom Riddle.

Riddle is engaged in duelling Dolohov and Avery at the same time, a slight sneer on his face. He throws a Frost Biting Curse at Avery, and a spell Sirius knows causes disintegration of bones should it hit. Moving out of the way Dolohov walks right into a Cruciatus and drops screaming to the ground.

Riddle is so busy dealing with his former-followers, he doesn’t notice Harry. Nor, Sirius realises, does he notice Albus Dumbledore apparate in, the old wizard looking in his element as he manages to knock out two no-named followers with a mild wave, stalking over to Tom RIddle with purpose and clear intentions.

Riddle doesn’t notice.

But Harry does, and the green spell flying towards Riddle never hits.

*

Tom’s got his back to Dumbledore, too busy worrying about the Death Eaters to notice Dumbledore raise his wand to him. Not the Elder Wand - no, Albus hasn’t felt it work right for him since the ring and the shack - he raises his own, oak wood and dragon heartstring - and casts the killing curse.

An ice eagle gets in the way and shatters on impact. There is a blur and then Harry Potter is there, sliding into place at Tom’s back like he belongs there, green eyes the same colour as the curse still lingering in the air glaring in fury, but more horror at Dumbledore. And there is terror there too, Dumbledore flinches at that, observes the boy lift his wand again--

Harry is a formidable duelist. He’s still got years to go to catch up to Dumbledore and Voldemort, but he’s quick and agile and smart as he turns the very landscape around him against his enemy, summoned objects placing themselves in between them, spells both light and dark aimed at him. Dumbledore finds himself not trying as hard, because he could kill Tom (should have years ago) but Harry ? The boy who had looked at him with such trust on that hospital bed after defying Quirrel, after passing all of Dumbledore’s little traps, playing both bait and hero with a noble stubborn bravery that had shook even him--

He can’t do it.

Harry has to die, but Albus knows that even if he casts the killing curse at the boy now it won’t work. He doesn’t even try.

He won’t do it. Albus Dumbledore has met his limit - he will not kill a sixteen year old boy to save the whole of the wizarding world.

And Tom --

Tom barely moves, just a slight twist of his head and complete and utter trust that Harry has his back as he finishes with Dolohov and Avery. It humbles Dumbledore, just a bit, a saddens him beyond belief to know how twisted and misplaced the trust running between them is.

Harry stops throwing spells when he realises Dumbledore isn’t fighting back. His green eyes are sharper than a basilisk’s glare and it’s the most emotion Dumbledore has seen in his face since he stalked into the Great Hall following his return at the beginning of the year.

“Let me help you, Harry,” he says, so quietly he almost think the boy hasn’t heard him.

But no, Harry shakes his head, almost regretfully, “It’s too late now,” he says, “Don’t get in our way.”

“Harry!” Tom shouts, suddenly. He’s moved slightly away from Harry, focus intense on something in the distance, “Harry, we need to go.”

“Don’t!” Sirius cries, tearing forwards from the sidelines, “You don’t have to go with him. He kidnapped you . He killed Lily and James .”

Green eyes the shade of a killing curse and a laugh and look that should belong on Tom Riddle’s face and not Harry Potter’s, “No, Tom didn’t kill them,” Harry says, “Voldemort did. Voldemort murdered them and Pettigrew betrayed them and it was your idea in the first place.” His tone is callous, but not cruel, just blunt and factual.

Sirius flinches as if slapped.

“I’m sorry,” he sees Harry mouth, and Dumbledore does nothing to stop him, even as Sirius lunges forwards but the boy twists, taking the last few steps that separate him from Tom Riddle, grabbing the Slytherin’s arm as with a sharp crack the pair disapparate.

*

Hogwarts is quiet. March turns into April and it stays oddly sombre. The lake froze over back over the Christmas break and it just hasn’t defrosted yet. The stone staircases move sluggishly, and the portraits whisper in barely audible tones. Aurors march the corridors and prefects aren’t even allowed to patrol. Papers splurge headlines with death lists when they’re not running Skeeter articles about Harry Potter’s mysterious vanishing act and Tom Riddle’s dubious history.

“Dark Lord’s son and Potter’s illicit affair,” Neville reads out, and Ron gags slightly at that thought. Neville looks thoughtful, “That’s pretty much it, right?”

“Except Riddle isn’t You-Know-Who’s son,” Hermione points out, “He is You-Know-Who. Not that anybody knows that or is brave enough to say it - instead they’re just puzzling over why his surname isn’t V-Vo-Voldemort.”

“Close enough though,” Neville shrugs, “I mean obviously they’re not in an illicit affair but they’re something and there hasn’t been any news of them since the Hogsmeade Attack.”

No news, not even an owl, Ron thinks sadly, but then owls can be tracked. Harry had once more gone, but this time it was willing, apparating away with his kidnapper.

Hogwarts had once again been left without a Defense teacher. The aurors on patrol were taking it in turns to teach - apparently Riddle had left clear lesson plans making the task almost too easy for them.

“I trust Harry knows what he’s doing,” Ron says, as much as his stomach churns at the thought, “I mean,” he adds, “The guy is insane. Harry, that is, and he’s psychologically screwed if he thinks going with Riddle is the right idea but--” images flash in his eyes of Harry’s terror of the thought of Dumbledore knowing. Ron shrugs helplessly. “Malfoy keeps telling anyone who will listen that Harry was the one who cursed him. Nobody believes him and when he tried to get me to admit to seeing it I told him I remembered the spell and was fully prepared to use it to shut him up.”

Hermione smacks him, “Ron!”

“What?” Ron says, aggressively, “It’s a derivative of a healer numbing charm but overpowered and affects all the senses, it wasn’t dark per se--” he sees Hermione’s glare and Neville’s worry and relents, sighing, “Sorry,” he says, “I guess I just wish it had been on Lucius Malfoy instead of his whiny son.”

“The Order are looking for them,” Hermione says. “Harry and Professor Riddle. They’ll find them.”

Ron laughs, “They won’t find them.” He feels Hermione’s curious gaze on him and considers his bestest friend, no, he thinks, Hermione is more than that really to him. “They can’t complain, really,” Ron says, quietly in her ears, “He’s dealing with Voldemort which is what everyone wants.”

He doesn’t stumble over the name despite his pulse quickening. It is, after all, just a name, and if Harry and Tom’s plan works then that’s all it will ever be.

His fingers twitch because he still wants to see Tom Riddle dead, but if he can’t do that without harming Harry then he will settle for Voldemort and every other dark wizard in chains instead, “Come on,” he says, grabbing Hermione’s hand, “I need you to help me with potions; I need to pass to get into the Auror Programme.”

Ron trusts that Harry knows what he is doing. And he trusts, above all, that Lord Voldemort will fall at the end of it, because even if Ron can’t see Tom Riddle dead, he will see Lord Voldemort fall.

Ginny deserves that much at least.

*

The horcruxes whisper to him. He knows Tom hears them too, but the Slytherin pretends he can’t. The ring sits on his finger, even though the soul within that is bound to Tom now. The locket hands around Tom’s neck and the cup in his bag filled with notes and the diadem in Harry’s bag.

“You understand the plan?” Tom asks, needlessly. They both know it back to front by now, they have five back-up plans and three safehouses should it all go wrong. Harry nods, stubborn, determined and beautiful.

Tom doesn't love. It's not a concept he knows. It's a foreign emotion he sees in other people, watches it chain them and tie them down and sees it as a weakness.

No, Tom Riddle cannot love but he's still tied down by his own weakness. He is reliant on Harry. To stay alive, to keep him anchored by his blood, to watch his back and to follow the plan. Harry is his weakness, his chain and his in soul and body.

If that is not love by Tom Riddle’s standards then he's not sure what is.

“Dumbledore is definitely off his rocker never telling anyone who you were. Imagine the outcry if everyone knew Voldemort , poster Dark Lord for blood purity, was a half-blood.”

Tom shrugs, because blood-purity hadn't been his political plan for a good two years now, “I guess the old fool wanted to hide his mistakes. He wanted to make himself appear the good, strong powerful man he was, he would never reveal that he was terrified of a school boy.”

Harry looks at him, then shakes his head, “No, I bet it was because he knew nobody would believe him. The wizarding world are idiots, they won’t even listen to him telling them Voldemort is back, let alone that the handsome charming Tom Riddle became a complete monster.”

Tom bristles but doesn’t react, he knows the words are aimed at Voldemort. Tom will be better. Tom after all, has Harry.

He's already beaten Voldemort in that regard.

He grabs Harry by the shoulder as the younger boy makes to slither past him, “Don't be a hero,” he says, sharply. Take care and don't die are implied but Tom will never say that.

“There are no heroes,” Harry’s grin is wry and green eyes unnaturally bright. No, Tom thinks, there are no heroes, he's broken that belief of Harry’s years ago. Harry twists into him, pressing his face into Tom's shoulder, “I wish sometimes I'd killed you,” Harry admits, “In the Chamber.”

Tom cards his long fingers through Harry’s scattered dark hair and smiles, “So do I,” he says back, “Things would have been a lot simpler if you were dead.”

Harry pulls away, hate and foreign emotions Tom doesn't understand in his gaze. He doesn't say anything though Tom gets the impression he wants to. Instead he turns away and with a crack disapparates.

He pauses only a moment to make sure everything is perfect. Then he swings Harry’s invisibility cloak over him and presses his eyes closed.

It's hard to find Voldemort’s mind. His instinct is to slip sideways along the blood-bond to where Harry hunts like a determined bloodthirsty wolf. Voldemort is all-encompassing and mad and terrifying, Tom shies away, shields already built so thick between them he's loathe to tear them down.

But tear them down he does and he feels the moment Voldemort notices. It's a struggle to not get caught up in his main soul’s mind but Tom manages, clawing free and letting slip flashes of the cave. The images turn over in his mind; the potion, a shaking Harry as Tom forces the boy to drink, the pair fighting with wands and spells that turns into fists and words as they end up drowning in the water, soaked to the bone and still fighting--

He withdraws with difficulty, but it’s enough. There is a shift in the atmosphere as Voldemort apparates onto the cliffside with a quiet pop , leaving behind a watery-eyed man and a snake without even being aware of the intruder in his house.

Tom lets out a shaky breath. So far, so good.

“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Voldemort’s tone is cold and callous, “You can’t hide from me, Tom. You can’t hide from yourself.”

“Can’t I?” he asks, and Voldemort spins around, trying to spot him but failing as Tom shifts position under the invisibility cloak.

“Stop hiding, boy ,” Voldemort sneers, nostrils flaring.

“I’m not hiding,” Tom says, moving so he’s behind Voldemort. He’s silenced, he’s spelled to walk above the ground so footprints do not betray him and Voldemort whirls around in alarm to try and place where he is, “I’m not even here,” Tom adds, “I’m in your head, you soul--”

Voldemort sneers, “You wanted to talk?” he enquires, his gaze still darting around as he tries to locate Tom, “Where’s your pet ? Have you disposed of him already?”

“Far easier than you managed,” Tom continues circling, “You could have chucked him out of a window and it would have been more effective than the killing curse.”

“Unfortunately magical children have a tendency to react with accidental magic,” Voldemort spins around again, “He’s still alive, isn’t he? You can’t even kill him - how weak and pathetic . Must I do everything myself?”

Voldemort spins around again, still unable to pinpoint where Tom is.

“You are young ,” Voldemort says, in a tone trying for kind but comes out condescending, “Foolish - I remember being your age and the folly of it all - I have come to realise many things that you have only begun to dream of, Tom. Work with me, let me show you how our dream unfolds--”

“Dream?” Tom sneers, “This isn’t a dream, Voldemort, this is a fucking nightmare. There won’t be a world left if you continue down this path.” Or rather there will be, but it will be heavily subjugated. Harry had shoved 1984 in Tom’s hands once, forced him to read it, and that’s all Tom can see, stretching out before Voldemort’s path. Time enough, Tom thinks, and he tugs the invisibility cloak off, and Voldemort whirls around.

“Ah,” the Dark Lord says, “So you are here. Finished playing hide and seek, Tom?” he practically sneers Tom’s name, hate in his voice and forcing it on him, like a badge of shame.

And it’s true, he hates that name. Just imagine a Dark Lord called ‘Tom’? But it’s been the only name he’s been entitled to for years now and he’s made it his. First because it was the only thing Harry would call him, and then because Lord Voldemort walking meant he had no other alias.

Lord Voldemort might have done great and terrible things, but Tom Riddle would rise beyond that. He would be better .

“I do believe I’ve found something you’d like,” Voldemort smirks, but with no lips it looks horrifying beyond anything, face cracking open like stone with chips of rubies embedded within, “Gryffindor’s sword I hear hangs in Dumbledore’s office - wouldn’t you like that? Aren’t I a generous host, finding you a new home--”

“No,” Tom says, “You can’t. Because if you do anything to me I’ll destroy this,” Tom lets the locket swing from his hand, backing up so quickly he almost steps straight back off the cliff. Voldemort freezes at the swinging chain, the glittering emeralds.

“You dare--” he hisses, “You wouldn't. It’s your soul too, Tom.”

“Wouldn’t I?” Tom holds it out, wand point to the chain, “ Pyrka --”

“NO!” Voldemort shrieks and Tom feels a smile settle on his face as he snaps his mouth shut, “Don’t be an idiot,” Voldemort scolds, “There are better ways to… accommodate our differences.” He’s probably trying for soothing, but the whole image he gives off is like a ruffled pissed off snake.

He does still, Tom knows, value his horcruxes above all else. Losing Tom would be a catastrophe. Not totally terrible, but definitely a spanner in the works, to borrow a muggle phrase he’s pretty sure he picked up from Harry. How plebian, he thinks.

Voldemort eyes him, cautious now he is aware of what Tom is prepared to do, “Is the boy in the cave?” he asks, “Did the inferi get him or is he still in the potion’s thrall?”

Tom had neglected to give any impression that had told Voldemort that he’d been in the potion’s thrall too, that Harry had clammed up and tried to curse him after the fifth cup he’d tried to force down the boy’s throat and as disgusting and horrible as it was, Tom had not had time to go find someone to imperius to drink it instead.

Besides, it had only taken a few before Harry was all but begging for it again, Tom had not weakened himself that much--

“Regulus Black beat us there,” he says on a tangent to buy for time, “He stole your locket, so we stole it from him.” He tosses the fake to Voldemort who catches it, unclasping it with thin fingers and pulling out the note within to read. Black deserved to have such a beautiful note read, Tom thinks, especially given the trouble the whole locket business had given Harry and him.

“I tire of your games,” Voldemort tosses the fake locket away, the note crumpled and incinerating itself to ash as he strides towards Tom, “Will you consent to returning to a container? To doing your job as my horcrux?”

Tom backs up, taking a step back for every step Voldemort takes forwards. “I’ll give you Harry if you let me go. I can function as your horcrux outside a container just as easily. I’m in as much danger as that snake of yours.”

Voldemort looks wary at his mention of the snake, at the knowledge that Tom has worked that out. “Harry,” he says, mocks, softly, then louder, “I’ll let you join me if you kill him. We can’t have--- weaknesses .”

Tom’s heart jolts and he pauses, nodding, “Fine,” he says.

“Swear it,” Voldemort demands, not even trusting himself.

Which is sensible, Tom thinks, “I swear,” he says, “On my magic. I’ll bring Harry Potter to you.”

Gold twists around his hand holding his wand, burning slightly and then fading. Voldemort looks surprised he agreed so easily, and Tom’s amazed Voldemort hadn’t even commented on the wording, hadn’t even heard--

“In fact,” Tom adds, feeling Harry’s mind brush against his, busy worrying about the snake but warning him anyway of his imminent arrival, “I’ll bring him right now.”

There is a crack and thud as something blurs out of thin air to land near them. Voldemort pauses to glare at the interruption, only to reconsider when he realises who exactly it is that has materialised there.

Right on time, Tom thinks, that would be Harry.

*

Harry is not a lion or a lamb, he thinks, he will not allow himself to be so innocent, so naive, so willing to walk to the slaughter. He’s a wolf with sheep’s clothing, a starving wild animal that will never be caged. He paces the halls of Riddle Manor like a predator hunting his prey with unmet determination.

There is hissing from in front of him and he rounds the corner just in time to witness what appears to be an eight foot long python-cobra cross from settling her thick coils into the corridor.

“Intruder ,” she hisses, “He knew you’d come, little brother ,” her eyes stare unblinkingly at him, sickly yellow and almost amused if that was even an emotion that snakes felt.

“Who’s there?” a weak, thin voice echoes and Harry stiffens. There wasn’t meant to be anyone else here, he’d seen nobody else, just the snake in these halls of ghosts.

Footsteps and a shadow appears. Harry recognises him from dreams and old photographs and anger flares beneath his skin.

Sickly, pale eyes look at him from the face of Peter Pettigrew.

“Stupid rat,” Nagini looks at her minder, but Pettigrew is focussed on Harry, fumbling for a wand. Harry wishes he had his invisibility cloak, but there was no point given the snake could smell him.

“Expelliarmus ,” he snaps out, tearing Wormtail’s wand out of his hand. The rat-man squeaks in alarm.

“H-Harry,” he clearly recognises him, watery eyes darting to the snake, “You look just like James,” Pettigrew whispers, “Just like--”

Fury flares and Harry barely manages to squash it, “You don’t get to talk about them,” he snaps out, wand raised defiantly. “Not after what you did.”

The man quails beneath Harry’s glare, “I-I had to, y-you understand. T-The Dark Lord - you’ve met him, you know what he’s like. He was going to k-kill me, Harry, I was so sc-scared, I couldn’t die --”

Harry feels an unpleasant jolt of understanding. He is, after all, going through with this mad plan because he doesn’t want to die. Tom and he want to live. He is putting his own life above the lives of the Wizarding World, much like Wormtail put his life over Harry’s parents.

But it’s not the same, he thinks, because what did the Wizarding World ever do for Harry?

“You’re a coward,” he says, “And you betrayed them.”

“H-Harry--”

“Crucio .”

He doesn’t really expect it to be successful. Tom has shoved poor animals and on a few rare occasions people under Harry’s nose before and demanded the spell cast. The only Unforgivable he’s had any success with had been the Imperius, both in throwing it off and in casting it. He’s never managed the others successfully.

He has now.

He knows this by the way Wormtail drops to the floor writhing, the most awful screams torn from his throat. His thrashes upset Nagini who begins to uncoil. Wormtail continues to scream, and Harry doesn’t feel anything other than a muted, vindicated sense of satisfaction. This man is the reason his parents are dead. This traitorous backstabbing coward is the reason Sirius is incarcerated.

He drops the cruciatus, watching the man lie in a messy, smelly heap on the floor. Harry wonders if this hatred within him is enough to cast the final unforgivable but the thought makes his hands shake. “ Imperio ,” he says instead, feeling Wormtail’s broken mind cave under the spell, “You will take yourself to the Ministry,” he says, “You will turn yourself over to the Aurors. You will confess your crimes and ensure that Sirius Black’s innocence is known. You will answer any questions they have truthfully, but you will not tell them of your meeting with me. You will not transform and you will not try to escape.”

He watches the glazed look in the rat-man’s eyes take over and then fade slightly so it’s barely noticeable. The man doesn’t even try to fight the instructions.

“What is this? What did you do?” Nagini is agitated on the floor, “Can I eat him ?”

Harry is vividly reminded why he is actually here, “We’re going to be whole again ,” he says, slipping into the snake tongue, “Want to come ?”

He’s not sure what he expected. For the snake to come quietly? A ridiculous thought, but for a moment she actually slides closer to him, tongue flickering out and Harry thinks she will just go with him like that.

But her head lifts and Harry sees a flash of red behind those snake-yellow eyes, “You lie ,” she hisses, “You plan to hurt. To kill .”

Her coils bunch and she’s fast, Harry thinks, goddamn brutally quick despite her size, he barely manages to sidestep out of the way as she lunges for him. As expected the confringo he casts flares off, only succeeding in making her more angry, more worked up.

“Traitorous brother,” she hisses, “Poisonous boy ,” she lunges again and Harry does not want to fight a terrifyingly large magical snake right now.

Unfortunately he has no other choice.

That’s okay, he had been a Gryffindor for a reason.

With Seeker-quick reflexes he darts around the snake, reaching into his pocket for the Portkey, just as Nagini strikes again with poisoned fangs--

Then they’re tumbling through space and Harry’s buried under a mad snake trying to kill him, fangs snapping at air next to him as the portkey, upon contact with the snake, activated and tore them out of Riddle Manor straight down onto hard unforgiving soil. Harry scrambles, shoving the snake off him, Nagini hissing death threats and vile promises as he grabs his wand, shoving himself backwards.

Around him the cliff top is nothing special, just grassy tussocks and stones and wind sweeping over them. In the air salt hangs, tangy and clinging to his skin. Below the sea roars, waves reaching fingers up the rocks through caves and crevices to tear the earth back into the sea. Below them through the earth in a salt encrusted lake lies a broken basin, a pool of the dead and a wooden boat.

Nagini snaps at him, and Harry almost ends up falling off the cliff for the second time. Thick coils half fall on him as he rolls away, Nagini still pursuing him unrelentingly. He scrambles backwards, wand clenched in sweaty hands as he manages to find his feet, standing and almost running straight into the tall pale figure behind him. Voldemort backhands him, a cruel, muggle move but it sends Harry to his knees.

He spits out blood, and it splatters against green grass and dry brown soil.

“What a lovely gift,” Voldemort sneers, smile cruel, red eyes furious and yew wand aiming at his heart, “I’m sure Nagini will enjoy her meal. Time to die, Harry Potter,” Voldemort says.

Harry laughs. “You first.”

Avada Kedavra, ” Tom Riddle says from behind Voldemort, and he drops the locket coated in his ink-stained blood next to the pile of collected horcruxes that lie disillusioned on the ground.

Harry’s world flashes green.

And the curse hits Voldemort about the rough spot that Harry’s own scar lies.

*

Voldemort burns. It’s almost too easy. Magic sings in the air and the horcruxes scream as they’re torn out of their containers. Voldemort is a skeleton walking, bones illuminated by the light as the sky catches fire and magic burns.

On one side, Harry drops to his knees as magic claws through him without a care, trying to take what is owed. Tom’s whole body is flickering in and out of view like an out of tune picture. He’s here and gone, appearing and vanishing and he’s terrified, because in those moments he doesn’t know where he is. He just isn’t.

Magic rolls around them. It’s done now, the spell it set. It will do what it must and what it must do is extinguish the soul before them. Tear it, break it, bend it, Voldemort’s eyes flash red with fury as he tries to fight it, seconds before his whole form stiffens as if struck by lightning.

Harry stops screaming to curl up in a limp ball on the ground. Tom is on his knees struggling to just stay present and Voldemort--

For a moment he stands there, lipless mouth curling up triumphantly and alive and then he just--

isn’t

alive

anymore

Tom sucks in air but he’s in a vacuum. His ears are ringing. His vision is black spots and there are literal patches of burning fire in the grass around him. He’s so thirsty and he feels like one massive bruise. He straightens, looking up just in time to see Voldemort topple.

A sacrifice. Harry had thought it was appropriate given his mother’s own sacrifice. Tom and Harry would sacrifice Voldemort and as many soul pieces as they could get their hands on. It wasn’t even soul magic in the end. It was a cannibalism of a sacrificial ritual, a purifying ritual, a blood ritual--

Tom and Harry shed blood and Voldemort dies and the horcruxes burn out and--

And Magic had accepted it, and Voldemort hits the dust an empty carcass.

The snake stops writhing and the locket and cup looked charred but unscathed. The diadem and ring are empty already and Tom and Harry--

It’s all over, Tom thinks, and somehow the first person Tom turns to is the green-eyed boy across the ritual circle from him.

A weakness, he thinks, but no , Harry is his only horcrux now. And Tom’s-- well, he’s not sure what he is. He’s alive. Still present, less of a horcrux and more of a person, still blood-bound to the piece of Voldemort’s soul nestled inside Harry, protected by Lily’s own sacrifice. Tom has blood in his veins and magic and--

He can see Harry. The boy is no longer curled up in a ball, he’s instead sprawled in a messy sitting position by the circle. The cup, diadem, dead snake and locket lie scattered around him. Voldemort’s body is so, so still. “We did it,” Harry breathes, “Tom, we actually did it.”

Elation rushes through him. He steps towards Harry and pulls the boy up, pulling Harry to him. They’re so close Tom can feel Harry’s breath on his face, he reaches out with a shaking finger to trace the lightning bolt scar and feel the piece of his soul within that still remains. Tom grins, “Of course we did it,” he purrs, “I’m a genius.”

“Ego,” Harry whispers to him, because Voldemort’s gone. They’re free.

They’re free .

There’s a tickle in the back of Tom’s throat and he pulls away, coughing slightly. Harry tilts his head, looking alarmed. THe sharp movement makes him wince like he’s got a headache--

He swallows and there’s something sticky and wet in his mouth. He spits it out, tasting something sharp and bitter on his tongue.

It’s not blood.

It’s ink.

There is ink on his hand. Mixed with saliva and blood, there is black black ink.

Oh, he thinks.

“Tom?” Harry asks, looking pale suddenly. There is blood running from the scar on Harry’s forehead. Blood and ink and it mixes together, dripping like tears down Harry’s eyes. Harry looks up, meeting Tom’s gaze. Their hearts beat and their lungs suck in air but as much as it worked it also didn’t. Tom can feel that, can feel the magic around him still potent in the air as it settles on them with eager hands to complete what it started.

It didn’t work, he realises, Voldemort is gone and like it or not, they’re going with him.

Bit by bit they’re dying.

Chapter Text

Voldemort lies dead between them. The horcrux containers lie empty husks around him, and Tom and Harry should lie empty too except there had been blood magic and protective wounds and even more blood magic and it was meant to keep them safe , meant to protect them --

And it had, sort of, at least from the first wash of magic that had taken Voldemort out. But their protections won’t last forever and Harry has never felt so weak before. He has never felt magic sap at his strength like this, never felt it clawing under his skin, in his very bones and blood to try and reach through him for the soul he harbours. He feels like he’s falling, slipping and tumbling over the cliffside and the water is growing ever closer--

Someone is shaking him, “Harry,” Tom’s brown eyes are concerned, “Don’t leave me, Harry, keep with it.”

“It didn’t work,” Harry says, thinking how pale Tom looks, like he just stepped out of the diary again, “It didn’t--”

“We’ll fix it,” Tom snaps, determined, “There must be some way, I’ll look through our notes, we’ll find some way to anchor ourselves--”

Harry shakes his head, because they both have gone over the notes already so many times, “I don’t think--” he begins, stopping when pain wracks his body. He lets out a low moan and then Tom’s there, everywhere, hands fisted in Harry’s robes to keep him standing, smoothing down sweaty hair and murmuring crooning words into Harry’s ear.

It feels empty in Harry’s head now there is no malignant dark patch of Voldemort sitting right next to him. But there is Tom, wrapped around him, Tom Tom Tom , the older boy the only thing stopping Harry from keeling over as magic once again claws through Harry’s skin.

There is ink dripping from Tom’s eyes, and he doesn’t look much better than Harry, swaying slightly under Harry’s weight.

“Dumbledore,” Harry says, weakly, “Dumbledore said he would help us.”

He can’t, Harry thinks, kill them now, after all. They’re dying anyway.

Tom sneers, “I will not accept Dumbledore’s help,” he tries to pull away but Harry sways, clutching at Tom’s hands like a lifeline.

“Then we die,” Harry says, and he tastes ink in his mouth even though Tom is the one to spit it out, the older boy shaking as they try in vain to keep the other standing.

“Then we die,” Tom repeats, hollow and gaunt faced, “ Fine ,” he says, “We go to Dumbledore.” He does not look happy, but he looks less happy about the idea of dying.

It’s funny, Harry thinks, he should be scared now that what he fears has come to pass, but instead he just feels quiet acceptance. Death, after all, is easy.

It’s living that’s harder.

*

The doors to the Great Hall crash open in the middle of dinner. Student heads turn and Dumbledore rises to his feet, stilling as he sees the two passing through the threshold.

It’s a far cry from the way Tom Riddle had strode along the aisles between the tables at the beginning of the year, Harry trailing at his heels. Both are limping and Harry looks like he’s barely breathing, eyes glassy and half draped over Tom as he drags them forwards. Whispers ring out and over at the Gryffindor table Granger and Weasley are scrambling through the throngs of students who are all craning their neck to get a glimpse of their Defence teaching and savior.

Dumbledore starts moving then, walking around the other teachers to get to the end of the long table, pondering how inconvenient the length of the table really is when trying to cross it and--

Riddle and Potter come to an awkward stop that looks less like Tom planning it and more like Harry couldn’t go any further, dropping into a heap at the end of the Ravenclaw table. Tom sways but stays standing while Harry’s eyes flutter closed, breathing heavy as Dumbledore approaches, Minerva and Severus behind him.

“Harry!” Hermione stumbles to a stop nearby, but makes no move closer, eyes flickering wildly between where Tom stands, wand gripped in his hand next to Harry and where Dumbledore is.

Then, with a single long moment of indecisiveness, Tom tosses his wand out. It clatters on the stone tiles at Dumbledore’s feet and comes to a stop as Tom too, collapses into a somewhat dignified sprawl on the floor next to Harry. “Help us!” Tom demands, brown eyes glaring balefully at Dumbledore, “Help us, dammit , you said you would, you told Harry all sorts of promises, well now’s your chance--”

Dumbledore doesn’t say anything, regarding them silently, considering his options when--

“Please.”

Riddle’s voice breaks, slightly, and Dumbledore startles. For a moment he’s in an orphanage, a boy asking - no, demanding - that he prove it-- and now this boy - young man - kneels before him, begging --

“What happened?” Hermione asks, “Harry--is he okay, are you--?”

Harry’s eyes flicker open, “Voldemort’s dead,” he says, to the gasps of the hall and Dumbledore’s own surprise and the way Severus twists up his sleeve to stare in horror and surprise at where the Dark Mark is white-grey on his skin like an old scar he hadn’t even noticed was fading--

Fading, Albus thinks, but not gone entirely, not with Tom RIddle and Harry Potter standing in front of him.

Harry makes a feeble attempt to pull himself up and the movement is aborted with a hiss, one hand flying to his forehead, to the scar there except--

It’s not a scar, Dumbledore realises with horror, it’s a bleeding open wound dripping blood down the side of Harry’s face. Harry’s face screws up in pain at about the same time Tom chokes.

They look fairly healthy. A bit tired, a bit battle-worn with dust and dirt clinging to them, grazes and spell fire damage marring their clothes but that does not explain Harry’s bleeding scar and bubbling magic that whirls around him, and nor does it explain Tom Riddle vomiting up black bile next to him.

Except it’s not bile.

It’s ink.

“You’re dying,” Dumbledore concluded, because that’s all he can think of, “I can’t stop the inevitable, Tom.”

Spitting ink into a Ravenclaw’s dinner, Tom drags himself back up, Harry mumbles something to him, too quiet to hear and Tom ignores it, “I die, so does Harry. You want to save your precious Golden Boy you’re going to have to get your hands a little--ink-stained --and save me too, Dumbledore. Or maybe you can just let us go like you were planning on, right? A big bold sacrifice of your lamb to kill the snake?”

“If that is true,” Dumbledore says quietly, “Why should I save either of you?” he’s aware of Harry blinking at him, and he’s aware of the complete blank expression there that shows no surprise nor concern. They were expecting that reaction, he realises, the pair of them have been expecting him to toss them to the vultures oh Merlin , that explains so much now--

“Why should you indeed?” Tom says, like he knows something, like he’s still holding cards up his sleeve - well - two can play at that game.

“Do you love him, Tom?” Dumbledore asks.

Tom’s face furrows in a vulnerable moment of confusion, “He’s my soul ,” he says, like that explains it, like that’s all he can fathom, like there isn’t another reason--

And maybe it explains it, maybe it explains the obsession, the possessiveness, the way he’ll use and abuse Harry as he sees fit but still keep him breathing, keep him alive, coax him into obedience, into something almost like trust--

“Oh Merlin,” Snape pales and sways, “You mean that literally, don’t you?”

“Minerva, I think you should get the other students to their dormitories,” Dumbledore says, because this is not a conversation students need to hear.

“Your soul ?” Hermione repeats, loudly enough that the teacher’s attempting to usher students away pause to stare. “What do you mean ‘ he’s your soul’ ?”

Before anyone can answer Harry’s blinks from where he still looks like he’s feverish and dying slowly on the floor, “I thought you were smart, Hermione,” he says, then snaps something out in a hiss that could have been from the pain, but judging by the way Tom reacts it’s more likely parseltongue.

“Albus,” Severus says in a low voice behind him, “Albus, is that true? Are they--?”

Horcruxes , goes unsaid. Both horcruxes look at him, green and brown eyes waiting the verdict, waiting to find out--

“If that’s true we should let it end! Let them die!” Severus says, and to the untrained ear he sounds cruel, but to Albus he can hear the desperation, the horror at finding out Albus’ plan, “You said--” he can feel Snape’s gaze burning him, “Lily’s son , Albus--” You’ve been raising him like a lamb for slaughter , Severus’ eyes tell him, deep, dark black pools of horror.

“Your soul ,” Hermione whispers, making the connection, “You mean Voldemort’s soul. You’re both part of Voldemort’s soul ,” Albus can only be relieved that Minerva has got silencing wards up.

Minerva gasps, clutching her chest at that announcement, looking horrified, even more so when neither boy makes any attempt to deny it. Ron looks sick but unsurprised and Severus is still staring at Dumbledore with betrayal.

“How many?” Dumbledore asks. He has to know, “How many did you make, Tom?”

Tom doesn’t answer. He’s currently hacking up more ink. It runs like tears from his eyes and Harry answers instead through gritted teeth, “Seven. Eight including Voldemort himself.” He stops, shaking his head slightly and then not moving it, like he has a headache.

There is blood clinging to his lips.

“There are eight pieces of Voldemort running around?” Minerva looks horrified.

“Two,” Tom corrects, looking up at them, and oh, Dumbledore sees now the ring on his finger, the locket around Harry’s neck, “The main part isn’t around anymore,” Tom sneers and it looks less impressive that it should, bleeding ink and grasping onto the table so hard his knuckles are white, like he may just keel over without it there, “You know full well I’d never work with another version of myself. And I wanted to secure back-up to ensure I’d survive the process of splitting with him but… it doesn’t matter. The ritual to take Voldemort out is taking all of him. We tried to circumvent it, we--”

“It didn’t work,” Harry says, needlessly, because that’s obvious . The pair look shattered and broken.

The only two remaining pieces of Voldemort left stand in front of him. They’re dying in front of him.

“The ritual’s tearing the horcrux out of Harry,” Tom says, “It’s tearing me out of this world , and Harry’s bound to me. I go he does. He dies I do. So please, if you ever meant any of your fake platitudes, then help us now.”

And for all his mistake, for all his past follies and foolish ideas and grand manipulations, even for what is to come, Albus Dumbledore doesn't regret his action in that moment.

“Help will always be available at Hogwarts to those who ask. I will do what I can.”

*

“Is it true?” Ron asks, having absolutely no qualms about slipping Harry’s arm over his shoulder and helping to support his friend, especially if it involves Tom Riddle losing his support and having to grab onto the Ravenclaw table for stability, “Is Voldemort--”

“Dead,” Harry finishes, “Someone should tell his Death Eaters.”

Ron ignores McGonagall trying to tell him to leave Harry and Riddle, proceeding to take his friend to the hospital wing. There are students who clearly missed the instruction to go to bed. They linger in the corridor staring with wide eyes and Ron can feel Harry’s pulse, weak and thready. Behind him Tom Riddle is limping along with faltering steps and Dumbledore follows in grave silence.

“I need to know what you did, Tom,” Dumbledore is saying, “I need to know how many, I need to know what ritual you twisted--”

“It was a purifying ritual, actually,” Riddle sounds almost amused, “Experimental, we got it off Luna Lovegood and so I stuck it with a sacrificial--”

The words flow over Ron with little meaning.

“So he’s really gone?” Hermione asks, holding the door open for them.

Ron can’t quite explain the complete and utter relief that surges through him. Good, he thinks, viciously, fiercely ignoring Riddle. Ron is, after all, amazing at denial. He’s been denying how he feels about Hermione for years now.

Ginny’s death has been avenged. Voldemort is dead. Tom Riddle may yet die to.

Harry sinks onto the bed with relief, clawing at his head. Madame Pomfrey bustles over with potions and vials for him to down, “You stink of Dark Magic,” the healer says, waving her wand with diagnostic spells.

At the next bed Riddle has shoved a crumpled collection of notes at Dumbledore. “Here,” Harry says, grabbing a pouch from his pocket and sticking his arm in further than it has any right to go.

“Is that an undetectable extension charm?” Hermione’s eyes gleam.

“Not the time,” Harry laughs, pulling something out, “Make something useful with these, okay?”

Hermione gasps, “Is that--?”

“Didn’t know you liked jewellry, mate,” Ron peers at the tiara. Hermione hits him.

“It’s Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem, you idiot, and-- Harry, what are you doing with Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and the Lost Diadem?”

“It’s a long story,” Harry says, “I’ll tell it to you, later--” he falters, because there might not be a later. Hermione lets out a muffled sob and throws herself onto him, hiding her tears in his shoulder. Ron just sits there, grabbing Harry’s hand and holding on, remembering when he first met the tiny bespectacled boy on the train platform.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Dumbledore is saying to where Riddle is still vomiting up ink, the old man looking like he’s not even aware there is anything wrong with the teenaged Dark Lord, “I will also inform the authorities where they might go to uncover Voldemort’s… body.”

Tom smears black from his mouth, and drops into such a defeated pile on his bed, Ron has to do a double take, because he had never thought he’d see Riddle look like that. Their stern, cold eyed defence teacher looks feverish and exhausted.

“I think maybe we should let them rest, Miss Granger, Mr Weasley,” Dumbledore says kindly to where Hermione is still buried in Harry’s chest. “I will send an owl to Mr Black and Mr Lupin who are concerned for your health as well,” he pauses then, to tilt his head towards Harry, gaze oddly piercing, “The oddest thing happened earlier,” Dumbledore shares, eyes twinkling, “Peter Pettigrew appeared at the Ministry to confess his crimes. The scandal his appearance caused after being dead for so many years is causing all sorts of problems and to appease the outcry I believe Sirius Black may have been given a full pardon in the chaos of it all.”

“That’s good,” Harry says, blankly, “Good for him.”

“Pettigrew will get the Kiss,” Dumbledore adds.

Harry won’t meet Dumbledore’s gaze, “How terrible,” he says, and when Ron glances over to Riddle, his brown eyes, fever-hazed and half-closed, look vaguely triumphant.

*

There is no doubt about it.

Tom Riddle is a genius.

Dumbledore checks the boy’s work, writes out the Arithmetic equations, looks up the spells and by all accounts he can see exactly how it was meant to play out. The pair were shielded, each warded and near enough to another horcrux to have that be taken instead. Voldemort died within the circle, a clean, easy sacrifice and magic took what was offered, his whole soul so close together, almost one but not quite --

It didn’t work. That’s obvious from the two boys in the hospital wing. It’s been three days and they look worse all the time. The school keep trying to walk past to get glimpses - they’ve all read the papers by now, the picture of Voldemort’s dead body and a large snake found on a cliffside. Half the community don’t believe it - think it’s some sort of ploy, the Death Eaters are either revolting or straight out panicking because they can’t track down their leader. Malfoy straight up walked up to Scrimgeour and dropped to his knees, mark clear to see and head held high as he asked for amnesty.

It’s chaos. It’s all survivable, Dumbledore thinks, they will get through it and Voldemort’s terror will soon fade. Already the school feels lighter and he’s checked, the Defence curse is gone.

The Wizarding World will survive.

Tom and Harry won’t.

Because the sad truth is; Dumbledore can’t help them. He never could, he’d seen the slim, narrowest chance of saving Harry, of letting Voldemort kill him, of passing him on items that might allow him to awaken sans horcrux and even that was a small hope more than a plan--

And now?

Now he has nothing. The facts they give him are nothing short of horrifying. Horcruxes. Plural. He feels sick, because to tear the soul once but seven times --

He sits in the Hospital Wing quietly and watches Riddle spit up ink and Harry doze fitfully. There isn’t any question about it. They’re dying. Voldemort is already gone - it won’t be long before they follow. Tom looks up when he approaches the hospital beds, obviously expecting the matron because his eyes widen when he sees who it is. The doors have been locked to stop students wandering in - the school are talking of nothing but the scandalous story of their Defence teacher and Harry Potter. Are they in an illicit affair? Are they dying? Did Harry really kill Voldemort? Is Tom Riddle actually only seventeen or is he 70 like the Hogwarts registry books suggest?

“Professor Dumbledore,” Tom greets him, demurely. Like he’s still a student. He is, in some ways. Albus isn’t quite sure if Tom had just turned seventeen when he made the diary or if he had still been sixteen, underage and at school at the time. He’s not sure which is worse - both options horrify him.

Even with whatever Tom and Harry did to infuse Tom with several extra soul pieces, it still only started his aging recently. He’s still only seventeen, a sixth or seventh year looking up to the Professor he hates the most.

“Tom,” he says, and Albus feels so so tired. “You’re awake late.”

The boy doesn’t respond, handsome face set in a cold stone mask that can’t quite hide the way his jaw is clenched tightly and the fact there are tissues blotted with ink and blood surrounding him. “Have you found anything?” he demands instead, “A solution to our problem?”

“Alas,” Albus has to tell him, because he can’t lie, “I have found nothing you didn't already know. You and Harry did your research extremely thoroughly.” He fishes through his robes and pulls out a book he knows Tom will recognise. He doesn’t doubt that this is where Tom first learnt about Horcruxes from, “You knew your fate when you did the ritual, but you did it anyway. That was extremely brave.”

“It was stupid,” Tom’s face twists, “Reckless. We had hoped--” he bites down on the words, and looks away, “There was a chance,” he says, “A small chance that it would--that we would not--”

“It was ingenious,” Albus tells him, because it was. The magic the pair had done was nothing short of astounding; it was just a shame it hadn’t worked. And now, because it hadn’t worked, it was killing them. “You are however still tied to the main fragment of Lord Voldemort,” his finger taps the horcrux book as he drops it on the bed, “Despite managing his death, it is not possible for the fragments of his soul to remain when the main piece is gone. The connection could perhaps have been broken by Lord Voldemort himself, but now--”

“There’s nothing,” Harry is awake, lying so still neither Tom nor Albus had noticed him awaken. He shifts into a sitting position, and sways, looking like he’s about to collapse right back down. Albus barely shifts to steady him but Tom is already there, sitting next to the younger boy and holding him steady.

Albus wonders, not for the first time, what happened in those years between them. When exactly had Harry wormed his way under Tom’s skin and into his heart? When did Tom Riddle even realised he cared for the boy?

It was hard not to care for Harry; even Dumbledore had come to. Despite knowing Harry had to die he had been unable to raise his wand against him.

“I have one gift to offer you,” he says, holding out his hand as something flames into existence above it, red and gold feathers materialising.

It’s Fawkes.

The phoenix looks like he’s nearing a burning day, feathers lilting and grey as he hops off Dumbledore’s hand to glide to the bedside by Harry. He coos and both Harry and Tom flinch at the sound, the latter more than the former.

“Guy Fawkes,” Harry chuckles, softly, “How quaint.”

“How plain,” Tom remarks, drolly, watching with distaste as Harry reaches out to offer his hand to the bird.

Dumbledore is silent as he watches them, and for a moment he says nothing, “I can’t save you,” he says. Neither react. “You were thorough in your work. Very thorough indeed. I can do, but one thing for you, to ease your pain.”

Tom’s on his feet in an instant, taking his words the wrong way. Harry isn’t looking at him at all, he’s looking at the phoenix who has crooked his head down towards Harry’s hand, head tilted over him. “Kill us then,” Tom snarls, a feral caged animal, “Be brave enough to do it yourself - if you truly do love , then be merciful at least.”

“Tom,” Harry interrupts, because Albus can even try to explain how misguided Tom’s opinion on love is, “Tom, the phoenix… his tears--”

“His what --” words fail when Riddle looks to where water is dripping from Fawkes’ eyes. One fat tear rolls down and lands on Harry’s hand. It steams slightly, and Harry lets out a hiss of surprise and tugs his hand back, staring. There had been a small cut on his palm but it’s gone now, flesh made clear and clean again. The pale sheen to his cheeks fades, colour almost healthy and his laboured breathing eases ever so slightly.

Fawkes takes flight then, and Riddle brings his hands up as if to ward the bird off but Harry lunges, grabbing Tom’s wrists and stilling him as the bird perches on his shoulders. Tom stiffens, uncomfortable and tense, and Albus just watches as Fawkes croons.

The sound makes Tom shudder. He looks like he wants to throw the phoenix off and wring its neck, but Harry’s got his wrists pinned and it’s then that Fawkes brushes his head against Tom’s cheek like an affectionate cat.

Tom lets out a yelp, tugging his hands out of Harry’s. Fawkes takes flight and Tom’s hand flies to his cheek as if burnt. He’s not. But there is colour in his cheeks and when he next coughs there is no blood or ink to be seen, just spit and phlegm. “Healing properties,” he glares at Dumbledore, “Phoenix tears have healing properties.”

“It’s not permanent,” Dumbledore says, gently, “But now you have a bit more time. To say your goodbyes. I’m sorry,” it’s all he can do.

Tom’s eyes burn with resentment. Harry’s don’t look like anything, the boy oddly resigned and empty of any obvious emotion. That breaks him, just a little, looking at the boy he’s unintentionally raised to the slaughter. In some ways, Albus reflects, he is a worse person than Lord Voldemort ever was.

He leaves them, two more of the many mistakes he will never, ever wash his hands clean of. In the mirror Ariana smiles out at him and Gellert laughs and Tom glares and Harry won’t even meet his gaze.

*

Tom’s gaze alights on the book Dumbledore left behind. He’s pretty sure the old man forgot it - he wouldn’t dare just leave the book there on purpose, not knowing what is inside it’s pages. But the guilt and distraction and knowledge that there is no hope had made the old man forgetful and now it rests on the end of his bed, cracked spine and blood-stained pages and all.

Harry’s forehead drops onto his shoulders. The boy is barely aware of the action, “Do you still fear death, Tom Riddle?” he asks, and Tom’s heart is cold because of course he does. He will die a nobody. A stupid common name. Nothing. He twists to look at Harry, the younger boy’s green eyes blinking up at him behind his glasses.

Harry doesn’t fear death. Harry faces death with a quiet acceptance that even grown men can’t handle. Harry has been courting death since Tom’s older self attempted to kill him when he was one year old.

Somewhere the clock tower tolls out midnight as the day rolls over.

It’s the 31st, Tom realises suddenly. It’s only March, but it’s precisely three month’s from Tom’s own birthday and four months prior to Harry’s. Tom, with his fear of obscurity and death is going to die at seventeen and Harry won’t even be that. Harry is still sixteen.

“Hmmm,” Harry says, tiredly, “Everything happens on the 31st,” he laughs, “My parents die, I end up accidentally being made a horcrux, my birthday, your birthday--” his grin is wry. No, Harry doesn’t fear death and obscurity, Harry fears being trapped in a windowless room being unable to get out, a cupboard beneath the stairs, his body with no senses, a cell with no door. And here they are - trapped into dying.

What a pair they make.

“An accidental horcrux,” Tom whispers, eyes alighting on the book Dumbledore forgot. He straightens, feeling steadier than he has in a while thanks to the infernal bird that gave his wand life. He can feel it now in his wand that he reclaimed from Voldemort’s body. In his blood that gives him the strength needed to cling to life for just that much longer.

That’s all he needs, he thinks, all they need, just that bit longer, and he turns to Harry, book in hand.

As if already sensing it, Harry’s eyes go to the book, face blank, “What is it?” he asks, but he knows the answer.

“A last ditch effort,” Tom says, “Because let’s face it; it’s all or nothing now, right? But you’re not going to like it.”

He’s right. Harry doesn’t like his idea one bit.

*

Harry doesn’t want to remember.

He wants to claw the images from his mind, scrub them clean and forget about them. They’re faded with sephia tones and black holes he doesn’t want to fill.

He feels guilty. Remorseful… except it’s the wrong kind of remorse. He feels bad that he has fallen so far, not for what had to be done.

The child’s body is still warm when he cuts into her.

“I can’t,” he tells Tom, the older boy has a death grip on Harry’s arm as he drags him to the forest. Harry struggles to no avail, “I won’t, there must be another way.”

“You say that as if I cast a priori incantatem on your wand it wouldn’t show me two of the three already,” Tom sneers, and gestures before him. Where he’d even found - Harry has no idea. A house elf had probably fetched it, and it wails in the cold.

“No,” he says, “I’m not a killer, Tom.”

“I digress,” Tom says, holding Harry a little closer, a little tighter, “Pettigrew will die, won’t he? What about those Death Eaters you cursed during the Hogsmeade battle - I doubt Mulciber will recover from that blood evaporating curse.”

“Shut up ,” Harry hisses, hands over his ears and eyes closed as Tom drops his iron grip to circle him, coming to a stop in front of where he stands.

“If you don’t kill her,” Tom had told him, “I will walk into that school and drag out Granger by that bushy hair of hers. Then I will cast the Cruciatus on her until she begs for me to end it. And I will. Then I will return with Ron Weasley. Then Neville Longbottom. Then Luna Lovegood. Eventually once I have killed everyone you hold dear I will torture this child until you will do anything to end their screams.”

The threat is empty, but the promise of pain and retribution from Tom is not. He might not venture to touch Harry’s friends, but he will make this happen, one way or another.

“It’s not even a child,” Tom adds, “It’s a baby.”

“It’s your--

Tom’s blank gaze is enough to shut him up in regards to that. Harry wonders what this young girl could grow into. She stirs, whimpering in the cold.

“I can’t,” he says, “Tom--”

“Do it, Harry. It has to be you. I can’t interfere.”

The first killing curse washes over her like it’s not even there. The second doesn’t do much better. The third misses his hand is trembling so much. He can feel Tom’s disappointment as the older boy grabs him by the collar.

For a moment his perfect face is twisted in ugly cruelty, “Grow up,” he snaps, “Grow up and do it or we’re both dead.”

Maybe it would be better that way, Harry thinks, but if there is one thing living with Tom had given him it was an overwhelming desire to stay alive and breathing and if that means he has to do this…

Well then…

He aims and points and whispers that spell and thinks of a scaly half-human-mostly-monster Voldemort and he thinks about his parents and how his life was ripped away from him and the child’s gurgle cuts off abruptly.

“Good boy,” Tom’s praise is a soothing balm as he presses the knife into Harry’s hand, “Now. Keep going.”

It has to be an innocent. Children are best - unblemished by the world. It has to be an innocent and it has to be the killing curse. It has be meant. Murder at it’s finest, most clear.

Then it has to be blood and raw meat and the bones break too easily under Harry’s hands. Sweat drips down his forehead and he wipes at it but he only succeeds it smearing blood across his face. The heart is chewy - not just hard to chew, but hard to bite into. He gets his teeth in a bit but it fails to tear away. He gags a bit, and it’s only Tom’s coaxing that forces him to try again, tearing at the rubbery flesh. It’s salty and like no taste he can ever describe. Iron and bitter bitter blood sliding down his throat.

“You’re almost there,” Tom croons from the sidelines, and Harry has a sudden vicious desire to rip out his heart and eat it. His mind feels like it’s teetering on the edge of something and he scrabbles for what he knows, for the feelings and the guilt and--

He manages to sink a claw in, get one pure emotion of horror and then it’s gone and his teeth sink in and something in him just breaks .

Tom’s still talking, still whispering soft encouragement, eyes alight with an unholy fire as he watches Harry. “It will be glorious,” he murmurs, “Don’t you see , Harry, this is how we live forever. You and I, for eternity. Neither can die while the other lives, we’ll always live and never die. Just a little bit more, my Harry, you’re so close--”

He feels dizzy. Heady with the magic in the air. He scrawls the last few runes and Tom steps forwards and there’s this horrifying moment when Harry can feel his soul, feel the crack he’s just torn in it, feel the black hole within him, can feel the sticky slide of Tom’s magic already there and then--

Then they’re both screaming and all he knows is pain.

He comes back to himself in bits and pieces. He’s first aware of Tom, of the mind next to his own even clearer now, even easier to slip sideways into and back out. He’s then aware of cramped limps and he uncurls, shaking slightly from the magic that had poured through.

He’s finally aware that something’s missing. He claws for emotion that isn’t there. He feels guilty, but only that he doesn’t feel guilty enough. It’s like he’s in a tank underwater. Everything is muted, feelings take a second or two longer to identify by which time it’s too easy to push them away.

Something in him feels raw and mutilated and it hurts but then Tom moves and draws his attention and even that gets pushed away.

There is a cooling body of a baby girl in the forest - only a few months if that - she already had her mother’s wavy dark hair. It’s not a body now - it’s a mutilated corpse and Harry’s covered in so much blood but--

Tom grins at him. It’s sharp and it’s the clearest thing at the moment in Harry’s world which has narrowed to Tom. Tom and his dark eyes, Tom and the way the other boy’s heart beats under his fingers, the way the pulse races at the thin skin of his wrists, the press of the other boy’s skin to his as their souls press together, the parts of them that are Tom rejoicing nearly as much as the parts of Harry that now lie split between two bodies.

He is a cage of meat and bones and he is ethereal and more Tom than Harry and they press together as if they might fuse once more and become one, their blood and souls shared and split between their fragile human chains

He presses his forehead to Tom’s and just breathes in time with the older boy, and magic sings in the air between them.

*

Tom doesn't give him a choice. “Drink the potion,” he says, before forcing it down Harry’s gagging throat until Harry’s world is despair and the Chamber and Ginny’s dead body and Tom leaning over him, Tom whispering to drink “ Just one more, darling, that’s it, such a good boy for me. All mine, my horcrux, my sweet soul, mine, I stole you from Voldemort, bound you with blood, just another sip--"

Harry thrashes and sends the potion and chalice flying, spilling it’s emerald contents. “What?” he asks, voice hoarse from crying and begging, “I’m what ?”

“Mine,” Tom says, like Harry’s a possession and it's simple, incomprehensible that Harry can't understand it. “What a waste,” he clicks his tongue at the chalice, “Someone is going to have to drink it.”

He scoops up another glassful and holds it out, damningly.

“If you make me drink that--” Harry says, throat so dry and he’s so thirsty , “If you make me drink that I'll throw myself into the inferi lake.”

“Then I'll fish you out and force it down your throat,” Tom threatens, but seems to realise that won't work. He pulls a face. Eyes dart around clever and assessing before deciding something. Tom lifts it to his own lips and drains it.

It sends Tom to his knees, shivering, but he maintains eye contact with Harry, “See?” he asks, lips curling into a smile, “It's harmless, just another cup, Harry, sweetheart,” he stands, shakily, and offers Harry another scoop. “Go on,” he encourages, and Harry’s hand is closing on it before he realises.

“I can't,” he says, two cups later, throat burning and he eyes the water around him, like a he’s never seen water before, “Tom, I won't,” he sobs, his mother begging in his ears, and his father screaming at them to run , “I can't .”

Tom drains another chalice-full as encouragement, and holds out another glass to Harry who doesn't reach this time, curls up and sobs, his knees hugged to his chest. “We're almost there, sweet-soul mine.”

“I’m not , I'm Harry , I'm not your soul, I'm not your anything .”

For a moment he thinks Tom’s brown eyes flash red. “But you are,” Tom says, like it’s a stated fact, “When Lord Voldemort tried to kill you, it fractured his already unstable soul. Souls bind us, Harry, and Lord Voldemort tore his up to bind him to life. Hid the shards in different objects scattered in important places. A ring. A cup. A locket,” he drinks the last two cups himself because they’re so close now, shudders and finishes the not-quite-full third one so he can reach into the basin and scoop out the locket, holding it out to Harry with triumph.

A ring, a cup, a locket, Harry thinks. Shards of Voldemort’s soul buried within them. A ring, a cup, a locket--

“A ring, a cup, a locket…a diary ? Harry whispers in horror, “You're not a memory, you’re his soul. His binding to life.”

“So clever, so smart , you were wasted in Gryffindor, Harry, you could have been amazing in green and silver.”

The locket in Tom’s hands is wrong, it's not the clunky green thing Tom had shown him a picture of claiming he wanted to retrieve his heritage, but that doesn’t matter. Harry can't tear his eyes off Tom’s near-mad almost-red gaze, “You're his soul ,” he whispers again, “And I… I'm his--"

“If it's any consolation I don't think he meant to make you into a horcrux. Seven soul fragments was clearly too many and didn't mix well with blood magic and a rebounding killing curse. You're binding him to life, Harry, I mean, what did you really think gave you the power to speak to snakes and look into our heads?”

Horror steals over him like that numbing spell Tom is so fond of using on him. He stumbles away from Tom, and the older boy looks like he barely cares. I bind him to life , Harry thinks, alongside, Tom’s right, we really are the same .

He takes a step away from the older boy. He doesn't want to be the same, he doesn't want--

A twisted mirror sits between them shattered and distorted and ‘I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me,’ echoes in his head as Hagrid smiles and asks, ‘Hasn't anything ever happened when you were scared or angry?’ and it’s not the same, Harry is fundamentally not Tom but it doesn’t matter, not really, because they’re the same enough where it counts.

Harry steps backwards and something latches onto his ankle and drags him back. He lets out a yelp of alarm, arms windmilling as he tumbles backwards hitting the water with a splash. Dead hands claw at him, human teeth tugging him down. Water fills his lungs and he’s being torn in a hundred different directions as the dead lung at their prey. He sturggles, half-heartedly, and then stops because he’s tying Voldemort to life, right, so maybe it will be easier to just--

Fire billows out and the dead let out an unearthly shriek even underwater. Strong hands grip him and drag him out, and the moment Tom has a good, stable grip they’re twisting and being forced through a narrow tube and being spat out onto the cliff outside. “You foolish boy,” Tom spits, “Do you want to die?”

“I hold your soul,” Harry says, and he wants to claw it out, tear it out of his chest, his heart and rip it to shreds on the rocks, “Maybe,” he ponders the logistics of throwing himself himself to his death, “Maybe I was trying to get rid of it.”

He doesn’t even know if that will work. He remembers the diary that wouldn’t burn or tear or break. Tom laughs at those words, and Harry shoves the boy off him, but Tom just pushes back like they’re kids on a playground. “Suicide, Harry, really?”

“If it ends you,” Harry says, “If it ends Voldemort - wouldn’t that be worth it?”

Tom looks anxious for a moment, and Harry wonders if the concern he sees is for him or the soul piece he carried within him. Then it’s gone, and Harry is left wondering if he imagined it. “You would leave me ?” Tom asks, a sneer twisting his face into something ugly, and he presses forwards again, ignoring Harry’s attempts to avoid him, trapping him with an iron grip around Harry’s bicep and a hand tracing Harry’s collar-bone almost feather-light.

There's no choice. Not really, Harry thinks, but then again, he considers, looking at Tom, the other boy doesn't have any choice in the matter either.

“Can you swim?” Tom croons, before he pushes Harry off the cliff into gravity’s harsh clutches.

*

Something is wrong.

Hermione knows this even before she goes to visit Harry and Prof-- Riddle, following classes, Ron with her and finds their beds empty. She knows this even before she bursts into the Great Hall, heading straight down for where Dumbledore sits, eating.

“Are they dead?” she demands.

He looks alarmed and Ron looks embarrassed. The school cranes their head to get a look at them, trying to work out what they’re talking about.

Hermione can only wonder what the rest of the school make of the events of the past month or so, let alone the past year .

“Not when I last saw them,” Dumbledore says.

“Then where are they?” she asks, because she and Ron have poured over the Map, have checked out the Room of Requirement and neither is on there. They could be in the Chamber, she supposes, that’s not on the map, but somehow she doesn’t think so. Neither looked in the state to be sliding down giant pipes.

Also their headmaster looks concerned. That, more than anything, speaks volumes about the importance of their missing guests.

“I’m sure,” Dumbledore says, picking and choosing his words carefully, “That they will turn up.” Yet he looks anxious as Hermione retreats to the Gryffindor table.

That is, naturally, when two figures appear in the doorway. “We’ve got to stop making appearances like this,” Harry says, and Hermione feels her heart leap into her throat.

The pair are covered in blood. It sticks to their robes, Harry has a streak across his cheek, lips and neck, it looks like he stuck his face into something. There is dirt edging their robes and damp clinging to their hair. Tom begins on a direct path to the staff table but Harry takes a more meandering approach, pausing by Ron and Hermione.

“Hi,” he says, quietly. There’s a dullness to his eyes and he looks--

He looks healthy, actually, if very pale and covered in blood.

“None of that’s yours, right? Please tell me none of that is yours.”

“None of it is mine,” he says, still quiet, “It probably should be,” he sighs, glancing to where Tom looks like he’s about to murder Dumbledore, “Excuse me,” he says, following their former-Professor slash former-Dark Lord slash former-kidnapper--

Hermione can already see this is going to get confusing.

“What did you do?” Dumbledore demands as Harry approaches Tom. It’s quiet, but the authority in his voice has most people quailing.

Not Tom Riddle. He stalks over to the table where Dumbledore has stood, his meal growing cold between them, “What you couldn’t,” Tom sneers, “I saved us. I- we conquered death. And now nothing will hurt us, not now, not ever.” Dumbledore looks like somebody walked over his grave. Tom’s smile is a cruel, twisted thing as he drops something at Dumbledore’s place, “Thank you for the loan,” he says.

It’s a book, an old tome Hermione has certainly never read, and she can’t see the title from here. Dumbledore stares at it, horror stealing over his face.

“No,” Dumbledore says, but it’s weak, like the word was torn painfully out of his throat. His pale blue gaze settles on Tom for a long moment and then, almost reluctantly darts over to where Harry lounges nonchalantly on the end of the Ravenclaw table stealing fries from Luna Lovegood’s plate. Harry looks up at the Headmaster and it’s Dumbledore who looks away first. “How could you?” he asks Tom, almost despairingly, “I thought you cared for him. To make him do that --”

Tom doesn’t even flinch, but it’s a near thing, and Hermione is close enough to see how his gaze flickers away and back again. There is uncertainty there, but it’s drowned out by a complete and utter assurance that he is right.

“We did what we had to,” Harry speaks up, and there’s something odd in his voice, some undercurrent to his tone that wasn’t there before, and if Hermione didn’t know better she’d say it sounded like Tom Riddle, “ I did what I had to.”

“Do I have to go and find the body?” Dumbledore sounds equally horrified and resigned. Students flinch and whispers abound. Hermione feels something in her grow cold at the open acknowledgement of why Tom and Harry are covered in blood.

“It’s taken care of,” Tom waves him off, spinning around. Harry shifts and it’s odd now, the way the pair move, like they’re hyper-aware of the other, circling in each other’s orbit without even realising. Dumbledore’s gaze tracks them as Tom steps back down to where Harry waits, “Is my teaching job still assured or am I fired?” his head tilts as he glances back at Dumbledore.

There is a pause.

“I think that’s a ‘no’,” Harry remarks, “Tom, come on, let’s just go, can we just--” he’s tense, despite his relaxed attitude, like a tightly strung instrument.

“No, I want to hear him say it,” Tom says, like he’s throwing some kind of victory into Albus Dumbledore’s face.

“Leave it,” Harry snaps, and it’s so sharp and violent that several people jump, “Tom, we’re leaving.”

And for a moment Hermione thinks Tom will argue, but there’s a softness there that hadn’t been there before and-- “Fine,” Tom says, shortly. “Professor, I wish you the best.” Before turning and stalking back out of the hall.

Harry twists, looking towards Dumbledore, “I’m sorry,” he says.

“Is that remorse , Harry?” Dumbledore asks, looking so so sad.

Harry’s laugh is grating and it sends Hermione’s skin prickling, “No,” he shakes his head, “We’re far past that now, Professor; it was always going to come to this. You knew that. You always knew that.” He looks like he wants to say something else but appears to think better, because he turns away, words unsaid.

Whispers spread like wildfire and Hermione watches as Dumbledore sinks into his seat looking so frail for a moment, Hermione fears he might collapse right there and then. He reaches for the book on the table but stops himself, “What have I done?” he mouths, “What have I done?”

And Hermione can only hazard a guess at what happened, and it’s a pretty well-educated guess, and the clues are all there in the blood and the dark magic that the pair stink of, the way Tom circles Harry like he’s the sun and the way Harry reacts to every movement Tom makes without even realising, the way they’re broken shattered mirrors of each other and the way she’s convinced she can see bits of Harry in Tom Riddle’s actions, just as much as she can see Tom lurking behind Harry’s eyes and--

They’ve tethered themselves to each other, to life and that’s just as horrifying as it is a relief, because Harry’s alive.

She wonders, and she can see Dumbledore looks to be pondering this too, looking so so pale at the heads table with McGonagall pestering him and Snape snarling under his breath, because seeing what the pair had become, she wonders, almost, if death would have been a kinder option.

*

Either must die at the hands of the other for neither can live while the other survives.

They don’t even know the Prophecy, Albus thinks. He knows Tom tried to get it, knows it went unheard.

They don’t even know the words. Neither can live while the other survives.

They don’t know the Prophecy and they have no idea, no clue that the Hallows belong to them too; Peverell’s descendents holding onto their creations once more after all these years.

And now they’re so entangled he doesn’t even know who he’s looking at, their souls torn and blackened. The wrong soul in the wrong body and he’s going to be sick, he thinks, he had felt Hogwarts shudder at something foul near the border within the forest, but he hadn’t even thought twice about it.

And poor Harry, innocent, beautiful, bright Harry with those green eyes that had been clouded and had unmistakable flecks of brown-red in them.

There had still been blood on his lips.

Neither can live--

Albus slips a little further down the wall, thinking about the people he has forged in the fire, the twisted broken glass people that shatter so beautifully and tragically. Tom Riddle and Harry Potter - the pair have bound themselves now, irrevocable, their own twisted form of immortality. Neither will die now, not with the other still breathing.

They will do great things, he knows this. They will make and break the world, build it up and watch it burn.

He can only pray he will not live to see them burn with it.

He should have known better. Prophecy or not there was nothing he could do to control this, to fix this, to help either of the two young men whose lives were fate entangled.

They'd always been each other's annihilation.