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Before the Storm

Chapter Text

Prologue

 

The chamber wavered before his eyes. Every deep, shuddering breath bringing the candles flame into sharper relief. Through the pain, the disorientation, the world took slow shape around him once again.

He wouldn’t focus on the ringing in his ears.

Or how the candle light had been brighter, warmer, before.

Before.

He thought he would feel stronger afterwards. Powerful. Wasn’t that the point of the ritual? To come out the other side with a stronger hold over his own life? He wasn’t going to be a puppet for fate, he had long since resolved to not leave anything to chance. He was strong! He had more power within him than any two wizards combined. He was Slytherin’s heir, he was above all!

Even death.

On the chamber floor just a foot away from where he crouched, hand on his chest to keep the agony back, lay his journal. To anyone else it was just a useless book, worn leather with his name on the cover, blank pages, unassuming. Boring.

For Tom, it breathed. It thrummed with magic. His magic. It called to him. A mournful melody set to the drip, drip, drip, echoes of falling water on the chamber floor. It had been a tedious affair to get back in when school was out. In the end though he knew it would be worth it. There was no where else such a ritual should be performed. These rooms belonged to Tom and no one else. It had just seemed right.

He had planned it all out ahead of time, always finding comfort in being prepared. He would apparate to Hogsmeade, sneak back into the castle through one of the secret passages, avoid being noticed in the nearly empty halls, and enter the Chamber of Secrets. Simple. For someone like Tom it was almost too easy. It hadn’t even been a challenge. Once the chamber had sealed behind him he had laughed in triumph, setting out the area for his ritual with a spring in his step.

Now, though. It was just dark. The damp seeping through his robes, freezing him to the bone. It hadn’t been this cold when he’d begun, he was sure of it. The idea of leaving now, of traveling back to London, was daunting. His legs shook beneath him as he tried to stand, once, twice, three times before he had to give in and give up.

The deed was done. He was supposed to feel powerful at having taken the first step to best death. He was not supposed to be reduced to this weak, trembling creature.

A furious sound escaped him then. A roar. A cry. He couldn’t tell. It reverberated around him for what felt like hours before fading to nothing, as he lay there, panting. Marginally relieved from the release. He hated this. The whole point was to take control, to never feel weak again!

With a great effort he calmed his breathing, the chamber settled once more around him. This was just a minor setback. He would have to stay in the chamber for a night, but he would be better in the morning. He had to be. He would rest now, finding comfort in the knowledge that no one need ever know about this.

That he hadn’t the strength to stand, couldn’t even conjure a blanket or charm to keep the chill at bay.

Eventually he lowered himself to the cold floor, stringently ignoring the ever present layer of water as he stretched out. The chamber spun around him, forcing him to close his eyes to the now dancing flames. In the dark he reached over, hand finding the journal instantly. It still sang to him. And though he did not plan to test it, he had the feeling that no matter where the book was, he would always be able to feel it. To find it.

He clutched it to his chest, over the pounding of his heart, where the rip in his chest ached like a tangible wound. Almost he could feel the piece of his now ragged soul trying to return from the book. He refused to let it....but having it so near the rip helped. Slowly his breaths evened out, the pain receded.

Alone in the chamber, resting on a bed of cold wet stone, surrounded by nothing but fragile candle light, Tom Riddle cradled the book that held a precious sliver of his soul and finally gave in to sleep.

 

Chapter One

 

The platform shook as another train came barreling down the tracks, and for a quick, breathless moment all was noise and blustery chaos until, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the train passed, pandemonium following in its wake. In the trains absence everything felt calmer than before. Families moved once more across the platform, vendors smiled and sold their wares, and Harry Potter stood against a pillar, watching it all.

He hadn’t moved since he’d entered the Underground, he had no plans to either. No train passing by could take him where he wanted to go. There was no destination that he felt even a glimmer of desire to see. Then again, traveling hadn’t been the reason he’d chosen this location. It was dark, and despite the roaring of the passing trains, it was mostly quiet. He would left alone here, but not lonely.

Harry smiled as a small family passed before him, the mother and father each holding one of their child’s hands. Every now and then they would lift her up so that her next step met only air. Peals of laughter echoed through the station, other passersby glancing their way with fond smiles until the family moved on. It was good see, to know. That even with the recent attacks, bridges that suddenly broke like brittle glass, freak tornadoes out of clear skies, sinkholes, and a new strain of the flue that so far resisted all treatments. Despite all that, there was still joy in the world.

As little as it was.

More often than not the people that walked past did so quickly with their heads down, careful to not touch or talk to anyone else. That suited him well enough as well. Everyone was too concerned with making it home in one piece to really care much about a lone teen just minding his own business. Which was exactly what he wanted.

He just....really needed time to be alone. Or well, away from Privet Drive. All summer his family had been just as callus and awful as ever until finally he had reached his limit for the Dursley’s. For everything really. But especially for Vernon storming in, yelling about drills or whatever. As though that was what was important. Poor Vernon Dursley and his terribly hard life of drill selling.

Harry sighed, hugging his arms close to his chest to chase away the chill and perpetual fatigue. The anger he’d felt at having Sirius ripped away from him had been swift and destructive. White hot and furious, it had burned quick and bright, consuming everything in its path. He had destroyed Dumbledore’s office, raged like he’d never done before. Not that he could recall most of it. His memory of that time was hazy at best, and often since that night he was glad for it. Sirius’ death, learning that he had been prophesied since birth to kill Voldemort, having to return to life as though his heart hadn’t fallen through the veil as well....it had been too much.

But the hottest flames truly did burn out swiftly, His anger was gone, vanished once everything began to calm down around him. What was left behind wasn’t quite pain or sorrow, but a hollow, frozen reflection of both. Not quite substantial. Ephemeral. Sneaking moments when all he could remember was the blue light of the Ministry, the look of fear in Sirius’ dark eyes before he fell. Then there was nothing but the cold.

The cold was now a constant companion of his. Even in the middle of summer he’d been forced to wear his thickest sweaters, though they did little to keep him from constantly shivering.

He was getting used to being cold.

Every now and then he scanned the crowed, looking for something more nefarious than businessmen, students, and families. He knew it wasn’t safe to be out lately. Especially for him. But despite the danger, despite the letter Dumbledore had written to him telling him to stay put. That he would come and retrieve Harry after his birthday. He just couldn’t stay inside.

He may have a room now, but he could never shake the knowledge that he was just few steps away from that dreaded cupboard. And after....well after everything, the walls of his tiny room had started feeling closer than ever. He didn’t think he could have stayed in there any longer. And he didn’t want to sit around, waiting for Dumbledore to show up. Take him from one prison to another. For he feared that Dumbledore would try to take him to Grimmauld place so that the Order could watch over him until he could flee to Hogwarts once more.

He never wanted to go back to Grimmauld place again.

He’d return to the Dursley’s soon, wait for Dumbledore’s arrival the following evening and request to be sent to the Burrow instead. He didn’t fancy waiting out the summer surrounded by his friends and the pity that had been in their eyes when they had parted at King’s Cross. But it was better than the alternative.

It had to be.

“It didn’t have to be like this.”

Harry jumped at the small raspy voice, looked around frantically for the source before his gaze dropped down to a very tiny lady that had snuck up on him. Harry was small. Five years of regular meals while at school could in no way fix eleven years of near starvation. He had long since accepted his lot in life as ‘petite’, but if he was small then this woman was minuscule. Her small form was wrapped in so many shawls it was impossible to see much of her body, though her face was tan and rosy, lined with age, and she looked up at him with large violet eyes.

“I um, beg your pardon?” He asked, confused. She wasn’t the first elder traveler who had tried to speak with him. Though those had asked him if he was lost or needed help, concern coloring their inquiries. This, was something completely different.

“It didn’t have to end up this way.” She repeated, just as enigmatically as the first time.

She was crazy. That was clear enough. Harry plastered a smile on his face and nodded sagely. “I’m sure it didn’t.” Should he call someone? There was a vendor just a few feet away selling meat pies, surely he had a phone. There was probably a security guard somewhere in the station....

“Some, when given the opportunity to fix things, squander their chances. Some turn and walk away from fate.”

“Tragic.” Harry said, mostly because he thought it would mollify her if he seemed to agree. Surreptitiously he looked around for anyone who may have misplaced their wandering grandmother.

They all avoided catching his eye.

“Some take the chance, and the world is always better for it.” She smiled at him then, toothy, bright. Somehow knowing, as though they shared a secret. “And they themselves are always better for it as well.” He nodded absently, only half listening to her.

“What will you choose?”

He snapped back to attention as she took one of his hands and shoved something cold and round into it. “Wha-” He started to say but she cut him off.

“Go.” She said, not quite yelling but suddenly intense as she herded Harry back, away from the pillar and towards the tracks. “Go now, boy, or you’ll miss your train!”

He looked behind his shoulder, there was a train....he hadn’t heard it approach. The doors were open and waiting, and for no good reason at all, he stepped inside. The strange little woman didn’t follow him on, she simply stood there watching him. that same incomprehensible smile on her face.

“Which path will you choose?” She asked again just before the doors closed, replacing his view of her with his own, pale reflection.

“What,” He said softly. Utterly confused. “The hell was that?” He looked down at his hand. He held a round silver locket, old and tarnish on flimsy silver chain. It was wrapped loosely in a piece of parchment covered in large, loopy writing. It said ‘Do not open until you are alone’.

The train kicked and began to move, leaving the station behind. Harry stuffed the locket and note in the pocket of his jeans, grabbing a rail to keep from flying down the aisle. The speakers overhead crackled before announcing that the train was now going express.

He groaned, tucking his head into the crook of his arm. So not only was he on an unknown train, he would be going to the end of the line with no stops.....Great. With a resigned sigh he went to find a plaque with a stop schedule to find out where he was going.

The train traveled all night. There was little to do but wait, so Harry propped up against one of the windows and tried to rest. There were very few passengers on besides him. Undoubtedly everyone else would have known that the train was running express and had gotten off if their destination wasn’t the last stop.

Though his eyes were closed he did not sleep. Sleep was not safe, his dreams were treacherous things that gave him no rest or peace. On the off chance that he managed to sleep through the night he would wake drained and aching, as if he’d spent the night playing a rather vigorous game of Quidditch instead of sleeping. So he closed his eyes but kept his mind from falling into the hazy siren song of sleep.

The end of the line was a small station by the sea, old and weathered, but even within the chipped plaster walls he could smell the ocean. It had been so long since he’d been to the beach. The Dursley’s were never one to let him go on their nice vacations, he’d never had the opportunity to just admire the vast majesty of it all.

As Harry left the train he overheard a conductor say that the next train would depart in thirty minutes. Since he wasn’t going anywhere for a while, and he had a pocket full of muggle money, and a hidden pouch of galleons just in case, he left the station and headed for the beach.

If he missed the next train he’d just take a later one. He could spend a few hours on the beach, catch his train, and make it back to the Dursley’s long before Dumbledore said he’d be there. It would be like he was never gone. If he was really lucky no one will have noticed that he stepped out the night before and he could just have a pleasant, quiet, birthday alone.

It was easy enough to find his way to the beach from the station, even though the sun was just a promise on the horizon. He just followed the crashing of waves, walking further and further into the cool fresh breeze until his feet hit rocky sand.

Here and there a car full of groggy muggle families dotted the shore. Families that wanted to get an early start of what was sure to be a nice summer day. Staking out their territories before the crowds showed up. Harry avoided them as much as he could. Walking around them until he found a secluded stretch of sand.

When he was far enough away from the muggle families that no one could see him or would sneak up on him unannounced, he sat on the squishy dew damp sand to watch the sunrise.

He was sixteen years old now. Another year older....no wiser. He chuckled softly at his own joke. Would he have cards from his friends when he returned to the Dursley’s? Probably not. It was likely Dumbledore would have told everyone he was going to get Harry and take him back to their world, so why bother with owls when they could just wait a day?

He didn’t have anything to celebrate his birthday on the actual day. Except a crazy old lady and an impromptu trip to the beach. With a soft gasp he remembered the locket! He fished it out of his pocket hastily.

He unwrapped it from the parchment strip, tucking the paper away after he scanned the writing again. ‘Do not open until you are alone.’ Such an ominous statement. He had come into contact with many a nefarious object during his time in the wizarding world. Things that should never be touch at all, let alone opened to unleash potential terror.

But the locket was light in his hands, cheap silver on a chain so delicate he feared it would break under the locket’s insubstantial weight. He cupped it in his hands, knees drawn to chest as he shivered in the chill air. He could feel nothing from it. Not like Riddle’s diary, or Hermione’s time turner, the rememberall, wands, the Marauder’s Map. Every magical item felt of magic. Pulsed with it. Some stronger than others, certainly, but it was always there. If the locket was enchanted, or cursed, he should be able to tell.

In the pearly light of dawn he traced the thin script on the front of the locket. MG. that was it. Initials. Maybe the woman from the station? Maybe it was just something she’d found and in her delirium had handed it off to another stranger.

The clasp was difficult to pry open, resistant with age and disuse. Eventually it popped open with a little, groaning crack. Falling open on loose hinges to show two contrary pictures within.

The first was a man. Stationary and severe. He was a muggle, Harry was sure. With Black hair and dark eyes. Handsome, with high cheek bones and a chiseled jaw, strong nose and full lips that were set in a sly smirk. He couldn’t see much of the man’s clothing, the picture was mostly just his face. But from the faded sepia hue he figured it must be quite old...There was something almost familiar about this muggle. It tugged at a long abandoned memory.

Movement from the other side of the locket caught his eye, banishing that nagging tug. The other half of the locket was taken up by a witch with long, lanky black hair and dull grey eyes. Even in the low light she looked sallow and gaunt, though she smiled sweetly at him. Casting hesitant, blushing glances in the direction of the other picture. As though she knew he was right there and wanted to see him. Could she see him when the locket was closed? Even in the dark?

Harry snapped the locket closed, turning it in his hands to inspect it the silvery light. There was a large dent on the back, several scuffs and scraps along the rim, and grit pressed into the engraved letters, but other than that there was nothing to it. Just a lost memory of some love struck witch? She didn’t look anything like the lady who had shoved it into his hand. Maybe it was a friend of hers? Her sister? He was just about to open it again when several cracks split the air.

Harry was up in an instant, wand out and poised to strike. Years of being targeted had long since ingrained him with the speed and focus to fight back. The didn’t stop the panic that raced through his veins at being found. How could the Death Eaters have known he was there?

Unless the woman.

Who was she really?

“Okay, now, son! Put your wand down. We’re not here to hurt you.” One of the cloaked figured said, though he couldn’t tell which.

Harry looked around, frantic, at the wizards and witches around him. Each with their faces uncovered, wands out but not pointed to him. Several had their hands in the air as though to calm him down.

There was no way for him to know the faces of every Death Eater. Voldemort had been at large over a year now, he was bound to have followers Harry would have never seen before. So the fact that he didn’t recognize any of the faces wasn’t instantly reassuring.

A tall woman with curly, tawny colored hair and dark brown eyes broke away from the group, approaching him like he was a wild animal. “Hello there. my name is Sheryl Cane, we’re with the ministry.” Her voice was calm, though when she smiled it held something of exasperation in it. Like this was just a job she was ready to get over with. “You know you can’t be using magic outside of school.”

“And around the muggles.” A gruff bearded wizard added, Cane nodded in agreement.

Harry gaped at them. “I didn’t use magic!”

“Son, we got the call that a lot of magic was just used, right here.” Another witch said, she was tall and slender with bright red hair and an angry cast to her blue eyes. “And our underage tracer went off.”

“Everyone calm down.” Cane ordered, those around her quieted as she focused back on Harry. “Now, what’s your name, love? I’m sure we can get this all sorted out.”

Was she serious? The ocean breeze lifted his hair up, sent it flying in every direction. He had neglected it for so long now that it almost reached his shoulders. For the most part it just curled however it wanted, not bothering him one bit. And now it danced in the wind, leaving his scar completely on display.

Cane’s eyes searched his face, landed on his scar, and dropped back to his eyes without recognition. No one else in the group seemed to notice either, even though several had moved to stand next to her and in front of him once they deemed him not to be a threat.

He didn’t like to brag, in fact the existence of his celebrity was often something he loathed, but never had he been somewhere in the wizarding world where no one knew who he was. There was always someone who knew him by sight, and if not that his scar was a dead give away. Literally every witch and wizard knew about that!

Cane didn’t know him....none of the other’s did as well. He took a deep breath, in and out. In and out. Something....was not right.

“My name is Harry....E-Evans.” Hesitantly he added his mother’s last name, if they really knew who he was someone would call him on that. Why wasn’t anyone calling him on it?

“Well, Mr Evans, mind telling us what spell it was you just cast out here on a muggle beach?”

Harry gaped at her. “I told you I didn’t use any magic!” Frustration broke through his worry for a moment. He might be surrounded by strangers, completely confused, but he would be damned if they kept thinking he was lying about that. He was pretty sure he was at his limit on breaking that no magic until you’re an adult rule. “I was just here on the beach minding my own business when you lot popped up. Oh, wait, there was a locket.” Was that it? The lady in the station had said to open when he was alone, was there some sort of magic in it he hadn’t felt before? Something that....well he didn’t know what it had done.

The locket was no longer in his hand, he must have dropped it in his haste to get his wand. He searched the sand around him, now rosy from the rising sun, it wasn’t there. No glints of silver caught the light, nor was it trampled underfoot.

It was just gone.

“It was just here....” Harry said softly, dazed. “I swear I didn’t caste any spell...”

The bearded wizard whispered something in Cane’s ear that had her nodding before she turned to Harry with an overly tender smile. “Let’s head to the office, We can get this sorted out there. Maybe get you some breakfast. Would you like that?”

Before Harry could even form a reply, a large hand clamped down around his arm, pulling into a black vacuum as he was apparated away. They materialized in a small, cozily decorated room. There were several plush chairs and a small hearth with a merry fire going. There were no window, though the room was hardly oppressive for it, all soft pastel colors and warmth.

“This is one of the waiting rooms in the Improper Use of Magic Offices.” He lead Harry to one of the chairs, watching him closely as he sat down. “My name is Basil Burke.” Burke smiled at him exactly as Cane had, as though he feared Harry would run if spooked.

Harry nodded, casting a wary look around the room. Burke squeezed his shoulder and said in a soothing voice. “You aren’t in trouble, now. We just need to get this all sorted out. Who are your guardians?”

Harry chewed on his lip worriedly, how did these people not know him? “Petunia and Vernon Dursley....they live at number four Privet Drive in Little Winging, Surrey.”

Burke nodded. “I’ll go look into contacting them now. Cane will be by in a bit, she’ll want to run a test on your wand, just to make sure when the last time it was used was.” He held up his hands in a placating manner before Harry could even his open his mouth to protest. “It’s standard procedure for this sort of thing. Now, I’ll be over in the office, right there, if you need me.” Burke pointed to one of the few wooden doors around the room, waiting for Harry to nod again that he understood the simple direction, then he was off, dark robes billowing as the door closed behind him.

There was no clock in the room, and if this really was the ministry it meant to no windows at all. There was no way to tell what time it was now, or how much time had passed since Burke had entered his office, but the warmth from the hearth had seeped in through his sweater, stilling his chills if not completely warming him, by when Burke returned.

He held a white porcelain cup in one hand and what looked like a magazine in the other as he approached, that overly tender smile back in place. “Thought you could do with a cup of tea. And got this for you. It’s my son’s, he’s about your age. Fourteen?”

Harry shook his head. “I’m sixteen.”

“Oh!” Burke appraised him again, a flicker of emotion Harry could decipher crossed his face before settling in that placid smile again. Shrugging, he handed Harry what turned out to be a muggle comic book with muscled man on the cover that appeared to shooting sparks from his hands. “You’re muggle born, right? Figured you’d like that.”

“Er...no. My parents weren’t muggles.” He quirked an eyebrow at Burke’s confused frown. “But my aunt and uncle are.”

“You’re guardians?” Harry nodded. “That makes sense, then.” He mutter to himself, then he was back to his cheerful demeanor. “Cane will be here soon. Drink your tea, Harry, and try to relax.”

Harry eyed the steaming cup as Burke disappeared into his office once more. It smelled like normal tea when he took it in his still cold hands. That didn’t mean he wasn’t wary of it. Something strange was going on and he didn’t know if he should trust these people or not.

He still hadn’t taken a sip of the tea, choosing to hold it in his hands for warmth instead, when another door opened and Cane swept into the room. Without the wind blowing her hair around it framed her face in delicate curls, making her look younger than he had originally thought her to be.

“Hello, Harry,” Cane said as she entered, she held a covered tray in her hands that she sat before him on the table. “I believe I promised you breakfast.” She lifted the lid, revealing a large plate of eggs, toast, and sausages. There were little pats of butter and tiny crock of jam. It looked amazing.

Even though he was starving....what had he even eaten the day before? Had he eaten the day before? He suddenly couldn’t remember when the last time had crept down the stairs to raid the pantry had been. But his wariness increased, he couldn’t make himself eat just yet.

Harry had heard Mrs Weasley yell about how Arthur needed to eat a good, healthy breakfast at home. Appalled by the sugary confections that plagued the halls of the Ministry. This food, Cane hadn’t just scrounged it up from around the department.

“It’s from the cafe across the street. I promise it’s safe.” Cane was giving him thoughtful, almost sad, look. She crouched down at the side of his chair, putting them almost face to face. “I need to check your wand now, Harry. I’ll do it here so you can see. Try and eat something, okay?”

He didn’t really have much of choice, so he set his tea down, fished his wand out from his jeans and handed it over. He tried to keep an eye on it as she worked, but his eyes kept going back to the food. It didn’t look like there was anything wrong with the it, that he could tell. And after a tentative nibble of some toast, he found himself quickly scarfing the rest down.

Cane did whatever it was she needed to do to his wand. Shaking her head in confusion as she handed it back to him. “Well, you were right, it hasn’t been used today. And the last spell wouldn’t have accounted for what we sensed today.” She rose back up with a soft groan. “Finish your meal, and we’ll get a hold of your relatives and send you home.”

“Okay.” Harry said around a mouth full of eggs, he was feeling much better now that he knew they weren’t going to try any funny stuff with him. It was probably the best encounter he’d ever had with the Ministry if he was being honest. No one trying to pin things on him that hadn’t done, or using him to make some sort of point or demonstration of their powers.

They just gave him breakfast and a comic, and were going to send him on his way.

He didn’t noticed when Cane left the room, but by the time his plate was clean he was alone. He settled back in the plush chair, enjoying the tingling warmth that the food and tea lent him, and decided he might as well pass the time with Burke’s son’s comic.

He scanned the cover, taking in the heavily lined details of lightening and what was probably a visual representation of the character having super powers in the form of white hazy lines. Hardly paying attention to the name and issue number, he was just about to turn to the first page when the small printed date at the bottom caught his eye.

1944

Harry turned the comic over in his hands curiously. It looked good for being so old...odd though that Burke’s son would let such a collector’s item out of his sight. Just leaving it at his father’s office. With a shrug, Harry opened the book and began to read.

Burke’s door opened again and he and Cane came over to him, twin looks of confusion and worry on their faces.

“Harry....” Cane started, glancing over at Burke before she continued. “Harry, we’re having trouble getting a hold of your family. Is there anywhere else they might be?”

He closed the comic, instantly attentive. He wasn’t worried, not exactly. It wouldn’t be the first time the Dursley’s just up and left him with no warning. It wouldn’t even the first time they had abandoned him on his birthday. “Not that I know of....sometimes they leave without saying anything though.” Burke and Cane shared another look, Harry hurried up and tried to smooth it over. “You really don’t need to contact them. I can get home on my own.”

He made to sit the comic on the table and stand up, but Cane was once again crouched in front of him, a hand on his shoulder to keep him seated. “We just want to talk to them. It’s dangerous for you to be wandering around alone. With the wars and everything.”

Harry nodded, but...wars? There was just Voldemort. Right?

“Is there anyone else who we can talk to? Someone who can come get you.” She asked softly.

“There’s Professor Dumbledore.” He said, hesitant. He hadn’t wanted to get him involved, still hoping he’d be able to get home before Dumbledore could find out that he had disobeyed him about leaving.

Cane looked instantly relieve. “I’ll send him an owl right away. We’ll get this sorted out Harry. Don’t worry.”

He wasn’t worried. Maybe a little concerned. More annoyed than anything. He had gotten himself to the ocean, accidental though it may have been. He could get himself back home no problem. But he nodded, watching as she hurried from the room once more.

Burke came up him again, even though he smiled there was a tension around his eyes that hadn’t been there before, highlighting dark, tired circles. “You like Quidditch, Harry?”

“Yes.” he said dubiously

Burke pulled a paper from his robes, the pages already pulled back to show an article on a resent Quidditch match. “It might be some time before we can get a hold of Albus, so I wanted to give you something else to do. Do you need anything else?”

“No, I’m find. Thank you.” Harry took the paper, held it in numb hands as Burke nodded and walked off after telling Harry yet again to just let him know when he needed anything.

For several long minutes he just sat there, fingers playing back and forth across the smooth newsprint. They couldn’t find the Dursleys....they didn’t know who he was.....the comic.

Swallowing dryly Harry closed the paper, turning it until the front page was showing and upright. It fell through his fingers when he read date, hitting the floor with a resounding crack that filled the silent room

Daily Prophet, 31 July, 1944

 

~~~

 

Ablus had been in his office, penning yet another letter that would surely go unread, when he’d received the Ministry’s owl. He was actually happy about this distraction. A child needed him and that, at least, was something he could handle.

He took the floo to the Ministry Atrium, not bothering to stop and pen a reply first. Dusting excess powder from the sleeves of his bright magenta robes, he made straight for the lifts and to the second floor.

It felt like ages since he’d left his office, since he’d walked in the sun, since he’d stretched his aching legs. Even a stroll through the Ministry felt like a treat. He found himself humming softly in the lift, smiling at the all the tiny envelopes as they fluttered overhead, several zoomed out the doors as soon as they opened. Albus following them at a more relaxed pace.

A group of black clad Ministry workers stood in the hall, whispered frantic words to each other, fidgeting as they looked to a door at the end of the hall. Sheryl Cane broke away from the group when she spotted him, giving him a wane, but kind smile.

“Albus, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see you.” She clasped his hands warmly, squeezing them tight.

“Something wrong?” The letter said he needed to confirm the identity of a student. An odd request, yes, but one that should have been simple enough.

“I’m not sure....” She sighed, a great release of air that seemed to deflate her before his eyes. “I just don’t know. He says his name is Harry Evans, but there’s no child listed on the Hogwarts registry with that name. No Harry at all. Several Harolds and a few Harrisons, but no plan Harry. No one named Evans either, as far as I can see.”

“That is odd.” Albus gave a thoughtful nod. “The name is not familiar to me. He said he knew me personally?”

“Yes,” Her voice was desperate, she clutched his arm as she led him to the door. “Not just that but the names and address he gave us for his family also appear to be wrong. Not only is there no magical person listed as living in the area, when we sent someone to look in on the house it turned out an elderly muggle woman lived there alone, not the aunt and uncle he claimed to live with.”

Curiouser and curiouser. “What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know, Ablus. But...that’s no all.” She stopped before the door, her voice low so as not to carry, the usual healthy glow of her skin tinged slightly green. “He’s....unwell.”

“How so?”

She ran a hand through her hair, wincing slightly when a curl caught on her ring. “You know I don’t do kids, Ablus. I’m not good with them. But I just...I can’t handle abuse cases above all.”

He frowned down at her. “That’s what this is then?”

“I don’t know, he won’t talk to us. After we said we’d contact you he’s been completely unresponsive.”

“I’ll do what I can.” He assured her. Turning to the door he made sure to put on his best, kindest smile. Eye’s twinkling, he opened the door.

The boy was sitting in one of the room’s large chairs, placed so that he could look into the fire. The day, what he had gleaned from the window that morning, was bright and sunny. A warm breeze blowing in what had otherwise been a dreary summer. But this boy was shrouded in a large muggle sweater, arms wrapped around his chest tightly as though to keep everything, not just his phantom chill away.

He couldn’t see much of the boy, swallowed int he chair as he was. Just his hands, small and bony where the clutched his elbows and the outline of thin legs through his jeans. Then he turned his head, probably sensing eyes on him. It took everything in Albus to not gasp, to not physically flinch.

Times were hard. No one was immune to the deprivation the wars were causing. But he couldn’t imagine what this boy had gone through to look as he did. His face was not just gaunt, it was almost skeletal. Dark circles marred what was otherwise smooth pale skin, so white he feared that it had been sometime since the boy had seen any sun at all.

But it was his eyes, such a lovely, shocking green, that made Albus’ heart stop in his chest. They were large, haunted eyes. He’d seen those who had suffered great loss before. In his students, in my friends in family. In the mirror. Grief always made itself know in one way or another. And he was looking into the eyes of a child who had seen far more than his fair share.

He knew now why Sheryl had been so distraught. She wasn’t equip to help out in this way. But he was.

He approached the boy slowly, keeping his warm smile on his face. “Hello, Harry, was it?”

He nodded, his throat visibly working, his long neck just as thin as the rest of him.

“Would you like to tell me what’s going on?” Albus asked softly, sitting himself in the chair across form Harry’s.

Harry turned back to the fire, worrying his lip for a time before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a folded piece of parchment. He read it quickly, glancing up at Ablus with his large luminous eyes once he was finished. Harry held out a small, shaking arm to him, Albus had enough time to notice a few faded scars on his fingers before he realized that Harry was trying to offer him the note.

He took it with steady hands, “Thank you.” He said brightly, smoothing it out, he began to read.

Dear Harry,

If it is convenient to you, I shall call at number four Privet drive this coming
Wednesday at eleven o’clock. There are some matters I wish to discuss with
both you and your relatives, including Sirius’ estate and where it
would be best for you to spend the remainder of summer break.

If it is agreeable to you, I should also be glad of your assistance with a matter
to which I hope to attend once we leave your aunt’s home. It should not take
long.

I do hope this missive finds you well. And remember to stay within the
boundary of Privet Drive until I come for you on your birthday. Please send
your reply back with this owl, I hope to see you Wednesday.

I am, yours most sincerely
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

He blinked at the parchment for several seconds before reading it once again. He placed the missive on his lap so Harry wouldn’t see it shake. He’d written that....it wasn’t just his name that proved it. That was his hand writing, it was written in a tone that he knew as his own.

He hadn’t written this.

Harry was staring into the fire, absently picking at a thread on the over large sleeve of his sweater. After a while he turned to meet Albus’ eyes. Again he found them too bright, piercing and somehow accusing. Harry worried his lip again before clearing his throat to speak. “I...left my aunt’s house. Just for a while. I meant to go back before my birthday actually arrived.”

He trailed off mumbling something about wards and how he, Ablus, had said it was safe. Albus nodded encouragingly to him, trying to get him to keep talking.

“I went to the Underground, just to watch the people and be alone. But this strange woman came up to me talking about fate and changing fate. I thought she was crazy. Then she shoved a locket at me and pushed me on a train....When the train stopped it was morning and I was at the ocean, so I just decided to spend some time there.”

Harry fidgeted a little, his exhaustion clear though he made no complaint, nor did he falter in the telling of his story. “I went to a secluded part of the beach to watch the sunrise....I took out the locket she handed me, there was nothing about it really. It was just old. I opened it and then all these Ministry workers showed up. And....”

“And?” Albus prompted, though he already suspected what Harry would say.

Harry’s gaze dropped to a newspaper that was sitting on the small table between them. “And....nothing is quite right. No one knows me here and....and the date, it’s wrong.”

“How so?” Albus’ voice was but a whisper, he leaned forward, intent on hearing Harry’s every soft spoken word. “How is it different? How is it wrong?”

“If the paper is correct, if that’s today.” He looked to Ablus who nodded, it was in fact that day’s paper. “Then I’m....somehow I traveled more than fifty years in the past.”

It took an eternity for Albus to process that. Or so it felt. Fifty years in the past? Fifty years in the future....he looked down at the paper still on his lap, at a letter he had yet to write. He gave a curt nod. “Do you still have this locket?”

Harry shook his head, sighing softly. “When they all showed up I was so startled I dropped it in the sand, but, when I looked for it, it was gone.”

“It would certainly be easier to figure out what had happened if we could examine the locket, as I’m rather sure it’s what caused this.”

“I think so too.” Harry’s voice was thoughtful, low. “It didn’t feel like anything when I held it though. I couldn’t sense any magic from it. It was just an old beaten up locket with a muggle photo of a man and magic photo of a woman...that’s it.”

Dumbledore ran a hand through his long auburn beard, if there were a few more grey hairs in it than there were a year ago, well, he had earned them twice over by now. “We’ll figure this out Harry. Don’t you worry.” He folded up the letter and handed it back, making sure that his face only showed calm acceptance. “But you can’t stay here...I’ll set up accommodations for you. You can’t stay at Hogwarts I’m afraid, but we’ll find you a place all the same until school starts.”

Harry nodded, taking the letter back, clutching it in his thin hands. “Thank you, Professor.”

“You’ll be in the sixth year, they tell me.” Harry nodded. “We’ll then there’s nothing for you to do but get some rest. I’ll make sure you’re somewhere safe.” The front page of the paper gave the latest news on both the muggle and wizarding world’s wars. Albus gave a little gasp of understanding. If Harry had seen that it would account for some of his unease.

“Listen,” Albus leaned forward, reaching out to lay a gentle hand on Harry’s arm for comfort. Halfway there he thought better of it, something in the way Harry sat, so still, so closed off in his own little bubble, told him it was better to not make contact. In the last moment he placed his hand on the paper instead. “I don’t want you to worry about any of this. The wars. You’ll be perfectly safe here, and nothing can get past the wards in Hogwarts. You can just focus on school.”

Harry laughed, light and derisive.

“Is everything alright, Harry?”

He met Ablus’ eye for the first time straight on. “It’s just funny, sir. You telling me that.”

Ablus didn’t stay long after that. Too unsettled. It wasn’t the first time meeting a potential student had sent a shiver of cold dread down his spine. Mostly because it meant he would have some unpleasant dealings with the muggles who had raised them. As Deputy Headmaster it was his job to bring the muggle born children into the fold. In his time he’d dealt with more than his fair share of bigoted, hateful guardians that always left him grateful that he could be there for those children.

This was different.

There was something in the way Harry had said ‘you’, how it was emphasized. He hadn’t said, it was odd for someone to say that him, or just that it was a funny thing to say. It had been darkly humorous to him that Ablus would say such a thing to him. In fifty years he was going to have such a relationship with this boy that Harry would find it so counter that Ablus would want him to just be a kid and not worry about the wars.

There were so many questions he couldn’t ask. Time was finicky thing. It was probably not for the best that Harry was running around so displaced from his own time, but Ablus couldn’t find it in him to put anymore pressure and worry on those small shoulders.

Sheryl was waiting for him when he exited the room, his melancholy mood must have shown on his face for she tried to give him a smile full of false cheer. “So, do you know him.”

Ablus nodded. He had already gone over what Harry needed to tell people when they asked about him. Now was his time to start it off. “Harry’s parent’s died in the war, he was being raised and schooled at home by his godfather until his recent passing. He’ll be going to Hogwarts in the fall.” It was close enough to what little Harry had shared with him. Generalities, no specifics.

“What about the address in Surrey?”

He shook his head as he stepped away, towards the lifts. “Forget about that. It was a mistake. I’ll have his accommodations set up soon, be waiting for my owl with instructions. Make sure he has everything he’ll need, clothes. Robes for school and daily wear.” It wasn’t safe for him to dress like a muggle when walking around the wizarding community. That was yet something else that seemed to have changed between and now and Harry’s time. “Make sure he gets everything he’ll need for school as well.”

“Of course, Ablus.” Sheryl said, trailing behind him. “Take it out of the school fund?”

“No.” He stopped in his tracks, running a nervous hand through his long, wavy hair. “No....I’ll cover everything. I’ll send a letter to Gringotts.” Maybe it was silly, but he felt responsible for Harry. He had plenty of money now, he’d never use it all on his own....and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he owed it to Harry in some way.

“...Okay...” Sheryl didn’t sound as sure, but she made a little note in the pocket book she kept in her robe.

With that taken care of he left her in the hall and got in the lift. Gone was the leisure pace of before. He no longer wanted to stretch his legs, to smell the roses, to ignore his duties in favor of any little distraction.

When he reached the Atrium, Albus fled.

 

~~~

 

For a time after the door had closed, after Dumbledore had left, Harry sat and stared at where he had been.

He had looked so different. So young. Though more haggard than Harry remembered from before. When he was eleven and just beginning his journey at Hogwarts, Dumbledore had seemed so light, effervescent. Full of life. Sometimes he had thought that a gentle breeze would just come and swoop him away, he’d never known someone to exude so much cheer.

After Voldemort’s return he had begun to change, but who wouldn’t with so much to worry about. He was leading a war....Harry knew how he felt. How draining and heartbreaking that was.

Maybe he had just as big a hand in the wars going on now as he would in fifty years?

He tried for a while to remember what those wars were...World War II, the Nazis and well there were bombings and it wasn’t a good time. But he knew they didn’t win, and wasn’t that comforting? He smiled softly to himself before breaking out in giddy laughter.

It didn’t matter what the wars were, he knew they didn’t win. Who ever was terrorizing the wizarding world and muggle world alike. They didn’t win! Really he had no reason to worry about them at all! Not them! Not Voldemort either! He couldn’t touch Harry from the future.

He stood from the chair, walking over to the fire, Dumbledore’s letter to him held loosely in hand. The man himself had given him another order....to let go....to not worry....to relax. Voldemort’s war was still going on. Somewhere, but not here.

There was a place where Harry was meant to face him. Kill him or be killed himself.

Somewhere, but not here.

The parchment caught fire easily, it burned low. Consuming words he never wanted to read again. When he could keep it in his hands no longer he tossed it, careless, into the fire.

He laughed again, it was so unbelievable. It probably wouldn’t last.

But for however long he was stuck here, tucked away, anonymous in the past.

Harry was finally free.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

They put him up at the Leaky Cauldron.

Less than an hour after Dumbledore left Cane came back, reading from a little book she’d pulled from her pocket. Without looking up she informed him that he would be taken to the Leaky Cauldron where a room had already been provided for him until the first of September. His meals, room, and even all the clothes and books he’d need for school would be taken care of, he assumed from a fund the school had for orphans and those who’s families couldn’t afford everything that was needed.

He had no small amount of gold on him as it was. The pouch he used had been enchanted by Hermione a few years ago, it could hold a small fortune and weighed nothing. He also had a wad of muggle cash he could change back to wizarding money once he reach Diagon Alley. It was all the money he had now, his overflowing vault now fifty years out of reach. He should save as much as he could, which meant dealing with the second hand books and clothing he was sure would be the only stores he’d get to spend school money at.

Even though Cane had make it seem like everything was ready for him to leave, it was almost another hour before anyone came to collect him. When the door open again it was Burke, carrying a bundle of black cloth. He fixed Harry with a smile before shaking it out to reveal a set of robes.

“These are my son’s, but I think they should fit.” At Harry’s blank look he elaborated. “You can’t walk through Diagon Ally in muggle clothes.”

“Why....not?” Harry began asking before he remember that this was not his time.

Burke sighed, dropping down in the chair next to him “I know you’ve been traveling with your family and godfather, you’ve needed to blend in with the muggles to do that, right?” Harry nodded tentatively...That fit his cover well enough. “Since Grindelwald’s war, his anti muggle initiative, it’s just easier to wear the robes in wizarding spaces.”

Harry glanced back at the paper, he hadn’t read it but the headline and pictures on the front were nothing to take lightly. The war never reached Hogwarts, it never even reached Diagon Ally. He knew that it would progress as it should, for Harry was not getting involved, so his being there shouldn’t matter. History may have assured him of these facts, but the small things. How the wars effected simple everyday life, hadn’t been quite so thoroughly recorded.

He took the robes from Burke and shrugged them on. He would blend in and not complain. The robes fit surprisingly well, considering they belonged to someone two years his junior. He buttoned them up carefully, making sure nothing of his muggle clothes could be seen under them.

Burke gave him a curt nod and motioned for him to come stand by the fire. From inside his robes Burke pulled out a small jar of shimmery green powder, pulled the stopper and tossed a healthy pinch into the fireplace. As the flames roared up, a vicious sizzling green, Burke turned to him with a kind smile.

“Cane is waiting for you. she has everything all settled. She’ll show you around where you’ll be staying for the next month until school starts.” He patted Harry’s back quickly then yelled ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ into the green flames, wished Harry good luck and stepped away.

several fireplaces zipped passed his eyes as soon as he stepped into the flames, it was a dizzying but fast trip and soon he was spilling out into the familiar lobby of the Leaky Cauldron.

Cane was there, as Burke said she would be. She grabbed him as he fell out of the hearth, steadied him, and let him go quickly. Dusting green powder and soot from his robes and hair, he took a look around, gathering his bearings. Though it was hardly noon, the Cauldron was already quite lively. Most of the patrons were eating lunch, though more than a few of them were already nursing tankards and tumblers. He smiled as he took it all in.

Nothing had changed.

Cane led him to the counter. Hardly anyone took notice of them as they wove their way through the small tables. It was quite liberating, actually. To be out in public and not have people stare. No one gave him more than a passing look! He smiled softly as they reached the counter, and it only grew when Cane called for Tom. Tom! He was still here? Or rather, he was already here...it was going to be hard keeping that in order.

Harry’s small smile slipped, his mouth falling open as Tom bustled in through a back door, arms laden with a tray of drinks and bowls of stew. It was Tom alright. Those kind brown eyes and bright smile could belong to no one else. But this Tom was much, much younger, Harry would be surprised if he were any older than 30. His cheeks were round and rosy, his frame stocky and his arms strong, flexing through the sleeves of his rolled up shirt. He even had hair! And lots of it. All bushy and straw blond.

Harry quickly pulled himself together. It wouldn’t do for him to be gaping at a stranger like an idiot. Like Harry had never seen a bartender before. Tom didn’t know him. No one knew he knew Tom either. He smoothed out his features and breathed deep. He just had to hold it together and he could keep his cover intact.

“Tom,” Cane began once he was near. “This is Harry Evans, the one I told you about.”

Tom placed the tray on the counter, he gave Harry a nod and a bright smile. “Pleasure to meet you, Harry! If you need anything just let me know, we’ll get you set up right away.” He shook Harry’s hand with such force he feared his arm would be yanked out of socket. When Tom let go he took up the tray once more and raced away towards his waiting patrons without another word.

“Come on, I’ve already got your room.” Cane said, leading him to the stairwell. Harry followed without a word, taking in the subtle differences from this world and his own.

Really nothing had changed much. Maybe a few things were different. He couldn’t recall paying too much attention to the drapes, and if there were always a deep red velvet? Or to whether or not there had been a delicate floral pattern to the wallpaper in his time. Too much time had passed since he last walked these halls, too much had happened since then. But when Cane opened one of the few doors on the second floor and ushered him inside, suddenly he was thirteen again. Blessedly on his own and away from the Dursley’s for the first time.

The room was just as cozy and large as he recalled from before, though he doubted it was the same room. A large four poster bed took up most of the room, crimson curtains parted to display a myriad of pillows and fluffy looking blankets in tones of browns and red that brought out splashes of the same colors throughout the room. The drapes were the same thick crimson ones same as were in the hall, a plush mosaic rug took up most of the floor, and even the over stuffed chair bye the hearth was shocking red.

It put him at ease more than the common room of the Leaky Cauldron and Tom’s smiling face ever could. This was the homey comfort he had come to count on from the wizarding world. Tension from his all too exciting day began to fade, his worry ebbed. Leaving his limbs heavy as his eyes began to sag closed.

Cane cleared her throat behind him. “I have a room down the hall, I’ll have to go into the Ministry for most of the week, but I’ll be here in the mornings and back in time for dinner.” She raised her hands to placate him at his sullen look. “I’m not here to get in your hair, you’re old enough to look after yourself mostly. But if you need me, I’ll be here.”

“Okay.” Harry nodded. No matter what she said he was pretty sure she had been assigned by the Ministry to be his babysitter until September first. Luckily he knew his way around Diagon Alley and felt more than confident he could give her the slip when he wanted some time alone.

“You get settled and let me know when you’re ready to go shopping. Doesn’t have to be today, but we do need to get you some robes to wear until school starts.” Harry nodded and when it became clear he didn’t intend to answer verbally Cane nodded back, a tad nervously. “I’ll be at the bar if you need me.”

When she was gone, the door shut firmly behind her, Harry let out a great sigh of relief. He hadn’t properly rested in days and it was beginning to wear on him. Now that things had settled enough that he didn’t readily fear for his life, it might be fifty years in the past but if the Leaky Cauldron had been safe enough for him when a supposed murderer was out for his blood then it was safe now too.

Not that he had been in real danger then, but he was in even less trouble now. In fact he was probably safer now than he had ever been in his life.

He shook his head ruefully. Funny, how that thought was just sad and not reassuring.

He shucked off Burke’s borrowed robes as he approached the bed. They were the only things he had to wear out of this room, he didn’t want them to get mussed up, and he would rather not hand a rumple mess over when he returned them. Kicking off his shoes, suddenly thankful to Hermione for pushing him to get the black leather slip ons, more for their ease of removal and not necessarily for their aesthetic appeal, he crawled onto the giant bed and promptly burrowed into the many pillows. He rolled himself in one of the blankets, belatedly realizing that he was still wearing his glasses.

A smile curved his lips as he wiggled enough to reach his wand. He was in a wizarding establishment, there would be no way for anyone in the Ministry to know that he was the one doing magic. And even if someone did see, Harry Evans didn’t have a record. He would just get a stern reminder to not do magic outside of school.

Once his glasses were safely on the night stand and his wand tucked under his pillow, he laid back into the cushions with content sigh, yawing deeply. Sleep, as always, didn’t come willingly. He stared at the ceiling for a while, listening to the soft noise of the busy street and the gentle murmurs of conversation from the room below.

Now that his mind was settled, it wandered. Bringing up all the things he had pushed aside before in the panic of the moment.

He was alone, in the past. Before he’d always had someone when he had gotten into a scrape. At least to start. He’d never gone in blindly and without back up before....not that he had planned this....not that things ever turned out exactly well when he did have back up and some form of a plan.

He sighed, rolling around to bury his face in the pillows. What would Ron and Hermione do when they found out his was gone? What about Dumbledore!? He was going to come knocking at Privet Drive in a few hours, what would he do when he found that Harry wasn’t there?

The Dursley’s, he knew already, wouldn’t give a damn. They would be happy to be finished with him and tell Dumbledore to shove off.

Voldemort would be happy. The object of his hatred just up and disappearing from the face of the earth! Though that also meant there was no Chosen One there to thwart him now....maybe someone else would step up and do the job. Harry giggled to himself, in Fifty years he would sixty six. Sixty six year old Harry could probably kick Voldemort’s butt a lot better than sixteen year old Harry could.

His smile grew as he realized he could see Ron and Hermione again. How would they react if a sixty year old Harry showed up at their door? Maybe he was doing that even now! He laughed softly as the scenarios played through his mind, finding joy in his silly musings until sleep finally claimed him.

For once his dreams were peaceful, muzzy things.

 

~~~

 

Tom strolled through the crowds of Diagon Alley like a king. No. Like the Lord that he was. People stepped out of his way as he passed, nodding to him and smiling bright. And like any good lord Tom was kind to his people. He greeted them with kind words and a gentle, charming smile.

It was the same every time he ran one of these errands for Mr Borgin. Once he stepped out of the comforting gloom of the trinket shop he had to become Tom Riddle, a sweet, mild tempered teen who everyone loved. He was always careful to be warm to others, to put his best foot forward, as it were.

So, as soon as his feet hit the sidewalk he was sure to always be respectful, always be polite, and above all. He was always Cheerful. Not that he was disrespectful or surly while he manned the shop. It was just that, for the most part, he worked the dark storefront on his own. Able to do his own research, safely able to be himself. Until the bell chimed and he was once more forced to leave Lord Voldemort behind the counter.

The day was bright, one of the rare sunny days in that rather dreary summer. Not that he lamented that fact. He had never understood what everyone saw in the sun anyway. Why they all flocked out to ‘bask’ in its rays. He did so too, for show and only when he had to in order to keep up appearances. Otherwise he preferred being inside, with his books and any interesting artifacts that made their way into his clutches.

It was a feeling that only progressed after the ritual. He cared even less to be among the throngs of the dirty populous. He was more now than they ever could be. So much more!

Yes, more. Not less. Never less. The world might have lost a bit of its golden light. A fact he had accept in the days after the ritual. Every time he held his diary, his horcrux, colors were a little more vibrant, the light just a touch brighter. It hadn’t taken him long to realized what had changed.

Why it changed.

In a way that was something of a blessing. It made trekking through Diagon Alley, with its dazzling white cobbled streets and the constant haze of magic that filled the air, so much easier. And it was with no small measure of delight that he had discovered this change actually improved his night vision. He found himself able to read long into the night without the need of lighting a candle. He could walk out on the night of a new moon and see for what felt like miles. How could an improvement be seen as less?

And if his chest still ached from time to time it was nothing that finding his diary and holding it for a minute or two couldn’t cure. It was just a small inconvenience. A challenge to be met and won.

One didn’t simply back down when things got a little rough. Adaptation was the key to survival. Tom had learned that so long ago he could no longer place exactly when the lesson had hit home. No one was going to hold his hand, the world didn’t just hand you what you wanted. All life did was throw obsticals at you, and you could either roll over and let your dreams pass you by or you could fight your way around the hardships, through them, and take what was yours.

He floated along the cobbled road, for all appearances brimming with cheer. He made small talk with a coffee vendor, and the little witch who sold charms on the corner. The owner of the bookstore came out as he passed to tell Tom he’d just reviewed a shipment of that ancient runes book Tom had asked about last week.

Just another day.

He made his way to the stretch of wall that would lead to the Leaky Cauldron, tapped out the correct sequence to open the archway and swept inside. He put his wand back into robes, smirking when no one could see him. He was seventeen now, no one could say anything against his magic use outside of school. Not that they really had before. Tom was nothing if not careful. But there was just something very soothing in being able to pull one’s wand out without having every adult wizard breathing down your neck.

The common room of the Leaky Cauldron was just as it had been when Tom had first seen it seven years ago. A light fog of smoke filled the hair with a blue, sweet smelling haze. The soft chatter of patrons. The welcoming warmth of the fire that bespoke the promise of food and comfort.

It was a very pleasant place, the first magical establishment that he and many others ever saw after receiving their letters. There was just one thing he didn’t like about it.

“Tom!”

Tom ground his teeth, just managing to keep his smile from slipping in a grimace. The one thing He hated about the Leaky Cauldron, about the wizarding world in general.

“Good morning, Tom.” He said far more calmly than the bartender before him had. He hated the man, hated that he shared a name with such a plain, common, man. In fact, Tom had learned that his name was rather popular in the wizarding world.

It was the biggest reason for the creation of his true name so many years ago.

Tom the bartender, who refused to give people his surname and had disregarded Tom’s when he had introduced himself seven years ago because ‘They were name mates!’, smiled across the worn bar. Meaty hands on his hip, his dull straw hair a mess of flyways and tangles.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that they had to share a name, this Tom couldn’t even be bothered to properly groom himself.

But he said none of that, he smile his bright smile and held up the parchment slip he always had on his visits here. “Mr Borgin needs a few things from the other side.” Tom the barkeep knew this, as Tom came in once a month with similar requests. The Leaky Cauldron was the gateway between the worlds, and the workers were more than used to running errands in the muggle realm for rest of Diagon Alley.

Tom the barkeep took the slip, looked it over briefly, and gave Tom a dopey smile before assured he’d have everything ready to be picked up in the morning. He nodded and turned to leave, almost running into a dark haired child who had been trying to leave toward the Alley before his mother had called him over for breakfast.

For the moment the world shifted, fazed into warmth, blinding relief. Unconsciously Tom massaged his chest, it had jolted with something. Not quite painful, just an odd pressure. Annoyance flashed through him for just a moment. But by the time he had composed himself enough the boy was already seated at the table, poking angrily at his food.

He took a deep, centering breath. People really needed to watch their children more closely, but it wasn’t the first time uppity wizarding children had raced out in his path. Oblivious that some weren’t as lucky as them. Growing up in a world where they were understood. Not having to fight for everything in life.

He shook it off, put aside any...jealousy, he might have felt about being denied such a life. Things in the wizarding world needed to change.

But it would have to wait.

Just a few years more.

With a long sign Tom headed back to the Alley. He still had a shipment from Egypt to sift through and Mr Black would be coming by for that cursed money clip later that afternoon.

He tapped out the right pattern to open the wall, put on his most charming smile, and stepped out into the crowded streets of Diagon Alley.

 

~~~

 

Any hopes that Cane would keep her word to stay out of his hair were dashed as Harry tried to make his way to Diagon Alley that first morning. She was already waiting for him in the common room, bright eyed and ready for the day. She called to him to sit and have a decent breakfast.

He was only just able to curb the annoyance that surged through his chest as he stalked over to her. Accidentally bumping into a tall dark haired man on his way, who didn’t even acknowledge Harry’s hurried apology as he scowled, rubbing his chest in anger.

It was honestly kinda nice to be ignored for once. He was take real aggravation over being fawned over any day.

He went to the table, took up a fork, and poked a bit at the meal. He had woken up just long enough the day before to have a nice dinner, stew and fresh bread, with Cane before heading back to bed. It wasn’t much, and she had narrowed her eyes when he’d left the bowl half full and several large chunks of crust on his plate. But it was more than he’d eaten all summer. Even now he was still rather full from it.

Cane took a sip of her coffee as she watched Harry roll a greasy sausage around on his plate, her mouth pressed into a thin line when it appeared he had no intention of actually eating the thing. “I have the funds for you clothes and school supplies. Though we should hold off getting you books until we know what classes you’ll be taking.”

Harry nodded as she spoke, giving up on being able to stomach the sausage he instead too up a slice of toast, slathering some jam and butter on it before taking a small bite.

“Someone from the Ministry should be by later today to administer a placement exam for you.” At Harry’s worried look, his mouth too full of toast to say anything, she said. “Don’t worry. It’ll just let them know what you already know. Help you find the right classes to take, that sort of thing. You aren’t actually being tested for anything specifically.”

Well he didn’t believe that....but it did make sense. Oh god....he was going to be put back in first year potions, he just knew it! The toast went down painfully when he swallowed, his throat suddenly very dry.

Cane didn’t seem to notice.

She stretched her arms above her head as she rose, evidently taking Harry’s subtle pushing of the plate for the end of his breakfast. Which it was. “So we’ll go get you those robes, a few for school and a few for everyday. It shouldn’t take long and then we can be back in time for that placement exam.”

Harry followed her through the pub to the entrance of the alley like he didn’t know the way. Actually he probably shouldn’t know the way, as far as she knew he’d never been there before. It was better that he follow along and act like this was all shiny and new to him. Hard as that was going to be.

Or so he thought, for exactly as long as it took him to step through the archway onto Diagon Alley. Then the ruse seemed so much easier.

It was different alright. There were a few stores with the same name, selling the same old things. Flourish and Blotts was still there, as was Gringotts, of course. A few shops that Harry had never been in before were still there, one selling second hand magical items, and one that sold charmed items, neither of which had ever interested him enough to go into before. He was probably happiest to see that Fortescue’s Ice Cream Shop was right where he knew it to be.

Other things were missing, though that was to be expected. There was a broom shop, but it wasn’t the Quiddich supply store he was used to. This one looked far more....fictional, might be the word. Though where was a broom in one of the windows that caught his eye, a display under it read :Comet 550: and proclaimed it to be the fastest racing broom around.

Harry’s lips twitched as he read the display. He was pretty sure there some Comet 550s in a shed on the Quiddich pitch back at Hogwarts in his time. Pushed way back in a dark corner, collecting dust and cobwebs. Ostensibly they were there as back up in case someone needed to use them. Though the only Harry had ever seen someone even touch them was when Fred and George had challenged each other to duel and used two of the ancient brooms as makeshift swords.

But here, now, in 1945, without any of their charms faded, in pristine condition. Well, they wouldn’t beat his Firebolt, but he would be willing to give it try.

Thinking of his broom sent a pang of longing through him. It was easy enough to think of this as a sort of vacation, until he remembered just how much he’d actually left behind, never to see again.

Cane, misreading his evident malaise, chuckled softly as she doubled back to see what had held him up. “You’ll have plenty of time to ogle over brooms tomorrow, kiddo. But we have an appointment to keep, come on.” She waited for him to turn and follow before she took off again.

He followed, lost in his own thoughts until she stopped in front of an unfamiliar store. It was a large building, several towering stories tall. The entire front wall on the bottom floor was nothing but glass. A large wooden sign painted a garish shade of violet simply proclaimed the store’s name in extremely loopy writing. Jean-Loup’s.

No other embellishment was needed for one to know the purpose of the store. Even if there hadn’t been bolts of cloth, every color of the rainbow and more, tucked high up on the shelves and leaning against the windows. The mannequins that took up most of the windows would have given it away. They were all dressed in fine robes of shimmery silks and flowy cotton. He may not know much about fashion but even Harry could appreciate how fine they looked.

It wasn’t Madam Maulkin’s. Harry had never even heard of this Jean-Loup in the future, for whatever reason he didn’t work out of this building then. Nor was this the shop that Madam Maulkin owned. It was odd how much that bothered him....maybe it was because Madam Maulkin had been on of the first witches he interacted with after learning about the wizarding world. It only made his melancholy deepened.

Until they approached the door and the mannequin closest to the entrance opened it for them! Harry jumped back, peering into the blank face of the dress dummy. But when it did nothing more than stand there holding the door he relaxed. Just a fraction. With hesitant steps, Harry skirted the mannequin and entered the shop. Noting as he passed that all the other mannequins in the room moved as well. Subtle, graceful movements. Almost like dancing, but in such a slow manner than hadn’t noticed it at first.

Cane didn’t take notice of Harry as he gaped at the dress dummies. Stuck somewhere between horror and awe. Cane marched through the room, a woman on mission, and rang the bell at the counter with enough force that the ding resounded through the room.

“One second!” A clear, accented voice rang throughout the shop before a man with wavy, honey brown hair swept through a velvet curtain from the back. He was tall, with broad shoulders, though the rest of him was quite slender. Though that could have just been the cut of his shimmery, form fitting robes. He gave them both a bright smile as his crystalline blue gaze raked over them both. “School robes?”

“Yes, and some for daily wear.” Cane said, all business as she reached into her robes and handed him a folded bundle of papers. “Put everything on this account, it has already been settled with Gringotts.” He took the papers from Cane with a wide grin as Cane turned back to Harry.

“I don’t need to be here for this,” Cane said shortly, and Harry very much got the impression that staying would probably cause her great pain.

He laughed softly at her discomfort. “I’ll be fine from here. I’ll head back to the Cauldron when I’m finished?”

“Yes, that’s good.” She checked her wrist watch before heading to the door. “I have some errands, if I’m not back by the time the proctor gets there I’ll just see you at dinner.”

“Okay.” He called softly as she hurried out the door the mannequin held for her. Harry watched until she disappeared beyond the windows. He might not be too happy with his pseudo babysitter, but she seemed far more uncomfortable than he was. It was almost funny.

The rustling of papers behind him caught his attention. He wasn’t alone here. Though when he turned the man was still looking over them, his smirk, like a satisfied cat, only grew as he read.

“Well then,” He said, tucking the papers into his robes before sticking out his hand to Harry. “I am Jean-Loup. Master clothier. Let’s have a look at you!”

Harry shook his hand in mild trepidation at Jean-Loup’s boisterous tone. “I’m Harry, ah...Evans.” He really needed to work on not hesitating there. Harry Evans. Harry Evans. Harry Evans. He must try to remember.

Jean-Loup gasped, instead of releasing his hand he firmed his grip and pulled Harry over to large standing mirror and had him stand on a small wooden stool in front of it. “Look at you!” His voice was much softer as he leaned close to look at Harry through the mirror. “So delicate and beautiful, such lovely features and the build of a china doll. Are you part veela, perhaps?”

“Umm...” Harry leaned a bit away from the man, obviously he was crazed. “No...I’m not a-”

He was cut off as Jean-Loup made a frustrated noise. His hands reaching up to fluff Harry’s hair. “But who ever is dressing you should be shamed, yes?” He glared at Harry’s glasses like they had done him a personal wrong before snatching them off his face. “This I can work with, though.”

From his robes he pulled a out a wand of a wood that was almost violet. He tapped Harry’s glasses a few times, muttering a string of words that Harry couldn’t follow. When he placed them back on Harry’s face they were different, less noticeable. The black frames changed into a thin gold wire and the shape brought out his cheek bones and made his bright green eyes stand out. The whole process had taken only seconds.

“Such an improvement! Don’t you think, lovely veela?” Jean-Loup asked, leaned over Harry shoulder to smile at their reflections.

“It is...” It was quite a change. Even someone who cared so little for fashion as he had to admit he looked much more handsome without the thick black frames. “But I’m not a veela, sir.”

“Jean-Loup.” Jean-Loup corrected absently, not paying attention to Harry’s protests of veela DNA. He stood back, simply running his eyes over Harry for a while, a finger running over his lips in thoughts. With a snap of his fingers a large screen of carved wood surrounded them. “You must strip down so that I can take measurements.”

Harry sighed, but began unbuttoning his borrowed robe. At leas this part was familiar enough. Behind him Jean-Loup gasped once the robe was off. “What is this?” He called, marching around Harry and pointing to his muggle street clothes.

“Eh, they’re-”

“Hideous. Terrible, bulky underclothes. They look what the muggles wear. Take them off! Take them off!” He yelled, tossing his hands in the air to hurry Harry along. “When Jean-Loup makes you clothes you wear the proper undergarments. Nothing bulky to warp the line. Ah...that is better. Now hold still.”

Harry tossed his muggles jeans and shirt to the floor and tried to stand as still as he could in just his underpants. While he knew some of his classmates who were from wizarding families chose to wear nothing under their robes, he had always worn jeans and a shirt. The school robes were baggy enough and weren’t hot even in the summer sun. It wasn’t frowned on in his time, but it looked like he wouldn’t be getting away with it here.

Honestly that shouldn’t be surprising. He would never forget that wizard at the World Cup who very proudly proclaimed he wore nothing under his acquired nightgown. Really the whole way the older generations of wizards handled muggle clothing should have made it obvious they had nothing under their robes.

It had just never been something Harry had ever wanted to think about.

The magical measuring tape raced across his body. Tickling his ribs, twisting around his ankles, and twinging through his fingers. He knew he was small, and thinner now that he had been a few weeks before thanks to his return to the Dursley’s and only eating once every few days or so. He never had any trouble with his robes not fitting as well from the beginning to the end of the school though. So he kept his mouth shut on the subject and just let Jean-Loup figure everything out.

“You are a Hogwarts student, yes?” Harry nodded and Jean-Loup ducked around the screen for a moment. “What house?” He called over the rustling of cloth from somewhere in the room.

“Erm, I’m a....transfer student.” They would have to sort him again?! He was not looking forward to that.

“Ah, yes. I had a few the year before. Such times we live in.” Jean-Loup murmured to himself as he came back with his arms full of black cloth. “These have just the Hogwarts crest, the house elves fix them for you once you are sorted.” He explained as he handed the bundle to Harry. “Try one on for me.”

Harry hesitated, hand’s stalling on the smooth fabric of the robe he was handed. “This....is this silk?”

“Of course.” Jean-Loup said as though it was completely ordinary to wear silk robes to school. He gazed at Harry curiously, head slightly tilted, his warm, almost violet eyes bright with excitement. “The uniforms are rather standard. Boring. Though mine are the best, if I do say so myself.”

Maybe it was standard in this time. He hadn’t felt more like a fish out of water since landing in this era until he was shrugging on a silk school robe, though. Hopefully that would be the only real change for a while.

He had to admit that the silk was nice. Cool against his skin. Breezy, though the weave felt strong under his finger tips. It was also a bit more form fitting. Closer to the robes that Jean-Loup wore than the ones he’d seen on the aurors. These had a full skirt....for he couldn’t think of any other word for it, loose sleeves that billowed at his hands and fit a bit more snuggly, though not uncomfortably, around his chest and stomach.

“I will add the undergarments to the list, yes? Silk for summer and spring and wool for the winter and autumn.” Jean-Loup made notes on a slip of parchment, talking to himself more than Harry.

After the school robes were tweaked to his liking, Jean-Loup’s face lit up as he swept from the changing area to bustle about his shop, all the while talking to himself about veelas and rare beauties and delicate dolls. Harry just let him be. Jean-Loup was loud, and loud people could be unpredictable. One never knew what direction such high energy could turn to on the drop of a hat.

But Jean-Loup seemed harmless. His only intent was to dress Harry up. Make him ‘lovely’. And Harry couldn’t really care much either way. He had never picked out clothes for himself before, always stuck with Dudley’s hand me downs for muggle clothes. And buying the basic Hogwarts school robes did not count as clothes shopping.

Even now he wasn’t sure if it could truly count as him shopping for himself. As it was Jean-Loup, who hand picked and brought forth every robe, held it to Harry’s face for a while before either tossing it unceremoniously over the screen and out of sight, or ushering Harry into it. All the while going on about empire cuts, and bodices, and hidden hems, and all manner of things Harry didn’t know anything about.

In the end he was unable to leave the shop with anything less than seven casual robes in various shades, two sets of dress robes, one a deep crimson one an dusty rose color that he was unsure of, but which Jean-Loup insisted looked fantastic on him. He had the required three sets of school robes and standard black velvet cloak. Along with two casual cloaks, one a bright white he feared would never stay clean, and the other deep emerald. He had a massive stack of undergarments and two pairs of buckle shoes that he tried to refuse, but that Jean-Loup had placed in his bags and wouldn’t take back.

The whole experience left him confused and tired, which seemed to be Jean-Loups goal. He stood back, grinning like a giant cheshire cat as Harry buttoned up the front of the mint green robes Jean-Loup had picked for him. The cut was slim, very much like his school robes actually, though Jean-Loup insisted they were different. Harry couldn’t for the life of him tell how.

“Almost perfect!” He chirped once Harry had stepped back to get a good look at himself. And like the glasses before, he had to agree that these robes were far more flattering than anything he’d ever worn before. Making him look slender instead of just thin, the color bringing out his eyes and the color in his cheeks to help him not seem so pale. “There is just one thing, and I could not let you leave without it!” From his robes he took out a small amber jar, when he took the top off their little changing area filled with the smell of fresh berries and mint. “Just a little bit, it goes a long way.”

Harry was confused until Jean-Loup took a little on his finger, rubbed it into his hands and then ran his hands over Harry’s hair. The change was instant. Any parts that were still flying free, refusing to be tamed by comb or length, fell into smooth waves.

Harry blinked, turning his head back and forth and enjoying the way his hair was bouncing. Bouncing! For the first time ever! “That’s amazing! Nothing has ever made it smooth before!”

“Because this is French.” Jean-Loup supplied as though it was very obvious. “If it isn’t French it is trash.”

Harry laughed lightly. “Did it grow too?” Now that he was looking at it wasn’t just close to brushing his shoulders any longer, it swept over them and even trailed down lower in the back.

“No, no. It just smooths out the strands. Makes them look longer. Though.” He leaned forward and whispered, like he was imparting a great secret. “It does stimulate the growth. It’s my special family secret.” He placed the jar into one of Harry’s bags. “You tell, Jean-Loup when you run out. More will come.”

“Thank you. For everything.” Harry looked back at the mirror and couldn’t help but smile at what he saw. The color of the robes brightened his face, and along with the new style of his glasses really brought out his eyes. His hair for the first time ever fell in soft waves, framing his face. And the cut of the robes helped him look his age, a more mature cut even on his thin frame. No one would mistake him for a child now! “This is amazing.”

Jean-Loup beamed at the praise. He was the best, so he had said. Harry was more than inclined to agree. He left the shop feeling lighter than he would have thought possible. Only the slight nagging that he should have perhaps paid for a bit of his new wardrobe with his own money to bring back down a bit. Seeing as how most of it was not for school he really shouldn’t have let the Hogwarts fund pay for it all. But Jean-Loup said that the forms had been clear. Everything he wanted was already taken care of. His conscience said he should have pushed harder.

His coin purse on the other hand was happy that his diminished fortune stayed put.

It was later than he had thought it would be. Well past noon, according to the suns position. There was still time before his tests, enough for him to make it back to the Leaky Cauldron and put his new things up, maybe grab a bowl of soup as well. He wasn’t too hungry, but it would probably help his focus for the exam if he had something on his stomach. Or at least he hoped it would. He was horribly unprepared for such a test.

He chuckled softly to himself as he strolled down the cobbled path. He might be nervous having to take tests he’d had no time at all to prepare, but if Hermione had been in this position she’d have lost her mind already. And probably have pulled out most of her hair in worry.

What was the worse that could happen really? It wasn’t like he knew anyone....besides this younger, stranger version of Dumbledore. There was no one to impress or worry about what people might say here. So what if he ended up failing a little? He would probably be given some extra classes, he’d never seen anyone actually held back in Hogwarts before. Not even Neville. And he was much worse in potions than Harry was.

So he might take longer to graduate if he was found lacking. What was the rush anyway? For the first time in his life Harry was going to take a step back, and let thing happen as they would. No more pointless concerns. No more shouldering other’s burdens for them. It was time to slow down and just live.

The pub was much quieter now than it had been at breakfast. Only a few patrons sat at tables, most had papers spread around them and quills busy as they worked in the comforting gloom. Harry passed through with barely a second glance, and if eyes lingered it wasn’t the oppressive stares of those from his time. Judging. Waiting for him to do something extraordinary or reckless for their amusement or benefit.

Once his new robes and undergarments, which he had been mortified to find out were nothing but flimsy, almost shear slips....though they were actually quite comfortable, were properly stowed, he was able to head down for a light lunch.

He got a small bowl of chicken stew and wasn’t even surprised when Tom told him that all of his meals during his stay were taken care of already, refusing to even look at Harry’s money when he tried to pay. The Dumbledore of this time really seemed to take his role of caregiver to Hogwarts students seriously. Never had the Dumbledore of his time gone to such lengths to assure the comfort of a student in need

By the time the Ministry proctor arrived Harry had finished his soup and was pacing, restless, across his room. The wizard was an elder man with kind eyes and bushy grey hair. He explained the process of the test in a soothing voice that, though it was comforting, didn’t dissolve all of Harry’s nervousness. But soon he was seated at the desk, a series of charms and wards around the room kept all from getting in and blurred the view from the window. Presumably so that Harry couldn’t get answers from someone outside, two stories up.

His palms were sweaty, his hands slightly shaking as he set to, even as he worked to control his breathing. Telling himself it wasn’t a big deal really didn’t seem to be helping once he was there and looking the test in the eyes.

But, to his utter amazement and glee, it really wasn’t that bad.

At the first question it was obvious this test was to see his entire magical knowledge. The questions that began the exam were all things he’d learned in his first year. From there it slowly became more advanced. Though even when he was almost two thirds through he was still finding it to be not overly taxing.

Even the potions portions weren’t too hard. Probably because it was more about what herbs and ingredients did what, and how long something should be on the flame, and he was not required to actually make said potions. The theory had always been easier than the practice, in his experience.

Only the last little bit of the test gave him pause, and by then it might have been the time wearing on him. Either way he didn’t care much if he botched a few answers about history. He was never prone to remembering all the dates and details, and knew very few people outside of Hermione who could.

The sun had dipped to the horizon when he was finished. He hadn’t even noticed that his proctor had lit the lamps in his room around them as it grew darker until he sat back, blinking his tired eyes. The proctor, who’s name Harry’s frazzled mind had not been able to latch onto, and now he was a bit too embarrassed to ask, collected the test with the promise that he would have his results and a list for school books within the next day before bustling out the room. Leaving Harry in the near dark alone.

The day had been very tiring. He hadn’t done more than a few random chores in the past two months. Spending a day on his feet, trying on what felt like a entire shop’s worth of robes, and then taking a very strenuous test had left him quite drained.

He crossed the room and turned the lock on the door. Hopefully if Cane came knocking to call him for dinner he would already be fast asleep and able to ignore her.

Well...he doubted he would be fast asleep, but he would ignore her all the same. There was a bone deep weariness in him that couldn’t be helped by a meal he didn’t really need.

He slipped out of his nice new mint green robes, taking pains to smooth them out and hang them in the wardrobe before slipping into the bed in just his under robe. Slip? Shift? Whatever it was actually called he had plenty of them and no actual nightclothes, so they would have to suffice.

He took off his glasses, now delicately reworked. Magic would never cease to amaze him. How something could be reworked to easily. He placed them on the nightstand and burrowed into the plush bedding. His wand placed carefully under his pillow, he curled into the blankets, bracketed on all sides by the many soft pillows. He allowed himself to relax, his heavy eyes falling shut.

And when a knock came at his door an hour later, Harry didn’t even hear it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

A Ministry official came the next day when Harry was just about to slip out of the inn. He wanted to explore, to see what exactly had changed, or would change in the future. The alley was new, the world felt new! He almost felt new as well. Then he was forced to face reality.

It wasn’t the same man from the night before, for which Harry was quite happy...he still couldn’t remember what his name was...

Instead it was a witch with bright green robes and flaming red hair who, in the most gratingly chipper voice he could imagine, said her name was Annabelle Thomas. She pulled him aside in the Cauldron’s common room in late morning gloom, guided him to a table in the corner. Harry found himself nursing a cup of tea, that he didn’t want, as she discussing things that, quite honestly, he didn’t care about.

Rationally he knew should care. Hermione would have done more than scold him for such an attitude, even a year ago he himself would have found such apathy in his future unthinkable. Now though, as the witch before him talked of scores and fields that would be good for him to go into he realized a few things.

One, he was not nearly as bad in school as he had thought. Not that he had felt necessarily dull, just mindnumbingly average. Ms Thomas, however, seemed to think he was rather advanced for his age. Which after she assured him that she knew Harry was sixteen, was actually a very pleasant surprise.

The second thing he realized, quite extraordinarily and after she had asked after his career goals, was that he, Harry Potter, no longer wished to be an Auror.

He had been saying it for so long now that no one really even asked him anymore. Either that or they simply couldn’t think of anything else The Chosen One would do after defeating the Dark Lord. Clearly he would go into a field that assured his dark wizard prowess was used to its fullest. He had known the path that needed to be taken to be an Auror, set his schedule by it, had even been able to see himself, along with Ron, living out this long held dream.

How many times had he and Ron stayed up talking out it, especially in the last year? The advent of the DA had only served to strengthen Ron’s resolve to become a dark wizard hunter. At the time, Harry had thought it had done the same for him as well.

Just the icing on the cake he’d been baking for years.

An easy, knee jerk reflex he didn’t need to think about anymore. Always on the tip of his tongue. In the back of his mind.

And he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

Somewhere along the way Harry had stopped wanting that. When exactly the joy had faded. When knowing looks of those he told stopped filling him pride and started itching at his nerves.

It was then that he realized something else. Something wonderful.

He could be whatever the hell he wanted now!

He hadn’t been able to give her a definitive answer about his future career choices, to which she had been very helpful and understanding. Assuring him that he still had two years worth of schooling left, and really he could decide and change his mind as often as he wanted. He had his whole life before him and he should find the one thing that made him truly happy and do it.

No one had ever told him that before.

Once he had a his classes planned, which was pretty much what he’d been taking before, as such classes were needed for a myriad of careers, he was allowed to go about his day as he pleased.

And so, he spent the rest of the summer doing just that.

It took only one afternoon to gather all his supplies for the school year, everything fitting in with what he expected. His charms books, history, transfiguration, potions, and quite a few more defense against the dark arts book than he was expecting, but nothing that looked too daunting. He even had one for divination, a small book on reading portents. There wasn’t a book for care of magical creatures, but then he hadn’t really used the one Hagrid assigned them, so it would probably be fine.

He couldn’t find the color changing ink that he had enjoyed so much in his time, but there were several jeweled tones that caught his eye, red, blue, and green in particular. He needed new pens, a cauldron, and well...everything. He’d needed to make several trips to get it all back to the Cauldron, but it had still only eaten up an afternoon.

It took another three days for Harry to talk himself into going into the broom store with the intent of buying the racing broom on display. It was lovely, really. Not his Firebolt by any means. But the handle gleamed and the bristles were smooth, almost feather soft to his touch. He placed it in his trunk with care, already eager to take it out when he got to Hogwarts. Quidditch might be out of the question, he couldn’t just barge in and expect to have a position on the team of whatever house he ended up in.

But he could still fly.

No one could take that away from him once he was back at the castle.

The rest of the summer flowed nicely, if a bit on the boring side. Not that he was every going to complain about a little monotony. He’d had far too much excitement in his life already, thank you. He was pleased enough to spend his days having an ice cream in the sunshine when the days permitted and tucked away in a tea shop when the days were grey and the thunder drowned out the roaring of the crowds. Either way he watched them, all the magical people as they scurried about their days.

And when he tired of imagining what their lives must be like he read a little. He wasn’t overly worried about classes now, but there really wasn’t anything else for him to do. No one to talk to. Cane was there every evening a meal that she insisted they share. He supposed it so that she could report to whoever that she was making sure Harry was still alive and eating. Other than that, well....There was no one that knew Harry. And if he recognized a face his joy at prospect of striking up a conversation was quickly dampened in the reality that they didn’t know him. At all.

He would have to start those relationships all over again.

September couldn’t come soon enough, and though the days seemed to drag forever, one night Cane sat before him at the little table that had become theirs over the last month and asked him something he hadn’t been prepared for.

“How do you want to get to Hogwarts tomorrow?”

Harry snapped his gaze up from his plate of shepherd’s pie, in the month he’d been there, away from the Dursley’s, he’d been steadily trying to eat a little more. Working his way back to three full meals a day. A slower process than most seemed to think. Cane still gave him odd looks if he didn’t eat at least most of his dinner. So he had worked out a schedule. A light breakfast of toast and tea, a light lunch of soup, or just ice cream....no one paid much attention to him at lunch time. And his dinners were something heavier, something meal like. He even manged to eat it all most of the time.

“How?” He asked cautiously.

“Well, there’s the train.” Cane said, taking up her own fork and tucking into her pie. “Takes off at King’s Cross, all the kids take it. Barring a few exceptions here and there, which.” She fixed her eyes to him, stern but not unkind. “Your situation it...well can call for a little leeway. If you’d rather not have people bother you, and trust me you’ll get a lot of that once you’re at Hogwarts. Kids love a new face. Well, if you wanted. I could apparate you to Hogsmeade. You’d avoid the stares and questions, for a time.”

Harry smiled at her, they hadn’t really connected in his time there. Dinners, a few hellos here and there, and the occasional fielding of questions about how Harry’s day went was all the interaction between them. But he liked Cane. She got him to a certain extent. Knew he wanted the silence, the calm. Like now. “That does sound better. If it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Of course not. I can have you there and be back in London in a flash.”

“Thank you.” He said sincerely.

Cane shrugged and simply said. “It’s nothing, kid.” before going back to her dinner. A steady, welcome silence between them.

Just before sunset on September 1st Cane transported Harry from the beautifully sunny, albeit rather chilly, Diagon Alley, to the gloomy, rain soaked streets of Hogsmeade. She helped him get to the station before wishing him luck and making a quick exit. After a month of casual acquaintanceship Harry was more than used to Cane’s abruptness. In fact it was one of things he liked best about her. She didn’t linger, didn’t press too hard about his past. Didn’t pretend that she wanted to befriend a teenager when it was clearly the last thing she wanted. She was just some Auror the Ministry had dropped a homeless, lost child on and now that she’d seen that he was safe she was free to go back to her bachelorhood in peace.

Harry liked her a lot.

The train wasn’t there yet, and through the gloom it was difficult to tell how close it was to the station. Even with one of his new cloaks wrapped snugly around him Harry didn’t fancy standing in the rain waiting the train. He supposed that he could wait inside the station, or a shop....but there were already a few carriages right there waiting.

He knew where he was going, and no one was there yet to greet him....

Dragging his magically lightened trunk up to one of the carriages, he loaded it in before headed up to the front. The Thestral was lovely, stoic, it blinked a curious, red veined eye at him as he came forward to stroke softly at it’s mane. “Hello there,” he said gently, “Mind taking me up to the castle really quick? You can be back before the train gets here, I’m sure.”

The Thestral whinnied and tossed its head, which Harry took as a yes. “Thanks!” he said cheerily, patting it on the back and jumping into the carriage. As soon as the door was closed, Harry settled into the warm, plush seats, they were off.

A lone black carriage trudging its way through the growing gloom and steady rain.

 

~~~

 

“Did you do it?”

Tom rose his gaze from the book he’d been trying, with little luck, to read. The movement lazy, unconcerned. Alphard Black was always so excitable. Like an overly affectionate dog. Tom had learned years ago that he would calm down after a fashion if one didn’t engage him. He was only in Tom’s inner circle because Orion had begged it of him. Tom thought it was more so that Orion could keep an eye on his erratic cousin than any real belief that he could of use to Tom. And if was only the year before when Alphard earned his prefect badge that he had even agreed.

Which was why he was allowed in their compartment, seated not on one of the velvet seats but on the floor just in front of Tom’s feet. He did manage to not actually touch him. If one thing could be said about Alphard Black in his favor, it would be that he didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Tom turned back to his book.

Of course that didn’t stop Alphard, who asked once again, “Did you really do it, my lord?” Tom couldn’t help the slight uptick to his lips at the title. They never used his chosen name, only refereed to him as their lord in private. When in public referred to him simply as Tom, or Riddle depending on how good of friends they appeared to be to others. One must keep up appearances, after all.

Yes he was pleased that Alphard could remember his place in the pecking order, but Tom wasn’t about to talk about that on the train. !Quite a few of them were prefects all, with him as the Head Boy, they had to keep the compartment unlocked and unwarded to allow the other students access to them. Alphard should know how to keep his mouth shut.

“He said he would, do not bother him with inane, and inappropriate questions.” Alexander Rosier sat beside Tom, always to his right though Tom had never specifically told him to do so. If he could consider anyone from his inner circle a friend it would be Rosier, and he knew it. He never took the rank for granted, though. There was a reason he was Tom’s favorite.

Instead of cowing Alphard’s....enthusiasm, it only perked him up further. “Really? Where is it? Do you have it here?” He asked jubilantly, eyes flicking to where Tom’s trunk rested on the rack by the door.

Like he would keep it there.

No, the Horcrux rested safely, soothingly, against his chest in a pocket inside his robes. He was very skilled at creating such things, though he never did so where any of his followers could see. They didn’t need to know about how Tom Riddle had needed to learn how to mend his own clothing growing up, just that Lord Voldemort had hidden pockets in his robes from which he could pull any manner of useful thing.

It wasn’t as though he did it by hand anymore either way. It was all for appearances.

All the world was a stage, so the saying goes. And if all the people of the world were simply players acting out there parts, then Tom Riddle was the star of the show.

Stretched out across the seat from Tom, all long legs and flowing blond hair, was Abraxas Malfoy. He gazed wistfully out the window, grey eyes locked on where he thought the castle should be as they moved ever closer. Not that he could see anything through the sheeting rain. Abraxas sighed. “Hard to believe this is it. The last time we’ll be making this trip.” Most everyone in the compartment other than Alphard and the other Slytherin prefects were in their seventh and final year. And though Tom didn’t really do sentimentality, he couldn’t deny a certain degree of nostalgia in the thought that would never again be making this exact trip.

He did not by any means expect to leave Hogwarts behind for good.

Just before the train pulled into the station the rest of the prefects and the Head Girl, a Ravenclaw by the name of Esme Clarke, filed through their compartment in waves. They got their assignments from Tom and Tom alone. Technically Esme was the same rank as he, but she had her nose so wedged into her books that she hardly took note of the prefects that were supposed to be under her. Not that she was completely inefficient. She was swift to anger and dolled out punishments with a firm, unfeeling, hand that cared not which House the perpetrator hailed from.

The trouble was getting her to pay attention enough to the world around her in the first place.

As the last of the riff raff finally left them the train pulled into the station. Everyone rose to squirrel away books and cards that had served as their past time, taking the last few minutes to straighten up. Magically steam wrinkles from their robes, or fix their hair in the pocket mirror Fulcran Lestrange always seemed to have on his person.

Tom surreptitiously touched the small, leather bound book through his robes. Enough of the passengers in that compartment had seen him with it before. They wouldn’t question it if they saw it now. But he was still hesitant to take it out. He wouldn’t, couldn’t leave it in his trunk. Not yet. The house elves took their things from the carriages and Tom would never let a part of his soul be handled by unfamiliar hands.

He liked to keep it close by as well. It made the gas lamps on the compartment walls burn just a little bright, the air around him turned a little warmer. He couldn’t keep it on his person all the time, but once in his room, a private room this year thanks to his new status as Head Boy, he could set it up so that the book would be safe. Until then.

“Oh bugger all!” Alphard suddenly shrieked into the calm, his nose pressed firmly to the window.

“Alphard!” Orion yelled, appalled. “Language!”

“Sorry, it’s just...” He looked at them sheepishly from over his shoulder. “One of the carriages is already heading back to the castle. We won’t be the first ones there now.”

“Surely you’re just seeing things incorrectly.” Abraxas said, steaming out the creases of his robes with a lazy flick of his wand.

“No I’m not!” Alphard shot at him haughtily. “I know what coming and going looks like.”

Tom stretched his neck slightly to peer over the others and out the window, he was a good bit taller than everyone else and with his improved night vision he could easily make out a lone carriage heading towards the school. “You’re right, Alphard,” he said softly, “Probably it is just someone who apparated to Hogsmeade and didn’t want to wait out in the rain for everyone.”

Technically most everyone in their compartment could have done the same. All the seventh years had their license, and it was only Tom among them that had to be there. The others chose to accompany him more than the tradition of the riding the train in.

“Why does it matter anyway?” Orion asked, he didn’t wait for Alphard’s reply though before pulling him away from the widow and setting him a myriad of arduous tasks, like combing his hair and unrolling his sleeves, to keep him busy.

“I had a bet going with that Hufflepuff, Cyndi, that we’d beat her and the rest to the castle.”

Tom sighed, blocking out the chatter as he left the compartment, his followers filing out and fanning around him to start the business of herding the underclassmen to the carriages. It was time to start the year in true.

And Tom had plans.

It was going to be a good year.

 

~~~

 

Harry jumped down from the carriage, narrowly avoiding landing in a tall puddle but sheer luck. As soon as his feet hit the ground the Thestral turned about-face and head off back to the station....taking Harry’s trunk with it!

“Well...damn...” Harry said with a soft sigh. There goes his clothes and books, and he could either slog through the rain and mud to try, and most likely fail, to catch up with a Thestral pulled carriage and then wade all the way back with his trunk, or just let it go and have faith that it would return with his trunk and the house elves would take over like always.

So really, no choice at all.

He sighed again.

“Harry, I didn’t expect you to be so early.” Dumbledore’s voice held a note of distress, though when Harry turned around he was all bright eyed smiles and cheer. And again Harry was struck with how much younger this Dumbledore was, and it wasn’t just the color of his hair. His Dumbledore had a much better poker face than this one, his kind, grandfatherly demeanor more believable.

“Um, hello, sir.” Harry gave one last longing look toward the carriage before stepping inside. “Auror Cane apparated me here...well, to the station.”

Dumbledore gave him a kind smile, gesturing for Harry to follow him in. “Good, good. I’m just glad you made it here safely. I trust you had an enjoyable summer.”

Harry nodded, his hair and cloak were soaked and he felt rather chilled as Dumbledore led him through the entrance to the great hall. “It was nice. Quiet.”

“In times like these ‘quiet’ is often a luxury. I’m glad you were not troubled. And,” he cast a wary glance down at Harry, “You are...well?”

Though they were alone, Harry knew it would be foolish for Dumbledore to speak of his past there. Ghosts, and of course Peeves, could be lurking around in their invisible forms. It was safest to assume they were not alone. He got Dumbledore’s meaning anyway. “Yes, I...I’m adjusting.” He said with smile he hoped was reassuring.

He’d had his bouts of melancholy, sure. Reality always had a tendency to catch up with him, especially in the dark night. But there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And in his more lucid moments, warmed by the sun and unburdened by the weight of so many people’s expectations, he knew that he didn’t want to got back.

Not yet.

Maybe in a year or two he’d feel different and he could start looking then. Nineteen ninety six wasn’t going anywhere. His friends, and the war, could just wait. It wouldn’t be anytime to them, what would they care that Harry had his little break while they were essentially on pause.

“Good, splendid!” Dumbledore led him up the dais where the teacher’s table was and through the door that led, as Harry was well aware, to a small sitting room. There was a fire burning merrily in the heart and an over stuffed wingbacked chair sat before it. “You can wait in here, get warm by the fire. You’ll be sorted after the first years, and I dare say it’ll be a while to get them all herded inside.’

Harry smiled, already he could hear a few lowered voices as the teachers began to take their seats, they must have come in right after he and Dumbledore entered the hall.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Right, well. See you in a tick.” He said brightly before rushing off.

Harry took out his wand, waved it in a low arch over his robs and hair to dry off. His hair was now curling a bit from the rain, but mostly Jean-Loup’s serum kept it neat and sleek despite the unwanted moisture.

He took the seat before the fire and waited, feeling oddly nervous though he knew exactly what to expect. The whole place had just a strange air to it now. It was the same though, right down the tapestry of the school’s crest that hung large and bright against the stone wall.

If the castle was the same, he supposed that meant he must be what changed...in how many different ways could he have possibly changed in one summer though?

His thoughts were disturbed as the first years began pouring into the room though a side door. They were a fidgety lot who took in the one occupant of the room and honed in on him. before he knew it he was surrounded by children!

“Are you a professor?” One girl with glossy black curls asked him with wide and wondrous eyes.

“Of course he isn’t, Clara, look at him. He’s too young for that!” A boy with the same curls and bright eyes said, probably a brother or cousin. He turned to Harry, arms crossed over his chest. “Why are you here and not out there?”

All the kids had gathered around him, staring at him and murmuring to each other. He could well remember what it had been like on his first night, they were nervous, even their haughty leader.

“I’m a transfer student,” he said simply, “I have to get sorted too.”

“That makes sense,” the boy said confidently. This seemed to relax those around them a bit. It wouldn’t be so bad, Harry didn’t seemed worried, so they shouldn’t be afraid either.

“What’d you think it’ll be?” One of them ask to the room at large.

“My brother said it’s a test we have to take in front of everyone else.”

“I heard they make you drink a terrible potion and somehow that tells you where to go.”

“What do you think it is?” Clara asked Harry suddenly, her black curls bounced as she tilted her head at him.

“Well...” Harry lifted a hand to rub at his chin in faux thought, fighting back a grin. “When I was your age I had to fight to troll to get into my old school.”

There were gasps and even yelps of glee at the mention of fighting trolls, Harry couldn’t fight back a small smile any longer. “But I hear they don’t use troll at Hogwarts. It’s difficult to get them past the wards, you know,” Harry leaned back in chair, folding his hands on his lap, delicate and unaffected. “We will probably have to prove ourselves by winning over the trust of Hippogriff”

“A Hippogriff?”

“No way!”

“Wait, a what?”

The room dissolved into frantic muttering as some proclaimed they could take on a troll or Hippogriff no problem, while some kids tried to explain what a Hippogriff was to their muggle-born counterparts.

A small boy with honey-brown hair lifted his wand up warily. “I don’t know any magic though. Not even that one spell Samwell said was easy didn’t worked for me.”

“Because that wasn’t a real spell, you lout, Sam is a liar.” The boy with the black curls said with a massive roll of his eyes.

Before the other boy could manage a retort a shadow fell over their little group and he looked up and up at Dumbledore with hopeful eyes. “We don’t really have to fight a troll, do we professor?”

“A troll?” Dumbledore said in exaggerated shock. “My word, no!”

“What about a Hippo...Hippo..”

“A Hippogriff?”

“Trolls and Hippogriff?” Dumbledore said softly in confusion, before his bright eyes locked onto Harry, who by this time was having a little bit of trouble not falling into a fit of laughter. He smiled back, giving Harry a wink that was very close to the sparkling way his Dumbledore used to joke around. “Unfortunately our shipment of Hippogriffs were late. This dreadful weather, you know. I’m afraid you’ll all just have to make do with the back up sorting methods.”

A few of the kids grumbled in disappointment, where a few, the boy with honey brown hair among them sighed in obvious relief. Dumbledore clapped his hands and began herding the kids away once more. “Line up by the door now, wait until I call you.”

He looked back down at Harry, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Troll and Hipposgriff, hum?”

Harry shrugged, smiling innocently. “Isn’t part of the fun of being a first year the anticipation of what the sorting ceremony will be.”

Dumbledore chuckled softly, taking out his wand to flicked it at the small table near Harry’s chair and quaint little tea set appeared. “I’ll call on you last. Just have some tea while you wait.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” With a knowing, departing look from Dumbledore, and nothing else to do, Harry made himself a cup of tea, relaxed back in the cozy chair. He positioned his head against one of the soft wings, and watched the first years file out of the room to be sorted. When the last few students walked through the door Harry stood and peaked around the frame.

The staff table was full. The only other face he knew apart from Dumbledore was the wizened wizard in navy robes. He rang a very faint bell that Harry was only just piecing together when Dumbledore called his name.

“Harry Evans!”

He must have said something to the hall first as everyone was sitting at attention when he stepped out. A few, tentative and uncertain students clapped before their neighbors shushed them. Harry tried not to feel their stares on him as he crossed the stage. Apart from noting how full the room was, he tried not to look too closely at the masses.

Dumbledore smile at him encouragingly as he approached the lone stool, climbed on top and waited for the hat to fall.

“Remember, the hat always knows where we need to be.” Dumbledore said softly, as though he could pick up on the exact cause of Harry’s discomfort.

In that way, he was very much Harry’s Dumbledore.

The hat was placed on his head, and though it no longer dipped as far as it once had, it still covered his eyes. Plunging him into a familiar and welcoming darkness.

‘Well, you’re not one of my sweet little first years.’ The hat’s laughter rang through Harry’s mind. ‘What an unexpected surprise to see you again, Harry Potter.’

Harry’s lips curved slightly. He didn’t even question how the Sorting Hat could know. The Hat always knew.

‘It’s a pleasure to see you again as well.’ Harry said in his thoughts.

‘Yes,’ the Hat hummed softly. ‘Now, to find a place for you to rest. I dare say I can’t put you back with your old pack. That lot is far too rowdy for your current....state.’

Harry nodded ever so softly. He hadn’t expected to go back to Griffindor...didn’t actually want to, if he were being honest. It would only upset him to have to be surrounded by all the reds and golds without Hermione, Ron, and the twins there with him.

‘I thought so.’ The Hat said softly, obviously able to pick up on Harry’s thoughts and moods. ‘You’d find peace, as it were, with the Ravens. Though you would find great frustration there as well. No, no, that won’t be helpful at all.’

The Hat hummed to itself. ‘My sweet Badgers would always be too much for you. They could help you heal, yes. But you would end up wanting to strangle the lot of them before the month is out.’

‘You know then,’ The Hat said darkly, ‘What I’m going to suggest.’

Ge did, and for a wonder Harry found he also did not mind. Not like he had six years ago. Not even how he would have if the suggestion had come up three or even two years previous. Harry had met all types by now. Good Slytherins, brave Hufflepuffs, terrible Griffindors. People were largely people, no matter what house they hailed from.

‘It’s fine.’ He thought, sure and steady.

“As you wish. SLYTHERIN!” The Hat yelled the last part into the silent hall, and three of the four tables erupted into cheers.

the sea of red and golds only gave him vague, half hearted attempts at applause that weren’t even trying, everyone else in the room seemed fine with the decision though.

Harry slid off the stool, handed the hat back to Dumbledore with a small smile, and headed for the last table of silver and green.

 

~~~

 

Despite what many may think, Tom Riddle didn’t dislike children. Well...not all children at least. Some came from good and influential families, it would be wasteful to not endear himself to them early on. They would grow up to remember that Tom was kind and ever helpful. Some children lacked the resources of the Higher Class peers, but he couldn’t simply dismiss them off hand. They could grow to become powerful in their own right...not to mention showing blatant favoritism could be seen by others, could potential tarnish the reputation he’d worked so hard to perfect.

So he approached the children the same as he approached anyone, with a warm smile and kind deeds. He helped them stow their luggage and lifted the smaller ones into the carriages with gentle hands, thanking Salazar himself that at least for the night the first years weren’t his problem. Second and third years were bad enough.

He sent another carriage of third years off with a relieved sigh. They were almost there, just a few more carriages remained and the fourth and fifth years pretty much too care of themselves. His prefects could handle any minor troubles that might arise there. His circle, his knights, had stayed behind to help. Most of them were not prefects but they acted like them all the same.

Alphard whined as another carriage left the station. There was only enough left for the prefects and his knights to take back. Tom resisted rolling his eyes at Alphard’s melodrama. “You are a prefect, you must stay until the others are on their way, you know that. Why make a bet you cannot keep.”

“It was her idea.” He said, drifting off weakly at Tom’s withering look. “Sorry, my lord.”

“Just get in the carriage, Alphard.” Tom snapped in annoyance. Alphard leaped away to claim one of the last carriages for them.

“Hey,” he yelled, throwing open the compartment to stow their trunks. “There’s already a trunk in here!”

Tom swept over to have a look, nestled in the compartment was a lone trunk. Pristine and new. There was no one else around the carriage though, he and his knights were now the last at the station. “It doesn’t matter, just put ours in beside it.”

Before he had even finished speaking a pair of pale, manicured hands flashed by him and opened the trunk. Tom raised an eyebrow at the perpetrator.

“What?” Abraxas smiled knowingly. “You know you wanted to look too.”

And he did.

Though he could have refrained.

Abraxas was so impulsive. But Tom looked anyway. They didn’t touch anything, just inspected the contents from they could see. There were several silk robes, in fact all the clothing he could see were silk. So whoever it was had money, but judging by the array of colors they weren’t dealing with a muggleborn. He would have said it probably belonged to a witch, but there was a racing broom on top of it all. Not many witches flew on those.

“Interesting,” he said softly. “Now close it and get in. I’m tried of being in the rain.” Abraxas complied, curiosity giving way under Tom’s stare and the promise of warmth and food.

“Betcha it was whoever left first.” Alphard said excitedly from inside, Tom climbed in followed closely by Abraxas, Rosier, and Lestrange. The others would have to the take next carriage. “We probably got the fastest one of the lot!” He looked through the front window adoringly, though he couldn’t see the Thestral. Of their entire ground only Tom and Rosier were able to view the death steeds.

Something the other knights were openly jealous of. A few had even begun to plot how best to rectify this.

Tom knew it was only a matter of time.

The Great Hall was just as vast and impressive as always. Something about being away for the summer always seemed to dampen the memory of it, each new year he looked on it with new eyes, just like the first time he ever stepped foot inside.

He settled down at the head of the table, his followers spreading out around him, and waited for the arduous task of the sorting to get underway. His night would not be over then. There were still a few things to see to before his night could finally end. The first night back was most important. His followers needed the reminder that their summer was over, it was time for them to do his bidding once again.

The sorting commenced as always. Grimy little first years approaching The Hat with trepidation and fear, only to bounce away eager and happy once they were sorted. They got their fair share including a set of twins, a boy and girl with shiny black hair and the pale and delicate features of pure-bloods.

The last child slipped off to Hufflepuff and Tom readied himself for another dull, dull, dull speech from Dippet. But Dumbledore didn’t take up The Hat and stool, instead he paused for a moment, his bright smile turning instantly sad, caring.

If there was one person who was just as good an actor as Tom, it was Albus Dumbledore.

“The hardships of the past few years, I know, are always close to our hearts, though we are protected within these warded walls. We are lucky. We have a duty to enfold those weary wanders-”

Rosier sighed, tilting his head to Tom he said. “Another transfer.”

Tom nodded, he too was more or less tuning Dumbledore out now, everyone else in the hall had also figured it out, a low chorus of whispers began to sound around the hall as an undertone to his speech.

“Join me in welcoming the newest edition to our esteemed institution, Harry Evans!”

There was a smattering of claps from some of the less intelligent members of the crowd who misread Dumbledore’s enthusiasm and thought the occasion warranted an applaud. It died down quickly when a small, dark figure stepped out from the room near the teacher table.

He was small, though taller than the first years for sure, he still appeared minuscule compared to Dumbledore’s height. He walked across the dais with graceful steps, his robes billowing around him telling all of their fine quality. He perched daintily on the stool, hands folded on his lap and waited for The Hat to be placed on his softly curling hair.

The whispers of the others fluttered around him.

“He’s so cute, look at him!”

“Small, though, isn’t he?”

“What year is he, did Dumbledore say?”

Had he? Tom tilted his head thoughtfully. No...he hadn’t

“Gotta be older than first years,” Alphard said matter of factly. “Else he’d be sorted with the others.”

“Twelve then,” Emaleigh Greengrass said from Alphard’s left with a swish of her pale blond hair. “He’d be a bit tall for it though.”

“I say thirteen. Looks thirteen, doesn’t he?” Another sixth year, half-blood, Tom didn’t know his name, said.

That started it, the others began naming their guesses, someone offered a bet of ten sickles that he was actually thirteen instead of twelve. Eventually eyes turned to him. Tom sighed.

“Fourteen.” He was the only one who said so, though Rosier nodded from beside him. A hush fell over the table once all bets were placed.

They waited.

“Having a right conversation with it, isn’t he?” Lestrange said, laughing softly. It was taking an abnormal amount of time though.

Curious.

Finally The Hat sang out, “Sytherin!” and the table around them cheered loudly.

Tom leaned forward, pitching his voice to carry down to the sixth years. “Alphard!” He turned his shaggy head to Tom instantly. “Don’t you have prefect duties to see to?” Alphard just blinked at him dumbly. Tom forced a smile on his face, this was not the place to reprimand the boy, they must remain a single unit when out in public. “Go greet the boy, take him to sit with his year.”

Alphard’s face split into a huge smile before he bounded off the bench to lope towards Evans. The poor unsuspecting boy. He startled back when Alphard nearly ran him over in his haste. And who could blame him? Alphard leaned forward to say something to Evans, his ever present smile widening at whatever it was Evans had said to him.

Alphard led him past the first years. Then the second years. Tom smirked when he was brought before the third years, he would have have really been too tall for twelve, and now that he was closer he had a much more restrained and mature air about him. So much so that Tom wasn’t even surprised when he was led on to the fourth years. There was a general groaning around his end of the table as those who had lost the bet already felt the lightening of their money pouches.

Then they were passing the fifth years, and Alphard came to a stop at the spot he had left before. “This,” he said loudly, so that all those around him could hear. “Is Harry Evans, he’s going to be a sixth year!”

Well that was a surprise, everyone seemed to agree as those not close enough to speak him personally began their whispers once more. The other sixths years began sending questions Evans’ way. His voice was so low that Tom couldn’t hear it when he answered, but whatever he said made a few of the others shy away with looks of guilt, regret, and sadness.

Interesting.

 

~~~

 

Harry’s heart nearly lodged in his throat has a young man who looked far too much like Sirius skipped towards him. He had to close his eyes and take a few deep breaths.

It wasn’t him. Sirius wasn’t born yet. He was far, far into the past. This was a relative. It had to be.

He introduced himself as Alphard Black, and Harry had a very clear memory of Sirius running his fingers over the singed remains where a name should have been on his family tree. Alphard Black, Sirius’ uncle. He had given Sirius money to help him move away from his family and go live with Harry’s father and his parents.

Suddenly he felt just a little less alone.

The questions fired at him once he sat at the table were nothing he hadn’t expected and prepared for. He wasn’t even surprised when one of the first things he was asked was whether his parents were wizards. In the climate of the day, especially being sat among the Slytherins, he would have been surprised if they hadn’t asked. Evans wasn’t exactly a wizarding name, after all.

It seemed saying “My parents died when I was a baby and I recently lost my godfather who I had been living and traveling with,” was a remarkable way to get people to stop asking him questions. He was allowed to then to stare blankly at his empty plate and sip on a cup of honey sweetened tea.

Usually the feasts were a time to sample a little of all the food placed before him. Not over eating so as to not be sick, but just a time to enjoy all the rich flavors of things he’d been denied while living with the Dursley’s. But he just couldn’t work up an appetite. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it usually was without Ron there to pack his cheeks full like a large orange squirrel, hilariously misplaced next to Hermione’s ever prime and bird-like way of eating.

He would try again in the morning. He’ll probably feel a bit more settled then.

He allowed the talk of the table to wash over him. The excited retelling of vacations in warm, war free zones. Exclamations over how much so and so had grown, or how great their new haircut looked. And when someone inquired about why had wasn’t eating, he quickly said that he’d had dinner before. Feigning ignorance about a welcome feast.

The Headmaster spoke at the end of the feast, just like Dumbledore would have done in his time. Harry tried to focus on him, Headmaster Dippet was either very old, or simply an extremely frail man. His beard and hair, not nearly as long as Dumbledore’s, were a washed out brown, more grey with a hint of the color that it used to be than truly brown itself. His face was lined and his eyes spoke of great exhaustion and stress. Harry had trouble following his soft voice as he gave his parting words to the hall.

It seemed to be the same warnings Dumbledore always gave. Stay away from the forest, don’t go swimming too far into the lake. The curfew was at nine o’clock. Things he was used to. It was a relief when he dismissed everyone to their dorms.

Harry stood with the rest, the fifth year prefect girl gathered up the first years hurrying past the rest of the table. Harry fell into line with them, since he shouldn’t know anything about the Slytherin dorms, especially not the specific stretch of wall that it hid behind. But instead of blending in among the much smaller first years, Alphard was right there at his elbow, all smiles and bright eyes.

Merlin, he looked so much like Sirius when he smiled.

“Come along now children!” Alphard sang, his voice easily taking over the other prefect, who, after a brief glare in his direction, realized that Alphard taking over her watch meant she didn’t have to coddle the kids, and ran off to be with her friends. Alphard beamed, taking Harry’s arm he pulled him to the head of the small queue and began to march him and the first years out of the Hall.

“This way! This way!” His voice rang through the halls as he led them downstairs. “Stick together my little snakes, fore if you get left behind you’ll never find your way home!” Despite his words, and his carefree nature, Alphard kept shooting surreptitious glances back at the first years. Careful to keep them all in his sight.

Harry smiled softly at that. He had learned a while back that Slytherin indifference was mostly vibrato and posturing. When they stopped in front of the wall, that Harry knew was the doorway, Alphard took the time to look over all the children. Counting them.

“Listen up, little snakes, this part is very important. Our dormitory is hidden behind this wall.” He stepped back, flourishing wildly at the blank wall. “It will only reveal itself for the proper password. The password changes every few months, you will be notified when. The password for now is, Viridis!”

On the last word the blank wall melted into a lovely door of carved ebony. Serpents and flowering vines twined their way around the glossy panels, dancing and undulating together in the wavering light of the hall sconces. He watched them closely as they passed through the door, not quite sure if it was a trick of the light that made them appear alive, or magic.

The common room was larger, warmer, than he expected. Being so far down under the ground, under the lake, one would expect damp and dreary. But the light from the two large hearths filled the room with cozy warmth and merry crackling light.

Unlike the common room in Griffindor that was just one large room that held many functions, there were ornately carved wooden screens that sectioned off different parts of the room.

There was a proper entryway when they first walked in. Alphard showed them hooks along walls for hanging their cloaks, divided into years with the individual’s initials on a little wooden plaque above them. Below the hooks were little shelves for their shoes, each shelf had an accompanying pair of slippers, though Alphard said they were welcome to use their own. All this so that no one would drag wet and dirty cloaks through the halls or track in mud on their shoes.

It was such a baffling, pure-blooded thing to do that Harry couldn’t help but laugh softly at the absurdity of. He still took his cloak off and hung it under the hook that read H.E. Following Alphard’s lead, he placed his shoes on the shelf and slid the slippers on his stocking feet. He spared a moment of amazement that they fit, but then House Evles were nothing if not efficient.

Off to one side of the great room was the smaller of the two hearths, tucked away behind a few screens with the same snakes and vines as the door. There were several tables of wood, polished to a high sheen and comfortable looking wingbacked chairs all a dark green. Alphard pointed it out as the study area and informed everyone of the room’s silencing wards and rules on never speaking above a whisper once inside.

The rest of the room was filled with plush couches and over stuffed chairs in varying shades of green from nearly black to vibrant spring and every shade between. Oil lamps provided a soft, even lighting throughout the large space from their places on the little polished tables that dotted the room. Several large chairs sat grouped together right before the hearth and patterned rugs in silver, green, and black covered the immaculate, dark tiled floors in almost random intervals. But most impressive of all was the wall of solid glass that looked out into the lake.

It took up most of the back wall, the first thing that caught the eye as soon as one was past the entryway. It looked for all the world like a normal window would. Tall, floor to ceiling glass, draped in luxurious velvet of a deep palatial green. The glass was black now, reflecting the pinpricks of light from the room back at them and showing nothing of what was beyond it. But he knew, in the day, it would fill the room with a greenish grey glow of the bottom of the lake.

A shade he was all too familiar with.

Alphard stepped away from their little group for a moment, puttered around on a stand in the corner that Harry hadn’t noticed in his awe of the window, when came back he held in his hand a great white serpent. The firelight cast opalescent sparks against the snakes scales as he carried it over to them, smiling from ear to ear as he held his arm out. A few of the first years balked at the snake, unsure about the creature that so many found dark and republish in nature. Harry and the others regarded it with careful interest.

“And this,” Alphard said, running a finger over the fine white scales. “Is our Lady Gemma. She’s a Lunar Adder, and she’s our sweet little girl. Please treat her with respect.”

Gemma hissed softly from where she perched wrapped around Alphard’s entire arm. “It is I who take care of you, silly child.” She gave him a rather exasperated look with her jeweled eyes. Though Harry was sure he was the only one who picked up on it. He was certainly the only one who heard her.

Alphard came to stand next to him again, smiling a knowing smile. “You want to hold her, Harry?”

He had to try, very, very hard to make sure he didn’t slip into parseltongue. English, please, please let him speak English! “Yes, please!” Alphard handed her over, Gemma transferring easily to Harry’s much smaller arms. He had neither the bulk nor the length of Alphard’s, so she stretched her length all the way down past his elbow and nearly to his shoulder.

He stroked her head gently where it rested on his hand, her eyes like two opals blinked up at him calmly. “She’s lovely.” He whispered to no one in particular, vaguely aware that Alphard had taken his other arm and lead him to a couch near the fire.

“That she is. Such a lovely Lady.” Alphard deposited him on the couch before stepping over to the chairs by the fires, with a flick of his wand one turned around to face the room at large. He took seat and waved a hand at the gathering first years. “Take a seat now, little snakes. We need to have a talk about house rules and then you’ll be able to go off to dreamland as to be up bright and early for classes tomorrow!”

The first years piled into the couches, several of them sat very close to Harry, snuggling up to him to get a chance to pet Gemma. He tucked his slippered feet under himself as to make room a few that placed themselves on the rug before his feet.

Alphard spoke, but honestly he didn’t listen. He was no first year. He wasn’t going to wander off and get lost in the forest, or fall in the lake. Hell, he wouldn’t even get lost roaming the castle halls. He knew what it was to be a Hogwarts student, what could Alphard possibly say that would change anything for him?

Instead he focused on Gemma and the few children that had chose to sit near him. If snakes could purr she certainly would be doing so, as not only Harry but the children stroked her delicate scales. Occasionally she’d say something about how she liked a certain spot to rubbed or that one of the children was being a little rough. Harry managed to convey these things to the children while not giving away that he could understand her, or disrupting Alphard’s speech.

“There are six prefects to a year, noticeable by the badges,” he paused, Harry assumed to point at his badge, though he didn’t look up from Gemma. “Any of them will gladly assist you if you have a question or need help. Though they can also punish you if you are acting out, which will not happen, I know. But be aware that they can deduct house points and give detention. So always be on alert.”

“Slytherin, and Ravenclaw have only five prefects this, as we are graced with housing the Head Boy. Ravenclaw, the Head Girl. If you can’t find a prefect for help you can always ask Tom Riddle here,” another pause, “For help. Though please keep in mind that he is very busy as Head Boy, organizing the prefects and helping out the teachers, so only come to him if it’s an absolute emergency.”

Harry smiled softly as Gemma flopped over, twisting so that her belly was in air and desperately begged for someone to scratch under her chin and rub her belly. Chuckling softly to himself Harry complied. Luckily she was too far gone to question how he knew exactly what she wanted.

Alphard kept talking but something he said kept nagging him. Riddle....Riddle. It was familiar, he tried quickly to place it with some pure-blood face in the future, his mind was a bit hazy from day’s events, but still it kept come back.

Riddle.

Tom Riddle....

Tom....

Harry jerked, hand halting on Gemma’s warm scales. He did know that name. Not a pure-blood name. Not a pure-blood name at all. A half-blood. Like him.

So much like him, isn’t that what Dumbledore said?

He lifted his eyes, not wanting to see....knowing he had to.

Tom Marvolo Riddle sat in one of the large chairs by the fire! The Dark Lord of his time was just basking in the warmth of a fire, surrounded by helpless children, turning a soft smile and kind eyes their way.

How the hell had Harry missed that a young Voldemort was there? Even for him that was horribly obtuse!

Granted he had tried very to hard to remain unseen, to put on a completely boring front, which had included him keeping his head down and avoided eye contact at all costs. He had made a point of not really looking after all. Had gone out of his way to remain out of the spotlight as the new kid. So...maybe missing him was perhaps not so hard to believe.

Right.

It wasn’t his fault.

It wasn’t like he knew that Tom Riddle lived in this time....Hermione probably knew....Actually he probably should have known, from the diary...

He was pulled away from his frantic, unhelpful thoughts by a light tapping on his arm. The little girl with glossy black curls, Clara, was looking at him with her deep grey eyes. “Harry,” She whispered urgently, trying to keep from disturbing Alphard’s speech. “Is she okay? She looks dead!”

Gemma did, in fact, look dead. Her head was tilted precariously to the side, having slid off his hand, and her little tongue was lolling out. What Harry knew and the other’s did not was that she was still, from time to time, hissing her deep and utter pleasure.

He gave Clara a gentle smile, rubbing his finger along her long belly. “She’s fine, I think she just really like thes attention.”

A short time later Alphard clapped his hands loudly, drawing every wandering eye back to him. “So, that’s about it. The rules are important, and they’re there for your own protection. Now, off to bed with you! You’ll meet with our head of house, Professor Slughorn tomorrow morning. He’s the potions master and enjoys spending the first night back..um...celebrating the new school year. He’ll meet us at breakfast.” He pushed out of his chair, motioning for the others to follow.

Harry gathered the now lax Gemma in his arms and went over to him.

“She really likes you.” Alphard said, leading harry over the stand near the hearth. It was a table, about waste high to Alphard and a bit taller for Harry. It was set up like one of the terrariums he had seen at the zoo back in London. With fake limbs and rocks disguised to mimic a snakes natural habitat.

Only the rocks and tree limbs were very real here, the terrarium was filled with little trees that would be the perfect size for Gemma to perch on, there was even a tiny stream that sprang up from one of the rock to roll merrily over the side of the table. Disappearing into nothing as soon as fell over the edge. And above it all was a teeny tiny sun, suspended over the trees, shedding warmth and light onto the little grove. Harry smiled brightly when he realized there was also no glass. This might be where Gemma slept, and it was definitely her space. But she could come and go as she pleased.

Harry placed her onto one of the large, flat rocks, the warmth from the stone sinking briefly into his chilled fingers. “I didn’t think snakes were one of the approved pets on the list. How do you get around keeping her here?”

Alphard smiled wolfishly. “Loopholes, my dear Evans,” He turned Harry with the touch of a hand, leading him to the arched doorway that Harry figured must lead to the dorm rooms. “See, no one actually owns her, she’s just here. Just a creature that found her way into the school that happens to like living in our common room.” He gave Harry an exaggerated wink as they entered the dim hall.

He didn’t have a moment to question, or even to be impressed by the Slytherin’s penchant for wiggling around the rules, as the hall, almost literally, took his breath away.

Salazar Slytherin, it seemed, hadn’t done things by halves. The entry way and the common room were so much more extravagant than what he was used to with Griffindor, He didn’t know why he had been expecting ‘normalcy’ in their dorm rooms either.

The hall was separated into two sides. Though separated was a very loose way of describing it. There were a series of carved arches between the two walls, gilded pots of bright, fragrant flowers stood next to each column. The columns themselves seemed to stand between what was the girl and boy sides of the dorms and aside from that there was no separations.

The first doors on either side were thrown open, a prefect stood in the either room, a girl for the girls, a boy for the boys, giving them last minute instructions or help. Harry couldn’t imagine which.

The prefects in his own time certainly didn’t take such care with the first years. He remembered quite soundly being stranded with just kids his own age to fend with.

“Prefects’ rooms are situated between the third and fourth year’s rooms. The Head Boy and Head Girl rooms are the ones at the end of the hall, though only Tom’s in occupied,” Alphard said as he led Harry down to the seventh door of the hall, it was next to the last on this wall, the Head Boy, he noted, would be able to look into the common room from his doorway.

“If you need anything you can come and get me. Anytime, anything, don’t worry!” Harry nodded, Alphard opened the door to a very large, circular room, the ceiling was almost completely glass. Like with the window in the common room the lake was black through it, a void through which anything could be looking.

Shuddering, Harry forced his eyes from the vast nothingness to take in his new room. Even here there was odd, unnecessary opulence. The beds were fourposter, just like he was used to, but they looked much larger. Whether because they actually were, or because the dark green bedding simply made them appear so, he wasn’t sure.

The beds were lined up against the walls, ten on one side and ten on the other, separated by a door that Alphard said was the washroom. Between each was a large wooden wardrobe, though everyone’s trunks still sat at the end of their beds, the rest of his dorm mates were stowing their robes and other assorted garments into the wardrobes.

Alphard slipped off to his own room and Harry made his slow way to the only unoccupied bed, ignoring, for the most part, all his unnamed roommates. There would be plenty of time, once he was rested and a little more settled, to worry about learning names.

One step at a time.

Over the course of the past month certain...things...had appeared in Harry’s trunk that he had no memory of placing there. A little kit in a leather case that held a come, brush, scissors, and other assorted items that Harry didn’t know how, or why he would need, had simply been there the day after he went clothes shopping. Then there were several pairs of stocking, both in silk and wool and in a variety of colors. He had been more taken aback by them than he had the slips. there was no possible way to not feel like he was wearing woman’s clothing now...though it had been a chilly day and he had put on a pair of the black silk ones, and they were undeniably comfortable.

Still, he only felt better about them when he saw other’s in his dorm placing their own stockings and little grooming cases in their wardrobes.

The past was just plain weird.

And fussy.

Ignoring everything around him, Harry took off his robes, draped them over a hanger in the wardrobe and tucked his little slippers under his bed before crawling under the covers and pulled the curtains around.

It took some time for the room around him to settle down. The thick curtains did quite a lot to dampen the noise to a soft buzz as his roommates chatted through their nightly ablutions. Harry just tried setting into the luxurious warmth of his bed. Fluffing pillows, rearranging them just so to make a nice little nook to curl up in.

Not too long after he was finally settled the wall sconces were extinguished. Plunging the room into sudden darkness that slowly faded into a soft green glow as the wane light from the lake filled the room.

Harry stared into the rippling, gossamer waves above his head, trying vainly to fall asleep.

 

~~~

 

Eleven thirty exactly, found Tom in his chair, the largest one in the room, by the fire. All the Slytherin prefects were there as well, seated in their own armchairs around him. Such after hours meetings were a tradition he had set up in his fifth year, after proving himself as Slytherin’s heir he had simply became the head of the house. The older prefects and that year’s Head Girl all stepped aside for him to take his rightful place as their leader.

Before his rule Slytherin house only played at unity. Presenting themselves as a whole to the rest of the school, but behind closed doors they were little better than animals. They were a house divided. Children playing at the games their parents thrived on. Petty, useless feuds that served no real, lasting purposes.

Tom had taken them and shaped them into something better. Stronger. Something that would last and serve him well for years to come.

He turned his gaze to Emaleigh Greengrass, the prefect that had been in charge of the first years during the feast. “Tell me about them,” he said with quiet command.

Emaleigh flipped a golden curl over her shoulder before starting...she often had trouble begging a conversation without at least touching her hair first. “Everything seems to be fine, for the most part. It’s much the same as usual. Most of them already know each other, those who don’t are slowly finding their place in the group.”

“And the exception?” Tom’s eyes narrowed at her, he had a feeling he already knew what she would say.

“There’s one child, he doesn’t have a name,” everyone in the group murmured an understanding. They all knew what that meant. Tom had shown up at eleven and he too did not ‘have a name’. It was what they said when a child arrived with a name that sounded far too muggle for comfort.

A pretty way to say a dirty thing.

“How are the other’s treating him?”

Emaleigh smoothed out nonexistent wrinkles in her robes, a nervous habit that gave away what she didn’t want to say. Tom sighed, the fingers of his right hand began tapping the chair arm in mild anger. It did not go unnoticed among the group. Emaleigh sat straight, nearly tripping over her tongue in her haste to answer him.

No one wanted to see him truly angry.

“They others well...they didn’t want to talk to him much, but I tried to bring him into the conversation, find out about his past. No one said anything slanderous to him, not where I could hear anyway,” she said the last part softly, as though hoping Tom wouldn’t hear that she had been lax in her duty of listening to them. “But his name isn’t muggle,” she added quickly in a stronger voice. “His family is from Russia originally, it’s just an uncommon name here. Aaron Petin.”

Tom was silent for several minutes as he thought, letting them stew for a bit, unsure of what he might have to say about that. “I want you to keep on eye on them, lead them. They need to know how things work around here.”

Emaleigh scoffed, all decorum thrown at the window at being given such a task. “Make Grace do it!” She said vehemently, tossing her head in the direction of the fifth year prefect two seats down. “She likes kids, she’ll want to do it.”

Grace, as though trying to defy the name her parents bestowed on her, was a sturdy girl that nearly reached Tom in height. She was stoic and statuesque with a handsome face and arms that would have no trouble in breaking the much more delicate looking Emaleigh in half.

If the look she sent Emaleigh’s way was any indication she very much wanted to test that theory.

“I shouldn’t get stuck with them just because Emaleigh would rather spend her time in front of the mirror.” Grace shot back, turning in her chair, ready to pounce Emaleigh any second.

“Enough.” Tom’s voice was soft, barely more than a whisper, but it had everyone falling silent and still in a instant. “You will both take turns watching the first years until you are sure they not only find their footing within the school, but also make sure they know that we do not shun our House. A child is a tool waiting to be shaped. If we set them so carelessly aside others will simply pick them up, and use them against us.” He fixed them all in turn with a sharp, unwavering look. “Do I make myself clear?”

A satisfying chorus of ‘Yes, my lord’ met the question. He gave a small smile. “You my go. We’ll have another meeting at the end of the week.”

All of them but Alphard rose and headed towards the dorms. Alphard fiddled idly with the prefect pin on his robes, still uncomfortable with being alone in Tom’s presence. He relief when Orion arrived to sit in the chair next to him was palpable.

Tom smirked at his delicious discomfort.

Slowly the rest filed in. Orion and Lestrange had been hiding in the study, and Abraxas he was sure had been painstakingly hanging his robes. But one by one his knights found their seats. Rosier had simply been standing in the corner, peering out into pitch black. He took his chair last.

“Tell us about our newest addition to the upper class, Alphard.”

Because he had no sense of propriety, Alphard wiggled in his seat. He would need to get over this unease if he was ever going to be useful to them. “Harry is quiet, his whole family is dead, as far as I can tell. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. Um...” Alphard tapped his lips in thought for a moment. “Oh! And he likes snakes!”

There were a few muted groans at Alphard’s less than useful report.

Tom wanted dearly to join them.

“He doesn’t have a name.” Abraxas said mater of factly.

“He doesn’t look muggle-born.” Orion said softly. “He has the bone structure and air of a pure-blood, I can think of a few families he might have branched from.” Several knights nodded in agreement.

“Get close to him Alphard,” Tom instructed, “Learn about him before anyone else does. We need to know how to protect our newest snake. He will already be a target, being a transfer student and all.”

“And because he’s pretty.” Alphard said, nodding himself. It seemed this too was a point that the others agreed on. “We’ll probably have plenty of classes together, I make sure he stays safe.”

“Good,” Tom said resolutely before turning to other topics. It was getting late, and there wasn’t much that needed to be covered. They needed to wrap up this meeting and get ready for the next day.

“Now,” Tom steepled his fingers and peered over them at his followers. “It’s time to get down to today’s business.”

 

~~~

 

He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t even find the space between sleep and being awake. The warm fuzzy, almost, pace that was all darkness and warmth.

It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t relax. He had become very good at relaxing his muscles and letting his mind drift. Snape would honestly be so proud of him...or well...wouldn’t be able to taunt him quite so much. The problem was that he couldn’t seem to stay in that state.

It was a slow awakening. Realizing that his eyes were open, that he was staring into the swirling waters over his head. The way it cast ephemeral light on the hanging around him.

Dizzying. Dancing. Dazzling.

The bed was large, the space above his head felt endless. But he still felt...trapped.

Like the weight of the lake was actually pressing down on his chest. Suffocating. Crushing.

Pushing down a wave a nausea, Harry sat up and slid to the end of his bed. Some time ago the door had opened and someone had left the room, only to come back an hour later. He could think of many things someone, or someones, might be doing out in the common room when everyone else was sleeping. Most of which involved a certain Head Boy that, try as he may, kept jumping to the forefront of Harry’s mind.

Giving up on sleep Harry crept out of the bed. The room was chilly, though not as cold as he had always figured the dungeon dorms would be. There must have been some magic worked into the floors, as there was no toasty fire roaring in the rooms. Even so it was a little cooler than was comfortable, what with the thin silk of Harry’s nightclothes. He wrapped a spare blanket from the bed around his shoulders and left the room as silently as he could.

The common room was dark, but for a few embers still glowing the hearth and Gemma’s tiny, brilliant sun. With the room empty it made the furnishing look more like a display of wealth. Like some of those show rooms in aunt Petunia’s Better Homes magazines. Something to be seen and definitely not touched.

She would have a cow if she’d known that Harry had his feet on one of these couches just hours ago! He couldn’t help but smile at the thought. But his humor was brief. He hadn’t been able to not think of the Dursley’s, probably more than ever before. He hadn’t even thought this much about them when he went off to Hogwarts the first time.

Now they were there with everyone else, playing on a loop through Harry’s head.

He would never seen them again. And perhaps it was because he had not chosen this path himself, he couldn’t quite figure out what it meant to him to leave his only living blood relative behind without so much as a heads up.

In the silence of the room, Gemma’s soft hissing reached him easily. She must have woken up when he entered, now she looked on him with bright eyes that seemed to glow in the light of her little sun.

Her head bobbed around as he approached her, her tongue flicking out carefully to taste him on the air. “What is bothering you, little hatchling?”

Harry smiled at her. She was really such a kind snake. He didn’t know how exactly she came to be in this common room, but it was easy to see that viewed the Slytherins as her children. How odd. And endearing.

“I just couldn’t sleep.” He said, his voice sounding louder than it was in the quiet room. Even for a hiss.

She perked up instantly. “You speak!”

“I do.” Harry said back, falling easily into parseltongue. He reached out a hand to her. He didn’t have to wait long before she was climbing up on his arm and wrap around it like before.

“I speak all the time, and no one hears.” She said, her words taking on a hint of a pout. “Except the other.”

Oh right, Riddle would be able to speak to her.

Harry wouldn’t know that though.

He went over to one of the chairs by the fire, curling up on the closest to the fading embers. It was still warm from when the fire was stronger. Harry allowed his blanket to pool around his waist to better soak up the remaining heat.

“Someone else talks to you?” Harry asked in the most sincere manner he could. “I’ve never met anyone else who could speak to snakes before.”

“Oh yes!” Gemma said excitedly. “My Tom. Such a good, strong snake.” There was pride in her voice that Harry would have found amusing, if he didn’t know she was talking about the future dark lord.

“The Head Boy.” Harry mused. He spent some time simply stroking Gemma, he didn’t ask what they talked about. He didn’t honestly care.

What would Voldemort say to a small, motherly snake?

Nothing useful surely.

What was useful anymore anyway? What would Harry do with any information that he could get about Riddle now?

Why had that woman thrown him into the past? Into Voldemort’s past?

‘It didn’t have to be this way’ she had said. What exactly did she even mean. Why say that and hand him a locket of Riddle’s parents? For surely that was who they were. He was so much a carbon copy of his muggle father it was almost ridiculous.

Harry bet that fact was something of a giant thorn in Riddle’s side.

Was that why he was comfortable running around as a half snake, half man beast thing in the future?

“What are you thinking so hard about, little hatchling?”

Harry blinked down at her. “Just...mulling over some things.”

“Things I can help you with?” Gemma hissed, gently prodding his cheek with her nose. “I’m good at helping.”

Harry chuckled softly. “I’m sure you are very helpful.” She preened under his praise. Harry sighed, slumping in the chair when his worries came back once more. “I’m just not sure you can help. Or that there’s anything to help with, I guess.”

“Gemma is here to listen, hatchling.”

Harry looked into the embers, faint reds and oranges undulating over pale, ash covered coals. “What if, you suddenly found yourself...lost.”

“Lost?”

“Well, maybe not lost. But everything was suddenly so different, and no one you loved or even knew was there anymore.”

“It does not sound happy, hatchingly. What happened to your other snakes?”

“Some died,” Harry said, voice a hoarse whisper. “Some I simply had to leave behind.”

“Gemma is here to look after you now, little snakling.”

“Thank you.” He couldn’t help but laugh at her persistence. Her eyes reflected the dancing light of the low flames, they were almost hypnotic. “What if, hypothetically, you were given a chance to go back. Make some bad things in your life, in the world, better.”

She tilted her head, her eyes wide. “Hypo....tet?”

“Never mind, Gemma. It was just a silly question anyway.”

She booped against his face once more. “But I helped with the other things, yes?”

“Yes, you’re very helpful, Gemma.”

She seemed satisfied with that and was content to settle against Harry’s chest as he watched the fire. He hadn’t realized he dozed off until a sharp nip of pain on his check woke him up. He startled, momentarily disorientated. Until he remembered he had returned to Hogwarts, was sorted into Slytherin, and had fallen asleep in the common room.

The room was dark, the only light now the one from Gemma’s stand. “You were sleeping, littlest snake. You need to go to bed.”

She was right. If he was tired enough to actually fall asleep now he should do so in his bed and not scruntched up in a chair where anyone could come by and see him. He rose, stretching his bunched up joints, and took Gemma back to her post. “Good night, snake mother.”

She rubbed against his hand at the name, clearly pleased. “Don’t forget your blanket, little one.”

He fetched his blanket like a good snakling, wrapped it around his shoulders and left for bed. Feeling oddly relaxed and centered.

Who knew talking to snakes could be so rewarding.

 

~~~

 

Tom watched his knights go off to bed.

The meeting had been fruitful, though there was little to discuss. No one did anything worth mentioning over the break. No one but Tom, and the story of how his Horcrux came into being was not one that all of his followers would be treated to. Only those closest to him would know any of the details, and even then, they would only know the where and a very general idea on how.

He would not share all of the intimate details with them.

Not with anyone.

The fire burned low, Tom contented himself with watching it dwindle. He was used to staying up late, to working at night. And with his enhanced night vision it seemed a waste to not use it.

But sometimes it was nice to just sit back and allow the world to settle around him. To feel the current of magic as it raced through the halls. Such a different flavor than the magic that hung over the streets of magical London. It was more wild, untamable, eager to learn. Just like the students that fueled it.

He sat there for countless minutes, just feeling. Until Gemma spoke.

“Someone comes.” She stated just before Tom heard soft footfalls coming from down the hall. “It is the new snake.” She said simply with a flick of her tongue.

He didn’t know why he did it. He had no fear or intimidation of the new transfer student. A meek boy who, though lovely, was of no consequence to Tom and his plans. He should be trying to win him over, to make nice and learn the things about him that would either lead to this Harry Evans becoming one of his knights, or simply a member of his house that Tom needed to protect.

Instead to cast hasty concealment over himself with a quick wave of his hand.

Becoming invisible had been something he’d learned long before meeting Dumbledore and coming to Hogwarts. It was always a handy trick to have up one’s sleeve.

Harry walked in, wrapped in a blanket from his bed, his little stockinged feet peeping out with every step, and his hair in disarray. He was honestly quite adorable like that, ruffled, blinking curiously at the grant room with his large, acid green eyes.

Tom contemplated getting up and moving into the study. He could pop out and act like he’d been in there all along, he could help Harry with whatever was wrong.

Then Gemma hissed.

Somehow Harry heard her from across the room, he turned and headed straight for the little stand.

Gemma, ever the caring Lady, asked if Harry was okay. Tom couldn’t help but enjoy her antics. He had learned long ago that most snakes had a very skewed view of life. Gemma actually thought that the student in Slytherin were her children. There was nothing he could do stop that.

But then Harry answered her, and Tom’s world stopped on its axis.

Harry could speak parseltongue!

That was...well it was impossible.

His mind raced, trying frantically to make sense of it all.

He was the heir, just him! He couldn’t have a brother...especially a younger one. His mother died when she gave birth to him, she was the one who passed the snake language and the only good part of his heritage to him. There was no way!

And yet he was seeing it for himself, right in front of his face. And coming right towards him!

He had risen when Harry first spoke, and he took a few steps back and away from the chair as Harry and Gemma drew near. She knew Tom was still around, but she didn’t give him away. Not even when she told Harry that he too could speak to snakes.

A fact that Harry just adsorbed, as though the idea were a mere curiosity and not the proclamation of the Heir of Slytherin that it was.

Tom had never been so taken aback in his life. No one had ever been able to surprise him. His life had been a smooth one, for all purposes. Even finding out he was a wizard wasn’t shocking. But this! Nothing could have prepared him for a small boy appearing out of the blue who could also talk to snakes.

Tom took a few deep, steadying breaths. There was a rational explanation to all of this. Nothing simply was, even in the in magical world. There were laws and rules to how things worked.

Tom was the Heir of Slytherin because the Guants were direct descendants of that noble line.

The pure-bloods in his ranks had said it earlier, hadn’t they. Harry didn’t have a name, but he had a face. Harry Evans simply must come from another family that could also draw it’s lines back to Slytherin...or some other ancient house that had the talent. There were other, less spectacular cases after all.

After a brief chat about having to leave his friends behind, Harry dozed in the chair. In Tom’s chair!

No one ever sat there. Not after he had claimed it years ago, everyone knew better!

Well, Harry wouldn’t, would he? He’d have to learn, but that was a lesson for later.

“Wake him, Gemma, it’s getting late.”

Gemma complied, and Tom watched as Harry placed her on the stand, and dutifully returned to chair to retrieve his blanket. The pale cream of his under robe was almost an exact match for his skin, smooth and pale. He walked with a careful grace, weaving his way through the chairs and tables, slipping a little on the silk covered feet.

Tom couldn’t seem to take his eyes off him, and as Harry passed by, still unaware that he was right there, Tom got his second shock of the evening.

They didn’t touch, he hardly even felt the breeze left in Harry’s wake. But for a moment, a single second as Harry crossed his path and left him behind, the room around him grew brighter.

A shock of light, almost blinding, but it was just the small sun of Gemma’s stand. The room grew warmer, the bone deep chill that Tom now carried with him thawed. Just for a moment.

For just a moment, the scent of a meadow, warmed by the summer sun, filled the room.

In a flash, here and gone again, Tom was transported to somewhere....well...magical.

Then Harry was walking away, rounding the corner, and leaving him behind.

Tom gasped, hands reaching, clutching the chair as his knees threatened to give. It was...it couldn’t be. But it was...so much like the....

His diary!

His Horcrux.

Harry couldn’t have....

It made no sense, but Tom was already off, running through the arch and down the hall. He tore his door open, kicked it closed behind him and with careless flick of his wrist locked it. The diary was in his trunk. There were plenty of wards around it. Things he couldn’t stick on his door lest one of the underclassmen wander into his room. But his trunk was his territory alone.

And it was still there. Wrapped in a bit of black silk, tucked into a corner with a camouflaged charm on it.

Tom hugged it to his chest as he sunk to his knees, the room spinning around him. Growing bright, sharper, a little warmer.

Harry hadn’t taken it after all...not that he could have....not with the protections on the trunk.

But then how...why had he felt that way before?

It could be another fluctuation, but he hadn’t had one of those in over a month. He was well and truly adjusted to his new senses. This shouldn’t still be happening.

And oddly of all. Even when his senses were a mess, even now when he held his Horcrux close and soul felt whole once more.

There was never the scent of the sun drenched meadow on a summer’s afternoon.