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The Potter Problem

Chapter Text

Thirty years into his twenty-fourth time loop, Lord Voldemort walked into a Muggle nightclub.

It had never been high on his list of priorities to visit a Muggle nightclub. In fact, on a list that ranged from achieving true immortality, in first place, to developing a counter curse for the runny nose jinx, in last place, visiting a Muggle nightclub wasn’t even a scrawl in the margins.     

But twenty-four lifetimes was a long time, twenty-three deaths at the hands of Harry Potter had taken the spark out of subjugating muggleborns or overthrowing governments, and there were only so many Saturday nights one could spend at home researching arcane magic before a little variety was in order.

And so, on June 26th, 2010, Lord Voldemort found himself pushing open the swinging glass door of a peeling brick, industrial-chic building named MIRROR Lounge and Dance Club in a hip district of London.

Inside, the club was dim and packed with bare-armed sweating bodies. Dance music pounded, conversation buzzed, and the feeble breeze of the air conditioner did little to penetrate the wafts of sticky heat. With a grimace, Lord Voldemort applied a cooling charm, an air freshening charm, and a muffling charm. Then he pushed through the tangle of limbs, claimed an empty metal stool at the bar, and waited for something to happen.

Surely something had to happen. Why else would the Muggles spend so much time here?

The pair of inebriated, tank-top-clad men to his right paid him no attention, proving Voldemort’s youthful disguise effective. He surveyed the room, noting that many men in the club appeared to be groping or kissing one another. He knew wizards occasionally engaged in such behavior, but so many in one place? It had to be some kind of new Muggle custom.

His thoughts were interrupted as a tall man in a button down shirt slid onto the unoccupied bar stool to his left. Lord Voldemort flicked his eyes over, sparing no more than a glance. Then an odd feeling of unease seized him, and he turned his head back to examine the man once more. Black hair. Green eyes. A bubble of laughter threatened to escape his lips.

What a perverse universe.

He turned his attention to the liquor bottles on display behind the bar, and waited to see how Harry Potter would kill him this time.

Potter tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said Potter, but the sound was drowned out by the pounding bass of a Swedish dance hit. “Excuse me,” he tried again, this time shouting.

Lord Voldemort slowly turned his head to face Potter. Potter’s appearance matched his age – thirty-one – not that it mattered when Voldemort knew Potter was practically immortal. His countless ill-fated attempts on Potter’s life during previous time loops had proven that much.

“Yes?” replied Voldemort, unblinking.

Potter gave him a hesitant smile. “Are you waiting for someone?” Then, when the man thought Voldemort hadn’t heard him, he shouted, “Are you waiting for someone?”

“No.”

Potter smiled, appearing relieved. “Uh, in that case, can I buy you a drink?”

It had to be some kind of joke. Some kind of extremely sick and twisted joke. He considered apparating away, but in his experience, it wouldn’t make any difference. His first encounter with Potter in any time loop always marked the beginning of the end.

“Are you here to kill me?” he asked, voice devoid of emotion.

Potter’s smile was forced. “Uh… no?”

“Very well then. Buy me a drink, I don’t care.”

“Great.” Potter gave an awkward laugh. “That was a… a good joke.”

Voldemort blinked at him.

“So what kind of drink would you like?” asked Potter. When Voldemort didn’t respond, Potter passed him a menu. “I haven’t tried any of the house recommendations, but they do make a pretty good gin and tonic.”

“That one then.”

Potter smiled, again relieved, and caught the attention of the bartender. He ordered two gin and tonics.

“So…” said Potter, trailing off.

Voldemort stared at him.

“So,” said Potter. “Do you go to, ah, this kind of place, often?”

“No.”

Potter laughed. “Me neither.”

Voldemort wished the man would either kill him or leave.

Potter drummed his fingers on the polished bar top. With a distant look in his eyes, he spoke again. “This is actually my first time in a gay club.”

Voldemort blinked at that. Gay club? As in a club specifically for gay men? That explained a lot.

Potter glanced at him and sighed. “I’m completely botching this, aren’t I?”

A ghost of a smile played across Voldemort’s lips. “Well I’m still alive, so I’m not going to complain.”

Potter’s laugh this time was genuine.

“You’re nuts,” he said.

Voldemort ignored him, privately returning the sentiment. The bartender brought them their gin and tonics. Potter squeezed a wedge of lime over his drink, juice and pulp dribbling onto the ice, and stirred it with the straw, ice clinking.

“How did you find me?” asked Voldemort.

Potter stopped stirring and furrowed his brow. “Find you?”

Voldemort’s flicked his eyes to Potter. “Yes. Find me. Unless you want to claim you happened to visit this exact club, happened to see me here, and happened to approach me on a whim.”

Potter frowned. “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.”

Voldemort’s eyes narrowed.

“Mate, I don’t even know who you are,” said Potter.

Voldemort snapped. Seized by irritation, he pierced Potter’s mind with a probe of legilimency. And encountered absolutely no resistance. The fool was thirty-one years old and hadn’t even learned occlumency. He supposed it made sense, considering there was no vengeful Dark Lord threatening him, but still. This had to be the most incompetent Potter yet.

What he did learn, however, was that Potter was telling the truth.

Potter blinked back stupidly, oblivious idiot that he was.

“Alright. I believe you,” said Voldemort. “How about we make an Unbreakable Vow in which you agree to never seek my death?”

At his words, Potter nearly fell out of his chair.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Voldemort.

“Sorry,” said Potter, rebalancing himself. “Just. Something about your phrasing. Reminded me of something.”

“Do you have a problem with Unbreakable Vows?”

“No,” said Potter, laughing nervously. “Just forget about it.”

“They’re a fundamental part of the heritage of the Wizarding World.”

This time, Potter actually fell out of his chair.

When Potter finally picked himself up, he scanned the room and then leaned over to Voldemort, expression intense. “You’re a wizard?” he hissed.

“Obviously.”

Potter seemed to dissociate, staring at the wall behind the bar, before taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Wow, I just, well, what are the odds?”

“Higher than they should be, apparently.” Far, far higher. Potter had no idea.

“Maybe it’s fate,” said Potter.

Of course it was bloody fate.

“I mean, really,” continued Potter. “I called it quits on the gay wizard dating scene after only two weeks. That’s how long it took me to be introduced to every other uncoupled gay or bi wizard around my age. All nine of them. Come to think of it, I wonder why I didn’t meet you.” He cocked his head at Voldemort. “Unless you’re not, you know, open about it.”

Voldemort almost didn’t know how to respond to that. He wasn’t gay, he wasn’t seeking a relationship, he abhorred the very concepts of love and attachment, he’d spent the past thirty years avoiding Potter, and he most certainly wasn’t in Potter’s target age range.

“I don’t get out much.”

Potter smiled at that. “Me neither, to be honest. Work keeps me pretty busy.”

Voldemort wondered whether he was supposed to know what exactly Potter’s work entailed. He didn’t, but then again, he wasn’t lying about not getting out much. Legilimency provided the answer. This particular Potter was an international Quidditch star. They often were, when they grew up with two happy parents and no looming Dark Lord. How utterly tedious.

“Yes, I suppose it would,” said Voldemort.

“Not much of a Quidditch fan?”

“No.”

Potter smiled. “That’s probably for the best. Fans can be… intense.”

Ah yes. The Potter fan club, another delightful mainstay of his many time loops. It had a tendency to crop up even when Potter wasn’t hailed as the infant defeater of Voldemort. Which he hadn’t been for a long time: Voldemort had given up on trying to murder the infant Potter after the third loop, and given up on antagonizing Potter altogether after the sixth. The sixth Potter had been… different.

“Are you going to try your drink?” asked Potter. “You might like it, even if it doesn’t hold a candle to firewhiskey.” He grinned as if he’d just made the cleverest inside joke.

Voldemort grimaced. He abhorred drinking for much the same reason he abhorred love. It made barely tolerable people even worse.

Bearing in mind that the night was already a disaster, he took a sip. The taste was tangy, and it burned on the way down. He cast a sobering charm on himself.

“What the hell!” cried Potter.

“What?”

“That was barely a sip!”

“And?”

“Have you ever had fun in your life?”

Voldemort frowned. He had, a few hundred mental years ago. Multiple times, even.

“That settles it. I’m not leaving you alone until you finish that. And no sobering charms either.”

Voldemort stared at him. “I believe you misunderstand the nature of our relationship.”

“Um?”

“We don’t have a relationship.”

“Ok?”

“That means you don’t tell me what to do.”

Potter blinked at him and sighed. “Just drink, mate.”

Half an hour later, Potter was piss drunk, and Voldemort was almost regretting his decision to remain sober.

“When Ginny left me… I was just… Fuck.” Potter was slumped over the bar, stirring the ice in an empty glass.

Voldemort nodded along. In twenty-four time loops, he’d never resorted to suicide. But that could change.

“Just… Fuck. Fucked up.”

“Go on. This is scintillating.”

“Ten years of marriage. Just. Fuck, mate. I don’t know.”

With what appeared to be herculean effort, Potter pulled his head off the bar top and swayed for a moment, only to slump against Voldemort’s shoulder. Voldemort seized the man by the face and pushed him back onto his stool. “Don’t do that again. Ever.”

He wondered whether casting a sobering charm on Potter could be construed as an act of aggression. By any sensible logic, it couldn’t. But one never knew when it came to Potter.

The man offered him a daft smile. “You know… I’m glad… We met.”

Suicide, then. The only question was how.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come here tonight…” Potter continued. “Muggle club… Gay club… All that.”

Voldemort nodded. Could one cast the Killing Curse on oneself?

“But then I just… Thought of my life. Ginny… One year… She’s already moved on.”

But perhaps a self-directed Killing Curse would interfere with the ritual he’d used to keep sending his memories back in time.

“And I… I’m just. Day by day. Same shit. Never changes.”

It wasn’t as if he wanted to die completely. Just enough to return to a time when Potter hadn’t yet learned to vocalize.

“I’m stuck… Not happy… Not sad. Not enough to fix anything… The months just... Disappear.” Potter laughed.

Voldemort slid his eyes over to Potter. It would have to be Potter in the end. It was the only safe way to die.

“So I thought… Fuck… I have to… Something. Do something. Or I’ll wake up… Fifty years later. Look back… There won’t be anything. Nothing. Just the same shit. One long day. And this club. Meeting you… It’s something. It’s bloody something.” Potter’s eyes found his own, startling in their intensity. And very green.

Voldemort blinked.

With a flick of his wand, he cast a sobering charm on the other man. Potter snapped to attention and stared at Voldemort, comprehension dawning on his face.

“Fuck. Sorry,” said Potter.

Voldemort said nothing.

“I… I’ll be heading home now.”

Potter pushed his drink away and left a crumpled wad of Muggle money on the bar. Picked his coat off the barstool and slipped it on. Patted the wallet in his pocket. Then glanced back up at Voldemort.

“Yes?” said Voldemort quietly.

Potter closed his eyes. Opened them. Inhaled. Exhaled. “What’s your name?”

“What?”

“So I can owl you. Not that you ever want to hear from me again. But, you know, just in case.”

Voldemort paused. “Alexander Smith.”

Potter smiled. “Nice to meet you, Alexander. I’m Harry. But, er, you already knew that.”

And then he left.

Voldemort watched him go.

Chapter Text

The next day, Lord Voldemort was in possession of a most unwelcome letter.

Hi Alexander,

How are things? This is Harry, from the bar. I hope I didn’t make too much of an ass of myself. Anyway, I’m not really sure where we left off, but if you’re interested, do you want to meet me for lunch this Saturday? I know a couple of good spots in Diagon Alley.

- Harry

Voldemort paced back and forth in the kitchen of his London flat. The letter should not have reached him. Alexander Smith was not his real identity. Nor was it his real fake identity. It wasn’t even his fake fake identity. Yet somehow the owl had outmaneuvered him. He cast a baleful glare at the snow white bird that perched at his window. It hooted haughtily and preened its feathers.

He reread the letter and folded it back into thirds. Stopping in the middle of his kitchen, he held the manuscript aloft with one hand. With the other, he cast fiendfyre.

Brilliant embers erupted from his wand, pulsing orange and flaring to life as a dozen creatures – serpent, vole, tarantula, sparrow – that danced and corkscrewed through the air, buffeting Voldemort with a wave of searing heat. Voldemort pushed back with a flex of will, and the creatures collapsed in on themselves, growing hotter and brighter until they were reduced to a single point, one impossibly luminescent fruit fly, that drifted through the air like a stray ember. When the fruit fly hit the letter, it erupted into a flame that consumed the parchment in a single flash of heat and light that passed quicker than a thought. Ash drifted down onto Voldemort’s hardwood floor.

Good. He had been looking for a reason to use that spell.

With a swish of his wand, he vanished the ash. The bird at the window hooted, so he cursed it to lose all sense of direction and confunded it to fly to Australia. It left. With any luck, it wouldn’t return in this lifetime. Satisfied, he returned to his study to continue translating the scroll he’d bribed a corrupt archaeologist to smuggle out of a Chinese wizard emperor’s tomb. He thought nothing more on the subject of Harry Potter.

The next day, a new owl arrived with a new letter.

Perseverance in the face of hopeless adversity. Also known as stupidity. It had always been one of Potter’s strengths.

Hi Alexander,

Hope you’re doing well.

Sorry if this is the second letter you’ve receiving from me. I think my owl got lost. I’m a bit worried – she’s usually brilliant with directions. Let me know if you happen to see her.

Anyway, in case you didn’t get the first letter: Do you want to get lunch with me this Saturday in Diagon Alley?

- Harry

Lord Voldemort sank into a plush armchair and massaged his temples. Potter was worse than Bellatrix. There was a reason Voldemort hadn’t made any particular effort to retain his good looks through decades of Dark Arts experimentation. Good looks were useful for charming favors out of one’s superiors. An even better solution was simply not having superiors.

Which of course led back to the Potter problem. His supposed equal. With a sigh, he stood up and placed the latest letter, unshredded, unburned, and otherwise undamaged, onto his writing desk. He’d given up on trying to understand the power he knew not lifetimes ago, but it was foolish to pass up on a blatant and freely given opportunity to squeeze any lesser secrets out of his enemy. With a flick of his wand, he conjured a sheet of parchment (because what self-respecting wizard would ever bother with purchasing anything?) and penned a polite response accepting Harry’s invitation.

What a strange and twisted universe.

 


 

That Saturday, Lord Voldemort found himself standing in front of a restaurant, the sun warming his face and a light breeze flapping his somber black robes. The Hen’s Crossing was a quaint establishment, tucked into a quieter corner of Diagon Alley close to the intersection with Knockturn. The building was weathered stone, decorated by cheerful pink pansies in green planter boxes. Black wrought iron tables and chairs filled the cobblestone street in front of the restaurant, and a few groups of boisterous young witches and wizards were enjoying lunch. Voldemort deemed it an altogether insipid affair.

He had arrived five minutes early – being nothing if not punctual – and noted with some irritation that Potter was nowhere to be found. He took a leather-bound menu out of a basket by the door and seated himself at one of the outdoor tables. Paging through, he found the dining options as insipid as the clientele: Shephard’s pie, fish and chips, pumpkin pasties. Nothing to make him regret using dark magic to remove his need to eat decades ago.

Five minutes later, Potter had still not arrived. Voldemort surveyed the surrounding tables, looking for any sign of him. When a young witch made eye contact with him, she paled and excused herself from the premises.

Ten minutes later, Voldemort was reviewing his mental catalogue of undetectable curses. A waitress approached his table. She got halfway through asking Voldemort for his drink order before her better judgement took over.

Twenty-three minutes later, Voldemort was silently casting the letter scrambling jinx (an old favorite) to rearrange his menu into a cursed poem that would elicit waking nightmares in the reader. Just as he tweaked the second to last line to fit iambic tetrameter, a shadow fell over his table. Voldemort looked up, and there was Potter.

The object of his ire was dressed like a fool: Muggle sunglasses, tacky safari hat, garish red robes, and a long winter scarf concealing the lower half of his face. In summer. And his plan had been to glean secrets from this man? Perhaps Voldemort was the real fool here.

“Alexander! Sorry I’m so late!”

He offered Potter a pleasant smile. “Not a problem. I’ve been taking my time reading the menu –”

“No. It is a problem. You shouldn’t have had to wait for me like this.”

Voldemort’s eye twitched. “I assure you, it was no trouble.”

Potter unwound the scarf and removed the sunglasses. Underneath, his face was flushed and sweaty, and his expression beseeching. He took the seat opposite to Voldemort. “I still want to make this up to you. Just tell me how.”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something. Why don’t you take a look at the menu?” said Voldemort. He slid Potter his copy. His extra special copy.

Potter slid it back. “Oh, no need, I already know what I want.”

Voldemort smiled pleasantly. “Of course.”

Silence fell upon them.

“You look nice,” said Potter. “Your robes are… Very black. Like a funeral. A very handsome funeral.”

Voldemort stared back. He had forgotten the effect that Potter’s conversational skills had on his will to live.

“So,” said Voldemort, choosing to spare the other man from his perpetual floundering. “What delayed you today?”

“Oh!” said Potter. “Well. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Please, go ahead.”

“Embarrassing for me.”

“I’m sure it is. Do continue.”

Potter traced a finger over the cover of the menu, and Voldemort half hoped he would open it, but then the man spoke. “I wasn’t dressed like this when I left home this morning.”

“So you’re late because you stopped for a new wardrobe?”

“What? No! Well… Sort of. Yes.”

“Fascinating. Go on.”

“I was on my way here, walking through Diagon Alley, completely on time by the way. Then… Er… Well, someone saw me. A quidditch fan. Stopped me for an autograph. Other people saw, and pretty soon they were queuing up. I had to make a break for it. And, er, I had to hide my face.” He motioned to the scarf, glasses, and hat. “Pretty stylish, eh?”

Voldemort gave a tight smile. “You hid your appearance… With clothing?”

“Um, yeah?”

“Are you a Muggle?”

“No?”

“Well you’re certainly entitled to your own opinion on the matter.”

Potter frowned, probably working to decode the insult, but was saved by the arrival of the waitress. After the two men placed their orders, they lapsed into silence again.

Potter, apparently desperate to salvage their meeting, was the first to speak.

“So, what do you do for fun? Like hobbies, I guess.”

Like hobbies, I guess. Merlin. The worst part was that Voldemort had chosen to come here.

“I like to read.” Arcane tomes of dark magic, hunting for a method to kill a true immortal who reflects Killing Curses like they’re bloody ping pong balls.

“Oh, yeah, me too. Well sometimes.”

Voldemort doubted that.

“What do you like to read?” asked Potter.

“Nonfiction. Primarily magical theory and history.”

Potter smiled. “That sounds interesting. I haven’t kept up on that stuff since Hogwarts.”

Implying that he had ever kept up with it. Voldemort almost snorted.

As the conversation died again, Voldemort wondered not for the first time why he was there. Supposedly to gather information about Potter. But what was there to gather that he didn’t already know? He’d had twenty-four lifetimes to study the man. In a few of them, they’d even be associates, Voldemort having successfully tricked or coerced Potter into joining the Death Eaters. Only to be inevitably betrayed each time.

“So, what do you do for work? I don’t think I ever asked,” said Potter.

“I’m retired,” said Voldemort. Specifically from his dreams, ambitions, and reason for living.

“At your age? You’re so young.”

“I’ve aged well.”

“Still, you must have worked really hard.”

“I inherited.” Laterally. From a significant number of unrelated and still living individuals.

That seemed enough to satisfy Potter, because he made no further inquiries.

The waitress brought their food. Potter tore into his roast chicken. Voldemort picked at his salad.

Voldemort then noticed that the waitress was still hovering beside their table.

“Did you need something?” he asked.

“Oh, um, well…” she said, eyes flicking back and forth between him and Potter. She dropped her voice to a whisper and addressed Potter. “Are you, by any chance, you know, Harry Potter?”

Potter winced. Voldemort’s irritation flared. “No, this is my friend George.”

“Oh, sorry!” she said, volume rising. “It’s just that you look exactly like Harry Potter!”

At that, several heads of nearby diners turned towards them.

“By God, it’s Potter!”

“Is it really him?”

“Has to be.”

“Harry! We love you!”

“Let the bloke eat!”

“Marry me!”

“Me too!”

A young woman stood from her chair and approached their table. At that, a few other diners rose as well. A queue was forming. A bloody queue.

Potter shot Voldemort an apologetic look.

“Sorry, everyone,” said Potter. “But now’s really not a good time.”

With a squeak of his chair, Potter stood up. He seized Voldemort by the arm, and a moment later, they were pushing their way through the mob, Potter in the lead. Where the crowd thinned, Potter broke into a run, and Voldemort stumbled to follow. They made a sharp right turn into a side street and ducked into a store, Voldemort panting for breath and Potter seemingly unfazed.

“Sorry about that. Quidditch fans can be… passionate,” said Potter.

“That goes beyond passion.”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “I know you don’t follow Quidditch, but this is the first time in decades that the British National Team has made it to the World Cup semifinals. It’s sort of a hot topic.”

“That doesn’t explain why those women wanted to marry you.”

He waved it off. “Figure of speech.” Then he looked at Voldemort with a sly smile. “Unless you’re jealous?”

There weren’t words to express Voldemort’s horror at that very idea.

“Absolutely not,” he snapped.

Potter flinched. “Right. Forget I said that.”

With Potter silent, Voldemort took a moment to survey the store. Half a glance at the familiar display cases of dark artifacts was all that it took him to recognize that they were standing in the main showroom at Borgin and Burke’s. Of all the place’s Potter could choose to hide in, he had to select this one. How utterly delightful.

“You know,” said Potter, voice toneless. “If you don’t like spending time with me, we don’t have to do this. I’m not even sure why you accepted my invitation.” He pulled a book off a shelf and began flipping through.

Voldemort watched him. Truthfully, he didn’t know why he had accepted the invitation either. “Why did you invite me? It wasn’t as if I was particularly pleasant to you when we first met, either.”

Potter replaced the book and pulled out a different one. “I thought we might be similar.”

“How?”

Potter glanced at him, a sad smile on his lips. “It’s not every day that a wizard visits a Muggle gay bar. To end up in the same place, at the same time… I don’t know what brought you there. But there was a chance it was the same thing that brought me.” Potter sighed. “Idiotic of me, I suppose.”

What brought Voldemort there? Had it been boredom? No, not really. He’d simply exhausted all other options. In twenty-four timeloops, he’d experienced most anything a wizard could hope to, save the realization of his ambitions. Visiting a Muggle bar was simply something… different. A blip in the endless monotony.

“What brought you there?” asked Voldemort, wondering, as he asked it, whether or not he actually cared about the answer.

A smile played across Potter’s lips. “You didn’t hear it all when I was piss drunk and making a fool of myself?”

“No.” He probably had, but he hadn’t exactly been paying attention.

“Well, then I don’t see why I should spill my deep psychological issues to you now.”

“You’re kind of insufferable, aren’t you?”

“You’re only noticing now?”

Voldemort scowled. “Here’s a better question. You’re a wizard, are you not? Then why, when we were escaping your throng of worshippers, did you choose to run away, instead of, I don’t know, apparating?”

“You had a problem with my disguise too, didn’t you?”

“Don’t avoid my question.”

“I’ll admit the disguise was pretty bad.” Potter tapped his chin. “You must not like doing things the Muggle way.”

“There is no point to doing things the Muggle way.”

“See, I’ve been thinking about that for a while. And I sort of disagree.”

“What, pray tell, is there to disagree on?”

Potter’s expression turned pensive. “Every time you apparate instead of walking. Conjure something instead of going to the store. Vanish a bruise instead of letting yourself feel pain… Aren’t you missing something?”

Voldemort stared. “Yes. Pain and inconvenience. That’s the point.”

“Is it really?”

“Yes.”

Potter hummed.

Their conversation was interrupted by a sharp cough. When Voldemort turned to its source, he was greeted by a familiar face standing behind the counter in the back of the store.

“Are you two going to keep talking? Or do you actually plan to buy something?” asked Borgin, eyeing the pair suspiciously.

Voldemort smiled. Merlin bless the long lifespans of wizards. Terrorizing Borgin would certainly improve this lackluster day. But before he could deliver any veiled threats or references to their shared history, Borgin’s eyes widened and he sputtered.

“Blimey!” said Borgin. “Are you Harry Potter?”

Oh for the love of God.

Potter threw his hands in the air. “That’s it. I’m out of here.”

“Wait,” said Voldemort. With a few complex twists of his wand and a particularly esoteric incantation, he transfigured Potter’s face into that of a random Muggle. “No more Potter. No more problem.” If only that could apply to the rest of his life.

Potter ran his hands over his face, his eyes widening in shock. Voldemort could practically see the protests forming on his lips. But before he could voice them, Borgin cleared his throat again.

“Are you aware that you just cast an illegal spell?”

“No,” said Voldemort honestly. If only because he didn’t care enough to stay current on the classifications.

A calculating gleam shone in Borgin’s eyes. He stepped out from behind the counter and paced towards Voldemort. “An honest mistake. But the law is very strict. I am afraid I am obligated to report you…”

“Say, did you ever figure out what happened to Hephzibah Smith after the Slytherin locket fiasco?” asked Voldemort.

The blood drained from Borgin’s face.

“So, Harry,” chirped Voldemort. “Where to next?”

Potter eyed him with suspicion.

“Right,” said Voldemort. “Perhaps we should continue our discussion outside. Good day, Mr. Borgin.”

Voldemort steered Potter out of the store. After they walked a short distance down the street, Potter glanced behind his shoulder and pulled Voldemort into an alley.

“Did you just threaten that man?” hissed Potter. “And what did you do to my face?”

Voldemort debated his answer. In retrospect, it had been impulsive and stupid to terrorize Borgin in front of Potter, yet still so very gratifying. The timeloops were making him lax.

“That man was trying to extort me, so yes, I threatened him. As for your face, the spell is completely reversible and nothing you need to worry about.”

Potter snorted. “What is this? Some kind of fake Muggle mafia induction?”

If only he knew.

“Well, whatever,” said Potter. “I had a friend back in Hogwarts who did some seriously questionable things. Threatened a professor and blackmailed some students when she thought they were trying to sabotage my quidditch performance. So I guess I won’t hold this against you.”

Voldemort smiled. “She sounds interesting.” Well, as much as Bellatrix could be considered interesting.

“Hah, trust me, she is.”

Silence fell over them, but it wasn’t too painful. Voldemort leaned back against the brick of the alleyway.

“So now that that’s settled,” said Voldemort. “As I asked before, where to next?”

Harry looked up. “You actually want to continue our date?”

“I have nothing more pressing to attend to.”

“You really know how to make a bloke feel confident, don’t you?”

“I try.”

Potter stretched, cracking a joint. “Fine then. Let’s go back to The Hen’s Crossing. I’m pretty sure we skipped out on our bill.”

 


 

As it happened, that was the wrong decision.

When Voldemort and Potter arrived at the restaurant, it was shut down. The tables were deserted, and aurors guarded the perimeter of the site, holding back a crowd of murmuring onlookers. The two men exchanged glances.

Potter tapped a bearded middle-aged spectator on the shoulder and asked what had happened.

“Oh this?” said the wizard. “Frightening business. Someone attacked Harry Potter.”

Potter opened his mouth. Then shut it.

“Don’t you know him? The quidditch star?” said the wizard.

“Impossible,” snapped Voldemort. He would know of any attack against Potter. He was the only one who orchestrated the bloody things.

“It’s true,” said the man. “Three aurors were sent to St. Mungo’s, and Potter is nowhere to be found. He was targeted using a dangerous dark artifact.” The man lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “A cursed menu.

Oh God damn it.

Chapter Text

The following day, Lord Voldemort sat in his favorite armchair (poached from Malfoy Manor in 1981 – Lucius had excellent taste in upholstery) with a cup of tea and examined the front page of The Daily Prophet.

HARRY POTTER ATTACKED! INTERNATIONAL QUIDDITCH RIVALRY GONE TOO FAR?

He skimmed the article. Britain’s foremost cursebreakers were yet unable to break the spell he’d placed on the menu, and the whole fiasco was blamed on foreign Quidditch teams, with not even a mention of Harry Potter’s unidentified dining companion. He smiled into his teacup, inhaling the scented steam, and let his muscles relax into the cushions of his chair.

Then he flipped to the gossip section, and found a blown up image of his fake identity’s face next to Harry Potter’s.

HARRY POTTER’S SECRET LOVER REVEALED

Voldemort slowly set down his cup of tea. He slowly folded the newspaper and placed it on the side table. Then he slowly stood up from his chair.

He looked forward to reading the obituary Rita Skeeter’s inferius wrote for itself.

 


 

For their second date, Voldemort met Harry Potter in the north of Scotland. The portkey deposited him on the crest of a grassy hill, where a chill wind whipped his robes and whistled in his ears. Around him, the land undulated in waves of muted green, until barren beach met grey sea. The air tasted of salt.

Potter stood a few yards away, two broomsticks in hand.

“Hey,” said Potter.

“Good afternoon,” said Lord Voldemort.

Potter flipped one of the broomsticks over and fluffed its bristles with a silver brush.

Voldemort cleared his throat. “To clarify –”

“You’re only here because you have nothing better to do. Yeah, I know.”

Voldemort narrowed his eyes.

“Your words, not mine,” said Potter.

“As long as you understand.”

“Of course.”

Potter flipped the other broomstick over and fluffed its bristles.

“I find myself concerned that you brought two of those,” said Voldemort.

“Well I’m not going to fly around and make you sit here and watch.”

Voldemort ignored Potter’s comment and applied warming and weatherproofing charms to himself. “You’re unusually irritating today.”

“I’m sure you’ve seen the papers.”

“I have.”

“Those aurors are still in St. Mungo’s.”

“And?”

“It could have been me.”

Voldemort snorted. “I doubt that.”

Potter looked up, frowning. “What do you mean?”

From past experience (lots and lots of unpleasant past experience), Voldemort knew that Potter had an uncanny resistance to most forms of mind-altering magic, including the Imperius Curse. The Waking Nightmare Curse on the restaurant menu might have given Potter a mild fright, but it was nothing he couldn’t easily shrug off.

Not that he could tell Potter any of that.

“You’re stronger than you think,” replied Voldemort, blandly.

Potter blinked. “I’m sorry, but what?”

“You. Are stronger. Than you think.”

“No… it’s just. I think that’s the first nice thing you’ve ever said to me.”

How disturbing. He wouldn’t repeat the mistake.

“I give credit where it’s due,” said Voldemort.

Potter watched him, and Voldemort hoped he hadn’t done anything to encourage Potter’s nonsensical crush. Merlin knew why it existed. But Potter flashed him a goofy, lopsided grin, and Voldemort knew what it meant. He grimaced.

“I’m glad you’re here,” said Potter. “Ron and Dean are panicking and asking me whether I’m okay every five minutes. And Hermione is… preoccupied.”

Right. He had forgotten about her. In the early time loops when he’d been more proactive about battling Potter, he’d usually killed her as an infant. It had been one of his more effective strategies.

“That’s nice,” said Voldemort, not caring. “What I’m more interested in is why I was never considered as a potential culprit in the attack.”

“Well, were you the culprit?”

“No.”

Potter smiled. “Exactly. That’s why. I told them you didn’t do it.”

“I don’t think that’s how the legal system works.” Not even in Magical Britain. And Voldemort knew firsthand how pathetically dysfunctional Magical Britain’s legal system was.

“I know that much. I pulled some favors. Let’s just say that several high ranking individuals in the DMLE were suddenly feeling very grateful for all the times that I attended their children’s birthday parties.”

Voldemort stared at him.

“And also…” Potter’s face grew conflicted. “I… My family… knows Albus Dumbledore. So there’s that.”

Voldemort’s mouth went dry. “You spoke to Dumbledore on my behalf?”

Harry shrugged, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “I’m not going to let your life get ruined just because you made the mistake of going on a date with me.”

Voldemort turned to watch the sea.

Harry coughed. “Er… just to be clear. You’re not obligated to keep dating me just because I saved you from being interrogated by the Ministry.”

“I know,” said Voldemort. The waves pounded, white-capped crests breaking on the empty beach.

“So,” said Harry. “Broomstick riding. It’s fun.”

 


 

Voldemort hung in the air, feet dangling off his broom. A thousand feet beneath him, the green hills of Scotland rippled towards the horizon. A frigid wind roared in his ears, and he gripped his broomstick like he was trying to strangle the life out of it.

Next to him, Potter – the bloody maniac – was grinning.

“Really helps you forget all the troubles down there, eh?” shouted Potter.

Voldemort smiled thinly.

Potter sighed. “It’s perfectly safe, just so you know.” He took both hands off the handle of his broom, as if to demonstrate.

“Don’t do that,” snapped Voldemort.

A playful smile formed on Potter's lips. “Do what?” He swung a leg over the broom so that he sat sidesaddle, one push away from slipping off entirely.

A vein throbbed in Voldemort's forehead. "Actually, I rescind my previous statement. Go ahead and die."

"Well I wasn't planning to..." Potter yawned and stretched his arms, inching further off the broom, before meeting Voldemort's eyes with a wink. "But if you insist."

For a single moment, Potter's expression was serene. Voldemort recognized it all too well – it was the expression Potter had worn when he'd walked to his death in the Forbidden Forest, when he'd sacrificed himself to dementors in Azkaban, when he'd arrived armless and bleeding in the Ministry of Magic and challenged Voldemort to a duel – it was an expression between confidence and humility, between submission and defiance – the Harry Potter smile.

For a single moment, Voldemort was transfixed.

Then Potter fell.

 


 

By the time Voldemort registered the event, Potter was nothing but a bundle of periwinkle blue robes streaming towards the earth.

It was anticlimactic, he supposed. Twenty-four repetitions. Twenty-four attempts to defeat the greatest enemy he had ever known. And the man offed himself as a joke. What would Voldemort do with a life of freedom? Reband the Death Eaters? Take over the Ministry? With Potter gone, it would all be trivial.

What a waste.

He watched the bundle of robes far below him become smaller and smaller, a blue dot against an expanse of muted green. In another heartbeat, it would all be over.

He glanced to his right, and noticed that Potter’s empty broom was missing. He was struck by a moment of nonunderstanding. Brooms did not simply stop existing. He pondered the irregularity, for half a heartbeat.

Until his eyes registered a blur streaking towards the earth faster than a curse.

And then Potter was rocketing back up towards him.

Potter was grinning, wild and giddy, cheeks red and glasses fogged as he braked to a sharp stop beside Voldemort and flashed a smile so alive it was painful.

“Hey,” he said, and it was half word, half laugh, half breathless hiccup of air.

Voldemort watched him, throat tight.

 “The Nova Five.” Potter grinned and patted the handle of his broomstick. “Best broom on or off the market. You’re riding the same, of course.”

Voldemort was numb.

“Are you okay?” asked Potter.

“Is that… all?”

Potter cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“You nearly died. Is that all you have to say?”

 “Er, no? I was planning to brag a bit more, actually.”

Voldemort was silent.

“Sorry if I scared you,” said Potter.

“You didn’t.”

“Oh. Okay. Well good.”

Voldemort watched the horizon. Green hills met grey skies.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked Potter.

“Yes.”

Potter hummed. “How about we call it a day? Hogsmeade is nearby. I’ll buy you a drink.”

Because all Voldemort wanted was another bloody drink with Potter.

“There’s that scowl. I was worried about you,” said Potter.

Merlin help him.

 


 

The Owl Roost was the liveliest pub in Hogsmeade, which wasn’t saying much for a village that subsisted on weekend visits by Hogwarts students. The pub’s interior was wood paneled and lantern lit, decorated by antique maps and photographs. A few witches and wizards huddled in small groups, but it was otherwise deserted.

Voldemort sat next to a disguised Potter at the bar. He watched Potter stir his drink (a Broken Broomstick, as Potter had been eager to inform him – one part firewhiskey, one part pumpkin brandy, and a splash of Pepper-Up Potion, served on the rocks.)

“I don’t understand you,” said Voldemort.

“You’re probably too sober.”

Voldemort scowled. “I’m having a serious conversation right now.”

“Then you’re definitely too sober.”

Voldemort massaged his temples. “When you… Jumped off your broom. What were you thinking?”

“Honestly? Not much.”

“Please elaborate.”

“It seemed fun. So I did it.”

Voldemort eyed him. “You didn’t consider that you could have died?”

“No, I knew it was dangerous.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Because I could.”

Voldemort turned away from Potter, and stared daggers at the drink Potter had ordered for him. (A Cat’s Eye – equal parts doublegin, hemlock liqueur, and poison neutralization potion, garnished with apple seeds. He’d made Potter take the first sip.)

He felt Potter shift beside him.

“Just so you know,” said Potter. “That wasn’t the first time I did that trick. I’ll admit I never let myself fall for that long before. But still. It wasn’t suicide.”

Voldemort was silent.

“Sometimes people do stupid things to show off,” said Potter.

More silence.

“It’s not like I have kids.”

Voldemort flicked his eyes to Potter. “What do kids have to do with this?”

Potter looked at him like he was daft. “Well they’re a pretty good reason not to risk your life. Wouldn’t want to turn them into orphans.”

The irony of that statement was not lost on Voldemort. He took a sip of his drink, heady and herbal. “But it’s fine to risk your life otherwise.”

“Well, not fine. But… fine enough?”

Voldemort almost laughed. “I don’t understand you.”

“You already said that.”

Voldemort watched the man beside him. Potter was smiling, a playful, almost tender expression. Voldemort wondered if this was how Potter looked at his friends and family, in all those other lifetimes. The people he’d been willing to sacrifice his life for.

Potter blinked, and gently rested a hand on Voldemort’s arm.

It weighed down like lead.

“Don’t,” said Voldemort.

The hand withdrew. Potter searched Voldemort’s face. “Why not?”

Because he knew what that hand meant. Centuries ago, he'd seen a number of such hands through to their inevitable conclusions. Men and women with their kisses and their hungry eyes, with their flushed faces and shivering bodies. He remembered how they’d looked at him. How they'd felt entitled to his time, his attention. How quickly they'd thrown away their own ambitions to fit their lives into his.

All he'd ever felt was revulsion.

He met Potter’s eyes. “Because I’m not interested.”

Potter’s expression flattened, and he turned back to his drink. The two men sat in silence.

“Can you explain?” asked Potter.

Voldemort frowned.

“You’re not interested,” said Potter. “But not interested in what? Going home together? Future dates? Me?”

“Love, as a concept.”

Potter gave him a funny look. “I can never tell when you’re joking.”

“I never joke.”

“See, I know that’s a lie. Because when I first met you, you asked if I was there to kill you. Took me a long time to figure out you were trying to be funny.”

Voldemort stared back, impassive.

“That… Was supposed to be a joke, right?” asked Potter.

Silence.

“Don’t tell me you actually thought I wanted to kill you?”

Voldemort turned back to his drink. He barely cared at this point. Maybe a fresh start in a new life was what he needed.

Potter sighed. “You’re kind of impossible sometimes.”

“You’re the one pursuing me.”

“True.” Potter’s face sobered. “Are you serious about not wanting to see me anymore?”

Voldemort studied the man beside him. The green eyes and unruly hair. The familiar face. It was surreal to see him here, in this insignificant pub, sitting next to him. Talking about their bloody relationship status, without hatred or revenge or the fate of Wizarding Britain hanging in the balance.

“This week has been… Interesting,” said Voldemort.

“I agree.”

“More interesting than most of my weeks have been.”

“High praise.”

“I would not be opposed to continuing this arrangement.”

Potter froze. “Did you just ask me to be your boyfriend?”

“That’s a generous interpretation.”

“But you still want to date me.”

“I suppose so.”

Potter broke into a grin. “You won’t regret it.”

“That remains to be seen.”

Potter snorted. Voldemort downed the rest of his drink, alcohol burning his throat.

“No sobering charm?” asked Potter.

“No sobering charm,” said Voldemort. And he smiled.