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Gently, Gently (with love)

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Harry Potter is released from St. Mungo's on a Tuesday.

The sun breaks through the morning fog of a truly sweltering summer morning and Harry blinks against it as he patiently sits on the bench outside of a seemingly rundown Muggle department store. It is four days after his nineteenth birthday, and he celebrated with a cake that had too much sugary frosting and plastic knives.

He can only have the plastic ones now.

When he had come here six months ago it had been rainy, cold, a grey slush that always seemed to envelop London in those first few months of the year. All he had were long sleeves and trousers, and even now they don’t bother him in the humidity, he’s learned to be fine in them.

He stiffens when he hears the chime of bells behind him, someone exiting the building. He has a quick moment of reliefpanic that this was all a mistake, he needs to go back inside, where he has routine and predictability. Wake up at seven, group at nine, lunch and tea at eleven, group at one, dinner at four, group again at six. Talk, talk, talk, words and voices full of nothing, full of everything so painful he cringes in secondhand embarrassment. Even twice a month, he’d have sessions with Remus and Sirius. A schedule that he had grown accustom to. His predictability has been dwindled down to zero now.

He swallows these thoughts down and breathes like he’s supposed to. He senses eyes at his back before a hand rests on his shoulder. He freezes, relaxes in the same breath when his eyes move up, up, up to Healer Dumbledore. He’s wearing a suit that is violently fuchsia and a neon blue pocket square vividly pops out. His shoes are, of course, gold. Tuesday’s are purple, blue, and gold. Always.

“My boy, I just came to tell you that they’ll be here shortly.” He doesn’t have a watch or his wand so there’s no way to determine how long he’s been out here; it hasn’t felt that long. “And... I just want to say that if you ever need to talk or need anything at all please call on me.” Dumbledore smiles kindly at him and Harry returns it with an almost smile of his own. He claps him on the shoulder and returns inside.

Harry sits nervously on the bench. He’s out now. In the world. He had come out the other side. Healed. That’s what they said.

It’s terrifying and his mind spins in white panic for a moment before Remus and Sirius pop into existence right across the street. They don’t see him immediately and they turn to each other, quiet and hushed and heads close together. Sirius nods to whatever Remus is saying, his hands clenched into tight fists. Remus looks back, stops whatever was about to cross his lips when he catches sight of Harry.

He fuses hands with Sirius, and they come over. Sirius falters, he never hesitated with affection before. Sirius had always just wanted normalcy, he wants his godson whole and happy, his lover warm and compassionate, and his own demons leashed tight.

Two out of three are not bad odds.

Harry realizes in this tense, nerve wracking moment that this is after. Everything is new and unsettled; every action is a question mark that is punctuated by the lines on his body.

He swallows, mimics a smile that seems genuine enough that the two men before him repeat it back to him. Sirius can’t stop himself and hugs him tight, breathes in his smell, like he didn’t just see him a week ago. Remus puts arms around both, his little pack, and Harry doesn’t fake the affection that bleeds out in this wonderful, self-contained moment.

Remus is just as caring and considerate as he was every visit in St. Mungo’s, maybe even more so now that he’s back. His wand is still locked in the cupboard and Remus insists that they put their hands on everything to unpack and settle. It has quite the opposite effect, it’s very unsettling to not see those little signs of magic, to use his hands and his energy to fold and sort clothes that even in St. Mungo’s they used their wands on. Healer Dumbledore highly encouraged him to continue using his magic, to trust in it when he couldn’t trust in himself.

He hadn’t used his magic against himself. He never had. Everything he learned to hurt himself with was taught in the muggle world.

Remus sits on his bed, clean blue linen and white bare walls, Harry vividly remembers before, when his loneliness and anger came in like the tide, he couldn’t stand to see his house banners and his interests, his rage was alienated, he wanted nothing, he wanted the peace it would bring. His room doesn’t even look lived in anymore.

He did that.

He searches Remus’ open face, the tight way he holds himself, even with one leg crossed over the other, seemingly relaxed, Harry can see the clench on his jaw, the nervous rattle of his fingers against his thigh. Sirius appears in the doorway, leans faux casually against it, the only genuine thing about them is the smiles they swap at one another.

It makes it easier to breathe. He crouches to his knees, clothes and toiletries put up, reaches under his bed and pulls out the landscapes Remus and him had painted summer after fourth year, when everything was too terrible for words and the only bright spot in his life had been the dappled sunlight that shined on canvas.

“Could you?” Sirius swallows, a tough job by the look of it but he nods. Remus holds out his hand and mentions nails and hammer in the kitchen, while Harry unwraps the newspaper from the pieces.

Something lovely and quiet about them, better than red and gold, better than bushy hair and freckles. Harry aches in that moment for a life unlived, a life he rejected, couldn’t cope with, couldn’t understand. Before he can be dragged under, Remus and Sirius return, ready to make this space livable again. Harry helps, even though they seem to stutter over letting him have the hammer, but eventually he taps the nails where he wants them, hangs their work, and feels a sense of accomplishment, he can do this, he can go forward.

 

They gather round the island for dinner, and Harry watches them navigate the kitchen. Sirius has been taking some cooking courses locally and he treats them. Harry’s appetite, always small to begin with, hasn’t returned since before. He shoves the steaming piles of food around his plate, a vacant smile on his face as he half listens to the chatter and teasing from Sirius and Remus. He’s still in and out of this world.

He can only focus on one thing, can’t unthink it, can’t distract himself with chatter. His thoughts circle around his wand, locked away in the dark like he was all those years ago. It makes him even more nauseous, even more sad to think he abandoned it to the same fate.

A lull appears in the chatter, while Sirius refills his wine and Harry makes himself blurt out, “When can I have my wand back?” They look at each other, practiced. It makes Harry glance between them, quickly, already preparing for the worst.

“Prongslet,” Sirius starts, his face drawn and tired, already trying to placate and Harry knows he shouldn’t have expected anything but this, rejection adjacent. “We think you should wait a little while longer.” His eyes are pleading, but he keeps them on Harry, just as Remus puts his hand on top of his, a signal of strength that unman Harry.

Harry can’t see past the tears in his eyes, the two of them getting blurrier and blurrier the longer he doesn’t blink. He won’t. He can’t. He nods, keeps his eyes up and pushes away from the table.

They don’t stop him when he runs up the stairs.

 

He hasn’t been back a week when they drag him to the Burrow, Percy’s engagement party. He tries to beg off, but Sirius has got that look in his eye that says that Harry has been in confinement long enough. Good friends, air, and sunshine. Those have always been Sirius’ cures.

“So…” Ron drags the word out, reluctant to look him in the eyes and a lot of Harry’s conversations are starting like this.

“Look it! The escapee! Still mad, eh, Harry?” One of the twins cuts into Ron’s feeble attempt, both grinning brightly at the dark haired boy between them. “Yeah, how’d you get out of the Janus Thickey ward?” George or Fred loop an arm around his thin shoulders. It’s the first time in a long time that someone has touched him so casually.

He sips at his water. Smiles at the two constellations. “Had to kill a few people, threw some unforgivables, you know me, rushing into danger and all that.” George (he’s confident that’s whose arm is around him) lets out a bark of laughter, a wink that’s all happiness. “That’s my boy.” A ruffle of his hair, and a strong grip on his shoulder. They immediately zero in on their brother.

“Little Ronnikins, you ought to be popping the question anytime now.” That’s Fred, winking at him, he’s almost positive now. George keeps his arm draped around Harry still and he tries to find some comfort in this little circle, but he can’t help but notice that hot point of connection between George’s hand and his upper arm.

The scars weren’t so bad there. A couple of little lines that had faded to white months, years ago. Although, the three straight notches on his inner elbow still glowed bright with pink skin, like a tiny gash of a puckered pout.

He had worn long sleeves again.

He breathes again when George moves away to crowd Ron.

“You think you can keep the mighty Granger satisfied?” Fred leans back against the wall that Harry has once upon a time secluded himself against. His eyes roam over the guests, both hands coming up to slick his loose hair back. “I dunno, Ronnikins. She might be looking for a proper gentleman.” He finally spots her, waggling his eyebrows.

In the two years since graduation he’s seen her and Ron maybe twice. They aren’t children anymore, and it’s never hit as hard as it does now, to see them, even his peers, leading lives and careers, happy and progressive. When he looks at them now, Ron rushing past Fred to get to his girlfriend first, they seem like entirely different people. He swallows, squints in the bright sun, and feels utterly left behind.

Ron is ridiculously tall, finally growing into those arms and legs that had kept him skinny for so long, and Hermione is radiant, but she had always been gorgeous to Harry. They both look so put together, so adult that it makes a hot flush of humiliation spread all over Harry.

“Alright there, Harry?” George’s smile is still there, still as genuine and bright as when he’s just playing around. His eyes trace Harry and it makes him a tiny bit less lonely, a tiny bit seen. Harry can only nod, swallow against the raw emotion that creeps up on him from time to time. “Come on, then.” George extends his arm and Harry hesitantly touches palm to warm, exposed skin. Harry lets him lead them over.

 

The prophet lands on his toast the next morning and he scowls at the owl, an unsightly thing, that always seems to be on the lookout for Hedwig. He hoots, once, twice, irritatingly loud this early in the morning.

“She’s not here.” Twat. Harry thinks vindictively as he uses a napkin to wipe off the jam and butter. How much easier this would be if he had his wand. He stops, that sudden cresting of longing crashing hard into his heart. He blinks back tears, looks up to avoid their fall.

At least the bird takes the hint.

He finishes his toast, a struggle but a small feat to be proud of. Healer Dumbledore had been worried about his lack of appetite, his listlessness, his startlingly apathetic nature. He had put him on a nutrient potion for that, eased him away from potions that would instantly pep him up though. He had wanted him to be able to depend on his own thought process to guide himself out of depression.

It’s a slow and harrowing journey. Depression often creeps up on him, but sometimes he is outright attacked by it. He opens the windows to the kitchen, letting the light flood in. Sirius and Remus are still abed, a lazy Saturday. He tidies up his mess and is bored just enough to look at the Prophet.

He flips through gossip and speculation, sports and government. His eyes land strangely on the want adverts.

A job. Remus has hesitantly asked if he thought he was ready for one, not too long ago but the sharp look that Sirius sent him had them both dropping that line of conversation. Sirius wasn’t ready, but Harry thinks he might be.

He finds the thought both exhilaratingly invigorating and nervously terrifying. The house is quiet while he ponders, no gentle play between Sirius and Remus, no wireless, even the sound of the city all around them is dulled.

Before he can overthink, he grabs the section and just as soundlessly takes the stairs to his room. He closes the door just as thoughtfully, aches for his wand to cast a privacy ward. Remus had said soon, and he believes him.

He bounces belly first on his mattress and leans close to the paper.

Khanna Family Tree Farm need outdoorsy, friendly individuals to help move Bowtruckles. Must pay for all medical costs incurred.

Nope.

Interns needed, must have own laboratory equipment and passport.

Absolutely not. He still gets both chills and angry palpitations when he thinks about potions.

Part time feeder position at Owl Post Office at Hogsmeade.

That might be doable, something easy and less terrifying than anything else he’s encountered. He runs a finger down the print, tapping lightly on the paper.

Secretary wanted. Apply at the Law Offices of T. Marvolo Riddle.

He sits up, clutching the paper between two hands. Secretary. Paperwork. Dull. Dull. He likes the very idea of that. He rushes over to his desk and flattens the paper on top. He takes his self-inking quill out of the holder and circles the listing, over and over.

The ink is red.

 

He makes Remus wait in Diagon Alley, drinking coffee and worrying about keeping this from Sirius. Harry has always been the type to ask for forgiveness instead of permission at any rate, and Remus, his sole supporter in this and fellow conspirator, acquiesced.

He gives him a little wave and smile when he crosses Diagon to Horizont where the Law Offices of T. Marvolo Riddle sits right at the end. The two-story building is white stucco, bright against the already beautiful colors of the buildings that run before it. Ivy grows alongside the wall and curls around the wrought iron windows, open wide to let the summer air in.

Harry stands on the cobblestone and looks at the sign on the sidewalk. Underneath it, a small square piece of wood attached by black chain and wrapped in lights that glow, were the words Secretary Wanted.

He swallows the ball of anxiety and nerves in his throat and makes his way to the door. The handle is warmed under the summer sun and opens without hesitation. At first glance, he immediately becomes stricken. This is nice. This is above what he expected. Small sculptures and large hand painted landscapes dot the little waiting room, two couches sit around a beautiful pale oak coffee table. He immediately looks forward and sees a desk, the same wood as the coffee table, clean except for the typewriter that sits in the middle.

He jumps at the sound of a slam from the offices further back. A woman walks forward, her arms full of a box overflowing with a potted plant and pictures and paper. Harry’s brow bends, concerned, and he can’t help but watch the mascara that drips down along with her tears. She has an envelope clenched tight between her teeth.

He awkwardly holds the door open for her to leave.

“Hello?” His voice doesn’t echo in the empty room but is immediately answered from a room further into the building.

“In here.” Shaken, but his resolve still wrapped tight around him, he heads along the hallway, as beautiful and minimal as the room it led from, to two closed double doors at the end. They are a deep, deep burgundy, seemingly taller than normal, a dark ending to the neutral hallway.

Harry swallows and pushes in.

Along with its entryway, this office is darker, in both colors and light, than the rest of the building and even though it’s mid-morning, lamps are on throughout the room. It’s first impression is oddly warmth, muted tones and more landscapes. There are couches and low tables and at the corner are matching folding screen doors, as dark as the doors. Harry swivels his head back to see a man bent down behind the desk. Harry knocks lightly on the open doors and he jerks upright. The only thing that’s not impeccable about him is the dark curl that hangs loose and lovely over his forehead. He brushes it back hurriedly. He smooths papers and pens (no quills) quickly on his neatly organized desk, but immediately sets sights on Harry. He is exceedingly handsome, a sharp jawline that clenches for one beat and relaxes. Harry face flushes, eyes widen when those eyes zero in on him.

“Hello. Are you Mr. Riddle?” Harry grips his papers tightly in his hand. Remus had thought it would be a great idea to have his Hogwarts scores with him, as well as a recommendation.

“I am. How may I help you?” He has a very charming smile and Harry blinks in response, his nervousness increasing tenfold. He makes his way forward until he stands before the large, dark desk. Mr. Riddle’s hands fold together across the top, expectant.

Harry looks behind him into the hallway, worry on his face, the woman and her tears. Mr. Riddle seems to immediately sense what he’s about to say because he stops him by raising a brow, crosses hands over desk, waiting on him to continue.

“You posted about a secretary?” Harry’s surprised he didn’t stutter under Mr. Riddle’s eyes. “I also have a letter of recommendation.” He places both papers on the desk, straightening them out as best as he can. Mr. Riddle hums and delicately picks them up to scan. A little line between his eyebrow’s creases in concentration. Harry watches it avidly.

“Are you pregnant?” Harry is so shocked he laughs, his face immediately turning red. He’s bites his lip, hates how hot his face is under Mr. Riddle’s careful scrutiny.

“No, sir.” Mr. Riddle seems pleased, his first smile is just as pleasant as the rest of him.

“Do you plan on becoming pregnant?” Harry’s graduating class had no teenage pregnancies, something that seemed to be far less rare in the magical world than its muggle counterpart. Harry wasn’t quite sure what made his peers barely wait, but most of them seemed to marry and start a family within a year or two of graduation. Harry knew at least two men that were expecting, a shock when he first found out, but they were treated with reverence and joy.

Harry has no such plans. He shakes his head.

“Do you live in London?” Riddle keeps his eyes completely on Harry and the light seems to catch the burgundy in them. Harry’s never seen eyes like that.

“Yes, not too far.” He hasn’t dared hope for anything past this interview, but he has a warm excitement when he thinks about walking to the building every day.

“Alone?”

“No, with my Godparents.” He twitches now under that gaze but keeps the eye contact with Mr. Riddle that he so desperately wants to break.

“Are you married?” He asks offhandedly, surprising Harry again and making him break out a bemused grin. He can’t remember the last time he smiled so genuinely; he feels an immediate kinship to this awkwardness.

“No.” Harry shakes his head again, hoping for the best.

A strange thing happens in the silence. Mr. Riddle keeps eyes with him, that same careful little smile.

“Harry.” He read from the papers. “Will you get me a cup of tea with sugar?” Harry bites his lip again but nods.

He opens several doors before finding the kitchen, big enough to seem odd in this building but Harry is forever amazed by magic. He finds bags and the kettle, desperately trying with all his might to make this the best cuppa Mr. Riddle’s ever had. While the kettle heats, he peaks a little, too much curiosity in his nature and finds little brown mice in steel cages in the cupboard. He closes the door quickly, alarmed.

The kettle sings and Harry finishes, finding a few toasted biscuits in a jar to add to the service.

He tip toes back, sliding into the room to find Mr. Riddle where the once covered area was.

A glass terrarium opens into the room, a veritable forest of mossy logs and orchids, tall leafy plants and a jungle of grass. Mr. Riddle stands in the middle, a beautiful snake wrapped around him, hissing softly. Her scales gleam, iridescent, magical. She’s as big as she is lovely.

Harry very determinedly does not drop the cup.

“Harry, place that on the table.” Harry does, slowly, keeping his eyes on the snake that has now twisted around her master to look at him. She hisses again. Harry has never had an aversion to snakes, but so far has never been around them. There’s something intelligent in the snake’s eyes, locked together and Harry doesn’t realize that he’s almost crossed the whole of the distance between them.

“This is Nagini, Harry.” Nagini hisses and Harry is amazed to hear Mr. Riddle hiss back. He sees Mr. Riddle’s wand now, sending beautiful violet swirls of magic to the orchids that surround Nagini’s home. They blossom under his care and Harry watches the colors burn bright, in awe of his magic. The flowers preen, opening slowly to reveal their inner depths.

“You can understand her.” Harry is amazed, he’s never met a parselmouth before, so rare. Mr. Riddle turns his head and hisses, sends a small genuine smile to Nagini and allows her to slither down. He steps back and waves his wand again, glass forming to box around Nagini’s habitat.

Mr. Riddle doesn’t seem to notice Harry’s wonder, he briskly walks over to the couch, flinging himself down rather dramatically and stepping his hands underneath his chin. He doesn’t speak again until Harry cautiously takes the seat opposite, the low coffee table between them.

“Mr. Potter, Harry.” His face looks questioningly to Harry, and he nods. “Are you quite sure you want to apply for this position?” Harry’s eyebrows scrunch together, edging toward hurt. Mr. Riddle seems to notice this right away and immediately bounces to an upright position, one hand tucked under one arm and a hand on his chin. “You’ve scored higher than anyone I’ve ever interviewed.”

He finally takes the tea in hand, keeping eyes on Harry.

Harry’s honestly surprised. He knew he did well in school, not better than Hermione, or even Draco. He’d tried, but he’s always been self-disparaging, something that Healer Dumbledore had pointed out so rightly. Mr. Riddle continues unaware. “You’re actually overqualified for the job. I’m just in need of a simple typist, that I can dictate to. Someone to answer the fire calls and owls, collect fees.” He leans forward, places the cup down on the saucer and puts his hands on his knees. “It’s a very dull job.” He eyes Harry carefully.

That same word, echoing like it had the other night, that gut feeling again. Harry smiles, pleased.

“I like dull work.”

 

Remus, reserved, careful Remus claps and claps when Harry comes into sight, his face saying it all.

“Now,” He begins, already taking Harry’s arm (he’s getting used to the contact again, the heat that bleeds through cotton and linen) to walk side by side back to Grimmauld. “We just have to tell Sirius.” Harry’s smile drags but his spirits are too high for it to drop completely.

The sun shines on, clouds too far away to be seen and Remus mostly keeps quiet beside him, every now and then asking about his new job. His job. He’s excited, a strange and marvelous sensation when he’s been coasting on apathy since St. Mungo’s.

Right before the steps, Remus stops him, one gently hand on his shoulder.

“Let me speak with him first, okay? We’ll talk about your wand as well.” His hand cups his neck, still gentle, still very aware of the skittishness that is always ready in Harry. “I’m so proud of you, love.” Remus, sweet as always, makes Harry’s heart ache, a pulse of warmth and love that surprises him in its consideration and understanding. He blinks back tears that Remus doesn’t comment on and follows him up to the door.

Remus tucks his shoes off on the mat and calls for Sirius. A stumble and a crash answer.

Remus freezes, and Harry tenses, looks up with wild eyes to the stairs where Sirius is.

“Start lunch, Harry. We’ll be down shortly.” Remus hurries away from him, upstairs, and Harry buckles under the overwhelming weight of his privacy ward. Harry is blocked out of this communication. The sting hurts just as bad as before.

The accident that sent him to St. Mungo’s is eerily like the situation he’s in now. He makes his way slowly to the kitchen, as he gets out vegetables and chicken, a loaf of bread that’s almost depleted.

He had made lunch that day too. Sirius upstairs, the empty bottles of Ogden’s littering the stairwell. He hadn’t seen any today, but after all their talks (some empty, some meaningful), Sirius realized that his drinking might be part of the problem. They’ve always dealt with things differently. And, of course, they’d all have setbacks, wouldn’t they?

He takes the only knife that he’s allowed out of the drawer, a butter knife. He hacks at the onion and tomatoes, a right mess. He’d be humiliated if his mind wasn’t so completely enveloped in the past, to what might be going on upstairs, to what had at one time been a reason why.

He had cut too deep, too quick, too thoughtless. He gets that flush of anger at himself all over again, stupid and careless. He’d been doing it for years before that, a reliable escape, a vent for all the steam that had built up inside himself.

It’s only in that moment, in the dreadful quiet, does he realize he’s been pressing the dull tip into the meat of his palm. He jerks back, the clatter of knife on wood so loud.

He puts his hands over his mouth, a scream starting somewhere in his sternum, the quiet permeates, not even the sound of that monstrous clock in the hallway. He rolls his eyes upward, if only he could see, if only he could listen.

He thinks about it for two seconds, the screaming, but he can’t bring himself to do it. There’s no calming sunroom like at St. Mungo’s, all the breathing exercises that they taught him vanish like ghosts.

There is only Harry. And the silence.

His hands shake as he waits, one minute, five, twenty, thirty. He can’t stomach the thought of food and his open-faced monstrosity sits untouched on the counter. He dumps it in the trash, cleans up the mess he made, and sneaks into his room.

The loose board has been a tickle in his throat since he left St. Mungo’s. An itch he’s desperately tried not to scratch. Scratches and itches, they’d all get them in the end he thinks sometimes. He paces the length of his room, the silence stretched taffy thick around him. He’s suffocated by it.

The board comes up easy. The little box inside it zippers open and the sound is magnified in the hush of his very existence.

It takes three little lines on the back of his knee and he finally can breathe again.

 

The next day, they gather for breakfast and they talk to him before they hand him his wand. It burns bright in his palm, almost as warm as the sun on a summer day.

Sirius gives him a kiss and a hug before they leave, that sadness still clinging to him. Sirius had taken a shower that morning but the growth on his face is still impressive. They huddle in the hall while Harry gets his holster from Sirius’ office. He catches sight of them when he turns back around the corner and Remus is smiling that loving smile of his and Sirius returns it with his own shadowed grin.

It turns lopsided when he spots Harry.

“Okay, prongslet, I’ve packed you a very sensible lunch here and I expect it to be eaten.” He gathers Harry close, tightly. “Good luck.” He gives one last kiss to them both before he disappears back upstairs.

The light hits Remus’ face when they walk out and the shadows around his eyes can finally be seen in the full sun. Harry presses his own arm, right over those puckered up pink marks and keeps close to Remus for the walk

 

His first week goes well, Mr. Riddle gives him praise when it’s due and is carefully constructive with his criticism. Towards the end of the week, Mr. Riddle calls him to the library before afternoon tea. He’s transfigured Harry’s third favorite landscape to a large mirror.

“Harry, come here.” He stands with his back to the mirror and motions Harry over. For the first time he places hands on Harry, smoothing out the wrinkles in his shirt. He’s a good head taller than Harry, who never seemed to catch up on his growth, even after he started living with Sirius and Remus. A flush begins around Harry’s ears and heads straight to his toes, his eyes looking up, up, up to Mr. Riddle’s face. He can see this close; the curl has a tiny grey streak.

Whatever thoughts that have followed him around since that first meeting, and Harry desperately tries not to think the word ‘crush’, but it always comes, and right after its heels is ‘hopeless’. Mr. Riddle is charming and older, and Harry has a tenderness in his bones for him, a sort of interest that he’s never felt so strongly.

“Harry, you are the first thing my clients see, a portrayal of this office.” His hands pull efficiently at the loose material of Harry’s cotton button up. His bent head looks up to catch Harry’s eyes.

“Look how loose this is.” He holds out a swath of the fabric for Harry to inspect. “You are much … tinier than this, Harry. You’re drowning in these clothes.” Harry nods, eyes wide at the word tiny and slightly embarrassed but Mr. Riddle keeps eyes on him, a contact that demands he respond verbally.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, that’s good.” Mr. Riddle smiles at him, pleased. The warmth expands in Harry’s chest, his belly, all the places that Mr. Riddle has his hands near. Mr. Riddle moves from in front of him, keeping close so Harry gets the scent memory of him, long after he’s moved behind him.

“These ties are atrocious Harry, low quality. And the knot.” In the mirror before them, Mr. Riddle’s head is so near to Harry’s own it’s like they’re sharing the same breath. Harry keeps himself from holding his. Mr. Riddle puts one large hand against his back, straightening his spine. His eyes are on Harry’s neck, the curve of his ear, the hair that won’t ever lay flat. There’s a moment of silence, that stretches, stretches sweetly between them when Mr. Riddle looks at him and Harry looks at him looking in the mirror. Mr. Riddle finally drags his eyes away from him to look back at their reflection. Harry doesn’t know what to do, other than blush violent red and hold onto that moment.

“You’re going to learn this properly, and we are going to keep going until you’ve got it. Understand?” Mr. Riddle’s eyes, always so dark in his office seem to shine in here, with the windows and natural light. Harry is hypnotized and he almost leans back, wanting the weight and breadth of Mr. Riddle. Mr. Riddle won’t let him break eye contact, even when his smile turns just a shade more devious, when he seems to know exactly what Harry is thinking. He’s waiting again for Harry’s words. And sure enough, he pulls them from Harry.

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s a good boy.” His arms encircle him, untying his knot from the mangled creation he rushed this morning, his fingers, long and dexterous. Harry watches, that hot glow in his belly expanding from those words. Good boy. How wonderful that sounds. Harry wants his praise, wants it always from Mr. Riddle, so he watches, avidly, longingly.

Harry is finally able to master the knot with his own hands. Mr. Riddle watches from in front of him, smile on his face as Harry’s once clumsy hands flip and pull and straighten, the perfect knot. Mr. Riddle seems to wait, expectant and patient. Harry blushes, he wants inexplicably to reach out and hug him.

“Thank you, sir.” He fights nerves and shyness to look up at Mr. Riddle. Mr. Riddle’s hands go to his collar again, and his smile is pleased and focused on Harry. When his hands linger, smoothing against his skin, warm and alive, Harry knows crush isn’t a strong enough word.

For the first time in his life, Harry voluntary goes shopping that weekend, every piece weighed and measured just for Mr. Riddle.

 

On a quiet Saturday morning, four splendid weeks since the first time he walked into Mr. Riddle’s office, he gets an owl from George. He looks over the messy script, he feels neither excitement nor that bubble of happiness he gets from …. He sighs, flips the letter over and pours milk out for his cereal.

Remus and Sirius both give him looks over the rim of their coffee cups, a small devious smile on their faces and Harry is dipped in the past, before. The flush of embarrassment darkens his features as he fingers the edges of the note, raising his brow at the two of them when Sirius grabs it to read, Remus curling over his shoulder.

“It’ll be good for you, prongslet. Get some company besides us.” Sirius smiles gently at him now, and Harry tries not to think about the curve of Mr. Riddle’s smile. He rolls his eyes and pens a response before the smile can fall off their faces. It’s just dinner.

They meet at Diagon Alley, and Harry notices it’s the first time since he went to St. Mungo’s that he’s been here by himself. George seems nervous, which lessens his nervousness by default. He’s known this boy for years, laughed and ate with him. His smile loosens automatically.

“I thought we’d go to The Hopping Pot, it’s less crowded down at Carkitt. Yeah?” George scratches the back of his neck and looks down at Harry, worried. Harry’s smile brightens, he’s seen the little restaurant nestled in the corner, bright green barrels situated all around its gleaming gold front porch.

“Absolutely, I’d love to try it.” George extends an arm and Harry takes it, taking in the street at night. The lamps flicker with real fire, a charming touch to the cobblestone walk. There are string lights wrapped around the carts of the street vendors that are still selling their wares, even though the crowd had thinned somewhat. It’s always a busy bustle in the morning and afternoon, the work crowd and then the after-work crowd.

It’s a lovely night.

They pass by Mr. Riddle’s offices and Harry looks sideways just to see, the lamps on the tables in the waiting room still on. Mr. Riddle was still there, and it was edging toward eight. A frown creases his forehead but before George can notice he straightens it out, looks as attentive as ever as George continues about their newest adventure, the joke shop.

“We’re hoping to buyout Mr. Gambol, and he seems inclined to sell. He’s getting on up there and we’ve been working at the shop with Lee during the summers since we got our apparating license.” Harry nods, glad that the twins are finding something to do with their time after Hogwarts. Remus had been fire chatting with Molly not too long ago and she was very concerned about their future. It seems they’ve found their niche.

“How about you?” George holds onto his hand when he untucks it from his arm, sitting beside him on the picnic table in front of the pub. There are bottles of fairies, clustered around the tables tonight and the string lights hang across each other in the little area in front of the pub. Harry fiddles with the napkin before him.

“I’m working at Mr. Riddle’s offices, actually just over there.” He points to the peak of the ivy-covered roof, barely visible with the buildings and the small park that’s located between them. “It’s nice, I like the work.” He doesn’t know why he doesn’t say anything about Mr. Riddle. He doesn’t talk much about him to anyone, there’s something quiet and mysterious about him and Harry likes keeping his boss to himself. He does like to talk about the work itself, and even though it is dull and tedious, Harry wholeheartedly loves every second of it. The paper shredding. The memos and letters. The filing. Even answering the fire calls, which had filled him with a bubbly sort of terror, is manageable. He tells George this whose face falls a little bit with every mention of letters and typing.

“It must be awfully boring.” George’s gaze is full of consolation, but Harry becomes baffled.

“No, no I love it. It’s good work, satisfying and the pressure is minimal which helps - you know, I’m still …” He looks into George’s eyes and those brown eyes are locked squarely on his, watching him closely and Harry curls in a little on himself, he can’t stop it. George seems to understand and pulls back a little, keeping eyes on Harry the whole time.

Before the silence can turn any more awkward an elf appears and takes their order. George nudges him, that devil may care smile making Harry worry less about his own estrangement, and they both decide to order drinks.

“A special occasion and all.” George toasts the first round of giggle water and streams of laughter follow them. One drink turns into two, turns into four until Harry starts picking at the remains of his food, warmth in his belly and his cheeks hurt from smiling too much.

“He still can't prove it was us though, oh, but he hated us anyway.” George rambles on and Harry puts his head on one warm palm, finally a breeze twining and twisting between them. He nods, their mutual hate for Snape an easy topic and the laughter still edging around them. It’s easy to listen to George’s smooth timber, easy to laugh because he’s hilarious. Harry’s eyes trace the sharp lines of his jaw, hidden underneath stubble, his lips. He didn’t expect this low simmer attraction. It feels easy, hardly real when Mr. Riddle sets him twisting and pining.

“Oh wow.” George eyes him, up and down. “You’re drunk. Sirius is gonna throttle me.” Harry smiles, flirty, which is such an alien emotion to him, and leans closer, their bodies touching in one line, shoulders to hips.

“Nah, he told me to socialize. ‘Is fault, really.” He leans up, finally catching George’s eyes and he sways a little, drunk and relaxed and George catches his head in one large palm and looks to his lips. Harry closes the distance between them.

Neither notice the burning gaze lingering on them.

 

When he gets to work that Monday, Mr. Riddle has him come into the office to organize the files from the previous year. His previous secretary, Myrtle, had been oblivious at best, lazy at worst. He takes a place on the floor, criss crosses his legs and makes stacks.

Mr. Riddle’s long legs walk by him, back and forth. Closer each time and Harry side eyes his oxfords each time. The work is tedious, and Harry spaces between color coding and alphabetizing the files. Mr. Riddle had given him meticulous instructions regarding the upkeep, his jaw clenched tight like it was Harry that had caused the mess in the first place. Harry takes it in stride, he is determined to outperform his predecessor.

“Harry, teatime.” Harry is so lost in his task that he’s amazed to look up and see that it’s five till. Mr. Riddle has already placed the tray on the low coffee table. He looks at Harry, waiting. A different look from that morning, he seems softer, more open now and Harry has only passing thoughts about what could be the cause of what could have troubled Mr. Riddle and his date with George is not one them at all. Harry gets up slowly, rubbing along his legs to get some feeling back into them. Mr. Riddle watches his hands, and Harry thinks for one stupid moment that maybe…maybe, that’s ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.

They sit and Harry doesn’t realize how hungry he is until he’s onto his second biscuit when Mr. Riddle asks, “Did you have a date last night?” Mr. Riddle continues to sip from his porcelain, his face turned toward him but Harry chokes rather magnificently on his bite once he’s processed the question. Mr. Riddle face still maintains that impenetrable façade and he merely raises a brow as Harry collects himself. His face feels blistering, and his eyes go everywhere but Mr. Riddle. He scratches the back of his neck, a habit he’s picked up from Sirius.

“Uh…um, yes, yes, I did.” He laughs, but Mr. Riddle doesn’t even crack a smile, and the silence in the room feels suddenly tighter, stronger than before. Harry continues before he’s prompted again.

“With George Weasley.” Mr. Riddle nods, his dark eyes intense and focusing solely on Harry. It’s almost akin to being dissected, taken apart and hopefully not found wanting. The silence still sits oppressive heavy between them and Harry opens his mouth to explain again.

“We aren’t actually – dating, that is - we’re not, I’m not, he’s just a family friend.” Frustration fills him and he places the saucer and cup down, that emotion that shadows him coming up to swallow him whole. He swallows the lump of disappointment, frustration, the tiny million things he can never say to Mr. Riddle, everything he wants to say already, but he can only say with eyes that plead, “He’s not my boyfriend.”

If he hadn’t been watching every nuance of Mr. Riddle’s face in the weeks he’s been here he wouldn’t have been able to tell, to see that softening of the lines around his mouth, the tightness of his eyes. He wouldn’t be able to trust him when he finally breathes, “Okay, Harry.”

 

Work continues well, amazingly so until one Tuesday when Mr. Riddle’s comes around to his desk, his face dark. He slams down a single sheet of paper. Harry jumps at the sound then immediately twists his wrist at the smoky globe that pours Mr. Riddle’s own low voice.

“Do you see this?” Mr. Riddle’s arm braced against the back of Harry’s chair and he leans over pointing to the paper.

“There.” He jabs his finger at a word, alsso. “And here.” Another jab, this time at comentating. Both are circled in red. His thunderous eyes bore into Harry and a hot rush of shame starts from the top of his head to his toes. Harry turns his face away and strangles down the terrifying surge of emotion in the back of his throat.

Mr. Riddle steps back, one hand clenches and Harry’s eyes watch the veins pop, he shakes it loose as Harry looks back up. “This isn’t the first time Harry, but I’ve looked it over because you were new. This cannot continue.” He slides the paper back to Harry, “Type it again.” He jerks away, walking back to his office and slamming the door.

Harry rubs a hand across his face, gathers the tattered remains of himself and puts a blank piece of paper into the typewriter. The clicks soothe him little like they usually do.

He brings the new letter like an offering. Mr. Riddle barely glances at it before grabbing a red pen off his desk, circling another mistake.

“You are trying my patience.” Harry nods and watches Mr. Riddle ball the letter up and throw it in the bin.

He slinks back to his desk, a buzz on the intercom letting him know to send the next client in. He takes the time he’s alone to compose himself, sniffing back tears that so desperately want to come out.

The click of the typewriter is agonizingly slow.

By the time he’s done, the client has already left the office and Mr. Riddle sits with papers around him, the sound of another man coming from the fireplace.

He doesn’t even glance at the letter as Harry very gently puts it down in front of him.

“Send a bill to Rabastan Lestrange for 800 galleons.” He doesn’t look up and sends a distracted answer to the face in the fireplace.

“Aren’t you -“ He finally stops what he’s doing and looks blankly at Harry, already handing him another stack of papers.

“Send these to the ministry, attention Bones.” He’s already dismissed by the time he takes the papers.

“Yes, sir.”

It’s only in the afternoon, after tea when Harry washes up and tidies the little mess in the office does Mr. Riddle find him, watering and feeding the mice in the kitchen, end of the day chores. Mr. Riddle approaches him slowly and lays one hot hand between the curve of his neck and shoulder and Harry is overwhelmed by a sense of relief and appreciation when Mr. Riddle looks him in the eye and tells him what a good job he’s doing, how proud he is he’s learning from his mistakes.

It does something to Harry, like he’s alive for the very first time in his life, and he can’t put into words what it means to him, not yet, but maybe. Maybe.

 

They get into a schedule in the weeks that follow, tea, clients, typing, meetings in the afternoon, more tea and even more typing. Mr. Riddle is fastidious about his tea, always at eleven and four, and Harry is invited to sit with the older man in the afternoon, talking about his cases and sometimes even about himself. Mr. Riddle notices his improvements, the shirts that are actually his size, the Oxford brogues that he had spent way too much money on, but totally worth it for the way it lights up Mr. Riddle eyes.

On top of that, his home life seems to be going splendid. Sirius is finally back in his office, the click clack of his own typewriter a comfortable sound and he’s on pastries with his classes, and the house always smells of vanilla. Remus and Harry have even got in on the creations.

They had made orange popovers the night before. Golden and lovely, gleaming with butter and sugar. He catches one between his teeth, a quick breakfast this morning, still several good ones left. He spies a carry out box from their Thai night, clean and drying on the rack.

He doesn’t know why he does it, thinks nothing more of it than an act of kindness. The popovers are heavenly, and Mr. Riddle has such a sweet tooth.

The midnight purple string still wrapped around it, he comes in with coffee for Mr. Riddle that morning and places the box right beside it.

“I brought this for you.” Mr. Riddle is going through a stack of papers, lifting his calendar and looking in his top drawers. He doesn’t notice the box yet.

“Harry, I can’t find the notes on Bagman. I think I tossed them last week.” He looks expectantly at Harry.

“In the garbage, sir?” Harry glances between the box and Mr. Riddle’s eyes. His own drop.

“Yes, Harry, thank you.” Harry nods and makes his way to the back door.

The trash cans are almost overflowing and Harry lifts one up, resolved now that he has a task. “Acc…” His wand is poised but his voice trails off. The bin is full of papers.

He spends twenty minutes picking through the papers and of course it’s at the very bottom, trapped underneath tea bags and a banana peel. Harry makes a face, winces as he flicks off the garbage and tries to straighten the precious papers in his hand.

He just happens to glance up over the low fence.

“Sirius?” There’s a lovely little bench across the back of his building. It’s located in a small park situated in the back space of Diagon and Horzont alleys, opening to Carkitt Market. He’d seen the little park from the other side when he and George had gone out. He’s never seen Sirius there until now.

He looks up from his book, eyes wide and immediately focused on Harry. His face beats red for a second before he comes the small distance, the low fence between them.

“Yes, love?” He looks embarrassed.

“What are you doing here already? I’m here for seven more hours.” For the past month, Remus and Sirius have taken turns walking him to and from work, apparating with Harry to Diagon in the morning and back home at night. Harry’s concern shows all over his face.

“Oh. I just…” Sirius trails off, his hand coming to rub at the back of his neck. A tell if ever there was one.

“Were you planning on staying all day?” At Sirius’ guilty look Harry blows out the breath he’s been holding, a shuddering exhale.

“I’ll see you this evening.” He doesn’t wait for Sirius to say anything, just turns around with his tea stained papers.

There’s a trudge to his step that wasn’t there before when he enters the building, papers held in his hand like an offering. He pastes a fake plastic grin when he goes back in the office.

“I found them.” The box is still closed on the desk and the coffee is half drunk.

“That’s not necessary,” Mr. Riddle’s nose scrunches up at the papers, but he puts his own placid smile back on, finally looking Harry in the eyes. “Barty is owling me his copies.” He places the coffee cup toward Harry. “This needs more sugar.” He’s already back to his paperwork.

“More, sir?” Harry doesn’t know why the comment hits him so hard, so personally anguished at the thought. He swallows and nods. “Oh, and Harry can you please put some mice in for Nagini?” Harry nods again, already turning for his tasks.

He gets the mice from the kitchen, locked and sad looking in their little metal cages. Honestly, and he would never say anything, but he hates this part the most. Not Nagini, he’s managed to rub his hand across her warm scales and stayed still long enough for her tongue to taste him. She’s lovely he’s come to find out, aloof and cold like Mr. Riddle but she’s softened to him over time.

It’s the mice. They titter in panic every time Harry picks up the cage, his heart in agony. He grabs the fullest one, and sweetens the coffee as told and makes his way back to the office with his arms full.

“Make sure to put some in the back, she likes to hunt.” Harry puts down the coffee at the desk, hopefully satisfactory. Mr. Riddle takes a second to bring down the foremost glass wall so Harry can enter the terrarium.

“Harry, did you make this?” Harry glances up, struggling with the cage, a spot of red on his cheeks.

“Yes, sir.” He doesn’t watch Mr. Riddle, whatever is pleasant in this gift giving might be completely erased if he dares look. He very much would like to look, though. He rolls eyes at himself and continues to take the cage, blasted, stupid cage, toward Nagini. She’s coiled on the rock, the heat of a phantom sun making her area quite toasty and warm. Sultry. His new shirt sticks to him tight and for a second he longs for the loose ones. He struggles with the cage again, a loud sound in the quiet of the office, until Mr. Riddle calls him to bring it over.

He wipes his fingers on a napkin, a brush over his mouth that Harry watches too closely. His face stays red and his embarrassment is a steady pulse, but he can’t make himself stop as he watches those strong, lean hands dismantle the cage, the mice fearful in the corner. Mr. Riddle hisses to Nagini, a lazy hiss back from her, before he hands the contraption back to Harry, his eyes lingering in a way that makes Harry smile beautifully at him.

“It was very good.” Harry swallows the compliment, lets it burn into his beating heart.

“Thank you.” Mr. Riddle smiles back at him, his eyes a shade darker, before Harry hurries to continue. He gently urges the mice forward, giving the bottom a little tap until a few fall forwards onto the moss-covered floor and scurry off.

He crosses over a large log, mushrooms and moss, and tiny little spiders scatter while he gets to the back. The terrarium at first glance looks small but Mr. Riddle has it so enhanced that it seems to go on forever. Harry ducks under leaves and fern, keeping the trap close to him and starting to sweat under the artificial heat. He finally finds a cubby hole in another log and sets the mice free. He would wish them luck, but it seems unlikely. While he walks back, his shirt stuck awkwardly to his back he unbuttons his cuffs.

He hasn’t had any water this morning and a rush of faintness makes a cold sweat dot across the back of his neck.

He peaks around the corner once the office is in view, Mr. Riddle gone. He pulls at his sleeves as he steps out, his own wand coming out with the incantation to send the glass back up. He does a quick cooling charm on himself, a reprieve from the heat.

Mr. Riddle comes out from his en-suite, already heading back to the desk.

“Thank you, Harry. Can you make copies of these please? I think six will be enough.” Just as Harry crosses over to reach for the paper he realizes that he never did his cuffs back up and the angry pink marks that litter his right wrist seem to shine.

When he looks to Mr. Riddle, his eyes have caught onto the marks on his wrist and stayed there. He drops the papers immediately and reaches forward, a quick jerk to touch Harry’s bare skin. Five points of heat wrap around his wrist, twisting and pulling it.

Harry is frozen.

Mr. Riddle doesn’t say anything just looks at Harry, his eyes dark and fathomless. Harry opens his mouth, for an excuse or an apology, he doesn’t know yet.

The fireplace rings up front.

It breaks the trance of the moment and Harry pulls his wrist back, head ducked down. “I’ll make those copies.” He mumbles before he rushes out of the office, swinging the door shut behind him.

The ringing echoes in the quiet while Harry hurries towards the front, his mind a blank hot panic.

“Law offices of T. Marvolo Riddle, how can I help you?” He rushes out, a tumble of words that he shuts his eyes against. As soon as they close the door blows open.

A woman walks in, dark and lovely, her leather bag draped over her arm. She stands in heels that are truly impressive, a stiletto that clacks on the hardwood as she walks toward Harry. The dark dress she wears hugs every curve of her body and Harry is absolutely intimidated by this woman in the span of three heart beats.

“Is he in?” Oh. Oh, of course. Harry flinches, his discomfort so visceral it startles him, and he fumbles at the fireplace as the person on the other end continues with a well-practiced sales pitch, an owlery that specializes in long distance communications. Harry makes an aborted noise, watching the woman look up and down the coat rack nearby. Mr. Riddle’s Burberry trench clearly visible.

Harry looks down quickly. Two little round knobs are on the side of his desk, hidden from her view and Mr. Riddle had told him when he first started, green for go, red for no.

The light flashes red.

The man keeps talking, hardly taking a breath for his spiel and the woman looks at him expectantly. Harry takes a determined breath and finally faces her fully.

“I’m afraid he’s out for the day, Ma’am. I can take a message.” The man blathers on and the frustration of the day culminates when the woman takes one pitiful glance at him and laughs. The deep ruby of her lips wraps around the sound, pushing it right into his brain. He fumbles with his wand when a break happens in the constant babbling of the salesperson. He sharply slashes his wand through the air, turning the man to ash just as she takes her own wand out to set the coat rack on fire.

She raises a brow, unimpressed when Harry points his wand at her mess sending a dousing of water to the ruined stand. Before he can utter any cry of outrage, she holds up her wand again.

“Tell him to sign off on the contract. This week.” She kicks the remains of the stand, ashes falling violently to the floor. “He won’t like it if I have to come back.” She smiles, simply a grimace of teeth before slamming her way out.

Harry leans against the desk, the light off now, and breathes out one long sigh. His mind is in tangles, knots with wires that poke in and out, an absolute mess. One thought connects to another, to another, to another, down the rabbit hole of shouldn’t haves.

His nerves won’t settle, no matter how long he breathes in and out. The exposure, the woman, Sirius. Sirius. It’s suffocating, their behavior, their concern. He knocks his head back, a hard swallow against the guilt and sadness that’s attacking him.

Mr. Riddle’s eyes when he saw his wrist.

He’s around the desk before he consciously decides it. He takes a paperclip, unfurled to a straight point, and presses it, harder and harder into the inside of his wrist underneath the desk. He sighs, a relief, bliss until he looks up and catches Mr. Riddle’s eyes.

That hot panic overrides again and the paper clip makes a soft noise when it hits the floor. Harry immediately looks down, his hands brushing the floor to find it, his brain running wild at the thought of what he can say, what could be said to mitigate this. Nothing, anything, his mind blanks, he keeps his head down longer than he should.

He swallows, his eyes terror-wide when he finally looks up only to see Mr. Riddle gone. His eyes flick over to the rubble the woman left. Cleaned up. He sits back in his wooden chair, presses lips to the tiny drop of blood that has slipped out of his wrist. He didn’t even hear the spell.

 

The next day goes much smoother, clients and invoices, memos and letters. Mr. Riddle doesn’t say anything, and Harry tries not to panic at the other shoe dropping. He’d lain awake all last night knowing for sure that he’d be fired. Ever increasing ludicrous visions of being confronted and chucked aside had kept him tossing and turning all night. Sleep was fitful when it came.

He’d used his wand for the bags under his eyes and quietly asked for a potion from Remus in the morning, who quietly told him that this would not become a habit. His eyes had been sad, his mouth turned down into a frown.

They hadn’t spoken the entire walk to work.

It sits heavy in his stomach the entire day until around four when he brings Mr. Riddle his afternoon tea and he tells Harry to sit with him. It doesn’t feel like the other times, there’s a seriousness to Mr. Riddle’s face that worries him.

He sits, nervous and on edge while Mr. Riddle crosses long, long legs beside him on the couch.

“Do you enjoy working here, Harry?” This is it; this is the terrible beginning and the prick of tears sting Harry’s eyes when he nods.

Mr. Riddle just smiles at him, and he’s becoming adept at reading Mr. Riddle, and there’s a softness there, just a tad.

“I enjoy you too, Harry. You’ve worked out quite well.” Harry let’s out a breath, a tiny little exhale that seems to make the knot of worry in his stomach shrink. Mr. Riddle puts his cup down and shifts so that they face each other on the couch. “I understand that we have a structured relationship, I’m your employer, but I’d like to think, you could come to me with any issues that were bothering you.” His arm creeps behind the couch, as silent as Nagini, and Harry leans toward him.

He smiles, nervous and shy in a way that he can’t seem to shake off, a second nature to him.

“Harry.” It happens so suddenly, one moment Mr. Riddle’s hand is on resting across his legs and in the next, one large hand wraps around his own. He cradles Harry’s hand, so delicately tender. Mr. Riddle’s hand is warm compared to his own, but he doesn’t jerk at Harry’s cold, doesn’t inspect like Harry’s fears he will. Mr. Riddle just holds Harry’s hand in his own warm one, comforting.

“What’s going on with this?” He doesn’t sound degrading or angry, just a warm worry and a brow arched in concern. Expectant.

“I- … I-“ Harry can’t get the words out, can’t explain the thoughts and anxieties and hurt that run rampant in his brain day to day. But Mr. Riddle nods in understanding.

“Are you cutting yourself?” Harry swallows, looks over at the folded screens in front of Nagini’s habitat. The red swirls in the silk of the fabric, after all this time he can finally see that they’re snakes. He sniffs back the lump in his throat and looks back to Mr. Riddle. All he can manage is a nod. Then there is that dreaded question he can never answer. “Why, Harry?”

He opens his mouth to speak, the words so inevitably caught in his throat just like at St. Mungo’s, just like when Sirius and Remus sat him down that first time. A flush of embarrassment blooms on his face, a red that stretches to his neck and his heartbeat is a throb at the base of his throat. Mr. Riddle’s eyes go there for a moment until he lifts them to look back at Harry.

“Is it that sometimes the world is ... too much, that these feelings suffocate you … and to hurt yourself allows you to breathe?” Harry nods. His long eyelashes dampen and he clenches the fist not in Mr. Riddle’s hand. He looks down, shocked at the sight of their hands still together. “And then to see the healing of the wound, to know that it can kit itself back together, there’s comfort in that?” A tear falls, a slip of moisture on his skin that Mr. Riddle’s eye tracks from eye to the curve of his jaw. He bites his lips, nods, and Mr. Riddle allows him the wordless gesture, the tear away of eyes.

Mr. Riddle just grips tighter.

“Harry, look at me. I want you to listen to me, can you listen to me?” Harry immediately locks eyes again, caught in Mr. Riddle’s burning gaze. They sit close together on the couch, and this intimacy with Mr. Riddle is natural and easy in a way that Harry craves in his marrow.

“You will never hurt yourself again.” Harry blinks against the shock. His eyes try to flicker away but Mr. Riddle drags him back. He - for a moment, is lost in those eyes, cared for and attended in a way that felt right, safe. Those eyes, bright and clear and so utterly focused on Harry, are like another world, made and molded for Harry alone. He lets the tightness in his shoulders relax, leans ever so slightly closer to Mr. Riddle. “You’re done with that, you will never need that again, do you understand?”

And because Mr. Riddle says, because this man has made that point so abundantly clear, Harry nods.

At the incline of Mr. Riddle’s head, he says, “Yes, sir.”

Mr. Riddle smiles at him and Harry finally sees the dimple that bites into the inside of his cheek, and he smiles back, teary and genuine. Mr. Riddle’s handsome face is so close to his, so shared this intimacy between them that Harry thinks for one heart stopping second something might happen. He glances down, flushed and achingly hopeful.

At least their hands are still together when Mr. Riddle continues.

“Now, you’re a big boy, you don’t need chaperones everyday, do you?” He gently prods and Harry lets out a little huff of laughter and shakes his head. “I want you to leave early today, I want you to get some fresh air, I want you to have your own time. Because you need that, you need to have the fresh air and the relief because you won’t be doing that.” He lets out a breath himself, putting another warm hand over their combined ones and giving him a gentle squeeze. “Anymore.”

 

Harry makes his way to the park, the first signs of Autumn making the trees that are scattered about pop in sudden and small bursts of orange and red. Remus sits on the bench, one knee crossed over the other, his book half finished.

He looks up when Harry’s shadow casts over him and he adjusts his reading glasses. “Oh, you’re off early today.” Harry smiles at him.

“I’m going to walk by myself from here on.” He leans down and kisses Remus on the cheek. Remus seems shocked at first, close to saying something but one look at Harry seems to stop him. He finally nods and smiles back.

It was almost like being back at Hogwarts, when on the weekends he’d roam the halls and the grounds, alone and content. He experiences that peace now on his walk, as if he’d never seen the grass and the sky and the clouds and known contentment, like he was being cared for even though he’s completely alone. It was because of Mr. Riddle, and because he’s alone, with only the wind and the clouds for company he thinks quietly, softly, Tom.

He knew it was because Mr. Riddle had requested this of him, desired this for him that made his step lighter, his heart creeping out of the frost that had guarded it so tightly for years.

He felt that something had changed between them, something lovely and dark slowly creeping out of Mr. Riddle and reaching for him. He felt electric in his presence, wanted, desired. It wasn’t just his imagination, was it? He wonders if Mr. Riddle ached in the same way, in discovering what he knew about Harry, did something awaken inside himself as well?

 

It’s days later when another mistake happens.

Mr. Riddle rounds his desk again, his body a tight line of anger, this time slamming the letter down. The mistakes have already been circled in red. “How hard is it for you to do your job?” Harry tenses up on instinct, and Mr. Riddle senses that weakness and comes in for the kill. “Type and answer owls, that’s all.”

“I’m sorry.” Harry ducks his head down, making himself seem smaller as Mr. Riddle rounds his desk, stopping in front and making Harry maintain an eye contact that seems punishing.

“It’s not that hard.” The lights flicker for a moment and Harry has a small dose of fear. He immediately ducks his head, contrite.

“I’m sorry.” He can’t help but utter softly into the tense office. It doesn’t fix anything.

“Do not say that again.” Harry imagines that the vein in Mr. Riddle’s forehead throbs with his anger. He won’t look up to make sure. “I just don’t understand what is going on in that head of yours.” From Harry’s peripheral he can see Mr. Riddle shake his in disgust, already walking away, the clack of his shoes on the hardwood floor sounding just as angry as he did.

Harry sniffs.

The noise stops. Harry immediately looks up. Mr. Riddle’s broad back seems broader for a moment, like he stands taller, and Harry stops breathing all together.

“Come to my office and bring that letter.”

“...yes, sir.” Hardy quickly scrambles from his seat, lightly picking up the letter bleeding red.

Mr. Riddle lets him pass in front of him, staying close behind him in the hallway. His office doors are still open from him storming out and it’s different this time to step through them, with no idea of what’s to happen.

Mr. Riddle lets him walk until he gets right in front of his desk and he swoops in close, closer than he’s ever been before. The heat of him envelops Harry, the clean warm smell that he’s come to associate with his boss.

Mr. Riddle’s breath hits the back of his neck.

“I want you to bend over the desk, keep your head close to the letter, and read aloud.” Harry turns his head quickly to catch the dark eyes that stay steady on him. His mouth hangs open, utterly surprised.

“What?” It sounds more like ”wut and Mr. Riddle doesn’t close or roll his eyes in annoyance, but they do squint dangerously at Harry.

“I’m not going to repeat myself.”

“Yes, sir.” Hardy places both palms flat on the clear desk, the square of white such a contrast, innocuous in the middle of his arms. His mind is frantic, thoughts circling round and round until he forces himself to stop his blind panic. Mr. Riddle is an immovable presence behind him, his hands clasped in front of him. Harry clears his throat and begins.

“Dear Mrs. Lestrange-“ WHACK

His breath leaves him in a gasp as his body rocks with the blow. Tears immediately spring to his eyes and his mouth hangs open in shock when he looks over his shoulder to Mr. Riddle.

His eyes burn with a careful cruelty. The shock shows briefly in the wetness around Harry’s eyes and mouth before Mr. Riddle quietly demands that he continues.

He nods to himself. Mr. Riddle’s eyes have left his face and they are a tangible weight on the rigid line of his body. He turns back to the paper.

Another line. Another hard hit to his backside, the force jarring the grip of his palms, pushing him up the desk. Another line read, another heavy swat to his arse and thighs. He gets through to the end, a tremor in his voice, when he’s told to repeat the letter. He starts again just as the slaps somehow become heavier, faster, but still controlled. A solid open palm hits him and rocks him from side to side, a series of smacks that are only interrupted by his reading.

He finishes the last line, completely out of breath. His arse and thighs are alight with fire, and his heat soaks into Mr. Riddle when he lands heavily on top of him. The temperature of his body melds into Harry’s heat, and for the barest moment Harry is completely sheltered, filtered from the world. Mr. Riddle’s long fingers twine with his own, pinky to pinky in a touch that allows the tears to finally break past.

“Thank me, Harry.” Mr. Riddle breathes into his ear, low and desirable. The thunder of Harry’s own pounding heart follows quickly behind Mr. Riddle’s.

“Thank you, sir.” Mr. Riddle’s mouth grazes across this shoulder, his breath hot and heavy through the layer of cotton. He holds Harry close to him and Harry leans back against the hard line of him, the steady pulse of his heart reverberating in his ear. It shocks Harry more than the spanking. He stiffens but Mr. Riddle only shushes him, pulls him around, and just holds him until he can get his breathing under control.

Harry finally looks up, his mouth bitten red raw and his eyes still watery. Mr. Riddle lifts his hands up, still warm, still red where they had hit him, to cup his face, to brush the half-dried tears from his cheeks. His palms are hot even against the heat of his face.

Oh, how desperately Harry wants in that moment.

His face is still stern when he tells him to retype the letter.

Harry is wrung through when he walks out, the letter clutched in one hand. His legs and arms are shaky and dazed, wide awake and lethargic at the same time. He manages a detour to the bathroom in the front, where he locks the door and leans against it, hissing when his backside meets the wood. He unbuckles and unbuttons, bites down his whine when he pulls his trousers down. He’s amazed at the violent colors. His hand trembles as he ghosts it over the abuse, heat flaring throughout his body. He closes his eyes, his hands ghosting over his erection, a strange and wonderful thing.

He’s never felt this kind of need before.

It’s wrong somehow, to touch himself, to satisfy his needs while Mr. Riddle waits, when there is still work to be done.

It’s agony to sit and type, the heat circulating. But he does so, his heart less heavy and his face calm. His hands move surely, and when he’s done, the soft ring of the type finally finished, he pulls the paper out, sated.

Mr. Riddle doesn’t say anything when he presents him with the finished letter, but afterwards, when Harry is sitting at his desk, his eyes and thoughts focused on the papers before him, he comes to him. Harry watches him until he can’t, doesn’t shift in his seat like he wants to. Mr. Riddle goes behind him, rubs one warm hand across the lobe of his ear, the back of his neck, a touch that makes Harry want to purr. Mr. Riddle leans down, his arm braced on the table and Harry watches that spidery hand, digits spread out, he knows what it can do now.

“Very good boy, Harry.” Finally, he closes his eyes in bliss.

 

Before bringing Mr. Riddle his tea the next morning Harry takes his zippered pouch to the back alley. A dark black plastic case, and inside it, all the tools he’s ever needed to seek his own self destruction.

A flick of his wand, a tremble of air, and it’s gone.

A weight that he thought he would forever be bound and tethered to, cut clean.

 

Things slowly started to change at the Law Offices of T. M. Riddle. The line had been crossed and the two of them hurdled forward, and Harry was eager for more, so much more. Mr. Riddle moves a small desk and a straight back chair to his office. Holding onto Harry’s arm, a searing point of contact that Harry almost goes dizzy over, he explains how he needs him closer, needs to be able to make sure there are no setbacks.

Harry understands completely.

The new desk in Mr. Riddle’s office isn’t the only thing that changes.

Bars that snap, ropes, blindfolds all start to make their way into his life. Harry isn’t overwhelmed or scared. He has Mr. Riddle leading him along, hand in hand. He is so self-assured, so confident that Harry can’t help but trust him.

A few days after the desk, Mr. Riddle had closed the office door and snapped his wrists into the collared posture bar, running his hands along his shoulders, his throat.

“Harry, you’ve got to sit up straight. No slouching.” That devious look was back in Mr. Riddle’s eyes and Harry always shivered when the buckle closed around his throat. Those long fingers would check his pulse (couldn’t he feel it racing?) and wind their way around to make sure none of Harry’s unruly hair was tangled in the back.

It made Harry melt with want every time, he’d be sticky with it by the end of it. Between sending owls and getting tea and paperwork, his back became as straight as an arrow. Mr. Riddle would always walk around him, the hot line of his fingers tracing the seam of Harry’s spine from the top knob to the little indents above his arse.

Sometimes, he didn’t even hold the moans in.

The ropes are next, lengths of rough twine that wrap around and around his arms and back, across his chest, beautiful knots that he was mesmerized by. Mr. Riddle couldn’t seem to stop himself, his hands running along the curves he created in Harry’s body.

“Such a good boy for me, holding so still.” Harry whimpers in his bindings, his arms numb.

“Please, sir, please.” Harry’s mouth hangs open and he can’t see Mr. Riddle, not behind the thick cotton of his blindfold, taped onto his face with something muggle, something that Mr. Riddle had brought out with excitement in those fiery eyes, a dangerous smirk on his handsome face.

“What do you want, Harry. You have to ask, you have to use your words, you know that.” His arms have been knotted behind him and he’s perched on the couch in Mr. Riddle’s office, their office. He soaks in the heat from Mr. Riddle’s body in front of him, as puffs of air hit his face. He hopes in his bones that he can make the words come, he licks his lips, his breath stuttering. Mr. Riddle moans, a beautiful sound, and it makes Harry bold, to know that Mr. Riddle is just as affected as he is.

“Kiss me.” The illusion doesn’t shatter, the glass doesn’t break. He holds his breath anyway, like this is the edge, and beyond is the unknown, but knowing, surer of himself in this moment that any that have come before that this is what he wants, who he wants.

Mr. Riddle softly presses lips to his own and Harry almost sobs into the kiss. The hands that have tangled and twisted him, wind around his head, into his hair and pull the very breath from his lungs.

The slide of Mr. Riddle’s tongue against his, the taste of his mouth finally, makes Harry arche forward, clumsily pushing himself at Mr. Riddle. He chuckles into Harry’s mouth, a pleased sound that quickly gets lost between lips and teeth.

Harry could kiss this man forever, it’s eclipses all those fumbling hurried times before, all pale in comparison, cannot hold a candle to these kisses that are branded on his soul.

Mr. Riddle pulls him by the swell of his arse to land on spread knees, his back arches even more and for the first time Harry is taller, has to lean his head down until he escapes for air and Mr. Riddle attacks his jaw and his neck, bruising kisses that make Harry moan and grind on the lap beneath him.

His desire is a living, breathing thing and is fed by the hands that hold him, the mouth that’s worshipping him. He’s never felt so desired, so well known, so deliciously used. Mr. Riddle’s strong hands grip his hips, churning them to a rut that only he’ll allow. Harry has nothing but heat and steel riding the line of his arse, and his own prick is wet, confined.

“Just this, Harry. This is all you’ve earned for now, my good boy.” Harry hunches over, grinding down into his lap and Mr. Riddle makes a noise of dissent, and quickly a large hand spans the middle of Harry’s spine, arching him again. His prick finally gets the friction he needs on the upswing, and Mr. Riddle moans with him.

The sound is heavenly.

He allows Harry the push and grind of his motion, his hands tugging the rope that crosses around Harry, keeps him bound. In between one tremble of breath and the next Harry doesn’t forget his manners.

“Please, sir. Please can I- Please.” It’s a whine and Mr. Riddle slaps the fleshy peach of his arse, and this time they moan together, entwined like their bodies.

“Yes, Harry. Yes, come for me.” Mr. Riddle hisses into the dark dampness of his neck, and Harry strains, his atoms rearranging, and the world comes out clearer on the other side. His mouth babbles, thank you, thank you, a litany of wonder and gratitude. Mr. Riddle’s hands are harsher, stronger when they grab him, pushing harder into the clothes that separate them until finally his mouth attaches itself to the long line of Harry’s neck, an imprint of canines that reshape his heart's desire.

Mr. Riddle holds him close as their breath evens out. Harry finds himself, boneless, satisfied in ways he’s only dreamed about. He never wants it to end.

Mr. Riddle removes the tacky tape that keeps Harry’s eyes covered but Harry keeps his eyes closed until the pads of thumbs brush against his wet lashes.

“Okay?” Mr. Riddle’s low voice breaks the quiet of his spell and Harry’s eyes fly open, catch the dark, deep burgundy of Mr. Riddle’s. He smiles, soft and genuine at the guarded look on Mr. Riddle’s face before he swoops in for another kiss.

 

“You’ve been staying awfully late, prongslet.” Sirius catches him in the kitchen by himself. He looks up from his toast and jam, a late-night meal, absolutely sponsored by Mr. Riddle, whispered into his ear as they locked up for the night.

His eyes flinch when Sirius turns the overhead on, Mr. Riddle had kept the blindfold on him every time the office emptied at closing, and Harry was still adjusting to the bright light when Sirius narrows his eyes at him.

“We saw George this week. Haven’t made any plans again?” He had owled George. After he realized, knew with absolute certainty that there was nothing he could do to compare with Mr. Riddle.

“I’ve been busy, s’all.” Sirius hums at that, not so discreetly looking Harry up and down. Harry starts, irrationally worried that he might be able to see the rope marks under his clothes.

“That boss of yours riding you hard?” Harry chokes on his bite of toast, his face blooming. He averts his eyes while he gathers himself. If Sirius only knew, and then Harry startles watching Sirius’ expression turn blank. He just knows the cogs are starting to turn upstairs.

“He’s had a big case, recently. Really, Sirius.” Harry rolls his eyes, making himself busy with the washing up. He takes his time rubbing the plate with the flannel, the heat that floods his face creeps along his spine, the weight of Sirius’ suddenly heavy gaze oppressive.

“He’s older, a fair few years older than me if I recall.” He tries to sound so casual, but Harry can hear that fine vein of worry running all the way through. He turns off the tap and keeps his back turned while he dries his hands, inexplicably annoyed at this conversation.

“Why should that matter?” He says to the cabinets in front of him.

“It matters, Harry. You’re still so young. You’re only just getting better.” Harry breath hitches and he thinks that the only reason he’s doing as well as he is because of Mr. Riddle. He wants to say, he loves-

The hand towel drops into the damp sink.

“I’ve got to be up early.” Harry says in the hush that follows. Sirius watches him through narrowed eyes, and Harry can’t stand the hurt he burns with in that second, but he stands on tiptoes to dutifully kiss his cheek before sliding past him.

He doesn’t hear Sirius follow.

 

“Slow, darling. Easy, my beautiful boy.” His heart wraps around the words, the praise, as eagerly as his mouth wraps around Mr. Riddle’s cock, hard and hungry for him just like Harry is. His own is trapped in the steel cage, as eager to be let out as the love that Harry holds so tightly in his heart for this man.

His arms are once more bound behind his back, miles of rope wrapped around his bare skin. Oh, how happy he was to finally be stripped down and taken apart by those glorious hands. Mr. Riddle had kissed every inch of exposed skin, seeking sly glances through half lidded eyes. It had unmade him to see Mr. Riddle on his knees like that, kissing scars and putting life back into him.

“Wider, Harry.” Mr. Riddle’s thumbs find the hinge of his jaw, smoothing circles into the stretch. Harry’s eyes are wet with tears, but he pushes through, tongues at the hard flesh in his mouth, taking it until he can feel that stretch in the back of his throat, only then is he allowed to suck. They’ve built up his endurance, and a flush of warmth runs through him at his progress, at Mr. Riddle’s approval.

Mr. Riddle groans, loud enough that Harry has a flash of panic. Barty is working in the conference room, with a long list of Mr. Riddle’s research requests. They’ve been in Mr. Riddle’s office for an hour, and Mr. Riddle doesn’t seem inclined to be in a hurry. Harry can pull off for air.

“Good, good boy.” Mr. Riddle groans again, his dick in his hand. He uses the foam and slick from Harry's mouth, jerking hard and twisting just at the end. Harry’s mouth stays open, his tongue resting lightly so it touches the shell of his bottom teeth. He lets the spit gather; Mr. Riddle loves to watch him dribble for him.

Soon enough the hot flood of Mr. Riddle’s cum coat his face and tongue, sweeter than when Mr. Riddle has him eat his own come. Mr. Riddle lurches forward, his breath still heavy as he licks all the come from Harry just to deposit it back in his waiting mouth.

He doesn’t need to be prompted to thank him.

Mr. Riddle procures the key for Harry’s lock and undoes him, in more ways than one. His prick, finally loose, is wet and sticky, red and flushed. He can barely stand it. Mr. Riddle guides him off his knees to lay his chest flat on his desk.

The moans from Harry can’t be stopped, not when Mr. Riddles very talented tongue sweeps across the base of the glass plug in Harry. Harry’s fingers curl in their stranglehold, grasping at nothing but air and heady tantalization.

Mr. Riddles fingers rub across the rim, the glass hot now that’s it’s been inside him for so long. Those wonderful fingers pull and push, and that masterful tongue rubs right alongside it. The plug pops out, a truly loud squelching sound that makes Harry whimper in embarrassment, just as soon forgotten when Mr. Riddle pushes his fingers inside. He pushes in right past the grip of Harry’s resistance, into the scorching heat of him. Harry rides his fingers, his nipples caught between the rope and still sore from the clamps earlier this week, slide across the cool desk and it’s like Mr. Riddle’s mouth is there too. He grazes him, soft and wet, when he leans over to speak in his ear.

“Oh, you are so very tempting, Harry.” His fingers finally dance along that spot that has Harry arching, sweating for it. His hands are useless, but he wants to drag Mr. Riddle down, wants him inside.

That familiar tightening happens in Harry’s belly, that swoosh of air he’s come to associate with Mr. Riddle alone when his prick is held right in Mr. Riddle’s fist, stopping him.

“You didn’t ask, Harry.” Mr. Riddle tuts, and the please is falling from his lips like rain, but it’s too late. Mr. Riddle slowly slides those fingers from Harry, and he’s so achingly empty. He lets go of his prick with a warning pulse. Then just as quickly, the harsh blows come to his ass and thighs, measured and controlled like they always are, a series of hits that heat him up from the inside out.

“Beg me now, sweet boy.” Harry starts and finds he can’t stop, even when that line between pain and pleasure that Mr. Riddles rides so tight gets blurred, lost in the need he carries like a birthright. He comes, shaking and breathless, his dick touching only the glossy wood of Mr. Riddle’s desk.

Mr. Riddle bundles him like he always does, the buffer that Harry has found is increasingly hard to let go of. He curls like a cat on Mr. Riddle’s lap and lets himself be petted through his tears and gasps, always so wrung out, so completely filled when Mr. Riddle is done with him. His hands are tender, careful when they cradle his skull, spreading through his tangle of hair. He breathes as hard as Harry, the pulse of their chests melding together, and he looks into Harry’s eyes, at his mouth, and his eyes again. There is something vulnerable that slides across his face, affectionately gentle and tender. Harry’s eyes widen, tracking the minute changes that happen in less than one pounding heartbeat.

He hopes Mr. Riddle’s never done with him as they exchange lazy kisses as the sunlight fades through the gaps in the blinds.

 

It’s not surprising it’s Remus this time. Harry’s been leaving earlier and coming home later every day since Mr. Riddle had sat him down, all those months ago when he had held his hand and asked him if he understood. Even the weekends, he’s been sneaking back to the office, unable to quench his thirst of Mr. Riddle, of everything the other man does to him. He is like a brand-new person, brought to life with skillful hands and mouth, he was buried and found again.

Of course, Remus is already waiting for him in the foyer, his arms crossed, his brow bent. He stands in front of the door.

“Harry, a word, love.” Harry lifts his satchel to slide the strap over his head, already dreading this conversation. Remus continues undeterred.

“I’d like you to understand that Sirius and I are coming from a place of deep caring, and I understand that you aren’t a child. But you are still a child to me, to Sirius. Since you’ve been here, you’ve felt like our child, Harry.” He straightens from his faux casual lean against the wall to crowd close to Harry, a hopeless pleading blaring out of his amber eyes. “I can smell him on you, Harry.” Harry doesn’t breathe, can’t, and he quickly turns wide eyes up to Remus. “Sirius is … I wanted to talk to you, love. Away, and before. I wanted to know, is this something, is this something you consented to.”

Harry doesn’t want to share this with them, and yet still, to be able to speak aloud, to shout it loud enough to scare Sirius out from wherever he’s hiding. He wants so badly to let them know that this is what he’s wanted, how he’s found a person that fills all the emptiness inside him. That they dance to a tune only the two of them have an ear for.

It’s impossible, the words are too hard, and Remus is looking at him with sympathetic eyes, like he’s exactly the child Remus denies he is, too young and broken to understand this world.

“We’re scared he’s taking advantage of you, love. Of your emotions and your youth.” His hands flutter close to Harry’s shoulders but Harry’s hunches them in, unfamiliar to this regression now that Mr. Riddle has drilled it out of him, but not wanting Remus to touch him, nevertheless. The anger lives deep inside, and Harry tries not to let it show on his face, along with the hurt.

He fails.

“We just want what’s best for you.” Remus finally gathers him close, his body tense in his familiar hold. It’s nothing like the comfort he’s become used to when Mr. Riddle holds him close, when his hands chase the trembling out of his limbs.

Harry breaks away from Remus at the thought. His anger bubbling up, always trapped and festering, but finally let out in the air now. “It’s not like that, Remus.” He’s indignant, the first time Remus has seen that fire glow in his eyes, the only time he’s seen Lily in her only son. It shocks him to the quick.

It makes Harry realize he never should have said anything in the first place, and he leaves before something else regrettable comes out of his mouth.

 

Those words that Remus had spoken softly worm their way into his brain and his heart that day. What if - What if - What if. He won’t let himself complete the thought and the office is busier than it’s been in a long while, enough that he has to move back to the main room, to field fire calls and clients all day. He brings in the tea for Mr. Riddle at eleven and four each time, and Mr. Riddle is busy with fire calls. He tries to lean against him, against the desk to serve him but each time he’s just gifted with a raised brow and an impatient purse of lips.

It makes his heart freeze in his chest, Maybe Remus was right, maybe he is too young, too immature to understand the dynamics involved here, he’s trusted Mr. Riddle so easily but his heart sways his mind, Mr. Riddle has never done anything to betray that trust.

When Harry manages to glance outside, the lamps have dimmed, and the dark clouds overhead are finally burdened down with oncoming snow. The papers that have been strewn across his desk finally resemble some order at last. He puts his cheek on his palm and watches the snow flurries start.

He’s always loved the snow, loved the winter, cold and clean in a way that summer never could be. His fingers trace the curls in his hair, and he can’t believe it’s been almost a year since the accident that put him in St. Mungo’s. It doesn’t seem that long and yet it does, he’s completely different, when he thought his life would be one long line of inevitabilities, he’s found that it’s changed so wonderfully.

He startles as Mr. Riddle’s hand runs through his hair before he perches on Harry’s desk, end of day casual. A look that Harry loves to see on him, without blazer and cuffs rolled up, it’s his softest look.

“Busy day.” His hand runs along the line of his own scalp now and his eyes are on the window that Harry was just looking out of, a pensive look on his face. Harry immediately tenses up and Mr. Riddle notices, as adept to Harry’s moods as Harry is to his.

“What is it, sir?” Panic blooms as fast as winter roses in his heart.

“Your godfather stopped by today, while you were out at lunch.” Mr. Riddle finally looks at him, a tightness to his eyes that is wholly new to Harry. He immediately doesn’t like it, the words register finally, and he looks up, coming closer to Mr. Riddle, immediately embarrassed.

“I’m so sorry, I’ve spoken-“ He stops abruptly when Mr. Riddle gets up, moves away from him to stand closer to the window. The space between them seems greater in that moment, then the seconds before, like a gap that grows wider with every filling of lungs.

“It doesn’t matter Harry.” The emotion starts in his throat, terrible and dreary, like a life sentence he has no chance to appeal. “This is out of hand, the lines I’ve crossed with you…” He trails off, his hand clenched, he won’t look at Harry.

“I - but I don’t understand, I thought- “ He tries to stand, to follow Mr. Riddle but he finds his legs have gone useless, a cold sweat travels down his body when Mr. Riddle looks back at him, his face hard.

“Harry, this has to stop. You know it. I know it.” His heart cleaves itself in half, in that moment, all the worry and fear and niggling doubt that had plagued him throughout the day finally coming home to roost.

“What does that mean?” The tear finally comes, and with it more. He whispers his question to the man that has turned away from him.

“What do you think it means, Harry? Don’t be ridiculous.” He hasn’t heard that coldness in so long, that detachment, the cruel tone. It hurts, it makes breathing unbearable. When he wants nothing more than to curl up in a ball and die, this ache, a monster in his chest makes him open his mouth.

“My feelings mean nothing then, is that what you’re saying?” Mr. Riddle glances at him, startled. Confused. Harry thinks for a second, about all their times together, sexual and platonic, and in every moment Mr. Riddle features so safely and securely like a break in the storm. He has never felt anything for anyone like he aches for Mr. Riddle.

“I don’t want to end this.” It’s the only thing he knows.

“You don’t know what you want.” He’s dismissive, unbelieving and it makes Harry break out in a cold sweat.

“I want you. I want to -“ Mr. Riddle’s face blanks and it makes Harry want to weep.

“I’m sorry. This isn’t going to work.” Harry is so shocked he stands.

“Don’t do that, don’t shut me out, we’ve done this together, I’ve never said a word-“ Harry rounds the desk, his heart beat wild and fierce, a hummingbird locked in his chest.

“That’s exactly my point. Harry, I knew you, Harry, I knew you in one look. I knew what I could make you do.” He takes a step back, his hands on Harry’s shoulders, his face so close and yet to Harry it’s as if he’ll never taste those lips again, never hear a moan or a chuckle that he so desperately chases after.

“I wanted it. Mr. Riddle. Tom. Tom, I want you.” The taste of the man’s first name on his tongue, when it’s dwelled in the warmth of his heart so long is magnificent, even amid this tragedy. He leans forward, his hand on Mr. Riddle’s, no not Mr. Riddle, Tom, Tom’s warm skin. His eyes stare into Harry’s own, and they flicker back and forth, and Harry burns inside for him to know, for him to understand. He doesn’t.

“It’s for the best, Harry.”

He follows Mr. Riddle to his office, trying not to cry and failing spectacularly. The words won’t come, no matter how much he starts and stops, and Mr. Riddle, probably in his last act of kindness, hugs him to calm him down. He traces his hands down his shoulders and arms, shushing him even in the quiet of what once was their office.

It’s like an end, definitive, when Harry thought it was just beginning.

He won’t let Harry kiss him, not once.

 

Harry doesn’t know how he makes it home, lost in his own miserable thoughts and the snow that lands. Untouchable on his skin. He’s cold all the way through.

Remus and Sirius are nowhere to be found and Harry’s grateful, he’s so full of sorrow and anger that he knew he’d regret anything he’d say to them. Mostly he’d ask why, but it might not even be that. His tears haven’t stopped yet, they are endless, a constant stream that he can’t control.

He’s not sure he could even speak if given a chance to

He’s never felt this kind of heartbreak, and this is what it must be, a strange and terrible sensation that invades all his molecules, a depression that fills him from the outside in, so at odds with his experiences before. His soul seems torn, cut into and now all the jagged pieces ache, exposed to the air by themselves.

 

Sirius and Remus sit him down a week later, when they finally coax him out of the darkness of his room, and Sirius shows him in his pensive his memories. Being back in that office, even in the gray hush of Sirius’ memories is breath catching, heady. There is his desk with the typewriter, the same couches, the same hardwood. They follow Sirius into Mr. Riddle’s-Tom’s office. If there was a way to reach inside his own being and grip the erratic beating of his heart he would, surely it would be less painful than seeing Tom (Tom, Tom, Tom). Even in Sirius’ memories, he is still beautiful, still aloof, he gathers himself in the scant moments that he must register that it’s not a client, that this is Sirius of House Black. Without Tom’s electric eyes on him, Harry can truly observe him.

He leaves Sirius behind himself and goes to stand closer to Tom, a little crease forming between Tom’s brows as he stands up to extend a hand that Sirius hesitantly shakes. His face shutters at the reticence, like a door closing, finite and infinite to Harry who wonders what that means, what is behind the eyes that narrow, the lips that thin. Irritation, obviously. But underneath that, underneath the glacier exterior is a wariness, Harry’s seen it only in moments, glances between one lifted eyebrow and a question on his lips. Okay?

Sirius starts immediately, and Harry only glances back once, surprised, when he starts with reasonableness and rationality. Words that are practiced and considered. Not a warning, so much as an earnest request.

“He’s been through so much, too much.” Those quiet ending words, he watches them wind their way through Tom Riddle, his back to Sirius, his eyes on the rain that drips down his windows, fast and rapid. His face slackens, then that crease, and he bites his lip, the first Harry’s ever seen him do so. Harry wants to rub at it, touch lip and teeth alike. He looks … so unlike how Harry’s ever seen him, real in a way that untangles the knot that lives in Harry’s stomach. He looks bone tired, his back still turned to Sirius, who has stopped talking by now. The quiet tension sits heavy in the office, the dark sense of finality that Sirius doesn’t notice but Harry immediately senses. He stands close to Tom, watches the play of emotions on his once smooth face, regret, tenderness, a look in his eyes that for one long terrible minute resembles grief. His hand brushes through shadow, this pale image of everything Harry once held in the palm of his hand. This man that was once forbidden, once untouchable turns softer, more genuine, as they fade back to Sirius’ office.

“Prongslet, I just told him to be careful. For you both to be careful, you are so young, and you care about him very much.” Harry keeps his mouth closed. Mr. Riddle always seemed to have a hardness to him, a closed expression, a cold demeanor. He’s starting to see the man behind the monolith, the human that’s capable of affection and fondness, fear and doubt. He thinks hard about the past, what lead to this situation the both of them have found themselves in, about all those quiet, secret times when a flare of panic might flash over Tom’s eyes, a closeness that seemed to be too good to be true at the time.

Like he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like they both were.

And Harry, lost and loved, for the first time in his life had been too blind to see it, too amazingly assured that Tom was just as confident as he seemed.

“Harry,” Sirius wraps his hands in his own and imploringly catches his eyes, and the pain and hope that Harry see confuse him. “We shouldn’t have interfered, we see that now, I hope you can forgive us, I hope you know that it’s your choice. We’ve loved you since the beginning, we’ll love you forever. We only want you to be happy with whoever or whatever that should entail.” Sirius’ smile is a fragile little thing, delicate and tender. Harry’s heart continues to expand when Remus wraps his arms around them both.

It’s a warmth he didn’t know he missed, needed until that very moment.

He strays to his own room, lost in thought. He thinks about how they started, that interview. Tom with Nagini, soft (softest), he loved that snake, talked to her. Tea, with sugar, are you sure? The hours, days, weeks that followed. He was kind to Harry, he cared for Harry, and yes, Harry believed, was fond of him. Who could ever speak so surely about matters of the heart? When all you could rely on was feelings. And really, he was only truly beginning to understand his own.

As light fades to dark, the only thing that hasn't changed at all is how he feels about Tom Marvolo Riddle.

 

The lamps are still on in the waiting room when Harry opens the doors. His desk is the same. His things still there.

He walks silently down the hallway to Tom’s closed doors.

When he opens them, Tom sits in the exact same position he was the first time Harry had lain eyes on him.

“Harry.” He’s startled, unprepared. He runs his hands through his hair, then seems to panic at what to do with them. “What are you doing here?” He’s soft, sweet, surprised only for a moment or so before his face clouds over. “You shouldn’t be here … you can’t be here.” His mouth turns down, and his eyes slide over Harry, up and down, and Harry is so bare boned for this man, so bursting at the seams. His own face is fragile, a tender wound that can’t be patched on its own.

He starts, unable to stop the words.

“I love you.” Finally, finally. Harry’s face breaks into a megawatt grin, even if Tom laughs at him, even if it’s for nought, the words that he had kept so trapped, so still, in his heart are out. They are out, they live and breathe and exist outside of himself. “I love you.” He says it again, wonderful and warm, just to feel the vowels slip right off his tongue and wander right into Tom’s perfect ears.

“Harry. I just. I don’t believe that.” The shock on his face makes his smile wider, he’s as inelegant as Harry’s ever seen him, and just beyond that Harry can see it now, plain as day, his wistfulness, denial, apprehension.

“It’s true, I love you, I only get to decide what’s best for me. I love you, I want you, I don’t give a damn about anything else.” Harry is neither young or broken in those crucial moments, just a true reflection of everything he feels, all those emotions that were evoked, tampered down, and finally brought into being, his life, finally his own.

“We can’t do this, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” The words are whispered, and Harry thinks that Tom’s afraid, to be able to have what he wants, to sustain his need and be met with someone’s understanding and still be desired, valid.

“Why not?” There’s a smart little upturn to his lips, him at his brattiest. Tom looks at him, a matching dimple, a love star that blinds Harry. It’s wiped off his face too soon, that same burden that he hates to see shadowing what could be, and with Harry’s determination, will be. They’ve both waited long enough.

“Put your palms on the desk, both feet flat on the floor. Don’t move.” Mr. Riddle’s voice again, but Tom’s face. They merge together and he back tracks closer to the door, eyes still on Harry as he does what he’s told, taking Tom’s seat and putting warm palms on cool desktop. He lets each finger float slowly down, their eyes hold, a challenge, a request, a plea.

“I want all of you.” Once the dams have been opened it seems they are impossible to close, and Harry lets all of it, everything, be put out, let in the air between them to hopefully curl around each other, ties to bind in all ways. Tom’s eyes widen, and he stutters for a moment, and Harry is so happily astonished to put him in place. He wants everything, tongue and mouth and cock and love, and he only wants it from Tom. His throat bobs with a dry swallow, a click that is too loud after Harry’s demand.

“Don’t move.”

He leaves and Harry keeps eyes on him, the whole way, down the tunnel of the hallway, out the front doors. The lamps are on, in his office and the waiting room, a glow that Harry watches as he waits.

Harry will wait forever if he has to.

 

He didn’t even get his coat. Tom Marvolo Riddle stands with his back to the cold front door, the snow falling peacefully around him, a moment in time that seems to stand alone, a division of time, before and after. His life forever changed with three tiny words.

I love you.

And in the moment, in that stop, in that pause, how much he wanted to believe the words that came so softly from that beautiful, broken boy.

He runs a hand across his face, bites his lip, an old childhood habit that he’s never been truly capable of dropping completely, especially coming out in moments like this.

No, there’s never been a moment like this.

He swallows down the bitterness of his panic and walks briskly back to Diagon, he’ll send an owl, he’ll tell the godfather, and then he’ll go back and he’ll watch and he won’t touch, he will not touch and ruin again, and Harry will come out better in the end.

The man at the post looks at him funny the whole time as he scribbles his note, he wills his shaky hands to pass it over. He gives the man a galleon, way too much.

“Your fastest, to this address, no return.” He’s out of the door before the man can thank him, quickly back to his office.

He keeps close to the walls around his building, going around the east side to his office window, where Harry sits right where he left him. He twirls his wand, casting an illusion charm and another to be able to hear inside, Harry’s quiet breaths only interrupted by the ringing of the fireplace.

He watches Harry try to bend his body, this way and that, palms and feet flat. His good boy sitting exactly where he told him, and that hunger that always flares to life around Harry reaches a towering inferno.

He had taken one look at the boy, all those months ago, and he had ached. Harry’s eyes, expressive and lovely and green (and how could the boy know he’d always been partial to green?) and his mouth and his lithe body and his shyness, he was sin incarnate. He was everything that Tom Riddle had ever wanted. But beyond the superficial, beyond the visceral knee jerk reaction of want even he could tell there was something so magnificently broken about the boy, a hurt that went bone deep.

Then those little lines of self-mutilation, and he could break this boy a million ways with teeth and hands and cock but it felt intrinsically wrong for Harry to hurt himself, for him to cut and mark skin that only Tom should have been able to, it was wrong for him to not know how lovely and good he was.

Tom’s breath becomes a hollow thing, lost as he is in the memories of what should or should not have happened. He still follows the lines of that body, as lost to Harry as he dare hope Harry is to him.

Harry twists his elbow to try to touch the wand poking up out of his back pocket, he tries to squirm hard enough that it might lodge itself loose. No such luck, but Tom can’t help but smile at the efforts, at how good his sweet boy is.

Finally, the only thing he can hear is Harry’s steady breaths. He watches Harry sit up straight again, that posture back to perfect and that does something to Tom, even after all this time, to see him sit up straight, ready to face the world again. He’d give very much to be able to see that gorgeous face.

Impossibly, Harry sits up straighter, almost completely off the chair when his front door opens. Sirius Black, finally. He’ll be able to talk sense into the boy. Tom mouth forms the tiniest snarl when he comes into his office, looking at Harry, look at his things (and yes, he feels like Harry should still be included in them despite his contrary emotions).

Black, who he had hated to contact. Black, who cared for Harry, as much as he could. He can’t blame Black, but in other ways he can. Where was he, when the boy needed him most, drunk and pathetic, putting himself above Harry, and the wolf, constantly running after him, keeping him out of trouble. It makes him clench his fists, wrongs he could right in the twist of his wrist, in the bite of his fist.

Harry, of course, was completely devoted to the pair of them. And on occasion, they had done right by the boy. They had made Tom see his own behavior, his own sense of entitlement. They had made him realize that he wasn’t better, that he might just be worse. How could Harry ever love him? When he had put his hands on him and called him everything short of mine, and Harry, always with that layer of fear in his eyes, maybe he was just substituting one form of self-hatred for another.

But still, he greedily soaks up the image in front of him, Harry drops heavily back down in his chair and Tom revels in the sigh that escapes his lips.

“Harry, prongslet, what the hell are you doing?” Black walks closer, a half mad grin on his face, and Tom fights the surge of irritation as he leans on his desk, heavy black boots scuffing his hardwood when he drops one heel over the other.

Mongrel.

“Waiting.” His boy’s voice is low, and Tom burns with the need to hear more, to see his lips shape the words, how beautiful his boy was. If his boy was his, after all.

Black abandons the desk and walks around Harry, his arms crossed, while his head leans this way and that, looking like a dog. Harry keeps his head straight, and Tom realizes he’s looking at the doors again.

“Is this…” Black gives a deprecating laugh, those dark eyes fixed on Harry. “Something sexual?” His brows raise as he takes a seat opposite the desk, his feet already coming up to lean on the varnished wood. Tom clenches jaw and fists alike, his nails digging into the fleshy heart of his palms.

“Sirius, does this look sexual?” Unimaginable, he lets out a laugh at the same time Sirius barks one out, a synchronization that doesn’t bother him. His bratty boy, finally, finally a spark. His spark, one that had always been there, but maybe, just maybe he had helped fan it back to life.

“Well, right then, don’t know what he planned for me to do but … good luck, my love.” Sirius rounds back around to Harry and places one small kiss on the top of his head, then looking directly at the window, a half smile. A warmth when Tom stands frozen and freezing outside.

Maybe.

 

Tom finally apparates back to his home, his eyes and heart and mind still in a terrible tangle of confusion. Harry, Harry, Harry, the boy, his boy running rampant in his mind.

Tom thinks of those hands, the short nails, the slim digits, the lines that crossed wrist and forearm pressed against the lacquered finish of his desk as Tom tries to eat his supper, mindlessly and eventually it all just tastes like ash in his mouth.

Those perfect feet, planted on his hardwood, Tom had kissed the perfect arches, ran his tongue along toes and ankles, up to his knees, traced the lines back there with his tongue. He had known the boy. He can’t stomach the thought of sleeping in the comfort of his own bed, not when the boy (his boy) was sitting straight, waiting, waiting for him.

I love you. There is warmth and there is an unraveling that happens in his chest at the memory of those words, floating in the emptiness that had resided in him for as long as he can remember. He puts one arm under his pillow, the floor hard and cold underneath him, nothing less than he deserves for taking comfort away.

He lays awake all night. Thinking, about himself, about Harry, about what it means to want and be wanted, about what it means to love and be loved, if that’s even possible. For Harry. For himself.

For either of them.

 

He makes himself get up at dawn, his bones groaning and creaking, another turmoil to add to the monsoon of issues in his mind. He does his routine with no thought in his head other than Harry. Did he leave? Has he already left? He makes himself think it’s for the best, this little test that isn’t so much as a test as it is him running, frantically away from what Harry has offered. He puts his cuffs on, watching his hands, his veins flex in the mirror, white on black on white.

Harry had cracked opened the most damaged parts of himself, shown what was there and let Tom in, invited him in, and Harry had been seen, and Harry had seen. Still, and still, Harry had wanted. The uncomfortable feeling of being examined had never sat well with Tom, both public and private, no one could say with absolute surety that they truly knew him.

After decades of this, it grated, it left him with an itchy sore in the deepest parts of him, the unknown parts.

His house elf makes him a keepcup, steaming with more sugar and milk than coffee, but it’s also the way Harry likes his.

The boy is never far from his mind.

 

Tom takes up his post by the window again, the rain from yesterday still pouring and he extends his wand to shield the water from him after using another listening charm.

Harry’s back is still straight, his head still pointed toward the door, palms and feet flat. Twelve hours he’s held the position that Tom had told him to stay in.

Harry sings softly, a muggle tune that stirs something inside of Tom, takes him back to a time before indifference, before the wall, back when warmth was a constant companion. He hadn’t thought of her for years, the woman who had given him more love than his mother ever could, the woman that had tried to raise him to be compassionate and caring, open. It makes his heart ache even more, a strong pulse like it’s Minerva still with him, still seeing through all his indifference to the hurt underneath.

His governess was long gone from this world, but still it felt like fate for it to be that song, long synonymous with comfort, words and rhyme that he had always held so close to himself.

He closes his eyes and listens to the boy, his boy now, and maybe forever, sing softly the words, his voice as beautiful as he is.

“…And we will all go together to pick wild mountain thyme, all around the purple heather.” Harry takes a breath, his voice a tremble, a slow finish. “Will you go, laddie, go?”

 

Harry had started singing a few hours ago, when the light had finally crept up through the bare window to his back, the sun painting the room in oranges and pinks, golden light that shimmers as it beams in. His voice begins low and self-conscious, at first it was pop hits that Remus had played when he did the washing up at night, Harry half listening as he watched strong hands wipe and clean, a constant run of motion that had kept his mind occupied from other things.

Then, almost as if he had been plunged back into the past, his mind picks up another tune. It had been years since he had thought of his mother's sweet voice, too young to remember, just bits, broken and jagged like the scar on his forehead. His father’s hands and his mother’s voice, lulling him to sleep every night like a movie that only had one part.

He misses them terribly in that moment, their time too short, forever unfinished. Then. He flinches away from memories, too little space and darkness and ugliness and hate and cold and fear. Then finally warmth again, Sirius’ too dark eyes and Remus’ gentleness. And still, the song that had comforted him for those years in between, the song that he could never forget.

Palms still flat, he swirls his hands across the desk top, singing his mother’s song that echoes so beautifully around him, meanings and sounds so new to him, when he’s surrounded by all things Tom Riddle.

And like a mirage, like a wish, Tom pops into existence right before him. So surprising that Harry jerks back, raising his back and bottom up like a scared cat.

 

Harry would very much like to put a hand to his chest, to ease the lightning fast pace of his heart but he hasn’t lifted palms or feet yet and he intends on obeying Tom’s orders like it’s the letter of the law.

Tom grins and quickly apologizes, mirth lighting up his features brightly, and Harry can see incisors and front teeth, a crooked, genuine grin that he’s never witnessed before. He feels faint suddenly, standing finally, his eyes wide, forever caught with Tom’s. He rushes around to Harry’s side, one hand sliding around his hip and the other cradles the base of his skull, his hands sliding in the tangles and making a place there. Smile still etched into the treasured corners of his mind, Harry closes his eyes as Tom leans close, placing a kiss to the side of his mouth, warm and soft and comforting.

“My sweet boy, darling, darling.” His mouth kisses over Harry’s upturned face, across the freckles that dot his nose, the mole on the left side of his mouth, the scar above his right eyebrow, everywhere, everywhere. Harry smiles, a slow curve, then kisses him right back, raises palms to pull Tom impossibly closer, never near enough. He burrows into the warmth, safety as Tom kisses him breathless, his tongue and mouth carving a place for himself.

“I love you.” He whispers it into the dark place behind Tom’s ear, the hollow of his collarbone, the curve of his jaw. Over and over again until the words barely make it past his lips, but still he feels as if he has to say them, to let them sink into the warmth of Tom’s skin, into the deepest and darkest parts of his heart. Tom’s face shines down on him, the slow smirk of a smile sinks into one side of his mouth, that dimple that Harry could melt into.

“Tell me again.” Tom whispers into the kiss, that lovely shine of need in his eyes that’s directed solely toward Harry. Harry speaks the words directly in his mouth, licking along the seam of the lips he could kiss forever. Tom’s hands clutch as his hips, his back, they envelop him completely.

Harry knows, in his marrow, in the dark, lovely parts of himself that are seen, that he is loved. The words are superfluous, not when he can feel this desire, this hunger, in the thrumming of Tom’s veins, in the heat of his mouth and hands. How could he bad ever doubted this man, how could he had thought for one second that he could live without this? Their mouths slip slide together, teeth and tongue and urgency shared between them.

“Harry, Harry, Harry.” Tom licks his name into his open mouth, and Harry answers back in the only way he knows how, with submission, and abandonment, and love. For the first time in his life, he feels so freely, so openly. He can give, finally, all of himself, his sharp corners are melded with Tom’s own.

“Please, Tom, please.” The breathlessness in his voice makes the man that holds him hold him tighter, a moan that Harry has ears for escaping his throat.

“What will I call you, love, when I have all of you?” Love... That little word rolls from his mouth effortlessly, likes its always been that way between them. Their breath rushes out, no space between their bodies, and Harry looks into Tom’s fever bright eyes, just a little wild, just a little uncontrolled. A lick of a smile curls his mouth just as his hands curl around Tom’s head.

“Yours.”