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Roads Untaken

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"...and that's how I came to be here today," Harry said. Upon finishing his tale, he leaned back in the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk, resting his back against the soft cushions. His throat was parched from the long interview. He'd been talking for nearly an hour. He knew Dumbledore valued honesty and there was no doubt that he would not hire a man he would not trust. And so Harry gave him the truth as he knew it of how and why he had found himself in this decade. "What do you think, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore stroked his beard. It was not as long as it would be in the future, nor as grey, and it had a fullness that it would one day lose. "You have told me a great many things, and I will have to think on them."

"And about my application for the post of Defense professor?" Harry asked, finally openly prodding the man. Dumbledore had been far more interested in Harry's knowledge of the future than his references. Which was good, as Harry didn't have any, but he needed an answer from the headmaster. "I know you won't hire Tom Riddle."

"No, I will not," Dumbledore agreed, shaking his head. "I would never allow him to teach within Hogwarts' walls. Both due to the rumors that have reached me over the years and from what you have revealed to me today. It would be a mistake to allow him to teach within Hogwarts' walls."

Harry nodded. "A huge mistake."

Not only was he making sure that Dumbledore would not make the mistake of hiring Tom Riddle for the good of future generations of Hogwarts students, but he was thinning the competition for himself. It was quite hard to compete against a former Head Boy, even if he was a dark lord in the making.

"Nevertheless, the fact that I must not hire Mr. Riddle does not mean that I can accept your application, Mr. Potter."

Harry felt his stomach drop like a stone. Despite his worries, he had not truly considered the idea that Dumbledore might not take him on as the next Defense professor. With his foreknowledge and his natural capabilities with defensive magic, Harry should have been a shoe-in for the role. "Why not, sir?"

Dumbledore threaded his fingers together atop the desk, and looked at Harry from over his half-moon glasses. The frames were not silver, as in the future, but copper. "How many NEWTs did you complete?"

For one strange moment, Harry considered bluffing. He then realized that not only was he an expert liar--a certain Roonil Wazib moment came to mind--but he was speaking to a master of truth and untruth. "None, but there were extenuating circumstances. You must understand that, sir. Hogwarts was overtaken by Death Eaters during the war, which lasted the entirety of what would have been my seventh year. It was a matter of life and death."

"And when it ceased to be a matter of life and death?" Dumbledore's words were stern, but not unkind.

Harry glanced down at the grooves on Dumbledore's desk. A few of them looked like they came from phoenix claws. He felt like a naughty schoolchild in a way that deeply irritated him, despite his grief and nostalgia for his former headmaster.

With a deep breath, Harry looked up again to meet Dumbledore's blue eyes. "After the war, I spent two years on Minerva's team for rebuilding the castle. Hogwarts continued to function in a limited capacity the September following the final battle, but many corridors were off limits, and the Forbidden Forest was properly forbidden. I spent each day clearing rubble, rebuilding, and clearing dark magic from the school, as well as helping Minerva account for everything that had happened at the school. I went through the school top to bottom to make sure there were no surprises left for the students. I didn't take my NEWTs or teach students."

The closest he'd come was sitting with students, hearing their stories, letting them cry on his shoulders. The war had been worst on the youngest students, ones who had been caught in the middle, forced into hiding or terror at the Carrows' Hogwarts. But Harry wouldn't say as much to Dumbledore; those stories weren't his to tell. Those children wouldn't be used as a tactic at a job interview. 

"And after?"

"After, I joined the auror program. I was a junior auror when I worked the joint case with the Department of Mysteries that led to me ending up here by accident, with no way back to my proper time." Harry rubbed at his face. His customary glasses felt heavy on the bridge of his nose. "I don't suppose leading a secret organization that prepared students for the war counts as teaching?"

"It counts," Dumbledore assured him.

Harry could hear what was unsaid.  "But it's not enough."

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Do you know the average age of our professors?"

Old, Harry thought, and knew better than to say. "Thirty?"

"Forty-eight. Minerva took up her position at age thirty-two and is the youngest professor on staff. I am not blind to the wonderful qualities that young witches and wizards can bring to the table. You are resourceful, bold, and experienced in battle, Mr. Potter, and your loyalty to my older to my older self touches my heart. I have made many missteps in my life, but I am happy to have done right by you. I thank you for your trust in me regarding what the future holds. You're a remarkable young man. Too young, I believe, for the role. I cannot, in good conscience, hire you."

"You hired Lockhart in the future," Harry said, halfway pleading.

"I'm afraid I don't know who you mean."

Harry sighed. "One day you will, and you'll understand what an insult it is to be denied a position that you gave to him."

"I'm sure I had my reasons," Dumbledore replied. There may have been a twinkle in his blue eyes. "Nevertheless, you are unfamiliar with this time, unqualified for the position's minimum requirements, and ill-prepared for the stresses of teaching. You must take some time for yourself before giving it to others."

"Please tell me this isn't your way of telling me to come back in a decade."

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "What a wonderful proposal. If the position opens once more, I would be delighted to interview you again, Mr. Potter. We must meet again regarding what you have told me about the future. I'll owl you."

Don't call me, I'll call you, Harry interpreted that in his head. "Of course, sir."

Dumbledore held out his hand for Harry to shake. "I hope you don't think less of me for this, Mr. Potter."

Blowing out a breath, Harry gave in and accepted the handshake. He'd lived and died for his former headmaster; a Gryffindor's loyalty ran bone-deep, despite his muddled feelings about everything that had happened. "You're doing what you have to do, as always. Good day, headmaster."

Dumbledore's grip was firm. They shook once. Then, Harry took the stone steps down to the base of the headmaster's tower, passing the gargoyle once again and likely for the last time. He couldn't see himself coming back, not if this Dumbledore didn't trust his knowledge of the future. Harry was used to Dumbledore either treating him with warmth or leading him down a path with a brief detour in the afterlife. For all of Dumbledore's words, it was clear that their relationship in this time would not be the same as in the future.

As he walked down the stone corridors, Harry thought that perhaps this was a good thing. He wasn't sure he could die for Dumbledore again. The afterlife didn't have any quidditch games or chocolate frogs.

The path to the entrance hall was as familiar to him as the back of his hand. Harry passed several arches that he'd rebuilt by hand with stone and magic, now back in their original form. He passed the section of wall that he was used to being decorated by the names of those who had fallen in the second wizarding war. In this time, it was blank and gray, and Harry placed his palm over the stone that would have held Fred's name.

Same place, different time. The past felt like a different world entirely. And who knew? Maybe it was.

As Harry passed an intersection of corridors, he found himself joined by another man who was leaving the castle. Harry had caught a glimpse of him as he'd gone up for his interview, but it had only been the back of his head as he disappeared into the depths of Hogwarts. Probably off to drop off his horcrux in the Room of Requirement.

Harry wanted to be outraged on behalf of the castle that he still considered to be his home.

Hogwarts didn't deserve to have a piece of Tom Riddle lodged inside it like a particularly vicious splinter.

But there was something he was annoyed about even more than the fact that he was once again alive at the same time as a once and future dark lord. For the first time in his life, he sympathized with Voldemort, and knew that in this one instance, Voldemort might sympathize with him.

Harry looked at Tom head-on, and said, "Albus Dumbledore is a bastard."

Tom's eyes were not yet scarlet. He still had a nose. He may have even been partway sane even now, after a decade of dark magic use and the creation of yet another horcrux. But if there was one thing that stayed the same, it was that he hated Dumbledore. One of his dark brows raised in response to Harry's words, and he said, "Are you another one of the applicants for the Defense position?"

"I am," Harry grouched, shoving his hands in his pockets lest he reflexively raise his wand at the man. It wouldn't do to have a wand fight here. He wasn't keen on a second Hogwarts battle. "He's going to give the position to some under-qualified idiot, isn't he?"

"I wouldn't put it past him." Tom must have been going for an even tone, but by the end, his words had a bite to them. He matched Harry's pace as they walked past the entrance hall and headed along the path to the edge of the school's wards. "I held an exemplary academic record, was prefect and head boy, and tutored children from all houses in my spare time as a student, not that I had much of it during my NEWT year. I achieved an Outstanding on all twelve of my NEWTs. Since then, I have only furthered my research."

Harry couldn't compete academically, but he sure could do so in other ways. "I mastered the Patronus when I was thirteen and went on to teach it to a dozen teenagers. I've taught the Disarming Charm, the Shield Charm, and just about any common defense charm in the Hogwarts curriculum. I am damn good at defensive magic." I defeated a fucking Dark Lord, Harry didn't say, only partly because it would have come out whiny and petulant.

"Then why wouldn't he hire you?" Tom asked, glancing over at him as they walked.

"Because he's a bastard." Harry met Tom's expectant expression and huffed. "And because I never sat for my NEWTs."

"You must have been very confident to apply for a teaching position."

Harry rolled his eyes at the sarcasm in Tom's tone. "Like you weren't?" By now, they had reached the gates, and Harry knew they could both apparate away and never see each other again. It was a nice thought. What was nicer was the road that would take them to Hogsmeade in a matter of minutes. Harry nodded in the direction of the town. "Do you want to grab a drink at the Hog's Head? Dumbledore's brother works there. He can join us in insulting Dumbledore."

Tom's gaze flitted between the town in the distance and Harry. After a moment, he said, "I suppose I have nothing to lose."

"That's the spirit. Let's start with insulting Dumbledore's fashion sense, shall we?"

"Oh, yes. To my graduation, he wore yellow robes with black bumblebees that raced up and down his robes. It was a slight against nature and me personally."

Harry crossed his arms. "I've seen worse."

In particular were the robes Dumbledore had worn on the day of the Goblet of Fire's announcement. Harry would remember them for all time; their abject terribleness was the only lighthearted moment from that day. He continued lightly arguing with Tom all through the walk to the Hog's Head, then on after they ordered their drinks. They criticized Dumbledore's fashion, hair, attitude, teaching abilities, Gryffindor bias, and more. Aberforth had pulled up a chair and joined them, expounding on decades-long griefs. All in all, it was a rather good time, much better than a second battle of Hogwarts would have been. Harry got progressively drunker, his spirits high despite the dark lord sitting next to him. Tom matched him drink for drink.

"We'd make better headmasters than he does," Harry said, clinking his bottle against Tom's. "Headmasters Riddle and Potter. Riddle-Potter? Potter-Riddle."

"Don't be stupid," Tom replied, but pride must have had him saying, "Although of course I would make an excellent headmaster and professor." After a pause, he said, "I don't need Hogwarts to be a professor."

"That's right. You could go to Durmstrang. Teach dark magic."

"I don't know any dark magic," Tom said, reflexively. He furrowed his brow. "I don't need Durmstrang, either. I could have a school of my very own, where I wouldn't have to put up with Dumbledore on a daily basis. It would be mine."

"You'd still need professors," Harry argued, also by reflex. That was what one did with dark lords, even when one's gaze kept lingering on a hypothetical dark lord's lips. Harry wasn't to be blamed for the fact that drunkenness tended to go hand in hand with horniness. It was a condition. "You can't do it alone."

Tom's gaze was bright with anticipation. "Is that your offer to help?"

"Why not?" Harry said, leaning in.

Tom looked back instead of doing the same. "Aberforth--some paper, please. Mr. Potter and I have plans to make. We're going to compete with Hogwarts."

"Good luck with that," Aberforth snorted, passing the paper along.

Tom didn't seem intimidated by the challenge. "I have accomplished everything I've put my mind to doing."

Harry nodded. "Me, too."

He was very good at undoing all of Tom Riddle's hard work, in fact, but he'd never tried building something with Tom instead. To his drunken mind, this was the best idea he'd come across since finding himself in the wrong decade. If his original plan hadn't worked out, then why not build an entire school? Harry wasn't bad with stonework and teaching, if he said so himself.

"Just don't put a snake in the new school and we're golden," Harry said.

Tom whipped his head up from where he was writing notes. "What?"

Harry belatedly realized that all of Tom's sins weren't known to the world yet. "You know, like Slytherin. We can't have a dragon, either, they take up too much room. How about a cerberus? I've always liked them."

"I should say no to doing this with you," Tom sighed, but that didn't stop him from calling Tom over to rent a room for the night. He explained it as, "So that we can plan in peace. The evening crowd will be here soon."

"I don't think the Hog's Head ever gets a crowd." Harry paused, realized that he wasn't opposed to going upstairs with this younger version of his mortal enemy, and said, "After you."

He paid for another few bottles before he followed Tom up. The hours that followed were filled with planning a school that began to be less and less hypothetical by the moment, while their drunkenness only continued to increase.

Eventually, Harry gave Tom a long, lingering look, and said, "You know, you don't look that weird."

"I don't look weird at all," Tom replied. He sounded rather miffed.

Harry could disagree. Dark magic had begun to take its toll on Tom, leaving his features just on the edge of human, and close enough to not quite human to run a shiver down Harry's spine. Tom would make a terrible professor; he would be more fearsome than even Snape. His hair was still dark and full, and his features were still handsome, but there was something about his features that screamed run. Harry had never been good at running away from danger; it was towards it that he took his steps, setting his drink down and approaching Tom on the other side of the small circular table in their rented room.

Tom watched him with almost the same interest he gave their planning. He didn't move away, but unlike with their plans for the school, he let Harry do all the work. Let him cup his face and kiss him. It felt like proving his worth for the second time in one day. But instead of another rejection, Harry found himself in Tom's embrace at the end of one kiss, and at the start of the next.

They didn't get much planning done after that.

In the morning, Harry opened his eyes to find that Tom had woken already. He'd ordered room service and was perusing the mess of papers on the table, dressed in only his trousers from last night. Harry lifted himself up to get a better view.

"This isn't bad for some drunken ramblings," Tom said, glancing up from the papers. "We can discuss it with clearer heads if the idea still appeals to you."

"Oh, you won't be able to get rid of me," Harry promised. "Can I name the school?"

"Absolutely not."