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The Darkening of Your Soul

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Chapter 39

“It’s not that funny,” Sirius said with an obvious pout in his voice, while Harry took his time getting his laughter under control. “I need him back, Harry. You have to release him back to me.”

That sobered Harry right up and he sat upright at once, blinking at Sirius while inhaling a few deep breaths to regain control of his emotions. “Why? You hate him and he hates you. I think for everyone’s sake it’s a better idea to just let Kreacher be my elf.”

“Yeah, we don’t get along,” Sirius agreed with a quick nod. “But at Black Manor I only have Vivi, an ancient elf who was already getting on in her years when my grandfather was born, and I need Kreacher at Grimmauld Place, especially now that Dumbledore is going to use it.”

Any hilarity Harry had felt previously was washed away as though someone had just dumped a bucket of ice-water over his head. For a brief moment Harry seriously wondered if he’d fallen asleep at some point that evening and this was all just a nightmare. “Wait…why is Dumbledore suddenly using Grimmauld Place?”

Sirius looked vaguely apologetic. “The Order of the Phoenix needed headquarters now that Voldemort is back, and Dumbledore asked to use Grimmauld Place earlier this evening when he informed us you’d disappeared.”

Harry sighed, and then sighed again, even deeper. “Sirius, listen very carefully,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes as he glared at his godfather through the mirror. “I never disappeared, I went to my holiday destination as approved by my legal guardian. Voldemort hasn’t returned, because Thomas Gaunt isn’t Voldemort, plain and simple. And Dumbledore is the person who saw you sentenced to Azkaban for life without a trial, so why on earth are you even talking to that man?”

Sirius swallowed and looked away briefly. “I wasn’t planning on talking to him ever again, but he floo-called and said you were in trouble and –”

“HE LIED!” Harry bellowed, so fucking fed up with Sirius’ inability to think for himself for one fucking second, and even after everything Dumbledore had put his godfather through, still believing a word that old goat said.

Sirius blinked at Harry’s suddenly loud response. “Yeah, all right, I get that now.”

“So what you should do now is write Dumbledore a very polite note in which you take back your offer of giving him Grimmauld Place and telling him you want nothing to do with him ever again,” Harry said with a very strained smile that hurt his entire face. “As you should have done from the beginning, for Merlin’s sake, Sirius.”

“But Voldemort –”

“Is gone!” Harry leaned forward, glaring at the mirror again. “Please just get that through your head, that Dumbledore is manipulating you and everyone else who will listen with the idea of Voldemort returning while there is no evidence to say that he actually has.”

Sirius narrowed his eyes while Lupin hovered in the background. “But how can you be sure of that, Harry?” Lupin asked, leaning over Sirius’ shoulder to join the conversation.

“Oh for…” Harry jumped up and with the mirror in his hand marched out of his bedroom and down the hall to the next door. “Thomas, open up.” Harry banged on the door while Sirius sputtered something in the mirror. “Oh, man who is Voldemort according to my imbecile godfather and his bestest friend, open the door, but please be decent.” Harry added that last bit because he well remembered his own response when he’d seen Tom naked and wet and he didn’t want a repeat of that in front of his godfather.

The door opened to reveal Tom tightening the belt on a dark-blue dressing gown, which covered a pair of striped grey pyjamas. “How can I help you, Harry, on this fine Yule night?”

Harry all but shoved the mirror in Tom’s face, obviously surprising a gasping and grumbling Sirius and Lupin with his dramatic actions. “Please meet my idiot godfather and his yes-man.” Harry pulled the mirror back around so he could grin at Sirius and Lupin. “Marauders, please meet Lord Voldemort, at least according to Dumbledore, who is going to murder me in my sleep, probably, right, Tom?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Tom said in a deadpan sort of voice while he gave Harry a very unimpressed look. “But if you keep waking me up while I’m trying to sleep, I might just give it a go.”

Harry gave both men in the mirror a triumphant look. “See? Does that look and sound like a Dark Lord set on killing me and everyone else?”

Lupin’s cheeks were coloured a rosy red, obviously feeling a little embarrassed he’d accused a complete stranger of being Voldemort so directly without any real evidence. “We do apologize, Mr Gaunt.”

“Yeah, all right, that doesn’t seem to be Voldemort,” Sirius finally conceded as Harry moved the mirror so both he and Tom could look into it.

“Thank you for finally seeing reason,” Harry said with an exaggerated smile. “And now that you’ve seen for yourself that Dumbledore is a big, fat liar, will you please understand that the old man doesn’t have my best interest at heart, or yours for that matter?” Harry gestured wildly with his hands, mirror swinging this way and that. “For Merlin’s sake, he tried to have me kidnapped at King’s Cross just this afternoon for no reason at all, except that he thinks he can control my every move.”

“Wait, what?” Sirius sat up a little, giving Harry an intent look. “He didn’t say anything about that when he contacted us.”

“Surprise, surprise.” Harry rolled his eyes at the absolute absurdity of this current situation. “Some men named Moody and Arthur Weasley, who I’ve never met before in my life, tried to grab me on the train station. I had to run for my life and eventually involve the Aurors to keep me from being taken against my will. Moody literally said he was acting on Dumbledore’s orders while ignoring the written permission form my legal guardian had signed to officially agree with my holiday destination.”

“We truly weren’t aware of that, Harry,” Lupin said with a small, apologetic smile, his eyes kind. “We’re very sorry we listened to Dumbledore instead of verifying the situation with you first, especially in light of how much Dumbledore has hurt Sirius in the past.”

“Thank you,” Harry said sincerely. “But please, just don’t listen to Dumbledore from now on, without double-checking everything he tells you, because it’s obvious the man is not above lying to get what he wants.”

“We promise,” Sirius said with a solemn nod. “Keep the mirror close, Harry, so we can get in touch quickly should something like this ever happen again.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Harry agreed with a relieved smile, glad the situation had been salvaged and his relationship with his godfather was still intact.

“Well, I’m glad to hear everything seems to be resolved,” Tom said with an amused little curl of his lips as he looked between Harry and the mirror. “Gentlemen, Harry, I bid you goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Lord Voldemort,” Harry called, just because he could. Tom rolled his eyes and slammed the door shut in Harry’s face. In the mirror, Sirius snickered at Harry’s antics, which Harry counted as a win.

“Anyway,” Harry said as he strolled back to his own rooms. “About Kreacher. I’m keeping him, because I really do think that’s better for everyone. But if you promise to not give Grimmauld Place to Dumbledore, ever, I’ll tell Kreacher to stay there and keep it in good condition.” Harry really, really wanted to keep Kreacher having access to Grimmauld Place for the amazing library and because he had half the contents of the Room of Requirement hidden in the attic. He did not want to think about Dumbledore, or Merlin forbid, Molly Weasley, getting their mittens on his secret stash full of dark magic.

“Yeah, all right,” Sirius sighed as Harry closed his bedroom door and sank down on the couch in his little sitting room. “Just order him to keep the place clean and in good repairs.”

“I will, promise.” Harry quickly placed his hand over his mouth because he couldn’t hold back an enormous yawn.

“Ah, I’m keeping you up,” Sirius said, looking tired himself, dark circles lining his eyes. “Get some sleep, Harry. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Good night,” Harry said honestly. He was looking forwards to spending some time with Sirius. This recent bit of drama proved Harry needed to spend some time with his godfather to make sure the man got his head removed entirely from Dumbledore’s arse and didn’t put it right back in the first time Dumbledore lied about Harry being in trouble. Sirius wished him a good night and cancelled the mirror call. Harry placed the mirror in the drawer of the bedside table and went to get changed into some adult-sized pyjamas he’d spotted earlier in one of the dressers.

“Kreacher!” Harry called as he pulled his shoes off. The old elf popped into the room at once, still looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. Harry stopped undressing for a moment to stare down at his brand-new elf. “Kreacher, that was so well played. I am proud of you.”

“Little Master is being too kind to Kreacher.”

“I talked to Sirius,” Harry said, unbuttoning his shirt. “And we’ve agreed you can stay at Grimmauld Place for the foreseeable future as long as you keep the place clean and in good repairs, as you’ve been doing already.”

“Kreacher will return to Kreacher’s old home and do as the little Master says,” Kreacher said with a deep nod of his head, seemingly happy enough with these new orders.

“Good. Thanks. Also, if anyone shows up at Grimmauld Place, aside from Sirius himself, I want you to let me knew immediately, all right?” Harry shucked his shirt and trousers and pulled on his pyjamas.

“Kreacher will.” And with that, Kreacher popped out of the room.

Harry remembered at the last moment that he had presents to give to everyone in the morning, and he dug them out of his trunk and placed them on the dresser in his bedroom so he wouldn’t forget to take them down for breakfast.

Exhausted by the day’s many exciting events, Harry crawled under the covers and was asleep in minutes. Almost immediately, Harry found himself in a cocoon of warmth that was Tom’s soul. It was a strange idea, that they were sleeping so close together physically for the first time, only a wall separating them. Their souls, though, were always connected and Harry basked against Tom for the whole night. They meant to test their connection every once in a while, but they never got to it since sharing their souls during their sleep simply felt too good to mess with for the time being. Harry figured they’d get to it eventually.

Harry woke up to a surprise the following morning. At the foot of his bed was an enormous pile of colourfully wrapped presents. And the presents Harry had placed on his dresser the previous night to give out had disappeared.

The Nott house-elves must have distributed the gifts at some point during the night. It might be a Nott family tradition, perhaps left-over from some Nott ancestor enjoying the practise of receiving gifts on your bed from their days at Hogwarts, or it might be an actual Yule tradition. Harry wasn’t sure, but he made a mental note to find out.

The pile of presents was the biggest one Harry had received yet, in both lives, and it filled Harry with warmth that he had so many friends. Then he remembered that there was a good chance not all these gifts were from friends, but also from complete strangers since there were no more mail wards to keep him from receiving everything anyone sent him.

With a sigh, Harry pulled out his wand from under his pillow and cast every detection charm he knew on the first gift within reach. It came back clear and the tag said it was from Neville. With a smile, Harry ripped open the paper to discover a book on wizarding traditions from all over Europe. Now that was a book Harry was eager to read and he tucked the tag with Neville’s name inside the pages so he wouldn’t forget to write his friend a thank you note for this very thoughtful gift. From most of his other friends Harry received all sorts of sweets and treats, which he was happy about. Any candy from strangers Harry discarded on the floor, not wanting to risk ending up poisoned or love-potioned to the gills.

Then he came across a package from Tom, which was a surprise since Harry thought the aging potion had been his Yule gift, but apparently Tom had gotten him two gifts. Which made Harry feel better about getting Tom two gifts as well.

Tom got him a book about using runes as part of defensive magic, which seemed like such an interesting topic Harry was genuinely tempted to read that book there and then, but he resisted that urge, if only just. Daphne also got him a runes book, except it was about the use of runes in rituals, and now Harry had another book he immediately wanted to read.

Sirius got him a broom, a brand-new Nimbus 2001, only just released at the beginning of that month. The Firebolt wasn’t on the market yet, or else Harry was sure he’d gotten one of those again. “He does know I already have a good broom, right?” Harry mumbled to himself, inspecting the new broom. It was a beautiful piece of craftmanship and Harry was curious how it flew, since in his previous life he’d never owned or flown a Nimbus 2001.

Lupin got him Quidditch gloves, which was the kind of practical present Harry always appreciated.

By the time the end of the pile of presents came in sight, Harry had more books of completely random subjects than he knew what to do with, all from complete strangers. He also had an instant collection of plush animals in all shapes and sizes, and dozens of Yule and Christmas cards.

Barty had gotten him a subscription on Quidditch Weekly, which Harry was very excited about, and Theo had gotten him a very nice black wool scarf with matching leather gloves. Harry remembered complaining to Theo a few weeks ago that he’d forgotten to buy winter gloves for himself that past summer, so it was a thoughtful gift. The gloves were kid-sized, though, so Harry had to wait until he was back at Hogwarts to wear them. From Dorus he got two tickets for any Quidditch game in the next year, which Harry thought he might use during the spring holidays and take Theo along.

Blaise had gotten Harry a large assortment of Italian biscuits in a Yule-themed container, which Harry looked forward to sampling.

There was a knock on Harry’s door. “Come in!” Harry yelled as he unwrapped yet another book from a complete stranger, this one on raising kneazles.

Tom walked into Harry’s bedroom, already dressed in nice, open robes with a black shirt and trousers under it.

For a few long moments, Harry stared at Tom, breath caught somewhere in his throat, and by the time his mind had rebooted enough that he could think of something to say, Tom was sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed and pulled him into a tight hug.

“Thank you,” Tom whispered against the side of Harry’s head, arms wrapped around Harry’s torso.

Delighted that Tom had actually initiated a hug, Harry leaned into him with all his weight. “You’re welcome,” Harry mumbled against Tom’s shoulder, covertly inhaling Tom’s scent, which was accentuated by the spicy cologne Tom had apparently only just applied. “I’m assuming this is about the locket?”

Tom backed up a little to grin at Harry, while reaching inside his shirt and pulling out Slytherin’s locket. “Yes, of course it is. Though I do also appreciate that very interesting diary you gave me, I am genuinely happy to have this in my possession again.”

Shrugging a little awkwardly, Harry ducked his head, cheeks heating. “It was always yours. I should have returned it sooner.”

“No,” Tom insisted at once with a small shake of his head. “Ravenclaw’s diadem was mine, per the laws that deal with lost treasure. But this, even though it is Slytherin’s and I’m his descendant, belongs to Hepzibah Smith’s heirs since I stole it from her.”

“Yeah, no,” Harry disagreed at once, looking Tom straight in the eyes. “Burke practically stole this from your mother at the lowest point in her life and that means Hepzibah Smith bought stolen goods, so it’s yours as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well,” Tom said with an incredibly fond look, which made Harry’s stomach do a backwards flip. “I appreciate you saying that.” Then Tom looked around, pulling out of the hug completely. “Please tell me you’ve been using detection charms on your presents.”

“Yeah, I’m not stupid,” Harry said while poking Tom in his side in annoyance. “I’ve also discarded any food from anyone I don’t personally know.”

“Good.” Tom got up from Harry’s bed, careful to not step on any of the potentially poisoned cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs that littered the floor beside Harry’s bed. “Talking about food, breakfast is waiting. And perhaps afterwards, I can take you to my safehouse to meet Nagini.”

Harry’s stomach did another flip, though this time it was from sudden nervousness. “All right. Sounds good. Don’t we have festivities with the Notts planned for today?”

“Just an elaborate meal this evening,” Tom explained as Harry pushed gifts to the side so he could climb out of bed. “I know Dorus plans on taking Theodore to his wife’s grave during the day.”

Harry nodded his understanding. Those were private family moments best left to them, so Harry and Tom wouldn’t be missed for a few hours. “Could you vanish all that floor candy, please? I’ll quickly get washed up.”

Once Harry came out of the bathroom again, barely ten minutes later, showered and dressed in an attire similar to Tom’s, only his robes were a wine-red instead of black, Tom had made himself useful. All the non-edible sweets were gone and Tom had magically sorted and stacked Harry’s gifts on the dressers and tables around the room so Harry could easily go through them and put them away later.

Harry smiled at him in gratitude while he put on his shoes and together they walked down to the conservatory, which looked just as nicely decorated during the daytime as it had done the previous night.

“Morning. Merry Yule to you all,” Harry offered to Dorus, Theo and Barty, who were already seated for breakfast. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”

“Merry Yule to you both,” Dorus said with a genial smile, waving them into their seats. The moment they sat down, an elaborate breakfast spread appeared. “And we were happy to wait for you.”

“Harry received a few more gifts that he’d counted on,” Tom said with a teasing grin, glancing between Harry and the rest.

“Don’t eat anything from strangers,” Barty said at once with a rather worried look. “Some poisons cannot be detected with any charm.”

“I know,” Harry said with a sigh. “I’ve gotten rid of all the food from strangers.”

Theo seemed to mull that over. “What a waste. You get piles of free candy and you can’t even eat it.”

“Yeah, it sucks.” Harry, who’d gone without food one too many times in his life, had hated having to get rid of any food he got from strangers once he first started receiving all his mail, but thankfully by now, after a few months of sticking with it, he was used to it. Harry wasn’t sure if he’d been able to see so many treats destroyed if he hadn’t had the practice already. He might have been tempted to sneak a few forbidden treats, simply because of how wasteful it was to just vanish everything.

Then again, perhaps all those people who sent food to Harry Potter, a child celebrity with a long list of potential enemies, should realize it would never get eaten for safety reasons and maybe not send food in the first place.

“Anyway,” Harry said, shaking himself from his contemplative thoughts and focussing on his breakfast, putting a croissant and a sausage on his plate to begin with. “Thanks for the gloves and scarf, Theo. I really needed those.”

Everyone took the time to thank each other for their gifts, and Harry was happy to see that his gifts to the others had been well-received. In his previous life he’d never spent much time considering thoughtful gifts for his friends, not to mention he’d never really given presents to any adults before, so this was all a new experience. Harry was especially happy to hear Dorus really liked the pair of silver candlesticks with Slytherin crests Harry had given him at the last minute. After finding them in the Room of Requirement, Harry had meant to give them to Tom for his birthday, which was coming up, but when he realized at the last moment that he’d be staying at Nott Manor for the holidays and he needed something to give to Dorus for Yule, the only thing that had come to mind were those candlesticks.

Now he needed to come up with something new for Tom’s birthday. Maybe he could go through his humongous pile of books he’d just received and select a few titles Tom would find interesting and just wrap those up for Tom’s birthday. Harry seriously couldn’t think of anything else to do right then. Who knew gift giving could be this stressful?

“Do you want to see what I got?” Theo asked Harry with a small, uncertain smile as breakfast came to an end.

“We’re leaving in half an hour, Theodore,” Dorus said before waving them off.

Harry figured Tom wouldn’t mind waiting that long so he followed Theo up to his bedroom. Theo, never a chatterbox to begin with, was unusually silent, and Harry had a good idea why. One only needed to put oneself in Theo’s shoes to realize the boy might be feeling as though he lost his friend in some way after Harry’s shocking revelations the previous evening.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked him the moment he closed Theo’s bedroom door behind them.

“Hm?” Theo looked genuinely confused for a moment and then shrugged, turning away from Harry. “Yes, I’m fine.”

Sighing, Harry stepped a little closer to Theo so he could look him in the eyes, even if he now had to look down for that while he was in his adult body. Usually, Theo was an inch or two taller than him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier,” Harry said as sincerely as he could. He regarded Theo as a genuine friend and didn’t want to upset him or make him feel as though Harry didn’t care for him at all when the opposite was true.

“No, I get that,” Theo said, still not looking up at Harry.

“And while I may look different now,” Harry patted his own chest a few times, “In here, I’m still me. I’m still the same Harry you met at the start of the year.”

Finally, Theo glanced up at him, blue eyes wide and slightly confused. “It’s not just you, Harry. It’s just…everything suddenly changed.”

“How?” Harry asked, a concerned frown on his face. He really wasn’t sure what Theo just meant with that.

Theo sank down on the small sofa in the sitting room of his bedroom suite. Harry followed his example and sat down beside him. “Us kids from the Dark Lord’s followers have all been raised on stories of the Dark Lord,” Theo said slowly, obviously choosing his words with care. “And while some children, like Draco and Pansy, have heard stories featuring the propaganda version of the Dark Lord, my father has always been a bit more realistic in his history lessons, but at the same time he has always put the fear of the Dark Lord in me while also promising me the Dark Lord would look out for me.”

Harry bit his lip so he wouldn’t burst out laughing, because that would be a completely inappropriate response since Theo clearly was baring his soul here, but the way he told it, Theo made it sound like Voldemort had been some sort of Dark Magic version of Father Christmas, used to scare little Death Eater children straight. Harry couldn’t wait to tell Tom all of that.

“But then suddenly the Dark Lord is back, but he’s not the Dark Lord anymore, apparently,” Theo continued, speaking faster now, voice taking on a slightly hysterical tone. “And you’re hugging him like he’s not the bloke who’s tried to kill you and who has murdered your parents.” By the end Theo was staring at him with wide, slightly terrified eyes.

“Ah.” Harry nodded, previous hilarity quickly forgotten. “Yeah, from your point of view I must seem like the most callous person in the world.”

“Well.” Theo didn’t say anything else but did nod his head a few times.

“In my previous life, I killed him, Theo,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “I spent every moment from the time I started Hogwarts working towards Voldemort’s downfall pretty much. Every year I’d confront him or some of his followers in some way and I barely made it out alive most of those times.”

“I’d like to hear what happened if you’re willing to share,” Theo whispered, as though unsure he was even allowed to ask such a thing of Harry.

“And I’d be happy to share a few stories, but not today since we’re short on time,” Harry said with an agreeable smile. It would be nice if one of his younger friends understood a bit more about Harry and what he’d been through and where he came from. On the other hand, Harry wasn’t planning on traumatizing an eleven-year-old Theo with any of the really nasty details, so he’d have to pick and choose what to tell him in the immediate future. “Anyway, I spent years and years opposing Voldemort and in the end, after a long, hard fight that involved everyone I cared about in that life, we won and Voldemort was gone. And then I learn that I’d been manipulated and set up to be a sacrificial lamb right from the start and the people I love most betray me and abandon me and the next thing I know I’m dead, except I get a second chance, but so does Voldemort.”

“You’re in this together,” Theo guessed with a slow nod of understanding.

“Yeah, we are. But more importantly, Voldemort was genuinely insane, especially after he came back in my first life. Theo, believe me when I say you would have despised him. He regularly tortured and killed his own followers for no reason at all, he turned Lucius Malfoy into a simpering shell of his former self, gave a sixteen-year-old Draco the impossible task of assassinating Dumbledore and he drove Narcissa Malfoy to actively betraying him by helping to spare my life.”

Theo’s mouth sank open as he stared in Harry in slight disbelief.

“Yeah, and that’s just the few things I can come up with right this moment,” Harry said with a knowing look at Theo’s shocked response. “Voldemort was a rabid dog that needed to be put down. But Death repaired the damage Voldemort had accidentally done to himself and the man that returned with me wasn’t Voldemort, at least not as I knew him.”

“You got your vengeance on the Dark Lord already,” Theo mused while giving Harry a questioning look.

“Exactly. I vanquished Voldemort for what he did to my loved ones and me. But Tom as he is now is so far removed from Voldemort I can’t hold him responsible for what happened while he was still insane. To me, it’s as simple as that.”

Theo inhaled a deep breath, his expression thoughtful. “All right. Thanks for telling me, Harry.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said and then gestured to the pile of items stacked on top of the coffee table. “So what did you get?”

Theo happily showed off his Yule stash, which consisted of mostly candy, books, a few games and some articles of clothing and some items for school, like fancy quills and ink. Harry admired it all until they were interrupted by a knock on the door.

Dorus smiled at them once he pushed the bedroom door open. “Tom is waiting for you in the entrance hall, Harry.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you both for dinner this evening,” Harry said with a polite nod before he left Theo and Dorus to their day. He quickly stopped in his own rooms to get a winter cloak, and then he ran into Barty right before descending the staircase. “Will you be all right today by yourself?”

Barty chuckled while he gave Harry a fond look. “I’ve got half a dozen new books to read, kid. I’ll be as happy as a niffler in Gringotts, promise.”

Shacking his head at the antics of Ravenclaws, Harry quickly skipped down the stairs and met up with Tom, who gestured at Harry to follow him out the heavy, oak doors of the Manor.

“Theo had a bit of a crisis of conscience about your non-Dark Lordness,” Harry said with a teasing grin while he walked beside Tom towards the gates, gravel crunching beneath their shoes. “Apparently all your Death Eaters tell their kids stories like you’re the Dark Lord version of Father Christmas to teach them manners or something, and Theo had problems recognizing this new and improved Tom as the Dark Lord from his bedtime stories.”

Tom stared straight ahead for a moment with a heavy frown on his face before he turned to look at Harry with a questioning expression. “I’m just going to accept all that without comment because I honestly can’t think of anything to say to that.”

Snickering, Harry bumped his elbow against Tom’s arm in amusement and then they reached the gates, which opened for them at once. “Where are we going anyway?”

“Cumberland, near the coast,” Tom said with a warm smile, obviously happy to talk about what Harry suspected might be his one true home. “It’s an old farmhouse with a nice bit of land that Elric Avery, staunch bachelor and great-uncle of my classmate Aloys Avery, left me in the fifties. He meant for me to use it as a gathering place for likeminded purebloods, but I put it under a Fidelius instead and I’ve kept it as a safehouse ever since.”

“It’s your home,” Harry concluded as he offered his arm to Tom for side-along apparition.

“Yes, I suppose it is.” Tom smiled at him while he closed his fingers around Harry’s wrist and apparated them with a sharp crack.

In moments Harry found himself standing in an overgrown field with nothing around for miles and miles. Tom leaned closer to him and whispered directly in his ear, “Tom Riddle lives in Abbey Farmhouse in Cumberland.”

At once a grey-stoned farmhouse appeared a hundred yards away, two stories high with dark-grey roof tiles and a red door right at the centre of the building. It wasn’t nearly as big as a Manor House, but it certainly wasn’t small either. Harry guessed it had at least five or even six bedrooms by the looks of it. In the distance Harry saw a long stretch of woodland and on the opposite side a small river wound its ways through some low, green hills. It was peaceful and quiet and beautiful and the last place anyone would ever associate with a Dark Lord.

Tom was looking at him expectantly, and Harry gave him a huge smile. “It looks amazing.”

“I’m very fond of it myself,” Tom said, with the slightest relieved expression. “Come, I’ll give you a tour.”

Harry followed Tom to the house and through the door, which lead into a small entrance hallway, with doors giving access to a sitting room, a dining room and an office with a small but packed library. The furniture was slightly old-fashioned but comfortable, with lots of ceramic and copper pieces placed around the house for decoration, and with intricately patterned rugs on the stone floors.

“Tom, is that you?” came a slightly sibilant voice from the direction of what Harry guessed was the kitchen.

”Yes, I’ve brought Harry along,” Tom called out while placing his hand on Harry’s back in what might actually be a nervous gesture since his hand seemed to tremble just the slightest bit.

A huge snake, easily twenty foot long with a body as thick as an average tree trunk came sliding into the hallway where they were waiting. Nagini had a beautiful pattern of browns and greens and golds on her scales and her bright golden eyes with slit pupils stared up at Harry while her tongue flicked in and out, assessing him carefully.

”Hi, Nagini," Harry said with a little wave. It was interesting that nowadays he could make out if he, or someone else, was speaking parseltongue while in the past he’d always been clueless. Now he could make out a slight hissing undertone whenever he heard or spoke it, much to his relief. It had been a real pain in the behind, not knowing when you spoke what was essentially a foreign langue no one else understood. Not to mention, this time around Harry was determined to keep Dumbledore from ever finding out Harry was a parselmouth, and that was much easier accomplished when Harry actually knew when he spoke it. ”It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Nagini raised her head up, her body following, easily balancing high enough to look Harry straight in the eye. ”Tom, your mate is very polite. I approve.”

Harry blinked at what he’d just heard.

”I’m glad to hear that,” Tom replied easily, hand still pressed against the small of Harry’s back.

Wait, wait… Harry blinked again while his brain caught up with the situation. Nagini had just called him Tom’s mate, but she didn’t make it sound like she meant ‘friend’. In fact, Harry was quite certain that’s not at all what she’d meant.

And Tom hadn’t contradicted her or denied that’s what Harry was.

Harry’s stomach performed a few near-impossible flips while he sucked in a deep breath in shock.