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The Darkening of Your Soul

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“Betrayal doesn’t only break your heart but also darkens your soul. You’ll never forget the pain like a fog that forever lingers in the depths of your mind.”
Unknown

Chapter 1

The betrayal, when it happened, blindsided Harry worse than any bludger on the Quidditch pitch had ever done. He wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t prepared for it, could barely even believe it.

The war was over. The enemy was defeated. Harry had fulfilled the prophecy and was finally able to live the life he wanted to live, away from fame and from unreasonable expectations from a terrified public looking to a mere teenager for salvation.

At least, in theory, Harry was free to do what he wanted. The press still hounded him and wrote ridiculous articles about him, everything from questioning his decision to spend his summer at Hogwarts helping to rebuild to making up illicit affairs between Harry and just about every witch and wizard that Harry was even remotely in contact with and some he’d never even met before. But Harry didn’t let that bother him, used to all that kind of unwanted attention by now. He spent his days working with Hermione and Professor Flitwick and many others to repair the damage to their beloved school. And at night he slept in the comfort and safety of Gryffindor Tower.

Ron had opted to join the Auror force a week after the final battle, when Kingsley as the brand new Minister for Magic had offered the positions to Ron and Harry both. Harry had declined, though. Yes, he still believed he might want to be an Auror, but first he needed a break after the year they’d had. So Harry decided to do as Hermione was planning to do and return to Hogwarts for another year to sit his NEWTs. After that he could always join the Auror department. Harry was pretty sure they wouldn’t refuse him, no matter his NEWT scores.

A week before his birthday Harry received an owl from Kingsley asking him to come to the Ministry. There were a few things that needed clearing up and since Harry had not yet given any official statements to anyone, Kingsley suggested they take care of that at the same time. Like a fool, Harry didn’t question any of this, especially after he showed the letter to Hermione and she assured him it was probably just a routine interview for their records.

And like an even bigger fool, Harry went to the Ministry the next day at the appointed time and walked right into a wall of Aurors. He was hit point blank by at least five stunners before he could even get his wand out of his pocket.

Harry woke up in a cell, white walls all around him with a solid white door without a knob. No windows of any kind, just basic metal furniture. A bed with a thin mattress and a threadbare blanket, a table and single chair and in the corner a toilet with a small sink above it without a mirror.

Gaping at his surroundings, Harry slowly sat up. “Hello?”

No reply.

Harry swallowed, cold sweat breaking out over his entire body. He was in a Ministry holding cell and he had no idea why. “What’s going on? Kingsley? Anyone?” Harry walked up and down the cell, banged on the door a few times, but no reply followed and no one came to explain anything to him. Harry patted himself down thoroughly but anything useful he’d had on his person was missing. His wand, his mokeskin pouch he still kept around his neck, a handful of Galleons he kept in the pocket of his jeans in case he wanted to walk to Hogsmeade for a drink at the Leaky Cauldron or a bar of chocolate from Honeydukes.

After pacing for what felt like hours, Harry sat down on the bed with a weary sigh. Were the Death Eaters back in charge at the Ministry? Lucius Malfoy was back in Azkaban after a short trial, and many others like Yaxley, the Carrows and the Lestranges had died during the final battle. But Draco and Narcissa Malfoy were free to do what they wanted after Harry had spoken on their behalf during their trial. He owed Narcissa a life-debt. It seemed like the decent thing to do, but now Harry wondered if it had been the naive thing to do and he’d given them an opening to get their revenge on him somehow.

Simple toiletries and meals appeared at set times. Porridge for breakfast, a ham or cheese sandwich for lunch, and a plate of potatoes, carrots and a piece of dry chicken for dinner. Even though he was suspicious at first, Harry did eat the food provided. He knew all too well from his time at the Dursleys and from living in a tent for almost a year with minimum preparation that not eating when food was provided was a very silly thing to do. He didn’t know what was coming. He needed his strength. He spent the days pacing and the nights sleeping as best he could, calling out every so often but no one ever answered and no one ever came.

After what Harry guessed from the amount of meals he’d had was about a week, the door finally opened. Harry sprang up from the bed as he’d only just woken up. But before he could utter a word a tall Auror hit him with a silencing spell. Moments later heavy metal manacles closed around his wrists and ankles, thick chains binding them together. Harry was yanked unceremoniously out of the cell, through a short corridor and into a large, familiar chamber filled to the brink with wizards and witches.

This was the courtroom where Harry had his hearing for underage magic right before his fifth year. The Auror all but dragged him to the big, wooden chair in the middle of the floor, pushed him into it and attached the chains to it with a flick of his wand.

Harry looked around desperately, trying to call out but his voice was gone. He was on trial? Why? What the fuck was going on?

The noise around him was deafening. People all around the room, both the visitors in the viewing seats as well as the members of the Wizengamot were letting their confusion and displeasure known vocally and loudly. Most seemed to be outraged to see their hero in chains and demanded to know what was going on, Harry was relieved to note. Maybe, whatever was happening, was just a misunderstanding and he’d be freed soon.

Then he remembered Sirius and all the miscarriages of justice that man had faced and suddenly Harry wasn’t too sure if he’d ever see daylight again. Sirius had been completely innocent and had rotted in Azkaban for thirteen years before managing to escape, only to die a few years later, still a wanted man.

Harry was innocent as well, as far as he knew, but that knowledge did little to calm his racing heart.

He looked around again and saw Augusta Longbottom and Narcissa Malfoy sitting amongst the members. Draco Malfoy sat pale-faced among the viewing public, while a few rows above him Harry spotted Neville, Luna, Seamus and Dean. All were looking shell-shocked at seeing Harry in chains. But they were not who Harry wanted, needed to see. No matter how hard he looked, though, he couldn’t find Ron and Hermione anywhere in the crowd.

A horrible thought occurred to Harry. Were Ron and Hermione arrested as well? Was that why they weren’t there? He couldn’t imagine someone like Hermione doing nothing while her best friend was wrongfully arrested. Look at how far she’d gone to help Hagrid with Buckbeak’s defence back in third year. No, the Hermione he knew would do anything to prevent her friend from becoming a victim of the ministry’s incompetence.

“Quiet down,” a voice called around the room. Percy Weasley appeared, holding several scrolls and quills. “All rise for the Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

Kingsley appeared in purple ceremonial robes while around them everyone got to their feet. Kingsley quickly waved them down again. “My fellow witches and wizards. I have called you here for the trial of Harry James Potter for treason against the Wizarding World.”

The noise, which had quieted for a moment, returned tenfold as people called out demanding an explanation. Harry’s jaw dropped as he stared at Kingsley in disbelief.

Raising both hands, Kingsley managed to quiet the room somewhat. “The ministry received a time-delayed letter from Albus Dumbledore, charmed to be delivered one month after the defeat of Lord Voldemort to whomever was in function as the Minister for Magic. I will read this letter out loud now.”

As Percy handed a piece of parchment to Kingsley, the people had gone so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Kingsley unrolled the parchment and cleared his throat. “To whom it may concern. I write to you to ensure that Lord Voldemort will never return again. In order to accomplish this, Harry Potter must die.”

Harry screamed in protest, but no sound escaped him. He had died! He had walked to his fucking death!

“Lord Voldemort achieved immortality by using extremely dark magic to split his soul. On the tragic night of the Potters’ murders, Lord Voldemort hit young Harry Potter with a killing curse. But because of sacrificial magic made possible by Lily Potter’s death, the killing curse backfired on Lord Voldemort, destroying his body and tearing his already damaged soul until a sliver broke off and attached itself to young Harry. Because Harry was still an infant, with an underdeveloped soul of his own, Voldemort’s soul sliver merged with his, becoming one new soul.”

Kingsley had to stop reading for a moment as the shouting became overwhelming again. Harry noticed that the tone was shifting. No longer were most voices calling out in his support.

“I instructed Harry to sacrifice himself and I am sure I guided him enough in his lifetime that he willingly did so. But Harry has an uncanny ability to survive the most remarkable situations, so I am writing this letter to you to ensure Harry remains dead. For their merged souls to die, Harry’s body must be destroyed. If Harry is allowed to live, he can be used to bring back Lord Voldemort. I deeply regret it has to come to this, and I urge you to examine Harry yourself as I have examined him myself many times. I told Harry that the soul sliver could be removed by Voldemort’s killing curse, but I only did so to ensure Harry would sacrifice himself while having hope of surviving against all odds. In truth, survival for Harry Potter isn’t possible if we are to ensure Lord Voldemort never rises again.”

Kingsley folded the parchment and placed it on the bench in front of him. “The Department of Mysteries has examined Mr Potter when we first apprehended him and they have confirmed everything Dumbledore wrote. I have also personally spoken to Dumbledore’s portrait at Hogwarts and it, too confirmed the truth of these words. We have a few witnesses to add to this case. I call Hermione Granger to the stand to testify.”

Hermione wouldn’t look at him as she sat down in the allocated witness seat. Harry stared at her desperately, his cheeks wet as he willed Hermione to come up with a solution, to save the day, but Hermione wouldn’t look at him.

“Ms Granger, has Mr Potter told you at any time that he housed a piece of Voldemort’s soul in his body?” Kingsley asked, his deep voice not calming as usual but hard and demanding.

Hermione gave a tiny nod. “Yes. But he sacrificed himself –

“Irrelevant, as per the Department of Mysteries’ conclusions. Thank you, Ms Granger. We call Ronald Weasley to testify.”

Ron looked starkly pale under his freckles and gulped visibly as he took Hermione’s seat. Contrary to Hermione, Ron wouldn’t stop staring at Harry, eyes wide and disbelieving.

“Mr Weasley, has Mr Potter told you at any time that he housed a piece of Voldemort’s soul in his body?”

Ron opened his mouth but no sound came out so he cleared his throat. “Yeah, he did a few times.”

“This is bollocks,” Neville shouted from the stands as he stood waving his fist at Ron. “You traitor, is that how you repay your friend? Harry is a good guy, the best, and you all –“ The world would never know what Neville wanted to say because a nearby Auror stunned him and levitated him out of the room. Luna was looking between Harry and Neville with both hands clapped over her mouth in shock.

When Harry looked back to the stand beside the Minister, Ron was gone and Ginny sat in his place.

“Miss Weasley,” Kingsley said, having ignored all the commotion to continue the trial. “Have you and Mr Potter ever discussed his feelings towards Lord Voldemort and has Mr Potter ever expressed any positive ideas or feelings towards the Dark Lord?”

Ginny nodded with a little sigh. She looked far less shocked than both Ron and Hermione had done. “Yes, in his sixth year. Harry told me several times he found Tom Riddle, that was who Voldemort was before he mutilated himself, very handsome. He also told me he thought Tom Riddle deserved a second chance.”

The room erupted in a cacophony of voices, most calling for Harry’s immediate death. Harry tried to jump up as well but the chains kept him in place.

He had not said those things, not like that. Yes, he thought Tom Riddle was handsome, because he had eyes. Most people who saw Tom Riddle would call him handsome. As for giving Tom Riddle a second chance, Harry had sympathized with an eleven-year-old Riddle he’d seen in Dumbledore’s memories. Harry knew what growing up unwanted and unloved felt like, and he was pissed at Dumbledore for how he’d written off a child for trying to stay alive in a hateful environment. That didn’t mean he wanted Lord fucking Voldemort to come back, and Ginny knew this. She’d even agreed with him.

But Harry could not defend himself, could not explain, and the damage was done. Ginny left the stand without a backwards glance and Kingsley called the room to order. “We will now vote to put the wizard known as Harry James Potter to death by pushing him though the Veil in the Department of Mysteries immediately following this trial. All in favour, raise your wands.”

All around them, wands were held up and Harry could see at once that the vast majority voted for his immediate death. Augusta Longbottom kept her wand down, and surprisingly, so did Narcissa Malfoy.

Kingsley did a quick count and called out, “And so it has been decided that Harry James Potter will be put to death at once. Aurors, escort him to the Veil.”

Harry looked towards the stands. Draco Malfoy looked green and ready to pass out. Luna had tears streaming down her face as she shook her head in denial over and over again. Seamus was staring at the floor while Dean had his face buried in his hands.

Two Aurors hauled Harry roughly to his feet, but his legs could barely support him. He was numb, inside and out, unable to comprehend what was happening. The Aurors dragged him towards the entrance of the Department of Mysteries where two cloaked and hooded figures escorted them inside and through the labyrinth of doors and hallways. Kingsley and Percy and a few other officials followed them.

Harry had no time to be afraid. He barely had time to understand what was going on. The only thing he heard was the clanking of his chains and the heavy, uneven breaths he took, and a little later, the voices whispering at him from behind the veil.

“Push him through,” Kingsley said without much emotion, and before Harry could pull away, before he could use his legs to stop them from dragging him towards the veil, the two Aurors holding him up by the arms pushed him forward.

Harry stumbled, fell and disappeared through the fabric, which didn’t feel like fabric at all but like an icy gust of wind. Everything was dark, and then everything was light. His arms and legs were free, his body no longer numb, and Harry looked around and instantly recognized the ghostly version of King’s Cross station he’d visited once before.

“Hello, young master,” a dark voice said from behind him.

Harry whirled around and stared at the tall figure. He, though maybe it was more appropriate, was made up of shadows given life, black and always reaching to envelop more and more light around it, yet never growing any bigger at all. The living shadows took on the shape of a hooded man, towering at least two feet over Harry. Even though no eyes, or any part of a face, was visible, Harry still felt a cold gaze on him.

“Death,” Harry said, since that seemed the most logical conclusion. “Hi.”

A raspy chuckle came from within the living shadows that formed the hood. “Back so soon?”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, apparently Dumbledore wanted me really dead all along.” Rage filled Harry while only moments earlier he hadn’t felt much at all. He glanced around, hoping to find the old man as he had done the last time he was there. “He’s not here? I’d like to strangle him with his own beard.”

“No,” Death said, voice at once both deep yet ethereal. “The last time, Fate snuck him in without my knowledge.”

“Why did Dumbledore give me this whole speech to go back when he wanted me dead?” Almost before Harry finished asking the question, he knew the answer. “To finish the job, of course. I would make sure Voldemort died and then Dumbledore’s fucking letter would make sure I was killed a month later.” Harry looked up at Death with pleading eyes. “Is that even true, about Voldemort’s soul merging with my own?”

“It is true,” Death said without much concern, as if he hadn’t just pulled the rug out from under Harry’s entire existence.

Harry sat down heavily on the white bench behind him. This was just too much to think about. It made Harry’s head spin. “So instead of housing Voldemort’s temporary horcrux, I am his permanent horcrux.”

“In essence, yes. All of your soul and a small part of his have grown to become one new soul together.”

“Then how did he die if I was keeping him alive? And how did I live when the horcrux inside of me wasn’t destroyed when I came here the first time. And who was that ugly baby thing under the bench?”

“The soul fragment you found under the bench belonged to a different horcrux. The cup, I believe, which had only been destroyed a few hours earlier. As for why Voldemort died and you lived, the answer is simple. It happened because you wanted it to.” The look Death gave him, even though Harry couldn’t see it, felt like an amused one.

“Huh?” Harry on the other hand felt mostly confused.

“You are the Master of Death. You have the power to decide these things. You want Voldemort dead even though your own soul ties him to the world of the living, then it shall be done,” Death explained patiently, but still with an amused air about him.

Harry was very glad he was sitting down because this was a lot to take in. “Does any of this even matter anymore?” Harry wondered aloud. “I’m dead. Not much to be done about that.”

“Have you not been listening, young master? If you will it, a lot can be done,” Death told him in a firm but not unkind voice.

“Like what?” Harry asked, just a little bit hysterically. “Because if I go back and walk out of that veil, people are going to be very upset and throw me right back in it again.” Harry thought for a second and shuddered. “Or feed me to a dementor.”

“You can go back earlier,” Death said calmly, as if any of this even made any sense. Harry was half convinced he was having a fever dream or something.

“Earlier?” Harry asked, remembering eleven-year-old Tom Riddle. If he could go back to Tom’s childhood... “How much earlier?”

“It is unwise to return to before you were born, young master. Reality would stand a real chance of breaking.”

“Yeah, all right, that sounds bad,” Harry agreed, though not without some degree of disappointment. He thought for some moments longer. “If I went back to say my first year, would I keep my memories?”

“You would,” Death said and then added, “And so would the other part of your soul.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “The other part of my soul? You mean Voldemort? He would get his memories back as well?”

Death nodded, and Harry was tempted to jump up and loudly refuse to even consider that. Because it seemed like a crazy idea.

Unleashing Voldemort, with the memories of his defeat and how to avoid that, back unto the world? Madness. Utter, utter madness.

Then again, what had the fucking world ever done for Harry Potter? Save for the first year of his existence, Harry had been hated and ridiculed and worshipped and discarded and hurt...he’d been hurt over and over again. So maybe the world deserved to get Voldemort back, to be hurt in return.

But no. Harry shook his head. He wasn’t that cruel, no matter how much the world had fucked him over all the way to his execution. So Voldemort was out. But Tom Riddle had potential. But what distinguished between Voldemort and Tom Riddle?

That was easy enough. A soul. A complete soul.

“I have questions,” Harry whispered, his mind reeling under all the plans and plots it was coming up with. Death nodded, so Harry carried on. “You say I can decide if I live or die, right? So I’m essentially immortal, right?”

Death gave another nod.

“Good. I’m Voldemort’s permanent horcrux, so as long as I live he will live, right?”

“As long as you will it, yes,” Death said while inclining his hood.

“And can you return Voldemort’s complete soul to him when you give him back his memories?”

Death straightened a little. “His soul is still scattered.” Death indicated the vast white station around them with a formless shadowy hand. “If you collect the pieces I can put them back.”

“I’ll get right to that.” Harry jumped up and ran down the benches. It didn’t take long until he heard a pathetic whimpering, strangely familiar yet tugging at Harry’s heart. Or should that be his soul? Mutilated baby Tom was lying under a bench and stared at him with weary eyes.

“No need to be scared, Tom,” Harry said as he gently picked up the baby and held it against his chest. “We’re getting a second chance, you and me both. You’ll have your full soul and I’m your horcrux and I’ll keep us both alive for as long as it takes for us both to lead full, happy lives without meddling headmasters.”

Harry didn’t know for how long he walked around the ghostly station. Time seemed of little meaning. Harry’s body never grew hungry or tired, and he kept up a stream of reassurances and promises of a bright future at every little mutilated Tom baby he found. He had four so far, and he held them all in his arms squashed together, but none complained. All watched him with wide, disbelieving eyes.

The next Tom he found wasn’t a baby, but a child, maybe seven or eight years old. His skin looked waxen and his eyes sunken as though he suffered some terrible illness.

“I know you,” child Tom said.

“We share a soul,” Harry said and handed child Tom one of the mutilated babies. “Here, hold this one. We’ve got one more of you to find.” Child Tom accepted the other soul piece and followed him quietly. Harry thought he might be the piece that had resided in the Gaunt ring, the second biggest piece of soul Voldemort had turned into a horcrux.

Which meant that the last one would be the biggest piece.

Teenage Tom looked sullen and sick and so very, very suspicious when Harry and all the little Toms approached him.

“Hi, Tom,” Harry said cheerfully.

“Don’t call me that,” Teenage Tom snapped and then gave Harry a look up and down. “Who are you? Do I know you? You seem familiar.”

“We share a soul,” Harry told him, because saying it out loud helped him accept it. A part of Voldemort, of Tom Riddle, was part of himself now and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. “Death, I’ve got them all,” he yelled into the station, earning a confused look from teenage Tom and a curious one from child Tom.

“So I see, young master,” Death said as he materialized from nothing right beside Harry. Teenage Tom jumped about a foot in the air and rushed behind Harry while the mutilated baby Toms started wailing. Child Tom had fat tears rolling down his cheeks.

“When I go back, will I remain Master of Death?” Harry asked, holding the mutilated babies a little closer to comfort them.

“Yes, as long as no other unites all three Hallows you shall remain my master.”

And that was all Harry needed to know. “Death, could you please put these pieces back into Tom’s main soul? And I’d like to go back to the day my Hogwarts letter arrived. Thanks.” Harry pushed the three babies left in his own embrace into teenage Tom’s arms, who struggled to hold them all.

“As you will it, young master, so shall it be done.” And Death touched one formless finger to Harry’s forehead, and Harry fell backwards into nothing at all.

Chapter Text

The moment Harry woke up in a too small body inside the cupboard under the stairs, he started doubting. Everything had seemed so simple, so reasonable when he was dead. Now, back in the land of the living, Harry felt the weight of his decisions crushing him.

What was he thinking, giving Voldemort his memories and his soul back. There was no guarantee that this changed anything in terms of Voldemort’s motivations. Yes, Harry could relate to an 11-year-old Tom Riddle, but he reminded himself that a teenage Tom Riddle, before he ever split his soul, was already manipulative, greedy, a thief and a liar and most certainly capable of murder.

So what had Harry created by giving the Dark Lord back his sanity?

Then again, according to Death, Harry could simply want Voldemort to die and it shall be done. So he had that failsafe to fall back on should things really go wrong. If Voldemort proved as unreasonable as before. But Harry didn’t think he would be.

To be perfectly honest, Harry was curious what would become of an adult Tom Riddle with his soul intact and memories of his defeat and death fresh in his mind. Is it any wonder that Harry wanted to see this, when a part of himself was once a part of Voldemort? Harry didn’t think so. He made himself no illusions that Tom Riddle would suddenly turn ‘good’, whatever that even meant. People would get hurt, people would die, the world would change.

But perhaps the world needed to change. The wizarding world, for all that Harry loved it and considered it his home, was a mess. It could use someone sweeping through it to clean it up. And Harry believed he would at least be able to reason with this new and improved Voldemort to abandon the ideas of muggleborn registration committees and the like.

Aunt Petunia’s steps echoed through the cupboard as she descended the stairs, sending both feelings of nostalgia and an ingrained sense of dread through Harry. He really hadn’t planned this through, had he? Now he was stuck at the Dursleys again, who knows for how long, when he’d only escaped them for good last year.

If Gryffindor had house words, they would be: ‘We do not plan’, Harry mused as he tuned out Petunia’s chatter about breakfast while he climbed out of the cupboard. He got breakfast started with an ease that didn’t even surprise him. He’d spent years cooking for his relatives, after all, to the point that getting the frying pans and bacon, eggs and butter had become so routine Harry could do it blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back.

His Hogwarts letter would come that day, and Harry knew what he wanted to change about that situation. Beyond that, Harry wasn’t sure. He’d give it some more thought as the day progressed.

Sometimes, Harry truly cursed his impulsive mind. Why couldn’t he have gotten some of Tom’s calculating cleverness when he got some of the man’s soul? Hermione and her extraordinary ability to plan everything would have been a great help, too, right about now. But thinking about Hermione sent a sharp stab through Harry’s chest. Oh, he understood why Hermione had done what she did on the stand. She’d always had great respect for authority and she had told no lies.

Yet, Harry expected more of her. Ron had proven himself an untrustworthy friend over the years, shunning Harry at the drop of a hat, abandoning him when Harry needed him most. And Ginny... aside from her incredibly traumatic experiences with a piece of Tom Riddle’s soul, the same soul that is part of Harry’s own, Ginny hadn’t talked to him since Harry turned her down a week after the final battle. He cared for her, liked her better than he did most people, but after all he’d been through, Harry needed peace and quiet in his mind and his body and his heart, at least for a while. Ginny hadn’t taken it well, and she had a vindictive streak a mile wide, so Harry wasn’t surprised by what she had done. Hurt, tremendously, but not surprised.

But Hermione... he had expected so much more, so much better from her. Hermione had been his friend through everything, had never abandoned him, even when the whole world was against him, when the man Hermione loved had left them, Hermione had stood by his side, the best friend he’d ever had. Yet she had given no more than a token objection during his trial and barely even that.

Oh, Harry could see it. He’d spent a week in a cell, a week where everyone would have given it their all to convince Hermione and Ron and perhaps all of the Weasleys of what needed to be done with Harry. Hermione would have protested at first, with volume and conviction, but with Kingsley and Percy and Dumbledore’s letter and portrait and perhaps even McGonagall and a handful of Unspeakables bearing down on her, Hermione would have eventually understood why they wanted Harry dead. She wouldn’t have liked it, she would’ve cried heartfelt tears, but she would have stopped protesting.

Yes, Harry could see how it happened, he understood how she would have stood back to let the world kill him, but it still hurt more than anything had ever done before.

This betrayal of Ron, Ginny and especially Hermione went bone-deep. No, it went soul-deep. It tore at his soul the way multiple cold-blooded murders had torn at Tom Riddle’s soul. And Harry knew, that no matter he understood perfectly, he would never be able to trust Ron, Hermione or Ginny ever again. Would never call them friends again.

His soul was too battered, too broken for that, and they were the ones to damage it.

“Boy, get the mail!” Vernon snapped.

Harry was so lost in thought he almost missed it. “Yes, Uncle Vernon,” he whispered, wiped his hands on a towel and hurried inside the hallway. There, on the mat, beneath a bill and a postcard, lay his Hogwarts letter. Harry quickly stuffed it in the pocket of his oversized jeans and walked back inside the kitchen, handed the bill and postcard to Vernon and started the dishes. No one paid him any mind as they babbled about Marge’s sudden illness.

Vernon left for work, Dudley took off to terrorize the neighbourhood, and Petunia went into the bathroom to take a shower. Harry quickly helped himself to Petunia’s purse and took a fifty pound bill from her wallet. Then he grabbed a notepad from Vernon’s desk and wrote a quick note.

‘Aunt Petunia, I received my Hogwarts letter and I’ve gone to London to buy my supplies. I’ll pay you back the 50 pounds I’ve borrowed this evening when I’ll get back. I’ll have dinner in London. Harry.’

He left the note on the kitchen table and walked out the door. He turned left towards the train station, about an hour’s walk away, but it was still early and Harry didn’t mind walking for a while. It gave him time to think and, hopefully, to plan.

His first, very impulsive, idea was to run away from the Dursleys and never return. But Harry liked to think he was old and wise enough to realize this was an unrealistic idea. For the most part because Dumbledore wanted him at the Dursleys and what Dumbledore wanted, Dumbledore got. Harry made himself no illusions that Dumbledore was the one with all the power right then and there. Magical power and political power. In most people’s eyes the man could do no wrong. Only the prejudiced pureblood faction hated his guts, but they were a minority.

While Harry was famous for something he didn’t do, and a beloved public figure even though nobody had seen him in public in a decade and none of these people knew him, he had no political power. To the public, he was a child to be adored, certainly, but also to be ignored. At least for the next few years.

Going up against Dumbledore publicly now was suicide, figuratively and literally, as Dumbledore had proven quite capable of ordering Harry’s execution, even from beyond the grave.

It was a very strange thing to contemplate, but right then Dumbledore, far more than Voldemort, was his enemy. Dumbledore truly wanted him dead. Perhaps not right away, but down the line, after he’d conveniently vanquished Voldemort, Dumbledore would see Harry dead once and for all.

So, it was in Harry’s best interest to fly below Dumbledore’s radar at least for a few years, until he was older and able to build up some political capital for himself. Or until Voldemort came to power and Harry could make a deal with him, but that needed very careful planning and Harry put that aside for later consideration. For now, Harry needed to play the part of an enthusiastic yet ignorant child and that meant staying at the Dursleys at least this summer, but probably for a few more years to come. That meant coming to an agreement with them so they would leave him alone while he was there. They would never do such a thing out of the goodness of their hearts, but they were greedy people and Harry had a vault full of gold.

Yes, after some consideration Harry decided that the easiest way to deal with the Dursleys was to bribe them. Harry couldn’t wait to see the look on Vernon’s face when he offered the man money. But that would have to wait until later. For now, Harry got a train ticket to London, splurged on a can of cola and a Mars bar since he’d barely had breakfast, and quietly sat next to an older gentleman reading a newspaper as the train took them to London.

During his walk from the train station towards the Leaky Cauldron Harry came across a department store with huge sale signs in the windows and he decided to see if he could buy at least a t-shirt and some jeans that fit, so he’d look a little more presentable his first time in Diagon Alley. He had no intention of anyone finding out who he was, but even then looking a bit more put together than an urchin dressed in oversized rags would serve him well.

He told the sales assistance some happy little story about his mother shopping in a different area of the store but allowing him to buy some clothes for himself because after all, he was a big boy. The lady with a nametag that read ‘Paula’ ate it up and helped him find a pair of nice jeans and a light-blue polo-shirt, together with some plain underwear and socks, all for just under ten pounds. And for another ten pounds she found him a pair of red trainers in his size. She even cut the tags off for him after he paid so Harry could put the clothes on so he could model them for his mother. His old clothes and shoes went into a plastic bag, which he planned to dump in the first rubbish bin he found, and on the way out the door he picked up a baseball cap that read ‘LONDON’ in red letters from a bargain bin for just 50p. Admiring his reflection in the store window, Harry thought he might come back to the store to buy some more decent clothes after he got money from his vault. Merlin knew in his previous life he’d looked like a vagabond during his first year at Hogwarts whenever he wasn’t wearing his school robes. Even though Harry knew it wasn’t his fault, it still filled him with an odd sense of shame.

Besides, it wasn’t just vanity that drove him to make these kind of purchases. Harry was determined to present himself as a normal, decent human being to the Wizarding World. He knew first impressions were important. As an eleven-year-old the first time around none of these things had even occurred to him, but Harry was older now, at least mentally, and he knew how important building a good reputation was for the years to come and how he looked did play a part in that, no matter if he cared about his looks or not.

The Leaky Cauldron wasn’t terribly busy, and Tom opened the wall to Diagon Alley for him without a second glance, writing Harry off as just another muggleborn he saw come through his pub day in and day out.

Harry allowed himself a moment to take in the sights and sounds of Diagon Alley as it was without being ravaged by a war. He inhaled a deep breath and wove his way through the crowds on his way to Gringotts, keeping the baseball cap securely on his head to hide his scar. Nobody paid him any attention, and Harry realized this probably was because nobody was expecting Harry Potter yet. In his previous life the Dursleys had spent almost a week evading the letters and Harry made it to Diagon Alley on his birthday. And everyone knew when Harry Potter’s birthday was so they were keeping an eye out for him. But now Harry was a week early, much to his pleasure. That hopefully meant a quiet shopping trip.

Once inside Gringotts Harry got in line for a teller. He was ever so glad he hadn’t yet broken into the bank this time around. And he wouldn’t, if he could help it, because sussing that over had been a very expensive nightmare. Ron and Hermione didn’t have a knut to spare between them so it had fallen to Harry to pay for their parts of the damages as well as his own. It had cost him most of Sirius’ gold he’d inherited to satisfy the goblins and keep them from calling for his head.

“Next!”

“Hi,” Harry said, trying to appear as a clever but as of yet ignorant child. “My parents left me a vault here, my aunt told me, but she didn’t have the key and didn’t know where it went either after my parents died.”

“Name?” the goblin asked in a bored tone.

“Harry Potter,” Harry said quietly. “I would also like to know how much is in my vault, please.”

Hearing his name seemed to catch the goblin’s attention and he gave Harry a quick look up and down. “Griphook! This child’s vault needs re-keying. Child, go with Griphook.”

Harry followed a quiet Griphook obediently to a small office in the back of the bank. Once they were seated at the wooden desk inside, Griphook handed Harry a golden needle and a sheet of parchment. “Three drops of blood on the parchment to confirm your identity.”

Harry pricked his finger, squeezed out the required drops and watched in wonder as a family tree going back three generations appeared on the parchment, the lines and names fanning out from the drops of blood. There were no surprises there that Harry could see. James and Lily Potter were his parents.

“That is sufficient confirmation. Re-keying your vault costs fifty Galleons.”

Harry sputtered in quiet outrage. “Absolutely not. Twenty.”

Griphook’s brow twitched in amusement. “Thirty-five.”

“Thirty.”

“Thirty is acceptable. Bank statements were halted since the owner of the vault was an infant ten years ago. Would you like to receive statements now?”

“Yes, please.”

“That will be five Galleons per year,” Griphook said as he turned around in his chair and rummaged through a cabinet behind him. He pulled out a few sheets of parchment and handed them to Harry. “These are from the last decade. New ones will be provided quarterly per owl post.”

“Thank you, that is fine,” Harry said as he looked over his statements while Griphook got out a new key and started whispering at it in a language Harry didn’t understand.

In his previous life Harry had never actually seen a statement of his vault. He hadn’t thought to ask about it for the first few years of his Hogwarts career and later there had been Voldemort and the war and Harry wasn’t allowed to just visit Diagon Alley whenever he wanted. Harry was pleased to note that the statements didn’t show anything untoward when it came to his vault. Nothing had gone out in the past decade, so the Dursleys hadn’t been lying when they told him they didn’t receive a penny for his upkeep. And Dumbledore hadn’t helped himself to Harry’s gold either. Harry had received a few nice sums of money over the years, childless wizards or witches leaving him an inheritance from what he could tell. None of these were significant amounts but it all added up to a vault filled with just over 16,000 Galleons. The exchange rate to pounds was five pounds to a Galleon, so Harry had about 80,000 pounds at his disposal. Nice, certainly, but nothing that would last him very long as soon as he was an adult out of Hogwarts and needing to pay his own bills. But for now, at least, Harry didn’t have to worry about money. Besides, he had a few ideas to add some gold to his vault in the coming years.

Some people, Ron probably, might expect Harry to be richer, but Harry wasn’t surprised. Sirius had told him a few things and he’d looked into his family a little bit during his sixth year with Hermione’s help. He knew his grandfather Fleamont had invented a few potions in his youth that earned him a nice bit of gold for a time. But exclusivity contracts on potions only lasted 20 years. During that time the inventor was paid a small percentage of every potion sold. But after that they got nothing. And as far as Harry knew in his later life Fleamont hadn’t earned any money anymore, just lived off his savings. His grandmother Euphemia had worked alongside her husband, managing the business side of Fleamont’s potions and thus hadn’t brought in an additional income either. The house they’d owned had burned down in a Death Eater attack a year before their deaths, and the remaining land had long been sold. And his parents, between fighting a war and hiding from Voldemort hadn’t added anything either, just spent gold to live their lives.

Harry counted himself lucky he had as much as he did.

“Is everything in order?” Griphook asked as he finished enchanting the new key.

“Yes, thank you. I’d like to get some Galleons from my vault now and exchange some to muggle pounds.”

“There’s a flat fee of three Galleons for exchanging Galleons to muggle money,” Griphook told him as he handed Harry his key. “Don’t lose that.”

“Of course there is,” Harry said with a sigh and a nod while he followed Griphook out of the office and into a cart. Inside his vault Harry purchased an enchanted money pouch from Griphook for another four Galleons and loaded it up with at least 500 Galleons. Perhaps a little much, and Harry had no intention of spending it all, but he had no idea what schemes Dumbledore might pull in the coming years and when he’d be able to get to Gringotts again. Griphook exchanged 200 Galleons into a thousand pounds for him and with that Harry was done at the bank.

His next stop was the luggage store because he wanted a trunk right away to store his other purchases in. He opted for a slightly fancier model than his previous standard school trunk but nothing too outrageous. His new trunk was a mat black with silver-coloured metal trimmings. On the inside it had three compartments. One for his everyday possessions, one for books and one storage compartment that could double as a wardrobe. The only extra he had the sales assistance put on the trunk was the ability to shrink and enlarge it with a tap of his wand without setting off the Trace. It would be very useful if he could keep all his possessions in his pocket after all.

After that Harry endured the fussing of Madam Malkin as she measured him for his school robes. Harry bought the standard robes but did add some decent winter wear and some wizarding leisure wear in the form of black dress pants and two white button-down shirts.

He wandered into a side alley and discovered a second hand book store and a magical optometrist. He visited both. The optometrist told him there was a way to fix his eyes permanently, which involved dripping a few drops of a potion in his eyes before bed for a month. The potion cost 75 Galleons, but Harry figured it was worth it and he got the bottle. In the book store he bought the books from his booklist, all of them in decent condition. Why spend money on new books when used ones would do? Harry planned to indulge in a few things, like the eye potion, but for the rest he was going to spend as little as possible. He picked up a few other interesting used books. One a beginner’s guide to Ancient Runes, one for Arithmancy, a few Defence titles, two on warding, a book on common Wizarding laws and a book on the Mind Arts.

Harry desperately needed to learn Occlumency if he wanted to keep Dumbledore and Snape out of his head.

He visited a few more stores, buying things like potions ingredients, parchment and quills and a cauldron and scales. He saw a few familiar faces in the crowds. Cho Chang with her mother, some older Hufflepuff he forgot the name off but who had been on the Quidditch team, Cormac McLaggen and some others he’d seen around Hogwarts. Harry ignored them all and went about getting his shopping done. In the apothecary, Harry asked the clerk if they had nutrient potions or something similar. The clerk, a cheerful young woman, handed Harry some potions that were used to help someone recover after losing weight due to an illness. She recommended he take one each day for two weeks, so Harry bought 14 vials. Hopefully these would help him put some meat on his scrawny body and combat some of the malnutrition he knew he suffered from at his current physical age. In his previous life the problem had corrected itself eventually, by eating well at Hogwarts for the majority of the year, but it couldn’t hurt to give his small body a head start in healing.

He’d saved the two most important things for last. His wand and Hedwig. He missed his first friend terribly and while Harry knew she would never be his old Hedwig, he still wanted to have her by his side. One trip to the pet store later and he was holding a cage with his beautiful snowy owl inside.

“Hello, Hedwig, my sweet girl,” Harry whispered, his eyes a little wet as he stroked her soft breast through the bars. “I’ve missed you.”

Hedwig gave him a soft hoot as she looked at him with intelligent eyes.

Ollivander’s was his last stop for the day. Ollivander greeted him as Harry remembered it and Harry played along. He only stepped out of reach when Ollivander tried to touch his scar, and Ollivander gave him an apologetic smile before handing him a wand. What followed was half an hour of waving wands around and blowing up parts of Ollivander’s store until finally he held his wand again, holly and phoenix feather.

“Curious,” Ollivander said.

“I’ll be needing an arm holster as well,” Harry said, ignoring Ollivander’s attempt at mystery. He already knew, after all. With his wand strapped to his arm and ten Galleons lighter, Harry left the store and Diagon Alley all together. Hedwig was set free and told to go to number 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging, her cage went inside Harry’s trunk and the trunk went inside his pocket.

Harry loved magic.

He had a late lunch or early dinner at a fast food restaurant that served fried chicken and chips, just because he could, and then he made a quick stop at the department store to buy a few more items, mostly clothes but also some notebooks and pens. By then he was exhausted, emotionally drained and ready for bed. As he summoned the Knight Bus he realized he couldn’t rest just yet. He had relatives to bribe. After a bumpy but quick ride back to Surrey, Harry let himself into the Dursleys’ house.

“Here’s your money, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said as he offered his aunt a fifty pound bill as she stormed into the hallway, followed closely by Vernon. Harry held up his hand to ward of Vernon’s incoming tirade. “I have a business proposition for you, Uncle. My parents left me a little bit of money and I’m willing to share, but there are conditions.”

Vernon closed his mouth and gave Harry a shrewd look. “How much? And what conditions?”

“I will give you 250 pounds per month for three months out of the year I’ll be staying here, starting this year. In return you will give me Dudley’s second bedroom and you will feed me three full meals a day. I will keep up the garden, since I enjoy doing that and I will cook three meals a week, your choice which ones. I will also clean the bathroom and vacuum the house once a week, and keep my own room clean. You will give me no further chores, you will leave me alone and you will let me leave for the day if I want to.”

Vernon narrowed his eyes, curling his lip. “You want a lot for little, boy. We’ll take 500 pounds a month.”

Snorting, Harry shook his head. “I’m willing to go up to 350 pounds a month, take it or leave it. If you leave it, I’ll still be made to live here and you get nothing.”

“Hmm.” Vernon slowly nodded while Petunia looked between him and Harry and also nodded. “We’ll take 350 pounds a month, upfront.”

“No, 700 now and the last 350 at the end of August when I leave for school.”

“Fine, as long as you keep your freakishness to yourself and don’t bother us good, normal people. And you can clean out Dudley’s second bedroom by yourself.”

Harry grinned and rushed up the stairs. “I’ll have that money for you right away, Uncle.”

While he handed Vernon seven one-hundred pound notes, Harry calculated that if he stayed with the Dursleys for seven years, it would cost him 7,350 pounds. A lot of money, yes, but ultimately a small price to pay for being fed properly and being left alone for the most part. Harry was happy to pay that price, considering how awful his summers with the Dursleys in his previous life had gone.

That evening Vernon and Petunia took Dudley to see a movie and eat at his favourite restaurant after dear Dudders had thrown a temper tantrum when he found Harry in his second bedroom. Harry ignored him and continued to sort through all the junk in the room, tossing most of it away in a few bin bags. He spent a quiet evening getting his room clean and organized. It was still a small room filled with worn furniture, but it was Harry’s room and he was glad to have it back. Before turning in for the night he wrote a quick acceptance letter to McGonagall, saying he accepted his position and that his aunt had taken him shopping. Hopefully this would satisfy the staff at Hogwarts and keep Hagrid from breaking down the Dursleys’ front door. Harry loved Hagrid, but Hagrid was too much Dumbledore’s man to consider a friend this time around.

“Ready for a trip to Hogwarts, Hedwig?” Harry asked his owl as she sat on the windowsill, watching him work. Hedwig stuck her leg out in reply and Harry tied the letter to it. “This goes to Professor McGonagall at Hogwarts. Thanks, girl.”

Hedwig bobbed her head, spread her wings and took to the sky. Harry watched her fly away with a warm feeling in his chest.

Who knew the only real friend he’d ever had was an owl. His beautiful Hedwig who had taken a killing curse for him.

Except that wasn’t true, was it. There was another non-human friend who had given his life for Harry. Dobby the house-elf was still in the employ of the Malfoys and Harry had no idea if this time around he’d be given a chance to trick Lucius Malfoy into freeing Dobby, as he had no intention of letting the diary horcrux wreak havoc at Hogwarts again by means of a basilisk. If Death had done his job, there no longer even was a diary horcrux.

But there was another house-elf who had proven to be a good, loyal friend once Harry had won him over. And this house-elf officially belonged to his godfather, so Harry, as Sirius’ heir, had a chance to meet and convince Kreacher to work for Harry. And since Harry knew all about Master Regulus and his heroic sacrifice, he knew exactly how to do it.

Yep, Harry decided as he crawled into his bed, exhausted but feeling very accomplished. Tomorrow, he’d be paying a visit to Grimmauld Place.

Chapter Text

When Harry woke up the next morning without anyone banging on his door demanding he make breakfast, he let out a sigh of relief. It seemed his relatives were keeping their end of the bargain. Harry spent a little time just lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling. He really was back in the past, had really been given a second chance. The sharp sting of betrayal he felt all over again at the thought of what his former friends had done was soon followed by a burst of energetic warmth at the thought of doing everything better this time. And he couldn’t help the utter sense of glee knowing he was so much more than people were expecting him to be.

People were expecting an ignorant muggle-raised eleven-year-old with average intelligence and mediocre ambitions. What they got was a battle-hardened eighteen-year-old Master of Death who had faced dragons and a basilisk, and a Dark Lord many times, and who had been betrayed by those closest to him and who had no intention of being anyone’s sacrificial lamb ever again. And who had died. Twice.

People really had no idea who they were dealing with, Harry thought while he snickered into his pillow. This was going to be so much fun.

The sounds around the house, Vernon leaving for work, Dudley screaming one demand or another, indicated it was probably time to get up lest he incur his aunt’s wrath, bargain or not.

“There’s breakfast,” his aunt snapped when he walked into the kitchen. She pointed at a plate holding two fried eggs, a slice of bacon and a slice of toast, with a mug of tea on the side. The bread wasn’t even burned all that much. “It’s probably cold.”

“Thank you, Aunt Petunia. That looks great,” Harry said with a polite smile as he sat at the kitchen table and started eating. Thankfully, the food was still lukewarm and tasted fine. Harry’s strategy for the Dursleys was to avoid whenever possible and otherwise to be unfailingly polite. He wanted to give them absolutely no reasons to go back on their bargain.

“I’ll be visiting an old family friend this morning,” Harry told his aunt as he washed his plate and mug. “And I thought I could mow the lawn this afternoon. It looks like it could do with a trim.”

Petunia’s face contorted in a few very entertaining ways as she considered Harry’s words, probably looking for ways to deny him these things without breaking their deal. “Fine,” she finally said and turned on her heel and rushed out of the kitchen.

Harry smiled all the way to the bathroom, where it quickly turned into a frown as he looked down while peeing.

Had his cock always been that small when he was ten going on eleven? Harry sighed, not looking forward to puberty all over again. Though perhaps this time he could put some effort into actually having sex once his body had matured. Harry was deeply disappointed in himself that he’d died a virgin. Twice.

As he stood under the shower and washed his hair his thoughts turned to his upcoming adventure. Talking Kreacher into becoming his friend. And thinking about that house-elf led to thoughts about his godfather.

Harry was terribly conflicted about what to do about Sirius Black.

He loved Sirius. Or perhaps it could better be described as loving the idea of Sirius, because in truth Harry had barely known the man. Even when Harry had spent a few weeks at Grimmauld Place, Sirius had isolated himself more often than not. On top of that, Sirius was damaged. Exposure to dementors for over a decade ravaged the mind and most of that damage was permanent. Even if Harry got Sirius released that very day, the poor man would never be mentally healthy or stable again, not even with the best magical treatments in the world. Harry was certain this was why Sirius had, at times, such difficulty distinguishing between Harry and James.

Harry didn’t blame the man for this, but reality was that this go around Harry would be even less like his father because he had no intention to become a Gryffindor again. And Harry had no idea how Sirius and his broken mind would react to that. Harry wouldn’t be surprised if Sirius would shun him, or spend huge amounts of time trying to mould Harry into his perfect version of a godson. Or perhaps Sirius would isolate himself again like he’d done before.

On top of that, Harry knew without a doubt that Dumbledore would do anything and everything in his power to keep Sirius from getting custody of Harry. Dumbledore needed his sacrificial lamb ignorant and neatly contained during the summer, after all. And an eleven-year-old boy and a brain-damaged ex-prisoner stood no chance against Dumbledore at that time, especially now Harry knew Dumbledore was capable of murder by proxy.

If they pushed this before they had enough political clout to make it happen, Harry was certain Sirius would suffer an unfortunate accident or some mysterious evidence would turn up that showed Sirius guilty of one crime or another and he’d be back in prison. Or he’d be handed over to the dementors for a little kiss. After all, Dumbledore had gotten away with imprisoning an innocent man once before. Harry did not for one second believe that Dumbledore hadn’t planned to have Sirius imprisoned so he could control where his sacrificial lamb grew up. Before, he might have given Dumbledore the benefit of the doubt, they all had, but now Harry had seen behind the mask of genial, slightly batty, old headmaster. He’d seen the ruthless manipulator willing to condemn the innocent to death or worse, and he would never believe a single word that man said ever again.

Of course, Harry didn’t want to leave his godfather in Azkaban. Sirius had already suffered enough. On top of that he wanted Pettigrew to pay for his betrayal of Harry’s family. He could snatch the rat as quickly as he could once at Hogwarts, put it in an unbreakable cage and have Kreacher look after it until Harry was sure it was the right time to turn him in and free his godfather. It was also a nice little insurance policy in case the Dursleys didn’t stick to their bargain.

Yeah, that was probably the best option for now, Harry thought as he finished drying off and got dressed in some of his wizarding leisure wear. No need to give Kreacher an aneurysm by showing up in muggle attire.

Harry walked a few streets away from Privet Drive before summoning the Knight Bus. No need to freak the Dursleys out, and he also didn’t want Mrs Figg to know he was travelling by magical means. He really didn’t want Dumbledore to find out his little pawn wasn’t staying put in his muggle prison like he was supposed to. It was one of the reasons he’d offered to keep up with the Dursleys’ garden, aside from the fact he enjoyed gardening in the sunshine. If Mrs Figg saw him outside slaving away in the garden she’d report to Dumbledore that nothing had changed, and that was exactly what Harry wanted her to do.

Yesterday, Harry had been too tired to notice the conductor, but when the Knight Bus appeared in front of him it wasn’t Stan Shunpike who greeted him. It was an elderly wizard with greying hair and an oversized belly who introduced himself as Eric Dooly, probably Stan’s predecessor. Harry didn’t introduce himself at all but instead politely asked to be taken to Grimmauld Place in London. It was a short trip, thankfully, and just over fifteen minutes later Harry stood in front of the Black family townhouse.

There was no fidelius charm on the house at that point, so Harry could see the building without any problems. He glanced around a few times, making sure no one was watching him, and hurried up the steps to the front door. He knocked at once.

After a minute or so the door creaked open just a smidge and Kreacher stared up at him with suspicion written all over his wrinkly face. “Mistress is not seeing guests.”

Harry almost snorted. Of course Mistress was not seeing guests. Mistress was dead and had been for a few years now. “Hello, Kreacher,” he said with a pleasant smile. “I’m Harry Potter, Sirius Black’s godson and heir, and I’ve come to help you with the locket Master Regulus ordered you to destroy.”

Kreacher opened the door a little more and looked up at Harry with wide eyes. “How is you knowing about Master Regulus’ locket?”

“Because I’ve seen him in a dream,” Harry said, which technically was true. He had dreamed about Regulus Black a time or two, usually in the form of inferius filled nightmares but Kreacher didn’t need to know that. “He asked me to help you because he knew you were struggling. Show me where the locket is and I’ll destroy it for you right now.”

Frowning, Kreacher seemed to mull all this information over before he opened the door completely. “No-good Master’s heir be following Kreacher.”

Harry entered the familiar, dark hallway as a wave of nostalgia washed over him. This filthy home had been a safe haven for a brief time when he’d been actively hunted by Death Eaters and Harry had grown fond of it. If he played his cards right, it might become a safe haven again because no one would expect Harry Potter to want to spend time here to socialize with an old house-elf. Kreacher led him into the drawing room and at once Harry spotted the locket lying in the curiosity cabinet.

“Best to stay back while I destroy it,” he told Kreacher, but that was all for show. He could feel from across the room the locket was no longer a horcrux. Harry understood now why he’d always been able to sense Voldemort’s horcruxes. He’d been sensing what was essentially his own soul, or at least part of it. He took out his wand and unlocked the cabinet’s door. He wasn’t worried about the Trace activating because the Trace hadn’t been applied on him yet. Students were charmed the first time they arrived at Hogwarts, so for the rest of the summer Harry could use magic without detection, within reason. Harry wouldn’t be surprised if Dumbledore had some sort of ward around number 4 Privet Drive that registered magic use, so he wasn’t planning on using magic at home. But in a heavily warded building like Grimmauld Place? He saw no problem with that.

For a moment, Harry was tempted to just blow up the locket but it was a priceless artefact, and perhaps he could use it as a bargaining tool with Voldemort since it was his family’s heirloom. Instead, Harry whispered a little parseltongue at the locket, which clicked open at once. Ignoring Kreacher’s startled gasp, Harry cast all the cleaning charms he knew on the locket and finished with a dramatic “finite incantatem” before turning to Kreacher. “It is done.”

Kreacher had big, fat tears rolling down his cheeks and at once Harry felt a little bad for manipulating Kreacher the way he was doing. Then again, he wasn’t going to hurt the elf, only wanted to be his friend so Harry pushed those feelings away quickly.

“You is finishing Master Regulus’ wishes,” Kreacher said reverently, walking towards the cabinet and picking up the locket as though it was the most precious thing he’d ever touched. He looked at Harry with gratitude written all over his face. “You is helping Kreacher help Master Regulus.”

“Of course,” Harry said with a gentle smile. “You’re part of the family, Kreacher. I’m very happy to help you and Regulus both.” And that was true enough. “I could use your help if you want to give it.”

“Kreacher will help the little Master,” Kreacher said without hesitation, and Harry wanted to do a little victory dance. Kreacher addressing him as Master was exactly what he was hoping for. It meant Kreacher was as good as his elf now.

Harry sat down on one of the leather chairs, a cloud of dust billowing up around him. Kreacher quickly snapped his fingers and the dust disappeared. “Thanks,” Harry said. “I’m going to Hogwarts in a month and I need your help to stay alive.”

“Who is wanting to hurt little Master?” Kreacher demanded, eyes narrowing.

“This is a secret, Kreacher,” Harry said carefully. “You cannot tell anyone else.”

“Kreacher won’t.”

“Good. Headmaster Dumbledore means for me to die. Not right away, but eventually, he wants me dead. I have many plans to stop this from happening, but I could use a really good house-elf like yourself to make sure those plans come to fruition.” Harry paused for a moment and Kreacher nodded his agreement. “Besides that I could use a safe place to practise magic and to hide should it be necessary. I live with muggles so I cannot do magic there.”

Kreacher shook his head. “It is a disgrace the heir of no-good Master is being made to live with filth. Little Master always being welcome here. Kreacher will look after little Master, he will.”

“Thank you, Kreacher. You are an amazing elf,” Harry said, meaning every word. “Would you also come if I called you at Hogwarts and asked you to run some errands for me?”

“Kreacher will listen for little master and Kreacher will come.”

“We’re going to be great friends, Kreacher.” Harry couldn’t stop smiling. Aside from Hedwig, Harry was incredibly happy to have added Kreacher the cranky house-elf to his list of beings he could rely on. “Now, how about you give me a tour of the house?” Harry followed Kreacher through the grimy rooms, pretending he hadn’t seen it all before. The library definitely caught his interest this time around, especially because you needed magical permission to enter and Kreacher gave it to him. Harry got the impression that the Order never found the library, because otherwise Hermione would have not stopped complaining about being denied entry. Kreacher would never have given someone of her blood status permission to enter after all, as unfair as that might be.

During the tour, Harry dropped a few subtle hints that the place could use some cleaning and Kreacher got first a thoughtful and then a determined look on his face. Harry was willing to bet some gold the house would be clean by the end of the week. Harry didn’t stay long after the tour ended but promised to come back the next morning.

And that is how Harry spent the next few days. In the morning he took the Knight Bus to Grimmauld Place, spent a few hours chatting with Kreacher and reading in the library, enjoyed a wonderful lunch cooked for him by Kreacher and then headed home where he did some chores and spent time in his room reading through his new books. Harry also returned to Diagon Alley on his way to Grimmauld Place once, to visit the second hand book store again to select a few more interesting books. More defence titles, some on curse-breaking, one heavy tomb on rituals, and two more books on the mind arts. He also added five titles on Ancient Runes since the beginner’s book he gotten during his previous visit had proven to be very interesting and Harry wanted to learn more. He also kicked himself for not having taken it as an elective in his third year, and he was determined to rectify it this life.

As he made one final round through the store he spotted a few titles with his name in them. ‘Harry Potter and the Dragon’s Curse’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Mermaid’s Secret’. Harry knew books had been written about him, but this was ridiculous. Also, this was a potential source of income because they were using his name and likeliness. He added the books to his pile and once in Grimmauld Place he asked Kreacher for some stationary to write a letter to the author of those silly books, a witch named Philomena Elderflower.

‘Dear Miss Elderflower,

My name is Harry Potter and I’m a wizard who is going to Hogwarts in a month. I saw your books in a bookstore in Diagon Alley and was surprised to see you’ve been writing stories about me that never happened. That feels a little bit like lying about me, doesn’t it? My aunt says you’re not allowed to write about me without my permission, and I think it’s not very fair you’re making money while lying about me. So maybe you shouldn’t be writing these stories about me anymore.

Sincerely,
Harry Potter
Wizard’

 

Hedwig was all too happy to deliver another letter, and Harry was very pleased to get a reply from Miss Elderflower the very next day. It was a hastily written letter in which she assured him and his aunt that she’d always meant to give them a cut of the profits and she was offering 30 percent retroactively from the publication date of each of the seven titles, which amounted to a total of just over 9000 Galleons or 45,000 pounds so far. Apparently these silly books were sold in more than just the UK, in places like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and she had plans for a few more titles. Harry sent her a letter in return with his permission to write more books and with his vault number so she could transfer the agreed upon amount of gold. He wanted to hit himself on the head for never having followed up on things like this in his previous life. This wasn’t chump change, but a potential source of income for many years to come, hopefully.

About a week after Harry’s second chance had started, Kreacher surprised him with a cake during lunch.

“It is being little Master’s birthday,” Kreacher said while serving him a huge slice.

Harry was speechless. It was his birthday? He’d completely forgotten. He’d been so busy with planning his new life, reading and learning that it had honestly slipped his mind. And of course his relatives hadn’t mentioned it either.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Harry whispered, very touched that the house-elf even knew when his birthday was. “Please have a slice of cake yourself. It looks amazing.”

But Kreacher wasn’t done yet with the surprises as he handed Harry a beautiful leather book bag with detailed engravings of dragons and unicorns on it. “Birthday boys is being given presents,” Kreacher said, stroking a gnarly hand across the soft leather. “This bag is being Master Regulus’. He was using it during his first years at Hogwarts. Now the little Master will be using it.”

Harry had to swallow against a sudden lump in his throat. “That is so kind of you, Kreacher. I will look after it well. Thank you.”

Nodding, Kreacher left Harry to examine the bag as he refilled Harry’s teacup. Inside the bag, Harry found a few more of Regulus’ school supplies, like a silver pencil case, some very sturdy brass scales and a few leather binders to store sheets of parchment in. Harry vowed to use all of it. As he enjoyed an after lunch cup of tea, Harry realized he needed to come to a decision of where he wanted to be sorted this time around.

Gryffindor was out, plain and simple. Not only had he been a Gryffindor already and he wanted a change, but Harry couldn’t imagine sharing a dorm room with Ron for seven years after everything that had happened.

Slytherin, while tempting for the sheer shock it would give everyone around him, was also out. Harry had been accused of going dark a time or two while he was a Gryffindor. He did not want to live through the whole world thinking he was he next Dark Lord just because he was a Slytherin. Besides, Harry had an idea that Dumbledore would want to keep a very close eye on a Slytherin Harry to make sure he didn’t become Tom Riddle version 2.0.

So that left Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Both good houses, often overlooked, yet fine choices for the Boy Who Lived. But which one to pick? Hufflepuff would almost guarantee that everyone would underestimate him. Hufflepuffs were loyal, so Harry might be able to build a real following in that house. Then again, Hufflepuffs were social little badgers, who liked to be up in each other’s business, making sure that everyone was happy and included in the group all the time. And Harry had plans that required him to spend time by himself. His fellow Hufflepuffs would get worried, try to follow him around, tell Professor Sprout when they couldn’t find him, and she might tell McGonagall who most certainly would tell Dumbledore... yeah, Hufflepuff was out as well.

Which left Ravenclaw. In many ways Ravenclaw was the ideal house for Harry’s situation. No matter what Harry did once he got to Hogwarts, people were going to notice his intelligence and his aptitude at casting spells, simply because he was an eighteen-year-old in a child’s body. There was no hiding that, but in Ravenclaw this would be appreciated, perhaps even expected. Harry could play the aloof but friendly scholar who had many interests outside of the school curriculum. Nobody would bat an eye in Ravenclaw if Harry studied subjects well beyond his year. And nobody would comment if he occasionally wanted to spend some time alone to read or unwind or whatever.

Yes, Ravenclaw really was the best house for him, the more Harry thought about it. Now all he had to do was convince the Sorting Hat to put him there. Though with all the reading Harry had been doing during the past week the hat might agree right away Harry belonged with the eagles. One could hope.

A week or so after his birthday, Harry realized that if he wanted to play the world it was necessary to know what was going on in the world in the first place. So he sent Kreacher out with a small bag of Galleons and a signed letter to get him a subscription to the Daily Prophet. Yes, it was a gossip rag not worth the paper it was printed on, but it was the biggest newspaper in the British wizarding world and it did report on all the major happenings Harry needed to know about.

Usually he brought the paper, which was delivered at the Dursleys’, with him to Grimmauld Place so he could read it while enjoying a nice cup of tea and whatever pastry Kreacher had cooked up that day. It was obvious that the poor house-elf had missed looking after someone ever since Walburga Black had died, and he seemed to enjoy stuffing Harry with all sorts of decadent meals and delicious treats. Combined with the nutrient potions he’d taken Harry had added some much needed weight and had even grown an inch. He was still small and scrawny, but he’d lost the starved look at least.

This morning’s treat was a small lemon pie which Harry bit into as he opened the paper.

BARTEMIUS CROUCH FOUND DEAD

Harry almost choked on his bite of lemon pie and swallowed for all he was worth. “There you are, Tom,” he whispered as he scanned the article. Apparently Barty Crouch Sr had called in sick almost two weeks ago, and when his colleagues hadn’t heard from him since that time they went to check up on him and they found him dead in his bed. Suspected cause of death was heart disease.

So Voldemort had freed Barty Crouch Jr and gotten rid of his father. So did that mean Voldemort wasn’t coming to Hogwarts? He didn’t want the Philosopher’s Stone? Then how was he... Harry sat up in his chair, suddenly realizing how Voldemort was going to get his body back.

And he also knew where Voldemort was hiding. After all, why change what worked before.

“Kreacher!” Harry called as he folded the newspaper. “Can you apparate me to Little Hangleton?”

Chapter Text

Harry did not want to use the Knight Bus to travel to Voldemort’s hideout, because he wanted no witnesses. If it ever got back to Dumbledore that Harry Potter had travelled to Little Hangleton the consequences would be beyond dire. Technically, Harry knew how to apparate. Except he had no idea how his eleven-year-old body would react to that kind of magic, if it was even capable of it. And the last thing Harry wanted was to accidentally splinch himself all over England and explain what the hell happened to the Ministry when they came to put him back together.

So, Kreacher it was. House-elves had an uncanny sense of direction, could find almost any place they put their minds to, so Harry knew Kreacher would get him there.

“Just drop me in the cemetery,” Harry said as Kreacher grabbed hold of his arm. One quiet and pleasant pop later and they were standing in the fresh air surrounded by gravestones. “Thanks. I’ll call you when you can come pick me up.” Kreacher nodded in response and popped away again.

Harry inhaled a deep breath as he stared at the dilapidated manor house in the distance. Doubt set in once he took a moment to think about what he was doing. He was voluntarily visiting Voldemort, his prophesized enemy, the Dark Lord who’d done his very best in their past life to kill Harry once and for all. But this was also a new Voldemort with a complete soul and his memories of defeat. And, Harry reasoned, the sooner he reached some sort of understanding with his enemy, the better. Not to mention Harry was just plain curious what had become of Voldemort in this brave new world and when had Harry ever been able to deny his curiosity?

So he took another deep breath, gathered his Gryffindor courage and impulsivity and strolled towards the house, enjoying the warmth of an early morning in August. There were no wards stopping him from entering through the rusty gates and onto the neglected and overgrown manor grounds. He made it to the front door in one piece and knocked firmly.

A few minutes passed while Harry waited as patiently as possible while being consumed by anticipation and anxiety. Then the door creaked open and Barty Crouch Jr peered at him with squinty eyes, the wand in his hand pointed straight at Harry.

“Hi, Barty,” Harry said with a friendly smile. “I’ve come to visit the Dark Lord. Please let him know his soulmate is here to see him.” Harry just couldn’t help himself, and it was true after all. They shared a soul.

Barty looked a little as if he’d just been hit over the head with a rogue bludger. “Who the hell are you?”

Harry straightened his shoulders and widened his smile. “Oh, how rude of me. I’m Harry Potter.”

Now Barty looked as if he’d been hit by about a dozen bludgers, his round eyes staring at Harry in sheer disbelief.

“Let him in,” called a soft voice from within the house, and at once Harry ducked under Barty’s elbow and slipped inside the door. Sometimes being small had its advantages. He rushed into the direction the voice had come from, a room on the right, while Barty sputtered behind him as he closed the door with a slam.

“Potter... Potter! Give me your wand!” Barty demanded as he hurried after Harry, but Harry ignored him because there, in a wingback leather chair in the middle of a dusty reception room sat the Dark Lord embodying a small homunculus similar to the one he’d been in during their previous life. Though this one seemed a little less emaciated, a little more...complete, for lack of a better word. Voldemort stared at Harry with red eyes, wand in hand but resting in his lap.

“Voldemort,” Harry said with a little wave as he stopped a few feet in front of the Dark Lord.

“Potter.” Voldemort’s voice was soft, even a little raspy, not as high-pitched as it once had been.

“So how is that complete soul working for you?” Harry asked, since he’d never been one to beat around the bush. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Voldemort gave him an incredulous look. “You claim credit for turning this into a mere trinket?” he asked, his small hand reaching inside the neckline of his child-sized black robes. It came back holding a silver chain on which the Gaunt ring dangled. “I wonder how and when you managed such a thing, since all I remember is dying and waking up on the back of Quirrell’s head.”

“No, that’s not what happened,” Harry said, sinking down in one of the chairs standing opposite Voldemort’s, feeling strangely disappointed at Voldemort’s dismissal. “You don’t remember white King’s Cross Station? I made a deal with Death to put your soul back together and I spent ages looking for all the little Toms.”

“That was a dream,” Voldemort said, and then waved Barty, who was lingering near the door and staring at them as if he was seeing water burn, towards a chair. “That had to be a dream.”

“No dream.” Harry was terribly amused by the shocked expression on Voldemort’s face. “It was limbo and you were stuck there in pieces until I came along. Death was there, all living shadows.”

Voldemort shuddered for a brief moment. “If that was limbo, then you died in our duel as well. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been there.”

“No, I didn’t die during our duel. I died two months later.” Harry glanced to the side as rage consumed him. Beside him, Barty was sitting very still on the edge of his seat with the posture of a small child desperately trying not to be noticed by the adults around him lest he be sent from the room and miss out on hearing all the adult conversation he wasn’t supposed to hear in the first place but really wanted to listen to.

“I was betrayed,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

Voldemort’s lips quirked up in a small smile. “Do tell.”

Unable to contain the red-hot anger that suddenly coursed through him, Harry jumped up from his seat and started pacing the room. It was funny, not to mention ironic, that only now that Harry was surrounded by enemies did he feel he could unleash his emotions. So far he’d tried to bury all the anger and rage that came with the betrayal by only letting himself feel small bursts of pain from time to time. But now the emotional dam well and truly broke and Harry had to get all these feelings off his chest.

“I was at Hogwarts, helping to rebuild,” Harry said, staring straight ahead as he paced from left to right and back again. “Got a letter from Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister for Magic, asking me to stop by. Was ambushed by about ten thousand Aurors and spent a week alone in a cell without any explanation. Then they silenced me and put me on trial in front of a full Wizengamot.”

Harry inhaled a deep breath and tried to keep his hands from trembling without much success. “Dumbledore, that meddling old asshole had sent a letter to be delivered after your defeat, telling the Ministry to kill me because when you tried to kill me when I was a baby and got imploded a piece of your soul broke off and attached itself to me. Except Dumbledore had told me that horcrux could be destroyed by letting you hit me in the face with a killing curse and I’d be fine probably. But that motherfucker lied.”

Harry stopped pacing and stared at the other two occupant in the room. Barty’s mouth was hanging open but Voldemort was watching him with a carefully constructed blank expression.

“Because I was so young your soul piece merged with my own soul and they became one new soul, forever. And Dumbledore knew this the whole fucking time. So Kingsley summoned my friends –“ Harry’s voice broke and he had to stop talking for a moment to collect himself. He swallowed once, twice. “My friends, Ron and Hermione and Ginny, people I would have done anything for, would have died for, would have killed for, sat there in the Wizengamot and went along with everything Kingsley and Dumbledore were saying. They sold me out.”

Harry slowly sank back down in his chair, suddenly exhausted. “After that, the vast majority of the Wizengamot voted to kill me immediately. They just picked me up, dragged me to the Veil in the Department of Mysteries and chucked me through it like I was yesterday’s rubbish.”

“Wow,” Barty breathed as he finally remembered to close his mouth. “That is some tough luck.”

Voldemort’s expression turned quite constipated as he pressed a small fist against his lips. Soft, slow chuckles quickly turned into sharp laughter as the Dark Lord, murderer of many and ardent fan of torturing his followers, completely lost his composure. He bent double at the waist, laughing so loudly his whole body shook.

Harry gaped at him, previous anger and rage forgotten as he realized he’d never seen Voldemort display full on laughter before. And judging by Barty’s gobsmacked expression, neither had he.

Holding up a hand, Voldemort desperately tried to calm himself. “You know what that is called, Potter,” he managed to say in between snorts of laughter. “Karma.”

“That’s not how karma works,” Harry said, pointing an angry finger at Voldemort. “Just because I killed you doesn’t mean my number was suddenly up.” Voldemort kept laughing, though softer now. “Anyway,” Harry said loudly. “I ended up in limbo, again, and Death told me I could go back because I’m the Master of Death.”

Barty made a choking sound beside him, but Harry ignored him.

“But because I’m your horcrux forever and ever, you got to go back as well, memories intact, same as me. But I realized it was probably better if your soul was put together again so I collected you and Death glued you back together. And now, as long as I live you won’t die. And as Master of Death I won’t die unless I want to.” Harry gave Voldemort a very pointed look. “So, you’re welcome.”

Voldemort finally calmed down enough to sit back up completely and take a deep breath. “What do you expect of me, Potter? What conditions do you require I meet?”

“Er...”Harry was confused by those questions and looked from Voldemort to Barty and back.

“Certainly all of this is not without a price?” Voldemort said with a piercing look, expression slowly morphing into anger.

“Well,” Harry said, sitting forward and weaving his fingers together. There were so many things he wanted Voldemort to do differently this time, but he figured his best bet to start with was to stick to the big guns and save the little details for later. “If you could lay off the torturing and killing needlessly, that would be great. And you’re not allowed to mess up Hogwarts again. The Carrows are never allowed to teach again.”

“The Carrows as teachers,” Barty wondered out loud with a nervous laugh. “What would they even be able to teach?”

“The cruciatus curse and how to endure it, mostly,” Harry said with a grimace, glancing at Barty. While rebuilding Hogwarts Harry had heard some truly horrific stories about those two sadists from Neville and many others. He looked back at Voldemort. “And maybe if we could forget things like the muggleborn registration committee, that would be awesome.”

“We?” Voldemort sounded beyond amused and Harry felt his cheeks heat. “I’m not suddenly turning into an insipid Hufflepuff that runs a niffler sanctuary or some such nonsense. I still believe the wizarding world is a stagnant mess that needs change.”

“I agree,” Harry said at once, much to Voldemort’s obvious surprise. “But that change doesn’t need to be killing all muggleborns. We need new blood.”

Voldemort released a disbelieving snort.

“We do,” Harry insisted. “Think about it. Who are some of the most powerful magicals we know? You, me, Dumbledore, Snape. What do we all have in common?”

Brows furrowed, Voldemort considered that question. “We are all half-bloods.”

“Exactly. Adding new blood to stagnant pureblood lines makes for powerful witches and wizards.” Harry had discussed these issues at length with Hermione during the many months they’d spent living in a tent together, on the run from about the whole world. There was only so much one could do besides reading and playing endless games of chess, and Harry quickly learned that debating these kind of subjects, thinking up ways to improve the wizarding world, was kind of fun. And even though these days thinking about Hermione filled him with anger and hurt, that didn’t mean the ideas they’d come up with during their many, many talks weren’t good ones. Harry was determined to slowly but surely mention them to Voldemort.

“This might be the case, but muggles form a very real threat to our society.” Voldemort stroked his hand across his chin. “Though I suppose we can also contain muggleborns and their muggle families with stronger secrecy spells and magical vows or contracts.”

Smiling, Harry sat back in his chair, beyond happy to see this new version of Voldemort was capable of reasoning and compromise. The old one would have started tossing the cruciatus curse around a minute into their conversation. “I’m sure we can work things out that makes us all happy. I want you to change our world. I wouldn’t have brought you back with me if I didn’t. I’d just like to see it done smarter, without as much bloodshed.”

Voldemort nodded thoughtfully. “The losses we endured and inflicted the last time were quite unacceptable, in hindsight.” Well, would wonders never cease, Harry thought, feeling better and better by the second that he’d gotten Voldemort his second chance with his soul intact.

“Potter,” Barty asked, apparently unable to contain his innate curiosity any longer. “What are you planning on doing with your second chance?”

“A few things,” Harry said with confidence and then had to think what those things actually were. So far he’d spent a lot of time taking care of small, practical things that made his life easier but as far as long-term goals were concerned Harry came up short. Except one, very obvious goal. “I want Dumbledore to pay, but I’m still working out how to go about that,” Harry said, and since he couldn’t think of anything else he added, “and I’m going to be a Ravenclaw this time around.”

“No, you’re not,” Voldemort interrupted him. “All this you’re doing, Potter, is fuelled by ambition. The Sorting Hat will never go for Ravenclaw. It’s going to put you straight into Slytherin.”

Harry considered that for a moment. “But I’m reading a lot so I could definitely be a Ravenclaw.” He looked at Barty the Ravenclaw for a little support, but Barty was looking rather dubious as well.

“Not to mention the way you stormed in here was pure Gryffindor,” Barty pointed out.

Harry sighed but before he could say something Winky popped into the room holding a tray with a full tea service. Harry almost greeted her until he remembered this Winky had no clue who he was so he kept his mouth shut.

“You is talking so long Winky is thinking you be needing tea.” Winky served them all cups of tea and insisted Harry take a chocolate biscuit.

“Thanks, Winky,” Barty said, nibbling a biscuit of his own. Even the Dark Lord hadn’t escaped the house-elf’s attentions and he dipped his biscuit in his tea before eating it.

Harry enjoyed the small treat, thinking about what else they needed to discuss as he chewed. Though judging by how well this meeting was going, Harry could see further meetings happening in the future. “Are you planning to do the same ritual as before to get your body back? Do you need my blood?”

Barty immediately went into scholarly mode as he started muttering some calculations that Harry thought might be arithmancy. “Adding blood willingly given from an enemy turned ally would strengthen the ritual significantly, my Lord.”

“Hmm.” Voldemort gave Harry a considering look. “Are you my ally, Harry Potter?”

Was he? Harry frowned as he considered his options. At the very least he wanted a cease fire between himself and the Dark Lord while each did their own thing and so far that seemed achievable. But to be an ally, that was an option that required closer interaction between them both. Question was, could they work together without killing each other? Only one way to find out. “Well, I’m no longer your enemy, and it’s way too early to consider you a friend, so I guess ally works.” Harry sipped his tea. “Don’t you want the Philosopher’s stone anymore?” At Barty’s sharp intake of breath, Harry added, “Last time it was hidden at Hogwarts and he tried to steal it, but I stopped him.”

“Yes, curious how a first year made it through Dumbledore’s little obstacle course so easily. Or why Dumbledore deemed all these silly challenges necessary in the first place when a simple fidelius charm would have provided all the security necessary at the Flamel’s home.” Voldemort took a rather long, pointed sip of his tea while his red gaze never left Harry.

“Yeah, I know, I was an idiot who let Dumbledore manipulate me into his perfect little sacrificial lamb,” Harry said with a heavy sigh. This was something he’d spent a pretty significant amount of time pondering these last few weeks, how Dumbledore had played him for a fool his entire life. “But in my defence, I was an abused eleven-year-old, completely overwhelmed by my position in this new world I only just learned I was a part of, and desperate for friends and positive reinforcement from adults. Dumbledore knew exactly what he was doing and I didn’t stand a chance.”

“Abused?” Barty asked with wide eyes.

Bugger. Harry hadn’t meant to let that slip out, but it felt so good to talk about these new developments with people in the know that he was letting his guard down a little more than was good for him. “It’s fine, my relatives are bastards who hardly fed me and kept me locked in a cupboard for most of my childhood. But this time around I’ve bribed them into feeding me and leaving me alone.”

“Interesting,” Voldemort said with a tilt of his head. “Severus always claimed you were raised as royalty and spoiled rotten.”

Harry released a harsh laugh. “Severus Snape has never, ever actually seen me. All he’s ever seen is James Junior. The man was in my fucking head during our Occlumency lessons, he saw what the Dursleys did to me, and he still claimed they spoiled me? That man is wilfully blind.” Then Harry remembered and he added in a softer voice, “I’m guessing you’ll want revenge on Snape for his betrayal, right?”

“I’m considering it,” Voldemort replied in the sort of tone that meant he definitely wanted to rip Snape apart with his bare hands.

Yeah, Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He’d never liked Snape, but the man had given his life to help them win the war. Then again, to Voldemort, Snape was a traitor and nowadays Harry had intimate knowledge what it felt like to be betrayed so could he really blame Voldemort for wanting a little revenge? But Snape had been useful and perhaps could be useful again. “I wouldn’t kill him if I were you.” Harry held up his hand as Voldemort was about to open his mouth. “Listen. Use him. Dumbledore trusts Snape as much as he trusts anyone. You could feed all the bullshit you wanted to Snape and the old man would buy it.”

“That is an option,” Voldemort conceded as he finished his tea.

“Oh, and I just realized we already have a way to get rid of Dumbledore,” Harry said, pleased to have thought of it. “Dumbledore still believes you have horcruxes so he’ll look for them.” Harry gestured at the ring around Voldemort’s neck. “Last time the curse on that ring did him in, slowly and painfully, because he couldn’t resist the Resurrection Stone. Put an exact replica of that ring back in the shack with that curse and Dumbledore will snap that trap shut eventually.”

A slow smile spread across Voldemort’s face. “That is an excellent plan, Potter. Talking about Dumbledore... how is your Occlumency these days? It wouldn’t help either of us if the old man could get into your head.”

“Yeah, my Occlumency is shit,” Harry admitted, much to his everlasting shame. “I’ve been reading books about it and practicing what I can and meditating for hours but it’s still shit.”

“Come here and kneel.” Voldemort waved him closer with an impatient hand. “I’ll protect your mind with a temporary shield. It should last around six months, so we’ll have to renew it during the Christmas holidays but it will keep the old man out.”

Slowly, a little warily, Harry got up and kneeled down in front of Voldemort. He wasn’t sure about letting Voldemort root around in his mind, but he needed help. It was only a few more weeks until the first of September and there was no way Harry was going to become proficient enough at Occlumency in that time to keep the headmaster or Snape out. And he had far too many secrets to protect this time around.

“Look into my eyes,” Voldemort instructed him as he leaned closer. “Do not look away. It shouldn’t be painful but you will feel some pressure.”

Harry sat perfectly still as he experienced the bizarre sensation of someone else moving his memories around, trying to organize some of the chaos in Harry’s head. It wasn’t painful, Voldemort hadn’t lied about that, but it was still an utterly weird sensation. Finally Voldemort pulled out of Harry’s mind with something that felt like a mental twist and Harry was alone in his head again.

“There, done,” Voldemort said, leaning back in his chair. “If we are to be allies, Potter, you will need to practice and learn Occlumency. We’ll also need a secure method of communication for when you’re at Hogwarts. I will think of something.” Voldemort closed his eyes for several moments. “I tire easily in this state, so I’ll have to cut this meeting short.”

Harry, who had been about to sit down in his chair again, shot up. “Yeah, okay. Thanks for the talk.” Voldemort was looking a little peaky, but Harry couldn’t help feeling disappointed that the meeting was over already. Who knew having tea with your enemy would be the most fun Harry had since he started his second chance.

“Barty will see you out.” A small smile played around Voldemort’s lips as he stared at Harry. “Potter, come back next week.”

Chapter Text

“What’s it like to die?” Barty asked during Harry’s third and final visit. The next day Harry was off to Hogwarts.

Harry smiled at Barty over the chess set on the coffee table between them. “The first time I died –“

“Wait, the first time? How many times have you died?” Barty demanded, putting the pawn he’d been about to move down again.

“I’ve died twice,” Harry said with a fond smile. During their brief acquaintance Harry had learned that Barty was a true Ravenclaw who wanted to know everything. He had a curiosity problem that rivalled Harry’s. “The first time I let Voldemort hit me in the face with a killing curse-“

“I did not hit you in the face, Potter,” Voldemort said with a glare directed at Harry. He sat in his customary chair, watching them play chess while he put the finishing touches on some enchanted silver compact mirrors they could use for communication. “I hit you square in the chest. Always aim at the biggest part of your target.”

“Anyway,” Harry continued. “I was hit with a killing curse somewhere on my body and it was the quickest, nicest way to die all things considered. No pain, no fear, just poof, you’re dead.”

“Huh,” Barty said, finally moving his pawn forward. “People have theorized this for ages but no one could actually prove that is was quick and without pain.”

“Until now when there’s two people that have first-hand experience.” Harry looked to the side. “Right, Tom?” Harry had called him by his real name once or twice just to see how he reacted. The old Voldemort hated it and would resort to throwing curses in response.

The new and improved version merely sighed. “Don’t call me that,” Voldemort said while giving Harry an exasperated look as though he knew exactly what Harry was doing. “But yes, the killing curse is as advertised, painless and instantaneous.”

“Now the Veil was different,” Harry explained to a riveted Barty. “The fabric doesn’t actually feel like fabric, but like this freezing burst of wind that swallows you up. Everything is dark immediately, but you realize it’s dark, you’re still conscious for that for a moment. And then everything is white and you’re in limbo.”

“It makes you wonder where your body went,” Barty mused. “What happened to it outside of limbo somewhere.”

“Right? I have wondered about my body. It wasn’t anywhere in limbo where I could see it.” Harry studied the chessboard for a moment and moved his rook. He was losing. Badly. “Now you, or at least the previous you, knows what it’s like to be kissed by a dementor.”

“Potter,” Voldemort snapped as Barty paled drastically and looked ready to be sick all over the chess board. “Quit traumatizing my assistant.”

“Sorry,” Harry muttered. He hadn’t meant to upset Barty. “If it makes you feel better, you were a pretty good Defence teacher, and you once turned Draco Malfoy into a white ferret and then bounced him all over the entrance hall which remains one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen.”

Barty gave a watery chuckle. “If that boy is anything like his father he probably needed to be taken down a peg or two.”

“Exactly,” Harry said with a laugh, glad to see Barty recovering so quickly. “Before I forget, when are you planning to do the ritual, and do you need me there?” Harry had already donated a few vials of blood to Voldemort.

“Samhain,” Voldemort said, waving his wand over one of the mirrors in his lap in a repeating pattern. “Your voluntary attendance would strengthen the ritual.”

“I can probably sneak out and join you, but not until after the Halloween feast. If I’m not at the feast and you suddenly come back during that time, Dumbledore probably would get suspicious.”

“I wasn’t planning to announce my return or call my followers like I did last time.”

Harry thought about that for a second. “All right, but Snape will probably still feel you return, right? And he will tell the old man.”

“Severus will feel a mild burn for a moment but without a summoning he will have no evidence what happened,” Voldemort said with a satisfied little smile.

“Are you going to keep your old identity?” Harry asked. He’d spent a few hours in bed before falling asleep planning out Voldemort’s new life just to amuse himself, so he had lots of ideas. “You could go with a whole new identity so Dumbledore won’t see you coming. Or you could become your own son. That way they can never prosecute you for any previous crimes, but you can still keep the Slytherin connection and you’d drive the old man up the wall.”

“And you would be fine with that? If I escaped justice?” Voldemort gave Harry an almost challenging look. “I murdered your parents, Potter, or have you forgotten?”

“No, I haven’t forgotten,” Harry said and inhaled a deep breath. He had considered these things since his first meeting with Voldemort and he had briefly felt guilty for denying his parents and all the other victims of the Dark Lord justice, but then he remembered how the majority of the wizarding world had agreed with his own execution within minutes and suddenly he didn’t care very much anymore. “In my book, we’re square. I got my justice or revenge or whatever you want to call it in our previous life. This life, we’re in it together, not just because we share a soul but because we have a common enemy who wants us both dead. And I think my parents would want me to stay alive more than they’d want revenge on you.”

Voldemort stared down at the mirrors in his lap, contemplating Harry’s response. “So, in essence, you want this to be a fresh start for both of us, and leave any and all conflict between us in our past life.”

“Yes,” Harry said with a decisive nod.

“That’s very mature of you,” Barty said with an impressed look.

“I might look it, but I’m not actually eleven. I’m eighteen.”

“Oh, believe me, I know. You’re going to have to tone down your maturity at Hogwarts or people will notice.” Barty moved his knight. “Also, checkmate.”

“What?” Harry demanded as he stared at the chessboard in disbelief. Chess just wasn’t his game. Never had been, never would be.

“These are done,” Voldemort said, handing both Barty and Harry a mirror while keeping one for himself. “Barty, to activate yours hold it against your mark. Potter, yours activates by telling it to in parseltongue. Then say the name of who you wish to speak to and the mirrors will connect. On the other side the mirror will emit a soft glow and grow warm. Keep the mirror in your pocket and you won’t miss a call. This way we can arrange further meetings, and your attendance at the ritual on Samhain.”

“Awesome, thanks,” Harry said, admiring the small runic arrays engraved in the silver housing. “Quirrell isn’t going to unleash a troll again on Halloween, is he?”

“Quirrell has been instructed to teach properly and to report the goings on at the castle to me, nothing more.”

“Nothing more?” Harry perked up, getting an amazing idea. “So you don’t mind if I steal the Philosopher’s Stone, do you?”

Before Voldemort could reply, Barty spoke up. “If it’s not a fake.” When both Harry and Voldemort looked at him in mild shock and disbelief, he added, “Neither one of you has considered this before? Really? Because that would be a perfect trap. Spread the rumour the real stone is at Hogwarts, hide a fake stone there and you can wait for the trap to close without worrying the real stone might fall in the wrong hands.”

“Huh,” Harry said, impressed Barty had come up with that, seeing as it had never occurred to him or anyone he knew. “Only one way to find out. I’m going to steal it.”

“Have fun,” Voldemort said in a deadpan tone. “Don’t get caught.”

“Of course not, I have planned this.” Harry leaned forward with a grin. “I’m going to play the part of... actually I’m going to act like Tom Riddle.”

“Ah, yes,” Voldemort muttered. “Because that won’t arouse the old man’s suspicions at all.”

“No, not like creepy, scary Dark Lord Tom Riddle,” Harry insisted. He’d thought about his behaviour at Hogwarts a million times. He had planned it for real. “Like intelligent, helpful Tom Riddle, except without the blood prejudice.”

“My point still stands,” Voldemort said with a tired look. “The old man will be suspicious if you act even remotely like me.”

“To be fair,” Barty said quietly, as if unsure if his thoughts would be welcome. “Given that Dumbledore knows you house a piece of our Lord’s soul, he will be suspicious no matter what you do or where you are sorted.”

“Slytherin,” Voldemort couldn’t help but comment, immediately followed by Barty’s, “Gryffindor.”

“Ravenclaw,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes briefly at his companions to drive his point home. He was going to be a Ravenclaw, dammit. “But you’re right, Barty, so I’ve decided to focus on the students, to make connections across House boundaries without prejudice. Be kind and helpful, present myself as an intelligent, mature young man with a passion for studying. And Quidditch, because I’m still going to be playing since I love it.”

“Bugger,” Barty said as he shared a pointed glance with Voldemort. “All that networking...he is going to be a Slytherin, isn’t he?”

“Hm.” Voldemort leaned back in his chair with an amused little smile. Harry sighed. They spent another fifteen minutes chatting and bantering until Voldemort grew too tired and Harry said his goodbyes.

Outside the house, Harry called for Kreacher who popped them both back to Grimmauld Place where there was a surprise waiting for him in the form of a pile of books in the middle of the drawing room. There were probably 150 to 200 of them.

“These are being Master Regulus’ schoolbooks, all the ones he’s been using for his school years,” Kreacher explained as Harry stared at the pile with his mouth hanging open. “They is catching dust in the house, so now the little Master can be using them.”

Up until that point, ever since the betrayal that ripped his life apart, ever since dying again, ever since making peace with Voldemort, Harry hadn’t shed a single tear. And yet, as he stared at the pile of books and the house-elf standing beside it looking at him in anticipation and hope, the floodgates opened and Harry released a strangled sob. He tried to bite back the noise, squeezed his eyes shut to stem the flow of tears, but he couldn’t stop it. He sank to the floor, face buried in his hands as he cried in heaving sobs and he didn’t even understand why it was happening.

It felt like everything that had happened, the second chance, the betrayal, but also everything before that, the final battle, so many dead and so many hurt, Snape and Fred dying before his eyes, Dobby dying in his arms, being captured and being on the run, and just everything, everything was suddenly too much and bubbled over and forced itself out and out, and Harry crumbled in an avalanche of tears and choked sobs.

Two spindly arms wound around his shoulders. “You is being a good little Master and Kreacher is being glad to serve you.”

“Thanks,” Harry hiccupped, accepting the handkerchief Kreacher conjured for him. “You are the best elf and I’m happy you’re my friend.” Kreacher kept his arms around him as the sobs slowly subsided and Harry wiped his face dry with the handkerchief. He had no words how grateful he was for Kreacher. It was hard to imagine now that when they first met, Harry had hated the creepy old elf and that feeling was entirely mutual. But now, Kreacher was as happy to have found a kind new Master as Harry was to have found a helpful elf. House-elves were social beings that preferred to keep busy with work to feel useful. In his previous life, Kreacher spent about a decade alone after Walburga’s death with only Regulus’ unfulfilled last order to keep him company. How lonely the elf must have been. No wonder this time he jumped at the chance when a potential new master presented himself.

“I’ll write to you when I’m at Hogwarts,” Harry promised when his tears had finally dried up. “And I’ll call you to come help me with at least one project, but probably more.”

“Kreacher will come and be helping the little Master.”

Harry took his time loading up the books in his trunk and checking out all the titles. There were books on all sorts of subjects. The classes taught at Hogwarts, naturally, but also subjects like enchanting, warding and spell-crafting and Harry was looking forward to reading them all. No matter what Voldemort claimed, Harry would make an excellent Ravenclaw these days. Harry’s newfound love for reading had started a year ago during their stay in the tent. There was only so many times Harry could take being beaten at chess by Ron before he went bonkers so he’d taken to reading some of the many books Hermione had packed. First to research horcruxes but soon because he realised that reading books meant learning new magic and he had plenty of time to practise magic all day long. It seemed like a silly thing that Harry had never before realized there were actual practical spells to learn from books, seeing as he’d spent six years in a school of magic, but Harry blamed first the Dursleys for that, for having punished him if he so much as looked at a book with interest or if he had a decent rapport card, and later Ron and his lacklustre studying habits had rubbed off on Harry. Who wanted to read boring books when there was Quidditch to be played and rule-breaking adventures to be had. Nowadays Harry was just glad he’d matured enough to have realized reading books and learning new magic were good things that improved his overall life and dramatically increased his chances of survival when there were people around who wanted him dead.

Kreacher popped his trunk to his bedroom as Harry had opted to stay at Grimmauld Place the night before going to Hogwarts. The Knight Bus would be insanely busy and crowded the morning of September first and Harry didn’t want to ask the Dursleys to drive him. And Harry knew from experience it was an easy walk to King’s Cross station from Grimmauld Place.

Harry walked into the bathroom adjacent his bedroom and splashed some water in his face. He hadn’t needn’t his glasses since a week ago and the evening before Harry had used the eye potion for the last time, very happy with the results. But as he studied his reflection Harry was disappointed to see he still resembled his father a great deal, even without the glasses. It wasn’t so much his face, though the shape of it and his eyebrows was all James Potter while his nose and mouth much closer resembled his mother. It was the unruly hair that made anyone think of James the moment they saw him. And as much as Harry loved his parents, he wanted people to see him as his own person and not a copy of his father with all the expectations that came with that.

“Kreacher.” Harry handed the elf a handful of Galleons. “Please get me some hair growing potion and some hair ties from Diagon Alley.”

Kreacher popped away and returned in minutes, holding a bottle and a little satchel filled with soft, black hair ties.

“Thanks,” Harry said, barely glanced at the instructions on the bottle and took a big gulp. Immediately his scalp started itching like crazy and Harry watched his reflection in astonishment as his hair grew and grew until it reached well beyond his butt.

Kreacher released a snort and quickly bowed his head to hide his amusement.

“Please tell me you know how to cut hair,” Harry said with a fond smile. A few flicks of Kreacher’s fingers later and Harry’s hair just touched his shoulders and he could easily pull it in a ponytail. It would take some getting used to, but when admiring his new hairdo in the mirror Harry was pleased to note the immediate resemblance to James Potter had lessened significantly. The only downside was that his scar was on full display with his hair pulled back, but Harry figured he could live with that. It’s not like he was trying to hide who he was once he started school.

Harry enjoyed an amazing dinner of pan-fried duck breast with asparagus and roasted potatoes, followed by a big slice of treacle tart, and after one more cup of tea he turned in for the night, full of nervous anticipation for his upcoming trip on the Hogwarts Express.

After a long shower and a luxurious breakfast of poached eggs, freshly sliced fruit and croissants, Kreacher handed him a packed lunch, hugged his legs and sent him on his way. Harry had released Hedwig the previous evening with instructions to fly to Hogwarts so she wouldn’t have to sit in a cramped cage all day. His trunk was in his pocket and Harry only carried Regulus’ leather book bag containing a few books, robes to put on over his trousers and shirt when they got to Hogwarts and his lunch.

The walk to the station was pleasant enough and Harry was happy to stretch his legs before having to sit down for the rest of the day. He got to the station at just after ten and without a big trunk to weigh him down it was easy to slip unnoticed through the barrier. The platform wasn’t too crowded yet, though there were plenty of families milling about. Nobody took notice of Harry, which gave Harry the opportunity to look for certain people. Some to meet and some to avoid.

Hermione’s parents were just leaving the platform so Hermione was already on the train. Definitely an avoid right there. Harry was pleased to see a hat with a stuffed vulture above the heads of others. Now to find Neville and arrange a meeting. Harry hadn’t forgotten Neville was the only one who had loudly objected during his trial, and Harry was determined to become his friend from the start this time around. He found Neville struggling to get his trunk on the train and since Harry had his hands free he grabbed hold of the trunk to help him.

“Thank you,” Neville whispered, giving Harry a wide-eyed look.

“First year, right? Want to find a compartment together?” When Neville nodded Harry led the way through the carriage. He spotted Hermione sitting in an otherwise empty compartment but he breezed past it. “I think I see an empty one up ahead,” he told Neville over his shoulder.

He waved Neville inside their compartment and while Neville was busy storing his trunk, Harry got his wand out and cast a silent notice-me-not charm on the door. He was hoping for a quiet train ride without interruptions from unwelcome elements like Ron and Draco so he could lay the foundation for his friendship with Neville.

“I’m Harry, by the way,” Harry said once they sat down opposite each other. “Harry Potter.”

Neville gaped at him for three seconds and then he remembered his manners. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Neville Longbottom.”

“Longbottom?” Harry frowned, pretending to think. “I’m pretty sure my aunt mentioned my parents being friends with a pair of Longbottoms.”

It was one of the strategies Harry had decided on because he realized there was no way he wasn’t going to slip up sooner or later and mention someone or something he shouldn’t know about as a muggle-raised eleven-year-old. But who was to say Lily hadn’t kept her beloved muggle sister Petunia up to date on the happenings in the wizarding world. And Petunia, amazing aunt that she was, had shared all these details with her sweet little nephew. So whenever Harry needed to conveniently be aware of something magical, from now on Petunia was getting the blame. After all, not even Mrs Figg knew what was or wasn’t discussed at the Dursleys’ behind closed doors.

“Yeah, those were probably my parents,” Neville said with a slightly pained grimace.

“I’m sorry for what happened to them.” Harry leaned forward in a show of sympathy. “They were good and brave people.”

“Thank you.” Neville managed a small, slightly surprised, smile. “Your parents were the same.”

“Thanks,” Harry said as he sat back again. He deliberately brought up Neville’s parent so soon because he wanted Neville to know he knew his secrets and he would keep them. Besides, they were both kids who had grown up without their parents and Harry wanted to draw attention to their similarities. “So what House do you think you’re going to be in?”

“Oh.” Neville shifted a little, clearly torn about the subject. “My gran wants me in Gryffindor, but I’ll probably end up in Hufflepuff.”

“And what’s wrong with Hufflepuff? Badgers are ferocious little things.” Harry grinned at Neville’s baffled expression.

“There’s nothing wrong with Hufflepuff, I agree,” Neville said quickly, obviously worried he might have insulted Harry somehow. “What about you?”

“I’m hoping for Ravenclaw. I love learning. But I have it on good authority I’d also make an excellent Gryffindor or Slytherin, so we’ll see where I end up.”

“Slytherin?” Neville whispered, shocked. “But You Know Who was in Slytherin.”

“And? The man who betrayed my parents and me to Voldemort was a Gryffindor. There’s rotten apples in all Houses as far as I’m concerned. Same with good people, you can find a few in any House.” Harry shrugged, trying to appear unconcerned but meanwhile carefully monitoring Neville’s reaction. Harry wanted to establish right from the start that he was the kind of person who saw beyond House boundaries.

Neville was quiet for a moment, frowning as he mulled over Harry’s response. “You’re right I guess. What classes are you looking forward to?”

And they were off chatting about the things they were interested in. Harry barely noticed as the train pulled out of the station. A while later Neville produced some cards and taught him how to play exploding snap. Once the trolley lady passed by their compartment Harry quickly opened the door to order some chocolate frogs and liquorice wands while Neville got some chocolate frogs and sugar quills for himself. Both had a few chocolates and compared cards and saved the rest as a treat for when they were at school. Harry and Neville, who also had a packed lunch probably courtesy of a Longbottom house-elf, shared the food between them, trying some things the other had brought.

Draco marched up and down the corridor a few times, clearly looking for Harry, and surprisingly Ron also appeared a time or two. But thanks to Harry’s spell work neither noticed their compartment and Harry and Neville had a very quiet and pleasant trip.

“Hey, Neville,” Harry said as they were pulling on their robes when they were nearing Hogsmeade station. “Let’s promise to stay friends, no matter where we are sorted.”

Neville’s smile started shy but quickly grew brighter. “Yeah, I would like that.”

Harry resized his trunk and left it in the compartment lest the elves get confused when they couldn’t find his, and then he and Neville were swept out of the train amidst the throng of other students. Hagrid called for the first years and Harry ignored him as he and Neville made their way to the boats. He’d never met Hagrid in this life, after all. They managed to snag a boat with Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot and Harry was quick to introduce himself and Neville. Susan Bones especially was an incredibly good ally to have what with her aunt Amelia Bones being the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry made sure to mention he was hoping there would be study groups and if there weren’t he’d start one. Not only did it make him look like a Ravenclaw, but it gave him an excuse to invite these girls to join his group later.

The trip across the lake was impressive and Harry’s heart constricted for a moment as he looked at Hogwarts in all her glory, untouched by the ravishes of battle. The boat beside them held Hermione, who couldn’t stop talking about everything she had read, Ron, who couldn’t stop complaining about Hermione, Daphne Greengrass, who looked three seconds away from hexing them both and Blaise Zabini, who had clearly mastered the art of simultaneously looking very unimpressed and obviously amused.

Harry shared a look with Neville, who had also noticed the noise coming from the other boat, and they both stifled some laughs. Seeing Ron and Hermione, young as they were, did things to Harry. There was a nostalgic longing for the times when everything was great between them when they’d been the best of friends, and there was a seething and sharp need for vengeance for the pain they’d caused him. But Harry had decided weeks ago he wasn’t going to actively seek revenge on his former friends, mainly because they hadn’t done anything to him yet and Harry wasn’t about to hurt two eleven-year-olds just to make himself feel better. He wasn’t that kind of person. But he was going to get a little bit of revenge in a small way by ignoring them. After all, both Ron and Hermione had formed their previous identities around being Harry Potter’s best friend. And the only reason they’d even become friends with each other was because of Harry.

Without Harry, it was entirely possible their futures would be far less bright than they had been the first time around. Hermione had an incredibly abrasive and domineering personality and very few social skills, especially when she was this young, and she did not get on with Lavender and Parvati, her roommates, mainly because she believed herself better than them. She’d be stuck in a House where all her best attributes, her intelligence and work ethic, would be seen as a negative instead of a positive trait. The chances of her making any friends on her own in the next few years were very slim.

And Ron with his crippling insecurities and lacking any motivation to rise above his older brothers by his own means, to work for improving himself and his circumstances. What chance did he have of getting any sort of decent grades without Hermione breathing down his neck? Ron lacked what made his brothers great. Bill’s magical talents and Charlie’s and Percy’s ambition and the twins’ intelligence. What future would he have without Kingsley offering him his dream job on a silver platter? Without Harry and their adventures, the future for Ron looked to be a desk job at the Ministry, perhaps even in Arthur Weasley’s own office arranged by Arthur himself by calling in some favours.

Yeah, Harry knew that ignoring Ron and Hermione, excluding them from whatever social circles Harry would be building and maintaining, would be vengeance enough.

The trip across the lake ended soon enough and Harry followed Neville inside the entrance hall. Harry hung back a little, presenting his profile to the other students so they wouldn’t notice his scar. Some kids were looking around for him, Draco asking a very confused Dean Thomas if he’d seen Harry Potter because he was supposed to be in their year. But they were expecting a miniature James Potter with glasses and Harry was very glad he’d gone through the trouble of fixing his eyes. Neville noticed Harry’s reluctance to be recognized and played along by positioning himself in front of Harry, blocking him a little from view.

The ghosts did their little introduction and then McGonagall gave her little speech and then finally they were allowed into the Great Hall. Harry didn’t have to pretend too hard to be amazed by what he was seeing. The last time he’d seen the Great Hall it was still in shambles. Just seeing it whole again brought a smile to Harry’s face.

The sorting began and there were no changes from the first time. Hermione went to Gryffindor, and so did Neville. Harry wasn’t surprised. He knew Neville would grow up to be the kind of young man who defied Voldemort to his face, decapitated an enormous venomous snake and later shouted his objections at the whole Wizengamot. He was a Gryffindor through and through. Harry applauded extra hard for him.

Before long Harry’s name was called and Harry ignored all the excited voices around him as he sat down on the little stool and the hat was dropped on his head.

“Now what do we have here,” the hat said in his head. “This isn’t the first time you’ve sat under me and you did very well in Gryffindor, but after the betrayal you suffered it’s no longer the House for you.”

“Ravenclaw, Ravenclaw, Ravenclaw,” Harry thought with all his might.

The hat chuckled dustily. “Just because you have learned, Mr Potter, that reading a book once in a while isn’t the end of the world doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a Ravenclaw. With all your current ambitions and your manipulations of your friends there is only one place for you.”

“Oh, come on.” Harry could see where this was going and he didn’t like it one bit. “If you sort me there Dumbledore will never trust me again.”

“Mr Potter, no matter where I sort you, the headmaster will never trust you knowing what he knows about your soul.”

“How about Hufflepuff?” Harry tried, feeling rather desperate now.

“Those poor badgers wouldn’t survive you and your schemes. No, Mr Potter, your new friend was quite right. You belong in... SLYTHERIN.”

Well, fuck.

Voldemort was going to be absolutely insufferable about this, wasn’t he?

Chapter Text

Three soft claps echoed through the otherwise silent hall. It was Neville, who quickly stopped clapping when he realized he was the only one applauding. Handing the hat back to McGonagall, Harry hopped off the stool and smiled up at his former Head of House, who looked rather like Harry had just smacked her in the face with a dead mackerel. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen her look quite so gobsmacked before. He gave Neville a little wave and a shrug, as if to say ‘what can you do about that silly old sorting hat’, and then he walked towards the Slytherin table as if he wasn’t at all upset with his sorting. He ducked his head a little, pretending to be a little overwhelmed by everyone’s quiet attention and he quickly sat down beside Theodore Nott and opposite Pansy Parkinson.

McGonagall finally snapped out of it and called the next student. Harry offered his fellow Slytherins a warm smile and then pretended to watch the Sorting while he really used the opportunity to look at the teachers and see how they were faring.

Snape’s eyes were narrowed, mouth pinched, as if he was convinced that Harry’s sorting was just one big prank he had thought up. No surprises there. Beside him sat Quirrell, without a turban, but also without any hair on his head. Harry wasn’t sure if the man had always been bald or not, or if it was a consequence of having hosted Voldemort for a brief time. Other than that, Quirrell looked healthy and whole and he wasn’t paying Harry any attention.

Dumbledore bore a genial smile but his blue gaze was sharp as he stared at Harry. Smiling back, Harry kept his expression friendly and his body language a little shy and after a few seconds diverted his attention back to the sorting where Ron was sent off to Gryffindor. Soon after Blaise Zabini slid into the seat beside Harry and Dumbledore got to his feet to announce dinner in his own ridiculous way. Food appeared and students started chattering while they piled their plates high with the many delicious dishes.

“This must be a shock, Potter,” Malfoy said from where he sat beside Parkinson. “You must be disappointed to find yourself a Slytherin.”

“Why?” Harry replied pleasantly as he reached for the plate of sausages to serve himself one. “I heard Slytherin is the greatest of all Hogwarts Houses. Are you claiming it isn’t?”

Malfoy sputtered as his cheeks burned red. “No, of course I’m not saying that.”

“Then I don’t see the problem,” Harry said, helping himself to some mashed potatoes. Next to him both Zabini and Nott took sips of pumpkin juice to hide their amused smiles.

“But your parents were Gryffindors,” Parkinson said, her upturned nose wrinkled as if talking to Harry somehow disgusted her.

“And I never knew my parents so I don’t see why that matters. I’m my own person.” Harry shrugged and took a bite of potatoes. They were good, but not as good as Kreacher’s. “I thought I might end up in Ravenclaw since I love learning,” he added after he swallowed. “But the hat decided this suited me better so here I am, same as you.”

“What subjects are you interested in?” Nott asked him. He had a soft voice and quiet demeanour and Harry didn’t think he’d ever exchanged a single word with him during his previous life. Or had ever heard him speak at all for that matter.

“Lots to be honest.” Harry sipped his pumpkin juice, glad he got the opportunity to present himself as a studious, eager student right from the start. He still planned to use a study group to make allies across all Houses, his surprise Slytherin sorting hadn’t changed that. “Defence, transfiguration, charms, definitely those three. But I’ve also been reading about runes, warding and enchanting and they seem really interesting as well.”

“You weren’t lying when you said you could have been a Ravenclaw,” Zabini said, looking a little impressed, and Harry used that opening to plant some seeds.

“Oh yeah, I want to learn as much magic as I can. I’m not sure I’ll be any good at all subjects, though, so I hope there will be study groups. What are you two looking forward to?”

“Potions,” Zabini said, followed by Nott’s, “Charms.”

Harry looked further up the table and Daphne Greengrass caught his eye and offered him a tentative smile. “I’m looking forward to runes as well,” she said. “My mother is a Runes Mistress.”

“Oh?” Harry perked up at once, which earned him a snort from Zabini and a chuckle from Nott. “What books does she recommend for beginners?”

“I’ll give you some titles later,” Greengrass said and returned to her dinner.

Across from him Parkinson was still looking as if she smelled something foul and Malfoy’s expression could probably best be described as complicated. He looked as if he wanted to join the conversation more than anything while also wanting to insult Harry for daring to be sorted in his House.

Harry kept his own expression friendly and open and reminded himself that these were all children. Just a bunch of eleven-year-olds whose political opinions were largely their parents’. They would all grow into their own at some point or another and Harry had years to steer them away from prejudice and towards a more balanced worldview. “So,” he said while catching Malfoy’s gaze. “What’s everyone’s favourite Quidditch team?”

And Malfoy was off proclaiming the Falmouth Falcons as the best Quidditch League team, though he was quickly drowned out by Tracy Davis’ passionate speech of why the Wimbourne Wasps deserved to win the league that year. They spent the rest of dinner talking Quidditch, with all of the first-years chiming in at some point or another, even Parkinson who seemed a closeted Puddlemere United fan. Harry chose the Tutshill Tornadoes as his team, mostly because none of the other students supported it and this way he could join in the bantering.

Dinner was over before they knew it and Harry was convinced he’d started off with a good foundation to build his new personality on. Friendly, smart, eager to learn magic, happy to socialize with his fellow students and debate important things like Quidditch. He was sure some of the professors watching him, like Snape and Dumbledore, would have gotten that impression as well.

Dumbledore held his speech, warning the students about the third floor corridor that was off limits and Harry kept his expression pleasantly bewildered, as if he expected the headmaster to be joking but didn’t find the joke very funny. Afterwards a pair of prefects led them to the dungeons and Harry paid close attention where they were going. He’d only been in the Slytherin common room once and that was years ago. The interior was the same as Harry remembered it. Dark woods, leather furniture, green accents and wood carvings of snakes on the exposed beams in the ceiling. A roaring fire burned in the big fireplace that dominated one wall. Further in the back there were two doors leading to the dormitories.

“My name is Gemma Farley,” the female prefect said, and next the male prefect introduced himself as, “Frederik Baddock.”

“Welcome to Slytherin House,” Farley continued. She was a petite witch, dark hair and eyes with sharp features and a keen gaze. Baddock was her opposite in many ways. Tall, light hair and blue eyes and a round face and soft features. “We’ll first hear from our Head of House before we explain the rules.”

“Welcome to Slytherin, indeed,” Snape said as he glided out of the shadows behind them. All the first years jumped, Harry included. How the heck did Snape manage to appear like that? A secret door? Harry was at once determined to find it.

“You have been sorted in Hogwarts’ greatest yet most reviled House. The next seven years will not be easy. The rest of the school will mistrust you, accuse you, fear you and they will not care if you are guilty or not. In the eyes of the world a Slytherin is always to blame. Therefore you must seek allies in your House. Only a fellow Slytherin knows what it is like to be judged harshly by their Hogwarts House. There is strength in numbers and you will stand a better chance of surviving, of thriving, if you do it together.” Snape paused for a moment, letting his dark eyes roam over the faces of each and every first year. “I expect you to work hard. I will not tolerate laziness. I expect you to not get caught, no matter what you get up to. If you do get caught whatever points you lose will be the least of your problems. You will wish for a week of detentions scrubbing toilets by the time I’m done with you.” Snape narrowed his eyes to drive his point home. Beside Harry, Nott gulped. Even Harry was a little intimidated by that threat. “Finally, my office hours are printed on the message board. Internal problems should always be resolved with the help of a prefect first before bothering me. However, if you feel you have an issue that needs my immediate attention, my door is always open.” And with that Snape nodded at Farley, who started explaining some practical things, like curfew, where to find the new password and about something called a house meeting which took place every Friday right after dinner.

The moment Farley was done Snape swooped towards Harry and give him a withering glare. “Potter, I want you to know I will not tolerate any amusing pranks or bullying behaviour.”

Harry blinked once and offered Snape a grateful smile. “Thank you for telling me, Professor. At my primary school we had a few huge bullies and the staff hardly did anything about it. I’m glad to hear that’s not the case here.”

Snape stilled, his expression frozen somewhere between a glare and a snarl for a moment. Then he cleared his throat, glared at all the first years for good measure and turned on his heel with a sharp, “Dismissed.”

Harry bit his lip so he wouldn’t burst out laughing. Potter, one point, Snape, zero points. Harry had already decided weeks ago that he was going to give Snape the Dursley treatment. Avoid if possible and otherwise be unfailingly polite and never, ever give him a reason to get angry with Harry or punish him. Now that Snape was his Head of House avoiding was going to be a little more difficult but Harry remained determined to never do anything to piss the man off. He had one huge enemy already in the form of Dumbledore. No need to add to that list. That went not just for Snape, but for all his fellow Slytherins. Harry knew every older Slytherin was waiting to see what kind of person he was, if he would fit in with them, but essentially they were sharks circling in the water. The moment they smelled one drop of blood, sensed one weakness, they would strike.

This was also why Harry was now absolutely determined to join the Quidditch team as soon as possible. He’d planned to play Quidditch anyway because he loved it, but now that he was a Slytherin joining the team would give him a certain status within the House and with Slytherins status was everything. Harry made a mental note to approach Marcus Flint at some point during the first week and show off his seeker skills. He was confident that once Flint saw him fly he would be on the team at once.

Baddock called for their attention and the boys followed him through the left door to their dormitory. There were no staircases, just a few winding hallways with heavy doors. The first year Slytherin dorm resembled the Gryffindor dormitory quite a bit. Same furniture, different coloured curtains. And instead of square windows that showed a view of the Hogwarts grounds there were round windows that showed an underwater view of the lake. Six beds, three on each side, dominated the room, with small desks and wardrobes beside each. The door at the end of the room led to a bathroom with two toilet stalls, two shower cubicles and four sinks.

Harry’s trunk was parked in front of the middle bed on the right side of the room. Malfoy and Zabini were given the beds on either side of him while Nott, Crabbe and Goyle got the opposite beds.

Harry sat down on his bed with a small sigh and took everything in for a few moments. He was back at Hogwarts as a first year, he was a Slytherin and he had seven years to make new friends and establish useful connections between the students of this school.

“Potter,” Malfoy said as he opened his trunk.

Holding up a hand, Harry cut him off. “It’s Harry. We’re going to be sharing a room for years to come. The least you can do is call me by my first name.”

“Theodore,” Nott said. “Call me Theo.”

“Blaise,” Zabini said as he was hanging some robes in his wardrobe.

“Vince.”

“Greg.”

Malfoy sighed. “Fine, call me Draco.” Then he crossed his arms as he leaned against his bedframe. “I just wanted to warn you to keep your possessions out of my space.”

Harry spread his arms to indicate he didn’t even have possessions lying about yet. He knew what Draco was doing and why. Draco was terribly conflicted. On the one hand, Harry Potter just got sorted into Slytherin and Draco definitely wanted a piece of that Boy Who Lived pie. On the other hand, Harry being sorted into Slytherin took away from Draco’s own sorting. Draco Malfoy was the only child of Lucius Malfoy and asshole though he may be, especially in pureblood circles Lucius Malfoy was influential and powerful. He had money, political connections and had gotten away with murder, literally, by claiming to be imperiused during the war. Draco should have been the most important new Slytherin student this year, but Harry had inadvertently stolen his thunder. So Harry would let Draco posture for a day or so until the boy felt a little less insecure. But if Draco thought for one second he could physically hurt him, Harry would smack him down. Hard.

“Just stick to your side of the room,” Draco said with a sneer.

“Sure. I think that’s something we can all agree to, right?” Harry replied as he glanced between the other boys.

“I prefer a tidy room, so yes,” Blaise said with a knowing little smile. Harry got the distinct impression that Blaise was a very observant person, young as he was, and that he knew exactly what Harry was doing with Malfoy and why.

Across the room, Theo nodded. “Yeah, me too.” He was another boy who saw much more than he led on, Harry was certain. Except instead of hiding behind a certain kind of aloof amusement as Blaise did, Theo possessed an uncanny ability to blend into the background. Harry decided they were going to be the first connections he was going to make in Slytherin House. Draco and his posturing could wait.

Speaking of Draco, seeing as he hadn’t been able to get a rise out of Harry he’d gone back to unpacking, meanwhile muttering how this was work for a house-elf. Harry followed his example, without the muttering, and unloaded his clothing and got it stored in his wardrobe. He left the rest of his belongings in his trunk for now. He didn’t yet know any of his roommates well enough to trust them with his books, and Harry had added some impressive wards to his trunk over the past few weeks. Nothing that would keep a determined Snape out, but more than enough to keep most fellow students, including the older years, from going through his things.

“It’s been a busy day so I’m calling it a night,” Harry said once he was done organizing his clothing.

Blaise seemed to have the same idea and headed to the bathroom, toiletries and pyjamas in hand.

“Shouldn’t we have a schedule for the bathroom,” Malfoy whined as Harry followed Blaise’s example. “You can’t just all use it when I need to be in there.”

Harry shared an amused look with Blaise in the mirror as they both brushed their teeth. Harry decided to take a quick shower so he wouldn’t have to in the morning and once dried off and wearing his own pyjamas he crawled in his bed, closing the curtain with a flick of his wand. He added a few privacy spells, that would keep the curtains closed and his roommates from hearing him, and then he got the compact mirror out and whispered to it in parseltongue until it activated.

“Barty Crouch,” he whispered, still in parseltongue, and the mirror connected, glowing softly until Barty’s face appeared.

“Ha!” Barty said with a laugh. “Our Lord was right. Nice green curtains you got there, Harry.”

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Harry said with a sigh. “The hat really wouldn’t listen to any of my arguments. Stupid thing.”

“Face it,” Barty said, still grinning from ear to ear. “All that scheming you’re doing really, truly makes you a Slytherin. Are your roommates all right?”

“Yeah, no problems so far. Draco Malfoy is posturing a little, but he’s a spoiled brat so it’s to be expected. Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott have potential, I think.”

“Nott the elder is one of our Lord’s most loyal followers,” Barty mused with a thoughtful frown. “I don’t know much about the Zabini family, other than that they are purebloods from Italy. I’ll look into them.”

“Thanks, Barty. I’m exhausted so I’m calling it a night. Talk to you soon.”

“Sleep well, kid.” Barty closed his mirror and the connection broke. Harry was tempted to call Voldemort as well but he didn’t want to bother the man this late since Voldemort still tired easily. Maybe he would talk to his soulmate tomorrow. Harry turned on his side with a grin. He never got tired of calling Voldemort that, preferably to his face.

The next day arrived soon enough and Harry was glad he’d taken a shower already because he remembered well the chaos of six boys all trying to use the facilities together. Harry dressed quickly and was pleased that Blaise and Theo finished dressing around the time he did so they headed to the common room together.

Gemma Farley was waiting for them with Greengrass and Davis by her side. “Frederik will take the others when they show up. Come on, let’s get breakfast.” They followed her like eager little ducklings through the dimly lit dungeon corridors. Harry again paid close attention and thought he’d be able to find his own way to and from the dorms. The entrance hall was buzzing with students and Harry kept an eye out for Neville but didn’t see him. Farley led them to the Slytherin table and deposited them at the far end, closest to the head table.

Harry loaded his plate with eggs, bacon and toast while pouring himself a cup of tea. Since he’d had steady, full meals for the past month, nowadays he had quite the appetite. Blaise’s plate looked similar to Harry’s but Theo stuck to a few slices of toast with marmalade.

“I wonder what our first class is going to be,” Harry mused as he slowly ate his breakfast.

“I hope it’s not history,” Theo said, stirring three spoons of sugar in his tea. “My cousin Balthasar told me the teacher is a ghost who puts everyone to sleep.”

“A ghost?” Harry looked at Theo with wide eyes. “Can’t they afford to pay a real teacher?”

“Dunno.” Theo bit into his toast just as Malfoy and the other stragglers joined them. Not a minute later Snape came calling with their schedules. He gave Harry a lingering look which Harry returned with a polite smile and a quiet, “Thanks, Professor,” as he accepted his schedule.

Their firsts class was History of Magic.

“I somehow feel as if this is your fault,” Harry said to Theo, despairing he had to sit through years and years of Binns again.

“Think of it this way,” Blaise said with nudge of his elbow in Harry’s side. “We get an hour extra sleep every Monday morning.”

“True enough.” Harry turned his attention to the rest of the schedule. First thing was history, then Transfiguration and in the afternoon Defence Against the Dark Arts. Not too bad, but if Quirrell put on that horrible fake stutter again Harry might hex the man, teacher or not.

Harry finished his plate of food and then spent the rest of breakfast sipping tea, listening to Malfoy whine about the quality of tea they served and ignoring the many whispers around him. Students, both Slytherins and the neighbouring Ravenclaws, but also Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors were mentioning his name, craning their necks to get a good look at him and loudly discussing their opinions of his sorting.

In his first life, he remembered the first few weeks had been filled with whispers about him as well until it had finally died down for the most part. Back then, Harry had been so overwhelmed by everything he’d hardly taken notice of it. In fact, if Harry had to choose one word to describe his state of being during his original first year at Hogwarts, it would be ‘overwhelmed’.

Overwhelmed with being a wizard, overwhelmed by being away from his abusive home, overwhelmed by living in a magical castle, overwhelmed by having friends for the very first time, overwhelmed by everyone’s opinions and expectations of him.

He’d been so fucking overwhelmed. And wholly unprepared. Thankfully, that was different now, and for a long moment Harry was almost grateful for the betrayal. Not only had it opened his eyes in relation to people he once loved and trusted, it had also allowed him this chance to do it all again, but with a different version of himself. Honestly, Voldemort wasn’t the only one who was new and improved.

Before long they took off to get their books from their dormitories and then hurried to the history classroom. Once there Harry saw they would be sharing the class with the Gryffindors as they lingered outside the closed classroom. Harry smiled at a nervous looking Neville and stepped up to him.

Or at least he tried to step up to Neville, but he didn’t get very far because Hermione blocked his path. “You’re Harry Potter. I’ve read all about you in –“

Harry shoved his hand unceremoniously in her face. “Please, no autographs, I’m trying to talk to a friend.” And he stepped around her without a backwards glance. Blaise snorted behind him in amusement while Draco actually cackled.

“Hey, Neville,” Harry said while Neville looked torn between laughter at Harry’s antics and worry about a fuming Hermione. “How was your first night?”

“Good. Great. How was –“

“Neville, you never said you knew Harry Potter.” Ron rather harshly elbowed Neville out of the way and practically threw himself at Harry. “Hi, I’m Ron Weasley, and you’re Harry Potter. Do you really have the scar?”

Harry, whose hair was tied back so the whole world could see his fucking scar, stared at Ron in disbelief and then narrowed his eyes. “If you ever harm my friend again I will permanently stick you to the ceiling, do you understand?” Harry didn’t wait to hear a reply but turned towards Neville who was rubbing his side with a grimace. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Neville sighed as if the treatment he just received was the kind he was used to getting his entire life. Harry vowed to change that attitude in his so far only true friend.

Ron was trying to get Harry’s attention by tapping his shoulder but Harry ignored him. He kept reminding himself over and over that these were children, just a bunch of immature eleven-year-olds who didn’t know any better. In fact, the way Hermione and Ron had behaved just now was very similar to how they had behaved during their introduction in his first life. It was Harry who had changed, who was no longer a child, who was a young adult who had lived through a war and who had died. Twice.

“I should have known you’d just be another slimy snake,” Ron finally muttered when Harry kept ignoring him and that was the moment Draco decided to get involved.

“Better a snake than whatever you are, Weasley,” Draco said with a practiced sneer. “Red hair, vacant expression, second-hand robes...do you even dare to call yourself a Gryffindor? I’m surprised the hat didn’t sort you in House pigsty.”

Ron’s entire face turned a blotchy red. “Yeah? That’s still better than being a Death Eater.”

Draco actually snarled at Ron. “Who are you calling a Death Eater, you ignorant weasel.”

Harry gave Neville an apologetic smile. “I’m so sorry about this. I just wanted to say hello.”

“Not your fault,” Neville said bravely.

“Maybe we can meet in the library after classes, without the entourage?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Neville said with a grateful smile.

“Look at what you’ve done,” Hermione said as she got right in Harry’s face the moment Harry stepped away from Neville. She gestured wildly at Ron and Draco, who were yelling at each other with their wands out, though neither seemed to know any spells to use. “They’re going to lose so many house points.”

Harry shrugged, side-stepped Hermione again and went to stand between Blaise and Theo.

“What the hell just happened?” he asked no one in particular as they watched Ron and Draco have at it.

“You did,” Blaise said, leaning back against the wall and openly watching the spectacle in front of them. “You happened, Harry.”

Theo had his head bowed and hand pressed against his mouth to hide his chuckles. Thankfully the classroom door opened at that moment and since it was Binns, who didn’t even know what year it was let alone who his students were, neither Draco nor Ron lost any points. Harry used the following hour to write a brief letter to Kreacher, telling him about his sorting and what the school was like. Harry was certain that the old elf would be chuffed his new master was a brand new Slytherin. Transfiguration, again with the Gryffindors, was all theory, and Harry seriously started doubting his decision to go back all the way to his first year because now he was stuck taking notes on the simplest thing he’d know for seven years.

Lunch was a rancorous affair, as expected on the first day back in school. Draco kept regaling anyone who would listen, mainly Pansy, Greg and Vince, with a detailed description of his verbal battle with Weasley. Their last class was defence and Harry was beyond grateful that Quirrell wasn’t stuttering. In fact, the theory he taught them was well-presented even if Quirrell’s teaching style was a little dry. After classes they went to the Great Hall for tea and biscuits and to start their homework, though Harry planned to head to the library to meet Neville after a bit.

As Harry stirred some milk in his tea the afternoon post arrived and an unassuming barn owl dropped a soft package wrapped in plain brown paper on the table in front of him. Around him students were getting mail so they paid Harry no attention. Harry pulled the package in his lap and opened it enough to see what was in it.

It was a green and silver winter scarf, made from very soft wool. On top of it rested a small notecard with two words on it.

‘Told you.’

Harry recognized the handwriting, having seen it in a certain diary back in his second year. That smug bastard, Harry thought with a smile. He just had to rub it in, didn’t he?

Chapter Text

Blaise and Theo decided to join Harry for his trip to the library to meet Neville. Though Harry shrugged as if he didn’t care one way or the other, secretly he was very pleased by this development. Phase one of ‘Project Study Group’ was complete now that the core group of players had come together.

“Hi,” Neville greeted them, having secured a table for them. He looked a little nervous by the two extra Slytherins, but Harry was quick to give him a reassuring smile.

“This is my friend Neville Longbottom, distinguished Gryffindor,” Harry said with a flourishing gesture towards Neville. “And these are Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott, accomplished Slytherins.” Harry made the same dramatic movement towards his roommates and then slid into the chair beside Neville. “Good, now that we all know each other, tell us all the Gryffindor gossip, Nev.”

Neville sighed and shook his head, though the corners of his mouth twitched for a second. “Not so much gossip, just everyone losing their heads over your sorting.”

Harry snickered while Blaise and Theo sat down opposite them. “Let me guess. Harry Potter should be in Gryffindor, blah, blah, blah. His parents were in Gryffindor, blah, blah, blah.”

“Pretty much like that, yes,” Neville said, fiddling with his quill. “It started in the common room and didn’t stop when we got to our dormitory. This morning, I thought they might be done, but no, they picked up right where they left off the night before.”

“Who knew you’d be so popular in a House you’re not even sorted into,” Blaise commented with a disinterested shrug, but his eyes were far too keen and Harry just knew he was lapping this all up.

“Yeah, makes you wonder why,” Harry said with a sigh.

“You know why,” Theo said with a pointed look.

“If you mean my marvellous defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort, then I have to disappoint you. That wasn’t me. I was one year old. I hadn’t even mastered the art of not shitting myself yet. It was my parents that arranged for Voldemort’s downfall.” When Harry saw doubt written across his friends’ faces he leaned forward in his chair. “Think about it. Magics using a willing sacrifice are the most powerful magics in the world. Powerful enough to stop a killing curse and return it on its caster, as it turns out.”

Harry had decided early on during the planning of his second chance that he was going to demystify the concept of the Boy Who Lived. He wanted everyone to know that Harry Potter was an ordinary young wizard. Smart and talented at magic, sure, but in the end just another student at Hogwarts, not some mythical defeater of the Dark Lord and defender of the Wizarding World.

In other words, he wanted to nip Dumbledore’s plans for him as the world’s saviour right in the butt, so that when Dumbledore would eventually try to publicly encourage him to pick up the mantle of the Boy Who Lived, no one would expect it of him and hardly anyone would blame him for not going along with Dumbledore’s schemes.

Let his parents get the credit. In Harry’s opinion they were the ones who had done all the work by giving their lives for him. They deserved to be recognized for that.

“I guess,” Neville eventually agreed after his friends had all sat in thoughtful silence for a few long moments.

“It does make more sense than a baby defeating a Dark Lord even Dumbledore himself couldn’t defeat and he made short work of Grindelwald once he got off his behind and duelled him,” Blaise said as he opened his bag and got out his Transfiguration book.

“You’ve got a point,” Theo agreed, also grabbing his book.

Their homework for Transfiguration was to read the first two chapters and summarize them, so Harry got to that as well. He opened his book, leaned his elbow on the table and his cheek in his hand and pretended to read. He already knew this stuff as he’d reread all his schoolbooks over the summer, so he could use this time to do a little planning. After dinner he could look for Marcus Flint in the common room and approach him about Quidditch. That was one immediate job as good as done. But his second job was going to be a little more challenging.

The kidnapping of Peter Pettigrew.

And, Harry decided there and then, the liberation of the Marauder’s Map from the clutches of the Weasley twins. It was officially his anyway, as James Potter’s heir. Before the betrayal, Harry might have thought to buy it back from the twins to be nice, but now, after George had been nowhere to be found as Harry stood trial in a packed Wizengamot, Harry wasn’t feeling nearly as charitable. So stealing it back was the plan. But how to get into Gryffindor Tower unseen. Harry could cast a pretty good disillusionment charm, but it wasn’t infallible, especially not up close when moving around people in the Gryffindor common room. If only he had his invisibility cloak, Harry thought with a frustrated sigh. He’d have to wait until Christmas before Dumbledore deemed it time to return it to him.

Harry sat up a little as something occurred to him. Did he have to wait until Christmas, though? The cloak was his property and Dumbledore had no right to hang onto it. Perhaps all Harry had to do was make it clear to Dumbledore he knew about the cloak and was looking for it.

Aunt Petunia to the rescue once again, Harry thought with a mental snort as he grabbed parchment and ink.

‘Dear Headmaster Dumbledore,

My name is Harry Potter and I’m enjoying going to your school very much. My aunt Petunia told me my father had a special cloak that turned you invisible. Only my aunt didn’t know where it went. I asked at the bank and looked in my vault but it wasn’t there. My aunt said maybe you had it or knew who had it. If we can’t find it my aunt said we will have to talk to the magical police about it because it was an hairloom for my family and the police should know it was stolen.

Thank you very much for reading my letter.

Harry Potter’

There. Simple language, a deliberate misspelling, and the subtle threat Harry would involve law enforcement if Dumbledore didn’t cough up Harry’s rightful property. Harry stored it in his bag next to his letter to Kreacher and got a fresh sheet of parchment to write down his homework. They stayed in the library until fifteen minutes to dinner when Harry announced he needed to visit the owlery. The other boys had also penned letters after doing their homework so the four of them made the trek up the tower to send them off.

“Hey girl,” Harry whispered to Hedwig, who’d landed on his shoulder just about the moment he entered the large room filled with all kinds of owls. “Take this to Kreacher, please,” he said, handing her one letter. He didn’t want to use Hedwig to send his note to Dumbledore, since the headmaster as of yet didn’t know if Harry had an owl and if yes, which one was his. He’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible, so he used a school owl instead.

They said goodbye to Neville at the entrance to the Great Hall and Harry was pleased to note that their little study group had been a success. Neville was a quiet, unassuming boy and Blaise and Theo seemed to have no issues with him. Dinner felt like a routine affair by now with Draco whining about one thing or another. Harry didn’t pay him much attention, instead chatting with Greengrass about the practical applications of runes and how interesting they were.

Harry went straight to the common room after dinner and he was gratified to see Marcus Flint lounging on one of the couches, surrounded by Terence Higgs, Slytherin’s current Seeker and Adrian Pucey and Silvio Montague, current Chasers.

“Marcus Flint?” Harry asked with a pleasant smile. Flint raised a single eyebrow and gave Harry an unimpressed onceover.

“Potter. What do you want?” Flint asked in a low voice. Harry realized that he’d been a little unfair in the past whenever he compared Flint to a troll. Flint had harsh features and was tall and had frankly impressive biceps, but he wasn’t ugly. Not really.

“I want to make a bet with you,” Harry said, squaring his shoulders and tilting his chin up just a bit, trying to seem confident. “I’m willing to bet you 10 Galleons that if you see me fly you will add me to your team immediately.”

Flint threw his head back and laughed. “That will be the easiest 10 Galleons I’ve ever made.”

“One catch.” Harry held up one finger for emphasis. “If you don’t accept me on the team after you’ve seen me catch a snitch, I will give you 10 Galleons, but I’ll also never fly for Slytherin again.”

“Get lost, Potter.” Flint narrowed his eyes while gesturing with his large hand for Harry to take a hike.

“My father, James Potter, was celebrated on a broom. Seriously, look it up.” Harry briefly leaned closer to Flint. “I’m ten times better than he ever was.” Then he pulled back and strolled towards the dorms as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “You know where to find me,” he called over his shoulder at Flint, who was watching him go with a calculating gaze.

Bait, set. Now he just had to wait until Flint bit down. And if he didn’t, Harry could always arrange to accidentally on purpose fly on a broom where Flint could see him. Harry wasn’t worried. He wasn’t the most confident person and he had plenty of doubts about his own talents and abilities, but not about flying. Harry had never doubted his abilities on a broom.

Theo produced some cards once they were in their dormitory and they played a few rounds of exploding snap as they wound down from their first day of classes. Blaise kept shooting Harry questioning looks as though he could see Harry was up to something yet couldn’t figure out what it was. Harry smiled serenely at him and kept his mouth shut. Just before curfew Harry took another shower deciding he preferred to do it during a quiet evening instead of a hectic morning. Once scrubbed clean and in his pyjamas Harry got into bed, called out a good night to his roommates who were also all in various stages of getting ready for bed, and closed his curtains. A few privacy spells later, Harry got out his silver mirror and called out Voldemort’s name in parseltongue.

Voldemort answered surprisingly quickly. “Potter.”

“Soulmate!” Harry grinned for all he was worth. “I’ve missed you.”

Looking down, Voldemort pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh.

“Also, thanks for rubbing it in. And for the scarf. I like the scarf. It’s very soft.” Harry crawled a little further under the covers, getting comfy as he held the small mirror up to his face.

“You’re welcome. Though how you could think you wouldn’t be a Slytherin is beyond me.”

“Wishful thinking.” Harry shrugged as best as he could while lying on his side. “Though so far Slytherin hasn’t been bad. Except Malfoy whines a lot.”

Voldemort snorted. “So he takes after his grandfather. Abraxas was in my year and would not stop complaining.”

“Did your Malfoy whine about tea as well?” Harry asked with a snicker. “Because mine spent most of breakfast whining about the quality of the tea, which is ridiculous. It’s good tea.”

“Abraxas complained about everything. And yes, that included the tea.” Voldemort shook his head. “He made the worst first impression on me because of it. I came from an orphanage and had never seen such opulence as the opening feast at Hogwarts. Abraxas sat beside me and kept complaining that the choices of food were too limited and the quality of the roast was subpar. I’d never even had roast beef before.”

Harry had his fist half stuffed in his mouth to stifle his laughter. He could see an eleven-year-old Tom Riddle give a Draco lookalike the world’s most condescending look for his spoiled beyond reason complaints. “I’m used to it now,” Harry said after a deep breath. “But during my first feast I kept looking around in disbelief that everyone was allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Up until that point I’d never been allowed to do that. To me it was the height of decadence that all these kids were loading up their plates with mountains of food while taking it for granted.”

“Yes, attending boarding school was rather a bit of a culture shock,” Voldemort said, his lips curled into something that might very well be called a nostalgic smile.

“Oh, you’ll never guess what I did today,” Harry said as he remembered the day’s events.

The smile slipped off Voldemort’s face at once, replaced by a look of deep suspicion. “What did you do, Potter?”

Harry let his smile morph into a grin. “I sent Dumbledore a letter.”

Voldemort’s thin eyebrows shot up. “I never took you for a masochist. Why torment yourself with contacting the old man?”

“Because that bastard has my invisibility cloak and I want it back, that’s why.” Harry rolled onto his back and stared up at the curtains covering the top of his bedframe with a frown. “Though how I’m going to hold onto my temper should he want to talk to me is a mystery.”

“Pretend you’re in a play,” Voldemort said, completely without irony. “It’s what I used to do before I got a hold of my temper as I got older. Pretend you’re a character in a play, and that character thinks and believes the opposite of what you’re actually thinking.”

“Huh.” Harry stared at Voldemort with wide eyes. “That might just be the best advice anyone has ever given me. Seriously. Do you know how helpful this would have been a few years ago?”

Voldemort shrugged. “A few years ago I wanted you dead. Now my survival depends on yours, so I’ll happily tell you my secrets.” An almost teasing smile appeared on his face for a brief moment.

Harry realized what Voldemort had just said. “So you’re not going to make horcruxes again?” He gave Voldemort a pleading look. “Please don’t make horcruxes again. This version of you is so much better than the old one, you have no idea.”

“No, I have some idea,” Voldemort said with self-deprecating laugh. “I never realized how truly insane I had become after splitting my soul so many times. Getting my soul glued back together, as you like to call it, certainly put things in perspective. Looking back at some, or perhaps most of my behaviour during the last thirty to forty years thoroughly convinced me never to mess with my soul again.”

“That is the best news I’ve had since Death said I could go back and do everything again,” Harry said honestly.

“Yes, this has been a rather unique opportunity, hasn’t it? And we’ve only just gotten started.” Voldemort seemed entirely too satisfied with the situation, yet Harry couldn’t help but feel the same way. They really had been given a unique opportunity. “Let me know how your contact with the old man proceeds,” Voldemort said, suddenly sounding tired. Barty had explained to Harry that the magic keeping the homunculus together was largely Voldemort’s own and that it exhausted him to do the simplest tasks.

“I will. Good night, Tom.” Harry couldn’t help one last little dig.

“I will find a way to hex you through this mirror, Potter,” Voldemort said, and Harry quickly clicked his mirror shut and snickered into his pillow. Who knew riling up the Dark Lord was this much fun?

Harry closed his eyes and replayed the conversation with Voldemort in his head. He really liked the advice about the acting and he was determined to practice it during conflict situations as soon as he could.

When Harry sat down for breakfast the next morning he realized the opportunity for practice would be happening sooner rather than later. A tawny owl dropped a short note in his lap.

‘Mr Potter

Please meet me in my office this afternoon at four to discuss the return of your property.

Albus Dumbledore
Headmaster’

Harry guessed he was about to find out how good of an actor he really was.

Chapter Text

Throughout the day Harry tried with all his might to pretend he was in a play, as per Voldemort’s advice. It didn’t take him very long to realize he’d already been doing something like it when creating his new persona that he’d adopted since coming to Hogwarts. So far, though, he’d been focusing on what he showed others. Now he needed to focus on what he showed himself. Once four o’clock rolled around Harry had to be convinced he was a student who had never been betrayed by Dumbledore.

Classes were simple, thankfully, which allowed Harry plenty of time to compartmentalize his thoughts as best as he could, using some of the techniques he’d read about in his books on the Mind Arts.

They had double Herbology with the Hufflepuffs in the morning, and Harry used that time to reconnect with Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot. The class consisted of a tour of greenhouse one, a demonstration by Professor Sprout and some theory, so Harry had plenty of opportunities to exchange some friendly words with Susan and Hannah, and also to introduce himself to Ernie and Justin.

In the afternoon they had double Charms with the Gryffindors and since it was all theory Harry already knew he had time to focus on his own mind. He remembered from his first life that it would be some weeks until they were allowed to use magic in Charms, Transfiguration and Defence. Once again he briefly questioned his decision to go back all the way to his first year, until he realized that if he’d come back later he’d have been stuck in Gryffindor with Ron and Hermione and Harry knew he’d never be able to pull that off again. He imagined returning in his fourth or fifth year when both Ron and Hermione had already been friends with him for years and would’ve expected him to act a certain way. If Harry suddenly called their friendship quits and started acting largely like a Slytherin, questions would be asked by everyone. His friends, his teachers, Sirius, Mr and Mrs Weasley and probably Dumbledore himself who might just decide that Harry was possessed by Voldemort’s soul piece and lost his usefulness and needed to be finished off a little early.

No, when considering all those things, sitting through a few weeks of first-year magical theory was well worth it. Harry now had the opportunity to shape himself and the world around him in ways that suited his more mature self without setting off alarm bells in everyone who had ever known him.

After Charms Harry had time for one cup of tea in the Great Hall before he had to leave for the headmaster’s tower. Blaise and Theo didn’t ask where he was going when he excused himself. Harry privately marvelled at the difference between Gryffindor, where Ron and Hermione would have expected and demanded to be told where he was going, and Slytherin, where Blaise and Theo were definitely curious about Harry’s destination but would never expect to be told unless Harry decided to volunteer that information.

As he walked to the headmaster’s office, Harry repeated the role he was playing in his head. A first-year, smart, enthusiastic, slightly ignorant about the magical world. He never had friends before, and he definitely had never been betrayed by any of them, and he’d never personally met Dumbledore before either, and he had no clue the old man wanted him dead.

Once Harry stood in front of the gargoyle he realized Dumbledore hadn’t told him the password like he’d always done in his previous life. Did that mean Dumbledore didn’t want to give the password to a Slytherin or was Harry reading too much into this? Looking around as though he was confused for few moments, Harry eventually held up his letter and addressed the gargoyle.

“Excuse me? Headmaster Dumbledore sent me a letter inviting me to meet with him. Is this the right place? Can you talk like a portrait? Because the portraits here can talk.”

Harry stood staring at the gargoyle expectantly, but it never said a word. It did slide to the side after a minute or so, revealing the moving staircase.

Harry inhaled a deep breath and stepped onto the staircase. Showtime.

The door to Dumbledore’s office was closed so Harry knocked politely and waited until Dumbledore called out, “Come in!”

Harry pushed the door open a crack and stuck his head in, acting the part of a first-year who still wasn’t sure if he was in the right place.

Dumbledore sat behind his desk, wearing puce robes with embroidered golden suns, and offered Harry a benevolent smile.

“Headmaster Dumbledore,” Harry said, making sure to add some awe to his tone as he slowly stepped inside the office. “I have your chocolate frog card. I got it on the train with my very first chocolate frog. Neville told me he had seven of your cards.”

Dumbledore laughed, blue eyes crinkling in humour. “Ah yes, having my own chocolate frog card is one of my proudest achievements. How are you finding Hogwarts, my boy?”

Ah, so Dumbledore was going the grandfatherly route. Harry had wondered if him being a Slytherin would change that. Dumbledore had certainly never acted this way towards Tom Riddle, even when he was eleven.

“I love Hogwarts,” Harry said, and he didn’t need to act during that response at all. “I had no idea I was a wizard until your letter came and then my aunt sat me down and explained things and took me shopping.”

“Ah yes, Professor McGonagall told me your aunt accompanied you to Diagon Alley. Hagrid was most disappointed he wasn’t able to take you to buy your school things.”

Harry frowned in confusion. “The gamekeeper, Sir? I don’t know him.”

“But you would have gotten to know him,” Dumbledore pointed out while looking at him over the rim of his glasses. “Hagrid had important business at Gringotts for me, collecting a package, you see, so he would have taken you with him that day. A good thing, too, since that vault was broken into that very same day.”

“Someone broke into Gringotts?” Harry asked in astonishment, meanwhile mentally rolling his eyes as hard as he ever had. Subtle, Dumbledore wasn’t. He must be desperate to make sure a Slytherin Harry would still stick his nose where it didn’t belong, namely in Dumbledore’s ridiculous Dark Lord trap. And that also confirmed what Harry kind of already knew. That Hagrid had been sent to help him with his shopping only so he would sing Dumbledore’s praises, vilify Slytherin and glorify Gryffindor, and most importantly to the old man, set Harry on the track of the Philosopher’s Stone and his ultimate confrontation with Voldemort, just so Dumbledore could see what would happen. If Harry would turn down any offers Voldemort made him. In other words, if Voldemort’s soul piece merged with his own soul was dormant or if it was pulling the strings. If Harry could be used as a sacrificial lamb down the line or needed to be dispatched permanently right away.

Harry inhaled a deep breath when he realized where his thoughts had taken him. This was not the time to think those thoughts. He had a part to play. “Neville told me about Gringotts,” Harry said with all the imagined wisdom of an eleven-year-old. “He said no one ever broke into Gringotts and that it was the safest place in the world.”

“And Mr Longbottom was right,” Dumbledore replied with an indulgent smile. “Except for one other place.” Narrowing his eyes, Dumbledore leaned a little closer to Harry over his desk. “Right here at Hogwarts.”

Pretending to think, Harry stared at his feet. So far he hadn’t looked Dumbledore in the eye for more than a few seconds at a time. There were so many random and fascinating things to look at in Dumbledore’s office that wasn’t a difficult or unexpected thing to do. “Oh. You mentioned the third floor corridor, Sir. Is that where...” Harry trailed off as though he didn’t want to betray Dumbledore’s secrets even to Dumbledore himself.

“Sshh,” Dumbledore said with a wink while placing his finger against his lip. “The less people who know about it the better.”

“I won’t tell anyone, Headmaster,” Harry said much too loudly. “I promise.”

“I’m very happy to hear that, my boy. There are very bad people looking for this item.”

“They must be very bad if they would break into a bank,” Harry agreed easily.

“That, and much more.” Dumbledore gave Harry a significant look. “Most people believe him dead, but I know for a fact that he is very much alive.”

“Who?” Harry asked, and then inhaled a sharp breath as though he’d just had a horrible realization. “No, not him.”

Dumbledore nodded gravely. “Lord Voldemort is still out there. Diminished, but eagerly looking for a way to return to power.”

“Then it’s a good thing Hogwarts is the safest place in the world,” Harry said with a child’s confidence that the adults around him would keep the world safe. He wasn’t willing to give Dumbledore any ideas by acting like a Gryffindor and proclaiming he would take on Voldemort. He was eleven, after all.

Dumbledore sat back, nodding. “Indeed it is, my boy. Indeed it is.” He opened a drawer to his right and pulled out Harry’s invisibility cloak. “I believe this is what you came for.”

“You found it,” Harry said and offered Dumbledore the biggest smile he was capable off. “My dad’s cloak. Thank you, Sir.” Harry reached for the cloak, but before letting go, Dumbledore raised his eyebrows while his lips twitched.

“Now, Harry, you’re not going to use this to sneak around the school like your father did, are you?”

“My father did that?” Harry wanted to roll his eyes so badly at that very obvious bit of manipulation. How he never noticed these things in his first life was a mystery.

“Oh yes, he most certainly did.” Dumbledore laughed while folding his hands on his desk. “Your father had an adventurous spirit and an impressive detention record.”

“I would never, Sir,” Harry said, looking down at his shoes as if he didn’t want the headmaster to see through his obvious lie.

“I’m sure you won’t, my boy. Now off with you. Dinner starts soon and I’m told the elves made pork pies. You don’t want to miss those, Harry.”

“Thank you, Headmaster,” Harry said, clutching his father’s cloak to his chest as he walked backwards out of the office.

“You are most welcome.” Dumbledore’s twinkling blue eyes were the last thing Harry saw before the office door closed and he rode the stairs down. He kept his expression happy and carefree because he knew there were portraits everywhere and they all reported back to the old man. As he walked back to the Great Hall he gently placed the cloak in his bag while his mind was going a mile a minute.
Dumbledore and his fucking manipulations. Harry wanted to scream. Or hex someone. Maybe both at the same time. He found it impossible now that he knew the truth about Dumbledore’s real plans for him to not see all the little comments and hints for what they were. Dumbledore’s step-by-step plan to turn Harry into a sacrificial lamb to be offered up for execution when Dumbledore deemed it the right time.

What upset Harry the most was that in his first life he’d let Dumbledore lead him right to his death and he’d loved the man for it. He’d been 17 years old when he walked to his death because Dumbledore told him it was necessary. He’d actively committed suicide by Dark Lord because Dumbledore had groomed him in such a way Harry wouldn’t even think to question anything the old man said.

Inhaling a deep breath to calm himself, Harry reminded himself he hadn’t known better in his first life because Dumbledore hadn’t wanted him to. Harry had been set up to be moulded into a sacrificial lamb since the day Dumbledore dumped him on the Dursleys’ doorstep. It wasn’t his fault.

Besides, he had a second chance now to do it right, and Harry vowed that Dumbledore would never see the real him coming. And come for the old man he would, sooner or later. Dumbledore would pay one way or the other.

Realizing he was still too upset, Harry decided against going back to the Great Hall immediately. He ducked inside a bathroom and entered a stall, locking the door behind him. He inhaled a few more deep breaths while he opened his bag and pulled out his invisibility cloak. He cast a few diagnostic charms to see if Dumbledore had messed with it in some magical way but the charms came back empty. Harry suspected the impressive magic of the cloak itself protected it from tampering. After all, there was a good chance the stories were true and Death had made the Hallows himself.

While he ran his fingers through the soft, shimmering fabric, Harry realized he might as well get job two and three done. Wormtail and the map. It was dinner time, which meant most students would be in the Great Hall. Ron would leave Scabbers in his dorm since, aside from post owls, animals weren’t allowed at the tables during meals. And perhaps the twins had left the map in their dorm as well. If not, Harry could always come back for it some other time.

Mind made up, Harry threw the cloak over himself and left the bathroom to make his way to Gryffindor Tower. He’d walked the route so often it felt like going home in some ways. No matter the kind of betrayal he’d suffered, he had been a Gryffindor for seven years and such a thing was not easily forgotten.

Harry only needed to wait a few minutes beside the painting of the Fat Lady before a few students came out to make their way to dinner. He slipped in right when the last student was through the entrance and he was able to quickly walk across the common room towards the dormitories without bumping into anyone. The first-year dormitory was the same one it had been in his first life, and Harry was relieved to find it empty. He kept the cloak on as he snuck towards Ron’s bed, expecting Pettigrew to be sleeping on Ron’s pillow as he always did in the afternoon.

Except there was no rat.

Harry looked over Ron’s bed quietly, turning the sheets back and lifting the pillow.

Still no rat.

Ron wouldn’t have taken Scabbers with him, would he? Knowing Hermione and her worship of rules, she would raise an enormous stink if Ron broke some by bringing his pet rodent to the dinner table.

Harry swished his wand around and whispered, “Accio Wormtail. Accio Scabbers. Accio Peter Pettigrew.”

Still no rat.

How the hell was Harry expected to find that stupid traitor. It took a moment, but then Harry wanted to smack himself in the head. He knew exactly how to find the rat. He just needed to collect it.

The twins’ third-year-dormitory was unchanged from how Harry remembered it. There were a few prank spells hidden around the room, but nothing an 18-year-old couldn’t counter. The same went for the simple wards on the twins’ trunks. George’s trunk didn’t have the map, and for a few moments Harry thought he’d have to abort this mission altogether, but then he struck gold in Fred’s trunk. He quickly grabbed the map, replaced the wards as best as he could and hurried back to the still empty first-year dorm.

He unfolded the map. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” A tap of his wand later and Harry stared as the map came to life in swirls of black ink. Names appeared, moving through corridors and entering the Great Hall. Harry riffled through the map until he found Gryffindor Tower and studied that entire section until his eyes got so dry he had to blink a few times while looking away from the map.

Still no Pettigrew.

He switched to the Great Hall and looked for Ron’s name at the Gryffindor table. Once found, Harry looked and looked but couldn’t see Pettigrew’s name anywhere near him.

What did this mean? Was Pettigrew even in the castle? If not, why? Where could he have gone?

As soon as he thought that, Harry got a sinking feeling. Voldemort had freed Barty after all, the same as last time when he needed a new body. But then he’d had another Death Eater helping him during that time.

Wormtail.

“Fuck,” Harry muttered and stuffed the map in his bag and hurried out of Gryffindor Tower. Dinner had only just started so Harry could join his fellow Slytherins without raising too many eyebrows. He vowed to question Voldemort the moment he went to bed later that night.

“Pettigrew?” Voldemort said with an inquisitive look after Harry asked him as he sat cross-legged on his bed protected by his closed curtains and a handful of privacy charms if he’d seen the rat. “Yes, of course I’ve seen him. I summoned him after Quirrell and myself freed Barty. I needed my wand back, after all, and Wormtail had it.”

“How the hell did I forget that?” Harry muttered to himself.

“The question is,” Voldemort continued while cocking an eyebrow and tilting his head. “What do you want with Wormtail, Harry?”

“He’s the key to getting Sirius out of Azkaban,” Harry said as he slumped against his pillow in disappointment.

“Hm.” Voldemort frowned. “Wormtail is doing a little spy work for me at the Ministry currently, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not see him turned over to the Aurors to see your illustrious godfather free.”

“Fuck,” Harry sighed. He stared at Voldemort for a few long moments, but Voldemort’s expression didn’t change. He remained calm but resolute. “I really wanted to get Sirius out of Azkaban. He’s innocent and deserves better.”

“The dementors have destroyed his mind by now,” Voldemort pointed out, ever the pragmatist. “What good would he be to you?”

“Not much, I know,” Harry snapped, hating that Sirius had suffered as he had. “But that’s not why I want him to get justice.”

“Ah,” Voldemort said with a satisfied little smile. “Are you projecting, Harry? Is this about the injustice you suffered and couldn’t stop, so now you’re determined to save someone else?”

“What? No!” Harry sat up in his bed again and glared at Voldemort. “I want to help Sirius because he’s my godfather and he deserves better, that’s it.”

“As you say,” Voldemort said, obviously not at all convinced by Harry’s explanation. “I have need of Wormtail for the time being, but not forever. In our previous life Black didn’t escape Azkaban for a few more years. Surely he could wait that amount of time once again.”

Yeah, Harry wasn’t about to let Sirius rot in Azkaban for another 3 years just because losing Pettigrew now was an inconvenience to Voldemort. Just as Harry was gearing up to have his first fight with Voldemort, at least in this life, Voldemort added, “And why do you even need Wormtail? Just hire the man a solicitor.”

Harry blinked. “Wait, what?” If it was as simple as hiring a solicitor surely someone in their previous life would have come up with it.

Voldemort sighed as he gave Harry a tired look. “Are you honestly telling me this never occurred to you before? Bella used to gloat to anyone who would listen how her dear cousin had been chucked into Azkaban without a trial. That the Ministry was so corrupt they imprisoned their own people, who fought on their side, without adhering to their own laws.”

“It can’t be that simple,” Harry said, conflicting emotions coursing through him. Elation at having possibly found a solution and anger at no one in his previous life having suggested it.

“It is that simple.” Voldemort held up a finger to emphasize his point. “However, I’ll never claim that it will be easy. There is a difference. But fact is, Black was imprisoned without a trial, which is illegal. A good solicitor will be able to get him a trial, or if Fudge and his cronies try to deny Black his rights to a trial they’ll alert the media to the sheer amount of corruption that is going on all the way up to the Minister’s office. But getting a trial isn’t a guarantee that the man will walk free.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Harry remembered his own trial, how quickly people’s opinion of him had changed from seeing him as a hero to seeing him executed and all on the words of a dead man. “Still, it’s more of a chance then he has now just sitting in a cell, forgotten.”

“That much is certainly true. I recommend Harper, Coldwell and Post. They are not cheap, but their reputation of never giving up on a client is well earned. Just getting their office on the case will ensure Fudge will think thrice before trying to sweep this whole thing under the rug or arrange for your godfather to receive an accidental kiss from a dementor.”

“Thanks. I’ll contact them and discuss Sirius’ options.” Harry’s gratitude was sincere. He’d honestly thought handing Wormtail over was the only chance Sirius would ever have of gaining his freedom. It had certainly seemed that way in his previous life. Harry wondered if this was yet another case of Dumbledore claiming one thing and everyone just taking his word for it. Then again, people like Tonks, Moody and Kingsley were Aurors. Surely they would know enough about the law to know Sirius had legal rights to a trial. Perhaps Dumbledore had fed them some manipulative little story to keep them from suggesting Sirius simply hire a solicitor.

Or, Harry was forced to concede, perhaps Sirius’ mind had been too far gone. Perhaps people had suggested to Sirius that he hire a solicitor but he’d refused to even consider it. Knowing Mrs Weasley, she’d have kept such information from ‘the children’ and therefore, if Sirius himself refused to talk about it, Harry wouldn’t have known.

No matter why he hadn’t known about the possibility before, he did now and he’d make sure to hire Sirius some real legal help.

“Whatever happened with that letter you sent the old man?” Voldemort had produced a cup of tea from somewhere and sipped it. Harry suspected Winky was at work.

“Oh!” Harry leaned on his side and made himself more comfortable in his bed. “He invited me to his office to give me my invisibility cloak back. And there he proceeded to manipulate the crap out of me. Or he would have if I wasn’t an eighteen-year-old reliving his life. He’s also completely convinced you’ll come for the Stone.”

Voldemort chuckled and sipped more tea. “I do believe the old man is going to be thoroughly disappointed this year if he’s waiting for me to arrive at Hogwarts.”

“If you change your identity you could walk right through the gates and Dumbledore wouldn’t even know,” Harry said with a snicker. “Are you going to change your identity? You still haven’t said.”

“And ruin the surprise? Patience is a virtue, Harry.” Voldemort’s thin lips twitched a time or two as though repressing a smile.

“Yeah, but it’s never been my virtue,” Harry grumbled.

“I am aware.” And yeah, that definitely was said with a self-satisfied smile.

Time to change the subject. Voldemort was smug enough as it was already ever since Harry’s sorting. “And I challenged the Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team to add me to the roster. Sort of.”

“I’ve never understood the appeal of sports,” Voldemort said with a puzzled frown.

“Mostly, it’s fun,” Harry offered with a shrug.

“I’ve never understood the appeal of that either.”

Harry gaped at him. “You’ve never understood fun? Well, that explains a lot.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had time to, as they say, just have fun. My childhood certainly didn’t allow for such frivolities, during my early years in Slytherin I was too busy cursing my way to the top of the food chain and then I was foolish enough to split my soul and any desire for fun I might have had was destroyed.”

“That is the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long time.” Harry bit his lip. “And also one of the most ridiculous.” He looked up at Voldemort and shook his head. “Fun isn’t something to understand. It’s something you just do. Whatever you enjoy doing is having fun.”

“I do believe I’m the wrong person to hold up to your explanation,” Voldemort said with a pointed look. “By your definition casting the cruciatus curse is hilarious.”

“No.” Harry brought the mirror closer to his face for emphasis. “That is not what I meant.”

“But in our previous life I certainly enjoyed casting it. Therefore, hilarious. Truly, fun times were had,” Voldemort said with a completely straight face. Harry was impressed.

“You are so immature for a hundred-year-old bloke,” Harry said with huge sigh.

“Pardon me? I’m old, but not that old.” Voldemort put down his teacup. Harry noticed his hand trembled a bit and he realized Voldemort was getting too tired and their conversation was about to end, much to his disappointment.

These days, Harry realized not without some irony, both their idea of fun was bickering with each other.

“It’s getting late,” Harry said and stretched out against his mattress. “Full day of classes tomorrow, so I’m turning in.”

“Very well. I could also use some rest.” Voldemort nodded at Harry and was about to close his mirror when Harry managed to sneak in a, “Sweet dreams, Tom!” before quickly snapping his own mirror shut. He grinned against his pillow and decided he might as well get some sleep since it was almost ten.

In the morning he was glad he’d called it a night reasonably early, when at godawful o’clock Marcus Flint dragged him out of bed.

Chapter Text

“You can’t just barge in here like this,” Malfoy yelled, his head sticking out from between his curtains, hair as dishevelled as Harry had ever seen it.

“Pretty sure you’re not going to stop me,” Flint growled and looked at Harry, who’d ripped open his curtains, wand in hand, at the first loud noise that woke him up. Reactions like that, honed by a war, were not easily forgotten. “Time to put your Galleons where your mouth is, Potter. I’m going to make some easy coins today.”

“Yeah, sure.” Harry was barely awake and even reached for his non-existent glasses on his nightstand, even though he hadn’t worn them for a few weeks now. “Lemme get dressed.”

Flint stood with his arms crossed (and his biceps were really, really impressive, even through his Quidditch robes) and watched impassively as Harry wormed himself out of his pyjamas and into his school robes as quickly as he could.

“Follow me,” Flint ordered once Harry barely had his shoes tied. Harry did without comment, though there were several sarcastic things he could have said. But he realized pissing Flint off before he’d gotten to show off his seeker skills was a very silly thing to do. Flint might call the whole thing off on principle.

They made the trek to the Quidditch pitch, which was still bathed in darkness except for some strategic lanterns that were glowing around the seating areas. The rest of the Slytherin Quidditch team was waiting for them. Harry knew all of them from his previous life, when he’d played against them as the Gryffindor Seeker. Flint, Adrian Pucey and Silvio Montague were Chasers, Miles Bletchley was the Keeper, Martin Overcliff and Gerald King were Beaters and seventh-year Terence Higgs was the current Seeker and would need to be replaced next year. Draco Malfoy had bribed his way onto the team with a handful of fancy broomsticks once upon a time, but Harry wasn’t about to spare his feelings by not gunning for the same position. He knew that on talent alone, he could beat Malfoy every time. And if Malfoy wanted to play Quidditch so desperately, he could try out for Chaser in their third year, when both Flint and Pucey would need to be replaced.

“This tiny first year here made some very big claims in the common room yesterday. Let’s show him his place,” Flint said as he accepted the oldest, saddest school broom Harry had ever seen from Montague. A Shooting Star that had probably been in use since Voldemort’s school days. Possibly Dumbledore’s. “Here,” Flint handed the decrepit broom to Harry, who gave no visible reaction. “You catch the Snitch, Potter, before Terrence here does, while the rest of us provides some distractions.”

Harry noticed that save for Higgs, the rest of the players were all holding Beater’s bats. So it was going to be like that. Harry didn’t mind one bit. He hadn’t flown in forever, not since his sixth year at least. He’d lost his Firebolt the summer he went on the run and after the war he hadn’t made the effort yet to replace it. That didn’t mean he hadn’t missed flying and chasing a Snitch around, because he had.

“Ready,” Pucey said, and released the Snitch from the crate. Immediately after, he released two Bludgers. Harry didn’t wait for further instructions but jumped on the old school broom and took off. Higgs was right behind him, flying a Nimbus 2000, the same broom Harry had owned during his first three Hogwarts years of his previous life until the Whomping Willow ate it.

That heady feeling of freedom, wind whipping his face, heart pounding in his chest, greeted Harry like an old friend. He didn’t even mind that the Shooting Star was by far the worst broom he’d ever flown. It leaned to the left, the braking charms were decayed and it bucked every time Harry made a sharp turn. Still, Harry didn’t let that stop him from enjoying being in the air again. He deliberately flew in the path of a few bludgers to test his brooms limitations and to warm up. Flint and the others didn’t hold back slamming the bludgers in his direction, but Harry had been playing Quidditch long enough that evading them was second nature by now. Oliver Wood had spent many, many cold and wet hours training them for that, after all. He kept an eye out for the Snitch but for the first fifteen minutes it remained elusive. Higgs kept up high, circling the pitch slowly.

Finally, Harry saw a glint of gold near the goal posts reflecting in the early morning light. The sun was just cresting the horizon. Higgs had his back to it but was much closer, and Harry knew in a one on one race he would lose thanks to his ancient broom. But Harry was a Slytherin now, so perhaps a sneaky little manoeuvre was in order. Harry flew up slowly, getting closer to Higgs. Just as Higgs was about to turn around and see the Snitch for himself, Harry dove straight for the ground, barely evading a bludger Overcliff hit at him. Higgs, thankfully, followed and Harry gained as much speed as he could, one hand outstretched as if he was reaching for the Snitch. Higgs accelerated his Nimbus, which was so much faster than Harry’s Shooting Star, that he completely overshot Harry and ploughed straight into the ground.

Harry pulled up just barely, his toes scraping the grass, and he took off in the direction where he’d seen the Snitch.

“MARCUS!” Montague yelled across the pitch. “MARCUS! THAT WAS A PERFECT WRONSKI FEINT!”

“I’m not fucking blind!” Flint flew down to check up on Higgs, who sat up on the grass, a dazed expression on his face.

Harry flew as fast as he could towards the Snitch and after a very short chase he plucked it from the air. “Got it!” Harry shouted, waving the Snitch around as he flew down to join Flint and Higgs.

Higgs’ mouth was hanging open while Flint stared at him with narrowed eyes. The rest of the team touched down around them.

Slow clapping came from the shadows of the stands and Snape appeared, strolling towards him as he gave Harry the world’s most sardonic applause. “Well done, Mr Potter,” Snape drawled, looking down at Harry over his hooked nose as though Harry’s Seeker skills were a nuisance that personally offended him

“Thank you, Sir,” Harry said, beaming, completely ignoring Snape’s tone.

“If he can pull that off on a hundred-year-old Shooting Star, I want to see what he can do on a good broom,” Pucey rambled, and then looked at Higgs. “Nothing personal, Terrence, but that kid is far better than you.”

“Yeah, I saw that much myself,” Higgs said with a shrug. “I wouldn’t mind being able to spend some more time preparing for my NEWTs this year. I enjoy Quidditch, but I’m not looking to go pro or anything.”

“He’s a first year,” Flint said, sharing a calculating look with Snape. “Is there a chance you can get him on the team, Professor? Because with Potter flying like that we’ve got the Cup in the bag this year. He’ll need a broom, too.”

“I can buy a broom,” Harry chimed in, already looking forward to flying a Nimbus 2000 again. It wasn’t a Firebolt, but Harry had always loved his first ever broom.

Snape nodded at Flint, ignoring Harry. “I’ll speak with the headmaster.” Then he glared at Harry. “I expect you to attend every training, obey your captain and catch the snitch every single game, is that understood, Potter?”

“Yes, Sir!” Harry was still beaming, and a large part of that wasn’t even acted. He really was thrilled to play Quidditch again. “Thank you, Sir!”

Snape sniffed in sheer disdain, turned on his heels and marched back to the castle.

“I will get you the training schedule once we’ve worked it out with the other House teams,” Flint said and slapped Harry on the back so hard Harry had to take two quick steps to keep from falling flat on his face. “Welcome to the team.”

Harry handed the Shooting Star back to Montague and trailed after the other players back to the castle. He honestly couldn’t stop smiling. Not only would this development help immensely with his standing within Slytherin House, he’d now be able to spend at least some hours a week flying, which would be a welcome distraction while he tried not to die of boredom attending classes he’d been familiar with for seven years.

The other students of Slytherin were just starting to wake up as they made it back to the dungeons. Harry found his roommates scattered around the dorm and bathroom in various stages of undress. Grabbing his toiletries and a clean uniform, Harry joined Draco and Blaise in the bathroom.

“What was that all about, Harry?” Draco asked as he stood in front of the mirror styling his hair. “What did Flint want with you?”

Harry rubbed some soap on a wet washcloth and washed his face and underarms. “I tried out for Quidditch today.”

“What?” Draco squeaked, comb falling from his hand into the sink. “You’re a first-year. They don’t let first-years onto the team.”

Harry shrugged and dried himself off. “Snape is going to talk to Dumbledore about letting me on the team as the new Seeker.”

Draco’s jaw sank open and his cheeks coloured red. “You can’t be Seeker. I’m going to be the Slytherin Seeker.” Draco’s tone implied he was about three seconds away from stomping his foot.

“Did you forget to mention that to Snape and Flint, Draco?” Harry asked sweetly, unable to help himself from rubbing some salt in Draco’s wounded pride. He’d spent years riling up Draco Malfoy and this habit was hard to break. “Because they didn’t mention anything to me. Maybe you should go and talk to Flint right now to correct his obvious mistake.”

On Harry’s other side, Blaise buried his face in a towel to hide his snort of laughter.

Draco stared at Harry, narrowing his eyes, opening and closing his mouth a few times as he tried to think of something to say. Predictably, he finally settled on, “Wait until my father hears about this,” and he stormed out of the bathroom.

Harry chuckled for a moment, while Blaise shook his head. “Congratulations are in order, I suppose,” Blaise said as they both left the bathroom.

“Not quite yet. Dumbledore needs to give his permission first,” Harry said. He wasn’t sure what to expect from Dumbledore. He’d seemed perfectly accepting of Harry as a Slytherin yesterday and he had made an exception for Harry in his first life, so Harry had good hopes.

Blaise shrugged. “Even if you don’t get permission now, Flint will definitely let you on the team next year if he’s impressed enough with a first-year to want him on the team immediately.”

“Yeah, that’s a very good point.”

They finished getting dressed and on the way to the Great Hall Harry explained to Theo what was up with Harry’s early morning date with Marcus Flint. Theo was surprisingly enthusiastic about Harry’s new Quidditch career, but then again Theo was a pretty big Quidditch fan in general.

Just as they sat down at the Slytherin table, Greengrass and Davis joined them.

“Potter,” Greengrass said as she took a seat across from Harry.

“Please, call me Harry, both of you.” Harry had quickly figured out things were a lot more formal in Slytherin than they’d ever been in Gryffindor. With the lions everyone called each other by their first names right from the start, but with the Slytherins it was very much expected you stick with last names unless express permission was given.

Greengrass smiled at him. “Thank you. I’m Daphne.”

“Tracey,” Davis said, and waved at all three of them. “Goes for all of you.”

Blaise and Theo repeated their own names and with that formality out of the way, Daphne produced a sheet of paper which she handed to Harry.

“I asked my mother for a list of books for beginner runes,” she said as she reached for a scone.

“Thanks.” Harry offered her a huge smile, genuinely grateful. He looked over the list, some fifteen titles in total. He had bought three himself, was sure he’d seen another three or so amongst Regulus’ collection, and he could order the rest from Flourish and Blotts. Hedwig wouldn’t mind getting some exercise. As he tucked the list inside his book bag he realized this was a perfect opportunity. “Daphne, Tracy, we gather in the library almost every afternoon for a study group. Just something informal, but if you like you can join us today.”

Daphne and Tracy exchanged a look and then nodded at him. “Sure,” Tracy said while buttering her toast. “We’ve got this afternoon off, so we’ll see you there early.”

That was when Draco and his entourage showed up. Harry could see that quite naturally two groups had formed amongst the first year Slytherins. Theo and Blaise, and now Daphne and Tracy seemed to gravitate towards Harry, while Parkinson and Bulstrode, and of course Vince and Greg seemed to follow Draco around. From what Harry understood Bulstrode was a childhood friend of Parkinson so it made sense those two would stick together. And Parkinson had an obvious crush on Draco and from what Harry remembered would keep it for many years to come.

Harry was pleased with this divide, and though he was determined that eventually he’d form some sort of alliance with Draco and his cronies as well, that didn’t have to happen in the first week. In fact, it was probably better if Draco and himself had some form of minor rivalry for a few years even, lest Dumbledore think Harry was recruiting followers like Tom Riddle had right from the start.

“How did Flint take the news of his obvious error in Seeker choices?” Harry asked with an inquisitive look at Draco.

Gritting his teeth, Draco gave him the stink-eye. “This isn’t over. My father will talk to Snape and make him choose me.”

In some way, Harry felt sorry for Draco. To be so spoiled that he expected his father to fix every little bump in the road, and when inevitably Lucius came up against a problem he couldn’t or wouldn’t get rid of, Draco had no idea how to handle things like disappointment and rejection. Harry knew eventually Draco would start thinking for himself and understanding that actions had consequences, but that wouldn’t be for many more years to come.

So perhaps this innocent schoolboy rivalry would be easier to cultivate than he thought as long as he kept the emphasis on Quidditch. Harry wasn’t worried Snape or Flint would choose Draco on Lucius Malfoy’s word. Draco was a first-year and while he’d always been a pretty good Seeker in his own right, he’d never been on Harry’s level, especially not now that Harry had a few years of experience hiding up his sleeve.

“It’s completely unfair you are using your fame to steal Draco’s position, Potter,” Parkinson chimed in, because of course that’s how Draco would have sold it to his cronies.

“You’re welcome to take it up with Flint or Snape,” Harry said reasonably and not without some private joy at seeing them so disgruntled about his good fortune. “I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic to take your advice on how to run the Slytherin Quidditch team.”

Parkinson raised her chin up in the air and turned to Draco so she could spend the next fifteen minutes agreeing how unfairly he was being treated.

They had a light day of classes ahead. Herbology and Charms in the morning, the afternoon off and Astronomy in the evening. Herbology was mostly theory with lots of note taking and little chance to chat with any Hufflepuffs. As they stood waiting outside the Charms classroom, Harry took a moment to observe the dynamics between the first-year Gryffindors as they trickled in. In Harry’s first life he’d been so happy to have made a friend at all in Ron, he had barely even looked at the other first-years during the first couple of months. Now he had an outsider’s view and that view was fascinating.

Parvati and Lavender were best friends from the start and it was obvious to anyone with eyes. Hermione stood to the side, occasionally shooting the other two girls looks that spoke of both disdain and jealousy. Hermione had confessed to Harry during one of their many conversations in the tent when they’d discussed anything and everything mostly out of sheer boredom, that she’d always been jealous of her two roommates and their easy friendship while at the same time deriding them for their poor attitude towards learning and studying.

Seamus and Dean had formed a similar quick friendship and Ron was trying to squeeze himself into that dynamic but it was clear to anyone who looked that he didn’t quite fit. He mostly just stayed close to them, shooting them covetous looks while Seamus and Dean hit it off.

Neville stood to the side by himself but seemed all right with that situation. He offered Harry a smile, which Harry returned right before Flitwick called them inside.

After lunch, Harry and his Slytherins, as he’d started calling them in his head, made their way to the library. They found the table they’d used previously still empty and commandeered it. Neville joined them a few minutes later.

“Neville Longbottom,” Neville introduced himself with a little bow at Daphne and Tracy. “Pleased to meet you.” Neville may be an insecure boy unaware of his own strength as of yet, but he’d always had manners and was generally polite. Harry could see that went over very well with Daphne and Tracy, who introduced themselves to Neville in a similar fashion.

They had short essays to write for Charms and Herbology and while everyone was getting out their books and parchment, Harry disappeared into the stacks to find some reference material for their homework and to take a look at the Runes section and see if he couldn’t find any of the titles on Daphne’s list just so he’d have something to read later in bed. But he never made it to the Runes section since he bumped into Susan Bones.

Harry wasn’t about to waste such an opportunity. “Susan, we’ve started an informal little study group. If you and Hannah want to join us you’d be most welcome.”

“Oh, that sounds great,” Susan said with a shy smile as she clutched a Herbology book to her chest. “But we’re sitting with Justin and Ernie right now.”

“Bring them along,” Harry said at once, so happy he could have kissed Susan. With those four Hufflepuffs he’d be adding a half-blood, Hannah, and a muggleborn, Justin, to his group. Harry was well aware he’d only collected purebloods so far and the last thing he wanted was people to think he was prejudiced in some way.

“That’s great. Thanks, Harry, we’ll be right over.” Susan disappeared again, but Harry hardly heard her because he just realized what he’d been thinking.

Was he really trading his fellow students like chocolate frog cards in the privacy of his own mind? My god, he’d turned into Slughorn Junior, hadn’t he? He’d actually started collecting people.

Fuck. He really was a Slytherin. There was no denying it now.

Voldemort must never find out Harry had started acting like Slughorn or he’d never stop bringing it up.

With a sigh, Harry made his way back to the others and after introductions were made and chairs were added, Harry’s study group had grown exponentially in just a day. Theo and Blaise seemed a little doubtful about the inclusion of Justin but kept their opinion to themselves, probably because they wanted to see what Harry was really up to with his new collection of first-years. Neville became their most popular member, at least for the afternoon, when Harry mentioned his talents in Herbology and he helped them all along with their essay.

All in all, Harry was most satisfied with his day so far when they went down to dinner. Of course that meant something had to go wrong eventually to balance out all of that good luck.

“Potter,” Flint said, coming up behind Harry just as he’d finished eating. “Snape wants to see us.”

“Sure,” Harry said, grabbing his bag as he got up. “See you later,” he added to his Slytherins. He followed Flint, Higgs joined them at the door to the Great Hall, and they made their way down to Snape’s office.

Snape sat behind his desk, elbows resting on the wood, fingers woven together. “I have spoken with the headmaster. At this time he won’t give Potter permission to join our Quidditch team as the new Seeker. The headmaster doesn’t believe it is fair to the first years in other houses if they cannot also play.”

“What?” Flint’s expression resembled a supercell thunderstorm about to drop a few tornadoes.

Harry himself was less than a second away from losing his temper and he had to rein his anger in quickly. He was doubly pissed because he knew Dumbledore had given his permission when he was a Gryffindor. But now that he was a Slytherin, Dumbledore suddenly couldn’t make exceptions for him.

That petty old bastard.

Inhaling several deep breaths, Harry managed to calm down enough to remember he was a Slytherin. “Professor,” he said to an unimpressed looking Snape. “First-years are allowed as reserve players, I believe. I can join the team as the reserve Seeker, and perhaps Higgs will fall ill a few times during the year at certain dates that might coincide with our scheduled Quidditch matches. In that case, I’ll have to step up as Seeker to fill in for him.”

Snape’s lips twitched briefly as Flint released a huge sigh of relief. “Well, well, Mr Potter, just as I was wondering what you were doing in my House, you have proven you might belong here after all.”

“What about Potter’s broom, Professor?” Flint asked.

“Purchase your broom, Potter, and when not using it for training or matches give it to Mr Flint for safe-keeping. And if someone has a problem with that send them to me.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” Harry was pleased they’d found a way around Dumbledore’s House prejudice. Had the old man always been this anti-Slytherin? It only took Harry a moment to remember how Dumbledore had, in his first year, stolen the House Cup from Slytherin in the most hurtful way, by letting them believe they had won first. So yes, Dumbledore had never gone out of his way for Harry’s new House. Harry as a Gryffindor had just never paid much attention to these things.

It took Draco an hour to discover the news of Harry’s new position and then he sought Harry, Blaise and Theo out in their dormitory where they were paging through one of Theo’s Quidditch magazines looking at new brooms. Harry already knew what he wanted but it was fun to discuss all the different brooms and listen to his friends’ opinions.

“I heard you’re not the new Seeker. Just the reserve Seeker,” Draco positively gloated. “That means next year I’ll make sure you stay reserve Seeker.” Draco almost glowed with the certainty he’d be able to buy his way onto the team next year, completely forgetting they were all Slytherins who liked to get creative with the rules. Draco gave Harry one last smug sneer and breezed out of the dorm.

“Did he really not realize Higgs is just going to call in sick during our matches so Harry gets to play?” Theo wondered out loud.

“I believe he was too busy composing a mental letter to his father to let him know next year’s bribe of the Quidditch team was back on the agenda to consider things from a more creative perspective,” Blaise offered.

Harry chuckled and looked between his two new friends and decided he’d done pretty well in choosing those two. Of course, there was another maybe not friend but certainly ally who Harry couldn’t wait to share the news with.

“Soulmate!” Harry said with a huge grin the moment Voldemort answered the mirror after Harry had finally gone to bed once their astronomy class was over. “You’ll never guess what Dumbledore did now.”

“I’m sure you will tell me. In great detail.” Voldemort looked about as thrilled with that prospect as he usually did whenever Harry rambled about sports or friends or other un-Dark-Lord-worthy subjects.

Harry inhaled a deep breath and let out some of that frustration he’d been feeling all evening. “I tried out for the Quidditch team on a Shooting Star that was older than you and I nailed it. Seriously, I performed a perfect Wronski Feint, and both Snape and Flint wanted me on the team, so Snape went to Dumbledore to get permission and the old bastard denied us.”

“How dreadful,” Voldemort said, not even trying to hide his amused little smile.

“That asshole gave me permission in my first life just because I was a Gryffindor then. But we’ve found a way around it. I’ll be reserve Seeker and Higgs will just mysteriously fall ill during the matches so I can still play.” Harry waited impatiently for Voldemort’s response.

“Fascinating,” Voldemort said in the kind of voice one might use to describe the hibernating habits of flobberworms.

Harry blinked at him. “Are you even listening? Because I can always call Barty instead. He’d care about this.”

“Barty is a Quidditch fanatic. Of course he’d care,” Voldemort easily agreed. “I’m just astonished you seem so upset about the old man’s prejudice against Slytherins. I assure you, it’s nothing new.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’d just never noticed it before,” Harry said with a sigh. “At least not to this extent.”

“You were never a Slytherin before,” Voldemort pointed out.

“Oh, and I added a whole bunch of people to my study group today. Two more Slytherins and four Hufflepuffs, including a half-blood and a muggleborn, to balance things out, you know?” Harry was so bloody proud his plan to create allies across House borders was coming together nicely.

“When will you be having your first supper party?” Voldemort asked with a sly smile.

Harry blinked. “What?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re starting to sound a lot like Slughorn.” Voldemort looked as though he had trouble not to burst out laughing at seeing Harry’s disgruntled expression.

“I’m nothing like Slughorn,” Harry denied because what else could he do. He wasn’t about to hand Voldemort more ammunition.

“Of course, soulmate.” Voldemort’s grin was brief and razor sharp. “Goodnight.” And with that he snapped his mirror shut.

Harry gaped at his own mirror. That... how... did he really just... oh, Harry was calling Barty at once so he could spend an hour complaining about Dumbledore and Voldemort both.

Chapter Text

“And then he had the gall to use my own humour against me,” Harry finished his story to a visibly intrigued Barty. “He called me soulmate and closed his mirror, that utter tosser.”

“Yeah, I can see how unfortunate your life is, Harry.” Barty snorted and shook his head. “You’re effectively immortal, get to do your life over again and you’re best mates with the Dark Lord to the point where you have funny nicknames for each other.”

Harry ducked his head, suitably chastened about his whining. My god, he’d been pulling a Draco there for a moment, hadn’t he? Complaining about things that didn’t need complaining about. “Sorry. It’s all a little overwhelming at times. Plus I’m suddenly surrounded by eleven-year-olds all day. I think they might be rubbing off on me.”

“Nah, don’t apologize to me,” Barty was quick to say and then gave Harry a look that could best be described as intensely focused. “In fact...thank you.”

“Huh?” Harry blinked at Barty. “What are you thanking me for?”

“Because I doubt our Lord would ever thank you for bringing him back improved, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t grateful. As am I,” Barty said, his eyes shining a little too much.

Harry shrugged, suddenly feeling awkward. “That’s fine. No need to thank me.”

“I mean it, though,” Barty insisted. “Our Lord has told me a little about what happened during your previous lives, how far off the rails he’d gotten when it came to his plans for the Wizarding World. He never wanted to cause so much destruction. None of us do.” Barty smiled briefly. “Well, at least not the sane ones among us followers.”

“Yeah, the Voldemort I knew during my first life was very different from the Voldemort we have now,” Harry said while remembering some of the things the previous Voldemort had done. “I mean, look at what he did with Hogwarts. If there is one thing Voldemort ever genuinely cared about it was this school and he set the Carrows loose in it to cast the cruciatus curse at just about every single student.”

Barty nodded in agreement. “Our Lord has always valued learning and education. That he would purposefully sabotage Hogwarts in such a way is hard to believe.” Barty’s eyes became a little shiny again. “I’m just glad you brought him back full of plans for improvement of our society instead of its ruination.”

“Me, too,” Harry quietly agreed. “I’m going to sleep. I’ve got classes first thing tomorrow.”

“Ah, to be a student again and worry about nothing but homework and Quidditch,” Barty said with a dramatic sigh. “Night, Harry.”

“Night, Barty.” Harry closed his mirror and burrowed under his blankets. It had been a very long day and thankfully he was asleep in minutes.

The next day they had Defence and History in the morning, which meant at least one extra hour of sleep. Harry needed it badly. Mentally he was fine with staying up well past midnight while still getting up early for classes, but physically he was only eleven and he noticed that his young body wasn’t used to having so little sleep.

In the afternoon they had double Transfiguration and Harry was happily surprised when McGonagall handed out matches and instructed them to turn them into needles. His memories of his first-year classes in his previous life were vague at best so Harry hadn’t realized they’d be doing magic so soon in Transfiguration.

Harry inhaled a deep breath and considered how to play this while he pretended to read over his notes. He wanted to be seen as talented and full of potential, yes, but he didn’t want to come off as a full blown prodigy, for several reasons. Most importantly, he wouldn’t be able to keep up that kind of facade the older he got. He was smart, sure, but he was nowhere near the genius level of intelligence of someone like Voldemort. Or even Hermione. Besides that, he didn’t want to draw too much attention to his intellect to the point Dumbledore might grow suspicious his inner Tom Riddle was pulling the strings.

So he settled for smarter and more talented than his classmates, but not a genius by any means. On either side of him, Theo and Blaise were waving their wands over their matches with no result. Harry did the same a few times without actually using any magic. After a minute or two he transfigured the match into a needle without changing the wood into metal.

“Ha,” he said triumphantly with all the pride of an eleven-year-old wizard who has just done magic for the first time. “It’s a needle.”

“A wooden needle,” McGonagall said with a small but pleased curve of her lips as she stepped up to his desk. “Try focusing on the whole needle, shape and material, instead of just the shape. Still, this is well done, Mr Potter. Take two points for Slytherin.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said with a huge grin. Blaise and Theo were staring at his wooden needle in amazement and across the room students were looking at Harry’s desk to see what he’d managed to do in just a few tries. Hermione had even gotten up from her seat and was craning her neck.

Harry kept transfiguring his wooden needle bit by bit while giving Blaise and Theo pointers on how to do what he was doing. By the end of the class Harry had a silver needle and earned an additional whopping five points. Blaise and Theo, and Daphne and Tracy who were sitting behind them and had also followed Harry’s tips, all had managed a small transfiguration by the end of the class, changing the shape a little or the colour. McGonagall seemed very pleased with them while Hermione was frowning when McGonagall gave them all a point each.

Harry briefly wondered how Hermione was going to handle not being the smartest in their year this time. She’d always prided herself on being the best student, getting the highest grades, especially at this age. When she’d become a bit older and more mature she’d toned her competitiveness down a little, but right now Harry knew Hermione was going to have a really hard time with Harry outshining her in every class.

A small part of Harry, the part that remembered the good elements of their friendship with fondness, felt sorry for her. But then he remembered that she wouldn’t look at him as she helped to sentence him to death and he suddenly didn’t care anymore about her hurt feelings.

His feelings had been hurt far worse by her.

After classes he excused himself to use the bathroom, and after he finished in there he locked himself into an empty classroom without any portraits and called Kreacher.

“Little Master is calling Kreacher, and Kreacher is answering.”

“Hi Kreacher, how have you been?” Harry asked with a fond smile. He’d missed the old elf. “Did you get my letter?”

“Yes, Kreacher is reading little Master’s letter and Kreacher is bringing little Master some treats.” The house-elf handed Harry a pile of Welsh cakes wrapped in a tea towel.

“Thanks. I’m going to enjoy these.” Harry tucked the treats into his bag and gave Kreacher a questioning look. “Could you go to Diagon Alley and order a Nimbus 2000 broom for me? Have them send it to me here at Hogwarts.”

“Kreacher will be ordering little Master’s broom.” Kreacher accepted the money pouch Harry handed him and popped away. And with a satisfied sigh, Harry crossed one more item off his mental to-do list.

There was, however, one item on his to-do list that needed careful consideration and yet it was also the item Harry was most eager to get going.

Hiring a solicitor for Sirius.

Harry knew that it needed careful planning because it wouldn’t make sense for a muggle-raised eleven-year-old student to hire a solicitor for the traitor of his parents during the first week of school. He briefly considered hiring a solicitor anonymously, but quickly decided that these things never stayed secret for long, no matter how well intended all partakers of the secret were. Better to find a way for Harry Potter to genuinely want to hire his godfather some legal help, probably once he officially discovered Sirius had never had a trial.

Downside to this was that it would take time, at least a few weeks if not a few months. Then again, Sirius had been in Azkaban for years at that point. A few months more or less weren’t going to make a difference.

Upside was that Harry had a perfect way to discover his godfather’s lack of trial through his growing friendship with Susan Bones. He didn’t want to drop all this in her lap immediately, though, lest she get the idea he’d only befriended her for her connections. Which was true, kind of, but he also genuinely liked her as a person so he didn’t feel too bad about his calculated choices of friends this time around. All of the people he was currently surrounding himself with were people he really enjoyed spending time with. He wouldn’t settle for anything less.

So, during the coming month Harry would take an interest in learning about his parents, discover the identity of the man who’d betrayed them to Voldemort, and get Susan to ask her aunt about trial transcripts so he could see for himself why Sirius Black would betray his best friends.

Satisfied with at least having somewhat of a plan concerning Sirius, Harry left the classroom and joined his friends.

After calling it an early night without any calls to Voldemort or Barty, Harry was much refreshed on Friday morning. A good thing, too, because the arrival of his obviously broom-shaped package caused a bit of a ruckus, and not just at the Slytherin table.

Draco choked on his substandard tea and suffered a coughing fit while Parkinson started complaining loudly about people abusing their fame. Second and third years were demanding to know why a first-year was getting a broom. Students at other House tables were standing up to see what was going on with those usually composed Slytherins. And Harry didn’t even bother unwrapping his broom, but released the huge eagle owl from its burden and walked the wrapped broom straight to Flint.

“Captain, if you could hold onto this for me, I’d appreciate it,” Harry said seriously while handing over the package.

“First training is this Monday morning at 6. Don’t be late,” Flint said, accepting the broom and tucking it away under the table.

Harry nodded at him and sauntered back to his seat as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Blaise and Theo, who already knew what kind of broom Harry had ordered, played along and made no mention of the package while they discussed their upcoming Potions class.

Of course, the fun police caught up with him eventually, in the form of Hermione Granger while they waited outside the Potions classroom for the door to open.

“First-years are not allowed a broom,” Hermione said with her hands on her hips as she stepped in front of him.

“What riveting information. Much thanks for sharing it,” Harry said with a pleasant smile.

Hermione frowned and pinched her lips. “They won’t let you keep your broom, you know.”

“What broom?” Harry wondered with a puzzled tilt of his head. “I don’t have a broom.”

“The broom you got this morning! Everyone saw it!” Hermione huffed in annoyance.

“Everyone except you saw what happened, apparently,” Blaise said in a bored drawl.

Theo immediately added, “Harry received a broom, but did not keep it. Currently, it’s Marcus Flint’s broom.”

“That’s cheating,” Hermione insisted with an offended intake of breath.

“Actually, it was Professor Snape’s idea,” Harry explained patiently. He wasn’t proud of it, but he did enjoy riling Hermione up a bit. She was just so easy to piss off. “And he gave clear instructions that if anyone had a problem with this they should take it up with him.”

Of course at that exact moment the door to the classroom opened and Snape appeared in all his sneering glory.

Hermione whipped around. “Professor, Harry Potter’s got a broom but that’s against the rules for first-years.”

“Ten points from Gryffindor for being a tattletale, Ms Granger.” Snape ignored Hermione’s devastated expression and pointed to the doorway. “Inside, all of you.”

Harry had to duck his head so he wouldn’t burst out laughing. Snape’s attitude towards Houses not his own was a lot more fun when you were a Slytherin. Besides, maybe this would end up being a good lesson for Hermione not to stick her nose in other people’s business. She’d always thought herself Head Girl in charge of controlling other students even as a first-year.

Harry slipped into a seat beside Neville while Blaise and Theo sat down at the desk behind them.

“Don’t mind me saying, Nev, but you look a little nervous,” Harry whispered.

Neville was pale and his hands trembled slightly. “They say Snape can get very nasty,” Neville confessed and swallowed deeply.

“Nah,” Harry said with an airy wave of his hand. “He’ll leave you alone as long as you work hard and are prepared for his classes. Besides, between the two of us we’ll manage a decent potion.”

“I did read the book over the summer,” Neville said tentatively, trying to draw strength from the fact that he had prepared for the class.

“See? You’ll be fine.” Harry gave Neville a friendly nudge with his elbow.

Snape took the register and unlike in Harry’s first life, Snape did not pause at Harry’s name or comment on it. Probably because he’d already met Harry and showed him the appropriate amount of disdain to satisfy whatever level of personal dislike he was trying to reach.

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making,” Snape said as he started what Harry was sure was a well-practised speech. A warm wave of nostalgia washed over Harry as he listened to Snape’s smooth voice tell them about simmering cauldrons and bewitching the mind.

“Potter!” Snape said and Harry had to keep himself from grinning at the memories of his first Potions lesson and how he’d been completely clueless.

“What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry frowned and made a production of seemingly trying to remember the right answer. “That would give you the Draught of Living Death, I believe, Sir.”

Snape narrowed his eyes at Harry for a moment as though he suspected foul play of sorts. “Correct. Two points to Slytherin.” Whipping around, Snape snapped, “Weasley, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

“A what?” Ron asked, looking over at Hermione, who he was sharing a desk with on account that everyone else had paired up and they were the last two left to find a potions partner. Well, Bulstrode was sitting by herself but Harry was sure Ron would sooner burn every Chudley Cannons poster he owned than work willingly with a Slytherin.

“Thought you wouldn’t open your book before coming, Mr Weasley?” Snape drawled with a sneer. “Two points from Gryffindor.”

Oh, Harry could see where this was going... and yep, Snape wanted to make some easy adjustments to the House points.

“Longbottom, what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

Neville turned as pale as Harry had ever seen him and gulped audibly. “Same plant,” he whispered, lips trembling ever so much.

“Hm.” Snape peered down at Neville as though he was a stubborn spot staining his favourite cauldron. Harry quickly bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Well, why aren’t you all copying that down?”

Students scrambled for parchment and quills while Harry gave Neville a huge grin and a thumbs up. A few desks away Hermione was complaining loudly. “If he gave Potter points than he should have given Neville points as well, that’s only fair.”

“Two point from Gryffindor for questioning a professor,” Snape said with a sudden satisfied curve of his lips. Harry was sure Snape had some private quota of points lost for Gryffindor he was trying to meet every day. Hermione gasped and stared down at her desk, eyes shimmering.

Harry would not feel sorry for her. He would not. She hadn’t fucking looked at him as she helped his execution along. She hadn’t known Harry would get a second chance, after all. She had known that through her actions Harry’s life would come to a premature and permanent end.

Inhaling a deep breath, Harry focused on Snape’s instructions for the boil cure they’d be brewing.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Harry said to Neville, who was looking a little less pale than earlier. Getting Snape’s question right had boosted his confidence at least some amount, it seemed.

Neville chopped horned slugs while Harry weighed dried nettles and before long they had the beginnings of a potion brewing in their cauldron. Harry kept a close eye on Neville, remembering he’d made a mistake that melted his cauldron during Harry’s previous life, but for whatever reason Neville paid better attention this time around and after half an hour or so their potion was complete. Harry sat back on his stool and looked around the class. Behind him, Blaise and Theo had also completed an acceptable potion.

Ron and Hermione were bickering to the point of it evolving into a full blown fight. No matter what Ron did, Hermione had something bad to say about it.

“Fine, then you do it by yourself.” And with that Ron threw something in their cauldron, which started hissing and spitting at once.

“Idiot boy,” Snape snarled as he vanished the contents of their cauldron with a wave of his wand. “Look at what you did. Five points from Gryffindor and no marks for you today.”

Ron’s face turned scarlet while Hermione burst into tears and buried her face in her hands.

Harry wasn’t sure what it was that set him off. Snape’s voice or the angle of his neck or the flickering lighting of their dungeon classroom, but one moment Harry saw Snape’s pale skin and the next he saw a gaping wound gushing red blood down Snape’s throat. Staring at a wound that wasn’t there, Harry knew it wasn’t there, it had not happened in this life, he knew that, Harry couldn’t breathe.

Sucking in air as though he was suffocating, Harry bowed his head and desperately tried to calm down. He knew this was his mind playing tricks on him, but that knowledge didn’t stop his body from panicking at the sight of a dying man who wasn’t dying then and there.

But Harry had seen Snape die, had seen his throat ripped out by a huge snake, had seen the wooden floor of the Shrieking Shack painted red with Snape’s blood and he’d seen the life leave Snape’s eyes as he’d looked down at the man.

“Harry? You all right? Professor, I don’t think Harry’s feeling well.”

So much blood, so many lives lost that day, and Ron and Hermione right there behind him in the tunnel, having his back, always having his back until they didn’t. Until they stood by and let the world murder him.

“Potter.” A cool gust of wind hit Harry square in the face and snapped him out of whatever spell had come over him enough to look up at Snape in surprise. Snape had his wand out and was blowing wind in his face.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, inhaling a few deep breaths, his throat no longer feeling like it was closing on him. “Not used to these fumes, I think.”

“This is what happens when you deliberately sabotage your own potion, Mr Weasley. You inevitably harm others. Another five points from Gryffindor.” Snape took one last look at Harry and let him be.

Harry glanced at Neville and offered him as genuine a smile as he was capable of at that moment. “Thanks. I’m feeling better already.”

“All right, just take a moment.” Neville reached for a vial. “I’ll bottle our potion, don’t worry.”

Harry just kept breathing for a minute or two, confused and ashamed and suddenly so fucking tired. Why the hell did that just happen? Why now? Why at all?

Class ended soon after that, for which Harry was immensely grateful.

“I’m going to take a walk, get some air,” Harry told Blaise and Theo once they left the classroom.

“You’ll miss lunch,” Theo said with a worried little frown.

“I know where the kitchens are, I’ll be fine.”

Blaise nodded. “We’ll be in the library after lunch. Come find us there.”

“Yeah, will do.” Harry turned right while his friends turned left to go eat in the Great Hall. But Harry wasn’t hungry and he needed to clear his head. Figure out what had happened. Maybe find a way to make sure it didn’t happen again.

He was happy to have been given a second chance. He was genuinely having a good time coming up with ways to do things better this time around. So why was he suddenly freaking out, and over Snape of all people. Harry didn’t like the man on the best of days and while he certainly didn’t wish the man dead, he wasn’t the only person Harry had ever seen die. Hell, he’d seen Quirrell turn to ash when he’d just been eleven.

He was glad to do his life over again. He was. He knew he was.

He was so fucking alone.

Harry stopped walking and briefly closed his eyes. That was a thought he’d desperately tried not to have ever since he’d come back. He didn’t want to admit it, even to himself. Especially to himself.

Since he found out he was a wizard, since he went to Hogwarts in his first life, Harry had people he could count on. People who cared for him, protected him, supported him. Even loved him. People who were there for him. No matter what happened, Harry knew there were people out there who would take him in, who would offer him a place to stay, listen to his troubles, stand by his side.

Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Mr and Mrs Weasley, Hagrid, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Fred and George, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Moody, and so many others.

And then the war happened and a lot of them died and the rest stood aside to see him dead. Harry remembered wishing desperately for someone, anyone to come for him, to try and help him, as those two Aurors dragged him to the veil.

But no one had come. No one had saved him. Harry was alone, like he’d been before he learned he was a wizard. Truly alone, with no one to turn to, no one to be there for him.

Except his enemy.

Harry snorted as he climbed a staircase. Was it any wonder that he’d insisted on bringing Voldemort back with him? That he’d clung to all the little Toms? That he’d sought out Voldemort the first chance he had and basically thrown his lot in with him without much thought?

Harry was alone, but so was Voldemort. If they stuck together, they’d be less alone and could watch each other’s backs. Harry smiled at the thought of his past self learning that at some point in the future he’d prefer Voldemort’s company to pretty much anyone else’s at this point.

Yes, he was making new friends and he did enjoy spending time with them, but none of them knew him. Knew what he’d been through. And if it was up to Harry, they would never know.

Voldemort knew, though. Voldemort knew Harry better than anyone, and vice versa.

Yep, Harry had to admit, at least to himself, that at that moment, Voldemort was his best friend. Barty came second to that because while Barty knew a few things, he hardly knew everything that had happened.

Without meaning to go there, Harry found himself in the seventh floor corridor. He paced in front of a blank wall and thought of a room he never thought he’d see again. A door appeared and Harry stepped through and tried not to see towering flames bearing down on him in the shape of dragons and basilisks. He wandered the stacks, not touching anything but just taking everything in.

He definitely planned to return here and go through everything, preferably with Kreacher’s help. Sort out the things he’d want to keep such as books and interesting artefacts, and gather things he could sell like gold, wands or antiques. He planned to strip this whole room bare by the end of his Hogwarts career and hopefully it would add a nice bit of gold to his vault. For years all this junk had just been sitting here gathering dust until it burned to ashes. Who knows what rare books or other items had been lost?

Harry was going to make sure it wouldn’t all be lost this time. But not at that time. Right then he was there for one item and one item only.

He found it near a blistered cupboard and a marble bust. Ravenclaw’s diadem was as beautiful as he remembered it. Even more beautiful without all the vile magic tainting it. He considered keeping it, claiming to have found it or something, but that would lead to questions he didn’t want to answer. Besides, he wasn’t the one to have initially recovered this priceless historical artefact.

Someone else had. And he should have it.

Harry sank to the floor and placed Ravenclaw’s diadem carefully next to him. Hedwig wouldn’t mind taking this to its rightful owner. He pulled quill, ink and a sheet of parchment from his book bag and wrote a carefully thought out letter.

‘My dearest Tom,

I saw this exquisite piece and thought of you. There is no one else I want to see wear this as much as I want to see you in a tiara. It is said to provide wisdom so by wearing it you might finally find some of that intelligence you so obviously lack.

Most sincerely yours,

Your forever soulmate.’

Chapter Text

Harry spent another hour or so strolling through the room of requirement, casually cataloguing the kind of things he saw. It was a mishmash of items, everything from classroom furniture, beds, decorations, trunks and school bags, broomsticks and gobstones, cauldrons and scales, to lots of clothing and lots of books. His appetite had returned and he munched on the Welsh cakes Kreacher had given him the day before. He found some cardboard and paper amongst the stuff around him and used it to wrap up Ravenclaw’s diadem.

His next stop was the owlery where Hedwig eagerly accepted the package. Even Harry whispering to her to take it to Voldemort didn’t bother her and she gave him an affectionate nudge of her head on his chin before taking off into the sky. It was still early afternoon so Harry figured Voldemort would receive his present in the early evening. Little Hangleton was in Yorkshire, Northern England, so it wouldn’t take Hedwig more than a few hours to get there from Scotland.

Harry couldn’t wait to talk to Voldemort that evening and see his response.

Feeling lighter and with his mood much improved, Harry joined his friends in the library. He was pleasantly surprised to see his whole study group there. Not just his Slytherins but Neville and the Hufflepuffs were all sitting together at what Harry thought of as their table.

“You look better,” Neville said, pulling his bag off a chair he’d been saving for Harry. “Do you feel better?”

“Yes, Neville told us what happened,” Susan said, looking him over top to bottom. “I found the potions classroom very suffocating as well during our class yesterday.”

Harry held up a hand to ward off further concerns. “I’m feeling good, I promise. A walk and some fresh air did the trick. Now, what are you all working on?”

That worked to distract his friends and Harry sat down and got his own books out to start work on the essay Snape had assigned them.

“We’ll have the entire weekend off,” Daphne noted after they’d all finished all of their homework. “We should explore the castle tomorrow.”

“Harry can show us where the kitchens are,” Theo said with a pointed look at Harry.

Laughing, Harry gathered his things and stuffed them in his bag. “Fine, tomorrow after breakfast, for those who are interested. I’ll show you the kitchens and we’ll go exploring.” There was a chorus of agreements around him as they made their way to the Great Hall.

After dinner, Harry experienced a first at Hogwarts. Quite the feat considering he’d spent more than six years there already. Every Friday right after dinner Slytherin had a House meeting, something that Harry had never seen happen in Gryffindor. Not even once.

All Slytherin students, plus Snape, gathered in the common room. Younger years in the front, older years in the back. The six Prefects stood facing them and addressed whatever issues had come up that week. If someone had earned more points than average for whatever reason, they were publicly congratulated. But if they’d lost more points than a handful, they were called out and made to promise to not repeat that behaviour. They took the time to address any grievances between Slytherins that they hadn’t been able to work out in private. And finally, Snape introduced Harry as the new reserve Seeker. This was met with many curious stares and murmurs, and one mighty scowl courtesy of Draco. After that Snape held a little speech about the end of a successful first week and how he wished for them all to carry on in a similar fashion.

Harry was surprised and shocked that Slytherin house showed more care for its students than Gryffindor had ever done. And Snape taking the time to meet with them at least once a week in the common room was a novelty to Harry. He could count the times he’d seen McGonagall in the common room during six years as a student on one hand.

“Mr Potter,” Snape said as he cut Harry off when he wanted to follow Blaise and Theo to the dormitory. “You are expected in the hospital wing tomorrow at three for your health check-up.”

“My what?” Harry asked, utterly confused.

“You are a first-year who will be playing Quidditch. A health check-up is required before you’re allowed to join the team,” Snape said while crossing his arms.

“But I never – “ Harry cut himself off just in time. He’d been so shocked by this development he’d almost blurted out that he’d never had a health check-up while playing as a first-year for Gryffindor. He cleared his throat. “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” he finally said, but Snape looked at him as if he knew that wasn’t at all what Harry had really meant to say. For a moment Harry worried Snape might be reading his mind. No, that was impossible, Harry reminded himself. Voldemort had covered his mind in mental shields and he was completely sure Snape couldn’t penetrate those.

“Considering you’ve only attended this school for a week, Potter, we can safely assume there are plenty of things you haven’t heard of.” He sneered down at Harry. “Tomorrow at three, hospital wing. Don’t be late.”

“I’ll be there, Sir,” Harry said and waited for Snape to walk away before he joined his friends.

“They can’t have you besmirch Slytherin’s reputation by falling off your broom from a preventable disease,” Blaise pointed out when he spotted Harry’s puzzled expression.

“Too much paperwork,” Theo agreed with a chuckle.

Harry snorted and followed his friends to their dorm to play some exploding snap before bedtime. Harry was going to turn in early because he had a hot date with a Dark Lord. Or something. If Blaise and Theo noticed Harry was acting a little antsier than normal, they didn’t comment on it. About an hour before curfew Harry took a shower and told his friends goodnight.

He’d barely closed his curtains and cast the usual privacy spells when he flipped open the mirror and whispered Voldemort’s name in parseltongue.

Voldemort answered after a minute or so. “Potter. How were classes? Didn’t you have dear Severus today?”

“Soulmate!” Harry stared at Voldemort expectantly, but Voldemort only seemed politely interested in the situation and didn’t give Harry any kind of indication that he’d received his present. Harry swallowed his disappointment. “Yeah, we had potions today. It was a disaster.”

“Who blew up their cauldron? Someone always does.”

“No one, surprisingly. It’s just...” Harry trailed off. Should he tell Voldemort about whatever happened to him? It was admitting a weakness, but then again Voldemort was no longer his enemy so did it matter? Harry decided it might do him good to get it off his chest. “I had some sort of episode during class. One moment Snape was yelling at Ron and Hermione, and the next moment I’m seeing him with his throat torn out, blood everywhere, and I couldn’t breathe.”

“Ah.” Voldemort shifted a little in his seat as if to make himself more comfortable. “That sounds like a panic attack brought on by PTSD.”

“What?” Harry asked in astonishment that Voldemort would even know such things. Then again, the man was a genius.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Voldemort explained. “It is no wonder you have it, to be honest.”

“Well, I don’t want it,” Harry said, frowning at Voldemort who merely smiled in return. “How do I get rid of it?”

“Many, many hours of Muggle therapy seems to work for some.” Voldemort reached to the side and picked up a cup of tea. The man sure did like drinking tea when talking with him, Harry noted with some amusement. “PTSD is worsened by stress.”

“What does that even mean?” Harry wanted to know. Muggle therapy wasn’t an option, he knew that much. He couldn’t tell some unsuspecting Muggle therapist all about his magical traumas.

“Honestly, Harry, it means you should take it easy for a while,” Voldemort told him with a little sigh. “Just this week you’ve been planning and plotting and trying to get your whole new life arranged. You have years for most of that. Take some time off and just enjoy attending Hogwarts again.”

“Huh.” Harry swallowed and considered that. It actually sounded like really good advice. “Okay, yeah, I might try to relax a bit more from now on. Most of my plots and plans are running smoothly now after all.” He offered Voldemort a cheeky grin.

Voldemort merely sipped his tea while giving Harry a considering look. “Do you not believe, Harry, that eleven is a little young to be sending me a courting gift?”

Harry choked on his own spit and coughed violently.

“I mean, you did call me yours and professed yourself mine, while gifting me a priceless artefact. There are only so many conclusions one can arrive at when receiving such a gift.” Voldemort sounded so very, very reasonable.

“No!” Harry swallowed, cheeks flushing while his mind was drawing a blank. “That’s not...I didn’t mean...for fuck’s sake, Tom, it was just a joke.”

Voldemort’s serene expression finally cracked and he snorted with laughter. Harry scowled at him, but Voldemort only laughed louder. “You have Barty to blame for this response, my dear,” Voldemort said while he finally caught his breath. “He suggested it looked suspiciously like a courting gift.”

“Barty sucks and I hate him,” Harry said, not meaning a single word of it. Still, that was a nasty, mean thing to do. He was going to tell Barty so. In detail.

“But all joking aside, thank you for gifting me the diadem,” Voldemort said, sounding surprisingly honest. “You could have easily kept it for yourself. Claimed it as a found artefact.”

Harry shrugged. “Nah, too many questions. Besides, you were the one to recover it in the first place. So it’s yours.”

Voldemort inclined his head. “Once I have my body back I might claim it publicly. It would be a good way back into magical society.”

“So you’ve decided on an identity then?” Harry asked, perking up. He was desperate to know who Voldemort was planning to be in the future.

“Patience, my dear. You’ll see eventually.” Voldemort looked far too smug for Harry’s liking.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Ugh, you’re just evil as Barty. I’m going to sleep.”

“I’ll tell Barty you said that. Good night, soulmate.” Voldemort gave him one last little smirk and clicked the mirror shut.

Harry sighed and dropped down against the mattress. Courting gifts for Voldemort. How ridiculous was that?

The next morning, Harry woke up well rested and decided to take Voldemort’s advice. There were no pressing matters to attend to and he could afford to spend one weekend just being a carefree student. After a delicious breakfast, where Harry made sure to serve himself his favourite dishes, their group gathered in the entrance hall. Everyone was there. Five Slytherins, four Hufflepuffs and one brave Gryffindor.

They decided to explore the castle first, starting at the top floor and working their way down. Harry briefly entertained the idea of accidentally on purpose exploring the forbidden third floor corridor just to satisfy Dumbledore’s plans for him, but he quickly decided against it. He didn’t want to drag his new friends into danger. They were all eleven and had no business getting involved with a Cerberus or Devil’s Snare.

Lunch was had in the kitchens, which Hannah confessed the Hufflepuffs already knew the location of. Apparently first-year badgers were told on their first day at Hogwarts where to find it since the entrance was practically next to the door to their common room. The elves welcomed them warmly, got out a big table for them and treated them to finger sandwiches, warm sausage rolls straight from the oven, strawberry tarts and chocolate milk.

Since they were all feeling a little stuffed after lunch they decided to take a walk around the lake to get some fresh air and enjoy the early fall colours of the forbidden forest while the sun was still shining plentifully. They skipped rocks on the calm surface of the lake, and even started a friendly competition which Ernie won. Apparently his family had a tradition of skipping rocks while on holidays and Ernie had years of practice on all of them.

Harry would have forgotten all about his appointment at the hospital wing if Theo hadn’t reminded him. Just acting as a Hogwarts student, talking about unimportant things and listening to his friends joke and laugh did do him good. Voldemort definitely was on to something when it came to reducing stress and just enjoying himself for a change. Harry vowed to do it more often, maybe even every weekend. Keep the plotting and planning to weekdays, make sure all his homework was done during their study group and spend Saturday and Sundays having fun around the castle.

“Harry, don’t you have an appointment at three? It’s a quarter to.” Theo said when they’d just about circled the lake.

“Yes, you might want to avoid pissing off Snape,” Blaise added with a severe look. Neville paled just hearing that despised name.

“Crap. Yes, gotta run. Sorry.” Harry waved at his friends, most of who looked utterly bewildered.

“We’ll explain. Just go.” Theo pointed at his own watch just to drive the point home.

Harry ran all the way to the hospital wing and made it there with barely a minute to spare. Snape and Pomfrey were waiting for him and thankfully they were the only ones there.

“Sorry, we were out by the lake,” Harry managed to squeeze out while trying to catch his breath.

“You’re not late, Mr Potter. Please follow me.” Pomfrey gave him an amused smile as she led him to a bed half-hidden by white curtains. Snape looked decidedly less amused but kept to the background.

Pomfrey got out her wand. “Please undress yourself. You can keep your underwear on. Can you tell me about your vaccination record, Mr Potter?”

Harry shucked his clothes and sat down on the edge of the bed while Pomfrey waved her wand over him in a few complicated patterns. Different coloured lights appeared and disappeared around him but Harry paid them no mind. “I know my aunt has gotten me all muggle vaccinations,” Harry said. He’d heard Petunia mention it enough to know he was up to date, surprisingly. Not out of the goodness of Petunia’s heart though. Vaccinations were covered by the NHS, and thus cost the Dursleys nothing. Besides, Petunia wouldn’t want her unvaccinated nephew bringing scary diseases home to her precious Dudley.

“Your aunt?” Snape asked quietly, eyes narrowing. “Petunia Evans?”

“Dursley now,” Harry said with a nod and a shrug. He’d assumed Snape would know who he lived with, since Snape knew his mother only had one sibling.

“What about your magical inoculations?” Pomfrey asked as she tucked her wand away.

“I’m assuming my parents got me vaccinated but since I started living with my aunt I haven’t gotten any.” Harry reached for his clothes again as Pomfrey gestured at him to get dressed.

“You need a muggleborn inoculations package then. I’ll get it for you.” Pomfrey gave Snape a significant look. “Severus, could I see you for a moment?”

Just as Harry was tying his shoes, Pomfrey briefly returned to give him a few vials of potions to drink before disappearing again. Harry did so and sat on the edge of the bed to wait for their return.

It took them perhaps ten minutes or so and when they did they both looked as though they were about to attend a funeral.

“Mr Potter,” Pomfrey said with a small smile which she probably meant to be reassuring but which only put Harry on edge. “I’ve found some worrying signs during your check-up.”

“Such as?” Harry eyed her warily, unable to believe Pomfrey, who had cared for him for all his Gryffindor years and never made a comment, only now noticed something wrong with him.

“Prolonged malnutrition,” Pomfrey said, again with an exaggerated smile.

Harry shrugged. “I took a potion for that. I’m fine.”

“Mr Potter, I’ve seen you eat three generous meals a day this week,” Snape said with less of a sneer than usual. It disturbed Harry. “So the question is... why are you malnourished?”

Harry snorted, he couldn’t help it. He clamped his hand over his mouth to stop from laughing out loud, but he really, really wanted to. For years and years during his previous life no one noticed his malnourished body or the rags he was wearing or the fact he never went home for Christmas or never received any mail from home

No one fucking noticed when Harry needed them to.

But now that he finally had his life where he wanted it, with the Dursleys bribed into compliance, suddenly people cared? What the fuck?

“Mr Potter, we are here to help,” Pomfrey said in a soothing voice, probably mistaking his reaction as one out of distress or shame, instead of out of the sheer absurdity of the situation.

Shaking his head, Harry pulled his hand away from his mouth and inhaled a deep breath. “Could I please speak to Professor Snape? In private?”

Snape and Pomfrey exchanged a brief look and then Pomfrey walked away while Snape drew the curtains and cast a privacy spell.

“In my old school, for years I walked around visibly underfed and dressed in rags and no one said anything or did anything,” Harry said honestly. “So forgive me if I’m feeling a bit sceptical right now.”

“You’re forgiven.” Snape crossed his arms and gave Harry a significant look, his eyes narrowed. “How bad is it?”

“At the Dursleys? Could be worse. Mostly they didn’t feed me enough and until recently I slept in a cupboard.” Harry raised a hand when he saw Snape widening his eyes. “But not anymore. I’ve got the Dursleys under control.”

“Mr Potter, what you’re telling me, combined with Madam Pomfrey’s diagnostics, are reason enough to remove you from their very dubious care.”

Harry smiled a sad little smile. How naive Snape was, and how funny Harry thought the idea of Snape ever being naive about anything was. “It’s really not enough. Petunia told me that Dumbledore basically forced me into their care. The Dursleys certainly never wanted me but Dumbledore made sure to threaten them into compliance. For some reason the headmaster really wants me there, even when both the Dursleys and myself would much rather part ways. Do you understand?”

Snape was quiet for a long moment, gaze distant as he probably did some mental calculations. “You said you have the Dursleys under control. How?”

“I’ve bribed them,” Harry said with a grin, feeling oddly proud he’d managed that. “I inherited some money and I’m paying the Dursleys 350 pounds for every month I physically stay with them. In return I get a bedroom, three meals a day and a reduced workload. The rest of the time they leave me alone. It worked well this summer, so I’d really rather you didn’t interfere, no matter how well intentioned. Best to let sleeping headmasters lie.”

Snape snorted and almost smiled. But only for a second and then he was back to his customary scowl. “Should your arrangement with your family fall through, Mr Potter, I want you to tell me immediately.”

“Sure,” Harry agreed easily. “I’ve got a few contingency plans, though, so you don’t have to worry.”

“You truly do belong in our House, Mr Potter,” Snape said in a tone that could almost be described as amused.

“She mentioned you,” Harry said with a tilt of his head. “Petunia, I mean. She called you ‘that awful boy’ and said you introduced my mum to magic.” Harry decided he wanted Snape to know he already knew about his connection to Lily. Perhaps Snape would loosen up some around him and stop comparing him to his father if he realized Harry already knew his secrets. Well, at least those secrets pertaining to Lily Potter.

Snape got a pinched look on his face. “Indeed. We grew up in the same town.” Snape straightened up and turned away from Harry. Over his shoulder, he said, “Your results also showed you’ve already taken Sonder’s Nutritional Potion. I’m giving you another month’s worth of them, delivered to your plate during breakfast. Take them, Mr Potter.” And with that, Snape swept the curtain aside and was gone.

Harry took that as his cue to get going as well. He’d had quite enough of the hospital wing already. He now realized that Snape had lured him there with an excuse because he suspected Harry was being mistreated at home.

Why the hell did Snape even care? He’d certainly never done so before. No one had when it came to Harry’s home life. Not even people like the Weasleys had offered to take him in for the full summer, or even just to come put the fear of magic into the Dursleys while Harry had to stay there for a few weeks. Harry wasn’t mad at Snape for luring him to the hospital wing for a physical exam. The man was doing his job as a Head of House, which was more than McGonagall had ever done for him.

He was just so bloody confused about why it happened now, but not before when he’d desperately needed help.

Harry’s mind was in turmoil and he decided he wasn’t up to joining his friends yet. He needed to sort out his own thoughts and feelings on this and he knew just the guy to talk to. Once he got to the seventh floor corridor he imagined a quiet place to talk as he paced in front of the blank wall. The room he found beyond the door that appeared looked surprisingly like the drawing room in Grimmauld Place.

Sinking down in one of the leather chairs, Harry pulled the compact mirror out of his pocket and called out Voldemort’s name in parseltongue.

“Did you miss me so much you’re calling me during the day now, my dear?” Voldemort said as he answered the mirror.

Harry snorted with laughter. “You caught me. No, seriously, you’ll never guess what Snape just did.”

“What did dear Severus do?” Voldemort asked, smile suddenly a little sharper.

“He actually did a good job as a Head of House and had me screened for abuse in the hospital wing using Quidditch as an excuse that I needed a physical.” Harry released a deep sigh and leaned his head on the back of his chair. “I just don’t get it. In my previous life no one fucking cared I was underfed and dressed in rags. And now that I’ve got my life together suddenly people are all up in my business.”

Voldemort shrugged. “The answer seems simple. You’ve surrounded yourself with different people this time, not to mention you are a different person yourself.”

“Yeah, but...” Harry rubbed a hand across his face.

“You are confused there are people who take child abuse seriously?” Voldemort asked, tone serious enough though his lips twitched.

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s just very strange to see people act so differently.” Harry looked at Voldemort, held his red gaze, and said, “So can we maybe not kill Snape this time?”

Chapter Text

“Why on earth are you so eager to spare Severus’ life?” Voldemort asked with a curious tilt of his head. “As I understand it since you’ve mentioned it numerous times, Severus never treated you well in your first life.”

“Understatement,” Harry said with a chuckle. “Snape’s always been a bastard, sure, but he’s as of yet also the only adult who’s ever tried to do something about my abusive home life.” To be fair, Harry wasn’t even sure why he wanted to spare Snape, aside from his unexpected abilities as a Head of House. It just didn’t sit well with him that Voldemort wanted him dead.

Voldemort didn’t say anything for quite a while, and Harry waited patiently, realizing this wasn’t something to rush Voldemort into. Whatever decision Voldemort made, he needed to make it in his own time.

“I would require additional vows,” Voldemort finally said. “Severus has betrayed me once. I wouldn’t want to give him the opportunity to do it again.”

“But you know now how and why he betrayed you,” Harry pointed out, hopeful Voldemort would give Snape a chance. “It will be easy to prevent it this time. Not to mention, as of yet he hasn’t actually betrayed you. Not really. And as Dumbledore’s spy he’s dead useful.”

“I will consider it,” Voldemort finally said, and Harry could tell from his tone of voice that was as much as he was going to get right now. “Besides, I don’t want to make any promises without talking to Severus and seeing how far he’ll be willing to go when it comes to taking additional vows.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said, but he was relieved nonetheless. Voldemort really had changed, really was willing to compromise, and Harry was once again glad he’d insisted the man get his whole soul back before they were given their second life. The difference was astonishing. “Thanks for at least thinking it over.”

Voldemort’s smile was small and slightly surprised. “You’re welcome, my dear. We will speak soon.” And with that he clicked the mirror shut. Harry shook his head and went in search of his friends.

Sunday was spent much the same as Saturday, but thankfully without any ambushes from his Head of House. Harry and his friends spent the day exploring, plying treats off the very eager house-elves, and walking around the castle, admiring the many amazing views of the Scottish landscape. It surprised Harry that it was so enjoyable to spend time with his current friends, seeing as they were all eleven and he was, mentally at least, eighteen. But perhaps spending time with children, as smart and mature as some of them were they were still kids, was exactly what Harry needed to relax. Their worst fears took on the form of teachers or homework. None bore psychological scars because they’d been through a war. Surrounding himself with them felt as if he was able to let go of certain aspects of himself. Aspects brought on by abuse and war and betrayal and death.

Had Harry ever been able to just be a kid? Harry wasn’t sure when he thought about it. One would think that during his first year in his previous life he’d been a kid, but it wasn’t that simple. During his first life Harry was unprepared and overwhelmed and stressed out about having to return to the Dursleys each summer. He’d been unwittingly groomed to take on more and more dangerous adversaries with no regard for his own life. A possessed teacher, a basilisk, a hundred dementors, a dragon and the Dark Lord himself.

No, the more Harry thought about it, the more he realized he really never had been just a kid. Not even before Hogwarts, when all he’d been was the Dursleys’ unwanted burden, starved, worked like a house-elf and kept in a closet.

So Harry decided, after another fun day hanging with his young friends, that he was going to allow himself this. He could plot and plan during the week, but from then on the weekends were for having fun and relaxing. Goodness knows he’d earned a bit of time off every now and then, what with the life he’d had.

Monday morning brought with it Quidditch practice. Marcus Flint quickly proved he was every bit as fanatical as Oliver Wood had ever been, except he lacked Wood’s relatively pleasant personality. Flint had no time for anyone’s excuses or bullshit. He expected his players to do their fucking best all the fucking time.

Harry loved it, even if he had to get up at the crack of dawn and brave an icy Scottish wind a few hundred feet up in the air. Truth was that flying, more than any other thing in his life, allowed him to relax and forget and have fun. It hardly mattered to Harry that it was accompanied by a shouting Flint ordering them to fly in certain formations while bludgers soared around their ears.

When he returned to his dorms for a well-deserved shower, Harry’s muscles were loose and his mind clear and he was more than ready for another week of classes.

During breakfast he received a package wrapped in brown paper with a note in Voldemort’s handwriting.

‘Open this when you are alone.

You must thank Barty for this, because while I asked him to purchase these, he is ultimately the one who braved a Muggle store to get them.

Hopefully you will find them helpful.’

Harry burned with curiosity but he heeded Voldemort’s words and stuffed the package unopened in his book bag. Once they made their way to History, he excused himself to use the bathroom and slipped inside an empty classroom. He ripped the paper off and found himself holding a handful of Muggle books. A self-help guide for PTSD, a guide for dealing with childhood abuse, a biography of a soldier living with PTSD, a book on meditation and a book on yoga, which what the fuck? He got all the other titles, but yoga?

Harry read the back flap of the book with a puzzled frown until he came across a paragraph that mentioned that yoga was apparently an excellent way to deal with stress and anxiety, and then it all made a little more sense why Voldemort would send him this book.

“Kreacher!” Harry called, because he remembered he didn’t have just Voldemort to thank for these.

Kreacher appeared almost at once. “Little Master is calling Kreacher?”

“Hi. Can you make me a nice batch of lardy cakes and leave them on my bed?”

Kreacher nodded. “Little Master will be having cakes this afternoon.”

“Thanks, Kreacher. I appreciate it.” Harry waved and Kreacher popped away. During his talks with Barty he’d learned that lardy cakes were Barty’s favourite treat so he’d send them off after classes with a note thanking him. Harry was terribly amused on the one hand that the Dark Lord would send him Muggle self-help books, but on the other hand he realized all too well he needed all the help he could get. He would be reading those books carefully and genuinely try to use whatever lessons they might teach.

Harry slept through History and took plentiful notes during Transfiguration. After lunch they had double Defence and Harry was more than pleasantly surprised to see the student desks shoved against the walls when they entered the classroom. In his previous life all Quirrell had done for months was stutter during his lessons. They hadn’t used magic until after Halloween.

“We’ll be trying some magic today,” Quirrell said with a smile, while the students chattered in excitement. Quirrell proceeded to explain the Disarming Charm and demonstrated it by disarming Seamus and Dean one after the other. He then paired up the students, one Slytherin and one Gryffindor per pair.

Harry was paired up with Hermione, because of course he was.

Quirrell had barely given the signal to begin when Harry whipped his wand out. “I’ll start,” he said, and flicked his wand with practised ease. “Expelliarmus.”

“You’re doing it wrong,” Hermione said, and gasped when her wand was pulled from her hand.

Harry caught it easily. “Looks like it worked just fine.”

“But it shouldn’t,” Hermione insisted, yanking her own wand back when Harry offered it to her handle first. “Your flick was far too small.” She swished her own wand around in a wide arch. “Like this. Expelliarmus!”

Harry felt a tug on his wand but it wasn’t strong enough so he held onto it. He gave Hermione a pitiful look. “Or maybe you’re wrong. Imagine that.”

Hermione glared at him with a mulish expression. “I know I’m right. Professor Quirrell just demonstrated it. Expelliarmus!”

Another tug, a little stronger now but still not strong enough. Harry shrugged. “Nope, you’re still wrong.”

“Professor!” Hermione turned around and waved her hand high up in the air. “Harry Potter is cheating!”

Harry sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. So this was how Hermione was going to deal with not being the smartest in the class. By accusing anyone better than her of cheating. Merlin’s saggy underpants, Harry was too old for this childish bullshit.

Quirrell joined them with an expectant look on his face. “Mr Potter, let’s see you disarm Ms Granger.”

“Expelliarmus!” Harry caught Hermione’s wand for a second time without any problems.

“Well done.” Quirrell beamed at him. “Five points to Slytherin for being the first to successfully cast the charm.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said with a polite little smile, ignoring Hermione’s outraged intake of breath.

Quirrell gestured at Hermione. “Now you, Ms Granger.”

Hermione visibly composed herself and swished her wand around in a much too wide arch. “Expelliarmus!”

Once again resisting the tug, Harry held onto his wand.

“See,” Hermione said while she pointed at him with an accusatory finger. “He’s cheating.”

“Two points from Gryffindor, Ms Granger,” Quirrell said with a stern frown. “Just because you have not yet mastered the spell doesn’t mean you should accuse others of cheating. Instead focus on practicing and making your flicks a little smaller.”

Hermione nodded as she glared at her shoes. Harry sighed, feeling all kinds of conflicting things when seeing Hermione like this. A small part of him did enjoy seeing Hermione put in her place, but mostly he pitied her in moments like these. She was making herself incredibly unlikable to her fellow students, not to mention her teachers. As Quirrell had just demonstrated, they had little patience for students falsely accusing each other.

Blaise, who was working beside them with Parvati, caught Harry’s eyes and raised an eyebrow in question. Harry mouthed ‘later’ and Blaise went back to trying to disarm his opponent. A few students down the line Neville was working with Tracy and both of them were craning their necks to see what was going on with Harry.

Shaking his head, Harry went back to disarming Hermione. It took her until the end of the class to finally disarm Harry in return. When she managed it she gave him a triumphant look which Harry ignored. The last thing he wanted was to give into her need for attention. He had no intention to become her official rival or some such nonsense.

Harry made a quick stop at the dorms to pick up the lardy cakes. He wrapped them up with a quick note he’d written during the first ten minutes of History.

‘Barty,

A braver man than you there never was. Venturing on a quest into the Muggle world on the command of your Lord to steal their wisdom is a feat deserving of the finest of baked goods. Enjoy them, good Sir, for your heroism shall be praised by peasants everywhere for many years to come.

Harry

P.s. Seriously, thanks! I look forward to reading them. Also, a courting gift? What the fuck is wrong with you?’

Hedwig, as always, greeted him by sailing down to sit on his shoulder the moment he stepped into the owlery. He gently stroked her head, just enjoying her presence for a moment. He’d lost her once and he refused to take her for granted. He offered her the small package and sent her on her way, and then left to join his friends in the library.

Once he got there an unwelcome surprise awaited him. Hermione was sitting beside Neville at their table in Harry’s usual spot, surrounded by his friends. She had her books and parchment spread out and looked for all the world as if she belonged there even though everyone else was giving her questioning looks.

Yeah, Harry was going to have to put a stop to this immediately. He refused to spend time with Hermione outside what was needed in classes. He just couldn’t deal with it. Perhaps it wasn’t fair to an eleven year old child which Hermione still was, but Harry knew that he’d go absolutely insane if he had to socialize with her in any way, shape or form.

He just couldn’t do it.

Harry walked up to her with a polite smile. “Granger, I don’t recall inviting you to spend time with us.”

Hermione turned in her seat to look up at him, her chin tilted up more than was needed. “It’s a study group. You can’t stop me from participating.”

Harry shook his head. “It’s not, though. We’re just a group of friends spending time together, and occasionally that means studying.”

“Honestly, Harry, we don’t mind,” Susan said, always inclusive as a true Hufflepuff. Hannah nodded in agreement. “We are here to study today, after all.”

“But I do mind,” Harry said, crossing his arms. “Granger couldn’t deal with the fact that I managed the Disarming Charm before her and falsely accused me of cheating in Defence.” He looked Hermione straight in the eye. “I’ve yet to receive an apology for that, now that I think about it.”

Hermione’s cheeks coloured red but she didn’t say a word.

“You’re not welcome here,” Theo said quietly, but with intensity. Hermione’s cheeks blazed redder still.

Neville let out an enormous sigh. “I warned you, Hermione.” He turned in his seat to look up at Harry. “She overheard me telling Dean I was going to the library to study with a few others and invited herself along even though I told her we’re not an official study group.”

“Not your fault,” Harry assured him. He knew all too well how tenacious Hermione could be.

“Accusing someone of cheating just because they’ve accomplished something you haven’t isn’t okay,” Susan said with a little frown. Hannah added, “Perhaps you should just leave.” Ah yes, that famed Hufflepuff loyalty at work. Badgers really were ferocious when one of their own was threatened.

Hermione looked torn between lecturing them and running away crying. Harry was already tired of dealing with her and it had only been a week of classes at this point. It was going to be a long seven years.

Hermione inhaled a deep breath and fell back on her standard behaviour when she was feeling stressed. Spewing facts. “I’m telling Professor McGonagall you’re not inclusive in your study group. According to the Hogwarts charter any and all groups must be inclusive and cannot exclude anyone based on House or anything else.”

“We’re not an official study group,” Ernie pointed out with an exasperated sigh.

“I don’t get what you’re trying to do here,” Justin said while he glanced around the table before focussing on Hermione. “You’ve unfairly accused Harry of cheating and now you expect us to want to be your friend? And you honestly think this will work?”

“Hermione,” Neville said, sounding bone-tired. “Please just go.”

“Fine, but I am reporting you.” Hermione threw her books and parchment into her bag, gave them all a final look of superiority, nose in the air, and marched towards the exit.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” Blaise said with a chuckle as Harry sat down in the seat Hermione had just vacated.

“She’s a real piece of work,” Neville said with another tired sigh. “In Gryffindor people literally flee in the opposite direction if they see her coming because she constantly tries to boss people around.”

“That explains why she doesn’t have any friends then,” Hannah said as she shared a look with Susan. “We had noticed she’s always alone.”

“If this is how she acts trying to make friends that’s not a surprise,” Justin said. He still looked unsure as to what he’d just witnessed exactly.

They talked about Hermione and her strange infiltration attempt for a few more minutes but eventually they started on their homework.

Harry didn’t bring Hermione’s behaviour up again until he was lying in bed and calling Voldemort on the mirror.

“Thanks for the books,” Harry said the moment Voldemort answered. “I’m going to read them all and I might even take an hour one evening and do some yoga in the Room of Requirement.”

“You’re welcome, my dear,” Voldemort said and narrowed his eyes as he studied Harry’s face for a few moments. “I have a feeling something overshadows your joy somewhat. Did anything happen?”

Harry briefly pursed his lips while squeezing his eyes shut. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he finally whispered.

“Do what exactly?” Voldemort’s voice was equally quiet. “If being a student doesn’t agree with you, there are alternatives.”

“Huh?” Harry felt like a bit of an idiot for never having thought of that. Ever since he’d started his life over again all he’d considered doing was attend Hogwarts again.

“There is no actual reason for you to attend Hogwarts other than your own desire to live your life again. You could leave at any time and hide yourself away here or elsewhere. Study magic you don’t already know, take aging potions when going out in public.”

“You’ve thought about this,” Harry guessed, suddenly very tempted by what Voldemort had described.

Voldemort gave him a sly smile. “I like to consider all options, not just the obvious ones. Now what happened to bring this on?”

“Ugh. My former best friend Hermione decided to accuse me of cheating during Defence because I performed the Disarming Charm before her, and later she joined our study group when no one wanted her there and then she left to report us or something.”

Voldemort gave a rather undignified snort. “Ah, yes, such challenges you face.”

“I know, okay,” Harry said while he glared at Voldemort, which only made him appear even more amused. “When I think back on it I know it’s all just childish bullshit, but every time I’m confronted with her, young as she is, she makes my skin crawl and I want to hex her.”

“She betrayed you,” Voldemort pointed out. Harry had told him in detail what had happened and who’d been involved. “And you trusted her. More than anyone else probably.”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed.

Voldemort chuckled, and when Harry frowned at him he didn’t even try to appear apologetic. “Forgive me for finding this whole situation deliciously ironic. Just the other day you were pleading with me to give my betrayer a second chance, a man who would sell me out to Dumbledore in a heartbeat, and here you are complaining because an eleven year old was acting childishly against you.”

“Fine,” Harry grumbled. “When you put it that way it all seems a little silly, I agree. But I can’t help what I feel when she’s around.”

“Perhaps you should try to divorce this child from the young woman that betrayed you. The child has done nothing to you and she will never grow into the young woman who betrayed you simply because you won’t let her close again.” Voldemort leaned back in his chair and stared at Harry with a bit of a challenge in his eyes.

“Maybe I should try that.” Harry offered Voldemort a grin that was far too cheeky. “Will you do the same with Snape?”

“What is your obsession with that man’s life?” Voldemort demanded.

Something suddenly occurred to Harry and he shot up in bed. “Oh! I know.” Harry looked at Voldemort with a huge grin. “Snape owed my dad a life-debt.”

“Ah, now that makes sense.” Voldemort looked at Harry with a satisfied smile. “And now that life-debt has transferred to you. And it’s making you reluctant to see the man die before that debt can be settled.”

“That does make sense, doesn’t it.” Harry was extremely proud of himself for having figured that out. “And I don’t want to leave Hogwarts,” he added, just so Voldemort knew where they stood. “I’m enjoying myself for the most part. But it is nice to know there are alternatives, so thank you for pointing them out.”

“You’re welcome, my dear,” Voldemort said with a look that could almost be described as fond. “Now get some sleep. It wouldn’t do for you to be too tired tomorrow to deal with all those childish antics.”

“Night, Tom.” Harry burrowed deeper under his covers.

“Good night, Harry.” Voldemort, grinning, closed his mirror very slowly, causing Harry to snort before closing his eyes.

The next morning during double Herbology, Harry, Blaise and Theo worked with Ernie and Justin to repot biting begonias. They sounded fearsome, and they did bite, but since they had no teeth that was more of a nuisance than any real threat.

“You’ll never believe what Cedric Diggory told us,” Ernie whispered as he filled a pot with soil. “He heard it from the Weasley twins.”

“Heard what?” Theo asked, holding a begonia that was gumming his fingers as he waited for Ernie to finish.

Ernie glanced over both his shoulders to make sure they weren’t overheard. “The secret that they’ve warned students away from in the third floor corridor is a giant three-headed dog. The twins saw it with their own eyes when they snuck in there.”

Harry’s begonia shrieked in protest when he accidentally squeezed it far too tightly.

Chapter Text

“But how big can it really get?” Justin asked for the umpteenth time. As a muggleborn he seemed to have the most difficulty accepting that giant three-headed dogs even existed. Harry understood the feeling. He, too, found the concept of Fluffy hard to believe at first and he’d seen the thing with his own eyes multiple times.

“They can grow to the size of a small dragon,” Tracey explained patiently.

“Yeah, that doesn’t really tell me anything,” Justin muttered and turned back to his homework.

It was Wednesday and they were spending their afternoon off in the library working on a Charms essay. And for over twenty-four hours Harry had to listen to his friends speculate about the Cerberus on the third floor. He let them but mostly kept quiet himself. When he first heard Ernie mention the Weasley twins sneaking into the third floor corridor, his saving people instincts had kicked in and he’d spent the rest of Herbology thinking of ways to keep students away from Fluffy.

And then, sometime after lunch as they listened to Flitwick lecture during double Charms, Harry came to his senses.

Whatever the fuck Dumbledore was scheming was not Harry’s responsibility. And neither was it up to him to save the Weasley twins, or other adventurous students from themselves. Dumbledore wanted to keep an enormous, vicious beast inside a school? That was up to Dumbledore and had nothing to do with Harry. And once Harry came to that conclusion a huge weight lifted off his shoulders.

It wasn’t up to him to save the school. What a concept. Every time Harry repeated this conclusion in his head he had to smile. Dumbledore’s grooming, which had been frightfully successful in his previous life, had apparently lost its power over Harry. Finally.

“What do you think, Harry?” Neville asked him.

Harry blinked at him. “Hm?”

“About the Cerberus,” Neville explained.

“I think Dumbledore’s out of his mind keeping that thing in a school,” Harry said, meaning every word.

“Hear, hear,” Blaise said with a gesture of his hand as though he was toasting Harry.

Harry grinned at him. “Other than that, it’s really not our business.” He shrugged and looked at Susan. “Doesn’t your aunt work for law enforcement? I wonder if Dumbledore isn’t breaking several laws with keeping that thing where students can get to it. A magically locked door isn’t going to keep most of them out.”

“That’s a good point,” Susan said with a little frown.

“Amelia Bones is the Head of Magical Law Enforcement,” Daphne said and gave Susan a significant look. “You should let her know what Dumbledore is doing. I for one will sleep better knowing that monster is gone from the school.”

“I’ll write to her,” Susan said, and with that everyone returned to their homework.

Harry was feeling a little bit torn about involving Amelia Bones. He still planned to steal the Philosopher’s Stone and that would be easier when he knew what challenges exactly awaited him. Yes, Fluffy was fearsome but Harry knew some music put him right to sleep and he was therefore an easy obstacle to overcome. Should Fluffy be forced from the castle there was no knowing what Dumbledore would replace it with.

Then again, Dumbledore wanted Harry to survive the obstacle course so he could come face to face with Voldemort. So whatever he would replace Fluffy with wouldn’t be too difficult or dangerous.

And getting Dumbledore into trouble with Amelia Bones was just too good to pass up. Harry decided that Dumbledore had gotten away with a lot of child endangerment during his last life. This time he was going to get a lot of pleasure out of reporting every bit of it to the appropriate Ministry departments.

Harry decided that one of his new missions in his new life was to make Dumbledore’s life as difficult as possible. He couldn’t wait for Voldemort to get his body back, take on a new identity and oppose Dumbledore while Harry happily and publicly allied himself with this new wizard.

For the rest of the day the chatter concerning the Cerberus died down a little amongst his friends now that everyone was waiting to see what Amelia Bones would have to say about it. Once Harry was tucked in his bed he contemplated calling Voldemort on the mirror, but he couldn’t really think of a reason to do so, yet it had been two days since he’d spoken to the Dark Lord and absurdly, Harry realized he missed the man.

The mirror, which he held in his hand as he debated whether to call Voldemort or not, grew warm and lit up.

“Harry,” Barty said, waving a lardy cake in front of the mirror as Harry answered. “Cheers, mate. These are really good.” And then he stuffed the whole cake in his mouth, chewing vigorously while his cheeks puffed out.

Harry chuckled. “Barty, haven’t seen you in a while. Thanks for the books. They’re helpful so far.” Harry had read most of the PTSD guide in bed the evening before and found certain tips quite useful, such as the idea of immersion therapy concerning traumatizing memories. Instead of avoiding painful memories, the idea was to immerse yourself in them whenever they popped in your mind and rationalize what happened in them, thus taking away their traumatizing power. Harry was determined to do this the next time such memories popped up instead of pretending nothing bad had ever happened to him.

“You’re welcome,” Barty said after an eternity of chewing and swallowing. “To be honest, I quite liked the Muggle bookstore.”

“Ravenclaw,” Harry said, making it sound like an accusation.

“Yeah, yeah,” Barty said, waving Harry’s comment away. “They had a lot more interesting and useful books than I thought Muggles would have. I might go back.” Barty gave him an expectant look. “Do you need any more self-help books?”

“How to not want to save the world all the time,” Harry said in a deadpan tone.

Barty snickered. “What happened now? Our Lord told me you had a rough time with your eleven-year-old muggleborn nemesis.”

“He told you that?” Harry shook his head while he imagined Voldemort gossiping about him with Barty. Somehow that image made him want to simultaneously laugh and cringe. What did those two talk about when it came to Harry?

“Yes, he was most amused by your struggles,” Barty said with a wide grin.

“Of course he was.” Harry sighed and privately bemoaned Dark Lords and their penchant to make fun of Harry’s very difficult Hogwarts life. “Some students snuck into the third floor corridor and discovered the Cerberus, and my first instinct was to stick my nose in it to save everyone involved.”

Barty frowned and seemed to consider this for a moment. “I think they did have books for that,” he finally said and he offered Harry a bright smile. “How to say no, and how to stop trying to please everyone. I think I will go back to that bookstore and get some for you.”

“Sure,” Harry said, very amused Barty was desperately looking for excuses to revisit a Muggle store. And who knew? Whatever books Barty got him might be helpful after all. “Now for something else. What the hell was that with you suggesting I sent the Dark Lord a courting gift?”

Barty cracked up, bending double at the waist as he laughed for several long moments. “Listen, Harry, you cannot send a man expensive jewellery like that and not have some people suspect you have ulterior motives.”

“Who? There was only you who suggested that, you pillock,” Harry said with a grumble.

Barty snorted with laughter again. “It is traditional to send jewellery as a first courting gift, though, so don’t blame me for drawing that conclusion.”

“I was just returning his tiara! No ulterior motives.” Harry threw himself back against his pillow with a huff.

“Sure, sure,” Barty said while catching his breath. “Our Lord was most pleased with his tiara that was definitely not a courting gift.”

A strange warmth filled Harry’s chest hearing that. “So anyway, what have you been up to?”

“Lots of errands for our Lord,” Barty replied easily. “Lots of things to arrange for Samhain and his new identity.”

Harry perked up. “So what is his new identity?”

“Nah, not telling you.” Barty waved an admonishing finger at Harry. “Our Lord was very clear on that.”

“Ugh.” Harry dropped back against his bed again.

“Patience, Harry. You’ll see on Samhain.”

“Fine,” Harry said ungracefully. He was just so curious what Voldemort planned to do with his second life once he got his body back. He chatted with Barty for another fifteen minutes or so and then he called it a night. They had flying lessons the next day and Harry wanted to be well-rested for that in case something happened like in his first life.

The next morning their was a noticeable air of excitement, even among the usually composed Slytherin first-years. Draco couldn’t stop bragging, Daphne was reminiscing about when her mother taught her how to fly a broom and Blaise and Theo were complaining about the poor quality of the school brooms which Theo’s cousin Balthazar had warned him about.

But first they had to get through a day of Defence, History and Transfiguration. Once the Gryffindors entered the classroom the bragging from Draco, Ron and Seamus reached such epic proportions that Quirrell was forced to take points just to shut them up.

Harry himself was mildly excited, not so much for the flying which he did enough of during Quidditch practice, but for any foolish accidents that might happen. He managed to keep it together, though, unlike some others. Draco was practically vibrating with excitement at the idea of showing off his flying skills, Theo was surprisingly chatty while trying to supress his nerves and Blaise dealt with that by becoming almost entirely non-verbal. Daphne had to give Tracy, who lived in a mostly Muggle town and had never flown much in her childhood, several pep-talks as the day went on.

Finally, Transfiguration was over as the bell rang and everyone shot up out of their seats and rushed out the door.

“Mr Potter, a moment of your time,” McGonagall said, just as Harry shouldered his bag and made to follow Theo and Blaise.

Harry didn’t miss the smug look Hermione shot him as she walked out the door. “Professor, we have flying lessons now.”

“This won’t take long.” McGonagall stopped in front of him and gave him a stern look. “It was brought to my attention that you are running a study group that isn’t inclusive of all students. All groups must –“

Harry held up a hand. “I’m sorry to cut you off, Professor, but let me make it very clear that I’m not running a study group. Myself and some friends meet in the library a few days a week to study together. That’s it.”

McGonagall briefly pursed her lips. “Perhaps it’s not an official group, but you are still meeting with others. Surely you can add another member to your group of friends?”

Harry looked at his former Head of House in disbelief. “Did Granger tell you that she accused me of cheating to Professor Quirrell when I performed a spell before she did?”

“She did not,” McGonagall said with a little frown. “I’m assuming Professor Quirrell took appropriate action to reprimand such behaviour.”

“He did, yes. On top of that, Granger is a bully who loves nothing more than ordering others around,” Harry pointed out bluntly.

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall said firmly. “There is no need to talk about a fellow student like that. Ms Granger can be a tad blunt, perhaps, but she is an intelligent young girl who would do well with some friends to steer her away from her more extreme behaviour.”

“Then I wish Ms Granger all the best with making some friends of her own,” Harry said with the politest smile he could muster while he grew more and more frustrated.

“I was hoping you could take her under your wing, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said in a tone that made it sound much more like an order than a suggestion.

“Why me?” Harry asked in astonishment. “Why not her dorm mates? Or some other Gryffindors at least?”

“You already meet with students from other Houses,” McGonagall pointed out. “Would it be so bad to add another friend to your group?”

“If that friend is Granger, then yes,” Harry said, frustration turning into anger. “I’ll be honest with you, Professor. All my friends are people I like and enjoy spending time with. Granger is someone I cannot stand and I refuse to spend time with people I don’t like. Simple as that.”

McGonagall narrowed her eyes at him. “I expected better of you, Mr Potter.”

“How?” Harry threw up his hands in sheer infuriation. “You don’t know me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be late for my next lesson.” And with that Harry marched out of the classroom without looking back.

“Five points from Slytherin for leaving the room without being dismissed,” McGonagall called after him.

Harry fumed as he stormed through the corridors on the way to the lawn where flying lessons would be held. He couldn’t believe McGonagall and her stupid plan to unload her socially impossible student on him so she could wash her hands of Hermione. Harry knew McGonagall wasn’t stupid or blind. She had to see Hermione was digging her own grave when it came to her interactions with students and teachers alike. And her solution was to throw her into the lap of another first-year, a Slytherin even?

Any kind of respect Harry might have had for McGonagall just went flying out the window. He felt incredibly disappointed in her. At the same time his stubborn side reared its head and Harry was now determined, more than he already was, to keep Hermione as far away from him as was physically possible in Hogwarts. McGonagall could go fuck herself, and so could Hermione.

Both Slytherin and Gryffindor students were already standing beside a row of brooms opposite each other.

“Finally here,” Hooch said as Harry dropped his book bag and stepped up to the only available broom left. Blaise and Theo stood on either side of him and Harry inhaled a deep breath to calm himself. “Let’s begin,” Hooch said, hands on her hips. “Stick out your right hand over your broom and say ‘up’!”

Everyone shouted ‘up’, and brooms rose into hands left and right. Harry’s broom slapped in his hand at once, and so did Theo’s. Blaise’s broom took a more relaxed approach and rose with a little swing but landed in his hand all the same.

Hooch continued her instructions until everyone was standing over their brooms and she got ready to blow her whistle so everyone could kick off.

Predictably, Neville kicked off too early and too hard and shot up into the air. Neville shouted in alarm and seemed unable to control his broom.

“Steer the broom down!” Harry yelled up at Neville while he reached for his wand. “Just push the handle towards the ground!”

Neville seemed to calm down enough to get some control over his broom and he pressed down on the handle. The broom bucked and swirled but still flew downward towards the grass. Neville slid off when he was about five feet away from the ground and he landed face-first in the grass.

Just as Hooch reached him, Neville sat up and scrubbed his hand over his face to wipe off some grass. “I’m fine, Madam Hooch.”

“You sure, boy?” Hooch asked, looking him over a few times.

“Yeah, still in one piece.” Neville looked at Harry, who offered him a huge grin and a thumbs up. That was one crisis averted. In his first life Neville had been injured and Draco had made off with his Remembrall. None of that happened this time.

Hooch got the chattering students back under control and before long they were all flying around in simple circles. Even Neville, though he looked beyond grateful that Harry stuck to his side during the whole lesson.

Dinner was a loud affair as they all unleashed their post-flying energy by talking about it. Harry listened to his year mates as he enjoyed his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It wasn’t until right after dinner as they walked out of the Great Hall that trouble found them in the form of Neville and Ron bickering loudly.

“Harry,” Neville said, looking incredibly relieved to see him. “Ron here just volunteered me for a duel with Draco Malfoy.”

“He challenged you,” Ron said with a stubborn scowl. “What kind of Gryffindor would you be if you refused a challenge like that.”

“A smart one,” Harry said as he casually crossed his arms while tilting his head. “Let me guess, Draco told you to meet him somewhere in the castle after curfew.”

Ron blinked in surprise. “Midnight in the trophy room.”

“Ah,” Theo said with a snicker.

“Yeah, he’s setting you up,” Blaise agreed while Harry looked proudly at his two friends.

“What?” Ron demanded, his ears turning red.

“Draco has no intention of meeting you there. Instead, he’ll tip off Filch so you’ll get into trouble.” Harry spoke slowly so hopefully Ron would understand.

“But Neville accepted his challenge,” Ron said, seemingly unable to contemplate the wiliness of Slytherins. “Malfoy can’t not show up.”

“I didn’t accept anything,” Neville said, glaring at Ron. “And I’m not going anywhere tonight.”

“But you have to,” Ron insisted.

“Excuse me,” a most unwelcome voice sounded behind them.

“Miss tattletale,” Harry said with his most pleasant smile. “I assure you this has nothing to do with you. So naturally you will now go and report it to McGonagall anyway, am I right?”

Hermione frowned at him. “I was perfectly within my rights to – “

“Yeah, I have no desire to spend any time near you, Miss tattletale. Neville, just stay in bed tonight and you’ll be fine. See you tomorrow.” And with that Harry turned around and walked toward the dungeons, Blaise and Theo hurrying to catch up.

“What did Granger do?” Theo asked as they climbed down the stone stairs.

“Told McGonagall our official study group refused her. I clarified the situation and then McGonagall still insisted I make friends with her. I firmly refused.”

“I wonder if Granger even realizes her behaviour is making her own Head of House treat her like a charity case,” Blaise said with a proper amount of pureblood scorn at the idea of accepting charity.

“I suspect Granger is taking very little time to consider the consequences of her behaviour,” Harry said with a sigh. “Enough about her. Let’s play some exploding snap.” Harry had found that playing a game with his friends was an easy way to unwind in the evening. Draco briefly stopped by to brag about his nefarious plan to get some Gryffindors expelled but they ignored him until he went away again.

“Soulmate!” Harry said once he was lying in bed and called Voldemort. “You never guess what McGonagall did today.”

Voldemort chuckled and shook his head. “You have no idea how much I long to hear all the gossip from Hogwarts every time we talk. I’m concerned about its addictive properties at this point.”

“Yeah, you’re stuck in that dusty old house all day and you have to live vicariously through me,” Harry pointed out with a huge grin. It was weird how the person he enjoyed talking to the most these days was his former enemy, now pretty much best friend.

“Just six more weeks to Samhain,” Voldemort said with a wistful sigh. “So what happened that’s got you all manic?”

“Hermione went to complain to McGonagall about her not being allowed in our study group. McGonagall then, even though she knew we don’t have an official group, tried to dump Hermione in my lap. And when I refused because it makes no fucking sense for her to ask a Slytherin boy to befriend a Gryffindor girl at this age, honestly, then she was all disappointed in me because she expected better of me even though she doesn’t know me.” Harry had to inhale a deep breath once he rattled all that off at top speed.

“So, in short, McGonagall has a difficult student and tries to shove her off onto the Boy Who Lived?” Voldemort said patiently.

“Yes, exactly,” Harry agreed happily. “You understand what’s going on and why I refused adamantly.”

“As you should. It’s not up to you to put up with problematic students. Minnie should just do her job,” Voldemort said.

“Minnie?” Harry repeated with an amused smile.

“She was a year below me at Hogwarts,” Voldemort said. “She even asked me out once. She is a brave Gryffindor through and through, because I was not at all approachable, no matter how helpful I presented myself as.”

Harry sat up in bed, mouth hanging open. “She did what?”

Voldemort chuckled, red eyes narrowing with mirth. “She asked me out to Hogsmeade in my sixth year.”

“And did you?” Harry demanded, unable to comprehend the idea of McGonagall asking Voldemort to Hogsmeade.

“Of course I didn’t accept.” Voldemort shook his head as if the idea was preposterous. Which it was. “I’ve never dated women. I much prefer men for such liaisons.”

Harry’s heart skipped several beats and he had no idea why.

Chapter Text

Harry had no idea how he did it, but Draco knew what had happened with a few select Gryffindors the moment Harry, Theo and Blaise entered the common room the next morning. Harry suspected he may have paid Filch to personally deliver any news before the crack of dawn.

“Weasley and Granger lost fifty points last night. Each!” Draco practically crowed, cheeks flushed with excitement as he all but pounced on them to share his victory. “And they each got a week of detention with Filch. Apparently he caught them near the trophy room and handed them over to Professor Snape.”

Harry was glad to hear Neville had kept himself out of that mess, and he considered what might have happened. Ron would have insisted on going anyway, even after he was told it was a set-up, and Miss tattletale would have tried to stop him. In his first life, the Fat Lady had been gone from her portrait so Hermione and Neville had tagged along with him and Ron. Harry figured something similar had happened this time around. And with no Harry or Neville there to act as a buffer, Ron and Hermione would probably have argued so loudly, Filch would have heard them coming from the other side of the castle.

Though, it did make Harry wonder if this misadventure brought Ron and Hermione together like the troll at Halloween had done for them in his previous life.

One look at the Gryffindor table during breakfast made it clear this was not the case. Ron and Hermione were sitting as far away from each other as possible while glaring daggers at one another.

“Their whole House is shunning them,” Draco said with a satisfied smile. “Too bad they didn’t get expelled.”

Right before breakfast ended Harry couldn’t resist making eye-contact with McGonagall, who was looking particularly sour that morning, probably because Gryffindor was now dead last in the House ranking after losing 100 points overnight. Harry raised an eyebrow at her while making it clear with his bright smile he was very happy not to be associated with her problem student. McGonagall’s eyes narrowed as her expression soured further.

Harry figured he’d get the scoop from Neville during their double Potions class, but when he entered the classroom and made to join Neville, Hermione all but bowled him over and threw herself into the empty seat beside Neville.

Blinking, Harry looked around to find somewhere else to sit. Though Neville looked deeply unhappy with his new partner, Harry wasn’t about to make a scene in Snape’s class. He wasn’t that stupid.

“You can sit with me,” Ron said with a hopeful look.

“Yeah, no. I’ve seen your non-talent at potions and I’d rather pass this class with a decent mark.” Harry turned his back on a scowling Ron and sat down beside Bulstrode, the only other available seat in the room.

“Weasley, you lack the common sense to work alone,” Snape said as he marched inside. “Join Granger and Longbottom.”

Neville looked as though he would rather kiss Snape on the lips right that second than have to spend two hours stuck between Ron and Hermione.

Harry took pity on him, even though Neville’s horrified face was hilarious. “Professor, perhaps Neville can join our table so he’ll actually have a chance to make a successful potion.”

Neville didn’t even wait to hear Snape’s response. He grabbed his bag and almost toppled his chair over as he ran towards Harry.

“I can’t work with her,” Ron said as he slouched towards Hermione, who huffed and crossed her arms.

“Five points from Gryffindor for holding up the class,” Snape said with a vicious smile, and he waved his wand at the blackboard.

“Thanks, Harry,” Neville whispered as Ron and Hermione started bickering, giving Snape a perfect opportunity to deduct more points which he did with obvious pleasure.

“You’re welcome,” Harry whispered back. “Though payment is you telling us all the dirty details about those two and their historical loss of points.” Even Bulstrode looked interested in that.

“Honestly, there’s not much to tell,” Neville said as they got a cauldron set up and Bulstrode sorted through some ingredients. Harry started chopping ginger root.

Neville looked around to make sure Snape was nowhere near their table. “Ron insisted on going, did all he could to drag me with him, and I had to eventually report him to his brother Percy the prefect for bullying before he would leave me alone.”

“Good on you for not taking his crap,” Harry said with a proud smile. It was great to see Neville come into his own a bit already this early in his life.

“Thanks.” Neville measured out distilled water. “Anyway, this morning suddenly everyone’s upset because those two have lost a hundred points overnight. Everyone is avoiding them like the plague, even more than they already were. And the dumbest thing is that they’re blaming everybody but themselves. Ron keeps blaming me and Malfoy, and Hermione even tried to say it was somehow your fault.”

“Huh?” Harry stared at Neville in disbelief as he stirred his ginger cubes into the potion.

“Yeah, no one is buying that,” Neville quickly assured him. “They know those two are impossible to deal with on a good day, and that they have only themselves to blame for this mess.”

“They really do.” Harry was amused to note he really felt nothing but contempt for Ron and Hermione at this point. The dual emotions he’d experienced when he saw them during the first week at Hogwarts had vanished to be replaced with a sense of almost morbid entertainment seeing them ruin their own lives so thoroughly. Harry was almost impressed how much they were able to fuck up their time at Hogwarts with so little actually happening to them. That took some real talent, which Harry hadn’t known either one of them possessed.

It was fascinating, though, to see how different certain people’s lives went with just a few changes. Harry wondered what would have happened if he’d been sorted into Slytherin in his first life. If Ron and Hermione would have crashed and burned quite as spectacularly as they were doing now. Not to mention if Harry would have felt as at home in Slytherin then as he did now. He suspected he might have befriended Blaise and Theo as well as they turned out to be decent kids with personalities that appealed to Harry, then and now. His relationship with Draco probably wouldn’t have turned to friendship since he reminded Harry strongly of Dudley the first few times they met and Harry wouldn’t have wanted to spend time with him for that reason.

“Twenty points from Gryffindor,” Snape said with the most satisfied smile Harry had ever seen on the man. Ron and Hermione had managed to melt their cauldron altogether. “For sheer incompetency and disrupting the class. Keep this up and I won’t let you back in my classroom.”

Hermione burst into tears while Ron’s whole face burned scarlet.

“That’s another 40 points they’ve lost just this morning. I don’t think they’ll be allowed back in their tower at this point,” Draco said loud enough so the whole class could hear him. Snape conveniently ignored this disruption as he stalked between the desks.

Harry finished a pretty good potion with the help of Neville and Millicent, since she gave him permission to call her by her first name. That was every one of the first-year Slytherins who had done so, save for Parkinson. And judging by the disgusted looks she kept giving him ever since the opening feast, Harry wasn’t holding out much hope of that changing anytime soon.

After lunch, where the whole school quickly heard about Ron and Hermione’s additional point loss in Potions and McGonagall herself assigned them an extra week of detention for their out of control behaviour, Harry and his friends met up in the library so they could finish their homework. They all agreed that having a homework-free weekend was worth it spending their Friday afternoon off in the library working hard.

“I heard from Aunt Amelia,” Susan said once they were all seated and had their books out. She immediately had the full attention of everyone at their table. “She said she can’t act without evidence. Hearsay from the Weasley twins isn’t enough, especially since those two are notorious for their pranks and Aunt Amelia can’t waste Aurors investigating what might very well be a hoax.”

“Well, that’s disappointing,” Blaise said. Several others voiced their agreement to that.

“What would your aunt consider evidence?” Neville asked carefully. “Something like a photograph or something?”

“Neville,” Harry said with a frown. “You’re not suggesting going to take a picture of a giant three-headed monster dog, are you?”

“Not me!” Neville said with a nervous chuckle. “But maybe the Weasley twins would. I could ask them. I think they might like the excuse to break in there again.”

“Rather them than us,” Justin said with a shudder. Beside him, Daphne nodded vigorously in agreement.

“If they don’t mind taking a picture then let them,” Harry said and turned to look at Susan. “Do you think your aunt will accept that as evidence?”

“I think so, yes,” Susan said after a moment of consideration.

Harry wanted to reply but didn’t get the chance because Draco and his usual suspects wandered by.

“Weasley’s prefect brother gave him a dressing down in the middle of the entrance hall,” Draco told them gleefully as he stopped behind Harry. “The prefect also said he was telling their mother and apparently their mother screams like a banshee and her howlers are legendary.”

“I’m sure we’ll hear if that’s true soon enough,” Blaise said with an uninterested shrug.

Parkinson stood next to Draco, looking down at everyone over her pug nose. “Blaise, I don’t understand how you can stand the company of Hufflepuffs, especially not that mudblood’s.”

Harry whirled around in his chair, wand dropping in his hand on instinct. “Parkinson, you will not use that word anywhere near me ever again.”

“Potter, you cannot tell me – “

Harry stood up and pointed his wand in her face, eyes narrowed while he inhaled a deep breath to calm himself down. He was going to make it clear to everyone that he would not tolerate that kind of name-calling, not from anyone. “My mother was a muggleborn who gave her life for me and liberated our society from the clutches of a madman. Aside from that, Justin is our friend and welcome here. You are neither.”

Parkinson swallowed audibly, while Draco got his wand out but seemed unsure whether to aim it at Harry or not.

“You get this one free, since you didn’t know any better,” Harry said quietly, with a mean little smile. “But from now on, if I hear you use that word, I will hex you. I’ll start with something innocent that Madam Pomfrey can easily reverse. But the more often you use that word, the worse the hexes will become, until eventually I’ll use something permanent. Something that one might find in the hidden parts of the Black family library. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” Parkinson whispered and whipped around, fleeing the library as fast as she could.

“That goes for all of you,” Harry said while narrowing his eyes at Draco, who looked far paler than usual. Draco didn’t reply but quickly followed Parkinson, the rest of his entourage on his heels.

“Wow,” Neville whispered, and Harry gave him a confused look while he tucked his wand away and sat down again.

“What?” Harry asked as he saw everyone staring at him with wide eyes.

“I believe we have all learned a valuable lesson today,” Blaise said with forced casualness. “To not ever piss you off.”

“Well,” Harry said with a shrug. “Just don’t use that word and we’re fine, don’t worry.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Ernie said with a nervous chuckle. “You’re kinda terrifying when you’re angry.”

“Nah,” Harry insisted with a smile. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I won’t stand by and let people insult one of my friends like that. Not now, not ever.”

“Thanks,” Justin said with a shy look. “Ernie told me about that word, how bad it is to use it. I appreciate you calling her out for saying it.”

“Sure, anytime.” Harry was pleased to see that his friends lost their wide-eyed look one by one and before long they all went back to their homework.

Later that day, after their house meeting where Snape even commented on the impressive point-loss of Gryffindor as though it hadn’t been instigated by Draco and himself and was just a happy coincidence putting Slytherin in the lead, Harry sat in their dorm playing exploding snap with Theo and Blaise.

“You were,” Theo said out of the blue. “Terrifying.”

Harry shrugged, unsure what to say about that. “Then hopefully Parkinson will learn her lesson before I have to make good on my threat.”

Theo stared at him for a long moment. “And referencing the Black family library like that was inspired. If the rumours are true they have some very illegal books filled with very illegal curses in their collection.”

“Hm.” Harry shrugged again, wanting to smack himself for giving away he knew about the Black family library. It was an effective threat amongst pureblood Slytherins for sure, but at the same time it also raised question about how Harry Potter knew it existed in the first place, and better yet how he knew what kind of books were in it.

Blaise had his head tilted as he studied Harry openly. “When you were sorted in Slytherin I was wondering if we would ever see Harry Potter as Dumbledore’s pet Gryffindor and champion of mudbloods.”

“Blaise,” Harry said sharply. “Don’t make me hex you.”

Blaise’s smile was both innocent and challenging. Harry had no idea how he managed that. “I was unsure about adding Justin to your little group at first, but he’s turned out to be a decent fellow. Smart, polite, funny. He’s still a mudblood, though.”

“Blaise!” Harry sat up a little where they were sprawled on the floor.

“You’re just getting angry,” Theo whispered, seemingly understanding what Blaise was trying to do, other than pissing Harry off. “You’re not asking why we call them mudbloods.”

Harry looked between them, realizing perhaps Theo had a point. “Fine. Why do you call them that?”

“I’m so glad you asked, Harry.” Blaise looked for all the world like a tour guide about to show Harry one of the wizarding world’s most important monuments. “Most people outside of Slytherin would tell you it’s about blood purity, and for a few select Slytherins it certainly is, but for myself and my friend Theodore here as well as many others it’s about traditions.”

“Yep,” Theo said with a decisive nod while he sorted through the deck of cards in his hands.

“What traditions?” Harry asked, bewildered. He’d never heard any of this. All he knew was the blood purity explanation.

Blaise slow clapped as he gave Harry a mock bow. “Exactly, Harry. What traditions?”

“To accommodate muggleborns the Ministry has done away with a lot of traditions over the last century or two. Most rituals we used to perform are now illegal,” Theo explained while he barely looked at Harry. “It’s come to the point where we’re celebrating Muggle holidays here at Hogwarts instead of the traditional wizarding ones. Christmas instead of Yule, Halloween instead of Samhain, Easter instead of Ostara.”

“I had no idea,” Harry said honestly. “No one ever told me this.”

“We’re telling you now,” Blaise pointed out.

“I don’t see why you have to call muggleborns that word, though. It’s not Justin’s fault this happened, or my mum’s.” Harry looked between Blaise and Theo, eager to get an explanation for that.

“We call them that because they’re at the root of the problem. They come into our world and try to change it to their standards,” Theo said while meeting Harry’s gaze with a steady one of his own. “They’re charmed by the magical castle and the flying broomsticks, but when we want to commune with our departed ancestors on Samhain they demand we change our ways because it goes against their Muggle religion or traditions.”

“In other words, they act like tourists.” Blaise said, his expression serious and focused.

Harry considered that and realized he’d thought like that as well, at least for a few years. During his first life, no matter how much he wanted to stay in the wizarding world and call it his permanent home, he hadn’t been able to because they kept shipping him back to the Dursleys in the Muggle world where he’d grown up and where everything was familiar and made sense. And even now he sometimes still felt more at home in the Muggle world because he knew it better still. Hell, just last week Voldemort had mentioned solicitors and Harry hadn’t even known they existed in the wizarding world. Kinda like a tourist wouldn’t know everything about a new country they were visiting.

“Huh,” Harry finally said just to make some sound.

“Is this feeling at all familiar?” Blaise asked with a knowing look.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Harry said, frowning at these new realizations. “But that still doesn’t mean you should use that name. You should go after the people in charge who allow this to happen if you want to change it.”

“What do you think the Dark Lord was trying to do,” Theo muttered while he stared at the cards in his hands.

“The Dark Lord was fucknuts insane,” Harry all but growled. “He may have had good plans once upon a time, but by the end he was a rabid dog that needed to be put down.”

It wasn’t until Theo and Blaise both stared at him with wide eyes that Harry realized what he’d just said.

“He may have had good plans,” Blaise quoted him with no small amount of glee.

“Harry,” Theo said, sitting up and poking Harry in the arm over and over again. “Harry, did you just imply what I think you just implied?”

“You have hidden depths.” Blaise actually threw his head back and laughed. “First you mention the Black family library like you’ve seen it and now you all but compliment the Dark Lord’s plans.” Blaise shook his head and laughed again. “I’m so glad I decided to join your little group. I have a feeling our future is going to be most interesting.”

“Ugh,” Harry moaned while he buried his face in his hands. He had really not wanted to reveal this much this early in the game. “Can we please just forget I said that?”

“No,” Theo insisted while he was still poking Harry in the arm. “Harry, what were you saying?”

Blaise placed hand on Theo’s arm and gently urged him to stop physically bothering Harry. “We won’t forget it, but we will ignore it for now.” Blaise gave Harry a wicked grin. “After all, we have seven years to get to the bottom of this. Right, Theo?”

“Yeah, fine, we’ll be patient,” Theo agreed, though somewhat reluctantly. “But you can’t expect us to forget this, Harry.”

“Good enough for now.” Harry rubbed his hands across his face and pushed some of his long hair that had escaped his customary ponytail out of his eyes. “Back to the original topic... can we come to some sort of agreement on that?”

“What kind of agreement?” Blaise asked with a curious tilt of his head.

“You two don’t use that word around me, and I’ll make an effort to learn about wizarding traditions and I promise to help restore them.”

Theo and Blaise looked at each other with raised eyebrows. A small smile appeared on Theo’s face while Blaise leaned back on his hands and released a satisfied sigh. “It’s a deal,” Theo said and finally distributed the cards to each of them for another round of exploding snap.

While Harry took a shower an hour later he decided to start learning about these traditions Theo and Blaise had mentioned as soon as possible. He had a few ideas where to start. Once he was sitting in his bed, curtains firmly closed, he called Kreacher.

If Kreacher was surprised to find himself standing on Harry’s bed he didn’t show it. “Little Master is calling Kreacher?”

“Hi,” Harry said with a little wave. “I need your help.”

“Kreacher will be helping the little Master.”

“Awesome. It’s been brought to my attention that I don’t know anything about wizarding traditions, holidays and rituals.” Harry had to smile when Kreacher perked up hearing these subjects. “Could you go through the Black library and find me some good books about these subjects suitable for a beginner?”

“Kreacher will be doing so right away and Kreacher will be putting them on the little Master’s bed while he sleeps.” And with that Kreacher popped away.

One down, one more to go, but for some reason Harry was suddenly feeling reluctant to call Voldemort and he wasn’t sure why.

Which was a lie. Harry knew exactly why. Ever since Voldemort had confessed to Harry he apparently preferred men over women, at least romantically, Harry had been thinking about it. Not all the time, sure, especially not that day what with everything that had happened. But in between all the chaos of that day, every time Harry had a moment to think about nothing at all, his mind went back to the knowledge that for some reason Tom Riddle liked men. Liked them physically, in ways that probably involved sex of some sort.

Harry had nothing against these kind of things. Not at all. He’d just never really thought about it, and now for the last twenty-four hours he suddenly couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was kind of freaking him out a little bit to be so obsessed with Voldemort’s love life of all things.

But he really wanted to talk to Voldemort because he was sure Voldemort would know plenty of interesting things pertaining to wizarding traditions. So Harry reminded himself that he was a Gryffindor, at least once upon a time, and he pulled out his silver mirror and activated it with some hisses of parseltongue.

“Soulmate!” he said the moment Voldemort answered. “I have need of your older than dirt brain.”

“Good evening to you, too,” Voldemort said pleasantly. “What can my as of yet magically constructed brain do for you?”

Harry released a deep sigh and tried not to think about what Voldemort might have gotten up to with some of his male Death Eaters in the past. “Today I’ve learned that I don’t know anything about wizarding traditions and rituals and such and I need to learn.”

Voldemort laughed in Harry’s face. “I see you’ve received a little Slytherin education. Did they call you a tourist as well, my dear?”

Harry stared at Voldemort for a moment before shaking his head. “Not to my face, but the word was mentioned and it made me realize that in my first life that was exactly how I felt for the longest time.”

Voldemort nodded knowingly. “It is the curse of having been raised in the Muggle world, one we share. We cannot help which culture we’ve been immersed in since birth, what world is the most familiar to us.”

“Do you ever get to feel like the wizarding world is your home?” Harry asked, hoping that would happen sooner rather than later.

“Yes, eventually,” Voldemort said with a gaze that was miles away and a smile that seemed mostly nostalgic. “For me it was after I finished Hogwarts and worked at Borgin and Burkes while living in a small attic room in Knockturn Alley. It was then that I realized I never had to return to the Muggle world ever again and could truly call the wizarding world home.”

“Maybe that’s why that hadn’t happened for me yet in my first life,” Harry mused. “I hadn’t really finished Hogwarts yet to where I got to live on my own and work and stuff. I spent almost a year living in a magical tent trying to stay out of your hands but that was just survival.”

“I suspect it might happen sooner for you this time,” Voldemort said with a small nod. “Since you’ve already spent a number of years in the magical world.”

“I hope so. I am a wizard. I have nothing against Muggles, but I want the wizarding world to be my home.” Harry was surprised by how much he meant that. “I already asked Kreacher for some books.”

“The Black library will have plenty on those subjects. Most of them illegal, probably, so be careful where you read them.”

“Yeah, I’ve only been reading my private collection in bed and I keep them in my warded trunk,” Harry said. He had no desire to explain even to his friends where he got some of the books he had in his possession. Especially since most of them had ‘Property of Regulus Black’ stamped somewhere inside of them.

“A wise decision. Your fellow Slytherins wouldn’t rush to report you but it would be foolish to give them such easy blackmail material,” Voldemort said with an amused chuckle.

“Oh, talking about blackmail material,” Harry said while shaking his head. “I let slip way more than I meant to during my impromptu education on wizarding traditions.”

Voldemort’s eyes narrowed as his smile grew. “Do tell.”

Harry buried his face in his hands as his cheeks heated with a blush. “I may have accidentally sort of implied I kind of agreed with some of your plans once upon a time.”

Voldemort’s laugh was short and sharp. “Oh, Harry, my dear, how you please me.”

Chapter Text

Time began moving faster as Harry got used to his new routine as a first-year Slytherin. Or at least it felt like the days passed by quicker and quicker the closer they got to Samhain.

Neville kept them all up to date on the gossip from Gryffindor tower. Molly Weasley did indeed send a howler and it was rather legendary as she screamed across the Great Hall that she would pull Ron out of Hogwarts if he dared to lose so much as one more point. Ron looked a little green and ready to throw up by the time the howler destroyed itself. After that, according to Neville, Ron kept to himself for the most part and didn’t put a toe out of line, at least for a few weeks. He’d found a chess friend in a third year Ravenclaw girl named Madison Coles, a Muggleborn who was somewhat of a chess prodigy and who had competed in Muggle chess matches before learning she was a witch and attending Hogwarts. The twins introduced them, since she was in their year, and Ron and Madison could be found playing chess at least a few afternoons a week in the Great Hall where Madison regularly trounced Ron, much to his delight. The rest of the time Ron spent with Seamus and Dean, playing cards in the common room and even joining them in the library on occasion to do his homework.

Hermione took a while longer to calm down, and Neville heard from Lavender that it involved talks with the seventh year Gryffindor prefect named Rhonda Hollis, Angelina Johnson’s older cousin, who explained to Hermione in no uncertain terms why people were treating her the way they did and how Hermione was only making things worse for herself by how she acted in response. That didn’t do the trick just yet, and it took McGonagall actually bringing Hermione’s parents to Hogwarts for a serious conversation with their daughter and herself. Hermione’s parents were both saddened and appalled that their daughter was making such a spectacle of herself and gave her a good talking to while also making suggestions for how to behave in ways that didn’t involve Hermione trying to police the whole world around her. After that Hermione kept her head down and while she still occasionally couldn’t resist trying to boss people around, now most people simple pointed out what she was doing and she backed down. Usually. Other than that, Hermione spent her time studying in the library by herself, reading in the Gryffindor common room in the evening and generally minding her own business.

Harry was utterly relieved when that meant she ignored him as well.

Ron and Hermione still couldn’t stand each other, though, and after another Potions class where they lost thirty points between them, McGonagall stepped in (much to Snape’s chagrin) and insisted that Ron pair with Seamus while Hermione worked with Dean. Order was thusly restored, Dean’s Potions grade improved a significant amount, and while Ron and Seamus were well matched in terms of talent in Potions, at least now Ron managed to brew something instead of blowing up cauldrons every class.

Harry watched it all from a distance, fascinated and amused to see his former best friends unknowingly adjust to a life without him by their side. It was a strangely appealing social experiment, and Harry spent a few hours debating the concept of how one small change could cause huge ripples in the world around them with Barty, who had gotten his hands on a few Muggle books on chaos theory and the like, and who found the whole idea fascinating as well.

Neville came through for them with a few pictures of the Cerberus courtesy of the Weasley twins. It took some doing to get them since the twins didn’t have a camera. They finally convinced Lee Jordan’s older sister Juliet, already out of Hogwarts, to send them her camera. The twins then took the pictures and sent the camera back to Juliet so she could develop the pictures before sending them to the twins to hand off to Neville. All in all, it took a few weeks, but finally Susan sent the needed evidence to Amelia Bones, who promised to take the pictures before the board of governors and demand an explanation. This was apparently standard procedure for any concerns that weren’t urgent and life-threatening, and it wouldn’t be happening until the end of November during the next meeting of the board.

Harry grumbled about bureaucracy but accepted that this was how these situations were ultimately resolved. And no matter the outcome, Dumbledore would be called to explain why he was keeping a vicious beast behind a locked door that any first-year with a wand could open. And Dumbledore hated explaining himself, which was all that mattered to Harry in his quest to make Dumbledore’s life a little more uncomfortable.

Another issue that arose and which Harry had never even once considered during his previous life was his mail.

“I’ve been wondering,” Theo said during one of their customary evening games of exploding snap. “Why you don’t get much mail, Harry.”

Harry looked up at him in surprise. “My muggle aunt hates using owls,” he offered as an explanation about his lack of mail from his immediate family without having to go into his appalling home-life in detail. The only mail he received so far were the very occasional packages from Voldemort.

“I think what Theo means is your lack of fan mail,” Blaise said, smile more than a little teasing.

“Fuck off,” Harry muttered. He was mortified to feel a blush heating his cheeks but he couldn’t help it. He’d always been uncomfortable with his fame and he probably always would be.

“I’m serious, though,” Theo said as gave Harry a sharp look. “Think about it. You’re the Boy Who Lived, like it or not. You should be getting fan mail. Maybe not as much as you used to, but people should still be writing you. So where is your mail?”

Harry was about to instinctively protest the idea of fan mail again until he actually considered it and realized Theo had a good point. He was famous, and especially thanks to those silly books Miss Elderflower so diligently wrote, children the world over grew up with stories about him. He should be getting some mail at least. “You know,” he finally said, confused almost beyond reason. “I have no clue. The first piece of owl post I’ve ever received was my Hogwarts letter.”

“That sounds like someone set up a mail redirection ward,” Blaise mused with a thoughtful frown. “Understandable when you were an infant living with Muggles, but you’d think they would at least let you know about it. Not to mention give you the mail that’s deemed safe now that you’re at Hogwarts.”

“You should ask Professor Snape about this,” Theo suggested as he shuffled his deck of cards. “Especially since you are the last Potter. Who knows what kind of important mail is being kept from you right now.”

“Good idea,” Harry said, still bewildered that he hadn’t ever actually considered this before. He should have. Someone should have, at least. Maybe Hermione or Mrs Weasley or Sirius should have realized Harry should be getting more mail than he was receiving. But no one had ever mentioned it to him, and Harry, deeply uncomfortable with his fame on a good day, hadn’t ever thought about fan mail either. And while he didn’t look forward to talking to Snape of all people about fan mail, he at least realized that he needed adult help and that this was a rather important matter.

Who knows what kind of important documents or business offers he should have been receiving, in his previous life and in this one.

So the next afternoon, during Snape’s office hours, Harry knocked on his office door.

“Enter,” Snape said, and Harry did so at once. Snape was seated behind his imposing desk, grading essays with sharp swipes of his quill and copious amounts of red ink. “Potter. What do you want?”

That was still a more polite response than Harry thought he would get from Snape. “Sir, Theo and Blaise brought something to my attention. Aside from one or two close friends sending me a few things, I’ve not received any mail.”

Snape snorted and crossed out half the writing on the page before him. Harry winced on that poor student’s behalf. “Your lack of fan mail is hardly my concern.”

“Yes, Sir, but think about it for a moment,” Harry said urgently. “I have not received any wizarding mail for my entire life, aside from my Hogwarts letter, the Daily Prophet to which I have a subscription, and some things from a friend. Blaise suggested someone might be stealing my mail.” He decided on this little lie to make himself seem appropriately young. Mail wards were not something an average first year would know about, but a thief stealing his mail was noteworthy even to a child.

Snape finally looked up and stared at him. “I sincerely doubt anyone cares enough about the kind of letters filled with infatuated drivel penned by children you might be receiving to steal them, Potter. However, a more likely scenario that occurred is that the headmaster placed a mail redirection ward upon your person to ensure your Muggle family wasn’t buried under piles of owl post once they took you in.” Snape’s sneer became even more pronounced. “I am to assume you’d like to receive your mail from this point onward?”

“Yes, please, Professor,” Harry said with his politest, most hopeful smile, inwardly terribly amused by Snape’s reaction to Harry’s mail situation. It was funny that now that Harry was older, at least on the inside, he had a far greater appreciation for the art of sarcasm Snape so clearly possessed.

“Wait here, Potter, and don’t touch anything.” Snape got up from his desk and disappeared through a door on the right, which Harry speculated either led to his classroom or to his private quarters. Probably the latter. Harry sat quietly and didn’t touch anything, and it took about ten minutes or so before Snape returned, sneer still firmly in place.

“The headmaster sends his sincerest apologies for this oversight and he has removed the ward at once,” Snape said in obvious distaste while he pulled a piece of paper from his desk and wrote a few things down.

Harry smiled gratefully, meanwhile thinking that the headmaster was full of shit, or completely senile. Possibly both, because in Harry’s first life he’d never even thought to remove the mail ward without anyone calling him out on it like Harry was doing now.

“Learn these detection charms, Potter,” Snape said, sliding the piece of paper across the desk towards Harry. “We wouldn’t want you to perish courtesy of a piece of cursed fan mail, now would we?” Snape didn’t seem at all put out by that idea judging by his smirk. “Return during my office hours on Monday to demonstrate these charms to me, to ensure you have mastered them. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Harry said as he got up from his chair. He hesitated until Snape narrowed his eyes at him. “What about the mail I’ve already received?”

“It’s been destroyed over the years, Potter,” Snape snapped. “Hogwarts does not run a mail service for child heroes, after all. The headmaster assured me anything of monetary value was added to your vault, any toys and books that weren’t cursed were donated to the St Mungo’s children’s ward and everything else was incinerated. Is that clear, or do you need a moment to mourn the loss of countless pounds of chocolates spiked with love potions?”

Harry bit his lip so he wouldn’t laugh. “No, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” And with that he left Snape’s office, looking at the list of spells he’d been given. Some he already knew and a few others he’d look up in the library and practice during the weekend. Harry did realize he should take his mail security seriously. There were any number of potions or curses that could be hidden inside pieces of innocent mail and do very real, possibly lethal, damage.

Voldemort agreed when Harry told him about the mail redirection wards that evening.

“The old man probably kept them up in your first life to control the flow of information you would receive,” Voldemort said with a thoughtful look. “I’ll send you a few items to help with your protection against cursed owl post.”

And the next day Harry received a book with even more detection charms than Snape had given him. He also received a necklace, a plain golden chain, which contained a few shield and protection charms that would help protect him from most curses, save the Unforgivables.

“Thanks,” Harry told Voldemort later that day. He’d put the necklace on at once and Voldemort seemed more than pleased when he saw it around Harry’s neck. “Please, whatever you do, don’t tell Barty you’ve sent me jewellery. Don’t give him more ammunition.”

“I’m not that stupid, my dear. Barty is none the wiser,” Voldemort assured him.

“Nice necklace,” Barty said when Harry talked to him through their mirrors a few days later. “Is it new?”

“Oh, this old thing?” Harry said while quickly tucking the chain inside his pyjama shirt.

Another thing Harry focused on during these weeks was learning about traditions. Kreacher left him a handful of books from the Black library. Some seemed innocent enough, simply describing magical holidays and what they stood for and how they could be celebrated. One book, though, contained nothing but rituals, one even more bizarre or gruesome than the next. Some even mentioned human sacrifices to power certain complicated rituals and at that point Harry closed the book and decided to start on the next title in his to read pile.

He also dug through Regulus’ collection in his trunk and that’s where he struck gold. Regulus had been a note taker in the margins of his books, much like Snape had done in his potions book once upon a time, and apparently Regulus had lots of idea on how to teach the ignorant muggleborns and half-bloods about wizarding traditions and rituals.

“Kreacher,” Harry called as he read through Regulus’ notes in the margins of a book on ways to honour your ancestors during Samhain.

Kreacher appeared on the foot of Harry’s bed. “Little Master is calling Kreacher?”

“Regulus had plans to educate ignorant witches and wizards about traditions, did you know that?” Harry turned to book around in his lap to show Kreacher the notes Regulus had left behind.

“Yes, Kreacher is knowing of Master Regulus’ plans to teach the mudbloods and filth proper wizarding ways.”

Harry ignored the name-calling for now, aware that Kreacher had been indoctrinated for decades at this point and it was impossible to expect him to change his behaviour overnight.

“Tell me everything you know about Regulus’ plans,” Harry told the old elf while he reached for a notebook and a self-inking quill. And Kreacher did talk for at least an hour while Harry took notes until his wrist hurt and his eyes were dry.

Voldemort seemed surprised by Regulus’ plans when Harry told him. “Regulus certainly never talked about educating Muggleborns anywhere near me.”

“Seeing as you would probably have crucioed him into next week that’s not really surprising,” Harry said with a snort.

“You have a point,” Voldemort conceded with a small nod. “And so did Regulus. We do need education for those raised by Muggles, so that they truly learn what it means to be a witch or wizard and not just how to make a feather fly.”

“After Samhain, this might be something we could work on together,” Harry suggested, eager for a project that would keep him busy. Writing essays on topics he already knew inside and out was dreadfully boring as he’d found out. “We could even make it a point to reveal to the public. Your new identity announces it, and I openly agree with you or something.”

“That is certainly a possibility. After Samhain we’ll work out the details of this plan.”

“Just ten more days!” Harry pointed out with a wide grin. He’d started counting down to Samhain every time he talked to Voldemort since they were a month away from the big day. “How excited are you, soulmate of mine?”

“Very,” Voldemort said with a small but honest smile. “You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to the simple things in life again, after not having had a normal, adult body for over a decade.”

“Nah, I can imagine,” Harry said with an understanding look. “I miss my big body, too, from time to time.”

“Yes, I’m sure, but at least you have a body. I was a wraith for years. It is a torture beyond compare to see the world move by and not being able to be a part of it,” Voldemort said while he stared into the distance. “I cannot wait to simply walk again, take a long bath, visit a bookstore. Things I never thought I’d miss while I butchered my soul and ruined my life.”

“You’ll do all those things again soon, Tom,” Harry said, almost wanting to reach through the mirror to offer Voldemort a comforting pat or something. “And your soul is as it should be. You’ll be fine.”

“What a lucky day it was when you were betrayed, Harry Potter.” Voldemort chuckled and shook his head. “If Dumbledore had let you be, I’d still be dead and my soul stuck in pieces for all eternity.”

“But you’re not. We’re here, and we can do it all over again. Do it better.” Harry felt a lump form in his throat and he swallowed it away quickly. For some reason the thought of not having gotten this second chance, of not having had the chance to get to know Voldemort, Tom, the way he had was so upsetting it almost made him cry. Harry hated crying, so he looked to the side until he felt his emotions calm down a little.

“Thank you,” Voldemort whispered, not looking at Harry. “I doubt I’ve said it to you before, but I do mean it. Thank you for including me in your second life, my dear.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said, meaning it. “I doubt my do-over would have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t included you.”

Voldemort didn’t say anything to that, but simply smiled at Harry.

Over the next few days Harry thought about that conversation often, about the realization he’d had concerning not having gotten to know Voldemort. It terrified him somehow, the thought that all he might have known was the insane version with the broken soul and not the intelligent, thoughtful and funny man he turned out to be.

The morning of Halloween Harry prepared Theo and Blaise for his departure after the feast. “I’ll come to the feast with you, of course,” he assured his friends during breakfast. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. But afterwards, I’m going to take some time for myself to remember my parents.”

“I understand,” Theo said quietly. “I always take a moment to honour my mother on Samhain.”

Harry nodded at him, trying not to show his surprise. That was the first time he’d heard Theo mention his mother. Heck, Harry hadn’t even realized she was dead.

Blaise looked decidedly uncomfortable with the idea of honouring anyone deceased, but considering who his mother was and how many stepfathers Blaise must have lost over the years that wasn’t very surprising.

All throughout the day everyone around Harry got louder and more rambunctious at the thought of attending Hogwarts’ famous Halloween feast. They made feathers fly in Charms that afternoon and Ron and Hermione weren’t paired with each other (McGonagall must have warned every teacher because Harry never saw them work together anymore), and thus there was no Hermione running away in tears to hide in the bathroom.

Harry himself was full of nervous energy which he found difficult to hide, but the people around him simply assumed it was the date itself, the anniversary of his parents’ deaths that had him riled up and nothing more. Harry let them keep their assumptions.

Finally the feast started, the tables laden with more food than most of them had ever seen. But before Dumbledore could get up to make a little speech, Quirrell stood up and tapped a spoon against his glass to get everyone’s attention. Harry narrowed his eyes. If Quirrell did anything to disrupt the feast, Harry was going to turn him into a pigeon.

“Please, may I have everyone’s attention,” Quirrell said as he stood behind the teacher’s table, gesturing for everyone to be quiet. “When I requested the Defence Against the Dark Arts position, I did it for two reasons. One, because I wanted to teach this fascinating subject, of course. Two, because I wanted to break the curse on the position once and for all.”

Student all around the Great Hall whispered loudly about an actual curse affecting the defence teacher until Quirrell shushed them again. “During my sabbatical last year I’ve travelled far and wide, gathering as much information and advice about how to break this curse, and tonight I am more than happy to announce that I have broken it. The curse on the Defence Against the Dark Arts position is no more!” Quirrell took a dramatic bow while a smattering of students applauded.

“Thank you, Professor Quirrell,” Dumbledore said as he got to his feet. “I’m sure you have done an outstanding job and will continue to teach the students at this school for many years to come.”

Harry stared at Quirrell with his mouth hanging open for a few moments until he noticed and snapped it shut. This had Voldemort written all over it. The new and improved Voldemort valued education and would agree that cursing the defence position was a silly thing to do which negatively affected generations of students. He would want that curse gone sooner rather than later and apparently he’d told Quirrell how to get rid of it.

That bastard had just conveniently forgotten to tell Harry, who vowed to bring that up as soon as the ritual was done later that night.

The feast was as excellent as Harry remembered it and all the better for the distinct lack of troll interrupting everyone’s evening. Harry stuffed himself with all manner of scrumptious things, and had two servings of treacle tart just because he could. As the feast wound down and students wandered out of the Great Hall, Harry said goodbye to his friends with a knowing look and a brief smile.

“Don’t wait up for me,” he whispered, and made his way to the nearest bathroom. Inside he threw his invisibility cloak over his shoulders and pulled out the Marauder’s Map. He decided to use the hidden passage on the third floor that led straight to Honeydukes. He knew it well and the moment he left Hogwarts’ wards he could summon Kreacher to transport him to Little Hangleton.

The coast was clear and Harry reached the third floor in no time. He slipped inside the passage and rushed towards Hogsmeade through the dark, only the light of his wand illuminating the way. He cursed his decision to eat as much as he had when he got a stitch in his side, but he ignored it, much too excited about what was to come.

And how weird was that? The first time Harry had been present at Voldemort’s resurrection, the whole scene had been straight from a horror movie. One innocent boy dead, people losing limbs, and Harry’s first taste of the cruciatus curse. Harry’s had nightmares for years about what had happened that day. And now here he was, practically skipping on the way to voluntarily help Voldemort get his body back.

Before long he reached the trapdoor that led to Honeydukes’ basement and he knew he was clear of the wards. Kreacher came as soon as he was called and popped him right to the cemetery where Barty and Voldemort were waiting.

Voldemort sat in his customary leather chair right there between two headstones, and Barty waved Harry a cheerful hello as he adjusted the flames below the enormous cauldron with his wand. But Harry saw immediately there was a third person there, someone Harry really didn’t want to see on the anniversary of his parents’ deaths.

“Wormtail,” Harry growled and drew his wand.

Chapter Text

“Expelliarmus!”

Harry’s wand was ripped from his hand right before he could aim it at Wormtail. He whipped around to see Voldemort catch it with his small hand. Harry’s blood was boiling and he stormed towards Voldemort.

“Give me back my wand!” Harry snarled.

“Not until you tell me why you’re suddenly this upset,” Voldemort said with a patient look which only infuriated Harry more.

“You have to ask?” Harry gestured wildly behind himself where Pettigrew was cowering near Barty. “You bring him here on the anniversary of my parents’ deaths and you’re surprised by my reaction? Really, Tom?”

“Yes, really,” Voldemort replied in a deadpan tone while he looked genuinely confused. “Harry, I actually murdered your parents and I don’t see you this angry at me being here.”

“BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T THEIR FRIEND!” Harry bellowed right into Voldemort’s face. “YOU DIDN’T BETRAY THEM!”

“Ah.” Voldemort swallowed and gave an understanding nod. “I must confess it hadn’t occurred to me that would bother you this much, but on second thought, of course it does.” He offered Harry a small, unsure smile. “My apologies, my dear.”

Harry’s anger subsided enough for him to accept Voldemort’s apologies with a soft, “Fine.” He inhaled several deep breaths to calm himself down further, minding some of the exercises he’d learned through his PTSD and anxiety self-help books. Breathe in through your nose, hold it for a second and breathe back out through your mouth for as long as you can make it last. Meanwhile, acknowledge the memories that invade your mind. For Harry, these were several jumbled memories of his first life, of him seeing his parents for the first time in the mirror of Erised, of learning the truth about Sirius and Pettigrew in the Shrieking Shack, of seeing Pettigrew murdered by his metal hand after he hesitated a little too long on whether to help Harry or not, and of seeing Hermione and Ron and Ginny all condemning him to death.

Harry needed to acknowledge this, rationalize it, to make sure these memories couldn’t traumatize him any further. His parents and his godfather had been betrayed by the man standing just a short distance away. Harry himself had been betrayed by people he loved, people he trusted, people who he would have died for. Who he did die for.

And Harry went to school with some of those people every day without breaking down or drowning in his own rage.

Yes, he’d been betrayed, just like his parents and godfather. And he was here to help their murderer regain a full body. If he could forgive Voldemort enough to ally himself with the man, he could tolerate Pettigrew presence at least.

He would never forgive Pettigrew, just like he would never forgive Ron, Hermione or Ginny.

He’d forgiven Voldemort because he’d been utterly without reason, completely insane when he came after the Potters. He was different now.

Pettigrew or Harry’s former friends had no such excuses.

Voldemort waited quietly and without comment as Harry collected himself.

“Can you just send him away?” Harry finally managed to ask, figuring the less he saw of Wormtail, the better.

“And have Barty be the one to cut off his own hand?” Voldemort asked, appalled.

When Harry hesitated a second to long, Barty let out an affronted, “Hey!”

“Yeah, okay, I don’t want Barty to have to do that,” Harry finally conceded. Voldemort handed him his wand back, which Harry tucked away in his arm holster at once to prevent himself from ‘accidentally’ cursing Pettigrew.

“Very well,” Voldemort said, leaning back in his chair with a tired sigh. “Wormtail, stay away from Harry.” Pettigrew cowered some more and moved to keep the enormous cauldron between himself and Harry. “Now that we’re all here, let’s begin. Barty, start the ritual.”

“Harry, here,” Barty gestured to a spot beside the cauldron, and when Harry stood there he was handed a knife. “I know you already gave our Lord some vials of blood, but fresh blood will work better.”

“All right,” Harry said agreeably. At least he wasn’t expected to cut off a limb so there was that.

“My Lord, are you ready?” Barty asked, and when Voldemort nodded Barty removed his child-sized clothes with a quick spell, levitated him towards the cauldron and dropped him in at once. Harry swallowed. He remembered in his last life he was hoping at this point that the misshapen baby thing would drown, and now he was worried Voldemort might actually drown when he stayed under far longer than anyone could hold their breath. But the ritual had worked before, so Harry told himself it would work again and he kept from rushing toward the cauldron to check if Voldemort was all right.

Barty waved his wand at the grave of Voldemort’s father. “Bone of the father, unknowingly given.” A femur rose from the earth towards the cauldron where it fell in with a soft splash.

“Flesh from the servant, willingly given,” Barty said with a significant look at Pettigrew, who whipped out a big knife and once again sliced off his own hand with a sharp cry. Barty didn’t spare him a second glance and turned to Harry.

“Blood of the enemy turned ally, freely sacrificed.”

Harry sliced his palm open, ignoring the stinging pain, and held his bleeding hand above the cauldron until Barty told him to step back. The potion inside the cauldron boiled more and more violently until it spilled over the sides and swallowed the cauldron whole.

Biting his lip, Harry watched with bated breath as a humanoid form took shape out of the rolling liquid. It became more solid by the second, bones and muscles and tendons visible until they were all covered by pale skin. Absently, Harry wondered if it hurt to be remade like that. He hoped for Voldemort’s sake it didn’t. At least it was over soon.

Both Barty and Harry rushed towards the still, naked figure lying face down on the grass. Pettigrew sat against a headstone, whimpering while he cradled his stump, but Harry ignored him. While Harry touched Voldemort’s bare shoulder his scar reacted with a slight itch, maybe a tingle. Harry had asked Voldemort weeks ago why his scar never hurt these days while it used to give Harry a migraine from hell at the drop of a hat. Voldemort reasoned it was because he no longer felt murderous towards Harry. While Harry helped Voldemort sit up, Barty summoned a black robe and spelled it onto his naked body.

“Tom?” Harry whispered, looking Voldemort over as well as he could. “You all right?”

“Yes,” Voldemort whispered and looked up at a crouching Harry with wide, brown eyes. “A little disoriented, but in one piece at least.”

Harry stared at the man before him. At his human face, his sharp nose, his short, black hair, his warm, brown eyes. Voldemort looked like he’d done in his twenties, before the butchering of his soul had taken a toll on his appearance. Harry met Barty’s eyes for a moment and smiled at him. Barty seemed utterly relieved everything had gone well and kneeled on Voldemort’s other side.

“You look great,” Harry said because he didn’t know what else to say. “A lot less conspicuous than in our previous life.”

“Thank you, my dear. We used a few different ingredients this time,” Voldemort said with a soft chuckle as he accepted Harry’s hand to help him to his feet. “You did well, Barty.”

Barty bowed deeply and then got up to help Harry steady Voldemort on his feet. Harry was only a short child and Voldemort was still very tall even as a regular human.

“Wormtail, come here,” Voldemort snapped once Barty handed him his wand. Pettigrew half crawled, half stumbled until he sat in the grass before them. Voldemort conjured a silver hand for him much as he’d done the first time around. And while Pettigrew muttered his thanks, Voldemort aimed his wand at Pettigrew’s face. “Obliviate. Wormtail, return to your mission at the ministry.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Pettigrew said, clearly in a daze, and apparated away.

Harry looked at Voldemort with a single eyebrow raised. Voldemort hadn’t obliviated anyone the first time he got his body back.

“I wasn’t about to let my spy in the ministry keep his memories of seeing you help resurrect me, Harry,” Voldemort explained with a smile. He straightened himself as best he could and looked down at Harry with a haughty but amused expression. “Now let me introduce myself, soulmate. I’m Thomas Cayden Gaunt. My late father unknowingly impregnated my mother, and she kept my existence from him to protect me and keep me from his evil clutches.”

“Ha!” Harry said with a huge grin. “You’re going to be your own son. I was hoping for that. It gives you the most opportunities.”

“Indeed.” Voldemort nodded at Barty, who was watching them with a smirk. “Barty and I have thoroughly debated all the options for my new identity and we came to that conclusion as well. This way I can start again with a clean slate while still retaining parts of my own identity. A few select followers will be told the truth, after they swear me an unbreakable vow to never reveal my true identity.”

“So what do I call you?” Harry asked, chest warm and cheeks glowing with happiness at seeing his best friend, his soulmate, looking human and healthy and whole.

“I’m going to tell people to call me by my second name, Cayden, but to a select few I’ll be Tom or Thomas.” Voldemort gave Harry a knowing look. “I knew it was futile to expect you to not call me that, my dear. As for Lord Voldemort... that name as well as that man are now truly dead.”

“You’re not that person anymore,” Harry said, understanding that the man he’d gotten to know these past few months was not the Dark Lord who’d tried to kill him for years and years.

“Exactly, I’m someone else now. Built upon the ruins of Voldemort’s failed life, certainly, but ultimately a whole new person.” Voldemort briefly looked down and leaned a little heavier on Harry’s bony shoulder. “You are doing your life over, and now I get the chance to do the same.”

“I’m glad,” Harry said, meaning it from the bottom of his heart. Heck, from the tips of his toes, even. Voldemort...no, Tom and he were connected on so many levels and with the man sane once more it was impossible for Harry not to want good things for him. They shared a soul, they were bound by a prophecy at one point, his blood now flowed through Tom’s veins.

“I could do with a cup of tea,” Tom said, and Barty immediately called Winky to tell her to have tea and a few light foods waiting for them at the house. Harry supported Tom as they walked towards the house while Barty quickly cleaned up the cemetery with a few spells until not a single shred of evidence remained of their activities.

Once inside they sat down around the coffee table in the reception room, significantly less dusty and much nicer looking since the last time Harry had seen it. The red curtains were new, the wooden floors and panelling on the walls had been scrubbed and refinished, and the chandelier gleamed in the flickering light.

“I’ve decided to fix this place up and call it home, at least for the time being,” Tom explained while Barty served them all tea.

“It looks great,” Harry said, turning down Barty’s offer of some finger sandwiches. He was still full from the Halloween feast.

“It is mine and the house has lots of potential once it’s restored.” Tom sipped his tea and let out a satisfied sigh. “Nothing tasted right while I occupied that homunculus,” he explained when Harry gave him a questioning look. At once Tom ate a little sandwich with smoked salmon whole and closed his eyes in obvious pleasure while he chewed.

Harry stared. He couldn’t help it. Seeing Tom so human and alive was breath-taking. And when he realized he was staring Harry suddenly felt self-conscious and looked at Barty instead. “What about you? Have you got a new identity waiting as well?”

“I certainly do. Now that our Lord is restored I’ll be visiting a wizard in Lebanon who specializes in permanent human transfiguration. I’m going to become my own second cousin, Bartholomew Crouch. That way I can inherit my family’s possessions and gold.” Barty’s grin was wide. “Everybody thinks I’m dead, so they won’t question my new identity too much. That wizard won’t have to change too much about my face.”

“That’s great,” Harry said, happy for his friend. “You’ll have a second chance as well.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Barty said in surprise. “I hadn’t even thought of it like that before.”

Harry looked back at Tom, who had by then finished a full plate of little sandwiches and was already on his second cup of tea. Harry picked up his own cup and took a fortifying sip. “What about your followers? Which ones will you tell? And can we please leave Bellatrix in Azkaban?”

Tom snorted with laughter. “Bellatrix is an acquired taste, I suppose. Unfortunately Azkaban has made her, and my other followers who still reside there, utterly unhinged. In my previous life that suited me fine, but now that I’m going to use legitimate ways to change our society they will not be of much use.” Tom frowned for a moment while he looked down at the cup of tea in his hands. “I do feel a certain amount of guilt for leaving them there.”

“You were insane before,” Harry said, leaning forward a little to look Tom in the eye. “They did all those things with their sanity intact. No offense to you, Barty, but what happened to Neville’s parents was beyond cruel and they deserve to rot in prison for that.”

“None taken,” Barty said while giving Harry a reassuring smile. “I was there. I know how cruel it really was. I never hurt them since I was only there as the look-out, but I also didn’t stop Bellatrix, Rodolphus or Rabastan. I was young, foolish and had a grudge against an abusive father and I didn’t care who got hurt as long as I got to lash out at him.”

“We all have made mistakes in our pasts,” Tom said quietly. “Some of us more than others. Anyway, I plan to approach Lucius Malfoy and Theodorus Nott first, let them in on my identity and my plans, and wrap them up in so many vows they’ll barely be able to breathe.”

“At this point Lucius Malfoy is still loyal to you,” Harry said while he recalled Lucius Malfoy as he’d met him during his second year at Hogwarts in his previous life, not that shell of a man he’d become after a year in Azkaban and while functioning pretty much as Voldemort’s whipping boy.

“I do believe that Lucius was only ever really loyal to himself and his immediate family,” Tom replied while Barty hummed his agreement. “But Lucius is an ambitious man and he’ll be happy enough to play along since my plans will be advantageous for him and his social standing.”

“What about money?” Harry asked bluntly. He knew it probably wasn’t polite to talk about money like that but he also didn’t want Tom to struggle financially. “Do you have enough, Tom? And you, Barty?”

“I’m inheriting my father’s vault,” Barty quickly assured him. “The Crouches have never been a wealthy family like the Malfoys or the Blacks, but neither were we poor. My father was a frugal man with a good Ministry salary so he only added to the vault over the years.”

Tom’s smirk was rather self-satisfied. “And I used to tithe my followers. They paid me for the privilege of kneeling and kissing my robes. And the Ministry never found my hiding places, so I have plenty of gold to set me up with some investments or a business of sorts.” Shrugging, Tom reached for the second plate of sandwiches. They all remained quiet for a few moments. Harry finished his cup of tea, Tom worked his way through the sandwiches and Barty called Winky to ask for some sweets.

“Don’t you have your first Quidditch match soon?” Barty asked while Tom rolled his eyes at the change of subject.

“Yep, this Saturday,” Harry said with a snicker at Tom’s antics. “The last time I won by catching the Snitch with my mouth. The old man later used that Snitch to hide the resurrection stone in for me. Did you set up the trap for Dumbledore, Tom? In the Gaunt shack?”

“Yes. An exact replica of the ring lies in wait, cursed to hell and back.” Tom looked eager to see his trap snap shut. Frankly, Harry was just as eager to see Dumbledore gone.

“I’ll still be in Lebanon this Saturday,” Barty said, obviously disappointed. “But I’ll come see you play for your next match. I’ll be able to go out in public then, anyway.”

“Sure, that would be great.” Harry looked forward to see Barty out and about again. They might even be able to meet up in Hogsmeade once Harry was allowed to go there in his third year.

“We must also discuss your Christmas plans,” Tom said out of the blue.

“Huh?” Harry blinked at Tom in bewilderment. He was planning to stay at Hogwarts, mostly because he always stayed at Hogwarts, or at least he had in his previous life. He honestly hadn’t even considered that he could leave for the holidays until just now.

“We need to renew your Legilimency shield around that time,” Tom said, pouring himself yet another cup of tea. He must have really missed it over the last decade, Harry mused. “And we could use that time to go over some plans for teaching traditions and rituals.”

“I can’t just stay here, though,” Harry was quick to point out. “If I say I’ll go home and then never show up at the Dursleys’, Mrs Figg will notice and tell Dumbledore.”

“So do what you did this summer. Sleep there, spend an hour or two there in the afternoon and the rest of the time you can spend here,” Tom said with a careless shrug.

“Yeah, that would work,” Harry agreed with a nod. “I’m also planning on hiring a solicitor for Sirius around that time, so I might need some advice for that then.”

Barty made a pained face. “Black’s not going to be well after spending that long amongst dementors, Harry.”

“I know. I’ve seen it already, remember?” Harry sighed, feeling conflicted like he usually did when he thought of Sirius. “I still want to get him out, though.”

“I understand,” Barty assured him. “He wasn’t a bad sort when I was in Azkaban. We talked almost every day to try to keep our sanity.”

“I’m glad he had someone to talk to, at least for a while,” Harry whispered, suddenly tired to the bone. “What time is it anyway?”

Barty checked his watch. “Twelve thirty. Bedtime for first-years for certain.”

Harry wanted to tell him off but he couldn’t because a yawn overtook him.

“Come, I will walk you to the door.” Tom got up, slowly and a little stiffly, but with determination shining in his dark eyes. Harry understood that after ten years without a body, Tom would be eager to put this one to good use. Harry followed him after saying a quick goodbye to Barty and once they reached the entrance way Tom opened the front door for him.

“Thank you, my dear,” Tom said softly and took Harry’s left hand into his own, larger one. He turned it palm up and pulled out his wand with his free hand. Slowly he moved the tip of his yew wand across Harry’s palm, healing the cut Harry had inflicted upon himself. After the wound was gone, Tom applied a gentle cleaning charm to spell away any dried blood.

“Thanks,” Harry whispered, throat suddenly dry. He gave Tom one last smile, which was returned at once, pulled his hand free and then he walked into the neglected garden and called for Kreacher who popped him right to where he’d picked him up earlier, just outside Honeydukes’ cellar in the tunnel that led straight to Hogwarts.

Harry barely registered the long walk back to the castle. For some reason his hand felt like it was warm where Tom had touched it and his scar tingled pleasantly, just a gentle, teasing reminder that his soulmate was out there, whole and complete and handsome and human.

Right before slipping inside the castle, Harry threw on his invisibility cloak, but didn’t bother with the map. It was late, most people would be in bed, and Harry trusted his cloak to keep him safe from whatever teacher or prefect he might encounter. He was really looking forwards to a good night’s sleep now that the day was over and the ritual had gone off without a hitch. All the tension and stress that had been building up for months leading up to Tom finally getting his body back was now released and Harry was ready to sleep for a whole day or more.

Too bad Snape stopped Harry from finally making it to bed. Harry tucked his invisibility cloak away right before entering the common room, and that was a good thing, too, because in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace sat Snape, casually reading the Daily Prophet someone had probably left lying around.

“Potter,” Snape said without looking up from the paper in his hands. “Curfew for first-years is nine ‘o clock, as I’m sure you know.”

“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.” Harry stood awkwardly between Snape and the door to the dormitories.

“Would you care to explain where you have been?” Snape’s eyes were still glued to the paper.

“Honouring my parents, Sir. It’s Samhain and the anniversary of their deaths. It seemed appropriate to spend some time in reclusion this evening.” Harry kept his voice steady, telling himself Snape had no evidence he’d done something wrong, like say, help resurrect a Dark Lord.

“Indeed?” Snape finally looked up and straight at Harry. “A noble endeavour. However, the feast ended around eight thirty. It is now almost one. That is a lot of time spent in reclusion, isn’t it?”

“I spent some time meditating,” Harry replied evenly. “I forgot the time, Sir.”

Snape got up from the leather chair much like a panther getting up to hunt down some innocent animal. He stalked towards Harry and loomed over him. “The headmaster wanted to know if your scar has bothered you this evening.”

“My scar?” Harry looked up at Snape with wide eyes. “It’s never bothered me, except that people keep staring at it, Sir.”

Glaring at him, Snape crossed his arms. “I do not believe a word you say, Potter. And I will find out the truth. And until I do, I will be keeping a very close eye on you. Detention with me, tomorrow evening at seven, for being out after curfew.” And with that Snape turned on his heels and left Harry standing there in the common room.

Fucking hell. The last thing Harry needed was for Snape to actively start keeping Harry under surveillance.

Chapter Text

That night, Harry slept deeply and had the most amazing dream. He was cocooned inside a warm, strong body but he wasn’t alone. Together they slid inside a hot bath, steam rising around them while the scent of lemon and cedar invaded their senses. They sipped a glass of whiskey and it warmed their mouth and burned their throat and the smoky aftertaste tickled their nose. And Harry couldn’t remember ever feeling as whole or as complete before. It was as if he’d been missing half of himself but hadn’t realized it until he joined with this missing part and finally knew what it was like to be one again.

“Harry, is that you?” The voice was soft and deep and Harry wanted to curl around it. “Are you dreaming, my dear? Then perhaps we’ll dream together.” They slid inside a large bed with thick blankets while a fire burned in the fireplace, and soon they were gliding through different scenes together, some familiar to Harry and some utterly foreign but it was all peaceful because he knew he wasn’t alone.

When he woke in the morning, Harry felt a pang in his chest at the loss of that warm, safe feeling of completeness. He was suddenly utterly alone and aware of it. That was until his senses returned and he realized he must have shared his mind, his soul with Voldemort last night.

No, not Voldemort anymore, Harry reminded himself. Voldemort was dead and gone and not ever coming back.

It was just Tom now. Thomas Gaunt.

Nevertheless, Harry was sure as he woke up completely that he’d connected with Tom while he slept. And it had been the most amazing thing Harry had ever felt. So amazing, even, that Harry was a little embarrassed to bring it up later that night during one of their mirror chats. But he would, embarrassed or not. It was important to understand their connection, especially now that it had returned so unexpectedly.

Ever since Harry found himself back in his eleven-year-old body his scar hadn’t given so much as a peep. No pain, no tingles, no visions of any sort. Nothing. And then Tom got his body back and his complete soul found a permanent home again and suddenly their connection came back with a vengeance.

Then again, when Harry thought back to his first life, his scar hadn’t bothered him all that much either until Voldemort got his body back in his fourth year. Sporadically he’d had short bouts of pain when Voldemort’s wraith was nearby or feeling particularly murderous. When Voldemort had inhabited a homunculus the visions in his sleep had started, but still only on just a few rare occasions. And then Voldemort was resurrected and the headaches and mind melting had really began.

It seemed that the second time around something similar was happening, except their feelings for each other weren’t murderous. Quite the contrary, so their connection was now giving pleasure instead of pain.

And yep, Harry was definitely a little embarrassed about this new phenomenon if the blush he felt heating his cheeks was any indication. He still needed to discuss it with Tom that evening, since a connection that just opened up out of the blue, no matter how pleasurable, could be terribly disruptive, not to mention give the game away. Harry wanted to cause Dumbledore a lot of doubt about his shared soul with Voldemort, starting with utterly denying he’d ever felt the man through his scar. And he planned to keep that up no matter what, but that meant he needed to control their connection or else he might just give himself away.

“Morning,” Blaise said when Harry opened his curtains and hopped out of bed. Blaise was just changing out of his pyjamas. “You got in late last night. I’m sure Snape was in here looking for you at some point.

Harry groaned and rubbed a frustrated hand across his face. “Yeah, he found me while I snuck into the common room. I’ve got detention tonight.”

“How terrible,” Blaise said, utterly without sympathy.

Harry shot him a rude gesture and went to get dressed.

The Daily Prophet made no mention of anything strange happening the evening before, not that Harry had expected it to. But you never knew who could pick up on the kind of necromantic magic they had used last night to park Tom’s soul in a brand new body. Besides that, anyone marked by Voldemort would have felt something. Tom assured him it wouldn’t be more than a short, slight burn, but you never knew what kind of conclusions someone might draw from it and talk to the wrong person about it.

Harry skimmed through the paper as he did most mornings at breakfast. There was a very short article mentioning it was the tenth anniversary of his parents deaths and the end of the war on Halloween tucked away at the bottom of the front page. It didn’t mention Harry at all, for which he was grateful.

So far the Daily Prophet hadn’t written much about him, aside from a short mention he’d started Hogwarts, was sorted into Slytherin and was making friends and doing well in his classes.

Rita Skeeter hadn’t set her sights on him just yet, but she would at some point, Harry knew. He suspected he was still too young. Very few people would put up with a reporter vilifying an actual eleven-year-old child. But once he was a teenager, around his fourth year like in his last life, Harry was sure Rita would come calling. Harry wasn’t sure yet how to handle her. It depended on a lot of things that were still up in the air. But at the very least Harry wouldn’t put up with any slander courtesy of the Prophet. Barty had told him weeks ago he could sick a solicitor on them if they started one of their smear campaigns again, and Harry planned to at least do that when the time came.

Another novelty for Harry was all the mail he was now receiving. Most of it were innocent letters or cards penned by children from across the globe who’d read one of those silly books and whose parents must have told them Harry Potter was a real boy who they could write to. Harry conscripted Kreacher to help him with this type of mail. Harry read the cards and letters and replied with a copied form letter in which he thanked the child for writing to him but in which he also gently explained he was just a kid himself and the books written about him were fictional. In the evening he handed the letters off to Kreacher who made sure they were all sent off using school owls. It wasn’t a huge distraction as Harry maybe received some twenty to thirty of such letters a week.

The other type of correspondence Harry received was a little more disturbing. Written by adults and meant to hurt him in a some way. These were thankfully sporadic, but they did demonstrate it was a good idea to diligently use detection charms on every piece of mail he received. So far Harry had received one cursed card which he didn’t open thanks to the detection charms used, one letter filled with bubotuber pus, which he also caught in time, and one box of chocolate cauldrons filled with love potion, which what the fuck? He was eleven! What sick fuck sent love potions to a child? As Harry studied the accompanying card he got the distinct impression the witch in question, someone named Lucinda Snow, had been sending him spiked chocolates for at least a few years. So perhaps Snape hadn’t been exaggerating when he mentioned destroying pounds of spiked chocolate.

After getting the go-ahead from Amelia Bones through Susan, Harry sent the whole lot off to the Auror department. Let them deal with it. It was their job, after all.

“No love potions this morning?” Theo asked cheerfully as Harry folded his newspaper and stuffed it in his book bag. Ever since Harry had received those blasted chocolates his friends hadn’t let him forget it.

Harry gave him the stink-eye. “Keep bringing it up and I’ll offer the next batch I get to you when you least expect it.”

Blaise chuckled while Theo looked a little disturbed by that thought. “You should have kept the ones you got,” Blaise said with a casual kind of cruelty which still sometimes surprised Harry. “And the next time Draco or Weasley got on your nerves, just offer them a chocolate and sit back to watch the chaos.”

Of course, Blaise didn’t know Harry had already seen Ron doped up on a love potion once and it had been kind of hilarious. But it also freaked Harry the fuck out when he really thought about it. In many ways, it was worse than the imperius curse. Only so many people could cast an imperius curse and really control you. But just about everyone could either brew or buy a love potion since most weren’t even illegal, and control you that way.

And love potions could control a person enough to really screw up their lives. Just look at Tom’s mother and father. No matter Merope had been a victim of abuse herself, what she’d done to Tom Riddle senior was repeated rape and mind-control, plain and simple.

Harry stared at Blaise and shook his head. “I’d rather the Aurors stop whoever is trying to control me than have a few cheap laughs.”

“Fair enough,” Blaise replied with a shrug and went back to eating his scrambled eggs on toast.

It was a Friday so they only had double potions that morning and the afternoon off. Ever since Harry, Neville and Millicent had been forced together through Ron and Hermione’s actions they had stayed partners in Potions. They worked well together and both Neville and Millicent were quiet and hard-working and that suited Harry just fine.

Snape kept glaring at Harry throughout the class, so much so that Neville noticed.

“What did you do to piss him off?” Neville whispered while he shredded seaweed.

“I was out past midnight last night and Snape caught me getting back. I’ve got detention with him tonight,” Harry whispered back.

Neville gaped at him and then swallowed audibly, looking as if Harry had just announced he was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Millicent shook her head at Neville’s antics and said, “Be glad that’s all the detention you got, Harry. Pansy’s cousin once got a week’s worth of detention when Snape caught her and her Ravenclaw boyfriend in a supply closet past curfew. They had to help the gamekeeper clean out the hippogriff stables every evening for seven days.”

“Yeah, that does sound worse,” Neville agreed. “Still, good luck, mate.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, more than a little amused, but also grateful at least Snape wasn’t making him shovel hippogriff shit.

As it turned out, Snape had him disembowel salamanders. A whole vat of them. Harry spent the afternoon in the library with his friends finishing up their homework, as they did every Friday, and after dinner and the Slytherin house meeting, Snape waited for him with a sinister smile on his face.

“With me, Potter,” Snape said and stalked out of the common room, Harry on his heels.

Once inside the classroom, Snape pointed at the vat of salamanders and the knife laying on one of the desks. “Disembowel those, Potter. You will not leave this classroom until they are all done.”

“Yes, Sir,” Harry said, remembering his private vow to not piss Snape off if he could help it and to always be polite to him. So he refrained from saying anything else and simply got to work. Disembowelling anything was disgusting but fairly simple to do, so Harry let his mind wander into an almost meditative state while his hands did the work automatically.

Snape, in the meantime, sat behind his desk with a stack of essays, a quill and a big bottle of red ink. He glanced at Harry from time to time, but otherwise focused on his own work.

It wasn’t until Harry was about three-quarters done with his vat of salamanders that Snape put down his quill and leaned back in his chair. He stared at Harry who slowly came out of his meditative trance when he all but felt Snape’s gaze on him. Harry tried not to let show how much that unnerved him, to be the focus of Severus Snape’s attention like that. Harry was well aware there were two people in Hogwarts who stood a fair chance of discovering Harry’s secrets. One was Dumbledore and the other was observing Harry as though he’d never seen anything as fascinating before in his life.

“Are you familiar with the term muscle memory, Potter?” Snape finally asked as he shifted in his seat as though he was trying to make himself more comfortable as he got ready for a bit of pleasant conversation.

Harry was. During his fifth year, while teaching the DA, Hermione had mentioned it while explaining to everyone why repetition was so important when several members had complained about doing the same spells over and over again. “I can’t say I am, Sir,” Harry said with a faint shrug as he kept working.

“Muscle memory is the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought,” Snape drawled while gesturing at Harry with his hand. “One acquires muscle memory as a result of frequent repetitions. Which begs the question, Potter, where did you learn to disembowel amphibians before today that you can now do it without thinking?”

Harry kept his face blank while his mind raced a mile a minute. Holy fuck. How was he supposed to explain this? “I don’t know, Sir,” he finally said, remembering Slytherin’s credo of ‘deny everything, always’. “But I’ve been cooking meals for my family for years. That’s given me all sorts of skills with a knife, I suppose.”

“Hm.” Snape’s lips curled up in a smirk. “And has cooking Muggle meals also given you the experience you have on a broom, Potter?” Snape sat up a little straighter, leaning towards Harry ever so much as he narrowed his eyes. “You see, I was under the impression that you grew up completely in the Muggle world, unaware of your magical heritage until you received your Hogwarts letter. Yet that Wronski Feint you showed us makes me question your Muggle background. Which begs the question... why are you lying about it?” Snape’s smirk became downright predatory. “What are you hiding?”

Buggering fucking fuck. Harry had to clamp his jaws together to keep himself from swallowing nervously. This is what he got for showing off, wasn’t it? He just had to get his way and play Quidditch as a first year or else he might get too bored or something and now Snape knew something was up and Harry had no idea how to explain this. His mind was drawing a complete blank as his heart raced in his chest and his mouth instantly became dry. How could he explain away his Quidditch skills when he was supposed to be an eleven-year-old Muggle-raised child.

Fucking hell. How to explain this? He had practice. Sometime during last summer he learned how to fly a broom. Someone showed him how to fly and they discovered his talents on a broom.

Yes. That could work. But who did he know who could have done that and who would go along with the story should he be questioned?

“My friend Barty showed me how to fly a broom this summer, Sir,” Harry said as evenly as he could. He stopped disembowelling for a moment when he noticed his hands trembling. “He discovered my talent and showed me some moves. He encouraged me to join the team.”

“Barty who?” Snape demanded, lips curling up in disdain.

“Bartholomew Crouch.”

“Crouch?” Snape’s eyes widened ever so much. Harry had to remind himself that no one, aside from Tom, Wormtail and himself knew Barty Crouch Jr was still alive. Everyone assumed he’d died in Azkaban almost a decade ago, so Snape would not immediately suspect it was him.

“Yeah, Barty’s related to that Ministry Head who died this summer. That’s why he was in the country, to settle the affairs of his second cousin or something.” Harry shrugged, some of the tension slowly leaving his body now that he’d found a working story.

“And how did you meet this Barty Crouch?” Snape asked, black eyes narrowed to slits.

“Bumped into him at the Quidditch store,” Harry said with a cheeky grin, warming up to the story he was fabricating. “My aunt let me roam around there for half an hour or so after she got tired of hearing me whine about wanting to fly. Barty offered to let me fly his broom,” Harry finished with a shrug.

“And you actually went with the first stranger who offered to let you ride his broom, you imbecilic child?” Snape snarled while he slammed his hand down on his desk in sheer rage. “You could have been killed or worse.”

“My aunt said it was fine,” Harry said, a little taken aback by Snape’s sudden anger.

“Your aunt starved you while she kept you in a cupboard. She’s not exactly an example to follow when it comes to your care, Potter.” Snape dragged a trembling hand down his face and suddenly looked exhausted.

“Look, nothing happened. Barty’s a good guy who’s become a good friend,” Harry said honestly. He remembered the half-squashed salamander in his hand and went on with his work. “He taught me how to fly and recommended a lot of interesting books.” Harry decided to ramble on about his favourite subject as a way to hopefully distract Snape away from this topic altogether. “He told me to get some beginner Runes books and they are amazing. And Daphne’s mother is a Runes Mistress and she gave me even more titles to read. I cannot wait until third year when we can actually take Runes. It seems a bit unfair, though, that we have to wait this long to take it. Why can’t we learn Runes in our first year, Professor?”

“Potter,” Snape said with a tired sigh. “Do shut up.”

“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir,” Harry said with small smile he quickly hid by biting the inside of his cheek. Mission accomplished. Snape went back to his essays, shooting Harry occasional disgusted looks that were a clear commentary on Harry’s diminished intelligence, but Harry happily ignored those while he finished his work as quickly as he could. He needed to get out of there to get his story straight with Barty and Tom. He hadn’t meant to give up Barty’s existence so early on but it had been all he could think of with Snape breathing down his neck like that.

“I’m done, Sir,” Harry said some twenty minutes later.

Snape rose up from his chair and moved towards Harry. He inspected the disembowelled salamanders with a sneer. “Barely adequate. Next time I catch you out after curfew it will be a week of disembowelling small creatures, just so you know, Potter. Dismissed.”

“Good night, Sir,” Harry said and left the classroom without a backwards glance. He all but ran back to his dormitory.

“That bad, huh?” Theo asked from where he was sitting on the floor playing exploding snap with Blaise. Both were already wearing pyjamas.

“Ugh,” Harry said as he inspected his hands and underarms, all covered in blood and guts. “I had to gut a vat full of salamanders. I need a shower right now.”

“Yes, you do,” Blaise agreed with a wrinkle of his nose.

Harry showered until the skin of his hands was a vivid pink and wrinkled. Meanwhile he focussed on his breathing to calm down now that the adrenaline slowly left his body, leaving him shaky and tired. Once dried off and in his own pyjamas, he begged off a game of cards with Theo and Blaise, saying he was too tired which wasn’t too far from the truth. He was tired, but he couldn’t rest before he talked to Barty.

Except Barty wasn’t answering his mirror when Harry tried to call him after he’d applied a copious amount of privacy charms on his curtains. And then Harry remembered that Barty was travelling to Lebanon today, so he called Tom instead.

When Tom answered his mirror and Harry saw a handsome, human face with brown eyes, he was taken aback for a second. For months he’d talked to a small, slightly wrinkled and drawn face with red eyes and he’d gotten so used to that, apparently, that seeing Tom whole again took some getting used to.

“Hi,” Harry said, a little breathlessly.

“Good evening, Harry,” Tom said with a quirked smile. “Did you sleep well?”

At once Harry remembered the shared dreams and the amazing feeling of completeness and his cheeks heated up until Harry was sure he was as red as a tomato. “Yes, I did, thank you for asking, but you won’t believe what Snape did!”

“Oh dear,” Tom said, more than a little amused. “What did Severus do this time?”

“He caught me sneaking back in yesterday and gave me detention, which is fine. But then he interrogates me, which isn’t fine at all,” Harry said in a single breath and then he had to pause to breathe in and out a few times. “And he’s talking about muscle memory as he’s having me disembowel salamanders and then he’s all suspiciously asking where I learned the Wronski Feint and stuff so I had to come up with a story quickly, so I said I’d bumped into Barty this summer, and that he was in the country because his second cousin had died or something and that Barty was the one to teach me how to fly.”

“That’s not a bad story,” Tom said with a little tilt of his head. “I’d been meaning to propose we come up with such a story anyway in case anyone discovers our association.”

“Huh?” Harry wasn’t sure what Tom was saying or not. He suspected his brain may have turned into salamander guts sometime during the evening.

“Think about it,” Tom continued, ignoring Harry’s confused expression. “We’re friends, we communicate regularly, and no matter how well we keep our association a secret, sooner or later someone will find out. They always do. So I’d already come to the conclusion we need a cover story and this one works.”

“I met Barty and through Barty I was introduced to you sometime this summer?” Harry guessed, his brain slowly making a come-back as he finally got what Tom was saying. “And we hit it off and kept in touch?”

“Exactly,” Tom said with a warm smile. “Barty and I have decided to start a business together, both as a cover and to give us a legitimate source of income.”

“What kind of business?” Harry asked, at once burning with curiosity.

“Gaunt and Crouch Warding and Curse-breaking,” Tom said with obvious pride. “I’m well-versed in both subjects, and Barty will apprentice under me until he’s completely caught up, which shouldn’t be long. He’s already got a very good understanding of Arithmancy and Runes, and he was well on his way to becoming a Ward Master before his arrest.”

“That’s awesome,” Harry said, genuinely happy Tom and Barty’s plans were coming together.

“Once I’ve brought Lucius and Theodorus up to speed they can recommend our services to their vast social circles, which in turn will give Barty and myself access to plenty of rich and influential witches and wizards and will allow us to cultivate legitimate connections.”

“Yeah, who’s Slughorn now?” Harry said, feeling more than a little vindicated.

Tom snorted. “I’m merely a Slytherin.”

“Yeah, yeah, soulmate, you don’t fool me.” Harry batted his eyelids at Tom. “Just remember to invite me to your soirees.”

Tom choose to ignore Harry’s childish antics with an eye-roll and got back to the topic at hand. “So you see, my dear, you needn’t worry about Severus and his meddling. You simply met Barty by chance and later me through my business partner.” Tom gave an elegant shrug. “I’ll give you more of our backstory as I get confirmation from several sources. Don’t go announcing our connection just yet, but in case you need to do some explaining, you now can.”

“Thanks,” Harry said with a relieved smile. The hunted feeling that had been plaguing him ever since Snape’s impromptu interrogation finally left him completely and Harry was beyond grateful this crisis seemed to be averted. “When are you and Barty going public?”

“We won’t be back from Lebanon until Sunday at least, and then there are a few more affairs to settle, so by the end of next week is my guess,” Tom said, and it took Harry a few seconds to catch on to what he’d actually said.

“You’re both in Lebanon?” Harry asked, his eyebrows rising higher and higher. “Wait, are you going to change your face like Barty is?” Harry suddenly felt desperate to stop Tom. He couldn’t change his face. Harry wasn’t sure why, but he just couldn’t.

“Yes, if I’m to be my own son, I’ll need to change my face,” Tom said matter-of-factly.

“No,” Harry blurted out before he could stop himself. “Please don’t.”

Chapter Text

Tom’s expression was stuck somewhere between delight and bewilderment. “Harry? What are you saying exactly?”

“It’s just...” Harry trailed off, mind going in circles as the only thing he could come up with to say was that he liked the way Tom looked and he didn’t want Tom to look differently, but he sure as hell couldn’t tell the man that. “It’s just...you’ve only just got your face back, right?” Harry finally rambled, struggling to find the right words. “So you shouldn’t have to look different.”

“I’m not going to look that differently,” Tom assured him. “It’s just going to be a few small changes. Hair and eye colour, the shape of my jaw, that sort of thing. I’ll still look like me, just with a few small differences.” Tom looked at Harry intently, yet his smile was gentle. “I can’t look exactly the same if I’m to be my own son.”

“Ah.” Harry swallowed against his suddenly dry mouth. “Yeah, that makes sense.” He tried to smile back but his heart wasn’t in it.

“It’ll be fine, I promise. You’ll see tomorrow evening.” Tom and his stupid, handsome face observed Harry for a few moments as though Harry knew a secret Tom desperately wanted to find out. “Didn’t you have your first Quidditch game tomorrow, my dear?”

Harry recognized a distraction when he heard one, but he went along with it since he was in need of a change in topics if his warm cheeks were any indication. “Yep, Terence Higgs is going to have a very convenient case of explosive diarrhoea right before the game so I can step in to save the day. He’s brewed the triple strength laxative potion himself. Said it was great practice for his Potions NEWT, to adjust the recipe to strengthen the brew. Without you there to curse my broom I expect it to be a boring game, though.”

Tom looked so incredibly fond while Harry babbled that it threw Harry off a little, so he desperately tried to think of a new subject. There was always the shared dreams...but no, Harry was not ready to bring that up. Just when the silence between them was getting a little awkward, Harry remembered something that happened during the Halloween feast.

“Hey! I almost forgot,” Harry said as he sat up a little. “What was that about Quirrell breaking that Defence curse?”

Tom laughed, eyes closed and head thrown back, and yet again seeing him this human took Harry’s breath away. What was that, and why did it keep happening every time he looked at the man?

“You told me Quirrell was a good enough teacher,” Tom finally said as he caught his breath. “That curse needed to go and I figured Quirrell had deserved a reward, so he gets to take the credit for breaking the curse while keeping a job he enjoys. Meanwhile I have a spy in the castle that’s a little more trustworthy than dear Severus.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed with a brief nod. “Quirrell’s fine as a teacher. Not the best I’ve had, but certainly not the worst.” Then Harry realized something and his face split open with a huge grin. “And that means we won’t have Lockhart next year. Thank fuck! Seriously, you have no idea how happy that makes me.”

Tom was back to looking impossibly fond. “I have some idea, I believe.”

“Oh, and if you want to make more of a name for yourself, you could always expose Lockhart as the fraud he is,” Harry rambled on, on a roll now that he realized Lockhart needed taking down and him accidentally obliviating himself on the way to the Chamber of Secrets was off the table. “Lockhart is ridiculously popular still, and exposing him would put your name on everyone’s map for sure.”

“Interesting,” Tom mused with a little frown as he bit his lip. Harry couldn’t look away for some reason. “Could you write down everything you know about that fraud and send it to me? I’m sure Barty wouldn’t mind helping to set a little trap using Ravenclaw’s diadem.”

“Sure, I’ll send it off after the game tomorrow.” Harry felt better now that the weird subjects were over and done with. “Lockhart will not be able to resist that trap if you let the rumour out you’ve found Ravenclaw’s diadem. He’ll want to take all the credit for that himself and he’ll try to obliviate you both.”

“Exactly,” Tom said with a smirk that matched Harry’s. “Too bad Barty and myself will be wearing shield charms specifically designed to block memory charms.”

“And then all you have to do is present your memories of the confrontation to the Aurors and Lockhart is done for.” Harry leaned back against his pillow, feeling deeply satisfied about this plot even though it hardly involved him. He was just genuinely looking forward to seeing Lockhart exposed. That fraud had hurt enough people and he’d always given Harry very creepy vibes. Who knew what else he’d gotten up to with his memory charms at the ready aside from claiming other people’s heroics. Harry didn’t want to imagine because whatever his mind came up with freaked him out.

“I do owe you an apology, my dear,” Tom said, and the sudden change of topic snapped Harry out of his brief state of euphoria at the thought of Lockhart’s incoming exposure. “I wasn’t Occluding last night and I inadvertently pulled you into my mind while you were sleeping.”

“Er..” Harry swallowed and plucked at his pyjama shirt with nervous fingers. “That’s fine. It was fine. It felt fine.”

Tom chuckled, nose wrinkled with clear amusement. “So what you’re saying is that you’re fine with it?”

Harry glared at him, but that only made Tom grin in response. “Yes, Tom, it was fine. Much better than the splitting headaches and visions of torture you used to send me.”

All the amusement slipped off Tom’s face at once and Harry suddenly felt bad even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. “Sorry,” he blurted, yet he wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for.

“No, Harry,” Tom said with a deep frown. “You do not apologize for my past actions. Not ever.” Tom’s eyes looked pained. “There is nothing I can do to change my past. I can only go forward and do better. Just know, my dear, that if I could go back to my youth like you have, I would change everything. No horcruxes, no murder, no mayhem and no terrorizing our society, and I would certainly leave you and your family be, ridiculous prophecy or not.”

“Thanks,” Harry whispered, oddly touched. So much so his eyes welled up a bit and he stared down at his lap, desperately blinking away any tears before they could fall. This was the most outspoken Tom had been about his past actions so far, and it filled Harry with a warm sort of happiness that the former Dark Lord was able to voice his regrets. At least, Harry assumed Tom was now a former Dark Lord. His future plans certainly indicated as much.

“Now, back to the topic at hand,” Tom said as he shifted in his seat. “Would you object to experimenting with our connection?”

Harry looked up in surprise. “Experimenting how?” he asked, at once both hopeful and wary. “Have more of those dreams together?” The last part was said with no small amount of desire because Harry very much wanted to feel that complete again, that whole and close to the other part of his soul.

“Yes,” Tom said with a firm nod. Maybe it was Harry’s imagination but he thought Tom sounded particularly eager at the prospect of sharing dreams. Maybe Harry wasn’t the only one who had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “We can induce those dreams on purpose and eventually try to project our consciousness at each other.”

“So we’d be able to talk in our dreams and stuff?” Harry guessed, more than a little interested in trying that out.

“In theory, yes. We’ll have to practice, of course. If you’re up for it.” Tom gave Harry an expectant look, eyebrows raised just a bit.

“Yeah, we can do that,” Harry said, doing his upmost to sound casual and not at all as eager as he felt. He couldn’t help wanting that sense of completion back, but with that desire still came a strong sense of embarrassment.

“Good. We’ll start tonight,” Tom said, looking terribly pleased. “And since you have a big game tomorrow, I suggest you get a good night’s sleep.” Tom’s grin was slightly crooked and he winked at Harry.

“Fine,” Harry said, still with all the forced casualness he could muster. “I’m going to sleep. See you soon, soulmate.”

“Sweet dreams, my dear.” Tom closed his mirror and Harry let himself fall back against the mattress.

Sleep, of course, did not come immediately, no matter how hard Harry tried. He resorted to some meditative exercises for what felt like hours but was probably closer to twenty minutes and then he slipped inside the other part of himself and it was like walking right into a loved one’s embrace. Warm and safe and no longer alone.

Harry’s dream started out with riding along as Tom spent an hour reading a book on Egyptian warding techniques in what Harry realized must be a hotel room. After that he took a hot bath and Harry relaxed further into sleep as Tom sank into the warm water. Half an hour later Tom slipped into bed and his mind joined Harry’s as sleep claimed him, too. They dreamed, side by side yet wrapped around each other so tightly neither was sure where the other began.

Morning came too soon. Even though Harry was well rested physically, part of him wanted to stay asleep wrapped around his other half for days, weeks, months. But a bigger part realized such thoughts were silly and he had a life to live, starting that day with the Slytherin-Gryffindor Quidditch match.

“Nervous?” Theo asked as he joined Harry in the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Harry shook his head, mouth full of toothpaste. He’d played this match before and won. Then he considered what might happen if he didn’t win the match because so many things were different now. Just thinking about the undoubtedly smug expression on Malfoy’s face and his endless gloating should Harry make a fool of himself today was enough to create a coil of tension in Harry’s abdomen. He rinsed his mouth and amended his answer. “Maybe just a little bit nervous.”

Theo grinned at him as he put his toothbrush away. “You’ll be fine. Flint wouldn’t let you play if he didn’t think you could win.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Harry followed Theo out of the bathroom and got dressed. He almost wanted to put on his Quidditch robes right away but remembered at the last moment he wasn’t supposed to know yet he needed to play today so he settled for his wizarding leisure wear of a pair of black trousers and white button-down shirt combined with a dark-blue muggle jumper.

Draco was awake at that point and immediately let Harry know. “It must be tough,” Draco mused as he slowly climbed out of bed. “Spending all this time training as a reserve player yet never being allowed to play an actual game.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Harry said cheerfully. “But I’m sure you’ll let me know what that’s like next year.”

Blaise snorted while Theo smirked, and they joined Harry for breakfast. Harry managed some toast with strawberry jam and a cup of strong tea. He was pleasantly surprised to receive a card from Barty halfway through his meal. It was delivered by a tiny scops owl with a red ribbon around his leg that said ‘express mail’.

The card itself had writing on the front in Arabic script. Harry had no idea what it said but judging by the cheering picture of the Lebanese national Quidditch team on the card it was a good message. Inside Harry found a short message in Barty’s messy scrawl.

“Harry,

You got this! Catch that Snitch and win that game! Next time I’ll be there to cheer you on in person and I’ll even drag Tom along.

Barty’

Harry smiled, feeling a little lighter knowing his closest friends were rooting for him even on the other side of the world. He tucked the card away just as Marcus Flint marched up to him.

“Snape wants to see us,” Flint said, and Harry responded with a grave nod, meanwhile thinking ‘showtime’.

“What? Why?” Draco demanded from across the table. Flint ignored him and Harry offered Draco his smuggest smile before he hurried after Flint.

Snape stood in the entrance hall with the Slytherin Quidditch team around him, decked out in their green and silver Quidditch uniforms and holding their brooms. McGonagall and the Gryffindor team caught up with them just as Harry and Flint did.

“I regret to inform you our Seeker, Mr Higgs, has been dosed with an extra strength laxative potion and is unable to play,” Snape told McGonagall. He then glared at the Weasley twins and snapped, “Thirty points, each, from Gryffindor for trying to sabotage the opposite team.”

“Professor Snape,” McGonagall admonished him with a pinched look. “Have you any evidence the Messrs Weasley were involved?”

“Do I need to remind you, Professor McGonagall, that I caught those two hellions red-handed in my potions stores last year with all the ingredients for a laxative potion in their thieving hands?” Snape all but whispered as he leaned closer to McGonagall.

Harry had to bite his lip to keep from grinning as he took in the scene before him. Fred and George loudly denied their involvement, yet no one, not even their own Head of House believed them. That was the price they paid for being known for their pranks and usually very publicly claiming ownership of them no matter the point-loss or detention that followed. Do it often enough and everyone automatically assumed you were guilty each and every time, even when you were in fact innocent.

McGonagall glared at the twins. “I am appalled by your lack of sportsmanship. The loss of points stands and I’m adding a week of detention with Mr Filch.” She turned back to Snape. “Do we need to postpone the match or can Mr Higgs make the pitch in time?”

“Mr Higgs is out for the count, I’m afraid,” Snape said with the utmost regret, even going so far as sadly shaking his head. Meanwhile, Fred and George were practically vibrating with anger. If there were any Gryffindors who might figure out how Slytherins really worked it would be those two. Harry was willing to bet gold the twins had figured out what was really going on, but they were also clever enough to know no one would believe them at this point and they would only lose more points if they said something about it.

Harry expected many bludgers aimed his way during the match.

“Thankfully, our reserve Seeker is ready to step up,” Snape continued, grabbing Harry’s arm and yanking him closer. “Mr Potter, are you able to play?” His fingers tightened around Harry’s arm in a silent warning that his answer had better be ‘yes’.

“Yes, Professor,” Harry said, smiling up at McGonagall. “I’ve been practicing really hard and I’ve got a broom and everything.”

McGonagall peered down at him with a dubious frown. “A first-year? Are you certain about this, Severus? We could easily postpone the match.”

“There is no need for that,” Snape said quickly, taking a step back from McGonagall in an obvious attempt to end the conversation. “Mr Potter will take Mr Higgs’ place and the match will start promptly at eleven.” Snape shoved Harry in the direction of the dungeon stairs. “Mr Potter, you’d best get changed in your Quidditch gear.”

Harry all but ran to his dorm, got changed in record time and then ran all the way to the changing rooms under the stadium where he met up with the Slytherin team. Flint handed him his broom.

“You had better catch that Snitch, Potter,” Flint told him with a growl in his voice.

“Yes, Captain,” Harry said in his most annoyingly childish tone. Flint narrowed his eyes but ignored him as he started going over some formations he expected everyone to use.

As they finally made their way onto the pitch Harry had to admit it was a little strange to see the players he’d had as teammates for years suddenly on the opposite team. Still, Quidditch was Quidditch, no matter what colour uniform Harry was wearing, so he shrugged off any weirdness and concentrated on the game.

Gryffindor had a fourth-year girl named Natasha Summers as the Seeker. Harry didn’t know her, couldn’t even really remember her. She couldn’t be that good a Seeker, he reasoned, or else she would have been on the team in his first life before Harry got roped into playing by McGonagall, which she did because Gryffindor desperately needed a new Seeker.

No, Harry wasn’t too worried as he waited for Hooch to give the signal to start the game.

Lee Jordan gave the commentary as was expected. “Terence Higgs has fallen ill, reportedly by accidentally ingesting a potion that made him –“

“Jordan, don’t you dare finish that sentence!” McGonagall all but snarled.

“Anyway,” Jordan continued with a wide grin. “Slytherin has replaced their Seeker with a first-year, and what a first-year. Harry Potter himself is flying a Nimbus Two Thousand that seems a few sizes too large for him, small thing that he is.”

“Jordan, comment on the game, not the size of the players!”

“Sorry, Professor.”

Harry tuned the commentary out and circled the pitch, keeping the Gryffindor Seeker in his sights out of the corner of his eye but mostly focusing on finding the Snitch as fast as he could. Summers was also circling, though on opposite side of the pitch from him. Several bludgers were pelted at Harry on purpose and without much use since Harry wasn’t even actively participating in the game at this point. Both Gryffindor and Slytherin had scored a few times each and Harry thought those bludgers would be much more effective when used to disrupt the Chasers, but the twins disagreed.

Fred and George were angry and wanted everyone, but especially Harry, to know it.

Harry understood, he supposed. It was rather startling to realize just how underhanded Slytherins could be and how utterly naive most Gryffindors, including the Head of House, were about it. Harry himself hadn’t appreciated how sneaky Slytherins could really be until he was a Slytherin himself. As a Gryffindor a lot of Slytherin plots had gone right over his head, much to his current shame. Draco had managed to trick him and Ron with that ridiculous duel at midnight plot, after all. Harry shook his head and concentrated on finding the Snitch.

Gryffindor scored right before Harry saw a glimpse of gold near the grass in the middle of the pitch. He quickly checked Summers’ position. She was on the opposite side, about as far removed from the centre as he was but flying an older model Cleansweep. Harry smiled. There was no way she could outfly his Nimbus. He had this.

Accelerating his broom to its maximum capacity, Harry shot right through the gameplay below him, swerving around Adrian Pucey and Angelina Johnson, unintentionally making her drop the Quaffle. Montague, flying just below her, deftly caught it and turned around at once, heading to the Gryffindor goal posts. Harry sped past, aiming for the ground where the Snitch was hovering. Summers had spotted the Snitch as well and was flying as fast as she could, but it was clear to Harry that wasn’t fast enough.

A flash of orange appeared briefly in the corner of Harry’s eyes and he had to do a quick barrel-roll to prevent a bludger from hitting him. The twins were there and seemed determined to stop Harry from reaching the Snitch. Another bludger came soaring at Harry’s head and this time he dipped down and up to avoid it. Harry stretched his arm out, turned his broom just a smidge to prevent a head-on collision with Summers who was coming in fast from the opposite direction, and he closed his fingers around the Snitch.

Pulling his broom up, Harry held the Snitch high above his head, grinning. The next thing he knew was another flash of orange, a sickening crack, and darkness.

Chapter Text

It was a subtle kind of torture, Harry decided, to be able to ride along with Tom, but not to feel him. Harry was trapped in a glass box, or so it felt. He saw through Tom’s eyes, but couldn’t sense his soulmate and it was maddening, to be so close and not be complete.

Tom was having similar sentiments, if his pacing and snarling were any indication. They were back in the reception room of Riddle Manor and Harry wondered how much time had passed.

“Something happened,” Tom muttered as he paced around the room like a caged dragon. Barty was sitting in a chair at the coffee table and Harry did a double take when he saw Barty’s new face through Tom’s eyes.

Barty’s dirty-blond hair was now a rich, chestnut brown, his watery, blue eyes were a dark grey, and even his normally pale skin had the slightest olive hue. The shape of his nose was different, a little pointier instead of the blunt nose he’d had before, and his cheekbones were higher and lips just a bit fuller. He still obviously looked related to the Crouches, but nothing that would specifically remind one of Bartemius Crouch Jr. All in all, he looked good, and Harry was disappointed he couldn’t tell him that.

“It’s been 24 hours. The kid probably fell off his broom and is sleeping it off in the hospital wing,” Barty said, but his tone was unconvincing and he was wringing his hands in his lap.

“If he was sleeping I would feel him,” Tom snarled at Barty, who looked at him with wide eyes. “And I cannot feel him. I haven’t felt him in twenty four hours. He might be dead for all we know!” Tom kicked against a side table, sending it scattering across the floor. “That blasted Quirrell is useless. He knows Harry is important to us yet he sends no news!”

“If Harry was dead it would be in the papers, I’m sure,” Barty said, but his tone suggested he was trying to convince himself of this even more so than he was trying to convince Tom. “I’ll try my mirror again.” Barty took his mirror out of his pocket and held it against his Dark Mark to activate it. Harry knew it was useless since his own mirror was locked in his trunk and Harry was stuck in Tom’s mind and in no position to answer it.

“We need someone on the ground at Hogwarts to protect Harry. He is far too important to lose.” Tom stopped pacing and ran a tired hand across his face. “I’m going to call in Severus.”

“My Lord?” Barty looked up at Tom in shock, fumbling with the mirror in his hands and almost dropping it. “If you call Snape, he’ll tell Dumbledore immediately you’ve returned before answering the summons. I thought we agreed it was of the utmost importance that the old man never gets confirmation who Thomas Gaunt really is.”

Tom snarled at Barty. “I know, but Harry might be dying or dead! And I will not sit on my arse and do nothing when there are people I can call in to take action.”

Barty pursed his lips, brow furrowed as he held up a finger. “If we send in Winky to tell Snape he cannot let Dumbledore know before you call him it might work to keep it from the old fool.”

Tom paused for a moment and turned to look at Barty. “Yes, that might work. Send Winky, have her tell Severus that if he so much as breathes a word to Dumbledore about the upcoming summoning his life will be forfeit and then I can call him without alerting the old man. And once Severus is here, he’ll take an Unbreakable Vow or he dies.”

“That’ll work,” Barty said with a smile and he called Winky to give her instructions. Meanwhile, Harry wanted to tell Tom there was no need to kill Snape, but of course he was still trapped in this metaphorical glass box so he could only sit and watch. Winky popped away and Tom resumed his pacing. No more than five minutes later, Winky popped back into the room.

“Master Snape was being alone in his room, so Winky is giving him the warnings. You is calling him now and Winky is staying with him to be watching his every move.” And with that, Winky disappeared again.

Barty pulled up the sleeve of his left arm and offered the Dark Mark to Tom, who pulled out his wand and pressed the tip against the mark. Barty winced a little, but it seemed to hurt a lot less than Harry had seen from other Death Eaters in his previous life. Another five minutes later, Winky walked into the room, Severus Snape on her heels, without mask or Death Eater robes, as per Winky’s instructions.

“He is not telling anyone he is being called, Winky is making sure,” Winky said with a little bow.

“Thanks, Winky,” Barty said with a warm smile.

“You is having guests, so Winky is making tea.” Winky popped away again, and Snape briefly looked around the room, obviously wondering who Barty was. Then his eyes landed on Tom and widened ever so much. Snape dropped to his knees, forehead pressed against the floor.

Tom had no patience for Snape’s show of submission. “What happened to Harry?” he all but yelled as he halted in front of Snape’s kneeling figure.

Snape looked up in confusion. “My Lord? Harry?”

“Harry Potter, who else? How many fucking Harries do you know, Severus?” Tom snapped in Snape’s face as he bent over a little to glare at him. “What happened to him yesterday? Is he all right? So help me Merlin, if he is dead I will tear Hogwarts apart brick by brick until I find the culprit and then I will spent the rest of my existence torturing the fool who killed my soulmate!”

The look of utter bewilderment on Snape’s face was hilarious. He obviously wasn’t expecting a Voldemort announcing Harry was his soulmate, especially since such a thing didn’t really exist. It was just a joke Harry had come up with to describe their unusual connection and Tom ran with it to tease Harry right back.

But Snape wasn’t a first-rate spy for nothing, and he schooled his face into an agreeable mask while looking calmly up at Tom. “Mr Potter was indeed injured during the Quidditch match yesterday, but he’s expected to make a full recovery.”

“How badly was he injured?” Tom demanded and he straightened up and crossed his arms tightly over his chest. “And who did it?”

Snape cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with ratting out the Weasley twins but obviously trying to hide that sentiment. The old Voldemort would have doled out a cruciatus curse at the least if he suspected Snape was uncomfortable telling the truth. Harry doubted Tom would do the same, though. “Mr Potter has suffered a traumatic brain injury,” Snape started saying and was immediately cut off by Tom.

“WHAT?” Tom whipped out his wand and pointed it straight at Snape’s face. “Who did this? Tell me now!”

Snape nodded and spoke quickly. “Just as Mr Potter caught the snitch and won the game, George Weasley hit a bludger against Mr Potter’s head from close range. Fred Weasley, trying to hit the same bludger, missed and hit Mr Potter’s head with his bat instead.”

“Fucking hell,” Barty breathed while Tom actually took a step back and covered his mouth with a trembling hand. Harry himself was equally shocked by the extent of his injuries and also rather thankful he wasn’t awake to feel the kind of pain that undoubtedly accompanied such an injury.

Snape nodded gravely. “Poppy Pomfrey called in a specialist from St Mungo’s and they are keeping him unconscious with dreamless sleep potion while administering a regiment of regenerative potions to help his brain heal. They are expecting him to make a full recovery, but it might take up to a week.”

“Tell me, Severus,” Tom said slowly, carefully articulating each word. “That those two attempted murderers were expelled at the least.”

Snape’s expression soured, his sneer full of disgust. Harry doubted it was fake. “The headmaster, in all his infinite wisdom, thought a point-loss of twenty points each should suffice as a punishment. Thankfully, the deputy headmistress has more sense and agreed to suspend the Weasley twins from Quidditch for the rest of the year, plus she gave them a month of detention. If it is any consolation, I do believe their actions were an accident and they didn’t mean to cause such grievous injuries. Unfortunately, the headmaster has also decreed that Mr Potter is not allowed to play Quidditch anymore, either, for the rest of the year since it’s obvious first-years are not well-suited to play in matches, according to him.”

“What?” Barty gaped at Snape and shook his head. “Oh man, Harry’s going to hate that.”

Yes, Barty was absolutely right. Inside his glass box, Harry was quietly fuming at Dumbledore’s latest petty act.

Snape nodded and then apparently couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced before. Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts.”

“Bartholomew Crouch, pleased to meet you,” Barty replied with a huge grin.

Snape’s eyes widened, recognizing that name at once and he looked back up at Tom with fear shining in his eyes, suddenly understanding that if Harry had spent time with this Bartholomew Crouch, second cousin to the late Bartemius Crouch Sr, there was a chance he had spent time with Voldemort as well.

“Come, Severus,” Tom said, sinking down in a leather chair beside Barty. “We have much to discuss. Do sit down.” He waved at an empty chair opposite his own. Snape carefully, warily got up and sat down with his back straight and knees pressed together. It was clear he wasn’t used to being treated like an actual human being by the Dark Lord.

Winky popped into the room with a huge tea service on a silver tray. “You is needing yous Earl Grey, Master Gaunt,” she said, quickly serving Tom a cup of tea. “You is worrying so long for the little soulmate, you is needing to calm down.” She all but pushed a plate with a slice of Battenberg cake on it into Tom’s hands. Then she served Barty and Snape and popped out again.

Tom took a few sips of tea and inhaled a deep breath as he stared at Snape. “Severus, I am about to tell you the truth, something which, besides myself, only Barty and Harry know. You will take an Unbreakable Vow before leaving here, or I will kill you. Understood?”

Snape swallowed and clenched his fingers a little tighter around his cup of tea. “Yes, my Lord.”

Tom nodded slowly and said with a measured voice, “The reason I’m telling you this is that Harry needs a protector at Hogwarts. You are already sworn to keep him safe, aren’t you?”

Snape looked a little bit shocked, his eyes widening ever so much. “My Lord, I assure you – “

“Cut the crap, Severus,” Tom interrupted him with a sharp gesture of his hand. “I am not the Voldemort you think I am. I know for a fact you swore a vow to Dumbledore to keep Lily’s child safe, after you went to the old man pleading for him to save your childhood friend. Not her husband or her son, just her. The fact that you are sworn to protect Harry is the only reason, aside from Harry’s request to keep you alive, that I won’t kill you for betraying me.”

Snape seemed unsure what to say to that and Harry could imagine there wasn’t much he could say with Tom spelling his knowledge of Snape’s betrayal out like that. Snape finally settled on giving a simple nod and sipping his tea.

Tom appeared fine with that limited response and leaned back in his chair. “I have Harry to thank for my return to the land of the living,” Tom started explaining and Snape leaned forward ever so much, obviously terribly curious what was really going on. Harry couldn’t blame him. To Snape it must feel as if he’d landed himself in an alternate dimension overnight. “Both Harry and myself have lived the next seven years already. Harry was sorted into Gryffindor and the old man groomed him to be the perfect little sacrificial lamb.”

It was weird, Harry decided, to hear someone else tell his life-story like that. Snape seemed riveted, hanging onto every word Tom said.

“Meanwhile, I made an unsuccessful attempt to get my body back in Harry’s first year, but didn’t succeed until the end of Harry’s fourth year. Unfortunately, due to creating multiple Horcruxes I was batshit insane, as Harry would say, and what followed was a few years of murder and mayhem and utter destruction. To make a very long story short, Harry played the part of the brave Gryffindor perfectly, fought me at every turn and eventually sacrificed his own life because Dumbledore told him to.”

Tom inhaled a deep breath and sipped his tea. Snape quickly mirrored his actions to hide his gobsmacked expression.

“When I murdered the Potters and my killing curse on Harry backfired, a piece of my soul was torn off the main soul and attached itself to Harry. Dumbledore told Harry he could destroy this horcrux by letting me hit him with a killing curse. Harry did so when he was seventeen, through some fluke didn’t die, we duelled and through some other fluke my killing curse backfired and hit me, and since I was mortal I died. I ended up in limbo with my soul in pieces for all eternity. That is, until Harry joined me there a few months later.”

“He died months after defeating you?” Snape asked quietly, voice filled with disbelief.

Tom nodded. “Dumbledore lied. My soul piece that entered Harry merged with his own soul, becoming a new soul altogether. Dumbledore knew this and posthumously sent a message to the Ministry informing them Harry had to die if they wanted to keep me dead. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister for Magic, gave Harry a farce of a trial and chucked him through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. However, quite accidentally Harry had become the Master of Death and bargained with Death to return to the start of his first year and to bring me along for the ride, this time with both my soul and thus my sanity intact.”

Silence stretched out between them while Snape stared down at his lap, clearly unsure whether to believe any of what Tom had just told him.

“Hard to believe, isn’t it,” Barty said with an amused smile. “I know I wouldn’t have if eleven-year-old Harry Potter hadn’t shown up on this doorstep last summer, called our Lord his soulmate and invited himself over for tea and amicable conversation with his prophesized enemy.”

Snape nodded slowly. “So he’s not really eleven?”

“Harry’s quite sure he was executed on his eighteenth birthday,” Tom said, finally starting on his slice of cake with a big bite.

“That at least explains the muscle memory,” Snape muttered, more to himself. “And his tendency to get spells right as fast as he does. Minerva and Filius have been waxing poetically about him, the little cheat.”

Harry was terribly amused Snape didn’t even sound all that disapproving, just annoyed he hadn’t figured any of this out by himself.

“This means, however, that Dumbledore still wants Harry dead,” Tom said with a pointed look at Snape. “Not right away, not until Harry has served his purpose as a sacrificial lamb, but if it’s up to Dumbledore, Harry won’t make it to adulthood.” Tom leaned forward in his chair, pinning Snape in place with his glare. “You must understand, Severus, that not only do I owe Harry my life, I owe him my sanity. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep him alive and safe.”

“I understand,” Snape whispered, sitting perfectly still while caught by Tom’s chilling attention.

“Harry wants to stay at Hogwarts, wants a chance to do his life over without becoming Dumbledore’s marionette. He needs someone there in case Dumbledore gets the wrong kind of ideas about Harry’s life or safety,” Tom said and Harry wanted to yell at him that he was fine and didn’t need a babysitter for fuck’s sake, but at the same time he was really touched Tom seemed so concerned about his well-being. Harry had so rarely had people in his life who truly wanted what was best for him that he appreciated it all the more from his soulmate. “I want you to protect him, Severus. With your life if need be,” Tom finished, leaning back in his chair.

“I will protect him,” Snape said decisively, nodding deeply. “But what of your other plans? Do you require me to spy for you at all?”

“There will be no war this time,” Tom said with a sigh. “My new identity is that of my own bastard son, and I plan to let only a select few know my real identity. Any changes I’ll make to our society will be made through legal, conventional means. For the most part,” Tom said with a slight smirk.

“I am relieved to hear that, my Lord,” Snape said with another nod. He seemed unsure how to act exactly around this new and improved version of the Dark Lord. Barty definitely noticed and chuckled.

“Chin up, Sev. You’re still alive even after you betrayed our Lord,” Barty said with a challenge in his tone. Snape gave him a curious look, probably wondering why this virtual stranger was addressing him with such familiarity.

Barty turned to look at Tom. “Well, at least we know my new look works.” He waved at Snape. “I’m my own second cousin these days thanks to some permanent transfiguration.”

Snape stared at Barty in disbelief. “Bartemius Crouch Jr?” When Barty nodded, Snape shifted in his seat, trying to look entirely unconcerned by this latest development. “Well, I see the rumours of your death were greatly exaggerated.”

“My dying mother switched places with me in Azkaban,” Barty said, with he kind of forced casualness that hid some real traumatic experiences. “Then my father kept me under the imperius, imprisoned in my family home until our Lord came to free me.”

“And a few years earlier than last time,” Tom added with a fond smile at Barty before turning his attention back to Snape. “You’ll also be interested to know Peter Pettigrew is still alive, an active Death Eater and the real secret-keeper and betrayer of the Potters. Sirius Black is innocent and Harry has plans to get him out of Azkaban, I believe.”

This time Snape couldn’t hide his shock and he put his teacup down with a slightly trembling hand. “That is... unexpected.”

Barty snorted. “Out of everything, that is what upsets you?”

“You mustn’t blame dear Severus for that,” Tom said with a slight sarcastic drawl. “He gave his heart to a woman who shunned him and married his childhood adversary. Naturally anything to do with her would upset him.”

Harry was torn between hilarity and indignation. Tom dragging Snape about his unrequited love for someone who dumped their friendship as a teenager was funny, but on the other hand, that was his mum Tom was raking over the coals. Dammit, Tom.

“I know Harry told you Barty’s new identity. Did you mention it to Dumbledore yet?” Tom asked while Snape had difficulty composing himself.

“Not yet, no,” Snape said, his expression still slightly pinched but most of his visible annoyance carefully hidden again. “I planned to learn more about this new Barty Crouch before giving the headmaster my report.”

“Good,” Tom said while getting up from his seat. “Make sure he doesn’t find out Harry knows him. Now for your vows.”

Harry watched with interest as Tom and Snape clasped hands with Barty acting as their binder. Tom made Snape swear to never betray him and to protect Harry at all cost. Harry wanted to object, since he didn’t think he needed a protector of any sort and because the consequences for breaking the vow was death. On the other hand, Snape did owe Harry’s father a life-debt and it had transferred to Harry. This way Snape might be able to repay that debt so it would stop subtly trying to influence Harry.

“I will summon you on occasion, Severus,” Tom said after the vows were done. “I will also enchant a communication mirror for you and have Winky drop it off tomorrow. I expect you to keep me updated on Harry’s condition. I want to hear about any change at once.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Snape said with a deep nod, looking none the worse for having just signed his life away for Harry’s protection.

“Barty and myself will be making our first public appearance later this week. Play along with the old man’s assumptions, but tell anyone else you doubt Voldemort would ever pretend to be his own son. I want as many people as possible questioning Dumbledore’s conclusions.” Tom sat down again, pouring himself more tea. “You are dismissed, Severus.”

Snape bowed deeply from the waist and left the reception room without further comment. Harry figured the man had had enough shocks for one evening and needed a couple of glasses of whiskey and some quiet time in his rooms to process it all.

“That went well,” Barty said cheerfully, though not without a hint of sarcasm.

“If Severus tries to betray me he dies,” Tom replied with a shrug. “Meanwhile he can look after Harry since that boy seems to have a natural talent for getting into trouble.” Tom sipped his tea and gave Barty a hard look. “Find out everything you can about Fred and George Weasley. They will pay for what they’ve done. Dumbledore may believe they deserve forgiveness, but I certainly don’t.”

“Consider it done,” Barty said with a look that promised severe retribution.

Harry yelled at them to stop, though of course it was no use since he was still stuck in a metaphorical glass box. Harry’s feelings towards the twins were rather mixed these days. Fred had nothing to do with the betrayal since he’d been dead when it happened. It did sting that George hadn’t been there for Harry when the world turned its back on him, especially seeing as Harry had given the twins his one thousand Galleons TriWizard Tournament prize money that allowed them to start their very successful business. Then again, Fred had only just died and George had taken his twins’ death hard. It was entirely possible George hadn’t realized what had happened until after Harry’s execution. Hence Harry’s mixed feelings.

Still, if Tom dared to hurt the twins for what was in essence a Quidditch accident as per Snape and his Legilimency skills, Harry was going to be having some very strong words with his soulmate.

Chapter Text

Not long after Tom announced his plans for revenge on the Weasley twins, Harry slipped into darkness. He wasn’t sure if he slept or if this was what a coma felt like. He woke up briefly once to find Madam Pomfrey standing over him, waving her wand. His eyesight was fuzzy but he could see her lips move. He just couldn’t hear a thing she said. Or hear anything for that matter. Madam Pomfrey offered him a quick smile and poured a potion down his throat. More darkness awaited him.

The next time he regained consciousness he was back inside the glass box and riding along with Tom. This time, though, nothing exciting happened as Tom spent several hours doing research on some potion that involved a lot of arithmancy that went way over Harry’s head. Harry used that time to quietly reassure himself that yes, he was still alive, and Tom was still his soulmate and even though the glass box prevented him from feeling Tom’s soul for himself, it wouldn’t last forever. Eventually he’d wake up properly and feel his soulmate again.

Harry woke up once more very briefly. This time Madam Pomfrey wasn’t alone, but a middle-aged man in green St Mungo’s robes stood beside her. They were talking between themselves, but it sounded like gibberish to Harry. Like they were speaking an entirely foreign language he’d never heard before. He must have made some sound of distress, because Madam Pomfrey placed her hand on his forehead while the healer gave him another potion.

Sharing dreams wasn’t nearly as much fun when you couldn’t twine yourself around the other part of your soul, Harry found out when he spent some time with Tom while he was asleep. Tom’s dreams started out in the reception room of Riddle Manor with Tom and a dream-Harry, looking to be seventeen years old or so, sitting opposite each other. They were talking and laughing and Harry couldn’t look away from Tom’s expression, relaxed as it was with affection and humour.

Dream-Harry got up and left, and Tom jumped up to chase after him. The moment he opened the front door of Riddle Manor, Tom stepped into a scene from his past. Dream-Harry walked on, never looking back no matter how loudly Tom yelled at him to stop as he ran through the Chamber of Secrets, which turned into the obstacle course hidden below the third floor corridor, which led to the graveyard where a snake-faced Voldemort shot spell after spell at dream-Harry. Tom screamed and tried to reach for his own wand but it became clear he didn’t have it. Dream-Harry ran and dodged the green flashes and made it to Riddle Manor which wasn’t Riddle Manor at all, but Wool’s orphanage. Tom relentlessly pursued dream-Harry through the empty, dilapidated corridors until dream-Harry found the door that led to the court-yard, which was in fact the clearing in the forbidden forest where Harry had gone to die.

Lord Voldemort stood surrounded by masked Death Eaters and dream-Harry stopped in front of him as Harry himself had done in his previous life.

“Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived,” Voldemort said, just as Tom crashed the scene. Dream-Harry stood perfectly still while Tom frantically looked from Voldemort to dream-Harry and back.

No, stop!” Tom yelled, but it was too late. Voldemort spoke those dreaded words and a green flash left his wand, heading straight for dream-Harry.

Only to be intercepted by Tom who threw himself in front of dream-Harry with a primal cry of anguish.

Inside his glass box, Harry screamed and struggled against his invisible restraints. He’d just seen Tom die, killed by his alter ego while trying to save Harry’s life, and Harry couldn’t take it. Of all the people he’d lost, he refused to lose Tom. He wouldn’t allow it. He screamed and struggled and demanded he be released from these bonds.

He screamed and struggled and pushed his sheets aside and fell out of his hospital bed.

“Mr Potter! Calm down.” Hands grabbed hold of Harry’s arms, but Harry pushed them away. He had to find Tom. He had to make sure Tom was still alive. And if he wasn’t, if that dream had been reality like Harry feared, then Harry had to find Death and bargain to have his soulmate released again.

“Severus, help me!”

More hands, stronger ones, held onto him. “Mr Potter, calm down,” a deep voice spoke directly into his ear. Harry became more aware of his surroundings as the adrenaline coursing through his body slowly receded. A firm body pressed against Harry’s back while steel arms kept him in place. “You are in the hospital wing at Hogwarts. You were injured in a Quidditch match but have made a full recovery.”

“Tom,” Harry croaked, his throat dry and voice raspy.

“He is fine,” Snape whispered back. “I spoke to him just an hour ago.”

Harry’s body went limp out of exhaustion now that he came to realize it had been just a dream. Tom’s dream, or nightmare would be a better description. And Harry had been pulled along for the ride.

“Drink this, Mr Potter,” Madam Pomfrey said as she pressed a vial against his lips, but Harry turned his face away. He’d had enough dreamless sleep. He was not going back in the glass box.

“It’s a calming draught,” Snape said, clearly possessing clairvoyant powers of some sort. “It will not make you sleep again.”

Harry looked at Snape’s face over his shoulder as best he could and Snape seemed to be telling the truth, so Harry opened his mouth and swallowed the potion that did indeed have the slightly citrusy flavour of a calming draught. A warm sensation spread throughout his body, lowering his heartrate and weighing down his arms and legs.

“Let’s get you back to bed, Mr Potter,” Madam Pomfrey said, and together with Snape she manoeuvred him onto the bed. Harry let them and stretched out on the mattress while Pomfrey pulled the sheet back over him. “You still need rest, but you’ll have to sleep on your own from now on.”

Harry took that to mean he wouldn’t be dosed with more sleeping potions, which was a very welcome change. He reasoned it was those sleeping potions that kept him in a glass box, mentally, and unable to feel his soulmate and he hated that. What he needed was his mirror, but that was locked in his trunk and his body was so heavy that Harry doubted he could escape the Hospital Wing and sneak back inside his dormitory. He didn’t want to sleep even when his eyelids grew heavy, because Tom had just woken up from a nightmare and Harry doubted he’d go to sleep again so soon after that horrible dream, so Harry wouldn’t feel him, wouldn’t get to spend time with him, so Harry refused to sleep...

Harry slept. If he dreamed, he didn’t remember it.

The next time he awoke, the sun seemed to be up for only a few hours and there were people sitting around his bed.

“I think he’s awake,” Daphne said, which led to some murmuring and the scraping of chairs around his bed.

“Mweugh,” Harry managed to say before his dry throat constricted and he coughed.

“Here,” Neville said, standing up from his seat. “Madam Pomfrey said you could have some water when you woke up.” Neville pressed a glass against Harry’s lips and Harry drank greedily, only realizing how parched he was once the water flowed down his throat.

“How are you feeling?” Theo asked, leaning closer towards the bed. Harry blinked a few times and took in the kids gathered around his bed. His Slytherin friends and Neville.

“The Puffs wanted to visit as well,” Tracey explained, probably realizing Harry would wonder where they were. “But Pomfrey would only let so many friends visit at once, so they’ve got the afternoon shift.”

“You’re still alive, at least,” Blaise said, looking entirely unimpressed with Harry’s predicament. “For a moment, out on the field, it looked like you weren’t.” Around him Daphne and Theo shuddered, Tracey became very pale at the memory and Neville’s eyes actually welled up a little.

Harry swallowed. Had he died? He knew he technically couldn’t unless he wanted to, thanks to being the Master of Death, but Death hadn’t actually explained how this type of immortality worked. So, it was possible that he’d kind of died out on the field, but his immortality had kicked in at the last moment, pulling him through and keeping him in the land of the living until his body could heal. And that’s probably also why it hadn’t worked when he was executed in his previous life. They had chucked him through the veil, body and all, so there was nothing left to keep him alive in. Harry decided this was something he wanted to discuss with Tom at the first opportunity. In fact, he wanted to talk to Tom as soon as possible, period, but now was not the time.

“I’m fine,” Harry mumbled, cleared his throat again, and accepted more water from Neville. “Thanks,” he told his friend and Neville offered him a small, slightly tremulous smile.

“You’re fine now,” Theo said, shaking his head. “Thanks to magic and some very talented healers. But you weren’t fine before.”

“Those Gryffindor monsters bloody well killed you,” Tracey all but growled. Her face lit up with a frankly terrifying smile. “But Flint and the rest of the Quidditch team have not taken this lying down, and the rest of our House follows their example. Gryffindor has been bleeding for a week, everyone is making sure of it.”

“Was accident,” Harry managed to say, though it didn’t sound very convincing.

“What if it was an accident?” Daphne said with a stern look. “They just about killed you, Harry, and accident or not, that deserves retribution.”

“Yeah,” Neville said, surprising Harry. “They seem remorseful, the twins that is, but there are plenty of Gryffindors who thought what happened to you was exactly what a Slytherin deserved.” Neville looked deeply disappointed in his own House.

“How long?” Harry managed to ask, since he had no idea what day it was or how long he’d been asleep.

“It’s Sunday morning,” Blaise said, while Theo added, “You’ve been asleep for a solid week.”

“They wouldn’t even let us visit until yesterday,” Daphne said, sounding deeply put upon. “They would only let us send you cards.” She gestured to the table beside Harry’s bed. “Lots of people did, evidently.”

Harry turned his head enough to see that indeed, many people had sent him cards, lots of candy as well, even some flowers.

“The worst part is,” Theo said with a grave look as he leaned forward in his seat, elbows on his knees and hands clasped together. “That Dumbledore has forbidden you to play Quidditch for the rest of the year. You’re not allowed back onto the pitch until next year.”

“That’s the worst part?” Daphne demanded, turning in her seat to glare at Theo. “Really?”

“Well, it is pretty disappointing,” Blaise agreed with a careless shrug. “Not to mention, Draco has been unbearable ever since Dumbledore announced that during dinner last Sunday.”

“Ugh,” Harry managed to say. That was just what he needed. Draco Malfoy rubbing his smugness all over Harry.

“Yeah,” Tracey said with a brief nod. “He’s not shut up about it.”

Harry’s eyes grew heavy again and the last thing he knew was Neville saying, “It’s all right, Harry, just get some sleep. We’ll be here again this evening.”

When he woke up again, he was surrounded by Hufflepuffs.

“Harry!” Hannah said loudly, and then clapped a hand over her mouth while Susan shushed her.

“Mate, it is so good to see you awake,” Justin said with the biggest smile Harry had ever seen on his face. “I was convinced you were done for when those twins got you. Magic really is amazing that it could heal you from such a horrible injury.”

“Welcome back,” Ernie said, patting Harry on the shoulder. “We missed you.”

“Hi,” Harry said with a sleepy smile.

“You’ve got chocolate pudding,” Hannah said, waving a small bowl in front of Harry’s face.

Susan snatched it from her hand and put it on the side table. “Madam Pomfrey dropped off the pudding in case you wanted to try to eat something. But I bet you’ll want some water first. Potions always make you thirsty, I find.” She poured him a glass of water when Harry nodded and helped him drink.

“Thanks,” Harry whispered after he drained the glass. He pushed himself up a little, trying to sit up, and only managed it after Susan helped him adjust the position of his pillow.

“The whole school is at war,” Ernie said dramatically, which earned him a snort from Hannah.

“There’s no war,” Hannah said quickly, cutting Ernie off. “But Slytherin has been taking out their anger on the Gryffindors.”

“The Puffs and the Claws are wisely staying out of it,” Susan said as she offered Harry the bowl of chocolate pudding. “Here, try to eat something.”

Harry managed to eat a bite of pudding, feeling strangely light-headed as he was sitting up. He suspected it was a result from healing his brain and he hoped it wouldn’t last very long. One bite of pudding quickly became another and another and in no time Harry emptied the dish.

“I was thinking I might learn Quidditch because I really enjoyed flying,” Justin said and then shuddered while staring at his shoes. “But then I saw you get hurt and now I don’t think I want to play that game. Ever.”

“It’s not so bad,” Harry started saying, offended on behalf of his favourite sport.

“Yeah, it was,” Ernie butted in with a pointed look at Harry. “I love Quidditch as much as the next chap, but this was bad. Oliver Wood told Cedric Diggory it was the worst Quidditch injury Hogwarts has seen for two hundred years. The last time someone got injured worse than this was when a Ravenclaw Chaser crashed back in 1798. Her broomstick’s braking charms failed, she flew straight into the ground, snapping her broomstick in half and accidentally impaling herself. She had to have half her organs regrown, including her heart. She barely made it out alive.”

“Yes, thank you, Ernie,” Susan said disapprovingly. “I’m sure that’s exactly what Harry wants to hear right now.”

“The bloke just had his whole head regrown, more or less,” Hannah added with a bluntness that made Harry grin. “Stop talking about Quidditch injuries.” She turned to Harry with an expectant look. “So, did you feel anything during your coma?”

“No,” Harry said while Susan slapped Hannah on her arm in a reprimand. “It’s fine, Susan. I don’t remember much. Some weird dreams. No pain, so that’s good.”

“As fascinating as it is to listen to Mr Potter recount his near-death experience to his little friends, you are going to have to cut this meeting short,” Snape drawled as he all but popped up behind the Hufflepuffs. Justin almost fell out of his chair in shock, while Ernie whipped around and stared up with his mouth opened wide. “I need a few moments alone with my student.”

“Of course, Professor,” Susan said politely, while Hannah was biting her lip, clearly tempted to ask why but having enough common sense not to antagonize Snape. “We’ll visit again soon, Harry.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry said as he watched his friends leave, Hannah lagging just slightly, craning her neck and looking over her shoulder until Susan grabbed her wrist and dragged her along.

The moment they were alone, Snape pulled out his wand and with a flick closed the curtains around Harry’s bed. “I’m trusting you have made a full recovery?”

“I think so, yes,” Harry said, frowning. Seeing Snape do magic reminded him he had no clue where his own wand was. “My wand?”

Snape opened a drawer in the side table and Harry breathed a sigh of relief at seeing his holly wand. He grabbed it and slid it under his pillow. When he looked back up at Snape, the man was holding a very familiar silver mirror in his hand.

“How did you get that?” Harry asked, just a little annoyed. That mirror had been in his locked and warded trunk. If Snape had broken his wards it would take him days setting them back to rights again.

“A house-elf transported your whole trunk to our mutual associate, who cracked it in under five minutes. Nonetheless, he seemed impressed with your wards and replaced them himself.” Snape handed Harry the mirror, which he accepted gratefully. “Our mutual associate insisted you receive this and call him the moment you woke up. I can give you five minutes of privacy.” And with that, Snape slipped out between the curtains, leaving Harry to stare at the mirror in his hands.

Tom had broken his wards on his trunk? And replaced them? And why the fuck was he thinking about that while the clock was ticking and he could be talking to his soulmate. Harry reached for his wand, cast a few privacy charms on top of the ones Snape had cast, and whispered Tom’s name in parseltongue.

Tom answered within ten seconds, looking entirely relieved. “Harry.”

Harry stared. “Your face.”

“You don’t like it?” Tom asked, eyes widening while he bit his lip.

Harry continued staring. “No. I mean, yes. You look good.” And he did look good. Slightly different, but good. His black, wavy hair was now a straight, dark-brown. His brown eyes had become a deep, ocean-blue. His jaw was slightly more angular and there was a mole on his left cheek that hadn’t been there before. Even his earlobes were different. They’d been attached before and now they were free.

Tom looked different, yes, but still very much like Tom Riddle. Just a different variation of him, like a son who looked a great deal like his father. Exactly what Tom was going for.

Harry finally managed a real smile. “Yeah, you look like your son, so you’re good.”

“I’m glad you think so,” Tom said, smiling brightly for a moment before his face slid into a mask of concern. “But enough about me. Harry, soulmate, don’t you dare fucking die on me. Especially not over some stupid game.”

Warmth burst throughout Harry’s chest as he listened to the worry in Tom’s voice. “I think I did. Die, I mean.”

“What?” Tom asked quietly, eyes shining with fear.

“I think I died, but that my Master of Death immortality kicked in or something.”

“You don’t actually know for certain?” Tom asked in disbelief.

“Hey,” Harry said while he was stuck somewhere between amusement at Tom’s befuddled expression and insulted at Tom’s obvious disdain for Harry’s ignorance. “It wasn’t like Death gave me a brochure or something. I’m basically just winging this whole rebirth thing.”

“Merlin, spare me from Gryffindors and their inability to plan even a single thing,” Tom said while pinching the bridge of his nose. “But anyway, let’s just be glad your immortality did kick in and you’re still amongst the living.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, since he very much agreed with that sentiment. “Oh, just so you know, I spent time in your head, while you called in Snape and sometime later when you were doing some tricky arithmancy for a potion that made no sense to me.”

“Good, I’m glad it made no sense to you,” Tom said, leaning back in his chair while looking down at Harry over his nose. “Because that was your Christmas present I was working on and it’s supposed to be a surprise.”

“Oh,” Harry said, and at once his whole chest constricted with a sense of panic. He needed to get Tom a Christmas present and he had no idea what to get the man. Still, not the time to let that distract him just now. “What I don’t get is why you called in Snape when you have Quirrell here to spy for you.”

“Quirrell isn’t marked,” Tom said with a sigh. “And he doesn’t know about us. All Quirrell knows is that I want to keep you alive. So when you were injured and it was announced you’d make a full recovery, Quirrell didn’t think this was news he needed to share. I’ve since made him a communication mirror as well so I can contact him at a moment’s notice, not just during pre-arranged meetings.”

“Okay, yeah, that makes sense,” Harry said, glad to know the answer since that had been bothering him. He realized that the more he looked at Tom’s face, the more he started to like it. “You really do look good,” he blurted, and felt his cheeks heat.

Tom’s eyes, newly blue and everything, crinkled with amusement.

Harry desperately needed a change of subject because he suspected he might be about to make an utter fool of himself if he didn’t find something else to talk about. “You can’t hurt the twins!”

Tom’s eyes, so full of humour just seconds ago, narrowed to cold slits. “I think you’ll find that I can.”

“No, I mean, yes, you could hurt them, I’m sure you could, but you shouldn’t,” Harry rambled, not even sure what he wanted to say exactly.

“Give me one reason why I should let those murdering bastards live,” Tom all but growled.

Harry’s mind drew a blank for a few terrifying moment until finally a thought popped up that Harry could use. “Because in a few years they will start a successful business and if we invest in that business we could make some good money.”

“They killed you!” Tom yelled, eyes wide and blazing with fury. “They killed you over some stupid game and you think I would care about making money more than I care about your life?”

“Er...” Harry bit his lip, unsure what he needed to do with that response. The friendship he had with Tom was just so different than any other friendship he’d had before that Tom’s words and actions were always throwing him for a loop and Harry had no idea how to go about handling any of the weird feelings that came with it all.

“Mr Potter,” Snape’s voice sounded from behind the curtain. “Madam Pomfrey is on her way. Best to end your conversation now.”

“No, wait,” Harry yelled, at Tom or Snape, or maybe both. “Tom, please,” he said, but still couldn’t articulate what he actually meant to say.

“I will not stand by and do nothing while people kill you, Harry,” Tom said, expression one of tightly controlled anger.

“You mean, like you did in your dream just this morning. You kept trying to kill me,” Harry said in one breath as the memories of that horrible nightmare flooded his mind.

Tom’s face paled while his eyes widened. “What did you say?” he whispered with the kind of deadly calm that preceded an outburst of rage.

“Now, Mr Potter,” Snape snarled while he ripped open the curtains. Harry quickly snapped the mirror shut as Madam Pomfrey approached the bed, carrying a tray holding several potions.

Chapter Text

Harry knew he’d screwed up with Tom. He kept replaying the conversation in his mind for the next hour as Madam Pomfrey gave him a thorough examination. Snape had fled while he could, leaving Harry at Pomfrey’s mercy. First she scrutinized his current physical health by casting at least a dozen spells on him, and by making him do simple activities. Touch his nose, raise his arms over his head, touch each fingertip with his thumb, stand on both legs, stand on one leg. It went on and on and on, but at least Madam Pomfrey seemed pleased by what she saw.

Harry was far less pleased because all he wanted to do was call Tom on his mirror and beg his forgiveness. He hadn’t meant to say it like that, to suggest all Tom wanted to do in his dream was kill him while Tom had thrown himself in front of a killing curse for Harry.

It was just that Harry got so flustered around Tom sometimes that he couldn’t figure out how to say what he wanted to say and he ended up saying the completely wrong thing.

Harry hadn’t meant to piss Tom off.

And Tom was pissed off.

Harry knew because his scar was tingling. Just a bit, nothing like he migraines from hell he’d suffered in his previous life whenever Voldemort was feeling particularly murderous, but he still felt his scar burn ever so slightly.

Madam Pomfrey had him perform a few different tasks to determine his cognitive abilities. Harry had to read a paragraph of a pamphlet on dragon pox out loud, he had to write down a few sentences Madam Pomfrey read to him from the same pamphlet, and he had to draw a tree, a house and a clock. Finally he had to solve a few simple sums. Add, subtract, multiply, that sort of thing.

“Very good, Mr Potter,” Madam Pomfrey said to him as she was finally done. “You’ve made a complete recovery. I’m keeping you here for one more day, but if you maintain your current health you’ll be allowed back in classes by Tuesday.”

“Thanks,” Harry said as he sagged back in his pillows, exhausted from an hour of doing to most basic things. He waited until Pomfrey left him and whispered Tom’s name in parseltongue at the mirror he pulled out from under his pillow. The mirror lit up but Tom never answered. Harry’s eyes grew heavy, his head falling against his pillow even when Harry tried his best to keep it raised, mirror slipping from his fingers and falling against the mattress. Harry fought his need for sleep as hard as he could, but sleep won in the end.

Harry woke up to the mirror heating up against his cheek while the hospital wing was dark around him. He flipped the mirror open at once. “Tom?”

“No,” Barty said, glaring at Harry. “Good to see you alive, kid. Now what the hell did you say to him to make him this upset?”

Inexplicably, Harry’s eyes welled up and a lump formed in his throat. Dammit. He would not cry, not in front of Barty. “I messed up,” he whispered while desperately swallowing any sobs back that wanted to escape.

“You don’t say,” Barty said, his expression softening just a bit at seeing Harry that obviously upset.

Harry had the sense to pull out his wand and close his curtain with a flick and then cast every privacy spell he knew before replying. “We shared a dream early this morning, where Tom kept trying to catch up to a dream-me while Voldemort, the snakey version, kept trying to kill me. In the end Tom threw himself in front of a killing curse to keep Voldemort from killing me.”

“Well, that explains our Lord’s charming mood this morning,” Barty muttered, shaking his head. “I’d expected him to be happy because you’d woken up but he was terribly moody over breakfast.”

“Yeah, that dream was horrible,” Harry agreed and swallowed the last of the lump away. Inhaling a deep breath, he was at least glad that odd sense of wanting to burst into tears was receding. “When we talked this afternoon, Tom insisted on hurting or killing the Weasley twins even when it was just an accident. He said something like that no one was allowed to kill me without consequence, and then I reminded him he’d tried to kill me in a dream just this morning. And then Pomfrey showed up and I had to end the call. I’ve been trying to call him but he won’t answer.” Dammit, that stupid desire to cry was back and Harry bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut to make it go away.

“Ah, hell,” Barty sighed, giving Harry a look that was full of disappointment. “That was below the belt, Harry. No wonder he’s been violently remodelling the cellar ever since your talk.”

“I know,” Harry said miserably. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Are you sure?” Barty asked, and Harry looked at him with wide eyes. “Because it sounds to me like you still blame our Lord for what he did to you in your previous life when he was insane.”

“No!” Harry sat up a little, fingers clenching around his mirror. “Tom’s not that person anymore, I know that. And I shouldn’t have said what I said, I know, but he shouldn’t want to kill the Weasley twins for accidentally hurting me.”

Barty frowned and remained quiet for a few moments. “Snape gave us his memory of you getting injured, at our Lord’s request. We watched it together. Those twins cracked your skull clean open. The whole stadium could see your brain, Harry, and it was only thanks to Snape’s very quick spell-work that your brain didn’t fall out of your head altogether.”

“Fuck,” Harry mumbled, touching his head with a trembling hand as if to make sure his skull wasn’t cracked open anymore.

“Yeah, it was bad. Really bad.” Barty tilted his head and his gaze became a little more challenging. “Now tell me honestly, Harry. What would you do if you had to watch Tom get his skull cracked open by a pair of idiots who were trying to hurt him? Perhaps not kill him, but definitely hurt him.”

Harry blinked, unsure what to say to that.

“Just imagine it for a moment. Tom lying on the ground, blood all around him, skull gaping wide open while you get a perfect look at his brain.” Barty’s face had paled drastically but his eyes were hard.

Harry swallowed against bile rising up. He felt sick just imagining that. “I don’t know.”

“Didn’t you cast a cruciatus curse on Bellatrix in retaliation once?” Barty reminded him. Harry assumed Tom must have told him about that because Harry sure hadn’t.

“Yeah, after she killed Sirius,” Harry said quietly.

Barty smiled, but it wasn’t a friendly sight. It was full of vindication. “Exactly, kid. Bellatrix killed someone you cared about and you tortured her in response.”

“The curse didn’t work,” Harry muttered, not at all happy with the direction this conversation was taking.

“Doesn’t matter,” Barty said with a triumphant glint in his eyes. “You still cast it. Now remember that those twins killed you, Harry. And you are the most important thing in the world to our Lord. Are you telling me he’s really not allowed a little retribution, like you tried to get after Bellatrix killed your godfather?”

Harry was speechless. He wanted to deny that whole fiasco after Sirius’ death, but he couldn’t because he could well remember the rage burning hot throughout his entire body and the need, the physical, overwhelming need to make Bellatrix hurt for what she did.

Was Tom feeling that need now? Was he feeling as overwhelmed by it as Harry had done that time in the Ministry?

Harry imagined Tom getting hurt again and this time he could very well imagine lashing out at whoever might hurt him. Hell, just this morning he’d completely lost it in a dream when he’d seen Tom get hit by a killing curse.

What if someone like Snape would cast a killing curse at Tom? Just thinking that constricted Harry’s throat while an inferno ignited in his chest. There wouldn’t be anything left of Snape after Harry was done with him.

Oh.

Something of his epiphany must have shown on Harry’s face, because Barty let out a chuckle while nodding at Harry.

“I see you finally understand,” Barty said with a nice touch of smugness.

“Yeah, okay, I get it,” Harry said, less than graceful about losing the argument, if there even was an argument in the first place. “But I still don’t want him to kill them. They’re reckless kids, not cold-blooded killers.”

Barty shrugged. “So negotiate. Make a bargain. But let our Lord have some retribution. Nothing permanent, perhaps, but enough to satisfy his need to avenge you.”

“Fine.” Harry stared down at his lap. “I would do all that if he bloody well answered his mirror.”

“I’ll talk to him. Keep calling him.” Barty offered Harry a huge smile. “I really am glad to see you’re back in one piece. I’ll call again soon.” And with that, Barty clicked his mirror shut.

Sighing, Harry sank back on the bed and checked the time. Just after nine in the evening. Harry found a glass of pumpkin juice and a bowl of sliced fruit on his side-table and he devoured them both, suddenly famished. He followed it up with a few Chocolate Frogs someone had sent him after casting a few detection charms that came back clean. Then he washed it down with a glass of water and managed the short walk to the bathroom for a much needed emptying of his bladder.

Finally he was back under the sheets and he decided Barty had had enough time to convince Tom to answer his bloody mirror.

Harry activated his mirror and waited. And waited some more. After a minute or two the mirror deactivated automatically. Harry sighed and activated it again. And again.

It took at least ten tries, but finally Tom’s face appeared in his mirror.

“I’m so sorry!” Harry all but yelled, and quickly cast a few extra privacy charms around him, just in case. “I didn’t mean it like that, I swear. I know you dreamed about throwing yourself in front of a killing curse for me and that drove me so mad it actually woke me up from my coma. I can’t imagine how angry I’d be if I saw you get hurt for real. So I know you’re not going to try to kill me now, that you’d much sooner try to save me, and I’m sorry for being a complete idiot, I really am.”

Tom’s expression, which had started out carefully blank but with an underlying sheen of anger, morphed gradually into first amusement and then exasperation.

“Harry,” Tom said when Harry got ready to add even more to his incoherent, rambling apology. “Harry, it’s fine. Apology accepted.”

“Really?” Harry released a woosh of air that came all the way from his toes as he fell back against his bed in utter relief. “I’m really sorry. Really, really sorry.”

Tom chuckled. “I can tell. It was some miscommunication that got cut off before it could get resolved. We both reacted poorly.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed readily. “I could tell you were really angry.” To emphasize his point, Harry touched a few fingers to his scar.

Tom’s eyes widened just a bit at that revelation. “You felt my anger? I am sorry for hurting you, my dear. Barty has made it his mission to get me to control my anger. He even gave me a book to help facilitate this.” Tom’s lips were pinched while he held up a book titled ‘Anger Management for Dummies’.

Harry burst out in laughter, quickly pressing his face against his pillow to keep from waking up half the castle with his cackles. Then he remembered he’d cast privacy charms and no one would hear him so he turned back around and laughed in Tom’s face.

“Yes, it’s terribly amusing,” Tom said in a tone that was dryer than most deserts.

“It is really funny,” Harry insisted while he finally caught his breath.

“You wanted to bargain for your killers’ fates,” Tom said, calm as you please.

That snapped Harry out of his endless amusement and he pushed himself into an upright position. “Yeah, I guess.” This time, Harry allowed himself a few moments to find the right words to say. Thankfully, Tom waited patiently until he was ready to talk. “Look, what the twins did was reckless and stupid, and I get that you want to make them pay, but in the end it was an accident. So my suggestion is you curse them through the mail, something painful but nothing permanent.”

“Hm.” Tom frowned while rubbing a few fingers over his chin. “I will accept your side of the bargain, if you accept mine.”

“Which is?” Harry asked, intrigued.

“That you never give financial aid to any Weasley, or ever invest in any of their business ventures. There are other ways to make a living, Harry, without financially supporting your killers. Let them make their own way in life.” Tom looked at him with resolution written all over his face.

“Huh.” Harry thought about that for a moment. It was actually a pretty good deal, and if Harry was honest with himself, he didn’t mind not supporting any Weasleys, given their betrayal of him, at least by a few of their members that Harry knew of for certain. In his previous life he’d given the gold to Fred and George to be rid of it, tainted as it was with Cedric’s blood, more so than as an investment. The twins had accepted it as a gift, and aside from letting Harry have their merchandise for free had never paid him any earnings or shares. This life Harry had briefly considered making a genuine investment in the twins’ future business with owning a share of it and thus earning a percentage of their profits, but Harry found that Tom was right. There were plenty of other ways to earn money and the twins could find another way to start their business. While Harry understood that what they’d done was an accident, he also felt they deserved some punishment for being so utterly reckless. If Harry hadn’t had some form of immortality as the Master of Death, Fred and George most likely would have killed him. Not giving them, or anyone in their family, money for any reason was a light sentence, all things considered.

“That’s acceptable,” Harry said with a solemn nod. “You curse them but nothing permanent and I never give any Weasley money.”

“It’s a deal,” Tom said with a smile that was all satisfaction. “I’ll send them a little something in the mail tomorrow morning.”

“Do I even want to know?” Harry asked, curious despite his initial hesitation to let Tom have his revenge.

“You’ll see tomorrow,” Tom said with a downright sinister smile. “Let’s just say it’s something one might find in the darkest corner of the Black family library.”

“Well, the twins are fucked then.” Harry shook his head, his mind coming up with all sorts of curses that wouldn’t cause permanent damage but would still royally fuck someone up for a time.

“They cracked open your skull, my dear.” Tom’s nostrils flared while he pursed his lips. “I saw your brain and that is one part of you I never wanted to see.”

“Yeah,” Harry said with a sigh. “Barty told me you saw Snape’s memory. Though Pomfrey gave me a thorough examination earlier and declared me completely recovered. I’ve got to spend one more day here, just in case, but after that I’m allowed to go back to my classes.”

“That is good to hear.” Tom sipped a tea-glass, filled with something that was too light to be Tom’s preferred brew of Earl Grey.

“What are you drinking?” Harry asked, unable to deny his curiosity.

“Camomile,” Tom said with an eye-roll. “Barty insists on giving me books to help me curb my anger. Winky on the other hand has decreed I can only have camomile after eight to try to help me control my temper.”

“Is it working?” Harry asked with a huge grin. He loved sassy house-elves. Which reminded him. He needed to call Kreacher at the first opportunity to let him know he was all right. He didn’t want the old elf to worry needlessly about him.

“It’s not turned me into a Hufflepuff so far,” Tom said with a sniff, and took another sip. “But I do like the flavour.”

“What do you have against Hufflepuffs?” Harry demanded, though he was still grinning. “Some of my friends are Hufflepuffs. They’re feisty.”

Tom snorted in sheer disbelief.

“They are,” Harry insisted. “I actually considered Hufflepuff as a House this time around.”

“Please,” Tom said with a deep chuckle, which made Harry’s stomach flip for some reason. “You are even less of a Hufflepuff than you are a Ravenclaw. The Hat would never have gone for that.”

“So according to you I only fit into two Houses? Gryffindor or Slytherin.”

“Yes.” Tom gestured with his glass of tea before taking another sip. “For me the Hat considered Ravenclaw for a few moments before deciding my ambition outweighed my thirst for knowledge.”

“I can see that. You’d make an excellent Ravenclaw.” Harry couldn’t help but let his mind wander a bit and consider some possibilities. “If you had gotten a do-over, would you have gone for Ravenclaw?”

Tom released a deep breath, brows furrowed while he stared off to the side. “I would have started with not being such a little shit to Dumbledore when he came to deliver my letter, or reveal my parseltongue to him. Then I would have indeed asked the Hat for Ravenclaw and put all my effort into becoming a model student, perhaps making a few inventions, potions or wards, while still at Hogwarts. And I would have threatened my father and his family to provide for me, give me a share of their wealth and let me stay there so I wouldn’t be stuck in London during the Blitz.”

Harry swallowed, hearing the longing in Tom’s voice to do better. Not to mention the regret for how his life had actually turned out. He could well understand that yearning to do better, to not make so many foolish mistakes. Harry himself had felt that as well when Death had offered him a second chance. “I asked him,” Harry whispered, because he wanted Tom to know this.

“Asked who what?” Tom replied quietly while he raised his eyebrows, perhaps puzzled by Harry’s suddenly slightly choked voice.

“I asked Death to send me back even earlier, to your childhood. So I could get you out of that fucking orphanage and raise you myself, make sure you had a home and someone kind to rely on.”

Tom exhaled a shuddering breath while he slowly closed his eyes.

“But Death said that was unwise, to go back that far. It could break reality.” Harry shrugged helplessly, still feeling a certain amount of regret for not being able to do better for Tom.

“Thank you,” Tom whispered. When he opened his eyes to look at Harry, they were rather shiny. “For even considering it. I am almost seventy years old and it amazes me time and time again that even after all these years that fucked up childhood I had still influences me.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry agreed, thinking about his cupboard at the Dursleys’. “In my previous life I was terrified anyone would find out how bad it was at my relatives’ house. Yet I wanted to leave there more than almost anything. But when things got bad, during the war when we were on the run, I often thought back on my cupboard and how safe it made me feel. Small and cramped and dark though it might have been, it was my space and the only place I felt safe when I grew up. I dreamed about it while living in that fucking tent.”

“The coal shed,” Tom said with a small but knowing smile. “They’d lock us in the coal shed as punishment. At times I made sure to get caught so I could spend a day in the coal shed, just to get away from all the other children and have some peace and quiet. To this day, I occasionally dream about the bloody thing.”

“Well, aren’t we a pair,” Harry said with a chuckle. “Barty got me some self-help books for people raised in abusive homes. They’re pretty interesting and helpful.”

“Send them to me when you’re finished with them,” Tom said without a hint of shame. It made Harry’s chest swell with pride that Tom, and himself for that matter, were able to talk about their abusive pasts so openly. According to the books he’d read, being open about the abuse you’d suffered was the first step to healing.

“And I’m afraid I’ve created a monster when it comes to Barty and his current predilection for finding the answers to everything in Muggle books.” Tom picked up his anger management book again and waved it at Harry.

“Ah yes, sending a Ravenclaw to a book store,” Harry said while narrowing his eyes at Tom dramatically. “What could possibly go wrong?”

Tom shook his head though his smile was unmistakably fond. “You look tired, my dear. Get some sleep. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

The moment Tom said that, Harry became aware he was tired to the bone. His eyes were heavy and his limbs loose. “Yeah, I need sleep. Good night, Tom. And I’m sorry.”

“You’re forgiven. Good night, Harry.” Tom offered him one last smile before clicking the mirror shut. Harry managed to remember to cancel all the privacy charms around his bed, slid his wand and mirror under his pillow and was asleep in a minute. He didn’t dream for the longest time, or if he did he wasn’t aware of it, but at some point he did feel Tom’s soul slide over his own, embracing him in their combined sleep. Harry was warm and whole and at peace and spent the rest of the night feeling like that.

Harsh voices, interspersed with tortured screams woke Harry the next morning. He sat up in bed at once, drawing his curtains back. Harry watched with his mouth hanging open slightly as McGonagall, Snape and Dumbledore levitated two screaming redheads into the hospital wing.

“Oh my goodness,” Pomfrey said as she rushed towards them, wand at the ready. “What happened?” She quickly cast silencing charms over each twin so she could actually hear the answer to her question.

“We believe they received cursed mail,” McGonagall said, lowering one twin onto a bed opposite Harry’s. Snape positioned the other one of the bed beside it. Dumbledore stood between the beds, waving his wand over one twin and then the other.

Pomfrey joined him and cast a number of spells rapidly. “They were cursed,” she said while casting more spells. “A class 2 dark curse, though which one I couldn’t say.”

“A nightmare curse,” Dumbledore said gravely, tucking his wand up the sleeve of his light-blue robes. “I’m afraid the Messrs Weasley are stuck in their worst nightmare for the foreseeable future. There is no known cure. Unless you have some idea, Severus?”

Snape shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Dreamless sleep won’t help and the curses must run their course.”

“How long will the curses last?” Pomfrey asked.

“That’s hard to say,” Snape replied while crossing his arms. “Depending on the strength of the caster, they could last up to two weeks easily.”

“So supportive care and silencing charms until the curse dissolves,” Pomfrey concluded and Snape nodded his agreement.

Dumbledore turned on his heels and looked right at Harry, who was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes while he gaped at the scene in front of him. “Mr Potter, performing Dark Arts can be reason for expulsion from Hogwarts.” Dumbledore walked slowly towards Harry’s bed, looking down at him with sharp, judging eyes. “Who showed you such dark magic and where were you last night?”

Harry stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. “Huh?”

Chapter Text

“Headmaster,” Snape said while Harry desperately tried to control his rising anger. That silly book Barty had given Tom would come in handy right about now. “You cannot seriously suggest a first-year student cursed the Messrs. Weasley with a class 2 dark curse.”

Dumbledore was the picture of a man full of regret to have to reach these conclusions. “Mr Potter may not have cast the curse himself, but he could very well have asked an older student to do it for him.”

“Albus,” Madam Pomfrey fumed, planting her fists on her hips as she glared at the headmaster. “Mr Potter has not left the hospital wing. He’s barely left his bed to use the bathroom. And the only visitors he’s had have been other first-years.”

Dumbledore shook his head sadly while he gave the others a look that clearly communicated he knew something they didn’t. “So it is merely a coincidence that the Messrs. Weasley are cursed right after Mr Potter wakes up?”

“Yes,” McGonagall snapped, surprising Harry with the amount of venom in her voice. “Anyone could have sent that curse. Since the letters were destroyed by some self-destruction charm we have no physical evidence. Likely the curse came from outside of Hogwarts, from some well-meaning witch or wizard deciding to avenge Mr Potter. Even though you’ve kept it out of the Prophet, by now every student has written about it to their families and the whole wizarding world has heard about it.”

McGonagall had no idea how close to the truth she got, but Harry had enough of the whole argument. Dumbledore had zero proof Harry had anything to do with it because Harry hadn’t cast it. He knew who did, but that was it. Harry briefly remembered he was trying to play the part of a student still malleable to the headmaster’s manipulations, but his anger at these unfounded accusations, merely because of Dumbledore’s prejudice against anything Slytherin, overrode his common sense.

“I died!” Harry all but yelled at Dumbledore, who raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. “Those boys cracked my skull open like an egg and I died.” Harry inhaled a deep breath and continued, speaking quieter. “I saw my mum and dad. They told me it wasn’t my time yet and that they were proud of me. Well, my dad seemed a bit shocked by me being in Slytherin but my mum told me it didn’t matter at all.”

Snape swallowed audibly while McGonagall had a hand pressed over her mouth. Pomfrey looked like she wanted to give him a hug.

“Mr Potter,” Dumbledore started, but Harry spoke right over what else Dumbledore wanted to say.

“I didn’t curse those boys or had someone else do it on my behalf. But I wish I had!” Harry glared at Dumbledore, despising the man more than he’d ever despised Voldemort. “They killed me and they deserve punishment. I’d like to believe my life is worth more than twenty points. Each. It’s no wonder no one in our House likes you.” And with that, Harry yanked the curtains around his bed closed with a flick of his wand. He threw himself back against the mattress, instantly regretting his outburst, but he couldn’t help it. Dumbledore and his manipulations had gotten him killed in his previous life when Harry had done everything Dumbledore wanted him to do, had been supportive of Dumbledore even in the face of prosecution by the Ministry, and had loved the old headmaster like a mentor, a grandfather even.

And all that time, Dumbledore had merely used him. He’d never cared for Harry. He couldn’t, because Harry’s soul was intertwined with Tom Riddle’s, and Dumbledore had loathed Tom Riddle since the moment he’d met him.

No one disturbed him further and Pomfrey all but kicked the others out of her infirmary, muttering about patients needing rest.

At least Harry had the good sense to lie about meeting his parents, to present himself as the young orphan who loved his dead family more than anything. That might make up for him speaking his mind like he had. Yes, he could play his behaviour off as a traumatized child who’d suffered a near-death experience and had seen his dead parents for the first time. Hopefully Dumbledore would buy it. If not, perhaps the old man would share his thoughts and plans with Snape, and Snape might share them with Harry to warn him. Snape had, after all, sworn an Unbreakable Vow to protect Harry. If he got wind of any plans from Dumbledore that involved Harry’s execution he’d surely let Harry know at once.

Harry just never wanted to get caught out unawares again like he had been in his previous life when it came to Dumbledore and his plans for him.

Pomfrey woke him up about an hour later with a tray full of breakfast foods. Harry hadn’t even realized he’d fallen asleep again. He was hungry, though, so he dug into a plate of eggs, bacon and beans with gusto. After finishing his meal, Pomfrey urged him into the shower, and Harry had to admit he felt like a new man once he was full, clean and dressed in fresh pyjamas.

The next hour was spent going through the many cards and gifts he’d received. Harry diligently used detection charms, even on mail that was already opened, but he didn’t find any suspicious items. He recognized many of the student names that had sent him cards. Some from opposite Quidditch teams he’d played against in his previous life and some from the DA. Other names were a complete mystery to him and Harry suspected they were probably from people not attending Hogwarts. In any case, he’d received a generous amount of well wishes. And that was heartening for more than one reason, namely that aside from knowing people cared about him, people didn’t care as much that he was a Slytherin. Harry had been worried just a bit that the public might not appreciate a Boy Who Lived with a green and silver tie but it looked like he worried for nothing.

An hour before lunch Marcus Flint stopped by.

“Potter, got your head back in one piece I see,” Flint said as he stood at the foot of Harry’s bed with his arms crossed.

“Yeah,” Harry replied with a grin while patting his own head. “Turns out a brain works better when it’s covered. Who knew?”

Flint snorted, his lips twitching with amusement ever so much. “You won us the game, Potter, so you’re still on the team, no matter what the old man says. You’ll keep practicing with us and next year you’ll replace Higgs.”

“Sounds good, Captain,” Harry said with a cheeky little salute.

Flint tilted his head slightly as if assessing Harry for a moment. “Call me Marcus.”

“Sure, Marcus. I’m Harry.”

“You get this week off, Harry, but I expect to see you at training next Monday,” Marcus said with a significant look, as if daring Harry to disagree.

“I’ll be there, don’t worry.” As if Harry would let something as mildly inconvenient as a lethal accident keep him from playing Quidditch.

Marcus looked over his shoulder at the beds holding the silently screaming Weasley twins. Pomfrey had secured them to their bedframes with magical bonds earlier when they were hurting themselves flailing their limbs about. “What happened to them?”

“A class 2 nightmare curse. No, I had nothing to do with it, but it is nice to look at.” Harry shrugged while smiling sweetly. “It lifts my spirits.”

This time, Marcus laughed outright. “Good to see they’re being punished for real. We’ve been making Gryffindor bleed, but those two are a pair of slippery eels that refused to be trapped.”

“They’ve been well and truly caught,” Harry said with a snicker.

“That they have. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer pair of Gryffindors.” Marcus shook his head in obvious amusement. “See you soon.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” Harry said and waved at Marcus as he strolled out of the hospital wing. Sagging back against his mattress, Harry briefly considered calling Tom or Barty on his mirror, just to have a friend to talk to but ultimately decided against it. There was no telling who might be visiting the hospital wing during the day and Harry did not want to risk anyone discovering his connection to Bartholomew Crouch or Thomas Gaunt just yet.

And when less than half an hour later Mr and Mrs Weasley with Ginny in tow stormed inside the hospital wing, Harry knew he’d made the right decision to keep his mirror hidden.

McGonagall was with them, leading the Weasleys to the beds holding the suffering twins. Ginny was the one who spotted Harry first and instantly turned beet-red. Harry ran a hand through his loose hair and sighed. He really did not want to see Ginny, even if she was just a ten-year-old child at that moment and not his ex-girlfriend who had betrayed him.

Mrs Weasley wailed as she touched one twin and then the other over and over again while Mr Weasley asked Madam Pomfrey about their prognosis. Harry was lying half propped up on his pillows and watched the whole show quietly. It’s not like he had anything else to do, after all. After about five minutes of wailing from Mrs Weasley and stupidly staring from Ginny, Harry was finally spotted by Mr Weasley.

“My word, is that Harry Potter?” Mr Weasley said in wonderment as he looked at Harry, who raised a single, almost challenging eyebrow in reply. Mr Weasley seemed to realize how awkward it was for him to be fawning over the boy his sons had all but killed a week ago and quickly cleared his throat while turning away from Harry.

“Harry Potter?” Mrs Weasley whipped around and the moment she saw him she stormed over to his bed. “You cancel that curse right this minute, young man.”

Harry was speechless and blinked at Molly Weasley, who was glaring at him with all her might.

“Molly,” McGonagall said, quickly stepping up to Mrs Weasley. “Mr Potter had nothing to do with this curse.”

Mrs Weasley turned her formidable glare on McGonagall, who seemed entirely unfazed by it. “Dumbledore said Mr Potter had gotten his revenge on my boys. Over a Quidditch accident.”

“The entire stadium saw my brain after your sons cracked my skull open,” Harry called out towards the Weasleys. “Just in case you were unclear on what kind of ‘accident’ it was.”

“Well, you’re fine now,” Mrs Weasley snapped and then pressed a handkerchief against her mouth as she looked over at the twins. “But my boys aren’t. Arthur, tell him to cancel the curse.”

“I don’t think a first-year did this,” Mr Weasley said quietly, proving once and for all he was the brains in that particular marriage. “Besides, Madam Pomfrey said they’ll be fine once the curse wears out.”

“They’ll be good as new,” Pomfrey said with a kind smile.

Meanwhile, Harry observed his once surrogate family and felt very little. He’d been so envious of Ron and his amazing family once upon a time. And to an attention-starved eleven-year-old the Weasleys would have appeared as a wonderful family. Warm and chaotic and caring.

But to an eighteen-year-old the Weasleys looked entirely different. An overbearing matriarch who’d driven her two eldest sons out of the country with her unrelenting smothering and unreasonable expectations. The third son had allied himself with the Ministry out of shame for his family and Molly Weasley had never appreciated the talents of the twins. Not until they’d managed to start a successful business. Mr Weasley lacked ambition to the point of keeping his family in poverty instead of moving up in the Ministry’s ranks and thus earning a better salary. They told the world it was because he loved Muggles so much, but Harry privately thought it was because Arthur Weasley, while a kind man, utterly lacked drive and magical talent.

And when Arthur and Molly found themselves temporarily caring for a boy who obviously suffered abuse at home, they’d pretended they didn’t notice a thing and stood back year after year while Harry was sent back to his abusers. Sure, the Weasleys had welcomed him into their home for a week or two, but they had never really done anything to stop Harry from going back to the Dursleys’ when they knew they barely fed him, dressed him in rags and locked him in a room with bars over the windows.

The more Harry thought about it, the more he saw through the facade of a perfect, loving family and realized the Weasleys were people, just like everybody else, and they had plenty of flaws to prove it.

And nowadays, when Harry thought about what family meant to him, he thought about Tom and Barty, and about Kreacher and Hedwig. And maybe, at some point, he might think about Sirius.

The Weasleys had never been his family, no matter how much he’d wished for them to be once upon a time, Harry knew that now. If they’d been his family, they would have fought tooth and nail against Harry’s execution, no matter what anyone claimed about Harry needing to die, instead of quietly standing aside while two Aurors dragged him to his death.

Yes, Harry felt very little as he watched Mrs Weasley bicker with McGonagall and cry over her tortured sons while Mr Weasley patted her hand and told her everything was going to be alright.

Lunch appeared on Harry’s side table, and he drew the curtains around his bed shut so he could eat in peace without being gawked at by a flustered child version of his ex-girlfriend. As he tucked into his Cornish pasty he could hear Ginny whine.

“Mum, Mum, Harry Potter closed his curtains, Mum, I want to see him, Mum.”

“Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I can’t hear you. I’m not an animal in a zoo for you to stare at,” Harry called out, which earned him a mortified squeak from Ginny and a grumbling about manners from Mrs Weasley. Harry went back to his excellent lunch.

After finishing his food, Harry closed his eyes for a well-deserved nap, and when he woke up again some two hours later, the Weasleys were gone. Thank Merlin for small favours. Harry hoped they would stay gone the rest of the day so Harry wouldn’t have to see them again since he’d be out of there the next day.

Harry expected his friends to visit him right after their classes, but Millicent stopped by first. Unfortunately she’d brought Draco along. Or, as Harry suspected the case to be, Draco had invited himself along once he realized Millicent intended to visit her Potions partner in the infirmary.

“Hi, Harry,” Millicent said with a shy smile. “I’m so glad to see you’ve recovered.”

“Yes, Harry,” Draco butted in as he sauntered up to Harry’s bed. “So glad to see you’re still alive after you so publicly demonstrated why you shouldn’t be playing Quidditch.” Draco’s smirk was as smug as Harry had ever seen it. “Some of us know how to handle a broom while others just about lose their heads trying to fly.”

“Thank you, good to see you, too,” Harry said to Millicent, meanwhile rolling on his side as if to get more comfortable, but in reality to stick his hand under his pillow and curl his fingers around his wand. Harry had promised himself at the start of the year he would always remember that these were just kids and that they were bound to say stupid things from time to time and to let most of it just slide off him like water off a duck’s back.

For the most part, Harry had done just that. But now Harry was just done. Completely and utterly done. And how Draco thought it was at all acceptable to react completely without empathy when his roommate had been grievously injured was beyond Harry. It was time Draco learned a lesson.

“As for you,” Harry said, looking a still smirking Draco dead in the eye. “If you’re going to act like an ass, you might as well look like one.” And while keeping his wand hidden under his pillow with only the very tip poking out, Harry silently transfigured Draco’s ears into a pair of large, grey donkey ears. Then he finished it up with a little modifier that made the transfiguration highly resistant against any kind of reversal magic until it had weakened enough, which would take a week or so.

Millicent inhaled a sharp breath while she stared at Draco.

Raising a hand to his head, Draco released a incredulous shriek which slowly morphed into a wail of despair and brought Madam Pomfrey running.

“What on earth is going on?” Pomfrey demanded as she took in a still wailing Draco who was trying to pull his own ears off.

Harry bit his lip to seem contrite but in reality to keep himself from bursting out in laughter. “I think I may have done that,” Harry said while giving Pomfrey his best miserable expression. “Draco was saying mean things and I imagined him with donkey ears and suddenly he had them.”

“Accidental magic,” Pomfrey concluded, waving her wand over Draco’s head. “Not uncommon at your age, Mr Potter.”

“Fix me,” Draco demanded while visibly trying to hold back tears. “Get rid of these things.”

“Mr Potter’s accidental magic was quite strong, I’m afraid. Come back at the end of the week and we’ll get it reversed,” Madam Pomfrey said, tucking her wand away. She didn’t seem at all impressed by Draco’s superior attitude.

“What?” Draco gaped at Pomfrey, pulling on his donkey ears again. “I can’t keep these for almost a week. I can’t walk around like this.”

“Of course you can,” Pomfrey said and turned on her heel, marching back to her office. Once she was out of earshot, Harry finally let go and burst out laughing.

“You,” Draco said, almost shaking with humiliation and anger. “You did this, Harry. Fix me now!”

“Not a chance,” Harry said, gasping for breath. “Not until you learn some empathy.” Harry liked to think he wouldn’t take pleasure in hexing an eleven-year-old child. Harry was lying to himself about that. Draco needed to learn a few lessons, spoiled little brat that he was. Better he learn it now, through some fairly innocent yet humiliating transfiguration then later should he ever accidentally piss off someone like Tom.

Not to mention, Draco looked hilarious with a pair of huge, fuzzy ears growing out of the side of his head.

“You won’t get away with this,” Draco said, keeping his ridiculous ears pulled down as he shuffled backwards out of the hospital wing. “I’m telling Professor Snape.”

“Tell him I said hi,” Harry said while he watched Draco leave, finally getting his breathing back under control.

“How did you do that?” Millicent asked him in awe, looking at him with wide eyes.

“Ah, I cannot reveal my secrets,” Harry said with a waggle of his finger at Millicent. “But you have to agree Draco had it coming.”

“Definitely,” Millicent said quickly. “He’s been insufferable for the whole week. It was only a matter of time before someone hexed him. I might have done it myself but I don’t know any hexes yet.”

“Did you just hex Draco with donkey ears?” Theo asked as he and Blaise strolled into the hospital wing. Blaise was grinning so wide it almost looked painful.

“Harry,” Blaise said as he stopped beside Harry’s bed and beamed at him with pride. “Teach me how to do that, I beg you.”

“Can’t,” Harry said and winked at Blaise. “It was accidental magic. Madam Pomfrey said so.”

“Ah, yes, accidental magic.” Blaise nodded knowingly. “The one thing they never punish children for.”

Neville burst through the hospital doors. “Did you hear? Someone hexed Draco Malfoy with donkey ears.”

Theo, Blaise and Millicent all pointed at Harry, who took a bow as well as he could sitting up in bed.

“I should have known,” Neville said, utterly unsurprised by that particular plot twist. Then he shrugged. “Well, I guess he had it coming. Everybody was getting tired of his utterly unsympathetic bragging.” Neville spotted the Weasley twins and his mouth sank open. “What happened to them?”

“A class 2 nightmare curse,” Harry said as they all took in the tormented expressions and twisting bodies. “They’re stuck in their worst nightmare and it might last for two weeks or more. And no, that wasn’t me.”

“Yes, a class 2 dark curse seems a little much for accidental magic,” Blaise said, seemingly enjoying the sight the Weasley twins made. “Whoever cast it, though, deserves a reward. It’s the perfect punishment. No permanent damage but a few weeks of torment to drive the point home you’ve done wrong.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Theo said, his face pale as he stared at the twins. Neville was paler still, his hands trembling and almost too late did Harry realize Neville might be reminded of his parents when looking at Fred and George twisting violently as though they were in pain.

“So, what have I missed this past week?” Harry asked loudly to offer a distraction. Neville looked at him with a grateful smile and sat down in an empty chair.

Harry chatted with his friends and accepted a stack of copied notes and homework assignments. He wasn’t worried one bit about having missed a week’s worth of classes. His friends stayed until right before dinner. Just as they were leaving, Snape stalked into the hospital wing and narrowed his eyes at Harry.

“It was accidental magic, Professor,” Harry said with his most innocent smile. “Madam Pomfrey said so.”

“Indeed,” Snape said, mouth curling into a smirk. “That was an amazingly accurate yet accidental modifier, Mr Potter. I do believe an accidental detention is in order for your accidental magic. Perhaps disembowelling some more amphibians will curb your accidental tendencies.” Snape gave Harry a pointed look. “You will come to my office tomorrow evening after dinner.” And with that he stalked out of the hospital wing again.

Message received. Snape couldn’t give two shits about Harry hexing Draco, but he wanted answers about Harry’s peculiar situation and now he had the perfect excuse to interrogate Harry for a few hours without disturbance. Harry should have realized Snape would take advantage of a situation whenever he could, that sneaky Slytherin.

Chapter Text

Harry waited until after nine that evening before calling Tom. That was when Pomfrey turned down the lights in the hospital wing and went to her own quarters. Harry closed his curtains, cast all the privacy charms he knew and activated his mirror.

Tom answered within half a minute, cup of camomile in hand. “How was your day, my dear?”

“Soulmate!” Harry grinned at Tom, his heart soaring while at the same time a sense of calmness came over him, as it usually did whenever he talked to Tom lately. “I’ve had a weird day. First of all, that nightmare curse you used on the Weasley twins is inspired. I’ve been admiring it all day.”

Tom’s small smile morphed into a satisfied grin and he took a bow, almost spilling his tea in the process. “I’m glad to hear it arrived where it was supposed to and has the desired effect.”

“Oh, they’re suffering, alright,” Harry said with an agreeable nod. “Pomfrey had to silence and restrain them.”

“Excellent.” Tom sipped his camomile with all the satisfaction of a cat that ate about a dozen canaries. “It should last up to three weeks.”

“Yeah, that’s nice,” Harry said while he frowned at Tom. “Except now Dumbledore somehow suspects me of casting that stupid curse.”

“Ah.” Tom didn’t seem at all surprised by this news. “So the old man is up to his usual tricks.” At seeing Harry’s puzzled expression, he explained further. “Even as far back as my schooldays this was Dumbledore’s usual tactic when dealing with Slytherins. It doesn’t matter if there is any evidence or not, if there are other suspects or not, if a Slytherin is so much as barely involved in a situation, they must be the guilty party somehow. And no matter what anyone else says or how unlikely it is, Dumbledore will stick to his conviction that the Slytherin is guilty. I knew he still treated Slytherins like this during Severus’ time, and it now appears he’s still displaying the same prejudiced behaviour.”

“In other words, I’m nothing special,” Harry said, feeling oddly relieved Dumbledore hadn’t somehow figured out Harry was far more powerful than an average eleven-year-old since he was technically eighteen.

“In this you are not, no,” Tom said with a teasing glint in his blue eyes. Harry realized he didn’t even really notice the changes to Tom’s face anymore and accepted his new visage as normal. Probably because he still looked incredibly like Tom Riddle while also possessing plenty of new characteristics. The wizard who had applied that kind of transfiguration had truly done some excellent work.

“Well, that’s a relief,” Harry said, reaching for the glass of pumpkin juice he’d been saving since dinner, just so he would have something to drink as well. “Of course, having the twins here meant that Mr and Mrs Weasley stopped by.”

“How did that go?” Tom asked when Harry didn’t continue right away. Mostly because he was sorting through his thoughts when it came to the Weasleys. For the most part, he now accepted that they’d betrayed him, if not actively then passively, and that he’d never been as important to them as they had been to him. But at the same time, they had been his surrogate family for years, and one was his best friend, and another his so far only girlfriend. The Weasleys were unmistakably entwined with Harry’s previous life and not so easily erased from Harry’s thoughts as he would like.

“It was strange,” Harry finally said, and took a sip of his pumpkin juice to occupy his mouth while he tried to find the right words. “They’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a caring family and when I was eleven I desperately wanted to be a part of their family.”

“But you’re no longer eleven,” Tom said quietly with a considering look.

“No,” Harry agreed, staring down at the glass in his hand. “I’m looking at them very differently now and realizing they were never my family, no matter how many handmade jumpers they sent me or how often they invited me over to spend a week or two at their home.” Harry couldn’t look Tom in the eye while he blurted out, “Besides, my idea of family has changed since I was eleven and all I wanted was parents who cared for me.”

“Has it now?” Tom sounded more intrigued than anything else.

Harry finally looked up at him and decided to change the subject because he felt weird confessing to Tom he was Harry’s desired family now. “You can’t tell me you’ve never wished for parents when you were young.”

Tom inhaled a deep breath, leaning back in his seat a bit. “When I was young, yes, certainly. Every orphaned child longs for a family. I got my hopes shattered, however, after I was brought back one too many times.”

“What?” Harry asked stupidly. Tom had been adopted? Was that what he was saying?

Tom lowered his gaze, his smile rigid. “I was an attractive and clever child. Of course I got adopted out a few times. And when I was very young I wanted it to work, to have a family of my own. Anything would be better than that bloody orphanage. But my magic was very strong and active and I had no control over it at first like most children. So inevitable I’d get nervous or scared or a little too excited and my magic would react. And my new parents would freak the fuck out, think me possessed or something equally silly, and return me to the orphanage post-haste. It’s one of the reasons I put so much effort into learning to control these strange powers I had, but by the time I had some control the Matron, who was sick of getting me back time after time with stories of demons and devils, had already started to warn people away from me. I was never chosen for adoption again and eventually convinced myself I didn’t even want a family.”

Harry swallowed against the sudden ache in his chest. Poor Tom, to be rejected every single time for magic he had no control over and didn’t even know what it was at that time. The wizarding world really was neglectful when it came to orphans or muggleborns stuck in harmful situations.

“We should add that to the changes we want to make,” Harry said, glad to have found a way to take action and solve this problem. “We should make it law that any magical child stuck in an orphanage should be brought into the wizarding world.”

Tom’s expression went from tight and blank to deeply amused in a second. “Harry, you darling Gryffindor. Wanting to ride to the rescue of all these poor magical orphans stuck in evil Muggle orphanages.” Tom chuckled while Harry bristled at being made fun of when he just came up with a workable plan. “You’re only a few decades too late, my dear.”

“What do you mean, I’m too late?” Harry demanded, sitting up straighter.

“There are no more orphanages in the UK. Children without families are put in foster homes and go up for adoption from there. The closest thing to an orphanage this country still has are residential care homes, but these only take in children with severe disabilities who cannot live at home because of them.” Tom looked at him with a huge smile, eyes bright with humour. “So save your dashing self the trouble of trying to rescue the orphans. They’re fine. Well, at least they’re much better off than they were in my youth.”

Harry’s mouth was hanging open. “But those fucking Dursleys were always threatening to put me in an orphanage whenever I did anything they didn’t like.”

“They lied,” Tom offered.

“They fucking lied, those fucking bastards.” Harry had no idea why it upset him this much to learn he’d been lied to about orphanages, but it did. “All this time I could have been living with a nice foster family or even been adopted by people who actually wanted me? But instead Vernon kept telling me horror stories about orphanages and threatening to throw me into one and like an idiot I believed him and never even considered running away or something.”

Tom waited patiently until Harry was done with his impromptu rant on his relatives. “It’s rather funny you’re so surprised by a lie they told you while they treated you like dirt, starved you and made you sleep in a cupboard.”

“I know, okay.” Harry threw his hand up in sheer frustration. “It’s just, I’ve been afraid of ending up in an orphanage my entire fucking childhood and now I learn there haven’t been any orphanages anymore for decades. Wait, why aren’t there orphanages anymore?”

“Because people finally realized raising children in institutions like that leads to many emotional and behavioural problems that follow them into adulthood. Children do best in family settings where they can bond properly with caregivers,” Tom explained patiently.

“Huh,” Harry said, astounded he’d never heard of this, or had even considered it. “Well, that’s good,” he finally said, still too flabbergasted to come up with some more compelling conversation. But thinking about orphanages and Tom’s childhood did make him remember something else he wanted to mention to his soulmate. “So we can scrap saving magical orphans from the agenda. Can we please add outlaw love potions to it?”

Tom looked at Harry in surprise but it quickly became a pleased smile. “We most certainly can. May I ask what brought this on?”

Shrugging, Harry ducked his head, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious though he wasn’t sure why. “Because people get hurt by those bloody things. Look at your parents.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed a little. Harry had learned since he’d started conversing politely with the Dark Lord that his parents were a very touchy subject even on the best of days.

“And because people send me love potions,” Harry quickly added, not wanting to offend Tom or piss him off by singling out his family situation. “In my previous life and this one.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed even more until they were mere slits and he stared at Harry with intent. “Who are these people that send you love potions? As far as the world knows you’re eleven.”

“I know.” Harry shuddered dramatically. “And it was just one witch this time. I’ve sent off all the information to the Aurors. It’s their job to handle these things.”

“Hm.” Tom didn’t look at all appeased by this solution, so Harry decided it was time to change the subject before Tom got it in his head he needed to send out class 2 nightmare curses to everyone and their grandmother and their kneazle who so much as looked funny at Harry.

“On a different note, I gave Draco Malfoy donkey ears,” Harry said with no small amount of pride.

Tom didn’t seem very impressed with this news. “Are you actually eleven? Because you hexing Lucius’ spawn with donkey ears is rather compelling evidence that you are in fact a child.”

Harry’s grin didn’t waver under Tom’s criticism. If anything, it grew significantly wider. “He had it coming, trust me. He spent the entire week being insufferable about me getting injured. He wants to be Seeker and tries to disparage my Quidditch skills at every turn.”

“That doesn’t convince me of your maturity, my dear.” Tom shook his head while giving Harry a hopeless look as he so often did whenever Harry brought up such fascinating subjects such as Quidditch. “Isn’t it past your bedtime yet?”

Harry wanted to object for a moment, but when he actually thought about it he realized he was tired and he did have classes first thing tomorrow morning. “Yeah, I should probably go to sleep. One last thing, though.” Harry brought the mirror a little closer to his face. “Snape is a sneaky Slytherin who used me hexing Draco as an excuse to give me detention tomorrow evening so he can interrogate me.”

“Don’t drink anything he offers you,” Tom said pleasantly. “Severus is very eager with veritaserum when he wants answers.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Harry said, a little insulted Tom would think him that naive.

“Then I don’t see a problem with a little interrogation.” Tom shrugged and downed the last of his camomile. “I don’t blame Severus for wanting to learn some more about what’s going on. I’ve only told him the bare minimum. He’s magically bound to secrecy so you can tell him however many details you want to share.”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Harry said while he stretched out against the mattress, pulling the covers up to his chin. “I’ll see what Snape has to say.”

“You look tired, my dear. Call me after your meeting with Severus.” Tom gave him a small smile. “Good night, Harry.”

“Good night, Tom,” Harry whispered, already drowsy. He closed the mirror, slid it under his pillow and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Harry’s return to the general student population was noticed by everyone. The students of Hogwarts had stopped whispering about him some weeks ago, but they picked all the talking and staring and pointing right back up again when Harry walked out of the hospital wing. He stopped by his dorm to gather his books and made it to the Great Hall in time for breakfast.

“Welcome back,” Theo said, scooting to the side to let Harry sit down between him and Blaise.

“You’ve certainly made an impression on the whole school,” Blaise said while he nodded in the direction of two young Ravenclaws who were standing on their bench to get a better look at Harry.

“What are you looking at?” Tracey snarled over her shoulder at the Ravenclaw table. The two gawkers quickly sat down again.

Harry shook his head, determined to ignore all the unwanted attention like he’d been doing since the start of the school year. He served himself a generous portion of eggs and bacon and tucked in.

Draco was noticeably absent from breakfast that day, but he turned up in the entrance hall right before classes started, wearing his pointy wizarding hat which every student had to buy but no one ever wore. You could clearly see two huge, grey ears stuffed up inside the hat and Draco kept drawing attention to it by continuously pulling the hat down as far as he could. Draco glared at him and then deliberately turned his back on Harry, which suited Harry just fine.

They had double Herbology and double Charms that day, and both Sprout and Flitwick welcomed him back and gave him two weeks to catch up on any homework he might have missed. Harry planned to finish it all up before the weekend. He met with his friends in the library and he was glad that everyone seemed to make an effort to avoid any talk of his injury or time spent in the hospital. It felt like Harry had never left once everyone was seated and had their homework spread out around them.

When Susan got up to look for a book to help with her Defence essay, Harry saw an opportunity and decided to take it. He followed Susan into the stacks, glancing over his shoulder to make sure they were alone.

“Susan,” Harry said quietly.

“Harry?” Susan looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“I need a favour.” Harry swallowed, looking down at his shoes, pretending to be overcome for a moment. “When I was in a coma, I saw my parents.”

Susan clapped a hand over her mouth in shock.

“I’ve already been looking into what happened to them,” Harry quickly continued. He didn’t want to upset Susan too much, seeing as she, too had lost her parents in the war. “I know Sirius Black betrayed them and that he’s in Azkaban, but I’ve been looking for a report on his trial to see if he ever mentioned why he betrayed them, but I can’t find anything.” Harry gave Susan a pleading look. “Could you maybe ask your Aunt Amelia if she could look for the trial transcripts. They must have those at the Ministry. I would ask the Ministry myself, but I’ve got no clue what department to write to.”

“Yes, of course,” Susan said at once. “I’ll ask my aunt, she’ll know where to find the trial transcripts.”

“Thank you,” Harry said with genuine gratitude. He’d now taken the first step in getting Sirius released. Once Amelia Bones realized Sirius never had a trial and told Harry, he could then offer to get Sirius a solicitor to get to the bottom of his case, hopefully sometime during the Christmas holidays some three weeks away.

“You’re welcome,” Susan said, patting him on the arm. “I’ll write a letter right away and have my owl Simon take it to Aunt Amelia this evening.”

The rest of the afternoon flew by as Harry made an effort to get caught up with his homework. By dinner time the whispering and pointing had died down somewhat, thankfully. Snape kept a very sharp eye on him all throughout the meal while Harry studiously ignored him and enjoyed his spaghetti Bolognese. The moment Harry finished his plate, Snape got up from the head table and strode towards Harry with determined steps.

“With me, Potter,” Snape all but snarled and didn’t even wait to see if Harry followed.

“What?” Daphne looked at Harry with wide eyes. “Why?”

“I’ve got detention for rearranging Draco’s ears,” Harry said with a grin, earning a snort from Daphne.

“You should be expelled for mutilating a fellow student,” Parkinson spat. Harry ignored her and hurried after Snape. Instead of leading him to the Potions classroom, Snape marched straight to his office and held the door open for Harry to slip inside. Then Snape slammed the door shut and cast several locking and privacy charms.

“Sit down,” Snape hissed, seating himself behind his desk. Harry quickly sat down in one of the empty chairs in front of the desk and then waited patiently while Snape studied him, his arms crossed and an even bigger sneer than usual on his face. Harry wondered if Snape was angry. He seemed a bit angry.

“What on earth possessed you,” Snape finally said through gritted teeth, dark eyes blazing with fury, “to bring back the Dark Lord, you lunatic child?”

Oh yeah, he was spitting mad.

Harry ducked his head, looking down at his lap for a moment. It was weird to be called out for his actions like that. Until now, the only people who knew the truth were people who were happy about the changes. Harry, Tom and Barty. That was it. But now Snape knew and he obviously had a very different view on things.

Not that Harry was surprised by this. When had Severus Snape ever, in any life, agreed with anything Harry said or did.

“Because he deserved a second chance, with his soul and sanity intact,” Harry whispered, still not looking at Snape.

“Deserved a...are we talking about the same man here, Potter?” Snape all but growled, his hands pressed down on his desk as he leaned forward to glare at Harry. “The man who has personally killed hundreds of people, tortured even more of them, ended whole family lines for the simple reason those witches and wizards disagreed with him. That man? Did not deserve a second chance.”

“You don’t know him,” Harry said, looking up at Snape with narrowed eyes. He didn’t like Snape’s description of Tom one bit. It seemed entirely unfair. “He was insane when he did those things.”

“And he was sane when he cursed the Messrs. Weasley just yesterday,” Snape snarled.

Harry shrugged, looking away again. “Fred and George deserved a little punishment.”

“A class 2 dark curse, a nightmare curse, is not ‘a little punishment’, Potter.” Snape looked about ready to curse Harry just to prove his point. “It remains to be seen if the Messrs. Weasley make it out of that curse unscathed.”

Harry frowned and looked up at Snape. “It doesn’t do permanent damage, Tom said.”

Snape snorted and crossed his arms again. “It does no permanent physical damage. But it remains to be seen how much of their sanity will be in tact after spending weeks living their worst nightmares.”

Gaping at Snape, Harry leaned back in his seat. He hadn’t know about that side-effect, though perhaps he should have figured that out for himself.

“I suppose the Dark Lord failed to mention that to you,” Snape said with no small amount of satisfaction. “Then again, torturing people into insanity was always a favourite hobby of his.”

“He’s not that Voldemort anymore,” Harry insisted, pushing away this new information about the nightmare curse for now. He’d take it up with Tom later. Now he wanted to convince Snape that he’d made the right decision in bringing Tom Riddle back. “He’s changed so much.”

“I DON’T BLOODY WELL CARE HOW MUCH HE’S CHANGED NOW!” Snape roared, slamming both his hands down on his desk.

Harry pushed himself back into his seat in trepidation. Snape looked ready to launch himself across his desk and strangle Harry with his bare hands for having brought the Dark Lord back.

Snape inhaled a deep, shaky breath, visibly trying to calm himself when he saw Harry’s reaction to him. “I doubt you’d understand what the first war was like, seeing as you hadn’t been born yet, Potter, but let me assure you that, insane or not, your precious Tom caused untold amounts of grief amongst the witches and wizards of this country.”

“I do understand,” Harry muttered.

Snape ignored him, resolutely continuing his monologue. “He murdered enemies and allies alike. He murdered children. He let his followers have their way with anyone in any way. Do I have to spell that out for you, what some of the Death Eaters did to young muggleborn witches, and occasionally wizards, they got their hands on?”

Harry had barely considered any of those things, to be honest, but in hindsight it didn’t surprise him those horrible things happened. “No, I get it.”

“You clearly do not get it,” Snape growled, balling his hands into fists, perhaps to keep himself from going for his wand. “Because if you got it, you wouldn’t have brought back your parents’ killer!”

Harry jumped up from his seat, unable to contain himself anymore. “I killed him!” Harry yelled, gesturing wildly at Snape. “I killed Voldemort, and I died. Twice.” Harry’s breathing sped up and became uneven but he didn’t even consider stopping his tirade to try to control his breathing. “I’ve lived through a war, I’ve been vilified and prosecuted by the Ministry even before Voldemort took it over, I’ve been on the run for almost a year while living in a tent and starving, I’ve lost so many people, I’ve seen so many people die.” Harry stopped talking for a moment as he stared at Snape, seeing nothing but red around the man. “I saw you die. You died right in front of me, on the floor of the Shrieking Shack and there was so much blood gushing from your throat that the whole floor was red – “

“Potter.”

“And I couldn’t stop it, I didn’t know any healing spells or had any useful potions on me, I mean dittany can only do so much –“

“Potter, breathe.”

Fuck. Harry couldn’t breathe.

Chapter Text

Why the hell did this have to happen now? Harry did not want to break down in front of Snape of all people. Inhaling deep breaths through his nose, Harry tried to focus his thoughts away from images of the war and Snape dying and his trial and the veil coming closer and closer...

“Potter, drink this.” Snape held out an opened vial to him, but when Harry didn’t take it, he added, “It’s a calming draught. Nothing else.”

Harry took the vial with trembling hands, sniffed it once to verify Snape probably wasn’t trying to poison him, and downed it in one go. At once warmth spread across his body and his mind, and both his breathing and his heart rate slowed.

“I did everything they wanted me to,” Harry whispered, staring at the floor while leaning forward in his chair, elbows on his thighs and arms held tightly against his body. “Everything and more. I died for them. I killed for them. And in the end all I got in return for giving them my all was a sham of a trial and an execution.”

Snape stood in front of Harry, hip pressed against his desk and arms crossed. He stared down at Harry with a blank expression, which was an improvement over the rage Harry had seen on his face just moments earlier.

Harry looked up at him with narrowed eyes. “My best friends turned against me, sat on the stand and let the Ministry murder me. No one came to my rescue even when I’d given my life to rescue the world.” Harry briefly licked his lips while he gave Snape a challenging look. “So why did I give Tom a second chance? Because I wanted to. Because he’s my soulmate, or the closest thing to it I’ll ever have. And because I was curious to see what he would do with a second chance with his soul and sanity intact.” Harry shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “And I really don’t care if Tom deserves this second chance or not, or what it means to the world. The world can go fuck itself.”

Snape gave a slow nod, shifting on his feet to find a better position while he kept staring down at Harry. “And I take it you have no plans to vanquish the Dark Lord anytime soon?”

Harry snorted with laughter while he looked at Snape in disbelief.

“The headmaster is going to be ever so disappointed,” Snape drawled with a healthy dose of sarcasm. “He’s counting on the Boy Who Lived to do away with the Dark Lord.”

“The headmaster wants me dead,” Harry said in a monotone voice. “He’s going to have to learn to live with that disappointment.”

“Hm.” Snape gave another slow nod. “While I can sympathize with your less than desirable ending,” Snape said entirely without sympathy, “I find it hard to stomach that you’d willingly subject the people around you, new friends you’ve obviously made, to the mercy of the Dark Lord.”

“Tom isn’t Voldemort,” Harry said a little louder than he’d meant to. Snape was getting on his nerves, though, with this constant whining about Tom’s past actions. “There isn’t going to be another war, he told you so. He wants to change our society, sure, but he wants to do it without violence.”

Snape raised a very sceptical eyebrow. “If not violence, then how does he plan to accomplish this? And what are those changes exactly? I cannot imagine you’d go along with any plans to segregate muggleborns, such as the Dark Lord always aspired to do.”

“There’s not going to be any muggleborn registration commission this time, Tom’s promised,” Harry said quickly, so hopefully Snape would understand Tom had indeed changed. Or at the very least had changed his plans. Then Harry went to answer the rest of Snape’s questions but found himself unable to. He knew that Tom wanted to change the wizarding world, but they hadn’t really talked about specifics all that much. Tom had ranted about bureaucracy at the Ministry a time or two, and about their practice of hiring people based on their pedigree or connections more so than for their competency and skills. And of course Tom wanted to bring back certain traditions and rituals the Ministry had banned over the decades. But that was it as far as Harry knew. It’s not like Tom had ever given him a list or something of all the changes he wanted to make in detail.

“Er...” Harry said, swallowing as he looked up at Snape with wide eyes. “He wants to bring back traditions and stuff.”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose and released a sigh that seemed to come from deep within a well of patience that was about to run dry. “Every Slytherin wants to bring back our lost traditions, Potter.” Snape slowly released his nose and stared down at Harry with such disappointment that it took Harry aback for a second. He’d seen plenty of emotions on Snape’s face before over the years. Mostly anger, scorn and ridicule. But he’d never seen disappointment like that directed at him before. “You do not have a clue about the Dark Lord’s plans, do you? You’ve brought him back and you’re letting him run amok without having a single idea about what he wants to do to our world.”

“No,” Harry denied, just for the sake of denying anything Snape said. Even if he had the sinking feeling Snape might be at least a little bit right about this. “He wants to overhaul the Ministry – “

“And do away with muggleborns, and rule the world, and have everyone kneel before him and kiss the hem of his robes,” Snape interrupted him, his expression morphing back into a familiar sneer. “Yes, I know what the Dark Lord wants better than you, Potter. I’ve met the man plenty of times.”

“That’s not true!” Harry’s heartrate picked up again despite the calming draught in his system. Snape just drove him mad with these accusations. “You don’t know him, not as he’s right now. Tom is not Voldemort!” Harry inhaled a huge breath through his nose and blew it back out again through his mouth.

“You’ll have to forgive me that I don’t take your word for it. You’re much too close to the Dark Lord for some unfathomable reason.” Snape shook his head briefly and peered down at Harry through a curtain of black hair. “Also, you must get these physical manifestations of your traumas under control. You cannot depend on calming draughts every time you start hyperventilating.”

“Tom sent me some Muggle books on PTSD and stuff. They’ve been helpful,” Harry muttered, glaring at Snape while he kept repeating his breathing exercises.

Snape blinked and arched an eyebrow. “The Dark Lord sent you Muggle books?”

“Yeah. He had Barty buy them since he was still inhabiting a homunculus and couldn’t go himself, but after my first panic attack in your class he got me those books. They really do help, but dealing with trauma like this takes time.” Harry shrugged. He refused to be ashamed of what was going on in his head, even when dealing with Snape and his penchant to mock anything and everything Harry Potter. The way Harry saw it, he’d earned all his traumas when saving others, and dying to save the world, and he would not let anyone make him feel bad about that. Not even Snape, who had earned the title of ‘person most likely to get under Harry’s skin and rile him up completely just by existing’ many times over.

“Hm.” Snape seemed unsure what to do with that information, but Harry couldn’t care less. He was exhausted. He was only just recovered from a traumatic brain injury and on top of that he’d just relived some of his traumas and his body was obviously done for the day. Snape seemed to notice this, too, and for once in his life decided to spare Harry from further suffering. “You’re dismissed,” Snape said as he stepped away from Harry and sat down behind his desk again.

Harry felt a hundred years old as he stood up from his chair. His body ached all over and seemed to want to do everything in slow-motion. “Good night, Sir.”

Snape sneered at Harry in response. “Get out of my office.”

Harry shuffled back to the Slytherin common room, thankfully not that far away from Snape’s office. It was hard to believe it was only the second week of November in his first year at Hogwarts. To Harry, it felt like he’d been reliving his life for years already, not for barely four months. Of course, that probably happened because he’d spent years at Hogwarts already in his previous life. Not to mention, he had been very busy setting up his second life so far, and he’d only barely scratched the surface of things he still wanted to change. But Snape’s admonishment of Harry not having a clue about Tom’s plans did drive the point home that Harry was just winging his second chance, at least for the most part. He wasn’t very organized and perhaps he should be. The more he changed, the less predictable the future would be and there would come a point, probably soon, when Harry could no longer depend on his foreknowledge of the future, because the future would be utterly changed.

Perhaps Harry should put a bit more time in planning things out. Not just his own plans, but Tom’s as well. He trusted Tom, up to a point. Harry was well aware that Tom had a track record of making monumental mistakes. Horcruxes, anyone? And while Tom made it clear he didn’t want another war, Harry wanted to be sure Tom wasn’t going around killing people quietly, just because that was all Tom knew how to do when it came to changing things.

He checked his watch and realized it was not even eight. Still, he really was exhausted and he still wanted to call Tom so he decided to just go to bed right away, but he vowed that the next day he would put one of his notebooks to good use and write some plans down.

Blaise and Theo were playing cards in their dorm, as they usually did early in the evening.

“What did Snape do to you?” Theo asked with obvious worry in his voice. Blaise merely looked Harry up and down and shook his head.

“Not much,” Harry said as he collected his pyjamas. “Still not fully recovered, I think. I’m going to bed.”

“Probably for the best,” Blaise said, turning back to his cards. “You look like you’re about to keel over.”

“Yeah,” Theo agreed quietly. “Good night. And if you need more time to heal, I’m sure Pomfrey would let you take a day or two off classes.”

“Nah.” Harry waved Theo’s concerns off. “I’m sure I just need a good night’s sleep. Night, guys.”

Harry got ready for bed as quickly as his tired body let him and made sure no one could disturb him before calling Tom on the mirror.

“Harry?” Tom answered, for once not seated in a comfortable leather chair in the reception room but behind a desk in what looked like an impressive office. “Is everything all right? You’re calling early today.”

Harry smiled, tired as he was. Seeing Tom always did make him feel better. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just exhausted from ‘detention’ with Snape.”

“Ah yes,” Tom said, gaze suddenly a little sharper as always when Harry mentioned Snape. Just because Tom had let him live didn’t mean he’d forgiven Snape in any way, shape or form. Harry was well aware the only reason Snape was still alive was because he served a purpose for Tom. “Your interrogation with Severus. How did that go?”

“Pretty much as expected,” Harry replied with a shrug. “Snape was angry I brought you back. Seemed to believe you’re still the old Voldemort. Wouldn’t listen to reason.”

Tom chuckled for a moment. “I’m not surprised in the least Severus would rather you’d left me in pieces in limbo.” Tom looked at Harry with mirth shining in his eyes. “It is beyond amusing to remember that Severus joined me out of his own free will. He begged me for the mark, since he’s a half-blood and I refused him at first. And he threw all of that away over a silly girl who hadn’t even talked to him in years.”

“That silly girl was my mum,” Harry grumbled, glaring at Tom. He understood what Tom was saying, but he wouldn’t let Tom insult his mother.

“And a brilliant witch she was,” Tom said smoothly, course correcting like a professional bullshitter. “The point remains that Severus giving you a hard time for interacting with me is rather deliciously hypocritical of him.”

“Yeah, but I doubt Snape cares about that,” Harry said as he leaned his tired body back against his pillow. “He did mentioned something I hadn’t considered and you hadn’t told me. That the nightmare curse might drive the twins insane.”

Tom looked at Harry for a few long moments, previous humour slipping off his face. “I doubt they will end up truly insane,” he finally said with a careless shrug. “They’re young teens. Their worst nightmares won’t be traumatizing enough to drive them mad.”

Harry sighed in defeat. So there were permanent effects, while Tom had assured him there wouldn’t be. “You said they’d be fine, that the curse wouldn’t harm them permanently.”

“And it won’t,” Tom assured him with a pleasant little smile. “But they will feel an effect from the exposure to their worst nightmares. How else will they learn a lesson?”

Harry frowned and worried his lip. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this. He wasn’t even sure if Tom had lied to him or not.

“What exactly is the problem?” Tom asked, definitely sounding a little impatient now. “Just yesterday you were complimenting this curse and its effects, and now you’re suddenly pouting about it. Why? What did Severus say to you to bring this about?”

Shrugging, Harry looked up at Tom from beneath his eyelashes. “I was telling Snape you’d changed, and Snape insisted you hadn’t because you’d cursed the twins with something that would drive them insane, which used to be your favourite hobby. Cursing people until they went insane.”

“Well,” Tom said and then stopped talking while he looked at Harry with raised eyebrows. Harry stared back at him, not sure if he should have brought this up at all, or even why he was upset about this. Up until the point Snape said something about it, Harry had been perfectly fine with that curse.

“I don’t know why this bothers me,” Harry said since Tom still wasn’t talking. “I’m not even sure if it bothers me all that much, and maybe that is what bothers me, that the curse doesn’t bother me.”

Tom’s rigid expression finally cracked and he grinned while he briefly looked down. “Very eloquent, my dear. Truly well said.”

“Oh fuck off,” Harry mumbled, suddenly feeling oddly embarrassed.

“What a poet you are,” Tom continued, his smile now obviously teasing. Harry rolled his eyes and looked away as his cheeks warmed. “Anyway,” Tom said and inhaled a deep breath. “I think you brought up a valid point here, my dear. I do believe you’re mostly bothered by the fact you’re not at all that bothered.”

“Who’s a poet now?” Harry said, tempted beyond belief to stick his tongue out at Tom but he wouldn’t. He wasn’t actually eleven.

Tom wisely ignored him. “As for what I did as Voldemort, I can give you an apology for my actions of the past, but unless we’re inventing a time-turner that can go back farther than a few hours, I cannot change them. No matter how much I want to these days.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said with a solemn nod. He knew he couldn’t keep rubbing Voldemort’s past in Tom’s face. That was entirely unproductive, not to mention unfair to him as he was right now. Still, no matter how much Harry liked Tom these days, he did want to know what Tom planned to do. “Snape also asked about your plans and how you wanted to implement them without violence.”

“And what did you tell him?” Tom asked, perking up a little, eyes narrowing as he gave Harry an almost challenging look.

Did Tom know Harry was pretty clueless about his plans? Harry had a sneaking suspicion he did and was about to rub it in his face. “You know, that you wanted to bring traditions back and stuff.”

“Stuff?” Tom asked innocently.

“Yes, Tom, lots and lots of stuff,” Harry snapped, slightly mortified he’d spent months encouraging Tom to make changes without actually knowing what those changes were. “Like redoing the Ministry.”

“Redoing the Ministry. That’s what we’re calling it?” Tom asked, still with the kind of smile that would charm any headmaster, save Dumbledore, to waive a detention even if he’d missed a full day of classes.

“Fine,” Harry said with a dramatic groan. “I don’t actually know what you plan to do outside of bringing traditions back and redoing the Ministry. Please enlighten me, oh dearest soulmate of mine.”

Tom laughed, head falling back as he relaxed in his chair. “That only took you a few months, to realize you don’t have a clue what I want to do with our world.”

“I’ve been busy,” Harry said through clenched jaws, cheeks feeling like they were on fire. “And traumatized. And I’ve had brain damage.”

“I truly was wondering when you’d come knocking to ask me about my plans. If it wasn’t for Severus, I don’t think you’d have realized your lack of knowledge until the summer holidays.” Tom clearly had been anticipating this moment, of Harry’s sheer humiliation. Harry ran a tired hand across his face. There wasn’t much he could do about it now, and Tom seemed to realize Harry truly was exhausted and cut his teasing short.

“When I attended Hogwarts and learned about our world, one of the things that bothered me the most was that the Ministry, and thus our society, was run on favouritism,” Tom said, effortlessly slipping into a lecture mode that wouldn’t be out of place on a Hogwarts professor. “When it came to working for the Ministry, climbing their ranks, it didn’t matter how smart or talented you were. What mattered was your family name or who you knew.”

Harry slowly nodded, not so much because he was familiar with these issues, because he wasn’t, but to encourage Tom to keep going.

Tom obliged him, continuing his speech as though he knew it by heart. “I was smarter and magically more powerful than all my roommates combined, yet since I lacked an impressive family name and had no important connections to speak of, I’d have to start in the mail room at the Ministry, no matter my NEWT scores. While my roommates would end up in whatever position they desired, simply because their fathers and uncles would make it happen.”

“That’s so unfair,” Harry said with an enormous burst of sympathy for Tom as a child. Brilliant, talented and overlooked by an outdated system. “But that was during your schooldays. Is it still that bad in this day and age?”

“Perhaps not quite as bad as it used to be, but favouritism is still the most used method for hiring at the Ministry,” Tom said with a resigned little sigh. “I planned to use my charm and Slytherin lineage to bind my pureblood classmates to me by pretending to want to see nothing but purebloods in charge of our society, while in truth I wanted to overthrow the system from the inside. Become the Minister for Magic and hire people based on talent and competency, nothing else.” Tom offered Harry a cheeky wink.

Harry realized his mouth had dropped open as he stared a Tom. He’d never known about these kind of plans from his soulmate. “So what happened?” Harry finally managed to ask once he’d closed his mouth again.

“Horcruxes happened,” Tom said, his expression as sour as if he’d just swallowed a lemon whole. “Without even realizing it was happening, I started believing the propaganda I was spouting to bind the wealthy purebloods to me. I was becoming insane and started believing insane ideas about blood purity and more such nonsense and I completely lost sight of what I’d set out to do.”

“You basically became the thing you were trying to get rid of,” Harry whispered, mind reeling from all this new information about his soulmate. “Those fucking horcruxes really did destroy you in every possible way.”

“That they did,” Tom agreed quietly, giving Harry a small but knowing smile. Tom shook his head a time or two, took a deep breath and sat up a little. “But that is in the past. Currently my plans are threefold. First, reinstate traditions and rituals that the Ministry has unreasonably banned, and teach our society to celebrate all kinds of magic. Secondly, focus on competency, not favouritism in places like the Ministry and Hogwarts. And last but certainly not least, find better ways to shield us from Muggles and prepare for the inevitable discovery by Muggles.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Harry said, happily surprised and relieved to note that he agreed with all three of those points. “I can get behind all of that.”

“I’d certainly thought you’d agree with these plans,” Tom said just a little smugly.

Harry ignored Tom’s self-satisfied grin. “And how are you planning to accomplish all that? By becoming the Minister for Magic? How?”

“With help, of course.” Tom seemed very amused by Harry’s puzzled expression. “Lucius and Theodorus are my initial introductions to the wealthy and influential members of our society.”

“Wait,” Harry interrupted Tom when something occurred to him. “But those two are purebloods who expect you to want to follow their pureblood agenda.”

Tom snickered, his nose wrinkling in a way that looked downright adorable, which what the fuck? Why was Harry thinking that now? “My dear, it’s not like I’m going to tell them my true plans,” Tom said, giving Harry and his naivety a fond smile. “I’m going to butter them up with grand plans of blood prejudice and take my time to convince them to see things my way eventually.”

“Convince them,” Harry said disbelievingly. “Is that what we’re calling you cursing them into next week if they disagree with you now?”

“Nothing so drastic.” Tom waved Harry’s suggestion away with an airy gesture. “At least not at first.”

Harry shook his head with a sigh, not finding a lot of sympathy in himself for the hypothetical cursing of a few fanatical Death Eaters.

“Besides charming my way into high society,” Tom continued as if Harry hadn’t interrupted him. “I require a seat on the Wizengamot.”

“And you’re going to get one of those how?” Harry asked, unsure how the Wizengamot even worked. Hermione had ranted about its unfair systems a time or two over the years, but Harry was young and stupid and had mostly tuned her out.

“That’s where I need your help, my dear,” Tom said with a positively sweet smile that almost made his cheeks dimple. Harry wouldn’t be surprised if Tom batted his eyelashes next.

“I have a seat on the Wizengamot?” Harry wondered how the hell he missed that in his previous life.

“No, you don’t,” Tom said, quickly putting Harry’s mind to rest that he’d overlooked something that momentous about his family. “But your godfather does. Or he will once Arcturus gives up the ghost.”

“Huh. And you want me to do what?” Harry asked slowly, unsure where Tom was going with this.

“Do you even know how the Wizengamot works?” Tom asked with a little frown, as though he only now realized Harry probably hadn’t ever thought to look into their judicial and governing system, not even when he was put on trial all the way back before his fifth year. Or at any time these last four months after Harry had actually been sentenced to death by the Wizengamot.

Harry felt a hot wave of shame wash over him, for never educating himself about something so vital to their society. “Er...”

Tom shook his head, expression both amused and resigned. “The Wizengamot is both our judicial and legislative branch. It oversees trials and it has the power to create new laws or abolish old ones. Wizengamot seats are hereditary. The first ones were given out to the most influential families during its creation in 1544. When the Ministry was established in 1707 more seats were created and dispersed amongst the wealthy and well-connected. Many families still hold the seats they were once given, passing it on within their families. However, Wizengamot seats can also be sold or gifted. My ancestors, the Gaunts, used to have a seat but sold it off sometime in the 19th century to pay off some debts they’d accrued.”

“And my family?” Harry asked, curious if they, too had ever sold something so important.

“Your family never had a seat,” Tom told him. “The Potters, while having an interesting pedigree, were never as influential or pureblooded as many preferred over the centuries. In fact, most of high society considers the Potters new money, thanks to your grandfather Fleamont and his potions. Before that addition of wealth the Potters were mostly middle-class for many generations.”

“I never knew that. When I was eleven the first time, all I saw was a vault full of gold inside Gringotts and assumed my family must always have had money,” Harry said with a small shake of his head.

“Going from middle-class to fairly wealthy, as your grandfather managed to do for a time is still a better deal than what the Gaunts did. They lost their wealth and status through insanity as a direct result of fucking their own siblings to keep their lines pure,” Tom said with obvious distaste.

“Yeah.” Harry chuckled at Tom’s disgusted face. “When you put it like that, I’ve not gotten such a bad deal. So what do you want me to do with Sirius’ seat?”

“Convince him to gift it to you,” Tom said matter-of-factly. “Sirius Black was never one for politics, and now with a decade of dementors gnawing at his brain I doubt that has changed any. Tell him you’d like to make this world a better place or something, and I’m sure he’ll give it to you.”

“Right.” Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that. It wasn’t something he’d ever considered before and to be honest, he wanted to think that over when he wasn’t as exhausted.

Tom seemed to read his mind, or at least Harry’s tired expression. “You need rest, my dear. None of these things need to be decided right this minute. But now at least you have an idea where I stand and what I plan to do.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, suppressing a yawn. “Thanks for explaining this all to me.”

“You’re very welcome.” Tom offered Harry one last, warm smile. “We’ll talk again tomorrow. Good night, Harry.”

“Night, Tom.” Harry closed his mirror and was asleep in minutes.

The next morning at breakfast Harry was crudely reminded of Tom’s plans for getting his hands on a Wizengamot seat when he opened the Daily Prophet and glanced over the obituaries, like he did every day just to see if he recognized any names.

‘Arcturus Black III
May 2, 1901 – November 10, 1991
Widower of Melania Black nee Macmillan’

Harry blinked as he stared at the announcement of the death of Sirius’ grandfather. Either this was the world’s weirdest coincidence, or Tom got a little impatient for a Wizengamot seat and decided to help things along personally.

It bothered Harry to no end that he wasn’t sure which one of these options was true.

Chapter Text

Harry excused himself to his Slytherins on the way to Herbology. He ducked into the first empty classroom he saw, cast every locking and silencing charm he knew and got out his mirror. He whispered Tom’s name in parseltongue and waited impatiently for his soulmate to answer.

It took a minute or two, but Tom eventually came into view on the small screen.

Harry stared.

“Is something wrong?” Tom asked, while naked and wet.

Oh, Harry could only see Tom’s wet face and wet hair and wet naked shoulders and part of his wet naked chest. But it was obvious that the whole of Tom was wet and naked after just having stepped out of the shower if the steam billowing from an opened door behind Tom was any indication.

“Harry?” Tom managed to sling a damp towel over his head with one hand while holding onto the communication mirror with the other one. He lazily dried his wild, wet hair while he arched an eyebrow at Harry’s lack of response.

Harry couldn’t breathe.

Fuck. Why did this have to happen now? What the hell did seeing Tom wet and naked have to do with his traumas from his previous life?

“Harry? Talk to me.” Tom lowered the towel and gave Harry a very concerned look.

“Arbldeeed.” Harry managed to say. It wasn’t coherent by any stretch of the imagination, but at least he managed to say something instead of choking like he’d previously done after he was triggered.

Tom rolled his eyes, which what the fuck? Was Tom making fun of Harry’s traumas? “Let me put some clothes on, perhaps that will loosen your tongue.”

What did Tom’s clothes have to do with anything? Harry rubbed a hand over his face while Tom put the mirror down so all Harry could see was the ceiling and part of a small chandelier. Harry could hear a closet door opening and closing, followed by the sounds of rustling clothing.

Did Tom really have to get dressed right there and then? Couldn’t he wait until after they had talked? Harry had Herbology in about three minutes and he still had to make his way to greenhouse one.

“Better, my dear?” Tom asked as he came back into view. He was wearing a white shirt, the top buttons undone so Harry still saw plenty of chest, but at least it wasn’t wet anymore.

“Blegh,” Harry said, and immediately cleared his throat. “Yeah, I guess,” he finally managed to say, much to his enormous relief. “Though I’m not sure what just triggered me. Usually I can pinpoint what trauma causes a panic attack.”

“Yes, how curious that seeing me right out of the shower should cause you a panic attack.” Tom was looking at Harry the way a teacher might look at a beloved student who had completely missed the point of the lesson; with vast patience and fond indulgence.

“Look, I’ve got class in about thirty seconds,” Harry said, while staring hard at the classroom door as though that might buy him more time. “I’m calling about Arcturus Black. He died.” Harry glanced at Tom, unsure how to ask what he really wanted to know without making it sound like an accusation of sorts. The last thing he wanted was for Tom to believe Harry didn’t trust him, because Harry did trust him. To a point. As much as he liked Tom these days, it was impossible to forget what Tom had been capable of once upon a time.

Some of Harry’s conflicting thoughts must have been visible on his face because Tom gave a few slow nods. “Ah,” he said and his expression was the most complicated Harry had ever seen it. Somehow it simultaneously conveyed deep offense and endless amusement. “You believe I wanted to help matters along with old Arcturus even though your godfather is still in Azkaban and killing Arcturus would serve absolutely no purpose at this time. Not to mention, Arcturus died around November in our previous lives anyway. I remember Quirrell mentioning the obituary when I was stuck as a parasite on his head.” Tom’s smile was genial but his tone was just a little bit too sharp.

Well, when you put it like that. Harry felt very foolish for having even considered Tom might have done it without considering why he would do it. “Sorry,” he blurted, cheeks heating with embarrassment. “I didn’t know when Arcturus had died in our previous life.” Harry gave a helpless shrug. Back in his original first year Arcturus Black, or any member of the Black family, wouldn’t have meant a thing to Harry, so any announcements about them would have gone completely over his head. “It’s just such a weird coincidence, considering our conversation of last night.”

“Yes, but a coincidence nonetheless.” Tom’s tone was softer now and his smile utterly indulgent. “Now, don’t you have a class to attend?”

Harry’s eyes widened as he inhaled a sharp breath. “Yes. Fuck. I’m so late.”

“Go,” Tom said with a chuckle. “We’ll talk more tonight.”

“Yeah, bye.” Harry snapped the mirror shut, shoved it in his pocket and hurried out of the classroom. It still took him at least five minutes to get to the greenhouse.

“Mr Potter?” Sprout gasped in surprise as Harry burst through the door. “You are awfully late.”

“Sorry. Had to use the loo and got dizzy, couldn’t make it in time,” Harry said in between deep breaths.

Sprout offered him a kind smile and waved him to his usual table with Theo, Blaise, Ernie and Justin. Harry tried not to feel too guilty about shamelessly using his recent traumatic brain injury to his advantage.

“Mr Malfoy,” Sprout called across the greenhouse. “You’re scaring your lavender with your hat. Remove it, please.”

Draco glared at Sprout with all his might but she remained resolute and pantomimed removing a hat at him several times before Draco finally gave in and pulled his pointy hat from his head, his long, grey donkey ears springing free and flopping around a few seconds before they finally stood upright.

All around them students giggled, including Harry and his friends.

“Now, students, it’s not very nice to make fun of a fellow student for his physical deformity,” Sprout scolded as she looked pointedly at the sniggering students. Draco looked like he wanted to hex her for daring to refer to any part of him as a ‘physical deformity’. “Enough, children. Back to your lavender. It’s not going to bloom on its own!” Sprout marched up the isle, giving any student in her path a firm glance and everyone quieted down while turning back to their plants.

Harry bit his lip to stop from laughing. Seeing this snooty, arrogant version of Draco Malfoy being made fun of was endlessly entertaining. It might help bring him down enough to everyone else’s level so he’d turn into a tolerable individual before long.

They were working with lazy lavender, and Harry returned his focus to the potted plant before him. Lazy lavender had wonderful magical properties, which made it an important potions ingredient, not to mention an amazing addition to any pork roast, according to Sprout. The problem was, as the name implied, this magical strain of lavender was lazy and refused to bloom without plenty of encouragement and tender loving care. It liked plenty of spraying with fresh spring water, the finest manures applied carefully around its base and long hours of gently stroking its tiny leaves before it even considered flowering.

“Come on then,” Harry whispered at his plant while stroking his fingers up and down the still small plant. “I bet you’d look real pretty with some flowers, wouldn’t you?” Their assignment was to get it blooming by the end of the school year. Harry remembered in his first life he’d barely made the deadline, with his plant growing one measly little flower, because he and Ron hadn’t taken any of it very seriously at all. His current friends were doing a little better at least.

Blaise was whispering what sounded like sweet little nothings in Italian to his plant while tickling each little leaf at a time, Theo was making offerings of different kinds of manures while carefully taking in his plant’s reactions, Ernie talked boisterously at his lavender, saying it would be the most magnificent plant ever if only it bloomed, and Justin was telling his plant to entire plot of the Star Wars movies in detail, emphasizing time and again they were his favourites and if his lavender bloomed he might be able to arrange a private viewing of said movies in his living room.

Harry stuck to speaking soft words of encouragement while stroking his plant carefully while his thoughts drifted back to his earlier conversation with Tom. It was perhaps unusual that he kept thinking back to the conversation in so much detail. Harry thought about Tom often, because Tom was his friend and soulmate, but now he was thinking not so much about the things they’d talked about, as he usually did, but about the way Tom had looked.

Naked and wet. And wet and naked. Also naked and wet.

Harry couldn’t get one particular image out of his head, that of a drop of water running down the side of Tom’s face, across his temple and down his lightly stubble-covered cheek and jaw.

Also, Tom had been naked. And wet. While talking to Harry. While Harry had looked at him. Very naked and wet.

Why on earth was this suddenly such an obsession for him? Harry couldn’t wrap his head around it. He’d seen plenty of guys naked and wet before in the Quidditch dressing rooms after their games. It had never made him obsessed before.

It wasn’t as if Harry was –

“Holy fucknuts!” Harry shouted, having just had a very important epiphany. Harry’s lavender, which had just been perking up under Harry’s gentle touches, threw itself dramatically over the rim of its pot in a dead faint.

“Mr Potter!” Sprout exclaimed while staring at him with wide eyes. “Two points from Slytherin. There is no need for such language.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry said quickly, cheeks burning with embarrassment but not because he’d lost some points. Theo was looking at him with a quirked eyebrow while Blaise was laughing into the fist he had pressed against his lips. Both Ernie and Justin looked entirely confused by Harry’s sudden outburst. “Must be my traumatic brain injury,” Harry added with an apologetic smile aimed at Sprout. She harrumphed once and shook her head, before turning her back to Harry to answer a question Millicent had asked her before Harry’s sudden outburst.

Harry stared resolutely down at his currently unresponsive lavender, cheeks heating up even more.

He was attracted to Tom.

How the ever-loving fuck had that happened?

Harry wasn’t gay. At least he didn’t think he was gay. He’d honestly never given any of that sort of stuff much thought in his previous life. He’d been too busy surviving the Dursleys and Hogwarts and Voldemort to consider who and what he might be attracted to.

He’d thought Cho Chang very pretty, but he’d honestly hadn’t known much about her other than that she liked Quidditch, was a decent Seeker and was sorted into Ravenclaw. Oh, and that she had crappy tastes in friends, but honestly, after the end of his previous life Harry could be accused of having tastes similar to hers when it came to his best friends.

And with Ginny...well, she’d been pretty and she liked Quidditch and was a decent Seeker....oh, for fuck’s sake, Harry’s standards had been ridiculously low, hadn’t they, when it came to what sort of girl to date. And truthfully, Ginny’s family had been as important a factor of Harry choosing her than Ginny herself. After all, if he eventually married Ginny, he’d be a part of their family for real instead of just being Ron’s best friend.

Harry was forced to conclude that when it came to his romantic involvements in his previous life, Harry had never, ever made any real effort, nor had he been very picky about his options, merely settling for the easiest, most convenient person without considering what he really wanted.

Still, suddenly being attracted to a man, a genuine, real man with man-parts, was a surprise.

Not an unwelcome surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

Harry had always thought Tom was attractive, but in a detached, rational way, the same way he’d thought Sirius had been very handsome in his younger years, before Azkaban had left its permanent marks on his godfather’s appearance. But Harry had never been attracted to Sirius in any way, shape or form.

But Tom...naked and wet Tom...smiling and laughing Tom...looking at Harry with such fond indulgence Tom...

Holy crap, Harry was definitely attracted to his best friend. His soulmate. His prophesized enemy, well, former enemy. Who was also a man, with man-parts.

But was this truly the first time Harry was attracted to another man? Or had he just not been paying attention? Which was entirely possible, knowing himself. Harry was well-aware he had a real talent for being oblivious about the most common things.

Looking back to his previous life, Harry was forced to conclude he’d always thought Cedric was very handsome, and not necessarily in the same way he thought Sirius handsome. And the first time he’d met Bill Weasley, during the summer before his fourth year, Harry had felt rather flustered around him more often than not. He’d grown out of that, but he remembered thinking about Bill more than any other Weasley sibling, at least for a while.

And Marcus Flint truly did have amazing biceps.

And Blaise did grow up to be a very attractive man.

For fuck’s sake. Harry really hadn’t been paying attention to his own desires, had he? Too busy saving the world and everyone in it to consider something so utterly important to his own life.

Yeah, Harry could concede, in retrospect, that he’d probably always been attracted to men and women both, but because he was an utter idiot, he’d never realized it before.

“Mr Potter,” Sprout said as she came to a stop right behind Harry. “You’re not making a lot of progress yet.” She waved a hand at Harry’s drooping lavender.

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry mumbled while staring down at his plant. “It’s still difficult to concentrate,” he lied. He couldn’t very well tell her the truth. Sorry, Professor, I just realized I’m sexually attracted to my soulmate, who happens to be the Dark Lord formerly known as Voldemort.

“I understand, Mr Potter,” Sprout said kindly. “Just try as much as you can.”

“Thanks, I will,” Harry said and went back to petting his lavender, determined to save the rest of his soul searching for that afternoon when he didn’t have classes and could spend some time by himself to sort through his thoughts and come to terms with this new revelation.

The rest of the class Harry was true to his word and focused on his plant and before long the bell rang and they were on their way to Charms. Neville met them outside the classroom.

“Harry,” Neville said while Harry cheerfully waved at him. “Do you mind if I partner with you today?”

“That’s no problem,” Harry said, following Neville inside the room and leading him to the Slytherin side of the room. The Slytherins knew better than to comment about Harry’s friendship with Neville, and while Harry did hear Ron mutter something unflattering to Seamus about Neville’s choice in friends, Harry knew it was just jealousy talking on Ron’s part so he ignored it.

“I’ve been practising the Lumos Charm this whole week,” Neville said once they sat down and everyone around them was loudly getting into their own seats. “But it just won’t work properly, no matter how hard I try.” Neville gave him a hopeless look.

Harry stared at Neville, something niggling in the back of his mind about Neville and his magical talents. Neville had plenty of magic. But in his previous life Neville had trouble casting spells as well, even simple ones like the Disarming Charm during their illegal defence lessons when Umbridge made everyone’s lives utterly miserable in Harry’s fifth year.

It wasn’t until their sixth year that Neville really started to shine in the use of practical magic, after he broke his old wand during the battle in the Department of Mysteries.

“Your wand,” Harry blurted and quickly snapped his mouth shut. He didn’t want to draw any attention to a perceived weakness of Neville’s with Draco sitting just a few seats away sporting donkey ears Harry had given him and probably lusting for revenge of some childish sort.

“What about my wand?” Neville asked quietly, staring down at his wand which he’d placed on the desk in front of him.

“I couldn’t help but notice it’s a used wand, right? You didn’t buy it from Ollivander’s?” Harry asked delicately, understanding better than most how emotional a subject his father’s wand was to Neville.

“It’s my father’s wand. My grandmother gave it to me to use,” Neville whispered while side-eying Harry with some trepidation.

“Your father was a great wizard, but the wand chooses the wizard,” Harry said, keeping an eye out for Flitwick. “Meaning this wand was perfect for your father. But you’re not a copy of your father, Nev. Half of you comes from your mother.”

Neville’s mouth slowly sank open while his eyes widened briefly. “So the wand doesn’t work well for me because it doesn’t fit me because I’m both my parents’ child.”

“Exactly,” Harry said, very pleased Neville understood so quickly, without feeling insecure his father’s wand wouldn’t work for him the way it had for Frank Longbottom, Auror Extraordinaire, no matter what Neville’s grandmother wished for. “Maybe talk to McGonagall about this. She’ll take you to Ollivander’s herself, I’m sure, if your grandmother refuses. You’ve got some money to pay for a new wand, right?”

“Yeah, I have an allowance and I don’t spend much,” Neville said distractedly, clearly deep in thought about all the information he’d learned just then. “Thanks, Harry.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said sincerely, just as Flitwick called the class to order. He wanted to hit himself in the head for almost having forgotten about Neville’s unresponsive wand. Then again, he’d hardly been very close friends with Neville in his previous life, more like friendly acquaintances, so he probably shouldn’t be too hard on himself for not remembering every little detail about every single person he’d ever met.

Though this did emphasize the importance of planning his new life a little more carefully and perhaps writing down all the details he remembered about people of importance and significant events that might happen in the future.

Like Gilderoy Lockhart being an enormous fraud. Harry now remembered he’d promised Tom he’d write down everything he knew about the guy right before his Quidditch accident. Time to make good on that promise. While Flitwick was lecturing and everyone around him was taking notes, Harry got out a fresh sheet of parchment and wrote down all he knew about good old Gilderoy. Neville was so busy with his own notes he never noticed what Harry was writing down.

After Charms ended, Harry joined his friends for lunch but told them he wanted to spend a few hours by himself that afternoon. Blaise replied with a smile and a shrug while Theo looked him up and down once or twice before giving a slow nod. That was all the response he got and once again Harry marvelled at the differences between Slytherin and Gryffindor friends. Harry knew for a fact Ron and Hermione would have badgered him mercilessly if Harry had wanted to spend some time by himself without explaining in detail why.

When lunch was over, Blaise and Theo headed to the library with the rest of their group while Harry made his way to the seventh floor. He needed some time to himself without the risk of being disturbed and aside from the Chamber of Secrets there was only one place in Hogwarts where this kind of privacy was guaranteed.

Harry thought about a room the size of a large cathedral filled to the nook with everything and nothing as he paced up and down a stretch of blank wall. Heavy, wooden doors appeared at once and Harry quickly slipped inside, grateful for the silence that greeted him.

Holy fucking crap, he was attracted to Tom. Harry let the door fall shut behind him while he bent double at the waist and rubbed his hands furiously across his face. Some of his long hair slipped from his ponytail but Harry ignored it.

How utterly ridiculous was this? Harry was attracted to Tom, who was a grown ass man, old enough to be his grandfather even though he didn’t look it, and the murderer of his parents and hundreds of other people.

And Harry wanted to do things with this man while he was naked and wet. Or just naked, probably. Harry wasn’t even sure what things, exactly, though his imagination seemed ready to roll out a whole buffet of options if Harry let it, which he didn’t because holy crap, he was attracted to Tom fucking Riddle, Voldemort himself. Kind of.

How was this his life? Harry sank down on the stone floor and stared at the mountains of junk around him while his thoughts kept going round and round, always coming back to the point of him being attracted to Tom, holy crap.

And Tom was attracted to men, Harry knew this much because Tom had told him. And Merlin’s saggy underwear, Tom had realized something was up with Harry’s ridiculous reaction because he’d put on clothes while Harry was literally rendered speechless by the sight of his naked body.

Harry buried his face in his hands again and groaned with sheer misery and embarrassment. How was this even happening?

Tom liked men, yes, but Harry wasn’t a man. He was an eleven-year-old boy, at least in body, which...no. Just no. There was no way Harry could do sexy things with Tom such as he was without freaking himself the fuck out. Just absolutely not going to happen. Besides, Harry was pretty sure Tom himself wasn’t at all attracted to children, no matter their mental age was actually eighteen.

No, if there ever was to be something between them, they’d have to wait until Harry was at least well into puberty. In fact, Harry was pretty sure the age of consent in the Wizarding World was sixteen, as far as Harry could remember, which seemed like a reasonable age to become sexually active with an older partner. Which meant that it was in everyone’s best interest that until he turned sixteen, Harry should keep his attraction to himself.

Best to let sleeping Slytherin heirs lie. For as far as Tom was unaware that was, because Harry clearly gave some of the game away during their encounter that morning. Now he’d just have to play it off as silly hormones or something and keep his real thoughts and feelings to himself, at least for another five years or so.

Harry inhaled a deep breath and went back to staring at the junk around him. It was for the best that they wait. If Tom even was attracted to Harry in the first place, because Harry had no clue about that. In fact, it was entirely possible Tom might meet someone he wanted to date in the next few years while he was out and about in Wizarding society while Harry was stuck as a child at Hogwarts.

That thought did very painful things to Harry’s chest and he absentmindedly rubbed across his sternum to get rid of that tight feeling.

On top of Harry feeling very uncomfortable with the idea of having sexy times with Tom while he physically was still a child, Harry also realized that the risk for Tom was far too big to start any kind of intimacy before Harry was at least of the age of consent. Tom aspired to become the Minister for Magic at some point in the future. If it ever got out he’d gotten involved with a twelve or fourteen year-old Harry Potter his chances to become Minister were done for. Not to mention he might even end up in Azkaban for at least a few years.

There was too much at risk for Harry to indulge himself in whatever his imagination was trying to come up with when it came to Tom and his naked wetness. Harry knew he wasn’t the most patient person in the world, but now was the time to learn some patience. He had plenty to keep himself busy with the upcoming years, and if Tom was still single and at all interested Harry could always approach him once he was old enough.

And if Tom wasn’t single or interested...well, Harry was just going to have to learn to live with that. There was nothing he could do about it now, plain and simple.

Harry looked over the mountains of junk again and decided that now was a good enough time to start sorting through some of it like he’d planned. He remembered Tom mentioning a Christmas gift he was working on for Harry, and Harry wanted to get Tom something nice in return. Hopefully he’d find some interesting book or artefact in the mountains of junk before him. He might as well look for a present for Barty and the rest of his friends while he was at it. But the longer he stared at the mountains of junk, the more Harry realized it would take years and years to sort through all of it one piece at a time. Neville had talked about the Room of Requirement a lot, though, while they were rebuilding Hogwarts during Harry’s previous life. Neville mentioned you could ask the room for lots of things while you were inside the room as long as you were the one who had summoned the room in the first place.

For the first time in his life Harry wondered how the Room of Requirement even worked. What kind of magical techniques did it require to build something like it? Was it charms or runes or enchantments? Maybe alchemy? All of the above? Harry had no clue, but suddenly had the strange urge to figure it out.

That would have to wait for a later time, though. Right now he wanted to sort through the many, many objects before him without spending years doing so.

Slowly, Harry got to his feet and cleared his throat. Magic was intent and the Room of Requirement worked on the intent of its user. “Room,” Harry said, voice filled with determination. “I want you to place all the books in this room in a pile over there.” Harry waved to a mostly clear spot to his right.

For a second or two nothing happened and then at once a huge pile of books appeared right where Harry had pointed. It toppled over immediately against the pile of junk beside it, books and all manner of items crashing to the floor with a loud clatter. All around him, mountains shifted and toppled over as books had suddenly disappeared, leaving holes behind. Harry could jump out of the way in the nick of time as a few chairs rolled off a mountain to his left and landed right where he had been standing.

“Okay, so that worked,” Harry said with a snicker as he took in the new landscape. There were a lot of books, some still fairly new and others very old from what he could tell at a first glance. Any new-ish textbooks he could sell in one large batch to the second-hand bookstore, and any older books he could add to his own growing collection or gift to Tom and Barty for holidays and birthdays. Tom’s birthday was also coming up at the end of December, after all.

Harry needed help separating the textbooks from everything else and he knew just who to call. “Kreacher!”

Within seconds Kreacher popped in the room, completely ignoring the chaos of scattered books and random items around him. “Little Master is calling Kreacher. Little Master is recovering and Kreacher is bringing the little Master treats for his good health.” With that Kreacher pushed a bundle of treats wrapped in a red dishtowel in Harry’s hands.

“Thanks, Kreacher,” Harry said, almost salivating when he unwrapped the bundle and found half a dozen raspberry crème tarts drizzled with dark chocolate. Kreacher had made these a time or two for him during the summer and they were delicious. Aside from treacle tart, these were Harry’s absolute favourite. “First, could you quickly take this note to Winky and ask her to give it to Thomas Gaunt at the first opportunity?” Harry held out the list of all he remembered about Gilderoy Lockhart. Kreacher accepted it with a nod and popped away. When he appeared again not even a minute later Harry had already finished one tart and had started on another. Kreacher seemed entirely satisfied to see Harry stuffing his face.

Once his mouth was empty again, Harry wrapped up the rest of the tarts and carefully placed them in his bag to enjoy that evening. “Could you help me sort through this pile of books? Put all the textbooks on one side so we can sell them, and sort everything else by its age. Very old, a little old, and anything younger than say fifty years.”

“Kreacher will help the little Master.” Needing no further encouragement, Kreacher started flicking his fingers on both hands and directed a slew of suddenly levitating books one way or the other. Harry ignored the pile of textbooks for now and aimed his wand at the pile of very old books, casting every detection charm he knew. No need to have a repeat of Riddle’s diary slowly possessing a student because Harry carelessly touched a cursed book or something. He found a few curses, mild anti-theft things that had mostly lost its power over the years. One book lit up with unfamiliar runes all over the cover and Harry carefully levitated that to the side. He might gift it to Barty to figure out with a short note of warning. Kreacher was done fairly quickly and Harry thanked him profusely before dismissing him and concentrating on finding Tom a nice Christmas gift.

He found it in the form of what looked like a diary written in a very archaic form of English that Harry couldn’t understand. What piqued his interest was the Slytherin crest on the front cover and the dates on the pages. The diary was written in 1631, and Harry just knew Tom would love deciphering what it said. He’d also found a book about Arithmancy and its uses in warding from 1811 which he knew Barty would love, so that was another Christmas present taken care of.

For himself Harry found a small copy of the Hogwarts charter and rulebook. Knowing that he knew far too little about the world he now lived in, Harry promised himself he would read it cover to cover and follow it up with Regulus’ copy of Hogwarts, a History. It was ridiculous he knew nothing about Hogwarts’ rules and regulations while he attended it, knowing its Headmaster wanted him dead.

This was one of the things he desperately wanted to change about himself. This ridiculous ignorance he’d lived with for years now about the world around him. Once he was done informing himself about Hogwarts, Harry vowed to learn everything he could about how the Ministry worked no matter how boring or dry the material was he’d have to slog through.

Harry placed the books for Tom and Barty in his bag and added a few titles he’d found that seemed interesting. Books on spell crafting, potions and one huge magical cookbook. The rest of the books he left behind to sort through another day. As far as Harry knew, no one else at Hogwarts knew about the Room of Requirement at this time so he wasn’t worried about anyone else taking any of these books before Harry could return to them.

There was still an hour before dinner and Harry joined his friends in the library and worked on his homework while he listened to Daphne and Justin bicker about whether or not centaurs should be allowed at Hogwarts. Justin was in favour because he was eager to meet such mythical creatures while Daphne insisted it was a tremendously bad idea, mostly because centaurs wouldn’t fit in their current furniture. Harry remembered Firenze teaching Divination in a classroom enchanted to look like a forest with some fondness but stayed out of the argument while he finished his Charms essay.

All throughout dinner Harry felt increasingly nervous about talking to Tom that evening and addressing his absurd reactions early that morning without giving away how he really felt about his soulmate.

“You okay, Harry?” Theo asked him quietly when Harry skipped dessert, which he rarely did since he had a bit of a sweet tooth.

“Yeah,” Harry whispered back. “My house-elf brought me some sweets earlier so I’m stuffed.”

Theo gave him a knowing smile which Harry returned while wondering how many kids who had access to house-elves summoned them to Hogwarts on the sly for things like sweets. Probably more than anyone realized.

“Ugh,” Draco moaned across from Harry, donkey ears tucked away securely beneath his pointy hat. “Why can’t they serve a decent roast beef at this school. And what is this rubbery thing supposed to be? It can’t be Yorkshire pudding, surely.”

Harry remembered Tom’s story about an ever-whining Abraxas Malfoy with such a strong burst of fondness his entire chest filled with warmth. This feeling did not let up as Harry followed Theo and Blaise to the Slytherin common room and a little later to their dormitory for their nightly game of exploding snap before they went to bed.

How was he going to pull any of this off? Did he really want to convince Tom he wasn’t attracted to him while admitting the sight of his naked body caused such a strong response Harry first thought it was a panic attack? Did he really expect Tom to be dumb enough to buy any of this instead of seeing right through Harry’s silly schemes? Since when had Harry gone completely crazy?

It had to be the traumatic brain injury. It had to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

Tom smiled as he closed the mirror. He was willing to bet a handful of Galleons that Harry had no clue why he responded the way he did. Tom had experience with people’s extreme reactions upon seeing him in various stages of undress. He fondly remembered the time straight as a broomstick Abraxas brained himself on a bedpost when Tom exited the bathroom only wearing a towel riding low on his hips during their fourth year. Hormones were flying high with all of them, adolescents that they were, and Tom had experimented with how to use his body to manipulate those around him. Abraxas got to spend the night in the hospital wing while Tom collected some more useful data to work with.

Of course, this time he hadn’t purposefully talked to Harry while naked. Harry caught him right out of the shower. But that made the results no less entertaining.

Tom continued getting dressed while thinking about his little soulmate. He spent a lot of time thinking about Harry ever since he found himself stuck on the back of Quirrell’s head for the second time in his existence. This time, though, he had a complete soul and the first few days of coming back to life were perhaps the most confusing and terrifying days of Tom’s long life. To say he suffered through a brief but overwhelming existential crisis was putting it mildly. Poor Quirrell must have gotten more than a few splitting headaches before Tom came to his senses and started planning instead of panicking while questioning his own existence.

The thing was, though, that for Tom, it seemed like the past 50 years hadn’t really happened. Or rather, that they’d happened to someone else and Tom somehow got stuck with that person’s memories. Ever since he violently ripped his soul apart, it wasn’t really Tom anymore who had lived his life. The creature Voldemort was just that…a creature that became more and more of a monster, sliding deeper and deeper into insanity the further he ripped his soul apart.

Tom had a hard time coming to terms with what his life had become, all because of a spur of the moment decision he had made when still a child. Fuelled by fear and arrogance, Tom had decided to pursue immortality in the only way he knew how, through a ritual he’d read about in a single book.

Merlin, what a fool he’d been. And what a price he’d paid. Intellectually, he knew he’d done all those horrifying things. Murdered hundreds, tortured perhaps a tenfold more. Enslaved and humiliated those he once called friends. Pursued an agenda that would have seen the wizarding world destroyed.

Yes, Tom knew he had done all those things, had the memories of performing each and every foul act, yet emotionally Tom couldn’t comprehend what he’d become. No matter what righteous fools like Dumbledore claimed, Tom hadn’t been born a monster. His childhood had moulded him into a hard and resourceful child, used to fighting for every scrap of anything, willing to lie and cheat and hurt others to get ahead in life. But that was the result of his upbringing for the most part. Tom wasn’t heartless. Tom had normal, human emotions. Tom cared.

And then Tom ripped his soul apart and Voldemort had been born and fifty years later Tom found himself stuck on the back of someone’s head because his prophesized enemy decided for some inexplicable reason Tom deserved a second chance.

Some days, Tom realized his existential crisis was far from over. Never in a million years had he expected to do his life over again. After he came to his senses enough to realize he needed off Quirrell’s head as soon as possible, he’d realized he needed someone competent that he could trust to help him start the process of eventually regaining a human body.

Quirrell had been able to catch Crouch Sr unawares outside his own home, stun him in the back and dose him with an undetectable poison he’d picked up in Knockturn Alley hours earlier. Tom had warned Quirrell to not confront Crouch Sr in any way, shape or form, since Crouch Sr was an accomplished dualist and would wipe the floor with Quirrell if given the chance. And Tom had no desire to end up as an interesting specimen to experiment with deep in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries. Thankfully, Quirrell had managed to dispose of Crouch Sr without any trouble and Barty had been freed. It took Barty a week or two to regain most of his personality after having spent years under the Imperius curse, but right from the start he’d recognized his Lord and vowed to do whatever his Lord needed of him.

Before long Tom found himself occupying a homunculus, and while far from ideal, it was a hell of a lot better than riding along on the back of someone’s head.

And then Harry had decided to visit and Tom had been perplexed by his adversary, his vanquisher, his murderer. Harry, barely a man stuck in a child’s body, decided to treat Tom as an old friend, regaling him with tales of his own betrayal and untimely death, while Tom kept wondering when Harry would raise his wand and finish the job. Tom was mortal, or so he thought. And he’d accepted that, he’d vowed to himself, once he regained his senses, that he’d never make a horcrux again, no matter how short his second life might be.

And then Harry casually informed him that he was in charge of Tom’s life, that he decided how long or short Tom would live this time around.

Rage had consumed Tom, alongside dread and disbelief. This child, this incompetent nobody had somehow gained control over Tom’s entire existence?

And then Tom remembered Harry as he stood before him in the clearing in the Forbidden Forest, ready to sacrifice everything no matter how terrified he was. And yes, Harry had been filled with fear and doubt, Tom had read it all in his eyes, yet Harry stood there, defiant and strong and more powerful than Tom could ever hope to be because Harry mastered the fear that Tom never could and had led to Tom’s downfall so many years ago.

And in the Great Hall, when Harry stood before him again, fearless this time, a confident smile on his lips, certain he knew something Tom didn’t, but yet again utterly willing to stand in the way of a killing curse. It was incomprehensible to Tom, how such an ordinary child could hold so much strength and power and not even realize it.

If someone had to have control over Tom’s life, it really could only be the person whose life had always been entwined with Tom’s, who had seen to it that Tom got to have a second life in the first place. Tom had accepted it as best he could, privately vowing to keep a very close eye on Harry and manipulate him where he could to improve his own existence.

Well, Tom had tried to manipulate Harry, but sooner rather than later his calculated conversations with Harry had turned into genuine talks he actually looked forward to. The horror! Tom shook his head as he tied his shoes and remembered the utter shock he’d felt once he realized he’d actually become friends with Harry bloody Potter. He wasn’t even sure when it had happened, just that he’d noticed it after he’d ordered Barty to drop everything and rush to a muggle bookstore to get Harry some helpful books after Harry told him about having a panic attack in Snape’s classroom.

And there was another conundrum.

Severus Snape and his utter betrayal of Tom and the fact that he was still living and breathing. Tom liked to blame Harry for this. He found that blaming Harry for everything and anything he refused to acknowledge as his own fault was quite convenient, but truthfully Severus’s fate was equally his own doing.

Before, when Voldemort had led his life, he’d been unable to comprehend why Severus would betray everything he once held dear over a silly little girl that barely acknowledged his existence anymore. But nowadays, Tom understood. He imagined himself in Severus’ shoes, while Harry occupied the place of his mother, and Tom knew without a doubt he’d do everything and anything Severus had done and more, to avenge Harry.

So, while Tom didn’t like it, he understood why Snape had done what he’d done. And he also knew Voldemort had been beyond reason and needed to be stopped and in some ways Tom admired Severus for being perhaps the only one of his followers who had so successfully countered Voldemort’s plots and plans. Others had tried, like Lucius and Narcissa, but not until the very end, not until they’d hit rock bottom and had nothing more to lose. Harry had told him how Narcissa had defied him at the very end. Tom wasn’t surprised that she had, just that it had taken her that long to do it. Narcissa was one of those people that looked like a delicate flower, but inside her sat a spine of steel. Only a fool would ever underestimate her.

Of course, Voldemort had been such a fool, but Tom liked to think he knew better, at least since starting his second life.

This was why he had decided to involve Narcissa in his future plans. Not only could she temper Lucius’ more extreme pureblood notions and ambitions, Narcissa’s quiet strength, keen intelligence and quick mind were a welcome addition to Tom’s plans.

First on the agenda was a visit to his old Hogwarts friend Theodorus Nott, father to Harry’s friend, Nott the younger. Tom expected no problems there, since Theodorus had always been loyal but never an extremist. Dorus, as his friends called him, was a true Slytherin, ambitious but practical. He’d never let his beliefs stand in the way of furthering his goals, which for Dorus meant growing his wealth and caring for his family.

“Morning, my Lord,” Barty said, briefly lowering the Prophet in his hands to look up at Tom as he joined his assistant at the breakfast table in the recently renovated conservatory.

That was another thing Tom ran into these days. He was no longer comfortable calling his associates his followers. He’d realized some time ago he didn’t want followers, people who would blindly do whatever he told them. He wanted people at his side who were intelligent enough to come up with the best course of action with or without Tom’s approval. He wanted people who would stand up to him if needed, who would point out if Tom was about to make a colossal mistake instead of cowering in fear. Harry had no problem telling Tom how he really felt, for which Tom was grateful, and Barty was slowly learning that these days his Lord welcomed his honest opinion, even if it went against expectations. A work in progress, still, but improving every day.

“Morning,” Tom replied while he sat down, spread a napkin across his lap and waited for his plate of food to appear before him in seconds thanks to Winky. “Did you secure that appointment with the Malfoys?”

“Yes, we’re expected at two this afternoon to inform them about our new business venture,” Barty said from behind the paper.

“Excellent,” Tom said between bites of scrambled egg. “I’ll visit Dorus this morning, get him up to speed.”

“What are you telling him?” Barty asked, lowering the paper just a smidge, grey eyes curious as he stared at Tom with raised eyebrows.

“The truth,” Tom said after some thought. He sat back and picked up his cup of Earl Grey. “Dorus has always been loyal yet practical. I suspect he’ll be secretly glad of my transformation while pretending it’s all the same to him.”

Barty snorted and went back to the Prophet, muttering something about opportunistic Slytherins.

Tom sipped his tea, thinking it was a shame so many of his contemporaries had passed away already. Abraxas had been a good friend, once upon a time when Tom still preferred calling them friends instead of followers. And Rudolph Lestrange, father of Rodolphus and Rabastan, had always been a decent friend. Wily and with the strangest sense of humour Tom had ever encountered, but happy to follow along with Tom’s plans. At least, in the early days. Later, when Rodolphus and Rabastan had become fanatical followers, beyond reason and thriving on the pain of others, Rudolph had withdrawn from public life, claiming poor health but spending the last ten years of his life living quietly in his Mansion with his wife while his sons wreaked havoc on the world around them in between kneeling at Tom’s feet and kissing the hem of his robes.

Tom experienced a strange sense of shame, not for the first time, when realizing what he’d done to his friend’s children. Once upon a time, Rodolphus, an accomplished duellist and very talented at charms and enchanting, and Rabastan, well on his way to becoming a Potions Master, had their whole lives ahead of them. Handsome, talented, wealthy, with bright futures awaiting them both. And now they were stuck in Azkaban for life, minds broken under the onslaught of dementors.

And all because of Tom.

These were bitter realisations to have, but Tom forced himself to acknowledge these thoughts instead of pushing them away. He’d read the books on traumas and how to deal with them that Harry had sent him after he was done with them, and he realized acknowledging all the crap that had happened in your life was the first step in dealing with it. Pretending it didn’t exist was a way to make matters much, much worse. So Tom forced himself to feel every ounce of shame and regret his mind could come up with.

After finishing his breakfast, Tom pushed his chair back and got up. Barty was still working his way through the paper. Like a true Ravenclaw, Barty was unable to resist any written word within reach. Though truth be told, Tom wasn’t much better. He hadn’t been lying when he told Harry the hat had considered Ravenclaw for him. “I’m off. I’ll be back before our meeting with the Malfoys.”

“Good luck,” Barty called after him half-heartedly, face still obscured by the Prophet. “Tell Nott I said hello.”

Tom shook his head in amusement, strolled out the house and beyond the anti-apparition wards. A determined thought, a push of magic, and Tom stood in front of the gates of Nott Manor.

It was a good thing, perhaps, that Dorus had only fathered a child very late in life. That meant, at least, that Dorus’ son hadn’t yet been ruined by Tom. Of course, in Tom’s previous life, after regaining his body and building his army back up, Nott the younger had received the mark, alongside quite a few of his followers’ children who’d grown old enough during Tom’s absence. But since the boy was barely seventeen and still in Hogwarts, Tom had left him alone for the most part. Now the boy was only eleven and rooming with Harry and unaware what a horrible fate he had unwittingly escaped.

Dorus was one of those few purebloods who had married for love right out of Hogwarts. He’d been the subject of much teasing for his infatuation, if not obsession, with Shelley Abbot, a pureblood Hufflepuff a year below them. But Dorus was in love, obvious for everyone to see, and after much wooing and courting, he won the fair Shelley’s heart and hand in marriage. Shelley, it turned out, was just as in love as Dorus.

What should have been a long and happy marriage filled with the laughter of many children turned into a nightmare when Shelley was unable to carry a child to term and suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Dorus spent a fortune searching for a cure the world over for decades, and when he finally found a witch in Bolivia who performed the kind of rituals even Tom would have thought twice about, both Dorus and Shelley pounced on the opportunity. The witch warned them the ritual came at a heavy price, one that could not always be predicted. It was Shelley who insisted they go through with it. So intense was her desire for a child that she was willing to sacrifice her own life to have one.

And so Theodore Nott was brought into existence and a few minutes after birthing him, with her precious baby clutched to her chest, Shelley passed away, her magic having forsaken her, the price that the ritual ultimately demanded.

It was a small miracle Dorus hadn’t grown to resent the child. Though some of the light had left Dorus’ eyes with the loss of his beloved wife, the love he had for his child was unmistakable. He doted on the boy, though never really spoiling him.

Tom suspected that had he managed to do to Nott the younger what he’d done to Rodolphus and Rabastan and many others, Dorus would have made it his mission in his remaining life to ruin him, to see to his end. If Dumbledore had realized it, he would have had another spy ready to sacrifice everything to see Voldemort dead for good.

But thankfully it hadn’t come to that and Tom’s relationship with Dorus wasn’t yet beyond repair. Tom walked up to the Manor doors, taking in the well-cared for gardens. Shelley had spent many hours seeing to them, always having had a knack for Herbology, and nowadays the house-elves looked after them in her honour.

One such house-elf opened the doors just as Tom climbed up the steps.

“Is the Master of the house available?” Tom asked politely, “Please let him know Tom Riddle is here to see him.”

“Mr Riddle be following Plucky,” the young elf said, stepping back to let Tom enter.

The manor’s interior hadn’t changed, Tom noted as he walked after the house-elf on the way to Dorus’ office. Filled with marble and dark woods, but also lots of floral patterns and paintings of far-off shores and landscapes. Not quite the dark and gloomy house one might expect of a Death Eater, though certainly advocating pureblood pride in many small details.

“Mr Tom Riddle is being here to see you, Master Dorus,” Plucky said as she pushed open the heavy doors to the office.

Dorus sat behind his mahogany desk, staring at them in obvious surprise. “Now there is a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Everything all right, my Lord?”

Tom smiled and shook his head while he sat down in one of the leather chairs in front of Dorus’ desk. “Oh yes. I’m better than I have been in many decades.”

“You look better, that’s for certain.” Dorus leaned back in his chair, looking Tom up and down. “Plucky, bring some tea.” The elf popped out at once. Dorus went back to observing his guest. “Nice transfiguration work.”

“You have a sharp eye still, I see,” Tom said with a slow nod. “A little transfiguration was necessary if I am to pass as my own son. Thomas Cayden Gaunt, at your service. You may call me…” Tom meant to say Cayden, just like he’d planned all along. But something stopped him. Ever since he’d started calling himself by a new name all those years ago, his life had gone to hell. Tom didn’t consider himself a superstitious person in the least, but at the same time, why make the same mistake twice? Using a fake name hadn’t gone so well for him in the past. Perhaps it was time to own up to his real name, just like he owned up to all the traumas received and caused in the privacy of his own mind.

Perhaps Harry was onto something by so stubbornly calling him by his real name from day one.

“You may call me Thomas,” Tom finally said, strangely feeling as if a weight had fallen off his shoulders by finally owning up to his own name. “Tom for friends, of course.”

“Of course,” Dorus replied quietly, head tilted as he stared at Tom in something akin to wonderment. “It’s good to finally see you again, Tom.” Dorus remained quiet as Plucky served them tea, though his gaze was ever sharp. Dorus had always been a very observant person. Once they both had steaming cups in front of them, Dorus leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “Now do you mind telling me what the hell happened, Tom?”

Tom threw his head back and laughed. It was good to be treated as a person again, strange as that thought was perhaps. But Dorus was someone he’d known since he was eleven and it was somehow delightful to be seen as Tom Riddle again instead of the Dark Lord Voldemort who tortured and killed for any and every reason. “I’d be happy to tell you, old friend, but I need a little bit more security before I can.”

“Unbreakable Vow?” Dorus guessed.

“Not quite that drastic,” Tom said as he reached inside his robes. He pulled out a secrecy contract he’d prepared days earlier and gave it to Dorus. With a frown of concentration, Dorus read it, ran his wand over it, and then reached for a quill and signed it with a flourish. He added a drop of blood and the contract briefly flashed orange to indicate it was now active, meaning Dorus couldn’t physically discuss any of the things Tom told him that day with anyone Tom didn’t explicitly approve of.

“Thank you,” Tom said, tucking the signed contract away in his robes. “The short answer is horcruxes.”

Dorus’s eyes grew wide. “A horcrux? Tom, that kind of magic… wait, did you say horcruxes? Plural?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Tom whispered, lowering his gaze, an odd sense of shame washing over him.

“Tom,” Dorus sighed, rubbing both hands over his slightly wrinkled face. His blond hair had gone mostly grey, but aside from those things he still looked exactly like he always had. “Tom, you’re such a smart lad, always have been, but to make multiple horcruxes…”

"I’m aware I’m the world’s greatest fool, yes,” Tom said with a solemn nod. “I know it turned me completely insane.”

“Well,” Dorus said with a small, almost helpless shrug. “Perhaps a little insane.”

Tom gave him a look.

“All right, yes, by the end you were very far gone and beyond reason,” Dorus conceded. “To be honest, I thought it was a blessing in disguise, for your own sake, when you died. I’d always wondered what the Tom Riddle I knew would think of the Dark Lord he’d eventually become.”

Tom snorted and looked out the window. “The Tom Riddle you knew is utterly mortified, traumatized and suffering from a mild existential crisis.”

Dorus shook with suppressed laughter for a few moments before giving in and laughing out loud. Tom couldn’t blame him. The situation was rather absurd. “But at least the Tom Riddle I knew is sitting in my office right now,” Dorus finally said after catching his breath. “And that’s more than I thought I’d ever see.”

Tom grinned and downed his tea. “The short answer to that is Harry Potter.”

Dorus’ mouth sank open.

“Would you like to hear the whole story?” Tom asked, enjoying seeing his old friend so openly shocked.

“Yes, dammit, Tom, of course.” Dorus jumped up from his chair. “Plucky, we’re moving to the drawing room. Bring us that 1942 bottle of Ogden’s finest I have been saving.” He gave Tom a crooked grin as he gestured for Tom to follow him. “This had best be good, Riddle, if I’m to serve you my best whiskey.”

“Oh, trust me,” Tom said, following after his friend. “This will be the best story you’ve heard in decades.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

When Tom reached the end of his tale after two and a half glasses of very good fire-whiskey, Dorus got up from the couch and walked towards the large windows with a view of the rose garden. He turned his back to Tom and reached for his wand to conjure a handkerchief. “You’ve seen it, then. The beyond.” Dorus discreetly dabbed at his eyes with the handkerchief. “It offers me a great deal of comfort to know that there is something waiting for us. I’d had my doubts, but now I know I’ll see my Shelley again.”

Tom bowed his head for a second before offering Dorus a teasing smile. “She’ll be waiting for you. If she’ll still have you that is. Merlin knows no one would blame the woman for having grown tired of your snoring after forty years of putting up with it.”

Dorus cackled as he turned to look at Tom. He dabbed his eyes again, still laughing. “You are right, of course. But I won her over once. I have good hopes I can do it again.”

Tom nodded amicably for a moment before turning serious again. “And you are right to say that it is comforting to know there is more when our time comes.” Tom wasn’t sure what possessed him to talk so openly about such personal matters. He’d certainly never done it before, not even with those he once called friends. Perhaps all his talks with Harry had softened him. In the past Tom might have called it weakened, but he was now convinced that wasn’t true. Look at what getting rid of his emotions had done to him before. “I grew up listening to Muggles spouting tales about heaven and hell but I never believed a word of it. I was convinced there was nothing, that we’d simply seize to exist. It is a comfort to know that’s not the case.”

Dorus sank back in the couch with a knowing look. “It must have bothered you a great deal if you decided to create multiple horcruxes.”

Tom pursed his lips tightly as he stared at his knees. “I was too clever and too arrogant. And I was stuck every summer spending months in a war that destroyed the world around me. I was absolutely terrified I’d die before I could reach any of the true potential I knew I had.” He looked up at Dorus, his eyes prickling. “It cost me everything. It cost many people everything. One stupid, childish mistake, Dorus, and it almost destroyed our world.”

Dorus heaved a deep sigh. “Normally I’d say we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it. But you’ve proven me wrong about that today, haven’t you.” Dorus gave Tom a sharp look which he quickly softened with a smile. “You know what you’ve done wrong, Tom. So do it right this time.”

“I’m planning to,” Tom said with as much sincerity as he could muster.

“And you’ll be wanting my help?” Dorus offered, head tilted as he gave Tom an expectant look.

“If you’re willing.”

“I am,” Dorus said, eyes narrowing just a smidge. “Under one condition.”

“I’ll leave your son alone. I swear it,” Tom said, knowing his old friend well enough, even after all these years, to know what demand Dorus would make of him.

“Still a clever lad,” Dorus said with a chuckle “But yes, as long as you leave Theo be, I’ll be happy to help you, old friend. With Theo at Hogwarts, I have been getting rather bored of late, I must admit.” Dorus slapped his thighs and got up from the couch. “Stay for lunch and I’ll fill you in on all the gossip of the Wizengamot.”

“That would be welcome.” Tom followed Dorus to the conservatory adjacent the dining room.

“It’s a shame so many of our friends have passed already,” Dorus said once they were seated, plates filled with finger-sandwiches and bite-sized pork pies in front of them. “Abraxas, Rudolph, Orion. And Antonin stuck in Azkaban for the rest of his life.”

Tom nodded his agreement, and replaced the fork he’d just picked up. “I don’t know what to do about Antonin,” he said softly but with complete sincerity. “About any of them. Rodolphus, Rabastan, Bellatrix, Augustus, so many others.”

“You got them out in your previous life, didn’t you?” Dorus asked him calmly. “So what’s stopping you from doing it again?”

“I’m not the Dark Lord anymore they went to Azkaban for, Dorus.” Tom gave Dorus an almost pleading look, willing him to understand his dilemma. He’d not shared these worries with Harry, thinking Harry could never understand, or Barty, who actually had gone to Azkaban, however brief, but Dorus might understand. “I ruined their lives and then, after they spent a decade having their minds destroyed by dementors, I get them out and pat them on the shoulder and send them on their way. They’ll never accept it, and I cannot unleash such broken extremists on our society.”

“Hmm.” Dorus leaned back in his chair, food briefly forgotten. “That is a difficult situation. Are they all beyond help and reason?”

Tom frowned as he considered that question carefully. “Not all, perhaps. But some, like Bellatrix, most certainly are.”

“Bellatrix was beyond reason even before you marked her, Tom,” Dorus said with a snort. “The Black madness has got its claws deep in her since she was but a child.” Dorus shook his head with a sad sigh. “It’s a shame Arcturus died just a few days ago. He might have been able to use some family magics to reign her in.”

Tom doubted that very much, knowing Bellatrix the way he did, but Dorus wasn’t done talking so he held his tongue for the moment.

“I wonder who will look after the Black estate now that old Arcturus has given up the ghost. Perhaps Cassiopeia, or Lucius might weasel his way in using his wife’s pedigree,” Dorus mused, examining a smoked salmon sandwich before popping it into his mouth.

“Harry is working on getting Sirius Black released from Azkaban. He stands a good chance of succeeding, I believe, seeing as the man never even received a trial.” Tom felt a strong sense of something warm and pleasing while he talked about Harry to his old friend. Was it pride? Perhaps, but whatever it was, Tom didn’t think he’d felt it before. Perhaps it had something to do with Harry essentially still being his horcrux, something similar to the way they could share dreams. It wasn’t lucid dreaming, not yet at least, but Tom liked to think of it as soul dreaming.

“Ah yes, Sirius Black,” Dorus said with obvious distaste. “How no one, Arcturus included, ever thought to push for a trial for that man is a mystery. Imagine, a pure-blooded heir to an ancient family chucked in Azkaban without even a trial.”

“Perhaps Arcturus did try. But Dumbledore wanted Sirius Black in Azkaban, and so it happened,” Tom said matter-of-factly. “Distasteful, yes, but reality as long as that man has as much power as he does.”

“I’m assuming you have plans to see that power destroyed at some point?” Dorus asked, not without a certain amount of eagerness. Dorus, as a Slytherin through and through, knew well the kind of things Dumbledore got up to that disadvantaged a whole Hogwarts House long after they left school just because of their sorting.

“Oh yes,” Tom said, smile turning sharp, teeth bared. “Harry and I have a few things in the works.”

“Good, good. I’m looking forward to seeing them unfold.” Dorus ate another sandwich while Tom followed his example and bit into a pork pie. “And your friendship with Harry Potter, now there is something entirely unexpected,” Dorus said with a grin. “Theo writes about him often, seems to hold him in high regard, and Theo is an excellent judge of character. Takes after his mother that way.”

Tom nodded. “Yes, it’s not something I anticipated either, but we are in this together and our goals align for the most part.”

“And you like him,” Dorus said, ever observant.

Tom nodded again, ducking his head a little. “And I like him, that much is true. He’s a Gryffindor in many ways, but also makes for a convincing Slytherin, surprisingly. He’s a good ally to have, as it turns out.”

“Speaking of allies, who else are you bringing in?”

“I have no plans of sharing the truth with anyone else at this time. You, aside from Barty, know most everything. I only told Severus the bare minimum since I need him to guard Harry at Hogwarts.” Tom sipped his tea, organizing his thoughts for a moment. “I plan to tell Lucius nothing about my second chance. He’ll have to make do with the notion that I came back much improved. I’m meeting with him this afternoon.”

Dorus perked up. “Ah, but to be a fly on the wall…”

“Do you want to come?”

“Tom, you are spoiling me,” Dorus said with a self-satisfied smile. “Yes, of course I want to come. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had this much excitement.”

“I’m sure,” Tom said with an amused shake of his head. He couldn’t deny the fact that talking to an old friend as though no time had passed was entertaining and pleasant. “Now, I do believe you promised me gossip. Where is it?”

“Oh yes,” Dorus said, sitting up a little straighter. “You will not believe what old Tiberius Ogden said when Aloysius Greengrass proposed that new tax cut for purebloods.”

And with that, Dorus was off, regaling Tom with all the happenings at the Wizengamot over the last decade. Some of it Tom already knew from his previous life and from perusing old Daily Prophets in his current one, but Dorus had always had a knack for knowing a lot of juicy little details that didn’t make into the paper.

After lunch was finished and Dorus excused himself for a few minutes to freshen up, Tom apparated them to his home to pick up Barty.

“But this is a fine Manor House,” Dorus said, admiring the entrance hall. “Muggle, you can still tell that much, but full of potential.”

“Yes, I thought so, too,” Tom said just as Barty joined them. “Dorus insisted he come.”

“Theodorus,” Barty said with a cool little nod.

“Bartemius,” Dorus replied with a pleasant smile. “Ah, I do apologize. Bartholomew, of course. Nice transfiguration work.”

“Barty will do,” Barty said with a sigh.

“If you two are quite done,” Tom said, though he was amused to see the two people, aside from Harry, he considered real friends getting some playful jabs in. “The Malfoys are expecting us.” Tom made short work of leading his friends, because that is what he would call them from then on he decided, beyond the wards before side-apparating them both to Malfoy Manor. The gates opened for them without prompting since they were expected, and they took in the highly manicured lawns and hedges while they walked to the manor. The gardens were picture perfect, albino peacocks and all, but they still lacked something personable that made the gardens around Nott manor so welcoming.

The doors opened to reveal a house-elf Tom was convinced was the very elf that Harry had tricked Lucius into releasing once upon a time. The same elf who ended up saving Harry’s life, getting him away from Malfoy Manor and Voldemort’s clutches while sacrificing his own life in the process.

“Master’s guests be following Dobby to the reception room,” the elf said, and now Tom knew without a doubt this was essentially Harry’s elf. He recalled Harry complaining at some point that as the events of his second year, the whole affair with the diary horcrux, wouldn’t come to pass this time, Harry probably also wouldn’t get an opportunity to release Dobby from the Malfoys’ dubious care. Tom had already decided on a Yule gift for Harry, had started on it some time ago, but perhaps he would give his little soulmate a second gift.

Lucius and Narcissa stood in their second best reception room awaiting their guests. A deliberate ploy to show that while they welcomed any new potential businesses they might invest in, they were very clear that said business owners were beneath the might and wealth of the Malfoys. It was how purebloods like Lucius and Dorus made their money and added to their fortunes. They invested in any and all businesses that operated in the wizarding world. Only a fool would go to the goblins for a loan, seeing as their terms were lethal, quite literally if one renegaded on it. No, for ordinary people who weren’t born into wealth, like Tom in his youth, to start a business, the only way to go about that was to find a wealthy investor to help get everything off the ground. Rent, stock, staff, it all cost money before a business was even up and running, and people like Lucius or Dorus provided that money for a part ownership of the business.

It was for that reason that Lucius and Narcissa so eagerly welcomed what they thought were strangers into their home, seeing as they were always happy to add to their already enormous pile of gold.

“Master’s guests be here,” Dobby said as he led them into the reception room.

Lucius took one look at Tom, inhaled a sharp breath, and dropped to his knees. Tom knew his dark mark must be burning, seeing as Tom wasn’t shielding his magic very much at that time, just so Lucius would feel who he was. “My Lord,” Lucius breathed, forehead pressed to the floor. Dobby the house-elf popped away just as Narcissa, who wasn’t marked, realized who she was facing. But before she lowered herself to the floor, Tom gestured at her to stay on her feet.

“There is no need for that, Lucius, Narcissa,” Tom said with a stern look, which he followed up with a friendly smile. “I’m not quite the Dark Lord you remember. Please, Lucius, rise. Let’s have this conversation like civilised people, with tea and biscuits.”

Tom didn’t think he’d ever seen Lucius gape before, but gape he did as he slowly got to his feet. Beside him, Dorus chuckled, already enjoying the show. Barty was giving Lucius the stink eye, never having cared much for Lucius’ arrogance and pretension.

“My Lord, how…why…please, do sit down,” Lucius said, remembering his manners as he visibly collected himself. Narcissa gestured at the most opulent chair in the room, usually meant for the master of the house, with a tight smile.

“Thank you,” Tom said, lowering himself into the chair, still smiling at his hosts. “Please, everyone, have a seat.”

Narcissa called an elf, not Dobby, Tom noted, to order tea. So they still had more elves than just the one Harry had bonded with. Good. That meant Tom wouldn’t have to feel guilty for what he planned to do. Besides, it wouldn’t do to leave the people you were trying to butter up without any domestic help. That’s not how friends were made, even Tom knew that. Tea was served while Dorus and Barty sat on the settee next to Tom’s place, usually meant for the lady of the house, while Lucius and Narcissa were left with the chairs meant for guests, which they occupied without comment, still too shocked to see the Dark Lord alive and well sitting in their second best reception room.

“My Lord, I beg of you,” Lucius said, looking very much like he wanted to fall on his knees again, probably worried he was about to receive a handful of cruciatus curses for his perceived betrayal after he bought his way out of a lengthy prison sentence following Voldemort temporary defeat. “Tell us how you have returned to us. I assure you, my Lord, I have looked and listened to learn of your –“

“Yes, thank you, Lucius,” Tom said, having already sat through Lucius’ sucking up once in his previous life after he returned. No need to do it again. “How I returned is irrelevant at this time. Just know that the ritual that I used has much improved me. Before my disappearance, I had experimented with magic that had unforeseen side-effects. My mind, my ability to reason, my common sense…I’m afraid to say all of those faculties had been severely diminished over time. But I’m glad I can tell you I have made a complete recovery.”

“That is most welcome news, my Lord,” Narcissa said, her tight smile loosening up a tiny bit. “The Malfoy family is, as ever, at your service.”

“My thanks, Narcissa. I believe you will be relieved to learn that there won’t be another war,” Tom said, taking in Lucius’ shocked reaction and Narcissa’s pleased one. “In hindsight, the price we paid was too high. So many people dead, so many families lost. It was never my intention to see so many magical people gone forever, no matter their blood status. The wizarding world needs witches and wizards to occupy it. What kind of victory would it be if there is hardly anyone alive to live in the new world we wanted to create?”

Narcissa gave a thoughtful nod while Lucius still seemed mostly shocked, as though he still couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing. “Will you be focusing on politics more, my Lord?” Narcissa, ever the sharp witch, asked politely. Her smile had again become a little warmer.

“Yes. I have created a new identity for myself, as my own illegitimate son, Thomas Gaunt. Barty and myself have started a warding and curse-breaking business together, and we’ll use it to network, make connections, and start gaining allies. I have a Wizengamot seat lined up, hopefully, not too far into the future, so I’ll make a name for myself in the political arena that way.”

“Most ingenious,” Narcissa said with a regal nod.

“You both will have many parts to play in the future, but there is one thing you can help me with right now,” Tom said, leaning forward in his chair a little while he stared Lucius down. “I have need of a house-elf. The young one who opened the door for us, I’d like to purchase him.”

“What?” Barty demanded, sounding genuinely hurt. “But you have Winky.”

“No, Barty, you have Winky. She is an excellent elf, but she is yours, as she should remain,” Tom quickly assured his friend.

“Tom, if you needed an elf, you should have said so,” Dorus said before Barty could reply, “Young Plucky is ready to go to a home of her own, now that she’s all trained up. In fact, let me…”

“Now see here,” Lucius said loudly, seeing an opportunity he had to curry favour with his Lord going up in smoke. “Theodorus, our Lord asked this of me!”

“Plucky!” Said elf popped in, looking around in confusion. “Plucky, we discussed finding you a Master of your own, remember?” Dorus patiently but with haste explained to his elf. “Well, Master Tom here needs an elf. How would you like to be his elf?”

“Dobby!” Lucius bellowed. “DOBBY!” A cowering house-elf appeared. “Dobby!” Lucius said, poking the elf in the ribs with that ridiculous cane of his. “You now belong to the Dark Lord. As your Master, so I decree.” With those ritual words the deed was done.

“Plucky, you now belong to Master Tom. As your Master, so I decree.”

Two pairs of large, luminous eyes stared at Tom expectantly, one filled with no small amount of trepidation, while the other seemed happy enough with the idea of having a new Master.

There were moments Tom missed being Voldemort, being able to torture his followers just because he felt like it. Right then was such a moment, Tom wasn’t ashamed to admit. He’d meant to get one elf as a present for Harry, and now he had two, one of which he had to keep for himself lest he insult his oldest friend by rejecting his generous gift. Tom had never cared much for house-elves. He didn’t mind them, not in the least, and he appreciated what elves like Winky did for him, but to Tom house-elves had always been symbols of everything Tom didn’t have growing up. Wealth, power, family, magic. Hence why Tom had never bothered getting one of his own and had always discouraged his followers from gifting him one, though many had suggested it.

Tom cleared his throat. There was only one way to respond to this, seeing as torture was off the table these days. “Dobby, Plucky, I declare you my house-elves.” A burst of warm magic coursed through Tom briefly, the bond with his house-elves springing to life. “Go to your new home and ask Winky, Barty’s elf who lives there, to show you around. She can set you to work in the gardens to start with. They need a lot of work.” Two quiet pops followed Tom’s first command to his new elves. “Thank you, Dorus. Lucius, I offered to purchase –“

“No, my Lord, I will not hear of it. The elf is a gift,” Lucius said with a firm nod while side-eying Dorus. With Dorus gifting Tom an elf, Lucius couldn’t very well take up Tom’s offer of money without losing favour and face.

“Thank you. Your gifts are much appreciated,” Tom said with what he hoped was a pleasant smile, while inwardly wondering what the hell he was going to do with two elves, at least for the time being. Yule was still well over a month away. Harry had best appreciate Tom’s efforts. “Now let me fill you in on my immediate plans.”

The rest of the afternoon Tom spent explaining the parts he expected Lucius and Narcissa to play in the coming weeks and months as Tom and Barty were ready to announce their existence publicly through their amazing recovery of Ravenclaw’s diadem. Lucius in turn suggested witches and wizards he could set Tom and Barty up with for some networking opportunities through their new business venture. And with the help of Dorus they discussed which members of the Wizengamot they might gain as allies in the future, who needed threatening or bribing, and who needed to be removed from power over time, Dumbledore being the most obvious one.

Near the end of the afternoon Narcissa discreetly inquired what their Lord’s plans were concerning Harry Potter, probably worried her son might have to be involved in any future plots since he roomed with their Lord’s adversary. Tom assured them he had no plans regarding the boy other than approaching him at some point in the future for an alliance for which he already had plans in motion. That was all Lucius and Narcissa needed to know at that point about his relationship with Harry, Tom had decided.

Before they left, Tom had both Lucius and Narcissa sign a secrecy contract to ensure they couldn’t inform anyone of Thomas Gaunt’s true identity, which they both did without comment. Lucius was probably still in a minor state of shock that he hadn’t been on the receiving end of the cruciatus curse at least once.

Dorus went to his own home, exclaiming he hadn’t had this much fun in at least a decade, and Tom looked forward to a quiet dinner, a nice hot bath and talking to his little soulmate before bed. It still amazed him from time to time how well he had relearned to appreciate the small things in life over the last few months.

After dinner, as Tom got ready to undress in his bedroom, Winky popped in carrying several towels.

“If Master Tom is being unhappy with Winky, he should be saying such things to Winky.”

Tom sighed. Merlin, now there was house-elf drama to deal with. How did people get anything done without subjugating those around them with torture and pain, Tom still had trouble comprehending. “Winky,” Tom said softly as Winky rather violently shoved the towels into Tom’s wardrobe on the shelve holding his woollen jumpers where they definitely didn’t belong. “You are an amazing elf and I appreciate everything you do. But in the end, you are Barty’s elf, and Barty will most likely decide to strike out on his own sometime in the future. And then I’d be lost without you.”

Winky gave him a narrow-eyed look and made a tiny ‘umph’ sound.

“And there is no elf I trust more to train my new elves than you, Winky. We desperately need your help in this. Dobby and Plucky are good elves, but they still have lots to learn. Please teach them, Winky.” Tom finished with his kindest smile and most pleading look.

Winky twisted a corner of her flowery pillow-case between her spindly fingers. “Yes, Winky can be training the new elves. Winky will be teaching them.”

“Thank you, Winky.” The moment Winky popped out his bedroom Tom ran a tired hand down his face and went to fill his bathtub.

Once he had soaked for half an hour while going over the events of that day in his mind and was dressed in his pyjamas, Tom climbed into bed with a book on Scandinavian warding used in the time of the Norsemen and their conquest through Europe some thousand years ago. A terribly interesting subject but unfortunately the author wrote in terribly dry prose. So dry, it took even Tom more than a few days to work his way through the thing.

The mirror on his nightstand glowed and Tom immediately snapped the book shut to pick it up. “Good evening, my dear. How was your day?” Tom said, taking in Harry’s flustered face. What on earth had the boy so nervous? Had something happened?

“I’m fine. My day was fine. Was your day fine?” Harry mumbled more than spoke, barely meeting Tom’s eyes. Yes, something was definitely up.

“Are you all right, my dear?” Tom asked with a quirked brow. “Did something happen?”

“Yeah, yeah, rub it in,” Harry said, finally looking at Tom with a defiant glare. “I couldn’t help it, okay? You shouldn’t spring your naked wetness on people like that. People have responses, that’s normal. That doesn’t mean anything.”

So much had happened that day that it took Tom a moment to even remember what Harry was talking about. Such a warm burst of fondness filled Tom at seeing Harry’s flushed cheeks and burning eyes. He’d never tell the boy, but sometimes Tom missed Harry’s round glasses and short, messy hair. It had given him such an adorably scruffy appearance. But Tom only understood too well about the need to separate oneself from one’s father, so he didn’t remark on Harry’s makeover. “Soulmate, take a deep breath,” Tom said with a teasing smile. “You’re not the first one to have such a response to my naked wetness, as you call it, nor will you be the last. It’s fine.”

“I know it’s fine,” Harry said, eyes narrowing. “Wait, what do you mean with other people seeing your naked wetness?”

Tom briefly closed his eyes in amusement. Was Harry jealous? What for? If wasn’t as if Tom had plans to date anyone. He barely managed to keep himself on his broomstick these days, mentally speaking. Besides, it wasn’t as if he was interested in anyone.

“Tom? You all right?” Harry asked, annoyance quickly replaced with concern as Tom didn’t reply to him for more than a minute.

Tom couldn’t reply because he just had the most ridiculous realization that utterly shut his brain down.

Only many years, decades even, of practice kept Tom from showing any of the shock he felt on his face. He slowly opened his eyes and looked calmly, blankly, at the eleven-year-old-boy he’d just realized he was infatuated with.

Screw all those ridiculous self-help books and their advice of meeting your emotions head on and tackling them then and there. Tom shoved this revelation he just had behind the strongest Occlumency shields he had, to probably deal with sometime next century.

He had no clue what to do with this information. He had never been infatuated with anyone, save perhaps for himself. He’d never had these kind of feelings before, these strange bursts of warmth at the most ridiculous times, merely because he thought about his little soulmate. What did one do in such situation? Tom immediately understood there wasn’t a self-help book in the world that could help him with any of it. Their situation was too unique. Harry was an eighteen-year-old stuck in a child’s body and Tom had spent decades certifiably insane and he was old enough to be Harry’s grandfather. Not to mention the fact they’d tried to kill each other, one had succeeded and the other had wiped out half the wizarding world, including the first one’s entire immediate family.

Where did one even start unravelling that emotional mess enough for there to be a chance of any sort of intimate relationship at some point in the future?

Tom slammed his Occlumency shields down as hard as he could. “I’m fine, my dear, and I was just teasing you. I’ve had a busy day, so do forgive me if my mind wanders.”

“Oh, okay,” Harry said with a relieved smile, anger quickly forgotten. The boy had a temper as Tom had learned, but he was also capable of turning his emotions around at a moment’s notice. “So what did you do today?”

“I reconnected with an old friend, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of.” And Tom spend the next ten minutes telling Harry about his day.

“So who are you going to align yourself with?” Harry asked, having listened patiently to Tom’s recounting of his day spent with Dorus, Barty and the Malfoys.

“Lucius had some suggestions, some which seem obvious, but others I’m not sure about. I’d like to hear your opinion, my dear,” Tom said, mind focused on the topic at hand and not on any new feelings that he may or may not have.

“Sure,” Harry said, looking eager to share his thoughts.

Tom smiled at his soulmate’s willingness to help. “How would you feel about forming an alliance with a witch named Dolores Umbridge?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

Such a vast well of sheer hatred opened up inside of Harry at hearing that name that it literally took his breath away. His throat constricted, his breath shuddered, and the back of his right hand burned with words that hadn’t been carved into his flesh, not this life, but Harry felt them all the same.

“Harry?” Tom sounded miles away and Harry could barely make out his voice through the ringing in his ears. “Harry, tell me what’s wrong, please.”

The mirror in Harry’s hand cracked, a sharp line bisecting Tom’s handsome face.

“Harry, darling, please calm down.” Tom’s eyes were wide, his face pale, but Harry hardly noticed it, so overwhelmed he felt with the hatred coursing through him.

“No,” Harry managed to say, softer almost than a whisper.

“Sweetheart, please, take a deep breath,” Tom pleaded.

Harry tried, he tried so hard to breathe, but all he felt was cold, as though the dozen dementors that dear Dolores had used in her courtroom during her horrifying muggleborn trials were suddenly descending on Harry right there in the Slytherin dormitory.

“Harry, what did that witch do to you?” Tom rambled, voice as close to panicking as Harry had ever heard it. “Lucius said she’s the new Undersecretary to Fudge who recently got elected. I know she was involved at Hogwarts during our previous life and worked at the Ministry afterwards, but that is all I know, I swear it, Harry, darling, please breathe.”

Harry managed a snort and finally, a shallow, wheezing breath. “No,” he repeated, voice a little louder now but still terribly quiet. “Never.”

“That’s fine. It doesn’t matter, she isn’t important, Lucius merely suggested it since she’s openly opposed to Dumbledore.”

“I’d sooner work with Dumbledore than her,” Harry said with absolute conviction, shocking Tom into silence for a few moments.

“Well, that certainly puts things in perspective,” Tom finally managed to say. “I’m sorry I inadvertently upset you this much, my dear. That certainly wasn’t my intention. If you’re willing to share what happened I’m happy to listen.”

Harry considered that while he took another deep breath, this one flowing a little easier now. A very large part of him wanted to simply forget about Umbridge, about her reign of terror during his fifth year, about all the pain she caused him, but Harry knew by now that didn’t help matters. Talking about his traumas was good, even though it seemed a unique kind of torture all on its own, at least at first.

“She taught Defence in our fifth year,” Harry said, gaze fixed on the back of his right hand where the skin was smooth but Harry could feel words engraved nonetheless. “She refused to teach any real magic and had it out for me. She made me use –“ Harry stopped talking, doubt taking over his mind. Why was he making such a big deal about Umbridge’s silly little quill? Much worse things had happened that year than Harry ending up with some hideous new scar; Sirius dying came to mind.

“Sweetheart, please talk. I want to know,” Tom whispered, blue eyes pleading.

“She had it out for me because I kept saying Voldemort was back and the Ministry was firmly in denial. She gave me detention almost every day of the week for months and months and she made me use this black quill while I had to write ‘I must not tell lies’ and the quill used my blood to write it with and carved those words into the back of my hand.” Harry held up his right hand as though that offered some kind of proof, but of course there was no scar there now. “After a while, those words wouldn’t go away and I got a shiny new scar.”

Tom’s expression had gone rigid, eyes burning with something Harry couldn’t identify.

“Umbridge also was the head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission and somehow she got her hands on your locket horcrux, so we had to break into the ministry to steal it and there were dementors and she was sending all these innocent muggleborns to their deaths and it was a mess getting out of the ministry and Ron got splinched and Grimmauld Place was no longer safe and we ended up in a tent.”

When Tom didn’t respond for a long time, Harry finally glanced up at him. Tom’s expression still looked carved from stone. “I see,” Tom finally whispered. “I swear to you, my dear, I had no idea. Yaxley took care of all the staffing at the Ministry and he spoke well of her, which, in hindsight, should have told me enough this afternoon when Lucius suggested her. I do apologize.”

“It’s fine,” Harry said, the burning hatred having lessened significantly. “Just don’t ask me to deal with her. Ever.”

“I promise. Like I said, she’s unimportant. There are plenty of other witches and wizards who can help us further our plans.” Tom’s voice was soothing, but his gaze was still hard as granite.

“I’m tired,” Harry said honestly. He was tired, the adrenaline that had briefly coursed through him leaving sheer exhaustion in its wake.

“Of course. Get some sleep, my dear. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Only then did Harry really notice the crack in the mirror’s glass. “Crap,” he said, a mild burst of panic filling him. He didn’t like the idea of not having his mirror, of not being able to talk to Tom anymore. “I broke the mirror.”

“Just use a reparo for now, that should work since it’s powered mostly by runes,” Tom suggested with a soft smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll look it over when you visit during the Yule holiday in a few weeks.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Tomorrow.” Harry didn’t trust himself to cast a successful Lumos just then, let alone use magic on his precious mirror. “Good night, Tom.”

“Sleep well, Harry.”

Sound advice, if only Harry could sleep. But he lay on his back, staring at the curtains around and above him, yet sleep wouldn’t come, his mind far too awake after being reminded of all of Umbridge’s special kinds pain and suffering. So in the end Harry admitted defeat and, tired though he was, grabbed a book from his nightstand. It turned out to be Hogwarts’ book of rules and regulations. Perhaps that was exactly the kind of dry material that might put him to sleep, Harry mused.

It wasn’t. In fact, it was so far removed from dry and boring that before long Harry took out a self-inking quill and a notebook and started taking notes. Everything was discussed, from how student admissions were determined to what kind of detentions were appropriate and how the Heads of Houses were to keep from favouring their own house when awarding or retracting house points. Harry was terribly amused to realize Snape regularly broke these regulations with his manipulation of the house point system.

There was also a chapter on student initiatives. There was a possibility to start a Board of Students, something akin to the Board of Governors in that they had a say in how Hogwarts was run when it came to new classes or what types of sports were being offered and much more. Students had to be elected for it through student campaigns though and had to be at least in their third year to join. Harry wondered if there currently was a Board of Students seeing as he’d never heard of it in his previous life. Still, it might be worth starting such a thing in his third year. He made a note in what he’d privately dubbed his Book of Plans, capital letters and all.

Another thing the chapter discussed were Student Clubs, which piqued Harry’s interest at once since there was no age limit. Everyone could start a club on just about any topic, as long as it was legal Harry imagined. They’d either had to get the permission from their own Head of House and the headmaster, or from three of the four Heads of Houses. Harry had no intention of involving Dumbledore if he could help it, but he was sure he could convince Snape, Sprout and Flitwick to support his new club. He’d rather not involve McGonagall since she was too close to Dumbledore for Harry’s liking.

This was the perfect way to start introducing rituals and traditions back into the Hogwarts curriculum, Harry decided. He did realize he had to be careful in how he worded his request. He knew from listening to Theo and Blaise, and to some extent some of his other pureblooded friends like Neville and Ernie, that the idea of reintroducing such things was frowned upon by a large chunk of their society.

So it couldn’t be an outright Traditions Club. It had to be something a little more subtle but which would still give them the opportunity to talk about the forbidden subjects and educate themselves and others.

Harry decided to sleep on it, as it was well past three in the morning and his mind had been cleared of thoughts about his least favourite person in the entire world. Harry snorted to himself for thinking of Umbridge that way, but he also knew it to be true. He really, truly, deeply hated that witch in ways he’d never hated Voldemort and didn’t even hate Dumbledore, and he couldn’t stand the old goat these days.

Sleep did come while Harry pondered how to go about organizing his new student club, and in the morning, even though he hadn’t had much sleep, Harry felt refreshed. He repaired his mirror without any problems and much to his relief, and got dressed with a small spring in his step, glad to have something new to keep his mind focussed on.

“Morning,” Theo greeted him as he strolled out of the bathroom. “You seem chipper. Had some nice dreams?”

Harry paused for a moment while putting on a sock. Now that Theo mentioned it, Harry hadn’t had a particularly nice dream. Meaning he hadn’t shared his dreams with Tom like they usually did since Tom got his body back. How come? Was it because Harry went to sleep at such a late hour? Had Tom not been asleep yet or had he already woken up before Harry managed to dream with him?

“Morning, Theo,” Harry finally replied when Theo was looking at him in quiet amusement at Harry’s distracted demeanour. “And I’m chipper because I got a new plan. I’ll let you all know in the library later today.”

“Sure,” Theo said with a quick nod before he went back to getting ready for the day.

It was a Thursday, and that meant a full day of Defence, History and double Transfiguration in the afternoon. DADA was a practical in which they practiced the Tarantallegra and a few other beginner jinxes and hexes, and even though Harry could do those in his sleep he still enjoyed the class which flew by. Harry used history to carefully consider how to go about structuring his new club and by the end of the class he had a working plan. And during Transfiguration they practiced turning beetles into buttons and back, which bored Harry to no end, until McGonagall all but dared him to make as creative a button as Harry could manage. Challenge accepted! Harry had to remember he was supposed to be a first year, so he held himself back appropriately, but he still ended up with a large button that had images of Hogwarts castle engraved in it with subtly different colours adding to the display. McGonagall gave him ten points for it, plus a rather proud smile.

As usual, Harry and his friends met up in the library after classes were over. Since they didn’t have that much time until dinner Harry decided to share his new plan before anyone even got their books out to do their homework.

“I have an idea,” Harry announced and at once all eyes were on him. “I’m muggle-raised, as you know, and I keep coming up against things I don’t know in our world,” Harry said carefully, having gone over his little speech a few times during History. “And I know I’m not the only one.” Harry gave Justin a significant look, who replied with a vigorous nod. “Aunt Petunia has told me what she knows, but she’s a muggle and there’s plenty she doesn’t know. So I propose a club.”

“What kind of club?” Susan asked curiously. Beside her, Blaise got a very knowing smile on his face. Theo had a similar expression but he just hid it better.

“A club where we can exchange knowledge amongst ourselves. The purebloods can teach the muggle-raised about the wizarding world, and the muggle-raised in turn can tell the purebloods about the muggle world. I’ve heard Muggle Studies is terribly outdated and doesn’t really go into cultural things, which is where Muggles have lots of interesting things to share.”

“Star Wars,” Justin breathed reverently.

“Exactly,” Harry said, though he had no clue what Star Wars really was, other than movies he’d heard Justin talk about a time or two.

“What are you going to call your new club?” Hannah asked eagerly. She seemed onboard with Harry’s plan, as did the rest of his friends.

“It’s going to be an official club, and I’m hoping to have Snape, Sprout and Flitwick sponsor us.” Harry frowned. “I haven’t come up with a name yet. Kinda stuck there.”

“Hm,” Daphne said thoughtfully, exchanging a look with Tracey. “The Wizarding Muggle Cultural Exchange Club.”

“That’s very long,” Neville said, looking as though he was genuinely worried he might never remember it all. “How about Culture Club?”

Justin snorted and softly started humming a little tune under his breath. Harry had no idea why, but he ignored Justin and smiled at Neville. “I like it. All in favour?”

There was a chorus of agreements, even from Justin, and Harry went about writing a few notes to send off to ask for appointments with the appropriate Heads of Houses. After that he got started on writing up the official proposal for the Culture Club and soon enough Neville, Daphne and Theo offered their help with wording the whole thing.

That evening Harry spoke to Tom, and he was happy to note that their relationship was back to normal. Harry’s brief Umbridge episode hadn’t spoiled anything permanently, and while Tom apologized yet again, Harry waved it away, having made a full recovery. Harry was also happy to note that Tom made no more remarks about Harry’s obvious responses to his naked wetness, and it seemed that Tom’s gentle teasing from the previous evening was all he was going to do about it, for which Harry was inexplicably filled with both happiness and disappointment. Tom complimented him on his ambition to start a student club and to start up a Board of Students in a few years, and Harry went to sleep feeling warm with Tom’s approval before falling into a wonderful shared dream that was filled with feelings of care, comfort and safety.

Snape was the first to respond to Harry’s request for a meeting. He simply ordered Harry to stay behind after Potions the next day.

“Potter,” Snape said with the expected sneer. “I received your missive. What do you want?”

“Yes, Sir. I would like for you to sponsor my new student club. We’re calling it the Culture Club, Sir, and it’s about – “

Snape cut him off by holding out his hand and giving Harry an impatient look.

It took Harry a moment to realize what Snape meant and he quickly dug through the correct folder in his bookbag to pull out the student club proposal. Snape snatched it from his hand, read it over with a perfectly blank expression, grabbed a quill and signed it before shoving it back in Harry’s hands. “Now get out.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” Harry beamed and rushed out the room to where his friends were waiting for him in the hallway. “Got the first one,” Harry said with a huge grin, waving the proposal in their faces.

Saturday started with an insufferable Draco, since Pomfrey had finally managed to reverse transfigure his ears back to normal. Draco strutted around as if he’d personally won the Quidditch Cup, but he didn’t dare make another comment about Harry’s unfortunate Quidditch injury and in the end that was all Harry wanted. Lesson learned and all that.

Flitwick invited Harry to come to his office that afternoon and Harry dragged Theo, Hannah, Justin and Neville along. A nice representation of students from different backgrounds and houses.

“I’m intrigued,” Flitwick said after having read Harry’s proposal. “But not yet convinced of the necessity of such a club.” Flitwick offered them a beaming smile. “So, convince me.”

It was Justin, surprisingly, who managed it when he started talking. “It’s the little things that we as muggle-raised kids don’t know about, Professor,” Justin said with utmost sincerity. “The other day I had a small stain on my tie and I used a handkerchief and some soap and water to get it off. Zacharias Smith laughed in my face about how stupid I was to do it by hand until Cedric Diggory told him off and taught me a simple cleaning charm. The kind that’s not in our Charms book.”

Flitwick nodded seriously and made a little note on a scrap of parchment. “I might add a few simple household charms to the curriculum later this year to rectify this. In any case, you have my sponsorship.” And with that Flitwick signed the proposal.

Sunday Harry took all his friends to see Sprout in her office. She was the kind of woman who lived by the idea of the more the merrier and she happily conjured chairs for all of them and stuffed them with tea and small chocolate cakes while she listened patiently to Harry’s explanations of why they wanted to start a new club.

“I’m very happy to see you all working together like this and I applaud you for your initiative, Mr Potter. Your parents would be so proud.” And with a kind smile and shining eyes she added her signature and Harry’s student club was officially approved.

They celebrated their success in the kitchens where the house-elves had more treats waiting for them and afterwards they walked it all off by taking a stroll around the lake while they discussed ideas for lessons to use in their club. Official clubs had to be announced by putting up a flyer on the message board of every common room and Daphne, Tracey, Susan and Hannah offered to take care of that part. Harry was happy to let them since he was busy putting together somewhat coherent lesson plans for the first few months.

They decided to meet Friday evenings in an empty classroom since they had Friday afternoons off and this way their meeting wouldn’t get in the way of any last minute homework that needed doing.

Later that evening Harry proudly held up the signed proposal for Tom to admire when he mirror-called his soulmate.

“Well done, my dear,” Tom said with a warm smile, and he even managed a very small round of applause without dropping his mirror. “Are you all set with lesson plans?”

“I’m getting there. Everyone had lots of ideas, and I’m using Regulus’ notes to slip in information about rituals and traditions that people might no longer know about without it being obvious they are being taught.”

“That does seem to be the best way to go about teaching those subjects, at least for now,” Tom agreed with a nod.

“Yeah, exactly.” Harry basked in his small and unknowing victory over Dumbledore for a moment before he gave Tom an expectant look. “And what have you been up to lately? We’ve only talked about my club these last few days.”

“Ah, I think you’ll be happy to hear Barty and myself are ready to spring our trap on your old friend Lockhart this week. Right after that we can publicly announce our presence.”

Harry perked up. “I want all the details. Seriously. I want to see Lockhart’s face when he gets dragged away by Aurors. Do you have a pensieve? Or know anyone with a pensieve?”

Tom laughed at Harry’s eagerness. “I don’t, but Dorus has one. I’m sure he’ll let us use it over the Yule holidays.”

“Yes!” Harry all but crowed. “I’ll trade you your memory of Lockhart getting his comeuppance for my memory of Dumbledore’s face when he sees you in the Prophet later this week.”

“Deal,” Tom said at once, looking just as elated as Harry felt.

Focussing on getting the Culture Club off the ground the previous week had given Harry enough distractions to not think too much about his growing attraction to Tom, but at that moment Harry had to admit that attraction was still there, was perhaps transforming into more than merely a physical response to Tom’s stupidly handsome face.

Not that it changed anything, Harry knew. For the next five years or so nothing could happen, end of story, no matter how much that idea started frustrating Harry these days. And imagine, Harry’s young body hadn’t even entered puberty yet. Harry did not want to know how he was going to feel once his hormones took over in one or two years.

“You all right, my dear?” Tom asked him when Harry was lost in thought.

“Yeah,” Harry said with a smile that was both filled with happiness and wistfulness. “Just basking in our success.”

“We have been on a roll lately, haven’t we?” Tom said, not without a decent amount of smugness. “I do like it when a plan comes together.”

Of course, that was the moment Harry should have realized they’d just jinxed their own success. There couldn’t only be good things without some bad things happening, as Harry had learned very early on in his life. Harry found a full, closed bag of chocolate croissants in the bakery’s dumpster on his way to school? That meant that Harry might have one or two before inevitably Dudley found them and ate the rest. See? Something good was always followed by something bad. Story of Harry’s entire fucking life.

In this case, the bad thing made itself known during breakfast the next morning. As was usual on Mondays, most of the student population had a hard time feeling awake enough for another week of classes and barely paid attention to the news, but that morning something had most students all excited.

Harry opened his copy of the Daily Prophet while he ate his breakfast and almost choked on his bite of sausage when he saw Umbridge’s face staring at him from the front page.

“She looks like a toad,” Blaise observed as he peeked at the paper. “What a face to put in the paper first thing in the morning.”

“She killed someone,” Theo added, doing the same thing.

Harry stared and stared until he could finally make sense of the letters and words surrounding Umbridge’s hideous features.

‘Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge Arrested For Murder Of Lucinda Snow’

“Who is Lucinda Snow?” Blaise wondered out loud, while Harry quietly wondered the same thing. The name sounded familiar and Harry was certain he’d heard it somewhere recently, but he couldn’t remember where.

“Isn’t that your stalker?” Theo asked quietly as he glanced at Harry.

“My what?” Harry looked at Theo with wide, uncertain eyes.

“The one that sent you the love potions,” Theo said with a significant look.

“Oh, that one,” Blaise replied with a chuckle as he returned to his breakfast, already moving on from the day’s news. “Well, no loss there.”

Harry couldn’t breathe. Why the fuck would Umbridge murder Harry’s love potion stalker witch? Even though he didn’t want to admit it, Harry knew the answer. Umbridge didn’t kill Harry’s love potion stalker witch.

Tom did.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Harry had never been so happy in his life they had history first thing in the morning on Mondays. He excused himself to his friends, not really giving a reason, just saying he had something urgent to take care of. Without waiting for a reply, and counting on Binns’ inability to remember what year it was, let alone knowing which individual students he was supposed to teach, Harry rushed to the Room of Requirement.

He wasn’t angry, not really. Maybe a little bit. Mostly he felt tired to the bone about having to worry about Tom and what he got up to on any given day over and over again.

Harry thought about the drawing room in Grimmauld Place while he asked the room for a place to have a private conversation and that was exactly what he got when he opened the door and slipped inside. He sank down in a leather chair, released a deep, deep sigh, ran his hands over his face and got his mirror out of his pocket.

Tom answered after half a minute or so, dressed this time, thank fuck. “Am I to assume you saw this morning’s paper?” Tom asked without a hint of concern. He seemed mildly confused about Harry’s less than enthusiastic demeanour.

“Yeah,” Harry said, having trouble finding the words to describe how he felt, or why he even felt that way in the first place. “I saw. Why, Tom?”

“Why?” Tom seemed genuinely puzzled by that question. “I thought it would wrap everything up nicely. Hitting two nifflers with one spell, very quick and clean.”

“Why did you kill her?” Harry demanded, voice hardening and sheer exhaustion finally making way for burning anger.

“Kill her?” Tom asked, head tilted as he stared at Harry. “I didn’t kill her.”

“Huh.” Harry swallowed and licked his lips. “But you just said you wrapped things up and stuff. You did this, right?”

“Of course,” Tom said agreeably. “But I didn’t kill that child-raping witch. I simply put dear Dolores under the Imperius and had her do it.”

“Tom!” Harry briefly closed his eyes, trying desperately to reign in his temper which was about to explode, and he knew that wouldn’t be productive for either of them. “Tom, that’s the same thing.”

“Is it?” Tom looked as though he’d never heard of such a ridiculous thing. “I’m telling you, my dear, that dear Dolores hardly needed any prompting to unleash the killer within. I took a close look inside her mind and I’ve rarely met a person who is so completely rotten to the core, and I include Dumbledore and Voldemort in that list.”

“Look, I don’t care what you did to Umbridge, all right?” Harry ran a frustrated hand over his face. “Feed her to a dragon, hang her from Hogwarts’ highest tower by her titties, I don’t fucking care.” Harry could practically feel his gaze burning as he glared at Tom. “But you killed my love potion stalker witch. I’m not happy about that.”

“I see,” Tom said in the sort of tone that meant he didn’t have a clue what Harry was talking about. “You somehow find it acceptable that a grown witch sends love potions to a child?”

“Of course not,” Harry spat. “But I had the Auror department handling it. I’d sent them all the evidence ages ago.”

Tom released a hollow sound of derision. “The Auror department?” Tom’s eyes narrowed and his voice gained a razor-sharp edge. “Would you like to know what they did in response to her actions, Harry dear? They sent her a strongly worded letter warning her not to do it again, after she’s been sending you love potions for years. No, don’t deny it,” Tom said, cutting Harry off when he tried to interject. “I had Severus confirm this, and Wormtail at the ministry copied every scrap of parchment pertaining to your case for me.”

“I just don’t think she deserved to die for that,” Harry mumbled, feeling oddly chastised yet still unable to accept murder without protest.

“And I do,” Tom said, expression firm and tone frosty. “I looked into her mind, my dear, and I saw what she wanted from you, the delusions she had when it came to a bloody child. I won’t give you details because you’ve been traumatized enough as it is.”

“But that’s the whole point,” Harry argued, gesturing wildly. He got why Tom of all people objected so vehemently against love potions. Harry wasn’t a fan either, but still…murder was one step too far for Harry. “She was delusional. She needed medical care, Tom, not to be murdered in cold blood.”

“Perhaps she did, but no one thought to give it to her,” Tom said entirely without mercy. “And I don’t see why you should sacrifice your life or sanity because our society is incapable of looking after the mentally ill. You are far too precious for that.”

“Er…” Harry wasn’t sure what the hell Tom had just said. “Yeah, okay…I don’t know.”

“Harry, why are you defending your would-be rapist?” Tom gave Harry an almost challenging look. “Is that why you are really angry, that I thought to spare you such a fate?”

“No,” Harry whispered, staring down at his knees, feeling suddenly very lost. “I get why you did it.”

“Are you angry with me, or are you angry with yourself? Because I can’t tell right now,” Tom whispered, gaze softening.

“I don’t know,” Harry said honestly. Half of him felt like crying, but the other half was too empty to manage even a single tear.

“I suggest you figure out what really has you so upset, Harry. I won’t contact you until you do. When you’re ready to let me know, you know where to find me.” And with that, Tom clicked his mirror shut and Harry was left staring at his own pale reflection.

For a very long time, Harry merely sat in the chair, mind in turmoil while his body was numb. Tom had just hung up on him, which upset Harry a great deal, yet Harry could understand. Tom got tired of Harry and his constant anger and always questioning Tom’s actions and motivations. If Harry was Tom, he’d get tired of himself, too.

Hell, Harry got tired of Harry regularly, especially right that moment.

But Harry was angry at something. He just didn’t have a clue what.

Was it the murder of his love potion stalker witch? Maybe. Harry wasn’t sure. He didn’t condone murder on principle, yet he welcomed the idea of Dumbledore dying, not to mention someone like Umbridge. Heck, he’d happily dance on her grave after he killed her himself.

So it wasn’t murder, not really, that had him so upset. Certainly not the murder of his would-be rapist. But something about this whole situation caused him a lot of grief and Harry had no idea why.

His next class was transfiguration and Harry knew he couldn’t just skip that without consequences, so with five minutes to spare he got up, stretched, and gave himself a few mental kicks in the head to get his restless thoughts under control enough to get through the rest of the day.

“Did Binns notice?” Harry asked quietly as he slid in between Theo and Blaise in the transfiguration classroom just in time.

“Nah,” Theo said while Blaise chuckled. “He took roll but when he got to your name myself, Blaise and Neville all replied for you and he didn’t even notice, went right on to the next name.” Theo looked him up and down. “You all right?”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah. Got some stuff on my mind, but I’ll be fine.”

Before Theo could reply McGonagall started her lecture on the next chapter in their book, so Harry got out his quill and ink and took notes on auto-pilot.

And that was exactly what the rest of the day was like for Harry. Auto-pilot. He went through the motions, did what he had to do in classes, talked to his friends, did his homework, and all the while he was empty inside. His thoughts were wild and overwhelming, pulling him in all directions when it came to his conversation with Tom, yet all his feelings were just…gone. A huge black void had opened up inside of him and somehow sucked up every single emotion Harry ever had and now Harry was left with nothing.

That evening, as Harry lay in bed without a nightly chat with his soulmate to look forward to, Harry came to the very firm conclusion that life without Tom sucked. Yes, he knew he was being dramatic, that it had been less than twenty-four hours since he’d last spoken to Tom, but it felt as though he’d somehow lost Tom forever, after the way Tom had ended their last conversation.

The thought of Tom not being there anymore hurt in ways Harry didn’t think he’d hurt before. In ways that fundamentally changed who he was as a person.

Why was he angry at Tom in the first place? Harry didn’t have a clue.

The mirror lit up but even before answering Harry knew with certainty it wouldn’t be Tom. His soulmate wasn’t the kind of man to say one thing and then do the complete opposite.

“Hey, kid,” Barty said when Harry answered the mirror. “You all right?”

“I don’t know.” Harry closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m pretty sure I fucked things up again but I haven’t a clue how.”

Barty released a soft snort. “Yeah, me neither. Our Lord was pretty tight-lipped about your talk this morning.”

“I’m kinda angry about Tom murdering my love potion stalker witch. I think.” Harry shrugged. “I might be angry about something else. I honestly don’t know.”

“Ah.” Barty remained quiet while he frowned in concentration. “Yeah, I got nothing, other than that you cannot expect our Lord not to take care of his enemies, Harry.”

“But they weren’t his enemies,” Harry pointed out quickly. “They were mine.”

Barty brought his mirror closer to his face. “Kid, your enemies are his enemies. You share a soul, for fuck’s sake.”

“Huh.” This was news to Harry. Not the soul part, he knew that, but the enemy part. He’d never really thought about it like that.

“Do you understand now?”

“More than I did before, sure,” Harry said. That seemed to please Barty and he changed the subject to the Culture Club and what Harry planned to do for their first official meeting. Harry chatted with Barty, faking as much enthusiasm as he could because inside of him there was none.

“How did you even get a Culture Club started?” Barty asked at one point. “In my day Dumbledore always blocked such attempts.”

“Huh?” Harry looked at Barty in confusion.

“You’re not the first student to come up with the idea for a cultural exchange club, Harry.” Barty shook his head in amusement at seeing Harry’s dumbfounded expression.

“We didn’t involve Dumbledore,” Harry said when he finally found his voice again. “All I needed was signatures of three of the four Heads of Houses on my official proposal according to the rules and regulations and I got those no problem from Snape, Sprout and Flitwick.”

Barty sat up and gave Harry an intent look. “You have a copy of Hogwarts’ rules and regulations?”

“Sure. Read it in bed and came up with the idea of this club.”

“Where did you get it?” Barty all but demanded.

“Room of Requirement,” Harry said, knowing Barty would recognize that name. Barty may have never seen it himself, he’d heard Harry talk about it often enough.

“You don’t know how lucky you are, kid,” Barty said with a wistful smile. “Dumbledore has disappeared pretty much all existing copies of that book ever since he was made headmaster.”

“Seriously?” Harry had never realized this in his previous life, never even knew there should be such a book. He’d always though Hogwarts, A History was the official Hogwarts book, but apparently not.

“Yes, seriously. Hold onto that book, and don’t let the old man know you have it.” Barty licked his lips and his eyes became pleading. “Also, could I read it sometime?”

“Sure, I’ll give it to you over the holidays.” Until that time Harry vowed to keep it locked in his trunk under his strongest wards. He was now determined to memorize the whole thing at least at some point.

When Harry finally fell asleep that night there were no warm, comforting shared dreams waiting for him. Somehow Tom had cut him off, which hurt Harry perhaps most of all.

The next day it was more of the same. Talk to friends, go to classes, Quidditch, homework, library…blah, blah, blah.

Auto-pilot. Going through the motions. Ignoring the worried looks his friends gave him when they thought he wouldn’t notice. Reassuring brave Neville, who had the guts to just outright ask Harry what was going on, that he was fine, really, just tired, a lot on my mind with the new club and stuff.

Hannah pressed a chocolate frog in his hand while they packed up their homework in the library before going down to dinner. “It’ll be all right, Harry,” she whispered. “You’ve worked hard on the club. You’ve got this.” Harry managed an almost sincere smile in response. He appreciated her gesture immensely, though, even if he couldn’t show it. The chocolate frog tasted like ash.

By Wednesday, Harry wasn’t even sure anymore why he and Tom were fighting. Were they even fighting? Was that what had happened? Harry got upset with Tom (probably, Harry still wasn’t sure), and Tom got upset because Harry got upset.

Rinse and repeat.

Friends, classes, homework, blah, blah, blah.

Why was Harry even here, living this life? What purpose did this life have if he couldn’t share it with someone who really knew him?

Harry liked his friends, he really did, but none of them had a clue about who Harry really was. Even people like Barty, or Merlin forbid Snape, who knew something of the truth had no clue who Harry was inside, all the things he’d been through, all the pain he’d suffered, all the people he’d lost, all his victories, great and small.

Without Tom, who knew Harry on levels so fundamental and vast, who shared his soul, Harry wasn’t sure if he could go on existing as his own true self. Was he destined to become only this new Harry, Slytherin, smart, studious without Tom there to remind him of the old one, the Gryffindor, bold, impulsive, willing to sacrifice everything?

And what was this second chance even worth without the other half of his soul there to experience it with him? What did it matter if Dumbledore got what was coming to him or not. What did it matter if Sirius got out of Azkaban this year or the next. What did it matter if the ministry got an overhaul or not. Without Tom, everything just seemed so utterly meaningless.

What the hell did a would-be-child-raping love potion stalking witch even matter in the grand scheme of things? Not a damned thing, this much Harry knew.

At least he could tell Tom that, if he ever had the courage to call him. But Harry still didn’t have a clue what to say to his soulmate other than ‘I miss you’ and ‘please don’t ever stop talking to me again’.” Neither which were answers to the question Tom had actually asked him: are you angry at me or at yourself? Why are you really upset?

It was also around this point that Harry started to suspect his feelings for Tom really might be running a little deeper than a simple physical attraction. Of course, he could never say such a thing to Tom, who would probably laugh in his face anyway, if he even decided to talk to Harry ever again in the first place.

By Thursday evening Harry went to bed right after dinner, exhausted and empty as he was. Theo and Blaise exchanged a worried look and tried to entice him with a game of exploding snap but Harry waved them off and put on his pyjamas. He couldn’t even be bothered to take a shower.

The most excitement he’d seen in days happened when he closed the curtains around his bed and cast the necessary privacy spells out of habit. A house-elf popped onto the foot of his bed. Harry was about to scold Kreacher for scaring the crap out of him when he realized it wasn’t Kreacher at all.

“Dobby!” Harry stared at his old elf friend in amazement.

“Oh, Harry Potter be knowing Dobby’s name!” Dobby pulled at his ears, gentler than Harry had ever seen him do it. “And Dobby is being a surprise for Harry Potter, the great Master Tom is saying so.”

“Huh.” Harry stared at his old friend, noting he was wearing a clean, striped pillow-case and there were no wounds or bandages anywhere on his body. “Wait, did you say Master Tom?”

Dobby beamed at him. “Yes! The great Master Tom is taking Dobby away from the bad family who was hurting Dobby a great deal. The great Master Tom is being a very good master, forbidding Dobby from hurting himself and letting him work with Plucky which Dobby enjoys very much.”

“Huh,” Harry said again, barely understanding what the hell was going on, not to mention he didn’t have a clue who Plucky was but he figured it was another elf. “So Tom is now your master? How did that happen?”

“The bad family is giving Dobby to the great Master Tom, while Master Dorus be giving Plucky to Master Tom. Master Dorus is also being a good master, Plucky told Dobby.”

“I’m happy for you, Dobby,” Harry said sincerely. He’d thought about Dobby stuck at the Malfoys a time or two since coming back and it had bothered him he probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to free him like he’d done before. “Did Tom send you?”

“Oh no,” Dobby whispered, pulling gently on his ears again before quickly letting go. “The great Master Tom is saying he’s giving Dobby to Harry Potter for Yule, but the great Master Tom never forbid Dobby from seeing Harry Potter before then.”

Harry bit his lip so he wouldn’t burst out laughing. Tom foiled in his gift giving by a clever elf. Then he realized what that actually meant, that Tom had gone out of his way to get Dobby away from the Malfoys so he could give him to Harry because he knew how much Dobby meant to Harry and for the first time since his horrible talk with Tom on Monday, Harry felt a burst of warmth in his chest at the thought of Tom going through all that trouble for him.

“But the great master Tom is being not well right now,” Dobby continued with a sad shake of his head. “The great Master Tom is missing his Harry Potter. He is not saying this, but Dobby knows because the great Master Tom keeps talking about his Harry Potter to Master Barty, Plucky, Winky and Dobby.”

Harry went back to biting his lip and basking in the warmth that had now consumed just about his entire body.

“So now Dobby is hoping Harry Potter be willing to make the great Master Tom happy again.” Dobby stared at Harry with wide, expectant eyes.

“I’d love nothing more,” Harry said with a sigh. “But it’s not that simple,”

“What is keeping Harry Potter?”

“Tom hurt two witches,” Harry started and Dobby cut him off before he could go on.

“Oh yes, the great Master Tom is being very happy he is getting rid of his Harry Potter’s enemies. He was being very afraid they would be taking his Harry Potter away from him.”

Harry felt like someone had just hit him in the head with a bludger. Not hard enough to crack his skull open this time, but enough to knock some sense into him. Tom was scared Harry would be taken from him. And Harry was –

“I’m so sorry to kick you out, Dobby,” Harry said as he sat up and snatched up his mirror from his nightstand. He leaned forward and briefly squeezed Dobby’s bony shoulder in gratitude. “You’re a life-saver, but I’ve got to talk to Tom now. So shoo.”

“You is going to be making the great Master Tom happy again?” Dobby asked with a wide smile.

“Yep, or die trying,” Harry said, flipping open his mirror. Dobby released a happy little noise before popping away while Harry waited impatiently for Tom to answer the mirror.

Tom did so with a cool little, “Harry, good evening.”

“Both,” Harry said, feeling as life was returning to him, as if he’d been a dead body walking around these past few days but somehow Dobby had just accidentally resurrected him and there was life in him again. “I’m angry at myself, we’ll get to that, but boy, am I angry at you, Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

Tom blinked at him, clearly not having expected such a passionate response from his soulmate.

“Let me make one thing very clear, soulmate,” Harry said as he pointed a firm finger at Tom’s face. “I cannot do this without you. There, I said it, I don’t care what you think of that, but it’s the truth. And I’m angry because I’m fucking worried sick that you’ll get caught and chucked into Azkaban or given the Kiss or are thrown through the Veil, all right?”

“All right,” Tom whispered, expression carefully blank but eyes shining.

“I’m not done yet,” Harry rambled on. “I cannot lose you, and I don’t know how to break into Azkaban to get you out, and we both know how fucking corrupt our justice system is and how much Dumbledore wants you dead and gone, and Tom, I cannot have you risk your life to deal with my would-be enemies, all right? I couldn’t live with myself knowing I’d lost you over some stupid fucking would-be-child-raping love potion stalker witch.” Harry inhaled a deep breath, and another one.

“Hm.” Tom still looked like he was listening to the weather forecast instead of his soulmate confessing some terribly personal thoughts and feelings. “And you’re angry at yourself why?”

Harry shrugged. “Because I’m changing. All of what has happened has changed me, and it’s a lot to get used to. Before, I would have been opposed to killing simply on principle, but now I’m not and I’m kinda okay with that but also worried because I don’t want to become a bad person. Something like that.”

Tom remained quiet for a few moments while Harry waited with bated breath. “Thank you for telling me.” A slow smile appeared on Tom’s lips. “I seriously doubt you could ever become a bad person, even if you tried, my dear.”

“Sometimes it feels like I already am,” Harry said softly. He’d already admitted to quite some horrifyingly personal things, might as well add a few more while he was at it. “The way I’m using everyone around me.”

“But you’re not hurting them,” Tom pointed out. “Yes, you can use them because you’re in a unique position of knowing what might happen at some points in the future, but that doesn’t make you a horrible person.”

“I guess. I hope.” Harry gave a one-shouldered shrug and stared to the side.

“As for your fear of losing me,” Tom said softly, delicately. “It is that very fear that drove me to take care of those two witches that might hurt you.”

Harry chuckled briefly. “Yeah, I figured. And I’m glad you got rid of dear Dolores, I really am. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer witch. Still think perhaps my stalker witch needed to go to St Mungo’s instead of her grave but I get why you did it. It’s fine. Though can we agree that you’ll give me a head’s up in the future before you do something like this?”

“I suppose I can agree to that,” Tom said with a slow nod. “Especially since I do like to get your input on my plans.”

Harry beamed at him, chest glowing while a huge weight fell off Harry’s entire body. Especially his head. Harry hadn’t really noticed it until it was gone, but the previous few days it had felt like he was wearing a hundred pound hat. “Thank you! Now can we please go back to talking to each other? That should be a rule, too. That we should never stop talking to each other again, because this week sucked.”

Tom was looking so impossibly fond that for a moment it took Harry’s breath away. “It might indeed be healthier for us both in the future to talk about our differences instead of me giving you the cold shoulder. I do apologize.”

“It’s fine,” Harry said quickly, not really feeling like he was owed any apology. “And I’m sorry I’m such a mess.”

“No more than me, sweetheart.” Tom shook his head in obvious amusement. “And while I appreciate your concern for my well-being, just for the record I’d like to point out I’m a wizard of many talents and I’m not easily caught.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said, feeling his cheeks heat once he realized he may have implied the ministry Auror force was a match for Tom, which Harry knew all too well wasn’t the case. “It’s just…soon enough Dumbledore is going to know about you and we both know how far that man is willing to go to see us both dead.”

“You’re afraid of Dumbledore,” Tom quietly observed.

“After what he did to me and got away with? Yes,” Harry said without shame. “Aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of Dumbledore, but I’ll admit to being cautious of him.” Tom frowned for a few seconds while he was clearly thinking his next words over. “Dumbledore is incredibly well-connected and he has managed to create an almost universally-liked persona over the past few decades. But while he is powerful and talented in magic, he is not invincible. Especially not now that I’m in possession of all my faculties again.”

“Well, most of your faculties at any rate,” Harry offered with a teasing grin. Tom gave him a tired look which Harry replied to by sticking out his tongue. Sweet Merlin, it was good to be back to normal.

“Dumbledore will be up in arms once Barty and I go public, but he’ll have no evidence of my true identity. In fact, the more he insists I’m Voldemort, the bigger of a fool he’ll seem to more and more people,” Tom said while he relaxed in his chair and picked up a cup of tea to sip.

“Sure, but there will always be those who’ll believe anything Dumbledore says no matter what,” Harry replied, thinking of some of the Order members that always took Dumbledore’s word to heart at once. “When are you springing your Lockhart trap?”

“Tomorrow.”

Harry leaned forward a little, his curiosity piqued. “Do tell.”

And Tom did. For the next hour they discussed Tom and Barty’s upcoming plot to see Lockhart exposed and after that they talked about the first meeting of the Culture Club the next evening.

“I have no clue how many students are going to show up,” Harry said, feeling a swoop of uncertainty in his stomach. “What if only my friends show up but no one else?”

Tom chuckled. “Darling, you’re Harry Potter. That’s bound to attract some interest amongst your peers, even if it’s just to meet you.”

“Ugh,” Harry said, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “Sometimes I forget I’m Harry Potter.” Before he could say more a huge yawn forced its way out and Harry quickly covered his mouth with his hand. “Sorry, haven’t been sleeping well. Oh!” Harry sat up and blinked his eyes, trying to give Tom a stern stare. “How did you cut off our dreams?”

Tom quirked an eyebrow and looked vaguely disappointed in Harry. “You haven’t figured that out yet? Truly?”

“Well,” Harry reasoned, and then had to pause for a moment for another yawn. “It’s some kind of mind shield…oh, it’s Occlumency, isn’t it?”

“Of course it’s Occlumency,” Tom said with a roll of his eyes. “I’ll stop Occluding tonight.”

“Thanks,” Harry said with a grateful smile, though he quickly added, “Because we’re experimenting with our connection, right, to understand it, so we have to keep it open and stuff.”

“Harry, you’re rambling. Get some sleep. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Harry lay down on his bed, eyes already heavy. “Night, Tom.”

“Good night, sweetheart.” With a soft smile Tom closed his mirror. Harry did the same and was asleep in minutes and found himself once again cocooned in warm, safe feelings, which he’d missed more than he could possibly ever say.

Theo and Blaise immediately noticed his improved mood the next morning.

“About time,” Blaise said as they were all getting dressed. “I was genuinely worried someone had managed to turn you into an inferius.”

Harry snorted as he straightened his tie. No more was said about it as they made their way to breakfast and after that, to double Potions.

Neville beamed at him when he noticed pretty much right away that Harry was much improved. “So glad you’re feeling better, Harry,” he whispered while keeping a very close eye on Snape. “If there’s ever anything I can do for you, please let me know.”

“Thanks, Nev,” Harry whispered back while he gave Neville a grateful nudge with his elbow. “I appreciate that, but this was some personal stuff I had to work through. All solved now.”

“I’m so happy,” Neville sighed. “I’ve been so worried.”

“You two are so cute,” Millicent commented loudly while she sliced up some dried frog livers.

“Er…” Harry stared at her while Neville squeaked, “What?” At this point Snape gave them a very clear warning glare so they quietly went about making their burn salve.

After lunch Harry and his friends gathered in the library.

“I’d like to apologize for my behaviour these last few days,” Harry said right away. “I know some of you’ve been worried.”

“Yeah!” Hannah said, while Justin and Ernie nodded at once.

“I just had some personal things to work through, nothing to do with school or the Culture Club. It’s all taken care of now. So, are we all ready for our first meeting tonight?”

And that seemed enough to get everyone moving on from Harry’s worrying behaviour over the past few days. They took ten minutes to discuss the upcoming meeting and their expectations of it and then Susan reminded everyone they still had homework to finish if they wanted to have the weekend off like usual so they got working on that.

The later it got, the more excited Harry felt. It was only a student club meeting, he knew, but he’d never organized a student club before. Well, not an approved one, and even with the DA in his fifth year he hadn’t done any of the organizing. All he’d done was show up and instruct others. Now he’d done all the legwork to get the Culture Club up and running. He felt quite a sense of satisfaction because of that, not to mention a real sense of dread wondering if the club was going to be a success or not.

Half an hour before dinner Harry excused himself from his friends and made a quick stop in the Room of Requirement and used its magic to sort through some furniture at record speed. He found a few sofas, some comfortable chairs, a few large pillows one might use to sit on the floor and some wooden tables and chairs. All were scuffed or slightly broken or ripped or stained. In fact, one of the sofas looked like someone had their throat slid while taking a nap on it but beggars couldn’t be choosers so Harry shrank the whole lot and hurried down to the second floor and to the empty classroom they’d selected for their club.

“Kreacher!” Harry called as he closed the classroom door and unloaded all his shrunken furniture.

“Little Master be calling Kreacher?”

“Help!” Harry gestured around the classroom. “We’re having a Culture Club meeting here in an hour and I’m late for dinner and could you please clean this room and restore this furniture as best you can? Pretty please?”

Kreacher gave him a look filled with exasperation and waved Harry off. “Little Master be eating and Kreacher be getting this room clean.”

“Thank you,” Harry said with a grateful smile and he even bowed at Kreacher in sheer gratitude before he all but ran to the great hall. “The meeting room should be ready in time,” Harry informed Theo and Blaise.

“House-elves really come in handy, don’t they?” Theo commented before stuffing a big spoon of peas in his mouth.

After dinner was over, Harry met his friends in the entrance hall and together they strolled towards the meeting room, Harry’s stomach full of annoying butterflies. But he needn’t have worried. Kreacher had outdone himself.

All the furniture was restored until it looked like new and was placed around the room, which itself looked clean. The stone floors shone and the windows gleamed. Kreacher had even set out a big pot of tea, plenty of cups and a plate of biscuits under a preservation charm on a corner table.

“Wow,” Hannah said as they all admired the room. “Did you do all this, Harry?”

“Nah. I’m friends with a house-elf,” Harry said because he wasn’t about to take credit for something he didn’t do. “He’s amazing.”

“Yeah, he really is,” Ernie said while plopping down on one of the sofas. Daphne got herself a cup of tea while Blaise made for the biscuits.

Right around seven, the official starting time of their meeting, more students started trickling in. Harry had kept the club to first years only, to keep the number of students manageable. They could always open it up to older years in the future, but Harry didn’t want to bite off more than he could chew. He had enough on his plate already.

Quite a few Ravenclaws showed up, as Harry had expected. Padma Patil, Lisa Turpin, Anthony Goldstein, Michael Corner and Terry Boot. From Hufflepuff Megan Jones, Wayne Hopkins and Zacharias Smith joined them. From Gryffindor Harry was happy to see Seamus and Dean. And then Millicent stuck her head around the corner and both Harry and Neville waved her in.

Harry did a quick count. That was twenty-one students in total. A very nice number and Harry was pleased to see so much interest so early on.

“Is this the Culture Club?” one last student asked as she entered the classroom. “Where can I sign up?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Harry muttered while he stared at his former best friend.

He’d completely forgotten about Hermione.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

Harry wanted to smack himself in the face for that oversight, but truthfully, he’d been busy with other, much more important things, and for the last two months, ever since McGonagall had made a genuine attempt to correct Hermione’s out-of-control behaviour, Hermione had kept to herself, making no trouble and keeping her head down while she spent most her time quietly studying. And thus, Harry had genuinely not even considered her when he started the Culture Club.

Well, there was nothing for it. As per Hogwarts’ rules and regulations he couldn’t keep Hermione from joining an official student club. Of course, should Hermione make a nuisance of herself, Harry, as the founder and president of the Culture Club, could ask for a vote of all the members to get rid of her, and as long as a majority voted for her expulsion from the club there was nothing Hermione could do to stop it. Harry was at least somewhat relieved to have that safety net but he also knew he couldn’t use it unless Hermione really messed up. He didn’t want to become known as someone who had it out for a Gryffindor muggle-born student for little to no genuine reason other than Harry’s general dislike of her. Obviously, he couldn’t tell others why he really had such problems with her. But it was perfectly acceptable for Harry to dislike her, since plenty of others did, for Hermione’s grating personality and know-it-all attitude.

“Sign up over here,” Ernie called, waving Hermione over. He and Justin had volunteered to be the club’s secretaries and keep track of all the paperwork. Hermione rushed over to add her name to the list, the last to do so.

Harry inhaled a deep, calming breath while he stepped to the side-table and served himself a cup of tea. He bit into a biscuit as he observed the children around him. Most were chatting with others of their own House while some were side-eyeing the Slytherins in the room somewhat warily, but Harry vowed to change that attitude as soon as possible. Once he’d finished his tea and biscuit, Harry stepped up to the middle of the room and cleared his throat.

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” Harry said with a wide smile, “to the Culture Club. Please, everyone, find a comfortable seat and we’ll get started.”

There was a short moment of chaos as everyone moved at once but before long all were seated in a semi-circle around the room. And with a few students on pillows on the floor and others squeezed four to a sofa there was room for everyone.

Harry had a wooden chair to himself and he looked at all the expectant faces staring at him. “I thought we’d start by quickly introducing ourselves. I’ll start. Hi, I’m Harry Potter and I’m a half-blood and muggle-raised. My muggle aunt told me what she knew about the wizarding world, but it wasn’t much and I keep running into things I don’t know.” For this Harry used examples from his previous life, because he had genuinely felt like he’d been dumped in an unknown foreign country without a proper tourist guide. “Like certain drinks or foods I’ve never heard of and don’t know what they are, books or authors I don’t know but that the wizard-raised kids around me grew up with, singers and bands and songs I’m not familiar with but people expect me to know.” Harry chuckled while he saw students like Dean and Justin, and even Hermione, nod in agreement. “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s why I’m here, to teach and learn each other’s culture. Neville, you’re up.”

Neville swallowed, looked around the room with wide eyes, but once he started talking he only stuttered over the first few words. After that, he got more confident. “Hi, I’m Neville Longbottom, pureblood, raised in the wizarding world, and I’d like to learn about all the muggle references my friends Harry and Justin are always making and I haven’t a clue about. That’s it.”

Theo was next, and then Daphne, and Harry sat back and listened patiently as everyone introduced themselves. And while Harry had started the Culture Club mainly to sneak rituals and traditions back into Hogwarts’ curriculum, he quickly realized there was a genuine need for a cultural exchange club. Harry had felt lost in the wizarding world, and sometimes still did, and as he listened to those around him he knew others felt the same way.

Why had Dumbledore wanted to suppress clubs like this so badly he did away with the rulebook entirely? If Harry had to take a guess it was to give purebloods no chance whatsoever to share their views of the wizarding world with the incoming muggle-born and -raised children and thus lessening their power as they never gained any influence over these new kids. But the enormous downside to this approach was that the muggle-born and -raised had a hard time fitting in, which led to more resentment from the purebloods, which in turn assured the gap between both sides would only grow with each new generation to come through Hogwarts.

And all the while Dumbledore could play the benevolent headmaster, so tolerant of muggle-borns while pointing an accusing finger at all those intolerant purebloods and their desire for segregation.

“Thanks, everyone,” Harry said when all students had their say. “I’m happy you’re all here, eager to learn and share. And seeing as we’re only a few weeks away from December and the holidays I thought we’d start exchanging information about Christmas and Yule.”

“Why is it called Christmas at Hogwarts if wizards call it Yule elsewhere?” Megan Jones asked. She was a half-blood whose wizard father had died in the war and who’d been raised by her muggle mother and had little contact with the wizarding world until her Hogwarts letter came. She’d known she was a witch, had read some of her dad’s books he’d left behind, but that was about it.

“Excellent question.” Harry beamed at her and gestured to some of his pureblood friends. “Susan, Neville, Daphne? Can any of you give us the answer?”

“I think it was done to accommodate the muggle-born and raised here at Hogwarts,” Susan said quietly. “I know it’s a fairly recent development.”

“That seems silly,” Dean said with a frown. “How are we to learn about this new world if they won’t show us the differences?”

There followed a brief discussion on this subject and Harry crossed his arms and listened and was incredibly happy to see the kids around him using their brains, questioning things and trying to work out the answers. Gosh, he really was getting old, wasn’t he, when his feelings turned almost paternal while observing his young club members.

“I thought we could exchange Christmas and Yule items and traditions over the coming meetings until the holidays,” Harry suggested once the discussion came to a natural end. “Decorations, songs, food. Perhaps some of you can ask some family members at home to send you some specific things to share.” This got him an enthusiastic response and at once almost every student offered to arrange to bring along something for the next meetings. Once that was settled Harry checked his watch and realized an hour and a half had passed already and since curfew for first years was nine o’clock they should wrap things up.

“Let’s leave it here,” Harry said, his cheeks glowing with satisfaction over their successful first meeting. “Thank you all for coming, I hope you enjoyed it and we’ll see you again same time next week.”

Students got up while chatting about their plans for upcoming lessons. Unsurprisingly, Hermione made a beeline for Harry. Neville, who’d been sitting beside Harry, stuck to his side with a worried look. During the meeting itself Hermione had participated enthusiastically, but no more so than other kids. She had apparently learned not to dominate every social gathering even if she was obviously eager to share her knowledge. Now it seemed she had a few things she desperately needed to share with their erstwhile leader.

“Harry,” Hermione said, clutching a thick notebook to her chest. “I have some ideas for lessons – “

“I’m going to cut you off right there, Granger,” Harry said with a sigh. “I already have the subjects for lessons for the rest of the schoolyear planned out.”

“Oh.” For a second Hermione looked lost, but then her eyes regained a determined glint. “Still, I’ve put together a comprehensive lesson plan which could very well replace anything you came up with should you find it of more interest.”

“I doubt that,” Harry said, turning away. He glanced at Hermione over his shoulder. “This is my club, Granger, that I started with my friends. We’ve worked out our own plans. If you want to run a club, then start one.”

“I didn’t know I could,” Hermione said, eyes wide while she looked shocked there was something about Hogwarts she didn’t know. “It’s not in Hogwarts, A History.”

Harry gave her a smirk that clearly said he knew something she didn’t. “That’s because the information can be found in Hogwarts’ Rules and Regulations handbook.”

“Oh! I have to run, the library closes in fifteen minutes.” And with that, Hermione rushed out the door.

Harry shared an amused glance with Neville. “She’s not going to find it there,” Harry whispered. “Dumbledore did away with that book entirely when he became headmaster.”

Neville frowned. “Wait, what? Why?”

“Now that is the question. Ask your grandmother about that book sometime,” Harry suggested with a sly smile as they joined the rest of his friends.

Everyone agreed the first club meeting had been a success and they were all looking forward to their next get-together. Since curfew was quickly approaching they split up to go to their respective dormitories. Before he left, Harry cast a simple password spell on the classroom door. It wouldn’t draw attention like elaborate wards would, but it would keep other students from using, and perhaps wrecking, their club house. And this way Harry could share the password, which he set to ‘house-elves rule and dementors drool’, with his friends and they could use the club house whenever they wanted without needing to know how to dismantle wards, which was magic far too advanced for the average first-year.

Harry played a quick game of exploding snap with Theo and Blaise, since he hadn’t joined them all week during his depressive episode, but he was eager to get to bed and call Tom to share tales of his success.

But Tom didn’t answer his mirror when Harry called him, freshly-showered and tucked under the covers in his pyjamas. And then Harry remembered Tom had his own adventures planned for that day with his Lockhart trap and it was entirely possible Tom and Barty were still stuck giving evidence at the ministry or something like that. A cold shiver ran down Harry’s spine at the thought of Tom in a cell or worse, but no, that was nonsense. Lockhart really was guilty of the things Tom and Barty would accuse him of so there was no reason for Tom to end up in a cell. At least, not that day.

Harry shut the mirror, knowing Tom would call him the first chance he got to inform Harry how everything had worked out. Until that time Harry had to be patient. He lay on his back and thought about the Culture Club and future plans and about how Dumbledore would react to the existence of the Culture Club once he got wind of it. And he would. Harry wasn’t sure when, but he did know that it was only a matter of time before Dumbledore would want a little chat with him. And he’d want to know how Harry knew how to start his little club. Harry decided there and then he would not tell Dumbledore about the handbook that was in his possession.

In fact, the more Harry thought about it, the less convinced he became the book was safe in his trunk. Harry’s wards were fine to keep other students, even older years, from snooping through his possessions, but they wouldn’t keep a determined Dumbledore out for very long. And Dumbledore might very well decide to look for a possible handbook in Harry’s possession before even approaching Harry in person about his new club.

Harry sat up in bed. Yeah, he needed better security. “Kreacher!” Harry called after he fished the Hogwarts rules and regulations handbook out of his trunk.

“Little Master be calling Kreacher?”

“First of all, thank you,” Harry said, meaning every word. “You outdid yourself with our club house. The meeting went great.”

Kreacher’s wrinkly old face lit up as best it could. “Kreacher is happy hearing that.”

“Now, why I called you,” Harry said, showing Kreacher the book in his hands. “I have this book that’s very important. Dumbledore wants to destroy it, but we can’t let him.”

Kreacher’s usually hooded eyes widened significantly. “Master Regulus was always be looking for this book.”

“I bet. Him and lots of other students,” Harry said with a sage nod. “I’d like you to take this to Grimmauld Place and keep it safe there.”

“Kreacher will be keeping it safe.” The old elf accepted the book gingerly. “Is the little Master wanting Kreacher to make copies so he can have it here to read while Kreacher be keeping the real one safe?”

“Er…” Harry blinked at the genius yet simplicity of that suggestion. “Why didn’t I think of that. Yes, thank you, Kreacher. That is a great idea.”

Kreacher snapped his gnarly fingers and gave Harry a crooked smile while offering him a perfect copy.

“Is this a permanent copy?” Harry asked as he turned it around in his hands. It felt like a real book but with magic you never knew and Harry didn’t know a great deal about house-elf magic to begin with.

“Of course,” Kreacher said, definitely looking and sounding a little offended.

“I’m sorry, Kreacher,” Harry said quickly. “I just don’t know much about what house-elves can do. Muggle-raised, remember?”

“Yes, Kreacher be knowing kind little Master was raised by filth. Kreacher be forgiving little Master for doubting Kreacher.”

“Thanks.” Harry studied the copied book in his hands and got an idea. A really good idea if he did say so himself. “How long would it take you to make around five hundred copies? If it’s too much for you I can ask some other elves to help you.”

And there was that offended house-elf look again.

“Or not,” Harry quickly said. “Could you get that many copies done before December 20th? That’s when we leave Hogwarts for the holidays. Could you distribute the copies to all students the night before? Just pop them on their beds while they sleep with a letter or something?”

“Kreacher could be doing that easily enough.” Kreacher said with a firm nod.

Harry beamed at him. “You are amazing! Thank you. This year the Board of Governors is going to give every Hogwarts student a present right before the holidays. They just don’t know it yet.”

Full of satisfaction over his own cleverness (even though it was mostly Kreacher’s idea that got the ball rolling) Harry fell asleep with a smile on his face. And thankfully it didn’t take long for him to find his soulmate in their dreams. Tom was full of glowing emotions, which Harry assumed meant his plans had been successful as well. They weren’t yet in control of their connection enough that they could have a conversation, but they could bask together while they slept.

The next day there was a small article on the front page of the Daily Prophet saying famous author Gilderoy Lockhart had been arrested but that the Auror department hadn’t yet released any official statements. Nothing yet about Tom and Barty and Ravenclaw’s diadem but Harry assumed that would all follow once Lockhart’s crimes were officially made public knowledge.

Susan had some interesting news when they met up in the entrance hall after breakfast to spend the day together. “Aunt Amelia wrote to say the Board of Governors is meeting today and they’ll question Dumbledore about the Cerberus.”

Frankly, Harry had already forgotten about Fluffy, so much had happened in the past few weeks. “That’s great,” he said, meaning it no matter his forgetfulness. Dumbledore being raked over the coals about his student-endangering schemes was a good thing, after all. Harry glanced outside where it was pouring rain. “Do you lot want to hang out in the Club House?”

There was a general noise of agreement and as one they trooped up the stairs to the second floor and their now officially named Club House. Harry liked to imagine the capital letters when using the name in his thoughts. He really loved the idea of having a private space for him and his friends. The most obvious space for that purpose was of course the Room of Requirement but Harry wasn’t yet comfortable sharing his knowledge of it with his very young friends. There was no guarantee the overly-eager Puffs wouldn’t share this amazing room with their older Hufflepuff housemates or something, and then some of the older years would start using it with their girl and boyfriends every chance they got and before long the Room of Requirement would be occupied every second of every day by horny teenagers shagging their hormonal brains out and Harry wouldn’t get a chance to sort through all the treasures he knew were still in there whenever he had the time to do so.

Yeah, no, not going to happen. Harry was perfectly fine with being selfish on this occasion and keeping the Room of Requirement to himself, at least for a few years longer so he could help himself to whatever he wanted out of all the junk hidden in there. And then perhaps, when they were a little older and his friends would understand not to share the room’s existence with everyone and their grandmother and their pet kneazle, Harry would show them how to work the room.

Harry stood in front of the door to their Club House. “Pay attention. This is a very complicated password.” He grinned at his friends and said, slowly and carefully, “House-elves rule and dementors drool.”

“I like it,” Blaise declared while Daphne rolled her eyes and Ernie snorted. Justin just looked at everyone in confusion so Tracey, with a small sigh, took him aside to explain what house-elves and dementors were.

“I sent my grandmother a note last night with our house-elf about that book,” Neville said as he plopped down on the sofa beside Harry. As though she was waiting for it, said house-elf popped into the room right in front of Neville, a small envelope in her hand.

“THERE ARE CREATURES THAT CAN SUCK OUT YOUR SOUL?” Justin bellowed from the other side of the room. “ARE YOU HAVING ME ON?”

“Tiffy, hi,” Neville said while Tiffy gave him an obvious once-over to make sure her young charge was in one piece.

“Mistress Augusta be sending you a response,” Tiffy said, handing Neville the missive.

“Thanks,” Neville mumbled, opening the note and reading it with a small frown.

“Hm,” Tiffy commented as she glanced around the room. “You is not looking after youselves very well. Tiffy being right back.” The house-elf popped away while Neville looked up from his note to stare at Harry.

“Do you have a copy of that book? My grandmother’s asking. If so, she’d really like a copy if that’s okay.”

Tiffy popped back into the room carrying an enormous tray filled with a teapot, cups and plates of cakes and biscuits. Harry loved house-elves, he really did.

“Okay, so that is a house-elf and they won’t eat my soul, just bring us tea, got it!” Justin exclaimed, still pale-faced but a little calmer now. “And the soul-sucking things aren’t anywhere near here, thank god for small mercies.”

Harry bit his lip for a second while accepting a cup of tea Tiffy all but shoved in his hands. He made a mental note to teach his friends the Patronus charm. Not right away, but starting in third year perhaps, but definitely in fourth year. It was too important a spell to risk his friends not learning it. In fact, around that time he could always start a Defence Club of sorts, a proper, legal version of the DA.

He looked back to Neville, having come up with the perfect reply for Neville’s question. “Please inform your grandmother she’ll get her copy if she agrees to get the Board of Governors to endorse giving a copy of the Hogwarts rules and regulations handbook to every student for Yule, at no cost to the board or Hogwarts. All the board would have to do is sign a short letter endorsing the gift and not inform Headmaster Dumbledore they’re doing it.”

“Sure,” Neville said, reaching in his bag for some stationary and a quill. “I’ll ask her.”

“Wait, you have a copy of that book, Harry?” Daphne asked. She’d overheard the conversation seeing as she was sitting on the sofa beside theirs. “My mother mentioned looking for that book for ages when she was at Hogwarts.”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. Patience, my dear,” Harry said with a mysterious little smile. Daphne harrumphed and rolled her eyes, yet seemed quite pleased with this new development as she turned to Susan and Hannah to continue chatting.

Tiffy popped away with Neville’s note while Theo summoned his house-elf, an older, very dignified elf named Nestor, and asked him to bring them some games Theo kept at home.

Before long there were games of chess and exploding snap while they munched on oatmeal biscuits and lemon cakes. Ernie insisted he teach everyone how to play the Patience version of exploding snap, which was more difficult than the Classical version most of them had played until then. Justin, who was a fairly decent chess player, took great delight in challenging all of them to games of wizarding chess and crowing in victory every time one of his pieces smacked the crap out of an opposing piece.

After half an hour or so, Tiffy popped back in with a reply from Neville’s grandmother. “She agrees to your terms,” Neville said with a relieved smile. “She also says she can now understand why you’ve been sorted into Slytherin. She had been wondering if the Sorting Hat was finally going senile.”

Harry snorted and patted Neville’s knee in gratitude, very pleased yet another part of his many plans were falling into place. Dumbledore could hardly object to every student receiving a copy of the rulebook if it was officially endorsed by the Board of Governors.

For lunch, instead of heading to the great hall or the kitchens, Susan insisted in asking her house-elf Lolly if she would make them lunch. She explained Lolly got bored with Susan at Hogwarts and her aunt spending most time working at the ministry. When Susan summoned Lolly and asked her, Lolly squealed in sheer delight at the opportunity to cook for so many children. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen an elf look quite so ecstatic and he knew Dobby, so that was saying something.

Lolly did not disappoint and within twenty minutes there was a buffet of delicious foods waiting for them to serve themselves. There was roast pork with crackling, roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips, and roasted potatoes and a thick gravy. Chunky applesauce and warm rolls completed the meal. For sweets there were strawberry tarts and tiramisu. Harry ate until he was close to bursting. He wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and after lunch Blaise asked his house-elf, a spunky little fellow called Gianny, to bring his wireless so they could listen to some music while they all slowly recovered from their food comas. Harry may even have napped for an hour or so, curled up on the sofa. Beside him, Neville looked like he’d done the same.

All in all it was a great day spent with friends, fun activities and delicious foods and Harry cherished it. He’d had fun in his previous life, sure, but somehow that had always felt different, far more out-of-control somehow. Mostly, Harry’s idea of fun back then had been to try to solve whatever mystery Dumbledore wanted him to solve that year while seeing how far Harry was willing to go in risking his own life to defeat the evil Dark Lord. Simply hanging out with a bunch of kids while playing games and listening to music while chatting about anything and everything, yet nothing important, was a new experience for Harry and one he truly enjoyed.

They had dinner in the great hall, though none of them ate that much thanks to Lolly’s amazing spread earlier, and afterwards they all disappeared to their dormitories. Harry sincerely hoped Tom would be available for a little chat that evening since Harry was incredibly curious what had happened.

He needn’t have worried. Tom answered in ten seconds once Harry called him after he got to bed.

“How did it go?” Harry asked with an eager smile, not even letting Tom get a polite greeting in.

Tom chuckled and shook his head. “Perfectly, my dear. Narcissa visited Coiffure de Magique in Fantastic Alley, where our friend Lockhart has a standing appointment every Monday. There she gossiped with a few people about hearing that Ravenclaw’s diadem had been found, but not knowing anymore details. On Wednesday, Barty and I took Dorus to the Silver Eel, this little seafood restaurant right beside Coiffure de Magique, which incidentally serves an exquisite seabass, I’ll take you there during the holidays, where we regaled Dorus discreetly of our adventures in recovering Ravenclaw’s lost diadem.”

“And Lockhart overheard you,” Harry guessed.

Tom nodded with a grin. “Of course it so happened dear Gilderoy Lockhart was having lunch there with his publisher that day and couldn’t help but overhear us. He hired Barty and myself on the spot to work on his wards once he realized what kind of business we run.”

Harry snickered and gestured at Tom to go on.

“Friday afternoon Barty and myself went to work at Gilderoy’s luxurious country estate where he proceeded to obliviate us so he could steal our discovery for himself. What he hadn’t counted on was that both Barty and myself were wearing protective charms.” Tom stuck his hand down his blue pyjama shirt and fished out a gaudy, golden amulet in the form of a scarab beetle. “During our port-key stopover in Cairo when we travelled to Lebanon, we picked these up. The Egyptians are known for their excellent protective amulets so it makes perfect sense for us to have these, as ward-masters and curse-breakers who have spent a significant amount of time travelling.”

“I cannot wait to see your memory of Lockhart’s face when he realized his obliviates weren’t working,” Harry said, bouncing in place at the thought of that arrogant peacock falling from grace.

“It was glorious,” Tom confirmed with a smirk. “Barty called the Auror department, who came at once. Gilderoy tried to claim we had attacked him, forcing him to retaliate, but Barty and I immediately offered our memories of that afternoon to the Aurors. Barty also let slip that he’d read all of Lockhart’s work and was a big fan, but that he’d always wondered about all the inconsistencies in the books. Events that overlapped, details that didn’t add up, that sort of thing. And that was enough for the Aurors to start an official investigation.”

“Excellent!” Harry sighed in sheer pleasure knowing that was one disgusting creep off the streets. “I saw it mentioned very briefly in the Prophet this morning but there weren’t any details yet.”

“No, the Aurors wanted to verify what else Lockhart had been up to before they made any statements. I expect there to be an official announcement this Monday. Barty and I gave an interview for the Prophet just this afternoon, explaining how we recovered Ravenclaw’s diadem. They said they would run it together with Lockhart’s article after we told them what he did to us.” Tom gave Harry an intent look. “Speaking of criminals, when are you hiring your godfather a solicitor? Dorus mentioned you might want to hurry now that Arcturus is dead. There’s no telling who might try to gain access to the Black estate without a rightful heir in place, and the longer you wait the more difficult it might be to remove such a person from power. Lucius already made a remark or two about trying to gain control over Black Manor in Cumbria.”

Harry took a moment to remember how he’d set those plans in motion. He had so many things happening simultaneously. He really needed to start writing things down. “I had Susan ask Amelia Bones for the trial transcripts. I’m still waiting for her to get back to me saying she couldn’t find any. Then I’ll have a public reason to start doubting Sirius did it in the first place and I can hire him a solicitor to start digging for the truth and demand a trial. So hopefully soon, maybe sometime this week now that Amelia has questioned Dumbledore about keeping a bloody Cerberus in school during the Board of Governors meeting this afternoon.”

“How did that go?” Tom asked with a curious curve of his brow.

Harry shrugged. “Not sure yet. We’ll probably hear tomorrow.”

They did indeed learn what had happened during the Board of Governors meeting the next morning. Susan had received a letter from her aunt with all the details. Since it was dry outside, at least for a while, they decided to go for a stroll around the grounds while Susan told them what happened.

“Dumbledore was not happy about being questioned,” Susan said with a shy little smile. “He tried to sabotage the interview a few times by implying the Board had no authority to question his decisions concerning the everyday running of the school. Aunt Amelia had to remind him that she certainly had the authority to question his actions should they endanger anyone’s life, and a Cerberus in a school full of children certainly fit that description. Then Dumbledore played it off as him doing his groundskeeper a favour, keeping the beast contained after Hagrid purchased it but didn’t have a way to safely keep it in his own home.”

Harry shook his head at hearing that. Poor Hagrid. Always so loyal to Dumbledore and the old goat was happy to throw him right in front of the bus at the first opportunity.

“Anyway, they did question him about hiding something in the school, but Dumbledore denied this vehemently and brushed it off as rumours spread by overly imaginative school children,” Susan said with a wary little sigh.

“What?” Justin said, echoed by Theo and Tracey.

“He announced it himself at the opening feast,” Ernie grumbled.

“Yes, but there is no evidence so there was nothing my aunt or the board could do,” Susan said with a shrug. “Anyway, Dumbledore and Hagrid have to remove the Cerberus from the school grounds within seven days or they’ll get fined and Dumbledore got an official warning for student endangerment.”

“That’s it?” Daphne asked, right when Blaise said, “That’s all?”

“Nothing serious happened,” Harry explained, understanding politics and bureaucracy a bit better than his young friends. “If a student had been hurt, that would have been a different matter. But Dumbledore has many friends, even on the Board of Governors, and as a first offense with no victims there wasn’t much more they could do against him at this time.”

“I suppose,” Neville said with a thoughtful frown. “I know my grandmother was very upset about having a great big beast like that in a school.”

“I’m sure she was,” Harry said, patting Neville on the shoulder. “But at least they got Dumbledore to answer for his child-endangering schemes and they got rid of the bloody monster dog. That’s more than most have managed.”

There was some more muttering and grumbling about stupid adults and their stupid rules, the way only children can dispense imaginary justice, and Harry listened to all of them with a smile while they headed back inside the castle since more rain was on the horizon. They spent the rest of the day in the Club House while Harry got a little jittery with excitement at the idea of the upcoming headlines in the next day’s Daily Prophet. He couldn’t wait to see the reaction from the students, both at Lockhart’s downfall and the discovery of Ravenclaw’s diadem. Not to mention Dumbledore’s face when he saw Tom’s picture and interview. Harry was looking forward to that most of all.

Harry all but skipped up the stairs on his way to breakfast the next morning, Theo and Blaise trailing behind him while suffering from their normal Monday morning blues. Harry served himself some eggs and a sausage roll while he waited impatiently for the Daily Prophet to be delivered. Around him he heard soft gasps and sharp cries of shock from students all around the hall who had already received the paper. Neville was one of them. His face paled drastically as he looked down at the newspaper in his hand. At once, Neville jumped up and rushed across the great hall towards Harry, paper in one hand, half-eaten sausage roll in the other. He was joined by a small contingency of badgers once Susan shared her copy of the Prophet with them.

Just then a barn owl dropped the paper in Harry’s lap and he licked his lips in anticipation of seeing the headlines and took a big bite of his sausage roll to hide the smirk that was about to form. But instead of seeing Tom and Barty smiling at him from the front page, he saw a picture of another familiar face, looking somewhat confused and overwhelmed but clean and shaven.

SIRIUS BLACK INNOCENT!
SUNDAY EMERGENCY WIZENGAMOT MEETING OVERSEES LONG OVERDUE TRIAL

Harry choked on his sausage roll.

What the fuck!

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

Harry remembered McGonagall’s absolutely gobsmacked look when Harry had been sorted into Slytherin. This was how Harry imagined his own expression right that moment; as though someone had smacked him in the face with a dead mackerel.

“Harry,” Neville huffed as he made it to the Slytherin table. “Harry, I just saw.”

“I swear my aunt never mentioned any of this,” Susan assured him when she and the rest of Harry’s Hufflepuff friends arrived.

Harry barely heard them as he stared at the page before him, heart hammering in his chest, ears buzzing. Of all the things he had anticipated going differently since he got his do-over, this wasn’t what he’d expected. At all.

A sharp sting of worry shot through Harry’s body when he realized this may very well be Dumbledore’s doing, a bizarre plot to bring Harry to heel. But no, that didn’t make any sense. Harry hadn’t really done anything yet to warrant such erratic behaviour from Dumbledore. Sure, the old man might try to manipulate Sirius into making Harry do what Dumbledore wanted, but Sirius himself was a bit of a wild card, having always been something of a rebel going against expectations. Not to mention a decade of dementor damage wouldn’t be doing Sirius’ ability to be an obedient pawn any favours either.

No, the more Harry considered it, the more convinced he became Dumbledore had nothing to do with this. Harry glanced up at the head table, where he found Dumbledore’s chair empty.

“Wow, I did not see that coming,” Blaise mumbled as he read the article over Harry’s shoulder. Theo occupied Harry’s other shoulder and made an affirmative sound.

The mirror heated up in Harry’s pocket, which meant Tom had also seen the Prophet and probably had as many questions as Harry did.

As much as Harry wanted to believe this was Tom’s doing, as a nice surprise for his soulmate or something, Harry knew Tom wouldn’t do something big like this, something so life-changing for Harry, without consulting his soulmate first.

Because right there and then Harry realized his life might very well change for the worst if Sirius tried to get custody of him.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. How fucking ironic was it that for years and years in his previous life he’d wanted nothing more than for Sirius to come take him away from the Dursleys, to have Harry live with him so he’d finally have a real home where he was wanted and cared for. And now when it had a real chance of finally happening Harry didn’t want it anymore.

He was no longer a child longing for a home. He was a young adult with plots and plans that required him to come and go as he pleased during his time away from Hogwarts. If he lived with Sirius during the holidays that could very well be impossible and Harry’s plots and plans were ruined.

Not to mention Harry planned to spend quite some time with Tom and how was he supposed to explain that to Sirius, that an eleven-year-old boy wanted to spend unsupervised time with an unrelated grown-ass man just for fun. Yeah, that might give his godfather some very worrying ideas.

“Harry,” Neville said, placing a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, you can always go to the hospital wing if you need some peace and quiet.”

Harry finally snapped out of his musings and realized he must appear to be in absolute shock to his friends. Not that he wasn’t really in shock, because fucking hell. But instead of being in shock about learning the truth about his parents’ murders, Harry was frantically trying to come up with ways to keep his life on the rails now that something so unexpected had happened that might very well turn his life upside down if he let it.

“I’m fine,” Harry whispered, which earned him an unconvinced snort from Theo. “Yeah, okay, not fine, I am in shock, but I’ll be fine. Let me read this, see what’s going on.”

His friends stayed quiet as Harry skimmed the article, squeezing his eyes open and shut a few times to stop the words from dancing across the page. Amelia Bones, dedicated law enforcement officer that she was, had noticed the lack of trial, gone to Azkaban to talk to Sirius and realized there was a good chance he was in fact innocent. So she’d convinced Fudge to call the emergency meeting to oversee the trial. One quickly summoned solicitor (Sybil Post, from Harper, Coldwell and Post, the firm Harry had wanted to hire for his godfather), one dose of veritaserum and some clever arguing from said solicitor later, all charges were dropped and Sirius had been released at once. Miss Post had also argued for damages for the false imprisonment Sirius had suffered through the ministry’s incompetence and had gotten Sirius five thousand galleons for every year he’d been incarcerated without a trial. Currently Sirius was recovering in St Mungo’s where he was receiving the best medical treatment money could buy, also provided by the ministry thanks to Miss Post’s negotiating skills.

Harry briefly closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath. So it was Amelia Bones who’d simply done her job. And why should she involve an eleven-year-old child in that, no matter that the child through his innocent questions had set her on the trail of this miscarriage of justice in the first place. Harry understood why she hadn’t given him an explanation of what was going on.

Harry was happy Sirius was out of Azkaban and declared innocent with all charges dropped, he really was. But fucking hell did this complicate things.

His mirror heated up in his pocket again. Tom really wanted to talk to him and quite frankly, Harry also wanted to talk to his soulmate to help gather his thoughts and perhaps come up with some new plots and plans to help adjust to this situation.

“I need some air,” Harry said as he looked around at his friends, who were all staring at him with worried frowns. “I’ll see you in history, I promise.”

“All right,” Neville said with a decisive nod and moved out of the way so Harry could stand up. “See you soon.”

As Harry walked out the great hall, using all his energy to keep himself from running like he wanted to, he glanced at the head table. McGonagall was reading the paper, face very pale, lips tightly pursed. Snape sat ramrod straight, unmoving, staring down at the Prophet in his hands, his complexion a pallid grey, practically the colour of a corpse. It looked like the man had died right there and then and they simply hadn’t removed the body yet.

Once he reached the entrance hall Harry ran up the stairs and decided to go to the Club House since it was a lot closer on the second floor than the Room of Requirement on the seventh one.

Harry pulled the mirror out of his pocket before he’d even given the password to open the door. The moment he threw the door shut behind him he flipped the mirror open. “Tom,” he breathed in sheer relief, his hands trembling from the shock wearing off.

“Harry,” Tom said, eyes sharp and intent. “I do not mean to sound callous, but you have to get on top of this. You have to get to your godfather before Dumbledore does.”

“Fuck,” Harry whispered, running his free hand over his eyes as he sank down on a sofa. Dumbledore was far too clever not to immediately try to turn this situation around in his favour, no matter how much he wouldn’t have wanted Sirius out of Azkaban as a free man. “How? I’m stuck here, at least during the day. I might be able to sneak out tonight.”

“Send him a letter as soon as you can,” Tom said with some urgency. “Then ask McGonagall if she’ll escort you to St Mungo’s. She was always very fond of your father and Black, she won’t refuse you. Severus probably will.”

Harry snorted at the idea of going to Snape to ask the man to escort him to see Sirius. Then he imagined Sirius’ face if Harry showed up in his hospital room with Snape in tow. “Yeah, that way lies murder and mayhem.”

“What are you going to do about any custody suggestions from Black?” Tom asked, seeming a little calmer now that Harry knew what to do about the situation.

“Not sure yet. Probably just tell him I want to keep living at the Dursleys and just visit him from time to time. Which is just…” Harry couldn’t talk anymore, his throat closing from the lump that suddenly formed. For years and years this had been his dream and now it was impossible.

“Darling,” Tom whispered, voice soothing yet eyes worried. “I know how much you wanted to live with your godfather once upon a time. But if you do that we won’t be able to spend any time together during your holidays and none of the plans we have will work out the way we want them to.”

“I know,” Harry said after swallowing a time or two to get rid of the bitter disappointment he tasted. “Though, maybe if I tell Sirius the truth, he’ll let me do as I want even when living together.”

Tom blinked.

“I could make him sign a secrecy contract, like the one you had Theo’s dad sign, right?” Harry’s chest warmed with sheer hope at being able to make this work. “That way our secrets would be safe and Sirius might be able to help us.”

“Do you honestly believe Sirius Black, bosom-buddy of James Potter, would ever let James’ son become close friends with James’ murderer?” Tom asked in a tone of voice that suggested he was trying to be delicate but was also very close to losing his patience.

“Er…” Harry was grasping at straws, he knew he was, but he wanted this to work. “Maybe not, but I could always tell him part of the truth. That I’m really eighteen and that I’ve died and come back. And then we stick to you being your son.”

“Hmm.” Tom nodded while he appeared deep in thought. “That might work. I will prepare a secrecy contract you can use on your godfather regardless and send it to you later today. Just in case, do you know how to obliviate someone?”

“Sure,” Harry said, while he’d only ever really obliviated one Death Eater and wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t given the man permanent brain damage in the process. But he wasn’t giving up now that this idea had lodged itself in his mind. He was getting Sirius on board with him.

“In any case, you should wait with telling Black any version of the truth until he’s released from the hospital. St Mungo’s is not exactly a secure location no matter how many privacy spells you cast,” Tom said with a pointed look and Harry nodded in agreement at once. That was probably for the best, since that gave Harry a bit more time to decide how to break the truth to his godfather. First he should probably determine Sirius’ mental state before sharing any ground-breaking news. Harry remembered well how completely out of it Sirius had been for the whole first year after he’d escaped Azkaban and simply roamed around Britain, hiding as a dog, feebly trying to capture Wormtail through poorly thought out plots that were pretty much doomed to fail. Harry liked to think Sirius had a better chance of recovering a lot quicker with actual medical care in a hospital, but dementor damage was tricky so there was no predicting what Sirius’ mental health was like at that time.

“Crap, I’m almost late for class,” Harry said with a sigh. He didn’t want to end their conversation. He wanted to talk with Tom and listen to Tom come up with plots and plans that would ensure their victory in the end. But that was wistful thinking and Harry knew he needed to get back to reality and deal with the situation, no matter how shocking and inconvenient.

“Call me after your classes are done today,” Tom insisted.

Harry nodded. “I’ve got history first thing, so I can write a letter to Sirius and send it off right before lunch.”

“I’ll talk to you soon,” Tom said when Harry still didn’t close his mirror, somehow finding that simple action impossible to manage there and then, so Tom did it for him and closed his own mirror, breaking their connection. Harry sighed, tucked his mirror away and made his way to the history classroom with a few minutes to spare. Not that Binns would notice, but Harry didn’t want to worry his friends or even have them come find him. Neville was just such a concerned type of kid to launch a search and rescue mission because Harry had a shock and was ten minutes late.

“I’m fine,” Harry said to a dubious looking Neville, an exasperated Theo and an amused Blaise in the hallway. “Yeah, I know, I’m not fine, but I’m better. I’m going to write him a letter.”

“So you believe he is truly innocent?” Theo asked quietly while they shuffled inside the classroom one after the other.

“Yeah, my aunt always said she had a hard time believing he’d betrayed them,” Harry answered, happily using Petunia to explain his eagerness to believe this new development. Harry never would have thought Petunia would one day be so useful to him.

They settled at their desks and as Binns started to drone about one goblin war or another, Harry got out some parchment and thought about what to write. He had to sound like an eleven-year-old boy for starters, at least for now, but he also wanted Sirius to know he had a very big hand in getting him out of Azkaban. Harry didn’t like the idea of manipulating his godfather, but better he manipulate Sirius than Dumbledore, who would inevitably try to get Sirius on his side. So Harry let his inner-Slytherin come up with some subtle manipulations throughout the letter.

Dear Mr Black,

My name is Harry Potter and you are my godfather. My aunt Petunia always told me she didn’t believe you would have betrayed my parents so when I got to Hogwarts I went digging for information on your trial to see what you’d said about it. But then I couldn’t find any news on your trial so I asked my friend Susan Bones’ aunt Amelia, who works for the magical police, if she could send me a copy of your trial which she said she would. Except she got you an actual trial instead, which is even better! I was so shocked and happy to see this morning you got out of prison! I’m going to ask a professor if I can visit you soon because you are family and I don’t have much family left outside of my aunt, uncle and cousin, so if you want we can be family.

I will tell you a little about me. I’m eleven and I’m sorted into Slytherin. The Sorting Hat said I would also do well in Gryffindor. Personally, I wanted Ravenclaw because I love learning everything, but the hat said I was too ambitious for that so it sent me to Slytherin. I like it there and I have a few friends there, Theodore Nott, Blaise Zabini, Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis. But my best friend is Neville Longbottom. He’s in Gryffindor and we met on the train and swore we’d stay friends no matter where we were sorted and we did! I’m also friends with some Hufflepuffs, Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, Ernie Macmillan and Justin Finch Fletchley. We spend all our time together, some in the library to study, we also like to explore the castle and the grounds, and we have our own Club House where we turned an empty classroom into our hangout with the help of some old furniture and some house-elves. We also started an official student club called the Culture Club and we had our first meeting just last week and lots of students showed up and it was a huge success.

But probably the thing I like doing most at Hogwarts is playing Quidditch. I got on the team! During my first match I caught the snitch and we won, but then the Weasley twins smashed my skull in and I was in a coma for a week in the hospital wing. I know you maybe won’t believe me, but I think maybe I died a little bit and I saw my parents. My dad was shocked I was sorted into Slytherin, but my mom said it didn’t matter at all! My dad was happy about me playing Quidditch though, and my mom was happy about me wanting to learn all the magic. They said I couldn’t stay with them (even though I really wanted to, I’d never met my parents before!) but that they were fine and that I shouldn’t worry about them and just live my life the way I wanted to.

I hope I can meet you soon, Mr Black and I hope you get better soon and can leave the hospital. I have a secret I don’t know if I should tell you, but I asked the goblins about you when I first visited the bank and they told me the address of your home and I went there and made friends with your house-elf Kreacher. I hope you don’t mind me making friends with your elf, but Kreacher is one of my best friends and he’s been very helpful and he’s given me a few things that belonged to your brother Regulus, like lots of books and his book bag and I hope I can keep them because I really like them but if not I’ll give them back.

Thanks for reading my letter and I hope to meet you soon.

Your godson,

Harry Potter

Just as Harry put the finishing touches to his letter the class ended. Harry folded the letter haphazardly and hurried out the room. “I’m going to run to the owlery,” Harry said over his shoulder to Theo and Blaise. He knew he probably wouldn’t make it back in time for transfiguration, but he also hoped this was a way to help convince McGonagall to let him see Sirius, if she saw Harry was willing to be late for class to send his godfather a letter.

Hedwig was very happy to deliver a letter for him and didn’t even bat an eye when Harry told her to hurry as this was a very important letter. Harry ran all the way to the transfiguration classroom but was still five minutes late.

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry puffed before McGonagall could even open her mouth to scold him for his tardiness. “But my godfather just got out of prison and I had to send him a letter and it couldn’t wait and I will work extra hard this class to make up for it, promise.”

As predicted, McGonagall got a little misty eyed at the mention of her former student, probably feeling more than a bit guilty for having believed Sirius would actually betray James and Lily and little Harry to their deaths.

“Don’t let it happen again, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said with a tight nod before going back to explaining their new assignment.

“Smooth,” Blaise whispered while Theo snorted as Harry sat down in between them as they’d saved him a seat. Harry winked at them and got his book and notebook out to take notes. McGonagall’s lecture was on something Harry had known about for years so he could use that time to decide how to approach his former Head of House about taking him to see Sirius. And while Harry had no problem letting his Slytherin side manipulate his professor as much as needed, Harry also knew McGonagall had an uncanny ability to see through people’s bullshit. So the manipulation had to be subtle or McGonagall would never go for it.

“Professor,” Harry said politely once class ended and students were leaving. “Can I ask you for a favour?”

“That depends on the favour, Mr Potter.” McGonagall didn’t look very impressed with him to start with so Harry looked down at his shoes and tried to portray a contrite yet eager student.

“I don’t want to bother the headmaster, and you’re the deputy headmistress so I’m sure you can give me permission as well,” Harry all but mumbled.

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed. “Permission for what?”

“To visit my godfather. He’s spent over a decade alone in prison with horrible soul-sucking monsters and on top of that his grandfather died just last week so now he doesn’t have any family to visit him except me.” Harry inhaled a deep breath and looked up at McGonagall with wide eyes. “I’ve researched it, I swear, Professor. I can take the Knight Bus, I’ve got money for the fare, and it will take me to St Mungo’s. I just need permission from you to go after classes.”

“Mr Potter, I cannot let a first year student take the Knight Bus alone to visit someone in the hospital.” McGonagall’s tone was stern but her eyes were softening. Harry hadn’t lost his chance to win her over yet.

Harry swallowed. “I would ask Professor Snape to take me since he’s my Head of House, but my aunt Petunia told me some stories about my dad and his friends and Professor Snape and I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

McGonagall managed to keep a straight face at the sheer understatement of Harry’s suggestion but she did clear her throat, perhaps to mask a snort or smile. Or both. “Indeed, Mr Potter. I would take you myself but we have a staff meeting this afternoon after classes end so I won’t be available.”

Bugger. Harry bit his lip, hoping to appear a bit heart-broken as he lowered his gaze and offered McGonagall a sad little nod. “I understand. I suppose there’s no other staff member that can take me then if you all have to be at the meeting.”

“Perhaps Hagrid might take you. I do believe he’d be fine missing one staff meeting and he has been hoping to get an introduction with you,” McGonagall said with a tight little smile. “He was ever so disappointed he wasn’t needed to take you shopping for your school supplies.”

Harry perked up and offered McGonagall a bright grin. “The gamekeeper? He seems like a nice man, what I’ve heard of him. I’d be fine with him taking me if that would be allowed, Professor.”

“I will arrange for it. You should meet Hagrid outside the entrance doors after your classes end and he’ll take you with the Knight Bus.” McGonagall gestured towards the door. “Now off to lunch with you, Mr Potter.”

“Yes, Professor.” Harry all but bounced in place. “Thanks so much!” He ran out the classroom and almost bumped into Neville, who stood waiting for him with Theo and Blaise.

“I’m going to visit Sirius this afternoon,” Harry said, not having to fake any enthusiasm at the idea of seeing his godfather again. “Hagrid is taking me on the Knight Bus after classes.”

“The gamekeeper?” Blaise asked while he wrinkled his nose.

“It’s an odd choice to escort you to the hospital,” Theo agreed.

“He’s really nice,” Neville said, sounding a bit offended on Hagrid’s behalf.

“There’s a staff meeting this afternoon, otherwise McGonagall would have taken me. But Hagrid can miss a staff meeting apparently, and the deputy headmistress and Head of Gryffindor can’t.” Harry offered his friends a grin. “Now let’s get lunch. I barely ate this morning from the shock and I’m starving.”

“I’m glad you get to meet your godfather,” Neville said earnestly as they strolled towards the Great Hall. Harry nodded at him, knowing that Neville was in a unique position to understand how much a long lost pseudo-family member might mean to Harry.

And Sirius did mean a great deal to Harry. In fact, the thought of seeing him again filled Harry’s stomach with all sorts of nervous jitters. Losing Sirius the way he had was one of the most traumatizing events of Harry’s previous life. The suddenness of the loss, losing the connection to his family that Sirius represented, the injustice to Sirius personally, it all had messed Harry up pretty badly. He’d dreamt about Sirius falling through the veil for years afterwards and only seeing Sirius again briefly thanks to the resurrection stone had started the healing process for Harry.

And now Harry got a second chance with Sirius. On the one hand Harry was terrified to get close to Sirius again, not wanting to go through all that pain again should he lose Sirius for whatever reason. But on the other hand Harry was determined to have a better relationship with Sirius this time around. Harry was older now, more mature, not as much in need of a father figure that he’d wanted before and Sirius wasn’t able to provide due mainly to so much dementor exposure. But Harry could be there for Sirius this time around, more so than when he’d been younger.

Then again, Sirius might very well reject Harry for being a Slytherin. Sirius had always hated Slytherins and perhaps his brain was damaged enough from a decade in Azkaban that he’d still be stuck with such a childish attitude, unable to accept his godson for who he was instead of a carbon copy of James Potter.

And that wasn’t even counting any of the manipulations Dumbledore might throw at Sirius.

Yes, there were still lots of things that might go wrong with their reunion, hence the nervous jitters taking over Harry’s belly. Thankfully they didn’t keep Harry from enjoying a full plate at lunch. He hadn’t been lying about being famished.

Before double defence in the afternoon, Harry ducked into a bathroom, silenced a cubicle and quickly called Tom to let him know he’d be going to see Sirius that afternoon and wouldn’t be calling him like they’d previously agreed upon.

“They’re sending Hagrid with you?” Tom asked with a frown and a small, distasteful wrinkle of his nose.

Harry sighed. What was it with Slytherins and their attitude towards poor Hagrid. “He’s the only one available and he’s a really nice man.”

“I’m sure,” Tom replied smoothly, though his eyes spoke of endless amusement courtesy of Harry’s indignant expression. “But he’s also a man who’s not allowed to do magic so how could he ever really protect you if something went wrong?”

“Nothing will go wrong and whose fault is it that he can’t do magic?” Harry demanded. Tom had nothing to say to that. “You framed him. Isn’t there a way to unframe him? Get him off for the crimes he didn’t commit in the first place so he can legally own a wand again?”

Tom’s eyebrows rose as he looked at Harry in disbelief. “And how do you suggest I do that? How did you manage it last time?”

“Er…” Harry fell quiet as he tried to remember what exactly had happened. “It had to do with your diary horcrux. Somehow Dumbledore used that to convince the ministry Hagrid was innocent.” Harry looked at Tom in confusion. “But that doesn’t make any sense. There was no hard evidence. Hagrid spent some time in Azkaban while there were more attacks during my second year, but that proves nothing about what happened fifty years ago, does it? Unless Dumbledore always had the power to influence enough people at the ministry to overturn Hagrid’s sentence but he simply refused to act on it earlier.”

“Knowing the old man, that seems entirely possible,” Tom agreed with a snort. “Keep him wandless and uneducated for as long as it suits Dumbledore, while he could have seen his conviction overturned decades ago.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed quietly, filled with disbelief that Dumbledore might have screwed over Hagrid’s life intentionally by keeping him bound to Hogwarts. Why hadn’t he considered that before?

“Don’t you have class?” Tom asked when Harry was lost in thought and remained quiet.

“Yeah, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“You’ll be fine, my dear. Just do your breathing exercises,” Tom said with a kind smile to show he wasn’t teasing.

Harry nodded. “See you later.” And with that he snapped his mirror shut and hurried towards defence. They had an hour of theory, which might as well have lasted a week for how slow the time seemed to go for Harry. The next hour was a practical which was a little bit better. At least Harry could redirect his nervous energy into hexing Lavender Brown time after time, and even get points for it in the end. After class, Harry rushed towards his dormitory to drop off his bookbag, freshen up and grab his coat. Then he ran all the way to the entrance hall where he saw Hagrid already waiting for him through the opened doors.

“Harry,” Hagrid said, large smile mostly obscured by his wild beard. “So nice ter be meeting yeh.”

“Hi, Mr Hagrid. It’s good to meet you, too.” Harry beamed up at Hagrid. He’d always loved Hagrid, and the only reason he’d kept his distance from Hagrid so far was to give Dumbledore one less way to try to get control over him. But that didn’t mean that Harry hadn’t missed Hagrid, because he had.

“Just Hagrid. Now, let’s get yeh to meet yer godfather.” Hagrid waved a huge hand towards the entrance gates in the distance. “We’ll walk towards Hogsmeade and yeh can summon the Knight Bus there.”

Harry experienced a warm wave of nostalgia when he had to almost jog to keep up with Hagrid and his enormous strides. They chatted about all sorts of meaningless things. Hagrid’s fascination with magical beasts, Harry’s fascination with ancient runes and his love for Quidditch. Their conversation continued on the Knight Bus, which didn’t seem very busy that time of the afternoon so they found themselves in central London within half an hour. Harry still didn’t understand how the bus could bridge such long distances in such short amount of time, but he was determined to find out one day what types of magic made that possible.

“Here’s the visitor entrance,” Hagrid said while guiding Harry inside the hospital through the window of the abandoned department store. A witch in the reception area directed them to the fourth floor, spell damage. Harry was confused for a moment why Sirius would need to stay in that department until he remember it also housed the long-term residents’ ward and they were probably the department with the most experience in brain damage.

As they took the elevator up Harry’s insides were twisting themselves into knots. What if Sirius wanted custody of him? What if Sirius didn’t want custody of him? What if Sirius didn’t want anything to do with him?

“Here yeh go, Harry,” Hagrid said once they found the right room. “I’ll wait out here for yeh. Go on.”

Harry collected every scrap of Gryffindor courage he still had, no matter the colour of his tie, knocked loudly and then pushed the door to Sirius’ hospital room open.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32

The first thing Harry saw inside Sirius’ room was Bellatrix Lestrange giving him a curious look.

Harry blinked, then blinked again, and wanted to hit himself for almost making the same mistake twice.

Andromeda Tonks quirked an eyebrow at him in a silent question of what he was doing there.

“Hi,” Harry said shyly, playing up his youth a bit. “I’m looking for my godfather Sirius Black. I’m Harry Potter.”

Andromeda’s expression softened a bit and she waved him further into the room.

“Wotcher, Harry!” Tonks…Nymphadora Tonks that was, looked so happy to meet him her blue hair turned a bright pink.

“Hello,” Harry mumbled and offered Ted Tonks, who was seated in a chair in the corner, a little wave. Ted Tonks looked just as friendly and portly as when Harry had first met him. For a moment Harry had to swallow against a lump when he remembered that both Ted and Nymphadora hadn’t survived the war. Andromeda had taken little Teddy, Harry’s godson, with her to stay with distant cousins in France during the summer after the end of the war. Harry hadn’t pressed her about seeing his godson, understanding Andromeda needed time to grieve the losses she’d suffered. And frankly, Harry had enough on his own mind to worry about a baby those first few months right after the war. But he had loved the idea of being a godfather and he had loved little Teddy the one time he’d met him very briefly, when Andromeda had arranged for an introduction before she all but fled the country.

So that was one more thing to add to his list of stuff to do: introduce Tonks to Lupin and hope whatever sparks there once where would still be there in this new version of their world. Harry wanted to be a godfather again eventually and he needed their help with that. Then again, Tonks did look quite young still and Harry realized that she’d only just finished Hogwarts the year before. And Lupin was already at least thirty. Ah well, who cared. Harry planned to one day in the future do some very sexy things with a man old enough to be his grandfather. He was sure Tonks hooking up with Lupin even now would be fine. It was legal, at any rate.

“Harry,” a familiar raspy voice said in wonderment.

Harry turned towards the voice and saw Sirius sitting up in the hospital bed, staring at him in something close to disbelief.

“Sirius,” Harry said before he could stop himself. There sat his godfather, looking thin and tired, with dark shadows under his eyes, but alive. So alive. Grey eyes sharp and shiny, cracked lips drawn up in a tentative smile, teeth already fixed and looking whole and white.

“Harry,” Sirius said, smile growing even bigger.

“Sirius,” Harry replied, trying very hard not to burst into tears like a rather large part of him wanted to do.

“Tonks,” said Tonks and then giggled. “Sorry, I thought we were introducing ourselves.”

“Dora,” Andromeda said with a shake of her head and a tired sigh. “Show some decorum.”

“Are you family?” Harry asked, looking between everyone in the room. “I thought Sirius had no more family after his grandfather died so that’s why I came to see him right away so he wouldn’t be alone.”

“That is very kind of you,” Andromeda said with an approving smile that reminded Harry eerily of McGonagall somehow.

“This is my cousin Andromeda Tonks. That’s Ted, the husband and Nymphadora, the daughter, my baby cousin,” Sirius said as he waved at each individual.

“Don’t call me that,” Tonks said, pink hair darkening to a foreboding purple. “Call me Tonks,” she added with a wink at Harry.

“And this is my godson, Harry Potter,” Sirius continued as though Tonks hadn’t spoken, gesturing at Harry as he stood beside Sirius’ bed. “James Potter’s sprog who somehow made it into Slytherin.”

“You got my letter!” Harry beamed at Sirius, though his stomach did a nervous flip. This was it. Sirius would accept him. Or not.

“What’s wrong with Slytherin?” Andromeda demanded, hands on her hips and head tilted as she gave Sirius a challenging glare.

“Nothing,” Sirius said at once, looking a little bit like a surprised mouse cornered by a viper it had initially thought was an ordinary garden hose. “I’d forgotten you were a Slytherin, Andy,” he mumbled, sounding just a tad embarrassed.

“I like it in Slytherin,” Harry declared, feeling just a bit relieved that so far Sirius seemed to take that particular twist rather well. “Though rooming with Draco Malfoy has its challenges. I’ve never met a more spoiled boy in my life. But everyone else is fine.”

Tonks snorted. “That I believe. He’s our cousin, too, did you know?”

Harry gaped at her. “Draco Malfoy is your cousin?” He glanced at Sirius who looked like he still couldn’t quite believe Harry was there to visit him.

“Yes,” Andromeda said with a patient smile. “Narcissa Malfoy is my sister. But we haven’t spoken in a long time.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said sincerely.

“Nah,” Tonks said, with a dismissive little wave. “You’ve seen Draco. That should tell you enough about his parents.”

Harry nodded in understanding, knowing all too well what Draco’s parents were like. He’d never liked Lucius, arrogant tosspot that he was, but after Narcissa had saved his life in the clearing he did have something of a soft spot for her. Harry hadn’t forgotten that Narcissa was one of the few people who hadn’t voted in favour of his execution. “So you got my letter,” Harry said, changing the subject quickly because there were quite a few things he needed to discuss with Sirius in the little amount of time they had that afternoon. “Can I please keep Regulus’ books, that Kreacher gave me? Please?” Harry did his best impression of a pleading child, eyes round and bottom lip sticking out. Sirius gave him a brief nod, still looking like he had trouble coming up with something to say.

“Kreacher?” Ted wondered out loud. “Is that cranky elf still alive?”

“He’s really nice and one of my best friends,” Harry declared as he gave Ted a suspicious look.

“Nice isn’t how I would describe him,” Andromeda said with an amused chuckle. “But he was always very loyal to Regulus. He must genuinely like you, Harry, if he gave you Regulus’ books.”

“Yeah, you have to tell me how you managed to win that old bastard over,” Sirius finally said as he leaned back against his pillows a little. “He certainly never liked me.”

“He really doesn’t seem to like you very much,” Harry said quietly while ducking his head a little, as though embarrassed to have to bring that up. “And I was just happy to meet him and talk to him. And from there we became friends.”

“I have always told you, Sirius, that house-elves respond well to kindness,” Andromeda said in the sort of tone that made it sound like an often repeated argument.

Sirius waved her words away and looked at Harry. “What on earth made you go to that gloomy house in the first place?”

Harry shrugged, staring at his shoes. “I got the address from the goblins and I wanted to see if there maybe were any portraits there who could tell me about magic and your family and the wizarding world and stuff. I tried talking to your mother’s portrait but she wasn’t very happy to see me. But Kreacher was!”

Sirius barked a laugh that transformed into a raspy cough. He grabbed a glass of water from the side-table and took a big gulp before speaking. “That old hag had a portrait made? I pity the painter, I really do.”

“Anyway, I’ve been visiting that house all summer, reading in the library and Kreacher made me lunch and answered all my questions. I really like it,” Harry said happily. He knew he couldn’t hide the fact that he had been visiting Grimmauld Place and had a good relationship with Sirius’ house-elf so he’d decided to just own up to all of that and perhaps plant the seeds in Sirius’ head that he shouldn’t get rid of the house or elf without offering them to Harry first.

Andromeda looked a little worried at Harry’s confession. “There are some dangerous books in that library.”

“Kreacher made sure I only read the safe ones. He told me I could read the rest when I was older and could use magic to keep myself safe. I can’t wait!”

“So you weren’t lying when you wrote that you wanted to go to Ravenclaw,” Sirius said with a chuckle.

“I’ll go find us some tea,” Ted offered as he got up from his seat. “Since this is turning out to be quite the lengthy reunion.” He disappeared out the door while Andromeda sat down in the empty chair.

“Are you going to live in Grimmauld Place or in your castle in Cumbria?” Harry asked, leaning against the bed as he looked up at Sirius.

“My what in Cumbria?” Sirius asked in obvious confusion.

“Theo said the Black family had a castle there where your grandfather lived.”

“It’s not a castle, Harry, but an old manor house,” Andromeda said as she leaned back in the chair and shifted her attention to Sirius. “And you could move into the old manor, Sirius. You could redecorate and it’s quiet up there, which would help your recovery.”

“I guess I’ll move in there, at least at first,” Sirius said before he wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I’m definitely not moving into Grimmauld Place.”

“My offer to stay at our home still stands,” Andromeda added which got her a few nods from Sirius, who shifted in his bed a little to stare down at Harry.

“Harry, your parents wanted me to have custody of you,” Sirius said, grey eyes intent as he seemed to struggle to find the right words. “So you can live with me if you want.”

“Sirius,” Andromeda said sternly as she narrowed her eyes. “Harry has a family he lives with. You can’t expect the boy to just pack up his whole life and move away from the only family he’s known to move in with you while you’re still in recovery.”

“Er…” Harry looked between Andromeda and Sirius in confusion, while on the inside he was jumping for joy. Andromeda had just given him the perfect excuse to postpone any decisions to move in with his godfather to at least the summer holidays, which gave Harry plenty of time to make sure everything would work out in his favour.

“No, I didn’t mean…” Sirius sighed and rubbed a trembling hand down his face. “Of course you already live with family. Do you like it there?”

“Sirius,” Andromeda hissed in warning.

“The Dursleys are fine,” Harry said with a shrug, though it pained him to do so. But Harry knew, now that he was older, that his reaction to Sirius’ offer to live with him in his previous life should have raised several red flags with anyone who knew of it. No well-adjusted child would simply agree to live with a grown man they met an hour before just because he knew their parents. Godfather was after all an honorary title but held no legal power or obligation. And nowadays Harry couldn’t have anyone nosing around in his personal life too intensively, and Andromeda was a very intelligent woman who probably would do just that if she suspected Harry was receiving less than proper care at home. “They’re muggles and they’re a little scared of magic, but they don’t bother me with that. Also, Aunt Petunia told me that there are special wards around the house that keep us all safe as long as I live there.” Harry shrugged again to illustrate that this was all old news to him and didn’t concern him in the slightest.

“Right,” Sirius said, swallowing his obvious disappointment away, or trying to at least.

“But I’d love to visit,” Harry said, hoping to cheer his godfather up. He still wanted to eventually push for Sirius to get custody of him, but later in the schoolyear, so Sirius had time to recover and Harry had time to adjust his plans if needed, and he could use the upcoming holidays to try to tell Sirius at least part of the truth and see how he took that.

“Of course,” Sirius said, some colour returning to his pale cheeks. “You can even visit over the Yule holidays if you want.”

“I’d love to,” Harry said sincerely and shared a smile with Andromeda, who seemed pleased with these much more reasonable plans for the immediate future.

Ted returned, carrying a tray with five steaming cups on it. “I tried to invite Hagrid to join us but he was visiting with Frank and Alice Longbottom. They seemed at least interested to see him.”

“Neville is my best friend,” Harry said as he accepted a cup of tea from Ted. “It’s really sad what happened to his parents.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, cupping his tea between his hands while he frowned at Harry. “About your friends…you mentioned a Theodore Nott. Son of Theodorus Nott?”

“Yes,” Harry said quietly, stomach sinking at the dubious look Sirius was giving him.

“I don’t think that’s the kind of child you should be associating with,” Sirius said, seemingly oblivious to the rising tension in the room. Harry swallowed his temper down, but Andromeda did no such thing.

“Sirius Black!” Andromeda snapped, eyes narrowing to slits.

“What?” Sirius looked honestly surprised by Andromeda’s sharp rebuke. “That kid’s father is a Death Eater, one of You Know Who’s oldest supporters, and you want Harry to spend time with him?”

“Theo is not his father,” Harry said defensively, crossing his arms over his chest. “For one, he wants to be a healer.”

“How right you are, Harry,” Andromeda said before focussing her wrath on her cousin. “My sister put poor Neville Longbottom’s parents here, right up the hall. Do you believe you shouldn’t be associating with us because we have a few rotten apples in the family?”

“No,” Sirius said, putting his cup of tea down and holding up his hands in surrender. “That’s different.”

“It’s really not,” Tonks said, her usually smiling face looking utterly serious. “When I applied for the Auror department they interviewed me extensively about my family connections to dear auntie Bellatrix and all her foul deeds. They accepted me in the department anyway, because they do understand that I’m my own person and what my aunt did doesn’t say anything about my character. That’s something you still have to learn it seems.”

Sirius released an exaggerated sigh. “Fine, let my godson associate with whoever he likes. Maybe he can become best friends with You Know Who himself while he’s at it.”

Harry choked on his own spit and coughed a few times. “Sorry,” he muttered. “My tea went down the wrong way.”

Tonks snickered at him and looked like she wanted to ruffle his hair, but since Harry’s hair was long and tied back she probably didn’t dare mess it up completely. Harry narrowed his eyes at her. She’d better not dare mess up his hair.

Ted drained his tea cup and smiled at Harry. “Sirius told us you were the reason Amelia Bones finally went to visit him in Azkaban and realized he hadn’t had a trial.”

“Yes,” Harry said, turning to look at Ted. He was so glad Ted brought this up, so Harry could start sowing some seeds of doubts in Sirius when it came to Dumbledore. “I wanted to read about his trial but I couldn’t find anything. So I asked Susan, my friend, if her aunt would help me, and Amelia Bones did.” Harry frowned as though deep in thought as he looked between Ted and Sirius. “Though that does make me wonder why Professor Dumbledore never realized you hadn’t had a trial.”

“What?” Sirius asked as he looked at Harry in obvious confusion.

“I mean, it only took Amelia Bones one visit with you to realize you still needed an actual trial. And you worked for Professor Dumbledore during the war, right? My aunt Petunia told me that.” Harry shrugged as if all of this seemed completely logical to him. “So when Dumbledore came to talk to you, to see why you supposedly betrayed us and him and everyone, why didn’t he realize you never had a trial?”

“Huh,” Ted said, while Sirius looked as if he’d been struck speechless for a few moments.

“Dumbledore never talked to me, though, after they threw me into Azkaban,” Sirius finally said after he found his voice again.

“And why not?” Andromeda asked no one in particular. “Harry’s right about that. You were a member of his order. The very least he could have done is question you to see what had really happened.”

“Especially because Dumbledore is the boss of the Wizengamot,” Harry pointed out, just to add a little more doubt. “You’d think he would know you hadn’t had a trial since that’s his job, to make sure people have trials.”

“Was Dumbledore already Chief Warlock back then?” Tonks asked as she looked between her parents.

“Yes,” Ted said, his usually jovial expression darkening just a bit. “And he should have made sure you got a trial, Sirius.”

Harry glanced between everyone in the room and wanted to smile, but he controlled himself and instead looked politely interested at what was being said. But on the inside he was cheering for how everyone was questioning Dumbledore. Not enough for them to renounce any loyalty to the old man entirely, Harry made himself no illusions about that, but hopefully enough that they would think about any possible motivations Dumbledore might have in the future instead of blindly believing whatever the man said. And that was a good start in slowly but surely chipping away at Dumbledore’s loyal following.

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed in Dumbledore and his lack of interest in my case,” Sirius said as he rubbed his face, looking more tired by the minute. “I’ll ask him about it the next time I see him.” Sirius peered down at Harry and curved an eyebrow. “And what was this you wrote about getting your skull cracked open?”

“What?” Andromeda asked, eyes widening as she stared at Harry.

“They let him on the Quidditch team,” Sirius explained as Harry self-consciously ran a hand over his scalp as if to check his skull was still in one piece.

“A first-year?” Andromeda demanded, just as Tonks said, “Cool.”

Harry grinned at Tonks. “Yeah, I thought so. And I won the game when I caught the snitch! But then the Weasley twins came at me at the same time and cracked my skull open. My friends told me you could see my brain and everything and that Professor Snape did magic to make sure it didn’t fall out of my head.”

“This is why they shouldn’t let first years play,” Andromeda stated, throwing up her hands in emphasis.

“Snape?” Sirius demanded, eyes narrowing dangerously. “You mean Snivellus?”

God, Harry had forgotten about that horrible nickname. “That’s not a very nice thing to call someone,” Harry said with all the indignancy he could muster. He wasn’t Snape’s biggest fan or ever would be, but that nickname had always bothered him. Sirius and his dad had started using it when they were eleven, for fuck’s sake. You’d think his godfather would have grown out of it by now.

“Well, Snape’s not a very nice chap, now is he?” Sirius replied, proving once and for all that yes, Harry as an eighteen-year-old in a child’s body was more mature than his thirty-something godfather.

Harry glared at Sirius and he didn’t even have to act to do it. Sirius’ childish attitude when it came to certain people had always bothered Harry. “Professor Snape is my Head of House, and he’s been helpful and saved my life when my brain almost fell out of my head. He also defended me when Professor Dumbledore seemed to believe I’d cursed the Weasley twins with a very dark curse which I didn’t do.”

“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Andromeda said with a huff. “So Dumbledore is up to his old tricks again with him accusing any Slytherin in sight of whatever crime has been committed.”

Harry grinned at her. “That’s exactly what some older Slytherins I know said about Dumbledore’s behaviour.”

“What curse?” Ted asked while Sirius looked between Harry and Andromeda with a churlish glare.

“Someone, not me, cursed the Weasley twins by mail with a class 2 nightmare curse,” Harry explained dutifully. “They’re still in the hospital wing, but they should be snapping out of it soon, I think.”

“Wow,” Tonks said, eyes wide as her purple hair brightened to pink again. “That’s no innocent little hex. A curse like that can really mess with your mind.”

“I guess,” Harry said with the kind of careless shrug an eleven-year-old would give in the face of other people’s suffering. “I sure don’t know how to cast it, no matter what Dumbledore thinks.”

“Of course not,” Tonks said with a chuckle. “Plenty of Aurors I know wouldn’t know how to cast something like that. It takes a lot of power and skill.”

There was a soft knock on the door and Tonks, who stood closest, went to open it. Harry saw a familiar face look at Tonks in surprise. Wearing patched robes with a fraying collar, hands clasped nervously, Remus Lupin peered over Tonks’ shoulder into the room. “I was told this is Sirius Black’s room.”

“Moony?” Sirius asked, earlier grumpiness over Harry’s passionate defence of Snape quickly forgotten.

“Sirius,” Remus said, shuffling inside as Tonks stepped out of the way to let him in while offering him a bright smile.

That was one less thing Harry had to take care of, he was pleased to note. Project godson was officially underway.

“Moony,” Sirius said with a watery smile and bright eyes. “It’s good to see you.”

Lupin seemed a little intimidated to see so many people in the room but he made it to Sirius’ bed. “I’m so sorry for ever believing you’d betray James and Lily, Sirius,” Remus said while he looked down at his own scuffed shoes.

“It’s in the past,” Sirius quickly assured him. “I’m sorry I ever believed you might be the spy. Let’s just forget about all that. I’m just glad you’re here.”

“It’s good to see you,” Lupin said with a nod of agreement, and didn’t protest when Sirius grabbed his arm and hauled him in for a brief embrace. When they broke apart again, Lupin looked around the room with a bit more attention, taking in everyone’s faces until he landed on Harry.

Lupin’s mouth fell open. “Harry? Is that…what are…shouldn’t you…Why is your tie green?”

Harry grinned up at him. “My tie is green because I was sorted into Gryffindor. Obviously.”

Sirius barked a laugh in response and gave Harry a huge smile. It seemed Harry was already forgiven for his earlier defence of Snape.

“You must be Remus Lupin,” Harry said before Lupin could respond though he looked at Harry in obvious amusement. “Aunt Petunia mentioned you were friends with my mum and dad.”

“Yes, I was very good friends with them,” Lupin said softly, looking Harry up and down. “It’s good to see you again, Harry. Are you enjoying Hogwarts? And how did you get here? Did you sneak out?” Lupin suddenly looked rather worried for Harry’s sake.

“Nah, Hagrid took me. McGonagall would have but she had a staff meeting.” Harry didn’t get a chance to say more because there was a loud knock, more of a bang, on the door. Speak of the gamekeeper and he shall appear.

The door creaked open and Hagrid stuck his head in, wild hair and bushy beard filling most of the doorway. “Oh, there’s more people in here than I thought there’d be.”

“Hagrid,” Sirius said while leaning over a little on his bed so he could see the doorway that was tucked away in a little alcove. “Good to see you.”

“Still got yer bike,” Hagrid boomed as he waved a big hand at Sirius. “Good to see yer free, Sirius.” Then he looked at Harry. “Sorry that I forgot about the time, Harry. I was talkin’ ter Frank and Alice, catching up.”

Harry checked his watch and realized dinner time at Hogwarts had already started. They probably wouldn’t make it back in time before it ended. “I guess we should go, right?”

“Yeh, time ter go,” Hagrid said with a kind smile.

“I don’t know if they’ll let me visit again,” Harry said earnestly to his godfather, who looked rather disappointed he had to go already. “But I’ll write. Hedwig loves long flights so she’ll enjoy bringing you letters.”

“I’ll write back, promise,” Sirius said while placing a bony hand on Harry’s shoulder. “And you can come over for Yule for a few days if you want.”

“I’d like that.” Harry swallowed away some emotions that wanted to rise up and make the whole situation much more embarrassing. “I’ll see you during the holidays for sure. Bye, everyone!”

There was a chorus of goodbyes from everyone in the room and Harry gave a few waves while he left the room. Hagrid stood waiting for him and gestured him towards the elevators.

“Hagrid, I don’t think we’ll make it back to school for dinner,” Harry said as they rode the elevator down. “How about I treat you to some Muggle food as a thank you for taking me to see Sirius?”

“If you don’t mind, I wouldn’t say no ter trying some Muggle food,” Hagrid said with a downright shy smile.

“I insist,” Harry said and once they left the hospital Harry led the way to the nearest McDonalds, where he ordered just about everything on the menu for them to share, paying with the pounds he kept in his money pouch beside his galleons. Well, Harry had a McChicken and a large fries. Hagrid had everything else and proclaimed it ‘really good for Muggle food’. Sitting at a rickety table and chatting with one of his oldest friends while enjoying greasy food was a great way to end that rather eventful day, Harry decided.

Of course, Harry should have known something was bound to go wrong again, since that seemed to be how Harry’s life insisted on going.

The moment they stepped foot back into the castle, after a reasonably quick ride on the Knight bus, Dumbledore approached them, smiling genially while his eyes were sharp as they assessed Harry. “Ah, Harry, my boy, could you spare me a few moments of your time and join me in my office for a little chat?”

“Of course, Professor,” Harry said with a politely puzzled expression, as though he didn’t have a clue why the esteemed Headmaster of Hogwarts would want a chat with him. And when he thought about it as he followed Dumbledore through the castle after saying his goodbyes to Hagrid, Harry realized he wasn’t actually sure what Dumbledore would want to talk about since so much had happened in such a short amount of time.

Was it about the Culture Club? Was it about the Philosopher’s Stone and the sudden lack of Fluffy guarding it? Was it about Sirius and any potential custody questions? Or had someone let slip the identity of the man who discovered Ravenclaw’s diadem a little early to Dumbledore and he wanted to discuss Voldemort’s supposed return?

Or all of the above?

The more Harry thought about it as they neared Dumbledore’s office, the more he realized Dumbledore must be having his worst week in a long time. It made Harry smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33

As Harry followed Dumbledore through the castle the smile slowly slipped off his face the closer they got to Dumbledore’s office. Harry was well-aware that magically he stood no chance against Dumbledore, no matter he was an eighteen-year-old in a child’s body. In fact, no one save Tom stood a chance against Dumbledore when it came to a one-on-one duel, Harry was sure. Which meant that should Dumbledore want to magically control his sacrificial lamb, there was very little Harry could do about it to stop him.

It took everything Harry had to not reach for the charmed necklace Tom had given him weeks ago when Harry had started receiving his mail. The last thing he wanted was to draw Dumbledore’s attention to the fact he owned and wore a piece of jewellery full of protection charms. The necklace wouldn’t hold off someone like Dumbledore forever, but it would buy Harry some precious seconds should Dumbledore turn his wand on him. Enough time to call for Kreacher to help him. Harry was also sure if he called Dobby he would come and he could go and fetch Tom if need be.

Not that Harry expected Dumbledore to outright attack him, but there were so many subtle and not-so-subtle mind altering spells, everything from compulsion charms all the way up to the imperius curse that Dumbledore might be tempted to magically fix Harry should he not live up to the old man’s expectations.

Having some kind of plan in case the meeting went horribly wrong calmed Harry’s pounding heart at least a little bit, which was a good thing because the gargoyle was just ahead of them. Harry hadn’t been lying when he told Tom he was afraid of Dumbledore. The old man had orchestrated Harry’s entire life up to his untimely death even from beyond the grave. Harry would be a fool if he wasn’t afraid of a man with that kind of power who was determined to see Harry dead at some point in the future.

“After you,” Dumbledore said with a gesture towards the moving stairs after the gargoyle slid aside.

“Thanks,” Harry said politely and kept his expression as close to mildly confused as he could while he purposefully kept his breaths deep and slow as not to give away his nervousness. They rode the stairs in silence and Harry entered the office only the pause in the middle of it, waiting for Dumbledore to start their meeting.

“Take a seat, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a wave of his hand at one of the chairs opposite his desk as he slid into his own chair behind it. “Lemon drop?” Dumbledore held out his candy dish but Harry barely noticed it because he’d just spotted Fawkes sitting on his perch, staring at him with intense, black eyes. Harry stared back as he slowly sat down in his chair opposite the desk. Harry realized Fawkes hadn’t been present in the office the first time Harry had been in there since he’d gotten his second chance. He briefly wondered if Fawkes would notice he really wasn’t an eleven-year-old boy.

“Ah, that is Fawkes,” Dumbledore said with a jovial chuckle. “He’s a phoenix. Extraordinary creatures, phoenixes are. Their tears have healing powers, they can carry heavy burdens and they’re excellent judges of character.”

“Wow,” Harry said, and he didn’t even have to fake his admiration for the magical bird. He’d always liked Fawkes, especially since Fawkes had saved his life in the Chamber of Secrets and had always been helpful. Then again, Fawkes voluntarily spent his time with Dumbledore so that made Harry wonder how intelligent Phoenixes actually were. Perhaps Fawkes knew perfectly well what kind of manipulative asshole Dumbledore really was and he simply didn’t care. “It’s nice to meet you, Fawkes,” Harry said with a shy little smile. Fawkes tilted his head for a few seconds, gazing at him in silence before letting out a musical thrill that seemed to resemble a friendly greeting. Harry did his very best not to release a relieved sigh.

“Now that introductions are out of the way,” Dumbledore said while sitting straight in his chair, lacing his wrinkled fingers together on top of his desk. “Professor McGonagall told me you went to visit Sirius Black in St Mungo’s.”

“Yes, Sir,” Harry said, beaming at the headmaster. “He’s my godfather and he’d been in prison without a trial for years and years before people finally realized he was innocent. It was nice to meet him.”

“Very good, very good,” Dumbledore mumbled while giving Harry a solemn look. “I understand you’ll want to live with Sirius, my boy, but –“

“What?” Harry yelled, shrinking back in his chair. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could practically hear Tom saying not to antagonize the headmaster or treat their interactions like some kind of joke, but Harry couldn’t help himself. He’d figured out the perfect way to deal with Dumbledore’s insistence on meddling with Harry’s custody options. “Why are you trying to make me live with Mr Black? My aunt Petunia always told me that grown men that try to take little boys away from their homes can’t be trusted and that they’ll want to hurt those boys and do very bad sex things with them. I’d like to go now.” And while giving Dumbledore a deeply suspicious look, Harry got up from his chair and walked towards the door, back straight and legs stiff, as if he expected to be attacked any second now.

Dumbledore looked absolutely flabbergasted, which was an expression Harry had never seen before on the headmaster. It was hilarious, but at that moment Harry couldn’t express any hilarity. “Mr Potter, wait,” Dumbledore said, sounding more than a little flustered. Harry paused and narrowed his eyes at him. “I assure you, I’m not trying to lure you away from your family. In fact, I’m thrilled you want to stay with them.”

“Promise?” Harry asked, still offering the headmaster nothing but suspicion and wariness.

“I promise, my boy.” Dumbledore seemed relieved when Harry turned around and shuffled back to his chair. “There is one more thing I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure, Headmaster,” Harry said, keeping his posture just a little bit stiff and anxious, as if Dumbledore really had broken any trust Harry might have had in him. Privately, Harry was in stitches and couldn’t wait to tell Tom he’d basically called Dumbledore a paedophile to his face and gotten away with it.

“I heard you’ve started a student club,” Dumbledore said, visibly pulling himself back together to broach this new subject. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, Mr Potter, but official student clubs must be approved in specific ways.”

“Oh, I know, Sir,” Harry said, allowing a little enthusiasm back into his voice and posture. “I got three autographs from three Heads of Houses, just like you’re supposed to.”

Dumbledore’s bushy eyebrows rose while his eyes widened as he peered at Harry through his spectacles. “And where did you get this information?”

Harry offered Dumbledore his brightest smile. “I asked a teacher, of course. They’re here to teach, after all.”

This seemed to surprise Dumbledore. “Who did you approach about this?”

“Professor Binns,” Harry said, and kept his smile in place while he relished Dumbledore’s brief look of shock. “He’s the history professor, so I figured if anyone knows about how to start student clubs, it’s him.” Harry had decided on this strategy some days before, after giving all his options much thought. Binns was the perfect choice to be the scapegoat. He was old enough to have seen Hogwarts’ rulebook first-hand and know the rules and regulations, yet he was distracted enough that if Dumbledore asked him about his talk with Harry which obviously never took place, Binns would probably confirm it anyway or ignore the question entirely until Dumbledore went away. Binns never remembered student names, after all, even ones as famous as Harry’s.

“Ah.” Dumbledore seemed a little embarrassed he hadn’t realized he had staff that still knew the rules and would freely share it with their students when asked. “Well, I’m afraid I’m not sure this club is a good idea.”

“Why not?” Harry asked, making sure he looked visibly upset by that suggestion, lips pursed and eyebrows bunched.

“You and your friends are first-years and you already have lots on your plates,” Dumbledore said in a tone that suggested he was ever so sorry for their circumstances but still insisted they should do what he wanted. Harry was becoming quite familiar with that particular tone of voice. “Perhaps it would be a better idea to postpone this club at least for a few years until you’re older.”

Harry sighed in disappointment. “My friends and I always make sure we finish all our homework before the weekend, Sir. I know my friends are going to be ever so sorry if we can’t have our club because we were all enjoying it so much and we were going to get our families to send us foods and decorations for Christmas. Neville’s gran was so proud of him for being the club’s vice-president, and Susan’s aunt wrote her saying she thought it was an important club to have for first-years.” Harry offered Dumbledore a questioning look. “I wonder what they’ll say when they hear you’re not allowing us our student club even after we did everything right and the club’s proving to be a huge success.”

It was a subtle reminder to Dumbledore that he was already in trouble with the Board of Governors and the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, for both the Fluffy debacle and his possible involvement in the illegal imprisonment of Sirius Black, and that they very well might want to question him officially should he go ahead and forbid a perfectly legitimate student club for ridiculous reasons. Harry wasn’t sure if it would be enough of a threat to get Dumbledore to back off, but it was the only option he had. If Dumbledore insisted on cancelling Harry’s club, Harry would take it to the Board of Governors, and if that wasn’t enough, he’d involve the press.

“I see,” Dumbledore said after a few moments of silence while he gave Harry a contemplative look. Harry smiled politely back. “I suppose we can see how you and your friends keep up with your schoolwork while also running and attending this club. Perhaps until after the Christmas holidays? We can then re-evaluate how you and your friends are holding up.”

Translation: Dumbledore knew well and good he was on thin ice with the Board and Amelia and hoped that by the time the new year came around people would have forgotten about his little Fluffy faux-pas and he could forbid Harry’s new club in peace.

Harry jumped up from his chair. “Thank you, Headmaster. I’ll tell all my friends you’ve given us official permission for our Culture Club! Thanks for the talk. Goodbye!” And without giving Dumbledore a chance to respond other than some incoherent sputtering, Harry ran out of the office and all the way back to the dungeons.

Harry found Blaise and Theo sitting on Blaise’s bed, Quidditch magazines spread out between them, Blaise’ little wireless announcing summaries of all the Quidditch matches that had been played over the weekend.

“How did it go?” Theo asked, moving to the right to make room for Harry.

“So how crazy was he?” Blaise offered Harry an expectant look while Harry sat down with his friends.

“He’s surprisingly sane, at least on the surface,” Harry said honestly. Sirius had been very lucid and put-together, especially when compared to his demeanour when he’d escaped Azkaban in Harry’s third year. Perhaps being let out two years early did make a huge difference. Or perhaps receiving immediate medical care is what caused this improvement. Or perhaps both. “He was nice enough, happy to see me.”

“That’s good,” Theo said, seemingly genuinely interested in Harry’s situation. Blaise was paging through a magazine, apparently paying little attention, but Harry suspected this had a lot to do with Blaise’s very skewed experiences with adult male authority figures in his life, far more than genuinely not caring about Harry’s situation.

“Yeah, I’m happy I got to meet him. We’ve agreed to write letters, and I’ll visit him around Yule for a few days,” Harry said and released a deep sigh. He genuinely was relieved this first part of his reintroduction with his godfather had gone relatively smoothly. “Oh, and I got to meet Draco’s auntie.”

Theo looked at Harry with a deep, slightly worried frown. “Isn’t she in Azkaban?”

“Auntie Bella is in Azkaban, yes, thank fuck for small favours,” Harry said, grinning. “But Auntie Andromeda was visiting with her cousin while I was there. She’s very nice, nothing like Draco’s side of the family.”

“Wasn’t she disinherited when she married a mud –“ Blaise snapped his mouth shut when Harry whipped his head around and gave Blaise his filthiest glare.

“Yes,” Harry said slowly, keeping Blaise locked in place with just his gaze. “She married Ted Tonks, a muggleborn and together they have a daughter, Nymphadora Tonks, who just started her Auror training. She’s really nice. A lot of fun. And a metamorphmagus to boot.”

“Really?” Theo sat up a little while even Blaise seemed at least somewhat impressed. “I’d heard rumours but I wasn’t sure if it was true.”

“Completely true. She can shapeshift like it’s going out of style. Really amazing and dead useful in her line of work,” Harry said, happy enough to share what he knew about Tonks’ abilities. He’d always liked her and he’d always admired that particular talent of hers.

“Strange it should be her to have that ability,” Blaise muttered, to no one in particular. “It’s always been a trait of the Black family, or at least it used to be. I don’t think anyone in the Black family has been born with it for at least a century.”

“Except that someone has,” Harry said pointedly. He couldn’t express how happy he was Blaise had brought this up. It was something he and Hermione had debated at length during their year spent living in a tent in the middle of nowhere. “Tonks is a member of the Black family, but instead of being the product of generations of inbreeding, she is the product of some fresh magical blood being added to her line.”

“Huh,” Theo said, staring at his knees with a very contemplative look. Harry wanted jump up and do a little victory dance but he controlled himself. He was aware it would take more that just this to break his friends’ pureblood brainwashing, but Harry knew that little seeds of doubt like the ones he was planting now would one day grow and help his friends learn to think for themselves and learn to view the world rationally.

“Yes, yes,” Blaise said with a dismissive little wave. “You’re about to tell us that mixing in mud- …muggleborns into old, pure families is somehow better for future generations or some such rot.”

“Because it is,” Harry said, leaning forward and holding up a hand. He began ticking off his fingers one by one. “Who do we know who are magically much more powerful than average? Me? Half-blood. Snape? Half-blood. McGonagall? Half-blood. Dumbledore? Half-blood.” Harry paused for a moment before he delivered his biggest truth bomb. “The Dark Lord? Half-blood.”

“No, he’s not,” Blaise said at once, looking to Theo to agree with him.

But Theo had a knowing look on his face and offered Harry a small smile. “My father went to school with the Dark Lord and he’s always been candid with me about who the Dark Lord was, though warning me to keep that knowledge to myself.” He shook his head as he looked from Harry to Blaise. “But since Harry’s let the niffler out of the bag already, yes, Blaise, I can confirm that the Dark Lord is in fact a half-blood. His father was a muggle, his mother a Gaunt. Direct descendants from Salazar Slytherin himself.”

“And inbred to the point of insanity,” Harry felt compelled to add. “Seriously, the Dark Lord should be bloody grateful his father was a muggle, otherwise he’d likely have been born a squib. His poor mother had barely more magic than your average squib to begin with.”

Blaise looked between Harry and Theo and back, his nostrils flaring, lips pinched. “How do you know all this? I get that Theo’s father shared information with him, but where are you getting yours, Harry?”

Harry swallowed, having not prepared an answer for this. How to explain his knowledge in a realistic way without saying too much. Blaise was far too smart, even young as he was, to accept an answer that didn’t make any sense. Then again, Harry could just tell his friends the truth they were going to tell the world anyway. Sometimes this week Tom and Barty were going to announce their existence on the front page of the newspaper, after all. That was, if the Daily Prophet got off their arses and ran the article already.

Pulling his wand free, Harry gave both Blaise and Theo a significant look. He closed the bedcurtains around them with a flick of his wand and added a bunch of privacy spells.

“What I’m about to tell you stays between us, at least for the time being, all right?” Harry said, placing his wand in his lap and clasping his hands on top of it.

Theo and Blaise nodded quietly, apparently sufficiently impressed by Harry’s quick and silent spell-work they didn’t feel like questioning his demands.

“During the summer I made a friend in the Quidditch store in Diagon Alley. An adult, late twenties I think, who taught me how to fly. His name is Bartholomew Crouch.”

“Related to…” Blaise said while he arched an eyebrow.

“Yep, second cousin to Barty Crouch Sr, that department head who died this summer. Anyway, through this new Barty I met a fellow named Thomas Gaunt, also somewhere in his twenties. We became friends as well and have been keeping in touch,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “He’s the one who’s told me all these things.”

“Gaunt,” Theo said while giving Harry a wide-eyed look. “How closely related do you think he is?”

“Very closely,” Harry said with a mysterious little smile. He wasn’t about to confirm or deny anything else just yet. Let Theo and Blaise wonder about Tom’s identity for a while, before anything was made official and public.

“Anyway, I’ve got a letter to write to my godfather and then I’m turning in for the night. It’s been a long day,” Harry said while cancelling the spells around Blaise’s bed. He hopped off the bed, leaving his friends staring after him with their mouths hanging open.

Harry got washed and changed into his pyjamas, and penned a quick letter to his godfather while seated on his own bed protected by a dozen privacy charms. He’d send it off first thing in the morning, but he wanted to assure his godfather that he’d stay in touch and he wanted to drive some of the seeds of doubt he’d planted earlier in deeper. He mentioned his talk with Dumbledore, how strange he thought the man acted and how he really had no business interfering with their lives since he was just the headmaster of a school.

After finishing his letter and stuffing it in his schoolbag, Harry lay down under his covers and got out his mirror.

“Soulmate!” Harry chirped the moment Tom answered. “You’ll never guess what I said to Dumbledore this evening.”

Tom’s sigh was filled with the kind of exasperation and reluctant amusement he usually displayed when Harry mentioned anything to do with Dumbledore and their interactions. “And good evening to you, too, my dear. I’m sure you’ll tell me. In great detail.”

“Yes!” Harry said and did just that, leaving out no detail of his chat with the old man. “So I basically called him a paedophile to his face and all Dumbledore did was look very, very flustered.”

Tom chuckled while shaking his head. “This is a memory you’ll have to share over the holidays when we can make use of Dorus’ pensieve.”

“Consider it done,” Harry said, still snickering while remembering the look on Dumbledore’s face. “And I got him to back down about our Culture Club while blaming Binns for getting the word out about how to create student clubs.”

“That was very clever and inspired, to use Binns as the scapegoat,” Tom admitted with a rather proud look.

“Why, thank you,” Harry replied with what he hoped was a small little bow. It was difficult to do while lying in bed, propped up on a pillow.

“How was Black doing?” Tom asked once they finally got over their amusement concerning Dumbledore.

“Better than I expected. He still needs time to recover, but he was in much better shape physically and mentally than in my third year in our previous lives,” Harry said while Tom nodded along. “I guess spending two years less in Azkaban and getting medical treatment did him good. I also met the Tonks’ and Lupin, briefly. And I treated Hagrid to dinner at McDonalds.”

Tom’s sigh was one of slight disbelief this time. “You took an eight-and-a-half foot half-giant to eat at McDonalds, which I am to understand is as close to actual garbage as muggles have managed to make food.”

Harry laughed, loudly, while clutching his belly, at seeing Tom’s expression of complete incongruity. “It’s not that bad, really. I’m sure there’s better restaurants out there, but Dudley always wanted McDonalds and I never got any. So now I’m finally able to eat it whenever I want.”

Tom glanced down while nodding in understanding. It was nice to talk to someone who understood such random urges stemming from a neglectful childhood. “And did you finalize any custody agreements with your godfather?”

“Sort of,” Harry said with a small shrug. “Sirius wanted to me move in right away, but thankfully Andromeda Tonks was there to be the voice of reason. We’ve agreed I’m visiting a few days around Yule and any other decisions will be postponed to at least the summer holidays.”

“That’s good,” Tom said with a warm, pleased smile. “Though I would prefer it if you spent Yule itself with us.”

Warmth flooded Harry’s chest and belly at the idea of Tom wanting him to spend the actual holidays with them. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll just tell Sirius I’ll be spending those days with my family and I’ll visit him right after. That should be all right.” And it was kind of the truth, too, as Harry considered it those days. Tom and Barty really were the closest thing he had to a family right then, but Harry felt far too embarrassed about such emotions to mention any of that to Tom.

“Good, it’s settled then,” Tom said with no small amount of finality, and somehow the warm feeling in Harry’s chest got warmer still. They spent another thirty minutes or so chatting about Harry’s visit to Sirius and about what Barty had been up to and some things Tom was working on and then they finally called it a night.

The next morning Harry sat down in the great hall with anticipation buzzing around his belly, but alas, the Daily Prophet wanted to milk the current scandal for a little while longer before hanging Lockhart out to dry.

WHO SHOULD PAY FOR THIS SIRIUS MISTAKE?
By Rita Skeeter

Harry ate his oatmeal porridge and toast with strawberry jam while perusing the article. Skeeter left no one blameless, naming the previous Minister for Magic, Millicent Bagnold, as a main perpetrator of injustice, along with the late Bartemius Crouch Sr and the current Chief Warlock Albus Dumbledore. Fudge, surprisingly, was hailed a hero for finally getting Sirius a trial, even though Harry knew that was all Amelia Bones’ doing. Well, he couldn’t expect Skeeter to report the whole truth, now could he? She had gotten it right about who to blame for Sirius’ illegal imprisonment, surprisingly.

“The Weasley twins are awake,” Draco announced as he all but threw himself onto the bench opposite Harry. Vince and Greg sat down on either side of him, starting on breakfast at once while Draco took his time to serve himself some substandard tea while making sure he had the attention of everyone around him.

“They woke up late last night and immediately got into bed together and they’ve been clinging to each other ever since,” Draco said, his smile morphing into a smirk. “I bet they got brain damage from that curse and now think they’re babies.”

Harry stared at Draco while several thoughts spun through his head. First, how was Draco getting all that kind of information? Had Draco always been this big of a gossip and had Harry simply not noticed in his previous life? And how close of a relationship with Filch did Draco have, since Harry suspected it was the caretaker that fed Draco all the local Hogwarts news somehow?

And then Harry remembered what Draco himself had said about Harry and his temporary brain damage and he felt like giving Draco another set of donkey ears, but he restrained himself. The middle of the great hall during breakfast was not the place to hex your fellow students.

“Yes, thank you, Draco,” Blaise drawled beside Harry while not even bothering to look up from his bowl of porridge. “How utterly fascinating.”

Harry said nothing but finished his breakfast while Draco retold the story to anyone who would listen again and again. Checking his watch, Harry realized he had half an hour until Herbology started. “I’ll see you in class,” he said to Theo and Blaise, and without offering any further explanation, Harry grabbed his bag and took off to the hospital wing.

While he walked through the castle at a clipped pace, Harry wasn’t even sure why he was going to see the twins, just that he felt like he should make it clear to them that they shouldn’t attempt to do something as utterly idiotic again, especially aimed at Harry himself. Harry would much rather spent some time lecturing the twins, than having to try to hold Tom and his curses back should the twins accidentally hurt him again. They might even be thinking about getting revenge for the nightmare curse or something.

Harry pushed the door to the infirmary open without making a sound. He quickly checked for Pomfrey but didn’t see her about. Then he slipped inside and rushed towards the bed holding the twins.

Draco hadn’t been lying about them clinging to each other and at once Harry knew what kind of nightmares they’d lived through over and over again during the last two to three weeks.

Harry well remembered the unearthly sounds of George’s desperate sobs as he hung in his father’s arms like a limp ragdoll during Fred’s funeral. All Harry could think of back then was that George sincerely looked like he wanted to be just as dead as Fred was. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen a person look like that before.

Now the twins had similar expressions. Utter desperation and loss was written all over their pale, wan faces.

“I’m not going to draw this out,” Harry said as he stopped at the foot of the bed containing the twins holding onto each other for dear life. “You killed me. Simple as that. If it wasn’t for magic and a few very talented witches and wizards, I would have stayed dead.”

“We didn’t mean to do that,” George whispered, his voice hoarse.

“And yet that is still what happened,” Harry said reasonably. “Actions have consequences. You decided to violently attack an eleven year old during a game. That eleven year old got his skull cracked open. And you got to spend two weeks living your worst nightmares.” Harry offered the twins a sharp little smile. “No, I didn’t cast that curse or had anyone cast it for me. But there are plenty of people out there willing to extract vengeance on my behalf, apparently.”

“We’ll leave you alone,” Fred whispered, voice just as rasping as his twins’.

“Excellent,” Harry said, beaming at the twins. “That is all I wanted to know. I wish you a speedy recovery.” And with that, Harry turned on his heels and marched out the door. He made it to greenhouse one just in time.

The rest of the day Harry attended classes like usual and later in the library he answered his friends’ questions about his visit with the infamous Sirius Black and yes, Hannah, he really is innocent, and no, Hannah, he’s really not going to murder anyone in their sleep.

The next morning, Harry sat down at breakfast with a sort of anxious desperation brewing in his gut. Was the Daily Prophet finally going to run the story on Lockhart and Tom? Dumbledore was seated at the head table, so if the Prophet finally delivered, Harry got to see his expression and eventually share it with Tom.

An unassuming tawny owl dropped the paper in Harry’s lap and Harry unrolled it with trembling fingers.

GILDEROY LOCKHART ARRESTED FOR FRAUD
By Rita Skeeter.

Below that headline and the main article, about halfway down the front page, was another headline with picture.

CROUCH AND GAUNT FIND PRICELESS RAVENCLAW’S DIADEM

A brightly smiling Tom and Barty waved at Harry from the picture and Harry was tempted to wave back but controlled himself. Around him students were exclaiming in shock about yet another scandal being publicized.

“Is that the bloke you mentioned the other day?” Theo whispered in Harry’s ear while he read the paper over his shoulder.

But Harry ignored him for now, and raised his head up to look at Dumbledore.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

Dumbledore picked up a bright red mug just as he shook open the Prophet in front of him, and Harry had the pleasure, nay, the privilege to see the revered Headmaster of Hogwarts dump an entire cup of coffee down his beard.

Seriously, it looked like Dumbledore had a sudden case of diarrhoea of the mouth which stained most of his silver-white beard a dull brown.

Desperately trying to hold back his cackles, Harry quickly held up his own newspaper high enough to bury his face behind it while his shoulders shook and the paper rustled in his hands.

“Did Dumbledore just spill coffee all over himself?” Blaise asked in disbelieving delight while Harry was holding his breath in an attempt not to burst out into peals of laughter.

“What?” Draco demanded, turning in his seat to look at the head table. “Look at him! He can’t even do breakfast right. No wonder this place has such low standards.”

All around them students took notice of their headmaster’s embarrassing little accident, and just as Harry peeked over the top of his newspaper, still holding his breath for all he was worth, Dumbledore all but jumped up and hurried out of the hall through the side door behind the head table. Unable to hold back his laughter any longer, Harry let go and bent over, cackling madly with sheer gratification at seeing Dumbledore’s stunned reaction at realizing Voldemort had returned in a brand new body.

Well, not really Voldemort, since Tom these days was an entirely different person, but Dumbledore didn’t know that, of course.

Thankfully, lots of students were laughing around them so Harry’s ridiculous reaction didn’t stand out too much. He just seemed like an immature child taking pleasure at seeing a grown-up spilling something all over himself, but he certainly wasn’t the only student with a reaction like that.

Their first class was Herbology and as usual they teamed up with Ernie and Justin to prune some buzzing primroses. Their flowers let off a soft noise in the wind, hence the name, but since it was late November, the primroses weren’t in bloom and just needed pruning to see them through the oncoming winter.

Theo sidled closer to Harry as they worked, while Ernie and Justin loudly discussed the discovery of Ravenclaw’s Diadem. Neither seemed very heartbroken about Lockhart’s fate, but from what Harry understood Justin had no clue who he was and Ernie had always thought Lockhart a bit of a fop, though Ernie’s mother was a huge fan and would surely be disappointed. At the table next to theirs Millicent and Daphne, together with Zacharias Smith of all people, were having a heated discussion about the evil Daily Prophet for slandering their beloved hero, while Tracey and Wayne Hopkins shared many a knowing look in between ducking their heads to hide their smirks.

That seemed to be the reaction at all tables. A portion of students were sad or angry about Lockhart’s arrest while the rest seemed quietly amused at his fate but were too polite or too insecure to say such things out loud.

“That Gaunt fellow,” Theo whispered in Harry’s ear while everyone else was distracted. “He’s the one you mentioned meeting and you said he was very closely related.”

Harry said nothing but continued snipping dead leaves off the primrose in front of him.

“Considering his fairly young age,” Theo continued, glancing around to make sure no one was overhearing them. “I’m going to guess he’s the son of You Know Who.”

Harry nodded his head once quickly and looked Theo in the eye. “This is not public knowledge, yet, so keep it to yourself. It will probably come out sooner rather than later, but it’s not up to us to share.”

“I get it,” Theo mumbled. “But you spent time with him…and he never tried to hurt you?”

Blinking, Harry turned to stare at Theo, finally understanding why Theo kept hammering on about Tom. Theo was genuinely worried Voldemort’s son might try to hurt or kill Harry. “Tom is nothing like his father, I promise.” Which was the absolute truth.

“Good,” Theo sighed and he sounded very relieved indeed. Without any further questions, Theo went back to his own primroses and Harry joined the conversation the rest were having about who Ravenclaw’s Diadem belonged to.

“It belongs to Hogwarts,” Ernie insisted.

Harry disagreed. “It never belonged to Hogwarts in the first place, but it was Rowena Ravenclaw’s personal property until her daughter Helena stole it and ran away to Albania.”

“How do you know this?” Blaise asked with a curious tilt of his head. Harry got the distinct impression that of late Blaise had wizened up to Harry being very well informed on all manner of subjects. Perhaps a little too well informed. He needed to watch himself better when it came to the things he shared with his friends.

“The Grey Lady, Ravenclaw’s ghost is Helena Ravenclaw,” Harry said while looking Blaise right in the eye, his face giving nothing away. “And our ghost, the Bloody Baron is the bloke Rowena sent to get Helena and her diadem back, but the baron accidentally killed Helena and then in remorse killed himself, meaning the diadem was lost in Albania for centuries.” Harry shrugged and smiled at the others. “Neither are the most talkative ghosts, but they do answer questions occasionally.”

“Wow.” Justin looked as though he just realized he might actually be living in an Indiana Jones movie filled with adventures and faraway locations.

After Herbology they had charms, where Neville sat with them again but since Flitwick spent most of the hour lecturing they didn’t have much time to talk. But since it was Wednesday they had the afternoon off and after a quick lunch everyone met at their usual table in the library, eager to talk over all the happenings of the past few days.

“Harry, can you believe any of what the Prophet has been writing about poor Gilderoy Lockhart,” Daphne asked, her expression filled with sorrow as she sat down across from Harry.

“Yes, I can,” Harry said with a neutral expression, not wanting to upset his friend any further than she obviously already was. “Sorry, Daphne, I understand you’re a fan, but I’ve read a few of his books and they don’t add up.”

“Thank you!” Tracey said while throwing a hand in the air and giving Daphne a very significant look. “See? I’m not the only one who noticed things weren’t right.”

Hannah’s bottom lip trembled. “But why would he lie to everyone like that? How could he do that?”

“Because all he wanted was fame and fortune,” Neville said quietly and quickly snapped his mouth shut when everyone looked at him at once.

“You’re right,” Harry said to show him some support. “I believe Lockhart wanted fame and fortune without actually having to work for it. And that was more important to him than how his fans would feel when the truth finally came out.”

“That is so wrong,” Hannah whispered and wiped a tear away that rolled down her cheek. Susan placed a comforting arm around her friend. They talked about Lockhart for a few moments longer until finally the subject shifted to the two unknown gentlemen who had discovered a lost treasure.

Daphne had the Daily Prophet spread out in front of her and was examining the picture carefully. “He’s very handsome. Well, they both are, but this one,” and she tapped a finger against Tom’s picture, “especially.”

“Let me see,” Tracey said, leaning over just as everyone else did the same, all staring at Tom’s picture. Harry, in the meantime, choked on his own saliva and coughed violently while wondering if children were supposed to notice these things about grown-ups, or had he just been completely oblivious in his first life, which was entirely possible.

“You disagree?” Daphne demanded while she narrowed her eyes.

“Er…” And Harry, who had literally lost the ability to form coherent words when first confronted with Tom’s naked wetness, shrugged his shoulders and pretended to read his charms textbook with great care. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Harry’s a boy,” Hannah said, as though that explained everything.

“I notice he’s handsome,” Justin said a little defensively.

“Well, you’re maybe less of a boy,” Hannah said wisely.

“What?” Justin looked between everyone else in great confusion, as though not entirely sure if he should be insulted or not.

“So, about that charms essay,” Theo said loudly. Blaise was watching everyone else with great amusement, but Neville jumped at the opportunity to change the subject.

“Yes, the essay. What books do you think we should read to find out more about unlocking charms?” Neville asked, already getting up from his seat. Theo did the same and together they all but fled into the stacks. Harry envied them but at the same time he desperately wanted to hear what else his friends had to say about Tom, though he wasn’t sure why.

No more earth-shattering comments were made, however, and they all finished their homework and went to dinner where they enjoyed shepherd’s pie with chocolate pudding for dessert.

“How are you?” Harry asked eagerly once Tom answered his mirror later that night. Harry wasn’t dressed in his pyjamas yet, since they still had astronomy at midnight, but he was ensconced in his bed with the curtains closed for a little nap, or so he told his friends.

“I’m fine,” Tom assured him quickly. He did look good, well-rested. “Happy the news is out there now and we can begin the next phase of our plan.”

“Yeah, I bet. Dumbledore spilled an entire mug of coffee over his beard when he opened the paper,” Harry said, grinning like a loon. “It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

“I look forward to seeing that memory.” Tom’s eyes were shining as he gave Harry a soft smile.

“What do you think Dumbledore is going to do now?” Harry asked. All throughout the day he’d experienced a low level of anxiety at the idea of Dumbledore going to hunt Tom down or something silly like that. He knew Tom was more than capable of duelling Dumbledore and coming out of it in one piece, but Harry still worried.

“Hm.” Tom leaned back while briefly glancing up, obviously giving that question some thought. “Knowing Dumbledore, he’ll call his Order and then he’ll go about convincing everyone he can I’m actually Voldemort.”

“That’s not good,” Harry whispered, the low level of anxiety in his belly increasing dramatically.

Tom gave Harry a very knowing look. “We have plans for that, my dear. Stop worrying so much.”

“I can’t help it,” Harry muttered, glancing down at his lap, feeling oddly embarrassed at being called out like that. “During dinner I was thinking about this and I realized Dumbledore might get the ministry to raid your house. He did that with Death Eaters in the past, right? So maybe you should put the Gaunt shack under a Fidelius charm so you can store all your illegal stuff there and you’ll have a safe house Dumbledore can’t get to.” Harry gave Tom a pleading look to just go along with that so he’d be safe and Harry could sleep better.

“Excellent plan,” Tom said with a teasing grin. “Except the Gaunt shack is currently a trap for Dumbledore with a fake Peverell ring cursed to hell and back waiting for him.”

“Oh, bugger.” Harry bit his lip. He’d completely forgotten about that.

“But rest assured, my dear, that I have a safe house that’s under a Fidelius and I store all my illegal possessions there.” Tom’s smirk was quite smug as he winked at Harry. “I’ll take you there during the holidays, so it can function as a safe house for you, too.”

Harry released a deep sigh in sheer relief. “Who else knows about it?”

“No one yet, but I’m considering letting Barty in on the secret. Having a secure safe house would be a boon for him, too.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed easily. Barty was, in theory, still an escaped convict who should be serving out a life sentence in Azkaban, even though the whole world believed him dead. You never knew what amount of truth might come out in the future at the most inopportune time.

“Other than that,” Tom continued while looking like he thought Harry’s concern was both incredibly endearing yet endlessly entertaining. “I’ve officially claimed Riddle Manor as my legal property at the muggle government and I’ve registered it at the ministry as a wizarding residence to connect me to the floo network. There’s nothing illegal in the house whatsoever, so the ministry can raid it as much as they like. But if they do, I will sick the solicitor I keep on retainer on them for performing a search without just cause.”

“Okay, so you’re prepared, I get it,” Harry said with a quiet chuckle, still feeling oddly embarrassed by his concern for his soulmate.

“And should Dumbledore pull a Sirius Black on me and chuck me in Azkaban without a trial or any other nonsense like that, then Dorus and Lucius will raise a stink and inform my solicitor and get me out at once. Now you can really stop worrying, darling.”

“Fine.” Harry rubbed a hand across his face. “Ugh. I’m tired and I still have a class.”

“I never understood why they insist the lower years take astronomy in the middle of the night instead of just teaching it during the day by using maps or projections and perhaps having a few late night classes to learn how to work a telescope,” Tom said with a pinched look, as though discussing something that had been bothering him for a long time.

“Yeah, be glad your Hogwarts days are over.” Harry inwardly shook himself to wake himself up. Now that he had assurances and reassurances that Tom had plans on how to deal with Dumbledore and his anxiety lessened significantly, he was suddenly exhausted.

“Yours could be, too, my dear.” Tom’s look was almost challenging. “Just say the word and you can continue your life as the adult you actually are.”

“Tempting.” Harry did indeed find that offer tempting, every time Tom made it. But he loved Hogwarts, and he especially loved experiencing Hogwarts without acting like Dumbledore’s little marionette, so he truly wasn’t ready yet to call it quits. “But I’ll put up with ungodly class hours for a while longer.”

“Very well,” Tom easily agreed. “Just know that no matter what Dumbledore throws at us, we’re prepared to deal with it.”

And Harry kept that in mind the rest of the evening and the following day. That was a Thursday and they had a full day of classes and every time Harry started worrying about his soulmate again he reminded himself of what Tom had told him.

They were prepared. They would be fine. Stop worrying.

Of course, nothing out of the ordinary happened that day. The most exciting thing that occurred was that right before dinner Harry received a package from Miss Elderflower containing an advanced copy of her latest publication, titled ‘Harry Potter and the Centaur’s Trial’. It was set during fictional Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, where he ended up making friends with some centaurs, according to the synopsis on the back.

“Are you receiving books about yourself?” Draco asked with wide eyes, sounding like he’d just discovered Harry’s deepest, darkest secret and realized he could now share that with the whole school. “Do you enjoy reading fiction featuring a better version of yourself or something?”

“Don’t be absurd, Draco,” Harry said in his best snooty tone while raising his chin up at him. “I receive these to approve them, since they won’t be published without my consent. And I like seeing them published, since that earns me lots of gold.” Smirking, Harry tucked the package into his bag. “It’s just business, but I don’t expect someone like you to understand that.”

“Someone like me?” Draco sputtered in quiet outrage. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The fact that you don’t even understand that rather makes my point,” Harry bullshitted a mile a minute. He had no clue why Draco would or wouldn’t understand that, he just enjoyed riling the boy up.

And when later that night, Harry got out parchment and quill and wrote to Miss Elderflower, suggesting that perhaps her next book, set in fictional Harry’s second year, could be about Harry discovering Salazar Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets and befriending the basilisk living inside of it, well, that was Harry’s own business and no one needed to know about it.

Friday arrived with lots of rain and wind, but that didn’t keep Marcus from putting them through an hour of rigorous Quidditch training first thing in the morning. And even though Harry wasn’t allowed to fly any school matches for the rest of the year he still enjoyed the time he got to spend on his broomstick and physically work off some stress and anxiety.

After classes they met in the library to finish their homework before the weekend began, and after dinner they attended the Slytherin house meeting which was short and to the point, which left them with plenty of time to make their way to the Club House for their second Culture Club meeting.

Most students had brought something to share concerning Christmas and Yule and they spent their evening enjoying lots of delicious treats while listening to holiday songs and putting up both muggle and wizarding decorations around the room. Meanwhile Harry slipped in a few titbits of ritual knowledge he’d read in Regulus’ notes about how Yule used to be celebrated before the ministry decided to ban those rituals and celebrations.

“Yule is traditionally celebrated for three nights around midwinter night,” Harry said as he helped Padma and Millicent put up evergreen garlands around the windows. “They would sacrifice livestock and use the blood they collected to sprinkle across evergreen branches while chanting spells to ensure the Wild Hunt would pass them by and the draugar would not find them while the night was longest. The meat from the livestock was later consumed during a great feast together with lots of ale to welcome the fact that from then on the nights would get shorter and shorter again and the Wild Hunt would not occur for another year.”

“What’s a wild hunt?” Megan asked.

“Muggles would call it a bad omen. A ghostly chase through the darkness that usually preceded a plague or catastrophe,” Harry explained patiently. He had been fascinated when reading all this stuff in Regulus’ books and he was truly happy to share it all with others. “But we know for a fact that it is a hunt during the longest nights of the year led by various psychopomps consisting of the souls of the dead with the fey urging them on, trying to derail them and keep them from moving to the afterlife. Any souls the fey catch, they turn into draugar. The living dead, bound to haunt this earth forever while being tormented by the fey. That is why wizards and witches make such a big thing out of getting the Wild Hunt to pass them by, since the fey are tricky creatures you don’t want to be seen by, even outside of a Wild Hunt. Or perhaps especially outside a Wild Hunt.”

“Why not?” Justin asked from where he was showing a collection of Victorian Christmas cards to Anthony, Seamus and Dean.

“Because the fey will trick you into doing something stupid,” Theo said with a quiet snort. “Like give up your firstborn or your magic.”

“I read that fairies are just small magical creatures that are used as decorations,” Hermione said in her customary argumentative tone.

“Fairies and doxies and pixies are all small, fairly harmless members of the fey,” Harry said firmly. “But they are not the only members. The larger ones are very intelligent and not at all fond of humans, muggle or magical. So yeah, it is in your own best interest to not draw their attention, especially not during a Wild Hunt. Should you find yourself as part of one, you likely won’t survive and your soul probably won’t make it to the afterlife.”

“I think I prefer the muggle version of this holiday,” Megan said with a small shudder.

“Whichever you prefer,” Harry pointed out with a kind smile while he looked around the room. “It’s still important to know these things. The fey are real and they do harm humans, and not knowing how to avoid them on nights when they are most powerful is just setting yourself up for disaster.”

“But they banned this,” Seamus said in a rather questioning tone. “At least that’s what my nan said. That they used to do these rituals but the ministry banned it.”

“I was told the same,” Susan agreed.

“I’m aware,” Harry said with a careless shrug. “But that makes you wonder why they banned these kinds of rituals that are meant to protect us.”

“Because of her,” Daphne said, pointing a finger at Megan. “People like her. Muggle-raised. You saw her reaction.”

“Let’s not accuse each other. None of us in this room has banned anything,” Harry pointed out quickly while offering Megan a reassuring smile. “But I’ve heard as well that to appease those not raised amongst rituals such as this one, they simply banned them instead of perhaps educate those that needed to be taught.”

“That’s not fair,” Hermione said with a deep frown. “I’m muggle-raised but I’d be happy to learn magical rituals such as this one if they offer real protection from magical threats.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Megan quietly agreed. “It’s just a lot to take in.”

“And that’s why we have this club,” Harry happily remined everyone. “To help each other learn and understand. And it’s also ten minute to curfew so it’s time to call it an evening.”

There was a chorus of disappointed complaints about curfew and stupid school rules but everyone got up and gathered their belongings.

“Good lesson,” Theo whispered as he stood beside Harry while everyone left in small groups.

“Thanks. And no one freaked out or got upset at us for mentioning highly illegal rituals, so I’ll count that as a win.” Harry winked at Theo, who smirked in return.

“All this talk about souls and dead people,” Blaise complained while he stuffed another Christmas cookie Dean had brought along in his mouth. He chewed loudly. “Perhaps a more cheerful subject next week, Harry.”

Shaking his head, Harry followed his friends out of the room and had just closed the door when the mirror in his pocket grew warm. Tom never contacted him unless he really needed to talk to him. Harry was always the one to initiate contact in the evening, since Tom spent most evenings alone at home and it was Harry who needed to find privacy to call him.

“I’m going to find a bathroom real quick,” Harry told his friends, waving them on. “Don’t wait or you’ll get caught out after curfew. I’ll see you later.” And without waiting for a reply, Harry rushed towards the nearest loo, made sure he was alone while casting a few privacy charms and took the mirror out of his pocket.

“Everything all right?” Harry demanded the second he saw Tom’s face. Something was different. Not Tom himself, but the background was not Tom’s bedroom or office or drawing room. It looked familiar, though.

“Harry, my dear, can you slip away right now? Meet me in the Shrieking Shack?” Tom asked and now Harry recognized the room Tom was standing in. It was the main room of the Shrieking Shack.

“Meet you? Now?” Harry asked stupidly, since his brain for some reason suddenly had problems processing simple information.

Tom nodded and looked entirely amused by Harry’s response. “I have Dorus’ pensieve with me and would like to show you this afternoon’s emergency Wizengamot session that Dumbledore arranged so he could publicly accuse me of being Voldemort.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 35

Harry had never been so glad before that he had decided early on in the schoolyear to always keep his invisibility cloak and the Marauder’s Map in his bag that he carried around pretty much all day. He swung the cloak over his head after quickly checking the map to make sure there wasn’t anyone watching the doors in the entrance hall, and then he ran as fast as he could through the castle, down the stairs and out the door.

It rained buckets and he was soaked through in less than half a minute, but Harry hardly noticed it as he dashed through puddles, water splattering everywhere, across the wide lawn towards the whomping willow. He shot a spell at the knot to stop the willow from moving and all but threw himself down the dark hole, only remembering to light up his wand at the last second so he wouldn’t brain himself on the low ceiling while he scrambled towards the shack. Getting a traumatic brain injury, again, wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest, least of all his, but Harry was so elated he had trouble thinking rationally about anything right then.

Seeing Tom again…well, seeing him in the flesh, did things to Harry’s heart and lungs and brain that went far beyond a simple physical attraction. And how weird was that? Harry saw Tom almost every evening when they talked on their mirrors, but seeing him face to face, being in the same room with him, was something else entirely.

With a loud bang Harry pushed open the trapdoor and launched himself through it, leaking water every step he took. And then he looked up. And up. And up some more.

“Sweet Merlin, were you always this tall?” Harry asked in astonishment as he had to throw practically his whole head back to look up at Tom. He now realized he’d barely seen Tom as a whole person, standing upright, since his resurrection. He only ever saw the man’s face through their mirrors.

Tom, for his part, had to look down, which he did with a teasing smile. “And I don’t really recall you being such a soppy miniature human.” Before Harry could respond, Tom waved his wand around and a warm wind dried Harry in seconds.

Shivering, since he only now noticed how cold he’d been, Harry gave Tom his best unimpressed look. “Thanks. And I am only eleven. I will grow.”

“Certainly,” Tom agreed easily, tucking his wand away up his sleeve. “And this time you might actually grow to a decent size now that you’ve taken some nutrient potions to correct years of malnutrition.”

“A decent size?” Harry sputtered, while really only feeling mildly offended. “I made it to just shy of 5 foot 10 in my first life. That’s not exactly small. And what are you? 6 foot 5?”

“I’m just about 6 foot 6,” Tom said with a nonchalant shrug. “And you might make it to 6 foot this time around, if you eat all your veggies.”

Harry sighed and then shook his head in mild amusement. It would be nice to grow a little taller this life, certainly, but he wasn’t about to agree with Tom on principle. Harry shook out his invisibility cloak, even though it was completely dry now thanks to his soulmate, and folded it before sliding it in his bag. “So what happened? And did Dumbledore really bring you before the Wizengamot?”

Tom’s small smile grew into a sly smirk at once and he gestured towards the rickety table on which a grey, stone pensieve stood, with two simple, wooden chairs on either side of the table. “Have a look for yourself.”

“Is this your memory?” Harry sat down on one chair, while Tom occupied the opposite one.

“Yes. I had expected Dumbledore to pull something like this, I just hadn’t quite expected it to be this soon after your godfather’s trial, since that put Dumbledore in such a bad light. But apparently Dumbledore was in such a state of shock over my return he’d forgotten that part and just went full steam ahead without considering all the possible consequences.”

“Well, the man is a Gryffindor,” Harry said, knowing full well he himself had similar qualities that often resulted in a severe lack of planning and an inability to foresee all potential ramifications. And without any further comment, since Harry was far too impatient to draw this out even more, he stuck his head into the silvery substance and after a dizzying moment full of flashing colours found himself standing in the entrance hall of Riddle Manor where memory Tom just opened the front door to be faced with a wall of Aurors.

The real Tom appeared beside Harry and gave him a quick smile before focussing on the events unfolding in front of them.

“Can I help you?” memory Tom asked politely, though with a slightly alarmed expression on his face at seeing such a huge number of Aurors on his doorstep.

“Arrest him,” Moody barked while barging inside. “Everyone else, search the whole house, leave nothing untouched. And if you find the diadem, give it to me.”

“Arrest me?” memory Tom asked in astonishment, while Robards and Dawlish grabbed his arms. “And search my house? Do you have an order for this?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Travers said and shot a silencing charm at memory Tom while Shacklebolt cast a disarming charm at him, easily catching the wand that shot out from its holster on Tom’s arm before handing it to Robards. It didn’t look like Tom’s actual yew wand, which was very light in colour. “We’re going to feed you to the dementors before the day is over, mark my words,” Travers snarled with an ugly sneer

“What the hell,” Harry muttered, anxiety coiling in his belly and tightening his shoulders.

“It’s already happened,” Tom quickly assured him, his smile turning soft while his eyes crinkled as he looked down at Harry. “I’m alive and well. Just enjoy the show.”

“Yeah, all right,” Harry sighed, and inhaling deep breaths a few times to loosen his body. “Was that your wand?”

“Yes, but I used runes to disguise it. It now registers as fir wood with a phoenix feather core, made by a French wandmaker. Even Ollivander wouldn’t be able to recognize it anymore.”

Harry smiled briefly. “I love runes.” Then he quickly focused back on the action where Moody was sending Aurors left and right into the manor while Travers, Dawlish and Robards hauled memory Tom away outside where they forced him to touch a portkey.

A quick, spinning ride later they found themselves in the ministry atrium where Travers, Dawlish and Robards hauled a silently protesting memory Tom straight into the elevators and down towards the courtrooms.

Harry wanted to ask Tom a million questions about what was happening and why, but he realized he’d probably get all the answers by simply watching the memory unfold, so he kept his mouth shut, though it wasn’t easy.

“Ah,” Dumbledore said from where he stood in his customary centre spot as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot in the biggest of the ministry courtrooms, the same one they’d used to try to expel Harry from Hogwarts before his fifth year. “Here they are, the reason I called this emergency meeting.” All around them witches and wizards were finding their seats, muttering complaints about the last-minute summons they’d received.

“What is the meaning of this?” Amelia Bones asked from her reserved spot as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. She turned to look at Rufus Scrimgeour, who as the Head Auror sat beside her. “Rufus, did you order any arrests?”

Scrimgeour quickly shook his head but never had a chance to speak.

“I’m afraid that is my doing,” Dumbledore said genially, as though he hadn’t just broken a dozen laws. “I merely urged Alastor Moody to secure this very dangerous individual, and he must have taken some of his Auror friends along to do so.”

Amelia Bones was staring at Dumbledore as if she was seeing the man’s true nature for the very first time. “Dawlish, is this man silenced?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Dawlish said, no longer looking quite as confident as he’d done just moments before.

Amelia swished her wand to cancel the spell. “Release him at once. Sir, what is your name?”

“Now, Amelia, you have no idea who you are dealing with,” Dumbledore said in clear warning, while glaring at Amelia.

“If you’d shut up, Dumbledore, I would, since I just asked for the man’s name,” Amelia snapped, which took Dumbledore aback so much he actually took a physical step back.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” memory Tom said, while shuffling away from the Aurors who had just released their hold on his arms. “My name is Thomas Gaunt, and my home was just invaded by at least two dozen Aurors who told me they were there to arrest me and search my house, though when I asked to see an official order they denied me and simply silenced me before dragging me here while promising to feed me to the dementors before the day was over. That is all I know, but I’d be delighted to learn why I am being targeted and hauled in front of a court without the chance to arrange legal representation.”

“Now what is this about another emergency meeting, all within the same week?” Fudge muttered as he finally arrived and took his customary spot as the Minister for Magic.

Dumbledore ignored the small interruption and raised his head as he looked down at memory Tom with narrowed eyes. “I do believe we both know why you are here, Tom. There is no need to continue this charade.”

Memory Tom blinked large, disbelieving eyes at Dumbledore before turning towards Amelia, who looked about two seconds away from using an unforgivable on Dumbledore.

“Amelia?” Fudge asked while Pius Thicknesse joined him in his stand. “What on earth is going on?”

“That’s the new Undersecretary after dear Dolores got sentenced to life in Azkaban,” Tom whispered to Harry, who had just been about to ask what Thicknesse was doing there.

All around them, witches and wizards were sitting in silence, watching the whole spectacle unfold with bated breath, realizing that Dumbledore might very well have pushed things too far simply judging from Amelia and Scrimgeour’s expressions of absolute fury.

“Cornelius, I have no idea what is happening,” Amelia said while briefly glancing at the minister. “Aside from the fact that Dumbledore apparently hasn’t learned a single thing from the trial of Sirius Black last Monday and still believes he is above the law.”

“Well, now, Dumbledore,” Fudge said, squaring his shoulders as he glared at the old man, who was looking back in polite bewilderment, as though he couldn’t possibly understand why anyone would be mad at him, ever. “Explain yourself!”

“I most certainly will, Cornelius,” Dumbledore said and took his time looking around the whole courtroom, making sure all eyes were on him before continuing. “This man,” and he emphasized his words by pointing a steady finger at memory Tom, who was still looking mostly confused, “Is Lord Voldemort.”

If Dumbledore was expecting some sort of dramatic reaction from the people around him, he didn’t get it.

Amelia ran a very tired hand across her face while Fudge puffed up in outrage. “Preposterous!”

Several witches and wizards looked around in disbelief, murmuring amongst each other about this ridiculous accusation. Not a single person in the entire room looked as though they believed Dumbledore, not even those that usually supported the headmaster.

Meanwhile, memory Tom stood gaping up at Dumbledore with his mouth hanging open. “Pardon?” he finally said while closing his mouth and swallowing a few times.

“You may believe you can fool the whole world, Tom,” Dumbledore said in a thundering voice. “But you do not fool me. You never have and you never will.”

“He’s finally gone senile,” a wizard Harry didn’t know said loudly in the dead silence that followed Dumbledore’s dramatic response.

The door to the courtroom banged open and a witch in her late thirties marched in, briefcase in hand. “Now what is this I hear about the ministry arresting my client without just cause while illegally searching his home?”

“Merlin’s buggering balls, it’s her!” Fudge said, his voice echoing around the whole room before he quickly clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Sybil Post, solicitor for Thomas Gaunt,” the woman introduced herself to the room, confirming Harry’s suspicions she was the same solicitor who had helped get Sirius freed. She had long, curly brown hair she wore in a low bun and large glassed were perched on her pointy nose. At first glance she looked like a friendly school teacher but there was an incredibly determined glint in her brown eyes. “I will now hear the charges filed against my client, please.”

“There are no charges,” Amelia said with a resigned sigh.

“Now see here, Amelia,” Dumbledore said at once. “I just told you, this is Lord Voldemort, who has tortured and killed dozens of fine witches and wizards over many years and who should face justice for every single crime he has committed."

“I can’t believe Dumbledore is acting so wilfully blind,” Harry whispered with a quick glance to the side, where Tom raised his hand and snapped his fingers so the images around them stopped moving, like a paused movie on a screen. Harry turned to look at Tom in confusion until he noticed Tom’s positively smug smile that lit up his entire face. “Tom…what did you do?”

Tom actually cackled, which was such a delightful sound that Harry started laughing, too, though he had no idea why since nothing funny had happened yet. “I had Dobby spy on Dumbledore for over a week, and that eager little elf informed me Dumbledore likes to drink herbal tea in the evening. He even gave me the exact brand and blend he prefers.”

“Oh no,” Harry said, having a vague idea where this was going. “You did something to the tea.”

Tom briefly ran his tongue across his teeth while still grinning madly, which was oddly distracting to Harry. “I bought a few bags of this specific herbal blend and mixed in finally ground dried petals of a night orchid known as Lady of the Night. The flavour and scent are slightly sweet and citrusy so you won’t notice them in a herbal tea, especially not since Dumbledore drinks his with lots of honey. Then I had Dobby replace Dumbledore’s batch with this new version and he’s been drinking it all week.”

“What does it do?” Harry asked, almost forgetting to breathe in anticipation of the answer.

Tom looked as eager as Harry felt. “It lowers inhibitions, but in such a way that it’s very mild and almost undetectable. It merely takes away a person’s ability to question their actions and foresee consequences.”

“That is fucking brilliant,” Harry breathed, eyes widening in sheer awe at that simply yet highly effective plan. “That is absolutely genius. It’s like magically giving Dumbledore the slightest push he needs to hang himself.”

“Exactly,” Tom agreed with a proud nod at Harry. “Dumbledore is a very clever and cautious man who by himself would never accuse me openly of being Voldemort, not without very believable evidence.”

“He certainly never did so in our past lives. Call you out publicly, I mean,” Harry said while thinking back at how Dumbledore had acted then. “After you’d returned he talked to lots of people telling them you were back, but he never tried to force you out like this.”

“Because he knew that wouldn’t work,” Tom said, eyes gazing off into the distance as he was obviously also remembering those events. “I knew then that keeping myself hidden in the shadows for a time was needed to set up my Death Eaters in key positions so we could eventually take over the ministry in one coup.”

“Yeah, and back then Dumbledore understood that. But now he can no longer rationalize those consequences and he makes a fool of himself in front of the whole world, got it.” Harry started laughing again in sheer glee. “This is so diabolical. I love it.”

“Thank you, my dear,” Tom said with one of the most self-satisfied smiles Harry had ever seen. “I’m so glad you approve of my little scheme to force Dumbledore into some kind of action. If I hadn’t applied the orchid, I doubt he would have acted like this. He’d just been hiding away with his Order while whispering into people’s ears I was a person they needed to avoid while he took his time gathering evidence.”

“And now he’s making a public spectacle of himself instead and no one will believe a word that man says about you ever again. Brilliant. And aren’t house-elves amazing?” Harry felt compelled to say, since he’d heard Tom complain about them a few times over their many conversations, how he’d always looked down on his pureblooded friends for relying on the damned things so much.

“I’m starting to understand their appeal a bit better, I suppose,” Tom said, though he looked like that wasn’t easy to admit. Then he snapped his fingers again and the images around them started moving once more.

“Be silent,” Fudge hissed at Dumbledore. “You’ve gotten the ministry in enough trouble as is last Monday.”

“Is my client free to go?” Sybil Post asked while looking around the room.

Before anyone could answer the doors banged open again and Alastor Moody came clunking in, Ravenclaw’s diadem clutched in his hand. “Found it! It can now go back where it belongs.”

“That is my client’s property,” Sybil pointed out at once.

“It belongs to Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said in a frankly off-putting tone that was far too pompous.

“No, it doesn’t,” memory Tom said, looking like he’d finally gathered enough courage to speak up for himself. “It belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw personally before it got lost. As per the Treasure Act of 1751, if a magical item has been lost for more than two hundred years and no living descendants exist to claim said magical item, it belongs to the person recovering it.”

“Moody, give the diadem to Mr Gaunt,” Amelia said, her eyes blazing with so much fury Harry was genuinely surprised they weren’t shooting flames across the room yet. “Also, Moody, you’re suspended without pay for at least a month for illegally conducting a search and arrest without going through the proper, legal channels. An investigation will be started into you professional behaviour and it may lead to your permanent dismissal from the Auror force.”

“Amelia,” Moody barked, his magical eye rolling around in its socket while he glared up at her. “You’re letting You Know Who off the hook?”

“Enough!” Surprisingly, it wasn’t Amelia who shouted this, but Tiberius Ogden, who rose to his feet from his seat in between the many Wizengamot members. As far as Harry knew, Tiberius Ogden was a staunch supporter of the light and had been for his entire, very long life, so to see him lose his shit like this was memorable, to say the least.

“Just this past Monday we all had to sit through a travesty of justice,” Tiberius Ogden said while taking his time to gaze around the room before pointing a finger at Dumbledore. “This man was partially responsible for the illegal imprisonment without a trial of an heir of a prominent family. We all heard his excuses and I bought none of them. And now, not even a week later, this man believes he can ignore the law again to accost yet another young man without evidence.”

“Hufflepuff?” Harry guessed, which earned him a chuckle from Tom.

“Yes, the Ogdens are known for sorting primarily into Hufflepuff.”

Harry nodded wisely. “Yeah, I have Hufflepuff friends now. I recognize the signs.”

Ogden paused for a brief moment. “No more! I propose a vote of no-confidence for the Chief Warlock.”

“Seconded,” Dorus called while remaining seated. Around them more witches and wizards called out their agreement, some Harry knew, like Augusta Longbottom and Lucius Malfoy, but there were also a handful of people Harry had never seen before.

Fudge banged a hammer against the wooden bench in front of him. “The motion is heard. We shall now vote on the removal of Albus Dumbledore as the Chief Warlock. All in favour, raise your wands.” And Fudge was the first to do so, but quickly more and more people around the room followed his example until it was obvious more than half had their wands up.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore was gaping as he looked like he had no clue how it had come to this. Which he probably didn’t, since he was drugged to the gills with an inhibition loosening orchid and he was unable to rationalize things like usual.

“Motion carried. Dumbledore, step down,” Fudge said in obvious delight as he banged his hammer again. “Since you have no Wizengamot seat of your own and this is a closed meeting, you are hereby dismissed. Aurors, escort him out.”

For a moment, Dawlish, Travers and Robards seemed confused about this sudden turn of events, but Amelia gestured harshly at them to get going and they rushed towards Dumbledore to lead him to the doors.

“You are making a grave mistake!” Dumbledore called over his shoulder as he was forced to leave. “Voldemort is back! Mark my words!”

“Wow.” Harry stared at the happenings full of disbelief. “You actually got Dumbledore fired as Chief Warlock. That is something else.”

Tom cackled again, much to Harry’s secret pleasure. “Last Monday, during your godfather’s trial, Lucius called for a vote of no-confidence, but Dumbledore managed to make it through that, if only just. But even I hadn’t seen it coming that he still would be sacked within a week, though I am delighted by the results.”

“I bet. Dumbledore’s reputation is really taking a few enormous hits right now, isn’t it?” Harry shared a knowing look with his soulmate.

Tom nodded with a grin that was all teeth. “Oh yes, and we’ve only just started.”

“Mr Gaunt, you are free to go with the ministry’s sincerest apologies,” Amelia said with a firm nod.

“Do you wish to lodge a formal complaint or press for financial compensation?” Sybil asked memory Tom, looking rather eager for Tom to say yes.

“I think we can let it slide, this time,” memory Tom said while looking between Amelia and Fudge. “It was clear to me Mr Dumbledore seems to be suffering from at least a few mental maladies. But if such illegal acts occur again, I will have Miss Post take action.”

“Duly noted. Thank you, Mr Gaunt,” Fudge said in obvious relief. The large compensation the ministry was forced to pay Sirius not even a week prior was probably still bothering the minister.

“Aurors, return Mr Gaunt’s wand,” Amelia shouted at Travers, Dawlish and Robards, who had just returned from throwing Dumbledore out. Robards quickly did so, and memory Tom accepted it with a cool, short nod before turning around and following Sybil out of the courtroom.

“This is the end of the memory,” Tom said and at once they found themselves back in the Shrieking Shack.

“That was awesome,” Harry sighed, leaning back in the chair. “Truly well worth getting soaked to the bone for.”

“We’re not done yet.” Tom scooped up the silvery substance with his wand and pressed it to his temple to put the memory back in his head. Then he produced a vial with a different memory. “Severus gave this to me just before I came here. It’s his memory of the Order meeting from earlier this evening. Do you want to see it?”

“Are you kidding me?” Harry bounced in his chair, he was so excited. “Tom, you’re absolutely spoiling me. Yes, I want to see it!”

“I haven’t even seen it myself,” Tom said as he emptied the vial into the pensieve. “Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Together, they lowered their faces into the memory and within moments found themselves standing behind Snape who pushed open the backdoor of the Burrow and stepped inside. The Burrow’s kitchen was packed with lots of people all talking over each other. Most Harry knew, though some he couldn’t recall ever seeing before.

Molly Weasley levitated pots of coffee and tea onto the table, alongside plates of biscuits and slices of cake, but most people seemed to ignore the offerings in favour of arguing.

“Ah, Severus, you’re here,” Dumbledore said while waving his hands around to calm everyone down so he could be heard. “Let’s get started.”

Harry was happy to see that Sirius and Lupin weren’t there. Sirius was still in the hospital, at least according to the last letter his godfather had sent him and Harry imagined Lupin was staying by his side for now.

“Lord Voldemort has returned,” Dumbledore said, and this time he got a much more dramatic response from the people around him, though a few did look sceptical at that bit of news.

“How did this happen?” Arthur Weasley asked, face pale while his wife was dabbing at her eyes with a patched handkerchief she pulled out of her sleeve.

“I’m not sure how exactly he has managed to return or who specifically has helped him,” Dumbledore said while gesturing again for everyone to remain calm as a lot of people were muttering amongst themselves again. “Unfortunately the ministry has been less than helpful so far. They have sided with Voldemort for now.”

“No, they haven’t,” Moody spat, stepping out of the shadowy corner he’d been lurking in. “They merely didn’t believe you on your word because after the whole Sirius Black debacle they weren’t eager to ignore a whole bunch of laws again merely on your say so. And it cost us both our jobs.”

“Now, now, Alastor,” Dumbledore said optimistically, still gesturing all around since now people were demanding answers left and right. “I lost my position as the Chief Warlock, that is true, but you merely got suspended for a month, for which I am truly sorry. I had not foreseen the Wizengamot’s unwillingness to see the truth before their eyes.”

“Because you didn’t give them a shred of evidence!” Moody all but snarled. “Just had him hauled in front of the whole Wizengamot without even informing Fudge and Bones and Scrimgeour beforehand.”

“What is done is done,” Dumbledore said with a tired sigh, turning away from Moody to look at Snape, who simply stood quietly to the side, observing all that was happening. “Severus, what news do you have?”

“None,” Snape said at once while crossing his arms as most people turned to look at him. “I have checked with all my contacts, Lucius, Macnair, Yaxley, the Carrows and more, and none of them have received a summons. The Dark Lord, if that man is indeed the Dark Lord, hasn’t had contact with any of his followers as far as I am aware.”

“That is odd,” Dumbledore conceded with a small nod.

“Albus,” McGonagall said, looking incredibly dubious about all she was hearing. “Are you sure this is Voldemort reborn? I agree the man looks the spitting image of Tom Riddle, but there are differences in their appearance.”

“How so?” Molly Weasley asked, looking between Dumbledore and McGonagall in confusion.

“Tom Riddle had brown eyes, and this man’s eyes are blue, for one. Not the mention their hair colour is different,” McGonagall said.

“None of this matters,” Dumbledore tried to assure everyone quickly. “Voldemort is the only remaining descendant of Slytherin and therefore of the Gaunt name. And this man calls himself Thomas Gaunt.”

“That might not be entirely true,” Snape said quietly, yet plenty of arguing people heard him and stopped talking to see what he had to say.

“Severus, what do you mean?” Dumbledore widened his eyes as he stared at Snape.

“There were rumours, no, mere whispers, of a child being fathered by the Dark Lord,” Snape said carefully, delicately while every eye in the room was on him. “It is possible this man is that child, all grown up and now aware of his heritage enough that he claimed the Gaunt name.”

“What the hell?” Harry stared daggers at Snape, but before he could voice his anger, Tom snapped his fingers and the images stopped moving.

“I instructed Severus to spread the rumour of my heritage if he got the chance,” Tom explained, causing Harry to release a deep breath. “I need to somehow spread this story around, since it would be odd for me to happily claim to be Voldemort’s son while also being opposed to Voldemort’s actions and politics.”

“Yeah, I get it. This way you can eventually tearfully yet bravely confess that you are Voldemort’s bastard child but that you never knew him, blah, blah, blah,” Harry said while grinning up at Tom.

“Well, perhaps not tearfully, but that is the gist of that plan, yes.” Tom snapped his fingers again and the memories continued playing around them.

“Voldemort fathering a child?” Moody wondered out loud with a harsh chuckle. “Who would even have him?”

Snape’s expression was utterly blank. “I do not believe the Dark Lord ever asked for consent from the eventual mother of his child.”

Moody didn’t seem very apologetic for his remarks, but he did shut up.

“There is no evidence of Voldemort fathering a child,” Dumbledore pointed out loudly, since the whole room was filled with many voices speculating on this new turn of events.

“But it makes a heck of a lot more sense than your theory of Voldemort being reborn out of the blue, without any help of his followers,” McGonagall replied with an impatient look. “Perhaps we should gather evidence, real evidence, of this man’s heritage before drawing any conclusions that might cost more people their jobs, or worse.”

“I agree with Minerva,” Arthur Weasley said while Molly looked like she wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. More and more Order members voiced their agreement of McGonagall’s plan and Dumbledore released a resigned sigh.

“Very well. Let’s make it a priority to discover Thomas Gaunt’s real identity,” Dumbledore finally conceded. “Severus, ask your contacts what they know of this.”

Snape nodded once and turned on his heels to rush out the door. The memory ended there and a dazed Harry sat up in the main room of the Shrieking Shack, staring at Tom opposite him.

“Even Dumbledore’s Order doesn’t believe him on his word anymore,” Harry couldn’t help but say while his whole body filled with gleeful excitement. He suddenly had too much energy and he jumped up from his chair to dart around the table towards Tom. “That is the best news I’ve heard in ages.”

“It is indeed most welcome,” Tom agreed with a smile that lit up his eyes.

Harry laughed, head thrown back in sheer joy at their success and without even knowing what he was doing, he lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Tom’s neck and tightened them into an embrace. Tom, for his part, stiffened in his chair, sitting as still as a statue as Harry’s brain slowly came back down from its brief moment of overwhelming euphoria.

Fucking hell. He was hugging Tom.

Now what?

Chapter Text

Chapter 36

Harry couldn’t remember the last time he’d found himself in a more awkward position as right there and then, with his arms wrapped around a rigid Tom.

If you’d asked Harry why he did it, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you. He was just so elated in that moment, and Tom was right there and important and his friend and it happened before Harry even realized what he was doing.

And now he stood hugging Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort, his prophesized enemy, and also the man who singlehandedly made Harry question his sexuality to the point that he was now quite sure he had feelings for Tom that went beyond sexual attraction or even a simple crush.

Here was the thing, though. Growing up with the Dursleys, Harry never received positive physical contact. He wasn’t used to it and didn’t really understand how any of it worked. Even after starting Hogwarts in his first life, positive physical contact had been incredibly limited. A rare slap on the back from Ron or the twins, or a very brief hug from Hermione or Mrs Weasley and that was it.

And during his doomed relationship with Ginny she was the one who pretty much always initiated any physical contact and Harry had let her since he didn’t have a clue how to go about doing any of those physical things.

And yet, here he was, arms wrapped tightly around a man who meant more to him now than anyone else had ever done. There was no contest, not with any of his former or current friends.

The feelings Harry had for Tom went deeper than any feelings for anyone else, ever.

They went soul-deep, because they were as close to being real soulmates as anyone could ever hope to be.

Tom’s hair brushed against Harry’s cheek in a soft caress and only now did Harry realize that Tom had a scent that was his own. Harry inhaled once, twice and he didn’t think he’d ever smelled anything before that was simultaneously as exciting yet comforting as Tom’s scent. Like walking through a forest after the rain, earthy yet fresh, but also masculine with a hint of spices that was probably some sort of cologne, but underneath all of that something musky that made Harry want to bury his nose in the nape of Tom’s neck and inhale as deeply as he could, but he didn’t because he wasn’t fucking crazy even if his current position suggested otherwise.

And then, out of nowhere, an arm slipped around Harry’s waist and pulled him just a fraction closer until Harry stood pressed against Tom’s thigh while Tom hugged him back.

Oh.

This was even better, yet also even more awkward, because now Harry was silently panicking about how to end the hug.

He had no clue how long hugs were supposed to last. What if he ended it too soon? What if he dragged it on too long? Should he say something? No, Harry knew at once that whatever happened, he should keep his mouth shut, because words were not his friends in awkward situations.

How did anyone know how to do any of this? Not to sound like Hermione, but were there books available that discussed these things, because Harry was in desperate need of one.

Tom’s firm body moved underneath him for a moment and Tom’s face brushed against the side of Harry’s and was Tom smelling him like Harry had done to him earlier? Was this supposed to happen? And what was Tom smelling right now? When had Harry last showered? Probably that morning, or was it the night before? Harry couldn’t remember and at once he worried he stank of sweat or worse, potions, because they’d had potions that morning and what had they been brewing again that might make Harry stink?

Before Harry could descend into a full-blown panic attack, Tom pulled back from the hug and Harry was forced to let go, much to his immediate regret because hugging Tom had been nice, overall, if you ignored the awkwardness and almost anxiety attack.

Tom ducked his head and cleared his throat while Harry took a wobbly step backwards.

Perhaps now was the time to say something, Harry mused, yet all he could come up with to say was, “Let’s never talk about this happening.”

“Agreed,” Tom said at once and finally looked up to meet Harry’s eyes, though his expression was carefully neutral. “Tea?”

“Yes!” Harry released a shuddering breath and dashed back to his own chair, sitting down at once.

“Dobby!” Tom called and a second later Dobby appeared, looking between Tom and Harry with wide eyes before a cautious smile appeared on his face.

“The great Master Tom is calling Dobby?”

“Tea for two, please,” Tom said and Dobby popped away without comment. Tom shifted in his seat, leaning both forearms on the edge of the table so he could look Harry straight in the eye. “I had expected at least some questions from you concerning Dobby being in my employ, but it seems you already knew about that. How curious, since I can’t recall mentioning it to you before this evening.”

“Er…” Harry licked his lips, wondering how on earth he was going to spin this story without getting Dobby in trouble for sneaking off to meet him.

“So it was Dobby,” Tom said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh. “That elf did seem awfully smug after you contacted me and we made up after the whole Umbridge debacle.”

“Please don’t hurt him,” Harry pleaded at once.

Tom seemed genuinely insulted by the idea of him hurting his house-elf. “I’ll thank you to remember that I’m not the Malfoys, Harry.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry,” Harry said quickly, unsure why he’d even thought Tom might hurt his house-elves. From what he’d seen of Tom with his soul intact, he wasn’t the type to do such a thing. “And yeah, Dobby came to see me since you hadn’t forbidden him to do so. It was something he said that made me realize why I was so upset with you, so he did good.”

“Hm.” Tom looked like he wanted to say more, but at that moment Dobby returned with a huge tray holding a complete tea service.

“Let me get this.” Tom pulled Snape’s memory out of the pensieve and back into the vial and then levitated the pensieve towards a wooden crate that stood on the floor to the right. Dobby got the tea service situated between them and then stood waiting patiently to see if his master had another command for him.

Tom looked between Dobby and Harry with a promising smile. “Well, since Harry is aware of you, Dobby, we might as well break the news to him that you’re to become his elf for Yule. Or we can switch you over right now, since it seems silly to wait a few more weeks if everyone is in the know anyway.”

But instead of looking happy, as Harry had expected he would at the news of becoming Harry Potter’s house-elf, Dobby pursed his lips while his eyes widened and his eyebrows curved in a way that made him look like a sad little Disney puppy.

“You don’t want to be my elf?” Harry asked, genuinely surprised. In their previous life, Dobby had been a huge admirer of Harry before they even met and had ultimately given his life to save Harry’s.

Dobby fidgeted with his pillowcase while scuffing a foot across the wooden floor as he ducked his head. “Oh, Dobby would be more than honoured to become Harry Potter’s elf. But Dobby loves working for the great Master Tom, especially because he gets to work with Plucky, who Dobby likes very much.”

For a moment, Harry wasn’t sure what Dobby was saying, but then he got it. “Ah! You like Plucky, and you want to continue working with her. Yeah, I get it, Dobby, and you should stay with Tom if that is what you want.”

Tom sighed and shook his head in a rather resigned fashion.

“I have Kreacher already,” Harry said, just to make sure Tom understood Harry’s reasoning for turning down his very thoughtful and generous gift. “He’s as good as my house-elf anyway, since he hates Sirius. And you got Dobby away from the Malfoys, that is what’s most important.”

“Yes, fine. Dobby, you can return home.” Without further comment and looking only slightly put out, Tom went about serving them both tea while Harry helped himself to a chocolate biscuit. “Winky prefers the more domestic tasks, and Plucky is very talented with the garden and renovating the house, and I suppose I can continue using Dobby for more adventurous work.”

“Like spying on Dumbledore,” Harry said with a grin, reaching for another biscuit. They were delicious and he couldn’t help himself.

“It was Dobby who suggested that in the first place,” Tom said while he sipped his cup of tea. “I was complaining about not knowing Dumbledore’s next move to Barty at the breakfast table and before I knew it that elf had a whole plan worked out on how to find out.”

“Yeah, Dobby has always been fond of sneaking around while skirting the rules,” Harry said while he also picked up his cup of tea. “Are you going to continue spiking Dumbledore’s tea? Because if he keeps acting so irrationally, it might be too obvious.”

“You have a good point,” Tom said with a slow nod. He, too, treated himself to a chocolate biscuit. Harry loved that for some reason, that Tom liked to indulge in sweet treats, though he had no clue why he would find such a silly thing endearing. “I suppose we’ll let Dumbledore finish the spiked batch he’s using now and let him go back to his own tea for a while. We can always have Dobby replace another batch in the future if we need him to act irrationally again.”

“Yeah, that seems like the smartest thing, because I noticed at once he was acting differently,” Harry said with an agreeable nod while he sipped more tea. “I have never even heard of that orchid before. We never learned about it in herbology or potions, I don’t think.”

“You wouldn’t have, since it’s mostly a muggle plant. The effects are mild enough that most wizards don’t bother with it, since there are far stronger and better compulsion charms or potions available,” Tom explained with a sly smile and eyes that shone with cleverness. “Muggles in certain parts of Asia use it as a cheap and mild party drug.”

“Huh.” Harry got a knowing look on his face. “Let me guess, in a batch of herbal tea it won’t even show up when scanned for harmful ingredients.”

“Exactly,” Tom agreed with a chuckle. “I hadn’t heard of it either, but Nagini mentioned it when I discussed possible plans with her to draw Dumbledore out while Dobby was spying on him.”

Harry blinked. “Your snake knew of a muggle orchid that’s a mild party drug?”

Putting his teacup down, Tom stared at Harry for a few seconds before laughing. “You don’t know about Nagini. I’d have thought Dumbledore would have told you, since he certainly knew.”

“I know you had a big, honking mean snake as a pet in our first lives, but I’m beginning to think I’m missing something here,” Harry said, his voice tight in obvious frustration. He gave Tom a pleading look.

“Nagini is a Maledictus,” Tom said as though that word made any sense whatsoever. Clearly Harry’s confusion was written all over his face because Tom was kind enough to explain. “A Maledictus is a witch born with a blood curse that is passed down from mother to daughter. They have the ability to transform into an animal though at some point in their life they will became stuck as that animal, unable to transform back into human form.”

“Nagini is a human?” Harry asked, sitting up in alarm as he felt the blood drain from his face. “Neville cut off her head with Gryffindor’s sword, for fuck’s sake, thinking it was just your pet snake. And fuck Dumbledore! Fuck him so very much right now. He never, ever mentioned what Nagini really was, just that she was a horcrux that needed to be destroyed.” Harry sighed and ran a hand down his face while he sat back in his chair, suddenly tired.

“And it was Dumbledore that accidentally introduced us,” Tom said just to make matters worse. That old bastard had so much to answer for. “He mentioned to Nagini one of his students was a parselmouth, and Nagini tracked me down when she was still human, after I finished Hogwarts. Dumbledore tried to keep Nagini from joining me, offering to keep her at Hogwarts even as a snake, but Nagini preferred to stay with someone who could at least communicate with her. Not that long after we met, less than a year, she became stuck in her snake form.”

“I never, ever in a million years would have guessed any of that,” Harry said, deeply astonished about everything he’d just learned. “Where is she now? I mean, where has she been all this time?”

“My safe house. She can enter and leave it at will, and it has a lot of land, with a river and woodlands, so there’s plenty of prey for her to hunt there. She doesn’t need to eat that much anyway, so she had no problem surviving on her own for years.” Tom refilled first his own cup with tea, and then Harry’s. “That’s where I’d left her when I went to kill the Potters. Before that time she was always with me, accompanying me on my travels if I went abroad or staying with me in my safe house.”

Something bitter and angry came to life in Harry’s chest and he recognized that overwhelming feeling from the time he’d been infatuated with Ginny. God, he was feeling jealous of Nagini. Harry cleared his throat, suddenly worried perhaps Tom had once had an intimate relationship with her, maybe before she got stuck as a snake?. But Tom liked men, he’d said so. But had he always liked men, or had he slept with Nagini and then realized he preferred something else?

“Harry,” Tom said, voice suddenly filled with concern. “You look about ready to throw some curses. Talk to me, my dear.”

“It’s nothing,” Harry muttered and inhaled a deep breath to calm his suddenly racing heart. Sometimes he really hated emotions and he perfectly understood why once upon a time Tom had thought it an excellent idea to do away with them entirely. “She was still a woman when you met?”

“She was only ever my friend,” Tom said with a rather knowing glint in his eyes as he took in Harry’s obviously relieved response to that statement. Harry sighed deeply while his shoulders lost their tightness at once. “She was born in Indonesia where she was found by someone running a magical circus. She performed in it for many years, and that is where she chose the name Nagini for herself, because it suited her better. Eventually she got involved briefly in the struggle against Grindelwald, which is how she met Dumbledore and some time later, me. ”

“Dumbledore always claimed you never had friends,” Harry felt compelled to point out, since it was obvious the old man had no clue what he was talking about when it came to Tom Riddle.

“Utter nonsense. As Tom Riddle, I had plenty of friends, and even as Voldemort I still had Nagini, who was very dear to me even as my mind slipped further and further into insanity.” Tom offered Harry a rather hopeful look. “She’d like to meet you. I’ve told her everything that’s happened to us, and she’s eager to get to know you.” Tom seemed suddenly embarrassed as he briefly looked down, fingers busying themselves with rotating the teacup in his hands a few time. “She’s the closest thing I have to family so I’d like it if I could introduce you.”

“Oh.” Harry felt a fire ignite in his belly and he worried his entire face might erupt into flames at any time. Tom wanted Harry to meet his family. “Yes, I’d love to. And I can talk to her, so that would be cool.” Harry frowned for a moment as he realized something. “It’s just, you never really mentioned her before now and we’ve been talking for months.”

“I am aware,” Tom said with a sigh while staring up at the ceiling. “I’ve only recently returned to my safehouse and met up with her again. Before that…I wasn’t sure…”

“Oh, you were embarrassed,” Harry guessed, understanding that much from talking with Tom as much as they did. Tom genuinely felt embarrassment and regret about all the things he’d done as Voldemort, and having to face someone he considered family would be a huge step to take to explain to them why you’d accidentally turned yourself insane and almost destroyed the world.

“It was indeed rather embarrassing,” Tom conceded, still not meeting Harry’s eyes. “Nagini believes herself to occupy the role of an older sister of sorts and she’s always cautioned me to stop creating as many horcruxes and yes, she took great pleasure in rubbing my own stupid mistakes in my face once I finally went to see her.”

Harry grinned and couldn’t hold back a bout of laughter. “I’d love to meet her, really.”

“I’ll take you to my safehouse during the holidays.” Tom finally looked at Harry again, but his gaze quickly turned serious, his brows drawn down and eyes narrowed. “Nagini did remind me of something we have yet to really discuss between us.”

“What?”

“The prophecy.”

At once Harry’s good mood diminished significantly and he sagged in his chair. “Oh. That thing.”

“Yes, I’d rather forget about the damned thing, too, but Nagini pointed out that Dumbledore might very well try to use it against us in some way, so it might benefit us to at least discuss it.”

“You don’t know the prophecy,” Harry said in realization, suddenly remembering that Voldemort had never gotten his hands on the complete thing.

“No, I don’t, so if you’re willing to share, I’m very happy to listen,” Tom said while quirking a single eyebrow.

“Yeah, sure.” But instead of just rattling off the prophecy, Harry actually had to think for a moment. In his first life, after the battle of Hogwarts, Harry had all but deleted any detail of the prophecy from his mind, unwilling to give the bloody thing anymore thought ever again. Now, though, Tom had a point. They might no longer care about the prophecy, but Dumbledore certainly still did and it would be foolish to not at least go over it together to ward off anything Dumbledore might one day try to throw at them.

“Okay, I remember now. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh months dies. And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh months dies.” Harry slowly folded his hands on the table in front of him and waited for Tom to react.

Tom, in the meantime, sat still as a statue while he gazed at something over Harry’s shoulder, clearly going over every sentence in his head to figure out what it all meant. At least, Harry hoped he was occupied with that and he wasn’t suddenly planning Harry’s downfall after all because of that stupid fucking prophecy.

Nah, Harry knew Tom wasn’t that kind of person anymore. Harry doubted Tom would have returned the hug or told Harry Tom wanted for him to meet the person he considered a sister if he still planned to do Harry in at some point. Still, thinking about the prophecy brought back a lot of negative memories and emotions from the time they were still mortal enemies, and Harry would just as soon forget that whole era.

“It’s been fulfilled,” Tom finally said, much to Harry’s relief. Tom offered him a small smile, also appearing reassured that fate wouldn’t try to force them into enemy roles just because of something silly Trelawney had once said. “It says you vanquish the Dark Lord, and you have, in both lives. Our first one you destroyed my horcruxes and reflected the killing curse back to me, and in our second life you ensured that my soul was in one piece upon our return, thus bringing back Tom Riddle and doing away with Voldemort entirely.”

Harry gave Tom his biggest grin. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that. I’ve always resented Trelawney for spouting that thing, during a job interview at the Hog’s Head of all places.”

With a disbelieving snort, Tom actually buried his face in both hands, causing Harry to burst out in laughter. “Please tell me you’re joking,” Tom muttered, barely audible.

“Nope. The woman who determined our lives in ways that are still hard to believe is a slosh who made that prophecy during a job interview in a sleazy pub. And, incidentally, I’m quite sure she doesn’t know a thing about real divination even if it bit her in the arse.”

“It could even be fake,” Tom said with a pensive look in his eyes. “Prophecies are registered at the Department of Mysteries, but a wizard like Dumbledore could probably find a way around that if he truly wanted.”

“No.” Harry shook his head over and over. “Don’t even go there, Tom. I don’t want to hear it. Real or fake, the bloody thing is done for. And Dumbledore can try to force it to happen all he wants, it’s us who have to act upon it, and we won’t, so case closed.”

“All right,” Tom said, head tilted as he gave Harry an undeniably fond look. “Case closed. No more silly prophecies. Let’s talk about something else. That club of yours, you had a meeting tonight?”

“Yes!” Harry sat up in his chair at once and snatched up another chocolate biscuit just because he could. “It went splendidly. I talked about the old Yule rituals, to protect against the Wild Hunt and no one freaked out or complained. They just asked questions.”

“That’s wonderful. And they’re still kids. They’re happy to hear all sorts of stories at this point in their lives without having to consider the politics,” Tom said easily while he also helped himself to another biscuit. “Though I still can’t understand how you can spend all your time with them without slowly going bonkers.”

Harry snickered while he thought about that. “Sometimes they say things or do things that baffle me, sure, because they’re kids. But overall I do enjoy spending time with them.”

“For now.” Tom gave Harry a pointed look. “Because you’re going to keep maturing, and eventually you’ll be mentally twenty or twenty-one, while they will be thirteen or fourteen.”

“I know.”

“I understand why you want to do your Hogwarts years over, my dear, I truly do, but on the other hand I worry that you’re merely wasting your time there.” Tom waited for Harry to give a reaction, but Harry wasn’t sure what he could say to that, so Tom continued. “You can also take your OWLs and NEWTs early at the International Confederation of Wizards in Rome. That’s a little loophole I discovered. In the UK you need to be fifteen for your OWLs and seventeen to sit your NEWTs. But at the ICW there is no age limit, and the Ministry of Magic has to accept their results, even if the wizard taking them is underage.”

“You’ve been planning my whole life,” Harry said in a slightly accusatory tone.

“Only a little,” Tom replied with a crooked grin that did things to his face that made Harry want to take a picture and keep it in his nightstand. “I signed myself up for the OWLs and NEWTs at the ICW so I read their rules and that’s when I discovered that convenient little loophole.”

Harry wasn’t sure if he felt relieved or disappointed at hearing that. “Ah. When are you taking the tests?”

“Next week, I’ll be in Rome for ten days or so, right before you start your holidays.”

“So you’d better get studying,” Harry said with a cackle.

Tom looked entirely unimpressed with Harry’s suggestion. “I got straight O’s across the board once, I’m sure I can do it again. But think about what I said, darling. Should you get tired of playing with little children all day, there is a legitimate way out for you that doesn’t involve running away and hiding or some such nonsense. You could simply take the official exams at the ICW and even Dumbledore couldn’t force you back to school once you’ve passed those.”

“All right,” Harry sighed, realizing that Tom did make some good points. Right at that moment, Harry was enjoying his time at Hogwarts immensely. It really did feel like a do-over for him, a chance to be the kid he never got to be during his first life. But Hogwarts had 6,5 more years of classes waiting for him, and it could very well be that before that time Harry would honestly grow tired of it to the point he might want to take his OWLs and NEWTs early. “Thanks for the tip. I might very well make use of that loophole in a few years.”

“You’re welcome.” Tom glanced at his watch. “And it’s past midnight. Perhaps we should call it a night.”

“What? Merlin, yeah, I didn’t even let my friends know I would be off for a few hours, just that I was visiting the loo. They’re going to be wondering.” Harry pushed his chair back and got up, stretching his arms over his head. “Thanks for this, though. Seeing Dumbledore lose his job was hilarious.”

“It was my pleasure, my dear. Now off to bed with you. The holidays are only a few more weeks away and then we’ll exchange some more memories.”

“Yes, I’ll hold you to that.” And with a small wave, and some mild feelings of regret at having to leave, Harry lowered himself down the trapdoor and hurried back to the castle. It had stopped raining, thankfully, so Harry was still dry once he reached the dungeons.

“Where were you?” Theo whispered, his head sticking out between his bedcurtains as Harry entered the dormitory. “We’ve been worried when you never returned.”

“Sorry,” Harry whispered back. All the other beds had their curtains drawn, too and everyone seemed asleep already. “Something came up and Tom wanted to share some news. Dumbledore got sacked as the Chief Warlock this afternoon.”

“Seriously?” Theo grinned at hearing that. “I’m sure we’ll see it in the paper tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Night, Theo,” Harry said as he gathered his pyjamas and disappeared into the bathroom.

Something extraordinary happened. Or rather, for the next three weeks nothing out of the ordinary happened, which was rather extraordinary, seeing as how tumultuous the weeks since Tom’s resurrection had been. The whole month of November had seemed to consist of one surprise after another. But thankfully December was utterly without them so far.

Harry felt like he could finally breathe again in some ways, like a weight had fallen off his shoulders that he hadn’t even realized was on there in the first place. Everything was running smoothly and no more surprises awaited him, at least for a while.

He talked to Tom on their mirrors, like they always did, and even when Tom spent time in Rome to get his official exams done as Thomas Gaunt, he still made time to chat with Harry at least for fifteen minutes or so every evening. Harry also sent a few letters to Sirius, who always wrote back with complaints about the hospital food and stories about James and Lily. After a week, Harry got a very happy letter in which Sirius told him he’d been released from the hospital and was now staying at Black Manor in Cumbria, where Lupin was helping him cleaning the place up a bit, which Harry translated as getting rid of dark artifacts and books. Harry wanted desperately to have Sirius give those to him, but he couldn’t think of a way to make that request as an eleven-year-old child. So eventually he asked Kreacher to be on the lookout for any books Sirius threw away, in the Black Manor or Grimmauld Place, and to save those he could and place them in Harry’s Gringotts vault. Kreacher was happy to comply.

The news of Dumbledore’s dismissal from the Wizengamot did appear in the paper, but at that point the students had already had so many shocks that week concerning the news, that it hardly even registered. Dumbledore pretended nothing was amiss, though he did miss more meals than usual, probably to search for evidence as to Tom’s real identity, but nothing came of that yet.

Harry hosted two more Culture Club meetings, which remained popular and successful and every student attending seemed to get something out of it, besides socializing with their peers on a Friday evening.

Neville facilitated a few brief moments of correspondence between Harry and Augusta Longbottom, to finalize the gifting of the Hogwarts book of rules and regulations to all the students the morning of their departure for the Christmas holidays. Augusta provided a signed letter on behalf of the Board of Governors, explaining to the students that while for decades the book had been lost, thankfully an anonymous benefactor had found a copy and provided it to the Board of Governors so it could now be distributed amongst the students again, as it should have been in the first place. Kreacher had at that point already made more than enough copies of the book for all students and he was ready to distribute books and letters to every single student at Hogwarts when the time was right.

Of course, Harry’s peaceful break couldn’t last.

Two days before the start of the holidays, Snape called Harry into his office.

“You wanted to see me, Professor?” Harry asked politely as he stood in front of Snape’s desk.

“The headmaster inquired as to your plans for the upcoming holidays. I informed him you hadn’t added your name to the list of students who wish to remain at Hogwarts. Is that correct?” Snape asked while giving Harry his customary glare filled with distaste, as though speaking to Harry was on par with receiving suboptimal ingredients for brewing a lifesaving potion.

“Yes, Sir,” Harry said with a puzzled expression. “I’m going to spend time with my family.”

Snape narrowed his eyes. “The headmaster has decreed that you shall remain at Hogwarts, Potter.”

“The headmaster can go fuck himself,” Harry said before he could bite it back.

“Potter, you will keep a civil tongue in your head or I will have you in detention until June, is that understood?” Snape snarled while leaning forward in his chair to better glare at Harry.

“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir,” Harry said quickly, in slight disbelief Snape hadn’t taken points or given him detention for that outburst . “What I meant to say was, the headmaster doesn’t have the authority to keep me at Hogwarts. It’s not a prison, but a school. And the headmaster is not my legal guardian, but my aunt is, and she wants me to spend my holidays away from school.”

“See?” Snape sneered. “That wasn’t so difficult. Now go write that down in an official letter to the headmaster, send a copy to the Board of Governors, the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet for all I care, and leave me out of your little spats with Dumbledore from now on.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” Harry really wanted to point out that Snape was Harry’s Head of House and it was his fucking job to get involved with these things on Harry’s behalf, but Harry wasn’t suicidal and Snape looked like he could really use a vacation at that point, so Harry quickly left.

Now he had to go and fight with Dumbledore so he could have a vacation of his own. And Harry knew one thing…there was nothing Dumbledore could say or do that would make Harry stay at Hogwarts over Christmas, even if he had to sneak out of the castle to get away.

Dumbledore really could go fuck himself.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

Harry fumed as he stormed through Hogwarts’ halls. It was Thursday just after dinner, so he couldn’t go to the Slytherin common room or dormitories, since they’d be crowded around this time. He briefly considered the Club House, but that wasn’t a good idea either, since some of the Culture Club members had taken to using it to socialize in the early evenings, which was fine, Harry didn’t mind. He’d only asked that they keep the password to themselves and not share it with anyone not a part of the Culture Club, which so far everyone had done.

So Room of Requirement it was.

When pacing in front of the blank wall Harry asked for the room full of junk, so that he could work off some steam by going through all the many piles of stuff to see what he could use or sell.

But first things first. Harry slammed the door shut behind himself and asked the room to gather all the chairs in one nearby corner. The room did so and at once chairs piled up out of nowhere, only to tumble down again with much clattering. Harry selected a reasonably clean and whole armchair with soft, blue fabric and levitated it to the side where he promptly threw himself in it while he flipped open his mirror.

“Harry, what’s wrong?” Tom asked the moment he answered his mirror. The background betrayed that he was still in his hotel room in Rome and Harry recalled Tom had his final two NEWTs the next day before being able to go home just in time for the start of Harry’s holidays.

“Fucking Dumbledore,” Harry said with feeling while he gritted his teeth, brow furrowed in his deepest frown. “Snape just told me the headmaster has decided that I’m to stay at Hogwarts for the upcoming holidays.”

Tom gave Harry a severely unimpressed look, eyes glinting with defiance. “That is not up to the headmaster to decide.”

“I know!” Harry turned in the chair, throwing both legs over one armrest while leaning his head back and holding the mirror up over his face. “Snape said I should write him an official letter and send it to the board and ministry and prophet and stuff.”

“Hm.” Tom briefly pursed his lips while glancing down, which Harry had come to recognize as Tom’s plotting and planning face. “I think it would be better to do nothing. You don’t owe him an explanation since he’s only the headmaster of your school. It’s not up to him to decide where you spend time away from school since he’s not your legal guardian.”

Harry considered that for a second, briefly shutting his eyes. “Okay, but Dumbledore might be able to pull something since Petunia didn’t exactly give me official permission to do what I want for the holidays. I just tell everyone she did.”

“So we get her permission.” Tom held up a hand to ward off Harry’s obvious question of how they were going to accomplish that. “I’ll write her a short letter and have Dobby deliver it to her with a permission form for her to sign. You’ll be spending your holidays with the Notts, so you’ll be under the constant supervision of an adult, and Theodore is a good friend of yours so it makes sense to spend your holidays with his family.”

“So I’m not going to go back to the Dursleys and spend the nights there and just go where ever I want during the day, like we had planned earlier,” Harry concluded. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, because he had hoped to spend most of his free time with Tom and how would he be able to do that while stuck at the Notts.

“We were always going to spend Yule at the Notts, Harry,” Tom said in a reassuring tone, perhaps reading some of Harry’s disappointment on his face. “I was merely keeping it a secret to surprise you with it later. But with Dumbledore determined to keep you at Hogwarts, it would be better for you not to spend time at the location the Order can easily get to you. And we’ll still spend most of our time together, since I know for a fact Dorus has lots of plans for socializing with his son, so you’ll have plenty of alone time.”

“Ah, that’s good,” Harry said while exhaling deeply in relief. “And I do like the idea of staying at the Notts, I just also want to spend time with you.”

“I know, my dear,” Tom replied with an amused little smile. “So do nothing, say nothing, Dobby will bring you the signed permission slip and Saturday you board the train with everyone else and Dorus will be waiting for you and Theodore and take you to Nott Manor with a portkey where I’ll be waiting.”

“Got it. Good plan.” Harry was immensely relieved he wouldn’t have to confront Dumbledore in any way, shape or form before the holidays. He’d enjoyed his time at Hogwarts over the last four months or so, but he was ready for some time away from the castle. Strange how that feeling had changed since his first life. Back then, Harry dreaded having to leave Hogwarts for the holidays, and now Harry wanted nothing more than to leave, at least for a few weeks. Was this how normal kids felt, who had loving families waiting for them at home? Harry supposed it must be, though in his first life he’d never really experienced this feeling of anticipation before, not even when spending time at Grimmauld Place or the Burrow for the holidays. Back then, Hogwarts had been home, but now, that was slowly changing.

Harry knew he hadn’t found a place to call home yet, but he did know that he had a person who represented that for him, and that of course was Tom.

“So just relax and before you know it you’ll be at Nott Manor and we’ll see each other again.” Tom tilted his head from one side to the other and back, clearly trying to loosen some muscles. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have yet to eat and I want to shower and spend some time going over some notes for tomorrow.”

“Which NEWTs are you taking tomorrow?” Harry sat up in the chair, only a little disappointed at having to cut their conversation short.

“Charms and arithmancy. And right after those I’m taking a portkey back.” Tom did look slightly tired, his skin a little paler than usual and there were faint dark circles around his eyes. Which was no surprise, since he’d been taking OWLs and NEWTs for ten days straight. Even for a genius like Tom that had to be exhausting.

“Good luck,” Harry said and gave Tom his most sincere smile. “And thank you. I’m feeling much better already.”

“Good. Should Dumbledore really try to resort to attempted kidnapping, which I doubt, then ask for Dorus or Sybil Post. She’s officially your solicitor as well, even if you haven’t personally met her yet.” Tom grinned at Harry while giving him a sly wink. “I’ll see you Saturday. Goodbye, Harry.”

“Bye!” And with that Harry flipped the mirror shut and dropped back in the chair again, releasing a deep breath while he stared up at the ceiling. He really was relieved this problem had been tackled, for now at least. The past three weeks had shown Harry that having some quiet time between all the exciting things happening in his life was really important and necessary.

Glancing around the room, Harry decided he might as well sort through some more books and other items. He hadn’t yet spent anymore time doing so since the first time. He’d been busy with so many other things, both important and utterly mundane, that it had simply slipped his mind.

“Kreacher!” Harry called as he got up with a small groan.

“Little Master be calling Kreacher?” At once, Kreacher offered Harry a bunch of homemade Jaffa cakes in a tea towel and Harry accepted them with a huge smile.

“Thanks!” Harry stuffed one in his mouth immediately. Kreacher had made these for him before and they were absolutely amazing. Harry chewed and swallowed while Kreacher waited patiently. “Yeah, I called you to see if you want to help with sorting through some stuff here. Help me scan items for curses and such.”

“Kreacher will help.”

“Awesome.” And with that, they went to work. Harry asked the room to place items from different categories together so both he and Kreacher could cast detection charms on the piles of stuff before Harry sorted through it. The last thing he wanted was to end up in the hospital wing so soon before the holidays because he got careless and touched a cursed item. Harry could remember Katie Bell’s scream perfectly that time she’d accidentally touched the cursed necklace Malfoy had been trying to send to Dumbledore. Or Dumbledore’s blackened hand from where he’d touched the Gaunt ring that Voldemort had cursed personally.

It was a miracle, really, that more wizards and witches weren’t absolutely paranoid about every little thing they touched, seeing how easy it was to curse something and get it in front of an enemy.

Harry found plenty of money bags and loose coins, not a fortune but still a nice bit of pocket money, which he all piled into his own money bag. That would save him a trip to Gringotts for the next few years.

There were lots of every day items Harry knew he might one day need, after finishing Hogwarts, so he asked Kreacher to store them in Grimmauld Place’s attic for now. Sirius wasn’t using the house, hadn’t even set foot in it since his release from the hospital according to Kreacher, so Harry was confident no one would notice his secret stash of cauldrons and candlesticks and bedpans and inkwells and much, much more. Once he got a place of his own, Harry could go through it all and select what he wanted to keep before selling the rest. He did the same with the nicest pieces of furniture, any recreational items he found like Quidditch balls and chess sets and with clothes.

So many clothes.

Kreacher simply had to flick his fingers to transport it all to Grimmauld Place, much to Harry’s relief.

Harry also took most of the broomsticks he found. Most, but not all. He left two functioning ones in the room, because he still sometimes woke up covered in sweat with images of roaring dragons and basilisks made of cursed flames bearing down on him fresh on his mind. And this way, with the brooms still there, whoever might get caught in the room at one point in the future surrounded by fiendfyre would have a way to escape.

Finally, there were the books. So many books. They had already placed the textbooks to the side during Harry’s first expedition into the room, and now Kreacher made sure all those were transported to Grimmauld Place while Harry sorted through the rest.

He was going to keep most of those books, he already knew, even titles that seemed boring or useless. It would be nice to one day have a large library of his own, and this way he’d have tons of books to stock it with.

While digging through the many books and setting aside interesting titles for himself, Harry came across a few books he might give his friends for Yule.

To simplify things Harry had ordered a bunch of gift baskets from Honeydukes to be delivered to his friends. At eleven or twelve, all of them still appreciated getting sweets and chocolate as a gift, Harry was sure.

Still, the herbology diary he found from a turn of the century NEWT student would make a nice extra little gift for Neville, as did the book on healing charms for Theo. Blaise would appreciate some vintage Quidditch magazines, probably.

Finally, when Harry was done with the cursory selection of all the books and he told Kreacher to get them all out of there, he glanced at his watch and realized it was almost eleven and thus well after curfew.

Time to call it a night. While finishing the amazing Jaffa cakes, Harry strolled back to the dungeons, hidden beneath his invisibility cloak.

The next day they only had potions in the morning with the afternoon free, and they’d decided to have a sort of Christmas lunch with the Culture Club in the Club House, provided by a few of their own house-elves, Kreacher included. That evening everyone would be busy with last minute packing so they were having their meeting that afternoon instead.

The house-elves had outdone themselves and there was a varied buffet waiting for them in the Club House, with many traditional Christmas food like turkey and gravy, roast potatoes and Brussel sprouts, and pigs in blankets, mince pies and Christmas pudding. There was pumpkin juice and hot chocolate to wash it all down with.

Harry had made it clear no one was expected to exchange gifts within the Culture Club. He knew from personal experience how humiliating it could be if you were expected to give gifts but couldn’t afford it during his primary school years, when Harry was always excluded from any small gift exchanges between students because the Dursleys wouldn’t give him so much as a pound to spend. And he knew that for plenty of their club members it would be financially impossible to buy presents for twenty plus other students. But Harry had suggested perhaps they could exchange cards, at which point some of the students had taken it upon themselves to provide piles of craft items, all sent in from home, and they’d spent their previous Culture Club meeting making Christmas and Yule cards which they exchanged after their excellent lunch.

And as Harry was tucking away the small pile of cards he’d received in his trunk, Dobby popped in briefly and handed him the signed permission slip in which Petunia gave Harry the official go ahead to spend the holidays with Theo Nott and his family. Harry folded it carefully and tucked it in his bag so he wouldn’t lose it, wondering if Tom had put a compulsion charm on his letter to Petunia to get her to sign it without any problems.

The rest of the afternoon was spent packing and enjoying the farewell feast in the great hall. After dinner the weekly house meeting in the common room transformed into a holiday reception of sorts with butterbeer and lots of sweets and chocolates for everyone. Harry chatted with his friends and even some of the member of the Quidditch team, which he knew pretty well at that point.

By the time Harry went to bed that night he was utterly stuffed and convinced he didn’t need to eat again for at least a week. Still, it had been a wonderful start of the holiday season, the best Harry could remember ever having.

The next morning every student at Hogwarts woke up to find a book with a letter from the Board of Governors on top of it. There were many loud exclamations of surprise and joy to be heard all over the castle. A lot of wizard-raised students had heard from parents and other family members that the Hogwarts book of rules and regulations was one of the most sought after items at the school and to now be handed it as an early Yule gift was a very welcome surprise indeed.

Harry and his friends enjoyed a quick breakfast, in which Harry gave nothing away about his plans to just leave the castle with the other students, and yet that is exactly what he did. Dumbledore wasn’t seated at the head table anyway, probably too busy trying to figure out how on earth the Board of Governors got their hands on the book in the first place and how they’d managed to get it delivered to each and every Hogwarts student right under Dumbledore’s nose. The chaos Dumbledore must be experiencing at that moment was only beneficial for Harry and his plan to simply walk out of the castle with everyone else.

They went down to the dungeons to pick up their cloaks and trunks, and as one group the first-years made their way to the Hogwarts express, Harry tucked in the middle of the loudly chatting group.

No one stopped him.

The carriage ride proved interesting in that Harry could see the thestrals, but he wasn’t the only one.

“Freaky things,” Blaise muttered, side-eying the creatures with disdain as they boarded the carriage.

Theo was also staring at them, until Harry gave him a gentle nudge with his elbow. “They’re thestrals. They’re quite friendly, even if they look creepy as anything.”

“All right,” Theo said, but didn’t sound entirely convinced. He got into the carriage anyway.

Boarding the Hogwarts Express wasn’t a problem either, and Harry got a compartment with his friends easily enough, even though it was a tight squeeze with ten of them but thankfully they were all still fairly small so they made it work. The ride was spent with lots of conversation, excited monologues about what everyone was planning to do during the holidays, and games of exploding snap. Harry enjoyed it all immensely, since he hadn’t taken the train back to London for the holidays more than once in his previous life. It was something new, and of course it meant he’d be seeing Tom later that day.

No, trouble didn’t start until they made it to King’s Cross station in London. Harry got off the train right after Theo, calling out goodbyes to his friends as everyone darted off to find their families. The station was packed, and Harry had trouble keeping up with Theo.

“Potter!” Moody came clunking across the platform straight at Harry, Arthur Weasley following him closely. “Come here!”

Harry booked it in the opposite direction and he was fast, too, since his trunk was miniaturized and tucked in his pocket, and he’d sent Hedwig ahead so she wouldn’t be stuck in a cage all day. “Help!” Harry yelled as loudly as he could while he ducked between students and their parents until he saw a few familiar figures.

The Malfoys stood greeting Draco and Harry ran towards them at once. “Help, please, Draco, these strange men are trying to hurt me!”

“What is this?” Lucius Malfoy said, whipping his wand out of his cane while reaching out an arm, urging Harry to step closer to Narcissa.

“Potter!” Moody was surprisingly quick for someone with a prosthetic leg. “Get back here!”

“I have no idea who these men are,” Harry breathed, looking up at Narcissa with wide, fearful eyes.

“Harry,” Dorus, with Theo in tow, had found him, thankfully. “Hello, Lucius. What’s going on?”

“I was about to find out,” Lucius said, keeping his wand to the side as Moody and Arthur reached them.

“Step away from the boy,” Moody snarled, his wand pointed straight at Lucius. Arthur seemed a little more hesitant, looking from one person to the next but wand no where to be seen.

“These men are trying to kidnap me! I don’t know who they are!” Harry said urgently to Dorus, playing up his youth and vulnerability.

“Explain yourself,” Lucius demanded, not budging an inch even in the face of an enraged Moody.

“Dumbledore’s orders,” Moody barked. “Now step aside or I’ll curse you, Malfoy, don’t think I won’t.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Lucius said with the faintest of sneers.

“Can we just go?” Harry asked Dorus pleadingly. “Those strangers scare me.”

“Harry,” Arthur Weasley said with what he probably meant to be a kind smile but which came out more as a grimace. He, at least, seemed to understand how awkward their situation was. “Professor Dumbledore asked us to escort you back to Hogwarts. You’re to stay there for the holidays.”

“No, I’m not,” Harry said, voice filled with conviction. “Dumbledore is not my legal guardian, so he has no say where I spend my holidays, and my aunt has given me permission to spend it with Mr Nott and Theo.”

“You’re not staying with Death Eater scum, Potter,” Moody said with an enormous scowl. “So stop your yapping and come here.”

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” Robards asked, with Shacklebolt by his side. They had apparently been making enough of a scene to draw the attention of the Aurors that were always stationed on the platform whenever the train arrived or departed with students aboard.

“Yes,” Harry said at once and pointed his finger at Moody and Arthur. “These two men are trying to kidnap me. I don’t know who they are but they’re insisting I come with them anyway while I’m supposed to go with Mr Nott here.”

“I’m an Auror, so you do as I say,” Moody growled.

“Not right now you’re not,” Robards said with a vicious little smile. “You’re still suspended and under investigation.” It seemed Robards was still pissed at Moody for having been dragged into that whole fiasco with Tom and the Wizengamot.

Shacklebolt was peering down at Harry. He wasn’t a member of the Order of the Phoenix yet, Harry knew. In his previous life Dumbledore hadn’t recruited him until Voldemort had returned after Harry’s fourth year, and in this life no one believed Dumbledore’s claims about Voldemort having returned, except perhaps a handful of Order members. Even the article in the Prophet that announced Dumbledore’s dismissal from the Wizengamot hadn’t mentioned anything about Dumbledore’s claims that Voldemort had returned in the form of a young man who liked finding lost treasure. Therefore, most people weren’t even aware of Dumbledore’s claims, since he hadn’t made them publicly again after most of the Order urged him to find evidence for Tom’s real identity first. As far as Harry knew, Dumbledore was still busy doing just that.

“Harry, think about what you’re doing,” Arthur pleaded with wide eyes. “You Know Who is back and you’re not safe with these people.” Apparently Arthur was one of those few people that simply took Dumbledore’s word as truth without a shred of evidence.

“These people are my friends,” Harry said with his nose up in the air, as though he was deeply insulted by Arthur’s words. “And you’re clearly insane.” Harry rummaged around in his bag and pulled out the permission slip, handing it to Shacklebolt. “My aunt Petunia, who is my legal guardian, has given me permission to stay with Mr Nott and Theo for the holidays. Can I press charges against these two kidnappers?”

“Yes, you can.” Surprisingly, that was Augusta Longbottom who said that. She stepped closer with Neville in tow, who was watching the whole scene unfold with a disbelieving look on his face. “Arthur, can you really afford to lose your job over a kidnapping charge from Harry Potter himself?”

Arthur ducked his head, cheeks colouring red, only now apparently realizing how badly this would look for him at the ministry.

“Stay out of this,” Moody snarled, magical eye whizzing in its socket in sheer agitation.

“Enough,” Shacklebolt said, folding the permission slip and handing it back to Harry. “You’re free to leave with your temporary guardian, Mr Potter. As for you, Moody, I suggest you return to the ministry with us so you can explain to Amelia why you were trying to kidnap Harry Potter.”

“Come,” Dorus said, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Lucius, Narcissa, a pleasure as always.”

Lucius returned Dorus’ nod while Narcissa offered him a polite little smile. “Theodorus, we’ll see you for Yule, I’m sure.”

“Naturally.” And with that, Dorus led Harry and Theo away from the whole mess and presented them with an old, rusty teakettle. Harry and Theo touched it without any prompting and one violent pull later they stood in front of an old but well-kept Manor house surrounded by elaborate gardens, which were rather bare at that time but Harry imagined that in the summer they’d be truly beautiful.

“Welcome to Nott Manor,” Dorus said as he gestured the kids inside. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry. Theo has mentioned you often in our correspondence. Call me Dorus.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Dorus,” Harry said, smiling up at the man, who looked a great deal like a much older version of Theo, save that Theo’s features were a little more rounded, not quite as sharp as Dorus’ face. “And thank you so much for having me for the holidays. I really appreciate it.”

“It’s my pleasure.” Dorus wrapped his arm around Theo’s shoulders and pulled him a little closer. “Nestor will take you to your guest suite now, Harry.”

“Now?” Theo asked, looking up at his father with a frown.

“Harry has a little something waiting for him in his room,” Dorus said with a very knowing smile. “You can give him a tour later. For now, I want to spend some time with my only child.”

Nestor the house-elf popped into the hallway right beside Harry. “Master Dorus’ guest be following Nestor now.”

Harry did, trailing after the elf as they made their way up the wide staircase, his stomach coiling with anticipation. Was Tom waiting for him in his room? Was that what Dorus was getting at? Harry had no clue what else could be waiting for him.

“This is being your room for the duration of your stay,” Nestor said with a short bow as he gestured to a blue door on the left of the wide hallway full of doors.

“Thank you,” Harry said politely and pushed the door open.

There, looking out the windows into the gardens, stood Tom, back turned towards the door. Still ridiculously tall, and still ridiculously handsome once he turned to look over his shoulder at Harry.

“Hi,” Harry said, a little breathlessly, as he closed the door behind himself.

“Hello, my dear,” Tom said with a warm smile as he stepped closer to Harry. “How was your trip?”

Harry hesitated for a second. Should they hug again? Was that something they did now? Harry had really liked that one hug they’d shared and he thought about it often, but Tom didn’t take any initiative so Harry merely smiled back at him. “Splendid. I almost got kidnapped by Moody and everything.”

“Do tell.” Tom gestured to a small seating area beside the fireplace with a sofa and two armchairs and a coffee table hol