Later that night, with Tom already asleep in his own bed in their room at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry sits at the window, watching the hustling and bustling outside, and can’t help but think how strange all of this is.
Not so much the traveling-to-the-past bit, Harry already more or less came to terms with that and is kind of just waiting for the other shoe to drop at this point, fully expecting there to be something else about this entire mess to turn up just to bite him in the ass.
There is always something else.
Like finding out about the wonderful magical world at eleven, only for Harry to then acquire a lurking Dark Lord stalker out for his blood for the next couple of years. Like finding out he actually had family after all, a godfather his parents personally picked to look out for him if they weren’t around, only for said godfather to turn out to be the most sought-after criminal in their country. Like finally finding out that there really was a way to defeat Voldemort, a way to win, only for Harry to realize that he himself would have to die first.
So, no, it’s very much not the time travel itself that is giving him pause, but rather the thought of what might be next.
Although, he is kind of hoping that him deciding to adopt Tom already qualifies, that there won’t be anything else, no additional, insurmountable obstacles for him to overcome. Even if he isn’t too optimistic about that actually being the case. There is always something else about his various what-the-hell-even-is-my-life adventures, something he didn’t see coming.
In contrast, his decision to adopt Tom seems almost… obvious? self-evident? to him. In a sort of but-what-else-was-I-supposed-to-do way.
With their lives as intertwined as they’ve always been, it just seems strangely fitting for the first thing Harry would do upon finding himself thrown into the past to be take in the child version of the dark lord who terrorized him all throughout his teenage years, who was directly or indirectly responsible for most of the things that went so very wrong in Harry’s life.
It’s just… Voldemort – as in the dark lord version of the child currently asleep in one of the beds in their room – was what steered Harry’s entire life down the path he found himself wandering down. His childhood as a lonely, unwanted orphan after Voldemort killed his parents, his teenage years of undeserved and unwanted fame for supposedly ‘vanquishing’ said Dark Lord as a baby, and even in his defeat at Harry’s hands, even in the years afterwards, Tom remained a determining factor in his life due to the fame his victory over Voldemort gained him once more.
Harry’s life has never not been about his connection to Voldemort.
He thinks seeking out Tom in the past was always going to be first on his list if given half a chance. It seems only fitting that he’d take him in, intertwining Tom’s life with his just as Harry’s has always been interlinked with Tom’s.
And, earlier, watching Tom’s wide-eyed wonder at his first glimpse of the magical world as they stepped into Diagon Alley, pure, speechless wonder at all the magical, fascinating, fantastically impossible things awaiting him there, had something warm swell in Harry’s chest, something that is utterly untouched by any thoughts of who Tom might still grow up to be.
Everything about today reminded Harry of himself, of his own past, of being eleven and never once having felt wanted by anyone, always being too different to fit in, either reviled or idolized for that very fact, never ordinary enough to be simply loved for himself. And, by Merlin, he remembers finding out that he wasn’t meant to fit in with his family, that he truly was different, remembers the helpless, breathless hope that in this world, this magical, fantastical world, things would be different. That he’d finally be normal and wanted and fit in.
Which, well, that hadn’t worked out quite as he’d hoped, had it now.
Sure, he’d found the place where he belonged in the world, but even then not once in his life has Harry ever fit in anywhere. Always too different, too special, forever set apart from his peers. And, after the childhood he’d lived, he hadn’t even been particularly surprised at that fact, as much as he might have wished for things to be different.
So, throughout the day Harry remained perfectly aware of the way Tom continued to watch him, silently assessing, appraising, clearly still bracing himself for that catch, that hidden drawback, that deception which must surely be part of Harry handing Tom the family he always wanted.
Harry honestly can’t even pretend to be offended at the boy’s obvious wariness.
Despite being so young, life has already taught Tom very effectively that things which seem too good to be true, usually are. Harry might be utterly determined to prove him wrong, to give Tom that certainty, that incredible, wonderful assurance of having somewhere where you are always wanted, always welcome, always loved. But they’re just not there yet.
It’s one of those things children from nice families don’t even realize they have, something they take for granted, can’t even imagine not having. The safety net of having a home where you are always welcome, always wanted.
It’s something Harry never quite managed to find for himself, even at the Weasleys’ still being grateful for being welcomed every time he visited, still seeing it as something of note. Not like Ron or Ginny or any of their siblings who’d simply stumble into their parents’ home and never once question whether they would actually be welcome.
The point is, for now, he can’t fault Tom for his wariness, for remaining somewhat suspicious, the way he watches Harry cautiously whenever Tom thinks he isn’t looking, smiles innocently whenever he sees Harry glance his way. Trying to make the best possible impression, so he’ll be allowed to stay, to keep this, to keep what he’s dreamed of having ever since he understood what being an orphan meant. All the while also telling himself that it’s not going to last anyway and not to be too hopeful.
However, it’s that very hope that he can see in Tom’s eyes, that helpless, breathless hope whenever the child forgets to remind himself to remain suspicious of being handed everything he wants in life, which has Harry absolutely certain he is doing the right thing.
Tom right now is just a child and there is simply no telling what Harry’s interference with time and history-as-it-once-could-have-been might do to the future. Sure, he is fully aware that his meddling might ultimately end up making everything so much worse than it originally turned out to be. But it might also make things better.
Because no matter who Tom might grow up to be in the future, no matter the potential he might have for being the most terrifying dark lord Britain has ever seen, it quite plainly has nothing to do with this Tom.
Harry quite simply refuses to believe that anyone is born evil, utterly refuses the mere concept, same as he doesn’t believe that anyone is born ‘good’ either.
If only because ‘being destined for evil’ would absolve those who do harm to others from responsibility of their own actions, since ‘they were just born that way’. Just as ‘being born good’ would negate any personal sacrifices made for the sake of others because it would just be ‘in their nature’.
Harry refuses to believe that.
It’s choices that make people who they are. Choices made by yourself and even choices made for you by others.
So, Harry himself made a choice. He chose to give the lonely orphan who was never really given a chance – who never knew family, who never had anyone in his corner, who grew up without a support system until he got strong enough to no longer need anything of the sort and then lived for the sole purpose of punishing those who did – a family.
The sort of family even Harry himself has never had and almost gave up on hoping he’d ever get after he and Ginny broke up for the second time. His and Ginny’s post-war attempt at a relationship never really took off before they’d realized they just didn’t work together anymore.
It hadn’t been Ginny’s fault, not at all. Just like it hadn’t been Harry’s fault either.
In those months of living in a tent, living solely for the defeat of Voldemort, hunting dark wizards and entrenching himself in magic so dark it makes his very soul curl away in disgust at the mere memory, before he had finally walked willingly to his death, like a not-so-metaphorical sacrificial lamb walking to his own slaughter…
It had changed him, the loss of belief in those he thought he could trust, the realization that even that which seems pure evil isn’t born from nothing, that there is always a reason, a history, somewhere where it all started. The realization that betrayal is far more likely to come from those you trust most than it is to come from your enemies, no matter how evil you might think them to be.
That even those, who are on the same side as you, might not necessarily be on your side as such.
Sure, Harry ultimately made it through the war, survived. But those last few months, everything he came across, went through, the many loyalties broken, those he trusted most not nearly as much on his side as he had been on theirs, all the while having his supposed enemies be the ones to save his life when it truly came down to it. All of it. It turned him darker, harsher, and far less inclined towards teenage romance.
And for all that Ginny had been utterly willing to make do, to somehow work through it with him, to stay at his side as he found himself again, to try and help him see the world as just as bright a place as he had before, he also couldn’t bear the thought of making her do anything of the sort, of dragging her even slightly into the darkness that had been choking him back then. He had much preferred to keep her the bright, shining, beautiful girl of his memory, untouched by the darkness that he himself had not managed to entirely escape.
To his surprise, out of all of his friends Ron had actually been the one who understood without Harry even needing to explain.
Ron who had finally gotten past the jealousy of his childhood and understood more than anyone else that, while others – Ron himself included – might have tried to help Harry in his quest to defeat Voldemort, might have tried to shoulder some of the weight of his prophesized destiny with him, the ultimate burden had been solely on Harry no matter how much they supported him through it all.
Ron had understood the toll it took on Harry better anyone else had, even more so than Hermione.
Harry thinks, in the end, despite their friendship truly not having been the smoothest, despite having had their ups and downs, despite their friendship even having broken a few times along the way, Ron still gets him in a way no one else ever did. Mostly because for all his jealousy and teaspoon-like lack of empathy, Ron has always taken Harry exactly as he is, never once tried to change him, to the point of almost astonishing obliviousness. Like not noticing Harry’s cast-off clothes or the scars or how skinny Harry used to be after each summer with the Dursleys. Others may call Ron oblivious and, sure, that’s not too far off the mark, but to Harry it had been worth more than he could possibly say that Ron took all of that, everything about him, and simply accepted it as Harry being Harry and not once questioning any of it.
For his eleven-year-old self who had stumbled into a society where every single witch and wizard he came across thought they knew Harry, thought they had a right to him, to his time, where everyone knew more about his history than he himself did, while he himself knew nothing about their world, having that sort of uncompromising acceptance Ron offered him right from the start had been everything.
But the point is, Harry had broken it off with Ginny soon after the war and he hasn’t met anyone since he might have been interested in who wasn’t excluded on the same basis as her.
Turns out, people in his age group generally don’t share his experiences of saving the world – or at the very least, their country – a couple of times while still in their teens, are nowhere near his level of actively developed empathy for allies and enemies alike mixing with absolute disillusionment where general human nature is concerned. Hell, most people never reach that point throughout their lives at all, no matter how old.
And until he does find someone who gets it, who he doesn’t have to explain it to, Harry decided he’d much rather stay on his own.
Which, well, while not what he had envisioned for his own future – whenever he dared think about his future at all – had still been perfectly alright with him. He’s okay being on his own as long as he has his friends surrounding him, able to take part in their lives without having to worry whether the girl he was dating might be after his fame, or whether the guy he was with might be a gold digger.
So, instead of dealing with that, he made himself a family out of his friends’ families, grinned brightly, joyfully, genuinely happy every time one of friends had another kid, became godfather to about half their brood, and made his peace with making his family out of the pieces of others’.
He’d been perfectly happy with that.
Even if, despite his acceptance, that wish of the lonely orphan growing up in a house he knew he wasn’t wanted, the wish of having a family of his own, a real home to call his own, never truly went away. Admittedly, he also never expected to finally start that family he has always wanted by way of adopting his destined nemesis either, now did he.
On the other hand, in the list of truly crazy things he has done in his life, this whole time-travel-and-adopting-a-mini-dark-lord shtick doesn’t even make the top ten.
Well, not yet, at least.
Then again, he’s only been in the past for about a week now and already utterly unraveled the timeline and history-as-it-should-have-happened within the first couple of days. Who knows what sort of mess he’ll be able to create if given another week. Or a month.
A whole lifetime.
Harry shrugs to himself, relaxing back in his seat by the window, a slight grin curling at the edges of his lips.
Considering the way things went in his own future – the decades of war, entire generations of witches and wizards having been decimated to a mere fraction of what they usually are by the end of it, the magical worlds of several countries having been utterly torn apart – history turned out less-than-wonderfully last time around anyway.
So, why not mess with things a little? The timeline could certainly use some shaking up.