Actions

Work Header

Dripping Fingers

Chapter Text

It starts with an abandoned, dripping book. Harry finds it half flushed down the toilet. Someone’s name remains on the diary's cover. Someone gave up on their dreams, left their ambitions all alone, tried to ruin them instead of nurturing them and letting them grow. 

 

As much as Harry tries (oh how he tries) to play the hero, he knows he is not so different from this diary. (abandoned) He remembers the words of his “relatives,” the note of disappointment in Aunt Petunia’s voice that she has to keep him, his no-good parents drunk and leaving him all on his own with no one to love him. 

 

His parents are war heroes, he reminds himself in the dead of night when the pain of loneliness crushes all his hopes of happiness. They gave their lives for him. They died for me, but dying is easy. Why couldn’t they LIVE for me? (Abandoned.)

 

So Harry picks up the book and dries it with a towel instead of his wand. He knows it is irrational to treat the diary as though it is precious, as though it is touch-deprived and in need of affection ... but Harry is. Harry is in desperate need of gentle touch; he thinks that ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle,’ whoever he may be (or may have been) would have wanted a gentle touch too. 


The pages of the diary are blank. Perhaps the ink washed clean off. Perhaps the abandoner never decided to write. (Given up on before your first words)

 

Harry wants to say something ... only, he doesn’t want to write. He’s been doodling on the back of discarded receipts and stray bits of paper since he was barely able to speak. He’s wanted somewhere to allow his images to connect to parchment, to spread out across a blank canvas and colour a white world into magic. He wants to feel a pen in his hand like a wand in his palm, capable of creation like gods.

 

So he does not write ‘Hello’ on the blank page of the diary. He does not write anything at all.

 

He draws.

 

He draws the whomping willow and the trunk that twists and rages. He draws the violent branches and the scraping leaves and he can almost hear the wounded pride of the wind as it sails between the tree’s boughs. He can taste the bitterness of the wood, smell the musk of sodden bark. He can feel loneliness and at first, it does not matter because he thinks the loneliness is his own ... but then he remembers the tree. A lonely, violent tree, pushing everyone away because it is so afraid it will be left alone. (Abandoned.)

 

When he looks down at the page of the diary, the page that had been so empty not so long ago, he feels something new flare in his chest. Pride. The whomping willow looks real, black lines casting shadows and twisting with a hint of motion. It’s as if just a bit of his magic has gone into the parchment to bring his sketch to life. 

 

***

Tom Marvolo Riddle stares down at the book in his hand with no small amount of surprise. When he went into the diary, he had imagined that he would be asleep. He instead found himself in a pale imitation of Hogwarts, (only the parts he remembered) ... he found around the edges, the castle faded into Wool’s. He is trapped in a dreamland made of a nightmare, alone in a castle devoid of color. He holds a book that looks like the diary and no matter where he leaves it in his dreamscape, it always finds itself in his hands the moment someone writes to him. They write from back up There, in the world Tom cannot help but hope is still real. 

 

So he listens to the people who pour out their hearts to him. He waits until he can take their souls too. Tom Marvolo Riddle is many things, but he has waited for over five decades in a barren wasteland of his own ambition. He will not be forgotten. He will not be abandoned. 

 

The girl, Ginny, talked about her crush (a boy worth looking into, killing his living self as a baby, most disquieting) and her own feelings of inadequacy. She is a diamond in the rough, Tom knows. Her soul is tantalizing, her magic strong. But her mind, her mind is so very weak. Tom has enjoyed breaking it.

 

“I’m going mad Tom.” 

 

Are you? How very sad.

 

'The transition to boarding school is very hard Ginny. It’s perfectly normal.'

 

“Tom, I woke up with blood on my robes.”

 

Oh, poor thing. That was my fault, wasn’t it?

 

“I’m sorry, Ginny. I’m a bit squeamish about girl stuff. Maybe go see the school nurse?”

 

“Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom--”

 

Do be quiet, Ginny! Nobody cares about you.

 

'I’m here, my dear. No need to fret.'

 

But then she stops writing from up There, that infernal weak-minded girl. He is left in the lavatory. Half flushed. (Abandoned.)

 

He is picked up again. Picked up by a boy, not much older than the girl, simply brimming with magic. He is dried by hand and it feels like a gentle caress. The dungeons within the shadow Hogwarts warm almost imperceptibly. 

 

Tom opens the book. He waits. He waits for the first word to appear. It is almost always 'Hello.'

 

He waits and sees the first splatter of ink, only it does not form a word at all. It slowly curves and lengthens to form a trunk, then dances to fashion blades of grass, then jumps to sketch out branches and leaves, and --

 

Tom can hear the wind. 

 

For reasons he cannot understand he goes up out of his shadow dungeons and past the skeleton of his memory out onto the field that is blank in perpetual winter. And impossibly right there, growing on the frozen ground is the tree being drawn in his book. Formed of ink, the tree sways ever so slightly in a gentle breeze. The book cools, alerting Tom that the artist has finished his work. And, astonishingly, (impossibly, perhaps even more than the tree), Tom wants to hold on to this message. He always discards what the people write to him, never of any consequence. But this tree is powerful and new, and angry, and ... lonely. Like him. 

 

He presses one hand to the page of the diary and one hand to the inky ghost of the tree in front of his chest. The tree from the book draws into one palm, flows up the vein on his wrist, dying it black, and then through his heart and out his other palm and ...  the ink-tree solidifies and becomes a tree of wood. One of the branches tickles Tom above his left rib.

 

His hands drip with ink the color of midnight but he cannot gather the desire to care.

 

He absorbs the beauty of the tree, the first tree that is not a ghost of memory in this shell of a world ...

 

He feels the blossom of a new desire.

 

Tom does not want to destroy the soul on the other side of this book. The beautiful soul that gave him a tree is not a soul destined for destruction. It is a soul glowing with the magic of creation. It is glorious and it is Tom’s. They will not be (abandoned). 

 

Chapter Text

Harry’s always thought hearts can be expressed as artwork. Most people have hearts composed of ink: sharp edges and clear, dark lines sketched on pristine paper. Some people have hearts made of paint: brilliant colors swirling together in a cacophony of movement, reminiscent of life and magic. 

 

Snape has a heart made of pottery, jagged and broken, thrust into fire once, polished, and then made beautiful by burning again in an inferno.  Ron has a heart made of glass-blown sculpture: vibrant and whimsical, fragile and in danger of shattering. Hermione’s heart is carved marble, her beliefs are etched into the fabric of unyielding stone. Dumbledore... his is a heart of tapestry: stories are woven and unraveled, spools of thread tangle, are cut open and retreat. Dumbledore’s heart is beautiful to look at, but it is embroidered by the skilled hands of a liar.

 

Harry thinks his heart must be made of graphite.

His heart is a faint thing. It’s smudged in every corner, fingerprints stain all the wrong places, every attempt to fix his mistakes inevitably leads to a bleeding mess. Harry’s heart is erasable in theory, but every attempt only dirties the eraser; the paper is left cracked and brittle with days old smudges spreading ever outwards. He is no masterpiece. He’s relentlessly inconsistent. In some places, his heart beats with gentle stokes made of featherlight sketch marks, in other places, shards of broken lead lay stranded on angry jabs of grey. Graphite is impermanent, yet Harry knows somehow that his heart must be (or will be ) eternal. He hopes his heart (the real part, the part he hasn’t met yet) is buried somewhere far beneath that graphite, back on the pure, unblemished paper, and he’s just waiting to find the right medium to color himself in. 

 

Number Four, Privet Drive was full of three perfectly normal people, thank you very much, each with hearts made of ink. There was one little boy of graphite hidden beneath their stairs. Harry had thought he was all alone, was one of a kind ... A (freak) child with no one who could ever understand. Being told about the magical world was a relief, even if Hagrid’s heart was just as inky as those of Harry’s relatives. Surely at least one wizard would understand. He would find someone like him at Hogwarts, someone just as grey and lonely. (Maybe they could color each other in with a mixture of paints and crystals and brilliant fire.) 

 

He was disappointed. 

 

At Hogwarts, Harry learned he was more alone than ever before. So he became a chameleon, smudged himself to fit in, tried to play the role he was assigned before he even knew his name. Harry played the hero to a tee his first year, but he wanted more than anything to learn how to use magic for his artwork. He wanted to build , not charm feathers to fly. Why turn a mouse (a perfectly respectable mouse) into a snuff box for just a few hours? He wanted to learn magic to create the snuffbox, magic to craft an engraved button instead of borrowing off a beetle. (He still did well in transfiguration. McGonagall always exclaimed over his exquisite designs.) Harry buried his desire to create beneath his desire to fit in, his true heart sinking lower and lower beneath the dull graphite.

 

***

 

Harry draws in the diary with tears sliding down his cheeks. One day ago, he accidentally talked to a snake to protect Justin Finch-Fletchley, and ever since, the school has called him a ‘Dark Lord,’ sent hexes at his back, and told him that he’s not welcome

 

Hermione’s worried about him. 

 

(How are you, Harry?

 

-I’m fine-

 

You always say you’re fine. It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up like this.

 

-I’m not-

 

Not what ?

 

-Not bottling it all up. I’ve been drawing-

 

Oh… Well, that’s good. Healthy, even... How long have you been drawing?

 

-A long time-

 

Oh...

 

Can I see them, your drawings?)

 

Harry doesn’t know if he wants Hermione to see. His art is a piece of his soul. The scraps of parchment he’s saved from first year are important to him , but they’re not all that impressive. He’s proud of his willow from three days ago, but it feels like a friend ... one who is all for Harry. He doesn’t have people who care for him and him alone . He isn’t sure he wants to share.

 

Harry is drawing before he sees what he has begun to sketch. 

 

It’s his cupboard, the one under the stairs. He can tell already because he’s drawn a flickering lightbulb shrouded in welcoming darkness. He’s huddled on his four-poster bed,  the curtains drawn all around him in an attempt to make the small space even smaller. He’s trying to feel like he does when he’s in his cupboard.

 

As Harry sketches, he begins to calm. He fashions the dingy cot in one corner, small little specks that look just like spiders, and bolts on the door which can only be unlocked from the outside. The cupboard feels like safety to him. No one can hurt him when he’s in there: Aunt Petunia’s too tall, Vernon and Dudley too fat. He doesn’t have to see anyone judge him while he’s enveloped in the cupboard’s darkness. He can smile at the spiders and listen to the stairs creak. It’s far better in there than out in the house, where he has to hear about his own alleged inadequacies from the people who were supposed to be his family.  

When Harry’s finished with his rendition of the cupboard, he begins to feel indescribable anguish. It looks wrong to him. He knows it is not normal to keep a little boy under the stairs (although when Harry’s ever been normal is unclear), and he hates this is the place that makes him feel safe. He wants his cupboard to have been bigger ... brighter, warmer. He wants it to be a place he can feel proud of and say ‘this here is mine’.

 

His hands are still in motion. His pen darts and licks the paper. He draws flames … and they curl at the walls and lap at the locks. A fire that illuminates the recess under the stairs, and makes the small space seem so much bigger than it ever was in reality.

 

And though his pen strokes were laden with heartbreak, the fire ... the fire is only beautiful. It moves on his page though he has long since finished drawing, forging patterns of darkness in contrast to the light it emanates, making the book Harry clutches feel cozy with phantom warmth.

He realizes he’s stopped crying. 

 

***

 

Tom Riddle is sitting with his back to the new tree, looking out at the still lake. The lake water never feels wet, only reflects the grey sky, and stays devoid of motion. It is the mere memory of a place, not the reality. Tom has not felt sunshine in over five decades. The ground in the diary is frozen, yet he does not feel cold either. He is simply… numb. Nothing feels real in the world of the diary. Sometimes, Tom thinks that nothing is real (not even him ). 

 

But the tree… the tree is real. It is alive . There is no other word for it. The tree is solid against Tom’s back in a grounding kind of a way. Tom has been drifting for so long, and he only noticed the dissociation for its absence. He can think with his back against the tree. He can look at the twisting branches and let them block the grey expanse of ‘sky’. 

 

Tom has not put down the diary for three days now, waiting waiting hoping (and has he ever hoped before? Tom cannot remember) for his artist to draw him something new. Anything to break up the monotony of this partial existence. 

 

Tom feels the diary warm. A grin breaks out on his face. It is an undignified expression, but who is there to see? 

 

As before, he can feel a kind of pull to where he needs to go. He heads back into the castle, passes the hospital wing and into a back room, and here he loses his recollection of Hogwarts... the world fades into a landscape of Wool’s orphanage. 

 

He stands in the dilapidated living room, his nose scrunching in disgust at the moth-bitten couches. He ignores the molding kitchen, the chipped dining room table, the second floor full of closed doors (locked all of them save one), and his own, desolate room (at the end of the hall) occupied by only a wardrobe full of stolen items. Tom considers it a small mercy he did not end up with Billy Stubb’s rabbit hung from the rafters above the stairwell.

 

Tom focuses on the diary, trying to determine what in the name of Merlin his artist could possibly be drawing in the orphanage . On the page, ink spreads outwards, sad and dripping. Tom glances out the window and finds... rain . He blinks. It has never rained in this world before. 

 

Tom exits the front door of the orphanage, inhaling deeply and turning his face upwards to the sky. He ignores the space outside which is made of what he saw during the summers spent in muggle London; he has no interest in reliving the bombs and their aftermath, no matter how steadfastly attached to his dreamland they may be. He ignores the sight of rubble, instead opening his mouth to catch a drop of water on his tongue.

 

The water droplets taste real and wet as they slide down his throat. They are a treasure. They are also salty . Tom recognizes the flavor. They must be… tears. Tom gulps them down greedily, as though they are holy. The first taste of my artist. 

 

When the rain (tears) ends, Tom goes back into the orphanage with watermarked clothes. He casts no drying spell and revels in the feeling of being wet; it is something he has not felt in far too long. The diary is once more cold in his hands -- the artwork is complete. 

 

There, beneath the stairs, a new cupboard has built itself into his reality. It looks as though it belongs, this strange new cupboard with too many locks on the outside, but Tom knows it was never a part of Wool’s. This is not his demon, but one belonging to his artist. Tom lays a palm against the door of the cupboard,  the other resting atop the cover of his diary. He notices that this time he can feel the ink from the world above pass through him, turned into reality down in this place, his world devoid of time. He feels like he is a medium, like he is a wand… He is a pen, and this world is nothing more than paper. If his artist is a creator, Tom is the tool he wields. 

 

Tom unlocks the door to the cupboard cautiously and looks inside. There is one small mattress on the floor, a spider (Tom has not seen life for five decades so the spider is both fascinating and surprising), and a flickering light bulb. It should be unremarkable, and yet, in the center of the small space is a flame. 

 

The flame does not burn but illuminates, and though Tom is an atheist at best, he feels as though he is Moses, standing before the burning bush. He wants nothing more than to worship this new creation. The fire feels warm on his face. It takes away his numbness, making him feel soft heat all the way down to his bones. 

 

Without conscious thought, he moves towards the flames. Tom wants to reach out a hand and see what would happen if he could just touch it… just touch ... 

 

A soft sniffle causes Tom to drop his hand. 

 

There, on the bed (if you could even call the paper-thin mattress such a thing) Tom had thought was empty, sits a little boy. He looks young, perhaps around ten, and his hair is a mop of flyaway black. His skin is pale -- too pale -- and from where his head is bowed over, Tom can see the beginning ridges of his spine. 

 

There has never been another living creature in Tom’s world since he found himself trapped, and there has certainly never been another human. That one is here now, in this genesis of hand-crafted reality, cannot be a coincidence . He schools his expression into one of concern and kneels before the little boy. Tom places a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder, causing him to look up; he stares into eyes greener than emeralds, flickering with warm light reflected by the fire. The boy has wide, vulnerable eyes, a small red nose, and trembling puffy lips. Simply adorable. 

 

“And who are you ?” Tom asks in a teasing tone. 

 

He ruffles the boy’s hair, who leans into the touch. 

 

“I’m Harry,” The boy says. 

 

Harry? What a normal name for such a treasure. 

 

“But you should know that.”

 

Tom raises a brow, and begins running his fingers through Harry’s hair. “Why is that, Harry?”

 

Harry shrugs. “This is my dream. You’re in my cupboard.” 

 

Tom stills for a moment before he resumes petting Harry’s soft locks. Your cupboard? So you are my artist. I thought so. Precious.

 

Tom’s hand travels down the side of Harry’s head, pushes some strands away from the boy’s forehead and behind his ear, before coming to rest at the nape of his neck. One finger slowly traces and re-traces a path along Harry’s spine. The boy shudders and lets out a sigh of contentment. 


Touch starved, are you precious? 


Smiling like the Cheshire Cat, Tom gently taps Harry’s nose with his free hand. Then he rests the hand on the younger boy’s cheek, rubbing soothing circles on the soft skin.

 

“Hello, Harry,” he says tenderly, “ I’m Tom.”






Chapter Text

Regret . Lord Voldemort does not regret. Lord Voldemort is transcendent, powerful, a god among paltry men. He makes choices with perfect clarity. He is infallible. 

 

Tom Riddle has not been Lord Voldemort for over 50 years. 

 

He has learned ... regret. 

 

Isolation with only one’s own thoughts for company provides the perfect landscape for self-reflection. In the beginning, the part of Tom that won (the little lord Above) would write to him in the diary; they would converse, craft plans, gloat over their shared victory in denying death their life. 

 

Even as Tom revelled in the feeling of achievement with his other half, a gnawing feeling was growing ever stronger in the back of his mind. Something went wrong. 

 

Tom denied himself those wonderings, waiting for words to appear in his diary. Once held daily, conversations with his other self dwindled until they were held only weekly. The distraction of those weekly writings on Voldemort’s progress Above were enough to keep out doubt. They had to be. (They were not enough.)

 

When Voldemort (was he really a lord, that greedy man Above?) told Tom he was making a second Horcrux, Tom knew (he knew because he was not so different from who he used to be) what Voldemort wanted to hear. Praise. 

 

He did not give it. 

 

“You do not understand.” Tom had said. 

 

What do I not understand? Voldemort’s writing was elongated and grotesque compared to Tom’s practiced calligraphy. Something so fundamental about him had... changed.

 

Privately, Tom thought Voldemort needed to learn patience, learn avarice was as dangerous as love. Both emotions were all-consuming — they both lead to whims that superseded logic. The slippery slope upon which the two Riddles had begun to slide (the two of them who were never meant to be separated), could only lead to downfall. Power was nothing in the face of insanity. Incorrectly wielded, fire burns the caster.

 

“Horcruxes. I am full of aspects of who we used to be, full of the qualities you left behind. Lost. You cannot take the chance by making even one more. You will lose yourself entirely.”

 

Tom had felt the anger then — the horrible, violent anger that used to build behind his eyes when faced with the foolishness of adults charmed by a smile, the greed of little boys who knelt before their lord, the hatred housed in the manic grins of dirty orphans who did not (could not) understand him

 

The rage boiling above the surface of Tom’s grey sky was not his own. This is what makes Him Voldemort. 

 

I am not Lord Voldemort. Not anymore.

 

The last time Voldemort had written Tom was just over fifty years ago. The words written were full of detestation for his own soul.

 

I will not let your covetous tendencies deny me my conquests. 

 

Tom laughed then. A horrible, bitter laugh. He hoped the man Above could taste the sour flavor on his tongue. 

 

“We were many things when we were one person. We were cruel, powerful, ambitious. We were vicious. Never foolish. And you ... you are now the fool.”

 

Voldemort never read those words. He never responded, never opened their diary again.

 

Tom felt it when the second Horcrux was made, then the third, and a fourth… now they number six. He tried to imagine what monster had been forged in the distorted destruction of their once unblemished soul. The man left Above must surely be little more than a wraith, less himself than the Tom he left behind. 

 

Trapped in the diary, staring out at the empty landscape, never sleeping, never eating, never hearing his own heartbeat, (that tempo was lost in the wind that would never blow), he filled up with self-reproach for his foolish actions. He learned it trapped in his eternal solitude, wallowed in it for decades of his directionless existence... he learned regret.

 

Tom was not dead. Would not ever die. They had succeeded, he and the man Above. Vol-de-mort. Flight of death. And Tom, Tom had not paid attention to the price. He was not dead. 

 

He was not alive.

 

More than Tom wanted to escape death (for is immortality worth anything, when your heart will not beat, when your breaths do not fill your lungs... when your mind is incapable of dreaming?), he wanted life . He wanted to live , with a vibrance rivalling the deepest blue of the midnight summer skies at Hogwarts, and he wanted to use his renewed life to destroy the abomination of himself left in the world Above.

 

And is that not regret, wanting to kill the person you have become?

 

***

 

Harry doesn’t know how, doesn’t try to understand how, but sometimes he can sense emotions. He feels them twist and writhe and unfurl in the space around his heart. These emotions (the ones that pulse to a foreign drumbeat, the ones that invade the cavity of his chest until he can’t breathe ), they don't belong to him. But they are about him. Someone else’s emotions are transposed onto the already filled canvas of his soul. 

His dreams, not unlike these pulses of distant feelings from foreign sources, have begun to seem as though they belong to someone else. He falls asleep and wakes up nightly with a boy in Slytherin green robes and perfectly styled hair, held in a warm embrace,  talks to the boy who is clearly brilliant and even more obviously lonely. He calls himself Tom. Harry often wonders if he’s somehow entering the dreams of the boy who first owned the sketch diary. 

He is sitting in the Gryffindor common room, sketching in his diary and absorbing warmth from the dying fire. He curls up in a golden armchair and allows his fingers to fly and fill the blank page with a field of flowers. A smile is playing on his lips. Hermione is telling Ron something while Ron tries to ignore her; they’re both sitting together on a couch across from Harry. There’s a camaraderie between them that goes beyond words. It’s happened slowly, but as Harry’s begun spending more and more time drawing in his diary, (he’s drawn the night sky and the shining moon, a chocolate frog escaping through a window, his broomstick lying against one wall, this very common room… an empty swing set from Privet Drive) the more Hermione and Ron have come to understand he likes the quiet. 

It used to be Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now Harry is himself, and Ron and Hermione have become a unit. They’re all still friends, perhaps even better friends than before, but Harry learns so he can create, whereas Ron and Hermione… they learn so they can do magic. It’s not quite the same. 

 Now Ron and Hermione understand, at least a little, that Harry doesn’t want to be a hero. He will be if he has to, but he would rather sketch in his diary, rather some day colour the world into dazzling beauty. Ron and Hermione look at Harry and decide they hope he doesn’t have to be the boy-who-lived on a battlefield. They decide they like it when his fingers fly across the page. Hermione loves whenever Harry allows her to see one of his drawings and, really, they are so (unbelievably) brilliant she cannot imagine him being anything other than an artist. Ron looks at one drawing of boats on the great lake and feels echoes of loneliness, of hope for freedom, and thinks ‘this boy is not meant to be a soldier. This art feels as important (more important) than war’. Ron doesn’t know what to do with these thoughts, but he still thinks them. And Harry... Harry feels seen for the first time. He is learning joy .

 

And then his breath leaves him in a sudden rush. Like a maggot worming its way through his core, he feels tendrils of jealousy and anguish rush up his spine. The emotions are sick and twisted. Harry looks away from the page. 

 

He feels a hot breath against his neck. Right in front of him, perched on the armrest of his chair, sits little Ginny Weasley. Her hair is red (so red) — it outshines the Gryffindor house-color. Her eyes are molten chocolate, glassy as melted wax. She should be sweet, she should be cute, but all she seems is sick and cloying. 

 

“Are you writing to someone, Harry?” She asks. 

 

Harry looks at Ron for help ( this is your sister his eyes say, but Ron just shrugs).

 

“Hullo, Ginny,” Harry says after a small pause. “I’m actually drawing right now.” (Harry doesn’t have anyone to write letters to. Aunt Petunia would probably burn them.)

 

Ginny narrows her eyes. It is an odd look on a face so young. It is full of suspicion.

“Can I see?” she asks. 

 

Her face is full of envy as she focuses on the diary. Harry feels like he is being stripped down into nothingness. Everything about this interaction, about Ginny herself, seems terribly off. There’s a disease here. It is infecting her. 

 

Harry brings the diary into her view and slowly flips through his drawings. He’s bookmarked the pages filled with images of his childhood, so he deftly (too quick to notice) skips those pages as he shows her his work.

 

Her eyes widen, and the pressing against his spine falls away all at once. She looks confused and sad, and then her eyes are filled with only wonder. 

 

“Harry,” she breathes, “these are amazing.” 

 

There’s color in her cheeks now. Harry hadn’t realized it was previously absent until now. 

 

“Erm. Thank you, I guess,” he says.

 

Ginny nods. “Of course. You’ve got real talent. I think you could be famous!” 

 

Her eyes hold no mockery, but Harry and Ron laugh simultaneously.

 

“Ginny,” Ron says, “he is famous. You know, the boy-who-lived?”

 

Ginny blushes bright red. “Maybe, but... I mean, this is different. He could be famous for his art.” 

 

Harry smiles at the thought.  “I’d like that.”  

 

Ginny gives him a small smile in return. All of a sudden, that wave of sickness comes rolling back. She looks at him then, and her eyes are filled with unbridled longing.

 

“Does it ever write back?” she asks.

 

“What?” 

 

“The diary. Does it ever write back?” 

 

Harry shook his head. “Why would it write back? It’s a diary.” He’s silent for a moment. “Were you writing in something? Something that was writing back?”

 

Ginny is blushing red again, almost as red as her hair, and now Hermione is looking up with concern. “Were you, Ginny?” she asks. “That’s really bad. Can you remember where it is?” 

 

“Remember what Dad says, don’t trust anything if you can’t see where it keeps its brain!” Ron adds in a somewhat condescending tone. 

 

“N-no, I—” Ginny is breathing quickly “—I just thought — but it isn’t — and, and I’m fine, so —” Ginny cuts off and runs out of the common room. 

 

Harry looks after her. He relaxes when her emotional turmoil seems to be focused away from him. Once she’s gone, he turns to his friends.  “That was weird, right? It’s not just me?” 

 

Hermione purses her lips. “No, Harry. It’s not just you.”

 

***

 

The first time Tom rejects one of Harry’s drawings is also the last time he rejects one. But it is the first time he writes to his artist. He feels the diary warm and looks down with trepidation at what his artist will build for him. 

 

The gifts he has received, these last few months in Harry’s company, have reminded Tom of how it felt when he was alive. He has seen the night sky again, felt the rushing of the wind once more. He has even been to the Gryffindor common room for the first time: It was… warm. Garish, but warm. Of course Harry would be a Gryffindor. It takes bravery to share art. 

 

Tom’s favourite new piece of his world is a boat not unlike the one he rode in his first night at Hogwarts. 

 

When it appeared on the banks of the lake, polished wood reflecting the moon Harry had hung in his sky, Tom knew then that one day, he would breathe again. Because there, where the boat was mirrored in the depths of the lake, was water. True water. 

 

Tom stepped into the boat and allowed his hand to skim beneath the surface of the waves. He brought it out, dripping, and then left the boat entirely to swim. He swims every day now, in the lake that is more blue than it was before, in the water that is real and no longer mere memory. He feels as though he has been baptized by a purity unlike any he has ever felt.

 

He wonders, not for the first time, if he has finally found his “enough.” (It still is not, can never be enough.)

 

So when Tom felt a pull to the greenhouse, he was excited. Harry gave him plants before, mostly flowers and a few trees. They decorated the lonely field, turning the barren landscape into a lush paradise. And then... Tom heard the wailing.

 

A mandrake.

 

Harry was drawing him mandrakes. They were useful, yes, especially against petrification (but Tom had already closed the chamber — nothing would hurt his Harry, not even his pet. He could take no chances) and Tom was unable to be harmed or make potions here, not in the diary. 

 

Unlike with Harry’s other drawings, Tom did not save the work; instead, he watched it fade away. Then, he opened his diary and retrieved a pen. Never had he written first, but… this was his artist.

 

“Really, Harry — mandrakes?” he wrote in perfect, flowing strokes. 

 

After that, the diary was cold for two days. No drawings. 

 

Harry still comes in his dreams.

 

Who are you? are the first words he gets back in the diary. The handwriting is atrocious chicken scratch. He can feel Harry’s fear and, buried, his excitement. Tom smiles sharply. Harry must not have thought his art was going anywhere. He could hardly have known the Tom in his dreams was manacled within the diary. He would now.

 

“I’m Tom, Harry. We spend so many nights together, you and I.”

 

Did you write to Ginny?

 

Who was Ginny? Ah. The infernal girl who was in love with his artist. Tom’s mouth curled with distaste.

 

“Who is Ginny, Harry? Your girlfriend?”

 

What? No. 

 

Good. She does not deserve you. 

 

She’s my best friend’s little sister.

 

Tom glowered. “I thought I was your best friend.”

 

I didn’t know you were real.

 

***

 

That night, Harry is nestled in Tom’s arms on his bed in the Slytherin dormitories. At first, the bed seemed to mock Tom, comfortable linens fit for sleep that would not come. Recently, he has been grateful for it. He holds Harry many nights like this, with the younger boy between his legs,  his precious back resting against Tom’s chest. He sits with his arms wrapped around Harry’s waist; resting his chin atop Harry’s head, he kisses the black tousled tresses. 

 

“Do you really not know Ginny Weasley?” Harry asks at last.

 

I know no one so well as I know you. “I have not met her before. I’ve been trapped here for over fifty years, Harry.” 

 

“Oh,” Harry says. He sounds disappointed.

 

Trying to sound nonchalant, Tom asks, “Do you love her?”

 

Harry sighs. “No. I might grow to love her brother and Hermione... one day.” 

 

“Love makes you weak, Harry. It is not necessary.”  

 

“Why do you think love makes you weak?”

 

“Attachments can be exploited. People forgo logic for the people they love, and hurt themselves in the process. It takes away reason. That is weakness.” 

 

Harry breathes again; Tom takes comfort in his artist’s steady heartbeat. He tightens his arms around the boy’s smaller form.

 

“I don’t think love makes you weak, Tom,” Harry whispers. 

 

For some reason, Tom’s mouth goes dry. “Why not, Harry?”

 

“People need people. That’s life. And life’s not worth living all alone. We need people to love so we can love ourselves, I think. For our lives to be worthwhile. There’s no point in having power if you’ve not got anyone to protect it with, no happiness to gain from it.” 

 

“Do you have people who love you, Harry?”

 

“I did, once. And one day, I hope to be loved again.” 

 

Tom leans down and kisses Harry's forehead. He feels something foreign building in his chest, something glowing but uncontrollably sad. In parseltongue, he hisses, “I would kill for you.” 

 

It is the truth. Tom would burn the whole world away for Harry.

 

Harry shivers. Tom imagines he will ask what was just said, or ignore the hissing and not realize it is a language at all, like so many of the inane muggle-borns with whom he attended classes. 

 

Instead, he is responded to in the tongue of the snakes: “I would not want that from you.”

 

Tom looks down at the miracle in his arms, and feels something he has not felt before. He feels… fond. It goes beyond that even... Affection. 

 

Lord Voldemort does not feel affection. Lord Voldemort is an island fortress with walls the height of mountains and a solitude self-imposed. He has no need for any connections. 

 

Tom Riddle has not been Lord Voldemort for over 50 years. 

 

He smiles into the hair of the boy in his arms. He has learned affection .

 

He does not regret.

Chapter Text

It is an offhand comment that changes the scope of Harry’s world. He’s been existing as a clear pond, his surface a perfect reflection of blue sky and algae swaying softly in the current beneath the calm, unbroken waters. The comment is a single pebble, tossed carelessly and skipping twice before sinking slowly down to tangle amongst the water grown weeds. The stone left behind makes ripples and waves in concentric circles, patterns that grow and collide, are broken and... transform the once calm pond into a chaotic masterpiece of movement.

 

He’s begun taking the diary with him everywhere he goes because inspiration strikes at the oddest times. He can hold onto his revelations of creation as easily as he can catch a moonbeam in his hand; he needs to start drawing immediately after an image arrives in his mind or else it slips away like radiant light shimmering through the flickering mist and erased by the dawn. 

 

People notice. 

 

They always notice Harry Potter, of course. He hates that people look at him, hates the way they follow him, but he doesn’t so much hate how more and more members of the castle will lean over his shoulder as he sketches, complimenting his little drawings until he is red in the face and his work long finished. 

 

At breakfast, the Gryffindor table passes around the diary, and his housemates exclaim over the new worlds he crafted during the night. Whenever Harry goes to the library, students needing study breaks leaf through the sketches and let out sighs of contentment. When he plays Quidditch, he leaves the diary with Hermione, who looks over the pages lovingly and sometimes laughs and sometimes cries, and sometimes sits biting her lip and looking up at the sky. 

 

Harry comes down from brushing the clouds with his fingertips, holding a glittering ball of gold in one palm. He quickly makes his way to Hermione. She looks up from an image of vines twisting over an archway of crumbling stone. 

 

“Why do you only draw in this book?” she asks softly.

 

“What?” 

 

“You could buy charcoal and thick parchment, or canvas, or paint. I bet you could even sculpt with clay. Why don’t you?” Her expression is open and shining, exuding certainty and brimming with some other emotion Harry can’t name.

 

He feels his throat closing -- the familiar tendrils of words he had been made to hear over and over again rise to the tip of his tongue: not good enough boy, you are nothing, you will never be good at anything, you will never be good enough --

 

“I’ve never done any of those before. I don’t think I’d be--” able to do them at all, I’m never good enough, never “--very good at them.”

 

Hermione scoffs. “Your art is a marvel. You’d be good. Trust me.”

 

Harry looks into her honey-brown hair, so full of life, to avoid the judgment he’s sure would be found in her caramel eyes. “You don’t know that.” he whispers.

 

“I do,” she says firmly. “I know you. You, Harry Potter, are remarkable . Just think about it -- for me, okay?”

 

He finally peeks a glance to her eyes, finding there only endless depths of faith refracted by her brilliant irises. 

 

“Okay...” His voice is quiet. The snitch flutters weakly in his palm and tickles slightly. “I will.”

 

*** 

 

And think about it, Harry does. Hermione had planted a tiny seed within him, and Harry’s desire to express himself in multicolor turned auriferous, metamorphosed to golden water that dripped and trickled down the fresh-packed dirt of his anxieties, and causing that small little idea (that enormous possibility Harry could maybe do more than just sketch for himself — that he could paint, could sculpt even… that he could frame his work and hang it up and everyone could see —) to blossom. 

 

So Harry thinks... and he thinks... and then he writes to Tom. 

 

Sitting curled up in an armchair in one corner of the common room (now affectionately referred to as “Harry’s corner”), he pulls out a quill and scrawls in the cherished book. 

 

“Tom? You there?”

 

“I am always here, Harry.”

 

“Well, you could be busy or something. I’m not expecting you to be at my beck and call.”

 

Inkblots form on the page, each forming different amorphous shapes that hold odd impressions of muddled clouds. After six or seven shapes of darkness have finished their uneven spread of bleeding ink, Harry receives a response.

 

“You would not be the first to do so.”

 

“But I never expected that, so the point still stands. I’m sure you’ve got things to do. What do you do most days, when you’re not writing to me?”

 

“I swim, mostly. Relax in the shade of the trees. Sometimes I go out to the flower fields, or climb those lovely mountains you drew for me. So odd that at first I thought I was at Hogwarts, and now I think I’m somewhere else altogether. A paradise, of sorts, I suppose. I feel a bit like Calypso.”

 

“Calypso?”

 

“A Greek legend, a daughter of a Titan. Calypso was punished after the Olympians won a battle against her father. She was sent to live on an idyllic island, wanting for nothing other than companionship. Hero after hero was sent to her good graces, and she would nurse them back to health after injuries. She fell in love with each of them, but alas, every hero that came left Calypso behind. She remained, century after century, on an island paradise waiting for men who would always abandon her for delusions of glory.”

 

“I’m not sure I would ever actively seek out glory. More trouble than it’s worth.”

 

“Oh, and you’re familiar with glory, are you?”

 

“Well, yeah. I guess. I mean, I’m the boy-who-lived. Somehow I ended Voldemort’s — he’s a dark lord — reign of terror when I was a baby. I’m the only person alive to have survived the killing curse, but that was because of my mum. He killed both my parents, but I kept living... So yeah, the whole wizarding world thinks I’m this glorious hero, or something. And Voldemort’s not even really dead, so some people think I’m going to have to defeat him all over again.”

 

“You have glory in spades, then. The world thinks you a hero. Are you going to leave me, Harry?”

 

“I’d really rather not. I’m not looking for glory at all, no thank you. I’d like to be Just Harry. A boy who likes to draw a lot, and maybe’s halfway decent in class.”

 

“We don’t get to choose our circumstances.”

 

“But we can choose how we respond.”

 

“I suppose that is true, to an extent.”

 

“Thanks, Tom.”

 

“Anytime, Harry. I exist am here for you.”

 

***

 

We don’t get to choose our circumstances but can choose how we respond.

 

Harry’s been forced into the mantle of a martyr since entering the wizarding world, a hero who, dragging his feet, was forced to wield the sword that had taken the life of his parents. Recently, he had drawn a broken courtyard of shattered cobblestones and decaying trees -- he filled it with bones dyed green by the secretions leaking from sodden, overgrown moss. In between the remains of humanity, he etched snapped sticks of yew and cyprus and, in the center of the wreckage, he’d fashioned a tiny bundle with an unbroken phoenix feather and holly wand resting at its feet. He titled the piece: ‘Inheritance.’  

 

Harry was born to war,  but (as he said to Tom) he can choose how he responds to his circumstances. He can keep playing the hero, burying himself further in layers upon layers of dusty graphite, or he can play himself. He’s not some glorious hero, some child general with the genius and experience and sheer reckless nerve (or endless, calm calculation) to end the reign of a monster. He’s a boy of twelve who’ll one day be a man, who holds pens and paintbrushes the way mothers hold their babies: like he cradles the future. 

 

He ends up in Professor McGonagall’s office, asking his head of house if he can buy art supplies using his money at Gringotts. 

 

She looks at him suspiciously, mentions neither his father nor mother were particularly artistically inclined, and it really is quite unusual to request the use of personal money during the semester. She has “doubts” about his seriousness, feels it ‘unwise’ to spend money on a passing fancy.

 

Harry shrinks in on himself and feels tears welling up and threatening to escape. McGonagall sighs deeply and asks if he has any examples of his work, just so she can see if maybe she can work something out, and Harry hands the diary over dispassionately. 

 

McGonagall glances at one page; her eyebrows rise. She flips to the next page, then the next, and the next, and the whole time she says nothing at all. This is when she tells me I’m not good enough. And to stop wasting her time... She’ll laugh at me. 

 

Professor McGonagall clears her throat. “Mr. Potter,” she starts brusquely.

 

He looks up at her from underneath his lashes, face burning. His voice comes out a squeak. “Yes, Professor?” 

 

“Do you realise how much magic these sketches of yours carry?”

 

Harry shrugs. “A bit?”

 

McGonagall presses her lips into a thin line. “A large amount. Far more than is typical. Enough, in fact, that you have the potential to be a portrait painter. There are very few people qualified for that work -- you’re to be able to see details people often miss, imbue your works with enough life so to capture the very soul of your reference. Do you ever get the sensation you are not just reproducing an image but creating a reality?”

 

Harry nods. “Well, yeah. I guess I feel like that when I’m drawing sometimes. I mean, I drew the ocean once... and I wasn’t just drawing the sea: I could smell salt and I got soaked in the spray of crashing waves.”

 

McGonagall extends long fingers against her desk, hands moving like a cat stretching itself out, then clawing down a scratching post. (The Dursleys had a cat once, Dudley named it ‘Kins-Kins’. They bought hordes of cat toys and built up a kitten palace, but Dudley forgot it to feed it for three days in a row so it ran away. Lucky thing. Harry remembers wishing he could have followed.) 

 

The professor gives him a sharp smile. “I will of course order you all the supplies you shall need.” 

 

“Need for what?”

 

McGonagall's eyes positively sparkle. “For your elective ‘Enchanted Artistry,’ of course. I am putting you in with the fifth years.”

 

Harry splutters, “But I’m not that good, professor.” 

 

“You’re right,” McGonagall says without inflection.

 

Of course I am. 

 

“You’re better. I can not allow a talent like yours go to waste.” 

 

Harry stares down at his shoes. “What if I don’t want to be a portrait painter?”

 

McGonagall merely raises one brow. “Then I guess you’ll just create something else, won’t you, Mr. Potter? Perhaps you will change the world.”

 

Harry bites his lip to hide a pleased, growing smile. Perhaps I will. 

 

***

 

The rumor starts small; Harry Potter is good at art, they whisper. It’s a spark that passes from mouth to mouth, jumps from one mind to another and fills up the buzzing halls with an incandescent glowing ember of fascination -- something that threatens to ignite. 

 

Harry hears the whispers and hushed conversations, sees students with free periods congregate outside the art classroom to get a little glimpse of his work, endures Beatrice Haywood’s (one kind Hufflepuff in his fifth year art class) cheek pinches for being, in her words, ‘a little protége’, and finds that despite all the hassle, he rather greatly prefers this state of affairs to when he was shunned for being a parseltongue. 

 

Even so, he finds he’s always waiting for this fresh blanket of acceptance his peers have enveloped him in to be ripped away and replaced with an iron maiden of judgment, fierce cruelty eager to pierce his skin and draw his blood. People change their minds too quickly. No one had ever bothered to understand Harry Potter before he was a boy with a pencil... and no one really bothers to understand him even after they have eagerly commissioned doodles of dragons and quidditch trophies and flying carpets to fill up the margins of their notes during History of Magic with Professor Binns. Regard so easily won feels, to Harry, a great deal like an hourglass: golden grains of sand slowly slip through a clear glass sieve, and when the last speck of time falls from heaven to earth, this easy tolerance will be replaced afresh with contempt. It has happened before.

 

Always (always) the hourglass will be turned over again, the particles of fearful disgust will slowly give way to widespread approval, only for the cycle to all of a sudden reverse then repeat. Because to these people (these people who follow him around like he's a shepherd and they his sheep, or who at times ignore him like he’s a criminal and they his unwilling jailors) he is not a person. He’s a fairytale come to life, a living legend, a boy who has no business acting with free will and out of accordance with the stories they’ve been told going to bed, tales recounted from the mouths of parents dizzy with relief or aching with brittle anger. He can never live up to the fable of a miracle boy who ended a war because, because he never has ended a war. He is… ( never good enough, not for them, not for anyone ) tired of it. 

 

The rumor turns into an inferno during the penultimate week of instruction. Draco Malfoy, scuffing his feet and turning red in the face, asks (begs) Harry to create him a painting. 

 

“It’s for my mother’s birthday, you understand. We already have everything -- not that you’d comprehend that -- and the artists we’ve on retainer exclusively paint portraits. It’s dreadfully uninspired of them, don’t you think? I looked into it, and… unfortunately, you are one of the only people around who makes anything other than portraits. So, Potter, will you make me something for her or not? I’ll pay.”

 

Harry flounders gobsmacked for a long moment; Malfoy rolls his eyes and tilts his head expectantly... and then Harry blurts, “10 galleons for my labor. And you cover the expenses for the materials.” 

 

Malfoy nods and says, “Naturally.” He pauses for a moment, and then decrees, “You will have to start charging more if my mother decides she likes your work. We can’t have something widely reported to cost ten galleons hanging up in our manor. If this goes well, I recommend charging at least seventy per piece, maybe even three-hundred or more for larger compositions.” Draco taps his foot and looks around with a kind of stilted arrogance. “Well, get to it, Potter.” 

 

The interaction is caught by a group of wide-eyed first years; they begin whispering furiously to one another. To Harry, it seems like the whole castle begins a giant game of Chinese Whisper. (Third year Stephanie Grant has an American mum and states her family calls it Telephone.) A new rumor now claims, ‘Harry Potter charges six thousand galleons for his artwork, and he’s got stuff displayed in the Tibetan Grand Mage’s palace! He’s recently been commissioned by the Malfoy family, too’. 

 

He can’t even deny them entirely, because he doesn’t know what his prices really are, and he is making a piece for the Malfoys. It’s a nightmare -- not at all like his dreams with Tom. But something about the attractive boy in silver and green robes has started to bother Harry, he often wakes with a cold sensation like a stroking shiver up his spine, thinking he can almost hear the phantom whispers of death. He finds himself, late one night, drawn back to the trophy room where he first saw a picture of his father (after eleven years waiting).  He dully peruses the trophies and records, only pausing when one catches his eye: 

 

‘Tom Riddle, Head Boy, 1945.’ 

 

Found you. Where are you now, Tom?

 

***

 

Tom stands in a courtyard built of rubble as the sky above chokes on ashes. Harry stands beside him, flecks of grey disfiguring the solid obsidian of his hair. Tom takes a step forward and his leather boots crunch over rotting corpses. Their only remains are bones grown heavy under their burden of grotesque green. 

 

Trees line the courtyard, the ruins of what must have once been beautiful, and they are twisted and blackened, scorched, maimed, and tumbling down in careless piles of broken limbs and putrid husks of trunks. The smell of decay taints the cold air, swelling noxiously around the faint hint of coming spring and mocking its potential of rebirth. 

 

With heavy steps, Tom weaves through the debris to the center of the destruction, where a bundle of blankets is found empty, a wand laid at its feet like flowers resting on the headstone of somebody beloved. He picks up the wand with a trembling hand. Momentarily he forgets the scene around him, delighting in the familiar (and lately absent) hum of magic coursing through his veins. How long has it been since I’ve cast a spell? Decades, I suppose. 

 

With a grin edging on manic, he takes the wand and flicks it with a practiced hand, causing eager sparks of green and black to fly out in a perfect arc. It is such simple magic but right now, he would swear it is the most beautiful sight he has ever seen. He tracks their motion, and notices Harry has come to stand beside him once more. 

 

“It feels almost like my wand used to feel. Like its heart is the same, somehow. Is this your wand, Harry?”

 

He looks down at the boy standing at his rib, where he belongs, next to and underneath me, his green eyes hazy and unfocused as he surveys the wreckage. Harry startles at the words, then his eyes fill with a kind of pained understanding and he bites his lip until it draws a droplet of blood. It starts to run down his chin in a thin, stark rivulet... and unable to help himself, Tom swipes his thumb across Harry’s lip, down to his neck, catching the drip on his fingertip. He brings up the thumb, warm now with the Gryffindor’s blood, to his mouth -- thoughtfully, ever so slowly -- and sucks away copper and salt. 

 

Harry has remained silent, only vaguely aware of the actions going on around him. A storm rages in his eyes.

 

“Harry, precious, did you hear me? Hmmm?” Tom grabs Harry’s face between both his hands. “Treasure, did you hear what I asked?”

 

Harry finally looks up at Tom, verdant eyes filled with unshed tears. “Who did you become, Tom Riddle?” he whispers in a breaking voice.

 

Tom lets go of Harry’s face and tugs the boy into his chest. He folds his arm around the younger boy’s slender form. The artist’s arms hang slack at his sides. Tom keeps his voice light as he asks, “Whatever do you mean?” 

 

Harry tries to push away from Tom’s embrace, but he refuses to let the younger boy go. He keeps a tight hold on him, forcing him to remain still in the same position. After struggling for a few moments, Harry goes limp in his arms. 

 

He lets out a shuddering breath. “Tom Riddle,” the boy mumbles, “was a real person. I saw the name when I went to see my father’s Quidditch trophy. He was the captain. I saw your name in the room. And you… you were head boy -- in 1945 .”

 

 “Was I?” Tom smiles, pleased -- also unsurprised. “Of course, I was.” 

 

“Why don’t you know that?” Harry’s voice is muffled against Tom’s chest. “Shouldn’t you know your own life?”

 

Tom lays a hand on the boy’s head and tugs at flyaway locks with nimble fingers. “I became a memory at sixteen. I don’t know everything about who I eventually became.”

 

“I learned all about you until your thirties,” Harry admits softly. “I looked you up. You went to work in Knockturn Alley and went to a library in Alexandria. You even applied for the Defense position here, but you were rejected, and then you just… disappeared . You just disappeared. But you didn’t die, did you? You became someone else, someone with a different name...” His voice is all accusation, underpinned by fear. 

 

Harry starts struggling again against the Slytherin’s chest. “You did, didn’t you?!” 

 

“Do you know something, darling?” Tom’s head, looming, bows over Harry. His voice drops to a lower timbre as his lips press mockingly gentle to the other’s ear. “Do I scare you, Harry? Are you going to try and leave me?”

 

Harry pushes away again and this time, Tom lets him go. The boy stumbles backwards, tripping over a skull laced with vines, crashing onto his back twisted awkwardly, and comes to find himself encased in the debris of war. 

 

Tom shakes his head slowly. “I will not let you.” He rolls up his sleeves, still grasping the holly wand, and with deliberate, elegant footfalls, strides over to where the boy is sprawled aheap the refuse, maintaining eye contact the whole time. 

 

“You know, you have to know--” Harry’s voice is shaking “-- because you must know enough about who you were, will be -- what you became-- become! You know what you--” he is trembling now, all over, the poor thing will hurt himself, “the things you did… What you did to them.” 

 

Tom reaches out to him--

 

He tries to scoot backwards. His voice escapes in a panicked yelp, almost shouting, “Don’t touch me, you-- but Tom sits down on the boy’s chest, legs straddling him, and holds the fragile wrists with one hand. 

 

“Are you saying I become a monster, Harry?” Tom asks in an almost teasing tone. He leans down to gently -- sharply -- nip at Harry’s neck. “It would be unwise to provoke something like that...” 

 

Harry is a mess of squirming limbs, each independently attempting to dislodge the older boy from his position. Tom intentionally shifts all of his weight onto the younger boy’s lungs, knocking Harry’s breath out of him. 

 

“No, no, none of that, precious. Sit still,” he orders. 

 

Tom patiently waits until the younger boy falls motionless, gasping (begging) wordlessly for breath -- before allowing his weight to resettle on the legs cleverly caging the boy. 

 

Harry gasps an inhale. 

 

“Just say it, already,” he chokes out, voice wrecked and raspy, “Just say you know.” 

 

He appears as if he wishes to cry but is holding it all in -- overwrought, his form trembles with tension. It is his eyes that pause Tom, however; they hold a fierce determination and the toxic reproach of betrayal. Tom frowns down at the marvel trapped in his arms. 

 

“You won’t like the answer, I fear...” He turns his gaze to the piles of bones littering the dusty ground, motioning to the rubble with a sweeping gesture, “Where are we, Harry? What is this to you?”  

 

“This is my inheritance ,” Harry all but spits. “This is what was left me.” ... It was your fault goes unsaid.

 

Tom releases Harry’s wrists and that strangely familiar wand. It clatters to the broken ground. Picking up the charred remains of a yew stick, one that feels so much like the wand he received all those years ago in Ollivanders, Tom grasps the two halves between his fingers. 

 

“I think you know, Harry. You know who I became.” Tom’s calculating gaze passes across the crumbling courtyard -- this place that waits for the sun, and instead is dusted daily by ash -- and feels his own throat close at the reminder of what he left in the world Above. “This is your inheritance...” he says. His voice sounds bitter and anguished even to his own ears. “It is my legacy .” 

 

Chapter Text

Harry takes a breath and, looking up for a moment into cloudy eyes of grey bearing down on him, inlaid with specs of sapphires and slivers of onyx he’s been itching to paint, he feels his heartbeat stutter then change its tempo...

 

He feels his world shatter.

 

It’s a devastating explosion -- a silent catastrophe within him. Shards of soul-spun glass are strewn across his memory, their jagged edges searing his insides, shearing off skin and layers of joyful moments shared between he and Tom until all that remains is scarlet ribbons. Moments of quiet warmth nestled between strong arms or wrapped in downy quilts are all stained, tinged crimson -- copper-scented and bitter. His view of their past has been painted red.

 

His bare feet are shredded as they tread heavily across barbed fragments… but Harry is numb to the pain. Because there, embedded on all the fractured windows of his soul… these reminiscences, reflects one (terrifying) single word: Voldemort . It’s all Harry can see, can hear… it’s all he tastes on his dry tongue and feels traced across his raw, battered skin.

 

Tom’s Voldemort. Voldemort. Voldemort. Voldemort. He … he … he killed my parents. 

 

Tom is...Voldemort. Voldemort. Voldemort Voldemort. Voldemort . And...he- he killed my parents .

 

Voldemort. He’s voldemort. 

 

Killed my parents (kissed my forehead when people called me a murderer). 

 

Killed my parents (lectured me on how to dice thunderbird muscle patiently). 

 

Killed my parents (told me he would never leave me alone…) 

 

Killed my parents...said, “I would kill for you.”

 

Loud and near-incomprehensible, echoing as if through a long, winding tunnel, Harry thinks he can hear a man shouting, ‘take Harry and run ’ -- an echoing reply that is no reply at all… a high, cold voice ordering, ‘stand aside’...and he sees then (sees so vividly it’s like he’s right there ) a flash of dazzling green -- brilliant, toxic, and deadly. For a moment, Harry stands adrift, watching as though out of his body, in a sea of shattered glass and bloody tears… where a man appears before him, an apparition that appears to be an older version of Tom ( his Tom...his protective, ridiculous Tom who’s somehow Voldemort and--). This new, older Tom is an almost perfect replica, bearing little sign of actual aging upon his skin, but his hair is absent and his eyes are the livid scarlet Harry recalls from last year’s waking nightmare.

 

Harry almost thinks he hears a fresh voice (added into the cacophony of his memory of that night at Godric’s Hollow), that this apparition before him speaks… laughs, chillingly cold, “I am Lord Voldemort.”

 

It’s as though someone else is that monster. As though Tom is...not...that very same monster. This Voldemort before Harry, with eyes the colour of freshly spilled blood, bows his head once and, as if entirely unreal, dissipates into the shards of broken mirrors and windows. Harry is left standing there, staring unseeing at the wreckage of his recollections. There was something painfully familiar about the man who faded away, like a long-lost friend shrouded beneath years of forgotten bonds.



It takes Harry several moments to notice someone is speaking. 

 

“Harry, no! Come on now...not you, never you.” The voice is frantic, pleading -- “Come back to me, my darling -- come on now sweetheart, just breathe for me--” desperate, even. “Harry, please-- please , I’m sorry… I’m so sorry . Can you open your eyes for me? Harry… please please open your eyes. You can hate me, alright? You can hate me all you like, darling, just pleaseplease open your eyes! Open your eyes, Harry. Please… please--I can’t- I can’t...I just can’t--”

 

Something warm is dripping onto Harry’s cheek. It’s shocking and his senses sharpen enough for him to realize he’s lying on the hard ground, head pillowed in Tom’s lap. This wetness, then… it must be the elder boy’s… tears? Is he crying over me?

 

Tom’s voice comes in a hoarse whisper now. “No no , Harry. Come back to me, treasure. Open your eyes… Please, I won’t hurt you--I would never … I promise. I will never lie to you again. Never.”

 

That ridiculous comment is enough to cause Harry to crack one emerald eye open and cough out, “Liar.”

 

“Harry,” Tom breathes in clear relief. His eyes are bright with it, and pink-rimmed… from weeping over Harry -- for him. “Harry,” he repeats over and over again as if the name is a revelation, prayer, and absolution.

 

Tom’s hands… Harry realizes, are rhythmically pressing against all the pulse points they can reach, one of the elder boy’s thumbs rests on his wrist, and the other hand deftly cradles Harry’s head to, at the same time, press two fingers against the vital artery passing through his neck. They twitch as though maybe to move away now that Harry is awake, but in the end they remain for the assurance of his beating heart.

 

He tries to sit up but, holding his head cradled in one palm and splaying his fingers across Harry’s chest, Tom gently pushes him back down.

 

“Shhhhh...” Tom murmurs. “Stay still, my darling. You’re alright now.” 

 

Harry’s responding giggles are a tad hysterical, and Tom furrows his brows in concern. Harry catches his breath slowly, mood growing somber. “Nothing is alright,” he mutters bitterly. “Not now -- not ever .” He tries again to sit up... and groans at the onset of sudden nausea.

 

Immediately, Tom’s hands begin to flutter anxiously over him, the elder boy inspecting Harry with an intense focus.

 

“Are you in pain? What’s wrong ?” Tom’s voice is loud and concerned and Harry can’t help but look up at the older boy; he is so clearly out of his depth… and desperate. “Tell me so I can fix it!”

 

This man is the man who killed my parents? This boy, who was crying because I was unresponsive for a few minutes? Who is so worried about me even now ?

 

“Impossible,” Harry whispers. 

 

Tom’s eyes snap back to Harry’s. “What is?” He asks cautiously.

 

“You,” Harry responds simply. “I… don’t think you killed my parents. Because you’re not Voldemort. Not yet... Are you?”

 

Tom is quiet for a long moment. “...No--” he at last tentatively agrees “--but I certainly intended to be, before I was trapped here.”

 

Harry nods (though the action is a subtle, muted one due to the lack of available mobility when his head’s resting on Tom’s lap). “I thought so,” he sighs. “And...what about now?”

 

Tom cocks his head. “What do you mean, ‘what about now?’”

 

Harry’s eyes deliberately bear into Tom’s, green eyes wide and beseeching. “Do you still want to be Voldemort?” he clarifies.

 

Tom can’t help but stare back at Harry, almost stumbling under the weight of his regard. When he does speak, his voice is quiet… almost small. “No… I do not want that… not anymore.”

 

Harry nods more freely now, a weight off his chest as he feels himself pulled back into the land of the living from this dreamscape where memory and creation intersect. The wind rustles his oversized pyjama top (it was Dudley’s a lifetime ago, once white but now the same murky grey as this world’s sky, with age and lack of care), wrapping it around his fragile frame.

 

“For now,” he decides, “that’s enough.”

 

Like all mornings, Harry slowly fades from the dream, opening his eyes to brilliant sunlight shining through cracks in the curtains of his four-poster. He can sense, somewhere beyond the edge of consciousness, Tom left standing alone in the rubble (and he sees almost like a mirage, the elder boy trembling, staring at the fractured yew wand in his hand. It takes a long time for Tom to realize flowers of radiant gold have grown where all his tears fell…) Harry’s lips quirk to a broken half-smile. Not every story ends with destruction. This is… A new beginning to his legacy.



***

 

For the first time in months, Harry leaves the diary under his pillow when he goes to breakfast. He feels naked without it, but he needs a break. Forgiveness and understanding demand time -- it will take many hours before he can order the mess in his head. There’s too many components to this… relationship he’s forged with someone who’s almost (-but-not-quite) the man who murdered his parents. Red and white, green and grey, black and blue-yellow and purple... are all blurred together, mixed and confused, fighting one another for dominance… threatening to leave a great big murky mess of brown… and Harry refuses to allow his mind to fall into such a state of muddled monotone. There’s beauty in the danger of the war inside his mind, but Harry will not allow his psyche to remain a place of destruction.

 

So he leaves the diary and ventures bravely out into the great hall empty-handed. It doesn’t feel like giving up… not really. Not on his art, nor on Tom. It feels more like growing up (a child letting go of his baby blanket).

 

Oliver Wood, the most vocal of his fans (after having been converted to team-Harry after viewing a quidditch sketch), ruffles Harry’s hair, asking after the book.

 

(“Hey there, Harry! Anything new you dreamed up last night?”

 

...and Harry can’t help it -- he flinches at the reminder, then plasters on a fake smile.

 

“Not last night, no… Been working on designs for Malfoy.”)

 

That, evidently, was enough of a mood-dampener for people to change their conversations to their collective disklike Malfoy , of all people, is going to be the first to get a ‘Harry Potter original’. The blonde Slytherin himself, meanwhile, has taken to bragging about the fact he will always be the first person to have purchased Harry’s original work. Gryffindor and Hufflepuff especially seem to take offense to this truth, glaring pointedly at Malfoy whenever he saunters past them down the halls. The Ravenclaws seem more amused than anything, and have created several betting pools (in which the Slytherins participate) over who will be the next to receive an HP creation, and what the ‘boy-who-lived’ will paint for the Malfoy heir.

 

Hermione and Ron are the ones to key Harry into one important truth about all the posturing he seems to have missed. As Harry valiantly tries to finish eating his toast, Ron leans in over his shoulder.

 

“They’re all assuming your art’s going to be famous, mate.” 

 

Hermione nudges him from his other side. “That’s why Draco’s so proud. They all think your art will be priceless one day.”

 

Harry knows his face must be red as blood the petals of the red-red rose so often sung of in Petunia’s (off-key) song, but he can’t help the small smile their words inspire. “I doubt it, but I’ve got to admit I like the faith they’ve given me.” I just hope I don’t let them down. I will though… I’m never good enough. 

 

Hermione must have gained the ability to read minds, because she swats Harry’s ear, saying, “You won’t be able to make anything short of outstanding , because that’s all you’ve ever done.”

 

Ron nods seriously, agreeing. “I don’t think there’s ever been anyone like you before.”

 

Harry laughs to hide his discomfort. “The scar on my forehead agrees with you, I guess.”

 

Ron grins widely. “You bet it does! Lockhart’s got ‘fame’, but you’ve got talent -- bet he’s never actually done any of that crap he goes on about in his books… I mean really, capturing a banshee with a tea-strainer? Or something like that, whatever -- so stupid, I forgot. Point is, Seamus has seen one and says they can’t be banished or caught or whatever, ‘cause they’re like iphen- ineffab--

 

Ephemeral , Ron. You were closer the first time,” Hermione tiredly corrects.

 

“Yeah, that -- they’re like ephemeral, only last a few seconds --screeching, and all-- before they just puff away, so he’s gotta just be full of steaming horse shi--, shoes!”

 

This leads to an argument from Hermione that people can’t just publish whatever they like, that ‘there are fact-checkers, Ron!’, while most of those in earshot nod enthusiastically (whether for Hermione or for Ron’s opinion, isn’t clear).

 

“But anyway,” Ron says, restoring the original subject, “my point is you’re good -- everyone knows it. I bet soon people outside Hogwarts will too!”

 

For some reason, Ron seems to feel a need to ruffle Harry’s hair, making it take on an appearance even closer to Worzel Gummidge (if he were dark-haired) than its usual nest-like aesthetics, leaving him thoroughly disheveled by the time he shows up to DADA. (Ron runs in late, having begged-off to use the loo...though Harry’s sure that was just an excuse). Lockhart’s class today, like every day, is a waste of time. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff mixed class spend most the lesson muttering (the one’s at the back of the class, at any rate -- Lockhart seems to have a selective-hearing problem) or passing notes if they’re too close to the front (because he’s got a selective-sight problem, too) about how the DADA ‘professor’ is surely a fraud, and questioning when the curse against DADA professors will strike him, and if it will expose all his secrets. Several plans spawn to “help the curse along,” but Harry pays them little mind, trying to decide what Malfoy might find an acceptable subject for his commission.  

 

The project consumes him. He’s caught a raging inferno between his fingertips, and it feels like it burns his palms and ignites his breath in an attempt to set the world alight. Every moment he’s not working on homework or practicing for upcoming quidditch matches, he spends in the Enchanted Artistry classroom (which is the north tower, underneath a rather batty professor’s abode. She smells like sherry and wears so many shawls and strings of beads, when Harry passed her in the corridor he thought she was decor ). He sketches out design after design on spare scraps of parchment, collects the paints he needs and blends one shade of white with a pale sort of silver over and over, trying to get it right. He spends hours mixing pigment to make sure all the colours are perfect .

 

The first gentle touch of paint on canvas feels like coming home.

 

The brush in his palm feels like it connects to the innermost point of his soul. The world slips away as he paints, one stroke and another and another, then lines and textures and layers form organically, as if without thought, until he begins to see his burgeoning world take form. (The fire in him dims and glows now, rather than burns).

 

The fifth year art students begin to, in the coming days, check the room periodically to ensure he won’t forget to eat or sleep (after they caught him spending a full thirty-eight hours working over the weekend: no breaks). Beatrice Haywood comes in to check on one of her portraits (one of her grandmother that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem it will take root… not enough soul, according to Professor Badgerwood), and tells Harry (quite sternly, with perhaps an element of worry underlying that) she found him bowed low and enthralled over his canvas, blinking blearily and ghost-pale.)

 

Once she had dragged him away from his painting, she forced him to drink water, gulp down a sandwich and then, “Go to bed -- directly to bed . I don’t want to see you until Monday. And take better care of yourself , Harry...honestly.”

 

(He goes straight back that evening, once she was out of the room… but what she doesn’t know won’t kill her.)

 

He still dreams of Tom’s world (and the things he made for him there), but whenever he finds himself in the odd little mismatched paradise (and wasteland) of his creation, he searches for places to hide the Slytherin won’t find him. 

 

He squeezes into closets, huddles beneath beds. He even spends one night climbing a tree on the edge of the quidditch grounds…

 

And every night, Tom finds him right before daybreak, reaching out desperately for him just as he fades away.

 

Harry wakes up with wetness on his cheeks, his jackhammering heartbeat echoing the loneliness he feels seeping into his every waking moment; a loneliness so deep he can’t tell if it’s his own or not.

 

He takes to drawing in the diary at odd times, in these last two weeks before the school year ends. There are moments when getting up feels like a chore, when the loneliness presses him deep into an expansive darkness. When the solitude threatens to swallow him whole, he needs a break from Malfoy’s painting (from expectations and the knowledge of certain failure,) but not from creating, so he'll open the cherished book and draw something small to remind himself that not everything needs to change. He doodles in the borrowed seconds from ticking clocks so that he can pretend, if only for a blink of an eye, that his world was never shattered. He crafts small things, little sketches: a single snowflake, a floating feather -- trinkets to remind Tom that he has not been abandoned. (Trinkets to remind Harry that someone once cared).

 

Lockhart's class is particularly convenient for this slow and subtle build to a reunion with Tom (distant and sporadic though it may be) …especially as the DADA professor has taken great offense to Harry’s sudden spike in fame and popularity ratings, and has decided the best method to remedy his own declining fanbase is through ignoring the boy-who-lived altogether. He refers to Harry only peripherally, in a condescending, disdainful sort of a way, though that has not stopped him from making inquiries of his own to art masters around the world to see if he too can capitalize on what is clearly a worthy pursuit. Harry privately thinks that Lockhart has all the artistic capabilities of a dung beetle.

 

Of course, between the discovery of Tom’s future identity and the stress (and blooming pride) of crafting what, he hopes, will be a masterpiece, Lockhart’s low-level passive-aggressive comments (about Harry’s notoriety) and general (substantial) level of incompetence are insignificant. And these days, taking pot-shots at Harry is a quick way to earn the ire of a class.

 

It’s almost as if Lockhart can sense just how thoroughly unimportant he’s becoming in the minds of his anything-but-attentive students; the mysterious beast vanished and the petrified students were restored, the pupils who once worshipped him have long realized how pompous he really is, and the Weasley twins successfully turned his teeth all colours of the rainbow every day for a month, so his ‘Witch Weekly Smile’ is continually out of commission.   

 

The man’s getting foolish and sloppy in his desperation to recapture attention (and his award-winning smile), but Harry is still as inattentive in his class as ever… until he chances a sight out the corner of his eye of Hermione’s hand high in the air, waving back and forth like it was their first potions lesson all over again. Looking closer, he sees something dangerous glinting in her eyes. ..and something more manic shining in Ron’s. And before her, Hermione has a phail of perfectly clear liquid.

 

“Professor Lockhart, sir!” she all but yells over-eagerly. “I need your expertise.”

 

The whole class, Harry included, snaps their focus to the frizzy-haired genius who he is pretty sure no longer believes the oversized man-child striding towards her has knowledge worth a grain of salt (making him overall worthless, where she’s concerned).

 

“Yes, Miss Granger! What is it I can help you with?” he asks, seemingly proud to at last be recognized for his skills.

 

Hermione displays confusion, making a good show of it -- Harry almost believes she’s a lost and helpless... naive girl silly enough to ask Lockhart (of all people) for intellectual aid, but he knows her too well.  What is her game?

 

“Professor Snape gave me this--” she presents the phail to Lockhart’s eyes “--and told me to identify it as a test, but it’s obviously at least an OWL level potion and I couldn’t possibly work it out all on my own! And I know from your book ‘The Last Stopper Before Paradise’ that you can identify any potion known to wizardkind, so I thought perhaps you could help me? Please, sir, it’s really important !” 

 

The praise (and mention of one of his works not on this year’s book list) puffs Lockhart right up: he gingerly pinches the phail between two fingers and brings it up to his face for inspection.

 

“Hmmmm…” he says ponderously, “clear.. .completely so. Yes, difficult, very difficult.” His voice drops to an over-exaggerated murmur, forcing the class to lean in if they want to catch what he’s saying. Then, he removes the phail’s crystal stopper--

 

“No, professor, it could be dangerous!” Hermione exclaims.

 

In the background, Ron can be heard saying, “Yeah, hopefully. Wouldn’t put it past Snape to try and kill the best in our year.”

 

Deftly operating his selective-hearing again, Lockhart ignores his comments and waves off Hermione’s apparent worry all in one cavelier motion.

 

“Have no fear, my dear,” he announces (in vomit-inducing rhyme), taking a liberal sniff of the phail, “for I believe your professor has given you water as a practical joke! In quite poor taste, I may say, to leave such a spectacular student running around in circles like a headless jobberknoll, looking for the solution to an unsolvable puzzle.” Smiling at his own genius, to show Hermione the truth of the matter, Lockhart swallows down the contents of the phial and, with a pleased expression, states, “See, just water.”

 

As Harry watches the scene with a kind of morbid fascination, Ron uses his highly-questionable wand and hastily mutters a fireworks spell. It has an effect, though probably not the intended one: (his wand hasn’t cast anything properly for months --it really needs replacing--) a flurry of sparks leap out of its tip to flit up towards the ceiling and stream out into the hall. The light display, albeit far cry from an actual firework, attracts attention… and soon several passing students have congregated outside the door to get a look at what’s going on… and they seem to have further captured the attention of the sixth-year Slytherin class, who have a free period and now barge through the first students on the scene to cluster in the open doorway.

 

Lockhart, witnessing Ron’s actions with obvious confusion, barks, “Weasley! Why in Merlin’s name did you do that?” 

 

Ron smiles with teeth razor sharp… a shark like grin that is not at all like him. “Why, sir,” he says, far too innocently, “which Weasley do you pose that question to?”

 

Lockhart looks affronted. “You-- Ronald Weasley, of course!”

 

The Weasley (who is Ron but… not Ron, maybe?) in question shakes his head slowly. “No can do then, professor, seems I’m the wrong Weasley… Ever heard of Polyjuice Potion?”

 

The man manages to chuckle condescendingly. “Of course I have.”

 

Not-Ron (Fred here to torture Lockhart in some new and exciting way, if Harry were to guess) nods thoughtfully. Harry is almost surprised Lockhart did know what it was, considering all the things he doesn’t know could probably fill the Hogwarts library five times over (Hermione would not approve of the addition)… though there is the possibility he could be lying to save face.

 

“And have you ever brewed a successful Polyjuice yourself?”

 

Lockhart's brows furrow, adding about thirty years to his apparent age (he would be horrified to find out). “Well… no , not yet, but I have people I can pay for that sort of thing.

 

The class and assembled bystanders gasp (well, discounting the Slytherins, who smirk and get a hungry gleam in their eyes). The deepening frown lines (about fifty years now) on Lockhart’s face and sudden air of panic about him suggests the so-clearly-fraudulent professor has suddenly realised what he just said. He opens his mouth to speak, perhaps to backtrack and fix this but--

 

“Did you actually perform any of the deeds you claim you have in your books?”

 

Oh yeah, Harry thinks, that’s got to be Fred .

 

“Of course I did!” Lockhart exclaims, apparently outraged.

 

Honestly, Harry had assumed the whole lot of Lockhart’s books were merely worthless rubbish, or children’s fiction; it seems he was hardly the only one, as several of the bystanders, and most their Gryffindor/Hufflepuff class, raise their eyebrows in surprise at Lockhart’s pronouncement. Who knew the vain professor was legitimately capable of anything. Maybe Harry had misjudged him somewhat… 

 

Then, just as a couple of people (as Harry) began to look like they felt bad for him, maybe-Fred clarified: “What that you claimed in your books you did, did you actually do?”

 

“I cut whisperweed with a pocketknife, if you must know. You can find that anecdote in my work ‘The Merman and the Wizard: the love story that almost was’.

“But nothing else?”

 

Lockhart nods, looking absolutely horrified but equally matter-of-fact. “Nothing else.”

 

At that, pandemonium breaks out. Onlookers gasp and stare and several scatter (mainly Slytherins), off to break the news to all parts of the castle (or in some cases, collect bet money). In the same moment, Harry nearly topples from his seat as right in front of him, Susan Bones begins to fizzle and melt , her form bubbling in and out of focus until a Weasley twin has replaced her -- Harry supposes that ’s where George went. Lavender Brown really does fall out of her seat, ending up sprawled across the floor, gazing up at the exposed Lockhart with tears in her eyes (she was one of the dwindling few who still stood up for the famous man in Gryffindor), betrayed and heartbroken.

 

“Then how did you tell all those stories and get all that credit for things you never actually accomplished?” the newly-revealed twin asks.

 

Lockhart stares down obnoxiously at the class. “Memory charms, my dear boy. I am rather skilled. Wave your wand, wipe a few observers or a town to record their story as the sole hero first and -- voila! Amass an empire.”

 

Needless to say, it all rather devolves from that point, children panicking for the safety of their own minds due to their newfound witness status, Hufflepuffs bustling with indignation at the illegality of it all, and Hermione and the twins gloating over the mass panic a simple phail of clear liquid managed to amass.

 

After a few moments of utter anarchy, it becomes evident that at least one of the sixth year Slytherins went off to go and retrieve Snape, and the potions master appears in the classroom doorway irate, black robes swirling almost violently about his frame. 

 

He surveys the scene with a kind of dispassionate disdain, before turning his eyes on Weasleys one and two. His lips curl with a terrifying grimace, but there is a note of acknowledgement in his black pupils. His gaze falls on the empty phail in front of Hermione’s textbook before he turns his eyes to Lockhart.

 

“I am not an errand boy.” He says in a velvet soft voice. “So if I am to be bothered whilst in the process of brewing volatile, highly potent, potentially toxic compounds which are more valuable than all your heads combined, it must be done with ample cause for concern.”

 

Locheart gulps nervously before attempting to showcase his show-stopping smile, but the effect falls rather flat due to his strong nerves and dusty blue teeth. Snape does not react at all to the display.

 

“Cat got your tongue, Gilderoy? I must say, I find your silence quite the improvement.” Neither comment is a real question and Lockhart seems to have not heard them (there’s that selective attention rearing its ugly head once more). Snape releases a long suffering sigh. “Why am I here?”

 

Lockhart shrugs in a move uncharastically childish (though entirely within his character) and lets out a nervous laugh. “I suppose because you walked?” Lockhart surmises. 

 

Snape leans into the doorway of the classroom and grips his wand tightly in one hand. “Why did one of my students claim you have admitted to fraud and the illegal use of memory charms?”

 

An unpleasant spot of pink color finds its ways to Lockhart’s sagging cheeks. “Well, most likely because I -- ahem -- did admit to both of those.” Lockhart looks absolutely broken at the words he’s spewing, so he makes a desperate attempt to justify his actions. “I mean, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with it really. Nobody would care at all about the capture of subterranean pixie-crawlers if it weren’t for me, so really by wiping the memory of only a few members of the Porteguese wizarding community, I saved their entire culture from obscurity. It’s just one memory for another, and the memories I give people are full of adventure and joyful endings. Mine are happier, can’t you see that? I deserve to have credit for all those things because I make people so very happy,  I make myself so happy, when people believe me to be their knight in shining armor, their hero come to save the day.”

 

If anything, Snape looks less interested than before. 

 

“Is that so?” He drawls. Lockhart nods and Snape continues to stand, watching. The moment is drawn out long enough for Locheart to begin fidgeting with static anxiety. 

 

Snape gives the man one final glower and then looks down at Hermione with a severe expression of distaste. “Ten points from Gryffindor for failing to identify a potion on your own power, despite my explicit instructions.”


Though the rest of the class seems to be caught off guard by the sudden change of conversation, Harry amongst those startled, Lockhart is unapologetically relieved and Hermione looks so affronted, her hair has started to rise about her head in a whirlwind of curls. 

 

“But sir!” She cries, “I only had it beca--”

 

Snape cuts her off, “Ten more for talking back to a professor. Do keep going, Ms. Granger, see how that ends for you.” His voice holds a promise, and then he sighs once more and asks, in a bored tone, “do you at least know now what it was?” 

 

Blushing furiously, Hermione nods and spits,“Veritaserum, sir. ” 

 

A look of realization dawns over the faces of everyone in the class. Lockhart takes a half step backwards and trips over the still sprawled form of one Lavender Brown, landing flat on his bum.

 

“But, but -- but that can’t be right. It was water -- I was certain; so sure, so very sure… .” he trails off with a kind of abject misery. 

 

Snape twirls his wand between his fingers. “I would hate to be on the receiving end of anything about which you were un certain, Gilderoy, if this is the result of your certainty.”

 

Lockhart seems to be beyond self-defense now, and only mutters, “Yes, yes, I suppose you would.”

 

“I can brew the antidote for your predicament, of course,” Snape notes, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to come with me for auror questioning in the meantime.”

 

This seems to snap Lockhart out of his reverie and he starts shouting, “it’s a misunderstanding,” and, “the use of veritaserum without consent in trials is illegal,” and, “you can’t do this to the wizarding world’s sweetheart,” but Snape pays him no mind and simply immobilizes him in a body binding spell and levitates him out of the classroom like a grotesque ragdoll. 

 

His eyes sweep over the classroom once more before pushing forward a tall Slytherin sixth year and declaring, “Gemma Farley is in charge of you until your next class begins. If you do anything other than obey her every word like your life depends on it, I will make you sorry indeed. Do. Not. Test. Me.” 

 

Warning delivered, Snape exits the classroom with a swish of his robes, dragging the floating Lockhart behind him, and enjoying a little too much (or at least most likely enjoying if the slight bounce in his step is any indication) “accidentally” banging the DADA professor into the walls.

 

***

 

The end of the school year comes as a surprise to Harry. Between Lockhart being crucified in the daily prophet for fraud and the multiple reports of angry middle-aged-women (Mrs. Weasley included) burning his books, students have been somewhat preoccupied with the spectacle of their former DADA professor.

 

Snape and McGonogall both have been in spectacularly high spirits since the Witch’s Weekly’s Best Smile was moved behind bars, and the second year class has benefited from what some older years complained were “likely the easiest exams for lower years ever.”

 

Fred successfully convinced his parents that Ron needed a new wand after forcing Percy to try casting anything and the prefect ended up with a slightly singed hairline for attempting a Lumos. Ron got his wand only four days ago, and was able to successfully transfigure his teacup for the first time in his life. 

 

So the last day of school comes as a surprise, and Harry laments that he hasn’t even had the time to feel nervous.



Draco required (and loudly demanded) that Harry unveil his mother’s gift in public before he determined whether or not it would be a worthy present for the Pureblood lady. 

 

I’ll have to look at the reactions of the masses and minimize them by approximately three hundred percent to understand how my mother will view the piece. If I am to be adding artwork to the manor, it must have all the refinement of a true masterpiece. You understand, of course.”

The Slytherin chose to have the event on the last day of school as a kind of going away party. A party which is happening today, as in right now.

 

Harry’s moodily glowering in the corner of what he could easily classify as a showcase gala. The great hall is clear of house tables and small platters of refreshments float about on gleaming polished silver. The entire school appears to be in attendance and several parents and professors are overseeing the student horde and anxiously awaiting the reveal. 

 

The Malfoy family sent Harry dress robes for the occasion which he donned with no small amount of self-doubt. He stands at the far end of the room wearing forest green silk robes adorned in golden filigree. Hermione and Ron stand on either side of him, grounding him in the moment because with all the people and expectations he feels so out of his body he’s worried he might float away. 

 

Behind the three of them, on the wall, is a large covered canvas. Harry’s biting his lips anxiously. 

 

“They’re going to hate it,” he whispers urgently. One of the goblins in attendance (to help move the painting from Hogwarts to Malfoy Manor should Draco deem it “worthy”) grimaces at Harry in a show of either intimidation or misguided support. 


The golden boy tries valiantly to avoid hyperventilating. Hermione squeezes his hand. 

 

“Harry,” she admonishes, “look at all these people who’ve shown up to support you. They’re here because they believe in you.”

 

Harry shudders. “What if I lose that?” He asks quietly. Again, is a thought that comes unbidden.

 

Ron smacks Harry’s arm lightly. “You won’t.” He promises. “But even if you do, even if they decide that you’re not a great artist, you enjoyed making the piece, didn’t you?”

 

Harry nods. 

 

“Then that’s all that matters. These people,” Ron motions to the room at large, “they’re just small fish in small ponds hoping for something great, and you Harry, you’re a big whale,”

 

“An Orca,” Hermione suggests.

 

“Right, you’re an Orca swimming as king of the ocean. They want desperately to swim in your waters, but you already have everything you need. So let them gawk, Harry. I’m sure you’ll give them one hell of a show.” he finishes. 

 

Hermione stage whispers, “That was a good pep talk, Ron.” 

 

Harry rolls his eyes. “That was really quiet, Hermione,” he whisper-shouts. 

 

He smiles tightly and turns to look at the assembled crowd. His art class is watching him with their own odd brand of pride (it is quite strange after all to be three years older than the professor’s favorite student, but Harry’s nothing if not the kind of person you can’t help but want to protect) and they all give him a salute. A few other students are looking at Harry with expressions he can’t even begin to unpack, and Ginny Weasley seems to be splitting her time eating chocolates off the trays and trying to get one of the twins to dance with her. She almost seems to be intentionally avoiding looking over at the little friend-group by the wall. Draco Malfoy is speaking to everyone all at once and letting people fawn in their simpering manner over his azure robes, but he eventually strolls over to where the golden trio is assembled and raises a glass in front of Harry.

 

“It’s time, wonder boy.” He says, taking a small sip of whatever it is he’s drinking. “Dazzle me.”

 

Harry grimaces at the nickname and mutters, “... You really know how to make a boy feel special, Malfoy.” 

 

He takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. “Are you going to do the talking or shall I?”

 

Draco sweeps into a mocking bow. “This show is all on you, golden monkey, take it away.” His eyes narrow. “It’s an awful lot of people expecting great things from you. Impress us.”

 

Faking a bravado he does not feel, Harry flashes a brilliant smile. “I aim to exceed expectations.” 

 

Hermione helps him cast a Sonorous and Harry raises one hand. The metallic detail on his sleeve catches the light and abruptly the audience turns to gaze at him. He flushes brilliant crimson but keeps his resolve. 

 

His voice trembles slightly but his words are clear. “Thank you everyone for coming to this impromptu event to see my first ever sold work, I guess. Um. I’m not really sure why you all came, but I mean there’s free food, so…” He trails off before finding the strength to continue. “I don’t know why the school let this happen but you’re all here and I have a painting to show you, so I hope you like it.” 

 

Draco is muttering, “You need to work on your oratory abilities, Potter,” but Harry pays him no mind and strips away the covering on his canvas. 

 

The room falls dead silent. The painting is large: roughly 3 x 5 meters. Snow falls from the sky in gentle patterns, swirling softly before landing on powder-sugar ground. Pieces of glittering flakes are tinged with hints of soft dark blue from the color of dawn meeting the morning. Ice crystals hang from a few tall snow covered trees and their gentle tinkling can be heard just barely. Golden sunbeams dance between one crystal and the next, light reflecting outwards and granting the air a heavenly glow. One icicle is shaped like a prism and as the light passes through, it refracts as a rainbow, shimmering on the frigid air and bringing a small patch of snow into colour. 

 

A few albino peacocks strut in the frame, their white feathers glinting gold and glazed with hints of pink from the rising sun. They move unhurriedly through the winter wonderland, surrounded by twinkling snowflakes and feathers flickering in the candlelight of a promised morning.

 

Harry shuffles nervously as the silence in the room extends past the minute mark while people stare at the painting in rapt attention. The first sound is made after three minutes. Professor Dumbledore stands up from a chair in which he had been attentively admiring the work and begins to clap. 

 

And just like that, the spell is broken and the room is wracked with thunderous applause. People are coming forward and clapping Harry on the back. Students he hardly knows are telling him ‘congratulations,’ and showering him in praise. Oliver Wood seems to be fighting back tears and is telling anyone who will listen, “Best seeker in half a century, of course he has the hands of God.” 

 

McGonagall clasps Harry in a tight hug and he hears her say, “I’m proud of you, Harry,” and he hadn’t realized how much he’d wanted to hear those exact words. Apparently someone in the crowd is a reporter because they ask Harry if they can get a picture, to which Harry replies they can, and they shake their head and say, “I didn’t believe it, but you sure made me the fool,” as they snap a few photos. 

 

Harry is approached by the delegation of goblins and told: “they would very much like to invest, come to Gringotts at your earliest convenience, Master Potter.” The batty woman who smells like sherry seems to be nearly convulsing as she shakes Harry’s hand and tells him, “soul sight is a forgotten gift, use it wisely,” before drifting away and shining like some kind of disco-ornament.

 

It is so overwhelming Harry ends up leaving the hall early and sits on the steps to wait until the craziness dies down. Hermione finds him moments later and leans her head against his knees. 

 

They sit in companionable silence, content to close their eyes and allow the voices of a distant celebration wash over their ears. That is, until Draco finds them. The blonde Slytherin is unusually somber and quiet as he passes Harry a leather bag. Harry takes it in confusion and turns the bag over in his hands.

 

“Your payment, Potter,” Draco says almost angrily.

 

“Oh, right,” Harry replies, “I almost forgot about that part.” Harry opens the bag as Draco mutters things that sound like, “ Gryffindors ,” and “ no sense at all, this one .”


Harry examines the quantity of coins with concern. “You’ve overpaid me.” 

 

Draco purses his lips looking distinctly uncomfortable. “A Malfoy always underpays,” he declares. “That’s 800 galleons, by the way, you’re probably too daft to count. Don’t spend it all in one place, Potter. That would be embarrassing, even for you.”

 

Harry tries to push the pouch into Draco’s hands but the boy won’t take it. “I said the price was 10 galleons, you can’t just pay me this much!”

 

Draco glares at Harry balefully and sniffs. “I can and I will.” He hesitates for a moment and then kneels down so that he is eye-level with Harry on the steps. “Take pride in yourself,” he urges. “Or else you’ll remain the orphaned child running around until someone takes your head.” With that cryptic statement, he straightens and moves to go back into the reception. He calls over his shoulder, “Remember Harry, a Malfoy always under pays.”

 

Harry stares after him, mystified. Hermione shakes her head then lays a hand on his knee.

 

“This is only the beginning, you know that, right?” She asks him.

 

Harry inhales sharply and closes his eyes. He hears all the exclamations from the hall, “ that’s my best friend, that is ,” “ you owe me 45 galleons,” he’s a master already, it’s unbelievable! ” “ Well believe it because Potter’s in our art class and we’ve seen him working on that for weeks ,” and repeated so often it becomes a refrain, “ He’s a prodigy.

 

He exhales a long breath. “Yeah,” his voice is filled with equal measures of mourning and hope, “I know.”

 

***

 

Sitting in his room at Privet Drive less than a day later, the showcase seems almost like a dream. The boy who wore robes of the finest silk and was approached by investors has no place sitting in a dusty room with years of grime and mocking barred windows. 

 

With Dudley’s old castaways dwarfing his body, Harry feels like he is no longer a stranger to himself, he’s back to being “freaky Harry,” “that odd boy with broken glasses.” 

 

He finds himself retrieving the diary from where he stashed it in his pillowcase, and turning it over and over in his hands, running his fingers along the worn leather cover. He takes a deep breath and opens it, leafing through all his drawings and imaginations. He hesitates and then takes out a pen and poises it over the paper.

 

He lets ink blots form on the page as he considers his words. Somehow, he can just tell that he has all of Tom’s attention. Anticipation hangs heavy in the air and Harry needs to remember how to breathe. He feels as if Tom is still sitting on top of him, crushing his lungs, but he also feels like the older boy is covering him in butterfly kisses and treasuring him like he’s something precious.

 

He writes, “I think I need more time.” (It might be a lie, he hates waiting, he's been so alone.)

 

The ink sinks into the diary immediately and Harry tries not to focus on the disappointment roiling up his spine in crashing waves. He thinks at least some of it is his own.

 

The response is delivered in elegant script, “Take all the time you need. I will wait for you. I will wait eterternities for you.”

 

Harry closes his eyes against the image of Tom sitting alone in a barren world waiting decades before someone relieves his loneliness. 

 

In an odd callback to the night Tom told Harry he would kill for him, Harry scrawls, “I would not want that from you.” 

 

Harry doesn’t want Tom to exist in solitude for eons with no end. That kind of thing, no one deserves. Not even the boy who might have murdered Harry’s parents if circumstances had been different (circumstances weren’t different). Not even the boy who doesn’t breathe (but takes Harry’s breath away) deserves to spend his time with nothing and no one. 

 

“I miss you.” Harry adds. He feels a small sob bubbling up and he shoves it down violently into his heart, burying it beneath a pile of vengeance. He does not deserve to cry over something like this. (Not when it’s his fault.)

 

The diary begins to feel warm to the touch, like it is somehow immensely pleased.

 

“I miss you too, my darling,” the cursive promises, “I’m here whenever you need me.”

 

It takes Harry a long time to fall into a fitful sleep, and that night Harry hides in a newly discovered alcove built into the balcony of Astronomy tower. He looks at the odd night sky so full of stars Harry remembers drawing. He sees moonlight he crafted reflect off grass he grew and dip the edges of green blades in silver. His breath materializes in soft puffs of white in front of his half-closed eyes, and he realizes that even the wind is something he called into existence. It’s almost frightening, being surrounded by so many of… his creations. It’s like he fashioned a world out of only his dreams and the graphite from his pencils, as though he’s god from Above come to reside over the masterpiece of this purgatory Below. But I am no god, and I want no one’s prayers.

 

He hears the soft and sure footsteps of a boy in leather boots and decides that tonight he doesn’t want to drift back to his desolate room alone. He unfurls himself from where he’s crouching and exits his hiding place. As soon as he emerges, he sees Tom pause and hesitate, reaching out a hand as if longing for touch but looking so unsure of if he’s allowed that mercy. Harry takes a step towards the older boy. Tom’s eyes crinkle slightly, (like they always do when he’s pleased and feeling fond,) and he mirrors Harry by taking just one step forward. That opens a floodgate of the longing and loneliness Harry’s been so used to clawing at his heart, and he thinks if he spends even one more minute on his own, he’ll never recover. He begins to run, racing over the polished stone floor and hurtling himself into the opening arms of the older boy. 

 

His back is clasped tight and, instinctively almost, he burrows his head into the firm chest. He never wants to let go. Tom kisses Harry’s hair. 

 

“Welcome back,” he whispers.

 

Harry sniffles, allowing the comfort of the embrace to stretch on and on. He knows they have mere minutes together before morning will come and take him away. He doesn’t want to leave, not yet, but… “I can’t stay much longer.” 

 

Tom holds Harry tighter. “I know,” he admits in a wistful tone, “But can we-- can we stay like this until you go?” His voice is unusually soft and quiet. Vulnerable.

 

Harry can’t help the warmth that spreads from his scalp to his toes. He nuzzles Tom’s neck. He wants to be cherished like this so badly. It doesn’t even matter in that moment if it’s all a lie. He’ll drink this poison down like medicine, needing to feel, if only through deception, that he is loved. “...Yes.”

 

They hold each other silently (desperately) until Harry slips away, hands still reaching for Tom, and opening his tear-filled eyes to sunrise in the world Above.

 

 

 

 

 

End Of Part One

Chapter Text

When Harry was little(er),  he would wake up most mornings to the sound of Dudley clamoring down the steps with great thump-thump-thumps, and he would crack open one eye as a smattering of dust assaulted his bleary pupil. Each morning he sat in the dark cupboard, coughing silently around the cobwebs and scent of bleach, and he would attempt to smooth down his hair as far as it could go (which was not much because he was a Potter, after all). The sound of clicking locks alerted him it was time to get up, go out, and make breakfast. He’d slide past the great lump that made up his uncle, or the sharp bones that made up his aunt, attempt to block out their disdainful looks of judgment, and get cracking (pun intended) on the eggs and bacon for their darling Dinky Duddydums. After they had all eaten -- Harry less than half a plate compared to his cousin -- and he had washed up, he was sometimes allowed a shower.

 

It changed of course, after he was moved to a real room. It’s much harder to wake up to thump-thump-thumps on groaning steps when you reside above the stairs. It’s quite challenging indeed for Dudley to jump so hard dust falls into the eyes of the cupboard resident when the cupboard has no resident. (The large boy’s not been creative enough to come up with alternatives.) The one constant Harry has grown used to is the sound of locks being turned and opened, the fast and sharp click-clicks that alert him it’s time to start the day. 

 

However, this morning he wakes before the locks on his door are touched. His eyes are a tad wet but that’s to be expected: he’s always reaching for Tom and forced to get up alone. He wonders what it would feel like to once, just once, greet the morning with someone curled around him, holding him steady and kissing the top of his head. Maybe they’d watch the sunrise together, name the patterns of clouds against the pink horizon, watch as daybreak illuminated the world in warmth. He’d like it, he thinks. 

 

The sunlight makes a valiant effort to shine through his grime streaked window, but it is fighting a losing battle, and only some stray (hardy) bits of gold creep their way between the dirt crusted glass and wooden planks boarding the window closed. 

 

(“Thought you could try an escape like last summer again, eh, boy?” Vernon had asked, mustache twitching dangerously. “Did this handiwork myself. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out .)

 

The room smells of wet concrete and dead grass, and Harry sits on his lumpy mattress, counting down the minutes until he will have to get up and go make something for his “family.” This summer he’s been cutting up grapefruit and toasting bits of whole wheat bread because apparently not even his aunt and uncle could explain away the health report of their darling boy. “Big bones” as an excuse only gets you so far, and evidently it failed to justify Dudley’s extra two stones of weight.

 

Vernon seems to have taken personal offense to Harry -- for being skinny or for serving produce, he doesn’t know -- and yells at him with every presented opportunity. Dudley has followed suit, laughing at his cousin constantly and inviting Polkiss to join him in many a “Harry Hunting” expedition.

 

(“Our boy is so popular,” Aunt Petunia can be heard regularly gloating.)

 

Harry’s taken to drawing in the diary, writing to Tom, and blocking out his time at Privet Drive as best as he can, looking forward with all his heart to his return to Hogwarts. 

 

Two more months. He can make it. 

 

When he hears the click-click of the locks being unlocked, one little turn at a time, he frowns. Uncle Vernon is practiced at letting the boy out of his make-shift jail cell with a well-timed flourish at the end of each bolt unfastening. But right now there is fumbling in every latch, the timing is all wrong… the triumphant rhythm is paced by hesitance. 

 

And then he hears the knocking. The knocking sounds so reminiscent of the drumbeat that pounded in his head and forced the dust down into his eyes as they opened every morning of his childhood. He hears the rap-rap-raps loud and forceful like the thump-thump-thumps he will always hate. 

 

Dudley.

 

Dudley is on the other side of that door. 

 

Harry doesn’t hide the diary away fast enough as his large cousin bursts in through the small door-frame. He catches Harry sliding the book into a pillowcase and his eyes brighten with a suspicious gleam. 

 

He’s caught Harry hiding something. This, to Dudley, must be very exciting. Harry never has anything worth looking at -- in Dudley’s estimation -- except for the things his dad locks away in the cupboard every summer. Harry could get in very big trouble for hiding something if Vernon knew. 

 

Dudley will either let his curiosity win and come look at the diary, or he will let his joy of seeing Harry suffer win, and go straight to his father. He might even look at the worn pages and then go to his father anyway. Harry doesn’t know which outcome is the worst. All of them are bad options. Dudley can’t seem to decide either. 

 

Opting for being as uninteresting as possible to avoid any of the aforementioned scenarios, Harry tries to curb excitement by saying, “It’s just a book, Dudley.” If it’s one thing Harry knows about his cousin, it’s that the larger boy certainly does not care for books. 

 

“What kind of book?” Dudley challenges, bouldering his way into the tiny space. 

 

“The boring kind.”

 

“I’ll decide that, won’t I?” Dudley reaches for the pillowcase but Harry grasps onto it with both hands and tugs it into his lap, folding over it protectively. Dudley snarls and shoves Harry roughly -- he swears he feels Tom’s overwhelming anger, hot and bitter -- pushing him backward with a surprising amount of force. As the smaller boy’s head smacks into the wall with a dull thwack, Dudley yanks the pillowcase from his cousin’s slackened grip. 

 

The diary clatters to the floor and Dudley bends over to pick it up, his labored breaths from exertion matching his younger cousin’s pained exhales. 

 

The rolls of fat prod at Dudley’s clothing and folds of fabric stick together on his stomach, but as he straightens the shirt smoothes out and he holds the leather-bound book triumphantly, beady eyes scanning the exterior for signs of what he holds. 

 

“What’s this then?” His voice takes on a mocking lilt, “Bitty Potter’s secret diary?” He laughs at Harry’s glare. “What are you, a girl?”

 

Harry grits his teeth. “Give it here, Dudley. You won’t like it. I’m boring aren’t I?”

 

But Dudley isn’t listening. Not one bit. He slumps down on Harry's bed, taking up almost half, and opens to a page at random. 

 

“Let’s see what dirty secrets you’re hiding -- oh…” his voice trails off into silence as he stares at one of Harry’s flower fields, morning glories and geraniums overlapping and making little mazes for the red roses and white lilies to dance through.

 

“Did you -- draw this?” Dudley asks with a halting sort of voice.

 

Harry, feeling quite out of his element based on previous Dudley interactions (and perhaps thinking more slowly than usual due to a mild concussion,) manages a small nod. 

 

Dudley lets out a rather forced scoff and asserts, “See, I always knew you were such a fucking pansy. Nothing manly about you.”

 

Harry rolls his eyes. “Right as always, Dudley. Though if you’re what it means to be a man, I think I’d rather stay right the way I am, thanks.”

Dudley ignores the comment (or perhaps did not understand it) and flips to another page: the drawing of the boat reflecting moonlight. He seems to lose all his words on the lake’s gentle breeze. He turns to another page, and another, gulping down images of starlight and broomsticks and chocolate frogs and the great hall during feasts and … magic. The magic he’s never been allowed to see.  His eyes are full of greed. It’s the look he gets when he wants something so badly he has to have it, and he’ll take it and play with it until it breaks and it always breaks. (Except for the cat that ran away, the lucky bastard.)

 

And Harry always has to give Dudley whatever he wants. Always. It’s a rule of the house. But Harry won’t give up Tom. He won’t give up a year of self-discovery and the world he made with just pencils, his fingers, and dreams as big as the universe. 

 

He’ll fight if he has to. For the right to create, he will always fight. “Dudley --” He begins in a warning voice.

 

Dudley shushes him and continues looking through the drawings, flipping from one page to the next in constant motion. An amazed smile begins to play at his lips. He looks like a child peering out of an airplane window for the first time in his life and realizing that for just a moment, he can fly.

 

And then, with no warning, he suddenly stops turning pages of the diary. He holds the book tightly as he stares at a single image. His smile is forgotten. He looks at the picture for a long time, running a thick finger over the parchment with an odd sort of… concern.

 

He bites his lower lip and his eyes are more somber than Harry’s ever seen. It’s an odd expression on his cousin’s face. A lock of blonde hair falls into Dudley’s eyes but he sweeps it away without noticing, still so intent on the image before him.

 

He’s never been this focused on anything.

 

Harry notices flickering light on Dudley’s face, as though from a small, warm fire.

 

 And suddenly Harry knows -- he knows in the heart he’s buried oh so deep -- that Dudley is looking at the drawing of the cupboard. The one drawing Hermione’s never been allowed to see. 

 

Dudley must be looking at the locks outside the door, the little spiders always in motion, the old cleaning supplies barely illuminated by the little fire that doesn’t burn. 

 

Maybe he’s remembering fondly all the times he ran over the top of that sloped ceiling, causing that little lightbulb to flicker and go out, waking up Harry with his crashing thump-thump-thumps.

 

Harry’s own heartbeat hammers a fast and bruising rhythm ( dum-dum-dum ) as he waits to see what Dudley will do. Mock him, most likely. 

 

Dudley takes one last long, meaningful look at the drawing and closes the book gently, almost… reverently. 

 

He tentatively gives it back to Harry without a word. Harry’s hands close around it automatically as he stares at his cousin with wide eyes.

 

Dudley opens his mouth as though to say something, closes it, and then stands up. He raises a hand and slowly, slowly enough that Harry doesn’t flinch, pats Harry’s arm. Like he meant to shake his hand, maybe. It’s an acknowledgment. Of what, Harry doesn’t know.

 

Dudley gives him a sad smile. “I guess --” He stalls, fingers tapping a frantic pace on his thigh: tap-tap-tap … but then he says, “I guess I didn’t need two bedrooms.” 

 

It’s not an apology. (It didn’t have to be.)

 

It’s the best thing Harry’s heard all summer.

 

Dudley leaves the door unlocked behind him.

 

***

 

Tom’s earliest memory is of a crib crumbling at its sharp edges, panels of wood chipped and cracking down the middle, a few bars missing and gone like the inside of a young child’s mouth when they’ve begun to lose their teeth. 

 

He’s sitting in that disgusting old crib, holding a ratty sepia-toned blanket decorated with the stains of children past, and smelling the crusty mold of the laundry room. (It was where they kept the little ones.)

 

He’s tired in this memory, his eyes are heavy and drooping. But he desires fervently something... more. He does not want to have only this itchy cloth draped around his body, this insignificant and dilapidated crib as his bed. He wants -- no -- he deserves more. 

 

So he reaches a little chubby hand to the edge of his crib, curls his fingers around it, and wishes for there to be something more out there, anything beyond this horrific existence. And something answers. The bars of the crib fizzle to ash but the frame somehow cleans until the wood is gleaming. His blanket is replaced by a thick duvet. 

 

He sits on his newly made big-boy bed, nestled contentedly in his soft quilt. It gives him his first taste of what it meant to have more. He is powerful enough that he can get it. He can go beyond the stone walls of a prison for children nobody wants. He is... unique in the best possible way.

 

In the morning he will be thought of as a demon, as the cold matron discovers a little boy sleeping in her duvet, his crib turned to ashes around his angelic features.

 

She takes his quilt and locks him in the attic but from then on Tom Riddle is never the same: he begins taking and taking… always looking for more.

 

*

 

When Harry first began to draw life in the world of the diary, Tom pretended he would never desire anything else. What more could he ask for besides the creation of divinity?

 

He had been converted to a new worshipful religion and he took his gifts with gratitude for their part in the destruction of his mundane, monotonous existence.

 

He got the boy’s dreams, his waking thoughts, he was rapidly becoming one of Harry’s most important… people. He was still... a person. To his artist, at any rate.

 

But as he sits with his legs submerged in the dark water of the lake, dusty surface reflecting the grey sky, he realizes that perhaps those feelings of contentment were only ever pretense.

 

He’s not satisfied with what he has with Harry, not in the slightest. It is nowhere near enough. Only, he was concerned that perhaps once the boy knew who he was… what he was, that he would be abandoned.

 

The less time he spent pushing for more, the less likely Harry would have been to chance upon the discovery.

 

But his secret was discovered. The boy learned and yelled and… forgave. (And what a sweet taste forgiveness holds.)

 

He has not been abandoned. He has been embraced. And now, more than he desired Alison Goddal’s rock collection and Edwin Messer’s bonbons, (more than he desired for Abraxas Malfoy to sink to his knees and call a half-blood, “My Lord,”) he wants, needs, more with Harry.

 

From this world Below he cannot touch the boy in real-time, feel soft skin warm beneath his fingers. He cannot use his wand to curse the “family,” to which the boy has returned, protect him from their idiocy and thrust them into oblivion.

 

He is a passive observer to the marvel that is Harry Potter, and he has never been passive.

He will need to take someone’s soul to come into the real world. Harry will never forgive him for it, but the boy doesn’t need to know. The muggles are worthless to Tom, but someone -- when they go back to Hogwarts, perhaps -- will suffice as a source for power. He’ll use a child’s soul to make himself tangible and living. And once he has a heartbeat, he will find Harry and they will make their life together. (But then he’d have to lie again and --)

 

One of the fish in the lake splashes his face unexpectedly, and he blinks at the cold droplets. And then he senses, as though he were under the water, a large blubbering boy blundering his way in front of his Harry, precious Harry, and shoving him back until his head hits a wall.

Rage. He has not felt it for over fifty years. He had forgotten what it felt like. But as he sees this whale of a boy carelessly looking through this world -- full of his artist’s masterpieces, he feels the sparks of an inferno of hatred ignite his frozen mind until his thoughts are ablaze. 

 

Look, he goads the boy, look at all this magic you will never get to keep. Look at all these wonders you can never hope to perform. There is a world of real magic and you are not special enough to be invited. 

 

And then he knows where he must guide this blubbering muggle. He draws the boy down into Harry’s cupboard beneath the stairs. He pushes the loneliness, the desolation, the wishes for love that went unanswered onto the blonde baboon. Feel what Harry felt. There is no warmth here, he had to make this fire because of how cold it was down here, day in and day out. Feel how trapped you are with too many locks on the outside of this door, as these spiders become your only friends, as you wonder if you are even alive as the lightbulb flickers off.

 

Breathe in the scent of dirt and rubbing alcohol and moth-eaten coats. That’s a cobweb tickling your neck. The bed is not even a bed, is it? Do you like this, boy? Is it fun? The only thing you have is this made-up fire you know was never real. That was all he had in here. 

 

There is an echo of emotion that tumbles down through the pages and into Tom’s heart. Sadness filled with regret. 

 

A single thought rings clearly through the silent field. 

 

My fault.

 

(Tom cannot tell if the thought is his own or not.)

 

Tom relaxes as the diary is clearly given back to Harry. He cannot help the wistful smile that spreads across his face when he is back in the hands of his most precious. He feels a grim satisfaction at the certainty the muggle is riddled with guilt. He deserves it. (Tom might too).

 

In an odd limbo of echoing emotion, Tom feels phantom confusion followed by a kind of elation. He can tell -- as though he received the memory through a thick fog -- that the muggle made a comment of mild repentance. And Harry, like the creature of forgiveness he is, finds joy in one simple admission.

 

See, Harry? See how happy you are when I take care of you? I could do so much more for you.

 

And so it returns with a vengeance, that itch to be a fully realized person, one capable of more than waiting trapped in decades of decaying memory. 

 

Angered, Tom stands up from his place by the lake and paces the grounds, thinking over what he needs to do.

 

As he walks, he has an inkling that he is being trailed like a mother with a duckling. He turns and sees the magnificent albino peacock that entered this world only one week prior. Evidently, peacocks were an integral piece of the work his artist had been crafting for some patron of his masterpiece. (Harry refused to divulge for whom the piece was being commissioned.)

 

He’s named it Neige because he’s not creative but he is at least cultured, and the dumb bird has taken to him to an alarming degree. It eats the grass and squawks at its reflection in the water, and it piteously begs Tom for cuddles. (If Tom sometimes indulges the dumb thing, it’s only because Harry would approve, not because he’s in need of touch or anything.)

 

He halts pacing immediately and focuses sharply on the bird. It cocks its head. 

 

Neige… eats. He strides quickly forwards and bends to his knees in front of the peacock which preens under the attention. He places a hand on the bird’s breast and startles. 

 

It has a heartbeat. 

 

It..no... she breathes.

 

Harry made a peacock in this world that is… living

 

Abruptly, Tom feels like he needs to laugh and sob in equal measure. This has been in front of him from the very beginning. 

 

It all started from the lonely tree with sodden bark and twisting branches. That willow tree was the beginning of the end to his solitary and colorless existence, but that tree was always a living thing. Undeniable proof that there was more beyond amortality in the diary.

 

There’s life everywhere in this world now. Hogwarts here, once an imitation of memory, now is filled with bright lights and paper snowflakes that flit about the warm colored walls. There’s a fire burning in the Gryffindor common room, and there are… real pots of aconite sprouting in the greenhouse. Wildflowers bud and bloom throughout the forbidden forest, making paths of sweet-scented beauty.

 

The once-frozen ground of the Quidditch pitch is filled in with green grass that grows, browns, and dies. (Everything that lives must die.) The spiders in the cupboard have gone on to other parts of the orphanage, spinning webs and devouring moths. 

 

There are fish that glide through the lake and nibble on his toes when he swims. He’s surrounded, he realizes, by the breath of life. It’s been ghosting at his fingertips for months.

 

The world is vibrant now. All things have been brought into the cycle of mortal existence. They are all real . (Everything but him.) It’s… beautiful. Life is unbelievably beautiful. Fragile, like the wings of diamond crusted butterflies adorning morning dewdrops (a new addition,) but glimmering with the undauntable spirit of taking chances with every inhale, shining with the choice to grow wiser with every exhale.

 

But that means… that means… Harry can create life. If he can make it here in the world Below, he can make it up there in the world Above.

 

If Harry just draws him, no , if they draw Tom together then maybe, (maybe,) he can see what it means to be alive again.

 

He opens a page of the diary and takes out a quill.

 

For the first time he does not write ‘Hello,’ or ‘good morning,’ or ‘how are you, Harry?’ He does not write anything at all.

 

He draws. 

 

His quill spreads black strokes over the page, mimicking his soft and well-groomed hair, strands whipping in an unseen breeze. His movements are clumsy and uncoordinated, his fingers are dripping midnight from ink, but all he can think is how this has been staring at him the whole time.

 

His hand aches just right, like he can feel it, like he is living; his spine reverberates with the sensation that he is no longer just a shadow of a person (a pale imitation of a man) but that this is proof he is, he will be… more .

Chapter Text

Harry’s birthday comes with an insistent tapping of Errol on the windowpane, four letters clutched tightly in his beak and a desperation to get inside. The moon catches the ends of his plumage in a loose grip, illuminating the edges of his feather-duster wings with tints of forgotten winter. The owl makes a series of strange hoots as Harry begins to carefully remove the wooden boarding on his window. (He uses a series of tricks the Weasley twins taught him.) As soon there is space for her body to pass, Hedwig careens out into midnight whilst clucking dispassionately. 

 

The overworked Weasley owl slugs its way inside as Harry opens the window a bit farther and promptly slumps down on Harry’s pillow (his one good pillow) to take a short nap. Harry sighs and sits down at the edge of his mattress as Hedwig returns bearing several packages, evidently dropped by Errol on his journey. 

 

Using a torch some random large black dog brought him when they were playing fetch at the park, (he’s started calling the mangy thing Paddy for reasons he can’t quite name,) he quickly goes through the packages.

 

Hermione got him a broom servicing kit, Ron got him a Sneakoscope (Harry will endeavor to keep it far away from Vernon because he doesn’t need help with that one,) and Hagrid got him a terrifying book that starts to scuttle under the bed as soon as Harry opens the package. McGonagall sent him gossamer paints attached with a simple note that reads, “ Mr. Potter, it takes only patience and color to change the world.” 

 

He goes to bed dreaming of the ocean, spends the night sketching in the Gryffindor common room, and wakes up with his forehead tingling, Tom’s lips pressing above his brow and deep voice whispering, “Happy Birthday, Harry Potter.”

 

*

 

When he opens his eyes to the grey light of a rainy morning, he realizes all at once that something is wrong. No fewer than eight owls are perched in the tiny space of his room, all of them with tilted heads and packages beneath their talons. He blinks slowly and notices Hedwig directing -- through sharp pecking -- a ninth owl that flies in through the window to go join the other eight on a groaning bookshelf. 

 

As Harry sits up, dragging a hand through his unruly bedhead, he reaches for his spectacles and slides them onto his nose. There, piled in haphazard formations across the bedroom floor, are numerous parcels, all gift-wrapped and attached with notes. 

 

One package appears to be floating dangerously high to the ceiling, and another is doing somersaults. One card seems to be humming a tune that reminds him of the cacophony that comes with singing the Hogwarts song, and another card isn’t a card at all, but rather something that looks like compressed starlight spelling out, “Happiest of Birthdays to you, Harry.”

 

It’s a bit overwhelming. 

 

The nine -- no ten now -- owls that are congregated seem to be waiting for Harry to direct them where to leave their packages as there is no longer any room on his floor. 

 

Harry sighs and motions to his bed, and one by one, the owls lay down their burden(s) and fly back into the drizzling sky. Errol is still on Harry’s pillow, but he worked hard, carrying those four letters and dropping his packages. Errol’s elderly. 

 

He looks at the haphazard glittering mess that is the room and does the only thing he can think of: crawls under his bed to avoid the disorder and ignore what’s happening around him. It’s his birthday and this is too much and he will not deal with it right now. 

 

But the world has other plans, of course, because as soon as he’s sliding into that comforting darkness, away from the cornucopia of presents, he hears the fumbled unlatching of the youngest Dursley.

 

So naturally, just as he’s sticking one head out from underneath his bed, (and realizing that the book is damn scary and possibly trying to bite off his nose,) Dudley slams open the door and tumbles into the room, shouting, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY LITTLE COUSIN!!!”

 

Then Dudley blinks slowly at the scene in front of him: the dancing and twinkling boxes reflecting golden light and dazzling rainbows, an open window with wooden boards tossed to the sides, and Harry halfway beneath the bed. 

 

For a moment, Dudley’s jaw drops open and he freezes. Then he looks behind him at the empty hallway visible through the open doorway.

 

He closes the door impossibly gently.

 

He sits down with his back to the wall, chin on his knees, and stares. 

 

Harry pulls the rest of the way out from underneath the bed and dusts off his oversized grey sleepshirt (one of Dudley’s castaways) in a vain attempt to maintain his dignity. (It’s been gone for a long time if he’s being honest.)

 

The first thing Dudley says is, “You’re letting the rain in.” 

 

It’s clearly not what he wanted to say, but Harry nods like it is a perfectly reasonable response to the chaos and says, “Yeah, right, sorry. That’s my bad,” and goes and closes his window. 

 

Dudley is still just staring blankly at everything. “Um,” he mumbles intelligently (like the brilliant boy he is,) “um!” 

 

Harry fiddles with the corner of an overlarge sleeve. “Yes, Dudley?”

 

Dudley swallows. “I um, I wanted to say ‘Happy Birthday,’ to you, you know? I don’t think -- I’ve not done that -- before today, that is. To you. I’ve not ever said it to you. And - and - you’ve told me every year. So. So! Happy birthday. You know. To you.”

 

He nods vigorously as though his words encapsulate everything he’s ever thought in the whole of his existence and tracks the floating package with a high amount of interest. It preens.

 

“... Thanks.” The room is quite small, so Harry scooches forward just slightly and rests a comforting hand on Dudley’s shoulder for a small moment before letting it drop. 

 

Dudley nods again. “Are these -- these for you?” 

 

Harry sighs. “I’m guessing they are.”

 

Dudley’s eyes widen. “Is it always like this? With you people?”

 

“I mean, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘you people,’ but I’ve never gotten this many gifts before, so no, it’s not always like this.”

 

Dudley shakes his head. “Magic.” He breathes like this is a whole sentence, “Is it -- always -- like this?”

 

“Magical, you mean?” Harry questions with amusement.

 

“Yeah, is it always so shiny and magic-ish?” 

 

Harry laughs a little. “I guess so.”

 

Dudley bites down on his lips and asks with the wonder only someone who is still a child can hold, “Can you open some of them? While I’m here. I won’t take them, promise, I just want to see. Please, Harry? Pretty please?”

 

Harry wants to say no, but he can see the quiver in Dudley’s mouth that is the sign of a burgeoning tantrum, and he can feel the subtle manipulations of “I’m nice now so you should give me what I want,” laced in every spoken syllable and… it might not be so bad to have someone with him on his birthday, for once. 

 

So against his better judgment, Harry says yes. And he regrets it when Dudley won’t stop asking questions and asking to hold things, like the miniature crystal broomstick Oliver Wood got him, and the everlasting butterbeer mug from one remarkably attentive Beatrice Haywood, and the floating parcel which turned out to be a toy flying carpet that Dudley just won’t let go. 

 

It seems like everyone and their mother’s sent Harry gifts as payments for the doodles he’s made for fun in class, or the random little cartoons he draws sometimes of people when they’re studying and he’s taking a break. (It’s only fair that he gets to draw anyone because almost everyone at some point will come and watch him while he sketches out the tired smiles of that one fifth-year Hufflepuff study group and the matching dimples of that sixth-year couple who are so clearly in love.) He always gives his subjects the drawings, if they want them. (They always do.)

 

All the gifts have notes wishing him a happy birthday, praising him, and asking him how much he charges for his works, and would he make them one, they’d do almost anything. The goblins sent him a business card and the ominous words, “We’re expecting you very shortly.” They also attached a kind of Goblin sweet that looks like rock candy, so Harry gives some to Dudley to try first. 

 

The larger boy accepts the offering without question, examining the oddly lilac color of the treat, and then pops it in his mouth. His eyes go huge and his face turns red as he exclaims in an unnaturally smooth voice, “they taste like being a celebrity.”

 

Harry has no idea what to say to that, but decides he’ll wait to try them before he consults Hermione. She’ll know if they’re safe or not. (He might ask Draco too because Draco is good at potions and forgets to be a prat sometimes.)

 

They’ve worked through most of the presents; paints, and canvases and clay (Harry’s going to try sculpting,) and exotic plants, (thanks Neville,) and even some spelled malleable glass. There are heaps of candies, some of which Harry gives to Dudley and some of which he hides while his cousin isn’t looking. 

 

He gets many articles of clothing, nice quality cloaks and trousers and robes, and three pairs of designer muggle jeans, which Dudley eyes enviously but very obviously would not fit. 

 

“I didn’t know you had friends,” the larger boy remarks casually at some point. 

 

Harry is separating the items he needs to send with Hedwig to Gringotts for storage from the ones he can keep with him at Number Four for the rest of the summer.

 

He pauses his folding of one of the fleece jumpers some random Ravenclaw sent him -- they're all blue, of course -- and rubs the back of his neck. 

 

“I get that,” he replies, “It’s not like I had any here.”

 

For some reason, that makes Dudley’s face go dark, and he says earnestly, with his cheeks covered in Harry’s chocolate and his hands still clasping the toy flying carpet, “I’ll be your friend. From now on. Me.” He puffs up as though he’s just offered a solution to world hunger and it absolves him from having starved at least half a dozen orphans. 

 

Harry pats his arm this time. “Thanks, big D.” 

 

Dudley beams. 

 

It’s such a childish response to guilt and forgiveness that Harry can’t help but feel charmed, and he feels himself smiling before he’s really thought it through. 

 

After the intricacies of Tom, Dudley’s simple nature is refreshing. He’s just Dudley, blundering his way through life as best as he can. (And breaking most things and people in his path, but no one’s perfect.)

 

Just Dudley. Good old Dudley. 

 

His room is decorated with the painting Harry gave him for his birthday. It’s a pair of red boxing gloves on a stone patio at dawn, the sunlight breaking through to summer grass and fireflies spilling out of a sideways glass jar.

 

It’s not magical, not really -- nothing moves at least -- but it still smells like freshly turned earth and new leather. Dudley adores it, and ever since it got put up on his walls, he’s started trying to treat Harry like a person he might care about. (Maybe he does. Care about Harry, that is.)

 

Harry opens the final letter and it’s from Hogwarts. It’s a school list, class schedule, and… a permission slip. To Hogsmeade. That Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon certainly won’t sign. But to go with the other third years and drink the butterbeer at Honeydukes Beatrice always brings back to him on days she knows he hasn't left the art den, that would be a dream come true.

 

He must be frowning because Dudley, voice no longer oddly smooth and back to its typical tinny tone inquires, “What’s wrong with you then?”

 

Harry hands over the permission slip which Dudley glances at with confusion. “I need a signature from a guardian.” He lets his shoulders slump with exaggerated helplessness. 

 

Dudley brightens. “Mum’ll sign it for you. She signs loads for me all the time.”

 

Harry gives his cousin a beaten down smile. “She won’t for me, though. It’s alright.”

 

Dudley stands up, holding the Hogwarts letter but letting the flying carpet go. It drifts to the ground in a manner that can only be described as despondent. 

 

“I’ll ask her to. She will.” 

 

Harry rolls his eyes but follows Dudley out of the tiny bedroom and into the pristine halls with their ugly yellow floral wallpaper and down the creaking stairs, ( thump, thump, thump) and into the living room. 

 

Aunt Petunia is standing with her head halfway out the window and listening as Mrs. Number Three talks about her tragic miscarriage with a visiting cousin. Uncle Vernon’s at work already.

 

She turns when she hears Dudley, exclaiming, “Good morning ickle Duddy Ims.” She smiles lovingly at her son, and then her gaze turns stony when she looks at Harry. “Boy.”

 

 Harry tries to smile in a non-threatening manner. “Good morning, Aunt Petunia.”

 

Dudley swaggers forward and says, “Harry needs you to sign this.”

 

What Harry needs is to smack his head into a wall. Really Dudley? Ever heard of subtlety?

 

“He doesn’t need anything from me.” Aunt Petunia claims. “He’s gotten plenty already.”

 

That was to be expected. Honestly, big D.

 

Dudley is undeterred. “He just needs you to sign this.” He holds up the flapping permission slip.

 

Aunt Petunia looks at her son with all the adoration she can muster in her bony body. “Darling, I’m not going to sign whatever this is for the boy. Their lot is only ever bad news. You know that.”

 

“But, Mummy,” Dudley begins to whine in his high-pitched wail, “you sign things for me all the time!”

 

“That’s different.”

 

“It’s just a piece of paper. Can’t you sign one piece of paper? I don’t understand. Why is so-so different? Can’t-- can’t you just do -- do this,” Big fat crocodile tears are beginning to leak out of Dudley’s eyes. He pulls out the greatest weapon in his arsenal, “for me?”

 

Aunt Petunia stands in horror for a full minute before she extends a hand. “Give it here then.” 

 

Dudley passes the slip, tears long forgotten and abandoned. 

 

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Aunt Petunia addresses Harry, “Get me a pen, boy.”

 

He runs to the kitchen and pulls out a black ballpoint, scarcely believing his luck. 

 

He returns and passes it to his aunt who does not spare him a glance, merely signing the paper as quickly as possible and tossing it to the floor. Harry reaches out and picks it up.

 

“Thank you.”

 

Aunt Petunia gives him a stiff nod. “Just be good when Marge comes, boy.”

 

Excitedly, Dudley rambles, “Now you can go off and do whatever magic--”

 

With that word, everything about Aunt Petunia shifts. Her eyes alight with fury and she advances on Harry. 

 

“What. Have. You. Been. Telling. My. Son?” 

 

Harry is shaking his head. “Nothing, Aunt Petunia.”

 

Dudley grabs her sleeve. “It’s fine mum. The flying carpet was really friendly.”

 

Harry is going to die now, because of Dudley.

 

If Harry’d thought Aunt Petunia was mad before, she’s burning with hellfire now.

 

“You showed what to my son?”

 

“Um..”
 

“I can’t even look at you right now. Out. I want you OUT! Go to your room and stay there and no food today and no food tomorrow and nothing for that freakish owl either. I promised that if I ever heard a word of this disgusting thing again, so help me, family or no, I would just...” It seems she is so upset she's lost the ability to keep speaking, and she raises a hand to strike him, and it whistles through the air. He closes his eyes expecting sharp pain, but at the last second her hand hesitates and so it hits his face with a soft tap. His eyes open as she drops her arm. She is breathing heavily and her face is overcome with a kind of age-old anguish. 

 

“Just go, Harry. Back to your room. You’ve done enough.”

 

He goes. He hears Dudley saying, hesitantly, “Mum--” and Petunia saying,

 

“Not now, Dudley. I know it looks bright and shiny and wonderful, but it kills you. He could have killed you, do you understand?”

 

“It’s not like that mum. It’s beautiful.

 

Harry sits at the top of the steps to listen.

 

“It looks beautiful. You can’t help but want to be a part of it, right?”

 

There’s no response, so Harry assumes Dudley nodded. 

 

“I know, I know,” Aunt Petunia’s voice is surprisingly soft. “But it just looks that way. We're normal people, you and me. I won’t have that nonsense in my house.”

 

“It’s not nonsense.”

“It is. Normal people die of strokes and pneumonia and heart attacks when they're quite old. Normal people don’t get murdered with sticks flashing bright green when they’re just starting life. I know how much you want to be a part of that world, I do Dudley, but they kill each other and they kill themselves and they don’t realize it’s happening because of how pretty it looks when they die. So I won’t have it in my house and it’s not something to wonder about in your mind. Do you understand me?”

 

“Is that why you put Harry in the cupboard?”

 

Harry startles at the question.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“It’s just, you’d never put me in the cupboard.”

 

“You’re different, Dudley. Of course, I’d never put you in the cupboard.”

 

“I was just thinking,” Dudley mumbles in a dejected tone, “about what would have happened if you and dad’d been the ones who died.”

 

“We’re alive and well sweetums.”

 

“I know that!” Dudley sounds angry. “I know that.” He repeats. “It’s just -- what if you’d been the ones who died and I was sent to live with Harry and his parents?”

 

Harry can see it then, in front of his eyes. A muggle boy living in a magical world, not being able to fly the baby broomsticks Harry zooms around on day in and day out. 

 

“And what if -- what if his family kept me in a cupboard, because I wasn’t like them?”

 

“You’re here with me, Dudders. Don’t worry about that.”

 

“It wouldn’t have been decent, to keep me in a cupboard. Even though I’m not like them. Right?”

 

Aunt Petunia seemed to be considering her words carefully. “No, Dudleykins, you’d never deserve that.”

 

“So why’d we do that to Harry?”

 

Aunt Petunia is silent again for a while. “He’s dangerous, darling.”

 

“He’s only ever used it to run away from me. Maybe I’m dangerous.”

 

“Don’t say that.”

 

“Do you think his parents would have kept me in a cupboard?”

 

“Yes.” It’s said quickly. “Their lot hates us.”

 

“Are you sure? They’d lock me up just for being me?”

 

Aunt Petunia sighs. “Am I sure?” Harry hears her pointed fingernails clinking against a teacup. “...No.” She pauses and then, “I don’t -- know. James was--” Harry leans forwards. He’s never heard Aunt Petunia talk about his parents before. “James was arrogant and idiotic, so perhaps he might have, but then again he’d probably have done whatever Lily wanted.” Aunt Petunia’s voice becomes strained, “And Lily… I don’t think she’d ever,” Aunt Petunia takes a shuddering breath, “Lily would… never have put any baby in a cupboard.”

 

Dudley seems to have no response. Harry hears the sound of a chair being moved and he assumes his aunt is standing up. “It’s different though, my darling. You’d never have been able to hurt them.”

 

He thinks he hears Dudley mutter, “Harry’s never hurt me,” but he’s already backing away into the hallway.

 

He goes into his room and closes the door silently. His mind is swimming with the image of a woman with deep red hair and emerald eyes holding him close. She’s whispering sweet words of love and Dudley is like a brother, and… He sits in his too-small bedroom looking out at the folded clothing, piles of cards, shining gift wrapping, and splintered wooden bars and -- he cries.

 

***

 

It’s raining again, so his artist is crying. Tom is disturbed by this revelation. The muggles, (the word tastes like ash in his mouth) do not deserve to have Harry in their home. They do not deserve to see his luminous green eyes and casual smiles and to hear the honey tone of excitement in his voice.

 

And they -- these hateful creatures -- tear his artist limb from limb with their words and hatred and deep-seated on fears that are unfounded when it comes to Harry.

 

It’s like they don’t know you at all, do they? You can’t hurt anyone. That’s why you need me. To look out for you.

 

Tom carefully pulls all the pillows he can find in the Gryffindor common room (Harry prefers it here to the Slytherin dormitory and Tom can tolerate a great deal for his treasure,) and makes a kind of fort for keeping in the warmth. 

 

He arranges all the little decorations and trinkets Harry’s drawn for him around the room, hanging up glittering paper snowflakes and golden vines to make the room look like a scene from a cliché fairytale. 

 

He also grabs soft towels for his artist for when he arrives, something with which to watch his face. He would have liked to bring up some flowers, but all the flowers have died. 

 

So has the grass. Neige seems to be sick, and croons pitifully in pained anguish for much of the day, or falls into deep and undisturbed sleep. 

 

Some nights, Tom’s hands seem to make contact with Harry in the real world now. The portrait they’ve been working on during Harry’s nights is nearly finished. 

 

Some nights, Tom’s hands go right through Harry during these dreams, and all he can do is stare and wish to hold the boy in his arms once more.

 

Harry arrives with red-rimmed eyes and puffy cheeks. Tom rushes to embrace him but finds himself too insubstantial, and he curls around Harry like mist. 

 

Harry gives him a trembling smile. “I wish I could touch you,” he says wistfully. 

 

Tom smiles sharply. “Soon, my dear. Soon.” Tom guides the boy by his elbow (Harry follows despite the lack of physical touch) to the little pillow palace he crafted. 

 

Harry looks around, bemused. “What’s all this?”

 

“You’re sad.” Tom declares. “This is to make it better.”

 

Harry laughs, warm and rich, and Tom decides he likes that sound better than the whimpers of his knights of Walpurgis when he punishes them. 

 

“That’s not how cheering people up works, Tom.”

 

“Is it not?” The Slytherin arches a brow, “it looks like it’s working to me.”

 

Harry settles into the pillows and lets out a happy sigh. “Let’s just keep working on your portrait, you damn sop. I’m plenty cheerful.” His cheeks are flushed bright pink. Adorable.

 

Tom tries to run a hand through Harry’s hair and relishes at the ghost sensation of something delightfully soft. “Of course, sweetheart. Did I ever tell you about that time I invented a new potion to heal a wickerbear cub?”

 

Harry pulls out his charcoal pencil and Tom hands him the dream world diary. The younger boy begins to draw, “No, you haven’t yet,” he says before biting his lips in concentration.

 

Tom chuckles, “Well I’d always known that an indebted wickerbear would be simply instrumental to…”

 

They fall into an easy companionship, Harry sketching out the intricacies of Tom’s hands, while the Slytherin tells humorous stories of his life. (If they’re not always a perfect truth, what does it matter? It’s who he’d like to have been, for his artist.) When Harry leaves in the morning, he’s much happier and his tears are long forgotten. Tom’s body is nearing translucent and the outside air hangs heavy with the scent of rotting fruit.

 

The willow tree is beginning to die.



***

 

Marge Dursley always reminds Harry that no matter how little Aunt Petunia likes him, and no matter how much Vernon hates him, it can always be worse.

 

The house smells of stale perfume and burped up whiskey, the two fragrances intermingling and combining in a gross parody of a kiss.

 

Her voice seeps through the pores of the wall with its grating judgment, seeping underneath the crack of Harry’s door and inescapably crawling into his ears. 

 

He hears it over the creaking stairs and pattering rain and running water as he washes the dishes in the sink. 

 

Engorged from a dinner of Harry’s making, sitting with her feet on the coffee table and her dog Ripper nipping at everyone’s ankles, Marge turns her assessing gaze on him. 

 

“Are they caning you enough, boy?”

 

Vernon laughs from next to her, like this is some great joke. 

 

Ears burning and tongue bit halfway off, Harry manages an even-toned, “Oh, yes. They cane me nearly every day.”

 

Marge scoffs. “Only nearly? I’d expect they’d do it more. You need it.”

 

Vernon grins. “Well, they also use the ruler, don’t they boy?”

 

“Yes, Uncle Vernon.”

 

“Well, that’s better then,” Marge remarks, “They’re doing you a favor you know. Better be grateful. You come from such an odd family, you need the strangeness beaten out.”

 

Harry doesn’t respond. Aunt Petunia grips the edge of her teacup so hard her knuckles turn white. Dudley is looking between Marge and Harry with a frown. 

 

“Harry’s fine.” He tries. 

 

Marge ruffles his hair. “Oh, you’re such a good boy, Dudders. All grown up and forgiving. Such a fine young man.”

 

She smiles at Vernon. “You’ve done such a good job raising this one.” 

 

Vernon smiles and pats Dudley on the back. “Couldn’t be prouder.” 

 

“Shame you had to take in that one,” Marge laments with a glance at Harry as she tosses a bone to her dog, “needlessly kind too.” 

 

Aunt Petunia sips her tea with a blank expression and Harry methodically dries the plates. 

 

“But even with you doing the best you can, it’s not doing much, is it?” She laughs. 

 

Vernon guffaws, “He’s not exactly a model boy, is he?”

 

Marge purses her lips thoughtfully, “Well you know what they say,” she stage-whispers conspiratorially causing Dudley to lean in closer, “when something is wrong with the bitch, something is wrong with the pup.” 

 

The dishes rattle around Harry as he tries to reign himself in, but the sound is lost to Marge and Vernon as Aunt Petunia slams down her teacup so hard it cracks. 

 

“I’ve forgotten to water the roses if you would excuse me.” She stands up and smoothes down her dress. 

 

“It’s already the evening, dear,” Marge points out. 

 

“Have the boy do it,” Vernon jerks in Harry’s direction. 

 

Aunt Petunia continues her path to the door. “Oh,” she pauses for a moment, “I couldn’t trust him with the roses. ” She leaves for the yard, the door clanging behind her.

 

Marge shrugs and relaxes back on the cushions. 

 

“She’s so finicky about her plants, isn’t she?”

 

Vernon pops a handful of chocolate almonds in his mouth. “Guess so,” he says around the food. 

 

Dudley follows his father’s example and begins anxiously eating the chocolate almonds one at a time, looking apologetically at Harry. 

 

“I still can’t believe you took a no good like him in.” 

 

Vernon swallows. “It wasn’t really my choice, to be honest. He’s just a waste of space.”

 

Harry breathes and pats the pocket of his trousers, magic ones with expanded pockets, that fit his wand and the diary. He runs a hand along the cover of the leatherbound book to ground himself and tunes out the words. He tries to let them run over him like water. 

 

The kitchen is clean. 

 

Harry is going to go upstairs and away but then Marge says, “Bet you don’t expect much from him, with his parents being alcoholics that got too drunk with him in the car, and crashed like the reckless trash they were.”

 

It takes him by surprise how angry he is at that moment. It floods his veins with fire and he feels like Icarus, flying too close to the sun, wings melting off his back as he burns. 

 

“Don’t talk about my parents like that. You know nothing.” His voice shakes with fury and his face is twisted. He glares at Marge with all the loathing he’s been building up for years, all the detestation he’s never allowed himself to manifest.

 

Her eyes open comically large as she begins to expand and float like a grotesque hot air balloon. (Not at all like the pale pink one he painted on a blue sky rising into clouds of cotton candy.) 

 

Vernon is pointing at him now with fear and fury, advancing with murder in his eyes. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, YOU FREAK?”

 

 Dudley is gaping and looking at Harry like he’s never seen him before. Maybe he hasn’t.

 

Without thought, Harry runs out of the house and tears across the yard. Just as he’s about to race into the street, a bony hand catches his wrist. 

 

“Where are you going?” Aunt Petunia demands, expression frenzied and pained. 

 

“Away. I can’t stay here.”

 

“And where will you go?” She asks.

 

“Anywhere.” He tugs at his wrist but she refuses to let go.

 

“It’s not safe out there for you!” She hisses. 

 

Vernon opens the door and bellows, “BOY! GET BACK HERE!” His face is so red it has turned nearly purple and it is rippling with the force of his words. 

 

“It’s not safe for me here .” Harry spits. Neighbors are starting to peek through their windows at the yelling man at Number Four and that no-good deadbeat boy. 

 

He tugs his wrist again and this time Aunt Petunia lets him go. 

 

With darkness advancing on him like a cloak and a large black dog that joins him almost immediately, Harry runs.

 

Chapter Text

His heart is splintering, Harry thinks, or breaking and reforming, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. As he runs, layers upon layers of graphite are being peeled away and smashed together and he… he knows he will not have a heart of discarded pencil shavings forever. 

 

This is a moment when he makes a choice for himself -- for his family -- to be someone who stands up to degradation and says, “I’m a person too.” He’s not apologizing for the magic that runs through his veins. This is a moment when he is not grey and waiting to be filled in. This is the first time he’s painted himself into vibrant technicolor. 

 

He’s leaving the cupboard behind now. 

 

He’s not that cowering little boy any longer. 

 

Right now, with a world in his pocket and a dog (a friend, an old friend) by his side, he is finding himself.

 

Street lights illuminate the suburban neighborhood in muted tones of orange. Shadows melt into the street, dripping from identical buildings, each black pool sucking the light down, down, into flat depths. It is silent and only Harry’s footfalls break up the utter lack of noise.

 

He knows by now he’s run further than Vernon could ever dream -- though the man may not have followed Harry at all -- and he wonders if anyone back at Privet drive will miss him.  Dudley might, but then again, Dudley looked shell-shocked when Harry’d blown up Aunt Marge.

 

Oh my god. I just blew up Aunt Marge. I just -- blew her up. I didn’t even think about it.

 

When Harry finally stops running, he’s on the corner of some street and some other street: it’s too dark to tell. He’s breathing heavily and needs to orient himself to figure out where he is so he can get to a bus stop. Does the bus even run this late at night? It isn’t too terribly cold -- just dark and threatening to rain again. I could stay the night at the stop, catch a bus early in the morning.

 

He pulls his wand out of his back pocket and casts a Lumos above his head to look at one of the signs… and a bus comes. Immediately.

 

It is the strangest bus Harry has ever seen. It’s a double-decker… no that’s at least three stories… and rather purple. It shouldn’t be able to be so purple given the lack of light, but the bus just exudes purple like it’s an emotion and the vehicle is feeling it quite strongly. 

 

The bus seems almost smug as it opens its door on a gobsmacked Harry. He gapes at it. The driver, a somewhat unattractive older teen in a tattered overcoat and smart cap, gives Harry an incredibly judgemental once-over. The driver sits on what looks to be a decaying armchair that is valiantly clinging to life, and the interior of the bus is well lit, with a few other passengers on beds. They look… relieved that the bus has stopped. 

 

“You’s getting in, then?” The driver asks in a heavy accent.

 

Harry looks at the street beside him and then back at the driver. This is far from the strangest thing that’s happened to me.  “Erm, do you allow dogs?”

 

The driver looks at Paddy. “11 sickles for the both of yeh, best be getting in, eh?”

 

Harry nods and steps up onto the bus, Paddy loping beside him without any prodding. He reaches into his pockets and pulls out a small wallet filled with wizarding currency he got as a gift and hands the driver 22 sickles. 

 

“Smart dog you get there. Name’s Stan Shunpike.” He offers his hand.

 

Harry takes it. “Thanks. Neville Longbottom.” He flattens his hair over his scar. Sorry, Neville. You’re not the one being hunted by a murderer.

 

***

 

When Harry stumbles into the Leaky Cauldron, he decides that the Knight Bus could be used as a torture technique . He’d rather clean out Professor Snape’s cauldrons with a toothbrush than subject himself to the rattling and spinning and deafening and generally nausea-inducing experience that is (was) the Knight Bus. 

 

Paddy, meanwhile, seems to have enjoyed the ride and is bouncing with ebullient energy. Harry resists the urge to glare at the mangy mutt, and instead opts for patting his head and saying, “good boy.” Paddy seems equal parts pleased and offended and nods as though claiming, “naturally,” and then nips at Harry’s fingers as though chastising, “but don’t talk to me like I’m a dog.”

 

Harry rolls his eyes and says, “But you are a dog, Paddy,” entirely unconcerned that he looks to be talking to a dog. It’s not as if anyone cares about how Neville Longbottom acts in public.

 

But as he pushes past the entryway into the Leaky Cauldron, a larger than average man who looks like a constipated Uncle Vernon stands from where he had been huddled and then just seems to fold on himself with relief. 

 

“Harry! Oh, thank Merlin. You’re alright! You’re alright.” The man pushes forward and takes Harry’s face between both his overlarge hands, turning it this way and that as though inspecting it for injury. 

 

Harry frowns. “Um. Sir. Would you -- I mean, could you -- could you please stop touching me?” 

 

The man drops his hands quickly and looks at the young boy with an apologetic smile. “I’m terribly sorry. We were all just so worried about you. Come, come, I’ll buy you dinner and we can have a nice long chat, you and I.”

 

Harry shrinks back slightly. “I’m sorry sir, I don’t think that’s wise. I don’t know you, and well --”

 

He breaks off as the man chuckles. “Oh, that’s my fault. Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, at your service, Mr. Potter.” 

 

He gives Harry a slight bow which Harry returns. “...Right.” Minister Fudge, seeming inordinately pleased with himself, clasps his around Harry’s elbow and half-guides, half-drags the Gryffindor to a quiet table in the back of the Leaky.

 

On their way to the table, Harry notices at least half a dozen men and women in red robes watching the scene with avid attention. “Who are they?” He asks the minister, jerking his head in the direction of a man and woman, sitting like sentinels. 

 

Fudge looks at the table with a dismissive expression. “Aurors. They’re, well, they’re what muggles call ‘po - lice’ or some such but for the magical world.” 

 

Harry nods and allows himself to be drawn into a booth.

 

Fudge sits down across from him and requests from Tom, the barman, a butterbeer for young Harry here, and a firewhisky for myself if you please.

 

The minister bounces his knee for a moment and wipes his face with a maroon handkerchief. He clears his throat. “You’ll be glad to know that we’ve set your aunt to rights and wiped her memory. Nothing’s wrong there.”

 

Harry stares. “What?”

 

“Terrible business, isn’t it? Having magic around muggles. No harm in being powerful though, eh? Well, that is --” he trails off, then: “but nothing you can do about accidental magic. Far easier to just wipe their memories. We’re not angry with you for that, my boy, not at all.”

 

Harry is saved from formulating a response when Tom returns with a mug of liquid amber that smells of brown butter and crystallized sugar. The drink is placed in front of Harry with a wink and a “Mr. Potter,” and then a glass full of something clear that oozes the scent of burning rubber is set down in front of Fudge with a far harsher and yet more deferential, “Minster.”

 

Minster Fudge nods absently and Harry says, “Thank you.” Tom the barman smiles at him and saunters away.

 

Harry takes a sip of the drink, savoring the sweet yet salty flavor on the back of his tongue. He realizes all of a sudden he’s barely eaten all day from avoiding Marge and then being sent out during dinner. 

 

He ignores the staring minister and gulps the butterbeer down with all the grace of a starving man.

 

“Thirsty?” Fudge asks with disgust-laced humor.

 

Harry wipes the foam off his lip with the back of his hand. “Sorry,” he mutters, “just been a long day.”

 

Fudge softens imperceptibly and relaxes against the cushions at his back. “That’s to be expected. The Knight Bus takes a lot out of even grown wizards.”

 

Harry shudders at the memory. He almost responds with a question as to exactly who thought the Knight Bus would be an acceptable method of travel -- especially when he thinks most grown wizards are capable of appar-something which is instant -- but then considers the strangeness of this impromptu conversation with the magical world’s most esteemed government official. So he asks, “Why am I here, sir? I mean, why are we getting dinner?”

Fudge bounces his knee again. “Well, my boy, I had to make sure you were safe, you see. We’ve decided to have you in a room here for the rest of the summer, mind, your muggle relatives are not -- the best fit -- in this particular climate. But no worries. Your safety is our priority.”

Harry can’t help the grin that blooms on his face. He tries to give a solemn nod -- very troubling times indeed -- but his green eyes are simply sparkling with the brilliance of a thousand miniature diamonds refracting golden sunlight. He looks positively mirthful. “I get to stay here until I go back to Hogwarts? That’s what you’re saying?”

Fudge pats the boy’s hand. “Yes, you will be staying here.” The minister then leans forward with an air of great mystery. “There is one more thing I’d like to ask you about.”

 

They are so close now, Harry can smell the remnants of coffee and pepper-up on the man’s breath.

 

Fudge glances this way and that, then whispers, “The Malfoy’s piece you crafted, the winter wonderland, is magnificent. I thought Lucius was exaggerating but during his June gala I found myself awed. What could I do to commission a piece for myself and my family?”

 

Harry blinks. Then he blinks again. “Um,” he says articulately, feeling rather a lot like Dudley. “Right. Yeah. An art piece.” He thinks for a moment. “Well, there’s a waiting list,” Fudge motions go on like this is a perfectly reasonable thing to say even though Harry just made it up on the spot. So then Harry continues, “If you owl me with what you’re looking for in general terms, I’ll add you to the list.”

 

Fudge pats his hand again. “I’ll be sure to do that. Thank you, young Harry. I look forward to seeing you again in the future.”

 

The Minister leans back and grants Harry his personal space. He straightens his maroon coat, stands, downs his glass in one long gulp, and then once again pulls Harry up by his elbow. He looks at one of the wizards in red robes. 

 

“Shacklebolt. Could you take Harry to his room?”

 

The wizard, a tall and rather attractive dark-skinned man nods sharply. “Of course, minister.”

 

Fudge ruffles Harry’s hair like he would a dog. Paddy growls just slightly. “Well then,” The Minister says, “I’ll be off. Stay safe, Harry.”

Harry pets Paddy in a way he hopes is comforting. “You too, sir.”

With an air of immense self-satisfaction, Cornelius Fudge ambles away. Three red-robed Aurors follow behind in a loosely protective formation. 

 

Shacklebolt seems rather quiet, and with hand-gestures leads Harry to his room. The man knocks on the door, opens it, and then says, “Wait here, I’ll do a safety check and set up some wards.”

 

Harry shrugs. “Alright then.”

 

The man enters the room quickly and closes the door. Harry sees through the cracks flashes of electric blue and moonlight silver. The door opens, revealing a smiling Shackelbolt.

 

“All clear then, Harry. Be nice and secure for the rest of the summer. No more running off and we’ll all be right as rain.”

 

Harry looks into the empty room with a simple bed and a single window. It’s perfect. 

 

“Yeah, I won’t do that -- again -- I mean. Thank you.”

 

Shacklebolt clasps his hand and pumps it in a very manly handshake. “You’re welcome. Stay safe, alright?”

 

Harry tries to give a strong grip back. “You got it, sir.”

 

Shacklebolt releases his hand. “Well alright then, see you around Mr. Potter.”

 

“See you.” Harry walks into the room, closes the door, and then sits on the blindingly white bed. He wonders if Hedwig will know to find him here or if she’ll go back to the Dursleys. She always seems to know where her human is; he’s not too worried. 

 

Just in case she comes to find him, he goes and unlatches the window. It’s stopped raining.

 

He slides down the wall and stares out at the unpersonalized space (like his room back on Privet) and feels the weight of the day. He’s alone now. No one is coming after him. He’s just going to be here, in this room, all on his own. He doesn’t have to go back to the Dursleys. It’s all he’s ever really wanted in a summer.

 

And yet… he’s lonely. He wants someone to hold him, someone to love him. He has no one with him here, in the land of the living. (Abandoned.)

 

Tom. If no one else, he has Tom. And maybe… maybe today he can finish the drawing, make Tom someone here, in the world Above. (Then Harry wouldn’t be alone.)

 

(Neither would Tom.)

 

 He pulls out the diary and a pen and then, rubbing his fingers over the cover like it’s an amulet. He flips to the page where Tom stands staring back at him, eyes blinking every now and again. The peacock nuzzles at the statue-like Tom in confusion, gets bored, and then leaves the page to go lie down somewhere else in the diary world. It looks almost like the peacock has lost weight.

 

No, Harry thinks, the peacock does look sick. And the grass, he sees on another page, is dying.

 

Furrowing his brow, he looks back at the almost finished Tom, and sets to work. Some things can wait, but this cannot. His hands move at a feverish pace once he begins. He feels a deep calm as his pen whispers across the page. His mind is clear, somewhere deep in his soul he hears a bubbling stream, and it’s as though the ink itself pours into his heart and guides his hands.

 

The pen glides across the paper faster and faster as he places the finishing touches on Tom’s portrait. His fingers drip midnight and he feels a buzzing all around him, as though the image is trying to rise up and out of the book. He closes the diary with a sense of finality and then places one palm on its cover. It’s warm, he thinks absently. He watches with mute horror and morbid fascination as obsidian ink rises up into his veins, wraps around his heart, and exits through his other palm.

 

It is silent save for his labored breaths. He is still alone.

 

With mounting horror, he flips open the diary and scours all the pages, noticing many things all at once. The wildflowers have wilted and rotted, the grass has turned brown, the peacock is a corpse on one page and the weeping willow has fallen on its side and is nothing more than a desiccated trunk. He turns the pages looking and looking for any sign of vibrancy, but all he sees is that everywhere life blossomed now holds only the burden of death.

 

“No.” He murmurs, “No, no no!” He’s crying and barely breathing around the strength of his sobs but he can’t seem to stop, doesn’t know if he will ever stop, because there’s death, so much death, and…. Tom.

 

Tom is gone.

 

***

When Tom starts to feel the Pull, he almost waves it off as a strange emotion. He’s been feeling so many of those recently.

 

But it tugs, and it aches, and he begins to realize that this is the moment when everything changes. He’s going to end this self-imposed isolation and enter back into true reality.

 

It’s bittersweet, he reflects. Here, he has his artist’s creations all to himself. He exists only for Harry and when Harry dreams, Harry exists only for him. 

 

Will he still get Harry’s nights, he wonders, when he returns to the world Above? 

 

He’ll take them back, he supposes, if he loses them. With magic in his grasp, nothing is beyond him. (Even escaping death.) 

 

He walks out of the ghost Hogwarts. Decorations can mask even the foulest of places, but he will not miss the prison of five decades. He stands out in the field and breathes in the feeling of vitality returning to his bones. He had not noticed how different it felt to be… alive.

 

He is breathing now. In, out, it hurts to hold it in. He hasn’t breathed; he's forgotten how it felt when air enters and the relief it brings. 

 

The world around him is dying. Neige is lying on the ground and whimpering, the poor thing. No matter, he can find other peacocks, but he is worth everything. 

 

But the angry, beautiful willow is falling. The boughs that rustle with anguished silence and the pained branches that shielded his Aegean eyes from the endless grey sky are splintering into nothingness. 

 

He feels something, there. A sense of loss -- perhaps -- for that brilliant, lonely… powerful tree. It was like him, he thinks.

 

Its sacrifice will not go to waste.

 

As all the warmth bleeds out of Neige, Tom’s boots crunch over decayed flowers and the bones of songbirds.

 

He walks to Harry’s courtyard. He still remembers the taste of his artist’s blood on the back of his tongue, feels the shaking body clasped tight in the cage of his arms. 

 

He leans down and picks up the snapped yew sticks, leaving the full holly-wood wand on its own. That’s not his.

 

But these two halves, they are broken, hurting… his. 

 

He tucks them into his pocket as he feels his body Pulled away, leaving behind the masterpiece of tragedy and opening his eyes to the world Above.

 

*

The first thing he sees is that he is unmistakably in a room in the Leaky cauldron: white bedspread and open window. 

 

The second thing he sees is that Harry is huddled against one wall, sobbing so hard the poor thing can barely breathe, rocking himself in a soothing motion.

 

There is a large black dog asleep underneath the bed, tail peeking out. The diary lies open and abandoned on the floor.

 

“...Harry,” Tom murmurs. 

 

The precious boy can’t hear the word over the strength of his anguished cries.

 

Tom strides forward and kneels down, remembering their first meeting in a cupboard months ago. 

 

He pulls the unresisting body forward and into his strong embrace. He nuzzles the soft hair, marveling that this is real, that he can feel the boy’s warmth. That he himself has warmth.

 

“Harry,” he says again, “You’re alright. I’m here, sweetheart. I’m here.”

 

The sobs hitch. “Tom?” His voice is broken. “Is that you? Tom? Is that you?” Harry pulls back and Tom lets him.

 

The small hands that are riddled with calluses trace all over his face, cupping his cheek and running over his nose. 

 

“Are you real now?” Harry asks with red eyes and tear tracks clear as the lake water.

 

If Tom’s eyes fill with their own imitation of tears, no one other than the miracle in his arms will ever know. He presses a kiss to the boy’s temple and controls his breath. 

 

“Yes, I am real. I’m here. I’m here. ” His voice shakes with the conviction of his words. For a moment Harry stares at him in wonder and then his face crumples.

He burrows back into Tom’s chest with a fresh wave of sobs, hands curling into the fabric of the older boy’s robes. I’ll need to buy new clothing soon. I wonder if my elder self has acquired any funds or if I’ll be obliged to draw on someone’s money. 

 

Harry, heartbroken, cries, “They’re all gone. I drew them into the world and now they’re dead. There’s so much death.”

 

Tom rubs a comforting hand down the boy’s bony spine. The sweet thing’s lost too much weight. 

 

“They walked so I could run. You are a marvel and so were they, but it’s alright. I’m here, my darling. I won’t leave you.”

 

Harry’s voice is so young all of a sudden and full of the anguished hope of someone who’s been abandoned too many times. “Promise?”

 

Tom tightens his hold. “I promise.” And anyone who tries to take you away from me will learn what it means to be afraid. They will burn .

 

Slowly, Harry’s tears stop and the boy melts into Tom’s frame. 

 

“Come on sweetheart. Let’s go to bed.” Harry nods weakly and allows Tom to half carry him to the bed. 

 

He uses the boy’s wand to utter a quick Reparo and then gives a shark-like grin at the sight of his newly fixed yew wand, reborn from the ashes like the phoenix that grants it power.

 

He casts a cleaning charm on the sleepy boy and transfigures both their clothes to soft silk pajamas.

 

As he settles underneath the covers, wrapping around Harry to keep the boy safe and warm, his artist speaks voice soft with exhaustion.

 

“They were always going to die.”



Tom runs a finger through Harry’s hair with impossible gentleness, awed at how he feels tired and might actually sleep for the first time in five decades. “Hmm?”

 

Harry sighs contentedly. “I knew from the peacock.”

 

Tom laughs in remembrance of the dumb creature that followed him and tried to swim whenever he went to the lake. “Neige you mean?”

Harry gives a laugh too, a melancholy thing. “If that’s what you named her, then yes. She ate, did you see that? And she’d wander, and lose weight. And the grass would get brown and the flowers I drew as buds bloomed.”

 

Harry runs a hand over Tom’s arms, as though making sure the Slytherin is real. “Professor Badgerwood teaches that whenever you draw something with magic, it’s a snapshot. A portrait is just a single moment of someone’s soul. They don’t eat, don’t need to sleep though they can, just like the person was for the moment they were painted. They can learn, but their ideas on the world won’t change no matter how much new information they hold. Because true magic paintings don’t change, if they do it’s dark soul magic.”

Tom bites his tongue. Dark soul magic…

 

Harry continues, nosing his face into Tom’s neck. “But these drawings, they were so alive. And that means they were always going to die.” Harry sniffles and his voice is so full of age-old knowledge. “Everything that lives dies. It’s what it means to be alive… It’s just that this was too soon. It was too soon.”



Tom has a feeling that Harry’s not talking about only the drawings anymore. He’s thinking, maybe, of a red-haired woman and spectacle-wearing man brave as lions and dead as the peacock Tom named. 

 

“It was, Harry.” He pulls the covers up higher around them. “It was, but it’ll get better. Sleep, sweetheart. I’ll be here in the morning.”



No one would draw them apart again. Everything that lives must die. That’s what it means to be alive.

 

It is frightening, Tom thinks. But he feels warmth all around him, holds divinity in his bed. For the first time, he and Harry will greet the sunrise together. 

 

He’ll still be here when he wakes up.

 

For the first time in fifty years, he will wake up.  

Chapter Text

He’s woken by a sharp sliver of moonlight that pierces the darkness as it strikes through the open window. Years of living in Slytherin and the orphanage have made him a light sleeper (some would say an insomniac, really,) and he rouses immediately. 

 

He blinks slowly, taking comfort in the fragile body wrapped in his arms. 

 

The large black dog is watching him. It slobbers around yellowing fangs, beady eyes glinting with what looks far too intelligent anger for a mere beast.

 

It is crouched as though to jump. The grim is projecting the desire to spring, attack, tear out Tom’s jugular and rip the teen to shreds. There’s a familiarity to the anger the dog releases with every exhale. It’s the same inferno of fury Tom felt unfurl against Harry’s worthless muggle family.

 

If the rage had a flavor, it would taste protective. But the dog does not jump because Harry is wrapped so tightly around Tom that any attack on the older boy would invariably damage the younger.

 

The beast evidently cares for his artist. Tom is unsure of what to do with that information.

 

The hound seems more man than canine. This is evident in the calculating pose it holds and the complex equations of action evidently passing through its mind.

 

“So you’re an animagus,” he says softly, considering. 

 

The dog flinches. Got you. It then drops out of its pose and lolls its tongue, making its eyes go comically wide. It seems to be adopting an image of innocence, “What a wizard? Not me! I’m just a cute and stupid little dog, aren’t I?”

 

Tom is unimpressed. It only solidifies that the being before him is a wizard. Likely a grown wizard. A male adult wizard who has been following Harry under the guise of being a companion. 

 

Tom’s eyes narrow. What a dangerous thing to be following a thirteen-year-old boy around. 

 

Without wasting another moment he lazily -- wandlessly -- casts an imperio at the… “dog.” Immediately, it relaxes into a countenance of bliss. 

 

Tom’s first wandless spell was the imperio. He mastered it at fourteen. The trace would alert the ministry if any unforgivables were cast with an underage wand, so he’d been obliged to learn it without the crutch. He’d mastered the other two unforgivables within that very same month.

 

Tom had discovered the first year he became the “Lord,” of Slytherin, that imperios were far more effective than crucios in keeping his knights in line. There’s nothing more intoxicating than watching your lord take complete control over someone and their actions. It’s a heady thing to witness, and the desire to be able to hold the same power is all-consuming. Each of his knights began to wish fervently that they too could one day control those around them like marionettes on strings. They would do anything for their lord to teach them.

 

There is also nothing more terrifying than awakening from a state of ignorant content with hands covered in blood, a bite-mark on your neck, and no recollection of how any of it happened. Those that disobeyed him were obliged to try to piece together the days -- sometimes weeks -- of their lives where they were little more than shells doing whatever it was Tom desired. Tom was their puppet master. That kind of fear inspires.

 

He smiles at the familiar feeling of power strumming in his veins. He has a noose wrapped around this man crouching like an animal before him. He could just as easily make the wizard drink a pepper-up potion as he could force him to slit his own throat.

 

He’s missed this. He grasps a person’s future in his hands and for the first time in fifty years, he feels alive. 

 

Tom smiles down at the sleeping Harry and presses a kiss to the boy’s temple. Gently, he extricates himself from the younger boy’s limbs and watches as his artist sighs and snuggles more deeply into the soft mattress. Wrapping the covers around his treasure, Tom softly slides out the bed. “See you in a bit, my darling.”

 

He looks at the dog which is still complacent in its state of powerlessness. “Come.” He commands. The animagus follows like an obedient little hound. 

 

Tom slips out into the hallway and then leads the beast down the hall and to the stairwell. It’s late and they are on the highest floor of the Leaky Cauldron. It is unlikely will come up to this spot. He wards the area around them so that is impenetrable to wandering eyes and soundproof. 


He stares into the eyes of the beast and orders, “Change back for me.”

 

The dog shifts and lengthens, matted fur giving way to clumps of stringy black hair, eyes turning grey, muzzle lengthening to reveal gaunt cheekbones. The man in front of him looks emaciated, tall, and is wearing only patchwork decayed cotton. 

 

He smells better than he should given his appearance, but Tom supposes Harry must have been giving the wizard some baths when he thought it was a dog. 

 

Tom looks into the man’s eyes, casting a quick legilimens, but he quickly pulls back. 

 

It’s chaos in the man’s head. The landscape of recollection is fractured beyond all understanding.

 

He recognizes the aftereffects of exposure to dementors. So this man... must have escaped Azkaban . Looking at the ill-fitting rags and skeletal structure, the trauma buried in the man’s flinty eyes, Tom decides it’s the only explanation. Honestly, Harry. Of all the people you could have following you, you end up with an escaped convict. What would you do without me?

 

In time, the man will heal, but as of now, his motivations are unintelligible. He himself does not know why he’s behaving the way that he is. He’s balanced on the precipice of insanity.

 

Two things in the bedlam of this man’s mindscape stand out to Tom. 


The man is angry at a rat who is also a man… so unbelievably angry. And he has endless -- almost desperate -- love, all of it focused on Harry. It is not romantic adoration, but anguished affection for someone who is between a son and younger brother. The love for Harry makes this person useful.

 

Tom wishes fervently for some veritaserum but fortunately knows enough ancient runes to make do. 

 

He looks at the man. “Cut yourself where you’ll bleed enough for one handful and collect the blood.” 

 

The gaunt figure transfigures a strip of cloth he tears off his tattered garment into a simple dagger and slices into his thigh, collecting the droplets in his cupped palm and dropping the dagger near his ankle. 

 

He holds out the crimson liquid to Tom as an offering. The Slytherin grins widely. 

 

“No need for me to touch that. Use it to draw the images I will put in your mind.” 

 

Slowly, following the guideline Tom forces into his scattered memory, the black-haired creature bends down and draws out the runes for a truth circle in scarlet. It surrounds him in a manner that makes it look like he is a summoned devil.

 

When the circle is complete, Tom casts an incarcerous, tying the man up so that he suspends from the ceiling and just his toes brush the runes. 

 

He lets the imperio go and immediately the man is snarling and yelling and demanding Tom get away from “ Harry, you motherfucking creep. He’s too young for you to be calling him sweetheart. How dare you take advantage --”

 

Tom rolls his eyes and cuts the man off. “What is your full name?”

 

“Sirius Orion Black.” The man’s eyes narrow. “What did you do to me? I didn't want to answer that question.”

 

Tom sits against the wall of the stairway, looking at the odd picture of a man hanging by his wrists and surrounded by a circle of blood. “You’re in a truth circle. Surely a son of House Black would know that, especially Orion’s son. Tell me, was your father forced into marriage with that hag Walburga? We were all wondering if he’d be able to get Druella Rosier instead, but Pollux seemed quite intent on keeping Black blood pure as can be.”

 

Sirius seems to be fighting the compulsion, but he eventually opens his mouth. “Yes. They were married and hated each other. And their children.”

 

Tom raises a brow. “Children? Good for Orion. Where are your siblings now?”

 

“Dead.” Sirius spits. “Both my little brother and James.”

 

“James? Who is James?”

 

“James Potter. He was murdered by he-who-must-not-be-fucking-named. Peter betrayed him.”

 

Tom sits absorbing that information. “And then you were framed for their betrayal?”

 

Sirius glowers. “The rat ran away and blew up a dozen muggles. They found me on the street and threw me in Azkaban. At first I thought staying in Azkaban was what I deserved. It was my atonement because I should have known better than to let Peter be the secret-keeper. I as good killed them myself. But then I saw the rat on vacation sitting on the shoulder of the youngest Weasley boy.”

 

“Ron Weasley?” Tom asks sharply. 

 

“That’s the one. Looks just like Gideon did when he was younger.”

 

Tom clenches his jaw. The man who betrayed his artists’ parents has been sleeping in Harry’s room for two years. The rat has been fed from Harry’s hands .

 

It will die .

 

“So you escaped to hunt the rat down?”

 

“Yes. And to see Harry. I needed to know he was okay. I’m his godfather.”

 

His godfather. That means if he’s cleared for his crimes, he can take Harry’s guardianship away from those vermin. And he’s such an easy thing to control. Remove his anger and all he’ll have left is love for my darling. He’s the perfect puppet.

 

“Alright.” Tom says, standing up. 

 

“Alright, what?” Sirius asks warily.

 

“We’re going to change your mindset and memories. Here’s your new reality: you don’t care about your revenge any longer. All you want is to protect Harry. And you remember me as Harry’s best friend from Privet drive. You watched me and were shocked to see that cousin Casseopia is my mother. You don’t know who my father is. But she killed herself the day before Harry blew up the hideous Marge for reasons you and I both don’t understand. You feel protective of me because I’m your family and I remind you of your little brother. When you saw Harry running away, you got me to come with him as well because our love for each other is clear and without him, I’m all alone.”

 

Black shakes his head. “But you’re not related to me, and I didn’t see any of that.”

 

Tom advances on the man, picking up the discarded transfigured dagger and twirling it between his hands. “There is more than one way to change someone's memory. The most famous is the oblivate, of course, but it can be overcome. And it only erases memory. It has no capacity for augmentation.”

 

Black eyes the dagger. “What are you doing?”

 

Tom stands eye to eye with Sirius, using the dragger to lightly stroke the man’s cheek. “English wizards, especially purebloods like you, are so pompous as to rely solely on Western magic and ignore all other magic incantations, except for Avada Kedavra. There are so many powerful spells from Arabia that English wizards never bother to learn. It’s a waste.”

 

He takes the knife to Sirius’s forehead. With slow, deliberate cuts, Tom carves the memory rune, blood beginning to well up and drip down Black’s face. It smells like copper. He’d forgotten.

 

Sirius shut his eyes against the pain. “So you’ll just torture me then?”

 

Tom laughs. “Not at all. I thought you would recognize the blood ritual for a permanent enchantment. I’ll even tell you what the spell means before I use it on you: ‘as I speak, so will you remember.’”

 

Black tries to move from the knife but the rune is complete. There’s nowhere to go. He’s already bound and bleeding on Tom’s altar. His eyes are wide with fear. He looks like a cornered rabbit. “That’s impossible,” he whispers.

 

Tom raises his wand, lips stretched around blindingly white teeth. “We’ll see. Kama 'Atakalam Hkdha Tatadhakar.

 

The stairwell is bathed in blinding red light and the lingering scent of pennies.

 

***

 

Harry comes back to consciousness slowly. His bed is so soft… softer than the lumpy mattress with springs that always poke and prod him during the night back at Privet Drive. It feels like the bed back in Gryffindor tower, warm, safe and it smells like home. 

 

Sometimes Harry thinks that magic has a smell. Places infused with spells take on this quality of a pinewood and roast chestnut perfume. He asked Hermione once if she could smell magic too -- if it smelled to her like the dusting of fresh leaves fallen on the forest floor and the remnants of a campfire still emitting wisps of crisp smoke. She’d pursed her lips, looked at him, and then said, “I read once that people who can smell magic can learn to see it.”

 

It was the only answer she gave. (It scared him. It scared him even more when Professor Trelawney told him in her sherry soaked linens and garish jewelry draped neck that he had ‘soul sight.’)

 

He associates magic with being home in Hogwarts so he feels his heart beating erratically for a moment when he opens his eyes to a clinically clean white room with an open window. 

 

“Harry?” Comes a voice laden with sleep. Harry flinches and looks to his right. He realizes that someone has one arm over his chest and that the other cradling his head. 

 

“...Tom?”

 

Tom sits up slowly, still holding Harry’s head gently and then moving it into his lap. “In the flesh.”

 

Harry thinks over the past day and night. “That was real? You’re really here?”

 

Tom runs a finger through the younger boy's hair. “I’m really here,” he affirms, “and I’m here to stay.”

 

Paddy jumps on the bed and licks Tom’s cheek before settling down to stare almost lovingly into Harry’s eyes.

 

“Hey boy. Sleep well?”

 

The dog seems to nod. 

 

“Paddy’s a smart dog, isn’t he?” Tom remarks in an affectionate tone. 

 

Harry can’t help the grin that blossoms impossibly wide. “The best.”

 

Paddy wiggles his tail as though agreeing, “yes, yes, of course, I am the best.”

 

Harry looks out to the open window. “Did Hedwig come in? Has she found me yet?”

 

Tom stretches his hands out to the sky and yawns. “She’s probably waiting for you at Gringotts. Owls will do that.”

 

Harry sits up too and rubs a hand over his face trying to take deep breaths and feel calm about the missing owl. (His first real friend.) “Why would she wait for me there?”

 

“Because you’re going there today, aren’t you? Owls are smart like that. Your Hedwig maybe more so than most. Trust me, sweetheart, she’s waiting for you and perfectly fine.”

 

Harry nods weakly. “Right.”

 

Tom takes the younger boy’s hand and tugs him off the bed. “Come on, let’s get ready to go. The goblins await.”

 

Harry sniffs. “The goblins wait for no man. They just tolerate us.”

 

Tom laughs, the notes echoing in the sterile room and making it impossibly warmer. “You’d think most wizards would figure that out at some point, but I fear many never do.”

 

Paddy seems to also find goblins amusing and weaves between Harry and Tom’s legs as they dress. Harry turns his back to Tom for privacy as he changes out of his pajamas and into the same black trousers and soft blue sweater he wore on his run from his relatives.

 

When he turns around, Tom is dressed in a high necked open cream-colored robe that comes down to about mid-thigh and simple black underclothes. 

 

Harry raises a brow and pinches the lapel of the robe. “And where’d you get this?”

 

Tom smirks. “I am an incredibly gifted wizard. Transfiguration is no exception to my exceptional talent.”

 

Harry looks at the craftsmanship and can see all the little details that could be improved, be given greater depth. With his wand, he carefully tweaks the design until the collar is inlaid with crystalline embroidered snakes that writhe and slither slowly over the embellishments. 

 

Harry knocks his shoulder into Tom’s. “I’m told that I’m a natural at transfiguration as well, Mr. prodigy.”

 

Tom observes the minute changes and the slow-moving serpentine detail. “Indeed you are.”

 

The two make their way to the bottom of the leaky cauldron hands wrapped around each other’s waists, Paddy trotting behind them happily. 

 

They grab a quick breakfast (hot buns!) and then make their way into Diagon Alley. They pass by shop after shop, buying school things along the way, Harry flattening his hair over his scar and unconsciously huddling closer to Tom.

 

Tom meanwhile is attracting a fair amount of attention. With his stylish robes, tall height -- his sharp jawline and stormy eyes -- girls seem to be swooning at the mere sight of him and keep craning their heads to look at him twice or even three times as he passes by. 

 

Tom looks around the alley in wonder. “It’s hardly changed at all but it seems happier now.”

 

“Hmm? What does?”

 

Tom motions to the alley. “Diagon. It was the war fifty years ago. Grindelwald.”

 

Harry frowns. “Who was Grindelwald?”

 

Tom stops abruptly and tugs Harry’s arm back so the boy doesn’t keep going. “Who was Grindelwald? Did you just ask that?”

 

Harry nods slowly. “Yeah. Binns only ever teaches the goblin wars.” Harry thinks about all he’s learned. Grindelwald sounds familiar. He clutches onto the familiarity, beginning to taste smooth chocolate on the back of his tongue and the sensation of something jumping in his mouth…

 

“Oh! I remember now. It was on the chocolate frog card. ‘Dumbledore is known for his defeat of the dark lord Grindelwald’ or something like that, at any rate. Right?”

 

Tom shakes his head in disbelief and they continue their stroll to the bank. “Dumbledore finally proved his Gryffindor spirit,” it’s said mockingly, “and went and did it, huh? The self-reported greatest Dark Lord reduced to nothing more than a footnote on children’s candy. It’s a fitting end.”

 

Harry shrugs. “I guess.”

 

“What do they call the one who gave you that scar?”

 

Harry bites his lip. You mean, what do they call who you became? The question makes him feel a little twinge of something like betrayal in his heart. “They’re too scared to say his name. They just call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or You-Know-Who.”

 

Tom seems to enjoy that immensely. With amusement he notes, “so they’re still frightened of someone who disappeared more than a decade ago, are they?”

 

Unable to keep the hurt out of his voice, Harry all but spits, “Well Voldemort destroyed an entire generation. He murdered my parents.”

 

Tom sighs. “He did. But that hasn’t stopped you from speaking his name. You’re stronger than the rest of them, aren’t you darling?

 

Harry digs his nails into his palm. “No. I just think that if I’m afraid of his name and afraid of him, then I’m afraid twice. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

 

They’ve made it to the entrance of the bank. Tom opens the door for Harry. Voice taking on a belittling tone, he says “You sound like Dumbledore, darling.”

 

Harry mutters, “There’s nothing wrong with learning good lessons. It’s how we grow.”

 

Tom seems about to say something, but as soon as one goblin spots Harry, a male in a blue robe, it shouts, “Master Potter!” 

 

Immediately all the goblins snap their focus to Harry, toothy grins materializing on all their faces. “Oh, master Potter has arrived. We have your owl, come, come,” one says dressed in a dapper red satin suit and too much jewelry, and Harry feels himself being guided underneath the cavernous ceiling to a backroom by no less than four goblins. Tom comes behind the odd procession.

 

One goblin whispers, “Do you want those to come with you?” It looks pointedly at Tom and Paddy.

 

Harry looks at them too, Tom with self-assured confidence and Paddy with a suspicious gaze at all of the goblins. “Yes, they’re both with me.”

 

The goblin salutes and then shouts off some things in guttural gobbledegook. Immediately the goblins rearrange their little marching square to include the older teen and dog. 

 

The red satin-suited goblin says as they walk, “We are so glad you have come to talk with us. We have many plans for our investment in your business. We also have all your gifts in your vault from your dear owl, and a gift to present to you from the Malfoy family.”

 

Harry starts. Draco was better toward the end of the year, but they were far from friends. He’s pretty sure Lucius wants to murder him as a baseline emotion. “The Malfoy family?” He repeats anxiously. 

 

The goblin cocks his head. “Surely you cannot think that after the painting you bequeathed to their family they would refuse you further endowments?”

 

Harry considers. “They already paid me.”

 

All the goblins seem to perk up. “Oh, how much?”

 

“800 galleons. I’d originally requested ten, but Draco insisted on paying more.”

 

This seems to be a highly controversial thing to say. They all begin yelling at one another in rapid-paced Gobbledegook, seamlessly shepherding Harry, Tom, and Paddy into an opulent office with high ceilings, gem inlaid columns, and a leather couch. 

 

One Goblin physically drags Harry to the sofa and pushes him down. Tom follows them and gracefully sinks onto the cushions draping an arm over Harry’s shoulders. 

 

The red-satin-suited goblin makes a motion with his fingers that resembles a star only it has seven points. All the others fall silent. 

 

“Well, then it is no wonder they sent you something so valuable as a gift. You were underpaid Mr. Potter, by a significant margin.”

 

“But it only cost me five galleons to make. I, well I told Draco, that he was paying me too much. He said that he was underpaying but the profit is huge and it was just --”

 

The goblin holds up a finger, an odd look in his eyes. “There is no just here, Master Potter. It is rare for us to see a wizard so… humble, but we had not realized that it is because you are also stupid.”

 

Affronted, Harry says, “I am not stupid.”

 

Tom is laughing. So is Paddy, or as much as a dog can laugh.

 

The goblin merely straightens the cuff of his suit. “No? Perhaps then it might be said that you have no sense of self-value. To a goblin, such a thing is stupid.”

 

All the goblins nod their head as though to doubt oneself is a cardinal offense and the pinnacle of foolishness. Harry feels his cheeks grow warm from a telltale blush. “I don’t have no sense of self-value. People just inflate how good I am at things because of my scar.”

 

The goblins let out a collective growl. One of them, a female draped in diamonds, comes forward to stand before Harry. Because he is sitting and she is short, they are at a precise eye level. 

 

“Master Potter,” she says in a deep, grating voice, “if I may, I would like to ask you a few questions.”

 

Tom squeezes his shoulder encouragingly. “Alright, then. Go ahead.”

 

“When was the last time you saw a painting like the one you made for the Malfoys? Other than your works of art, of course.”

 

Harry shrugs. “I don’t know.”

 

Another goblin pipes up, “it is incredibly likely that you have not.”

 

The female in front of him winks. It is a horrifying expression on a goblin. “Indeed. What you have done with your painting is innovation at its finest. For all that you wizards like to claim Leonardo DaVinci as one of your squibs, he had not an ounce of magic blood in his veins and his inventions were muggle as they come. Michelangelo was in fact a squib, but there was no enchantment in his sculpture. You, Harry, are part of a tradition that as far as we goblins can determine, is three wizards deep.”

 

She moves backward slightly. “There’s one cave painting in Indonesia near Ubud that has similarities to your work. A Japanese painter named Hiroko Nakano painted her own select masterpieces in the 12th century. These are the only two examples of magical paintings we could find that are not portraits and do not… loop.”

 

Harry tries to absorb all of that information. “What does loop mean?”

 

The blue-robed goblin replies, “it means the image repeats after a certain point. There are plenty of paintings of a flower opening and closing, caught in a continuous cycle of rebirth. There are paintings of consumption, of death and of life. They all repeat in their loops. But we observed your Malfoy winter, and the snow never glittered exactly the same, the rainbow patterns changed minutely second to second, and your peacocks act like portraits of peacocks, behaving like slow-moving -- yet artistic -- true animals. You have essentially drawn a soul-bound portrait of a fantasy. Such a thing, in truth, has never been done before. It may very well be new magic.”

 

The red-suited goblin clears his throat. “Master Potter, you are also the savior of the light. To give any gift to the Malfoy family helps clear their reputation from the war. To have done so with the first-ever of your sold pieces, when you are creating an entirely new form of magic in a method that has never before been seen and will remain unrivaled until a new generation is taught, most likely, by your hands,” the goblin spreads his arms expansively, “such a gift, you must realize, is priceless .”

 

Harry shakes his head in denial. “That can’t be…”

 

“Stupid,” a goblin mutters. 

 

The woman goblin smiles. “We’d like to help you understand just how much you are worth. The goblin nation is very much interested in investing in you, Master Potter. Very much indeed.”

 

“I’ll need to… think about it? I mean, what would that mean?”

 

The goblin in the red suit’s eyes softened. “We’ll go over it all with you and then give you time to reach a decision. As we do that here, perhaps your companion might step out for a moment? We do not begrudge you your... dog. Give us time to speak together.”

 

Tom’s grip tightens on Harry. “I will not leave him.”

 

The goblins look ready to commit murder. 

 

Harry looks into his determined eyes. “Tom?” he asks quietly, projecting all the vulnerability he truly feels at this moment. He can tell he has the teen’s full attention. “Can you get my school things from Privet drive? I’m… scared to go back, after Marge.”

 

Tom pauses for a moment, his mind clearly working through all the possibilities. Then he smiles.

 

“Of course, darling.”

 

Harry flinches at the tone. “Don’t hurt them, please.” He says quickly.

 

Tom pauses again, longer this time. “I promise not to hurt them today.”

 

With that, he leans down to kiss Harry’s forehead and is led from the room. Paddy relaxes against Harry's knees. The blue-robed goblin glares at the dog with malevolence and suspicion.

 

“Now that he's gone,” the red-suited goblin leans forward, “are you aware of just who your young companion happens to be?”

 

His eyes are intense and worried. Harry relaxes back into the couch. With confidence he does not truly feel and sweaty palms, he says with a hint of condescension, “Are you aware of who he never became?”

 

The female goblin laughs. “Oh yes, the Goblin Nation has made the right choice in investing in you, Mr. Potter.”

 

The red-suited goblin hums. "We have much work to do with little time. Your owl will likely murder us if we do not let you see her rather soon, I fear. To begin, Master Potter," he grins, "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ragnuk."

 

***

 

Tom looks around the neighborhood full of identical houses, each one competing with the next to be more normal, to blend deeper into the muted brown background.

 

Each lawn is perfectly manicured, the grass green but in a dull kind of a way, imitating life with the same kind of accuracy as the hue of a faded child’s marker.  

 

It is an aggressively average house, Number Four. It’s the kind of house that Tom expects to be filled with people who are exceptional in no respects other than their ability to be unexceptional in all respects. And he can see, so easily, the desire of a little boy who does not fit in to fill up such an unassuming place with boundless beauty. 

 

He wonders, for a moment, if he had been more like Harry if he would have done the same in the orphanage. If he might have taken the backside of his French homework and drawn images of sunshine and roses with the chewed down charcoal. He wonders if his fingers would have been perpetually ink-stained and his nose smudged with graphite as his room was decorated in creation. It would have been a different meeting then, he thinks, with Dumbledore.

But that boy… the boy who would have drawn on the walls of Wool’s, the boy who would have looked at something so ugly and transformed it into a place enchantment, that boy was raised in this house, with his own monsters.

 

He does not knock on the door to the home as he enters. He walks in as though it is his right to be there, as though he is the one who owns the building. 

 

The living room is sterile, clean: white couches with blue accents and a glass coffee table. Seated watching the television is the Aunt Petunia, a horse-looking woman, too tall and too thin. 

 

She stares at him for a moment in mute horror. He revels in it.

 

“You! Your kind is not welcome here! OUT! I want you OUT!”

 

She has not moved from the couch but has taken a pillow and put in front of her like it’s some kind of shield capable of protection. He wants to disabuse her of the notion, but he promised Harry he would not hurt anyone in the house today. He has patience. 

 

He instead dips into a graceful quarter bow that he makes intentionally mocking. “My apologies, ma’am.” He gives her a bashful smile, “I am here to collect Mr. Potter’s things. I was sent by the ministry.”

 

Petunia sniffs, clearly trying to cover over her fear with a facade of disdain. “Is that so? Your lot has a government?”

 

“That we do, ma’am.”

 

She swallows. “And why do you need Harry’s things?”

 

Tom tries to adopt an apologetic expression. “Well, we’ve reviewed Mr. Potter’s case after the… incident, and we determined that you are not adequate carers for him.”

 

Petunia turns off the television, the mindless chatter suddenly more apparent in its absence. “Can I see,” she shudders and grips the pillow tighter, “can I see your left forearm?”

 

The non-sequitur is of interest. Tom makes eye-contact with her as he shows off his smooth forearm, watching her sag with relief. He sees images of Harry in a cupboard, feels overwhelming fear and guilt, and then memories of her sister -- Harry’s mother -- showing Petunia “ the dark mark, Tuney. You see anyone with this on their left forearm and you run, you hear me? You make it look like you don’t know me at all, like we hate each other if you can’t, and you run as fast as you can.” He hears Petunia saying, mockingly, “But isn’t magic supposed to be wonderful? It’s all just a bit of fun, isn’t it? Just all the things us normal folks never get to see.” He sees Lily shake her head, “It can kill you, with just two words. Just two. Promise me. Promise me that if you ever see someone with this you’ll do as I say. There’s a war on, Tuney. There’s no terrorists -- your news, it just doesn’t understand. There are people torturing others for sport.” He feels an echo of grief, “Then just come out of there, Lils. No one needs magic. I live just fine without it. Let go of that nonsense and come back to us, to me, where it’s safe. You don’t need to fight in the war.” He can already tell that Harry’s mother would never abandon the world of magic. “Just promise me, okay?”

“Alright. I promise.”



Petunia stares at him for a long time, as though she can decide whether or not he is a threat through sight alone before she sets the pillow down beside her on the couch. In a quiet voice, she says, “The boy’s room is upstairs, first door on the right.” 

 

Tom nods and scales the uniform steps, taking notice of how the carpet does little to mute his footfalls and focusing on the cupboard -- the cupboard he remembers from the diary -- under the stairs. His ascension is a steady drumbeat: thump, thump, thump, it would have taken little effort to wake his artist up, if his suspicions are correct, just by a relative walking this very same path.

 

He reaches the landing and looks at the door with peeling paint and too many locks decorating the outside. There’s an odd sort of ringing in his ears when he eyes the catflap. How many scraps of food were pushed through that little opening, he wonders. His artist has endured so much and is still not hateful.

 

That’s alright. Tom can be hateful for him.

 

He pushes open the door, sending a stray bit of magic up to cause all the locks to fall off, landing in a pile with a steady, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. The room is small, impersonal, filled with stay bits of dust and nothing remotely comforting.


The blanket on the bed is threadbare and brown. The bed itself is narrow and looks uncomfortable. There is no desk. The window is closed and grimy. Next to it rests wooden boards, as though it had been nailed closed. 

 

Tom takes a deep breath. Tomorrow. Deal with them tomorrow. 

 

As he’s collecting Harry’s meager possessions, his eyes sweep over the room as though trying to determine just how exactly such a tiny place could have possibly ever held a boy with whole worlds brought to life in his mind. 

 

He has all the things packed into a neat trunk -- courtesy of the goblins -- when he hears blundering and crashing and suddenly the door is thrown open, revealing a blonde-haired boy with the bulk of a boxer and the pudge of the Pillsbury doughboy. 

 

He is not attractive, nor is he hideous to observe. Dudley, Tom supposes with ill-concealed ire. 

 

“Harry!” The boy shouts before blinking at Tom’s impassive form. “You’re not Harry.”

 

Tom gives the boy a judgemental once-over. “Astute observation.”

 

Dudley comes over and places himself between the trunk and Tom. “You can’t take those things. They belong to Harry. I know he looks small, but he’s not someone you can just push around.”

 

Tom has to give a kind of shallow respect to the idiot child. He has not thought to question why exactly a stranger has been given access to his home, or if he should be frightened that someone has, he is only concerned with protecting his cousin’s items… perhaps out of guilt and perhaps out of genuine affection and care.

 

Regretfully, it seems as though this relative has already done his penance. 

 

“I’m not here to steal anything. Harry won’t be returning and I am merely collecting his personal items.”

 

Dudley thinks it over. “He has more in the cabinet under the stairs.”

 

Tom nods. “Thank you.”

 


Dudley hesitates for a moment, then: “But he’ll be back next summer?”

 

Tom shakes his head. “He will not.” Sirius Black on a leash and the death of a rat will make sure of that. 

 

Dudley seems to dislike the answer. His face screws up. “But he -- he -- he’s always been with me.”

 

“He does not belong to you.”

 

“No, no --” Dudley wipes his eyes angrily, “he -- he’ll be okay? Can he write me?”

 

Tom rolls his eyes internally. “If he so chooses.”

 

“What if -- what if I want to write him? How can I do that?”



Tom looks at the boy. He remembers how elated Harry felt when he was told, “I guess I didn’t need two bedrooms.” For better or for worse, this child is someone that can bring his artist joy. And that is something worth allowing. 

 

“If you go to any post office and find P.O. box number 126, the mail will be carried to the magical world. You’ll receive your reply by owl.”

 

Tom leaves the room, pretending not to notice Dudley standing by the dirt-streaked window, staring out at the street and muttering, “126, 126, you can’t forget, can’t forget.”

 

As he climbs down the stairs and unlatches the cupboard, he feels his breath catch in his throat. It looks exactly like the one he remembers from the diary, except without the fire it is hateful and cold and dark. It smells faintly of lemon and bleach. Unacceptable. He pulls out Harry’s school things and adds them to the trunk.

 

Petunia comes to stand behind him as he finishes up. “It’s for the best that the boy is going to live with his own people. There’s no place for us there,” this sounds bitter, “just like there’s no place for him here.”

 

Tom finishes packing up the items and nabs a bit of hair from Petunia’s and Vernon’s coats, taking care to make sure the woman doesn’t notice. 

 

He straightens and stares her in her muddy brown eyes. “Is that so?” He asks evenly. 

 

She huffs. “It is. It very much is.” She looks at Tom for a moment, as though trying to see what is wrong with him that he, a very attractive young man, might be a wizard. “Why--” she bites the inside of her cheek, “why is it that if it were so easy for him to be raised somewhere else, well, why was he placed here with us?”

 

Tom glares at the woman and for a moment allows a bit of his magic to rise up, hot and angry. “For the same reason you would have always had a place in the magical world. You were supposed to have been his family.

 

Tom leaves Petunia standing in her sterile kitchen, blindingly boring white counters far as the eye can see. There is no wonder here, no promise of creation. There are only tomorrows that will go exactly like today, monotony extending into the future and left behind in the past.

 

She was right. Harry has no place here.

Chapter Text

Harry’s neck feels heavy as he stares out the window and watches muggle London speeding by. There’s a collection of multicolored gemstones draped across his collarbones and making a home for themselves in the hollow of his throat. Each gemstone glitters with the colors of firelight, incandescent gold and warm yellow tones that blend into blinding white. 

 

He’s hiding them beneath a simple jumper, but he can feel them, and from the way Tom is looking at him, Tom can feel them too. 

 

He still remembers the Goblins presenting him with the strangely ornate box carved from legitimate black marble and inlaid with the Malfoy crest. 

 

(“For you, Master Potter, from the Malfoy family,” a Goblin had said, presenting the gift. “Worry not over curses, we’ve checked thoroughly because you are now an asset to our nation.”

 

He’d looked at the stones in confusion and then at the female goblin in alarm when she’d simply placed them on his collarbones and watched with satisfaction as they’d melded to his skin.

 

“What are they?” He’d asked, heart jackhammering away.

 

“Wizardkind calls them Mind Guardians. They are very valuable. They protect your mind from any attacks, legilimency, confundus, and even obliviate. They also help increase the ability to defend oneself from the imperius. They do not; however, serve as a perfect replacement for true mastery of occlumency. They can only be overcome by amortal beings, such as boggarts and dementors, or through soul magic. Even so, Mind Guardians will protect against nearly any human threat and are therefore highly valuable. They are rare, Master Potter, and cannot be removed unless you willingly perform a specific series of incantations.”

 

Harry’s mind had been spinning with the sheer amount of information, but the stones were starting to purr against his chest which he found alarming, and he wanted -- if only for a moment -- to take them off. So he inquired, “What are the incantations?” 

 

The red-suited goblin had smiled like a shark. “Oh no, Master Potter, you’ll have to learn that on your own. We’d be very stupid indeed to let something as valuable as your mind go unprotected.)

 

He still isn’t sure how he feels about the stones. He didn’t know it was possible to force a gift on someone, and he does resent his limited free will in choosing whether or not to wear them. But they’re warm, and they hum to him sometimes, and he’s sleeping so much better with them coiled around his heartbeat. 

 

He slips his hand into Tom’s as they step out of the cab, (Tom’s somehow ended up with muggle money, Harry doesn’t want to think about it too hard,) and walk into King’s cross, luggage shrunken and in their pockets, Paddy trotting behind them with more than even his usual effervescence. 

 

Tom stares at the cars and the shops and the way people dress with ill-concealed confused wonder. “It’s the same around the edges, but the filling is so very different.”

 

Harry walks beside him as they make their way to the platform. “What is?”

 

“King’s Cross, to begin with, but also the 1990s. It’s been five decades since I’ve last been in this world and so much of it has changed. I’ll need to buy history books, I suppose, to get caught up. And muggle science journals.” 

 

He looks at the station, and his expression morphs from astonishment into something clearly disturbed. When he speaks, his voice is hard. “Last time I was on this side of the barrier, children were sleeping underneath newspapers because their homes had been burned to the ground by bombs... How easily the world forgets.”

Harry shakes his head. “I don’t think the world forgets so easily, not all of it. Sometimes the only thing you can do is move on. There’s victory in remembering how to live again.”

 

Tom presses his lips together and then smoothes over his expression of doubt into something considering. He does that a lot -- buries what he’s feeling beneath a less challenging thought. “The wizarding world seems to have changed less, at any rate.” 

 

Tom still looks all around trying to absorb everything novel. Harry pretends not to notice as Tom quickly averts his eyes from a woman wearing a mini-skirt, but he can’t quite cover his laugh. Tom flicks his nose and grumbles, “It’s inappropriate, don’t laugh at my being a gentleman.”

 

Harry can’t help it.

 

They walk through the barrier to the Hogwarts express, hands still entwined, Paddy scampering all over the platform like a child who’s eaten too much sugar.

 

It’s quite early, just a few anxious parents milling about, and they’re all too caught up in themselves to notice the entrance of the one, the only, Harry Potter.

 

He’s absurdly grateful for the lack of fanfare. Tom leads him onto the train and selects a cabin seemingly at random because nearly all of them are empty. Padfoot settles onto the cushions like he’s a real person and entitled to more space than both Tom and Harry combined. He gets ear-scratches for the effort.

 

Tom reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of… glasses. They are square frames, the metal dark and rich and disappearing around the edges of lenses. He slides them on and all at once Harry is drawn to Tom’s eyes, their color somewhere between a crashing wave on the sea and the hue of a cloud right before it lets loose a storm. The change in his appearance with the glasses is subtle, he looks a little softer but his jaw seems sharper, he seems every inch the scholarly (innocently and obliviously attractive) student. 

 

“Why are you wearing those? You don’t need them, do you?”

 

Tom smiles at Harry and takes the younger boy’s spectacles off his face, setting down the circle lenses down on the seat by Paddy. Harry’s vision goes blurry and he blinks furiously as he feels himself pulled into Tom’s lap, strong arms caging him against a broad chest. 

 

“Not like you do, no. Sometimes little changes are enough to make people see someone new. Your glasses remind people of your father because he wore lenses just the same as you. My...other...self, the one I will never become, he prided himself on his perfect vision. He’d never deign to wear something that would showcase a disadvantage in battle. If I am to present myself as someone new without alerting anyone skilled enough to recognize a glamor of my altered appearance, I need to resort to… muggle methods.“

 

Harry scoffs. “Glasses don’t make that much of a difference.”

 

He feels Tom nod from where the teen’s chin rested on the top of his head. “That’s true. It’s not about seeming like someone else entirely, just enough to be believable.”

 

Harry sighs. “I don’t think it will work, but at any rate, can I have my glasses back.”

 

He feels Tom’s hand sliding down his arm and then entwining their left hands together. “No. Relying on glasses is dangerous. What if someone takes them from you during a duel and leaves you half blind? They could merely summon your spectacles and then render you practically defenseless. It worries me.”

 

“So you’re just going to leave me without my sight and then hope I’ll somehow build up a tolerance to blurry shapes? I don’t think you can train someone into seeing better.”

He senses Tom laughing all around him, the rumbles in the older teen’s chest contracting against Harry’s back. “No, of course not. I raised my concerns to the goblins, and they provided me with some enchanted contact lenses. They are self-cleaning, and will automatically adjust to your prescription. And, they are resistant to summoning. Let me give them to you?”

 

Harry says, “I want my glasses. I’m fine with them.”

 

Tom clutches Harry tighter. “Darling, I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you because I’d let you be unprepared. For me, sweetheart?”

 

Paddy yips something that seems to be agreement. Harry sighs deeply, mutters “traitor,” and then more audibly, “I’ll try them, but if I don’t like them, I’m going back to my glasses.”

Tom relaxes. “That’s all I ask, treasure.” Tom’s hand finds its way to the side of Harry’s face and holds one eye open as he murmurs an inaudible spell with his deep voice. There’s something strangely intimate about the way he’s being held, Tom’s hands cupping his face and around his face’s most vulnerable feature. There’s trust here, Harry realizes. He trusts this boy he met barely seven months ago more than he trusts nearly everyone in his life.

 

He blinks one eye against the slight discomfort before it smooths out and by then Tom is working on the other eye. He blinks again, and the world suddenly comes into focus all around him. 

 

He can see the sunlight streaming in through the window and bouncing off the metal door in a thousand different places, bouncing about the little room and making patterns of warmth all over the walls. 

 

He notices tiny dust particles floating in the compartment, each little spec illuminated in the morning brightness, haloed in gold and painted into auriferous splendor.

 

He’s never seen the world like this before. His glasses, he realizes, were never quite the right prescription. He didn’t know light could have so many points of reflection outside of one of his paintings. The world is so much more beautiful than he’s ever known.

 

He’s beaming before he realizes what he’s doing and turning himself around, hugging Tom fiercely. “Thank you. Thank you.”

Tom kisses the top of his head. “Anything to keep you safe.” There’s a promise there, something dark underpinning the words. Harry pulls back, still getting used to Tom’s face with glasses.

 

“But if these contacts exist, why would you wear glasses? It doesn’t make sense.”

 

Tom is clearly proud of Harry for having asked. “The contacts are expensive, darling. They’re a new invention and there’s a waiting list a mile long. You’re incredibly lucky to have been given a set.”

 

“How’d I end up with them then? Did I pay for them? Did you?”

 

Tom looks down at Harry indulgently. “I told you, darling. These come from the goblins. They want you to be the best artist you can be. You can hardly do that in dilapidated frames that do nothing to help you see the world in all its brilliance.”

 

Harry’s about to respond when the door opens violently and a man in a red robe and skin of smooth chocolate tumbles through into the compartment. Harry recognizes him as Shaklebolt, but he’s a far cry from the calm man that had seen him to his room.

 

“You alright there, Mr. Potter?” The man’s eyes flick to Tom who’s holding Harry’s waist as he perches in the older boy’s lap. 

 

Harry rolls inelegantly off of Tom and onto Paddy’s tail, and the dog waps him as though saying, “watch where you’re going.”

 

Harry straightens himself and wills his blush away. (It doesn’t work.)

 

“Oh yeah, I’m great, Mr. Shacklebolt. No worries.”

 

The auror narrows his eyes at Tom. “And who are you?”

 

Tom gives the man a charming smile and inclines his head. “Tom Black, a pleasure to meet you.”

 

The auror gets only more suspicious. “...Black, you say? I thought they were all dead or incarcerated.” 

 

Tom exhales, slow and controlled, and looks quite dejected. “Yeah... yeah. My mom -- she, she, she died a few days ago. It’s just me now.”

 

Shacklebolt does not relax in the slightest. “I wasn’t aware the Blacks had another son. Who was your mother?”

 

“She told me her name was Cassie. I didn’t know my father.”

 

The auror’s expression remains hard as stone. “Casseiopia’s been missing since 1964 when she was disowned for refusing a marriage.”

 

Tom looks somewhat angry. “Well, I guess she re-appeared in 1977 because she was with me, her son .” Tom clenches his jaw. “Look, do you have a reason for questioning us, or can you leave us in peace? If there’s a problem, we are entitled to attorneys.”

 

Shacklebolt examines Tom with frightening intensity before answering, “I’m here to protect Mr. Potter. I’m doing my job best as I can, Mr. Black. ” He focuses on Harry, “We were worried about you. We were supposed to escort you to King’s Cross today for your protection but you were already gone this morning when we came to collect you.”

There’s a question there, a subtle accusation,  but Harry hasn’t done anything wrong. “We just left early to get here before the rush. It’s hard for me when there are lots of people because of, you know --” he pushes his hair off his forehead to show the scar, “I'm a bit famous. So we wanted to avoid the rush. Sorry for worrying you.’

Shacklebolt grudgingly accepts the answer and with one last long look at Tom, steps out into the hall. “Let us know if you need anything, Mr. Potter. Anything at all.” The door closes once more.

 

Harry sinks back against the cushions. “That was weird.”

 

Tom agrees with a hum. “They do tend to show how important you are to them in weird ways.”

 

Harry absentmindedly pets Paddy’s flank. “...I wish I wasn’t. Important to them, I mean.”

 

Tom ruffles his hair and gives him a wry look. “That was never written in your stars, you realize. Even if your forehead was clear of a lightning scar, those hands of yours would have always made you important.”

 

Harry looks down at his long fingers and small palms, calluses at the base of every digit, knuckles perpetually stained in multi-colored ink, and allows himself to feel for one moment as though these hands are what people care about -- as though instead of caring about what he represents, (the boy who lived when his parents died, the chosen one destined to vanquish the Dark Lord,) they admire the beauty he creates. He lets himself feel, for just this stolen sliver of infinity, that he’s important for no other reason than being himself, Harry -- just Harry.

 

***

 

Tom allows the nostalgia of the familiar train wash over him in comforting waves. So many things have changed from when he last walked these same steps and yet the heavy feel of magic, comforting and alluring, remains the same. 

 

The station is filling up with families as the departure of the Hogwarts Express creeps steadily closer. He sees many students -- so impossibly young and stupid -- filling in the empty seats. He hopes with all his being that no one comes and disturbs him and his artist, but he hears the door sliding open to crush all his dreams. 

 

A girl with the bushiest hair he has ever seen slides into the compartment with a large and ugly red-orange cat in her arms. 

 

“Harry! I’ve been searching all over the train for you, and I don’t know I would have found you, but Crooks knew just where to go. You will not believe how worried I’ve been about you this summer, what with Black on the loose and your horrid relatives most likely not trying to help you at all.”

 

The girl says it all in one breath as she stands by the seat across from Harry and the cat promptly sticks its tail straight up and goes to inspect the very Black the girl is concerned about. The cat sniffs the dog and for a moment Tom thinks he’s going to have to intervene -- the cat’s part kneazle and clearly too smart for its own good -- but then it relaxes against the dark fur of the animagus.

 

He realizes Hermione’s still talking and is now struggling with putting her luggage up, “but this year I tried ever so hard on the charms summer homework, because even though Professor Flitwick said we didn’t need to cover the four uses of Geminio and the theory behind doubling in general -- which by the way, Sir Rasynthem has an incredibly informative thesis about and I’ve bookmarked the relevant sections in my copy for you later -- but even though he didn’t say we had to, he clearly implied it, didn’t he? You know, by giving it to us as something that he might require but wasn’t explicitly making an essential part of the assignment.”

 

Harry smiles fondly and good-natured. Tom breathes out steadily. She’s like a sister to him. “I don’t know, ‘Mione. Flitwick might’ve said that just to make sure you didn’t push yourself too hard.”

He can already tell she felt no such way. “Push myself too hard! What would that even mean? I’ve only got five years left to learn everything I can. If anything, I’m a slacker, Harry.”

 

“That is a lie and you know it.”

 

She’s still trying to lug up her luggage so, with a discreet cough, Tom waves his wand and levitates the trolley up. She startles. “Oh, can we use our wands now? I thought we weren’t allowed until the train was in motion.”

 

Tom laughs a little. “There’s a bend in every rule. There are too many magic users congregated in this area right now. It’s pretty much fair game by the time you’re at King’s Cross. The trace won’t work in such a highly magical area.”

 

Hermione has a serious expression on her face that he recognizes from his own moments of realization. He can tell she has equations behind her eyelashes and she’s organizing the world in those brilliant tawny irises. She’s a worthy friend for Harry.

 

The compartment opens again and a boy with red hair and freckles appears, another Weasley -- too many of them and not nearly enough money -- and Harry smiles at him like he’s the fucking sun.

 

“Ron! How was your summer?”

 

The boy -- Ron, stupid name for a pureblood, Weasleys have no sense (Septimus, going after Cedrella Black of all people?) -- settles next to Hermione with a defeated countenance. 

 

“It was dreadful. We went to Egypt but all I could hear was Percy trying to impersonate a walking Encyclopedia and failing terribly.”

 

They all giggle and Tom allowed his lips to quirk up in a semblance of amusement.

 

Hermione is back to looking at him with intensity. She sticks out her hand. 

 

“Hermione Granger.” She’s stressing she’s a muggle-born to see how I’ll react. 

 

Tom gives her a winsome smile. “Tom Black. Pleased to meet you.” He takes her hand in a firm grip.

 

Ron just waves. “Ron.” Then he takes a bite out of something resembling a sandwich, swallows, and adds as an afterthought, “Weasley.” Then his eyes go wide. 

 

Black?” 

 

Tom nods solemnly. “My mum was Casseipoia Black.”

Hermione grabs on to that information. “Was?”

Tom does his best to look uncomfortable. It’s not hard, Harry looks distressed. Oh, he doesn’t like lying to his friends. Poor thing.

 

“She’s dead.”

 

Ron looks sympathetic. “Rough luck, mate.”

 

Hermione still has that manic gleam in her expression. “A dead Black is your mum. How convenient that no one else can verify your identity. How do you know Harry?”

 

Tom is impressed with the interrogation. “We’re childhood friends.”

 

“He doesn’t talk about you, ever.”


Tom spreads his hands. “He doesn’t talk much about his life at home, I’ll bet. He’s not a big sharer.”



Harry swats Tom. “I share.”

Tom smoothes down Harry’s hair with an expression that can only be described as doting. “I will not squabble with you like we’re school-yard boys. I am content in simply knowing that I’m right.”

 

Ron snorts. Hermione watches the interaction. “Tell me a memory from Harry’s childhood that I wouldn’t know.”

 

Tom leans forward, affection evident in his features. “Did he ever tell you about his first accidental magic?”

 

Ron and Hermione shake their heads. 

 

“He accidentally turned a teacher’s hair blue. It was beautiful -- like the sky. And hysterical. Harry freaked out, of course. Told me all about it.” He has a soft expression, remembering Harry telling him about it back in the days they shared dreams. He wishes for a moment that the pretty lies he’s weaving are actually the truth, that he’s really someone who’s been there for his treasure since before he understood magic. He wishes that he could have grown up with someone like Harry. He thinks he might have been a whole person then, not just this impartial soul clinging to life with both hands torn and bleeding.

 

Ron is laughing and Hermione relaxes. “Well then Tom, it’s good to meet you.”



Harry grumbles, “Oh sure, don’t trust me to take care of myself and know who’s good and who’s bad, why don’t you ‘Mione.”

 

Hermione shoots him a mock glare. “Don’t be snappy because we care about you.”

 

Tom decides that Hermione will be very useful for Harry. “You know,” he says, “I could have used legilimency or something to come up with the memory.”

 

Hermione is unperturbed and seems to have caught on that Harry has something underneath his jumper and is steadily inching toward him. She says unguardedly, “But you looked proud I’d thought to ask. Which means you want Harry to be safe and admire me for trying to keep him that way. If you were really forcing your way in here, you’d have been annoyed or just blank-expression-ed when I was questioning you. Certainly not proud and assured.”

 

He is surprised at her astute observations. He recalls suddenly with vivid clarity watching the sunset over the lake and Harry lying his head in his lap, “Ron’s great. And Hermione -- she’s the brightest witch of our generation.” So she is.

 

Hermione finally reaches Harry and pulls down on his jumper, revealing the fire-colored gemstones underneath. Ron shoots up. 

 

“Those are -- mind guardians ! How on earth --” Ron then looks at Harry for the first time and Hermione does as well, both really looking.

 

At the same time, they exclaim, “What happened to your glasses?”

 

Harry blushes. “Right, so there are these magical contacts…”

Ron says, “Came out last month, I saw it in the paper. That doesn’t explain how you got a pair. I read they were only going to royalty for like the next ten years because they’re so hard to make.”

 

Harry coughs. “Well, um, the goblins might have invested in me?”

Hermione is frowning. “That’s dangerous. Goblins are ruthless and if they’re giving you gifts they could be forcing a debt. Show me the contract later. And they gave you mind guardians too? That doesn’t make sense. I read all about them because they’re so precious. There have only been 112 recorded in all of Britain. And 47 have been lost.”

 

Harry squirms. “The Malfoy family gave it to me for the painting as a gift.”

 

Ron gasps. “That means you’re under the Malfoy family protective magic.”

“What?”

“Every member of the sacred twenty-eight has at least one mind guardian heirloom, but the Weasley and Prewetts lost theirs, and so did the Gaunts, I think. Oh, and Ollivander lost their three back in 1612. It was a thing because people claimed the Yaxleys took them, and it started a blood war. But if you’re gifted mind guardians from any of the sacred twenty-eight, it’s a binding oath to protect children of choice and thought, not blood.”

 

Hermione is staring at the stones with rapt attention. “I can’t believe they gave you this as a gift.”

Harry, the adorable thing, just seems confused. Tom taps his fingers against his thighs. “It’s an equal exchange if you think about it. Harry gave the Malfoys a priceless painting and indicated that he'd forgiven them for their part in the first war. I imagine such a public gift has managed to eradicate lingering doubt about their place as death-eaters. It follows they’d give Harry their own protection.”

 

Ron seems like his whole world’s been shaken to its roots. Hermione looks like she’s been given a very challenging puzzle and Tom is somehow hoarding all her corner pieces. Harry, the adorable thing, is clearly working through the politics he carelessly allows to entangle him.

 

Tom revells in the easy companionship and affection he can’t ever remember having been given before. The green of meadows and bright spots of wildflowers speed pass them in the window.

 

It must be getting cold outside, Tom thinks. Frost is creeping up the glass in tiny veins. It’s too cold. He sees his breath in front of him and already has his wand in his hand before he’s thought about it.

 

Ron and Hermione are shaking. Harry is… Harry is collapsing. He sees his artist shivering and then diving toward the floor. Sirius seems immobilized. 

 

Tom grabs Harry before he can hit the ground and pulls the boy tight against his chest. Something is wrong here, the stench of dark magic is permeating the entire train. He feels an irrational thought -- that it feels like how dementor exposure is described -- but that’s crazy. There are no dementors outside of Azkaban and the ministry holding cells. 

 

And yet, a bony finger wraps around the doorknob and Tom finds himself staring into the shrouded darkness of a monster that preys on happiness. 

 

Harry screams, distressed and blood-curling. His skin feels like ice against Tom’s fingers. The dementor is gliding closer to the small boy, heedless of the other occupants of the carriage. 

 

“The kiss,” Merriweather had said in year five of Defense, “ when administered removes the soul from the body. It is in many ways a parallel to the Avada Kedavra. There are those who say it should be classified as unforgivable for this reason. When a dementor is given an allowance to give its “kiss,” it will glide forward and place the absence of its face against its target. There are no ways to bring back the life of someone once they’ve been kissed.”

 

The dementor has little effect on Tom -- he has too few memories of happiness to be of interest, and his Occlumency is too strong, but Harry, Harry sees the world only for its beauty. Every time he holds a paintbrush he reaches epiphanies and euphoria.

 

The dementor is getting perilously close and for a moment, Tom feels utterly useless. He’s never been able to make a Patronus. He’s as much a creature of the dark as this soulless being that devours vibrance to feel something, anything, at all.

 

But Tom will not allow this to be the end of his and Harry’s story. Not when it’s just beginning. 

 

“Something merely happy is very rarely enough to produce a Patronus. Even the strongest memory of pure joy is fleeting -- you need something enduring to combat the creatures of midnight. Select a moment that exists surrounded in darkness and carried, carries you into the light. That’s how all the accomplished wizards make theirs.” 

 

Tom had scoffed at Merriweather in that lesson that was both a few months and fifty years ago, but now he considers it with single-minded attention. Time is running out.

 

He tunes out the shivering body in his arms, the fear that courses through his veins, and closes his eyes.

 

(He’s tired and alone and bored, so very bored. But the book warms and there are no words, only droplets of ink and then there’s a tree, an impossible tree, impossible and beautiful. It reaches into the sky. There’s life again. There’s a future, there’s hope. There’s someone beyond this nothing he’s half-lived for half a century.)

 

“Expecto Patronum!” Silver mist springs forth from his wand. It’s not corporeal, it’s barely there, but it’s strong enough that the dementor backs up and drifts away. The silver tendrils curl and wrap around Harry, as though adding to Tom’s protection, as though this guardian of his soul recognizes Harry as the important treasure he is.

 

It’s not good enough. Not nearly enough. Ron and Hermione come back to themselves but Harry is still trembling and half-conscious.


“Shh, my darling. Breathe for me. That’s it, in and out. Slowly.” But Harry isn’t breathing, he’s hyperventilating. His heart beats faintly like a hummingbird losing life. He needs help that Tom cannot give him. Frustration rolls hot and heavy beneath his skin, this itch that he isn’t good enough, doesn’t deserve to know Harry. Not if he’s reduced to being an observer of the destruction of someone he cares for. It's a weakness to have all this dependence on a person. It doesn’t matter. He’s too far gone. He’ll burn the world after he loses Harry, but until then, he’ll enjoy watching flowers bloom and spring blossom. 

 

He can’t do that if Harry doesn’t fucking breathe. Get him to a healer.

 

“W-w-why were there d-dementors?” Ron asks in abject horror. Hermione is shaking herself. 

 

“I d-don’t know. But that was wrong .”

 

Tom pays them no attention and scoops an unresisting Harry into his arms. He’s so thin. 

 

The train is coming to a stop and Tom is running past people craning their necks at the odd student who’ve they never seen before and the small body in his arms. Tom pays them no attention either. Sirius is walking behind them slowly, clearly terrified.

 

There’s a professor in tattered clothing right off the train when Tom steps down with Harry in his arms. A wolf Patronus is lying at the man’s feet. There’s a heavyset woman in healer’s robe the man is talking to, “..Were looking for Black, but I expect they’ll all need chocolate,”

 

And she’s saying, “Well I never, what were they thinking, dementors around children? It’s --”

 

But she breaks off when she sees Tom and Harry in his arms. Tom can’t quite muster words around his desperation but he manages, “Help us,” in painful speech. 

 

Her eyes widen and she’s about to step forward and give Harry the aid he so desperately needs when Tom looks up and knows it is all over.

 

Hagrid stands on the docks of the lake holding a lantern as children start to come off the express. Dumbeldore only ever sees people as pieces on the chessboard. A Tom who is completely devoted to Harry will be a different pawn from the daring bishop that would one day become a player. Glasses will be enough to convince someone like that of the difference between his past and present. 

 

But Hagrid sees people less for their uses and more for their being. It’s why he has an unnatural ability with beasts. And Hagrid was expelled because of Tom. That’s not the kind of face you forget. Not when it is responsible for taking you away from someone you love. And no matter how abnormal it was for the oaf to care for an acromantula, it was still something (someone?) Hagrid loved.

 

The man reacts immediately, brandishing an umbrella and stepping forward threateningly. “Get Harry away from him now, Lupin! Call the headmaster! Children, get behind me.”


Lupin steps forward, confused, as first-years obediently huddle behind the half-giant and older years look on with confusion. Then Sirius pads over to Tom, and immediately Lupin goes into a defensive pose. 

 

“That’s Sirius Black! Everyone get back on the train!” And then Lupin casts an animus revelio and the dog transforms into the gaunt-faced wanted criminal. Several people gasp and start crying. 

 

Ron’s pocket rips as Scabbers lengthens into a chubby man with a missing finger and dark mark. Lupin’s eyes just about pop out of his socket as several people, (Ron included) scream. 

 

Percy Weasley immediately sends up red sparks. Tom remembers from his days as a prefect that this is the spell to summon help during an emergency.

Tom does not care at all about the chaos unfolding all around him and tries (desperately) to warm Harry up as best he can. Time is running out and he holds the boy out plaintively to the healer, who closes her eyes and then takes him and casts a diagnostic even as she twitches in fear at the two revealed men. 

 

And then, in a swirl of overpowering magic, Dumbeldore materializes with a pop and grim expression. 

 

He takes in the scene, Tom crouched by a comatose Harry, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew held at Lupin’s wand point.

 

His expression is dark as he immobilizes both Animagi. He then summons his own Patronus, a brilliant phoenix, and says, “Cornelius. I’ve uncovered Black and a very much alive Pettigrew. Send aurors if you would be so kind. And remove the dementors from my school at once.”

 

In no time at all, red-robed men and women materialize and take Pettigrew and Black into their holdings. Dumbeldore stares down the group and says, “Tell your minister I expect a re-trial, naturally, for the events of Godric’s Hollow. Pettigrew’s being alive seems to throw the whole thing into question.”


The aurors look uncomfortable. Dumbeldore smiles at them all benevolently. “Don’t worry yourselves, I’ll write. Oh -- and one more thing -- I’ve put a tracking diagnostic spell on both men, so any ‘accidental’ deaths will result in public outcry. I’ll put that in my letter as well.”

 

The aurors seem to be at a loss for words and simply nod and apparate away. 

 

Dumbledore’s gaze falls to Tom. “And you, young sir, would do me a great service if you accompanied me to my office.”



***

 

Dumbledore’s office should be familiar to Tom after all the interrogations he faced as a student decades ago. But just as the man in front of him is unfamiliar -- red hair replaced by silver, blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles (Tom’s not the only one to change his looks with glasses,) spirit more haunted and hidden by a far more jovial veneer -- the office is similarly discomforting to Tom.

 

When Dippet had this office, it had been orderly and muted, simple chairs and bookshelves, and a great desk. Nothing about it had been extraordinary. Dumbeldore has added a Pensieve and at least three-dozen strange instruments that whir and hum, and a phoenix. A living phoenix.

 

“Oh, this is Fawkes,” Dumbeldore says calmly. The bird trills at Tom and then wraps its tail around his wrist and settles on the table with a sleepy sounding sigh.

 

Dumbeldore raises an eyebrow. “He likes you.” It sounds almost like a question.

 

Tom coughs uncomfortably. “Is he a real, living phoenix?” he asks. He knows the answer, but it’s a safe question.

 

“Ah, yes, he and I have gotten quite attached to one another. People like to say he’s my familiar, but I always say it’s very much the opposite.” 

 

Tom hesitantly scratches the bird’s head and it seems to enjoy it. “Right. That’s good. Um,” Tom adopts his most kind self as his character, “my mum, she said if she ever died, that I’d be safe here.”

Dumbledore's eyes sharpen. “Your mother?”

Tom swallows. “Cassiopeia Black. I don’t know my dad. He, um, he was pretty dangerous, she said. She didn’t want me to go to Hogwarts because she didn’t want anyone to know she had me. She was kind of paranoid. But I know all about it because Harry would tell me all about it.”

 

“Harry, hmm. How do you know him?”

 

“I’ve known him since forever, really. I lived on Privet Drive because my mum said there were wards strong enough to protect us there.”

 

Dumbeldore leans back in his chair. Tom can tell he’s thinking over Casseipoia and if there’s any chance she’d had a son with Riddle, (none, she was lesbian as they came, but might have been just crazy enough to make a child from a sample taken from Voldemort unknowingly if it would be important, she was always a strong seer,) and if he’s going to accept this farce of a story.

 

So Tom does something he swore to never do in front of Dumbledore. He lowers his occlumency shields and guilelessly, fearlessly, meets the man’s eyes. He projects all his sorrow of never having had a mother, the feelings he’d had for Casseopia when he was eleven and she was seventeen and the only person in the Slytherin house to care for him at all that year. He knows the feelings he has for her are closer to childish devotion than love, but he hopes it will be enough. He focuses on the loneliness he felt in the diary and can still remember with his bones, and then full force loses himself to the intensity of emotion he feels for Harry: awe, affection, concern, lo--, adoration

 

All at once, Dumbledore’s expression softens, and Tom is graced with one of the smiles he’d seen the transfiguration professor give his favored students. So you’ve found my place on your chessboard. 

 

The man says, “Of course you will be welcome here. I hope you will one day call it home. Due to all the...excitement of the train-ride, the sorting ceremony has been a bit postponed. I have the hat here with me. You’ll know all about the houses from Harry, I assume?”

“Oh, um yes.”

 

“Don’t worry, my boy, it’s painless, I assure you. We’ll get you sorted and then put you in sixth year, you are sixteen, is that right?”

 

“Yes, sir.”



“And I imagine anyone home-tutored by Cassoeipia will be plenty accomplished. My condolences by the way.”

 

Tom resists rolling his eyes. “Thank you, professor.”

 

Dumbledore lays a hand on his shoulder. “You are not alone any longer, Mr. Black. You are welcome here.”

 

The man swishes his wand and the hat flies over.

 

Tom puts it on himself. He immediately hears a voice in his ear.

 

“Ah, Mr. Riddle, or should I say Black? How very fun to sort you again. Missing a bit of soul, aren’t you? But plenty of heart, I see. More than you had back when you were eleven.”

 

“I imagine you’ll want to put me in Slytherin again, but I’d do well in Ravenclaw.”

 

“You certainly would. And you do love knowledge. It would help keep Dumbledore off your back too, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it would.”

 

“But you’re not a Ravenclaw at heart even if you are smart enough, I’m sorry to say.”

 

“So back to the snakes?”

 

“Oh, I didn’t say that, did I? The first time around there was nowhere else to put you. You were self-absorbed, power-hungry, and vicious. But you were and are also incredibly charismatic. You had plenty of bravery but you’d have led the lions to their deaths. At least in Slytherin, you had to appeal to your followers with their self-interest instead of only your own.”

 

“Fascinating.”

 

“It is, isn’t it? But you are not that boy any longer, I think. You care about someone now. You care for your artist more than you care for the whole world.”

 

“He makes whole worlds.”

“You would choose him over power.”

 

“There’s no point in power if you have no one to share it with.”

 

“You are so incredibly loyal, perhaps the most of anyone I’ve ever seen. From the moment Harry overtook the importance of everything else, there was only one house for you.”

 

“No, you can’t be serious, I’m not--”

“Oh, but you are, Mr. Riddle.”

 

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

Chapter Text

Tom removes the hat with shaking hands. Hufflepuff? He cannot avoid the deeply unamused expression that spreads across his face even as the hat radiates victory at a job well done. Dumbledore is seated across from him, hands folded on the desk and smiling beatifically. His white wispy hair shines like the moon and his blue eyes twinkle in a thousand places -- each sparkle more brilliant than the next and adding up to the constellation of stars he holds in irises.

 

Tom’s nose wrinkles in his distaste for the entire situation. Dumbledore laughs and then disguises it as a very poorly acted cough. “Surprised, Mr. Riddle?”

 

Tom keeps his expression blank, bordering on confused. He maintains the curious facade, although inside he cannot tell what Dumbledore meant by the name slip of Riddle. Does he know who I am? Or is this… a hint? For me to find my “father?” What’s your game, old man?

 

“Riddle?” Tom echoes in a vaguely, though still unhappy, questioning tone.

 

Dumbledore seems to shake himself. “I’m sorry, Mr. Black. You do just look so very much like….” A hint, then, “but that’s not really the point, is it? Are you surprised at your sorting?”

 

Tom nods. “Very much so. I’d always assumed, as a Black, I’d go to Slytherin or -- Ravenclaw. I asked for Ravenclaw.”

 

Dumbledore seems almost overjoyed at this revelation. “And that hat still placed you in Hufflepuff -- hmm -- that says a great deal about your character, a great deal indeed.”

 

He knows it's childish, but “You don’t suppose there could have been a mistake, do you? The hat is rather old. Perhaps it needs to have the enchantments refreshed.”

 

Dumbledore gives Tom a gentle smile. “You, my boy, are smart enough to know that is simply not the problem and that your sorting will not change. Hufflepuff is a wondrous house. Loyalty and hard-work are the backbones for nearly every country and triumph. I would hope you could take pride in yourself.”

 

Tom says, in a bid perhaps for sympathy, or perhaps because it is true, “My mother was a Slytherin.” He doesn’t know if Merope even went to Hogwarts, but if she had, it would have been her house. In fact, he remembers paragraphs his living self had poured into the diary after discovering his (our?) connection to the house of Gaunt -- after killing his (my?) father -- and he knows, “My whole family went to Slytherin, my mother and my uncle and I’m just... Hufflepuff .” The word is spoken with an almost palpable distaste.

Dumbledore leans forward, eyes soft. “You had a cousin, actually, who went to Gryffindor.”

 

Sirius Black, Tom’s mind supplies. The old professor is still speaking, “it was difficult for his familial relations, I’ll not lie to you, my boy. But he did make some true friends and they became a loving family to him. There’s no limit on who you are allowed to love.”

 

Tom remembers asking the mutt about his family, and the answer, how James was just as much his brother as his own flesh and blood. Dumbeldore is looking at Tom with genuine affection in this moment, and the look is so different from anything he remembers from the man during his time at Hogwarts.

 

Maybe the new kindness emanating from the professor is just because of Tom’s new house -- he never liked Slytherins much and favored Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs especially -- but maybe it’s because Tom has changed in some fundamental way and the man can tell. 

 

And maybe… maybe it’s because Dumbeldore himself has changed. His robes are garish and comical, his office is a mess, he has a pile of candy in the focal point of his desk. Dumbledore from Tom’s time was a man with red hair and a superiority complex a mile-wide. That man would never have allowed himself to appear so barmy for lack of a better word. This wizard in front of him with twinkling eyes and deep smile lines cares not at all about appearing foolish. He endorses it, in fact. 

 

Maybe we’ve both changed. So out of curiosity that runs so deep about what it would be to have an adult in his corner the way Dumbledore championed Ezekial Prewett and because he wants the advice, he asks in a quiet voice, “Professor, do you think it is possible for someone without any healthy models of love to be able to…” he loses his courage, never been a Gryffindor, and thinks maybe he doesn’t want the answer. He regrets speaking already, but something about the warm room and the invitation in Dumbeldore’s very aura just made him have a slip.

 

But Dumbledore does not let the thread go. Instead, he exhales once, thoughtful and kind. “That is a heavy question. Can those of us seeking love but not knowing what it looks like ever find it? The answer, Tom, is that love is not something you find because of searching. You will simply wake up one morning, think of someone and fill with warmth, and realize you love them. Love, my boy,  is neither healthy nor unhealthy. There’s no one way to get it right. You find out what it means to you as you go along and can only hope that any heartbreak will be worth the experience. And it is, Tom. It is.

 

A large part of Tom wants to bite something back along the lines of, “thanks for the platitudes, you sniveling geezer." Instead, he says, as though on the edge of epiphany, “Someday, I’ll just know --” and his mind is filled with images of black, bird-nest hair and eyes filled with the kind of green you find on leaves growing up, always up, in the thick of the forest.

 

Dumbeldore settles back in his chair. Voice confident, he repeats, “Someday you will.” He’s quiet for a time and then says, “The hat is meant to study the potential of children. Adults are far too complicated to sort. Age brings internal conflicts. With older students, it looks at priorities over innate qualities. You are only the second person in my experience over the age of 11 to be sorted by the hat.”

 

“Who was the other one?”

 

“Her name was Missy Damier. She was a half-blood about twenty years ago. Her mother was a muggle and had been murdered by death-eaters for sport when Missy was ten. Her father, a mediocre wizard, had kept her from attending Hogwarts out of fear for her life. But she was still on the book of entry, and he’d already paid the fees at her birth. So she learned about the school over time and when she was sixteen, she ran away from home and boarded the train. She was determined to get the best education she could. Hogwarts let her in. She’d always been meant to be a student and the school would do nothing to keep her out. If Missy had come at 11, she’d have almost certainly been sorted into Gryffindor. She was braver than almost everyone I’ve ever met.”

“But she wasn’t sorted into Gryffindor?”

 

Dumbeldore looks impossibly fond and sad. “No, she wasn’t. She, like you, was older and had formed her own values. She was ambitious to gain enough power so that she could put an end to the violence against muggles. Nobody else was doing anything about their deaths. She had plans, cunning, and a desire to prove herself. She was sorted into Slytherin.”

 

Tom lets that sink in for a moment, thinking about his value of protecting Harry above all else, and allows himself to understand his new house. “What happened to her?”

 

“To Missy Damier?” Dumbledore rubs a hand over his eyes for a moment before speaking. “After she graduated, she saved the lives of more than 1300 muggles from acts of senseless violence during the height of muggle-hunting. She died at age 24 protecting an elementary school from a particularly heinous death-eater initiation. But after the war, anti-Slytherin sentiment ran rampant and she had helped muggles, not wizards. I’m afraid that she was never hailed as the hero she undoubtedly was.”

 

Tom says nothing, but thinks fiercely, why would you tell me that?

 

Dumbledore stands. “Come now my boy, I imagine the first years will be needing this cap shortly,” he picks up the sorting hat, frowns, and then reflects “or more appropriately, needed it a good many minutes ago.” He spreads his hand in a what-can-you-do kind of gesture. “Ah well, they’ll survive. It will be character building to learn the art of patience.”

 

Tom stands as well and allows his former transfiguration professor to guide him beyond the office and past the corridors he already knows and to the Great Hall.

 

Before they enter, Dumbledore places a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “You remind me of her.”

 

“My mother?” Tom asks, thinking of crazy Cassiopeia Black and her inability to be anyone other than herself.

 

Dumbledore searches Tom’s face with something that seems much too knowing and drops his hand from where it rests near Tom’s collarbone. For a moment, his eyes seem to dim. “Her too,” he says gently. 

 

And then he throws on a beaming smile and opens the door to the Great Hall and the students burst into raucous applause. Tom follows behind this man who has turned himself into a living legend -- a man so very different and so very similar to the strict auburn hair professor who’d been at the helm of a different war only five decades prior.

 

His jovial voice carries across the room, “Sorry for the delay, but better late than early, I always say --” 

 

Tom watches the multi-colored robes as he feels something lodge in his throat and behind his yellow and black scarf, behind these colors that feel so wrong and yet like they might be a part of him. 

 

The feeling of discomfort intensifies as Dumbledore releases a belly-shaking laugh.

 

We’ve both been acting for so long, neither of us knows who we are, do we?

 

***

 

He’s introduced by a beaming headmaster, (This is Tom Black, joining us from the world beyond these castle walls. He had a long chat with the hat, my apologies. You know how much the hat enjoys a good cuppa. Well. Shall we sort the first years? On with it, I say.)

 

He makes his way to the Hufflepuff table trying not to outwardly grimace. Hufflepuff.

 

There’s something incalculably nostalgic and terrifying about being in this same great hall that he both stood in fifty years ago and three months ago -- back when he was trapped in the diary. 

 

The diary great hall didn’t have food and the sky above was always grey, but the tables were the same, the tall windows and their lattice-work panes stared at him for five decades in the echo of the home that became the confining prison of his existence. 

 

He both loves and hates being here. He thinks about how long he spent in an exact replica of the Slytherin dormitories (the green bedspread, the couch, the view of the lake,) and he thinks a rather unpleasant thought. I’d rather be a Hufflepuff than return there.

 

As he walks past the rows of children, a blonde boy that looks exactly like young Abraxas Malfoy, complete with the green and silver robes, is staring at him with frightening intensity.

 

Tom smirks and the boy glares back. He mouths, with all the disdain and suspicion of a pureblood prince, “ Black? Liar.”

 

Tom tilts his head, grins, and then turns his back on Malfoy. 

 

It’s with a quiet grace that he settles at the wrong table, his new table, and gives a shallow smile to all those badgers that now surround him.

 

A boy seated next to him, with sandy hair and a sharp jawline returns his smile with a full-force beam. 

 

“Good to meet you, Tom! I’m Cedric Diggory, fifth-year prefect. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help.”

 

Tom’s performance as a fifth-year prefect would have been no less polished, no less charming than this Cedric Diggory. A Pureblood last name. But Tom would have been anything but genuine. Authenticity pours out of this teen in waves. He’s so bright-eyed and eager to please. 

 

Hufflepuffs.

 

Tom allows his own face to adopt an easy countenance of wonder and gratitude and kindness lurking beneath the surface of his awe. “Thank you. It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?”

 

Cedric laughs good-naturedly. “Always is, the first time you see her. Hogwarts has that effect.”

 

A girl with blonde hair and green eyes looks at Tom with sharp eyes. “Beatrice Haywood,” she introduces. She does not extend her hand. She frowns at him. “How do you know Harry and why were you carrying him off the train?”

The name rings a bell. “Oh!” He exclaims, “you’re in Harry’s art-class. You bring him butterbeer when he forgets to take care of himself.”

 

She seems to melt a little. “Yeah, he can be such a stupid kid for such a talented little devil. But you didn’t answer either question.”

 

Hufflepuffs, Tom has decided, are delightful loyal creatures. “We’re childhood friends. And I won’t betray his privacy on why I was carrying him. He can tell you himself if he wants.”

 

This is clearly the right thing to say because Beatrice is cooing, and everyone is giving him approving nods, and a boy to his left (Cedric is on his right,) gives a firm nod and declares, “you, my good man, deserve the first cut of ham.”

 

Tom hadn’t even noticed the sorting was over and food had risen to the table. The ham looks excellent, last time he was at the school there were rations due to Grindelwald. Too many house-elves had died to make the feasts they’d once had regularly. 

 

The ham does look rather good, Tom thinks. He savors the taste, making polite and easy conversation with the other Hufflepuffs. Beatrice is also a sixth year with him, and they will have similar schedules, she thinks.

 

Around a bite of mashed potatoes -- there’s no meat on her plate because, as she tells him loudly and proudly, she’s vegetarian -- she says, “Professor Sprout will sort you right out when you need to be sorted. So tonight, prob'ly.”

 

Cedric says in a conspiratorial manner, “Oh you’ll love the dorms. Everyone does.”

 

Tom cannot help -- or chooses not to help -- his dubious expression. 

 

Another girl, Elora Dunn, giggles. “Ah people say we’re a load o' duffers and think we have bumblebee decorations all up the wazoo. But we always say, us Hufflepuffs are just quietly takin' over the world. No need to be all sneaky about it, or loud like Gryffindors. We just take all the best jobs with smiles and it’s not cuz we want to be powerful or nothin, it’s just cuz we understand people better than the rest of these fools.”

 

Beatrice raises her cup, “Cheers to that, El.” She takes a gulp of her pumpkin juice and winks at Tom. “You won’t see even a single bumblebee decoration in the common room, I can promise you that.”

 

Tamsin Applebee, the chaser for Hufflepuff team, Tom’s learned, groans loudly. “I bet you five galleons that just because you said that the twins will have three or more in there before we get back.”

 

Tom cocks his head. “The twins?”

 

The entire table choruses, “The Weasley twins.”

 

Cedric says, “They’re a great laugh and wicked talented beaters, but they’re a bit… overly humorous.”

 

Elena snorts. “They’re right pranksters, they are. Got into the common room of us ‘puffs they’re first week of school. Menaces.”

 

Rohit Das, a younger year, pipes up, “Yeah, but we like them anyway.”

 

Tom files away the information for later that it is possible to go into the common rooms of other houses. If a pair of Gryffindors can make it into his common room, it could be easy for him to get into theirs. 

 

Harry.



He curls his fingers into his palm and tries to ignore how worried he is. He left his artist with a capable med-witch. Harry will be fine. He has to be. There’s no other option.

 

The other ‘puffs notice that Tom is more withdrawn. What they think is the reason, he doesn’t care to know. But they don’t pry. They don’t ask leading questions. They just sit around him, shoulder to shoulder, and let him know that they’ll listen if he ever needs to talk. Until then, they’ll just stay by his side.

 

It’s not the worst thing.

 

***

 

The Hufflepuff common rooms remind Tom of how he’d always imagined a very fancy hobbit hole might look back in the days he needed fantasy. He’d read his falling apart, old and used copy of Tolkein as he sat on a dingy cot in the middle of summer wearing threadbare clothes.

 

After a simple pattern of beating some barrels, (this password never changes, learn it once and gain a forever home,) he enters through a limestone tunnel into the common room.

 

The room is large and circular. A high roof is recessed with exposed wooden beams, each artful and warm plank covered with cherry blossoms and sunflowers. 

 

The whole room is teeming with greenery, ferns on shelves beside multicolored book covers, a carpet of sweet-smelling grass covering the floor. Every time someone steps on the grass, it glows a soft yellow beneath their heel, the color of gentle candlelight.

 

There are a hundred different places the ground glows as the students make their way into their home, their footsteps leaving little trails of warmth.

 

There are beautiful deep brown couches with yellow lace pillows for a colour pop. There is one continuous recessed window that spans that entire space of the circular room just below the ceiling. There are steps inlaid into the wall that lead up to window seats. Marigolds cascade down the left side of every carved out staircase like a yellow waterfall. 

 

And resting on one of the Carolina Jessamine flowers that climb the walls of the common room, is a single, ornate, red and gold decorative bee.

 

***

 

Harry wakes up in the infirmary. This is not surprising anymore, he always wakes up in the infirmary at some point or another during the school year. 

 

He is surprised, and concerned, however, at the presence of Snape sitting by his bedside. As though he can tell his being watched, the dour professor turns an angry eye on Harry.

 

“Ah, Mr. Potter. So kind of you to join the world of the waking at long last. I am glad to see your indolence has finally found some, albeit limited, bound.”

 

Harry blinks, swallows around his dry throat, blinks again, and then says, “Professor?”

 

“And he can address me with my proper title, I was beginning to wonder.”

 

Harry clenches his fist. “Why are you here, Professor?”

 

Snape’s lip curls. “Believe me, Mr. Potter, I would not torment myself with your grating presence was it for anything other than matters of high importance.” He sighs. “You would not stop sleeping, and though I suggested you were most likely taking little more than a mistimed nap, I was retrieved to wake you.” He withdraws a phial of swirling mist from his robes. “If you knew anything about potions, you might be able to look at this and tell me how you were woken. But I am not so much oblivious to your aberrant lack of talent and dedication to realize you are entirely unsure of what I hold here.”

 

If Harry felt a bit more awake, less all stretched out and in the wrong skin, he thinks he would probably say something rude back to Snape. But he just feels wrong, and Snape’s words settle uncomfortably around his skin like a blanket of sharp nails.

 

He tries to think about how he ended up asleep, and then realizes a very pressing question, “Who was screaming?”

 

Snape’s face goes all focused and he makes eye-contact with Harry. “Was someone screaming?” he asks in a maddeningly calm voice.

 

Harry feels memories rushing up without his permission. Cold… Take Harry and run!... Stand aside… green, horrific green, cold, cold, he’s picked up but it’s not his mum and this woman holding him too tight is also screaming but it’s so different from that other scream and where is mum and…

 

He’s crying, full-on body shaking sobs. Harry curls around himself and tries to pretend his most hated professor isn’t sitting across from him, watching him break down. He tries to quiet his breathing only to realize he’s barely breathing at all.

 

The cacophony of his tears is broken up by two words from Snape. “I’m sorry,” the man utters, sounding utterly wrecked. The words feel monumental somehow and reverberate throughout the edges of the infirmary. Harry doesn’t know what the apology is for, who it is for, and it helps his memory of his worst lived-through nightmare not at all. 

 

Without another word, Snape stands -- Harry hears the chair move -- and then listens to his sharp footfalls as the man leaves the room. 

 

Harry doesn’t know how long he stays in that bed crying. But when he stops, he dries his tears and is glad to see that his trunk has been brought to the foot of the hospital bed instead of his dorm. There’s a badly knitted tiny sock on top of it.

 

That’s Hermione’s signature if he’s ever seen it. He slips out of the bed and opens his trunk, laying the sock in with his favorite items, and then pulls on his invisibility cloak and exits the infirmary.

 

He wanders the corridors of Hogwarts like he’s still in his first year and trying to find his way to the impossible mirror where he can see the life he’s always wanted, the family he’s always wanted, but never been able to see. (Abandoned)

 

He hears the echo of Dumbledore’s warning and his answer, a lie (it had to be, that couldn’t be the truth) “ I? I see myself holding a pair of thick woolen socks.” But he has new avenues now for finding impossibility and he winds his way to the art room.

 

The moonlight seeps in from the tower’s windows and bathes the dark room in glowing silver. The portraits drawn by other students (the ones with enough soul to root, at any rate) are all sleeping. The charmed sponges are lined up by the sink, the palettes rest in obedient spotless piles, but the mop is brushing the floor in what looks to be something reminiscent of sleep-walking. It’s kind of cute, the mop. The class calls it “Nelly Purplelander,” for reasons Harry’s never bothered to ask. (The mop is decidedly brown and there’s nothing purple about it.)

 

There’s this ache in Harry’s chest. He throws off the cloak and drifts to his station. He pulls out a fresh canvas and tubes of paint, letting his eyes close for a moment and finding the emotions he’s buried deep -- pulls them up to the surface. He feels for a moment the phantom cold of a skeletal hand reaching for him, hears a high scream (take me instead!) and then -- then he sees blinding green. And it’s silent in this room, in this tower. He’s alone here. There was a flash of green, and then Paddy came but left, Snape came but left, Hagrid and his bike and then he’s being lowered and-- he’s so cold, but he’s just left with nothing but a note in December on a doorstep. (Abandoned.)

 

(It’s for your protection.)

 

The scream. He can’t unhear the scream. It rattles around, echoes through fragments of his disjointed nightmare. 

 

He mixes obsidian with sapphire and amethyst until he’s found the color of the night sky right before dawn breaks. He paints in clouds, heavy with rain, dark and rolling in the air above. They reflect in choppy water, the salt of the sea reaching his nose, the space above his brow getting splashed in droplets of ice thrown by the turbulent waves he brings into existence. 

 

The moon reflects from its crescent all down the ocean’s surface, its pale glow broken by the jagged crash of water against the shore. A thousand twinkling stars make a home for themselves in the hollows of clouds and the crests of waves.

 

On the dark beach, he crafts a pair of discarded shoes. They’re small, new, red and gold, full of the knowledge that someone will take their first steps wearing them. And in the ocean, the grey ocean filled with the night sky and twinkling stars, he fashions oakwood and proud white sails and a boat -- no, a ship: that brings lost souls home -- anchored and begging for a storm.

 

At the edges of the painting, there’s a tint of pale rose and a hint of peach that is mirrored in the water -- a promise that morning is coming.

 

But until the sun rises, there’s the pair of abandoned shoes on the beach, the ship that vows eternity for the weary, and it’s rebellious look at the clouds, daring the sky for wind and downpour, as though in a storm, there is peace.

 

The Hogwarts sun is breaking through the windows when he finishes, his knuckles stained with their own constellations of paint. He looks at the artwork, the raging water, and he recognizes the shoes. He hears a warm voice say, “ Come on baby, just one more step, and then you’ve got it.” 

 

Dudley’s shoes were always too big for him. But these red and gold abandoned baby shoes, they belonged to him, once upon a time.

 

He wonders if he’ll get them back someday. Maybe, he thinks, when he boards that ship.

 

He’s sitting on his knees, unaware of time at all, when the door to the room is thrown open.

“...if he’s anywhere they haven’t looked yet, it’d be here. She should have just checked the art room first, to be honest, but McGonagall doesn’t know what to do with non-stereotypical Gryffindors like Harry, I swear to you--”

 

Harry cranes his neck and sees Beatrice walk in with Tom trailing behind her, looking worried and furious but well-rested. He sees Harry before Beatrice does and exhales long and relieved, and breathes, “Harry, oh thank Salazaar.” 

 

Beatrice looks at him weirdly for that but doesn’t comment. Tom crosses the room quickly and pulls Harry into his arms and then onto his lap.

 

“Don’t ever disappear again, especially not when you’re injured.” 

 

Beatrice coughs and says, “I’m just gonna go tell people he’s been found, yeah, I’ll just--” she quickly leaves the room.

 

Harry relaxes into Tom’s hold, basking in the warmth so different from the cold. “I’ll try.” He promises. 


“Not good enough,” Tom says. He rubs his hand down Harry’s arm. “You’re soaked, sweetheart.”

 

Harry inhales deeply. “You smell like flowers.”

 

Tom leans down so that his lips tickle Harry’s ears. “Do I?” He says, tone indulgent, “I suppose I can’t help it, darling. There are Frangipani woven into my bed curtains.”

 

Harry shivers -- still too wet he supposes -- and notices the yellow and black robes Tom is wearing. 

 

Suppressing a laugh, he asks, “Hufflepuff? How’d you manage that?”

 

“Caring about you,” Tom answers, completely serious.

 

Harry flushes and can’t help a pleased little, “Oh,” that falls from his lips.

 

Tom kisses the younger boy’s neck and then rests his chin on Harry’s shoulder. “Now tell me, darling, what got you so cold and wet?”

 

Harry jerks his head to the painting. The ocean is still wracked with turbulent waves spraying strays bit of saltwater. 

 

Tom seems to be soaking it in. “That is incredible.” he says at last, “it feels like I’m seeing a piece of your soul. I can feel your grief. What is the boat?”

 

Harry murmurs in a wistful tone, “Charon’s Ferry.”

 

Tom tightens his hold around Harry. “The boat that brings the dead to the underworld.”

 

“I’ll board it one day.”

 

“No,” Tom says.

 

“Someday we all die.”

 

Tom has begun to shake as though this is new information to him, and very frightening. Harry’s never seen him like this before. He can feel Tom’s fear all down his spine.

 

Harry turns around in Tom’s lap so that his back is getting splashed with the waves of his creation. He cups his dripping hands on Tom’s cheeks.

 

They’re at eye-level. “It’s alright,” he soothes, “when I board the ship, it’ll be with you. We’ll go together.”

 

Tom reaches up his hands too and mirrors Harry by cupping the younger boy’s cheeks. “Together,” he tries as though tasting the word. He half-smiles, “I suppose I can live with that."

Chapter Text

First days are always awkward in Harry’s experience. Before Hogwarts, the first day of school was often filled with teachers staring down his grey hand-me-downs and broken glasses in distaste. They’d sniff, look at his scar, and peg him as irresponsible… troubled, and if he was lucky, troubling. Sometimes a kind-hearted teacher would ask him to stay behind after class and inquire about his home life. 

 

(“Are you treated well at home?”) 

 

(“Yes, Ma'am.”) 

 

(Is there anything you want to tell me?”)

 

(“Thank you for the lessons, Ma’am.”)

 

It was awkward. And then at Hogwarts, well… he didn’t start off exactly well his first year, did he? He remembers the feel of every eye on him, students, teachers, and even the ghosts watching him with avid interest as he shuffled his tiny body up to the stool. The hat settling on his head offered only a small reprieve (he was a hat-stall, so he supposes short is relative) before he was thrust back into the proverbial spotlight after a lifetime of hiding from any attention, positive or negative. 

 

And second-year -- last year -- was simply a disaster. He and Ron didn’t exactly come in quietly. No, they had to crash a magical and illegal car into the whomping willow and arrive late. The look Snape gave him after the incident still fills him with shivers. Harry figures whatever apology he got from the professor was a fluke or a very involved mental game that he will most certainly lose. 

 

All this reminds Harry to feel himself a little less scared the hourglass of his acceptance will run out. He can feel the sands steadily dripping down, down and down until he will once again be hailed as the spawn of all evil. But… it never lasts. The awkward feelings or the senseless hatred. (or the acceptance) He fell down in a train because there was a darkness so deep it made him see all his nightmarish realities in vivid relief.

 

There was a professor who hates him standing vigil. He painted Charon’s Ferry. That will always be how his story of the first day of third-year goes for him. But he has today. He has tomorrow. He has Tom, a grounding presence at his elbow, pulling him to the great hall.

 

The mind guardians pulse against his collarbones with warmth and apology as though they regret not being able to protect him against his worst memories. 

 

Harry looks up at Tom as they stroll past the portrait of Sir Cadogan who bows deeply and says, “I will inform all the scouts henceforth that the charge has been found!”

 

Tom smiles lightly. “Thank you, Sir.”

The knight beams, “Only my duty, young lad.” He gallops off to the next frame. 

 

Harry tilts his head. “Were there a lot of people looking for me?”

Tom laughs. “A lot of people? Oh no.”

 

Harry sighs, relieved. “Good.”

“Darling,” Tom says, mirth still in his voice, “a lot of people is an understatement. Everyone was looking for you.”

 

Harry’s face goes pale. “Everyone?”

 

Tom nods seriously. “Even Draco Malfoy.” He mutters under his breath, “Especially Draco Malfoy.”

They’ve made it out of the North tower and are fast approaching the great hall when Harry and Tom are intercepted by a running Ron. 

 

His face is nearly as red as his hair. “Harry!” He yells, skidding to a stop merely a few centimeters from Harry’s nose. “Blimey, where’ve you been? I went to visit you in the infirmary this morning and all I saw was an empty bit of bed.”

 

Harry blushes and scratches the back of his neck. He opens his mouth to answer but Tom cuts him off and replies, “I found him in the art classroom if you can believe it. Painting the morning away.” His voice is full of fond admonishment. The response seems to be as much for Ron’s benefit as Harry’s.

 

Ron looks askance at Tom. He says, slowly this time, “ Harry , where were you this morning?”

 

“Oh,” Harry says, “Tom’s right. About where I was, I mean. I just had all these feelings, you know? So I went to get them out the best way I know how and that’s painting and so I went to the art room. I feel loads better now.”

 

Ron draws Harry away from Tom’s grasp and drapes an arm around his shoulders. “That’s good. You know Hermione’s been telling me all about this muggle thing -- art therapy she calls it -- but it seems that a lot of people draw to get their feelings out.”

 

Tom glares at Ron but otherwise just falls into step with the two Gryffindors as they make their way into the hall for breakfast. 

 

He glances at where Ron has an arm around Harry and then makes deliberate eye contact with the red-haired boy. He leans down and presses a kiss to the top of Harry’s head. “Harry, I’ll be getting breakfast with my house. See you after.”

 

Absentmindedly, Harry kisses Tom’s cheek from where the boy’s still bent down slightly. “Sounds good, have a nice breakfast.”

 

Tom straightens and ruffles Harry’s hair. “Will do.” He winks and saunters over to the Hufflepuff table. 

 

Ron stares after him, a frown on his face. “I’m not sure about him. You’ve said you’ve known him for your whole childhood, but something about him rubs me the wrong way.”

 

Harry bites his lip. He’s never lied to Ron before, and he doesn’t particularly care to. “There's a long story about all that, but I’ll tell you tonight, so can you let it alone for a bit?”

 

Ron clenches his jaw and then relents, “Tonight.” It’s a promise. 

 

When they slide into the Gryffindor table, Hermione is already sitting. She has three books spread out in front of her and doesn’t notice they’ve settled next to her until Ron tugs on a lock of her hair.

 

She mumbles, “Rude, Ronald. There are better ways to get a girl's attention,” and then goes back to reading her books. 

 

Harry raises a brow. “Evidently. His method failed spectacularly.”

 

Ron lets out an outraged squawk. “You can’t be gone all morning and then be on her side once I find you. I was perfectly respectable.”

 

“Respectful, Ron, honestly,” Hermione corrects, and then she reaches up and grabs a fistful of Ron’s hair (“Ouch!”), “See? How’s that feel? There are better ways to get your attention, aren’t there?”

 

Ron grunts and says, “Fine, yeah. See your point, I apologize, you are a wondrous creature who is only slightly mental.” 

 

Hermione releases his hair and sniffs. “You are a terror and a rude immature child, but I’ll accept your apology.” She seems to turn back to one of her books before blinking and then staring at Harry. 

 

“Harry!” She gasps, “We’ve been looking for you! Well, McGonagall and Ron have, at any rate. Oh! And Neville. Well, they were before the strange knight portrait, Sir Cadogan, told us you’d been found. I assumed you were in the art room but for some reason, McGonagall was sure you’d be at the astronomy tower because that’s where your mum always went when she needed to think.”

 

Harry serves himself some breakfast and tea. “It’s astonishing,” he remarks as he spreads boysenberry jam on his toast, “that I am actually my own person. Most people never guess.” He still stores away the information for later -- his mum went to the astronomy tower to think. It’s a reminder that there was someone named Lily Evans (Potter) once and she loved him too -- enough to protect him. 

 

Hermione snorts. “It should be obvious that you are not your parents, but then again, wizarding logic is categorically unsound.”

 

Ron makes an affronted noise. “Is not.”

Hermione takes a sip of her own tea. “Oh really? Remember how there was once the Philosopher’s stone at Hogwarts?”

 

Ron nods. Hermione smiles.

 

“And remember how Dumbledore destroyed it?”

 

Ron nods it again. Harry gasps as he sees her point.

 

“Well then,” Hermione says, “Why didn’t Dumbledore destroy the stone before the school-term started? Then he wouldn’t have had to make the weird trap and put a large number of children in danger from a third-floor corridor that promised certain death. There would have been nothing to protect. If he was going to destroy the stone at the end of the year, he may as well have destroyed it at the beginning. Wizarding logic is unsound: case and point.”

 

Ron sighs. “Well, yeah, but then how would we have known, you know, that,” Ron whispers, “old snake face is back?”

 

Harry tries to see his first year -- before he allowed himself to be an artist rather than the perfect hero -- as worth it for that reason, and comes up short. “But what if,” he considers, “what if we hadn’t gone and instead some random kids found it and didn’t have Hermione and died in the devil’s snare? Or didn't have you and were beaten by the chess set? What then? Would that have been worth it?”

 

Ron frowns. “Well no, but that’s not how it happened.”



Hermione nods. “Exactly. Wizarding logic only takes results into account. It doesn’t focus nearly enough on the hypotheticals and therefore misses half the plot if you ask me.”

 

Harry shrugs. “Still beats the muggle world.”

 

Hermione takes a bit of egg. “Maybe. They both have their good and bad sides. Like everything, really.”

 

The mail owls come in, and a flurry of feathers drift down from the enchanted ceiling, happily displaying the blue morning sky. Hedwig proudly delivers Harry a letter, with a muggle stamp, before affectionately nipping at Harry’s fingers and flying off. A stately eagle-owl delivers him a large square parcel.

 

Harry looks at the mail in confusion. “I never get anything,” he remarks faintly. 

 

He opens the package first and sees the Malfoy crest on a box of… chocolates? He stares some more in confusion.

 

Ron is gaping. “Is that -- the Malfoy crest? Oh… don’t eat any of that. Could be poisoned. Bet it is.”

Harry is unmoving when he hears a, “psst, Potter!”

 

He turns around in his seat and sees Draco at the Slytherin table with an indecipherable expression. 

 

“I heard you fainted,” Draco says, “Like actually fainted.” He mimes falling down against another Slytherin -- Pucey, if Harry’s right. The Slytherins around him guffaw.

 

“And what of it,” Harry demands, defiant. Draco’s just Draco, it seems, regardless of the Malfoy’s gifting him the mind guardians.

 

Draco gestures to the box of chocolates on the table in front of Harry, “Well, eat some already, you absolute moronic idiot. Chocolate helps with dementor exposure. How you’ve ever survived without my family is a miracle yet undetermined; you’re like a particularly stupid baby.” 

 

The Slytherin table is unsure of what to make of Draco’s comments but Harry dutifully opens the box and takes out a rather inviting truffle and eats it, ignoring Ron’s (No, Harry! It’ll kill you!) and Hermione’s (Ron, I already did the poison check, who do you think I am?) (Not a fully trained Wizard, that’s who!) (Well, I never will be one, will I? I’ll be a fully trained witch. )

 

It’s smooth, a blend of bittersweet cocoa that coats his tongue and a note of orange cream, sour, sweet, and refreshing all at once. His eyes half-close in pleasure.

 

Ron is still lecturing Harry about how he will surely die, so Harry turns his back on Draco after a mouthed “Thank you,” and slides a green truffle into Ron’s mouth to shut him up. He offers one to Hermione, who accepts and packs the rest away for later. He wonders if Tom likes chocolate. He bets Neville does.

 

Ron’s calmed down considerably after eating the chocolate. “Never had pandan chocolate before. Only ever had pandan as one of the ingredients in Coverton’s Common Cold Cure. It’s pretty good.” Harry relaxes as Ron continues, “Still not a good idea to get things from Malfoys, but just this once, I suppose -- blimey, ‘Mione, you’re taking twelve classes?”

 

He’s leaning over Hermione’s shoulder as she’s taken out her schedule and appears to be annotating it furiously in the margins. “Don’t be ridiculous, Ronald. That would be impossible. There’s not enough time in the day.”

 

“Yeah,” he agrees, “but I see it there, and it’s twelve.”

 

“Nonsense.” She slides the schedule into her pocket. “But we’ve got first class in ten minutes and really mustn't be late. Not on the first day. We’ve two new professors this term, even if one of them is Hagrid. He’s a good friend but we’ll have to see how he teaches.”

 

Harry stands. “Hagrid’s great and he’s loads better than Lockheart.”

 

“Not a high bar, to be fair,” Ron adds. “Our luck with defense teachers is utter shite. Kettleburn was alright though, I've heard.”

 

It says a lot that Hermione doesn’t object to the language about defense professors. Instead, she gathers up her bag and says, “Harry, what electives are you taking this year?”

 

“Care of magical creatures, Enchanted Artistry, and Ancient Runes.”

 

Hermione’s eyes light up. “Ancient runes? Oh wonderful, we’ll have the class together.”

 

Ron fake sobs. “Enchanted artistry? I bet I’ll be the wost in Divinations now. Harry, you’ve abandoned me in a time of need.”



“Sorry,” Harry says without an ounce of regret, “I get advice from the batty sherry lady for free.”

 

Hermione releases a put upon sigh. “Don’t talk about professors that way, Harry. It’s not appropriate. And let’s hurry up. I don’t want to miss anything.

 

***

 

Harry walks Ron and Hermione back to the North tower and they continue upwards to climb the rickety ladder to get to the divinations classroom. He turns left and pushes the door open to the artroom, dutifully bows to Nelly Purplelander the mop, and sets out to his station.

 

Professor Badgerwood is already there, gazing at Charon’s Ferry with a misty look in his quartz eyes. “Mr. Potter,” the Professor says, “I should like this to be a part of your portfolio for this year.”

 

“What portfolio?” Harry asks.

 

“There are no OWLS, sadly, for fifth-year enchanted artistry. Students in the sixth or seventh year of the class can send a portfolio to the international bureau of magical artwork and get evaluated there, and then the score received is given a N.E.W.T. equivalent. I think you should get a portfolio ready for the end of this year.” Professor Badgerwood replies, eyes tracking waves as they crash against the shore of the painting. 

 

“But I’m only in my third year, professor.”

 

“So you are.” Professor Bagerwood does not add anything else and after a meaningful squeezing of Harry’s shoulder, shuffles away to go yell at Patricia Stimpson before she ruins her canvas forever by mixing paint with clay dissolving solution. 

 

Harry stares for a moment at the painting, and then pulls out a fresh canvas and watercolor, losing himself to the rhythm of brushing and feeling his thoughts drift away.

 

***

 

Harry meets Ron at the bottom of the ladder and they make their way to transfiguration. “Where’s Hermione?” Harry asks.

 

Ron looks around. “Oh, she was here… a minute ago, I think. I dunno. Professor Trelawney is barmy, Harry. You've no idea.”

 

Neville catches up with Ron and Harry and they slow down. “She thinks I’ll die.” He blurts out.

 

“Professor Christmas Ornament said that?” Harry clarifies.

 

Neville is pale. “Well, not in those exact words, but she said that I’d break one of her tea sets and then get attacked by a giant snake with nothing to protect myself but a hat.”

 

“That’s oddly specific,” Harry notes. 

 

“She’s absolutely amazing,” Lavender Brown comments as she and Parvati join the group of Gryffindors walking to Transfiguration.

 

“Practically a goddess,” Parvati agrees, and then pats Neville’s shoulder, “We’ll remember you. Forever.”

 

Neville goes even paler.

 

Hermione is somehow already in the transfiguration classroom when they all enter, and seems to be nose deep in yet another book. Where does she have the room for so many?

 

“She’s a fraud,” Hermione whispers to Ron furiously, looking at Neville in concern. The boy is shrinking into himself and shaking.

 

“But it’s such an easy class. Who cares?”

 

McGonagall sweeps into the classroom and takes one look at the chatter and drawn faces. “Sybill predicts the death of at least one student per year. She has yet to be correct.”

 

And just like that, color returns to Neville’s face.

 

***

Harry finds it a relief to be outside for Care of Magical Creatures.

 

Hagrid is standing next to a herd of animals that look to be a cross between horses and eagles. 

 

Hermione scrunches her nose. “Those are Hippogriffs. They’re supposed to be proud creatures. But they’re not on OWLS or NEWTS, so I don’t know why they’re so many here right now. We should be studying flobberworms and hinkypunks this year.”

 

Ron looks out at the Hippogriffs, their feathers catching sunlight on their wings, and whistles softly. “Well, I’d say we lucked out then.”

 

Hermione is about to retort when Hagrid clears his throat in sounds reminiscent of an old automobile starting. “Welcome, welcome to Care o’ Magical Creatures. Poor Kettleburn, mind, but I’m righ’ pleased to be here with all o’ you. Today, we’re going to be looking at Hippogriffs.”

 

He looks at the Hippogriff and then dips into a bow. The hippogriff mirrors the behavior. Hagrid looks at the students meaningfully.  

 

“Yeh always wait fer the Hippogriff ter make the first move,' Hagrid comments. 'It's polite, see? Yeh walk towards him, and yeh bow, an' yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh're allowed to touch him. If he doesn' bow, then get away from him sharpish, 'cause those talons hurt.”

 

Hagrid smiles. “Anyone want ter give it a chance?”

 

No one nods, so Hagrid says, “Harry, what about yeh?”

 

Ron pushes him forward and Harry dutifully walks forward until he and the beast are at eye level. The color of the feathers is like spun copper dipped in chocolate and coated in sunlight. It’s a beautiful creature and Harry relaxes into his bow.

The hippogriff snorts and then bows as well. 

 

Hagrid beams. “Well done, Harry. I think yeh can touch ‘im now.”

 

So Harry, feeling somewhat absurd, places a hand against the hippogriff’s flank and pets softly. 

 

After a few moments, Hagrid announces, “I think he’ll let you ride ‘im. Up and at ‘em.”

 

Harry looks dubiously down at the animal, but he’s not a Gryffindor for nothing, so he swings up onto the hippogriff’s back. 

 

“Alrigh,” Hagrid says slapping the behind of the animal, “off yeh go then with Buckbeak.” 

 

Immediately, Buckbeak lifts off into the sky. Harry clings to the warm neck as he sees the ground go smaller and smaller. For a moment, he looks out at the green sea of tree leaves that surround the black lake, the beauty of being Above so stark and contrasting to those dreams he spent in the diary.

 

He remembers, vividly, the landscape he’d made. He remembers that just there -- where the crop of everglades grow -- he’d painted a maze of roses and camellias. He remembers at the bank of the lake, his own Whomping Willow made mellow by Tom’s loneliness. He half expects to see Neige strutting around somewhere.

 

But this is not that world. That world is gone. (Dead.) He thinks that tears might be freezing on his cheeks, or before he cries them, as he mourns the loss of beautiful life.

 

Here, in the world Above, there are no flower mazes and albino peacocks. There are, instead, students filling up the castle grounds, a Hippogriff underneath his chilled fingertips.

 

He thinks that both worlds were real, the one of the diary and the one full of students, but this is the one he gets to grow up in. He’s not capable of creation like a God here, up in the clouds, in this place where dream meets danger. He’s just one person getting a glimpse of what it would feel like to be weightless.

 

Harry shuts his eyes against the Hogwarts that is right and wrong at the same time and allows himself to fly.



***

 

Tom decides that Hufflepuff is by far the best house in Hogwarts. A Hufflepuff can go anywhere -- alone, unaccompanied -- and attract exactly zero suspicion. A Slytherin can hardly use the lavatory without a Gryffindor accusing him of some nefarious plot.

 

They’re grossly underestimated, sure, but when a Hufflepuff succeeds in class they’re given an absurd number of points. Cedric, the fifth year prefect, seems to be bringing in all of Hufflepuff’s points, and a third-year girl named Susan Bones, but now that the house has Tom, he’s sure they have a real chance at house cup.

 

It took him four years of consistently playing the good guy in public to convince Hogwarts that he was one of the “nice snakes,” and he’s sure he’d have to spend at least five years being absolutely horrific before anyone would think ill of him as a Hufflepuff.

 

And his story is tragic, his face is blindingly attractive, and he is still so charming and nice. He’s had three girls ask him on a date before breakfast is over, which is annoying because he’s trying to see what’s going on with Harry and his chocolates. 

 

But, he supposes, he has an opportunity to live again and as much as he cares for Harry, it would be wasteful to spend every waking moment thinking about the boy. That would be… obsessive, to say the least. He still needs time to determine what he will do with the disgusting muggle hair from Harry's relatives, and he wants to keep learning now that he has books again.

 

At breakfast, after some girl named Mari-something Edgecomb professes her undying love to him, Beatrice Haywood levels Tom a Look. “What’s going on with you and Harry?” She demands. “He’s too young to be dating.” There’s a “you,” that’s heavily implied.

 

Tom tries to envision an image of Harry dating anyone else and comes up blank. They’re not romantically involved, not yet, but… it does seem to be going that direction. No one else deserves Harry. He probably doesn’t either, but he spent five decades with no one and he is rather selfish as a result.

 

“We’re childhood friends,” Tom says, “Neither of us really grew up with much in the way of physical affection from our families, so we sort of leaned into each other. You know, my mother died, and Harry’s always been there for me, so I just gravitate toward him… he’s the only person I think who really knows me--” Tom trails off, allowing his voice to shake with imitated sadness. 

 

Beatrice still looks a bit put-off, and Cedric is also concerned (they’d make excellent protectors for his artist) but everyone else just looks starry-eyed and sympathetic. He’s a Hufflepuff. Of course he likes to hug and be physically affectionate. 

 

Beatrice mutters, “Never got much in the way of physical affection, huh? Oh, Harry.”

 

Yes, she at least will make a fine protector indeed.

 

***

 

Classes are easy as ever. Tom spends potions glowering at a dour professor who glowers back and asks questions that are increasingly complicated and dark -- trying to catch him up he supposes -- but he knows enough of the laws to say, “I don’t know about that one” if the answer would implicate him as brewing something illegal.

 

The Professor, Snape, seems to go from frustrated to begrudgingly respectful over the course of the questioning and the Hufflpeuffs and Ravenclaws are watching in fascinated awe.

 

Finally, Snape says softly, “Goblin blood was made illegal in 1982, Tom. Tell me, have you actually used it in Shachor Mayim before?” 

 

The potion in question supposedly translates to dark water and is used as a kind of gentle imperious to force drinkers into a highly suggestible state for around twelve hours. It was still legal during Tom’s era.

 

“Well,” Tom says around a cough, “I couldn’t say. I know my mother used goblin blood on occasion in her brews, but we were quite… separated from the wizarding world you could say.”

 

Snape nods. “Yes,” he agrees silkily, “you would have been. Mr. Black,” it’s the first time Tom’s been addressed by the teacher directly, “fifty points to... Hufflepuff. Let us see if you can brew as well as you can speak.”

 

Tom partners with Beatrice and they proceed to outclass the Ravenclaws thoroughly. Some things never change.

 

***

 

The defense against the dark arts professor looks like he’s wearing second-hand robes that only fit him in the loosest sense. Rather than the burst of condescension Tom expects to feel, he only sees the relatable jut of the man’s jaw, a need to prove that he does belong. Tom recognizes him as the Professor who was able to summon enough of a Patronus to drive away some of the dementors on the train.

 

“Hello, Class. Please pull out your wands. Today we’ll be doing a practical demonstration. I am Professor Lupin, by the way.”

 

Bemused, Tom does as asked and follows with the remainder of the class to the Staff lounge. 

 

“... A boggart so I thought what could be better practice?” The professor is saying. “Are you all familiar with the Riddikulus charm? You are in your sixth years but I know that instruction in this discipline has been inconsistent, to say the least.”

 

There are general grumbles of agreement, but Tom is too caught up in his own thoughts to notice particularly. What will be his worst fear, he wonders? It used to be his own death, but somehow that does not feel right. Not anymore. 

 

He realizes he’s in a line, that they’re all getting a turn at the boggart. Someone’s Boggart is a house fire, another’s is -- the mark of his knights ? -- well, he has been a busy bastard, the monster left behind in this world. Beatrice’s boggart is an image of a wasteland with corpses dotting the broken ground. 

 

She looks disturbed but says, firmly, “Riddikulus,” and the corpses all melt into flowers and trees that turn the wasteland into a thing of beauty. He’s reminded that this is a woman in Harry’s art class and that she may not be nearly as talented as his treasure, but she still has worlds in her mind.

 

When Tom steps forward, his dragonhide boots click deliberately on the ground and his shoulders are square. The paradise transforms and Tom stares impassively… but then. Then there is static.

 

Harry’s dying on the ground in front of him. No one is doing anything, and Tom is rushing forward. How did Harry get up here? He was supposed to be with Hermione in Care of Magical Creatures.

 

“Something went wrong, Tom,” he’s saying. He holds out his hands, which are mangled and bloody, falling off at the wrists. “There was an accident, and I can’t create anymore --” he coughs a bit of blood, but Tom pays it no mind and moves to cradle Harry.

 

“Shh, you’ll be alright, it’ll be okay, my darling,” he says, desperately trying to find a heartbeat, but feeling nothing. He’s casting diagnostics, but they all seem to think Harry isn’t even alive anymore. 

 

Harry says one last thing, pained and weak “Live, for me, please," before he falls limp, wrists bloodied, eyes open and unseeing. Tom looks in horror as every piece of artwork Harry’s ever made -- the ferry, the boat in the lake, the winter wonderland for the Malfoy’s -- begin to burn. He hadn't even noticed they were in this room. There’s nothing left of Harry at all now. Every last piece is gone.

 

And his artist asked him to live. So he’ll have to stay here, alone, without him, in this dark and horrific world. 

 

Tom hates everything deeply. He’s furious. He wanted Harry to live. He wanted them to live together. He’s had nothing for so long, he finally found someone to care about -- and now, that’s just gone.

 

Someone is trying to say something, to get him to move from where he’s still cradling Harry’s cold corpse, but he won’t go. They can’t make him.

 

He focuses on his feelings and realizes something in a moment of startling clarity. There are children behind him, a professor is hovering anxiously and trying to talk to him. 

 

This feeling rattling around in his bones is terrible and horrific. It’s love affection with nowhere to go. It’s... anguish. But it isn’t real. This isn’t real. 

 

He stands and lets go of the fake corpse with an expression of disgust. He has never felt such contempt for a being before. “Riddikulus,” he all but spits, and the imposter Harry and the burning paintings all condense into one single blank canvas, something for his artist to make beautiful. 

 

He wipes the fake blood from his cheek and stares back at the classmates who are looking at him with faces of concern and shock. 

 

He turns away. For so long he had no one to care for. He spent his childhood fighting every single person indiscriminately. Voldemort exists as a being of complete greed and selfish desire.

 

But Tom, he’s learned affection and now he’s learned despair. He’s learned what it feels to be full of sadness and anger so deep he felt he would rather scratch his arms into nothingness than continue. And yet… it means he’s perhaps more alive than Voldemort has ever been. He shudders at the memory of Harry freezing cold in his arms and knowing he must continue into a thousand empty sunrises. He has learned grief.

 

... He does not regret.

Chapter Text

Tom is asked to stay after class. Professor Lupin casually leads Tom to the defense office: a cluttered but organized mess. He hastily drops a potion clearly not meant for prying eyes into a desk shelf. 

 

Interesting. Professor Lupin collapses into the tattered chair behind the desk and rubs a tired hand over his eyes before taking a deep breath and staring up at Tom with an unfathomable expression.

 

He finally says, “Would you like to take a seat?”

 

In response, Tom wordlessly conjures an armchair and gracefully sits down, posture relaxed and powerful. Professor Lupin raises a brow at the display. “Impressive,” he murmurs.

 

Tom gives the professor a look of confusion that is clearly at odds with his body language -- the one questioning, the other dominant. “Why am I here, Professor?”

 

Professor Lupin steeples his hands on the surface of the desk. “I’ve been told that you and Harry Potter are childhood friends,” he begins.

 

“We are.”

 

“I do not know exactly how the two of you came to be as close as you clearly are, and truth be told, such things are not precisely my business. I am, or rather was, a close friend to Harry’s father, but I’m afraid thirteen years absent do not render me a friend of Harry.”

 

Tom keeps his expression blank but considers the information so freely given. He's learned quite a bit about Professor Lupin from just those few words. He has the ability to learn much more. Gryffindors. 

 

“I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are trying to say,” Tom remarks.

 

“That’s because I haven’t said it yet, I imagine,” Lupin laughs a little and then his voice turns serious and intense. “Mr. Black, friends are delightful and important aids to strong mental health. But I could not let the display I saw earlier go unaddressed in good conscience. You lost your mother over the summer, did you not?”

 

“I did.” 

 

“I understand, truly I do, what it feels to be clinging with both hands to the people -- person -- you have left. But Tom, to have your worst fear be about someone else can be… indicative, shall we say, of dependence. It is important to have a support network, but dependence on a single person is a bit of a… warning sign for some less than savory outcomes.”

 

Tom grimaces. “Such as?” His voice is sharp and cold. 

 

Lupin is unaffected. “You might begin to smother Harry and cause him to pull away from your company, which right now, might leave you volatile. Some people with dependencies isolate the object of their affections. It may not turn into anything, but I would urge you to branch out beyond Harry. You are at school for the first time after a tragedy and it is natural to cling to what and who is familiar to you. However, Tom, you’ve been given the chance to live a full life amongst people like you. Take advantage of that.”

 

Tom envisions Harry distancing himself from Tom. He remembers, vividly, Harry saying, "I need more time."

 

To go through such a thing again, to spend every night searching for a boy who did not want to be found, to find his artist only for the marvel to slip away… that would be unacceptable.

 

And Tom has been given a second chance at life. He should live.  With Harry, of course, but the Professor does not need to know that.

 

“Thank you, Professor. I think I’m shaken by people I love dying more than Harry specifically dying if that makes sense. My mum just died, and she told me my father is probably dead too -- so Harry is all I have left. I guess I fear being alone.”

Lupin’s expression softens all at once. The fool bought it. Of course it’s about Harry specifically, but that makes me look like all the things he’s worried about… a warning sign for a controlling person. 

 

“That makes sense,” Lupin says quietly, “I apologize if I’ve offended you in any way, but everything I said still stands true. The more people you can connect with, the more people you can grow to love. There's no limit. You don't have to be alone any longer.”

Tom pretends to blink back tears. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.”

“You’re a good kid, Tom. Hogwarts, for reasons I cannot fathom, does not have any mind healers on site, but it might be best for you to talk to Pomona, your head of house. She can help you feel better and deal with your grief.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

***

 

Tom does not immediately return to his common room. Instead, he winds his way to the sixth floor and paces back and forth three times. I need a room where I can curse the Dursleys, I need a room where I can curse the Dursleys, I need a room --

 

As always, a door appears then opens. He wonders if Hogwarts remembers him and the meetings he held half a century ago in the same space with different people.

 

He walks inside and looks around, seeing a few books lying beneath stone columns. Dark magic done in this space will not leave the confines of the room and alert anyone to his activities. And the wand he is currently using does not have the trace because it was made mostly from Harry’s magic and a strange bit of… shared memory, Tom supposes. He’s still not entirely certain how exactly Harry came to draw a broken yew wand, or why Tom was able to fix it with a simple Reparo. Art and soul magic, clearly, works in odd ways.

 

Tom pulls out the hair of Petunia and Vernon from his cloak pocket, each strand in a phial and labeled. 

 

He begins to browse through the books the room provides, attempting to find the perfect spell. He does eventually find one fitting for Petunia. It centers around nightmares.

 

He’ll need some of Harry’s blood to make it work -- but no matter. He has that with him as well, because he’s collected everything he might need from Harry whilst the boy stayed with him during the last few summer weeks. They shared a bed after all and it was prudent to prepare for any future complications. He has some of Harry’s hair as well as fingernail clippings and a small sample of skin. (Harry doesn’t know Tom has these things, but that’s alright. Tom will only ever use his collection to protect his little artist.) 

 

He would have liked one of Harry’s baby teeth -- there’s so much one can do with baby teeth -- but he hadn’t known Harry in time to collect any.

 

He mixes a droplet of Harry’s blood in a cauldron the room seems to conjure with a bit of water and Petunia’s hair. Through a spell the book gives him, he melts the three ingredients together until he is left with a diluted brown-ish red liquid. 

 

He draws runes into the ground, a small circle of them centering around one more of Petunia’s hairs. Then he says, “Ad Somnia Consientium, salutem in carcere.”

 

He feels the room grow bright as the magic takes hold. Petunia will have nightmares now, every night, of Harry’s experiences as a child. She will feel his loneliness, his pains, his bruises and his hunger whenever she sleeps and often as she wakes.

 

The only place she will feel safe will be the cupboard under the stairs. It is an ironic and fitting punishment. There’s a part of him that longs to murder her, but Harry would probably be anguished over the loss of his relative. He’s given Petunia a chance at true peace -- if she ever regrets what she did to Harry, if she can change forever how she treats him, the nightmares will end. If the stupid Dudley being halfway-decent could give Harry so much happiness, Petunia could surely do the same. Leaving the possibility of redemption open to her will grant Harry the chance to one day have more family.

 

And, more importantly, death is a pain that comes just once. The mental torture he’s impressed upon Petunia will rob her of sleep, self-perception and her relationships. Vernon will not like a wife with waking nightmares. It's rather more refined than his previous favorite punishment. Crucios only do so much. Fear is a motivator but it does not change a person's perceptions of the world. To be able to change a life so utterly is true power.

 

Tom stares down at the hair he has of Vernon. His hands are wracked with tremors. There's a sheen of sweat on his brows. Rituals that alter minds are work and he is drained at the moment.

 

Harry does not seek out Vernon's love. He could very easily just kill the muggle and be done with the whole thing. But… Vernon is unpleasant. He will either leave Petunia within the year or she will leave him. Dudley will probably distance himself from his father.

 

Tom packs the hair away. He’ll revisit in a few years what to do about the odious man. After fifty years in the diary, he’s learned patience.

 

Chances are, Vernon will ruin his own life. The best cards are the ones you make other people play.

 

***

 

When he does make it back to the Hufflepuff common room, it becomes clear that not only Harry is worth search parties. Cedric and Beatrice are reportedly still out looking for Tom. Zacharias Smith, Tom’s least favorite housemate, clasps him on his back.

 

With a rude tone, the tall boy says, “We were all worried you were crying in some store-room closet.” And then, because Smith is still in the house of the loyal, he sniffs and asks in a tone pretending disinterest, “But you’re not such a big baby, are you?”

 

Tom always feels shaky after particularly taxing magic and mind magic certainly classifies. He's shivering, lightly. He manages a spectacularly unconvincing smile and says, “I’m fine.”

He’s not even surprised when he’s offered half a dozen chocolate bars from all over and a younger year -- a girl with blonde pigtails and a name he will never learn, comes over from halfway across the room leaving a trail of lights from beneath her heels.

 

She gives him a gentle hug as though he is made of glass. She smiles up at him. “You’ll be alright Tom. We can be your family too.”

 

It’s the sort of thing he should absolutely look at and sneer. He has no need for anything like this. But. But. He’s tired and shaken.

 

All he can say is, “Oh.”

 

She goes back to do whatever it is eleven-year-old girls occupy themselves with, and Zacharias Smith goes off to do whatever ponces occupy themselves with, and Tom is left with six unwrapped chocolate bars. 

 

Cedric and Beatrice reappear in the common room quickly and look at Tom with no small amount of relief. 

 

Beatrice comes forward and checks Tom for any obvious injuries. Then she says. “That was brutal, wasn’t it?”

 

Cedric nods. “The fifth years also had the boggart lesson. You can ask someone else about mine… but--” Cedric swallows, “Well, professor Sprout helped me out a bunch right afterward. She wants to see you too. You should go to her office, I promise she’ll help.”



Tom wants absolutely nothing less, but all these damn Hufflpuffs look so hopeful that he’ll go and speak to the professor, as though she can somehow fix him and his “irrational” but intense fears. 

 

“It’s not irrational.” He wants to shout. “ Harry really could die. And then I would really be on my own.”

 

But his middle is still warm from the clumsy hug of a small child. He still holds six chocolate bars in his hands. Being alone seems something that maybe, one treacherous part of himself whispers, maybe won’t ever happen again.

 

So he goes.

 

***

 

Professor Sprout’s office is decorated like the common room. Flowers climb the sides of the stone walls and several potted plants line the shelves. They seem to be dancing. 

 

Professor Sprout is sitting on a yellow couch that should be hideous but seems calming in its own way. Tom enters the room quietly and she waves him over. Her desk is piled high with papers and the armchair behind it is empty.

 

He takes a seat on the opposite her on the sofa and puts his bag at his feet. He looks at the woman with her black and yellow embroidered dress robes and cheeks that are always a little bit red. She’s not a thin woman and her arms are the sort that look like they were made for hugging. He imagines she’s embraced many snot-nosed Hufflepuffs missing home in her tenure. 

 

She doesn’t say anything. She merely looks at Tom with sad grey eyes. 

 

Uncomfortable, Tom says, “I heard you wanted to see me?”

 

Professor Sprout nods. “I did.  But the question, Tom, is not about what I want. I want many things. I do not want any of my students to be exposed to a boggart. I do not want children to stare down their greatest fears without the support they surely need. I do not want the students of this school to be in danger ever. I want the worst thing they have to worry about be if they look beautiful or handsome enough for a first date. I want so many things, Tom. I will admit that I want you to talk to me. But these are my desires. The question, my dear, is what do you want?”

 

She is so unlike Professor Slughorn it’s astounding. He remembers his second year when the older members of Slytherin objected to the prodigy “mudblood,” and seventh-year Rowle sent a tongue severing curse. Magic should not be defiled by your dirty spoken words. Oh, what’s that? Kneazle got your tongue? Madame Merriweather had managed to grow his tongue back and informed his head of house.

 

Slughorn bustled into the infirmary, all soft lines and finery draped robes. He asked Tom what happened. Even then, twelve years old and inexperienced, Tom recognized the glint in the man’s beady eyes.

 

The man wanted answers for gossip and making networks with alumni. Slughorn wanted to better understand the political structures of his house and determine how much one excellent outsider was changing the hierarchy. He did not want to help Tom. 

 

The lesson Tom learned from that situation he’s carried with him. Information freely given is information lost. It’s always better to withhold what people want and give it later -- at a price.

 

Professor Sprout doesn’t care what Tom tells her. She does not care about Harry Potter or dangerous relationships. Or maybe she does, but right now she cares about Tom. If his tongue had been severed by one of her badgers she probably would have rained down hellfire and made sure Tom was alright, not just physically, but emotionally too.

 

He doesn’t know how to act toward someone like that. There’s nothing to trade her for. Dumbledore will make exchanges for his supposed greater good, Slughorn would trade nearly anything to sate his greed. The only thing Professor Sprout wants is for her students to be healthy.

 

Tom still hasn’t spoken and Professor Sprout continues to look at him with her empathetic grey eyes. He remains silent. Finally, she says, “I have work to do. You're welcome to stay if you’d like.”

 

She gets up from the couch and goes behind the desk. She begins to flip through papers and mark them. 

 

Tom doesn’t want to talk to her about Harry, or his fear of being trapped in a diary again, or that he will turn into the monster he in some ways became in another life. He doesn’t know if he ever will.

 

Her quill makes scratches against parchment and she starts to hum softly. Tom doesn’t recognize the tune but it’s the kind of thing he wonders if she sings to baby Puffs when they can’t sleep and want their mothers.

 

He knows he should grimace. That’s what Tom would have done, twelve years old and tongue bleeding.

 

Instead, he pulls out his homework from his bag and begins to work, slowly but surely starting to hum along.

 

Professor Sprout’s hand pauses for one moment and then resumes its grading.




***



When Harry lands back near where the class is congregated, Draco looks a mess. The Slytherin’s robes have been scratched all over and strips of black fabric ripple in the gentle breeze. The side of his face is covered in dirt and his eyes are burning.


Hagrid has his hands raised. “... Yeh’re alrigh, ain’t yeh?” He’s saying somewhat angrily. Harry notices that the hippogriffs have all been put behind a pen that Buckbeak has decided to land within. He slides off buckbeak and looks at the pen, trying to figure out the best way to jump the wooden fence. Hermione spots him through a crack and her eyes go huge for a moment before she turns and starts stalking toward where Hagrid and Draco are yelling at each other.

 

Alright?” Comes Draco’s shrill disbelieving voice. “That bloody chicken could have taken my arm off!”

 

Hagrid rolls his eyes. “It got a bit of yer robe. Yeh’re fine. Yeh didn’ bow and she was a tad offended. Yeh’ll know better next time, won’t yeh?”

Draco makes an affronted noise. “Next time? You can’t honestly believe I’ll let this stand. There will be no next time. My father will hear about this!”

Dean snickers and says, mocking, “Oh no. Malfoy’s going to tell his daddy about his fashion emergency.”

 

Draco turns on Dean. “And what if the beast had taken your arm off? What then? Would you be laughing? Harry’s still up there and maybe he’s fallen and none of us know. This is dangerous and if I’m the only one to see it, then so be it!”

 

Pansy Parkinson makes a cooing noise. “Draco, darling, I agree with you.”



Blaise Zabini fakes a gag.

 

Hagrid sighs. “It’s good yer worried about Harry, but he’s probably having the time of his life. The boy’s a born flier.”

 

Harry feels his hair getting nosed by a hippogriff. 

 

Draco says, “Who said I was worried?” at the same time Harry says, “Em, excuse me? Hagrid?”

 

No one hears him but thankfully Hermione has reached Hagrid and then she says, calm as anything, “Harry’s in the pen with Buckbeak, Hagrid. Might be best to get him out.”

 

Ron says, “In the pen, you said?” As Hagrid says, “See?” To Draco and as Draco says, audibly, “Oh thank Salazaar.”

 

In the end, Hagrid skillfully maneuvers Harry away from the congregation of Hippogriffs who have been nuzzling his hair with a single-minded attention. 

 

Proud as anything, Hagrid puts his huge hands on Harry’s tiny shoulders. “They like yeh,” he says eyes suspiciously bright, “Yer a good sort, Harry.”

 

Harry smiles. “Thanks, Hagrid.”

Hagrid returns the smile full force before it falls. Bending down, he whispers in Harry’s ear, “But be careful, Harry, of that Tom boy. He does anything and ye come to me, understand? He’s dangerous, he is.”

 

Harry nods. “I’ll do that.”

 

Hagrid smiles again. “Good man, Harry.”

 

The Slytherins and Gryffindors make their way off the grounds and back into the castle. Hermione smooths down Harry’s hair best as she can. (It’s not a whole lot.)

 

Neville seems to be having the time of his life talking to Lavender Brown. 

 

“What’s that about?” Harry asks, jerking his head in their direction.

 

Hermione grimaces. “They’re debating how a hat might be able to protect against a snake, and what kind of snake Neville might meet. It’s a load of absolute Hogwash if you ask me.”

 

Ron grins. “But they didn’t ask you. And I say that Neville looked a right shade paler than death this morning so if he’s happy now who are we to take it from him?”

 

Hermione flicks Ron’s ear. “I never said he doesn’t deserve to be happy. It’s only that I think pursuing fake prophecies only ever leads to downfall.”

 

Harry shrugs. “Or having sex with your mum.”

 

Ron shudders. “Gross mate.”

 

“He was talking about Oedipus Ron.”

 

“Bless you.”

 

“It’s a famous Greek legend.”

 

Harry nods. “Bénigne Gagneraux painted some spectacular scenes from Oedipus.”

 

Hermione turns to consider Harry. “I didn’t know you knew much about famous painters.”

 

They’ve arrived at the fat lady. Ron says, “Birchwater lemon tails,” and the door swings open.

 

“Well,” Harry replies, “I am an art student. There’s this thing that people who like making art tend to like looking at it.”

 

Hermione bristles, “I know that,” she says, “I just think it’s wonderful.”

 

“And I think that it's wonderful you think so,” Harry says. 

 

Ron looks at them. “Well, not to break up this wonderful moment but I have some questions for Harry about Tom.”

 

“Can we do it in the dorm room? I don’t want to talk about it here.” Harry asks.

 

Hermione frowns. “Oh of course, just leave me out why don’t you?”

 

Ron blurts, “Girls can get into the boy’s room, can’t they?”

 

“But it’s still against the rules!” Hermione protests. Harry gives her a flat stare.




A few minutes later the three of them are huddled on Harry’s bed with the curtains tied up.

 

Ron sighs. “I don’t like how touchy he is with you. It feels proprietary somehow.”

 

Hermione glances at Ron with confusion. “If you know that word, why don’t you use it more often?”

Ron falls against a pillow. “Because then you’d have expectations.”

 

Hermione huffs. "I already have expectations."

 

Ron says, "They'd be worse. But what of Tom, Harry?"

 

Harry holds his knees against his chest. 

 

“I don’t talk about it a whole lot, but my childhood wasn’t… great.”

 

Ron grimaces. “I could have guessed that from the bars on your window.”

 

Hermione makes a noise in the affirmative. (She’s heard this story before from two irate Weasley twins.)

 

Harry insects one of his nails. “I didn’t get told I love you a whole lot. Or ever. Um. The first time I got a hug was from Hermione in the hospital after the whole sorcerer stone thing. So Tom, he holds me and cares for me, and I know to other people it might be too much, but I think I need it. I feel so lonely sometimes, but he’s there for me, you know? He’ll always hug me. And maybe, maybe he doesn’t love me. But he needs me too. And I think that’s enough.”

 

Ron’s face goes all sad and fond. “You know I do love you, Harry, right? I love you like I love Charlie because he’s my best brother. He’s cooler than you, though.”

Harry lets something between a sob and a giggle. “I try to know that. I love you too.” He looks at Hermione who seems to be blinking back tears. “And I love you.”

 

Hemione throws herself into Harry’s arms. “Of course I love you. I didn’t realize that was your first hug or I would have, should have --” She dissolves into meaningless grumbles as Ron joins the cuddle pile. 

 

“Though,” Hermione says after she’s collected herself, “If the first time you were ever hugged was in your first year, how is Tom your childhood friend?”

Ron nods vigorously and Harry feels the hairs tickle his cheek. 

 

“Well, so you see --”

 

In simple terms, he explains finding the diary and drawing in it, and the dreams and the writing to each other and Ron says, (Never trust something if you can’t see where it keeps its brain!) And Hermione is scary silent.

 

And Harry doesn’t talk about Tom being Voldemort’s soul but he does start crying in earnest when he talks about the day Tom came to life and all his creations died.

 

They miss dinner. 

 

Ron seems to understand a little about Tom but says, “I still don’t like him.”

 

Hermione seems a million miles away. “I wonder how someone gets trapped in a diary,” is all she says.

 

When Seamus comes into the room he’s greeted by the site of the three of them cuddling on the bed. 

 

“Is this polyamory?” He asks semi-seriously. 

 

Ron shakes his head. “Platonic love.”

 

Dean pokes his head in. “Oh, hey ‘Mione.”

 

“Hey, Dean.”

 

Neville wanders in and looks at the group. “Can I join?” He asks shyly. 

 

Harry holds out his arms. “Get in here, Nev.”

 

Ron says, “See, Harry? We’ll all give you hugs.”

 

Seamus groans. “Speak for yourself. I certainly won’t.”



***

 

The next day, Harry finds himself with sweating palms in Defense Against the Dark Arts. He’s heard from several people that he will be facing a boggart with the rest of the class. He also knows that Tom’s boggart was Harry’s own death.

 

Many people have been asking him if he and Tom are an item or what their relationship is “really,” but Harry’s ignored them valiantly. Tom was suspiciously absent at breakfast and was unable to either dismiss or substantiate any rumors. (Harry heard that Tom was helping Professor Sprout with something.)

 

Harry’s fairly certain his greatest fear is those creatures he saw on the train. He can still remember the way he felt when the cold was seeping into his blood. He can see the absence of a face, a dark hood, and hear the scream… the blood-curdling scream.

 

Harry barely registers the teacher introducing himself, or the class following the man in second-hand robes to the staff room.

 

He does notice Snape sneering at Lupin with the kind of hatred he had previously reserved for Harry before the man sweeps out to the corridor.

 

Neville’s boggart is Snape himself, and Harry admits to finding it amusing when the Riddikulus spell creates an image of the potions master in a feathered hat.

 

Hermione’s worst fear is McGonagall telling her that she failed not only all of her classes but also all of her friends and that she is going to be expelled for lacking magic and posing a danger to the students of the school. She screams, cries, sniffs, and then says, “Riddikulus.”

 

McGonagall turns into an apple screaming about Hermione’s bad grades and the girl smirks and says, “You’re just a fruit.”

 

Ron’s boggart is an enormous spider that he gives roller skates. Harry stands to take his turn but Lupin steps in front of him and the boggart turns into a white orb that Lupin then makes take the shape of a deflating balloon before locking the boggart back in the cabinet. 

 

Lupin says cheerily, “Well done! You are all excellent. That was a promising first lesson given the state of your last two years in this discipline.”

 

As everyone begins to shuffle away, Harry hangs back. “Professor?” He asks.

 

The man looks at Harry. “What can I do for you, Mr. Potter?”

 

“It’s just, I didn't have a go at the boggart.”

“Ah,” The man says, “Well, after Tom’s boggart yesterday, I thought yours might be a little disturbing and private. If you’d like, you can come practice this afternoon.”

 

Harry nods. “Yes, thank you.”

 

“I’ll be in my office.”

 

***

 

After a class of ancient runes with Hermione which Harry thoroughly enjoys, he makes his way to the defense office. Lupin is grading papers when Harry comes in but he looks up with a smile. 

 

“Ah, Harry. Shall we see about this boggart? I moved the cabinet in here just for you.”

 

Harry swallows nervously. “Thank you, I guess. I just feel like I need to be prepared for anything.”

 

Lupin’s eyes are understanding. “Of course you do. You understand how Riddikulus works, yes?”

 

“Yes,” Harry says.

 

“Just imagine your worst fear and make it something amusing. The clearer image in your head, the easier it will be to fight the boggart.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Well then, here we go.” 

 

Lupin unlatches the closet and immediately the room starts to grow cold. Harry is freezing. His fingers feel like ice. The creature is getting closer and he tries to fight against the chill and the darkness. He can’t remember what he’s trying to do. There’s nothing funny about the creature or the scream he’s hearing. 

 

Stand aside you silly girl --

 

Take me instead

 

He flinches at a flash of green light and curls up. And then, suddenly the cold is gone and there’s a silver wolf resting at his feet. 

 

Harry feels a hand on his shoulder.

 

“A dementor,” Lupin says thoughtfully, “Your father would be proud.”

 

Harry relaxes slightly. “My father, sir?”

 

“Oh, he and I were rather close. Nothing says Gryffindor more than your worst fear being fear itself.”

 

“I was useless,” Harry says despondently.

 

“Not so. There are ways to protect against boggarts and dementors. That wolf at your feet, he’s a Patronus. I can teach you to make one if you’d like. It’s hard magic, but I think you’ll be able to manage.”

 

Harry forces himself to stand. Lupin looks at him with far too much affection for just a professor.

 

“Right,” he says, “A Patronus. Yeah, I’d like to try.”

 

Lupin says, “Excellent. Think of your happiest memory and then say the words ‘Expecto Patronum,’ with this wand movement,” Lupin demonstrates. “Go on then, give it a go.”

 

Harry thinks about last night when Ron and Hermione told him they loved him. “Expecto Patronum.” 

 

Nothing happens. Lupin shrugs. “You’ll get there. Come back tomorrow, won’t you?”

 

Harry feels defeated and frustrated. He sighs, “Yeah. I’ll be back.”

 

****

 

He falls into a routine. He spends every Thursday in Lupin’s office trying to fight the feeling of ice and hearing his mother’s desperate pleas.

 

He spends every Friday afternoon with Tom in the Hufflepuff common room or in the older boy's bed (the Hufflepuffs have gotten used to Harry and Tom's odd relationship and only Zacharias Smith will complain about them being inapropriate), being held and told that he’s alright. Ron and Hermione are wonderful but neither of them understands what it is to feel trapped in your own skin -- to know something terrible is going to happen and you are absolutely helpless to stop it. 

 

That’s the worst part. Even more than not being able to make a Patronus, Harry hates that he can never save his mum. He can't help but detest that there’s a small part of him that wants to stop fighting against the boggart if only to be able to focus, for one mere second, on the sound of his mother’s voice.

 

He says to Tom, one Friday when they're both under the covers of Tom’s bed in their pajamas and the older boy is mindlessly tracing patterns on Harry’s collar bones, “Aren’t you going to tell me to stop practicing my Patronus?”

 

Tom doesn’t pause his tracing and his blunt nails leave goosebumps in their wake. “Why would I do that, sweetheart?”

 

“I’m a mess and this isn’t helping.”

Tom puts a thumb over one of the mind guardians. Harry shivers. Tom smirks and then circles the stone with his index finger. “No darling, I won’t tell you to stop. I will never coddle you to the point you are left unable to protect yourself. This is something you need to learn.”

 

Harry scooches forward until he can rest his nose against Tom’s shoulder. “It’s scary. What if I can never make one?”

 

Tom presses a kiss to Harry’s brow. “You can. You will. I know you will.”



Hogsmeade weekends help him feel a bit better as well. If one good thing came from the summer, it was Petunia signing his permission slip. Beatrice always buys him butterbeer, Hermione gets books on ancient runes and famous magical painters with him, and Ron and the twins bring him to Zonko’s and they have great laughs.

 

He and Tom and any friends that want to will often spend a few moments on a bench, watching the world go by.

 

Most Mondays, Dudley sends him a letter. They never fail to make Harry smile. He learns that Dudley's joined the boxing team and has decided to stop eating so many sweets. He sends back letters filled with doodles and bits about his life, careful to never explicitly mention magic because his cousin attends a muggle school.

 

Even so, Harry feels like he’s drowning. He paints a single red leaf drifting in a storm, getting drenched in falling grey rain and caught in violent winds.

 

He paints the bottom of a lake in winter, fish lethargic in the cold. There's a coat of ice on the top of the water and light shines down in a thousand different places, each sparkle refracted by frost. Cracks are blooming in a deadly imitation of spring. If you stand close enough to the painting, you can hear the sounds of the lake's surface beginning to break.


There are silhouettes of shoes visible on the top of the ice, darkness emboldened by the sunlight of winter. 

 

And the cracks continue to form, slowly. The fish continue to drift listlessly. 

 

Someone will fall into the water soon.

 

***

There are two weeks to Christmas when Harry knocks on Lupin’s door once more to attempt the Patronus. The closest he’s managed to get in these last few months has been a single bit of silver-ish smoke. Lupin assures him his progress has been very impressive, but Harry thinks impressive isn’t good enough -- not for this.

 

As always Lupin smiles and holds up a mug of hot chocolate. Back at the beginning of these sessions, he’d said, “ Chocolate helps and hot chocolate was Lily’s favorite.”

 

It might be worth living through his worst fear just for the little tidbits he gets from Lupin about his parents.

 

“Are you ready to try again?” Lupin asks.

 

“Always.”

 

The professor lets the boggart out of its closet and immediately it takes the form of a dementor. Today, Harry has decided, he really will just let himself listen to his mother’s voice. He can try in earnest next week. But for right now, he thinks his happiest memory will be that his mother loved him enough to ask, “Take me instead.”

 

He stares at the dementor (boggart) dead-on, looking into where its eyes would be.

 

It’s still cold. He’s wrapped up in the kind of chill that goes beneath your skin, under bones, and wraps around your heart in a grip of ice. 

 

But… the boggart isn’t a real dementor. There’s no danger here of his soul being taken, the only danger is his own mind.

 

He’s not scared of the cold. Not really. He’s been cold before. He has memories of shivering in a closet with only a thin blanket and the heating turned off when his relatives went on a day trip to who knows where. He wasn’t scared then. Before he even had a name for it, he was using magic in little ways to protect against the cold, to protect against bad haircuts and locked doors and pain.

 

The cold right now reminds him that magic is real. And magic is one part of life Harry will never fear. So he stops fighting against the chill and welcomes it.

 

For a moment, he experiences perfect clarity and calm. He’s seeing, as though he’s out of his own body, his mother twenty one and beautiful. Her eyes are a familiar shade of green and wide with terror. Her red hair whips around her head with the force of her shivers. 

 

Voldemort -- for it must be Voldemort -- is walking toward her with deliberate footfalls, so reminiscent of the way Tom walks. But where Tom is full of vibrance, Voldemort is statuesque and monotone. 

 

Harry stares at his mother eagerly even knowing how this scene ends. 

 

He hears thoughts that are not his own and unbidden a memory floats to the surface of his mind. He has an echo of Professor Trewlaney saying from beneath too many shining necklaces and pounds of glittering powder,  “soul sight is a forgotten gift, use it wisely.”

 

He hadn’t understood what she meant then, but as he stares at his young mother in the moments before tragedy takes her from the world, he does.

 

He knows on one level that this cannot be real. This moment exists only in his mind. And yet… magic makes the impossible real if only in his head. 

 

He can feel his mother’s thoughts. She’s shaking and thinking, desperately, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. Please, I don’t want to die. 

 

She’s looking back at the baby in the crib, his young self. 

 

I want to watch him grow up. I want to be there when he starts riding on a broomstick and when he plays his first prank on his father. Merlin, James will deserve it. I want to be there when he gets his Hogwarts letter. I want to write him back when he starts going out to Hogsmeade with someone who catches his eyes. I want to be there at his wedding and I want to do it all again with my grandchildren. I want to grow old and wrinkled and lament my hair turning grey with Petunia. Surely she can’t stay mad at me forever.

 

I don’t want to die. It’s not fair. Please, I want to live.

 

Harry’s breath catches. Like the steady turns of a clock, Voldemort’s steps come closer to Lily. 

 

His voice is inhumanly high and grating.  “Stand aside you silly girl.”

 

Harry’s eyes are trained on his mother, he’s seeing beyond the surface of her appearance. He doesn’t even know if the words he is hearing are her thoughts or something deeper, something from her soul. 

 

As if I would stand aside. I’m not a girl, not anymore. I’m a mother.

 

Her voice is desperate, “Take me instead.”

 

I don’t want to die, she’s thinking. I haven’t had long enough. I’ve known my son not even two years. He can only say four words and three of them are about juice. He makes bubbles that look like snowflakes during bath time and they’re beautiful, if not a little wonky. I wonder if he’ll be an artist one day when he’s old enough. I want to see it. I want to see him grow up. I want to watch five dozen winters and make hot chocolate the muggle way because it works goddamnit.

 

I don’t want to die. I don’t want Petunia to bury me. 

 

But I want Harry to have a future. That’s worth everything. 

 

The monster speaks again. “Stand aside now.”

 

Lily looks back in defiance. You will take me instead. Her voice is soft, “I won’t.”

 

Voldemort raises his wand. Harry hears a scream. As the monster begins to say the words of death, Lily’s eyes land on where Harry, the Harry of this moment, is looking at the scene.

 

A green light flashes. 

 

Her eyes fill with unbridled joy. “ You're alive. You lived.”

 

She falls.

 

From somewhere deep within him, he’s filled with a sense of overflowing love and happiness. 

 

It was worth everything. 

 

He does not remember the words and still, he speaks. 




“Expecto Patronum.”

 

 

 

***



 

 

The room is bathed in dazzling silver light.

Chapter Text

Shadows have always been something of a comfort to Harry. He grew up hiding from his uncle in the umbras between the identical houses of Privet Drive, and huddling beneath a flickering bulb in the shadows of his dingy cupboard. There’s a kind of safety in darkness, one so very different and yet so very similar to the safety afforded by light. 

 

When Harry looks out at the end of his wand and to the room beyond, he first notices the defined shadows. They dance and flicker in patterns of obsidian midnight, the chair legs’ and tables’ black silhouettes casting down the stone floor as waterfalls, the space between the cupboard and back wall shrouded the color of coal.

 

The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. I’ve always known that.

 

And the light is bright, that’s what Harry sees second. Prancing about on thin air is something that looks like a doe, only she is so much larger than she has any right to be, larger than a bull maybe, but no less slender for it, silver hide glowing from within as though she has captured the moon in her belly. 

 

But she cannot be a doe because she has antlers of spun gold, huge shining auriferous antlers, the sort that look like trees on the precipice of blossoming. Her antlers stand tall and proud and sprout boldly from her head. Her hooves are the color of the brass pocket watch Harry’s seen once or twice in his family’s vault and they make almost the same sound as she canters about, her steps sounding out a steady tick-tick like the hands of time. 

 

She is stunning, the impossible doe, and warm in a way Harry cannot begin to fathom. In fact, Harry feels very much like he is the not-quite a doe, like his heart is beating in some faraway place and his bones are intangible, present but not part of the natural world. 

 

The doe shakes her head on her journey about the office too small for her splendor, once, twice, before coming to rest in front of Harry’s legs, head resting heavy (there, but not there) against his thigh. 

 

His breaths are in time with hers, they blink in unison.

 

Professor Lupin’s voice is too wondering, too joyous, for the occasion. “A Ceryneian Hind,” he says with murmured adoration, “Sacred beasts of the goddess Artemis, a prophet of Heracles.”

 

The words Harry means to say are stuck in his throat when he looks (but is it he who looks?) at Professor Lupin’s scarred face. Affection so strong it would be startling if he could still notice such things rises within him and he only doesn’t cup his professor’s cheeks between his too small palms because he feels like that is not something he can do, but he wants, oh how he wants, to embrace the tired man before him.

 

“Harry,” Professor Lupin says with real pride, “Patronuses of legends are exceedingly rare. I have never seen any Patronus with a color other than silver, I did not know it was possible, and yet… yet you have commanded the impossible at just thirteen. You're a marvel.”

 

The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. 

 

It cannot be his voice that says, with a kind of desperate relief, “Remus.”

 

Professor Lupin jolts and looks at Harry with startling intensity. 

 

“Harry?” 

 

And these, these are the words of a woman dead, and the words of a boy who saw her. She’s not speaking but he’s still feeling her deep in his marrow, in the place beyond himself and beyond herself, in the place where self and soul mean only that someone once lived.

 

He’s crying. “Remus.” It’s not a repetition but a fantasy unfolding in reality. His voice is filled with something akin to joy. “You’ve gone grey around the edges, Rem.” Harry takes a shuddering breath that fills lungs that are too far away to be his. “Getting older...it-- it-- suits you.”

 

“Harry…” Professor Lupin says in a hoarse whisper, “that’s not you, is it? Lily…”

 

Harry shakes his head like the Ceryneian Hind had earlier, as though trying to get water out of his ears. Who is he? Where does he end and she begin? Where is he?

 

Come on now, little soul traveler, the voice sounds so much like Tom, let me bring back to your own two feet.

 

The Ceryneian Hind paws at the ground and Harry blinks out of time with the creature of his soul, their breaths all at once out of sync. Harry sways on weak legs. 

 

The Patronus dissipates in a cascade of silver and golden sparks and for one brilliant moment illuminates the room with fireworks of dazzling light, before disappearing without a trace and leaving behind a smattering of muted shadows.

 

Harry sinks to his knees, palms slapping on stone floors. He breathes deeply, cheeks damp with tears he can only vaguely remember crying. 

 

“... Professor?” He asks, voice near-silent and raw with sadness.

 

Professor Lupin kneels down by Harry on the floor placing a firm hand on his shoulder. He carefully examines Harry from his head to his toes. “Harry?” His voice is hesitant, as though someone else could have been inside this young body, as though Harry was not alone. 

 

The young Gryffindor stares into the professor’s tawny eyes. He sees something there, a fear, a feral beast, a wolf, a moon, pain, death, his mother and his father and a rat and Sirius, the man who was Paddy, and a burning desire to be anything, anyone else.

 

Harry looks down at the floor. Werewolf. Hates himself for it. Guilty for everything. I’m so sorry, Sirius. I should have done more for you. Harry clenches his fist against the cold stone, remembering the searing agony of his first transformation when he was far too young, the snapping jaws --

 

The voice in his head this time comes much louder. Now, now, little traveler. Stay inside your own soul for a long while. This is getting out of hand.

 

There’s a pressure at his scar that almost hurts, and then his head is blissfully silent.

 

The words Harry eventually speaks are not the ones he wants, but they are still true. “I miss them," he whispers.

 

Professor Lupin seems to breathe a sigh of relief at Harry acting like… Harry. “Who, Harry?”

 

“My parents. I think… I think they were good people.”



Professor Lupin smiles in a way too beaten down to hold joy. “The best.” He settles next to Harry more comfortably, the two of them side by side on the unforgiving floor. “You know, James’ Patronus was a stag. It had antlers, silver mind, but just like the ones on your Ceryneian Hind. And your mother’s was a doe. So you are neither of them and both of them. Your Patronus is a legendary animal, a doe with antlers. You know, James always told me that you were going to be something special. At just eight-months-old, he held you up and said, ‘he’s got my hair and Lily’s eyes, and just watch, he’s our sum and he’s going to be greater than both our parts.’ And you know what Harry, I think he was right.”

 

Harry wraps his arms around his legs and leans his head against the makeshift pillow of his appendages. “I never asked to be great,” He says, “I never wanted to be, either.”



Remus sighs, his exhale long and steady. “I think there was never any world where you could have been anything less than great, I’m sorry to say. It speaks well of you, however, that you also continue to be good.

 

Harry nods dejectedly into his knees.

 

“And Harry,” Professor Lupin says, “There’s no need to come to my office next Thursday unless you’d like a cup of tea. I believe I can safely say you’ve mastered the Patronus far beyond anything I could hope to teach you.”

 

Harry uncurls himself and rises from the floor. He has many things he’d like to say, and many things that he cannot say, so he settles for, “Have biscuits and I’ll be there.”

 

***

 

 

Harry is not at all surprised that he cannot stomach much dinner, although it does seem to concern Hermione and Ron who both surreptitiously place bits of bread and pastries and easy to stomach items on his plate long after he’s full.

 

Tom is giving him a Look from across the hall at the Hufflepuff table but at the moment, Harry has bigger concerns. He can’t get his mother’s words out of his head any more than he can the feelings he got from Remus and the image of his Patronus.

 

And there’s a voice that talks to him in his mind, and that seems very bad.

 

“Hermione,” his words cut through her argument with the Weasley twins, (there are ethics you are violating, can’t you see? Children are not experiments!), and she immediately turns to him.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Em,” He studies the fluffy roll on his plate intently. “Do you think you could help me figure some things out tonight?”

 

Hermione beams. She loves being helpful and is always happiest when people need her. Harry often does. “Of course, I’d be happy to help.”

 

Ron pauses with his mouth full of Shepherd’s pie. “I’ll come too because everything is better when I’m around.”

 

It’s meant to be a joke, and Harry does smile, but then he says quite seriously, “That’s right. Everything is.”

 

The twins take advantage of Ron’s bashful mumbles to chorus, “Oh little Ronikins has achieved friendship at long last.”

Ron grumbles, “Oh sod off.”

The twins merely grin.

 

“Will Tom be coming?” Hermione asks. Her voice is carefully blank. She doesn’t particularly like Tom. Harry thinks it might because his existence is a puzzle to her, but the more she seems to figure out, the less she seems to like him.

 

She asked if he knew there was an award for a “Tom Marvolo Riddle” in the trophy room just yesterday to which Harry had said yes.

 

“Odd coincidence, isn’t it?” She’d remarked.

 

He forgets sometimes how smart she can be.

 

Hermione looks at him expectantly. Ah, right. He’d been asked if Tom was coming. “Um, no. My questions are a little about him, maybe?”

 

Hermione nods, satisfied. Ron seems pleased. (He’s never liked Tom, even if he now understands why Harry does.)

 

When the food is cleared, Tom ambles over to the Gryffindor table and lays a hand on Harry’s back, his thumb rubbing slow circles on the younger boy’s neck and palm splayed between his shoulder blades.

 

“You didn’t eat enough,” Tom says as a greeting. “Are you feeling well?”

 

Harry looks up and meets Tom’s dark grey eyes. “I’m alright. Patronus practice was rough. But I made one today.”



Tom smiles, proud. “See?” He asks in a teasing tone. “I said you’d be able to make one, didn’t I?”

 

Harry ducks his head. “You did.”

 

Tom seems to get a little somber. “You did manage it faster than I thought you would, though.” He pauses as though in serious thought before his face lightens. “Do you think you could summon one now?”

 

Ron and Hermione and the remaining Gryffindors all look on with interest.

 

“I’m not sure, but I can try.”

 

Ron says, “Only if you want to. No pressure.”


“Thanks, Ron,” Harry says, “but I want to give it another go.”

 

“Well go on then,” Tom encourages. “Let’s get a glimpse of your beautiful soul.” Harry flinches and Tom frowns, a question on his lips, but Harry’s tuning them all out.

 

There’s no boggart in the great hall. There’s the din of students packing up and the kind of sleepy content that comes with finishing a meal. Draco is staring at Tom from the Slytherin table. Hermione is soft and comforting at his side. Tom's breath is steady at his ear and sends goosebumps down his spine. The floating candles give the room a cheery glow. The night sky is ripe with constellations and the kind of mist that swirls around starlight like a curtain of gossamer fantasy.

 

It will be easier to make a Patronus here than it was against the cold in Lupin’s office. Harry closes his eyes. He remembers clearly Dudley holding his diary, awe in his eyes, sympathy written in his brows. He remembers the frenzy taps of pudgy fingers against thighs and the words, “I guess -- I guess I didn’t need two bedrooms.”

 

(It is enough.)

 


His voice is all his own this time, full of wonder and quiet content, “Expecto Patronum.”

 

He hears gasps around the room and can even see a glimmer from beneath his closed lids, but he does not open his eyes for a few moments. He allows himself to bask in the feeling of warmth spreading out from his chest and enveloping his body.

 

Tom’s sharp intake of breath is what finally causes him to open his eyes. His Ceryneian Hind is cantering around the great hall, resplendent in her hues of silver and gold.

 

Harry forgot that the teachers were still sitting at the head table, and he watches as they all observe Patronus with awe, shock, and in Snape’s case, forced disinterest.

 

Dumbledore makes eye contact with Harry, winks, and raises his glass.

 

Tom seems transfixed and as the Patronus disappears, he shakes himself and says, “Come on now, eat three more bites for me before they clear this away.”

 

 

After dinner, Harry says his farewells to Tom (who seems miffed to be told “no, I won’t sneak you into the Gryffindor common room tonight”) ("Well I could just bring you into the Hufflepuff rooms",) ("I said no",) and he and Hermione and Ron once again make their way into the third year’s boy dormitory of Gryffindor.

 

Hermione is all seriousness and wards his bed so that with the curtains closed, their voices won’t carry.

 

“Nice one, ‘Mione. When’d you learn that?” Ron asks.

 

Hermione sniffs. “I learned it from the glossary in Hogwarts: A History. There was a footnote about the spell in chapter fourteen on the limitation and augmentations of the school protections and so I looked it up in Intermediate Stationary Self-Defense: the Power of Charms by Osbert Salamin.”



Ron lies down on Harry’s bed. “Well, would you look at that? Hogwarts: A History is at it again. Making Granger’s life easier since the first year of school.”

 

Hermione settles herself into a crossed leg position. “You could always read it, you know.”

 

Ron raises one brow. “Who’s to say I haven’t?”

 

Harry raises his hand. “Me. I’m pretty confident you have never gone past the first three pages.”

“Traitor,” Ron says.

 

Hermione ignores him and asks, “Harry, you said you needed some help?”

 

“Right,” Harry says, “Well, I guess, when I made my Patronus, I kind of saw my mum, and like heard her thoughts —"

 

Ron interrupts, “Like necromancy or soul sight?”

 

Harry pauses. “You know about that? It’s something Trewlawney said I have, but I didn’t really get until this afternoon.”

 

Hermione says, viciously, “She’s a hack,” even as Ron says, “the last known person to have known soul-sight was more than two centuries ago and the court painter for the French Wizard King, but it’s pretty famous.”

 

Hermione looks over at Ron sharply. “Are there books about it?”

 

“Loads,” Ron affirms, “I read a few when I was younger because it seemed like such a cool skill. Harry might really be a soul seer. We can just cross-check your experiences with Master LeFay’s. Was that what you needed to figure out: if you are you a soul seer?”

 

Harry says, “Not entirely. I also kind of got stuck in Lupin’s mind for a bit, and then I heard this voice that sounds a bit like Tom telling me to come back into my own head.”



Ron and Hermione exchange a glance. Hermione says, unsurprised but concerned, “... I have a few theories about that voice. I just need to see if they hold any water.”

 

And that doesn't sound ominous at all.

 

 

***

 

The next morning goes better than Harry has any reason to expect. He works off some of his stress during Quidditch practice and pushes himself so strongly even Alicia notices. ("Good work Potter, but maybe lay off a bit, yeah?") The feeling of weightlessness and becoming nothing more than someone searching for a glimmer of gold calms him like nothing else.

 

Flying is different than painting. His whole body is engaged. He’s not making anything. He’s becoming something. (He needs to have both.)

 

It is somehow unsurprising, therefore, that after his shower, he’s called to Dumbledore’s office. He grits his teeth against the agitated feeling burbling in his stomach and follows the portrait sent to summon him, a medieval bald man, to the headmaster’s office.

 

“Password’s ‘Star Anise.’” It tells him.

 

“Thanks,” Harry says. “Star Anise,” he nods to the gargoyle and the door swings open. He ascends the stairs to Dumbledore’s office and is surprised to see Tom already sitting down in one of two chairs across from Dumbledore’s desk.

 

The headmaster looks positively joyful. “Ah, Harry. How good of you to join us.”



Harry gingerly sits next to Tom who immediately grabs the younger’s hand as though to comfort him.

 

“Yes,” Harry says slowly, “Why exactly am I here?”

 

Dumbledore steeples his fingers together on his desk. “What exactly do you know about Sirius Black?”

 

Tom’s body seems to relax and Harry frowns. “He was a murderer, right? Thirteen people killed. But he was also my dog for a while. I don’t understand the whole thing.”

 

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkle, radiant as stars. “He was not a murderer, it turns out. He was framed…” a story unfolds of friends and fathers and animagni and betrayal. The hatred he feels for Peter is so deep it burns.

 

Sirius has been exonerated, Dumbledore assures Harry, after the re-appearance of supposedly dead Peter Pettigrew and the extensive use of veritaserum. The whole thing is being kept under wraps for now, but the wizard rumor mill has the right idea of things. Fudge, the minister, is going to be doing a whole Christmas special with all the exonerated prisoners he finds in the interim.

 

“There are more?” Harry asks faintly.

 

Dumbledore sighs. “I’m afraid due process was foregone following the war. Fudge is trying to spin himself benevolent and to avoid any backlash, he’s being quite thorough about the whole thing. So far just one other innocent has survived incarceration.”

 

Tom says, “Survived?”



Dumbledore’s wrinkles belay his grief and for a moment he allows his jovial facade to wane. “It seems that no less than three innocent individuals suffered and died from dementor exposure.” Dumbledore shudders. “Horrible things, dementors.” There’s a story there, hidden beneath the weak attempt at humor, just itching to be unlocked from its place behind Dumbledore’s polished veneer. Harry forces himself to look away.

 

You’re learning. Harry refuses to acknowledge the voice.

 

When the room lapses into silence, both Tom and the Headmaster eye Harry expectantly. Harry, still mulling the whole thing over, says what first comes to mind: “My Dad and his friends became Animagni because Lupin’s a werewolf, right? So they could keep him company during the full moon. And the reason why he couldn’t take care of me when Sirius was in Azkaban is that he’s a werewolf, right?”

 

Dumbledore blinks. “I wasn’t aware Professor Lupin divulged his greatest secret to you.”

 

Tom’s hand tightens on Harry’s. “You let a dark creature into a school with children?” He hisses.

 

Dumbledore is supremely unconcerned. “Professor Lupin is perfectly safe to be around.” He promises. “Professor Snape is seeing to that. Surely you do not begrudge an honest man an honest livelihood, Tom.”

 

“I begrudge the reckless endangerment of children, Professor.”

 

Dumbledore beams. “Well, that is a welcome surprise.” He looks mournfully down at an empty glass bowl on his desk. “I’m afraid I’m fresh out of sweets, but would either of you like some tea?”

 

Tom says, curt, “No.”

 

“I’m good, thanks," Harry says, "But, if Sirius is innocent, then —“

 

“Then can he become your guardian? Was that your question?” Harry nods. Dumbledore leans back in his chair. “As your godfather, he certainly can gain custody of you, Harry. But there's a reason why you are both here. Tom, as the last son of Black, Sirius must become your guardian. Harry, you have your aunt and uncle and no matter how much Sirius may want you, I can keep you from going to him. It’s your choice and so I recommend —“

 

“I want him. Sirius.” Harry interrupts. “Please.”



Dumbledore sighs. “Harry, I would counsel you not to make any rash decisions. This weekend Sirius has agreed to meet the two of you in a private room at the Hog’s Head as a sort of trial run. Don’t jump into anything too quickly. Family is precious.”



Tom’s hand cuts off Harry’s circulation from how tight the grip is, but Harry is grateful for the slight pain. “I said I want Sirius,” Harry repeats. “I’m happy to meet him before I go with him for the summers, but I don’t want — I can’t —“

 

Tom has mercy on Harry because the older boy says, “His muggle relatives did not particularly care for magic.” The way Tom delivers the words is bland, but the accusation in his undertone is easy to hear. Dumbledore does not flinch, but Harry can tell it’s a near thing.

 

“Right. Well,” Dumbledore clears his throat, “I suppose you’ll meet him in Hogsmeade and we’ll go from there. Many happy returns of family to you both.”



“Thank you, Professor,” Harry says.

 

Dumbledore looks at Harry with great fondness as he and Tom make their way out of the office. His voice is almost inaudible, “And congratulations, Mr. Potter, on your remarkable Patronus.”

 

***

 

Things are looking up for Tom. He has more than he’s ever had before. He and Cedric are changing the way Hufflepuffs are viewed through their sheer excellence, he and Beatrice are in an accords to do anything to keep Harry happy and healthy. (Although, Tom is sure that his concept of anything far exceeds Beatrice’s conception of it.)

 

He and Snape have fallen into an uncomfortable position of begrudging mutual respect. As much as Tom resents the dour man for the favoritism toward his own house, he is far more agreeable than Slughorn, and admittedly a genius. Tom learned as much when he inquired about Wolfsbane — a purely intellectual question, he’d assured a paler than typical Snape — because Wolfsbane was new since the 1940s. New, in part, because of Snape's hand in its creation. Who, while being young, was also excellent. He was a bitter man, but a talented one.

 

(He'd been feeling like an inadequate protector of his artist ever since Harry managed his spectacular Patronus and Tom could only manage silver smoke. So, he spent one-afternoon pacing outside of an ornate door with carved forget-me-nots and then pushed his way through.

 

"Professor Sprout," he'd said after collecting his bearings, "Would you be able to help me learn to cast the Patronus charm?"

 

She hadn't even smiled and yet he could feel her happiness. "It would be my honor.")

 

 His main difficulties lie with Harry’s friends. Ron is fiercely protective of Harry, and while Tom understands, he has yet to convince the Weasley that Tom is the opposite of a threat to Harry’s safety.

 

Hermione, however, is more of a complexity with regards to how she approaches Tom. She had been enjoying his company and puzzling through challenging spell-work with him for the first few months of terms. He’d enjoyed their time together as well. She is excellent for her age.

 

And yet, something tangible shifted. She now eyes him with intensity, anxiety, and sometimes… fear. It’s been so long since anyone has looked at him with that expression. (He finds he doesn’t miss the cowering for all that he reveled in it decades ago. Well, he doesn't miss it when there's no reason for someone to find him frightening.)

 

Even so, he is finally getting what he’s been owed since birth. He and Harry will be spending their summers with the wealthiest man in all of Wizarding Britain. No more orphanages and stolen quilts for him. Things may just work out.

 

 

Tom is dressed in his informal robes, soft satin and cherry embroidered collar, to make a good first impression on his “uncle” when he is pulled into an alcove by none other than Draco Malfoy.


The pureblood boy’s hair is perfectly coiffed but his face is red and his eyes are full of flint. He is shorter than Tom and is obliged to pull down on Tom’s tie so that they can see eye-to-eye.

 

“You listen here,” Draco says with a voice cold as ice, “I know you are not related to me and are nothing more than a fraud. And I will prove it and send you back to whatever hellhole you slithered out of, and you will never see Harry again.”

 

He should not have mentioned separating Tom from Harry. Tom feels familiar anger, cold and deadly, take root in his chest. It’s been a long time since he’s felt this way. Too bad for poor Malfoy.

 

In a smooth motion, Tom twists out of Draco’s hold and pins the younger boy against the wall of the alcove with his forearm. He leans down to Draco’s ears, wrinkling his nose against the expensive cologne scent. Harry smells of parchment, ink, treacle, and fresh pine. Draco’s scent is cloying and distasteful, just like the boy himself.

 

Still, his breath ghosts along the hollow of the Slytherin’s throat. “No,” Tom says voice like flowing silk, “You listen here, Malfoy. You were raised by aristocrats. I was raised by serpents. Compared to me,” Tom pushes Draco down until the boy crashes to his knees and binds him there with an immobilizing curse, “You are nothing.” He wordlessly summons Draco’s wand and twirls it in his fingers. Draco watches with eyes full of anger and genuine fear. Good. When fear serves a purpose, Tom supposes, he can still see the appeal.

 

“I am a son of House Black,” Tom says, “And the next time you doubt me,” he conjures a ball of fire in his hand, “Your wand won’t be the only thing to burn.”

 

Draco flinches as much as he can within the confines of the curse and Tom drops the boy’s wand. It clatters on the floor and begins to roll into the hall. Tom jerks his head toward the direction of the object. “Go and get it, cousin.” He smirks, “Fetch.”

 

Draco's glare is about as threatening's as a ferret's chitter. Tom saunters away.

 

He doesn’t release the curse on the pureblood until Tom is already down the hall and waiting for Harry to come join him for their Hogsmeade outing. When Harry does find Tom, his little artist is wearing a soft green sweater and fitted muggle jeans. His hair is windswept and his eyes are wide and glittering.

 

Adorable. As if we could ever be pulled apart.

 

As soon as Harry is within distance, he pulls the younger boy into a tight embrace, folding all around him and inhaling the familiar scent. You still have him.

 

Harry’s arms come up to clasp Tom’s back and Tom sighs in relief, melting into the hug. Harry’s voice comes out muffled. “Are you alright?”

 

No. I may have just alienated a noble heir. And he threatened to take you from me. “Better now,” is what he offers instead. Regretfully, he pulls back but moves one arm to wrap around Harry’s shoulders as they begin their walk to the village. “I believe we have a godfather to meet.”

 

***

 

The Hog’s Head is as distasteful as ever, the patronage the sort of people that have Tom gripping his wand and half hiding Harry behind his taller frame. He spots two vampires that train their eery eyes on Harry’s slender neck and he gives them both a predatory grin so out of place on the countenance of a teenage wizard.

 

They avert their eyes. The private room Harry and Tom enter is no better than the rest of the pub in terms of cleanliness, indeed the whole place seems to be falling apart at the seams, but it is isolated and quiet, and the table and chairs within the small space seem sturdy enough.

 

Sirius is seated at the table in the center of the room, leisurely flipping through a think booklet, when Harry and Tom come into the small room. He looks so different from how he appeared when Tom forced him into the mind-altering blood ritual. He was all bones and ratty hair then.

 

Now, his hair has a healthy shine and the black tresses are smoothed down and tied in a handsome ponytail. His beard is long gone and his perfectly tailored robe shows off his newfound muscles and strengthening frame. He’s handsome, Tom realizes with a start, and looks the part of a pureblood lord for all of his sordid history.

 

When Sirius notices Harry and Tom — and it does take him a minute to do so — he immediately stands. “Harry! Tom! It’s, well, it’s so nice to meet you both. In-person. Not as a dog.” The cheerful tone falls flat.

 

He may look the part, but he doesn’t act it.

 

Harry glances at the floor. “It’s not a problem,” he mutters, “I understand.”

 

Sirius winces. “If I hadn’t been on the run, I’d have told you earlier, Harry, promise. I didn’t really mean to betray your confidence by pretending to be a dog. I just wanted to keep you safe and dementors… they can addle your brain.” Sirius sends Tom a look as he says this, before turning back to Harry.

 

“Well take a seat, why don’t you?” Harry does and Tom settles in next to his artist. Sirius follows suit. They are all silent until Sirius clears his throat.

 

“Do you want anything? Either of you? A favorite drink? There’s so much I don’t know…”

 

Harry says, “Butterbeer’s good if it’s not too much trouble.”

 

Sirius waves a dismissive hand. “Nothing’s ever too much trouble for my godson or nephew. That’s the first rule at casa de Sirius.”

 

Harry’s entire face changes and lights up. He looks at Sirius first with disbelief and then like he hung the moon. And then Harry says, in a tone that he’s never used before, “Well then, I’ll have a butterbeer even if it is too much trouble.” As soon as Harry says it, he blushes, but he holds his ground.

 

Sirius laughs in a way that is just on the edge of unhinged and ruffles Harry’s hair. “See, he’s leaning already.” He looks at Tom with an unfathomable expression. “Anything for you, Tom?”

 

Tom considers. “Some fruit, if they have any.”

Sirius grins. “Abe’ll get anything for the right price.” Sirius hollers, “Lucinda,” and a buxom young woman saunters in with sassy hips.

 

“You called?” She asks, unimpressed.

 

“I’d like two butterbeers and some fruit,” Sirius says.

 

“There’s no fruit on the menu,” Lucinda responds.

 

“Even for ten galleons?” Sirius asks.

 

Lucinda narrows her eyes. “Fifteen.”

 

Sirius throws 20 gold coins at her which she catches. “Get yourself something too.”

 

Lucinda rolls her eyes and walks out, but her smile is still visible even in profile view.

 

Harry seems to be unsure of how to proceed, especially since this is the first time he’s ever seen a display of wealth… but get used to it, sweetheart. I’ll make sure you’re never hungry another day in your life.

 

Tom decides to get the ball rolling. “So you’d like us to stay with you for summer hols?” He asks Sirius.


The man looks sheepish. “I was hoping for Christmas too, if that’s alright.”

 

Harry seems to be almost vibrating with happiness. “More than alright,” he says, “Never celebrated Christmas before.”

 

Sirius’s eyes narrow. “No?”

 

Oblivious, Harry repeats, “No.”

 

Lucinda returns with the butterbeers and a selection of melon cubes. “For you,” she greets Sirius, and then promptly leaves.

 

Harry takes a sip of his butterbeer and Tom pushes a melon cube at him. “You need more fruit,” he says, “have one.”

 

Harry looks at Sirius with a hint of embarrassment but clearly wanting to avoid causing a scene, takes the offered melon cube.

 

Tom smiles, “Thank you, Harry.”

 

Sirius watches the exchange intently. “Say, Harry,” he asks, “Do you play Quidditch?”

 

And like that, the dams are opened and Harry and Sirius talk back and forth rapid-fire, building off one another and going on many twists and turns.

 

Tom adds something every now and again and makes Harry eat half the fruit. 

 

When Harry and Tom need to head back to Hogwarts, Sirius gives Tom a firm handshake and Harry a tight hug.

 

“I’ll see you in just two weeks when you come home.”

 

Harry looks at Tom and leans into his aside. Voice joyful, he murmurs, “Home. I just got a home.”

 

Yes, Tom decides, the ritual was worthwhile.

 

***

 

When Harry and Tom arrive back at the castle, most of the students have already returned to their dorms. Hermione is waiting by the staircases.

 

“Tom,” she says, “Can I talk to you for a moment?”



Harry says, “Everything okay?”

 

Hermione nods. “Everything’s great, Harry. I just need some help on an arithmancy assignment.”

 

That’s a lie if ever Tom’s heard one. Hermione is a prodigy with arithmancy.

 

Harry nods and gives Hermione a quick hug and then kisses Tom on the cheek before going up to the dorms.

 

Hermione gives him a chilling look and demands, “follow me.”

 

Tom says, bemused, “lead the way.”

 

He follows Hermione with growing confusion (and concern) as she leads him up three flights of stairs and to the trophy room. She proceeds to ward the door extensively. She wanders to one corner of the room near the glass case with all the awards and turns as if to read one.

 

“You were sloppy,” she tells him, voice carrying no emotion over the still room’s air.

 


“Was I?” He asks, adopting the tone he used in that first meeting with Harry, “How so?”

 

Hermione has her back to him. Stupid, if she thinks me an enemy. She’s looking rather intently now at one of the plaques. 

 

“You got an award for special services to the school in 1943. There’s no picture here, but the timing checks out. If you were a bit more thorough, you would have removed it. But you forgot about it, didn’t you?”

 

Tom considers, walks to Hermione, and pretends to look over her shoulder to read the inscription. “Tom Marvolo Riddle,” he muses, “Do you think he was my father? He’d have been eleven when my mother graduated but there are worse age differences, I suppose. Perhaps that’s why someone from the house of Black would name her heir something mundane as Tom.”



Hermione turns around suddenly and her eyes are full of fury and not a small amount of fear. But her hair… her hair is electrified with sheer power and her chin is set. She looks like the lion she undoubtedly is… such a brave little Gryffindor.

 

“Oh give me some respect, Tom.” She demands, “It’s not as if I’m a half-wit. You can give up now. I know you aren’t from the House of Black any more than Myrtle was, who you killed.”

 

Tom takes an abrupt step back, memories rushing in of the crying Ravenclaw's accidental death and the ritual (I can use this, it's alright) and the blankness of the diary.

 

“Oh yes,” Hermione says darkly, “I know about the chamber. The clues have been left for decades and it didn’t take too long to figure them out once I started talking to Ginny. She went to a mind healer you know. Mrs. Weasley thought she’d been cursed by a dark object. But you probably possessed her through the diary and had her write in rooster blood on the walls.”

 

“Oh come off it,” Tom says, “It’s not funny, ‘Mione. That diary was just Harry’s drawing journal. Surely you saw that.”

 

Hermione gives him a glare and yells, “You come off it!”

 

In the silence that follows, she breathes and resets, visibly restraining her childish response even though she is still very much a child, just thirteen. Brilliant, but young. It is a small comfort.

 

“Are you alright?” He asks, faux concerned. 

 

“No,” she says, voice breaking, “No I’m not. Because I looked into you Tom and I learned and I studied and I thought long and hard about that diary. You were trapped for fifty years and suddenly got out because Harry drew you? There’s no magic for that.”

“That’s because it didn’t happen,” Tom stresses.

 

Hermione ignores him, “There’s no magic for that… unless you did something unspeakable.”

Tom’s mind goes white. She couldn’t have figured it out. 

 

“I bought a book in Knockturn alley. It took a good while to find a copy. Brewed polyjuice myself to get it.” No. “Herpo's Magik Most Foul.” NO.

 

“You’re a Horcrux, Tom Marvolo Riddle, aren’t you? You and I both know whose.” 

 

She spells out his name in shining lights “Tom Marvolo Riddle” and rearranges them to say “I am Lord Voldemort.”  Her eyes are heavy with accusation. “Not a very clever anagram. You could have done better.”

 

He stares at her about to raise his wand, not sure what his next spell is but knowing that it must be done, that he can’t lose her because then he’ll lose his artist and then… but her face softens into something he recognizes as the look she has when she’s been given a particularly difficult puzzle. The accusation gives way to something betrayed and anguished. His hand stalls. Her next words feel like daggers in his chest.

 

“The problem,” she says, “is I think Harry might be one too.”

Chapter Text

Harry is a Horcrux? It is a thought as horrifying as it is wonderful. (I am not alone.)

 

That a person so full of light is tainted with the deepest darkness feels like a lie… and yet, Tom feels his mind go to every moment where things with Harry seemed just a little bit off, all the moments where Harry was just a little too similar to Tom himself. Harry spoke in parseltongue, ( “I would not want that from you” ), back when Tom was trapped in the diary. At the time, he had thought it was just another sign of Harry’s being meant for Tom, but now… it points to something more sinister. 

 

There are other moments. How did Harry know to draw a broken yew wand in the courtyard of his inheritance? Was that intuition? A history lesson?  Or was that piece of dilapidated monster corrupting his artist’s mind, manipulating both Tom and Harry like a puppeteer and his marionettes? 

 

If Harry were not wearing the Mind Guardians, Tom might be able to force his way into his boy’s mind and uncover the depth of the Horcrux's influence on his treasure’s psyche, but due to their protection, he cannot. They are unwittingly protecting a beast.

 

Unless… Tom wonders. Tom is Voldemort no longer. (Maybe he never was.) Three droplets of ink, a single tree, and a glimpse of unlimited potential were enough to make Tom diverge inexorably and permanently from the man he had undoubtedly once been and once became. He is no longer the kind of man who views everyone as collateral and unimportant. Even expendable, silly, flighty, infernal (traumatized) Ginny Weasley suddenly matters because she matters to Harry. 

 

Before learning of Harry’s beauty, Tom would have done anything for his own sake… but now he will do things for others. He will do things for Harry and expect nothing in return. All this changed from just three inkblots and a single tree drawn in black sketches. That first willow allowed Tom to see the world not only as a place of tragedy, which it most certainly is but also as a canvas for beauty.

 

If… and there is, Tom is almost certain, a Horcrux in Harry’s soul… then that shard of Voldemort would have seen Harry grow up. It would have watched through Harry’s eyes as a child with nothing but loss looked at a world built to break him and transformed it into something beautiful. It would have lived with Harry as the boy sat in a cupboard and sketched magic onto the back of discarded bits of paper only by the light of a flickering bulb. 

 

And if that is so, there is a chance that the Horcrux inside Harry too has changed and is no longer Voldemort. Tom does not think it possible that any being could spend so long with Harry and remain hateful and unmoved, especially not someone who was once Tom. 

 

So, the fact that Harry bears a Horcrux is not a pressing concern. Because if the Horcrux was going to hurt or possess or drain Harry, it likely would have done so already. That it has not done so speaks volumes.

 

Hermione, however, eyes burning and fists clenched with fear and determination, is a concern. Her red and gold trim robes are mirrored on the glass cases of the trophy room. Tom considers and remembers quite strongly that he once belonged to Slytherin. 

 

Why should he get flustered like some Hufflepuff? He is a Hufflepuff, but he is not just a man of one house with one definition. He chose Harry and the badgers but Slytherin chose him . He is the heir of a legacy of ambition and cunning, even if his robes pay respect to his loyalty. 

 

Hermione was able to find Herpo’s book all on her own? Preposterous. There’s more to this story than even Hermione seems to realize. 

 

“I imagine that you didn’t let the petrifications last year go unsolved even after they stopped,” He says. “I respect that, I wouldn’t have either.”

 

Hermione nods once, slowly. “You’re right. I already had them somewhat figured out, and then I talked to Binns and he was mostly useless but he gave me a good starting point to learn about the chamber, and then I looked into Slytherin’s monster. It all checked out. A basilisk Tom? There’s a basilisk beneath the school?”

 

Tom runs his fingers through his perfectly manicured hair and sighs. “Yes. But that’s not really the question, is it?”

 

Hermione’s jaw clenches. “It’s not not a question. It’s highly concerning. You see that it’s highly concerning, don’t you?”

 

Tom gives her a shark-like grin. “Having a pet that will kill anyone with just a glare and obey only me? No, I don’t see why that should be a problem.”

 

Hermione shudders. “Checks and balances,” she says, “If I’m going to work with you, we need checks and balances on everything about you that concerns me.”

 

If I’m going to work with you. “Aren’t I big, bad, scary, and evil? Wasn’t that your whole making fun of my anagram bit? You won’t work with someone like that, will you, Mrs. Follow-the-rules-Gryffindor?”

 

Hermione sinks down to the floor and draws her knees up to her chest. She looks somehow both older and younger this way. “But you’re not evil,” she whispers, “that’s why I’m so confused. You should be. You shouldn’t be able to be… thinking in the way you are. Not at all. I think -- because you didn’t mean to kill Myrtle, the ritual was like an accident and -- you got to be more than just an object acting as a tether. You’ve changed. Harry pretty much told us the whole thing about the diary and I know he knows who you became even though Ron doesn’t and Harry seems to have gotten over it. I think that’s why he was so sad when he made the Malfoy painting.”

 

Tom interrupts her musings by sliding down beside her, a meter of space between them, both their backs to the wall. “How do you know I didn’t mean to kill Myrtle?”

 

“She remembers seeing yellow eyes before she died, and I don’t feel like you would have had any reason to set your basilisk on an unpopular muggle-born third year. If you were trying to do a blood supremacy thing, it’d have been a popular muggle-born Gryffindor, I think. Older too, and probably male. So: an accident. It was, wasn’t it?”

 

He remembers it. The death, the anger and fear and guilt, and the necessity: they can’t close the school, I can’t go back yet, and his need to make something of it. I can use this. What are the words? The words, the death, here’s the diary. I’ll use it. Waste not, want not. No need for apology.

 

Waking up in the diary. The nothingness forever and ever. Yes, yes, it was an accident. Something went terribly wrong. “You’re right,” his voice is still smooth but breaking at the edges, “I didn’t mean to kill her.”

 

Hermione relaxes. “See, this is why we need checks and balances. So you don’t accidentally kill anyone else. But from where I’m sitting, you haven’t actually murdered anyone -- so -- I can work with you. For Harry.”

 

Tom allows himself a private smile for Harry’s smart friend before asking the question that’s been bothering him, “Finding out about the basilisk is impressive no doubt, but easily possible. And Harry figured out who I was rather quickly, so I’m sure it was no great puzzle to a mind like yours,” Hermione blushes, pleased, “but I do have a piece of your story that bothers me. How did you know to look for Horcruxes and Herpo’s Magik Most Foul?”

 

“Oh, I didn’t, not at first. But when I looked into soul-sight, I started looking into Soul magic which there’s a lot of by the way, and then I realized that most of the books were really old, and weirdly Peeves saw me studying and told me to talk to the Bloody Baron to find better books and the Bloody Baron made the suggestion to look into Horcruxes after calling me a ‘mediocre mudblood’ which was really quite rude if you ask me. He might have felt bad about it though because I got the address of where to buy the book and an odd pile of old treasures from the castle to trade for the tome when I woke up one morning before a Hogsmeade weekend and a note signed ‘Lady.’ The note even gave me instructions on how to get to Knockturn alley from Honedukes' floo. I imagine the 'Lady' title was the Bloody Baron’s way of apologizing to me for calling me by a name that was in no way worthy of my dignity.” 

 

Tom remembers hearing about plants involving Lady Grey before the abomination in the world Above stopped talking to his soul trapped in the diary, and wonders. Lady, hmm. How interesting that the ghosts seem to be getting involved. 

 

Hermione is still talking, “...and the book was horrid, truly horrid, but then I got to the bit about Horcruxes and it kind of made sense of how on earth you would have managed to be preserved for fifty years but it didn’t make sense about how Harry could have gotten you out because you would have needed to drain his soul. Like how you were trying to kill Ginny. It wouldn’t work unless of course he shared a bit of your soul already and he tethered you into the real world when you absorbed a bit of his… by absorbing his living artwork in the diary which he could have only made if the diary was a Horcrux. Then that would make sense. Except then that would mean that Harry would need to have been a Horcrux himself because otherwise you and he wouldn’t have shared any soul at all. And at first, I thought I was wrong, except sometimes Harry loses himself and he says someone that sounds like you guides him back, and then… I think I found the horrific answer. That’s how I figured it all out.”

 

So I’m right. The Horcrux in Harry helps him. Not a concern at all. It's wonderful in its own way.

 

“That’s really rather impressive,” Tom offers, “and you’re right, of course. About me, and probably Harry. But I’ll tell you this, Hermione Jean Granger, the only way to destroy a Horcrux is to utterly destroy its container, and I will never allow you to do hurt Harry, let alone destroy him.”

 

Hermione stands and looks down at Tom with an almost begrudging sort of respect. “And I’ll tell you this, Tom Marvolo Riddle, it’s because I believe you that I’ll let you stay.”

 

Stay where, he doesn’t ask. With Harry? At Hogwarts? It doesn’t matter. Loyalty, he’s learning can go beyond just Harry. Perhaps it’s because she cares for Harry, and perhaps it’s because she’s seen him, truly seen him for all he is, but he’d do a great deal for Hermione Jean Granger. He rises to his feet with the grace of a dancer and gives Hermione the kind of grin that used to make girls swoon. She does not seem much impressed, but she does seem friendlier somehow.

 

“Well then, Ms. Granger, I suppose you’d best get used to me because I feel like I’ll be around for a long while.” He extends a hand.

 

Hermione’s eyes go thoughtful and she reaches out her own hand and they shake. She says, voice half in her head and yet loud enough to be heard, “A good deal longer than you should have ever been able to be.”

 

They release each other and Hermione begins to undo the wards. Tom is about to leave when he says, “There is no should. In wandering and getting lost the dead are found and finding.”

 

And he leaves to the voice of a young girl murmuring, “And a riddle from a Riddle.”

 

But you’ll solve it, won’t you? Because like me, you’ll do anything for Harry. 

 

***

 

Tom hasn’t seen Harry for three days. He knows this is because Harry has been drawn into a painting Professor Badgerwood claims is so monumental, his artist has been excused from all classes other than potions. (The professors have all agreed that clearly Harry’s gift is worthy of cultivation and are willing to bend the rules for him. Aside from one irate Pansy Parkinson, the student population seems to feel that getting to see Harry’s work is worth the unequal treatment. Blaise Zabini, one of Malfoy’s friends, was heard saying, “Hell, if I had an ounce of Potter's talent, I’d never go to class again. Imagine how much better he could become if he stopped practicing all of the magic he’ll never use as an adult and just focused on art?” Theodore Nott, a far less romantic boy, had replied, “He still needs to know the basics just to be a well-rounded person.”)

 

Snape, however, refuses to be a part of the “coddling of mediocre Harry Potter,” and is twice as hard on the boy than he was before, which is saying quite a lot. Tom would hate Snape, but he appreciates how superior the man is to Slughorn and cannot quite muster the hatred he would normally feel for someone poor to Harry.

 

After a potions lesson in which Tom, for the fifth class in a row, brews a perfect potion and helps every Hufflepuff in his class get to at least an E with theirs, Snape asks Tom to spend the afternoon helping him skin dead dipsa. It is a task Tom finds most unpleasant due to his affinity for snakes, but he is utterly competent at it. 

 

Snape watches Tom with an odd glint in his eyes and says in the silence of the room, “It is unfathomable to me that you did not end up in my house.”

 

Tom smirks inwardly but adopts his most wide-eyed expression. “Why would you say that, sir?”

 

Snape’s lip curls. “Oh, are we playing this game? Shall I pretend not to notice that you could outwit all my snakes combined and shall you pretend to be little more than an absurdly talented Hufflepuff?”

 

Tom laughs lightly. “I am little more than an absurdly talented Hufflepuff even if I am also able to outwit your snakes.”

 

Snape sighs. “If you had come to Hogwarts when you were eleven, you most certainly would have been in my house.”

Tom has a moment of fierce nostalgia remembering the Slytherin dorms and the ways his classmates traded secrets and favors as currency. He misses the politics and intrigue that clung to the common room with the same pervasiveness the scent of flowers in bloom clings to the fabric of the air in the Hufflepuff space. 

 

But Snape, for all that he is more tolerable than Slughorn, is still a Slytherin. Like Tom was. Which means the man is playing a game. And for some reason, Tom has become a piece on his chessboard (or perhaps a player.) So Tom will act the part of a Slytherin and give out nothing for free.

 

“If I had come here when I was eleven,” Tom says, “I reckon I would have gone to Ravenclaw.” 

 

It is a patent lie. From the way Snape’s eyes seem amused and annoyed, the professor knows this as well. 

 

“The ghosts don’t like you,” Snape remarks nonchalantly. 

 


Tom cleans the knife methodically and begins packing up. “Funny, that. I don’t much care for them either.”

 

Snape looks over at the dipsa skins. “Masterful technique, as always. A tad old-fashioned, but I suppose you were taught by an old woman from an ancient house.”

 

Does he know? If Hermione could figure it out, chances are he could too. But the only way he’ll know for certain is if I give him some confirmation. Like I gave her. Like I gave Harry. And I won’t give that to Snape.

 

“Mother was very proud of her traditions.”

 

Tom leaves the classroom after a polite nod and equally polite dismissal and pretends not to notice the way he is suddenly aware of the fact that the ghosts seem to intentionally herd younger students away from his path. 

 

Lady Grey. Hmm. What are you doing and what did He (I) do to you?

 

He winds his way to the art room, ignoring the way Peeves grabs a small child away from him as he walks, and enters into the art studio as the winter sun is setting against a dark afternoon sky.

 

Harry is in his corner, eyes hazy and unfocused the way they often get when he is in the midst of creation. His robes lie abandoned in a clump on the floor by his station and his oversized grey clothes are streaked in paint. In fact, his arms and hands are covered in pigment all the way up to his elbows. 

 

The painting seems to be completed though if the way Harry is sitting back on his heels is any indication. 

 

The entire class is seated behind him in a small semi-circle looking at his newest creation. 

 

Tom stands behind them and looks at the canvas. His breath catches. Harry.

 

***

 

Harry’s spent the last few days in an almost feverish state. The feel of creation was itching and once the idea took root he needed to paint it before he could move on. The sense of completion sits like a satisfying meal warm and comforting deep in his belly. 

 

He sits back on his heels and allows himself a moment to wonder at what he’s made.

 

The canvas is large, the size of a handsome window. One half of the painting is illuminated by the luminescent rays of a full moon. Bright stars are seen in glimpses through textured trees in a forest of frozen wood and falling snow. Shadows stretch toward him on the ground, flickering and growing darker and lighter in every second. 

 

Prancing through the frozen nighttime is a doe made entirely of what looks to be silver moonlight, her hoofs silent in the snow and leaving heavy footprints in the powder. 

 

The other half of the canvas is illuminated by the bright sun. Sakura trees stretch toward the sky, rooted in green grass that smells of damp earth, the pink trees lining a path that points to golden sun. Hints of blue can be seen from the gaps between the blossoms. Petals drift down slowly in the wind, looking for all the world like pink snow. The blushing flowers coat the ground and are bathed in a halo of light. And in between the trees, cantering up and down the pathway, is a strong and bold silver stag, footfalls leaving indents in the fallen cherry blossoms. 

Every so often, the antlers of the stag will cross over to the winter as the doe’s front hoof edges into the spring and they will nuzzle one another. 

 

And between the winter and the spring, a shadow of a fawn runs with all the exuberance of a child in the beginning of life. The shadow leaves no footfalls but will be stroked and carried by the shadows of the doe and stag. It is as if the true world could not hold this family of three, and they only find each other in the places light cannot go.

 

Harry feels a body settle next to his and knows that it is Tom. When he feels calloused thumbs cup his cheeks, he knows that he must be crying. 

 

“I saw my mother,” He says. “She said it was worth everything.” Other people may not understand what this means, but Tom does. Harry can’t hope to explain what this means to him, what this painting means to him, but Tom will make sense of the mess in Harry’s mind. From the gasps of the class behind him, some of them understand as well.

 

Tom tugs Harry forward into a hug. “She was right,” he murmurs, “It was. It was.

 

They stay like that for a moment before Professor Badgerwood clears his throat and Harry abruptly is reminded that he is not alone. He pulls away from Tom, runs a finger through his greasy hair, and says, “I’m kinda hungry.”



Beatrice Badgerwood pushes a mug of butterbeer into his hands immediately. “Of course you are, you absolutely ridiculous child. You’ve barely eaten for three days.”

 

And then come the congratulations of a work completed, and Professor Bagerwood’s excited, “This will be perfect for your portfolio, those stuck-ups will see what Britain has to offer, they will,” and the ill-concealed looks of confusion about him and Tom and why exactly they behave in the ways that they do.

 

(Not too many of those, though. People are slowly, impossibly, getting used to it. “Tom and Harry,” they say, “It’s a mystery. But that’s just how they are. And Merlin knows they’re both better for it.”)

 

So when all is over, and the painting sent to be displayed in the great hall, Harry allows himself to be led back to the waiting Ron and Hermione at dinner, and Ron tells him he needs to shower, and Hermione says, “Thank you for getting him here, Tom,” and Tom nods at her (when did they become so friendly?) and makes sure Harry gets enough to eat.

 

The whole dinner he is accosted by people congratulating him or attempting to ask him “ But what does it mean ?”

 

The Weasley twins tell particularly gullible students, “it’s clearly an exploration of the seasons of animal dung.” 

 

But the most surprising moment of dinner comes when Snape spends a solid fifteen minutes staring at the painting with dark eyes before walking to the Gryffindor table.

 

He glares at Tom in a way that can only be considered fond before he looks at Harry with something softer than Harry’s ever seen.

 

“Mr. Potter,” comes his silky voice, “Was this worth all the classes you missed outside of my discipline?”



Harry feels his cheek grow hot but he will never back down on his creations, especially not to Snape.

 

“More than, to be honest, Professor. Thank you for asking.” His tone is cutting and overtly rude.

 

Snape’s expression does not change. “Ten points from Gryffindor for disrespect,” he says dispassionately, and just as Harry’s rising up to defend himself, Snape cuts in smoothly and remarks, “and should you ever find yourself in the midst of such a… project again, I am sure Ms. Granger can catch you up if you require a small break from daily lessons. Salazar knows she does so even the days you do attend my lessons.”

 

When he sweeps away, Neville says, “Who was that and what did he do with Snape?”

 

Tom runs his hands over Harry’s scar and for some reason it tingles. “It is hard to see the world through Harry’s eyes and remain unmoved.”

 

***

After a much-needed shower, Harry is sleeping soundly in his Gryffindor bed before something like an alarm starts blaring. He rubs his bleary eyes and sees Ron jumping out of bed. Neville and Seamus and Dean are all running toward the door. 

 

“Come on,” Ron says, “This is an evacuation, no time to waste,” and pulls a half-asleep Harry out in just his trousers and socks and a half pulled on sweater. Ron's voice is panicked. 

 

Harry runs and watches as all the Gryffindors congregate in the common room. Hermione sidles her way over to them. The prefects are directing the students into lines and leading everyone out quickly. 

 

“What’s going on?” Harry asks.

 

Ron says, “I don’t know. But this alarm, it’s the sound that’s made when wards are activated to get students to safety. Mum has something similar at home.”

 

Hermione says, “It’s the warning bell ward. I read about it in Hogwarts: A History. It means nothing has gone wrong yet but students are in danger.” 

 

Percy Weasley comes down the stairs with a few stragglers and leads them and Harry and the other fifth years down the corridors of Hogwarts. Harry sees through the windows that the ski is still dark as midnight and that the students are all in front of the carriages that bring them back to the train. 

 

All the teachers are walking between the students, calming them down and talking to one another in furious whispers. 

 

Harry notices the Weasley twins talking to Professor Lupin and Dumbledore. “What’s up with that?” He asks Ron.

 

Percy overhears and says, “They had some information about something to do with a map that the teachers needed to learn about,” he says self-importantly, “they’re good for more than just jokes you know. They know all the secret passageways. Professor Lupin and Headmaster Dumbledore need to know all of them now as well because Pettigrew’s just escaped.”

 

Ron goes pale. “Pettigrew? The man who was Scabbers and murdered thirteen muggles and betrayed Harry’s parents Pettigrew? Death Eater Pettigrew?”

 

Percy looks a bit shaken himself and seems caught between remaining the put-together seventh year and comforting his younger brother. In the end, both win out, and he places a shaking hand on Ron’s shoulder. “It will be alright. The professors will figure it out.”

 

The Hufflepuffs arrive last and Tom immediately makes a beeline for Harry. He holds Harry at a distance, examining him thoroughly. “Are you alright?” He asks almost desperately.

 

“I’m fine,” Harry says. “Just tired and confused.”

 

Dumbledore casts a sonorous and his voice echoes. “Students, in the light of Peter Pettigrew’s escape from Azkaban as of twenty minutes ago, we have decided to send you all home a day early for the winter holidays. You will remain at your homes for the spring semester as we update the Hogwarts wards to keep out Animagi. Do not worry, we will still be able to teach you all from afar. If you see a rat with a missing toe at any point during your time away, run and report it immediately to the Aurors. Come next year, Hogwarts will be able to keep out Peter Pettigrew and any other Animagi, but until then, keeping you all safe is our top priority. To change the wards of a school this size will take time, but we appreciate your patience. All your guardians have been notified and are waiting for you on the platform. All your luggage will be delivered to your homes soon.”

 

Many cries meet the announcement and many students look to one another in fear. The most common thing said is, “I thought Sirius Black killed Peter Pettigrew?”

 

This means little to Harry because Remus Lupin comes up behind him and says, “Right on, well Harry and Tom, I’m to escort the two of you to Sirius myself. You’re both the biggest targets right now and we want to get you away from here as soon as possible. If you’ll come with me, I’m going to bring you to my office, show you a piece of paper, and then you’ll floo to your new home.”

 

Harry is now being lead through the castle a second time, still half-asleep.

 

Tom is saying, “So the house is under a Fidelius then?” 

 

Remus says, “Indeed it is. Can’t be too careful. Not with Wormtail.”

“Wormtail, Professor?” Harry asks. 

 

They enter the defense room. Lupin looks regretful and harried. “A story for another time.” He rummages in his desk for something. 

 

“How did Peter Pettigrew escape?” Tom asks, voice chilled with anger.

 

“Same way Sirius did, I imagine,” Lupin says equally furious, “Turned into an Animagus and slipped through the bars. Fudge's career is surely done and maybe so is Azkaban. Dementors don’t seem to be doing too well at keeping people locked up, do they?”

 

“...No.” Tom agrees. “They do not.”

“Here we are,” Lupin says, holding up a piece of paper. “The house is Twelve Grimmauld place. See, Twelve Grimmauld place.” 

 

Harry nods, bemused, and Tom asks, “Who is the secret keeper?”



Lupin smiles, proud. “That’s a secret.”



So Tom smirks and says, “Good for you, Mr. Werewolf.” 

 

Lupin goes pale but shakes himself and says, “You boys need to go now. Step in the fire and say, ‘Grimmauld’ and there you’ll be.”

 

Harry nods and goes first grabbing a bit of green powder and shouting “Grimmauld,” as he steps into the fireplace. 

 

He stumbles out in a dusty common space, disoriented. Tom comes behind him a moment longer.

 

Sirius is standing in the middle of the room looking at Harry and Tom. “Ah! You’re both here. Wonderful, wonderful.”

 

Harry looks around at his new home. It is worn-down to put it lightly, but Harry loves it.

 

There’s a beauty in the broken things. Harry wonders if everyone sees it, or if it’s something only children who grew up in the ruins of wonder can understand. He remembers noticing the jagged edges on a half shattered snow globe tossed in his cupboard when he was four -- a souvenir from France Dudley had destroyed in a tantrum -- and watching as the flickering light reflected off a thousand minute glass daggers. 

 

Harry was surrounded by broken things his whole life -- broken shoes were tossed in his cupboard, things that were too damaged to even earn Dudley’s second bedroom were tossed in the cupboard… Harry was tossed in the cupboard. Maybe he learned to find beauty in broken things because he himself was a broken thing. And he wanted, maybe, to be beautiful.

 

There’s nothing most people would classify as beautiful about the house he and Tom have entered by the fireplace. There are cobwebs on the walls and broken trinkets on every surface and a covering of dust so thick it seems to be a carpet all over the townhome. That the home has high ceilings and is clearly enormous are the only two things that can be said in its defense. 

 

Sirius is rubbing a sheepish hand on the back of his neck. “Terrible place, really,” he says, “but I needed to check something here and then it’s one of the lesser-known properties and with all that’s going on with Peter and you Harry, security is a priority. Once it’s safe again, I’ll take you both to the manor in Madrid. Far better than this dump. Just less warded too. Nothing a bit of money won’t fix.”

 

Tom seems to agree with the sentiment of this house being a dump… but Harry sees beauty everywhere. The beauty of the broken, Harry’s learned, is twofold. Some things like the snowglobe of France, break out of the mundane when they shatter -- brokenness can turn a commonplace item extraordinary. 

 

But the deeper beauty is that some broken things beg to be fixed, like that decapitated doll head Harry sewed back on a stuffed body with purple thread so that it looked like the doll was wearing an opulent royal scarf. There’s a potential for new beginnings in every broken item and that capacity for metamorphosis is beautiful.

 

This house looks full of potential to gain a dazzling future. Harry gives Sirius a reassuring smile. “We can fix it up.”

 

He’s talking about the house. When Sirius says, “Together,” it doesn’t take soul sight to know the man is, at least in some respects, talking about himself. 

 

Harry thinks of one of his first memories: sitting in a cupboard and holding a shoe with a split sole and using it as a toy to play with in heavy silence. He thinks of drawing a flame into the cupboard that doesn’t burn, doesn’t destroy, only turns a broken thing beautiful. He thinks of only being a shadow to his parent’s light and never getting the feel of an adult who loves him. He looks at Sirius, so desperate to connect, grieving, just like Harry, the death of two brave people who died more than a decade ago. He nods and his voice is strong. “Together.” 

Chapter Text

Petunia Evans can’t remember a life before Lily. But she remembers her life after. Her long life after. 



When Petunia was two and a half, she was rather certain of three things. One, that she was adorable and her parents loved her. Two, that she was the baby of the family. And three, that all this was about to change irrevocably because of the bundle in her father’s arms. 

 

Her first memory is one filled with jealousy. She is peering down at the little face peeking out from a swaddle of blankets and noticing that her baby sister has green eyes. Petunia does not have green eyes. Petunia’s eyes are a pale sort of blue, the kind of blue that looks more like faded blue jeans than the ocean or sky. 

 

But Lily has green eyes, the color of grass and emeralds and are full of that unnameable pull that practically screams, “there is something extra here,” a secret sort of something lacking in Petunia. Lily’s infant eyes are vivid in a way Petunia’s eyes are not and will never be. Petunia will always wonder when she thinks back to this memory if she knew even then that something would be different about Lily. 



Petunia can never decide most days if she hates or loves Lily. She often sits squarely in both camps. Lily is an annoyingly charming toddler. All the fans Petunia acquired on account of being the only child in her generation of family abandon her for Lily. Lily effortlessly enamors those around her, first by babbling happily on her tummy and gurgling as she nurses, then by her carefully formed words with her child’s tongue, and then by the way her red hair flies out in the wind as her short little legs race around the park. 

 

Petunia’s hair is yellow. It is not golden like the rising sun or vibrant like sunflower petals. Her hair is yellow like paper gone brittle with age. Her hair is almost white. Bleached. She’s five years old and watching two-year-old Lily with her greener than jade eyes and rose-red hair and thinks, bitterly, you got all the colors and there were none left for me.  

 

But Lily can also play with dolls when she is two and a half. She follows Petunia around like a lost duckling and is so happy, so infectiously (charmingly) happy whenever Petunia allows the two of them to spend time together.

 

So there are days Petunia loves Lily. There are days when Petunia wakes up early because Lily has climbed into her bed and Petunia lets her stay there until they need to get up for school. She spends dawns rocking her little sister back to sleep because even at three years old, Lily lived too fiercely and dreamed of terrible things. (She did all the living she could in the time she had.)

 

So Petunia allows Lily into her bed and gets her to go back to sleep by counting the freckles on her little sister’s face. She always says, “And it’s thirty-seven again today, Lils.”

 

When Lily is four she asks one such morning, before Petunia can say what she always says, “Is it thirty-seven freckles again today, Tuney?”

And Petunia smooths down Lily’s red-red hair and says, “You got it, Lils, it’s thirty-seven again today.” 

 

Lily snuggles down deeper under the covers and falls back to sleep in the passing few minutes they have before the clock will go off, and Petunia runs a hand over her pale, spotless cheeks and wonders where her freckles are. You got all of those too. 

 

Lily is cuter at five than Petunia was at five, and she has far more friends than Petunia has even at seven. Petunia has two friends, neither of whom she particularly cares for, but Lily is gone more days than not at a playdate here and a playdate there, coming back excited and pleased and with stories and… then sometimes she wants to still play dolls with Petunia because, “I like them, but I love you Tuney,” and then Petunia hates her and loves her at the same time. 

 

You got all the charm, Lily. There was none left for me.

 

As they grow up, Petunia starts to notice strange things happening around Lily. Lily gets down a milk carton far too heavy for her to hold with no difficulty. (Perhaps she’s just strong.)

 

Lily is seven and can fly off the swings in an impossible arc. Petunia tries once to do the same and breaks her wrist. Her parents tut, “What were you thinking, Petunia? You’re supposed to be the older sister.”

 

Lily can do it. Of course Lily can. Lily gets everything. 

 

And when Lily is nine, her little something extra, the little something extra Petunia lacks, gets a name. A foul-smelling boy dressed like a grim reaper calls it “magic,” and suddenly everything clicks into place. 

 

You got all the magic, didn’t you Lily? Got all the magic and you’re going to leave me here, on my own, with nothing. You will, won’t you?

 

So while Lily goes off and about with the foul boy and spends two years in and out of both worlds, the one of magic and the one of real-life (which Petunia hopes to leave, thank you very little, she will go where her little sister goes because love her or hate her, Petunia protects her family,) Petunia studies about magic.

 

And when the letter comes “Hogwarts,” a horrifying name, Petunia watches all the undertakings of having a witch in the family with awe and concern. Her parents don’t seem to realize how this ends. 

 

She remembers being thirteen and telling her mum, “We should ask Lily not to go. There’s a way these stories always end. They take the children to fairyland and then they steal their souls.”

Her mum will fold her in a big hug and say, “I know you wanted Lily to come to school with you, darling, but be proud of her, won’t you? She’s going to get to be around other people like her.”

 

People like her will never stop echoing in Petunia’s mind. The way her mother says it, it sounds like something wonderful to be the kind of person who dresses like a grim reaper and smells of decaying dreams. The way her mother says it, “people like her,” suggests that Petunia is not a person like Lily. And that she is lesser for it. 

 

But Petunia has gone to Diagon Alley with her baby sister, and looked at all the shops, and seen wonder along with a good deal of things she hopes to never see again, and she decides she is Lily’s kind of person. She’s a big sister, and big sisters teach their little sisters. It’s what they do. She taught Lily how to count (thirty-seven again today,) and she taught Lily how to tie her shoes, and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t learn how to teach Lily magic. 

 

I won’t let a world of magic take me from you too. 

 

She writes a polite letter to the world she hopes to enter. She gets one back. It is polite. It is strange. It is a refusal. And she watches with pursed lips as Lily and her green-green eyes and red-red hair board a train that Petunia will never ride to go live in a castle she will never be able to see. 

 

You got to leave home, Lils. I had to stay. 

 

Lily comes back in the summer with stories that sound like fairy tales because they are. She comes back with chocolate frogs that disgust Petunia to no end and huge numbers of presents because she’s popular everywhere, and newfound bravery because, “I’m a Gryffindor, Tuney, can you believe it?”

 

And when Petunia tries to talk about how she’s rather good with numbers, better than a bunch of the boys, “Dad just look at my marks,” Dad is too busy talking with Lily about, “But what is arithmancy, really?” and Lily is saying, “Well it’s sort of a kind of spell-derivation course. LIke examining the axiom of the will and the word in a mathematical kind of a way,” and then Petunia turns to her mum, a woman with hair greying and skin sagging in that way it does sometimes and says, voice quiet,  “Mum, did you hear me?”

 

And her mother will look at her, eyes sea-green, more vivid than mine and you gave Lily all the color, and say, “Was it something about arithmetic, dear? You met a boy in your class?”

 

And Petunia knows she could push back, but what would it mean in the face of Arithmancy and Transfiguration and the terrors of a place called Azkaban. 

 

So what if she’s good with numbers? Lily can do magic. Lily is charming. And Petunia is nothing like that. Lily gets to go back to school at the end of the summer. Petunia has to stay. Not just for the school year, but the rest of her life in this world that has nothing but uniform houses and the same kind of excitement.

 

So she says, fifteen years old and learning just how unfair the world is, “Yeah, mum. That’s right. I met a boy in arithmetic.”

 

And her mum smiles a true smile and says, “Well that’s nice dear.”

 

Lily’s voice pipes up, “Are you happy Tuney?”

 

Petunia doesn’t answer.



The next summer Lily comes home with a sense of need to prove herself because “my parents being muggles makes me no lesser than,” and Petunia says, “If you feel like you need to prove yourself, you don’t. You can always be judged fairly here, without magic.”

 

But Lily won’t hear of it. She studies and studies and does the same the next summer all over and then one night, when Petunia is sixteen and becoming a woman, and Lily is fourteen and still just a girl, Lily climbs into her older sister's bed shaking.

 

Petunia almost doesn’t let her get under the covers, but she does after a long sigh, and curls around her shivering baby sister. 

 

“Is it still thirty-seven again today, Tuney?” Lily whispers, as though afraid to break the quiet but needing the answer all the same. 

 

“You got it,” Petunia says, voice somehow breaking, “Thirty-seven freckles again.” 

 

They are silent for a long moment, the only sounds are muted crickets outside the window. Then Lily says, “I learned that witches live longer than muggles.”



Petunia feels somewhat offended. “Oh?” She asks, voice chilly.

 

“They say I can live to 150 or more,” Lily says, “And you’ll likely live to 100 at the most.” Petunia is about to push the girl out of her bed, just another reason I’m lesser than you, is that it? but then Lily says, “I’ve known you my whole life. What will I do for so long without you?”

 

And then Petunia can’t help but smooth back Lily’s red-red hair and press a kiss to her brow. “Lils,” she says in a soft tone of voice she’s hardly ever used in her life, “I’m the big sister. I’m supposed to die first. And when I go, you’ll do what little sisters are supposed to do when their big sisters die. Live on, for me, and for yourself.” 

 

Lily, ever obstinate, says, “I don’t know that I’ll want to.”

 

But Petunia thinks of how beautiful her little sister is, and all her friends, and her bravery, and says, “When I die, you won’t be alone. You’ll have a beautiful family and you’ll be happy to live for them. You will. I promise.”

 

They fall asleep together that night and wake up in a tangle of limbs, too old to be sharing a bed but for one shining moment not caring at all.



When Petunia is seventeen she graduates and goes on to study accounting while taking care of her parents full time. Lily has an epic falling out with the foul boy and an epic falling in with one James Potter, a boy her parents love and Petunia detests in equal measure.


He is all swagger, all magic, no sense at all, and like the fairies in children’s tales, she can just tell he will spirit Lily away -- all the way away to a grave.

 

But the two of them are so in love. Fifteen, and in love the kind of way Petunia knows she will never be. 

 

You got that too, Lily. 

 

So when they get married just two years later, right before Petunia’s first day at her new firm, Petunia is not surprised.

 

When a woman named Alice is Lily’s maid of honor, Petunia pretends the blow doesn’t smart. 

 

And she does her best not to be a bitch at her younger sister’s wedding but she can’t help blowing up at one moment and yelling, in front of a crowd, “You’re seventeen years old! You’re too young to be getting married! Far, far too young.” 

 

And Lily looks back, emerald eyes defiant, gorgeous in her gown the way little girls always dream of, (the way Petunia dreamed her baby sister would be, blushing and resplendent and magical in the way Petunia will never be,) and says, “I love him! And there’s a war on, Tuney. There’s a war. We have to live while we can.”



And then all the anger seeps right out of Petunia’s boney fame. “What?” She asks, “what war?”



Lily shakes her head. “Please,” she pleads, voice vulnerable, “Just let me be happy on my wedding day.”



James will forever (for four years) remember Petunia as the person who yelled at his bride at her wedding. But Lily will forever remember the way Petunia sat next to her when the party was over and tucked her against her side and the sound of her older sister’s voice as it said, “You looked beautiful tonight.”



And then Petunia learned about the war. Learned about the dark mark. Magic was scarier than it was dazzling. 

 

“Come back,” she’d begged her little sister, “It’s not worth it. It’s not.” (I’m worth it. Don’t leave me.)

 

“I have to. Stay safe,” and Lily went back to where Petunia could not reach her. (I'm the older sister. I'm supposed to protect you.)

 

But life moves on. Burying down her worry somewhere deep, Petunia goes to work and does well. She meets Vernon at her firm. She’s an accountant for a drilling company and he does sales. Petunia is not an ugly woman, but she is not beautiful. She’s a bit too stuck-up and high maintenance for the way she looks and it takes her a long time to warm up to people. She is not normally attractive enough to be worth the effort. 

 

Vernon is everything James Potter is not. He is filled out in all the places James is lanky, he is as non-magical as they come. He seems to find Petunia worthwhile as a woman. Perhaps this is because he is interesting to her for all the reasons he is dull to everyone else. He is so far out of the world Lily resides in that Petunia feels like, with him, she can live with both her feet firmly planted on the ground she’s been granted.

 

They are married when Petunia is twenty-one, and it is the last time she sees Lily. Lily comes, a bit thinner than when Petunia had seen her last, and more skittish. “The war’s getting worse,” she says, “I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again. Listen to me Petunia, if you ever hear about people dying with no symptoms in your neighborhood, no reason but they just stopped living and no one knows why, you run, okay? You run. And if you--”

The last thing Petunia can remember saying to her sister is, “For God’s sake it’s my wedding, Lily. Can you put aside that freakishness just once?”

 

Lily is silent the rest of the wedding and Petunia pretends not to notice her.

 

When she gets a letter from Lily that her little sister is pregnant, she doesn't reply that she is also pregnant, has been for a few months. She doesn’t send a letter when Dudley is born and doesn’t reply to the letter that tells her Lily’s named her own son Harry. Vernon takes a special interest in labeling Lily and her family freaks. It may come from his own feelings of inadequacy when faced with those who so effortlessly have more.

 

And when Petunia’s parents die, her father from a stroke and her mother from heartache three weeks later, Petunia handles the funerals on her own. Lily, she’s told by a boy named Lupin who comes to see her all of one time, is in hiding. Petunia could not send letters even if she wanted to.

 

And that is when she decides she hates Lily for leaving her behind. She attends both her parents' funerals with a wailing six-month-old baby, dressed in all black and wishing she didn’t feel so terribly alone.

 

Vernon tells her she should quit her job and she does. It’s what housewives do. 

 

And then… there is a baby on her doorstep. It’s the middle of winter. Dudley’s asleep upstairs. And there’s a baby with bright green eyes and floppy black hair (so very unlike Vernon’s carefully gelled locks) and that can only mean one thing. 

 

Lily is gone. 



 

 

 

Petunia doesn’t remember that night or the next day. Vernon is upset and she thinks she argues to keep the baby and ignores him as he says, “good riddance,” about her sister and the Potter family.

 

Petunia has flashes of a funeral with many multi-colored robed people and her sister’s face colorless in death.

 

And then, it’s blank.

 

She starts having memories in full when Harry’s three and already living in the cupboard and Dudley is already spoiled beyond all control. 

 

She can’t remember why she put Harry in the cupboard but she’s grateful that he’s there. She doesn't have to look at him when he’s in there. 

 

His eyes are green in the way Lily’s were, he’s positively brimming with that unnameable pull that practically screams, “there is something extra here,” a secret sort of something lacking in Petunia, Vernon, and Dudley.

 

Aunt Petunia leaves him with the supplies in the coat closet underneath the stairs because she knows herself, and she is certainly not the kind of person to take in orphans and leave babies in cupboards, so she hopes that she will one day open the closet and see only cleaning supplies. She hopes desperately that this is all a bad dream.

 

I was supposed to die first. That’s what big sisters do.

 

 And then maybe she tells herself that it is better that Harry is so far away from her Dudley, somewhere he can’t do anything bad, or make Dudley feel bad, or get swept up in that magic that looks beautiful but kills.

 

***

 

Petunia isn’t sure why, twelve years after taking Harry in, she starts having nightmares. The nightmares feel so real, and they’re not her nightmares. They’re memories. Harry’s, she thinks.

 

She falls asleep and dreams of the scent of pee, the sting of bleach, feels burns on child hands. She wakes up night after night with tears in her faded blue eyes, reaching for comfort only to find an indifferent Vernon. (He did not marry an emotional woman. That she should be growing some difficulties now in that regard is not his concern. He supports the house and that's quite enough.)

 

She finds herself doing housework throughout the day and day-dreaming about being too small for all the tasks and being forced to do them anyways. She feels this need to do them perfectly because maybe then, finally, she’ll be loved.

 

And horrifyingly, the only time she feels even remotely safe are those few moments she goes to get more bleach or the vacuum from that cursed cupboard under the stairs. 

 

As she dreams of Harry’s childhood, guilt threatens to choke her and shame lies heavy at the base of her spine.

 

You’d never have treated a child this way, would you have Lily? Well too bad, you may have gotten everything else, but I got your son. Are you happy? I got your son and I couldn’t even raise him right. I couldn’t, I couldn’t -- I can’t even raise my own son right. You took all the good parenting and compassion and there was none left for me. You left, Lils. You left. You died. 

 

Petunia finds herself looking through the cupboard and uncovers whole pages of scrap paper filled with pictures sketched with a child’s hand. She sees secret gardens and dragons and a young girl with thirty-seven freckles on her face and fireflies all around. Petunia doesn’t know what comes over her, but she takes that graphite picture and goes to the store and has it framed and puts it on her bedside table. Vernon doesn’t notice.

 

He’s talented, Lily. That son of yours. Of course, he is. He’s yours.

 

The nightmares continue and Petunia finds herself thinking about all the pieces of Harry she missed. He was funny, in a sarcastic kind of way. He was brilliant in the way Lily always was. He would have loved deeply if given the chance, she just knows. 

 

She thinks back to when Harry got the letters to Hogwarts and she and Vernon and Dudley grabbed her nephew and ran. Why did I let Vernon go crazy to keep the letters from reaching you, Harry? 

 

The answer comes easily: Because I know that fairyland is beautiful but when you are spirited away you don’t come back.

 

She wakes up after a nightmare one night screaming like she is a child in need of a parent. She feels loss down to her bones, and says, crying, “I’m sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry. I wish -- I wish I could take it back.” And she does, God, how she wishes she could take it all back. He was all she had left of Lily, he was her nephew, and she… she failed him.

 

She loved him. He’s gone now too. (She’s the last Evans.)

 

Vernon snores on. 

 

And… the nightmares stop as suddenly as they started but Petunia almost wishes they would come back. They felt a fitting punishment for a decade filled with her greatest mistakes. Nothing will ever make up for the abuse (and it was abuse, wasn’t it) she inflicted on Harry.

 

But there’s nothing she can do about it, so all she can do is move on. One step forward. Like she did when she buried her parents. Like she did when she buried her sister. She kept going. So she has to keep going now even when she knows she will never forgive herself.

 

She calls Dudley while he’s away at his school and asks, intently, “Are you happy?”

 

He pauses in a rant as though unsure how to answer. Petunia never asks if he’s happy. She asks about his friends so she can tell him how popular he is and then sends him chocolate. But Petunia doesn’t want to do that anymore. She isn’t Lily, never will be, but she wants to be more than everything Lily wasn’t. She wants to be the kind of parent she’s proud to be. (The kind of person Lily would be proud of.) “Yeah, mum,” he says finally, “I’m happy. I’ve got a few really good friends and I’ve started boxing.”


Petunia of three months ago would have said something like, “You’ll be a champion for sure, Duddleykins. Let me know when you get the donuts I sent.” Petunia instead thinks about the information he’s given her. It’s more honest than normal, ‘a few good friends,’ not ‘hordes and hordes mum, they won’t leave me alone.’ Petunia smiles, a fragile thing, and winds her long fingers around the phone cord. “That’s good, Dudley. I’m proud of you.”

 

This is also something she never says. Dudley is silent again. When he speaks, his voice comes out a bit choked, “Yeah, mum. Thanks.”

 

Later that day Petunia looks at her mantle and sees pictures upon pictures of Dudley. Harry doesn’t appear once.

 

She spends the evening searching all over the house to try to find just one picture of her nephew. 

 

Vernon gets home and says, “Pet? Where’s dinner?”

 

Petunia’s voice filters down from the attic where she’s looking through old photo albums. “I was thinking of take-away tonight, dear.”



Vernon calls out, “What are you doing up there?”

 

Petunia calls back, “Looking for pictures of Harry.”

 

Vernon’s voice is thunderous. “Why the devil would you do that, Pet?”

 

Petunia says, voice muted but audible even from the attic, “Because I’m his aunt.”



Vernon says later that night, during dinner, Indian take-away, “It’s good that freak’s gone. I hope he never comes back.”

 

Petunia curls her hand around her fork until her knuckles go white. Quietly, she says, “He’s still my sister’s son.” 


Vernon leans back in his chair patting his heavy belly, and after burping says, “Well, she was a freak too.” Vernon clears his throat. “Remember Dudley’s tail? That’s what happens when you’re around people like them.”

 

“I remember,” Petunia says. And she does. But she also remembers putting a boy in a cupboard and the dark and swinging a frying pan, and she thinks that the tail was something Dudley’s forgotten but Harry’s likely never forgotten the lack of love.

 

So she looks at Vernon some more, and then she decides she needs a job.

 

She’d been an accountant, once, before she decided normal women stay at home and have their husbands work. Before Vernon told her that. 

 

She spends a few mornings looking at advertisements and job-postings and by the end of the week is hired to do accounting at a local hospital.

 

Vernon tells her that she doesn’t have to work, and she says she wants to. She has a lot of things she wants to do.

 

She calls Dudley again to tell him she’s gotten a job. He says, immediately, “Are you happy, Mum?”

Petunia can’t remember the last time someone asked her that. It’s been a long time. Fingers wound around the cord, she replies, “I’m getting there, D.”

 

His voice comes back strong and she wonders when he started growing up, “I’m proud of you.”

 

She blinks back sudden tears. “Me too,” she admits.

 

Her house is oddly sterile for having raised two exceptional children and she finds herself disgusted with all the muted colors. She buys red and gold (yellow, really, but she doesn’t have magic, sue her) pillows and decorates them in her house, remembering Lily’s far away looks and half-dreamed remembrances of magic. (I’m a Gryffindor, Tuney.)

 

Vernon doesn’t like them, doesn’t like any of the new Petunia he’s seeing. “It’s not right,” he tells her. She pays a gardener now to handle her roses, and she’s too busy sometimes to know anything about what’s going on in Mister Number five’s house. It’s not right, Vernon tells her. She’s not being herself.

 

It’s not right how she’s been searching for a picture of Harry -- just one -- to prove she did raise him, at least for a little while. It’s certainly not right that all of a sudden she’s found pictures of Lily and cries over them most nights. 

 

But how can she do anything else? She reminds him once again that, “She was my sister, Vernon. You still have Marge.”

 

She looks at Lily so young and traces over Lily’s nose and the freckles she used to count if she couldn’t sleep and sometimes whispers through tears, “And it’s thirty-seven again today, Lils,” and she wishes something fierce that Lily could have gotten to know her own son.

 

She wishes that Lily had gotten to grow up beyond a young mother. She wishes and wishes and wishes that Lily wasn’t dead. It isn’t anger anymore that she feels when she looks down at her baby sister. Maybe it never was. Because beneath all that anger is just overwhelming grief and she cannot stand that Vernon tells her it isn’t right. “It’s right,” she insists, “This is what happens when you let yourself love someone.”

 

And it feels right to her, more right than she’s felt in a long while. Maybe since she was thirteen and learned there was a world of magic that was going to take her sister away.

 

When Vernon lays divorce papers down on the kitchen table, Petunia feels only relief. “Alright,” she says. 

 

“Alright?” He demands, “That’s it?”

 

If Petunia hadn’t buried herself beneath grief and fear, she doubts their relationship would have made it this long. “I’ll need to call Dudley to talk to him about this, of course,” she adds. 

 

When she calls him to explain her and Vernon’s separation, Dudley is surprisingly alright with the developments. “You’ve changed, Mum,” he says, voice oddly textured from over the phone.

 

Petunia almost flinches, but keeps her tone even, “In a bad way, Dudley?”

 

“No,” he says, “in a good way. In a very good way.” He pauses, and then: “Can I stay with you, after the divorce?”



She says, “Of course.”



One of her few new friends at the hospital is married to a lawyer, and the lawyer helps her get all her affairs in order.

 

She keeps the house. She loses Vernon’s income. She works overtime a bit more often but buys her groceries just fine. She, with Dudley’s request in court, gets primary custody.

 

Vernon will call her later, angry, for turning her son against him. “Only three weeks in the summer!” he’ll boom, “I’ll barely see him at all.”

But Petunia will think of Vernon’s too big trousers and how he encouraged Dudley to hit Harry with a large stick and think it’s for the best. 

 

She finds a picture, finally, of Harry when he’s seven, eyes too large behind broken glasses, draped in clothes six sizes too big. Her children, she thinks, are born of excess and scarcity, one child six sizes too big and the other six sizes too small. And then she wonders when Harry became one of her children.

 

She looks at his green eyes and does not see the eyes of her too wishful sister, so much younger than she should be and so much older than she fears her nephew will ever grow. She sees Harry’s eyes as belonging only to Harry, and she gets the picture framed and puts it on her mantle.

 

She asks Dudley for the post office box to send letters. He says, voice cracking from puberty as he gets older, “He’ll like that. Letters from you.”

 

Petunia looks out at her transformed house and asks, “You think so?”

 

And Dudley sounds so much like his grandfather for a moment, like Petunia’s father, that she closes her eyes and lets herself feel proud for raising him even if she knows he turned out better than he should have and a good deal of that has to do with a green-eyed boy. Dudley says, “I know so. That’s just the kind of person Harry is.”

 

You never looked at your cousin and thought that you were lacking, did you, Dudley? You’re so much stronger than I was. And you’re right. That’s just the kind of person Harry is.

 

So she sends Harry a small Christmas letter and a single candy. Change starts small, Petunia thinks. Change will never undo the past, she knows. She will live with a bit of shame for the rest of her life. But she has pictures of Harry and Lily in the house now. Dudley comes home for the winter holidays and she sends him to his room once when he’s being too arrogant for his own good.

 

He storms to his room and slams the door, and she hears him lock it behind him. She’s never punished him once in his whole life and he’s already fourteen. Petunia spends the night gnawing on her fingernails convinced he’ll contact the courts and ask to go live with Vernon.

 

In the morning, he brews tea and apologizes. That evening and every evening after, he helps her set the table at dinner and starts to tell her "thank you."

 

She sends Harry a letter for New Year’s and a present too, some clay for his clever hands. She’s glad that wherever he is, they’re treating him better than she was ever able.

 

But she looks around at her house, filled with red and gold, memories of the boy she should have loved when she had the chance, and thinks that this is how change starts. Small. With her shoes in sensible flats and her neck craning over numbers.

 

With smaller portions at dinners and discipline and expectations. Change starts small, she remembers, when she stares at Harry too young and too frightened.

 

But change, she thinks, tracing over his spectacles in that awful picture of him on her mantel, his scarecrow figure next to Dudley imitating a beach ball, change starts.



***

 

The sky is dark overhead and the scent of mud hangs heavy in the air. Petunia is standing at a grave she hasn’t visited for twelve years. She’s looking at a stone and doesn’t know for the life of her if it’s raining or she’s crying. It might be both. Her head is bowed. 

 

She lays down a bunch of petunias on Lily’s tombstone. It’s fitting, she thinks, that she should leave some of herself with her little, baby, sister.

 

“You got everything,” she says, “And sometimes I hated you for it. You got all the colors, and all the freckles, and all the charm and all the magic and all the true love. You might still be here if you hadn’t gotten all the bravery too.”

 

Petunia wipes a bit of imagined dust off the tombstone. It’s grey and that’s wrong because Lily was every color other than grey. “You got everything, Lils, except for life.”




Petunia was never as vibrant as her little sister, never as charming, never filled with that unnamable something extra.  Petunia didn’t have Lily’s magic or Lily’s true love.

 

Petunia lives. That’s what big sisters are supposed to do when their little sisters die. They live on for their beautiful baby sisters and do all the things their little sisters never got to do. They live on for themselves and put one step in front of the other knowing that the grief they feel will never fade but there’s a whole world out there waiting.

 

So Petunia Evans, the last Evans from a family of four, the woman who buried her parents and little sister, keeps going. She has days where she is cruel and days where she is joyful, but she wakes up every morning and hopes that it's enough.

 

Petunia Evans does not remember life before Lily. But she remembers Lily forever in the life she lives after.








 

End of Part Two

Chapter Text

Fanart

 

This beauty is by Derpydragan (Locus_Hocus)

 

 

Check out this beauty's artist on insta @sppech.anlkluysis

 

This beauty is made by AO3's very own ivysaturn

 

And this beauty's artist wanted to remain anonymous

And now: Back to the story


 

Sirius has a heart made of bronze clockwork. He’s shiny, abrasive -- loud at times when he is announcing what he wants to do or how he feels. He’s a clock counting down, always down. 

 

(T-minus 730, and counting)



He’s methodical in how he acts. Every morning at exactly six am he gets into a yelling match with Kreacher.

 

(House-elves are very peculiar creatures, Harry’s decided. Tom and Sirius try to teach Harry what house-elves are all about and that “they don’t have feelings” but Harry’s rather sure Tom and Sirius are wrong in their assessment of the species. Hermione seems to agree with Harry but also doesn’t particularly care for being around Kreacher because he calls her "stinky mudblood" if ever he must address her at all. Ron says Kreacher is “a right nutter. Never met an elf like him.”)

 

It often goes something like this: Sirius thunders down the stairs after Kreacher’s odd cries over how the house has gone to ruin wake him up. Sirius is a light sleeper these days and too scared to cast a silencing spell because, as he says one night to Harry, “Sometimes when I was in deep with dementor chill, it was like I would never hear any sound again. So I can’t -- can’t not hear anything again. I’d be back there even if I wasn’t, do you understand?”

 

So Kreacher will wake Sirius up with his wailing and bemoaning and Sirius will thunder down the stairs and before he can begin to berate the elf, Kreacher will glare fiercely at the floor (because he still has too much respect to stare his filthy master in the eye) and say with what defiance he can muster, “Master is not being telling Kreacher not to be making loud noises this morning, filthy mudblood lover that he is. Oh, if mistress knew what is be going on in this house, oh how she’d cry...” 

 

Sirius will say, “Bloody hell! Mistress isn’t here, is she? Dear old mum is stuck screaming in her portrait and I’m your master now and I order you to stop this nonsense at once. And I say to make us a breakfast that we all like, none of that smelly cheese again, and then I want you to go up to your attic and do whatever it is you do and leave us the hell alone.”

 

Then Kreacher will say something like, “Oh, House Black is under such a foul, foul, boy,” and then he will bow low to the ground, and say, “But Kreacher’s master is filthy traitor master now, so Kreacher does as Kreacher is being told,” and he’ll putter off to make the worst breakfast he can make for the three of them and pointedly ignore Hermione if she shows up (which she often does.)

 

Sirius has little things he does like clockwork. He needs to meditate every afternoon at two and he needs to be draped in one too many robes at all times and have a fire burning in any room he visits. The fireplaces are why Hermione is over all the time.

 

Since Hogwarts is under ward renewal and additions to protect against the escaped Peter Pettigrew and any other unapproved animagi, all classes are taught at their assigned times through fireplace learning. Hermione is over for every school day because, “my house doesn’t have nearly enough fireplaces but your house, Sirius, has sixteen fireplaces and that’s just plenty.” 

 

Harry had asked at the beginning of the whole thing, “why would you need more than one fireplace? It’s not as if you have to go to two classes at once.”

 

(Hermione had gone a little pale and then said, “Two classes at once?  What a perfectly ridiculous notion. Almost as ridiculous as having three at once. Hahahahaha” and then she’d mumbled something about chimneys and muggle “spare the air” pollution politics and pretended she wasn’t acting the strangest she’d ever acted.)

 

Hermione never has a problem finding a fireplace that’s burning because all sixteen fires are always burning. Sirius needs warmth and light.

 

And every night at eight pm, he drips a little bit (or a lot, but Harry’s not one to call him out on it) of firewhisky into his tea and drinks it until his eyes go glassy. This is the time that Harry gets to hear all sorts of stories about his parents and their pranks and friendship. Sometimes, when Sirius drinks a little too much, he’ll talk in halting words about his own little brother Regulus.

 

Tom and Harry will be sitting nestled on a couch somewhere or another, dust coating the cushions in a thin layer because the fixing up of such a large house takes time, and Sirius will be curled in an armchair with firelight casting jagged, knife-like patterns on his sharp cheeks. 

 

Eyes looking somewhere far away, he’ll curl one hand against the armrest and say, sleepily, “you remind me of him, Tom. You're far too somber for a little boy.”

 

Tom will lean back and pull Harry with him until they’re lying down together and ask, “Who, Sirius?” 

 

“Regulus, of course,” Sirius will snap, “Who else? It was always Regulus. Regulus was the one mum and dad wanted. Regulus was the one he-who-we’re-all-too-fucking-scared-to-name wanted. But he died, didn’t he? All branded like some slave.”

 

Harry might try to say something but Tom will place a hand over his mouth and then Sirius’ voice will break through the crackling of logs, his tone sad and slurring to announce, “I miss him sometimes. Doesn’t that make me terrible? Sometimes I think I miss him as much as I miss James. I miss my brother the murderer just as much as I miss my brother who my murderer brother’s master murdered. What a mess,” and he’ll hiccup, always just once, and say, “You remind me of them. Tom’s just like Regulus and Harry’s just like James and I’m just the same, aren’t I? I’ve never grown up.” If he’s really, really, drunk, he’ll add, in a hoarse whisper, “Regulus and James never got to grow up either.”

 

There are nights that Harry and Tom need to bring Sirius drunk and near crying to his bed, there are nights that Sirius transforms into a large black dog until morning and sleeps in front of a fire, and there are nights Remus visits and deals with the drunk man on his own with the well-practiced hands of someone who’s been doing this for far longer than he should have been. 

 

(Harry knows from the stories that Sirius started drinking at thirteen. When they heard that particular tale, Tom had given Harry a firm look and said, “You, darling, are still too young for firewhisky.” Harry had asked, cheeky, “Won’t I always be?” Tom said, “No, sweetheart, you will grow up. You’re doing it right now, even. I merely hope that you will always be too smart.)

 

Sirius never talks about his nights with Harry or Tom and in the morning, like clockwork, he’ll yell at Kreacher and be attentive and interested and vivacious. 

 

He asks Harry about his lessons and teaches Black family secrets to Tom and takes the both of them flying (though Tom chooses to watch them fly around in the little pitch the townhouse has rather than participate more often than not) and Sirius delights in every moment he can spend around the both of them. 

 

Right before Christmas, Molly Weasley and Sirius go and buy what must be the biggest evergreen tree Harry’s ever seen.

 

Classes are out and Hermione and Ron and the rest of the Weasleys come over. They make a day of decorating the tree. 

 

Harry’s been crafting a plan for a long time to get the house-elf to feel a bit better about things because Harry knows very well what it means to be a house-elf.

 

He finds Kreacher in the newly-cleaned kitchen and says, “Kreacher, I know you maybe don’t like me very much, but I was wondering if you could please give me advice on something.”

 

Kreacher looks up from where he is cutting the finger sandwiches Sirius ordered he make into very hard-to-hold pieces. 

 

“Dirty half-blood master is asking for Kreacher’s knowing of things?” He clarifies. 

 

Harry nods unoffended at the title because it’s hardly the worst thing he’s been called. “That’s right,” he says, “I was wondering if you could give me your opinion on something because I think you know how things ought to go more than any of us.”

 

Kreacher sniffs but is the least offended he’s ever looked. “Kreacher can be of service.”

 

Harry’s spent the morning cutting out paper snowflakes and decorating them with gold or silver-flecked paint. He holds up two of the snowflakes. One is glowing softly like dying candlelight and the other sparkles in a thousand different places like a diamond. “Which is better to put on the tree do you think?”

 

Kreacher stares at both of them for a long time. Then he says, perhaps even surprising himself, “Oh, if Master Regulus were here, oh how he’d smile for these…” And then Kreacher shakes himself and says, “Master Potter should be putting both all over the tree, Kreacher thinks, but please is making a sparkle one to be going on the top.”

 

Harry smiles softly at the elf. “Thanks, Kreacher, you're a big help.”

 

Kreacher blinks furiously and turns his head away. “All Kreacher is wanting to be is helpful,” he says quietly, and then he puts aside a small selection of the sandwiches he hasn’t yet hacked into terrible pieces and sets to artfully carving them into beautiful uniform squares. He looks at Harry conspiratorially and says, “these is being for you.”

 

Harry scratches the back of his neck, “That’s really nice, Kreacher. Em. They look good?”

 

Kreacher makes a dismissive grunting noise and gets a manic glint in his eyes. “Master Potter is being too thin, yes, Kreacher can see it now, Filthy Master is not doing a good job with the young master, oh no, but Kreacher can help, Kreacher can help like he helped young master Regulus. But Kreacher is making more finger foods for young master Potter so now young Master Potter needs to go back to the tree to pretty it, he does.” 

 

Understanding the odd grammar to be a dismissal, Harry leaves the kitchen with a snowflake in either hand after saying a quick goodbye. He thinks as he decorates the tree with his cute little paper creations and laughs with Ron and Hermione and Sirius and Remus -- all of them in great moods -- how it’s too bad the two people who miss Regulus the most can’t seem to get along at all. 

 

When the tree is shining and beautiful, the group of them settle in the cleanest great room and the adults drink mulled wine and do their best to eat the terribly presented sandwiches (Sirius yells at Kreacher again,) and Harry is delivered his own unique platter before the elf disappears. 

 

“Blimey, Harry’s sandwiches are better than ours,” Fred and George crow. Percy looks up from a book for a grand total of one second before returning to its pages.

 

Remus raises a brow, “You’ve got the house-elf on your side, then?”

 

Tom, who’s been speaking in hushed tones with Hermione in the corner, looks over and says, “well, naturally. No one can hate Harry for long.”

 

Molly raises a glass and says, “I say a toast for that.”

 

Harry tries to smile but he thinks suddenly back to Christmas after Christmas in the cupboard and hearing celebrations from underneath the crack in the door. He remembers the smell of roasting ham and only the stale taste of day-old water to soothe his rumbling stomach. 

 

No one can hate me for long? My relatives seemed to manage.

 

The Weasleys stay the night and of course, Ron and Harry share a room. Ron’s snores could be used in symphonies if only Harry had the talent of composition. Hermione’s family wants her back for the 25th so she has to go, but they’ve compromised (Hermione wrote no less than seven essays to argue her point) and she’ll be back for boxing day. 

 

In the morning, Harry wakes up soft and sleepy and warmer than he should be for being alone in bed. (He and Tom often spend nights together, but this last night it was Ron and Harry in one room and Tom and the Weasley twins in another. Tom'd grumbled about it, but Harry can tell he has a soft spot for the red-headed menaces.)

 

He opens his eyes and blinks at the soft and silky comforter tucked invitingly around his body. This is not the old but serviceable quilt he’d gone to sleep with. There’s a hint of magic that is not quite human around the edges, a subtle elven flair. Aw, Kreacher, you do care.

 

Ron’s quilt remains the same. It’s early still and Ron’s snuffling in his sleep so Harry slips out of bed and wraps himself in last year’s Weasley sweater and shuffles out into the hall and down the cold stone staircase. 

 

Sirius is sitting on a couch in front of the tree in a bright red bathrobe and holding a mug in one hand.

 

A glance at the clock tells Harry it’s half past six which means Sirius has already screamed at Kreacher this morning. He wonders what the argument du jour was. 

 

Sirius looks at him and says, “Happy Christmas, Harry. Want to join me on the couch? Remus’ll be up in a bit, I reckon.”

Harry nods and walks over. He tucks himself next to Sirius and slides his cold toes under Sirius’ warm legs. There’s a casual kind of affection between them that’s grown softly but no less strongly for its humble beginnings --  like the way even gentle breezes carry seeds to places they’ll blossom. 

 

“Is it just me or is the house cleaner this morning?” Harry asks. The fine layer of dust that’s become a part of the tapestry of his new life with Sirius has all but vanished. The dirt-caked windows sparkle. 

 

Sirius flushes. “Well, Kreacher had some words for me this morning about the dangers of raising young children in environments that can hurt their delicate lungs.”

 

Harry says, surprise coloring his tone, “So you cleaned all this up after he said that?”

 

“Oh no,” Sirius replies, “I yelled at him that he knew nothing and especially not about raising any children, and then he looked at me like I was a rotting corpse and kept cleaning up the house like the feverish maniac he is.”

“Kept cleaning up?” Harry asks. “What does that mean?”

 

“He woke me up this morning, six if you can believe it, by dusting the railings right outside my room because of course he did.” Sirius sniffs, “it’s not like I need sleep or anything.”

 

“Do you reckon he’s gotten any sleep though?”



Sirius wraps an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Eh, probably not, but it’s Christmas and I’m with my godson and I just want to enjoy the moment. We have all the time in the world to talk about house-elves and why Kreacher and I will never get along, but a day like today comes only once a year.”

 

Harry lets the thread go for the moment, relaxes into Sirius’ side, and says, “I’ve never had a godfather with me for Christmas. ‘S nice.”

 

Sirius raises a brow. “It is nice. And correct if I’m wrong, but I thought I heard you say back in the Hog’s Head you’d never celebrated Christmas at all.”

 

Harry ducks his head. “No, well, the Durselys didn’t --” but he doesn’t finish the sentence and instead says, “but I’m here now, so it’s fine and well, I don’t -- I didn’t -- I never minded. It was fine.”

 

Sirius’ face is fond yet sad. “Hey, I get it.” The words ring with a truth that cuts far deeper than any he’s heard Sirius speak before. “Families are bloody awful sometimes.”

 

Harry says, thinking of the Weasleys, “Not always.”

 

Sirius gives him a squeeze and a wink, “No, Harry, not always. Now come on outside into the patio with me and let's have a good old-fashioned snowball fight.”

 

The snowball fight is categorically not “old-fashioned’ or at least not the kind of old-fashioned Harry’s used to. Sirius keeps using magic spells Harry doesn’t know to make catapults and heat-seeking snowballs that attack Harry with vicious accuracy. 

 

Harry, for his part, is getting trashed. He gives up on making snowballs to retaliate again the onslaught and instead runs and tackles Sirius into the snow. 

 

One of the snowballs that have been following him smashes into the side of Sirius’ head. 

 

“Hey, that’s cheating,” Sirius complains. 

 

“There’s no cheating when it comes to war,” Harry says. 

 

“No,” Sirius says, thoughtfully, “there isn’t.” With a loud crack, Sirius disappears and reappears a few feet to the left of Harry and hits him with another snowball. 

 

“Hey!” Harry exclaims, “What was that?”

 

“That,” Sirius says, sinking into a shallow bow, “was apparition. Wizard teleportation.”

 

“Can you teach me?”

 

“Normally, you’re not supposed to learn until you're much older and you need a license, but I won’t tell you if you won’t. We can start tomorrow. Remember this Harry, it’s always okay to run away when you’re in over your head.” 

 

Harry nods with a hint of a smile then jumps up from the snow and races inside. He hears Sirius calling out, “Hey, where are you going???”

 

Harry calls out, “I’m in over my head so I’m running to get help!”

 

Help? Oh no you don’t!” Comes Sirius’ indignant voice. 

 

Harry wakes up Ron and Tom and the twins and Ginny must have a sixth sense because she just appears but while he does that Sirius manages to enlist Molly and Arthur Weasley and Remus to his side. Percy ignores them all and chooses to sip luke-warm tea prepared by an anxious Kreacher who somehow manages to get Harry dressed in six layers and says before he goes outside, “when young master Potter is getting cold, Kreacher is being in the kitchen with big mug of hot chocolate.”

 

Harry beams at Kreacher and says, one foot out the door, “Thanks Kreacher. You’re the best and happy Christmas,” and then he’s running into the fray, hearing the twins shout, “Nucklavee attack!”

 

Evidently, with Tom’s help, the Weasley twins have managed to charm some of the snow into a rather grotesque-looking ice horse that is running around and butting into the adults.

 

Ron, Ginny, and Harry make a wall of snow and cast shield charms (they can use wands within Grimmauld because of all the wards) to make a safe space to hide from the fight.

 

Harry and Tom make eye contact for a moment when snow is falling from the sky in gentle flakes and flying in projectiles all around them. Tom’s dark blue eyes are sparkling, his cheeks have a small flush, and he’s smiling wide and open and disbelieving. 

 

Harry can’t say what he looks like but he knows how he feels: happy. It seems like the rest of the world falls away until it’s just him and Tom and the bright morning sky.

 

Harry doesn’t know how long they stand looking at each other, but the moment is broken when Sirius comes out of nowhere and literally jumps onto Tom’s back exclaiming, “got you now, little bugger,” and Tom says something undignified like, “geroff, get off me you buffoon,” and Sirius says, “Never, nephew-poo.”

 

No one wins the snowball fight (except, perhaps, Nucklavee the ice monster who decides to wander off into the winter landscape without looking back.)

 

Fred and George say, “One of ours has never done that before,” and Tom is suspiciously silent. 

 

When they’re all back inside from the fight, curled in front of one of the fireplaces and swaddled into oblivion, Harry holding a mug of hot chocolate in his hands, they bring up the very real issue of presents. 

 

More appropriately, the Weasley children (even Percy) ransack the tree to find their presents, and Harry and Tom hang back and watch the proceedings. Sirius says, “you guys know you have presents too, right?”

 

Harry and Tom say, at the same time, “Right. Of course,” and spend a few more minutes looking out at the tree and wondering if this is what it means to be in a family. 

 

So once the Weasleys are done, Harry and Tom go and see the packages with their names, touching every letter with a kind of tentative disbelief.

 

Harry sees an envelope with his name in clear and strict strokes that reminds him so strongly of Petunia’s careful writing. There’s something small wrapped and attached to the letter and it’s far less overwhelming than everything else.

 

He opens the envelope first and feels the room fade out as the words swim into focus. 

 

Harry,

 

Happy Christmas. Or Happy Yule. I think I remember Lily saying once that some wizards celebrate Yule instead of Christmas. She told me though, “I won’t. I’m going to still celebrate Christmas because I’m not ashamed of where I come from.” She was always stubborn. So maybe I’ll say Happy Christmas and Happy Yule because you come from two worlds and I don’t think you should be ashamed of either of them. 

 

I suppose you should know that Vernon and I got divorced. I work in accounting now.

 

I need you to know that if you ever need a place away from all the craziness, there’s always a room waiting for you in this house. 

 

I’m not ashamed of you, Harry. I sincerely hope you’re happy wherever you are. 

 

Love  - Petunia 

 

 

With clumsy fingers, he unwraps the small gift. It’s just a single truffle only it’s so much more than just candy. It's Dudley’s favorite chocolate. The truffles are from a sweet shop in London that Vernon always has to make a special trip to buy. They come in sets of six and Dudley historically eats three boxes on his own before breakfast. 

 

Harry asked every year until he was eight if he could try one. Petunia always said, “those are Dudley’s,” and Vernon always said, “Only little boys who deserve these get them, ungrateful brat. And you -- you will never be good enough.”

Harry knows Petunia remembers Harry’s questions and the answers he received. Is the candy to say, “you’re mine as much as Dudley’s mine?” Is it to say, “You deserve these?” Is it to say, “You are good enough?”

Petunia’s heart is ink, dripping and drying and layered over in scratch marks and sketch marks as she tries to become the person she will be even as she can’t (won’t) ever leave the person she was behind. 

 

He unwraps the candy and puts it in his mouth. It’s sweet, probably, and smooth but… Harry can’t taste it. 

 

It’s everything, isn’t it? You’re saying I’m yours, and deserve this, and am good enough, aren’t you, Aunt Petunia?

 

Maybe it’s twelve years too late for her to decide that he’s her family but Harry knows enough of souls and forgiveness to say that this small thing is enough for him to imagine a future where he loves her. It’s enough for him to imagine a future where she loves him, a future where she thinks he’s good enough.

 

Maybe it’s never too late to love someone. 

 

“Harry, mate, you good?” Ron’s hand is on his shoulder. “Something bad from your relatives?”

 

“No,” Harry says, voice shaking on the words, “It was a good thing. A very good thing.”

 

Tom crowds into his space, plucking the letter right out of Harry’s hands and giving it a cursory glance. His lips curl. 

 

“Well,” he says voice tart, “it seems Petunia can grow a conscience after all.”

 

Harry knows with a kind of grounded certainty that this will be a moment he remembers forever. He will remember sitting at the base of this tree, Tom by his side, Ron’s hand on his shoulder, and the beginnings of family that wants him. 

 

Harry is happy in a quiet way the rest of the day. He has little smiles creep up on his face when he eats his breakfast (porridge with honey and many fruits for young Master Potter, your second breakfast will have some meats because you are growing boy,) and cuddles into Tom’s side, and spends the day sketching in a book and laughing, and watches as the Weasley clan all retire early to bed and leave Tom, Sirius, and Remus alone in the living room.

 

Like clockwork, Sirius pours a bit of firewhisky in his tea (it’s eight, of course) and proceeds to get sloppy drunk. He slurs out, gesticulating wildly, “We celebre-it-ated Yule here in this fuck-feck-ing townhouse because we were -- was -- no, were proper purebloods. But my first Christmas was with James in his house and Ringley, that was James-ies -- James’ house elf -- he dint get one tree for the great room, no! Ringley got a tree for every room in the manor, even the bathrooms, because he didn’t know any better!” Sirius does an odd hiccuping kind of a laugh, just once, and abruptly starts crying, “And Reggie sent me a note begging me to come home and I didn’t because Christmas with the Potters was so much better and I didn’t come back and I didn’t even send him a letter or anything.” 

 

He’s sobbing now, full-on tremors shaking his back, and Harry moves to help Sirius to sleep like he and Tom have done many times. 

 

Remus shakes his head and says, “I’ve got this boys, why don’t you head to bed?” 

 

So Tom takes Harry’s hand and says, “Come on now darling, it’s time to give them some space,” and guides Harry up the steps with a hand on the younger boy’s lower back.

 

As they walk away, Harry can hear Remus saying, “I know Sirius, I know.”

 

“He was supposed to be better ‘thn me, Rem, he waz gonna be the kid who turned this curse-ed-ed house around. ‘S why I din’t push im, you know? He waz gonna fix us. I really thought that.”

 

Remus’s voice is steady, “I know, Sirius. It wasn’t your fault, okay, not your fault. But you can’t keep getting like this with Tom and Harry. It’s not fair to them.”

 

Sirius’ voice rises in pitch, “Not fair? You tell me, iz Harry bettr off somewhere they don’ let em celebre-it-ate Christmas? Iz Tom bettr off in a house with an ab-abusive mother who dint love him enough to stay alive? I’m doing better by these boys than they ever -- than I ever -- than even you ever got! Aren’t I? Isn’t it enough? Isn’t it? It is enough, right? It has to be enough. Remus, Remus, when will it be enough? I’m so tired, Rem, I’m so --”

 

Remus’ voice is soft and soothing but Harry can no longer make out the words.

 

“Come on now, sweetheart,” Tom says, “it will all be better in the morning.”

 

But it won’t be. Not really.

 

In the morning, like clockwork, Sirius will yell at Kreacher at exactly six am. There will be sixteen fires burning and Sirius will say nothing about this night and instead want to know everything about Harry and Tom’s lives. In the morning there will be two overly large breakfasts for Harry (and one mediocre breakfast for Tom and Sirius to share) and a gentle kind of affection between this odd family of three that grows stronger with every passing day. 

 

And in the evening, there will be stories and drinking and tears and the echoes of tragedies that are in no way dampened by the decade that’s passed since their unfolding.

 

Sirius has a heart made of bronze clockwork. He’s shiny, abrasive -- loud when he’s excited and loud when he’s anguished and methodical about all his actions besides. He’s tick-tick-ticking, each cog in his machinery well oiled and well polished and counting down -- always down. 

 

(T-minus 718, and counting)

 

What happens, Sirius, when the number hits zero?

 

***

 

The first thought Tom has when he and Harry emerge from the fireplace in Grimmauld place is “oh no.” The house is dirty and grimy and falling apart with decades of disuse. But Harry says he’ll fix it up. And Tom admits that fixing up this pigsty seems like a good project to take his artist’s mind off of the dangers of the moment.

 

The first thought Tom has when he wakes up the next morning to Harry painting one of the living room walls Gryffindor red is “gag me sideways with a wooden spoon and call it a mercy killing.” 

 

(It is something Beatrice Haywood has been known to say, on occasion.)

 

He breathes once, deeply, and asks, “Darling, is that really the best color we could paint this wall?”

 

Harry grins with a face full of red splatter, thirty-seven little freckles of paint, and says, “This is the best color I could paint this wall. No better color out there.”

 

The house-elf, “Kreacher” Tom’s pretty sure he heard Sirius announce, is glaring at Harry with loathing and muttering, “Child of filth and blood traitors and poor, poor mistress,” and Sirius is reclining on a dusty couch with a day old paper and an empty mug and a bright smile.

 

“You tell that yellow-lover!” He yells, “Red, red, I say! Red! Paint the walls common-room red! Us Gryffindors outnumber his hardworking Hufflepuff ass.”

 

Delighted, Harry says, “Sirus! You just swore.”

 

Sirius guffaws and says, “Swore to look after you? Of course I did. Never a better oath made. That goes for looking after you as well, Mr. Tom Hufflepuff Black.” 

 

Tom swallows a grimace at the nickname. He merely tolerates this man for Harry. Nothing more. Still, he sits down gingerly on the end of the dusty couch and watches Harry keep painting. This is not art -- just methodical brush strokes on a dirty wall. Harry is still mesmerizing in his oversized grey shirt and jean overalls flecked with color.

 

Sirius lays down his empty mug on the floor. “Hufflepuff,” he murmurs, “and I thought no Black would ever one-up my being a Gryffindor. You’ve got balls, kid.” 

 

Tom relaxes into the couch and gives Sirius a sardonic look. “Some would say us ‘puffs have no balls. We’re the ‘leftovers,’ remember?”

 

Sirius shakes his head. “That’s a load of hogwash and always has been. They say Moody was a Hufflepuff and by Merlin, I swear that man has balls of fucking steel.”

 

Harry giggles and says, “Sirius, you swore again!”

 

“Swore that I was the best looking bloke around? You bet I did! But it looks like Tom’s coming for my throne.”

 

That first day passes in a series of quips and cleaning and ends in the evening with Sirius pouring a bit of alcohol into his tea and telling stories of all the mischief he and James got into at school.

 

He’s a drinker, that Sirius Black. Every morning he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and endlessly (relentlessly) affectionate. 

 

He’ll lock Tom in a headlock just because, ruffle his hair to see him squirm -- on Christmas morning he tackles Tom into the snow and then gives him a quick kiss on the forehead for being, “the best nephew-poo a former convict could ask for!”

 

But he’s still a drinker at the end of every day. Harry takes to cleaning up after Sirius with the kind of ease of a boy who doesn’t know that he deserves any better. Tom helps because he does not know that there is any better.

 

Sirius drinks. Hermione studies. Harry paints. Remus hates himself all the time but especially before the full moon. Ron is… not Tom’s friend. All these things just seem irrevocably, undeniably, true. 

 

So Tom does his best not to dwell on it. Sirius is always better in the morning.

 

On boxing day (and after Sirius’ worst alcohol-induced breakdown to-date,) Tom wakes up with a soft sweater being wrestled onto his torso. 

 

It’s yellow and knitted and… oh no… “Is this a Weasley sweater?” He asks, voice deadly calm.

 

“Well,” Fred says from one side of his body, “You didn’t open it last night and -- ”

 

“-- Mum would be just heartbroken,” George continues, “if you didn’t wear it today. It’s the last day we’re here, you see.”

“You wouldn’t want to break an old woman’s heart, would you?” Fred asks.

 

Tom grumbles as the sweater is pulled all the way on. “I will break your necks if you ever accost me while I am sleeping again.”

“Accost, says he!” George repeats, “I shall endeavor to do so again, says I!”

 

“And so shall I,” Fred says.

 

“And so shall he,” says Geroge. 

 

Tom muffles his face into a pillow. “I hate you both. You realize that, right?”

 

“We broke Harry out of Durzkaban last year and protect him every Quidditch game from flying bludgers,” Fred observes.

 

“You couldn’t hate us if you tried,” George announces. They take a moment to flounce simultaneously onto either side of where Tom is trying to become one with his unfathomably soft (and his, the first that is just his) mattress. 

 

The twins aren’t wrong. They protect Harry and they’re easy to talk to and wickedly smart in rather unorthodox ways. 

 

“Although,” George says seriously, “we thought we might hate you when we first met you.”

 

“Did you?” Tom asks.

 

“Yes,” Fred replies, “We thought that maybe you’d cursed Ginny. We don’t know for how long or with what, but Ginny was cursed by something last year. It made her all weird and mum had to take her to mind-healer when we got back from Egypt.”

 

“The mind healer,” George says, “was convinced that Ginny had been haunted by some ghost named ‘Tom.’ Ginny said she didn’t know what Tom looked like but she’d recognize his handwriting anywhere.” 

 

Tom feels himself breathing quickly and forces himself to relax. “Did she? I mean, did she recognize the handwriting somewhere?”

 

“Well,” Fred says, “She said yours was the closest match. Your name’s a dead ringer for her ghost too.”



“But even she knows now it couldn’t have been you! You’re a Hufflepuff besotted with Harry Potter. You’re not exactly a cursed object.” George laughs.

 

“And even if you were the person who cursed her,” Fred says with a hint of threat, “we’re pretty sure you don’t seem like you would do it again.” They’re both still at either of his sides. The tension of the room is thick enough Tom can taste it on his tongue.

 

“I suppose,” Tom says with carefully formed words, “it’s good you guys know I would never hurt your little sister.” (Again.)

 

And that’s enough for Fred and George to go back to being jokesters and the tension to bleed out. Tom wonders how many people have witnessed just how smart they truly are. If Tom were a different person maybe he’d feel threatened. But Tom’s been inside of hell and seen London choked by ashes. If these two boys ever seem like they’ll get in the way of Tom’s plans, his affection for them won’t stop him from burning their world down.

 

“Have you seen the Black family tapestry?” Fred asks. 

 

“I’m not on it,” Tom says, “But neither is Sirius.”

 

“Yeah, blasted off, I heard,” George says, “Just like our Grandma Cedrella. She had a cousin, Marius, who was blasted off when he was like eleven because he was a squib. We’ve got a second cousin who’s an accountant and we don’t talk about him much, but we talk about him, you know?”

 

“Pureblood culture is…” inane, stupid, so concerned with appearance that these lords and ladies are just begging for a leader to take them in any direction I can convince them is ‘pure’... “problematic.”

 

“At best,” Fred snorts. “But hey, I guess we’re kinda cousins in a weird way.”



George says, “So, I guess, welcome to the family.”

 

Tom looks at the two of them and wonders what would have happened if he’d met them fifty years ago. Family. I don’t need it. Still, Tom says, “Thanks.”

 

They head down the stairs together.

 

Hermione arrives for breakfast and sits next to Tom because the two of them enjoy having obscure conversations about ancient runes no one can understand (and occasionally about Horcruxes) and Sirius is as cheerful and rude as ever. 

 

The holidays pass quickly. Tom pretends not to care when Harry gets clay from his aunt for New Year’s. 

 

He’s so happy. This is why we let her live. For this. For Harry.

 

But there are nights he hates Petunia, nights when Harry smiles and talks with great big hand-motions about how, “maybe we’ll be a real family one day. Maybe, maybe she’ll walk me down the aisle. You know, like a parent. Like I’ll have Sirius on one side and Petunia on the other and she’ll be happy to be there. Maybe Dudley will come. He sends letters too. Wouldn’t that be -- I mean, that would be everything.”

Tom will say, “Yes, darling, that sounds lovely,” and think all the while about how fragile Petunia looked in her sterile house and how he had all the time in the world to make her grovel like a pig and wring her overly long neck. She deserves none of Harry’s forgiveness but he’s given her all of it. He even sent her back a letter after New Year’s. Tom doesn’t know what it said. He couldn’t bring himself to look.

 

School starts up again and Hermione comes over every day because “my house only has one fireplace and that’s not nearly enough.”

 

Tom gives her the courtesy of not announcing her obvious meddling with time. He does, however, feel rather like she has managed to age an extra year and is not so much younger than him that he feels embarrassed to view her as an advisor of sorts.

 

Ron comes over too many afternoons and looks at Tom with ill-concealed suspicion.

 

And in the nights, Harry starts to curl up in Tom’s lap when Sirius pours firewhisky in his mug. Remus comes over more and more often to deal with his drunk friend. 

 

The routine lasts for three months of school done by fireplace learning (and Snape managing to be no less threatening from afar) before it all changes in ways Tom couldn’t control.

 

Harry runs out of a meeting he was having in the newly cleaned seventh parlor with bright cheeks and eyes sparkling. 

 

He skids to a stop in front of where Tom and Sirius are relaxed and playing a game of chess. (Tom is winning.)

 

“Oliver’s just gotten approval for us to keep playing Quidditch!” He says with a bright smile. 

 

“What?” Tom asks. “What has Oliver done?” 

 

Sirius says, “That’s great!”

 

“We can’t do it like normal, obviously, but the wards are getting close to done and it’s his last year so the Quidditch teams can go to the castle just for the games. There’ll have to be dementors watching us play in case of Pettigrew somehow getting on which is awful, but Oliver says, ‘this is the year, the last year, the most important year, so we’ll take what we can get.’ And I mean, I can’t let my team down!”

 

As Harry finishes talking, the fireplace turns bright green and out walk two Weasley twins. 

 

“Harrikins! Such news!”

 

“I know!” Harry gushes, “just think of it, winning the cup for Oliver’s last year.”

“Oh trust us,” they say, “It’s all dear old Ollie thinks of.”

 

“Day in,” says George.

 

“And day out,” Fred says. 

 

Will this make you happy, Harry? It’s dangerous. Stay on the ground, with me, where it’s safe. 

 

“That doesn’t seem like a good idea with Pettigrew still on the loose,” Tom says.

 

Sirius has managed to put Tom into check while he was distracted. “Oh come on, let Harry live a little,” he says.

 

“Tom won’t let me do anything,” Harry says, “I decide my life for myself.”

 

Oh, is that what you do?

 

So Harry starts spending afternoons practicing Quidditch at the burrow and Tom doesn’t come. 

 

Throw away your safety for a stupid game, why don’t you?

If Tom starts looking for ways to make sure Harry will survive any fall, it’s not a problem. It’s just… research.

 

He and Sirius spend many afternoons playing chess or cards or talking about the world while they wait for Harry to come home from practice dripping in sweat. 

 

Home. 

 

One morning, when Hermione is sitting next to Tom and Sirius is smiley as ever but wincing because of a hangover, Tom tsks and slides the man a hangover cure he brewed just for this purpose.

 

Hermione raises a brow and whispers, “You love him.”

“Who? Harry?” Tom asks. He doesn’t think he loves Harry but… he can see where Hermione got that idea.

 

“No, him too but that’s obvious to everyone other than the two of you. No. You love Sirius.”

 

Tom looks at where Sirius is looking at a piece of toast that is not burned and announcing, “God, would you look at this? Kreacher has smiled down upon me today. This is lovely. Just lov-eh-lay. Isn’t it just the best thing you ever did see, Harry?”

Harry is laughing with his head thrown back and saying, “You need to see more things, Sirius, if that’s what gets you going.”

 

“Is that what passes for gratitude in this house?” Comes Sirius’ indignant squawk.

 

He’s so childish. 

 

“It’s not love,” Tom replies. 

 

“No?” Hermione prods. “There’s more than one way to love someone.”

 

“I don’t love anyone.” Isn’t that what Dumbeldore always said? He’s the child of a love potion. It doesn’t matter, anyway. Love makes people lose all reasons. Love is just a pair of manacles disguised as something beautiful.

 

Hermione squints at him. “Well,” she says after a breath, “that sounds lonely.”

 

Tom looks back across the table to where Sirius is smearing apricot jam all over Harry’s face as his artist attempts to cover Sirius’ hair with scrambled eggs. They look uncomfortably perfect, like they slot into place and fill all the empty holes the universe ever decided to tear. 

 

It’s not love.

 

“It isn’t,” Tom says. 

 

“If you say so,” Hermione says in a tone that suggests she thinks he’s speaking absolute garbage. She takes a bite of toast.

 

Sirius calls out, “Hey look, Hermione got a good piece of bread too!”

 

“Oh, look at that. It’s lov-eh-lay!” Harry cackles.

 

It’s not love. 

 

“What, are you boys jealous?” Hermione taunts. 

 

It’s not. 

 

Tom refuses to attend the first Quidditch game Harry plays at Hogwarts. It’s not that he doesn’t support Harry, he does. It’s just that Sirius is also going to the game and Tom wants a day to look at the Black family library on his own and check out if there is anything on Horcruxes.

 

He spends the afternoon searching through book after book only to find absolutely nothing of importance. Kreacher glares at him the whole time from a respectful distance. 

 

Harry comes back with Sirius at his side and confetti in both their hairs. 

 

“I caught the snitch,” Harry says, “And we won.”

 

“The kid just about dived off his broom and caught it with the tips of his fingers -- I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s as good as Fyodor Pushkin was in Russia circuit 1956 and that man was praised for having the fingers of a niffling sprite.” Sirius gushes. “God, if James were here he’d have lost his shit.”

 

“You’re doing a good job of that on your own, aren’t you?” Tom teases, “Merlin you’re just like a proud dad.”



“Proudest Uncle slash Godfather you ever did see,” Sirius agrees. 

 

He pulls Tom and Harry into his arms with surprising strength and kisses the sides of their heads. Tom resists the urge to pull away. He feels oddly warm.

 

It’s not love. 

 

Neither Tom nor Harry are surprised when Sirius spends the night drinking himself silly and slurring out how much he loved James. “He’d have known what to do with life. I’m just drifting…” Sirius says with his eyes half-closed, “It’s always the ones who don’t deserve it who go.”

 

“You deserve to live,” Harry says.

 

“I deserve nothing,” Sirius says, “But I can’t do anything about that. James deserved everything but he didn’t get it. James didn’t get you, Harry. I got you. And I’m trying my best. I promise. I promise. I promise...” 

 

Tom tries to muster disgust for this drunkard in front of him but he can’t. “Come on now, let’s help him out,” he says to Harry. Harry nods.

 

He and Harry begin levitating Sirius to bed. Sirius looks at Tom with a grateful smile and says, “Thanks, Reg. You always have my back.”

 

Tom doesn’t even blink even though his heart feels like it's being squeezed down into nothingness, he just lets out a sigh and says, “Always.”

 

He and Harry spend the night together in Tom’s bed by unspoken agreement. Harry nestles into Tom’s side. “He started drinking at eight again tonight.”

 

“Yeah,” Tom says, “He did.” And he knows the words he speaks next are lies. But these are the words of a boy who’s never known what home can be and knows what he’s feeling isn’t love but wants, desperately, for something good in his life to stay good.

 

So Tom says, “It’ll all be better in the morning.”

 

***

 

The wind is howling and coming down in sheets so thick, Tom can barely see half a meter in front of him. He’s trying to calm down his beating heart as he thinks about Harry flying in these conditions. 

 

It’s one of the last Quidditch games of the season and Tom decided to finally show up. 

 

He’s not sure who he’s supposed to be hoping will win. If Gryffindor wins this game, they’ll go to the final with Slytherin next week. But they’re playing Hufflepuff and Cedric’s the seeker. Tom and Cedric are … friends of a sort. 

 

Tom’s wearing a yellow and black scarf but sitting with Sirius and the Weasleys. Ron is pointedly ignoring him and Hermione is sitting next to Ginny.

 

Sirius throws an arm around Tom’s shoulders. “Boy, the sky is really pouring, isn’t it?” He says. 

 

Sirius is wearing so many coats it looks like he’s become the same size as Vernon Dursley. He puts on a brave face for these Quidditch games but the presence of dementors on the outskirts of the school gets to him. 

 

“How will we see Harry in this weather?” Tom asks.

 

“Lee Jordan will say what’s happening,” Arthur Weasley replies, “and besides, only Harry needs clear vision to see that snitch, eh? We’re just here to watch the magic happen.” Arthur pauses and then leans his head near Hermione and asks, “Did I get that muggle saying correct?”

Hermione nods, “Yeah, that was alright. Nice going, Arthur.”

 

“Hoorah!” Arthur says. 

 

“But the saying doesn’t make sense,” Ron complains, “Hogwarts is a castle for teaching magic. Quidditch is a magic game. The magic always happens.”

 

“Well no one expects you to become an expert on the muggle world, do they, Ronald?” Hermione retorts. 

 

“I’d rather have Lockheart as a teacher again,” Ron agrees. 

 

“Oh hush up you two, the game’s about to start,” Ginny says. Tom can see her red-red hair even in the darkness and with rain pouring all around them. She’s small and obnoxious and young and so painfully alive. 

 

If I hadn’t met Harry and if you hadn’t thrown me away, would you even be here? Would I have left you broken on the chamber floor?

 

“And they’re off folks! This is shaping up to be one of the best games ever to grace these hallowed fields. The Lions and Duffers --”

 

McGonagall yells, “Lee!” 

 

“-- Sorry, the Lions and Badgers are not known for being cheaters. This game will be much better than the last game where Slytherin and Ravenclaw proved that both houses are capable of much mischief. Diggory’s in top form on his nimbus, but look at Harry throwing caution to the wind on his new firebolt. Never seen a faster flier. Oh good score by Alicia, Gryffindor’s up 10 and leading the game right now --”

 

Tom mutters under his breath and pulls out his wand. “ Vayahi miraeh,” he says and the area in front of him clears until he can see the game. It’s still dark but he can watch Harry in his slightly overlarge red-lined cloak and ridiculous goggles zipping on his broomstick. 

 

Fred and George are right -- they make excellent protectors for Harry on the field. A bludger is heading for Harry’s blind spot and about to smash into his back and then --

 

“Wham! Fred Weasley comes out of nowhere and smacked the bludger back to the ‘Puffs. Now that’s some first-class beating, no one outdoes the Weasley twins on any of the teams if I’m being honest. And oh! Alicia scores again and might I say she looked mighty fine doing it too --”

 

“LEE!”

 

“--- Sorry Minnie, I mean, Alicia scores on the Hufflepuff keeper and Gryffindor’s up 20-0.” 

 

Harry’s a blur on his broom and Cedric is doing his best not to look like he’s just following Harry around the pitch. It’s not a bad strategy. Harry’s been praised as being the best seeker in half a century.

 

Harry’s making lazy circles above the pitch when he clearly spots something and in the next moment, he’s tilting his broom forward and rushing at full tilt toward the ground. 

 

“Oh folks, it looks like Harry’s caught sight of something, that’s for sure. Cedric’s hot on his tail but Harry could be pulling a Wronski feint. He’s well-known for those.”

 

Harry’s broom is almost entirely vertical and the ground is getting closer and closer and the rain beats down on his back.

 

“He’s gonna pull up soon, right?” Tom asks.

 

“When he needs to, he will. Harry means to do what he’s doing. Don’t worry,” Sirius responds.

 

But Tom can’t help but worry as Harry races to the unforgiving grass. Tom’s standing up before he’s aware of what he’s doing and about to cast something, anything, because Harry’s broom is about to crash in a million pieces, Cedric’s already pulled away, there’s grass tickling the top of Harry’s floppy hair and he’s moving impossibly fast and ---

 

He bucks up the brooms at the last possible second, his knees touching down on wet earth before he’s back speeding toward the sky.

 


“Would you look at that, ladies and gentlemen! No one does the Wronski better than Potter. Maybe not even Wronski himself. Cedric got scared and didn’t follow Potter all the way down, but he’s not a Gryffindor is he so --”

 

“LEE! Stop with the blatant favoritism,” McGonagall shouts. 

 

“-- Anyway, an excellent block by Wood and Gryffindor keeps their 40-0 lead.” 

 

“You can sit down now,” Comes Sirius’ patient voice. 


It says a lot about Tom’s frayed nerves that all he can say is, “this sport is too dangerous.”

 

Sirius pulls Tom down and ruffles his dripping black hair. “You can’t just keep the people you love in a box.” 

 

Tom’s first thought is, can’t I?

 

His second thought he voices aloud: “It’s not love.”

 

Sirius shakes his head looking impossibly wise. “It doesn’t matter what you call it. What you two feel for each other, that’s love.”

 

Tom stays quiet and focuses on the game. 

 

It’s not love. 

 

He ignores the way Sirius’ too many coats make the man warm at his side. 

 

“And Gryffindor’s up again, the score is 50-0. The snitch has yet to be spotted -- oho -- I spoke too soon. See that flash? No, neither did I. But Cedric and Harry are both racing toward something and I put ten galleons in the pot that it’s the snitch.”

 

Harry and Cedric are both side by side on their brooms and so close their cloaks are curling together in the angry wind. 

 

Harry rolls down to the underside of his broom with fingers grasping at the edges of a golden sphere when an unnatural chill falls over the field.

 

The rain starts to come down in sheets of ice.

 

Sirius is shaking -- almost catatonic at Tom’s side.

“Arthur!” Molly shrieks, “Sirius needs help!” 

 

Harry’s gone slack on his broom and he’s starting to fall. Tom watches with muted horror as about a hundred dementors converge on the shield, skeletal fingers outstretched. 

 

He tries to think of a happy memory but all he can see is Harry falling down, down, down, and not for sport. 

 

Sirius’ eyes are wide and unseeing and in the next moment, there’s a big black dog under a pile of coats whimpering. 

 

Someone is screaming. It takes Tom a moment to realize it’s Ginny. Hermione has a wand out and seems to be thinking something. 


And Harry’s falling. As he drops down in the air, he flips himself around so that’s he’s facing the sky and somehow there’s a wand in his palm. 

 

His voice echoes and drowns out the sound of the pouring rain. 

 

“EXPECTO PATRONUM.”

 

The Ceryneian Hind Patronus erupts from the tip of Harry's wand. She’s magnificent and enormous. Her antlers of spun gold shine so brightly for a moment Tom almost swears the sun has broken through the clouds. 

 

In the next moment, Cedric catches Harry on his broom and the two of them reach for something at the same time, rolling gently into the grass in a tumble of entwined limbs. 

 

As the Ceryneian Hind cantors around the pitch and chases away the dementors, McGonagall vaults onto the field. 

 

“Are you alright?” She asks urgently to Harry and Cedric. They both sit up, a snitch clearly held between both their hands. 

 

“Never been better,” Harry grins up at her. 


“Merlin, Potter, warn a guy before you Wronski feint without a broom.” Cedric jokes. 

 

“I’m my own warning,” Harry says.

 

“And it looks like both Cedric and Harry caught the snitch together -- so I guess -- Gryffindor wins!” Lee announces. "Also, I suggest everyone get a bite of chocolate after the game, those dementors got a little close for comfort."

 

Tom notices that Oliver Wood has started crying -- or maybe that’s just the rain. And maybe it's the rain making sounds that approximate, "We've made it to the final."

 

McGonagall is looking up at the clouds with a frown and furrowed brow. 

 

“They weren’t supposed to do that,” Hermione says, “The dementors.”

 

“That was bloody awful,” Ron says, “Thought I’d never be warm again.”

“Harry’s Patronus was very impressive,” Arthur says, “Never seen one with any color other than silver.”

 

“Yes, well,” Molly says, “Let’s get you all home, dears. Sirius and Ginny don’t seem to be doing too well.”

 

Sirius is still in dog form and Ginny is burrowing herself into Hermione’s side. 

 

“That might be best,” Arthur agrees. 



Tom refuses to let Harry out of his sight for the remainder of the day when they get back home. Harry’s ecstatic because, “we won, Tom! Didya see? And my Patronus. Whoo, I reckon she drew off about a hundred of those suckers.”

 

He’s so fragile. How did I not realize that? Just one thing different and he’d be dead. That’s not… that’s unacceptable.

 

The image of Harry falling is so deeply seared into his mind that a few weeks later (and after Gryffindor’s beaten Slytherin in the finale and the school year's ended) when Sirius announces, “I’ve got us tickets to the Quidditch cup!” and Harry’s bouncing up and down with excitement, “I heard Krum Will be playing seeker and he’s only three years older than me,” Tom says, “We shouldn’t go.”

 

“Why?” Harry asks. 

 

“I have a bad feeling about it,” Tom says blithely. It wouldn't do to come across as paranoid.

 

“It’s just Quidditch,” Harry says, “What could go wrong?”



Chapter Text

This absolutely stunning piece of art was made by @thyears_ so go check them out on insta! This is the immortalization Neige deserves. Let's all take a quiet moment to remember the beautiful bird that died too soon. 

If you have any art you want to be included, send it to maytal.w.booth@gmail.com! 


Everything could go wrong, is what Tom did not say. And yet, Tom is undoubtedly proved correct. At first, nothing at the Quidditch world cup seems particularly problematic. The day before they leave, Kreacher serves Harry an unfathomably large breakfast that the poor boy cannot possibly eat in its entirety, and glares malevolently at Sirius. 

 

Harry says around a bite of a chocolate croissant, “it’s weird that I haven’t gotten back my N.E.W.T.s for enchanted artistry.”

 

Sirius says, “You’re a bloody fourth year. What’re you taking N.E.WT.s for?”

 

Harry says, “There’s no O.W.L for enchanted artistry and there aren’t really N.E.W.T.s either because it’s not a ministry approved course, but when you’re in sixth or seventh-year class, you can send a portfolio to the International Confederation of Wizards for evaluation and get a N.E.W.T score equivalent. Only, this year Professor Bagerwood sent out my portfolio but I haven’t got back my score.”

 

Tom says, “I’m sure you got an O, darling. There’s nothing else they could possibly give you.”

 

Sirius says, “Wait, wait, can we go back to the part where my fourth-year godson is apparently enrolled in a seventh-year class? I’ve got a genius!”

 

Harry blushes adorably and then says, “Well, Tom’s the genius. I’m just good with art.”

 

“A prodigy,” Tom corrects, “Harry is a prodigy.”

 

After breakfast, the three of them portkey to the Quidditch world cup. Unsurprisingly, Sirius has ended up renting an oversized tent that accommodates not only Tom and Harry but also all the Weasleys and Hermione. Molly Weasley, unsurprisingly, yells, “This is a waste of money.”

 

Equally unsurprisingly, Sirius yells back, “I don’t waste money. I spend it. It’s a subtle difference.”

 

Ginny Weasley says,  “Mum, let’s just enjoy this, yeah?” 

 

It is also not surprising that Sirius Black, the poor innocent soul who was sent to Azkaban for doing his best by his best friend, and the man who possesses a great deal of money and rakish good looks, is by far the most famous person in attendance to the game. Harry is thrilled to finally be out of the spotlight. Sirius spends the afternoon getting all sorts of gifts from well-wishers. 

 

Harry and Ron room together and Tom, unfortunately, ends up in a room with Percy. Percy, being one year older than Tom, offers him a good deal of unsolicited advice Tom does his best to tune out. 

 

And yet, he finds himself wondering about his future. He lies in his oddly large bed in the charmed tent room and considers. He’s never really thought beyond getting out of the diary and killing Voldemort. But Voldemort does not seem to be dead or alive at the moment.

 

Tom’s been getting flashes of odd dreams that are not his own, and yet come from his fractured soul, but it does not seem that Voldemort has become strong enough to do anything or be killed. 

 

Tom’s obviously been rather interested in Harry, but he was a person before Harry. He remembers the feel of little lords kneeling at his feet and the rush of being so remarkable princes would bow before him. He finds he misses it. 

 

And Harry is so very fragile. Tom does not want to live forever as he did in the diary, but he does not want to die either. Perhaps he’ll learn how to make a philosopher’s stone. And he doesn’t know what he’ll do with his future. He’s graduating from Hogwarts this year.

 

“-- can’t let your family dictate the rest of your life. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is --”

 

“Percy,” Tom interrupts, “What do you think the best profession is?”

 

“Oh,” Percy says, “Well, minister of magic, naturally.”

 

Tom thinks of the bureaucratic power that would give him, and of all the headaches and red tape and inane meetings. “Naturally,” he echoes. 

 

Percy does not pick up on the sarcasm and instead launches into a monologue: “I’ve got a ten-year plan, myself. Well, ten years and I’ll be the senior undersecretary, and if it all goes according to plan, and I’ll make minister when I’m seventy-eight. You know, it’s all about starting--”

 

Tom does not want to be a minister of magic. He might try to be a lord, perhaps? He’s a Black now. He could live like Abraxus Malfoy. He could teach. He does like Defense Against the Dark Arts. 

 

Harry and Ron spend the first day of the Quidditch game making moon-eyes at the Veelas and Bulgarian seeker Viktor Crumble… or something. Harry says, "Isn't Krum amazing?"

Tom turns his head away. There’s familiar anger that begins to thrum beneath Tom’s skin. What is he doing? Playing house? He’s never been dependent on another human being in his entire existence, not until Harry. He was alone, and Harry gave him the whole world. Even so, that does not mean he should spend the rest of his life watching as Harry inevitably succumbs to death. Harry even courts it, flying full tilt at the ground beneath him on a small sliver of wood.

 

"In a manner of speaking," he responds.

 

Tom won’t just let Harry die. He won’t let himself become an afterthought in the story that is Harry Potter. He’s going to be someone. He’s going to have purebloods bow before him again. He may not be Tom Riddle any longer, but Tom Black is intelligent and hungry. Harry can be a player in his story.

 

Ireland wins the cup, but Krumboy still manages to catch the snitch. Tom almost hunts the seeker down when the game is over. He thinks the Bulgarian teen doesn’t need both of his eyes. So even if Harry sees you, you’ll never be able to see him.

 

He does manage to control himself, but he feels himself getting irritable during the night when Sirius gets rowdy from a packed flask and gesticulates wildly as Harry and the Weasleys spend hours rehashing a game they all saw.

 

Tom says, “I’m going to step out for a minute,” and doesn’t wait around for anyone to reply before he slips out of the tent. He breathes in the night air.

 

He leans against the canvas tent and slides down until his knees can curl into his chest and his back is resting against the tent’s wall. He feels the grass beneath his fingertips from where he sits on the wet earth. He watches fireflies illuminate the grass like stars.

 

The quiet of the moment is broken when Tom hears a scream. He grabs his wand and sees a crowd of wizards, tightly packed and moving together with wands pointing straight upward, marching slowly across the field. Tom examines them… they don’t seem to have faces that can be seen, rather their heads are hooded and their faces are covered in bone-white masks.

Four grotesque and contorting figures rise into the air and hover high above his head. Tom is reminded of puppeteers with marionettes. Two of the figures in the air are small and child-like in proportion. Tom takes a moment to disillusion himself and slips between the throng of masked figures. More wizards join the marching group, laughing and pointing up at the floating bodies. There’s a kind of frenetic energy to the whole thing, and Tom can understand the appeal of being one of the masked figures.

 

Tents are crumbling and falling as the marching crowd grows. Tom sees a few masked marchers blast tents out of their way as they move forward. Several tents catch fire and the screaming gets louder until it is almost unbearable.

 

The floating people are suddenly illuminated as they pass over a burning tent and Tom recognizes one of them: Mr. Roberts, the campsite manager. He’s a boring sort of man, but tolerable. 

 

The other three look as though they might be his wife and children. 

 

One of the marchers below flips Mrs. Roberts upside down with his wand and she struggles to maintain her modesty as the crowd below her jeers and mocks. 

 

“Didn’t know muggles had lady parts,” one marcher crows, “thought they were too much like maggots.”

 

Tom is more concerned with watching the smallest Muggle child, a boy who looks to be about six, who is spinning like a top, his head flopping limply from side to side. 

 

Tom grits his teeth. He is many things, but a passive observer is not one of them. If he cancels the spell, he’s worried that the family will fall.

 

The colored lanterns that had lit the path to the stadium have been extinguished. Dark figures are blundering through the trees and children are crying. 

 

Tom breathes deeply. He casts a cushioning charm underneath the Roberts family and strides forward. “Finite Incantem,” he mutters. Immediately the four muggles crash to the ground with a thud. As soon as the family is on the ground, ministry officials converge on the masked figures and seem to be working as fast as they can to get the Roberts family to safety.

 

Tom finds himself getting pushed to the edge of the assembled marchers by the forest. On his way, he pulls Ginny out of the path of a spell and deposits her by a tree.


He continues to be pushed along until he bumps into someone, a masked wizard.

 

The wizard in the mask looks around wildly in the dark. “Who is there?” He asks in a shrill tone. “Show yourself.”

 

Tom lets the spell peel off him slowly. To the masked wizard, it must look like Tom emerges slowly from dripping shadows. Tom smiles wide and deadly. 

 

“Here I am,” he says softly, “Do you have any other requests?”

 

The wizard stares at Tom for a moment and Tom sees a muggle couple running away in his periphery. 

 

“You’re that Black boy, aren’t you?” The man asks, “The new filthy half-blood pretending to belong to a noble family.”

 

Tom’s eyes flash. Pretending? Am I just pretending to take Sirius to bed when he can’t stand on his own two feet? Who decides what’s family anyway?

 

“My name," Tom says after a pause, “is Tom. You, however, will call me ‘my lord.'”

 

The masked man laughs once. “I would never bow to a half-blood.”

 

Tom can’t help his own smirk, “No?” He asks, “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to persuade you. I’m told I can be very… convincing.”

 

“Doubtful, boy,” the masked man says, pointing his wand at Tom and yelling out a cutting curse.

 

Tom neatly sidesteps the flashing light and clicks his tongue. “Oh,” he says, faux disappointed, “You shouldn’t have done that.” 

 

“Why ever not?” The masked man asks, “Frightened?” He flings off another curse. Tom throws up a shield and starts to close the distance between him and the wizard. With every curse sent his way, Tom blocks it and takes a step forward. 

 

“Perhaps,” Tom says, neatly ducking underneath a hex and taking a step forward, “You should be frightened because I’ve been missing something.” He shields against a drowning curse, takes a step, “I’ve missed being undeniable,” he blocks a flesh-rotting curse, takes a step forward, “unforgettably,” he counters a diffindo, takes another step, “ unforgivably cruel.” He is now toe-to-toe with the masked man.

 

Without the giving man in front of him time to react, Tom croons, “Crucio.” A red light springs forth from his wand tip and hits the man square in the chest.

 

The man immediately sinks to his knees clawing at his skin. “Stop,” he croaks. 

 

“Why should I?” Tom asks, “I have you exactly where I want you. See, it’s not so hard to bow to a half-blood, is it?” 

 

The man seems to choke on his tongue as he convulses from the pain. Tom’s always had a particularly painful crucio. The man likely has less than two minutes of sanity left if Tom doesn’t let up. 

 

“Please,” the masked man whispers, “have mercy.”

 

Tom leans so that he towers over the wizard. “Please, who?”

 

“My lord,” the man says, “Please have mercy, my lord.”

 

Tom lets the curse end and reaches down to pat the cheek of the shivering man. “Good boy,” he says. 

 

Then he grasps the man’s head in both his hands and dives inside his mind. 

 

It’s fragmented, but that’s to be expected. The man’s just experienced unspeakable pain. Even so, Tom gets some good information on what it means to be a death-eater and about who his former self became. Tom learns a bit about the dark mark which seems to be of particular interest — he wonders if it’s possible for him to somehow use the dark marks himself.

 

And… Tom sees that it’s possible Harry is in danger. Tom pulls himself out of the man’s mind as sharp as he can and the death eater is left kneeling on the ground with a piercing headache. 

 

“Oblivate,” Tom says flippantly. It wouldn’t do for someone to remember a Hufflepuff casting a cruciatus.

 

And then he goes to find his artist. He does have priorities. Still, he feels much more settled after the fight, if one can even call it that. Something unfurls from deep inside him and sings, Yes, this is what we are. 

 

***

 

The end of the Quidditch World Cup goes nothing like Harry expected. He sees the Roberts getting tortured. He sees Draco leaning against a tree and pretending to be all smug and then warning Hermione to be careful in his own weird way, (“They’re after people like you, Granger. It’s too bad you’re such a know-it-all and probably already have some spells up your sleeve to protect you from them.”)

 

Harry’s wand is stolen and used to make the Dark Mark appear in the sky. Tom reconnects with Harry minutes later and it turns out his wand was used to cast the cruciatus. The Aurors are still trying to learn who was the victim. It seems clear to everyone that somehow Peter Pettigrew, who is still very much at large, was somehow responsible for the whole of everything that went down at the Quidditch cup. 

 

And then the Daily Prophet announces the next morning, “Pettigrew infiltrates Quidditch World Cup, casts Dark Mark, and generally incites Chaos — should Azkaban keep employing Dementors? See page 12.” 

 

In the end, Harry has a very poor opinion of the Daily Prophet, one Cornelius Fudge, and one Bartemius Crouch.

 

Hermione says at breakfast, "Rita Skeeter is an awful reporter. Imagine being so vile by forty-three."

 

The train ride to school is a rather muted affair. Tom spends half of it next to Harry making nice to Ron who seems to have warmed up to the Hufflepuff considerably. Apparently, Tom somehow saved Ginny during the Death Eater attack on the camp, and that kind of thing makes Ron feel better about Tom. 

 

Tom spends the other half of the train ride talking to the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins he knows.

 

Harry ends up in a carriage with Ron, Hermione, and Neville. 

 

Leaning against the window, Harry can see Hogwarts coming nearer, its many lighted windows blurred and shimmering behind a thick curtain of rain. Lightning flashes across the sky as their carriage comes to a halt before the great oak front doors, which stand at the top of a flight of stone steps. Everyone hurries up the stone steps into the castle to escape the storm. 

 

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville jump down from their carriage and dash up the steps too, looking up only when they are safely inside the cavernous, torch-lit entrance hall, with its magnificent marble staircase. Tom is standing off to one side, talking quietly with Adrian Pucey.

 

"Blimey," says Ron, shaking his head and sending water everywhere, "if that keeps up the lake's going to overflow. I'm soak - ARRGH!"

 

Ron is interrupted when a large, red, water-filled balloon drops from out of the ceiling onto his head and explodes.

 

Drenched and sputtering, Ron staggers sideways into Harry,

 

A second water bomb drops, narrowly missing Hermione, and bursts at Harry feet. A wave of cold water seeps outwards and into his socks.

 

Harry looks up and sees, floating twenty feet above them, Peeves the Poltergeist, a little man in a bell-covered hat and orange bow tie, blowing bubbles.

 

"I wonder if Peeves and Dumbledore go clothes shopping together," Ron whispers.

 

Peeves smiles widely, his malicious face contorted with concentration as he opens his mouth. He begins to sing, his voice mocking and off-key:

 

“Oh, most think he’s barking, the Potty wee lad,

But some are more kindly and think he’s just sad,

But Peevesy knows better and says that he’s mad —

 

Oh most think he’s handsome, the tall Black’s new lad

But some are more honest and think he’s so sad,

But Peevesey knows better and says that he’s bad --

 

So run, wee Potty, flush yourself down the toilet if you must

Forget Tom you bonkers boy, in Peeves you need trust”

 

Peeves cackles when his song is over. Tom looks up from his talk with Adrian Pucey sharply. 

 

“Peeves,” he calls out, voice deceptively quiet, “I think it’s time you left.”

 

Peeves seems to pale, if that’s possible, and proceeds to glide through a wall and away. 

 

"What do you think that song meant?" Hermione whispers to Harry.

 

"I don't know," Harry says, "Nothing good." He commits the lyrics to memory, just in case.

 

Without further incidence, Harry and his friends make their way into the great hall. Hundreds of candles float in mid-air and the golden plates and goblets shine with the radiance of the burning sun. The four long table houses are packed with students and Harry takes a moment to revel in the warmth of the room.

 

When it gets to be time for dessert, Tom winds his way over to the Slytherin table and sits down, which attracts a good deal less fuss than Harry would have expected.

 

“Unnatural, that one is,” Seamus Finnegan says to Harry, pointing to where Tom is speaking to Theodore Nott. 

 

“Why’s that?” Harry asks around a bite of treacle tart.

 

Hermione says, “Don’t speak with your mouth open.”

 

“Well, I’ve never seen a Huffie get all up and friendly with the slimy gits, but your Tom does it all up the wazoo. I swear, he made connections with at least half a dozen Slytherins on the train ride alone. Never seen a Huffie do that before.”

 

“Well,” Ron says, “To be fair, you didn’t much look at Huffies, did you, not until Tom came around and was all buddy-buddy with Harry here.”

 

Hufflepuffs, ” Hermione says, stressing the whole, proper noun, “Are good at making connections. They’re often friendly. And, there are more than just four types of people in the whole world so you can’t expect every single person from one house to behave exactly the same way.”

 

Dean Thomas glares at Hermione and says, “Actually, Seamus and I can expect whatever the bloody hell we want to expect. It’s a free country.”

 

“Fine then,” Hermione says, “Maybe I should have qualified that. You can’t reasonably expect everyone to act in the exact same manner. That would be asinine.”

 

“Wonder what he’s doing though,” Harry says, “he wasn’t so friendly last year.”

 

“Maybe he’s growing up,” Hermione suggests.

 

“Or maybe he’s plotting to take over the world,” Ron says cackling, “With his track record, it is possible, you have to admit.”

 

Harry opens his mouth to say something when Dumbledore stands up and introduces Mad-Eye Moody as the new Defense teacher. The man looks crazy, all scarred and peg-legged, and with a glass eye. 

 

There’s a kind of oppressive silence that follows this announcement. “Bloody hell,” Ron says quietly. "He's a legend in war." Not one to be deterred by silence, Dumbeldore bravely presses on with the statement: 

 

“There will be no Quidditch this year.”

 

Harry can feel the Oliver inside him saying, “NOOOO, how DARE you???” 

 

The twins catch his eye with similar looks of absolute disgust.

 

“—because,” Dumbeldore says, “This year Hogwarts will be hosting the Triwizard tournament!” 

 

Harry stares blankly. “Wassat?” He asks no one in particular. 

 

“What’s that?” Ron asks, “That — it’s — it’s the best thing wizards have ever done but they had to stop doing it like a century ago because too many people were dying when they were young and some people were like, ‘hey, maybe don’t have a tournament for school pride that kills off all the best and brightest of the new generation,’ and then someone else was like, ‘yeah, maybe that’s a good point,’ because all good things must end.”

 

“Nothing gold can stay,” agrees a girl with blonde hair and Ravenclaw robes who walks past.

 

"You're JOKING!" says Fred Weasley loudly to Dumbledore.

 

Everyone laughs, and Dumbeldore chuckles heartily.

 

"I am not joking, Mr. Weasley," he says, "though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent little joke over the summer about a centaur, a banshee, and a vampire who all go to muggle university… Er - but maybe this is not the time…no…" says Dumbledore, “Where was I? Ah yes, the Triwizard Tournament… well, some of you will not know what this tournament involves, so I hope those who know will forgive me for giving a short explanation, and allow their attention to wander freely. The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. The heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their short-listed contenders in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money."

 

"I'm going for it!" Fred Weasley announces. 

 

“We could do with some cash,” George says, clearly thinking of how much good the money would do him.

 

Indeed, Harry notices that everyone seems to be thinking of what it would be like to win the Triwizard tournament and are whispering loudly to one another.

 

Dumbledore clears his throat. "Eager though I know all of you will be to bring the Triwizard Cup to Hogwarts," he said, "the heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students who are of age - that is to say, seventeen years or older - will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration. Now to bed, all of you.”

 

In the common room, Fred and Geroge Weasley are absolutely livid. “This can’t be happening,” George Weasley exclaims, “I’m seventeen in April. I’m practically of age already.”

 

“I’ll enter anyway,” Fred says, scowling deeply. “They can’t stop me.”

 

“Just imagine,” Ron says, “A thousand galleons.”

 

“A thousand galleons,” Lee echoes with a misty-eyed expression, “I could buy so many things…” 

 

“Like a casket,” Hermione says, “Because you might be dead.”

 

Tom seems to agree with Hermione. He has snuck his way inside the Gryffindor common room and he says, “I won’t be entering. Harry, you won’t either, right?”

 

“I’m too young,” Harry says.

 

“Even so,” Tom demands, “Promise me.”

 

“Okay,” Harry says, “I promise.” 

 

***

 

The next morning, Harry goes to the Enchanted Artistry classroom for what he thinks will be his first day of seventh-year art class. Beatrice Haywood waves at him from her spot underneath the eastern-most window. 

 

“Harry!” She says, “come see, I finally got enough soul for my grandmother’s portrait to take root!”

 

Harry wanders over and sees a sepia-toned, fairly attractive older woman, looking back at him from a canvas. 

 

“Well, who’s this then?” The woman asks. “Goodness, Bea, is that Harry Potter?”

 

“Yeah, Nan, this is Harry.”

 

“Goodness.”

 

Harry smiles down at the portrait. “Oh, well done, Bea.” 

 

“I mean, she’s not perfect, obviously, but my nan couldn’t afford a real portrait painter and you know, that’s what I hope to be, and this is good enough for my nan. Professor Badgerwood says I’ve got a real shot at a mastery in about seven years, at the rate I’m going.” 

 

“Oh, did you get back your N.E.W.Ts?” Harry asks. 

 

“Nah, I didn’t send a portfolio last year. I’m doing that this year and then I hope to do well enough to study in Switzerland.” 

 

“Oh, well then, good luck.”

 

“Thanks, Harry,” Beatrice says.

 

“Yes, thank you Harry. Harry Potter. The boy-who-lived. Wasn’t he supposed to be about three years old?” Beatrice’s nan says.

 

“I’m fourteen, actually,” Harry corrects.

 

“No, no,” the portrait says, “That can’t be right.”

 

“As I said,” Beatrice says, “She’s not perfect.”

 

"You take that back, young lady.” 

 

“But,” Harry says, “She’s good enough.”

 

Professor Badgerwood holds Harry back after class and ushers Harry into his office, a small little room with walls full of carved reliefs. 

 

“Harry,” Professor Badgerwood says, “I think you might have noticed that you didn’t get back your N.E.W.T. scores.”

 

“Yeah, actually, do you know what happened to them?”

 

“I do,” Professor Badgerwood says. He reaches into a pocket in the stone wall and pulls out a letter. “Here, this is for you.”

 

Mystified, Harry unfolds a letter that says, “International Confederation of Wizards: Artistry Division” on its front. 

 

The contents of the letter are written with a delicate script: 

 

Dear Mr. Harry Potter,

 

Thank you for the submission of your portfolio to the International Confederation of Wizards Academic Evaluation Review. This year, the confederation received a record number of submissions for artistic portfolios. It is generally the practice of the confederation that those portfolios judged to be within the top five percent of submissions receive the O grade.

 

Mr. Potter, with respect, your portfolio was so innovative and so revolutionary, the confederation was obliged to evaluate your academic honesty. There was reasonable doubt that perhaps the work in the portfolio had not been crafted by your hand. After a thorough investigation that included interviews with your professor, the Malfoy family, several other prominent wizarding families, and the goblins of the Diagon Alley branch of Gringotts, the confederation review board came to the conclusion that the portfolio received is your original work.

 

Given the quality of the pieces, the confederation felt like it could not in good conscience grade your work on the same standard that submissions received for the N.E.W.T level are graded. After a long discussion, the board unanimously voted to instead place your portfolio into the submissions for masteries in Enchanted Artistry. Your work was reviewed by a second board anonymously and it is our pleasure to inform you that you were one of the three candidates selected this year to pursue the highest degree offered in this field. It is therefore the suggestion of the confederation that you be interviewed in Geneva at your earliest convenience in order to finalize your mastery in Enchanted Artistry. Congratulations. 

 

Best wishes, 

International Confederation of Wizards: Artistry Division Review Board 

 

Harry reads it once, then twice, and then another time for good measure. 

 

“What, what does this mean?”

 

“Well,” Professor Badgerwood says, “It means that the Confederation felt like you were painting at a master’s level which was so far beyond the school level of N.E.W.T students, they could not give you a N.E.W.T. score.” 

 

“Oh,” Harry says, “That’s too bad, I guess. But then what’s this about an interview for a mastery?”

 

“Not just anyone can become a master of a magical discipline, Harry. Professors at this school are required to be masters in their subject for the most part. There is no way to get masteries in divination so Trelawney does not have one, and Hagrid does not have a mastery in care of magical creatures. Kettleburn did have one. The point is, Harry, masteries are evaluated based on a body of work, sometimes a written test, and an interview. To become a master of a particular subject, candidates must produce something new in their field. I invented a new color: the hexa-toned red, to get my mastery. Snape is the youngest potion master in history. I believe he invented the wolfsbane potion for his mastery. Your work, Harry, has so much innovation and inventiveness that the confederacy is allowing you to interview for the mastery right now. If you get the mastery, which you most certainly will, you will become the youngest Master in the history of the confederacy.” 

 

“But I’m not, well, I’m not that good.”

 

“Oh but you are, Mister Potter. And oh, I won’t be saying that for long, will I? Soon I’ll be calling you ‘Master Potter.’ How exciting!”

 

Harry looks back at the letter. “Why do I have to go to Geneva?”

 

“That’s where art mastery candidates interview. I suggest you go over your winter break. And, once again, congratulations, Harry.” 

 

Harry leaves the office in a state of mild shock and somehow wanders his way to transfiguration. McGonagall raises an eye at his late entrance. 

 

“Mister Potter, care to share why you are late?”

 

“Professor Badgerwood wanted to talk to me,” Harry says. 

 

“About?” She prompts. 

 

“Oh, Geneva. And interviews. Sorry, I’ll just turn my teacup into a toad, why don’t I?”

 

“Yes,” McGonagall agrees, “Actually engaging with the class material would certainly be a better start than whatever it is you are doing at the moment.” 

 

The next few days are an expected kind of chaotic. Tom is naturally ecstatic that Harry is about to get a mastery, if he passes the interview, “Which you absolutely will.”  

 

When chatting via the fireplace, Sirius says, “I think there’s a Black family home in Geneva,” and Kreacher yells out in the background, “Wonderful Master Potter deserves all the praises, he does. Kreacher be making treacle tart for celebrations!” 

 

Sirius grimaces and says, “And I guess Kreacher is coming too.”

 

Ron and Hermione agree not to tell anyone what’s going on with Harry, but it still gets out so Harry is asked a lot about his interview for the mastery until the other schools start arriving. 

 

The Durmstrang boat that glides over Hogwarts lake is so reminiscent of the ship Harry drew for Charon’s Ferry, he almost worries that death is hanging to the broad students that unpack themselves from the wooden planks dressed in all-red and fur. 

 

The boys and girls from Beauxbatons are the very pictures of refinement in their sky blue uniforms and smart vests and shoulder capes. 

 

The fact that the schools have come to Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament is not lost on anyone. The students from Beauxbatons, however, seem just as interested in Harry and the Hogwarts culture as they do in the tournament. Durmstrang students, however, sit with the Slytherins and clearly have their eyes on victory. 

 

Fred and George try about every trick in the book to enter their names into the goblet, but they fail.

 

One day, when Harry is sketching rain in the library and Tom is sitting next to him, Cedric sits down at the table. A girl from Beauxbatons, Lucette, who thinks Harry is “adorable,” and Tom is, “An adonis sent to seduce,” is sitting with them as well.

 

“Alright, Tom, level with me. Are you going to enter?” Cedric asks.

 

“No,” Tom says.

 

Lucette sighs sadly. “So sad,” she says, “Itz an ‘onest waste. You would look so ‘ow you say? Powerful, yes, that iz ‘ow you would look.” 

 

“Why not?” Cedric asks. 

 

“I’m already rich,” Tom says, “No need to stick out my neck for the glory of it, either. I’m taking twelve NEWTs this year and I fully intend to overtake Dumbledore’s record as best student.”

 

“…Right,” Cedric says. “Well then, can I count on you to have my back if I’m chosen as the Hogwarts champion?”

 

Lucette claps her hands. “Ah, you will look good too! I em sure you will look 'andsome with blood on your 'ands.”

 

“Thanks?” Cedric says. 

 

“Yeah, sure,” Tom replies. “I’ll be there for you.”

 

Harry looks at Cedric and then back at Tom and notices the easy camaraderie the two of them seem to have. And how they both have rather broad shoulders. 

 

“Thanks, man,” Cedric says, “Also, brilliant drawing Harry. Bravo on the almost mastery.” Cedric gets up and leaves the library.

 

“So,” Lucette says, “What do you want to do with your life, Tom?”

 

“Hmm,” he answers, “I suppose something big enough that I can tell you to ‘wait and find out.’”

 

Lucette giggles, breasts bouncing and blonde hair swinging. 

 

“Oh, ‘ow funny you are.”

 

“I try,” Tom says dryly.

 

For some reason, Harry gets a sour taste in his mouth. “Right,” he says, “Well, I’m gonna go find Ron and Hermione.” He packs away his things and begins to exit when Tom grabs his wrist.

 

“Why are you leaving so soon, Harry?” He asks with a dangerous sort of smile, “Something bothering you?”

 

Harry shakes off Tom’s grasp. “I’m fine,” he spits, “I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m sure.” He skids out of the library with an uncomfortable flush on the back of his neck and Tom’s eyes trained on his retreating figure. 

 

When the day comes to announce who the champions will be, Harry is so distracted by the fact that he seems to be failing potions and that the new defense teacher taught the cruciatus in class, he almost doesn’t notice he’s in the great hall until Hermione is nudging his hand. Professor Moody is for some reason sitting with the Gryffindors, and Harry is doing his best to ignore the scarred defense teacher.

 

“Reckon Fred and George will get picked somehow anyway,” Ron is saying, “if anyone can get around the age limit, it’s them.”

 

"Well, the goblet is almost ready to make its decision," says Dumbledore. "I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions' names are called, I would ask them please to come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table, and go through into the next chamber" - he indicates the door behind the staff table - "where they will be receiving their first instructions."

 

He takes out his wand and gives a great sweeping wave with it; at once, all the candles except those inside the carved pumpkins are extinguished, plunging the hall into a state of semi-darkness.

 

Harry grimaces.

 

"Any second," Lee Jordan whispers, two seats away from Harry.

 

The flames inside the goblet turn red. Sparks fly from it. Then, a thin and charred piece of parchment flutters out from the top and the room gasps.

 

Dumbledore catches the piece of parchment and holds it at arm's length so that he can read it by the light of the flames, which have turned back to blue-white.

 

"The champion for Durmstrang," he reads, in a strong, clear voice, "will be Viktor Krum."

 

Harry sees Viktor Krum rise from the Slytherin table and slouch up toward Dumbledore; turn right, walk along the staff table, and disappear through the door into the next chamber.

 

All of the Durmstrang students stamp their left foot twice and yell out, "Krum!"

 

"Bravo, Viktor!" booms Karkaroff, "Knew you had it in you!"

 

A second piece of parchment shoots out of the goblet, propelled by the flames.

 

"The champion for Beauxbatons," Dumbledore announces, "is Fleur Delacour!"

 

A girl who looks like a veela shakes out her silvery blonde hair and seems to float slightly on her way down the staff table.

 

"Oh look, they're all disappointed," Hermione says over the noise, nodding toward the remainder of the Beauxbatons party. 

 

Harry is inclined to agree with that particular assessment. Three girls and four boys who have not been chosen are sobbing and holding their heads in their hands.

 

Once Fleur Delacour vanishes into the side chamber, silence falls again, and the tension in the room grows to an almost unbearable degree. The goblet turns red and sparks erupt, and from the flames, Dumbledore grabs a third piece of parchment.

 

"The Hogwarts champion," he yells, "is Cedric Diggory!"

 

"No!" says Ron loudly, but Harry thinks no one can hear him because the uproar from the next table is so loud. Every single Hufflepuff, even Tom, jumps to his or her feet, screaming and stamping and laughing and hugging one another and crying joyful tears, as Cedric makes his way past them, smiling so bright he puts the candles to shame.

 

"Excellent!" Dumbledore calls happily the hububub dies down. "Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real —"

 

But Dumbledore suddenly stops speaking, and Harry turns to the goblet, feeling rather distracted himself.

 

The fire in the goblet turns crimson and sparks shoot out. A long blue flame burst into the hair, carrying a thin piece of burned parchment. 

 

Almost as a kind of thoughtless gesture, Dumbledore reaches out an aged hand and grasps the parchment. He holds it out and stares at whatever is written on it. There is a long pause and Harry begins to feel sweat bead on his brow. Then Dumbledore clears his throat. His eyes are grave. “And,” he calls out, looking rather somber, “Harry Potter.”

 

“No,” Harry says, “No, I didn’t — I didn’t put my name in the cup. No, I don’t want to compete. No!” 

 

Professor Moody drapes an arm around Harry’s shoulders, “Come on now lad, it’ll be alright.”

 

“But I didn’t,” Harry says, “I don’t —“

 

Harry shrinks back at the stares leveled at him. Tom takes the moment to move away from the celebrating Hufflepuffs and goes to the Gryffindor table. He places his cool hands on the back of Harry’s neck. 

 

“Shh,” he says softly, “We’re going to get through this. I used a charm to call the goblins. You’re going to be okay.”

 

“I don't want this,” Harry says.

 

“I know,” Tom says, “I know.”

 

Up at the top table, Professor McGonagall gets up and sweeps past Ludo Bagman and Professor Karkaroff to whisper urgently to Professor Dumbledore, who bends his ear toward her, frowning slightly.

 

“You have to go meet the other champions,” Moody says, “Come on, up and at them, as they say.” Moody half drags, half carries past the staff table, Tom looking frighteningly focused back at the Gryffindor table. The rest of the hall seems to be in shock.

 

“Well. . . through the door, Harry," says Dumbledore. His eyes have lost their twinkle.

 

Moody opens the door and pushes Harry through, somewhat roughly, Harry thinks distantly. 

 

The portraits in the room all turn to look at him as he enters. One man takes off his hat and gives Harry a shallow bow.

 

Viktor Krum, Cedric Diggory, and Fleur Delacour are standing around the room’s fireplace. They look strong and otherworldly against the brightness of the flames.

 

Fleur looks askance at Harry, blonde-silver hair shining. “What is it?" she asks. "Do zey want us back in ze Hall?"

 

Harry is considering what to say when Ludo Bagman enters the room. "Extraordinary!" He mutters, squeezing Harry's arm. He smiles at the three champions. "Absolutely extraordinary! Gentlemen. . . lady," he adds, after looking at Fleur, "May I introduce - incredible though it may seem - the fourth Triwizard champion?"

 

Viktor’s expression turns hard and flat even as Cedric begins to look rather horrified. 

 

Fleur Delacour tosses her hair and says, "Oh, vairy funny joke, Meester Bagman. "

 

"Joke?" Bagman repeats, bewildered. "No, no, not at all! Harry's name just came out of the Goblet of Fire!"

 

"But evidently zair 'as been a mistake," she says contemptuously to Bagman. "'E cannot compete. 'E is too young. ‘E is a painter boy, to put ‘im in the tournament would be ‘orrific."

 

"Well…” Bagman says with an odd kind of smile,  “as you know, the age restriction was only imposed this year as an extra safety measure. And as his name's come out of the goblet. . . I mean, I don't think there can be any ducking out at this stage. . . . It's down in the rules, you're obliged. . . Harry will just have to do the best he -"

 

The door behind them opens again, and in walks Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Crouch, Professor Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, and Griphook.

 

"Madame Maxime!" Fleur exclaims, striding over to her headmistress. "Zey are saying zat zis little boy is to compete also!"

 

Harry feels too shocked to say anything in defense of his stature.

 

"What is ze meaning of zis, Dumbly-dorr?" Madame Maxine says imperiously.

 

"I'd rather like to know that myself, Dumbledore," says Professor Karkaroff. "Two Hogwarts champions? I don't remember anyone telling me the host school is allowed two champions - or have I not read the rules carefully enough?"

 

"C'est impossible," said Madame Maxime, whose enormous hand with its many superb opals rests upon Fleur's shoulder. "'’Ogwarts cannot 'ave two champions. It is most injust. "

 

"We were under the impression that your Age Line would keep out younger contestants, Dumbledore," says Karkaroff, steely smile in place, eyes colder than ever. "Otherwise, we would, of course, have brought along a wider selection of candidates from our own schools. "

 

"It's no one's fault but Potter's, Karkaroff," says Snape softly. His black eyes are alight with malice. "Don't go blaming Dumbledore for Potter's determination to break rules. He has been crossing lines ever since he arrived here -"

 

Griphook interrupts, firmly, “Yes, thank you. I am trying to understand what exactly is happening here.” 

 

Dumbledore nods. “I imagine we all are.”

 

“It’s obvious what happened,” Karkaroff says with a confused glance at the goblin, “the little delinquent and Dumbledore are in cahoots to give Hogwarts the competitive edge. Honestly, two champions to Madame Maxine’s and my one, it’s unthinkably dirty.”

 

Moody says, “I doubt Potter has the magic skill to get around the age line.”

 

Madame Maxine takes one look at Harry’s ashen face and softens. She asks, gently, “Meester Potter, did you enter yourself into the tournament?”

 

“I didn’t,” Harry says, “I promise.”

 

“I believe that,” Dumbledore says earnestly, “You are not a typical Gryffindor, my boy. Even so, I am afraid you must compete. Otherwise, you will lose your magic.”

 

Griphook looks at the assembled wizards with disgust. “The only way for someone to be entered into a magically binding contract without his or her explicit consent is if a guardian signs a contract on behalf of their ward.”

 

Snape snarls, “Black. It would be just like him to think he can get around the rules.”

 

“Perhaps,” Griphook agrees evenly, “Or perhaps Harry was entered by anyone on staff from any of the three schools. Any person with the ability to take or give house points can be claimed to have temporary guardian status over any student. If Harry did not enter himself, it is obvious that an adult did so on his behalf.”

 

“That’s certainly… informative,” Dumbledore says. “And disquieting.”

 

“Convenient, eh?" Moody says.

 

"Convenient?" says Karkaroff. "I'm afraid I don't understand you, Moody. "

 

"Don't you?" says Moody quietly. "It's very simple, Karkaroff. Someone put Potter's name in that goblet knowing he'd have to compete if it came out. Maybe someone's hoping Potter is going to die for it," says Moody, with the merest trace of a growl.

 

An extremely tense silence follows these words. Ludo Bagman, who is looking very anxious indeed, bounces nervously up and down on his feet and says, "Moody, old man. . . what a thing to say!"

 

“Is there any way I can get of this?” Harry asks Griphook.

 

“Actually,” Karkaroff says, “I was unsure of whether or not it was relevant, but why on earth is there a goblin here at all?”

 

“Potter has a contract with the Goblin Nation for his art,” Griphook answers with a nasty sort of grin, “And unlike Wizards, we goblins protect our own. To answer your question, Mr. Potter, while you need to ‘compete’ in the challenges, you don’t need to compete well. Based on my review of the contract, so long as you show up to the challenges and are judged, you will fulfill your requirements and keep your magic. I counsel you to simply sit down for thirty minutes and get scored zero for all your events. That will keep you the safest.”

 

“So all I need to do is show up and get judged poorly, lose, and I’ll be fine?” Harry clarifies. 

 

“To the best of my knowledge, that is accurate,” Griphook responds.

 

Harry lets out a relieved sigh. “Right then, that’s what I’ll do.”

 

“Sensible,” Karkaroff says, “If that’s how you’re going to play it, I have no problem with you being in the tournament.”

 

“Nor I,” Madame Maxine says, “And I do ‘ope we find ‘ooever entered you.” 

 

In another life, perhaps people might have been angry at Harry for being an illegitimate champion. Perhaps they might have yelled nasty things at him and made him feel like he was worth less than the Hufflepuff champion. In this life, Cedric yells at anyone who tries to start rumors of Harry being an attention-seeking brat and says, “He didn’t ask for this!”

 

In this life, Lucette knits Harry a good luck clover and gives him a sad smile. 

 

In this life, when Harry is pulled from a potions class to go take photographs as a champion, he is known as an artist forced into something he does not want to do. 

 

He enters a fairly small classroom with the desks pushed to one side. Fleur and Cedric are talking to one another and Krum is standing silently. A large man holding a camera is staring at Fleur.

 

Near Krum, Bagman is sitting on a chair but he sees Harry and strides forward. “Aha, Champion number four, no need to worry, this is just the wand weighing ceremony, the rest of the judges will be here soon--”

 

“Why are you weighing my wand?” Harry asks, feeling rather as though he would not like to part with his wand. 

 

“Just to make sure all the wands are in order,” Bagman says, “We’ve got an expert but he’s talking with Dumbledore at the moment. “And then we’ll have a photoshoot,” he motions to a witch next to him in magenta robes, “This is Rita Skeeter and she’ll be covering the tournament in a little piece in the daily prophet…”

 

“I doubt it will be little, Ludo,” Rita corrects. Her hair curls in strong ringlets that seem to be at war with the features of her face.

 

“I wonder, might I grab Harry before we start?” She asks, training jeweled-spectacles on Harry, “He’s the youngest champion and I feel like talking with him might add a bit of… interest, shall we say, in the tournament.”

 

“Oh, of course!” Bagman says, “Harry doesn’t mind, does he?”

 

Harry says, “Actually if I could just head back to potions, that'd be great, because otherwise, Snape will--”

 

"Lovely," says Rita Skeeter. She grips Harry’s arm with crimson painted fingernails and steers him out of the room and to a nearby door. “Best to get away from the noise,” She says, “Right here will do just nicely, I think.”

 

Harry notices that he’s been guided into a broom cupboard.

 

Rita and her too-red lipstick and quick quills are ready as soon as Harry sits down in the dingy space. 

 

“So tell me, Harry,” She says, “how does it feel to enter the Triwizard Tournament?”

 

“Like bad luck,” Harry says, “honestly I’m upset that I even have to compete at all.”

 

“Expand on that, will you?” Rita asks.

 

“Right, well because I didn’t enter myself —“

 

“Allegedly,” Rita says, 

 

“Right, so I guess, I have to show up to the challenges and ‘compete,’ but I can basically just sit down for thirty minutes and get zeros and lose.”

 

“Is that your plan?” Rita asks. “To lose without fighting?”

 

“Yeah,” Harry says, “I guess.”

 

“Don’t you think some people would say that your parents would be ashamed of you?”

 

Harry stares at her. “What?” He feels like his head is rushing. 

 

“It’s just, your parents are well-known for fighting, dear. Don’t you think some people might think that you’re spitting on their legacy by wasting your days with art?”

 

“Excuse me?” Harry asks. 

 

“I mean no disrespect, just please answer the question for our readers. What would you say to those people?”

 

“Did you fight in the war?” Harry asks her. His voice is sharp and brittle. He feels, suddenly, that he is growing up. He can feel something settle in his bones, an anger that thrums beneath his skin far too old for his fourteen years.

 

Rita’s face pales. There is no way a woman like this, who builds her life telling the stories of other people, whose fingers are pale and soft and eyes shrewd yet unburdened, fought in the war. She is no warrior. “This is an interview for you, dear. Go on, answer the question. What do you say to people who believe that you are wasting your life doing something frivolous when your parents died to fight darkness. Do you think you should be doing more to continue in their footsteps?”

 

Harry laughs and it is a terrible sound, one part anger to two parts grief. “Do you honestly think my parents fought and died so that I could spend my life surviving, barely, on the battlefield?”

 

Rita flinches as though she had not considered what she was implying in words so blunt. 

 

“Because I don’t,” Harry continues, “I think my parents died hoping that I would have a future. My dad died hoping I would be able to get on a broom one day and fly around with the best of them. My mum died hoping that I would be able to go to Hogwarts and learn and make friends and not feel the sting of a label given to me because of my blood.”

 

Harry pauses for a moment and looks at Rita with a critical eye. “How old are you?” He asks.

 

Rita says, “It’s not polite to ask a woman her age, dear.”

 

Harry shrugs, “Doesn’t matter. Hermione told me you’re forty-three.”

 

Rita leans forward, “Would you say the two of you are in a relationship? I’ve heard from some of your classmates that the two of you are quite close. Or are you and Hermione perhaps in a relationship with Tom Black, all three of you?”

 

Harry ignores this question and says, “You’re forty-three. My parents died -- were murdered -- sacrificed themselves, whatever you want to call it, when they were twenty-one. You’ve lived twice as long as they did and I sincerely hope that you live at least twice as long again. Did they even know what they were fighting for? I’m not sure. But it sure as hell wasn’t for me to die in a wizarding tournament. It sure as hell wasn’t for me to lose my humanity becoming some kind of a warrior child. They wanted a world after the war was over -- you know, a world where children laugh and go to museums and adults read poems and have things to live for. There has to be a world when the war is over because otherwise what did we fight for? What did they die for?”

 

Rita’s quill has stopped writing and she’s looking at him with single-minded focus. “So what is it then that you are suggesting?”

 

“I make art,” Harry says, “It’s not something that heals broken bones or feeds hungry kids. It’s just meant to be beautiful or evocative or change the way someone sees the world. I am making something that has no purpose but to be looked at which means that I am making something that creates space for things that are not inherently useful. My paintings and sculptures carve out time for people to learn they don’t have to spend every single minute preparing for war and worrying about what happens if they lose.”

 

Harry looks her in the eye and allows for a moment his careful walls to drop and lays his soul bare for her to see. His voice isn’t loud and yet it reverberates through the small walls of the closet and out through the castle’s stone. “There is no fight bigger than this.”

 

Chapter Text

This picture was created by Chrono Stasis. I really feel like it captures the loneliness of Tom's diary landscape and the magic Harry drew into life for him.

 


Not Harry. I won’t let him die.

 

Tom is celebrating with all of his housemates when he hears Harry’s name called from across the hall. Dumbledore is grasping a piece of burnt parchment in his hands and looking angry and disappointed and somber all at once. 

 

Back when Tom was Tom Riddle and walking in the halls of Hogwarts during the height of the war with Griendwald, Dumbeldore wore that same expression many times. Tom has so many memories of hearing his auburn-haired professor asking, accusing, “Did you curse your classmates, Tom? Did you kill Hagrid’s Kneazle, Tom?” 

 

Tom would always deny such rumors, “I would never hurt a soul, professor. I find violence quite disgusting.”

 

The old and white-haired Dumbeldore of this moment does not look determined to change the terrible tragedy unfolding in front of his very eyes. Just like Tom remembers, Dumbledore looks resigned to the situation. It’s as if the man is spreading his hands and raising his eyes to the heavens, asking, “I know this is wrong, but what can I do?” Tom used to love that look, used to know that look meant Dumbledore would put his accusations away for some time, but now it fills him with a kind of righteous indignation. 

 

“Do something,” he wants to shout. “ Fight for your students. Protect the people you are sworn to protect. Do something, do anything, anything at all.”

 

But Tom knows Dumbledore better than most people. He certainly knows Dumbeldore better than Tom Black, the transfer student, ought to know the old wizard. So Tom disillusions himself and spells himself invisible, slipping between the angry and confused and still celebrating Hufflepuffs and trails Moody into the room with champions. 

 

From his place in a shadowed corner, he watches in horror as Harry is forced to continue on with the tournament. He watches as only a goblin defends his artist. The teachers do nothing. 

 

This is what the future looks like? Goblins are the defenders of wizards today? What happened to your ideals, Albus? What happened to your promises of a brighter tomorrow? Children were dying five decades ago. And you are now leading another child to his death.

 

Tom finds that for the first time since emerging from the diary, he cannot sleep. He winds his way up to the Astronomy tower and sits on a stone bench, watching the stars twinkle in the dark of midnight. 

 

He cannot help but compare them to the stars Harry drew in the diary. These stars are far less beautiful and bright.

 

His hands are cold. In the diary, he was never warm, but never cold. The chill reminds him that he is painfully, viscerally, alive. 

 

He hears footsteps behind him. “Beatrice,” he calls out, “I’m alright.”

 

A silky smooth voice replies, “I am afraid to inform you that I am not Miss Haywood, Mr. Black.” 

 

Tom turns and sees Professor Snape in his billowing robes stride to the bench and then take a seat next to Tom, leaving a good deal of space between them. “I feel that I do not need to remind you it is quite prohibited for a student to be out of their dorms this late after hours.”

 

“I am aware,” Tom says, turning his attention back to the colourless and soulless stars. 

 

“So then why,” Snape says, “Is it that I find you here, so very far from your doubtlessly shockingly flower-filled domicile?”

 

“I didn’t take you for the kind of professor who has heart-to-hearts with his students,” Tom replies.

 

Snape settles somewhat more comfortably on the bench. “An impressive non-answer,” he notes. “Shall I just take points and call it a night?”

Tom can’t bring himself to look away from the sky. It’s so different from the sky he grew to love, the sky he was gifted and that transformed his grey landscape into a place of magic. Is it better living in the world Above, he wonders, or was I happier in the diary? “If you like,” he agrees evenly.

 

“No,” Snape muses, “I do not think I should like to do that tonight.” 

 

This seems out of character for the professor, but Tom cares little. “Alright,” he says. 

 

Snape sighs once, deeply, and stands. He motions Tom do the same. “Come on now, Mr. Black, I’ll walk you back to your common room.”


Tom stands gracefully. “Alright then,” he says, “Thank you, Professor.”



Snape says nothing, merely sweeps away with the barest hint of a sneer. Tom follows. They walk in silence through the corridors. When they reach the barrels at the entrance of the Hufflepuff common room, Snape says, “You know, Mr. Black, it may be the case that I am not in the habit of exchanging tales of heartache with my students. I am, however, adept in the skill of listening. You may not be one of my Slytherins, but you are not altogether abysmal at potions. My door is open should you need it to be.”

The words all seem true, and yet there is an undercurrent to Snapes’ offer, a thread of interest the potions master has not acknowledged. There’s an energy to this offer that makes Tom think of Sirius. 

 

“I remind you of someone, don’t I?” Tom asks.

 

He can tell from the way Snape jolts that he is right. He hopes desperately that he does not remain Snape of Voldemort.

 

Snape’s features seem to tighten. “You do,” he agrees softly. “You are too perceptive for your own good.”


“Who do I remind you of?” Tom asks in an equally soft voice. 

 

“His name,” Snape whispers, “was… Regulus.” 

 

So that’s why you remind me of Sirius. In some ways, Tom is relieved that he does not remind Snape of the monster he became. But in many more ways, he feels cheated. Tom curls his lips so he does not shout, “I’m Tom, not Regulus, look at me, notice me ” and enters his common room without speaking another word to the professor. 




The common room is dimly lit. The fire is burning merrily and several children are running back and forth across the grass, leaving echoes of bright light. Beyond this, the common room is dark. Great gaping shadows climb the walls and fall in time with the crackle of the flames, causing the darkness to look like it is breathing. 

 

The fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh years students seem to still be awake and are sprawled out across flower-laden couches, recliners, bean bag chairs, and hammocks. Cedric is sitting on the fluffiest blanket Tom has ever seen and Beatrice is swinging in a hammock. Hannah Abbot is lying down on a couch with her head in Susan Bones’ lap. 

 

There are a few quiet fireworks emanating throughout the common room that spell out things like, “Hufflepuff Champion,” and “Go Cedric.” There’s also a lingering smell of butterbeer and something stronger — firewhisky, maybe. 

 

It is clear that while Tom was sitting at the top of the astronomy tower, his housemates threw a party in Cedric’s honor. There’s an empty feeling in his stomach and he can’t tell if that means he’s disappointed or relieved to have been absent during the festivities. 

 

“It seems I missed all the fun,” Tom remarks. 

 

Beatrice swings her legs down from her hammock. “Seems like it,” She agrees. “It was a great party.”

 

“Bravo, Cedric, couldn’t be prouder,” Tom says. 

 

Cedric blushes and his lips curl in the barest hint of a truly pleased smile before he scratches the back of his neck. “Thanks.” He coughs slightly. Tom feels like he had something he wanted to say, but can no longer remember what it was.

 

Beatrice cocks her head. “What’s wrong, Tom?”

 

The empty feeling in Tom’s stomach is growing to something resembling nausea. No one has ever asked Tom, “What’s wrong?” Many things were wrong in the orphanage, and in Slytherin, and no one ever cared. Harry has never asked. Tom has spent his whole life in control of his relationships. He’s never had friends or confidants. He’s had followers and enemies. 

 

I don’t know what to say here. 

 

He thinks he hates feeling this way. There’s something unsettling about someone wanting to know him and care for him and ask him “What’s wrong?” He’s never had to answer the question before. He’s afraid that if he begins to answer, he’ll never stop. 

 

Hannah Abbot does not raise her head but peers at Tom and then looks up at Beatrice, “I understand, Tom,” she says. Tom’s certain she does not understand but is trying to be on his side all the same. She gives him an excuse for what might be wrong, “We’re all worried about Harry.”

 

Susan nods, “The poor boy can never catch a break.”

 

Tom looks out at all the Hufflepuffs. Some of them are small and silly and stupid. Some of them are large and silly and stupid (Zacharias Smith is certainly one of those.)

 

And yet… there’s a level of ease to the house that Tom never saw in Slytherin. When he was fifteen years old, he had to fight for every scrap of respect he was given. He had to force his housemates to their knees before they would worship his power. The Hufflepuffs give him respect for free. 

 

Tom is the only Slytherin in this house of badgers. He remembers Dumbledore once pulling him into the transfiguration’s professor office and saying, “You know, Tom, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

 

Tom has never shown weakness once in his life. If he wants the badgers to fight for him, he will need to be vulnerable. They will only respond to that. He takes a deep breath. “I need your help,” he says to the assembled Hufflepuffs. “Will you help me?”

 

Hannah lifts her head and makes intense eye contact with Tom, “We’re all a family here in Hufflepuff. We’re stronger than the other houses give us credit for being.”

 

Susan says, “And most of the time, we let them think that we’re weak and small and in need of protection. But you are one of us, Tom. And we’re not stupid.”

 

Cedric grins, “Of course we’ll all help you, Tom.”

 

Tom can’t help grinning back. You may not be my knights, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fight for me. That doesn't mean I can’t use you. 

 

So as the days progress and the first task looms ever closer, he and his housemates develop plans. The fourth years are likable, so they make friends with the foreign students and learn everything the other students know about the tournament. Who would suspect a Hufflepuff had any ulterior motives?

 

The fifth-years trail Karkaroff because he seems suspicious. The sixth-year students keep an eye on Moody because he’s the newest professor. Their efforts at gleaning information largely go unnoticed. Flitwick remarks, “It’s lovely to see the Hufflepuffs taking Defense so seriously.” 

 

The seventh-year students, Tom included, pour over books, look at every magical contract they can find, memorize the events from previous tournaments, and create handcrafted study guides for Cedric and Harry. 

 

A month before the first task, Tom and Beatrice decide that Cedric and Harry need hands-on practice. Twice a week, Tom brings Harry into the Hufflepuff common room. His housemates delight in drilling Tom and Harry to prepare them for the tasks. Beatrice uses runes to make landmines on the common room floor. Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot make obstacle courses using charms and illusions. The Weasley twins make life-sized playing cards of exploding snap and Zacharis Smith yells, “How the fuck do you two keep getting here?”

 

The first time Tom takes Harry to a practice, Harry says, “Wait, I have homework. I can’t just leave Ron and Hermione! They’re waiting for me in the library.”

Tom curls his hand around Harry’s wrist, “They’ll survive.”

 

Harry is sullen that first practice day, but he slowly loses his glower after the Hufflepuffs feed him cookies and Cedric teaches him a simple healing spell, “epiksey.”

 

Cedric and Harry grow closer over the weeks of practicing together, even as Harry focuses more on defensive spells than offensive ones. 

 

After about two weeks of practicing, Professor Sprout walks into the common room to see Harry casting a shield charm and Cedric transfiguring a rock into a golden retriever. Tom is off in one corner, hearing about how Karkaroff most likely has a dark mark from three fourth-year students, including one irate Ernie Macmillian.

 

She raises a brow. It is deeply forbidden for Harry to be getting this level of assistance from another house. 

 

“So,” She says, calm as can be, “When were you going to ask for my help? And invite some more of Harry’s friends?”

 

Professor Sprout, quite against the tournament rules, begins to drill Harry and Cedric herself. The next week, Ron and Hermione join the practices. So does Ron’s little sister, the twins (in a more official and sanctioned capacity), and an odd assortment of other students. 

 

When Tom catches a free moment, he spends it networking with the Slytherin students. They have connections and they recognize his power when they see it. 

 

It helps that Tom’s been approached by several (all) of his professors about pursuing a mastery in their field. 

 

Flitwick tells him, “You could have a real career in charms, with your talent.”

 

McGonagall, (He remembers when she was Minnie and full of acne and an indecipherable accent,) keeps him after class and says, “I’d be happy to write your recommendation for an apprenticeship in transfiguration.”

 

Moody and Tom develop a close sort of relationship after a practical demonstration involving the three unforgivable curses. Moody sees Tom’s response to the tortured spider, his dilated pupils, and excited flush, and invites him into his private office. 

 

There, he encourages Tom to try out the three unforgivable curses himself. Tom does so, flawlessly of course. Moody pats him on the back, “Well done, lad, you’ll make an excellent man with the right training. No need to spend your life at a scrivener’s desk, eh?”

 

Indeed, Tom has received offers from half a dozen different professions already due to his excellent O.W.L scores. He knows after he aces his N.E.W.T.s he will be one of the most desired Wizards in Britain. 

 

He allows little things to slip when he speaks to Gryffindors who feel bold enough to ask him for help, and to Draco, and so naturally, the whole school knows that Tom Black is the most advanced and powerful student to walk Hogwarts in at least five decades. There are whispers that he’s even more powerful than Dumbledore. 

 

The Slytherins notice the rumors and watch Tom with narrowed eyes. 

 

He catches Nott after one dinner and calls him into an empty classroom. 

 

“I’d like a book,” Tom says. He doesn’t ask what the book is worth to Nott. The boy will give his offer.

 

Nott raises a brow. “I’ll give you any book in my family library in return for getting into your study group,” the boy says. “The Hufflepuffs in fourth-year and up are suddenly at the top of their classes and I’m no idiot. Ron Weasley learned the Hufflepuff password and has become a transfiguration prodigy in the last two weeks. Something big is happening in your common room, and I want in.”

 

Tom folds his arms across his chest, “I’ll need a vow that you won’t tell anyone about what may or may not happen in the common room. Or disclose the password that lets you in.”

 

“And if I refuse?”

Tom shrugs. “Then I don’t need a book.”

 

Nott’s eyes crinkle. “I’m impressed. Wouldn’t have expected that from a Hufflepuff. Fine, you have an accord.”

At the end of the week, Nott enters the common room and Tom has a dark tome about soul magic and immortality tucked into his robes. 

 

Nott is faced with hatred for about two days before people warm up to him. He’s wicked with many hexes and even better at helping Patrick Bagby with potions homework.

 

“Crazy that not all Slytherins are bad, isn’t it?” Smith asks him, after learning about the Goblin Wars from Nott.

 

“Not so crazy,” Tom replies, “Not to me.”

 

Harry collapses next to Tom on a couch one Tuesday evening after working on his Protego for a long while. “I don’t see why I need all this practice. I’m not even really competing.”

 

Susan tuts like Harry is very stupid. “Even the best-laid plans are often corrupted. You can’t just rely on the possibility that nothing will go wrong. You can’t ignore the fundamentals. Hard work is the backbone to success.”

 

“Sometimes the best offense is a good defense,” Ron adds sagely. 

 

Hermione looks askance at him. “Where on earth did you learn that saying?”

 

“My dad is a muggle studies expert, Hermione. I know lots of things.”

 

Hermione rolls her eyes. “Right,” She says. “How could I forget? It’s not like you are the same boy who once told me that muggles use teeth as currency because they have such bad dental hygiene.”

 

Ron says, “I promise you that there are some muggles, somewhere, that do use teeth as currency.”

 

Tom ignores the both of them and focuses instead on Harry. “Come on now, darling, practice your Protego again.”

 

Harry gives him a mulish sort of glare, and Tom resists the urge to curse someone out of the sheer anger he feels at Harry refusing to learn something that could potentially save his life. 

 

“I’d rather not,” Harry says.

 

“Now Harry,” Tom repeats, voice hard and flat. People are beginning to stare and Harry seems to fold into himself.

 

“Fine,” Harry says, muttering the charm and his shield materializing with so much force, Ron and Hermione are knocked back a few steps. “There! Are you happy now?”

 

Tom gives Harry a bright smile. “I’m quite pleased, yes. Thank you, Harry.” Tom almost feels as if he should say, “Good boy.”

 

Harry does not respond nor look pleased and he continues to look put-out even as his shield withstands several spells thrown its way by several of the assembled students and Sprout. 

 

A young Ravenclaw with blonde hair seems to materialize out of nowhere and begins throwing bottle caps at Harry which bounce off the shield. 

 

“Oh,” she says in a vague sort of voice, “That’s very good. I don’t think the Dithering Bumblesporns will be able to bother you too badly when you use that charm. It’s a rather strong one.”

 

Beatrice pinches her nose bridge. “And when did we start inviting in Ravenclaws?”

 

Ginny Weasley, who managed to get her way into the meetings by virtue of having three brothers in the know, raises a sheepish hand. “She’s my friend,” she says by way of explanation. “Her name is Luna.”

 

Luna nods gravely, “It’s quite nice to have a friend who calls me by my name. Names are important. They say proper name use is an effective defense mechanism against Wrackspurts.”

 

It seems no one knows quite what to make of this, but Tom looks into Luna’s misty eyes and determines that this tiny slip of a thing is speaking in a convoluted, but ultimately truthful kind of a way.

 

He hears someone cough, “That’s Loony Lovegood for you.” It sounded like Smith. 

 

Tom’s sure that Miss Lovegood heard but she just smiles and looks around with wide eyes.

 

Harry drops his shield charm and says scathingly to Tom, “Are we done for today?” 

 

Tom is taken aback by Harry’s tone. “Are you alright, darling?” 

 

Harry gathers up his books, “Fine,” he spits. He tears out of the common, leaving Ron and Hermione behind.

 

“Wonder what crawled up Potter’s arse this time,” Smith says. “I’ve never seen him like that.”

 

“Hard to know,” Cedric says with a very pointed look at Tom. 

 

Tom sighs and follows after Harry. 

 

Harry is walking past the paintings that litter the halls quickly. He turns and sees Tom shadowing him and speeds up. 

 

Tom feels familiar anger rise up in his chest. He calls out, “Harry.”

 

Harry does not say anything and continues his march. “Harry,” Tom repeats. “Can you stop walking away?”

Harry continues to move down the hall. Tom runs a hand through his hair and then rushes forward. His legs are longer than Harry's, and even though his artist breaks into a run, Tom catches up quickly. He hooks one arm around Harry’s waist and pushes his artist’s back into the wall. Harry gasps and looks up at him, flushed and upset. His eyes are so very green.

 

“What’s wrong?” He asks Harry, with one hand curled around the boy’s throat and the other pinning him to the wall. “Why are you running away?”

 

Harry squirms and tries to break out of Tom’s grasp. “Let go of me,” he demands, squirming again. “Don’t touch me!”

 

Tom leans down until his nose is brushing Harry’s. Tom’s unnecessary glasses are in the way, he notes. “No,” he says, “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

 

Harry tries to back away from Tom but because he’s against the wall, there’s nowhere for him to go. He realizes this and sags a bit in Tom’s grip.

 

“You’re so controlling,” Harry says, “Every little thing in my life is something you feel this -- this need to dictate. Let go of me!” 

 

But Tom does not let go. He blinks once. And then, he is so angry it takes him by surprise. “I’m controlling? That’s your complaint? Without me, no one would be working to protect you in this fucking tournament. They’d all be calling you a liar and be belittling you as the little boy who got into the tournament by being the chosen one. You could show a bit of gratitude, Harry.”

 

Harry stares up at Tom defiantly. “I’m supposed to be grateful that you’re forcing me to -- to learn spells and flounce around in your common room like some kind of show pony? You made me wear contacts for the last two years, and you won’t tell me how to take off the mind guardians and -- and you always want to know where I am and what I’m doing and --”

 

“And you never say thank you for any of that, Harry. Do you have any idea how hard it was to get you your contacts, or how often I talk to the goblins to make sure your finances are in good hands, or how long it took for me to learn everything I needed to know about your mind guardians? Because I don’t think you do. You need to step up a little. All I want is for you to put in some of the hard work into your own life. I can’t live for you.”

 

Harry swallows, and Tom feels it with his hold around his artist’s throat. “I’m not asking you to do that for me.”

 

“And yet,” Tom says, “I spend so much time doing my absolute best to give you what you need.”

 

Harry starts struggling again. “You don’t know what I need. You never ask me what I want!”

 

“You never care about what I want!” Tom shouts. Harry flinches and hits the back of his head on the wall behind him. The feeling of emptiness in Tom’s stomach returns full force. He forces himself to let go of Harry, and his darling shrinks into the stone but doesn’t run. 

 

Tom softens his voice, “You were raised by people who didn’t care if you lived or died. I get that you’re not used to someone caring about you, Harry, but I don’t think you know how to ask for help, or how to say what you need. It scares me. I can’t be the only person trying to keep you alive. You need to be that person.”

 

Harry looks down at the floor. “It’s so much sometimes. I don’t -- I can’t keep living like this with you.”

 

Tom gathers Harry into a hug and Harry comes willingly. “Like what, sweetheart?”

“Like I’m some object you need to protect,” he says into Tom’s shirt, “I need to feel like I’m a person.”

 

“You are a person, Harry, I know that,” Tom says, “Trust me, I know that better than most people. I just worry about you, my darling. You need two people to waltz, but I feel like I’ve been dancing for the both of us.”

 

Harry is silent for a long time. “I want to dance too,” he finally says in a broken whisper. “I will, if you just let me.”

 

Tom kisses the top of Harry's head, “I won’t ‘let’ you do anything, Harry. That’s something you need to do yourself.”

 

***

 

After Tom and Harry’s fight, Tom spends more time with the Slytherins and Harry spends more time with Hermione, Ron, and Cedric. Hagrid shows him that the first task will involve dragons, and Harry tells Cedric the same evening. 

 

Gabriel Tate, a fifth-year prefect, has an uncle who knows a lot about dragons because he works on the Ligurian Dragon preservation. He owls his uncle who writes back several pages filled with necessary information about most dragons. 

 

(Ron tries to ask Charlie for info, but Charlie says that would be cheating. Hufflepuffs are quite happy to cheat, it turns out. “Integrity is a Gryffindor thing,” Beatrice tells Harry, “Us ‘Puffs will do most things to help one another.’”)

 

Lesley Toddington is a fearsome seventh-year muggleborn student, and she is pursuing a career in fire elemental magic. She’s progressed to a place where she can consistently produce flames wandlessly. 

 

Professor Sprout takes to fireproofing parts of the room and Toddington does her best to breathe fire in order to imitate dragons. 

 

Harry and Cedric often end up singed and burned by the end of the night, but exhilarated all the same.

 

Moody constantly asks Harry if he has a plan, and Harry is tempted to say, “If only I could have just one plan. I think Susan, Beatrice, Justin, and Kousuke would bury me alive if I didn’t have at least six different plans. Tom probably wants me to have no less than twelve unique plans.”

 

Instead, Harry gives Moody a Luna-like smile and says, “I have a good enough of a plan to protect against the Dithering Bumblesporns, so I’m not too concerned.”

 

Moody stares down at Harry, glass eye going in all directions. “You’re an odd one Potter, that’s for sure. Just trust your instincts and focus on what you’re good at.”

 

There are three days until the first task, and Harry can feel the heightened pressure everywhere he goes in the castle. The Durmstrang students pass him quickly, as though breathing the same air as him is sickening. The Hogwarts students look at him as passes mournfully and offer him bits of mostly awful advice. Even Draco seems concerned about him. 

 

The Beauxbatons’ students seem to be treating him as a kind of mascot figure, and Lucette is asked to knit several more clovers for Harry’s good luck by many of her classmates. Harry is seen by the French school as a kind of tragic fairytale. 

 

None of this is helped by the morning’s daily prophet, which is naturally dropped directly into Harry’s porridge. 

 

The title reads: The Dark Side of Being the Boy-Who-Lived by Rita Skeeter

 

“Oh no,” Harry says, groaning at the title and handing his somewhat soiled paper to Hermione, “I don’t want to read this."

 

Hermione says “Scourgify,” and unrolls the now cleaned parchment. 

 

Ron has his own copy and starts laughing immediately. “Mate, the beginning could not be better! She wrote, ‘Members of Hogwarts, and indeed the Wizarding World at large, were shocked to learn that a fourth person had been selected for the Triwizard tournament; one underaged Harry Potter.’”

 

“What, is she trying to make me look like I’m the picture of innocence or something?” Harry asks, leaning over to look at the paper in Hermione’s hands. She calmly passes the paper back to him.

 

Harry looks down at the words. 

 

The Dark Side of Being the Boy-Who-Lived

Rita Skeeter

 

Members of Hogwarts, and indeed the Wizarding World at large, were shocked to learn that a fourth person had been selected for the Triwizard tournament; one underaged Harry Potter.

 

For those readers who are not aware, this year the committee responsible for the tournament instituted a new rule that only wizards at or above the age of 17 could compete in the glory-bound tournament. This rule was instated following concerns raised by the high death counts of prior tournaments. 

 

In what appeared to be a flagrant disregard for the rules, Harry Potter was selected as a second Hogwarts champion despite his being far too young to compete and the understanding that each school could only have one champion represent them. The fourteen-year-old chosen one joined the illustrious champions Cedric Diggory (Hogwarts, 17), Fleur Delacour (Beauxbatons, 17), and Viktor Krum (Durmstrang, 18) as an unprecedented fourth champion.

 

But what does this mean? Harry Potter is too young to participate in the tournament. Surely, those who witnessed the event thought, there had been a mistake.

 

Indeed, Beauxbatons’ champion Fleur Delacour was quite vocal about her concern and could be heard saying, blonde hair glowing with bioluminescence that would inspire the envy of any Aequorea Victoria, “Evidently there has been a mistake. He cannot compete. He is too young. He is a painter boy, to put him in the tournament would be horrific.”

 

No one was as vocal as Harry Potter himself. The young boy, who is shorter than all three champions and most of his classmates, was heard saying as soon as his name was announced, “No, I didn’t,” and here he stuttered due to his nerves, repeating, “I didn’t -- put my name in the cup. No, I don’t want to compete. No!” His green eyes seemed like they were pleading with a higher power as a young boy felt the threat of losing his innocence in an adult’s battleground.

 

But there was no way out for poor Mr. Potter. His potions professor, Severus Snape, at first claimed that it was clear Potter himself was acting and had entered into the tournament of his own volition, “He has been crossing lines ever since he arrived here.” The dark-haired man quickly changed his tune when confronted with the fact that only a guardian of Mr. Potter could have placed the young child’s name in the goblet. Indeed, any professor of any of the three schools (or even prefects) could have put Mr. Potter’s name into the goblet. It seems a plot is afoot, ladies and gentlemen. At this point, Snape suggested that Sirius Black was responsible.

 

Why Sirius Black? Ever since he was infamously found innocent of the Potter’s murder and freed from the fetters of his marred reputation, Sirius Black has been taking care of not only his nephew, the newly found Tom Black, but also his godson: Harry Potter.

 

The youngest potion master in history suggested that Black entered his godson into the tournament in order to “get around the rules.” Legendary Auror Alastor Moody has a different take. “Someone put Potter's name in that goblet knowing he'd have to compete if it came out. Maybe someone's hoping Potter is going to die for it.”

 

This, dear readers, is quite the statement. 

 

After doing some interviews, I learned of a far less frightening theory: Harry Potter entered his name into the tournament to promote his artwork across the continent. For those of you who were not aware, Harry Potter is an incredible painter and artist. His debut painting is currently held by the Malfoy family who allegedly could not pay Potter enough. In an interview, Narcissa Malfoy confided to me, piercing eyes reflecting the whole moon, “Mr. Potter’s work is quite simply priceless.”

 

By entering the tournament, Harry’s name will be broadcasted throughout all of Europe. Perhaps he hopes to grow his business. However, the minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge, refuted this idea quite strongly. “Grow his business?” He gave a mocking sort of a laugh. “Come now,” he said, “That boy has a waiting list at least three kilometers long. I should know, I’ve been on it since July.”

 

Not only did the minister himself refute these claims, but so did the Goblin nation which is in a partnership with Mister Potter’s business. “It is quite clear,” a Goblin told me with rather pointed teeth, “That the issue, in this case, lies with Wizards being terribly unsuited to taking care of both their possessions and their young.”

 

This, unfortunately, lends credence to the first and frightening theory: an adult entered Harry Potter into the Triwizard Tournament to murder him. This is an ingenious method of killing the young champion. Harry Potter, the brave little boy, will likely be no match for the tasks of the tournament. 

 

Still, when I interviewed the small child myself, I learned that he is wise beyond his few years. When I asked him how he felt about being in the tournament, he confessed that he felt that it was unfair and he wished someone would save him from his fate. 

 

However, he told me with brilliant and piercing green eyes, he still wants to make the Wizarding world a better place despite all the danger he’s been placed in over the course of his young life. 

 

He said, “There has to be a world when the war is over, otherwise what did my parents fight for? What did they die for?”

 

Harry suggests fighting for a different kind of Wizarding world than the one we live in. He dreams of a world where little boys like him are not pushed into fights they cannot win and instead go to museums and look at art and have two living parents. When asked about the creation of that future, he said, “There is no fight bigger than this.”

 

So, dear readers, I will do my best to uncover the plot against the chosen one, so that we can fight against the sweeping shadows of the present and deliver the boy-who-lived into a glorious bright future, one filled with life.

 

A lingering and terrifying question remains: who entered Mister Potter’s name into the Goblet of Fire? This reporter hopes to find out.



Harry, as well as every person in the Great Hall, seems to be just about finished with reading the article. The Weasley twins are guffawing and Fred reads out, “‘Come now, that boy has a waiting list at least three kilometers long. I should know, I’ve been on it since July,’”

 

George chuckles deeply and says, “Oh that’s just class, good job Harry. Fuck the minister, am I right, or am I right?”

 

The Slytherins are all tittering about how Harry is a “brave little boy.”

 

“But why did I get younger over the course of the article?” Harry complains. “I am fourteen. I’m not a ‘small child.’”

 

Hermione looks over Ron’s shoulder. “I suppose she’s making a point. You are underage. She’s really driving that home.”

 

“Why would you drive home when you can just apparate? The Ford Angela is still roaming around in the Forbidden Forest. Driving seems terribly unsafe,” Ron says. 

 

Hermione says, “And you wonder why I question your knowledge of muggles.”

 

“What,” Ron says, affronted, “Did I say something wrong?”

 

“Many things,” Hermione says, “Many, many things. You say so many things wrong.”

 

“Crazy how accurate she got what Fleur and Snape said, though,” Harry remarks, “It seems pretty word-for-word.”

 

Hermione hums thoughtfully. “Seems a bit too convenient to be a coincidence.”

 

“Maybe she has really good intuition,” Neville suggests. “I bet most reporters need that.”

 

“Maybe,” Hermione echoes.

 

Potions class is a disaster. Harry is distracted and forgets to add nettle to his cauldron which causes the potion to remain yellow instead of settling into a pale blue. Snape looks down at Harry’s work with a characteristic sneer. 

 

“I do not know why I even allow such little boys into this class. This is a disgrace.” Snape waves his wand and vanishes the potion. “It would seem, that like the tournament, gaining even mediocre potions skill is a fight Mr. Potter simply cannot win.”

 

Ron flushes angrily and yells, “You see how easy it is to focus when your life's on the line!”

 

Snape’s face turns thunderous. “You think that Mr. Potter is the only person to have ever faced danger, do you?” Ron pales. “He is not. The world does not revolve around Mr. Potter as much as this school seems to. Five points from Gryffindor.”

 

The Slytherins all smile and Harry just sets his shoulders and begins his potion over again. 

 

Hermione tells Ron, “It does no good to antagonize Professor Snape.”




Harry wakes up on the morning of the first task tired and hungry but feeling like food sounds like the absolute worst thing in the world. Harry manages to avoid speaking to anyone except for Tom until after lunch, which he chooses to eat alone in the kitchen. (He was introduced to the kitchen by Poppy Caxton, a dark-skinned and incredibly cute first-year Hufflepuff.)

 

Before Harry enters the event tent for the Triwizard Tournament champions, Tom manages to catch him. 

 

“Good luck, my darling. Remember all I’ve taught you.”

Harry is overcome with an odd impulse and grabs Tom’s tie in his fist. He stands up on his tip-toes and presses his lips to Tom’s cheek. “Thanks, Tom. I’ll try to make you proud.” He releases his hold on Tom and enters the tent before he can do anything truly stupid. 

 

In the tent, Ludo Bagman and Crouch tell Harry, Fleur, Viktor, and Cedric that their task is to retrieve a golden egg from the clutch of nesting mother dragons. 

 

Cedric and Harry, who studied the behaviors of nesting mothers, wince. 

 

Each champion dips their hand into a bag Bagman holds and pulls out a miniature dragon with a number attached. 

 

“Ah,” Bagman says, “Diggory will go first and will be facing a Swedish Short-Snout.”

 

The blue dragon, if Harry remembers correctly, can use its flame to incinerate bones. Cedric seems deeply shaken. 

 

Fleur is to go second and face a Common Welsh Green, and Viktor goes third to face a Chinese Fireball.

 

Harry selects the fourth dragon. He looks at his palm. “A Hungarian Horntail,” he says faintly, “Really?”

 

“Ach, but you’ll be alright, won’t you?” Bagman says. 

 

Before Cedric goes out into the arena, Harry calls out to him and says, “You’ve got this, Diggory.”

 

Cedric wipes clearly sweaty palms on his robes and says, “Thanks, Potter. You just work on staying safe, yeah?”

 

“You got it.”

 

Cedric disappears into the arena and Harry sits back in the tent, listening to the roars of the crowd and wishing he didn’t have to be here.

 

Fleur goes out next, and then Krum leaves the tent. Harry sits alone and focuses on remembering the ins and out of his shield charm. 

 

When Harry is called out into the arena, he’s managed to reach a level of acceptable calm.

 

“Here he is ladies and gentlemen,” Bagman announces, “The fourth champion! He’s to tackle the Horntail, and they’re known for being vicious --”

 

Harry casts his first charm. It’s a noise muffler. He can still hear words if he strains, but it’s easier to focus when he isn’t listening to himself being made into a spectator sport. 

 

Harry looks at the Hungarian Horntail who is several meters away from him. She is crouched protectively around her eggs, black wings scaled and glittering in the afternoon sun. She is terrifying and beautiful.

 

Harry sits down with his legs tucked underneath him and casts his shield charm. Then, he conjures some parchment and charcoal pencils. 


The first stroke of his pencil against the parchment feels like a relief. Harry begins his drawing by trying to capture the might of the Hungarian Horntail’s jaw. He sketches in the scales around the mouth and the sharp, snapping teeth. From there Harry moves on the great and fearsome head.

 

When he reaches the Horntail’s eyes, he stares up at the dragon and into the bronze, cat-like eyes, and feels himself falling away.

 

He has great wings on his back. He’s been taken from his home, forced to sleep, and he’s woken up with a nest that is not nearly warm enough.

 

These humans are disrespectful terrors. He does not know if they will let him raise his children in peace once they hatch. He’s angry, so very angry.

 

The humans have put a golden thing in amongst his eggs. It’s not his egg -- it’s not an egg at all. It will never hatch. He wants nothing to do with the egg, but he thinks that this imposter of an egg must be important to the humans. It must be why he’s been moved from his home, from the place he could hatch his eggs in peace. And he will not allow some wizard to come and try to take this golden thing from him. They would have to get too close to his real eggs, the ones that will hatch, and they might hurt his unborn children.

 

So he will sit here on this too cold nest and fight anyone who comes near him. He is a mother, and mothers protect their children.

 

Unbidden, Harry hears an echo of his own mother's voice, It was worth everything.

 

Harry tears himself out of the dragon’s eyes and realizes his drawing almost entirely finished and that he is crying. He does not know how long has passed. He has flashes of a childhood with a mother that is certainly a dragon and an injury and being somewhere he was safe but where humans looked at him like he was nothing more than a common animal, and Harry knows that these memories are not his own.

 

He still can’t help but stretch for a second, once he finishes the spikes on the dragon’s tail, like he is a Hungarian Horntail.

 

This gains the Horntail’s attention. 

 

Words echo in his brain. A trade. The Hungarian Horntail is gazing at him with jeweled eyes and a spiked tail. He doesn’t know how exactly he understands her, but he thinks that maybe dragons communicate with body language to one another. Perhaps that’s why parselmouths can’t understand them. Cats, Harry knows, only meow for the sake of humans. They communicate with one another non-verbally. 

 

Harry does not move. The dragon shifts slightly. A trade, hatchling. Your treasure for mine.

 

Harry nods once, and the dragon settles on her haunches. Harry slowly and deliberately levitates his drawing of the Hungarian Horntail to where she sits on her nest.

 

The dragon observes him steadily, snorts once, and clasps the golden egg in her jaw before tossing it to Harry in a graceful ark. With the skills of a seeker, he plucks it neatly out of the air with both hands.

 

Harry finds himself sinking in a semi bow, with his head partially rotated toward the sky. He can tell this means something akin to “Thank you.”

 

The Hungarian Horntail lifts her tail high into the air . Good luck, hatchling. Her tail comes down and wraps around her real eggs, and Harry is left holding a golden egg in his hands. 

 

He stares at the dragon and sees a mother, desperate, lonely, and doing her absolute best to protect everything she loves despite being forced to perform.

 

He wonders if that’s why she was so helpful to him. Dragons knew magic long before humans. Maybe she can also see souls. Perhaps that’s what she saw in him: a boy, desperate, lonely, and doing his absolute best to protect everything he loves despite being forced to perform.

 

All in all, it takes Harry two and a half hours to get his egg, which is so far outside of the time limit, he is scored twos across the board save from Dumbledore, who gives him a very merry six.

 

The man says in the face of Karkaroff’s intense glare, “That painting was a solid 20, my boy. Shame that the dragon took it.” He wipes off a fake tear. “Terrible shame.”

 

Harry finishes the day without a scratch. That night in the Gryffindor common room, Harry is paraded around and the golden egg is tossed this way and that.

 

Tom finds his way into the Gryffindor common room late and comes with confetti in his hair. 

 

Harry walks right over to him and says, smiling wide, “I think I talked to the dragon today!”

 

Tom tries to give Harry an appropriately happy smile, but Harry can tell something is eating him up. “That’s amazing, darling.”

 

Tom looks tired and shaken. Harry puts his hand on Tom’s forehead and checks for fever. Tom seems alright but he is a bit clammy. 

 

Harry then asks something he’s never asked Tom before, “ What’s wrong ?”

 

Tom says nothing but looks pale.

 

And Harry can tell all of a suddent that Tom is holding himself back from answering because he's afraid if he starts, he'll never stop.